The Girl with the Pink Fuzzy Socks

“Hope is an adventure, a going forward, a confident search for a rewarding life.”–Dr. Karl Menninger

 

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul–and sings the tunes without words–and never stops at all.”–Emily Dickinson

 

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It was her pink fuzzy socks with the swath of white encircling the top of her long ankle that kept drawing my attention–well, the socks and her face–imploring, seeking, and open. Those socks spoke of youth, vibrancy, and a healthy need for warmth–except that the weather was quirky for winter and, on this particular day, the temperature was exceptionally warm.  Plus, this was a warm yoga class with the temperature set at 85 degrees. Still, it wasn’t unusual for people to prefer to practice yoga in socks rather than bare feet.

 

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In direct contrast with the cute socks and her youthful visage framed by long locks, the shade of flax intermingled with goldenrod, were her eyes, that darted, jumped, and searched.  Her energy was frenetic and animated. It appeared that she spoke with the entirety of her body. In fact, she needed little invitation to talk as one small question seemed to release the valve to the unseen dam within her soul.

 

My level of empathy and compassion are part blessing and curse. When someone is truly suffering, I can feel it emanating off them as steam rises from the soup pot when the lid is removed.  With age, I have tried to learn to develop emotional bubble wrap, especially when faced with angry, negative, or heartbroken energy. Try as I might to seal myself insides off, like the scent of garbage drippings that cling to blacktop in the summer, long after the truck has collected the refuse, so often do other’s emotional dross sink into me leaving me affected for hours and even days.

 

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Her socks reminded me of socks like my daughter likes to wear around the house, especially in the winter.

 

 

Thus, when the girl with the pink socks, that I shall name Sarah for the sake of this story, began talking, it was as if offshoots of her pain gradually began to stretch and grow within me.  Her story came out as quickly as an overturned cup of wine; and, just as swiftly as that proverbial glass of wine, it had rapidly and permanently stained her life. Without revealing too much, her husband had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer for which he had undergone one radical and brutal treatment after another. It had been exactly a year since his initial diagnosis, and now, she explained, hospice had been called in.  The couple wasn’t yet in their third decade of life, and they had two young children! 

 

As I write Sarah’s story, I can still feel her sadness and anxiety deeply within my gut. Sarah was taking a yoga class that I was teaching. It was a recent visit to her doctor that had prompted Sarah to yoga.  The doctor, she reported, wanted to prescribe numerous medications to help reduce her anxiety. Sarah had refused, and instead, decided to give yoga a try.

 

“My mind is never still.  It won’t settle; it is so restless. I can’t pray anymore.”

 

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She went on to explain that she was hoping that yoga would help her quiet her mind, so that she could, once more, meditate and pray.  Ironically, the theme of my class on that particular day was focused on the fact that health encompasses more than just the physical body, but it also includes the well-being of the mind and spirit. Additionally, I had planned to read a short passage explaining that one of the traditional purposes of yoga was not only to strengthen the body and make it more supple; but ultimately, to quiet the mind, so that afterwards, one could sit and meditate and/or pray for extended periods. After hearing her story, I just wasn’t sure if this was the appropriate way to proceed, but I decided to give a try anyway.

 

And while this is an imperfect story, just as life is also rarely defect-free, Sarah did sit still, if only for a few moments, at the end of class.  The other exercisers and I gathered around her afterwards. Sarah talked more, and we listened more. We looked at the pictures of her beautiful, and oh-so-young family.  One person typed the correct spelling of her husband’s name into her phone, so his name could be added to the prayer-list at her church.  

 

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My daughter’s variation of pink, fuzzy socks.

 

 

Meanwhile, I still keep thinking of those fuzzy pink socks, and I am reminded of my own daughter who loves to wear those types of socks in the winter.  Like my own child, this young couple were once children of parents who loved and cared for them. How those parents must have envisioned their children’s future with such hope and promise.  Most likely, those same parents must have felt that same hope rising when the young couple were married, and even more so with the birth of each child–their precious grandchildren.

 

I can’t understand this story; I only feel the pain, the hidden hurt of this child with her pink fuzzy socks; the beautiful strands of  her wavy, tousled hair; her darting eyes; and all of her words–pouring out of her soul in search of the path of least resistance like excessive rain water travels down hill.  However, for this child–there is no path of least resistance–she traverses a path few would want to trudge.  

 

 

As I write her story, I think of all the events in my life for which I could complain, I could whine, and snivel.  In fact, I could write a tale or two of woeful, personal tragedy, but those stories would be nothing, nothing compared to Sarah with the pink socks.  Wherever she is, may she somehow be comforted, her pain lessened, and I further pray that her mind will find peace, so that she can focus on being a mom who is full of hopes and dreams for her own two children as well as herself.

 

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I Can’t Stay Long

 o“Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year.  Even when a new century begins, it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.”– Tomas Mann

 

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current;  no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”–Marcus Aurelius

 

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This polaroid of Uncle Leo is of unknown source to me.

 

“I can’t stay long, Mom.”  

 

His words were a familiar phrase meant to be part greeting and part warning.  A rush of winter’s chilly air crowded in around him like flies swarming picnic food.  Despite the fact he quickly closed the back door, the entrance through which all family, and most friends, entered, the temperature of the room temporarily lowered, and I was momentarily reminded of the thin layer of ice lining the single pane windows. I shivered in reaction.

 

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My Uncle Leo and Aunt Janet during Christmas at my Grandparents’ house during the 1990’s.

 

“What’s wrong, Sis?  You act like it’s winter,” he teasingly questioned me as he wiped his feet on the doormat. 

 

He had entered directly into the kitchen table area of my grandparent’s kitchen.  Uncle Leo was the middle brother of my mom. Uncle Ralph was Mom’s oldest brother, followed by Leo, one and a half years later, and then Mom was born some eleven or so years after Leo.  

 

Uncle Leo, Uncle Ralph, and Grandmother, holding my mom, Dolores, who was born eleven years after Leo.

 

 

Leo had thinning hair, but that which remained was nice and mostly salt, with an occasional strand of pepper throughout.  His eyes, like his daddy’s–my grandfather–and his brother, my Uncle Ralph, twinkled when he spoke; and yet, unlike Pappaw and Uncle Ralph, Leo possessed a bit of intuitiveness/sensitivity–a trait of his mom’s–my grandmother–that I only now begin to realize/understand  . . .

 

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My Pappaw and Grandmother, “Check” and Helen Slater; their oldest son, Ralph; middle child, Leo; and my mom, Dolores, was the youngest.

 

My first recollection of Uncle Leo’s emotional sensitivity occurred when I was fairly young. I recall him gazing intently at me as I passed him in the back hall of the evangelical, small town church we attended until I was twelve years.  We were between the preparation activities for Sunday School and the actual classes. I was walking with my peers to my class, and Uncle Leo was traveling with the adults in the opposite direction. While I do not remember his exact words, he knew I was sad/upset, and he further seemed to know the reason why, though I had not spoken a word to him.  As he walked by me, he ruffled the top of my head and began singing to me, as he was known to do, in his best baritone/bass-like voice. Oh, how that man loved to sing and make others smile.

 

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Uncle Leo; his Grandfather, my paternal great-grandfather, Wesley; and Uncle Ralph

 

In fact, later, I recall my mom asking me what I had said to Uncle Leo, and I began to panic because, for the life of me, I didn’t know what I had said/done wrong.  The subject was dropped; but later, I overheard adult conversation after church regarding how I wore my heart on my sleeve and was an open book for him to read . . .

 

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Back Row: Pappaw; Grandmother; Uncle Ralph; his wife, Patty; and their son, David   Bottom Row: Uncle Leo with Ralph’s oldest, Candy, on his lap; Leo’s wife, Janet; my mom, Dolores; and Ralph’s middle child, Carol.

 

It was this sensitivity, well, and let’s be honest, Grandmother’s cooking, that I now understand motivated Leo to drop by and visit my grandparents–sometimes unexpectedly, but also when my Grandmother called. While Leo was funny, witty, and charming, like Pappaw and Uncle Ralph, Leo had these eyes that knew, understood, and offered empathy when needed.  He could take a 30 minute visit with my grandparents, spend 25 of those minutes swapping funny stories with Pappaw, making both Grandmother and Pappaw laugh.  However, Leo could likewise skillfully interject a sentence of some serious nature to either gratify or reassure Grandmother–though, truth-be-told, due to her instinctive nature, she often knew he placating her.  Still, she nonetheless relished the respect of my uncle’s gesture regardless of his intent.

 

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Uncle Leo and Uncle Ralph–ultimately, Ralph would move Dallas, Texas where he was a pilot for Braniff International Airways; and Uncle Leo worked for Amtrak Railway.

 

When Leo arrived at my grandparents’ backdoor on that wintry afternoon, I do not remember if it had been a snow day closure, a Saturday, or an afternoon after school hours, but I was not at my place of work–the first teaching gig of my career–a two-year stint at Greenup County High School School, a mostly rural county school in eastern KY, during which time I lived with my grandparents.  Leo, in his typical fashion, had entered the kitchen with great flourish, his blue/gray eyes ablazin’ and a song emanating from his throaty voice–always a church hymn that could be sung in four-part harmony. He habitually spoke in-between the lines of a song.

 

Leo lived nearby in the same quaint town of Raceland, KY, situated in the eastern, and less rural, part of Greenup County.  He worked on the railroad, so he wasn’t home often. However, anytime my grandmother made one of his favorite foods, such as vegetable soup, as she had on this day, and she knew he was home on a lay-over, she gave Uncle Leo a call on her black rotary phone to invite him over “for a bite.”

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Uncle Ralph, back home visiting from his home in Dallas, Texas alongside Uncle Leo a lifelong resident of Raceland, KY. This photo was taken at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

 

“I don’t want much, Mom,” he said, as he always did, winking at me comically because we both knew that Grandmother’s servings were typically large enough to feed at least two people. 

 

I was already sitting at their kitchen table working on something, presumably lesson plans or grading papers, and he sat down across from me.  Grandmother bustled around the kitchen–as if suddenly energized by an unknown source–first gathering his soup and saltine crackers, followed by more flurry as she gathered a clean, plastic tub, most likely a former container of some sort of meat or salad, and she began filling it to the brim with more soup to cool on the counter, so he could take it home for later.

 

Eventually, Grandmother would sit down at the head of the table, her usual spot to the left of me, with Pappaw already sitting to my right. 

 

“Whatcha’ know, Pop?” Leo would ask with another wink and easy grin as his eyes continued to gleam. 

 

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Grandmother, Pappaw, Aunt Janet, Uncle Leo, and Janet’s bridesmaids, including my mom, second from left, on the day of Leo and Janet’s wedding.

 

Pappaw, with eyes matching his son’s starlight sparkle, would, in his classic entertaining manner, share some sort of silly story, based on partial truth, but exaggerated and stretched out like the colorful salt-water taffy sold at every beachside tourist gift shop.  Together, these two beloved men would alternate who treadled the proverbial story spinning wheel creating long, colorful yarns knitted together in one expansive fabricated story that enfolded Grandmother’s kitchen with warmth and laughter. Grandmother could be heard saying,“Oh, Check,” my grandfather’s nickname, or “Now Leo,” shaking her head in feign disgust, but her eyes betrayed her as they filled with love and appreciation for the moment.

 

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Uncle Ralph and Leo at the foot of their new driveway and house. After the great flood of theOhio River, my Pappaw swore his family would never live on low land again.

 

Soon Leo with dart away with as much fanfare as when he entered.  A hush would quickly settle over the kitchen like a summer rain settling the dust after a dry spell. Grandmother would sigh, pick up his dishes, carry them to her sink, pour another cup of coffee in her unbreakable, mostly white and blue Corelle coffee mug, and return to her chores, shoulders slumping as she went. Pappaw, with crestfallen face and sunken chest, would return to either the work desk in their bedroom, or disappear to the basement to complete a seemingly urgent task, with the fire embers that only moments ago had burned brightly in eyes now gradually extinguishing.  Meanwhile, I remained in the kitchen as the frosty air filled the room once more. The moment was gone, flowing on as the winter waters do along the mighty Ohio River that unites the three states–Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia–in which I have spent a lifetime–working, playing, and loving.  

 

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Uncle Leo and Ralph, but I am unsure of the context of the setting.

 

As I look back at that moment, I am overwrought with colliding emotions regarding the passage of time as I reach back, trying to hold on to the memory a bit longer.  However, as I age, my memories are becoming more fluid, like water slipping through space and time.  

 

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I love this picture of my Grandmother and Uncle Leo. This would have been a Christmas Eve, possibly 1994 or ’95. Grandmother had dozed off to sleep after dinner. She always pushed too hard during the holidays, but loved being surround by family. I wish my camera could have capture Leo’s twinkling eyes.

 

Another decade of life is on the horizon.  1999 once seemed an eternity away, much less 2019; and by the time you read this, Dear Reader, another new decade, 2020, will have arrived.  I still remain on this earth, surrounded by loved ones, and filled with the memories of those who were once here with me, full of the knowledge that soon, I too, will drift down the eternal flow of the river of time because in the words of Uncle Leo, I can’t stay long.

 

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Uncle Leo’s oldest daughter, my cousin, Michelle born in February of ’65; and I was born is September of the same year. This was taken in 1967 at my grandparents’ home.
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Uncle Leo’s youngest child, Clifton during the same mid-1990’s Christmas Eve gathering.
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My mom, Aunt Patty, and Uncle Ralph sharing a laugh, probably due to a story that Pappaw, Ralph, Leo, or perhaps all three men, must have shared as they were all three big story tellers. Again, this was probably around 1995.

When clouds of depression darken your sky, don’t give in

“If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”–Mary Engelbreit

 

There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”–Aldous Huxley

 

“I don’t know if it’s the holidays, the cloudy weather, the lack of sunlight, or what, but I am really struggling.  Then, when I say it aloud, I feel like I am crazy–like no one else struggles this time of year.”

 

Yes, I was “eavesdropping,” as John, my husband, has frequently accused me of doing, but I was waiting in a long line at a popular store the Saturday before Christmas to buy a gift. All around me were people having conversations. What was I supposed to do?  Besides, the lady who was speaking kept looking back at me beseechingly as if she wanted me to participate in the conversation.

 

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While the unknown sad woman, as I now came to think of her, had listened to her companion offer the advice to focus on the “real reason for the season,” sad woman was quick to retort.

 

“Yes, I know, I know.  I hear every week at church.  It seems like either pastors feel they have to say that, or they are just clueless to the real mental anguish people go through,” she added with frustration in her voice.  

 

As the line slowly moved forward to the check out point, sad woman went on to describe to her companion how her life had been turned upside down over the course of the year.  She had lost one parent and a good paying job thanks to a corporate decision to cut costs. Now this woman, for whom I was now feeling profoundly empathetic, was working two part time jobs, her remaining, but ill, parent had moved into her house, and her adult child had also moved back home, albeit temporarily, due to an impending divorce. 

 

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Sometimes, it’s hard to count your blessings when overwhelmed by life.

 

“I know I am supposed to ‘count my blessing and name them one by one’ as the old hymn states, but I am so busy trying to count dollars to make ends meet . . . ,”  her voice trailed off as she stepped forward to pay for her meager purchase, a gift for her mom–it was her mom’s favorite fragrance.  

 

“She always smiles when I rub this scent on her arm.  It’s the one time she knows me,” I heard her explain to the young, but uncaring clerk.

 

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Driving home the thirty or so minutes to my home, my mind kept rolling over this sad woman’s story.  She was around my age, maybe a bit older, but not by more than ten years. How many other stories did I know similar to hers?  Too many, I realized.

 

Likewise, I can think of several other people with whom I interact who seemingly, “have it all,” as far as financial success goes, who I have overheard or been engaged in conversations with that openly confess they are mentally struggling.  Every time I hear this, I am so deeply empathetic, that I can feel/sense their cloud of sadness too. In fact, I sincerely wish there was a way I could brush away the darkness for them as if I were brushing crumbs off of a table after dinner.  

 

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

 

Unfortunately, whether it’s short term holiday blues, seasonal affective disorder, or a more serious mental illness, such as depression and/ or anxiety, there is no quick-fix.  However, having experienced depression, and bouts of the blues, I can tell you this. There is a gem inside of you, it’s just covered up with some dirt and dust, and with a bit of patience and persistence, it is my sincere belief that you can get through the dark times.

 

I do not own much of what some might consider “good” jewelry, but the few pieces that I do own, I wear nearly daily, mostly because of the importance of the people in my life who have given them to me.  Due to the fact that I wear them frequently, they get dirty, dull, and diminished looking. Therefore, I try to weekly to soak my jewelry in a combination of ammonia and classic blue Dawn detergent (not anything with pearls or sterling silver).  

 

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Once these pieces have soaked an hour or so, I use an old soft toothbrush to gently brush away the grime.  Three events during this process never fail to surprise me. The first is the amount of dirt particles that have settled in the bottom of the solution that came off the jewelry.  The second event is how shiny and lustrous the pieces look after being brushed and rinsed in warm water. Finally, as I set each piece on a paper towel to dry, I am stunned by how silky smooth/soft each one feels.  

 

 

When I first put on each piece, I am still taken aback by the way they look in the light, reflecting it just so.  As I rinse away the solution I made for the cleaning, I never fail to be surprised by the fact that I never realized how dirty each piece was until I cleaned it.  Further, I am so thankful I once more took time to clean them, rid them of their dirt with a little TLC, and, as I gently put each piece back on, I am reminded that no matter the irritants that can sometimes darken my soul, like the dirt in the jewelry, in the end, I can ultimately shine through with a little bit of help and self-cleaning.  And, that, Dear sad woman, or anyone else experiencing depression, is true for you!

 

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You may be a bit dulled up, in fact, you may be flat out covered in darkness.  I get it. I have experienced depression too–not yours, but my own version of the dark cloud–the kind that makes it hard to get out of bed; the kind that sends you behind closed doors, so that you can cry profusely without prying eyes; the kind that makes you feel like you don’t matter, no one cares, and there is nothing you can do. I’ve been mucked up with all that, and more, on a few occasions.

 

 

Well, I am here to say, hold on, Dear Friend, hold on.  Clasp, claw, clutch the edge and hang on for dear life. There is a way through it.  You’ve collected some metaphorical dirt, maybe even more than your fair share, but inside of you is a gem that can be found by simply placing your hand on your heart.  No one, and I mean no one, has a heartbeat rhythm similar to yours. It is your unique marker formed by The Creator. It is continuously beating, whether you think about it or not, and it serves as a reminder that you, like your heart, can beat this.  It may take time, it may take therapy or medicine, it may take hours of exercise or talking with a trusted friend, it may take time spent outside, a change in scenery, or any other number of ways to get through it, but keep cleaning away the dirt; keep excavating–the real you is still there waiting to shine through once more.

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Best Laid Plans–A Lesson in Humility

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”–Robert Burns

 

“This too shall pass.”–Persian adage

 

The schedule for the day, as is often the case on Saturdays, was full. My to-do list was inscribed and fortified via thorough mental rehearsals for several days prior.  In fact, Saturday was really only a continuation of a busy week filled with items needing to be completed and a forecast of another week just like it coming up. Nothing insurmountable as long as the steady pace of productivity persisted.  Get. It. Done. Girl.

 

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Friday was a late night, at least late in my early-bird world. John, my husband and co-worker, and I had, along with the rest of the St. Joseph Catholic School middle school staff, chaperoned a Christmas themed dance for our students.  Combine that with an after-school writing club that I sponsor on Fridays, and I wasn’t able to leave school that day until after we cleaned up from the dance. No big deal, other than we had not yet eaten dinner, and I needed to be up fairly early the next morning to teach two classes at Brown Dog Yoga in Ashland, KY.

 

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

 

Therefore, John and I headed to a nearby Asian restaurant in hopes of avoiding a heavy dinner for my sensitive stomach.  Steamed vegetables and rice seemed light enough. Once home, I did feel extremely tired, but nothing too unusual. Thus, my thoughts once more pursued that mental list of appointments and “must-dos” as I drifted off to sleep.

 

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After a restless night, I stepped out of bed the next morning, and knew, as soon as my feet hit the floor, my stomach was upset.  Not unusual, between eating late–a new found age-related issue–and my celiac disease–cross-contamination of wheat products is a threat any time I dine out–I wasn’t super worried.  Sure, my belly was protesting, but if there is one thing I do well, it was persist . . . at least that is what I told myself with dramatic mental flair.

 

Driving the thirty minutes to Ashland, my stomach only complained more.  It’s the curvy state route over which I am traveling.  That seemed like a plausible reason to me.  You ate a late dinner.  Plus, you didn’t sleep well last night.  Maybe a wheat noodle was accidentally cut into your rice.–Okay, that last thought was logic-defying, but these are the types of lies I tell myself even when the proverbial handwriting is on the wall. 

 

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Arriving at the yoga studio, I still did not feel better, but as the clients began to arrive, I was able to focus on them, taking my mind off my own digestive distress.  In fact, as I taught through my first class, I was convinced that if I’d just give it time, whatever was upsetting my stomach was sure to subside. You’ve been here hundreds of times, Steph.  This is not a big deal.

 

Heading into my second class, heated yoga, I was 80-90 percent convinced, this was all in my head.  Now, to clarify, the warm yoga classes at our studio never have the temperature set higher than 85 degrees fahrenheit, so it is not an unreasonable temperature, especially on a chilly Saturday morning.  In fact, I embrace the warm temperatures as I tend to be cold natured. However, half-way through class though, the heat began to increase my nausea as a feeling of imminent misery began to grow deep within my gut.  Swallow.  Swallow. Keep focused on the clients and the flow. Swallow. Swallow. Focus on their needs. Not. About. You.

 

I made it through, and convinced myself that nothing was wrong once I was outside of the warm room.  This too shall pass as my Dad is fond of saying.  He’s right, you know.  This will pass. 

 

Determined, I drove to my next stop–a hair appointment which had been scheduled six weeks earlier.  Arriving early, as the appointment time had been slightly changed, I decided to take a nap in the car.  Seemed logical, despite the fact I don’t typically nap, much less take one in my car. A nap will allow your stomach to settle.

 

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Erin, my stylist and salon manager, warmly greeted me as I entered 20 minutes later, and we talked a bit.  Then, she took a good look at me.  

 

“Are you alright?  You don’t look like yourself.”

 

I assured her I was fine, and she assured me that we could reschedule the appointment if needed.

 

“Just an upset stomach–no big deal.”

 

Fortunately, as the manager, she is often pulled away from the chair to take care of minor issues as they arise.  Several issues later, she was finally ready to mix my hide-the gray-color. As she walked away to mix up the colorful magic, I urgently called after her. 

 

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“Don’t mix the color,” and I ran to the public restroom, embarrassed, but worried I wouldn’t make it in time.

 

For the record, there is nothing more humbling than being forced to, shall I say, bow before the public porcelain.  Ironically, thoughts of all of the germs I must be encountering filled my mind as I contributed my own germs to the water below.   Why now?  I have an entire list of things that must be completed, plus another appointment in Barboursville, and Christmas party tonight. . .or, so I thought.  

 

 

“Best laid plans of mice and men . . .” a saying my mom is fond of repeating came to mind.  Why do my parents’ words still continue to haunt me at my age?

 

Dad and Mom were both right.  The stomach bug did eventually pass, a few days later, and my perfectly timed plans were, well, publicly flushed away as I was forced to drive home, crawl into bed, and not leave except for, yep, you guessed, more visits with white porcelain fixtures–but at least it was my own!

 

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The moral of the story?  God has a funny sense of humor?  While I suspect that’s true, it was not my take away.  When life gives you a virus, write a story? While that is always a possibility with me, it, too, was not the lesson.  No, for me, it was all about the arrogance of “I” and my attachment to my ego.

 

I can persevere.  I have plans. I am busy.  I must do this. I, I, I . . .

 

I had to let go of my perceived control of life, and allow life to unfold without meI had to humble myself to a virus.  I was forced to face the fact that I am not in control–not even a little.  As the hours ticked by, the dear faces of my daughter, Madelyn, and John, appeared, hovered, checked, covered, and cared for my withering ego and temporarily waning body.  Daylight dimmed to darkness; night hours stretched out with simmering suffering; the sunrise eventually, but slowly, slithered through panes of glass; and still, time ticked on without me.

 

And perhaps, that is one of the greatest gifts of the holidays, or “holy days.”  A designated day to renew our faith and set aside time to rest–preferably not ill– and recharge, gathering with the ones we love, and perhaps even, swap a story or five.  Time spent together– savoring the sweet, simplicity and comfort of laughter, love, and the present moment without any focus on “I.”  

 

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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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