It Only Takes a Spark: Words Ignite

“Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”–Samuel Johnson

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Many of my recollections are beginning to take on a dream-like quality, such as the time I was home with Madelyn, our daughter, who was a toddler at the time.  Maddie was sick with a virus.  Continuously, I trotted Maddie to the bathroom, so she could throw up or upstairs to change her diaper.  It seemed impossible that a human so small could continuously produce so much vomit and repeatedly fill diapers.

Things had calmed momentarily, and we were cuddled up together on the couch, when I could feel her stomach begin its heavings.  On instinct, I began my rapid try-not-to-jar-her trot, but still boot-scoot-hurry to the bathroom, so Maddie could once more throw up.  Unfortunately, I could tell there was no stopping the oncoming rush of fluid.  I halted at the kitchen sink, the closest receptacle I could think of, and held her tiny, shaking body there, as she retched into the sink.  (Not the most sanitary choice, I know, but I chalk it up to sleep deprivation.)

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That’s when I felt the primal niggle.  My brain had noticed something important.  Glancing out the kitchen window, I saw flames spewing forth from the roof of our neighbor’s home.  Orange, red, blue, and yellow flames licked hungrily at the sky.  Black ashes rimmed with orange and red sparks soared toward our house.  I am sure if this had been a movie, the camera would have zoomed in on my widening eyes as the recognition of what was happening began to sink in.  

Fortunately, our neighbor’s were not harmed, their house, though damaged, was repairable, and our house was fine.  The sparks fell silently like dark, angry snowflakes, and without fuel, their brightly burning edges dwindled on the gray concrete on our driveway. 

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As a teenage girl, I loved the song, “Pass It On.”  

“It only takes a spark/ to get a fire going/ and soon all those around/ can warm up to its glowing/That’s how it is with God’s love . . .you want to pass it on.”–Kurt Kaiser

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Words are sparks.  Tiny, miniscule notations of black and white either written or unleashed as phonemes by the tongue, teeth, and lips of a speaker. Eyes or ears take in the message.  Brain receives the message, attaches it to the current mental scaffolding of the reader or listener, and the process of comprehension and interpretation begins.  Input, analysis, and potentially, output.  Information computed, more sparks formed, knowledge is available to pass on.

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Words can be exhilarating.  Finding just the right words increases one’s ability to express a more precise and exact message.  Communication, I would argue, can be down right intoxicating.  Babies can spend countless moments babbling for pure pleasure. Once babies  grasp a few words, however, and realize that those few intonations can command the attention of another human, they want more.  Like a fire blazing in the hearth, the flames of linguistic command demand more fuel in their desire to communicate and exert some measure of control.

The birthplace of Pearl S. Buck, Hillsboro, WV.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the birthplace of Pearl S. Buck.  The site itself was closed, but as I stood along the old homestead’s fence line, I imagined Pearl as a baby within those walls.  As I understand it, Buck and her family lived in that home for only a few months.  Nonetheless, my inner narrator could envision her mom singing to her as diapers were changed, and I could hear the voices of both parents talking to baby Pearl throughout the day.  Her parents could not have known that one day Pearl would become a prolific writer, winning both a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize for the way her writing promoted empathy, compassion, and understanding. They were simply passing on to their daughter the power of communication, and through their ultimate missionary work, modeling beneficial ways words can be used.

Like the floating sparks of the long ago house fire, ashes can soar fiery red, greedily seeking fuel for which to consume, or they can burn down into a pile of harmless ash.  In fact, an accumulation of ash, such as that left over from burning wood in a hearth, can be used as fertilizer for plants as it is full of lime, potassium, and other trace minerals that promote plant production.  Likewise is the potential for the messages we speak and write–fuel for the fire or fertilizer for nourishment.

Tweet. News. Memo. Email. Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat. Tik Tok. Rumors. Innuendo. Gossip. Reporting. Posting. Blog. Website. Novel. Novella. Fiction. Nonfiction.  The list goes on.  Big words. Little words. Powerful words. Meaningless words. Hurtful. Helpful. Salacious. Compassionate. Implication. Understanding. There is no end in the ways in which words can be conveyed.  

All of us contain a divine, expressive spark, a creative candle intended to light our path and that of our fellows.”–Julia Cameron

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It’s not only the words, but the intent behind those words that has power.  The heart of the message; the heart of the speaker; the heart of the writer; the heart of the listener.  We were all Divinely created from a Source I still struggle to understand; but I can tell you this, Dear Reader.  The more I understand about the amazing, resilient human body and its magnificent potentiality, the more I believe, with all my heart, that we were each lovingly created for a Divinely designed purpose.  Those purposes are unique as each individual, but all of us have the same potential as Pearl S. Buck.  It all comes down to our hearts.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.  And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.–James 3:17-18

Wildflowers peacefully swaying in the WV breeze.

While we may not all possess the ability to win prizes as Buck once did, we can all pray and focus on increasing what Christians call, the fruits of the spirit, that all major religions likewise focus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  With these as kindling within the heart, we can be lit from within.  Our words, both written and spoken, can then be used to either light the way for others, warming them with the glow of thoughtfulness, or used as a tool for harm–burning bridges that otherwise could have been crossed through effective and empathetic communication.

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I am reminded of the 15 or so years in which I taught Kindergarten aged students.  At the time, the practice was for the parents of soon-to-be-entering-school kindergartners to attend an orientation meeting.  During this meeting, each Kindergarten educator discussed with parents the classroom policies and procedures and addressed any concerns shared by parents. At some point during this meeting, we talked with the parents about the importance of their word choice and attitude towards beginning school.

We explained the power of possessing a positive, enthusiastic disposition towards this major childhood milestone by displaying an aren’t-you-a-big-kid-now attitude, rather than sharing sad tales of I-can’t-believe-my-baby-is-going-to-leave-me.  Parents were reminded that their child tended to mimic the parents’ perspective. As with most forms of communication, it is not only the word choice that creates influence, but also the intent behind those words that is often passed on.

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As I write these words, I am challenging myself as well as you, Dear Reader, to kindle those fruits of the spirit, so that our words may be more reflective of those ideals.  I fear that without sensitive hearts, we will all suffer the rapid burn of uncontrolled tongues or dashing fingers and thumbs across keyboards. 

 As the saying goes, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  And, while my individual words may never win any literary recognition or publication, I pray to improve so that my writing, my social accounts, and my day-to-day interactions reflect more of a positive light.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Fertilizer or fire.  Peace or Agitation.  Forgiveness or resentment.  Upliftment or downtrodden.  Written or spoken, our words matter. 

With human’s ability to create fire, darkness was shaken, and life was Divinely elevated, but at the flames’ edge remains the darkness.  

May our words pass on light, warmth, and illuminate a path out of darkness. 

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Embrace Your Inner Oak

“Tell your heart to beat again/ Close your eyes and breathe it in/ Let the shadow fall away . . .Say goodbye to where you’ve been/ and tell your heart to beat again.”–as sung by Danny Gookey, written by Bernie Herms, Randy Phillips, and Matthew West

Branches splayed, offering glimpses of bluebird skies

I listened to my companion.  Behind the person talking, an old oak tree stood proud and erect, sheltering us in her arms of shade.  The tree’s hefty roots thrust muscularly above and through the earth’s surface, foundational tentacles of nourishment and steadfastness, outstretched, ready to ensure the old sentinel’s position for future decades. The person spoke of loss, heartbreak, and missing the one who had provided a source of inner strength.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

“You’ve lost your tree,” I impulsively stated.  “You no longer have a tree, like the one behind you, on which to lean.”

Later, I chastised myself.  What a stupid thing to say.  Why hadn’t I been more encouraging?  Even choosing to remain quiet and supportively listening would have been better than saying something like, “You’ve lost your tree.”  Open palm.  Insert face.  Think, Steph, think . . .

And so I thought.  I thought about my friend, I thought about life, and I thought about that grand oak whose shade in which we sheltered on that beautiful morning.  I pondered loss, heartbreak, life changes, aging, illness, changes in the world, changes in society, change, change, change . . . 

As seen on Instagram at andrew.w.fischer.

Oak trees.  Roots, trunk, branches, leaves, acorns, canopy, crown, greens and browns, weather and wind, sunshine and rain, hail and storms, dry and wet seasons, changing temperatures, changing weather, changing levels of groundwater . . . change, change, change.  In spite of it all, a typical oak tree has an average life span of 100-300 years, some may even live 700 or more years.  During that time, how many acorns must one tree produce–all with the potential to become another oak tree?

Acorns. A tiny nut, dense with nutrients, capable of feeding a wide array of woodland creatures, such as bear, moose, mice, deer, squirrels, chipmunks and so on.   What’s more?  Acorns, with proper germination, can produce trees of 40-80 feet in height and with wing-spans of 60-100 feet across.  While that is certainly no small feat, the root system of a mature oak tree can span up to hundreds of miles–and most of these roots remain unseen!  

One mature oak tree can potentially produce 10,000 acorns.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone.  The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes.  To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”–Cynthia Occelli

As I best as my non-science mind understands, when an acorn is planted, like many plants, most of its energy is used to begin the growth of the root system.  Starting with the tap root that grows and burrows deeply into the soil in search of a reliable source of water.  During this time period, very little growth above ground can be observed; however, once the taproot is established, branches and leaves begin to sprout with more regularity.  

Before much growth occurs above the ground, the tap root must develop thoroughly into its source.

Meanwhile, approximately 18 or so inches below the soil, where the eye cannot witness, roots are growing, expanding, spreading over a space four to seven times wider than the crown of the tree.  These roots, more gangly in shape and size than the tap, seek out moisture and essential nutrients, sending them circulating back through the root system in order to nourish the growth that is visible above the ground. Silently, lateral roots slither and probe through the soil, supplying continuous sustenance to all parts of the oak.  If these oak roots encounter roots of another oak tree, the roots will graft together to help one another. Still, it is each oak’s individual taproot that remains the principal form of support.

Hefty, muscular roots thrust through the earth in order to support the tree.

The taproot, combined with the ranging root system, is the oak tree’s source of health, or potential illness, and gives it the ability to weather all types of harsh environmental conditions and changes, including the ability to withstand the most severe storms of life.  It was this basic lesson in biology that I began to contemplate as I thought of my friend, myself, and all those in my life, present and past, who have suffered loss, stormy seasons, and major life changes/shifts. Finding that inner taproot and expanding that root system is key to not only withstanding turbulent times, but also to the ability to offer shelter, strength, and plant seeds of hope for others.

“When your heart is broken, you plant seeds in the crack and pray for rain.”–Andrea Gibson

As seen on Instagram at positiveenergyalways.

To be certain, mild, temperate weather in the shade of an old oak tree is splendid, and I could spend the rest of my life there in the vast, comforting blanket of its shade, gazing upward through splayed branches of green, spying glimpses of dappled sunlight and bluebird skies while a gentle breeze nuzzles my cheek.  While those sorts of moments are what I wish everyday could be like; life offers us a meteorological spectrum of experiences.  Therefore, like those expansive tree branches, we must embrace it all–the wonderful, the not-so-wonderful, and the downright heartbreaking.

Delighting in the dappled sunlight in the shade of an old oak.

We, like the oaks, have space in the soil of our soul for a taproot and a root system; and like the oak, this system is keenly connected to Divine Providence.  When we are small, others develop and influence the establishment of our roots–for better or worse–depending upon one’s childhood circumstances.  Eventually, however, we all reach a point of maturity in life in which it is up to each individual to nurture the inner self, foster personal strength (grit, if you will), and fortify our faith.  While it is a wonderful blessing to have our root system grafted with that of another’s, in the end, it is our individual tap root connection that must be our anchor, our mainstay of strength.  

As seen on Instagram at positiveaffirmations101.

Therefore, just as the rain waters the oak, so too must we water our inner taproot, encouraging it to delve deeply into that which cannot be seen or touched, but which offers a wellspring of strength, resiliency, and renewal.  With a taproot strongly secured to the Divine, our true source, we can persevere throughout the vicissitudes of life.  Winds may tear at your branches, bite off your leaves, and even snap off pieces of your life.  Lightening may crash all around as tears stream down like rainfall, and still, like the oak, you can withstand it all.  You, my friend, can continue to rise, and as your roots spread, so too will your reach. 

An oak tree, with a healthy root system, has an average life span of 100-300 years, but some can live as long as 700 years!

“You never quite know what you do in life that leaves a seed behind that grows into an oak tree.”–Michael Portillo

As many as 10,000 acorns can be produced in one year from one mature oak tree.  Acorns fall to the ground–even when there is no one to witness.  Some acorns feed wildlife.  Other seeds decay into organic matter that feeds and enriches the soil.  Finally, there are acorns that take root–perhaps carried off by an animal, blown by the wind, or gathered by human hands–and new life is formed  . . . 

Sheltered in the shade of the canopy.

 Meanwhile, underneath the canopy of the towering oak, shade is proffered for those in need, spots for seasonal nests abound, roots continue to sink and spread, and the crown continuously reaches for the heavens.  Alone, but rooted; quiet, but engaged; humble, but life-giving; falling, but rising; yielding; but tenacious, and ever reliant upon The Source.  

May my life be more like that of an oak.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com
As seen on Instagram at positiveenergyalways

The Nature of Outdoor Exercise

“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to man when he goes for a walk.”–Raymond Inmon

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

If you have worked from home during this quarantine period, you have most likely experienced some form of frustration, isolation, emotional upheaval, or perhaps even anger, depression, and/or anxiety.  Add to the pandemic crisis a strong sentiment of public unrest due to social injustices and inequalities, as well as high unemployment, and it is no wonder that mental health issues are on the rise.  How does one cope with all of these stressors in a healthy manner?  Based upon my research, there is no one right answer.

Many mental health experts tend to agree on the fact that we should all maintain and/or create a routine for sleeping and waking, hydrating, eating healthy food, and some experts will even emphasize the importance of taking a daily shower and not working in pajamas all day–which is amusing to me on a number of levels. Others suggest the importance of finding a creative outlet, reading those been-meaning-to-read books, gardening, cooking, organizing closets, and so forth–anything that feels productive and useful.  Still, others highlight the importance of exercise and spending time in nature as ways to maintain and/or strengthen mental health.  While all of those are noteworthy and worth exploring, due to the months-long quarantine period, I rediscovered the soul-healing power of exercising in the great outdoors.  

I’ll be honest, Dear Reader, and I suspect I am not alone when I write this, I have a history of battling bouts of depression, or my dark side as I humorously like to call it.  Usually, it’s seasonal or situational, never long lasting, and fairly easy from which to recover.  However, the quarantine period was different.  In fact, the months of March, April, and May, felt dark, difficult, and downright disheartening, and I was employed!  I have to wonder how much more devastated I would have felt if I had lost my job.

Initially, I would joke that as an introvert, I had been preparing to quarantine my whole life.  However, I quickly discovered that the new demands of trying to integrate work into home life, along with a couple of other major life shifts, made it hard to establish a routine, much less stick to one. I tried meditating every morning; then I tried practicing yoga every morning.  Still, no tangible routine ever formed that significantly pushed away the mental darkness. 

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One event that nudged away a few clouds were the days in which my husband, John, and I cut off the work day by a certain time, and then drove to a local walking path for a 30-40 minute walk. Unfortunately, so much of our local spring was, more often than not, wet, rainy, cloudy, and cool–exceptionally cool given the time of the year– for these afternoon excursions.   This was compounded by the fact, like many Tri-State residents, that we do not live in a neighborhood conducive to walking, we always had (have) to drive to a path.  

Image from St. Mary’s Proctorville Walking Path

One day, I began randomly googling exercises for back injuries as well as walking-to-running training plans for those recovering from a back injury.  Nearly ten years ago, I had begun running as a form of exercise and found that while I was not particularly fast, I thoroughly enjoyed being outside on trails, paths, or sometimes side-walks as well as following goal-setting plans.  In fact, I loved it so much that I ultimately ran several half-marathons, a couple of 15-milers, and even completed two marathons–one in honor of my 50th birthday.  All of that came to a screeching halt when I injured three discs in my lower back.  

Image from Kanawha Trestle Rail-Trail.

It had been nearly four years since I last ran, but as I sat there that day, reading on-line, I began to wonder if perhaps I could run again.  Maybe slower and for shorter distances than last time, but what if . . . .

Images from Kanawha Trestle Rail-Trail

While researching, I also found a wealth of information regarding the benefits of exercising outside–especially as a way to cope with stress.  Some of the benefits of outdoor exercise include:  improvement of sleep; increased absorption of Vitamin D, increased productivity, creativity, and problem solving; alleviation of stress; reduced anxiety; boosted mood, and lowered blood pressure. Furthermore, for me, a training plan provides some semblance of a routine as well as the sense of accomplishment with each completed workout, especially when everything else in life feels chaotic. 

Images from Kanawha Trestle Rail-Trail

Then, as serendipity would have it, I ran across an on-line board that answers questions and provides reading material that solely focuses on recovering, healing, and preventing back injuries.  In one post, I read an article that referred to a book and walk-to-run training plan from 2011 called, Run Your Butt Off.  Quickly searching for it, I found and read the plan as well as the author’s notes.  This plan is fully available on-line; you do not have to buy the book, although I did purchase a used one later. 

The gentle and positive words of the authors of this plan have inspired my butt to get outside for exercise.

As I read the kind and encouraging words of the plan’s author, I  began to believe I might have stumbled onto something doable. While it is a 12-week plan, the author strongly and repeatedly encourages exercisers to work through the plan at their own pace, stating that most newbies take longer than 12-weeks.  With those heartening and gentle words, I decided to give the plan an honest try. (Full disclosure, the book also focuses on good eating habits, but who couldn’t benefit from a little nutritional 101, especially with the quarantine pounds many of us, myself included, have packed on.)

Images from Kanawha Trestle Rail-Trail

Without belaboring the details, those proverbial clouds are thinning, and the mental clarity is brightening once more. Sure, the gradual progression from walking to running feels good, but it’s the getting outside in nature and the people/critter-watching that are really at the heart of it.  Yes, I keep my distance from others, and I do have my mask nearby, but I typically do not wear it while exercising.  (The research seems to be mixed regarding whether one should or should not wear a mask, but all agree that social distancing is still the rule regardless.)  Seeing trees, smelling grass, feeling the uneven surface of a path under my feet, hearing the call of the red-winged black-bird, and even tasting the fresh air of each inhalation–I feel a renewed connection.

Image from WWI Memorial Path, Ritter Park, Huntington, WV

Several years ago, I learned that each person’s heartbeat is unique.  No two people’s hearts beat at the same rhythm. Add to that tidbit, the wonder and magnificence of each creature, each blade of grass, each birds’ song, each rock’s shape–all are distinctive and all are connected by the universal pulse of the Divine Creator.  Being outside and immersed in nature, I am reminded that I am connected to a bigger picture.  I am in awe of the wide-screen image of mankind, all of God’s creatures, Mother Earth, and the universe beyond; and in those moments, my mind is as free as the pitter patter of my own heart and two feet. 

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

Whether walking, running, biking, kayaking, fishing, or simply enjoying a cool breeze in the shade, I hope you make time to get outside and soak up some of the sweetness of the natural wonder that is our world.

As seen on positiveaffirmations101 on Instagram

P.S.

Dear Reader,

Word Press, the company with which I use to produce this website/blog, recently updated, and I don’t quite have the hang of how to edit and arrange pictures. Please bear with me over the upcoming weeks as I learn to re-navigate this wonderful platform.

Common Ground

“Whether we like it or not, we have all been born into this world as part of one big human family. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, belonging to one nation or another, to one religion or another, adhering to this ideology or that, ultimately each of us is just a human being like everyone else.  We all desire happiness and do not want suffering.”–Dalai Lama

 

“The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices.”–Jimmy Carter

 

person gather hand and foot in center
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Like many of you reading these words, I have been experiencing a great deal of turbulence of the mind and heart.  From COVID-19 to the seemingly never ending struggle for racial equality, the world–from both the macro to the micro–is feeling a bit upside down and sideways.  There is so much political and societal divide that I cannot pretend to fully comprehend it all.

 

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In my early adulthood, my grandmother shared a story about a time my papaw and she came to my elementary school to pick me up.  Since this did not occur with any regularity, I must have eagerly anticipated this event.  Grandmother did not remember why they were picking me up, so I can only assume it was to help my parents.

 

It is my understanding that I exited school skipping in excitement and holding hands with another girl.  Grandmother explained that, as she took my hand, she asked a question.

 

“Why were you holding hands with that colored girl?”  

 

According to my grandmother, I replied, “What color was she?”  I was around seven years of age, and up until that moment, I had not noticed the shading of skin.

 

photo of girls wearing dress while holding hands
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

What a marvelous thing to realize that kids are not born with innate prejudices.  As a professional educator, I have spent all of my adult life devoted to the classroom.  From Kindergarten to grade 12, and every grade in between, I have spent over 30 years instructing children, ages 5-20, and I can tell you that kids, especially the younger ones, do not make assumptions about skin color, or other dividing factors unless it has been taught/modeled by someone or something.  

 

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As seen on jayshetty on Instagram.

 

Specifically, 15 years of my career were spent with kindergartners, the overall most eager, curious, and loving age group as a whole.  While I can only speak to my experience, the majority of five year olds that I encountered were too focused upon themselves, and who or what they were going to play at recess, than to care about so-called differences.  However, they were certainly curious about what they perceived as differences for which they may not have been exposed, such as when a fellow classmate began to wear glasses, had to wear an insulin pump, or was sporting a cast.  However, if as the teacher, I allowed for both structured and organic conversations about the change to occur, within less than a day, the so-called difference became inconsequential. 

 

 

That is not to imply that the conversation of skin color, or other differences, never came up because kids are observant and inquisitive by nature.  For example, one school year, a white male kept playing with the hair of one of his black female classmates.  She always wore it in braids with colorful beads, and he often chose to sit beside her when he could.  This shy, quiet girl did not like him touching her hair, and I often had to remind him to keep his hands to himself, and I encouraged her to use her words to tell him to stop.  On and on this boy’s obsession with the girl’s hair continued as he specifically loved to take his hand, place it gently on the top of her head, and “pet” the braids from top to bottom in a repetitive motion.

 

 

Finally, the girl had had enough one morning, and blurted out during opening circle activities, “Stop it! Why you always touchin’ my hair?”

 

The boy burst into tears, covering his eyes with his hands. Eventually, he explained to her with great gulps of breath in between each word, “I like your hair.  It’s not like mine.”

 

 

True enough, the boy had medium brown hair that was closely cropped to his head except for his bangs that hung straight over his freckled forehead.

 

A few days later, I overheard the same two students talking as they practiced writing their names with scented markers.

 

“Do you want me to see if my mom can fix your hair like mine?”

 

The boy emphatically nodded his head and added, “Ask her when you get home.”

 

 

Reflecting upon my own family, specifically my nine nieces and nephews, they reflect a variety of appearances, interests, and beliefs. From very dark skin to the palest pale; from light blue eyes to black; from curvy to trim body shapes; from pink to black, brown to blonde, curly to straight hair; from conservative to liberal views, and all variances in between, these special family members reflect a wide cross-section of young adults.  Yet, when we gather together, whether it’s in person or virtual, the only thing that matters is mutual respect and love.  

 

 

We certainly do not see eye-to-eye on all subjects.  We do not have the same interests, jobs, hobbies, and so forth. Differences abound.  What we do possess, though, is a bond–the humankind connection, with emphasis on kind.  Sure, we are linked by family, but we are also woven into the web of humanity.  And like all webs, the resiliency of it is dependent upon the strength of every strand–and each strand of this human network, it is worth remembering, is a unique creation of God.

 

 

Neither my nieces and nephews, nor my past and current students had any control over who would be their parents.  They did not get to choose their address, their family income, their family make-up, their family circumstances, much less control the color of their skin, eyes, hair, and so forth. In fact, none of us could, so why should we judge one another by circumstances for which we can not control?  

 

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Why should I be more likely, as a white, middle-aged female, to be given a warning if stopped by the police for a traffic violation?  Why should my white, 58-year old husband be stopped by police over 14 times during the course of his life and not be ticketed?  It wasn’t until his 15th violation–forgetting to turn on his turn signal at the foot of a local bridge–that he actually received more than a warning.  

 

 

I’ve watched Spanish speaking, brown skinned students play side-by-side their mostly white peers.  While they weren’t able to verbally communicate, they were still able to construct the “tallest, most awesome block building ever!” Similarly, I observed a student, originally from Jordan, with only rudimentary English, being taught to dance by his English-speaking cross-country teammates. This year, I further observed a group of middle school boys notice a new Chinese student standing by himself during an extra recess.  Eventually, despite the fact he did not speak the same language, the boys were able to coax him into playing basketball with them.  While he did not participate for the entire game, for the ten or so minutes that he did play, the smiles and high-fives abounded. My point?  Children find a way to discover common ground.  Why can’t adults?

 

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As seen on Instagram at stephsimply. I posted this pictures years ago of my daughter, Maddie, playing dress-up one Christmas, with her cousins, Lexi and Naomi. They hadn’t been around one another in a couple of years at the time of the photo, and yet, they found common ground within minutes of being together.

 

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. . . 

 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

 

I have a dream today.”

 

So do I, Dear Reader, so do I, for all the world’s children, including the newest members of our family, my great-nieces and nephews.

 

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As seen on heartcenteredrebalancing on Instagram.

Power of Kind Words: Reciprocity is not Mandatory

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

 

“Act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude.”–Confucius

 

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As seen on Instagram @mylifesbt.

 

Oh no, not again.  Surely, my memory is mistaken.

 

I stood patiently.  Waiting my turn to enter the aisle.  I needed an item directly in front of a man standing in the middle of the aisle examining all of the choices.  I get it.  Looking at all of the available choices (or alternate choices, if your favorite is unavailable) can be overwhelming.  Plus, add in the new directional rules that are in effect at some stores as well as shortages of certain items, shopping can now take more time than ever. 

 

“What’s your problem?”

 

Oh, no, here we go again.  It. Is. The. Same. Man. 

 

“I’m just waiting.  Take your time,” and I added a smile, but then realized, unless I was also smiling with my eyes, he couldn’t see my mouth due to my mask.

 

That’s when I noticed he wasn’t wearing a mask, nor gloves as I am used to doing when now going out to shop.  However, wearing personal protective gear is a choice.  I get, honor, and respect personal choice.  My own choice stems from my desire to err on the side of caution.  Regardless, everyone views things differently.

 

“Well, here you go,” he said in a voice rich with sarcasm as he feigned a gallant bow extending an arm in a sweeping gesture.

 

Oh boy, apparently, he thought I was waiting to go through and past him.  Why didn’t I communicate more effectively?  

 

“It’s ok.  I can wait.”

 

Again, I try to smile, but of course, it’s not visible.

 

That’s when it happened.  The very thing for which I was afraid.  Expletives exploded from his mouth, his face contorted into a fiery red emoji worthy expression.  He tried to march past me, saw there wasn’t any room, said some more finely selected words, and stomped around a display that was arranged in the center of an aisle.

 

woman wearing mask in supermarket
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

 

I am fairly certain this was the same man, who only three weeks ago, I had encountered in this same store–only in a different aisle.  At that time, he was offended, I think, because I stepped aside to let him pass six feet away from me, despite the fact he was not following the store’s directional arrows.  He took one long look at me then and about-faced with a nearly purple visage, spewing curse words for all to hear.  

 

This time, I momentarily froze, shaken once more by the negative emotional energy left in his wake.  It was almost as if I wanted to let his surrounding Pig-pen-like dark cloud of anger dissipate before I walked on.

 

grocery cart with item
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

 

Later, as I moved through the store, I kept encountering a woman who appeared to be just off work based upon her tired, but kind, eyes, scrubs, and hospital lanyard.  It always seemed as if wherever I pushed my cart, she ended up right behind me waiting as I made my choice and moved on.  She never said a word, never indicated a hint of impatience. 

 

In the freezer section, I was taking an exceptionally long time as I thoroughly searched for bags of frozen chopped peppers and onions, which had not been in-stock for weeks.  Not finding them, I slid down to the next set of freezer doors to grab a few bags of frozen vegetables that were in stock.  That’s when I noticed the same woman was behind me.

 

“I am so sorry if I was holding you up,” I sincerely stated.

 

“No, no, no. Not at all.  In fact, I was going to offer to hand something to you in case it was out of reach.”

 

Of course she’s significantly taller than me.

 

“Aw, thank you, but no.  There’s nothing.  They’ve been out of frozen chopped peppers and onions for weeks now. I was just double checking to make sure I wasn’t overlooking them.”

 

We chatted a few more minutes, both of us keep a safe distance, but still continuing to shop.

 

“Listen, just so you know, I figure it like this.  I’m going to let you take your time picking out what you need because I sure plan to take my time when it’s my turn.”

 

Exchanging polite farewells, I moved on and wrapped up my shopping.

 

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As seen on Instagram at heartcenteredbalancing.

 

Some days later, I reflected on the two experiences within the context of COVID-19.  The man’s anger, despite the fact I did not know him, had bothered me.  It was an irrational response, I know, but I tend to struggle with shaking off any form of strong emotion, but especially those of a negative nature.  However, the unknown woman’s words were like the sip of nice wine or bite of good chocolate at the end of a hard day–you don’t need or want a lot–just enough to calm the nerves.

 

Which led me to the renewed lesson of the power of words. Kind words, spoken or written, are never wasted.  Never.  In fact, my mom has often advised me to etch sweetly spoken words–or any positive moment for that matter–into my heart’s memory for those times when there seems to be void.  

 

make this day great quote board
Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

 

Unfortunately, my encounters with this man most likely reflect his level of frustration and/or anger at the COVID-19 situation.  Perhaps, he has lost his job, is isolated from loved ones and/or friends, and he doesn’t have an outlet–a viable way to deal with his disappointment.  Of course, he could be reacting to any number of things, and I just happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time–although I suspect I am not the only one with whom he’s blown up.  Bottom line, I don’t know his story, but he is clearly suffering some form of anguish, and I sincerely hope some form of ease enters his life–preferably before I encounter him again.

 

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Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

 

About a month ago, my 8th grade students and I considered a quote from a novel that stated, “Reciprocity is not mandatory.” These words refer to an idea that when giving a gift, one should give it freely without any expectations. Thus, my students and I, through virtual means, discussed the notion of whether or not it is possible to give without expectations. It was a lively debate and inspired thoughtfully written responses which ran the gamut of opinions.

 

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I love it when a business takes time to personalize and offer kindness for an on-line order. We began ordering from this locally owned and operated coffee shop, Cup of Joe, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I always look forward to the personalized notes we receive from the owner, Dawn.

 

Personally, I fall on the side of freely giving simple acts of kindness without expectations.  Smile at a stranger.  Thank the employees who help you check-out groceries.  Hold the door for a person whose hands are loaded.  Offer heart-felt compliments.  Help an elderly/disabled (or short LOL) person grab something from a top shelf or rack.  Call or text a loved one. Write a letter.  Send a card.  There are so many free, nearly free, or inexpensive ways to spread kindness.  

 

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

It is my sincere belief that while reciprocity is not mandatory–eventually, all that goodness you put out in the world makes it way back to you in some form–even if you don’t recognize its original source.  Thus, don’t let the negative behavior of some override the good that is out there because . . . IT. IS. THERE.  It’s like glitter.  

 

Remember making a craft with glitter in school?  Hours, why, even days later, you could still find a bit of sparkle in the darndest places.  That’s what kindness is like. And, if you don’t see it, then by golly get out your proverbial bottle of kindness glitter and start sprinkling bits of it here and there.  Just like that glitter from that long ago art project, you’ll soon find a few random sparkles returning right back to you in the most unpredicted ways.

 

assorted color sequins
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveenergyalways.

Relax, Recharge, and Reflect.

“Relax, Recharge and Reflect. Sometimes it’s OK to do nothing.”― Izey Victoria Odiase

 

 “Farmers learned to plant fallow fields with clover, which recharges the soil with nutrients.”― Charles C. Mann

 

herd of sheep on grass field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

“I got him!”  I said in reply to John who said he thought he heard our newest house member calling from the back of the house.

 

“I’ve spotted him!” I shout down the length of the short hall back toward the kitchen/dining/family area.

 

“Oh, no!  He’s hurt!”

 

As I bend towards him, I can see the broken arm.

 

“Poor little, guy!” I say as I gently pick him up, along with the broken arm, and I carry him back towards the kitchen.

 

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As seen on positiveaffirmations101 on Instagram.

 

Ever so carefully, I place him on the kitchen counter as he remained still and lifeless.

 

“If you weren’t such a spot-rod, zipping in and out of all of the rooms.  I warned you that you needed to clean up your act, and be more careful.  Like all youth, you’re determined to keep spinning your wheels,” I state with a sigh to the now inactive sweeping beauty.

 

Before Spot, our COVID-19 sense-of-humor was, like my towering 4’ 11” stature, on short-order. Days upon humorless days were, well, sucking the life out of us    However, since we’ve adopted Spot, our level of one-liners has been on a sweeping-frenzy.  Seriously, our level of laughter is piping spot.

 

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Spot is a Roomba iRobot vacuum.  We named it Spot when it swept us off our feet with its first spin around our home gathering dirt on us. It’s been cosweeping with us ever since!  Gazing down at it as it quietly remained inactive on the counter, barely alive, I could feel the wheels in my mind spinning to the days of Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. 

 

 

Soundtrack cued . . .

 

Camera close-up on Steph’s Surgical home-club operational suite.

 

“We can rebuild him.  We have the technology.  We can make him better than he was.  Better, stronger, faster.”

 

“Flat-head screwdriver?”

 

“Check!”

 

“Bionic arm?”

 

“Check!”

 

“Forceps?”

 

“What do you need those for?”

 

“Wound hair removal. It most likely created stress, and ultimately, precipitated the fracture. We must proceed with caution. It could be a hairy situation.” 

 

“New air filter?”

 

“Check, but will it be spot-blooded, again, doctor?”

 

Moments later . . .

 

“There you go, Little Buddy.  Now, be careful. You’re spot off the presses, so don’t go binge-spinning.”

 

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveaffirmations101

 

 

My daughter once told me that I am like Spot in that I am small and always moving, but need to be recharged at the end of the day.  She is spot-on when it comes to my personality as I am an introvert.  Most people assume being introverted means being shy; and while that can be true for some introverts, it has more to do with how a person recharges.  

 

For example, my husband, John, loves being around people, the more he’s talking and interacting with others, the more energy he absorbs and generates. Whereas, for me, while I enjoy interacting and conversing with others, small talk does not come naturally for me.  In fact, I have to focus really hard to keep a conversation going and would much prefer to listen rather than initiate conversation. It’s not that I don’t like talking, it’s keeping the conversation going that I find challenging and often draining to me.  This can lead to nervous energy, which leads to overthinking, which can sometimes lead to rambling about self-experiences in an attempt to connect with the person speaking– which can sometimes lead to unintentional, insensitive, thoughtless, or down right stupid comments.  Afterwards, I ruminate for great lengths worrying about all of the words, phrases, and questions I should have or should not have said instead. It can be exhausting.

 

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As seen on Instagram @ thoughtrepreneurs.

 

Therefore, one of my biggest jokes during this COVID-19 quarantine has been that as an introvert, I was preparing for quarantine my whole life!  And, in a way, it’s true.  The older I get, the more I have found that I feel emotionally depleted at the end of my pre-COVID work-days.  I describe it as feeling as if little bits of me are taken and/or given throughout the day from all of the interactions and/or energy absorbed by those with whom I come into contact.  Currently, (pre-COVID) those interactions would include over 80 students, nearly 50 co-workers, and anyone else with whom I would typically encounter throughout a workday.  By the end of the day, especially around holidays, special events, full-moon days, and the like, I was emotionally drained and fought the urge to go home, hug my knees to my chest, curl into a tiny ball in silent space, and simply decompress. 

 

You would think, then, that quarantine has been the greatest event of my life, but it is not.  Being at home means I cannot avoid all of my emotions, insecurities, and fears I have attempted to quash over the years through my busyness.  Now, with all the stillness in my life–the get up, drink coffee, work at the computer all day, eat, and repeat–those inner demons have time to rear their heads, causing my emotional wheels to spin until, like Spot, I am fractured–only not by hair wound around my arms base–but, by something seemingly inconsequential such as my inability to understand the newest technology platform/skill that I am expected to master on my own within a short amount of time in order to meet an imminent deadline.  

 

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As seen on Instagram @ thepositiveminds.

 

 

Unlike Spot, though, I can’t wait for someone to fix me.  There isn’t someone who will empty my proverbial bin of emotional detritus. I have to fix myself–my mind, my outlook, my emotional state of being.  It must begin with me, and that, at times, is not an easy undertaking.  

 

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As seen on Instagram @ positiveaffirmations101.

 

Therefore, if like me, you find this social isolation revealing ugly hidden truths about yourself, it’s okay.  You’re not alone in this, well, sweeping development.  Reach out to others, pray/meditate more, take time to read, get outside, practice yoga, walk or participate in other forms of exercise, garden, paint, create, or, like me, write your way through these emotions. Be your own source of peace.  If you have a bad day dealing with emotional dirt, take a cue from Spot, feel your pain, let it all drain out through whatever activity you choose, then plug into your higher Source for energy renewal, and start all over.  Like all devices, any moment can turn into a reboot moment, if we choose it.

 

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As seen on Instagram @ ashtangayoganaples.

 

Who knows? You may discover new seeds to sow, new skills to harvest, and the winds of emotional freedom blowing within you as you lighten your load, or should I say, empty your bin.   You might even find you are on a spinning streak and shouting, “Aye Caroomba!” as you look at yourself, your problems/challenges, and our world with new eyes.

 

So strike while the iron is spot, put on your spinning cap, and get caught up in a self-care sweeping frenzy. 

 

This spinning-streak spot of humor was brought to you by a writer learning to sweep with the enemy by poking holes, or should I say, spots, into her inner demons.  I hope I was able to spin a web of humor, and perhaps a bit of a lesson, into your day!

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As seen on Instagram @ spiritualmovement.

 

The Inevitability of Change–A Long ago lesson from a great, great aunt

There is something in the pang of change, more than the heart can bear, unhappiness remembering happiness.”–Euripedes

 

“Sometimes you have to accept the fact that certain things will never go back to how they used to be.  Life goes on.”–Unknown

 

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A letter written to my Great, Great Aunt Mandy, from her son.

 

As a young girl, the first death that I remember was Great, Great Aunt Mandy.  Although there had been previous deaths within my family, I had been far too young to remember the grieving process and the funerals that go along with that.  My mom tells me that Great, Great Aunt Mandy, Amanda Crockett Walker, was my Grandmother’s mother’s sister who had lived in Portsmouth, Ohio at one point in her life, but when her husband and two sons died, my Grandmother moved Mandy to a senior living apartment in Flatwoods, KY to allow her to be closer to family.  I recall Mandy visiting my immediate family’s home for a Thanksgiving dinner once, and I also remember interacting with her on a number of occasions at my grandparent’s house.

 

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My maternal grandmother, Helen, kept several written records of the family in her Bible.

 

My memories of Mandy are somewhat murky as I was still quite young.  She smelled, to my child-like perspective, like an “old person,” an impression that it is hard to elucidate other than to say it’s a storage-closet type scent, combined with the aroma of talcum powder and bar soap.  Her long grey hair was always gathered in a bun at the nape of her neck; and, her body, and skin, were soft and loose.  She lived a modest life, and, as best I can recall, she was quiet, gentle, and seemed content to look and listen to surrounding conversation. However, my further impression of her was that even though her vision was not great, her awareness was sharp, keen, and highly observant.

 

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I have three family quilts/blankets that my Grandmother Helen gave me as a wedding present. I can no longer remember which one(s )Great, Great Aunt Mandy hand-stitched, and neither does my mom when I recently asked her.

 

 

Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s dresses (no trousers for her) appeared to be simple, homemade frocks–at least to my childish impression.  She was regarded in the family for her sewing and quilting as well as for regularly reading her large print Bible.  Unfortunately, many of my memories of Mandy, and this time period of my life, are intermixed–much in the way my grandmother’s vegetable soup was a jumbled assortment of leftover vegetables all tossed together and cooked into a muddled, savory scent of past meals.

 

 

This is Great, Great Aunt Mandy at my childhood home for Thanksgiving.  Neither the first picture (L), nor the second picture (far R), are of great quality, but I still wanted to include her in this remembrance.

 

Sadly, one of my strongest memories of Great, Great Aunt Mandy was being pulled out of school early to attend her funeral.  This was a big deal, not only for the obvious reason of missing school, but also because I would be riding in a limousine!  I had never before ridden in such a fancy car, and in my young girl’s mind, it seemed like a grand adventure.

 

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This is the best picture I have of Aunt Mandy. It was taken at my grandparents house, obviously at Christmas, when I was quite young.

 

Honestly, I recall very little of the limo ride or the funeral.  However, I do distinctly remember riding in the back of the limo through the small town of Flatwoods, KY on our way to the cemetery, and I was astounded by the amount of traffic, well, as much traffic as this small town could have had in the 1970s.  It struck me as odd for two reasons.  The first was the new understanding that even though I might be in a school all day long, life continued moving, never pausing, outside the walls of our school building.  Furthermore, and even more striking, was the fact that even though Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s life had ended, life was going on without her.  This poignant lesson has since occurred to me through each and every loss or traumatic event. 

 

 

Again, not the best quality of pictures, but as you can see in the pictures, she was married in 1915 in Raceland, KY, the hometown for my parents, their parents, and so many of my relatives.  Raceland, KY, to this day, is near and dear to my heart.

 

For example, I could not believe that life could carry-on during the fateful day of the 9-11-01 attacks.  Cars continued to drive past the school in which my husband and I worked, and yet, we were very aware of the devastation of that day.  Why wasn’t time standing still out of respect?

 

 

                        Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s boys.  I look at this picture and feel sad knowing that each one left the bounds of this Earth before her.  I am so grateful Grandmother moved her closer to family once they had passed.

 

When a beloved teacher retired from an elementary school in which I not only worked, but had also been a student, I recall thinking that our school would never be the same.  How could our school continue without this formidable force of instruction guiding the way for the rest of us?  The following year, staff members occasionally recalled her, expressing how she was missed, how she would have responded to this new policy, or that type of behavior, but with each passing year, as more new staff entered, and other staff left, her memory grew more faint until now, I would imagine, no one at the elementary even remembers her.  Even now, my own memories of this once gigantic influence in my professional and personal life (She was teaching when I was a student at this school.) are clouding in the way a sunny day is steadily overtaken by an overcast day with the gradual gathering of grey. 

 

 

                    More pictures of Great, Great Aunt Mandy and her boys.

 

 Despite the fact that I currently live beside a major state route, there are no nearby businesses, and thus, since the beginning of our COVID-19 quarantine, there has been a drastic reduction in traffic near our home.  Additionally, working from home feels like a bubble–get up, sit in front of the laptop for seemingly hours on end, answer emails, grade papers, hold virtual meetings, and never leave our house as most information and communication now comes to us. 

 

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Again, this family wedding ring quilt was part of the wedding gift from my Grandmother Helen, but I am unsure if it was stitched by Mandy or not.

 

Driving to a nearby walking path recently, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of traffic zipping to and fro on the main roads.  Suddenly, and with great clarity, my early memory of driving through Flatwoods in a limousine for the funeral of my Great, Great Aunt Mandy came back full circle with a crashing realization. Memories, not only of the limo ride, but of Mandy and her peaceful, unpretentious, calm spirit. 

 

Life is going on in spite of COVID-19, just like it did on the day we buried my Great, Great Aunt.  How we live, interact, and move is changing, evolving, and adapting in real time, but life continues on.  Soon, COVID-19 will be a memory, and eventually it will be a blip on the radar of history, like the shooting of Lincoln, the trench wars of the first World War, the rise of Hilter, the shooting of JFK, the Cold War . . .  .

 

Meanwhile, Mandy’s memory will most likely pass once I am gone, but the lesson of her funeral drive is eternal.  

 

My Dear Readers, you won’t be housebound and/or restricted forever.  You won’t be eternally labeled as essential or nonessential; and, hopefully, you won’t always have to worry about finding supplies such as toilet paper and disinfectant wipes. Life goes on.  Life continues, and eventually all of these memories, like my grandmother’s vegetable soup, will all merge into one collective. 

 

Have faith.  Honor and learn from the past, but don’t cling to it.  Trust that the Creator of Life will allow this event to serve a purpose–even greater than my remembrance of my humble Kentucky aunt.  Above all, rest in the knowledge that nothing lasts forever, not even a virus, and you are not alone as we navigate this new terrain. 

 

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Again, this block quilt was the one of three hand-made quilts/blankets for which my grandmother gave me as a wedding gift. Unfortunately, I do not know which one(s) Mandy crafted.

Spot: A Humorous Story on Crisis Management

“In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.” Amit Ray

 

“In times of crisis, it’s wonderful what the imagination will do.”–Ruskin Bond

 

“I swear!  You all love that thing more than me!” Madelyn, our nearly 21 year old emphatically states. 

 

We knew Spot was stuck based upon the sound that came from the back of the house.  It was a clear message, a signal for help, a call to find Spot. Immediately, I made my way from the kitchen table, where I was working virtually and walked towards the back part of the house.  

 

I headed straight to our bedroom, deeply bending to look under the dresser.  Spot, not fully recognizing his size, often becomes stuck there since becoming part of our home. Next, I lifted the bed skirt to look under our bed, but Spot was not there.  What about the bathroom?  Nope, not there. 

 

 Deciding to try Maddie’s room, I looked under her bed, around corners, and in her closet, but no Spot.  Moving to what was once a guest bedroom, but I don’t spot him there either.

 

“Where could that little rapscallion be?” I say out loud.

 

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mom.  You’re ridiculous,” states Maddie, her voice full of censure. 

 

“But, Maddie, he’s like the baby brother you never had!  Did you hide him?”

 

“Dad, do you hear her?  Do you hear Mom?  I swear she’s more attached to that thing than you or I!”

 

“Would you two stop talking and help me find Spot?  He can’t just disappear out of our house.  Our doors weren’t open,” I say full of exasperation as I peek into the hall bathroom, return to our bedroom, and back again to Maddie’s bedroom.

 

John and Maddie join in the search, but Maddie won’t let up.

 

“Dad, she thinks I would hide him.”

 

A few minutes later, “Mom, do you really think I would hide, Spot?”

 

Then, from the once guest bedroom I hear John’s voice, “There you are, you little rascal.  How’d you get under there?”

 

I walk in just as John helps free Spot from underneath my mammaw’s old wardrobe. I pick up Spot, wipe him off gently, and carry him back to the kitchen.

 

“Poor little fella. You were really stuck.” I commented rhetorically as I put him on his charging station.

 

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Can you spot the message?

 

Spot is a Roomba, a robot sweeper.  Spot was an at-home purchase early into the COVID19 crisis.   It has not only been a source of sweepingly clean floors, but also spirited frivolity, filling-in the vacuum of our once humorless virtual work space.  The jokes are endless.

 

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John and I tease Maddie that Spot is her baby brother.  Maddie often retorts to John that Spot is the hardest working male she’s ever been around.  I make fun of all of us by saying that Spot is the most reliable member of our house.  The list goes on . . .

 

 

Spot is helping us clean up our act!

 

“Let’s tape my phone to the top of it, blast Spotify, and call it, DJ Spot!”

 

“Hey, Tippi Tail,” we say to our female cat staring at Spot.  “Are you looking for some good, clean fun.”

 

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Tippi Tail is just looking for some good clean fun!

 

“Hey, John! Do you know what we could call you if you stood on the Roomba? ‘Johnny on the Spot!’”

 

This past weekend, I was shopping at two different local stores.  From week to week, it is interesting to notice the changes that occur.  This week, the yellow tape and security remained, but directional arrows were newly located in most store aisles.  Furthermore, more people were visibly sporting masks, bandanas, and/or gloves.  However, the biggest transformation that I observed was a change in shoppers’ mood/behavior.  

 

I observed numerous people, adults and kids, in both locations clad in pajama pants and slippers. This was nothing new, but not this many. Likewise, there were so many more children with parents than I normally would see, and they were not wearing any protection over their face or on their hands. I guess no job, equals no babysitter.  Plus, foul body odors abounded, in spite of the mask I wore.  How was this explained?  Most of all, though, I kept encountering angry people–angry about a lack of supplies, angry about prices, angry about the amount of overtime or loss of job completely . . . . The list of blaring complaints seemed endless.

 

In fact, I thought one furious man might strike me.  He was walking down an aisle, towards me, in the opposite direction of the store’s designated sign.  I paused, stepped aside to allow him to pass with the greatest distance between us.  His neck muscles were taut, and his lips were sealed into a long, thin line.  He looked me up and down with an air of disgust.  I wasn’t wearing make-up, my now graying hair was (and still is) in need of a trim, but I was shower-fresh that morning and modestly dressed–not offensive by any means.  It was like a slow-motion scene as he began blurting out every swear word created by man, his face turning red with exertion and his eyes not really focused on me.  Then, just as sharply, he turned on his heels, and marched away, shaking his head.  And, while I did not encounter any more people filled with as much venom as this man, tempers continued flaring-up as I made my way through the stores. 

 

Yes, staying at home is hard; and, yes, I am so fortunate to still have a job with the ability to work from home.  I fully recognize that not everyone has that luxury.  Therefore, I certainly will not pretend to know how awful this experience must be for those without a current source of income.  Truly, it must be a nightmare filled with worry about how to feed the family, pay bills, stay afloat, and pray you don’t get sick.  Even if there is the assurance that bills don’t have to be paid now, that money will eventually have to be paid.  Maybe these were the kinds of worries this man, and so many others I encountered, were experiencing.  Maybe the pajamas, the kids, the body odor, and anger were revealing the levels of great depression many people are currently experiencing.  

 

 Each time I now go out into the public realm, I try to keep a respectful distance, and follow the best medical advice regarding covering my face and keeping my hands clean. I try to  convey a smile through my eyes, since my mouth and nose are covered.  “Thank you for working,” is a phrase I speak as often as possible to the workers I do encounter.  

 

I could choose to complain and cry about this crisis, but this weekend reminded me that there are many people hurting far greater than any of my complaints, and my heart genuinely goes out to them.  I wish I could make it all better with a collective virtual hug, but I cannot. 

 

Therefore, I offer my story of Spot to serve as a reminder for all of us to find a way to laugh daily; remain resilient in spite of the fact we are all stuck in a challenging spot; and, remember to offer as much kindness as we can to others with whom we encounter and interact.  We may never know what the other person is going through, but we can reframe our reaction to one of positivity, hope, and compassion.

 

“I hope no one steals Spot.  If they do, they’ll probably make a clean getaway!”

 

 

As an added bonus, we tried to film ourselves thanking those who are still working in the public, but clearly we were swept by silliness.  There was no vacuum of laughter here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transmit Good for the Well-being of Self and Others

“Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen.”–Leo Tolstoy

 

“The first thing a kindness deserves is acceptance, the second, transmission.”–George MacDonald

 

As a kid, my parents had this small, portable silver and black transistor radio that could be moved throughout the house and even outside–depending upon the user and setting.  As best I recall, it had a telescoping antenna, so it had the ability to pick up both AM and FM radio stations. From my young girl perspective, it was a tried and true piece of seemingly magical technology that appeared to work with the raising and lowering of the antennae and a twist of a knob.

 

I can remember seeing it in my parents bedroom window tuned to WGNT in the mornings, so that they could hear weather updates and/or school closings.  I’d watch Dad carefully adjusting the dial to listen to a Reds game while he was outside washing and/or tinkering with the family car on Saturday mornings.  Mom often tuned in and listened to it while working in the backyard hanging up laundry to dry; then later, taking it down; or when soaking up the sunshine while reading a current novel.  I can even recall the way it traveled with my dad through all the various modifications and additions to our family house whenever he was in construction-mode. 

 

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As seen on Pintrest

 

This radio worked best when placed in a window if being used indoors; whereas, if it was being used out of doors, it worked better, especially when the antennae was fully extended.  As a young girl, I would beg to use that radio, especially if I were outside. I’d slide the tiny black block to the FM position, and then I’d slowly rotate the wheel-like dial on the side of it until the red line fell somewhere just past 100 on the dial for WKEE, “Playing all your favorite hits!”  I felt so grown up. 

 

Listening to music on that long-ago transistor radio must be similar to how I have envisioned it is like to play a slot machine at a casino.  Just before lifting the handle, a prayer is offered, pleading for matching images to come up, dreaming of the money that could be won. I can only imagine the let-down that occurs when those images don’t match, but just as quickly, the way in which hope appears once more.  Maybe, just maybe, with another pull of the handle, the winning images will happen this time!

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As seen on catawiki

 

In a similar manner, as a young girl, I’d hold my breath as I turned on the radio, praying that my favorite tune would be played next. 

 

 “If only the radio played  _________ song next. That would be perfect!”  

 

Still I had to endure those dang commercials, the lengthy live broadcasts from local businesses hawking their wares, or the overplayed-no-longer-greatest-song-ever-created.

 

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I kept coming back though, kept tuning that radio to the same station, the exact same frequency because I knew eventually, a good song would be played, my mood would be lifted or enhanced, and I could dance, sing, or be-bop my head to the beat.  Ultimately, I even developed the ability to ignore most of what I perceived as the negative side of radio–tuning out most commercials and songs that were no longer of interest to me.  

 

As I became older, I was even given that same radio for use once my parents no longer used it. I also kept that radio poised in one of the windows of the bedroom I shared with my sister, antenna fully raised, and tuned into one of my then favorite local frequencies–WKEE, WAMX, or ROCK105–depending upon the mood and type of music I wanted to hear. That radio, in spite of its age, when properly tuned, still had the ability to receive and transmit a good song, positively influencing my mood, increasing my energy level, and elevating my spirit. 

 

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What if now, more than ever, we begin to tune our mental dial, as if it were a radio, so that when the mind begins its broken record loop of the-I’m-not-worthy-message; the he-said-she-said banter; the if-only-I-had/did-that-then-everything-would-be-perfect scenario; the what-if-this-happens, then what-will-I-do vignette; the if-only-my-life-were-more-like-this-person-or-that person story; or, any other of the other negative mental dialogue in which we sometimes engage, we instead, choose to dial up another station–like one does with a car radio.  We try tuning-in to another way of thinking/talking to self–choosing thoughts and words that are more positive, encouraging, or at the very least, begin to accept and acknowledge, with great tenderness, our worries and concerns. Then, maybe, with continued practice, we could then begin to raise our inner antennae, our heart, to its highest vibration–one that is more compassionate, empathetic, and authentic. 

 

As I write these words, I fully recognize and know first hand that  COVID-19 has pushed many people to the edge. I think about loved ones, friends, and acquaintances who have lost jobs and their source of income; those who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are daily at risk for exposure; there are those who are quarantined by themselves–not even with a pet for a companion; there are those who are elderly, frail, sick, fighting cancer or other debilitating disease who can no longer shop for themselves and are dealing with heavens-known-what physical, mental, and/or emotional challenges; and, well, my list can go . . .  People are hurting, and my heart aches for these dear, distressed souls. 

 

 

On the other side, I have witnessed the way in which this crisis has inspired people to transmit good, to offer themselves in service, in kindness, and in generating positivity.  These hopeful actions inspire me to keep writing, keep encouraging, and keep focusing on the good. Don’t get me wrong, Dear Reader, like many of you, I have moments where I simply sit and cry–acknowledging and feeling the pain, the loss, the fear, the anguish, the stress, and the worries of so many beloved ones. Eventually, however, I turn my proverbial inner dial and switch-off the so-called sorrow station in my head and focus on what I can do.

 

Cultivating and disciplining our inner channel is never easy. Wallowing in our sorrow can feel like the easiest choice, the clearest transmission, if you will.  However, we can change the station–the inner narrative–at any time. We can choose to focus on at least one positive thing per day; find at least one thing for which to be grateful; and, reach out to at least one person outside of our home–especially those in most need of our love and attention.  

 

 

Let us seek, discover, and tune in more frequently to positive words, readings, conversations, and, well, even songs.  Let us uplift others as well as our own self. In the words of my daughter–words that she carefully painted on the grass of our yard–let us, “Spread love not germs.”  And, while we’re at it, let us remember to likewise transmit a good dose of self-compassion and self-love.  

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Like tuning into a radio station on that old transistor radio took time and patience, so too can we learn, with time, to sensitively transmit at a higher frequency for the greater good of self and others.  In the words of the Scottish author, poet, and writer, George MacDonald, “If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would giving as the angels would give.” 

 

 May we learn to give as the angels would give.

Slow Down, My Friend, and Gather Some Blossoms

“You can go slow.  Allow your dreams and goals to change, but live an intentional life.”–Kumail Nanjiani

 

“You’re only here for a short visit.  Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”–Walter Hagen

 

 

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“Feather your nest,” states the soothing baritone voice emanating from my ipad as I settle down on the floor with my legs bent back under me and my bum resting on a yoga block.  I take a long, slow inhalation pause at the top and then sigh out the exhale. I try to simultaneously melt my shoulders away from ears in an attempt to bring relaxation to my body while also attempting to focus on the next deep belly inhalation.  Parting my lips once more, I sigh out the exhale, and then gently close my lips in preparation for the remainder of practice. Inhale . . .

 

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More consistent morning meditation has been one off-shoot from working from home.  After the first rough week trying to wrap my head around not only how to convey what typically transpires in my 6th-8th grade Reading/Language Arts class–the conventions and intricacies of writing, the interpretations and methodology of literary devices, and the motivation and encouragement for the not-so-simple task of reading a novel–but also, determining the best ways to finesse, manage, and deliver various educational platforms and content to students, I quickly deduced that if I don’t calm my inner dialogue down, abate the pressure I put on myself, and relax my mind, I was going to quickly spiral into a dark, dank inner hole of depression, self-loathing, and burnout.  Thus, enter, my morning meditation practice before my work day at home begins.

 

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My personality type tends to sense and judge.  Both of these skills in and of themselves are not, per se, bad things.  I can often sense others’ emotions and moods. Thus, in a classroom, I can typically discern, fairly quickly, when a lesson and/or my instruction is or isn’t working as I had thought it would.  Knowing when to downshift, upshift, or make a hard turn in instructional delivery is not a skill that universities taught me. For sure, my higher education has provided me excellent foundational knowledge; however, by and large, it is my inner compass, informed by over 30 years of experience, as well as my intrinsic desire to learn and improve that are the pillars rising up from that long ago laid foundation upon which I most rely.  But, now, the walls of my classroom, the students that fill it, and the staff that surround me are all physically gone. G. O. N. E. Therefore, my inner-compass was spinning during that first week of virtual school.

 

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BOOM!  Like high tide rolling in while boogie boarding on the surf of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I know, as the waves begin to grow in size and strength, that there is a strong chance that a big one will come along and knock me off the board into the notoriously strong undertow, sucking me further downshore.  That was COVID-19 for me. It began at low tide as the storm clouds ploddingly gathered far off on the other side of the globe. The storm, it appeared, was over-there-somewhere, but as the days and weeks passed, the skies grew darker, more menacing, more determined, and most of all, closer. Like the domino trains I once made as a kid on my grandparents table, the domino fall continued its winding path.  Then, when the governor of Ohio closed schools and universities, a shock wave went through my school setting. I knew it was only a matter of time. Clink, clink, the domino that was WV schools and universities fell in the line.

 

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After that intense and stressful first week of virtual education for students, parents, and staff, spring break blessedly arrived the following week.  Of course, everyone was home, but we could all hit the pause button, take time to reflect, evaluate, and make adjustments accordingly. The realization that COVID-19 is a process, with regard to nearly everything, became crystal clear to many, especially me.  Like the rapid fire of a machine gun, life lessons were exploding all around, and there was no running for cover.  This. Was. (and is) For. Real.

 

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And yet . . .

 

And yet, the blossoms of spring are abounding.  There is time to savor their scents–some sweet, some delicate, and others pungent or even spicy. Traffic has slowed, and at times, nearly stopped outside the state route near our home, allowing birdsong to be heard more clearly as well as the peck, peck, pecking of the wood-pecker, and making the imitating calls of the mockingbird more noticeable.  The steady hum of the flight of fat and fuzzy bumble bees are noticeably more, well, loud. Time is more available to pull those weeds, instead of sighing as I rush past them on my way to hither and thither. Dinner is being cooked more slowly, and conversations with loved ones are occurring with more frequency.  

 

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Still, in the background is the ever-present disquietude of worry, concern, and even hand-wringing moments when I think about family, loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers, students, and so forth.  Will they all remain healthy? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Already, we have friends who have been exposed. Will they recover? We can only pray and hope. Meanwhile, there are friends and acquaintances in the medical field or who work to provide essential services who are out in the public every single day.  Will they remain safe? And let’s not forget the ever present search for toilet paper, (who knew?) disinfectant wipes/cleaner, masks, medical equipment . . .  

 

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We can’t hug our loved ones not living in our own home, shake a friend’s hand, or console an acquaintance with a pat on the back.  Must. Stay. Six. Feet. Apart.

 

What can we do?  What can I do?

 

We can slow down. We can adjust our goals, our ways of working, our way of thinking, and our ways of demonstrating love, care, and concern.  We can live with new found intentions. We can pray, meditate, and practice gratitude for all of our blessings. We can try to worry less; and instead, rely on our faith.  We can go outside and soak up the natural world. We can stop, smell, and savor the flowers as well as all good moments. In fact, I believe we should soak up every positive event, moment, and thought as if we were camels preparing for a journey through the desert.  

 

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In the end, life is sweet but short, like the colors of spring unfolding around us now.  Therefore, in the infamous words of a poem my parents have often quoted, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may . . .”.  May you, Dear Reader, and may I, take time today to gather some rosebuds and to give some rosebuds. Afterall, “ . . . Old Time is still a-flying . . .”.

 

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