A Fall Prayer of Gratitude

            “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about the trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.”—Jeffrey McDaniel

 

            “We should never forget a good act that has been done to us.”—The Thirukkural

 

           As I stepped out of my vehicle into the straight lines and right angles of the parking lot, leaves–wispy and whirling–whizzed past me as the gusts of wind directed their descent to earth.  Flitting and floating shades of amber, coriander, tobacco, and cinnamon offered contrast to the somber, slate-colored clouds. I stood momentarily as pin-prickles of spiky raindrops spotted my glasses and seemingly pierced my face.  Another change of weather signaling winter was coming soon. 

 

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           Remnants of the dream from much earlier, well before I rose for the work day, still clung to me the way the smell of cigarette smoke once clung onto my clothes after a date night with my husband, early in our marriage, before laws banning public smoking.  I continued to let the rain pelt me as my vision began blurring from the droplets accumulating on my lens.  

 

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          “Let it go, Steph.  Let it go.”

 

           Soon enough, I was immersed in my day, and all was forgotten, replaced by the immediacy of the present moment.  

 

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Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

 

             Teaching, whether in my current middle school setting, or when I am in the midst of a yoga or fitness class at Brown Dog Yoga, demands that I fully focus on the needs of others.  What is the goal of the day’s lesson/s? How are the students responding? Do I need to make adjustments? It is a continuous feedback loop. Present, observe, adjust, interact, respond, sense, encourage, listen . . .the verbs are endless.  If I am really focused, all else is forgotten, and before long, another 45- or 60-minute class has flashed before my eyes.

 

           Likewise, writing, planning, cooking, or other purposeful endeavors can draw me into only what is happening, right there, in that instant.  In fact, quite often, if I do not set timers, I can become totally engrossed and lose track of all time–often making me late for whatever is on-tap for the day.  It is both a curse and blessing.

 

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Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

 

        Additionally, as I become more keenly aware of the passage of time via the loss of loved ones, the aging of other loved ones–both above and around my age–as well as my own changing life, body, and status, I fully recognize that I am no longer that young, wide-eyed, optimistic young woman who wanted to leave my home geography, eradicate injustice, offer love and hope to those without, and move up the ranks of education.  Instead, life has kept me rooted home, and offered me experiences I could have never envisioned.

 

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As photographed for Brown Dog Yoga, photographer, Ashley Franz of AF Photography.

 

      So life has not been what I once envisioned it to be as a younger person.  What of it? So there have been challenges, difficulties, heartbreak, and even an occasional bad dream about a past event.  Again, what of it? I can choose to focus and wallow on those perceived negatives–and quite honestly, I occasionally still do.  However, why negate all the good that has occurred in my life and continues to occur? I have so many bountiful blessings that money, prestige, or another address could have never given me.  I am not the story or labels in my head, and neither are you Dear Reader. We are each uniquely, infinitely, and beautifully created by a Divine Source.

 

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        I have, and continue to enjoy, opportunities to travel and explore, not only within the Tri-State region, but also throughout the U.S. and Canada.  I have been further blessed to teach in a multiplicity of settings with a wide-array of ages that my younger self, with its limited perspective, could have never imagined.  Additionally, I was lucky enough to have a young woman take a chance on my writing in a now defunct county newspaper that gave me the confidence to approach another local paper that continues to welcome my writing—something I absolutely never dreamed I would do and for which I continue to be grateful with each passing week.  

 

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As seen on Instagram at thepositiveminds

 

         Furthermore, I am so fortunate to have lovingly shared my life with another educator who is just as passionate as me in the lifelong pursuit of learning and sharing with others.  Together, we have a daughter who is half way between her 20th and 21st year of life—a time that is so exciting, unpredictable, and oh-so-challenging.  What a wonderful gift it is to see the world through her eyes!

 

          I had/have the love, support, and/or closeness of my spouse and daughter, parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws, countless relatives within immediate and extended family, friends, acquaintances, teachers, mentors, and the list could go, including pets, connected like an intricately woven spider web, drenched with early autumnal dew of which I am but one strand of connectivity.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

          Thank you, God, Divine Source, Ultimate Creator, for keeping my heart beating and my breath coming–continuously, persistently, resolutely.  I am Your instrument. My prayer is that You, in an Infinite Wisdom that I will never comprehend, continue to use me, lead me, teach me, and guide me.  I am here to serve; I no longer question my calling–that in and of itself is a gift. Lead my life where You will, and I will continue to do my best to live in the present moment, shaking off the dust of my past and uninformed self as the trees shed their leaves in the fall.  Though the trees look dormant in times of winter, life is percolating inside, revitalizing, nourishing, and strengthening, so that when spring emerges–and it always does–it can offer shade in the heat of life.  

 

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As seen on Instagram at drwaynedyer

 

 

 

 

Adapt, Adjust, Accommodate

 

          “The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher.”—Chinese Proverb

           “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” Ecclesiastes 3:1

           “Wasn’t the snow so pretty this morning?  It was so nice to see snow again.”

           My daughter, Maddie, said this to me on a recent evening after temperatures from the previous day had hovered around 60 degrees, only to plummet to 13 degrees the following morning.  Additionally, a light layer of snow covered the grassy areas, trees, and hilltops.  

 

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          Upon hearing Maddie’s observation, I felt pleased to hear she still appreciated the natural world even now as a young adult.  My next thoughts were to recall how cold my feet and hands had remained throughout the day as well as all of the ways in which I chilled, and quite honestly, complained due to the sudden onset of cold rather than appreciate the miracle that is snow.  Oh boy, who’s the parent?

           Maddie was correct.  From the sugar coated tree branches standing in sentinel silence earlier that morning on surrounding hillsides, to the wispy white of the grass, as crisp and precise as a starched shirt under a jacket of cold air, it certainly made for a picturesque, albeit chilly, start to the day.  Hmm . . . I felt the sting of humility enter my mind.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

        A few days prior, while preparing to teach a yoga class, I encountered a phrase in one of my books that stated, “Adapt, adjust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury.”   I made it a point to write down those exact words because I wanted to remember it. Now those words were reverberating in my conscience. Who was I to complain about the cold?  After all, it was mid-November. 

          The article, which contained that phrase, as best I recall, described the power and influence of our thoughts, and the importance of cultivating a clear mind in order to discipline and guard our minds against disturbances and fluctuations driven by our ego. Of course, it emphasized the importance of praying, meditating, and all other faith based practices, but its real intent was to point out that all those practices/habits are useless if not applied in day-to-day life.  If our thoughts, words, and actions are full of complaints and resistances for things we cannot change or overflowing with attachments and thoughts to how things should be, not only are we not putting our faith into action, but we will not experience true inner peace.  

 

 

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As seen on A to Z Quotes

 

          A week later, I found myself walking with a friend. Half way through our walk, I could feel a rock in my shoe.  However, it was cold and our conversation was lively, so I did not want to stop to take the rock out of my shoe.  Still, the annoyance of it kept pressing into my foot, irritating and distracting me, but I remained doggedly determined not to take a few moments to remove it from my shoe.  Thus, at times, I found myself losing focus on our conversation as my attention drifted to that rock in my shoe.  

 

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           Once home, I stepped out of the car, took off my shoe, and shook out the rock.  Returning the shoe to my foot, I walked the length of our driveway to paper box to collect the newspaper.  Next, I sauntered over to the porch, pruned dead leaves and flower heads off of a chrysanthemum. Finally, I moved the pot, with the chrysanthemum in it, across the porch and into the sunlight as temperatures were once more climbing into the 50s.  Not once did I become distracted as I worked because I had removed the irritant—the obstacle–from my shoe. What a metaphor for our thoughts. 

 

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          How often do I fixate on negative thoughts, such as, “It is so cold;” “I am so tired;” “My back is killing me;” “I am so overwhelmed with . . ..” I could continue with examples, but the point is, these negative influences become like those scratched records of long ago, the words keep repeating, and won’t stop, until the needle is moved past the scratch.

 

          Likewise, at the end of a meditation, prayer, focused reading, walk, or even a yoga practice, most, if not all, negative thoughts have been removed from my mind like the rock in my shoe.  I can begin tasks, and even conversations, with a renewed focus, energy, and a sense of positivity. It is only when I begin to allow those perceived injuries and insults; such as, cold weather, aging, work load, and so forth, to infiltrate my thoughts that I once more become distracted, irritated, or filled with doubt/uncertainty. 

 

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          When my grandparents were living, a framed “Serenity Prayer” hung upstairs in the attic area in which I lived for two years fresh out of college.  I remember once asking my Grandmother to explain the significance of the prayer, especially the first two lines: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference . . ..”

 

          “Stethie,” her pronounced name for me, “over the years, there have been a lot of things that happened in my life that I could not change.”

 

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Grandmother, Helen Clarke Slater, with her father and mother.

 

          Grandmother went on to provide me with examples.  From the death of her own mother when she was a young girl, to her “crippled” dad, as she referred to him, refusing to receive charity—including not allowing my her to accept a scholarship (at a time period when a high school education was not mandatory) to attend a high school in a nearby town; from the 1937 flood in which she and my papaw lost the grocery store in which they owned and operated, to the fact that her beloved sister, Ruth, had married and divorced several men over the course of her life and lived out her final days impoverished.

 

          “I can’t change any of it, just like I can’t change these wrinkles on my ol’ face. I had to learn when to let things go, and live my life for the Lord and my family, especially you-kids.”

 

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          Her dark blue eyes, that were beginning to become milky with age, filled with tears as she finished by saying she loved me.  As an afterthought, she added that I’d come to understand and appreciate the prayer more with age. This was an especially poignant moment because I now realize that my papaw and she had had to accept major changes in their retired life in order to make room for a young-know-it-all 21-year old to move into their house.              

          Adapt, adjust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury, and keep on going with devotion and love.  Perhaps, this was what Grandmother Helen was trying to impart to me all those years ago.

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As seen on Instagram as posted by postivenergyalways.

30 Seconds More

            “How did it get so late so soon?  It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June.  My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”—Dr. Seuss

 

            “The trouble is, you think you have time.”—Jack Kornfield

 

            “You have 30 more seconds!  You can do it!” I encouraged the group of exercisers working out with me at Brown Dog Yoga.  However, as soon as I spoke those words, I was struck with the notion of how relative time is.  30 more seconds of push-ups can seem like a long time. Interestingly, within that same time span, human eyes will have blinked at least six times, heart and lungs will have ceaselessly continued their rhythmic beats and breathes; and around the world, about 125 babies will be born with a little more than 50 lives crossing over into eternity.

 

 

 

            30 more seconds of time . . .

 

            30 more seconds to say, I now know you were doing your best; I now see how hard it was; I didn’t know you were worried about my siblings and me; I didn’t know you didn’t know the answers; I didn’t know the struggles, the hurt, the heartache, and the trials. 

 

 

            30 more seconds to say, I am sorry, I love you, I was a stupid kid, and an even dumber young adult. Heck, who am I kidding? I am still not so great at adulting at times.

 

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          30 more seconds of–falling asleep to the sound of the Singer sewing machine whirring away on another dress for me as Mary Tyler Moore played on in the background; listening to WGNT each morning as we all dressed for school/work in our rooms while you made breakfast, packed lunches, ironed clothes, and studied your notes from night school; traipsing behind you throughout our avocado green kitchen in the afternoons watching you cook, offering to help, getting in the way repeatedly, talking without pausing to catch my breath about the latest high school drama.

 

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        30 more seconds of–waking to the sound of the water hose spray hitting the hubcaps of our car on a Saturday morning followed by a routine oil and engine check; books read or notes studied while reclined in a chair as black vinyl dropped from the top of the stack and music began to fill the room; long, menacing snakes that mysteriously disappeared from the side yard; nails that were driven into the family room wall frame while multiplication facts and/or spelling words were given in random order; driving lessons that ended up in the neighbor’s yard.

 

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            30 more seconds to–stay up late watching the Midnight Special; listen to our 45s and roller skate around our driveway; fight over board games; watch the free version of MTV on selected weekends; eat pizza and Snyder’s potato chips, drink pop, and see who could burp the loudest; sneak off to another room in the house with a deck of cards and daringly play a game of Blackjack like we were really doing something; say I am sorry I wasn’t the best sibling, and I am even more sorry for all my cross words as a kid about things that really didn’t matter.

 

 

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          30 more seconds of sitting on the metal green and white glider with Mamaw on her front porch, lulled by its metallic cadence as she sips iced tea, and I drink Tang out of what were once jelly jars, looking at the colorful zinnias that once lined her walk.

 

 

         30 more seconds to enter the backdoor directly into the aromatic-scented blue and white kitchen of my Grandmother’s and Papaw’s as they bustled together around the steaming pots and pans, aprons around both waists, beckoning us to enter their house, “such as it was.”

 

 

            30 more seconds of walking across the Convocation Center’s stage at Ohio University, grinning widely up at my family who had endured the motion-sickness-invoking car ride to celebrate with me. 

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           30 more seconds to–drive in the so-called fancy car with monogrammed floor mats; to laugh hysterically at a door we could not push open because we overlooked the “pull” sign; sit on the stoop of my grandparent’s house and talk as the moon passed over ours head; nervously meet your mom and sister, and ultimately laugh ‘til I cried as I took in all of their wonderful stories;  ride roller coasters repeatedly like we were 13 year olds; walk down the aisle with my arm linked into my Dad’s gliding towards an ear-to-ear smiling, soon-to-be husband; watch the snow fall half way up the back door of that tiny rental home; fly into the middle of a Canadian woodland in plane held together with duct tape surrounded by all sorts of creatures and critters that skitter-scurry in the night.

 

 

 

           

 

 

         30 more seconds to–savor when my eyes first locked into our daughter’s as Dr. Lee placed her gently on my chest; read another story book; sing another song; recite another nursery rhyme; watch another musical DVD again for which she has dressed up and is dancing/singing along; help with homework; shop for another special event dress; listen to a flute played in musical practice while I prepare dinner; proof read another essay.

 

 

          30 more seconds to once more taste–Mamaw’s holiday fudge; Grandmother’s brownies; Papaw’s sorghum molasses; Mom’s Christmas cinnamon rolls; Dad’s summer peanut butter milk shakes; Colleen’s family favorite broccoli casserole; and those scrambled eggs with grape jelly made in an attempt to get a sibling to eat them . . . okay, maybe not the eggs!

 

 

          30 more seconds to say–I didn’t realize the joy you felt; I didn’t fully realize the love you gave; I didn’t fully comprehend the pride you held; I didn’t fully grasp your compassion, empathy, and your capacity to overlook my idiocy.

 

            30 more seconds; one more minute; one more hour; and one more day.  If only I could go back into those moments. I’d gather each experience up, and arrange it like a bouquet of flowers whose fragrance I would sniff repeatedly until I sneezed myself silly.  Then, I’d place those colorful flowers safely away from all the mischievous cats of our past, change the flowers’ water daily, and gaze at their vibrancy frequently. What’s more, I’d stroke their velvety petals and bask in the whispers that would resonate when others walked past and remarked on their exquisiteness.

 

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One of the many cats we had as kids.

 

            When I was a young girl, my papaw loved taking pictures with his Kodak camera.  He then had each image developed into a slide, and he spent hours arranging those memories in just the right order in a rotary projector tray.  Each Christmas, and sometimes, if we were lucky, around July 4, Papaw would get out a large screen, set it up at one end of their special occasion living room, gather a TV tray table, set in just the right spot, and carefully place his carousel slide projector on top of it.  Once dinner was served, the kitchen was cleaned and all food items put away, save for the desserts—extra servings were sure to still be enjoyed—the lights were turned out. Family would gather in that seemingly expansive room on chairs, couches, and even on the floor as the room glowed with the larger than life images.  Papaw would dramatically pause for each photo, and then click on to the next one. We ooed and awed, laughed and swapped familiar stories. I never tired of that ritual.

 

 

            If only life could be captured perfectly like those rotary projector trays Papaw so lovingly organized, labeled, and gathered. Click, there’s my childhood.  Click, there’s my youth. Click, there’s my family, my friends, those special moments—it’s all there . . .Click, click, click . . .white light fills the screen. 

             30 more seconds . . . please.

 

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Be a Lighthouse

            “Don’t fight darkness—bring the light, and darkness will disappear.”—Maharashi Mahesh Yogi

 

            “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”—Anne Lamott

 

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            I listened to the interview with minimal interest.  Not that the story being told by both the interviewer and interviewee were without merit, I just wasn’t fully focused.  My mind was adrift in a sea of thoughts tossing pell-mell from one aspect of my life to another and another. Still, something kept drawing my attention back to the ongoing radio interview as I made my way to work on autopilot one morning in August. 

 

       “My role is to be like a lighthouse, keep shining a light on the danger, so that others can avoid the nightmare that I encountered.”  

 

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Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

 

          That was it–the lighthouse analogy!  Divine providence was whispering a lesson; yet it would take months before the seed fully began to emerge. Even as I typed the words that evening on a blank document, so that I would not forget to explore/write about the concept, unseen and unclear sprouts for rooting around for greater understanding even if I wasn’t consciously aware of them.

 

            Months later, I noticed on my Google calendar that Diwali, the festival of lights for those of the Hindu faith, would be soon occurring.  While I am not of the Hindu faith, I fondly recalled attending a local Diwali celebration last year in which several of my current and former students from St. Joseph Catholic School would be performing.  My husband, John, and I attended the colorful and highly symbolic celebration together. We learned many interesting facts, including that the essential meaning of the five-day festival of lights (although there is more than this simple definition) is to celebrate the ultimate victory of good over evil and light over darkness.  

 

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Photo by Abby Kihano on Pexels.com

 

          In fact, one person of the Hindu faith recently explained to me that Diwali also serves as a reminder to shine the light for others who have strayed, made mistakes, and otherwise have not been living a good life, so that they can find their way out of the darkness and return to living in the light.  This same person also shared that the darkness must be fully experienced in life in order to truly appreciate the light.

 

          “Sometimes we go through bad experiences, make mistakes or poor decisions, but it is those very events that teach us how to crawl out of the tunnel and move toward the light.”

 

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            This person went on to explain that in order to create a movie, one must have proper lighting.  Without light, the story cannot be filmed; and yet, without the darkness in which to view the movie, the story cannot be told.  

 

            “You see, Stephanie, we need both light and darkness in our life.  Darkness is not to be feared, but it must be passed through in order to understand and embrace the light.” 

 

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Photo by Johannes Rapprich on Pexels.com

 

            I was reminded of a trip John and I took several years ago when Maddie, our daughter, was quite young.  We were hiking and encountered a natural tunnel that, at one time, served as a one-lane road to get from one side of a mountain to the other.  Now it served as a tourist attraction for hikers and visitors to walk through. There were signs posted all around the entrance to warn visitors, that the tunnel would get very dark, and that visitors were encouraged to have some form of light. 

 

          Once fully away from the light of the entrance, I began to feel nervous as I held Maddie’s hand.  Fear’s tentacles gripped my claustrophobic mind as I was certain disease-infested rodents, nefarious criminals, and other pernicious creatures surrounded our little family.  We walked for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, and I was quite certain this was really an insidious trap for which there was no escape. Then the first sliver of light could be seen ahead, and my heart slowly resumed its normal rhythm.  

 

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Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

 

            There have been times in my life in which I made a succession of mistakes so bad and so numerous, it seemed as if I would never dig myself out of such deep, dark hole.  Likewise, I have experienced horrific life events for which there was no rhyme or reason, and I also felt as if I would never again see the light of day. Like that dark tunnel, those dark life occurrences left me feeling trapped, scared, and lacking trust/faith. However, it is those very experiences that not only inform my present day decisions and actions, but also increase my appreciation for, well, the light, the happier moments in life.  Furthermore, it is those very happenings from which I gained strength and knowledge in order to help, or at the very least, offer empathy and understanding to others.

 

          Lighthouses serve two purposes, as I understand it, to serve as navigational aids and to warn boats of dangerous areas.  They are painted differently, depending upon the background for which they are built—lighter colors for lighthouses built against a darker background, and brighter colors and patterns for those built in light-colored, sandy/rocky surroundings.  Additionally, they are built of varying heights, depending upon if they are to dwell above the water or closer to the water’s surface. In fact, even the lights within each lighthouse often possess different and various flash patterns to guide and inform mariners along coasts and/or through fog. 

 

 

            And, so the lesson of the lighthouse comes down to this.  The world, it seems to me, sure could benefit from more people serving as the humble lighthouse.  Our life experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly, have shaped us into the person that we are today.  Those dark and light experiences–the mistakes, tragic events, and even glories— serve as a personal teacher.  Therefore, why not allow those same experiences to help others navigate through both calm and stormy waters? It doesn’t require a bully pulpit, flashy interventions, or various other methods of gaining attention.  Rather, it only requires the embodiment of the humble lighthouse, an unpresumptuous fixture within its own community; consistently shining, day-in and day-out; quietly standing up, even when unobserved; offering light, radiance, and guidance to passersby without searching for an audience.  

 

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Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Keep Pedaling Through Life; Lesson from Camp Magis 2019

            “In the silence of the heart God speaks.”—Mother Teresa

 

            “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”—Pope Francis

 

 

 

           The wind whipped the remaining strands of my tangled mop of hair that wasn’t covered by the helmet, which, by the way, was continuously pinching the skin under my chin.  I chose to ignore the minor skin irritation; and, instead, embrace the sensation of freedom that comes with riding a bike out of doors. In fact, I grinned from ear to ear feeling like a teenager again . . .

 

            Sweat dripped down my face. 

 

            “Please stay upright, Steph.  Now is not the time to crash. There is a car behind you.”

 

            “Oh Lord, I’ve got to stand.  Pedal harder, Steph. You’ve got to get up this hill.”

 

            Lungs and thighs burning.

 

            “Get up and around the bend of this hill, Steph.  Come on.”

 

            Heart pounding in my ears.  Lungs in my throat.

 

            “Oh my heavens, are my shorts stuck to my butt from sweat?  Is my underwear showing? Oh please, no God, don’t let them be showing.”

 

            Heaving breaths.  Legs trembling.  

           

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Photo by Philipp M on Pexels.com

 

          Random lyrics from a childhood record that my siblings and I used to play in my grandparents’ attic ran a loop in my mind—one word at a time, matching each stroke of the pedal.

 

“Just. Think. You. Can.  And. Know. You. Can. Just. Like. The. Engine. That. Could.”

 

            Legs, pushing harder on the down stroke of each pedal, slowed, as the peak of the hill bend grew closer.

 

            “No, no, no, Steph.  You can’t stop now. The bike will topple over.  You. Will. Be. Run. Over. By. The. Car. Behind. You. Don’t. Stop. Now.”

 

            Hands gripped the handlebars so tightly; I could feel the bubble of sweat trapped below each palm.  

 

“Must. Hold. On. For. Dear. Life.”

 

            “I am at the top.  Thank you, God. I made it.  Here I go. Oh, Steph, don’t go too fast.  You could topple over and that car is still behind you.”

            

          Wind blowing through my long, youthful tresses that were bleached from summer sun; the perspiration on my face and limbs drying from the rush of air that was the downhill flight.

 

            “FREE . . .DOM! Feel it, Steph.  Total freedom from it all. Oh Lord, don’t get carried away though; you could wreck.  Car is still behind you! Oh, why won’t that car pass me?”

 

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Photo by Haydan As-soendawy on Pexels.com

 

          I shake my head out of the Solida Road revere of my August bike ride home from high school band camp that I regularly made during the early weeks of August before another new school year had officially begun.  I am snapped back to the reality that I am no longer a teenager, not even close; and for a moment, I feel a knot of restriction in my throat threatening to release a spillway of emotion for which I did not have time.  

 

 

          I was at Camp Magis for heaven’s sake, chaperoning St. Joseph Catholic Middle School 7th graders on their annual retreat; and right in front of me, a wreck was unfolding as two girls’ bikes accidentally collided on the rough terrain of the off-road trail. 

 

          “Time to shift gears, and not on this mountain bike you’re currently riding, Steph, get back to your current reality. Be an adult, for heaven’s sake, and help those two giggling girls get their bikes upright!”

 

 

          Bike riding was only one of the activities planned for seventh grade students during their three day visit to Camp Magis, located at the Mary Help of Christians Pastoral Center situated in the sloping valley just outside of the Kumbrabow State Forest and on the literal edge of the Monongahela National Forest between the communities of Elkwater and Huttonsville.  From archery to rock wall climbing; from canoeing to swinging on a zip line-like contraption; from a focused, mindful prayer-walk to a late night scavenger hunt; and from a morning prayer service to an evening mass, Camp Magis focuses on students experiencing fellowship, prayer, and service to others through an adventure-filled camp-like atmosphere. Students get out of the classroom environment and away from their screens; and spend their days filled with plenty of fresh mountain air, exercise, and the glory that is the natural world.

 

 

 

          Honestly, it was physically exhausting, but it was worth it as the other chaperones, along with John, my husband, (also at teacher at SJCMS) and me, were able to observe the students interacting with one another and their faith in new ways that were equal parts challenging and pleasurable.  By the end of each day, there was no convincing the kids that the lights needed turned off at 10:30; they were ready for a good night’s sleep. Of course, so were all of the chaperones!

 

 

          While Camp Magis is offered for all seventh grade students enrolled in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia Catholic Schools, John and I also reaped spiritual benefits from the experience in spite of the always present fatigue as we were as deeply immersed in the activities as our students.  It was, in fact, that nagging, age-related weariness that required us to rely on our faith to get us through.  

 

          Additionally, Camp Magis provided  a continual reminder that our life together has, and is, rooted in service to others.  The very motto of the camp, “Go, do not be afraid, and serve,” truly emphasizes what is required, not only of educators, but of all humanity at this moment in time.  We cannot, and will not, survive, much less thrive, if we do not conquer fear, step outside the boundaries of our personal comfort zones, and offer good to the world.

 

          During those long ago days spent biking to and from band camp, I had to conquer my fears—fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of flipping my bike. (Never squeeze the left hand brake first, Steph, that’s the front wheel.  Always squeeze right hand first when braking.)  I may not have realized it then, just like it may not have dawned on the students at Camp Magis, but I was relying on my faith to get me through those numerous, and dare I say, treacherous, bike rides.  While I wasn’t, per se, in service to others; I recognize, as I look back on it now, (just as I hope my students will do), that those bike rides were an important step in learning self-reliance, overcoming challenges, and deepening my belief, and faith, that something Greater than myself, would get me safely across that four-lane intersection, up that curvy hill, and around the sharply bent, downhill slope.

 

 

          Now, as I boldly face the early stages of aging, the physical and mental demands that not only my career still dictates, but also that life in general requires, I choose to continue to keep going, to keep pedaling up that metaphorical hillside.  I choose to keep serving others through teaching, writing, and creating—however small my service may be, it is my life-bike to ride. Fear tries, and will continue to attempt, to dig its claws into me. Some days, I swear I can feel it sinking its talons into my heart, contracting my throat, and ripping into my stomach; however, I choose to persist, persevere, and well, keep on pedaling.

 

 

            And in the end, when I am coasting down that last hill, embracing the last gasp of breeze, may I still not be afraid, but may I know that it was worth every push of the pedal.  

 

          Remember, Dear Reader, there is joy in the push. Pedal on life, pedal on.

 

 

 

Reflection Revelations

            “I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways . . .If you want to make the world a better place/ Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”—As performed by Michael Jackson; written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett

 

            “Yesterday I was so clever, so I wanted to change the world.  Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”—Rumi

 

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Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

 

            I can still remember the first time it happened as if it were yesterday.  Since then, it has happened on several more occasions, each one occurring as if it had never before happened.

 

            “What do I have on my forehead?” I will think as I catch a quick glimpse of my reflection in my bathroom mirror.  

 

            “What do I have near my eye, my cheek, my mouth . . .?”  

 

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

 

            It’s always the same surprise.  At first, I think I am seeing dirt, and I begin rubbing vigorously with a saliva-wet finger—as if I do not have a faucet only inches away from my fingers.  When it doesn’t disappear under such spirited efforts, I then switch to the soap and water directly below the mirror and renew my efforts. About halfway into the motion of soaping up the so-called soiled skin, it hits me like a red round gym ball smacking the side of my head. Arg!  It’s a wrinkle, or two, or seven.

 

            That’s when I go through the next round of self-deprecating thoughts.  

 

            “You look at yourself every day in the mirror to brush teeth, wash face, apply make-up, fix hair . . ..  How on earth did you NOT notice these wrinkles before? Are you blind?”

 

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            The facts are, Dear Reader, I don’t wear contacts, I’ve been far-sighted since I was a kid, and I am the proud owner of aging eyes with an astigmatism; so of course, I don’t see my wrinkles when I am at the bathroom mirror as I typically don’t yet have on my glasses for the day. 

 

            Ok, well, that’s not entirely true.  I typically have my glasses on when I am brushing my teeth—which is twice per day, but let’s be honest.  At the age of nearly 54, I do not spend much time truly gazing at myself. In fact, while I may see my reflection, I don’t really see me.  My mind is typically off meandering around the hundreds of thoughts scattered throughout my cerebrum.  Still, at my age, it should not be any great shock or surprise to discover wrinkles are mapping out my face like the tattered, overused roadmap that my husband and I once kept in our vehicles in the years before driving apps. 

 

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            In fact, recently, due to my aging eyes, and a remodel, I now have a small magnifying mirror attached to my bathroom wall near the vanity mirror.  Talk about a shock to the system! At first, it was all fun and games because I could actually see to pluck my eyebrows, apply eye makeup, and floss my teeth.  The party quickly ended, however, when it also began to reveal how deeply those crows feet, laugh lines, worry lines, and smile lines have really embedded into my face like lines on wet sand made with a stick.  What the heck? When did all of this happen? Why didn’t someone tell me? You mean, I’ve been walking around feeling like I am 20, or at the very least, 30 years old on the inside, but actually looking like my real age on the outside?  I’ve been lying to myself, and no one had the courage to tell me? Clearly, I have no real friends or honest loved ones!

 

            And so it, with criticism.  Hard, cold, biting, slashing, tearing, stomach wrenching critiques offered up freely by others.   Speaking of being whacked with a red gym ball, criticism can also be like that. It seems to come out of nowhere when we are not prepared or looking for it—like the way I felt the first time I really gazed in my magnifying mirror and saw the truth of my aging face.

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            Proclamations of censure seem to happen with great frequency in pop culture, and at this point in time, they almost seem comical given their sources.  However, when it is personally delivered and received via special delivery by an important person in one’s life, it is not so funny. Raw emotions, wounded feelings, and even misunderstandings are often tilled up like a fallow field of wasteland as a result of these personal bombshells.  What is a person to do at such times?

 

            According to wise words I recently read, one has two options.  The first alternative is to make the realization that the person must not truly see you, your true heart, and your true intentions. Understand that their vision may be a reflection of their own self-judgement or insecurities.  Accept it with empathy for their suffering, and then move on with the knowledge that you have actually learned more about the messenger.

 

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            In contrast, the second option is to think of the critique as mirror magnifying and reflecting an actual smudge of dirt upon your proverbial face that needs to be cleaned.  Of course, you can ignore it, and lie to yourself, as I have done for years regarding the wrinkles on my face. Then, there is the option of fighting back, punching the mirror, and shattering its reflection, hurting both the person, your metaphorical fist, and possibly risk destroying any opportunity to amend the relationship.  Finally, you can view it for the truth it is revealing. Thus, creating an opportunity to wipe the dirt off, and challenging you to begin to search for ways to change, seizing the opportunity for a more fertile awareness in which a new seed has been planted, offering you a chance to learn, grow, and perhaps even improve. 

 

          Here’s to magnifying mirrors.  May we embrace the true reflections they reveal.

 

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A Penny For Your Thoughts

        Find a penny, pick it up, All the day, You’ll have good luck!  Give it to a faithful friend, Then your luck will NEVER end!—Unknown

 

There it was, glinting in the bright morning sunlight, although not as lustrous as it once had been.  The blacktop had recently been paved, and from the appearance of its copper face, it appeared as if some of that pavement had covered it as well.  I started to walk on past, but like the siren call, I could not ignore it.  The face seemed to implore me to bend down.  Must. Be. Picked. Up.

 

Hunched over, the weight of my bag pushing me even lower, I could see the year.  1977, huh?  I think I was in 6thgrade or 7thgrade when it was made.  I had a total of two albums then:  Queen’s, Night at the Operaand Kiss’s, Rock and Roll Over. Additionally, I possessed one eight track tape, Fleetwood Mac’s, Rumors,that played on some portable 8-track player that I had somehow won for selling something, but I don’t recall what the somethingwas; and, I was saving my lunch money change and babysitting money to buy the Saturday Night Feversoundtrack, from the soon-to-be released movie that I was absolutely forbade to see. Bell-bottom jeans were on their way out. While straight-legged jeans and Annie Hall clothes, would soon be all the rage in teen fashion. Why all this should pass through my mind in an instance, I’ll never know.

 

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The words, “In God We Trust,” were fairly crusted over with black; however, the word, “Liberty” was fairly recognizable. Abraham Lincoln’s image was marred in spots by the blacktop as well, but he was still identifiable. I decided to give in to my instincts and pick it up.

 

I thought about giving it to one of my clients; and now, based upon my research, I wish I would have.  However, I decided not to give it away because it seemed so tarnished.  (See what I did there?)  Still I felt thankful and even a bit giddy after finding it.  Perhaps, it was the silly memories it triggered me to recall; maybe it was the bright sunshine that imbued my soul with joy; then again, maybe it was the feeling of luck—luck for me, and luck for the rescued to penny to continue on another day, rather spend the rest of its life doomed as part of a parking lot.

 

Did I have a good day on that Saturday?  Absolutely!  Did good fortune follow after finding it?  Well, not exactly, but, hey, I am healthy, alive, able to work, and can spend time with my family—I’d say that’s fortune enough.

 

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Photo by David McBee on Pexels.com

 

Still, finding that penny inspired my curiosity. Why do we say, “Find a penny, pick it up, all the day, you’ll have good luck?”  Week’s later, relaxed and out of town for the weekend, I took time to indulge my inquisitiveness. What I learned was quite interesting—assuming my sources were reliable.

 

First of all, there’s more to the saying than I knew.  I had never learned the rest of the saying, “Give it to a faithful friend, then your luck will NEVER end!”  Who knew?  I should have given it away as my gut had told me to do!

 

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However, before that, I also should have paused andthanked God for my blessings. According to several sources, only a face-up penny possesses the words, “In God We Trust,” which is serves as a reminder that we must trust and rely upon God for everything in our life. Therefore, picking up the penny, pausing long enough to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving before giving the penny away, is key to increasing positive fortune in one’s life.

 

It would appear that the whole, “Find a penny, pick it up,” practice might stem from ancient times.  Folklore has it that metals, such as copper, were considered gifts from gods. If one found something metal, such as a copper coin, that object was a gift, sent from the gods, to protect the finder from evil

 

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Photo by Carlos Pernalete Tua on Pexels.com

 

However, the picking up a penny found in one’s path can also be traced to ancient Ireland and parts of Northern Europe.  Long ago, in this area of the world, it was once believed that pennies belonged to fairies, leprechauns and pixies.  When one found a penny during this time period, the person was instructed to spit upon the ground where the penny once lay.  Then, the coin was to be tossed into nearby foliage or bushes, so the little creatures could have it.  It was further believed that when the little creatures witnessed a human doing this, they would provide this person much luck and fortune.

 

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Photo by Annie Japaud on Pexels.com

 

There are other interesting, so-called rules regarding the finding of pennies.  For example, a penny found tails up should be turned over and left for another person to find. This promotes good karma to both the person who turned the penny over, and the person who finds the head-up penny.  Along this same line of logic, supposedly, if you see a penny tails up, and do not flip it to the heads up side for someone else, bad luck will befall you.

 

Another nugget oddity that I found was the belief that if you see a person drop a penny, you must return it to them if it lands heads up; otherwise, you’re attempting to steal their luck.  If, however, the penny lands head-down, then it is your job to flip it over.  Thus, changing your fate, the dropper’s fate, and the ultimate finder’s fate!

 

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A few writers went so far as to offer this sage wisdom: Do not flip a found tails up penny, wait 5 seconds or whatever, and then pick it up. Good fortune does not work that way!  These were also the same writers who further believed that when you do find a heads up penny, it must go some place significant, not just in your wallet or pocket. In fact, one source said the found, heads up penny, must be placed on, near, or with some area of your life in which you hope to flourish or increase.

 

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Then, there were these quips about pennies:

 

          “Put a penny wrapped in paper, keep it to avoid your debtors.”

 

          “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue—and a lucky penny in the shoe!”

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Finally, I found that some people believe that a penny represents oneness (Get it, one) with God—the unity of the spirit and the body—reminding the finder of their ultimate afterlife.  Several of these writers went on to add that, if, however, one finds a dime, it is thought to be sent from a loved one who has passed away letting you know that you are loved and valued.

 

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Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

 

Regardless of which belief(s) you wish to embrace on finding a coin, may your day, Dear Reader, be filled with good fortune, much luck, and perhaps, a random coin or two.  Just remember, I shared this advice with you, so don’t be a miser, and keep it all to yourself!

          Hmm . . .maybe I’ll start leaving random, heads-up pennies on the ground for others.  After all, I can now fully say that the penny I found gave me the good fortune of added knowledge! Who knows what a penny could provide for someone else?

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Shining Light on the Golden Present

          “There is nourishment like bread that feeds one part of your life and nourishment like light for another.  There are many rules about restraint with the former, but only one rule for the latter–Never be satisfied.  Eat and drink the soul substance, as a wick does with the oil it soaks in. Give light to the company.”—Rumi

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

          My heart was breaking into a thousand pieces.  From the center of my soul, I felt the shards of accusations, regret, and all those unsaid words exploding from within my body and moving in an outward trajectory piercing my flesh—my mistakes visible for all to see.  The car of the past, in which I was the driver, was rushing, speeding, racing, and breaking all speed limits–accelerating too quickly to control. The vehicle of the present was dead ahead. The impact was coming. It could not be avoided. I attempted to bear down on the brakes, but the collision was inescapable.  Bracing, knowing it was coming, the impact, the pain, the unavoidable blood, carnage, and most likely, death, was seconds away . . . 

 

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Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

 

          Gasping for air, as if fighting to stay afloat after being capsized into a tumultuous, tempestuous sea, I sat bolt upright in my bed feeling my heart race, sweat dripping down my neck, back, chest, and arms, wondering if I was really alive.  Gradually respiration resumed a more regular rhythm, allowing my heart to pound with less voracity. The cloak of darkness that is 2:00 am enveloped me with little solace. Emotional rubble from the impact once more pierced my heart as if stepping barefoot onto a tile floor covered with the remains of a fractured light bulb.  It was as if the metaphorical bulb of what seemed like a well-intended, great idea had suddenly shattered, leaving only a black hole from which there was no escape.

 

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

 

          Days later, the waves of emotion, with little to no warning, would heave, pitch, and swell with its nauseating and dizzying effects.  Was there no Benadryl for emotional sickness? Was there no salve for the raw and blistered soul?

 

          “But what is visible?  The golden present. Think of the golden present, sow what is necessary, what is right.  Sow good thoughts, sow good deeds . . .”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

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          Wait, what?  I read and reread those words clinging to them with great wonder as if I were Charlie with the winning ticket to the Wonka chocolate factory. The golden present.  The. Golden. Present.

 

          Riding the raft of remorse and repentance did nothing.  Nothing to change the past. Nothing to affect the outcome.  It was what it was. But the golden present, the winning ticket, was doing what was right, now. This is what could be changed.   This is what could be done, and it began in my head and my heart. 

 

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The message written inside a piece of Dove chocolate that I recently found.

 

 

          The soul needs nourished; and, one must soak in that nourishment as a wick in an oil lamp in order to give light to others as Rumi once wrote.  This notion reminds me of what airlines advise parents: In the case of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on first in order to effectively help your children. Feed the soul and the mind with words of encouragement.  Focus more on the positive, let go of the mind’s desire to attach to the negative. Seek, read, listen to words, scripture, and other texts that offer timeless wisdom and nuggets of valued truth in order to train and guide the mind, fueling the soul.  

 

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As seen on a post on Instagram.

 

          More importantly, judge less, beginning with myself.  If I am to be transparent, I have battled with self-worth throughout my life.  I have spent countless energy, especially during my younger years, saying, “If only I could be better; if only I could be good; if only I were more like this person or that person . . . then ___________ (fill in the blank) would happen.”  It was, and, even today, at times, the erroneous belief of my ego that my actions could control, influence, or otherwise affect the outcomes of others’ actions, beliefs, or behaviors.  

 

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As posted on Instagram by heartcenteredrebalancing.

 

        Perhaps, it is the curse of my empathic nature.  Due to the fact, I can often sense others’ emotional energy, I sometimes have urges to fix, fight, or flee from people.  It can a bit manipulative, if I think about it–trying to alter the actions of another. Therefore, it seems to me that the proverbial broken light bulb of the past now needs replaced with a new light, one that is brighter, more golden, as it were.

 

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          I cannot change my past thoughts, words, and actions.  However, I have been given the present, and a new light shines on this realization.  It is up to me to stop dwelling on the past and begin sowing seeds in a new way. Like an organic farmer giving up fertilizers and pesticides that often deplete the soil of nourishment, I, too, must put aside poisonous ways. I must continually till and remove the weeds of past behaviors, including judgment that inevitably will rise with regularity, threatening to overtake the seeds of positivity.  It will not be easy; and, change will not occur lineally, as I would prefer, but rather, in fits, starts, and spurts with setbacks in between. In fact, the best advice can be found in Rumi’s words—“Never be satisfied.” 

           May my life become as the wick for which Rumi spoke—properly fueled, illuminating in the golden present, in order to offer that light to others.

 

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As posted on Instagram by spiritualist_within

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nightswimming: September is Coming Soon

            “Nightswimming deserves a quiet night . . .

            Turned around backwards so the windshield shows . . .

            Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse . . .

            Still, it’s so much clearer . . .”  lyrics from, “Nightswimming,” as performed by

            R.E.M.

 

 

 

 

           I heard the stirring sounds of oboe and strings.  Immediately my hand, momentarily, went to my heart as my mind raced towards the youthful summers of my past.  Reaching down for my phone as I drove, I waited until I reached a stoplight before snapping a picture of the song title.  Later, I would use that picture as a reminder to not only add the song to one of my Spotify playlists, but also as a potential source of inspiration for a later written piece. 

 

 

 

 

            I continued listening, and even replayed it later, a few more times, allowing random images of the past to flash through the movie screen that is my mind’s eye.  Nonsensical was the order as memories from all different ages hit me: The scent of green beans and sliced tomatoes; the summer soundtrack of cricket chatter offering background sounds to a quiet conversation with one of the neighborhood boys as we sat on his family’s wooden rail fence, seemingly late into the dark of the night, until my mom came to the front door to call me inside; the distinct metallic resonance of a water hose spraying car hubcaps on a sunny Saturday morning; hot rays of sun penetrating any exposed skin; the taste of Honeycomb cereal—a special treat courtesy of grandparents; kickball games and childhood tempers; family gatherings and church picnics; vacation bible school and late morning wake-ups; summer jobs and money to burn; roller skating and record playing; The Midnight Special and the discovery of album oriented radio (AOR); ice cream, French fries, corn on the cob, family treats of bottled pop guzzled alongside my three siblings to the sounds of music, laughter, bickering, and, yes, much to our Mom’s disapproval, burping contests . . .sweet, savory, summer.

 

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Photo by Max Andrey on Pexels.com

 

            By August, although though I would have never admitted it aloud, I was a bit bored and semi-ready for the routine and social aspect school brought with it.  It was always a new start, as ripe and juicy with possibilities as a July watermelon. Usually it began with several sleepless nights filled with anxious wonderings regarding teachers, classmates, classes, workload, and of course, the never-ending, but unspoken worry of my youth, “Will I fit in this year?”  

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Updated clothes, newly sized trendy shoes (or at least as updated and on-trend as we could afford), unblemished notebooks, sharpened pencils classically scented of wood and lead; plus a new tube of bubblegum Bonnie Bell Lip smacker for pockets, and a pink bottle full of Love’s Baby Soft Cologne—these were the shiny, sparkly implements waiting to be used on that first day.  Inevitably the bus stop would be chaotic and competitive, the bus ride smelly and hot, schools halls redolent with scents of newly applied floor wax and cooked cabbage or other such malodorous vegetable. Then, there was always that first step into the classroom, the moment of truth, the feeling of dread, or hope. Who was your teacher; and, more importantly (at least at the time), who was in your class?

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Crossing the threshold, summer’s enchantment crumbled like chips in the bottom of a foil bag, and the new reality began to itch slightly as if bitten by one mosquito only to later mercilessly feel the irritation of numerous bites waking you in the middle of the night.  This was what happened, or so it seemed, between day one and day six of school. First days made it all seem manageable, fun, and even lighthearted, followed by homework, tests, and requirements that started building in crescendo-like fashion until finally reaching the climax at the end of a grading period, only to begin once more with the next.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           And yet, in between, in between the raindrops of assignments, and storms of essays and exams, there were those moments, those times, when you just knew, just felt you were either going to rock this world or be crushed by the world; and this unknowing, somehow felt exhilarating, tantalizing, and even breathtaking. The world was filled with an endless array of possibilities, potential, and even dangerous, but tempting, pitfalls. It all seemed right there, alive, and at your fingertips for the taking.  Drunk on youth, heady as it was.

 

 

 

 

            Looking back through the rear windshield of time, I sometimes grow nostalgic for that spine tingling longing that is uniquely part of youth.  Oh, it’s not that I am dissatisfied with my life. Quite the contrary. It is merely that I truly did not know what I had when I was young; but then again, none of us truly do until we are years removed it.  

 

            If only I had known to slow down, savor the moment.  If only I had known to really sip from the cup that is youth and relish every drop of its intoxicating effects.  Ah, but such is life. . .

 

 

 

 

             Perhaps that is why my husband and I still teach, still go out on dates, still workout, and still hold hands.  Perhaps that is why we are drawn to conversations with young people, allowing us to bask in their energy and vivaciousness. No, we are not trying to be young again, nor are we trying to relive our youth.  Rather, it seems to me, as if we are appreciating the NOW, the now of the moments we are living, and the now of the relative health we possess.  You see, we have caught glimpses of the other side, the next step of progression as it were, and now own the life-wisdom to know—to know and to appreciate bursts of energy found in exercise; to linger a bit longer over date conversations; to savor the comfort, and tingle, that comes from holding hands, embracing, and even kissing.  We value the vibrancy and vigor of youth and allow it to fill us with inspiration, laughter, and hope—endless, boundless hope. After all, hope, it is said, springs eternal.  

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           Goodbye, summer, my dear friend.  Even though, I know by calendar-time, you will linger a tad longer. I must leave your dreams, your reverie, your romance, and return to a new reality. A land filled with the sights of unblemished whiteboards and post-it notes of reminders; the feeling of a busy, new schedule and a rushed routine; the scent of floor wax and dirty gym clothes stuffed in a locker; the taste of rapidly thrown down lunches and vanilla or mocha coffees; and, the sound of blaring early morning alarms and the banter of middle school students.  A new school year, a new start, as ripe, sweet, and prickly as the blackberry brambles of mid-July, begins this week. 

 

            “These things, they go away

            Replaced by everyday . . . 

            September’s coming soon . . .” lyrics from, “Nightswimming,” as performed by

             R.E.M.

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Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

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On Mistakes, Lessons Learned, and the Power of Kind Words

             “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” ― Mother Teresa

 

            “Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift.  And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.”—Richelle E. Goodrich

 

            I reread the client’s text in disbelief. How could I have made this mistake? I looked at my Google calendar.  Nothing there. I looked at the business app. Yep. It was there, but I had not checked there. On a hunch, I glanced once more at my calendar, but ahead one week.  Insert face to palm as I felt a knot begin to form and constrict my insides.

 

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            I once learned that there are three default modes for humans when reacting to a so-called “threats:” fight, flight, or freeze; and, I have years of experience with freezing—absolute glacial freeze. Inside my body, it feels as if the great glaciers of the ice age are tying, twisting, turning and tearing their way through my gut; while on the outside, starting at my extremities, and moving across my outer skin, I physically become cold to the touch.

 

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            How could this have happened?  I am 53 years old. In addition to 31 years as a teacher in various schools, I also worked at a number of other locations from an early age.  For years, as a teenager, and into my 20th year, I worked as a part-time opener for the local McDonalds, which meant, depending upon which job I was assigned, I had to be at work between 3:30-5:30 am.  Never. Never did I miss a shift. Never have I not shown up for work. Ever. Until age 53.

 

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            What happened?  I had accidentally plugged the date into my Google Calendar for the following Friday.  I could feel my face growing red; my heart pounding in my chest. I could feel that icy sensation crystallizing like shards of glass on a window pane across my epidermis as my innards became more bound up like wet, sweaty socks balled up and stuffed inside a sports shoe for later retrieval.  Was it too late for me to be retrieved and cleaned, or was I stained for life?

 

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            My current employers and clients don’t know me—at least, not my work history and work ethic.  They don’t really know my passion and drive regarding the ridiculously high bar for which I set for myself.  Honestly, what do they know about me other than my visible outward work behavior, which, up until this point, had been taintless?  Now, this mark, this failure, this complete and total mess-up by me—was now part of my work legacy.

 

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            That’s when the tears hit.  My heart shattered. I made my way to my bathroom, turned on the sink water, then slumped to the floor in a heap and cried.  Tears of regret. Tears of remorse. Tears of, “if only I had.” Salty, briny, bitter tears.  

            This began all over again when I received the typewritten censure.  Here was a young lady, still in her twenties, having to reprimand me. ME!  It was more than I could I take. Great sobs of failure racked my body. I had let the team down.  I was a disappointment. Moving forward I would be asked to . . . , I felt the weight of my error

 

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            The clients, though, were nothing but nice when I communicated with them.  Words like, “Everybody makes mistakes;” or, “It’s no big deal;” and, “I still love you and the business,” only made me feel worse.  Not because I thought they weren’t sincere, I think they were, but it still only pointed out more, at least in my mind, that I was a complete and total failure, a letdown.   

            Hours later, as I studied my home Armstrong email inbox, which had contributed to the problem—I did not receive my typical reminder email regarding substitute teaching.  Earlier in the week, for some inexplicable reason, my emails began appearing in a jumbled, random order; and, it now appears that I am not receiving all of them either. I continued examining the inbox, hovering over one tab, and then another, in an attempt to find a way to correct the issue, when an email popped up—of course, in the middle of the inbox, rather than the top, from an unknown name with the subject saying, “Your columns in the Herald Dispatch.”  Hmm . . .

 

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            As I moved, like a distracted squirrel to grab this little nut of possibility, another email popped up—also, not at the top, but toward the bottom of the inbox—with the subject, “On wearing purple,” the name of my most recent column.  Now, I really felt like a squirrel in Ritter Park during the autumn months when acorns are abundantly available. Which should I grab—click open—first?  

 

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            Then, my sense of order kicked, strengthened only by years of a teacher schedule—first period, is followed by second period and so forth—I clicked open the one that entered chronologically first!

            Wait, what?  I could not believe what I was reading.  Without revealing the content of the emails, let me just say, I found myself once more teary-eyed—this time from the sheer sweetness of the thoughtfulness of a stranger’s words.  They did know of my epic-failure that occurred earlier that morning. Neither did they know of the so-called stain upon my reputation—they only knew the heartfelt words that pour out of me week-in and week-out.

 

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            Writing this piece, after a mere two days of reflection, I recognize, first, that a lesson in humility is NEVER a bad thing. Additionally, heading into a new school year, this was also an extremely VALID lesson for me to have experienced what it means to make a real mistake, so that I can better empathize with, and teach, my incoming 6th , 7th, and 8th graders.  Human beings err, fall short, and make mistakes.  No one is perfect—not even at age 53.

 

            Thus, I have learned three lessons, so far, from this experience. (Though I suspect there will be more.)  First, be humble—in word, deed, AND thought. Who was I to pretend to be Stephanie Supersomebody who would NEVER _______ (fill in the blank)?  How haughty of me! Secondly, humbly admit a mistake, not only to others, but also to yourself; learn from it (double check dates when inputting to Google calendar, and check your business app daily—rather than relying on memory) in order not to repeat it again; then move on, offering yourself forgiveness.  Lastly, and I think, perhaps most importantly, while actions do matter, so do words. All spoken, written, and thought words influence us–often imperceptibly.  Therefore, not only is it important to take the time to speak, or write, positively to others, but also offer yourself, in thought, kind words—even in the midst of so-called failure.   After all, in the words of Henry Ford, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learning nothing.”

 

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