Thursday, December 31, 2015

Everything happens for a reason NOT

 

I couldn't have said it better. How I wish I had written this but I didn't--zero credit to me. This is a blog post from John Pavlovitz from August 6, 2015. All credit to John, a man who has the ability to nail it on the head. I particularly love the fact that he uses the phrase "profound suckness." Thank you, John. The original post is at http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/05/29/why-everything-does-not-happen-for-a-reason/.
 
That phrase.
 
We’ve all received it personally gift-wrapped by well-meaning friends, caring loved ones, and kind strangers. It usually comes delivered with the most beautiful of intentions; a buffer of hope raised in the face of the unimaginably painful things we sometimes experience in this life.
 
It’s a close, desperate lifeline thrown out to us when all other words fail: Everything happens for a reason.
 
I’ve never had a tremendous amount of peace with the sentiment. I think it gives the terrible stuff too much power, too much poetry; as if there must be nobility and purpose within the brutal devastation we may find ourselves sitting in. In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of The Greater Plan that this suffering all fits into.
It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and stop to try and find the why’s of all of the suffering, instead of just admitting that maybe there is no why to be found and that perhaps this all simply sucks on a grand scale. May you feel permission to fully acknowledge that profound suckness.
 
Any even if somewhere beneath all of it; far below all the dizzying trauma that we experience here there is a fixed, redemptive reason for it all, it’s one that will likely remain well beyond our understanding so long as we inhabit flesh and blood.
 
Deep within the background operating system of my faith there’s a buried, fiercely protected trust in a God who is good and in an existence that matters. But this core truth doesn’t come with the assumption that all things, (including all the horrors we might encounter here), have a purpose. It doesn’t come with a hidden silver lining always knitted into the fabric somewhere, if only we can uncover it.
 
To believe that, is to risk painting the picture of a God who is making us suffer for sport; throwing out obstacle and injury and adversity just to see what we’ll do, just to toughen us up or break us down. I find it hard to reconcile that with the perseverant hope in a God who is not out to squash me. 
It’s exhausting enough to endure the dark hours here and not lose our religion, without the addition of a Maker who also makes us bleed. Instead, I prefer to understand God as One who bleeds along with us; Who sits with us in our agony and weeps, not causing us our distress but providing a steady, holy presence in it. This still leaves me with the nagging question of why this God can’t or won’t always remove these burdens from me, but it does allow me to better see the open opportunity provided in tragedy.
 
There’s an oft-misused excerpt from a pastor’s letter to his faith community found in Scripture, where the author Paul writes:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
This isn’t a Heavenly insurance policy paid with faith and exempting us from anything unpleasant, but the promise that if we choose to respond to all things from a place of love and goodness; that we, not necessarily our circumstances will be better for it.
 
In this way, I believe in suffering as a sacred space; one where we get to choose.
 
It’s not a supernatural cause-and-effect experiment from the sky, specifically designed to do something to us or in us, but it is a time and place where we can respond and as we do, we are altered. Our pain does not have a predetermined purpose, (otherwise we would be straddled with the terribly complicated task of figuring it out in a billion small decisions every single day), but that pain will always yield valuable fruit.
 
As much as I hate to admit it, my times of deepest anguish have almost always been the catalyst for my greatest learning, but I could have easily learned different lessons had I chosen differently. Yes, I certainly grew tremendously in those trying times, but I could have grown in another direction altogether with another choice. In that way, those moments of devastation held no single, microscopic needle-in-the-haystack truth to hunt for while I grieved and struggled, but there was still treasure to be found in the making of my choices and in their ripples.
 
No I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe there is meaning in how we respond to all things that happen to us, even when they are not at all good things.
 
Be encouraged as you suffer and choose.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas in prison: A waltz

Christmas Eve, nearly midnight. I was nestled all safe in my bed, thinking about the people I love, searching for gratitude in the light of Christmas. I thought about my brother Mark and how he used to give me a huge hug every Christmas Eve, how I have missed him the past four years. I tried to remember his face and what came to me, like one of Ebenezer Scrooge’s horrific ghosts, was the photo of his face they put up on the big screen in the courtroom during his murder trial. It was his autopsy photograph. I don’t want to remember that, but I do.

And earlier that evening I had a Pandora Christmas station playing and I heard the simple, bittersweet John Prine song Christmas in Prison. It inspired me to get out my banjo and play all the John Prine songs I know. And Christmas in Prison was still stuck in my brain when I thought about my little brother Mark and cursed the horrible man who murdered him. At least the Maryland justice system has put the murderer in prison for many years. He spent another Christmas in prison, but my family spent another Christmas without my brother. The empty place will always be empty. And I hummed the John Prine song, a beautiful waltz, and revised the lyrics. I don’t know if my anger will ever go away. I don’t know if I can ever completely forgive the man who took my brother’s life. I don’t even try any longer—I just figure it’s between him and God. I’m glad at least he had another Christmas in prison.
 
Christmas in Prison: A Waltz (with a plea to the genius songwriter John Prine for indulgence)
 
It was Christmas in prison
As you sat in your cell
Living a nightmare
Rotting in hell
May you dream of him always
Even when you don't dream
May his memory haunt you
And his death make you scream.
 
[Chorus:]
Wait, just wait for eternity
Pray that God's mercy will soon set you free
Pray to Him
Plead with Him
Fall to your knees
His mercy
Forgiveness
The goodness
Of God

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Santa and me: The Christmas terror

Take a close look at this child’s face. Does she look like someone who truly loves Christmas? Funny, but 60-some years later and I believe I have the same look on my face every year as Christmas approaches.

Is it any wonder? I’m sure we had to be at some “downtown” department store because that’s all there was in Washington, DC, in 1950. There was only the Tick-Tock bar in our neighborhood. There was no bus service, no 7-11, and certainly no mall. I probably rode downtown in the car (just a free-range toddler without a car seat, of course) and my parents handed me over to this creepy big man with a fake beard. Notice the big fat man in the big chair in the big city is groping me. It was my first encounter with a masher. He was probably on parole for child abuse, hence the number on the side of his chair. Even now I hate his silly striped chair and the fake Christmas tree—back then they certainly could have pulled in a real tree instead of that Ricky Ricardo Copa Cabana tree. That alone horrifies me. Notice my innocent little hand trying to pull his big hairy paw off my parts that would be under a swimsuit. I wonder if there’s a statute of limitations.

The Masher Santa was sufficient to ruin Christmas for me for a lifetime. But wait—there’s more. One year when I was old enough to believe in Santa and young enough to trust everything an adult told me, I was cruelly deceived by an old woman who was a friend of my grandmother’s. It was Christmas Eve and I was at my grandparents’ house, staring sleepily at the lights on the Christmas tree, when Mrs. Ritter announced she had heard a bulletin on the radio. Mrs. Ritter told me that Santa Claus’s sleigh (and his eight tiny reindeer) had been caught in foul weather and there would be no Christmas that year. I should have been relieved that the child molester was not going to sneak into my house at night.

Even then, I was a rather intense child. So on Christmas Eve every year from then on I had a stomach ache from the stress of worrying about Santa Claus. I would pace the floors when my family was sleeping. I would climb into bed with my mother because I was so worked up with anticipation and concern that I needed extreme comfort. I heard Santa and the reindeer on the roof. I swear I did. I distinctly remember quivering in bed with my mother, hearing footsteps on the roof, lying frozen with my head under the blankets for fear that Santa would know I was awake. Remember he knows when you’re awake. I believed it all; nothing could sway me from my belief.

I still believe. Even though I had to be Santa when my children were little, I still believe. Even though I now live alone and no one fills my empty Christmas stocking, I believe. So this Christmas Eve I’ll be lying awake in my bed in fear and anticipation, nauseated, waiting for Santa Claus. And I’ll have that look on my face.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Barbed wire

Photo from biggreencombine.com



The peaceful conversations we had in that period of time were rare. But once in that ugly, angry time between separation and divorce, John and I were sitting at a table somewhere and he asked me how I saw him.

“I see you as an incredibly bright, funny, fiercely protective, loving man, surrounded by a coil of barbed wire,” I replied after about a minute of thought.

He smiled wryly and looked away. “That’s pretty accurate,” he said.

Last week on a long drive from west Texas to Austin, I travelled over a stretch of highway to the east of Marathon where there had been a freezing rain overnight. The grass along the highway, the limbs of the trees, everything was coated in a thin sheet of glistening ice. Even the barbed wired fences shone in their coats of ice. The monochromatic beauty was stunning and odd. I thought of John. 

That figurative coil of barbed wire kept people at a distance from John. Who could not fear his explosive anger, the scorpion’s sting? But it also kept him ensnarled, unable to be loved for what he was. He paid a huge price for the painful protection. 

I have spent a good part of my life trying to untangle the source of his anger. He struggled with depression and anxiety. He had physical pain from a deteriorating hip and various other injuries. He felt that when he was growing up his family placed unreasonable pressure on him to succeed—he was the one in his Irish Catholic family of modest means who was going to make them proud. All of these things made him angry. All of these things he carried on his back like a sack of rocks his entire life.

He spent much of his adult life in therapy, analyzing all of these things, trying to find medication that would treat the symptoms. Yet I wonder if the real path of healing for him might have been found in forgiveness. Could he have found some peace with his body that caused him pain? Could he have forgiven his parents, the priests and nuns who taught him, his brother who bullied him, the legal profession that squeezed the life out of him? Could forgiveness have brought him some peace before his untimely death from brain cancer?

And more than anyone else in my life, I need to forgive John. What does this teach me? How does seeing his life in this perspective alter the way I respond to the memory of him? I don’t want to see the barbed wire transferred to our children. I can’t transfer the barbed wire to encase myself. Forgiveness.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Closed doors

https://www.flickr.com/people/mac_filko/

Only through hard experience am I learning to trust God’s hand in my life. Time and time again, when doors have been slammed shut in my face, in the final analysis I accept that my plans, my will, my schemes and dreams, were not what God had in mind.

And so here I am in a season of closed doors, seemingly a long hallway where I keep walking, getting weary, jiggling the locks, and nothing seems to work out. Guess it’s time for a remedial lesson in patience. Again.

In less than a week, a few of the frustrations, large and small:

(1) I thought I might build a little gramma cottage on my daughter’s property in Austin for longer visits with my family and with a vision for living there permanently in the future. But when I saw a potential plan for the cottage I realized it wasn’t big enough for me to do what I wanted to do—collect and paint furniture to fill it and have friends come to stay with me. With that option off the table, I’m saying “What next? What am I going to do?”

(2) My life felt lonely without a pet. My cat died almost a year ago. I thought I could not go through the grief again of losing my dear companion, but eventually the emptiness was worse than the fear. So I started the animal adoption process. I liked a pretty little orange tabby who continued to be available while I got approved and while I was out of town. And within hours of my finalizing the process she was adopted by someone else. Then I considered another cat that looked very much like my dearly departed cat Eva. Sadly, this sweet animal had been abandoned by her family and she didn’t have Eva’s trusting and affectionate nature.

(3) Feeling frustrated and alone, I realized I need a project. So I decided to paint my powder room—easy distraction. Wait—not so easy. Before I got started I realized there is mushy place in the drywall where the ceiling meets the wall. Water. Blasted free-range water coming from the bathroom above perhaps. So I issued myself a stop-work order and sent an e-mail to my contractor to come investigate when he can.

Experience has shown me that the Lord is not slamming doors shut; He isn’t gratuitously making life frustrating for me. Frustrations strung together like beads can feel like an instrument of torture.

“Shut up!” I just screamed silently to myself. Blah, blah, blah. I sound like a histrionic crazy old cat woman. (In preparation for the cat that I didn’t get, I went to the grocery store this morning and bought cat litter, a bag of cat treats, and a cheese croissant. On the way to the quick check-out lane, I looked in my cart and wondered if I should just buy a fresh pack of razor blades so I can slit my wrists if this is the sum total of my life.) Big deal—I’m frustrated, right on schedule for the winter depression to set in, and I’ve had a cruddy week. Stop your sniveling, you stupid old woman, do what you have to do, and move forward.

I told you before that this blog is my therapy. So I just did a Gestalt therapy on myself and saw how ridiculous I can be. Yes, God closes doors. But He opens doors that are more wonderful, perhaps much more surprising, than the doors He closes. I’m waiting. Impatiently.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reluctant rebel

Today I was telling an old friend of mine the story of how I got thrown out of the Junior League of Washington. She laughed, thought it was an asset, and asked why I had never written about this on my blog. Hmmm. . . . I thought I had written about it at some point. Voila! Found an essay that is in my dusty old unpublished book. Instant gratification. Here's the story . . .



Reluctant Rebel

One day in my senior year of high school, while in Latin 4 class, there was an announcement over the PA system, “Miss Xander to the office please.”
Oh no, I thought, what have I done now? I jumped out of my seat and headed to the vice principal’s office. I could see the outline of Mother St. Eugenia, the vice principal, through the wavy opaque glass. When I entered her office, she stood and shook a piece of paper at me, saying “You! You!”
I racked my brain for what possible offense I could have committed. I hadn’t been smoking. I hadn’t done anything with boys, much to my dismay. I hadn’t skipped school since junior year when I was punished excessively for a single day’s fall from grace.
“You! Look at these SAT scores!”
I took the piece of paper from her hand—the scores were good, apparently much better than the scores of many of my classmates. I am sure the corners of my mouth began to creep up slightly before she explained the source of her displeasure. “If you can do this, why haven’t you performed better here at Regina High School?”
Although I did care about learning and wanted to go to college, I was just not cut from their mold and didn’t feel like playing by their silly rules. Besides, there seemed to be little opportunity for me other than going to my local state college, so why work really hard?
My parents were like counter-culture parents compared to the others. While my friends’ parents were pushing their daughters to get good grades so they could apply to private Catholic out-of-state colleges, my parents didn’t encourage me to go to college at all. My parents urged me to bleach my hair and thought that I could improve myself by being more “flashy”. I wore black tights, listened to jazz, and had books by beat poets, but my parents probably would have preferred it if I had been a Hooters girl. I never saw myself as rebellious—I simply didn’t want for myself what either the school administration or my parents wanted for me.
Much to my surprise, I won a full scholarship to my state college. But I had to live at home and it felt like an extension of high school to me. After a year in college, I fell in love and soon left school to support my husband who was in law school.
Several years into married life I tried to move up in social status. Big mistake. You can take a girl out of PG County, but you can’t take the PG County out of the girl. Since I was married to a Washington lawyer, I thought I should do what I could to be connected, to help his career. What a crock! I had a couple of friends who were members of the Washington Junior League, a large group of socially connected young women who ostensibly did charity work in the community. I had never belonged to a sorority and Junior League felt to me like what it must have been like to be in a sorority, except the women were mostly married and we didn’t live together. It was a very old-school social order—all the married women were listed in the directories by their husbands’ names, so I was Mrs. John L. Burke, Jr.
In order to be admitted, we had to submit letters of support, be accepted, go through a training period, and as an active member had to perform a required number of service hours. I volunteered to work at the Junior League Shop, a second-hand clothing store whose profits supported the charity work of the organization. My main duty at the shop was to change the window displays on a weekly basis. The shop was on a main street in the trendy Georgetown section of Washington. I developed some sort of theme (based on holiday, a local event, or a color scheme) and selected clothes and created displays in the store windows. Actually, it was fun, quite a hip job for a suburban mom with a station wagon, because I got to do display work at one of the most prominent locations in Georgetown.
So I did it for a couple of years, regularly went to meetings, and paid my dues. Then the board of directors announced that they were increasing the dues. I had witnessed how the board spent the League’s money and I was perturbed. The board had administrative offices above the shop in Georgetown. They had regular board luncheons and hired a cook to work for them. Had they completely lost sight of the fact that the expressed purpose of the organization was to serve the community? Why were they spending money having someone cater their lunches when they could have brought sandwiches from home and used the money to buy books for inner city kids?
I refused to pay the dues increase. They told me that if I wanted to resign in good standing, that I would have to pay the annual dues and then resign. So I resigned not in good standing. What a slut! I didn’t see my little protest activities against the Junior League as rebellious either—I simply thought what they were doing was wrong and I didn’t want to support them any longer.
So I’ve got some big blots on my permanent record—I was an underachiever in high school and I resigned from the Junior League of Washington not in good standing. You combine that with the fact that I joined SDS (Students for a Democratic Society, a leftist student activist group that protested the war in Vietnam) in 1965, and guess I’m more firmly in the counter culture than I ever realized. It’s a wonder that the Junior League didn’t do a background check and find out about my lack of ambition and my SDS affiliation and bar me from membership. Slacker, thrown out of Junior League, former member of SDS, and a banjo player? Couldn’t get any lower than that unless I had been a waitress at Hooters. I wonder if Hooters is hiring? Maybe I’ll make my parents proud after all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Down Tobacco Road

I wrote this a few years ago for a writing class. It's all true. The road has now been paved and cleared. There are nice houses built on the road now with swing sets and picnic tables in the yards. It doesn't seem the least bit frightening.


Dixon's Store, archives neeldestate.com

 I can smell the beach house sometimes—the stale scent of heat and dust, suntan lotion, and Old Bay seasoning. I can feel the pain in my toes from stubbing them on the heavy furniture. When the weather is warm, clear and bright, it brings me back to the screened porch and the boundless view of the Bay, so wide at that point that we could see the eastern shore only on the clearest days. There I am on the upper floor, early in the morning, listening to the seagulls while lying in one of the old rusty metal beds. I feel the heat from the mysterious storage spaces under the eaves where there were boxes of sharks’ teeth we found at the water’s edge and arrowheads that my father had found in the tobacco fields as a boy. Black snakes shed their paper-thin skin in the dugout garage under the house near the old agitator washing machine with the roller wringer. The wind-up record player with only one record, “I’m a jaaaaaazzzzz baby.” The blue Shirley Temple glasses in the corner cupboard. Pouring vinegar on jellyfish stings. The old black tenant farmer who drove a horse-driven wagon down the road, shouting, “Cantaloupe . . . watermelon.” 
My grandfather on my father’s side built the beach house. He was an ice and coal man, at least until people got electric refrigerators and central heating. Even during the Great Depression people still needed ice and coal so he earned enough money to build a small house overlooking the Chesapeake Bay on an old tobacco plantation called Neeld Estate. My father grew up spending summers in the little house and his children did the same. We had no telephone, no television, no hot water. Then I thought it was dreadful, but in retrospect it was nearly perfect.
Despite the languid, idyllic summer days spent at the beach house, I am haunted by a menacing quality, a vulnerability that grew from the isolation and the solitude. The Neeld family still occupies the plantation house that has been there since before the Civil War. Growing up I heard a legend about a slave child who was thrown down the stairs and killed by the mistress of the plantation. It was said that the child’s ghost could be heard crying in the house at midnight. We avoided walking past the plantation house after dark, but one night, in my 15th summer, I had no choice.
My friend Anna had come to spend a few days at the beach house with my family. Early one evening Anna and I walked down the road to the beach where we ran into Ray and his friend. I knew Ray only slightly from past summers, but he had a car and made us an offer hard for any 15-year-old girls to refuse, “Want to ride with us to North Beach? I have to pick up something for my father.” Of course Anna and I wanted to go. We could ride in a car with boys and listen to the radio.
What Ray was getting was not for his father. He bought beer in North Beach and headed back, but he turned off the road into a gravel pit about four miles from home. He stopped the car. I was in the front seat with Ray. Anna was in the back seat with the friend. One of them said, “Put out or get out.” We had never “put out” before but we knew what they wanted. We got out and they drove away without a word.
We were barefoot, on a moonless night, in an area I scarcely knew. There were no houses nearby and we had no telephone in our beach house, so even if I had wanted to call my parents I couldn’t have. We considered our options. The quickest way home would have been to go across an inlet between Breezy Point and our beach. “I don’t know how deep it is,” I told Anna, “and I don’t know if we can climb those slimy jetty walls on the other side.” So we took off for the one-lane dirt road we called Tobacco Road. It was the major connector between Neeld Estate and the rest of the world, but it had never been paved. “But what if a car comes along? We won’t know who’s in it,” Anna whispered. So we decided that we should hide if a car approached. We feared what a stranger might do to two girls walking in the night on a secluded dirt road.
We walked in the darkness as fast as we could, hid when we needed to, and prayed Hail Marys aloud. At one point a car approached and we hid out of sight on the side of the road. But Anna slipped off the side into a ravine where people had been dumping trash. I screamed, “Anna! Anna! Annie, please answer me!” No response. She finally came crawling up, shaken, with her feet bleeding. We continued to walk in silence. When we reached the paved road, a dog belonging to a neighbor with the unlikely name of Mason Dixon came out of nowhere, barking and growling. I wet my pants. Finally, we reached the Bay. We just sat in the edge of the water and washed ourselves as best we could, then we walked home past the old plantation house. We didn’t hear the child’s ghost scream. Our own experience was horror enough.
             At the time, I didn't tell my parents what had happened, fearing I would be punished for going in a car with boys. Anna and I innocently went for a ride with boys we thought we knew. We could have been raped or died trying to get home, yet we thought we were at fault. Over 40 years have passed and I have lost contact with Anna. I don't even know if she remembers that summer night in our 15th year when our innocence started to slip away.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sacred

One day last week I had a conversation with a friend who is struggling with feeling distant from God, feeling like the brokenness of her life is only moving her farther away from Him. She asked how I had coped with the losses I have suffered in recent years. Yes, I had felt that same distance, but in time I developed a closer relationship with God, not in spite of the pain but because of the pain. And I heard myself saying that I found something sacred in it.

The word “sacred” in relationship to human suffering sounds a bit out of whack. Was I being ultra-dramatic, spouting off a bit too much sanctimonious woo-woo?

It is absolutely true that my communion with God and my desire to continue to grow closer to Him would not be what it is today if I had not suffered some big, painful losses in my life. I have said it before and I’ll say it again—when life brought me to my knees, it was then that I realized that on my knees was where I needed to be. God did not cause the brokenness in this world. He didn’t point His finger at me and say, “Let’s see what I can dish out to her and let’s see how she’ll handle it.” No—wretched things happened that I could not control and that I will never understand on this side of heaven. After years of moaning and unending questions, I have stopped trying to analyze rationally all of that life junk. Ultimately it’s a big waste of energy. It’s like going into a maze that has no exit, because there are no answers that would make any sense to me now. It is not for me to know. I have pretty much accepted that life sucks sometimes. But the darkness, those wretched things, led me to a deeper and deeper reliance on the Lord.

We are not alone when in the wake of pain and loss we question God’s benevolence. Perhaps in our minds He becomes a maleficent overlord with whom we want no relationship. It happens to the best of us who call ourselves believers. In the abyss of grief after his wife died, even C.S. Lewis had his understanding of God shaken and he referred to God as “the Cosmic Sadist and Eternal Vivisector”—tough words coming from the revered author of Mere Christianity. (CS Lewis, A Grief Observed, p. 38)

Pastor John Pavolvitz wrote about this on his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said: (http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/05/29/why-everything-does-not-happen-for-a-reason/)

"There’s an oft-misused excerpt found in Scripture, where the author Paul writes:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:2

"This isn’t a heavenly insurance policy paid with faith and exempting us from anything unpleasant, but the promise that if we choose to respond to all things from a place of love and goodness, that we—not necessarily our circumstances—will be better for it.

"In this way, I believe in suffering as a sacred space."


Yes, he said it—suffering is a sacred place. For me it took much too long to get to that understanding, but thankfully God walked beside me through the whole ugly mess and I now rest assured that He will continue to be beside me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Beauty school dropout

Here in Virginia it’s Election Day for local elected offices. So I dutifully went to my local polling place to cast my vote. (I’m so grateful that this marks the end of the annoying robocalls—it has been strangely quiet in my house today.)

In front of the local high school where those in my precinct vote, I ran into a woman I used to know from PTA activities when my kids were in elementary school. She kept moving up from PTA president and is now chairman of the county school board. She introduced me to a young man who is her colleague on the school board. The colleague recently moved into my neighborhood, on my street, just a block away. As I drove home I thought it was such good luck to have a neighbor on the school board in case I ever need something done in the county school system.

But then it dawned on me—what would ever cause me to need help from a member of the county school board? My kids are grown and have moved many states away. However, there’s that recurrent nightmare of mine with varying details that has to do with my not graduating from high school. For example, after years of work in both graduate and undergraduate school, I dreamed that I couldn’t get my graduate degree because I flunked a quiz in Mr. Wojick’s geometry class. The graduate program required me to go back and finish high school, then repeat college and grad school. Nothing counted because of that one geometry quiz.

I have to confess that geometry was not my strongest subject. I got almost a perfect zero in one quiz—just one lousy correct answer that was pure luck caused me to get 5 percent. It has been over 50 years since I earned that 5 percent and it still haunts me. However, I must have great intuitive sense when it comes to geometry. We had to take some sort of standardized national geometry exam and I breezed through it with a high score. How could that be? I guessed. I just looked at the measurements—if side A was 18.5 inches and side B was 36 inches, then I guessed that proportionately side C looked like it should be 42 inches. I didn’t waste time doing those tedious Pythagorean things. (It shocks me to know that I just used the word Pythagorean in a sentence. Will wonders ever cease? Next thing you know I'll be swimming laps at the Y.)

Other than the geometry bugaboo, I have found myself trying to graduate wearing only a slip—my dog ate the cap and gown. Many times I have had night terrors about not being able to find my assigned classroom or I had forgotten to go to the class all year and it was time for the final exam. Or maybe that was real life. Hard to tell. Now I’m going to panic. I need to find my diploma to prove that I really am a high school graduate. I don’t think my influential neighbor can help me get my diploma. Not only did I go to high school outside of this county, outside of this state, but my high school went out of business many years ago. The only thing I have is a fading photograph. That’s not proof. Am I going to have to sign up to take a GED exam? Please tell me there’s no geometry on the exam.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Corrie ten Boom on forgiveness

This is not my writing, but the writing of a Dutch woman named Corrie ten Boom, who spent years in a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews in her home. Her account of forgiveness makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Excerpted from I'm Still Learning to Forgive.
 
"It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
 
"It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’
 
“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
 
“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]
 
“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’
 
“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
 
“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
 
“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.
 
“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’
 
“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
 
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
 
“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’
 
“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
 
“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
 
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
 
“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’
 
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”
 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mars trans-fat detector

Could it be a mere coincidence that the world headquarters for the Mars candy company is directly across the street from my doctor’s office? Seems like a conspiracy to me.

Yesterday I was driving back from visiting my friend in Pennsylvania. While I was driving home I got a call and a voice mail message from my doctor. I ignored the call until I pulled up in front of my house. My doctor wanted to talk to me because the results of my cholesterol blood test that I had earlier in the week had come in. The results weren’t catastrophic, just not good. I was recently put on a statin drug yet the numbers had not come down as low as the doctor hoped they would. So she said I should address the issue with dietary vigilance.

She presumed that I ate a healthy diet (because I told her so) and that I just needed to make sure I cut out trans-fats, eat lots of veggies, and exercise regularly. Oh, yes, of course.

I really didn’t absorb much of what she said because I was beginning to panic, thinking that she had some sort of detection device that could tell her what was in my car. In my car at the very moment I was attesting to a healthy diet were the purchases I made in Pennsylvania. This included: (1) 600 pieces of Halloween candy purchased at the Walmart in Gettysburg; (2) doughnuts purchased at the Amish Market on the way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and (3) a large bag of great bargains from the Utz potato chip factory outlet in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Some of these healthy items were consumed en route because there were annoying traffic issues. The worst was a Mack truck on the beltway, backing up to pick up the pieces of scrap metal that had fallen off the truck in the center lane of the beltway. This was only about a mile from my exit so I was tired and frustrated and my ill-perceived remedy was in the front seat of my car, just an arm’s reach from my mouth.

So as I spoke to my doctor, confectioners’ sugar and bbq potato chip shards in my lap and Heath bar wrappers on the floor, I knew that my rationalization would have been weak and she wouldn’t buy it.

I repent! I repent! So now I’m heading for the gym to bike until I collapse in a feeble attempt to atone for my transgressions.

But I still think that I might develop some sort of valid theory that the Mars company has poisoned those of us who live near their headquarters and they have plans to install trans-fat detectors in our cars. I'm doomed as doomed can be.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Brad and Ma


So I’m having a conversation with my mother this evening and the cheery issue of the hereditary aspect of breast cancer comes up. We are especially sensitive to information about heredity and breast cancer because my grandmother (my mother’s mother) died of breast cancer at the age of 49. I mention to my mother that some women with high genetic predisposition to breast cancer are having preventative mastectomies. For example, Angelina Jolie.

Mom: Angelina Jolie? Who is that?

Me: She’s the beautiful actress who is married to Brad Pitt.

Mom: Oh, I love that movie about the river.
 
Me: “A River Runs Through It”? Yes, I love that movie too. The book is even better. It’s actually a short story in a book. I have it and I’ll bring it to you so you can read it.
 
Mom: Oh, yes, the book is often better than the movie. Brad Pitt—he’s my boyfriend. I have no idea what he sees in that woman. She has such puffy lips.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

For this I have Jesus

Last week I was reading the story of a Rwandan woman who lost most of her family in her country’s genocide. Now she struggles to support local children who became orphans in the wake of the genocide. As expected, her work is difficult and she has few resources, yet she continues to cling to her faith. When asked how she perseveres, she responded, “For this I have Jesus.”

I love this simple phrase—for this I have Jesus—what an incredible thing to remember, to hang onto, for so many of life’s trials and triumphs. He is there, by my side, and whenever I need Him, I just need to ask for mercy or give thanks.

I am troubled when I learn that a friend has cancer? For this I have Jesus.

My grandson runs to sit on my lap in the cold Montana morning so I can share my blanket with him? For this I have Jesus.

My roof cracks under the weight of heavy ice and rain and I’m at my wits end trying to handle it? For this I have Jesus.

My brother gets murdered? For this I have Jesus.

My daughter tells me she is pregnant with twins? For this I have Jesus.

I’m sleepless with worry about finances and a million other worldly troubles? For this I have Jesus.

Every minute of every day, for every decision, every worry, every blessing in my life, I have one song to sing, one prayer. For this I have Jesus.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Badass and the child of God

A few days ago my friend Jeannie was here visiting and predictably she and I went to the biggest, grubbiest thrift store in the area. This store makes a big deal over Halloween—they have racks and racks of Halloween costumes and most of the employees are wearing masks and wigs or complete costumes. There is a pirate or a witch around every corner.

So I was digging through a rack of sweaters when I saw a mom coming down the aisle pushing a large baby stroller. The mom was a very cute, very hip young woman dressed in a short swingy skirt with tights and combat boots. The little one in the stroller appeared to be wearing some sort of monster mask—my assumption based on the fact that others in the store were wearing Halloween costumes. When they got closer I realized that there was no mask—the child had a grossly malformed face. I looked away, horrified that I could have said something amazingly stupid about the mask that wasn’t a mask.

My friend Jeannie was a couple of aisles away—when she saw the mom pushing the stroller, her initial impression was that it was not a human being in the stroller—an easy misassumption to make.

We both ran into the mom pushing the stroller several other times. The child may have been about 4 years old, just judging from her size—it was impossible to tell because her body was covered with a blanket. She was dressed in girly pink clothes with a bow in her hair. She had an extreme craniofacial abnormality—her skull was misshaped and asymmetrical, her nose was on one side of her face, and she had a huge lump in the center of her upper face. Bits of dark hair were growing around her forehead and down her face.

And the hip young woman we presumed to be her mom was continually talking to her, showing her pieces of clothing, saying, “What do you think? Do you like this?”

My eyes filled with tears. I was struck by the love, the nobility, the amazing courage of the mother. And I was struck by the humanity of the child with what appeared to be an unhuman face. I was horrified by my initial reaction—that I thought it was a grotesque mask—and humbled by the experience. For days it has stayed with me, and the thing that rises to the surface of my thoughts and feelings is that God’s love shines through all of it. God loves the child as much as any other child He has created. And God must have a special place in His heart for the courageous mom.

Today I had my yearly check-up with my orthodontist. He is on a team of medical specialists who works with children affected by craniofacial abnormalities. I told him the story and he said, “That mom is badass!”

I agree—the mom is badass and the little girl is a child of God. Bless both of them for their courage, for not hiding in shame, for carrying the nobility of their humanity for all to see.

There are no coincidences—my Bible study for yesterday was about this verse:

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

Monday, October 19, 2015

The cold

Just feeling the itch to do a writing exercise. I want to drift into the other side of my brain for a while.

So I pull a book from the shelf and see what happens. Combining a little reality with a prompt from fiction. The book—Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. On page 120, the sentence: “I can’t have my wife sleeping in the cold truck, not now. Not with the baby coming so soon.”


On my right foot: big toe pink, second toe white, third toe white, forth toe pink, pinky toe not pink but white. My left foot a different pattern of white and pink toes. Having once experienced frost bite, my feet are not fans of cold weather. But I wonder if this obsession with staying warm lies in something deeper, in another life at another time. I fill the bathtub with the hottest water I can tolerate. Steam fills the room and begins dripping down the walls, beneath the iron cross and the Guadalupe votives. Soaking in the bathtub, the room lit only by candlelight, I lift my arm out of the water and watch steam rise from my fingers and hands as I make steamy designs in the candlelight—figure eights and waves like a witch invoking black magic. When the steam dissipates, I put my arm back into the hot water and try new designs, new rhythms, anything to conjure up protection from the cold. On an exposed northwest corner, my bathroom is the coldest room in the house. The walls are cold to the touch and I imagine there is no insulation between the outside brick and the inside plaster. It was built at a time when energy was cheap. The leaves are only beginning to turn on the trees and hard winter is many weeks away. This is how I will live until spring returns, soaking in hot water until my skin erupts in itchy, rashy patches. I can’t sleep if I’m cold so I cook like a lobster and quickly slip into bed where the heat of my over-cooked body warms the cold sheets. Am I awake or am I drifting off to sleep? Startled, I sit up in bed, thinking I heard the voice of my long-dead father. “Papa?” I whisper. No response. I burrow down deeper under the blankets. And I begin to shiver. I hear his anxious voice as if from another room. “I can’t have my wife sleeping in the cold truck, not now. Not with the baby coming so soon.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chicken pumpkin curry sliders

There was a minor mental work-up to the event. I made sure I gathered all the ingredients, put on my apron, and decided I would test a new recipe. What a joke! It took about 5 minutes to put the thing together and about 5 minutes to cook. I am now eating one of these (super delish) sliders while writing this post. I cooked, worked out the adaptation of a new recipe, and it is a success. Can I milk it a bit and say I slaved over the hot stove, blah, blah, blah? It’s so easy and so good—make it and thank me later. By the way, I have to point out that it’s also a paleo recipe. I think something is wrong with me and I'm entered an alternative universe where the person who seems to be me is cooking paleo. But the fact that my hands smell like curry powder is a blessing.

This is an adaptation of a recipe I found at the gym. The only notation I have for the source is PaleOMG. (The photo is mine.) Thanks for the inspiration, whoever you may be.

Chicken Pumpkin Curry Sliders

1 pound ground organic white meat chicken

¼ cup canned pumpkin puree

¾ cup almond flour

2 tablespoons curry powder (I used Penzey’s Maharaji Curry Powder)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

2 tablespoons olive oil
 
Mix ground chicken, pumpkin, almond flour, curry, garlic, shallot, salt, and pepper. Mix well and form into balls (about the size of a lacrosse ball).
 
Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat.
 
When oil is heated, drop the chicken mixture balls into the pan. When the bottom of the balls begins to brown, flatten with a spatula, cook one minute, and flip. Cook second side for about 3 minutes.
 
It made 5 decent-sized sliders but I think you could make them either larger or smaller, depending on how you plan to use them. (One thought I had was to make them smaller and serve as an appetizer with some sort of chutney or another sauce.)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Where is the most grace?

Things have been rather tense for the past few days. My mother’s health took a bad turn and she began talking to me about reaching the end of her life. She was put on heavy-duty medication and has since improved some, but it’s a matter of time until she starts failing again. No one knows how much time. I have talked to her every day and spent most of the day with her today. Yes, it’s very sad to know that she is gravely ill, but it is such a gift to be given time to talk to my mother honestly and lovingly about God, mortality, and the meaning of family.

But dealing with the gravity of life’s big things has been placed in stark contrast to a petty incident that smacked my pride last week. I was feeling rather mean and spiteful and I wanted to lash back and get even.

Tonight I had a chance to talk with a friend who gently set me straight. I told her about what had been happening—both my mother’s situation and my hurt pride. I told her I had been praying about it and had not yet made a decision about how to react to my hurt feelings. She asked one simple question: “Where is the most grace?”

As soon as I hung up from talking to my wise friend, I knew the answer. The most grace comes from pushing my ego to the side and doing nothing. It’s so easy. I don’t need to win; I don’t need to prove that I’m right or smarter or better or more clever.

When viewed through the lens of grace, I could see clearly. Not vengeance, not arrogance, but humility. I don’t need to be right with the world; I just need to be right with the Lord. Sometimes prayers are answered directly from God and sometimes the answer is delivered in the words of a friend. Thank you, Lord!

From James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  . . .  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  . . . Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Meaning

Written in pencil on a torn discarded envelope on my desk, I found the following quote: “Mature spirituality insists that we hold out for meaning instead of settling for mere answers.”

I barely remember copying this quote and couldn’t remember where I found it. But a quick search led me to Richard Rohr (no surprise!) as the source. (The entire passage can be found at http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Richard-Rohr-s-Meditation--Your-Imaginarium.html?soid=1103098668616&aid=pnz6wUqJFp0.) Thank you, Richard Rohr.

Whatever it was that made me write this on a torn piece of envelope is a mystery. It took a while to sink in. And gradually I have come to realize how profound, how true this is, how relevant to my life in faith it is.

For so long I struggled for answers. I believed in God, trusted God, wanted so much more of God, but I kept asking Him questions—questions that I now realize can never be answered while I’m here on earth in human form. You know the questions: Exactly what is God? Does God allow everyone into heaven or just those who profess faith in Jesus? Can you explain that Gordian knot that is called the Trinity? If God is so good, then why does He allow suffering? On and on they keep popping up like those plastic gophers in the Whack-A-Mole game.

For me it has been a suspension of disbelief. Embracing as much of God as my feeble brain will allow me to embrace, I have given up trying to understand on a cognitive level. God surpasses all understanding. Instead of experiencing God in my head, I experience God in my heart. It is here that I feel, that I know He exists. It is purely grace, a gift from God. Why He gave it to me, I don’t understand, for I feel that I don’t deserve it. Yet it has transformed my life.

So, like the Richard Rohr quote, I don’t look for answers any longer because I know the questions and the answers are beyond my comprehension. I don’t need to know why. I just need to keep coming back to Him again and again to guide my life. Giving up the search for answers has created space for the meaning of my life to become much deeper and richer. I continue to learn.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Lucky

“Gosh, you’re so lucky,” she said. “You seem so creative, such a free spirit. You get to do what you want whenever you want. To be completely honest, I must confess that nearly all the time I wish I lived alone. I hate cooking dinner for him, I hate finding wet towels wherever he decides to leave them, and sometimes I simply can’t stand him in general. It has gotten to the point that I even hate the way he smells. He just . . . stinks.” Her mouth turned down stiffly and her eyes scanned the room. “Why am I confessing this to you? Please never tell anyone I said that. Please. Never.”

"Okay, your secret is safe with me,” I said. “ But I think you’re totally overestimating how blissful my life is. A lot of the time—a lot of the time—it’s very lonely.”

"But I think I’d like a little bit of that lonely.” She then tried to talk me into trying one of those online dating sites, which didn’t make any sense at all. If she was so miserable being married, then she wasn’t doing a very good job convincing me to find a man of my own.

Yes, I am sometimes achingly lonely. I don’t feel lucky. Sometimes I really, really want to have someone to share my life. I haven’t been lucky that way and I don’t understand what I have done wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t be so dismissive and I should take my friend’s suggestion to try one of the dating sites, but … but it scares me. So I played with the idea of writing a profile for one of those sites and telling the brutal, unvarnished truth about myself. Something like this . . .

Lonely old woman who has failed in past relationships, not sure she even wants to try again, in search of someone who won’t be frightened off like the others. If you even bother to read this you should be aware of my many flaws:

I have an undeserved reputation as a great cook; I even write a blog on cooking (among other things) but I rarely cook anymore. It’s too much trouble and I’m sick of cleaning the kitchen. Last night I had a glass of red wine and a half a bag of coconut for dinner. Bon appetit!

It would be a very bad omen if you suggest going to a sushi restaurant. Sushi caused the abrupt termination of another possible relationship. (It could be because he was a totally inflexible jerk, but all I remember about him was that he insisted we go to a sushi restaurant when I said I didn’t like sushi.) In my mind sushi = bait.

I’m a beer snob. I would die of thirst before I drank either Budweiser or Miller Lite. I also won’t drink beer out of a can because it tastes like aluminum. (I once had a very short date with a guy who asked the waiter for two beers then asked what I would like. He had seven beers in less than 40 minutes. Don’t do that.)

Once attached, I don’t detach easily. This was pointed out to me some years ago by my psychiatrist. Yes, of course I saw a psychiatrist. You have a problem with that? I read some of my writing to that same psychiatrist and he just smiled and said, “Someday some wonderful man is really going to love you.” A woman remembers such things. I hope he is right. I’m still waiting. No pressure though.

I have little patience for people. I love my friends but I get really, really annoyed when they post inane things on Facebook including what they just had for dinner. I delete their posts so I don’t have to see them again. But if I post what I had for dinner, I’m hurt if they don’t “like” my post. My standard is double. For serious infractions—for example, if you post anything that hints of support for the NRA—I will unfriend you. No mercy, like the Queen of Hearts, “Off with their heads!” And speaking of social media—Facebook is all I can handle—I don’t tweet or twitter (is that the same thing?) and I don’t Instagram. I’m not even sure what Instagram is. Maybe I do it and I don’t know it.

I’m a horrible insomniac. I get up about 14 times before I settle in to sleep. I’m too hot, I’m too cold, I put socks on, take socks off, get itchy, need a drink of water, have a headache. In one of these fits of insomnia I might decide to start painting something at 2 a.m. It makes sense to me. You would hate sleeping with me almost as much as I would hate sleeping with you. That said, I would love to be proven wrong on this issue. The idea of sleeping all night beside someone I love is . . .  is enough to make me cry.

I don’t have a television so don’t ask me if I’ve been following the plot line on your favorite show. I don’t understand what people do who become celebrities and it makes me really angry that the family of O.J. Simpson’s defense attorney does whatever they do (no one can tell me) and they just pout and strut their fat derrieres in skin-tight clothes and make a lot of money. They seem a bit trashy perhaps. And their father/mother who was a man in the Olympics and is now a woman is so confusing. Please don’t bother trying to explain it to me.

I play banjo. Yes, really—this is not a joke. I play old-time banjo, Appalachian mountain music. No one ever knowingly enters into a relationship with a banjo player. I’m a music freak who will break into song at inappropriate times. Just ignore me.

I’ll do almost anything to avoid cleaning the bathroom. Please don’t pee on the seat.

You won’t be able to figure me out. I’m unabashedly Christian in a non-denominational church but I don’t fit the presumed right-wing evangelical stereotype. I love Jesus and I’m into peace and social justice and human rights. I’m also into contemplative prayer and very often I cry when I’m praying. It just happens that way—I feel the presence of God and I cry. I cry other times too when I’m just plain sad and I’m not feeling the presence of God.

I’m critical of others but I’m even more critical of myself. I’m dumber than everyone else and uglier than everyone else and horribly unaccomplished and without ambition. When my mouth opens, my foot starts moving in the direction of my mouth. That makes me want to stay home and avoid polite company much of the time.

I wear sensible shoes. They are not sexy.

I don’t travel much because I’m too darned comfortable at home. I like my own bed and hot baths and quiet. My house is sacred to me, my sanctuary.

Don’t get sick because I don’t do well with sick people. I once refused to believe my poor daughter and forced her to travel on Thanksgiving. She passed out and started vomiting at the hotel. I lose patience with my elderly mother who needs oxygen and a wheel chair. So I’m a bad mother and a bad daughter. I love my grandchildren and pray they don’t treat me the way I have treated other people.

Please consider the following assets:

I do like some things. I like cats. I like dogs too. And horses. I will sleep with cats and dogs but not horses.

I love the Rocky Mountains, the San Juan Islands, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Chesapeake Bay.

I love pasta and pizza and crab cakes. If ever I stoop low enough to cook, I can produce fabulous versions of any of the above. Don’t ask for sushi—we’ve already discussed that.

And you should know that some of the people who love me think that I’m very lucky. Maybe they’re right.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fair trade

Please pray for me. I am weak and textiles are strong. But then I can work up some major league rationalizations. Here we go . . .

A month ago (it was much more than an month—it was almost 6 weeks ago) I posted my personal “manifesto” promising that I would not buy any clothing for one year. Perhaps it wasn’t really a promise, rather more like a thought, something that would have been nice to do. But, you know, things happen and sometimes we (I’m not alone in this, am I?) change our minds.

I have walked through a number of places that sold clothing in the 6 weeks since the manifesto and my resolve did not weaken. But a few days ago I went to Marshall’s, the mecca of discount shopping. I had to go there for the sake of my health. You might need an explanation. I’ve been reading a book about the beauty product industry, how it is not necessary to buy expensive products, that often the expensive products are no better than perhaps petroleum jelly or baby oil. In this book, the author writes that one should use a washcloth only once before laundering it because—horrors!—a wet washcloth can expose you to harmful bacteria if used repeatedly. I’m lucky I didn’t get a terminal case of bacterial face crud in the years that I’ve used a washcloth more than once. Those wet washcloths could have killed me. So I had to go to Marshall’s to buy all the plain white cotton washcloths I could find. It was the only reason I went into the store. There was a cold rain outside and it was the last place I wanted to be. It was a sacrifice, but I did it for my grandchildren.

Although it was truly a drive-by shopping excursion, after securing the washcloths and heading for check-out, I maneuvered my cart through the sale aisle of the women’s clothing section. I would have gone straight through the center of the store but there was a huge group of handicapped mendicant nuns (I think they had orphans with them) in the center aisle and I didn’t want to disturb them because they were blind and barefoot and I was afraid the cart might hurt them. (Oh, gosh—I’m could spend some extra time in Purgatory for this lie but thankfully I don’t believe in Purgatory.) As I raced past the sale rack, a beautiful white embroidered blouse practically jumped into my cart of its own volition. It had been reduced twice from its low Marshall’s price to a mere $15.

I knew it was no cheap blouse made in China. My innate textilian instinct told me that it was really hand embroidered and the tag confirmed that it was made in Mexico. I sensed that some indigenous woman had labored over the hand stitching in this blouse and it was a horrible injustice, indeed a human rights abuse, for this to be hanging so ignobly under fluorescent lights on the rack of a discount store in Vienna, Virginia. So I took it home with me to protect it from further shame.

Once home, I looked it up online. Indeed, my instincts were right. I found it online for nearly $100. Ha! The company had photos online of the indigenous women who shed their blood to make this blouse. Here’s the description that I found:

"One of our most popular blouses, the light weight, 100% Mexican cotton Rebecca features an oversized fit with fine, slimming pleats in front and back and lovely hand embroidered details on the front and the sleeves. Embroidered by the talented women of Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico! Preshrunk. XS - XL * Embroidery may vary due to the handmade nature of this product.”

So, my manifesto be damned! I did this for my people, for the women of Oaxaca and Chiapas, in solidarity with them to support them trying to make a decent living with the work of their hands. I might not even wear the blouse, but just keep it hanging in my closet as a symbol of my commitment to support indigenous people everywhere.

Then again, I might wear it to a Farm Aid concert or something similar, but only because I’m committed to the cause.

Here’s the photo posted on the website of the company that is committed to fair trade and to supporting the artisans of Oaxaca and Chiapas. I feel like I should send them a check for what the blouse should have cost.

No more shopping for me—I can’t take the emotional roller coaster.