Like a lot of people, I’ve been praying all my life, especially when times are really rough – “Oh Lord, please don’t let that policeman notice that I was speeding,” prayers, and “Lord let me get through this railroad crossing before the arms come down so I won’t be late AGAIN.”
Category: inspiration Page 1 of 2
All hell broke loose in Oregon last weekend. We had snow, freezing rain, ice, power outages, and the worst – no TV! You don’t realize how truly alone you are until you’ve lost the internet and TV. My husband’s mom came to our house for two days because her power was out, and while she was here our power went out. We were forced to play Scrabble by candlelight to entertain ourselves, and then she beat me. “The game was rigged!” I whined.
Then we heard that in Texas hell actually did freeze over, bursting people’s water pipes and causing power outages and water shortages. The news was full of tragic stories about couples with four kids having no power or water in a freezing house. Many of them left their homes to stay with relatives or friends. In times of trouble, strangers step up, but it’s easier to call your mom or son or a friend to help.
Some of us don’t have nearby relatives, and some don’t have friends. It’s hard to make connections when you’re busy all the time, or prefer your own company so you don’t have to share the remote control. It also takes courage to have friends, because there’s always the risk of rejection. They might not invite you to a party, or they choose someone else to go with them to the beach. If you’re busy all the time when they call, they eventually quit calling. Plus you have to be nice to them. That sounds flippant, but really, you can’t insult your friends or do mean things to them because they’ll put up with it for a while but eventually they’ll find a new friend.
You might be saying to yourself, “I wish I’d learned how to play the piano as a kid – I’ve always wanted to play – but it’s too late, I’m old and it’s foolish to start now with these arthritic fingers and the joints all knobby and covered in warts.” Or you’re saying, “I’ve never exercised in my life and now I’ve got pain in my knees and heart troubles and my doctor says I ought to exercise – it would make my life so much better – but I’d look like an idiot walking around the block all by myself and Harold won’t go with me, he never goes anywhere except to the Mr. Suds Bar and Grill for a few cold ones, the lazy bum.”
Or maybe, when you finally go for that walk, it feels great, and the birds chirp and squirrels frolic and the sky is blue and the grass is green and you get angry with yourself, and the whole world at large, and Harold in particular, because you didn’t do it sooner. “Why didn’t I do this years ago, before I got so stoved up I can’t even hoist myself out of my recliner and have to scooch up to the end of the chair and rest there for a minute and then start rocking back and forth until I get enough momentum, and then I lean way forward and put both hands down and push with all my might and if I don’t get it all perfectly in sync so that I’m propelled straight up onto my feet, if I wobble even a little and fall back into the recliner, I’ll wet myself because I really, really, really need to go. Why didn’t I start exercising sooner? Why?”
I’ll tell you why. You weren’t ready. You were a mess, and maybe you didn’t even know it. A lot of us do (or don’t do) things because we have some dumb fear that keeps us in the same wacko patterns that have made us afraid we’d be less happy if we did things different, even when common sense and our gut feelings tell us we need to change.
I’m in that pattern right now with eating. I’m a healthy eater – plant-based, lots of fruits and vegetables – a pillar of respectability when it comes to diet EXCEPT at Christmas time, when all the homemade goodies get exchanged. People feel compelled to open a can of sweetened condensed milk and mix chocolate chips in there and heat it up and cool it down and call it fudge and put it in a pretty tin decked out with Santas and holly and give it to me in December, often with a side of butter cookies in the shape of Christmas trees with green sprinkles. Who can resist? Not me. I gain 10 pounds from sugar every holiday season. Then the whole months of January, February and March (and sometimes April and May) are spent chastising myself for doing it because (every dieter knows this formula):
1 pound gained in 24 hours of binging = + or – 3 pounds lost in one month of strenuous dieting
Usually it takes longer, because once the sweets addiction takes hold, you spend at least the first half of January eating every piece of concentrated sugar you can find, even down to those round disks of white hard candy with red streaks radiating out of the middle that taste like peppermint – I think they’re called Starlight mints. They always have them in at restaurant cash registers where the management is cheap and happy not to have to keep re-filling the bowl because no one eats them. Sometimes my husband grabs a couple and hands me one and, so as not to hurt his feelings, I put it in a coat pocket and it stays there all summer and the next winter I put my hand in the pocket and the candy has drawn in a little moisture from the humidity and gotten itself gummed up and turned pink all over and leached out of the wrapper and stuck to the inside of the pocket and I tug it out with my fingers that get all sticky and there’s nowhere to wash them off. You know the ones I’m talking about. In January, when I’ve gone through all the existing sweets and exercised enough willpower not to buy anymore, I’ll resort to eating one of those things because there’s always at least one somewhere in the house. Then, like a drunk in a mud puddle in the rain in a movie who’s reached rock bottom, I know I have to stop. No more sweets. No more McDonald’s fries between meals. No more eating chocolate chips right out of the bag just before bedtime so I can’t go to sleep because of the caffeine buzz. I’ve hit bottom, and I’m overcome with regret.
But consider this. Whenever you come to the point that you want to change for the better, whether you’re 18 or 89 – that’s the best time to do it. Before that, you weren’t ready. You weren’t even capable of doing it. It was not possible. You were too scared, too tired, too busy, too lonely, too afraid. And now you’re not.
Maybe you realize you can’t blame Harold anymore, the no-account bum. You don’t need him to help make you better – you only need you. Right now.
I’ve taken up a couple of hobbies, and that voice in my head is telling me I’m stupid because I didn’t do them when I was younger – when my body and mind were nimble. “You’re an idiot, you know that, don’t you? You should have done this instead of having your girlfriends come over and calling up boys and saying, ‘Who do you like,’ for hours and hours when you could have been using that time learning to play the banjo.”
For some reason, right at this point in my life, I’ve gotten brave enough to do a couple of things I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve resolved to do them with the zeal of youth, and appreciate my progress, no matter how slow. Even once around the block – that little accomplishment – is better than sitting and feeling the life flow out of me like a receding tide.
Up now, UP! Let’s rise up and do something extraordinary – you and me. Let’s stretch our bodies and minds and be the best we can be today. Let’s take piano lessons, learn to sing or dance, take an online class to become a rocket scientist.
And if Harold, the no-good bum, or the voice in our head makes fun of us, let’s not listen. Just for today.
I was going to copy a letter from Pope Francis, such a smart guy, to give us hope fin all the turmoil, but I can’t find it – along with my keys and cell phone. At church our priest read the letter for his sermon and I thought, “This will be my blog this week – rather than giving a mild chuckle to the millions and millions of people who read this blog faithfully (or maybe that’s just one person – Pearl), I’ll give them Pope Francis’s take on happiness, and how we can have it even with the Capitol being stormed and all the other sad news we have.”
Doggone it. I can’t find it. Let me see if I can remember what he said.
Don’t panic – this isn’t about religion, although that’s when I had the revelation. I read a chapter in the Bible every day, and some of it, especially in Genesis, sounds a lot like a Marvel comic plot line – somebody makes a man out of dirt and takes one of his ribs and makes a woman, then she does something bad and so does he so they are cast out, and one of their sons is jealous and kills his brother. Later a man makes a giant ark and puts two of every living thing on it and floats in pouring rain for 40 days while the world is destroyed by a flood. If you’ve ever been on a Royal Caribbean cruise you can see how two of everything would fit. Still, some things are hard to imagine, even when you really want to believe. That’s when I had my revelation – about believing, and life.
To believe you have to have faith – against all odds and maybe even all logic. That’s true about religion, but it’s also true in life. If you want to be successful at anything – a career, a sport, learning to play piano – you have to believe you can do it. Others may believe in your and encourage you, but if you don’t have faith in yourself, you won’t succeed. You’ll give up.
We’re all doing the best we can. That’s what I started telling myself over the Christmas holidays.
People catch up with each other this time of year. When they start talking about their problems, I say (or think), “Why don’t you just…?” Then I insert my unsolicited advice. They react with something like, “Well, I can’t do that because…” so, ever helpful, I offer another bit of advice – I’m an endless fountain of solutions.
In a Zoom room full of people I can solve all their problems in a matter of seconds. I think to myself, “He looks like Jabba the Hut, he needs to go on a diet.” “If only she’d pay attention to that child it would stop screaming in the background.” Boom – world’s problems solved.
One of the things I’m most thankful for in this world is my electric teapot. Sorry if you were expecting me to say my family, my health, food on the table. Those are the big things, and I’m exceedingly grateful for all of them. But sometimes it’s the little things that have the most impact. Like when a child hands you a bouquet of scraggly wildflowers to show they love you – isn’t that more wonderful than a huge box of long-stem roses? Sure, the child is just trying to bribe you, but still, you see my point.
When my mother-in-law gave me the electric teapot for Christmas a couple of years ago, I rolled my eyes. Another gadget. She’s the queen of gadgets. If it’s been on TV, or a friend has told her about it, she’ll buy one for herself and one each for her daughter and daughters-in-law. At my house a few of these get used, some collect dust, others find themselves snuggled in with clothes and old toys headed for Goodwill. I pictured this gadget in that last group.
We humans are a stew of talents, motivations, and fears. In the right proportions, our stew can end up being a huge success that feeds many others, or it can be something a dog wouldn’t touch.
Take, for example, the metaphor I just tried to make. Shakespeare’s pen would have made it a culinary masterpiece. My keyboard has produced a bowl of gruel.
Here’s a mo’ better metaphor. A guy had three servants. He gave the first five talents, the second two talents, and the third, one talent. This metaphor is a tad confusing because a talent is an ancient measure for a weight in gold – approximately one gazillion micrograms to the third power or something like that.
What do you want to be when you grow up? We ask children this a lot. One time my daughter answered someone with about twelve things, all in a row. “I want to be an artist, a teacher, a doctor, (eight more that I can’t remember but I think astronaut might have been in there) and a waitress.” Lofty goals for a five year old!
I used to reply with only one response: a singer. I loved to sing, but I also had the ability to make up songs on the fly because of all the practice I got with my older brother. We were very competitive, and when he wasn’t beating me in foot races, high-jumping, basketball shots, ping pong, or, as big brothers often do, just plain beating me, we’d have rhyming contests. They went like this:
Me: You’re fat.
Him: You’re a rat.
Me: At least I’m not a splat.
Him: Well you’re a brat.
Me: I can’t agree with that.
Him: You’re as ornery as shit under a couch from a cat.
Me: You stink like liquid toe jam in a vat.
Him: Not bad – I’d call that tit for tat.
As you can see, we didn’t make Shakespeare jealous. The object of the contest was to not be the one who couldn’t come up with a sensible rhyme (not just jibberish) right away. If you paused too long to think of something, you lost that round. This could start at any time – walking to Dairy Queen, sledding in winter, riding bikes. With all that practice, I gained the ability to knock out songs that were, admittedly, awful. But they rhymed. I’d sing them to a slow, syrupy melody to give me time to compose them while I sang – picture a soulful love song sung by Barbara Streisand or Adele. They went something like this:
My dog has fleas,
He’s weak in the knees,
So I feed him peas,
Because he loves…….me.
My dog is kind
He’s here all the time,
Licking his behind,
But I don’t mind
Because he loves……me
My friend Carole and I used to get in verbal skirmishes a lot, probably from being together all day long in the summer heat. Most were those “are too!” “am not!” fights like: “You’re cheating.” “Am not!” “Are too!” “Am not!!!!”
With Carole, it escalated to one of us getting so mad we’d shove the other one. We were about eight years old, bored, in the hot, muggy, Tennessee haze, plus both our birthdays were in December, on either side of Christmas, so people were always giving us just one “combined birthday and Christmas present,” which caused a smoldering current of aggravation to pulse through our veins year round, and is probably what made us so cranky.
We were like a pressure cooker about to blow, and one of us took off running, knowing the other was about to strike. We both had long, skinny legs and she was exactly as fast at running as I was. We’d chase each other all through my backyard, and finally the person in front would falter – out of breath, legs tired – and the one chasing would catch up and swat her in the middle of the back, then pivot 180 degrees and start running. It was a little like two-person tag, except on the anger chart we had reached 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, so instead of tagging, we’d swat. Seriously, we chased each other like this until we were exhausted, red-faced, sweaty, and laughing.
One time my brother came out with two pairs of boxing gloves and said, “All this running around is stupid. Put these gloves on and just duke it out.” We tried but it wasn’t the same just standing there looking at each other, she in her long brown braids and me in my sun-streaked pigtails. After all, she was one of my best friends! I don’t think either of us even threw a punch.
In peaceful times we’d have singing contests. She sat on the grass and I stood up in front of her and sang as I made up a song – a really excellent one like the one above. Then she’d stand up when it was her turn and fumble around. “No, you have to make it rhyme. A song has to rhyme.” “Does not!” “Does too!” “Does not!!!!” She’d start chasing me and I knew if I ran out in the open area of the backyard, I might step in a gopher hole or trip on a croquet wicket or get clothes-lined by the cIothesline, and she’d catch up and deliver a soft whack between my shoulder blades, so I kept circling the two trees in the middle of the yard that had a thick bed of iris’s between them. Round and round we went until I got dizzy and darted into the open area, slowed down from exhaustion, and got swatted.
I never performed my little concerts for anyone but Carole, and she told me I was too good at singing and it wasn’t any fun. She probably meant rhyming, not vocal ability, but I took it as a huge compliment and pictured myself as a star.
Now I’m old (Am too!), and that dream has been in the fog of my memory all my life. In case you haven’t noticed, I not a star yet, haven’t ever tried to be one (what a yellow-bellied coward I am, plus I’ve rarely had any encouragement from any sane person that I should pursue singing, or even do it in public), and rarely ever sing around others except in the pews at church or when a group is bellowing happy birthday.
My dream has been with me all these years, and even though I’m old, I’m still working at it. If you pass my house early on summer mornings, when the windows are open, you’ll hear me practicing, “Corina Corina,” or “At Last,” or “Speeding Cars,” or even “Like a Rolling Stone,” although Dylan stuck a lot of words in there and it’s hard to remember them all.
Everyone has dreams. Kids don’t have the monopoly on them.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s not too late, you know.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about being average. I’ve pondered if it’s just being unmotivated, or not really wanting to work hard.
Nah, I don’t think so.