Monthly Archives: June 2016

Life continues

Something has happened inside of me, where my soul dwells.  I go about each normal day; I talk to people, I push paper, I call clients, I adjust my schedule to account for the whims of others.  All the while, I feel this shift, like sand but with substance.  A tide of colors blends and ripples.  Not a quake, but the indelible mark of change, slow, enduring.

I’ve said that time does not heal all wounds and it does not — it simply enables a scab to form over the opening.  The wound beneath can only heal with deliberateness.  A life time of wounds require a decade of careful tending.

I’ve been told that only professional help will heal what’s wrong with me. I do not believe that.  By “what’s wrong with me”, the person tossing that pronouncement meant not my state as a result of the cruel moments of my life.  This person meant my defects, the failures inside of me which supposedly invited others to behave in ways which hurt me.  I used to believe that; I used to feel that everything people did which caused me to feel pain was somehow my fault — as though their choices flowed from my bad behavior and not their own preferences.

I don’t buy that anymore.  I’ve made a tally of all the good that I’ve done; all the times that I’ve helped people; all the positives about me.  I sat on my porch one recent cool evening (yes, there have been cool evenings, though June brutally assaults us).  I went over my life, all sixty years of it, including the incredible moment in my earliest memory when my Uncle Bob held me to the tiller of his boat and a spray of water christened my face.  I took myself through every day that I can remember, every choice, every action, every success, every failure.  I concluded that I had done my best; and more: I concluded that I had continued to try to reshape myself so that my best itself improved.

I never did anything with malicious intent.  At times I acted from fear, or a lack of understanding, or muddled thinking.  I have certainly failed to behave in ways that pleased people — and sometimes I might have behaved differently, had I truly known what people wanted.  I would have striven to be that, do that, go there, just as I have striven all these years to be as dependable as possible.

I have my faults.  But loyalty stands among my highest virtues.  I have never cheated on a lover or spouse; I have never told a friend that I could not help them; I have never failed to at least try to be what others wanted or needed.  I am not perfect — no one is; so my efforts sometimes fall flat.  But not from lack of trying.  In fact, I’m one of those annoying people who don’t give up until my fingers bleed.

I’ve looked back on  particular instances which I will not define because I do not want those involved to suffer any embarrassment.  I’ve examined my decisions in those moments, and felt them to be genuine.  I knew my limits.  I knew my weaknesses.   I made choices which resulted in others feeling pain just as the choices made by some have ended with my suffering.  I have been forgiven; just as I have forgiven in my turn.

So life continues.  I have a plan, and contingencies.  The road in front of me holds promise.  I did not plan to walk the particular highway on which my feet now tread.  But I am here.  I will keep walking.  I will place my feet with care whenever I can; but sometimes I will skip; sometimes I will scramble.  Time has not healed wounds, but it has cauterized them, and I am learning to heal from within myself. I do not think I am defective.  I do not buy the claim that I mistreat people.  I do my best, and most of all, I do what I can to never let anyone down.  That has to count for something.

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

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Happy Birthday to KATRINA SINGSEN TAGGART — A friend who always accepts me as I am.

Gratitude

The prodigal son returned last evening.  He had been fed and encouraged by his aunt en route from Evanston to Kansas City, and arrived in Brookside at ten, tired, looking taller than I remember, and bearing gluten-free cookies.  The dog went crazy and the house instantly seemed smaller.

I find myself listening to the noises in my head, the constant roar which tells me that my brain cannot properly discern what it hears.  Most days silence surrounds me, only interrupted by this phantom symphony, violins played solely for me.  I have become so solitary in my home that the rise and fall of these ghostly sounds no longer bothers me.  I take some comfort from it.

But now my son’s voice again flows through the space, waking echoes of the past.  I remember this:  His brand of humor; his slight self-deprecation; his intermittent gentle scolding of his mother.  He reminds me, you know I can’t understand you when you laugh, and I laugh all the more.  The prodigal son has been away for six months this stretch, since Christmas, and I suspect it will be another six months before I see him again.  I’m not complaining, though.  I wanted him to “go away to college” so that he would have his own life, and that has come to pass, two degrees later.  He has become an adult, and I have assumed the role of aging mother whom he visits from time to time.  He has evolved but retains his essence.  He still gets my jokes, even if he finds them a little lame.   He still mirrors some of my genes, though he has bent their contours to his will.  He still feels like family, even if the closets have been emptied of his clothing.

After the dreadful massacre in Orlando this week, I find myself strangely relieved to hear my son’s voice and see his grin.  Other mothers faced the slaughter of their sons and daughters.  The light faded from the eyes of other sons.   I am blessed.  I am grateful.  My prodigal son has roamed far but he has safely returned, if only for a brief sojourn.  I have no complaints today.

It’s the fifteenth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

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Feet keep walking

Yesterday I could barely walk.  I don’t know if this condition reflects the arrival of the direly predicted end of my over-extended ability or just a phase in the cyclical neurological state with which I’ve lived for sixty years.  I struggled through the day, to the office, to court, to the store.  My feet keep walking.  It’s what I do.

The relentless news spurs me.  I cannot surrender to my small nagging problems when 49 people no longer breathe, shot down by the senselessness of hatred.  I can’t debate whether the hater worked alone or had joined a terrorist cell.  I focus not on the hater but on those who died from the brutal force of his hatred.  The blood shed that night in Orlando reminds me of the blood which courses through my veins.  True enough my blood clots too easily but  how blessed I am that the blood still flows through my body, that I still have life, that I can write these words.  That my feet keep walking.

I tried to find a rainbow flag yesterday here in Kansas City.  Though I am not gay, nor bi, nor trans, I am a human being and those 49 people who died belonged to my tribe.  The human tribe.  They were men, and women; mothers and fathers; sons and daughters.  Their feet walked them into a place where they sought to be happy and now, because of hatred, their feet have been stayed, their voices silenced.  How can I not strive to show some small symbol of my solidarity with them?

I put myself on a waiting list for the rainbow flag delivery at All Nations Flags in downtown KC and went in search of a substitute.  I found two rainbow kites at the Dollar General Store on Holmes, south, by the rough part of my street where some folks of my color refuse to go.  I stood in line talking to a VA nurse buying Lucky Charms breakfast bars and 5-hour energy drink for his wife.  We talked about potato chips.  He laughed.  He moved forward to pay and when he had completed his transaction, turned to say goodbye.

Earlier I had bumped carts with a guy in Target and we laughed together.  I noticed that his shopping companion had on a rainbow T-shirt but I did not say anything.  We saw each other again at a table in the store’s Starbucks, where a cluster of shoppers sat drinking coffee and waiting for the storm to pass.  I smiled at the men.  One of them told me to be safe.  I nearly cried.  How much safer I am than those two men, who left the Target to go out into a world where they can be gunned down for loving each other!  I  pulled my cart out into the evening air.  I felt inadequate; I felt too lucky; I felt like screaming.  My feet kept walking.

I went home and hung a kite in each of my front windows.  I made a crude sign from their tails and electric tape.  It’s not much.  I got online and posted message after message, spreading the word about vigils, fundraisers, and people offering to foster pets of those who died.  I have nothing to give but a boost in the ripple of love with which we hope to conquer hate.

It’s the fourteenth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m alive. My son is alive.  I have no complaints.  Not one.  I am not one of the forty-nine.  My life continues.

 

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CLICK AND SHARE:

ANDERSON COOPER’S EMOTIONAL TRIBUTE TO THE 49 VICTIMS.

Monday morning

My friends — I had a lumpy weekend, with highs and lows; mostly the lows were my own failings to honor my standards.  So:  I looked for a poem to express how I felt, and found this.  Chills.  Just. Chills.  Perfect.

“What the Living Do”

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days,
some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but it smells dangerous, and
the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is
the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight
pours through

the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in
here, and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the
street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: this is what the living do. And yesterday,
hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down
my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This
is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called
that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the
winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss – we want more
and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of
myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a
cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat
that I’m speechless:
I am living, I remember you.

Marie Howe

It’s the thirteenth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.   Life continues.

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Happy, happy birthday to Alan White, a great singer-songwriter and my co-conspirator, the guy who buried all the bodies.

Choices

I often say that I can clean house or go for a walk but not on the same day.

Sometimes I face other choices even more challenging.  Go to work or go out to dinner.  Go to the store or dust the floors.  Make your own list.  My body can’t handle two tasks requiring physical exertion on the same day.

Yesterday my friend Rebecca invited me to tour wineries with her and her mother.  Rebecca gets me, though I’m sorry for her that she does.  She has  a spinal injury requiring surgery.  She knows the score.  Take a spill and your day suddenly takes a downward tilt.  Hopefully, she will have some relief after the doctors do their work on Wednesday.  I will send angels her way, to guide the surgeon’s knife.

I took Friday off to clean house in anticipation of my son’s potential visit.  When he said he had too much to do, I put aside cleaning.  Eventually, I learned he’s coming on Tuesday.  I’m overjoyed. Now he will get to hear our friend Sheldon singing Beethoven’s Ninth with the KC Symphony Chorale.  But I’m faced with cleaning house today, before a work day.  So it goes.

At one of our winery stops yesterday, a woman in white loafers stepped aside to watch me descend a flight of stairs.  Wine got you tipsy, I see, she snickered.  I paused.  I asked her to repeat what she had said.  Well I can see you’re drunk, she explained.

No.  Not drunk.  A mistake people have been making most of my adult life — since college.  I’m not drunk, I said mildly.  I’m disabled.  She laughed, unbelieving.  Oh darling don’t worry, I think you’re doing just fine.  I came to a full stop and said, Ma’am, I do not need your validation.  She broke out laughing.  Rebecca’s mother, ahead of me, looked back.  By this time, I had concluded that the woman should not concern me, and I continued through the door which Jean held open for me, leaving the woman to her cackling.  I remarked, sadly, that the woman had no manners.  What I really wanted to do was go back and smack her senseless but I just kept walking, down the stairs, into the June sunshine.

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

Jean Beck and her daughter, my friend Rebecca Wirth.

Jean Beck and her daughter, my friend Rebecca Wirth.

My armor

Every once in a while, one of my articles of clothing sacrifices itself to save me.

In 1982, a silk dress took the road burn that should have scraped my backside raw when I landed after catapulting off that windshield.

Five years later, the green 1940’s shirtwaist which I had worn at my mother’s funeral absorbed the odors of an autopsy and let me shed the smell of it when I stripped in the shower.

I huddled under a Hudson Bay coat (three stripe) one January night when my car broke down, and I waited 45 minutes for AAA, then stood in the pelting sleet while they connected the dead vehicle to the back of the tow truck.  It took an hour for the ice to melt from that coat, and I never could get the greyness from it, not in several trips to the dry cleaner.

Today my legs and skinny bottom found protection from gravel and heat as I scooted across the driveway in my sundress.  I had gotten the bright idea to move the soaker hose while walking from the car to the house.  Pulling myself  to the neighbor’s back stairs and hauling myself vertical took fifteen harrowing minutes.  The dress might be salvageable, but I’m not sure I could wear it again.

I’m padding around the house in a purple camisole, little shorts, and bare feet.  I’m kicking myself for not going out to Mar-Beck’s to get a new filter for the A/C, or calling the company for its annual service.  But nothing broke; the only damage seems to be a few gathers in my sweat-drenched dress and slight abrasions on my right hand and elbow.

It’s the afternoon of the tenth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I really, truly, absolutely, positively, am not complaining.  My blessed and lucky life continues.

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Scars

Yesterday I wore black footless tights under my dress to hide the huge scars on my leg.  Someone said, They’re hardly visible, and I felt comforted.

I’m not Padma Lakshmi.   I admire her; she stands regally, arms bared, and dismisses any thought of concealing the ragged proof of injury on her arm. I have avoided sporting my physical scars for the world to see; and I’m not gorgeous, rich, and talented.   My emotional scars hover just on the edge of visibility.  I have always supposed that to be raw enough.

But it’s my get-real decade.  Though short skirts frighten me,  I think I might need to bare these bones.   I’ve gotten a little braver over the last few years.   Having nothing to lose and being on the downhill side of life pushes me to the shameless region where I no longer worry about going without make-up.  In some ways, I feel invisible.  With no one watching, what does it matter how I look or what I do?

I earned my scars honestly.  An uninsured Iranian citizen in a VW plowed into me and threw me skyward.  I rolled into a ball and came down hard, landing on his hood and smashing into his windshield knee-first, shattering my right leg.  Two decades later, the knee gave out and had to be replaced.  The first surgery gave me sixteen stitches and repaired 32 breaks.  The second surgery got me this cursed artificial joint and bought me seven weeks in the hospital and an even larger scar.  I watched the patient channel for hours when I could not sleep, learning about the new micro-surgery which would eventually replace the invasive procedure by which I had been made semi-whole again.

I don’t think of myself as having been victimized by the guy who ran over me except that he badgered me in the hospital, trying to get me to sign a release hand-written on a piece of notebook paper.  Hospital security ousted him.  Years later, he had a ticket on my docket in the courtroom where I prosecuted.  I recused myself but it didn’t matter; he failed to appear and a warrant issued.  I don’t know what became of him.  Maybe he went back to Iran; maybe he died in the war.  Maher Altalathina.  He told me, The sun hit my eyes. He said he never saw me.  That made two of us:  I never saw him, either.  I just stepped from the curb and the next thing I knew, an ephemeral being whispered to me, It’s not your time to die yet, and pushed me back downward with her gentle hand.

09 February 1982.  A day when I changed forever.  I hear people scoff at the fears of others, saying, Don’t be afraid — after all, any of us can die crossing the street at any time.   No kidding.  I wonder if they know how true that is; how narrowly one escapes death on a daily basis.

I feel a sense of liberation having decided to bare my knees and show my scars.  I think there must be an emotional equivalent in this blogging.  If you read this every day you might wonder, Who hurt her?  Who loved her? Whom did she love? What does she value? What brought her joy; what made her cry? I tell you now, it does not matter how I got my scars.   I tell myself:  I am not less beautiful because of them.

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

 

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Still seeking angels

I look around my house and see the many angels with which I have surrounded myself.  Yet I am still seeking angels.

I walk to my car and respond to a neighbor’s greeting; angel.  I sit at dinner after an exhausting day and my companion hands me a gift which she has brought for me; angel.  I fret about getting my yard cleaned and then receive a note from my new yard guys outlining their plan to tackle the job over a month’s time; angels.  I catch a smile thrown over someone’s shoulder in the hallway of the courthouse; angel.

As I strove to stretch my weary body enough to sleep last night, a text message sent its bleat into my room.  I glanced at the screen.  My son inquires if I am well.  Angel.

I opened Social Media and saw a long essay from Penny Thieme detailing her feelings about my attitude, and how she will honor me after I die, should I go before her.  She wrote, “But this year I thought about my soul sister, who while a self proclaimed recovering catholic, religiously leaves flowers at the grave sites of her loved ones who have passed on…Who has overcome tremendous challenges in life and faces herself and the world. Who collects angels and is one to those in need and gives her voice to those who cannot speak. Who despite the fragility of her delicate body is one of the fiercest souls I know…”  Oh my; such honor she bestowed on me!  Angel.

It’s no wonder that living without complaining gets easier every day.  With my eyes wide open, I see angels everywhere.

It’s the ninth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

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The deeper significance of shoes

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my feet.

My maternal grandmother bought shoes for me whenever I came to visit.  I cherished those gifts.  Nana bought penny loafers:  Shiny, stiff, in boxes smelling of leather, shoe cream, and tissue.  My mother doubted the virtue of these shoes on crippled feet, but Nana assured her that the leather would not bend.  They had steel shanks and thick rubber heels.  I proudly wore them for that Tuesday-after-Labor-Day start of school.  I pried the pennies from their slots to drop in the bank for Pagan Babies.  I loved those loafers.

On the other hand, my mother purchased brogues, hideous heavy clunkers with flaps and thin burgundy shoe-laces.  I would have been content with saddle shoes but somehow those fell by the wayside as I grew into teen years.  The brogues felt like cement blocks.  Other girls snickered behind their hands when I walked down the hallways.  I despised these brogues.  In eighth grade, I trudged up Kinamore Avenue to Northland Shopping Center and paid eight dollars to have three feet of untouched hair lopped from my head.  Dad cried; mother yelled.  What were you thinking? she demanded.

I was thinking that if I had to be ugly on my feet, I might as well be ugly everywhere.

Shoes have contributed to injury or embarrassment on more than a few occasions, usually when I attempted to be fashionable or at least, not ugly.  Most recently, I broke my hand when Velcro closures popped open as I made my way to the car in August of 2013. I fell and landed on my outstretched hands, splintering the bones in my left ring-finger.   I’ve struggled down cobble stones in kitten heels and walked out of pumps crossing a stage when I graduated from college.  I went to a job interview in 1983 in New Orleans wearing leather flats and had to remove them to climb down a circular stairwell to the lowest level to meet with the most junior member of the hiring staff in his basement closet.

When other women strap on stiletto heels, I bend down to tie my Doc Martens and hope no one will notice.

Yesterday I took possession of two pairs of shoes modified by a cobbler in Prairie Village to my rather exacting specifications.  To one pair, he had added a strap and buckle.  On the other, he reversed a double-back Velcro strap and added that all-important buckle, carefully measuring the rise of my steep in-step and adjusting the fabricated mechanism to suit my need for lateral support.  To the $100 cost of each pair of shoe, another $30 per pair made them wearable for me.

And most importantly:  They look pretty.  Almost — almost — like “girl” shoes.  

I realize that there is no real deeper significance to shoes — at least, not intrinsically.  They cover your feet, keep them dry, protect them from rocks.  But for the entirety of my American girlhood I’ve been bombarded with the message that certain shoes enhance the beauty and desirability of women.  Even men that have said they “don’t like high heels” nevertheless let their eyes roam over that comely actress or passing customer with shapely calves and black sling-backs.  Most of society does not pretend.  Images of that sexy shoe flood the media.  Able-bodied women greedily snag the BOGO bargains at DSW while the crippled few scour the internet for “comfort shoes” priced lower than two hundred bucks.

Of everything that estranges me from “normal” people, my gait ranks first but my shoes crowd at a close second.

It took two weeks to get my shoes back from Prairie Village Shoe Repair. Mike, the owner, wanted particular buckles.  When I told him I did not care if the buckles were perfect, he said that he cared.  He said, “Hopefully you will tell people where you got your shoes repaired.  I don’t want them to think I sell lousy  buckles or do shoddy work.”

Neither is true.  Instead as you can see, Mike the world’s best shoe guy does fine work, and thanks to him, my wardrobe of wearable shoes has expanded by two pair.  Moreover, today, because of these buckles, I can feel just a little bit pretty, if only on my feet.

It’s the eighth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues, and I continue to stumble through it.

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For information on one project to collect shoes for orphaned children in the US and internationally, please see the Buckner Shoes “Shoes For Orphan Souls” project website. Rotary District 6040 and the Waldo Brookside Rotary Club proudly participate in this program.

Spring morning

The clover has taken over my back yard.  I’m glad to see it.  The dog disagrees; she’s allergic to grass and to the slender clover that rises in the plushness of the rain-soaked earth.  She glances a bit sadly over her shoulder as she picks her careful and dainty way to a spot less overgrown than most of the yard.  I smile.  The grass guys come today, I call out.  As though she can understand.

My muscles scream at me as I move through the kitchen, cracking eggs, chopping parsley.  After a week of neglect they resent having to climb back on the stepper.  Too bad so sad, my brain messages to its minions as it sends the signal to commence their work.  I had a lot to do last week.  I can walk most days and still do my awkward adaptive yoga, but when my responsibilities increase, my exercise goes out the window.

I take my breakfast to the porch and smile as I settle into the rocker.  My plants thrive on the deck and in the pots around me.  Along the driveway, day lilies get ready to bloom. April showers have brought a delightful lushness to my yard.  I contemplated running the sprinkler last evening but decided the ground had enough moisture.  I’ll watch it, though; I don’t want to lose the bed of perennials. They’ve taken hold.  In their midst, the female holly still struggles.  But I have faith. She’s a survivor.

It’s the seventh day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  On this lovely spring morning, I’m grateful that life continues.

 

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From above and in the dappled light, you might not be able to see how well the plants have done, but the sight of them pleases me.  I hope your gardens grow as well as mine this year.