Posts Tagged ‘ponderings’

“So Adios to California…Nothing to do but turn around…” ~~John Hiatt, from Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns

How many times have we envisioned something, fed our beliefs with ideals and convinced ourselves that something surreal-ly out of reach could become ours? That we could somehow insert ourselves into a new reality that had all appearances of being superior to our current circumstances?

And how many times did we arrive at the sign that officially designates the precise spot where the Greener Pasture actually exists (“Pinch me!!”), only to discover it wasn’t quite what we had in mind? Fell short of our expectations, somehow…didn’t quite measure up. This may have come in the form of an actual place, a person or people, a job/career, a vacation, a material object, whatever. You know, peel back the sheets at the 5-Star Grand Poo-Bah Resort, only to find a nice specimen-strand of someone else’s DNA awaiting your plunge into the pillows.

I remember the first time I finally arrived at what I thought was the destination of my dreams. I had seen pictures, gorgeous pictures of this place, and was finally in a position to be there (not here, dear reader). It seemed like the perfect area, perfect climate, perfect people, perfect opportunities. It had everything. The last 50 miles or so of the drive drove me bananas with anticipation.

Upon arrival, however, the reality of the place did not hesitate to show me its true colors. It was Cold. Damp. Blustery. Gray. Rocky. Unwelcoming. Unforgiving of my folly of idealizing it in my head for too long.

Dismay is an extreme understatement to my initial reaction.

Nothing to do but turn around.

Dream-chasing has distinct advantages, though. It is what propels us forward and keeps us from stagnating. It is what gives us hope and motivation. It provides us with purpose and direction. It breathes life into us.

If we did not strive for that which we idealize, life would be terribly dreary. We would get stuck in the mud. And wither. And die.

I was never a fan of dream-catchers even though I understand their cultural purpose; there was always something so interruptive, arresting about them. I always liked to think about dreams as a fluidly beautiful, ongoing process, full of possibility and meaning. It’s a hell of a double life, for what it’s worth, imagining ourselves in another dimension as we go about life in this one. So what if they never materialize?

The joy is in savoring the trip, even if only in privacy and comfort of our own mind. And if we find ourselves on an actual journey to a destination that falls short, well, hey – we have still broadened our horizons. There is value in the salt of our tears and the stretching of our parameters. It’s a win-win. We have taken a chance and pursued passion.

Besides, sometimes dreams DO come true.

Thanks, God, for giving us that passion.

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…to all the people who served our country, that I could have the freedom to blog here and now, with a clear conscience and with no fear…

…to the talented man on the Kitty Hawk whose service is reflected on my mantle in the form of a properly folded flag…

…to those who’d hoped to serve but didn’t, or couldn’t…but are just as patriotic….

…to all the men like Buddy (10/22/11 post), who returned from the Delta alive, who were greeted with ignorant piss instead of with grateful reverence and respect…

…to those who stood by those who served…

…to the very young men under my roof who have unwaveringly expressed a desire to serve…sons of sons of sailors…

…to those who protested those who served, who now, in their older wisdom, realize their foolishness, and are ashamed to admit it…

…to those who proudly put themselves in the very face of danger on foreign soils to protect not only our country, but the essence of freedom…

…to those who still live who served and fought for righteousness for my father through WWI and my mother through WWII…

…to the men and women who believe in our country despite its shortcomings, and still enlist…

…to A.K., who is from another continent, but has proudly become a citizen and leaves me on schedule for drill in preparation to serve….

…to the brave men and women in uniform who will show our children around the C-5 Galaxy, Apache, C-130, Iroquois, F-18 et al. this afternoon at Homecoming and will – in word and deed – help us instill in them the character trait of patriotism…

…to the veterans with whom we will share a rolling tear today, hand over heart during the Star Spangled Banner,  as we salute our flag and their valued service…

…to the dear friend who brought out his Navy uniform, even though it no longer fits, to reflect and reminisce, that we could all be reminded of the threads of courage, pride, willingness, duty and belief in freedom – all tightly woven to hold our country together…

God, please bless our veterans with love, appreciation and peace…may they know how much the rest of us do not take their service and our freedom for granted, how much we love them, and how proud we are of them. Every single day of the year.

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Paid to Purge

I had the blessing today of cleaning out a closet. Normally, I would not see this as a blessing, at least not in my home. But at work, when the belongings were not mine and I was given free reign to designate those things Worthy of Keeping and those things Destined for Dumpsters, I was at my prime.

How freeing it is to purge, whether material or emotional or physical.

The closet was jam-packed with items years old, belonging to people long gone, clothes long-outgrown, and things obsolete.

A casual bystander was young enough not to know what a tape recorder was. While the labeled buttons “play” and “stop” were clear to him, the other buttons, and the mysterious cassette opening, were not, and warranted historic explanation, rendering me a relic.

The headphones with obnoxiously large plugs were equally as mysterious. They would not fit into any iPod known to man today.

There was an avocado-shaded suitcase (remember that color, popular in the 60’s?), with latches no one knew how to operate (but I).

There were broken electronics which no one, over the years, had dared to toss, yet were now completely obsolete.

Long lost items were located, long-forgotten supplies of the eras were unearthed and relegated to their destiny.

The look in the man’s eyes was telling, when he saw that he was about to wax the floors in the room, and I decided to conquer the closet 5 minutes before his crew came to conquer the floor. “You going to try to clear that out, too?” Things teetered near the top shelves and threatened to interrupt our exchange with shifting balance as I hurriedly removed items starting from the lower extremities. “Yes,” I said assuredly, “and if I can just move everything in the hall real quick, it’s all yours.”

He got his men to help with the rest, and before long, the hallway looked like another planet. I never would have known so many things could transform such a small space so compactly…and such a large place, the hall, with such chaos. I enlisted the assistance of Those Who Knew to help separate the current clutter from the true clutter. A few choice insects helped solidify our decision to rid the place of all but the clearly identified items. Select piles helped clarify things, such as “to the dumpster,” “back in closet,” “in the kitchen,” etc.

When it came time to purge, I was suddenly alone. No one wanted to be part and party to seeing things Go. But Go they must, and I heard the ghosts of owners past shudder, as I loaded the Go-things on to a large cart and headed for the dumpster. Three trips it took, each one filled with the satisfaction of knowing that only the necessities were left behind, and that all other things had found appropriate homes, or lost things reunited with their rightful owners.

I was amused to have a small following out to the dumpster, with the few incredulous that anything could be thrown out. When informed of the natural toll time had taken on many of the items (such as six-legged creatures, live during the purging), they backed off and watched with melancholy as I ceremoniously dumped load after load into the bulging dumpsters. Lucky for me, it was trash day, and within minutes, the garbage truck arrived, preventing anyone, myself included, from having second thoughts.

And we were left with an orderly, simplistic closet, with plenty of room for new ideas and time and Stuff.

And everyone felt better afterwards.

Today I got to the end of my lunchtime run and a good song came on my iPod, so I doubled back and took the big hill another time, something I never did before. It was good to purge all that energy, too. I had thought the closet had exhausted me of all my energy…but I suppose I had purging of my own to do.

Don’t we all?

After all, it’s always so much better to get back to simplicity, stripping away the years of clutter and can’t-even-remember-why-stuff.

Starting fresh is what soul renewal is all about…getting back to basics, getting back to your purpose and vision. Simplifying. And that necessitates letting go.

Hey, God…thank you for simple things, for the blessing from clutter, and the growth from purging. For discernment for what is important and vital, and for those things being so few that we have little choice but to focus on You.

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I suppose it wasn’t really there after all. I must have been daydreaming. When you’re hanging at the beach, some things just kind of blur together, like the pod of dolphins the other day at one point clearly being a pod of dolphins, gradually fooling the eyes into trying to decipher what was bottlenose and what was fin and what was tall wave. The playful animals somehow melded into being waves. Eventually when the excitement wanes and you start questioning your own senses and sensibility, you learn to quit looking, and refocus anew on what is, on what was, to begin with.

I thought I saw a ship, of great proportions, traversing the horizon. It had a bright color that caught my eye, contrasting from the sea, and maintained a steady path, as long as I dared to watch.

While it caught my gaze, I imagined where it came from, how long it had stayed in port, and where it now headed, what it carried. The Sunday newspaper keeps a public record of such data, but it’s been a month of Sundays since I read a Sunday paper.

But the ship was real as long as I looked at it.

I was driving, though, and could only afford intermittent glances. I was driving fast, windows down, music loud, hair flying.

I know it was there. But then, I glanced again, and it was not. Simply slipped out of my vision, out of my reality.

It reminded me of the man I used to see come home on what I calculated must be his lunch hour, as I ran the last hill on my runs. His house was one of my reality checks – I used it to remind myself of my goal, since it was at the peak of the knoll, the hardest and steepest hill of the three I conquer on my usual 2.5 run. Once upon a time in the season of jasmine, I marveled at the tall southern pines which graced his front yard, with something that looked like clematis climbing up the trunks of each tree. They were so fragrant, I came to look forward to springtime runs, just to get to that last, steep incline. Each labored inhalation was rewarded. His front porch was typically Southern, a wraparound with ample rocking chairs and detail in the woodwork, beckoning one to stop for a glass of sweet tea (slice of lemon) in the fragrance of the climbing flowers. The trees, and the clinging flowers, disappeared up into the sky-blue like some Jack-in-the-Beanstalk fairy tale.

How I would have loved to stop!

But my course would have been ruined had I done so – I was compelled to finish what I began, compulsively dedicated to completing my circuit, and his house was only one stop on my way to my destination. How sad…and it always seemed…no, seems (I still go by) so inviting.

Through the spring and part of the summer, I saw him come home. He would be parked in the side driveway, sometimes standing on the porch, sometimes inside, sometimes conversing with his landscapers. Sometimes just standing there, yakking on his phone, or pausing to watch me and wave.

And I always kept going.

Although we saw each other nearly daily, he was a stranger, and I to him. He was at the end of my run, at the top of the steepest hill, and I could not, would not stop, no, never. Never meant to be. He and his coveted possessions were well out of my league. I would not be interested in such.

I had to keep running, keep my pace, knowing the end was near and soon I would have rest. But in that rest I often thought of how nice it would have been to stop my run short and crash on that ample front porch and get acquainted with the wealthy neighbor. He didn’t know me, not really. And I didn’t know him. No, we were Worlds Apart, on two different courses, two different schedules, two different paths. He may have thought he knew me; he probably imagined he knew me, but he would have been wrong. Someone like that and those Things could not have understood or known joy from someone like me and my things.

And, like the ship that I’m not sure ever really existed, he also ceased to exist after my weeks of illness which prevented me from my daily runs. I have gingerly, carefully resumed and gone back, as I sit at the lapping water here, but he no longer comes home for lunch. And I have not seen a ship like it on the horizon since, either.

Both are gone; I am alone, and left wondering if they ever really existed, or if they were figments of my imagination, like so many other things.

I suppose I was a figment, too…not quite real, not quite tangible. Just sort of, out there. Interesting to imagine, but not really existent.

There is safety in not really being real, not able to be figured out, comprehended, perceived fully. Perhaps it is best if figments remain figments, visions as visions, dreams as dreams. That way, things of intrigue remain as we wish for them to be thought of, and we do not run the risk of disappointment, should the harshness of reality not live up to our dreams.

Our dreams…our delusions…our mirages serve us well, to provide the comfort of distracted vision, and of hope and curiosity, without the pain of what is, what must be, no matter how satisfying what must be, is.

Both the ship and the man were elusive and surreal as they passed before what I thought was my reality, bringing interest and reason to look while they lingered in the periphery of my reality, ever just so out of reach and causing me to question my sanity, yet serving a purpose by challenging myself to keep looking and to keep running all at the same time.

Oh, why O why, didn’t I stop long enough to verify the existence of the ship? and the man? Was I afraid they’d be real? Or that I would have to change to accommodate their reality? Was it better that they came and went from what I thought was my vision, that they remained a part of the Unsure?

How bittersweet, never to know for sure. I could never pursue either, and must stay on my circuit.

Damn, today’s run was totally to mentally detox. The news at high noon (delivered in the best room with the best catered food which I didn’t eat) was supposed to be good, which I couldn’t swallow, either. It was good to everyone but me. My crestfallenness did not go unnoticed, and I know they saw me tear out of the parking lot on my run after the meeting with more vigor than usual Upon my return, I was swamped with Higher Visitors and calls from all angles, feeling me out, no one daring to ask. The Secret is not theirs to uncover, they knew. And I was helpless, speechless, unable to explain. Only someone like me could be living such a dual life in so many dimensions.

But the run was hard and fast, and the man wasn’t there…again. I guess I missed too many days, so it was…just…a run. And I returned to face reality, my dreams and thoughts and feelings sequestered to the depths of my inner being, where they are better kept behind the game face.

But nothing can erase the ship on the horizon. I know it was there. I know it seemed like it wasn’t at one point, but I can still see it, I can still picture it crossing my path when I had time to pause my gaze. It was big and bright and happy, and added perspective to the horizon. The fact idea that it was there gave enough impetus to relish the rest of the surroundings, even after it disappeared.

Even if it wasn’t real, it was…just for a moment…it really was. And if I willed it to be so for the sake of my sanity, is there anything wrong with that?

The fumes of belief fuel faith.

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She was tired, nearing the finish, but still a ways away…pacing herself and thoroughly exhausted. The third hill had been a bitch, to say the least, after nearly 6 weeks straight of being sick. Recovering from surgery last spring after coming within minutes of losing her life,  had been much easier than resuming her old circuit lunchtime run. She wasn’t prepared for the endurance it would require, the perseverance, the determination to finish.

And then, afterwards, the grief of the loss of being finished. Phoo, having to return to reality.

She impatiently forwarded through the songs on her iPod to get just the right song to get to the sprinted finish, even though she didn’t know which song might suit her at the moment. All she wanted was motivation, hope,  and damn it, a little bit of fun to ease the pain. Her muscles were aching, lungs searing, and she was oblivious to the traffic as she darted across the busy road, staying focused on her goal to finish – sprinklers, ankle-twisters and common obstacles invisible.

Then she saw him. She had avoided this for months…for years…but there was no avoiding him now. He came up the hill, iPod strapped firmly to his well-developed bicep, keeping a pace that was intimidating at best. She couldn’t hide; he saw her and waved. She had to move toward him and get through the traffic and respond to his paused jogging on the other side of the busy road. Now she was unable to avoid giving the wrong impression, but wasn’t supposed to… it wouldn’t look right. She had fought this for so long. But now she had no choice. He beckoned and was waiting for her. No one else was watching, and there was nothing but more running to do. Innocent enough, she justified. Her passion for running spontaneously combined with divine and unforeseen opportunity.

She made it across the road and they resumed a good pace, running together with him in harmony, exchanging both smalltalk and insightful dialogue. She was reluctant to tell him she did not like to talk while she ran, preferred to dream inside her music and pace… part of the world, but not really part of it. But here she was, happy to be there anyway, because she loved the freedom of running. She wasn’t prepared for running with him, though. She thought she was, but once she really was, it was different. She felt different. It was exciting and wrong.

Yet she felt like she was a real runner, like someone unencumbered with disabilities and schedules and hangups in life. Without his even encouraging her, she felt like she could run the real race – not just this daily self-imposed jaunt – with competence, with speed, and without abandon. She was never one to talk on runs, but this time she talked, and was able to keep up a conversation. He was impressed with her, having seen her leave to go running 30 minutes earlier, and knowing that she had not stopped, that she had run alone and was intoxicated with endorphins…and she joined him anyway, running a route she had already completed by herself, but was gracious and eager to do again, partly because she wanted to for the hell of it, and partly because it communicated something to him about her. She wasn’t sure quite what – didn’t have the energy or wherewithal after the first half hour to second-guess what it meant to him. She just knew it was the right thing to do at the moment.

She became worried, though, during their run…what began as a casual, friendly pursuit, training for a marathon relay this winter, somehow turned into a competitive thing, with him envisioning all the benefits of coming out ahead at all costs, and her grieving all the people and things it would leave behind in the process. He admitted he was born with a competitive spirit – trained in his youth to go far and go long, and he could not appreciate (other than peripherally, from having polite little encounters) the people and things he would leave behind in his wake of pursuit, such as those who only wanted a taste of what he could do, or those who looked up to him and trusted him because he always said and did the right things. But somehow he always got ahead, and they always got left behind. Or those who could only dream of being like him, or being near him in his inner circle, because being around him brought them comfort and security. Funny thing was, he never really noticed it, he was so focused on competing with himself. But she listened without judging. And valued him for his sake.

But somehow, he remained an Untouchable, always being the best, always being the fastest, always being the guy nobody could catch up to. He never quite understood the plight of the Underlings. Although he said he did, he never really did. And he remained out of touch, but never really knowing it.

After we finished running the loop together, he noticed I was becoming increasingly silent. He lovingly checked on me, inquiring as to my silence and verbally acknowledging the change in my breathing and pace. I forgot my inhaler last night, I admitted. I could at once see the suppositions form in his head: how can that happen, is she negligent, is she damaged, is she less-than, why would anyone not ensure that they were in tip-top perfection at any given moment. I couldn’t answer, my breath escaped me, my lungs burned, but I knew I had to finish with him and get to the gate at the top of the hill. He was counting on me to be with him. As we continued up the hill, I feebly gasped that I was conserving my oxygen. He had heard enough times about my stories of overcoming asthma to finish a marathon, seen me enough times darting out the door with a big smile and my iPod blaring as my legs couldn’t contain the urge to start running even before the door shut behind me, and rolling in from of the parking lot, tank top saturated from beneath my breasts to my tummy, face red as the sun setting on the bay, music still blaring and my rock ‘n roll hair needing brushing, wild and free because my pony tail holder pounded itself out of my hair by the rhythm of my hard pace over time, oblivious to my transition from running reverie to reality.

He saw me all those times, but I didn’t really see him. I mean, I know I saw him, but I knew he was in another world, and I in another.

And yesterday I saw him. And I had to join him. And I wanted to. And because of that, I ran that extra mile, literally. I don’t know what he thought about it, but I think I benefited (although the scale today defies me). But I don’t want to think about it, because I wasn’t supposed to do that because the premise was, what would others think if they saw us running together? But the funny thing was, nobody saw us. And we ran. And it was lovely. But I paid for it dearly. And it was worth every molecule of oxygen, I tell you.

Alas, in all his glory, he ran away. Shortly before we saw the end coming, he acknowledged it and told me he was going to slay the dragons on up the road, since he got out of the gate later than I had, he was going to go on up the hill and conquer great horizons up towards the next traffic light. He alluded to the weaker folk not being allowed to run the race with us, and suggested ones he deemed worthy. I was worthy, of course, he said…and I knew this by how impressed he was by my having run this extra mile with him after he knew I’d already run three just before…,but they somehow I was not worthy. I knew he was right…the ones I had hoped to bring into the race to instill a sense of “you can, too!” were, by his competitive spirit, disqualified before they were allowed to register for the race. How would I tell my friends that others had been chosen? Would they be relieved and not look back? Would they feel more disheartened and separated from  Those Who Can?

Once upon a time, I had not been able to run three. I had not been able to run one-half. I had not been able to run two mailboxes away from my own house.

This saddened me.

He was so right, though, he couldn’t see any other right.

But for me to join the race, it took a marathon-runner to come along side me and slow down long enough to encourage me that I could do the same…and she stayed with me until I did. She didn’t run off to New York and do the NYC Marathon, like she planned, so she could improve her time for the Boston Marathon. No, she stayed in this Podunk town and reveled in encouraging me, marveling at how someone with asthma could really do what she knew I could do all along. She was also my disabled son’s occupational therapist, ironically. The year after the marathon, I wrote a nomination that won her an award for her accomplishments, and we had a blast going to the beach resort where she accepted the award. She didn’t win it for excelling in her athletic pursuits, or for helping my child with his disabilities.

She won it for believing in the unbelievable.

Back on the circuit, I suggested other races he might run to get that 13.1 sticker he covets to slap on the back of his wonderful SUV that the rest of us can’t afford. I encouraged him that if I can run a marathon with my asthma in honor of my disabled child, surely he, in his history of cross-country glory, can, too. He could aim higher than he currently is. He chided me for not gloating and putting the 26.2 sticker on every vehicle I own. He patronized me and maintained his perfectionistic, all-or-nothing thinking, “if I can’t do it in the time I deem appropriate, then it doesn’t matter and it’s not as meaningful.” He had the audacity to dictate that those we had previously committed to helping to train in the race, that they were likely too weak or unworthy, and would inhibit our race outcome.

He had the fever of success and pride. There was little I could say to him, or do for him, but wait. And accept. And love anyway.

Dang it, it all started as a goodwill, good fellowship, mutual encouragement thing for the race this winter. How did it come to this?!

How many races do we run that we deem our worst or our least, when they are victories for others? How many ways do we deceive ourselves into measuring our achievements in a way that somehow equate to how God measures us?

Apples and oranges.

Perhaps we need to look at our defeats and our shortcomings to grasp how God is measuring us.

Kneeling in front of the candles at the altar railing this Sunday, continuing to re-accustom myself to the verbal and physical obligations during communion, I thought of my eighteen years as an evangelical Christian, now coming home to my church of origin this summer.

God didn’t change, I did. He was always there, no matter where I went, no matter what I did, no matter what I believed, no matter how I practiced. Suddenly, it all made sense.

It was up to me to run the race – He provided the stamina, the endurance, the change of scenery, the inhaler when I needed it. He was there with me at every corner, at every refreshment station, at every mile marker, at every finish chute. He is there adjusting my time when I stop to assist a fellow racer who is injured, or to slow down and walk with one who clearly needs some encouragement to finish. He is providing the last-blast music to crank up for that final sprint toward the finish. He will be the One tearing the strip off my race number after I pass under the time clock, just before the Gatorade station with all the banana and orange slices. (Then come the masseuse tables, mmmm).

It’s up to me to give Him the victory for the race.

Now excuse me while I tend to my disabled child who is writhing in pain in his sleep, while my gifted child is demanding to know what I did with my Latin textbook from college. The race is not about us and our abilities, how fast we run or what circuit we train on…it is about acknowledging Jesus as Savior and serving Him, at the expense of our own notions of what that all means.

Let Him brush our rock ‘n roll hair.

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

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Lead Balloons

A wee collection of conversational clunkers from the week:

He swallowed what?! Two of them? Well, he won’t start glowing…just watch for them on the other end.

“I need to tell you something serious…are you ready? I’ve been diagnosed with early onset dementia.”    “Umm, I know…”  “Oh, no, did I forget that I already told you? Hahahahahaha!”

“Who dumped liquid soap in my water glass?!?”

(at company picnic of sorts, by high-ranking administrator to wife) “Look, honey…that’s the girl I told you about who runs every day in the 105 degree heat!”

“Hey, Mom, check out these stalactites in the microwave!”

“4 kids? It’s like having maxi-pad expenditures wrapped around a thong budget.”

“What did he flood now?”

Sign outside the biscuit joint in the middle of nearby cotton field: G   OD FOOD

“So…what do you think about moving to Brazil?”

I almost hate to write over the last post…the traffic has not yet stopped. Must have hit a tender spot in the blogosphere with the minimalist vs. pack rat issue!

In the meantime, join me in relishing the afternoon today, seeing the dolphins play while chasing a shrimp boat on the sparkly water, toes in the warm sand, while the bbq slowly cooked at home. It’s been a long week. I wish you all could live here with me, my friends.

Hey, God…thank you for bringing me here. May my friends reading this be blessed with rest and relaxation. May they find the same peace amidst the storms of life. Thank you for neighbors rocking in our chairs on the front porch in the light of the waxing moon, sharing their trials and victories. Thank you for blog friends virtually doing the same. Thank you for reconciliations and renewals. Thank you for a rich life, for richer dreams, and richest eternities.

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Once upon a very long time ago, I lived in the middle of Nowhere. I’m talking four rambling, adventurous hours away from the nearest Victoria’s Secret, folks. I was carefree and young, my whole life ahead of me, my education behind me (so I thought then), and I was surrounded by miles of rugged vastness, where the most entertaining thing to do was to go cow-tipping at night.

There were only two roads to choose from to get in or out of this place, and half of the time they were either buried under snowdrifts or cluttered with cattle drives. This was indeed the very place in the world where a tree would fall in the forest, and could not be heard. Here, we had to adjust our recipes due to the altitude, and hope for the best. There was no McDonald’s, or, for that matter, anyplace with a drive-thru. You had to know what to do when tumbleweed got caught up under your axles. You had to know how to chop wood to avoid freezing. You had to know how administer first aid because you may or may not be able to get to the nearest hospital before you keeled over. You had to know how to fend off packs of wild animals or the occasional escaped bull trying to break into your bedroom window during a blizzard at night. This was where you could test the limits of your car, and see if it really could go as fast as the speedometer claimed. Yes, this is where I learned to shoot various types of guns, out of necessity and survival, as a young, single lady. This was a different sort of education altogether, one my formal degrees had certainly not prepared me for.

Some people lived here because they either had lived there all their lives and had little desire to know about the rest of the world. Some came and stayed to escape common society, hoping to be left alone. Some followed others, but didn’t last long. And some were there because nobody else was willing to be there.

There, I learned to make do with little, and to be happy with it that way. The sun always rose again, even if I had to wait a week to get to town to get a staple. It was very simple and peaceful. It was easier to appreciate both little and big things, and easier to take care of what I had. I didn’t make much, but I didn’t spend much, either, and life was good that way. I was rich in being able to spend time with things that were far more important, anyway.

I was surrounded by like-minded simplicity: the one outpost “grocery store” was small and well-organized. The church had four pews on either side of the aisle (both collection plate and communion rites were 60-second affairs or less, done deal). The one lady in town who ran a small restaurant could only do so much herself, so the menu was the same throughout the day, and would change tomorrow according to what she had left on hand. We ate a lot of venison there. I learned right away I was not very welcome early in the morning in there, when the elder men of the community gathered for their daily coffee and contemplations. Things kind of got real quiet when I walked in…even the social culture was organized there, making it easy to know your place. And easy to want to stay in your place.

I liked that kind of order and peace.

Fast-forward decades later, living so very far away from that experience: House, spouse, multiple offspring, demands, obligations, not enough hours in the day, the dog, the cat, the endless supply of Small Toy Parts which get sandwiched firmly between brick and bare foot, uncannily most often when the first cup of coffee has been poured at 0445, all is dark, all others slumber, and I am en route to the table. And he wonders how I manage to regularly burn my lower extremities with coffee. I am navigating my path and must endure the melting skin like the Wicked Witch of the West but with no vocalizations, lest I awake the rest of the house and get the party started during what is supposed to be my solo quiet time, my only time of introverted bliss to charge me up for the next 18 hours.

I fantasize about throwing it all away. Why do I put these Small Toy Parts back in the toy box, which have spawned two wicker baskets, one in the den and one in another bedroom? Why didn’t I get rid of more toys? We taught the children to be charitable, and had them donate old toys to make room for new ones, each year. The last time I remember doing that was about eight years ago. The children kept coming, and so did the toys, and somehow we got to a point of realizing how donating one thing (say, the crib and all its linens), was like a jinx, and *boom* another child came along shortly thereafter. So eventually, we started hanging on to stuff – all kinds of stuff – and I got suckered right into his We-Might-Need-This-Someday mentality.

I thought we had settled this early on in the marriage when, much to his chagrin, he soon discovered that he had gained a wife but was losing his marbles, as Things and doo-dads he was sure he thought he had on hand, were mysteriously disappearing with increasing regularity. At first I was truthful and admitted to donating or throwing “useless” things away. Then came the dreaded Turkey Roaster Lecture. Fed up with my fastidiousness, he finally sat me down one day and asked how I’d like it if he tossed my turkey roasting pan, something I only use once or twice a year, but that occupies an obnoxiously large section of kitchen cabinet. Okay, point well-taken.

So I respected his stuff for a while. For quite a few years, actually, until the stuff he had once begged me or even threatened me with dire consequences if I ever threw THAT out, began to  multiply into many things like it, which went untouched, unused, forgotten and buried alive.

Then one day I awoke buried alive, surrounded by clutter. Half of it was the children’s, half of it was his. I was so disturbed, I engaged in vigorous self-harm practices. This soon proved to be futile, and did nothing to alleviate the clutter.

Then I got to work. I alternated between selectively, gradually, making some things quietly disappear after he left for work on garbage day (I write this at my own peril, as this will surely reopen old wounds), and throwing guilt-inducing, mild tantrums to shame him into dumping his own stuff himself. I marveled at how mighty proud he was to excavate six dusty magazines the first time I pulled this, his hands shaking as he threw them away, pausing to consider how he may be parting with the ONE article that may prove the key to saving the world in that fictitious future when the sky is going to fall. He only reclaimed two of them from the trash at the 11th hour, sprinting toward the trash can at the curb as the garbage truck rumbled down the block. He thought it was a big help, four magazines. My idea was a little different; I was thinking about four CRATES of magazines.

Since I can’t give away his stuff overtly (We Might Need This Someday always prevails) or covertly (I suck at lying), I now instead give generously to our local volunteer fire department. I am convinced they will someday be paying us a visit when our attic spontaneously combusts. Perhaps I should also consider paying it forward to the contractor whom we will be calling, should our ceiling cave in prior to combustion.

The problem is, in the years of our marriage, once in a while, the sky DOES fall, and he has squirreled away just the right knick-knack to fix it. Never mind that it takes him damn near a week to find it. Nevertheless, he has saved the day enough times that, like the devil injecting just enough shards of truth into a blatant lie to make it entirely shiny and believable, I am forced to admit that yes, dear, you were right…it was good I didn’t throw that away after all. It really did wind up coming in so very handy, I gush! It hurts to find bad habits actually useful. Back in the day, I would have merrily tossed the broken gizmo and probably not missed it, or would have been more than happy to save for an updated model.

This morning I went on a rampage after all the Small Toy Parts. The children thought I had either lost it or was very close to losing it, the way I determinedly scurried about putting any and every stray Thing in my line of vision in every room, barking orders for each child to take responsibility for handfuls of Things, too.

Among the claimed items tossed back into the toy box and baskets: plastic 1-inch machine gun, fourteen missing puzzle pieces, 17 toy cars, 4 pieces of railroad track,  2 noise-making stuffed animals (one of which has low batteries and emits a very ominous noise that would make Chuckie shudder), a naked baby doll, headless GI Joe, 2 broken Happy Meal toys, long-lost Gumby, the Wii remote we all thought the dog ran away with and buried, a very tangled slinky (why are we keeping this, I ask?! answer: we might untangle it someday…put it in the bathroom, I’ll work on it next time I go), a well-scratched unidentifiable DVD, 7 magnetic refrigerator alphabet letters, the tangled string that keeps coming off the Playskool Snoopy dog that yelps when you pull him along behind you, enough Monopoly money to pay the mafia to off the relatives who keep plying our children with noisy gifts to drive us crazy at every occasion, 3 mystery Things no one could say with any assurance what on earth they went to… and a partridge in a pear tree. There was more, I promise you. Much more. I am blocking out the rest; it is far too painful.

And this is just the inside of the house. Sometimes I think more is less, less is blessed. I am not ungrateful for what we have been blessed with, just overwhelmed. Perhaps this is the unavoidable result of having teenagers through toddlers.  I have made a mental date with the year the youngest turns of age, to return to simplicity. No, it will start long before then: I shall begin to purge the toddler toys in the next couple of years, and work my way up as he works his way up. I will keep all the crap nicely organized – baskets for this crap, boxes for that crap. Hopefully I won’t have to have a skin graft for any more coffee spilled in the dark of the wee hours stepping on yet another Lego.

Thus, as of yesterday morning, I was forbidden to throw away a broken folding chair; never mind that I have determined that throwing things away – no, decluttering – is an act of mental wellness for me. Nosireebob, that canvas, I was urgently informed, can be removed from the metal and “we” can sew it into bags to be used for camping and such. Yeah, right…just after the last child leaves for college and the canvas is growing spores. Then we’ll have time for more camping, too. Perfect. We’ll just toss the ol’ broken chair onto the top of the heap in the attic, no problem. Reminds me of that old sticks-and-marble game, Kerplunk!

(I sure hope somebody else sees the humor in all this, because he may not so easily, and I may be in for an icy week ahead.)

In the meantime, I think I hear the producers of “Hoarders” knocking. I reckon now is a good time to go vacation at my old stomping grounds in the middle of Nowhere while they tape this segment.

On the other hand, maybe I should just stay put…now that I think of it, there’s not a lot of difference between being stuck in the cattle drive and having to wait for it to pass there, and the cattle drive going on here, except this one smells better most of the time, and the cattle stampeding through my house have more fun.

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Could I…

…if homeless, take pride in how quickly my cardboard box dries after a rain, when the sun shines again?

…if disabled, keep dancing, like doing the mental rehearsals the director had us do before each performance?

…if penniless, find something else to give another?

…if blind or deaf, still see beauty and listen?

…if shot and left for dead, forgive my assailant before I passed?

…if silenced, find ways to be heard?

…if betrayed, still trust?

…if insane, not drive those around me insane, too?

…if trapped, make peace with my condition until the way out is shown?

…if lost, creatively find and use resources?

…if starving, sufficiently distract myself until the pain subsides?

…if hopeless, fearlessly dream anyway?

…if terminally ill, embrace it with grace and courage?

God, bless those who show us how to direct our gaze upon the silver (or crimson!) linings, so we know where to focus when clouds overtake our sky.

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She was carefully applying her mascara in the rear view mirror, stopped at the red light at a busy intersection. The turning of my head to notice caused her to notice me, and with her wand frozen in mid-air, we exchanged one of those only-girls-can-understand smiles. Then, just as quickly, the light turned green and each of us took off into our respective universes.

Today, like a pent-up quarter horse bursting out of the barn into a vast green field, I broke my month-long illness-induced hiatus from running, and could not stop. I had set my sights low, thinking I’d walk part way and stay close to home, but the bright rising sun beckoned me out of one universe and into another, and before I knew it, I awoke, still running, a little unsure how I had gotten that far from home. In the middle of Nowhere I was, but I knew this nowhere far from home. Now I had to figure out what possessed me to get so far away, and get myself back to Somewhere.

The thing is, the trip to Nowhere was such a blast! I hated to drag myself back to Somewhere. Following the white reflective strip on the opposite side of the road, the morning traffic on the busier stretches forced me off the white line, less for my sense of safety and more for the drivers. Veering off my straight line caused me to reckon with tall grasses and morning dew, soaking my shoes and socks. The steady rhythm of my pace allowed me to shake off the highly irritated fire ants whose piles I had pummeled with my unseeing feet deep in the tall grass. Stopping for nothing, I savored and ran through each cramp, flash of joint pain and finally, the rogue pebble that made its way into one shoe. Damn, I can feel the sear of the blister-to-be. The calendar says autumn, but this area defies such man-made seasonal designations, and the sweat signaled victory in endurance.

There was comfort in the discomfort, endorphins in the pain.

Arriving home, the swing under the welcoming giant oak tree called out to me as I transitioned universes yet again. Walking it out, I circled around and took the oak tree up on its invitation to join with it. Mounting the swing, “Enya’s Caribbean Blue” was up next on my iPod – I’d forgotten I had that song on there still. I immersed myself in this universe now, gaining momentum and, once high enough, alternately assuming a reverse-planking position. I gazed upwards into the canopy, spotting bits of blue sky through the trees outstretched arms which hugged me close underneath. The child in me dared to tilt my head backwards once at the peak of height, seeing the world upside down in a deliciously dizzying moment.

The man watching me from behind was upside down, too. So were his two little dogs. I hit pause and allowed myself to come back to earth so I could greet the surprised onlooker, who appeared to be trying to figure out if I was trespassing, and if it could be considered trespassing when one was clearly enjoying themselves in one of life’s little pleasures typically reserved for children. My self-assured explanation that I was cooling myself after a long run, getting the breeze in both directions by swinging, caused him to laugh and wrap up the pleasantries and move on.

Thus I was awakened out of another universe and catapulted into yet another.

I find myself traveling between and among many parallel universes throughout the course of any given day. And yet, I am supposed to believe that only one universe, one reality, exists.

I have gradually over time began to suspect otherwise.

We are finite in our ability to sense what we perceive. An inquisitive, wide-eyed child knows, but is trained by “trusted” adults to deny what is so apparent to the child. Where the child seeks validation for their very-real experiences, the adult makes the other dimensions simply not exist.

Thus with nothing more than a bold statement, there are no monsters under the bed. Or, as the little one says, “Yi-yons in the woods” across the way. Fierce lions, from his account. No, he is told, no yi-yons in these parts.

But the child is not so sure, not so easily convinced. If we can talk ourselves into or out of anything, can we also talk other things into or out of existence? The mind is such a powerful thing.

Sometimes while mentally in one universe and physically in another, I ponder whether I am imagining things, or if it is really real. I fool myself into believing that it is not real if it is appropriate to do so, and later my mind wanders again and I am forced to reckon whether it was really real and I suppressed and denied it at will, or if it is pure figment of imagination.

Maybe I am thinking too hard, as I have been accused, and as also being accused of using this to communicate in other dimensions. Guilty as charged, on both counts. Have we not all slipped into a dual existence between our online habits and our non-online habits?

What is real, anyway? I would rather expand my mind and entertain the possibilities of things I can’t prove, than pigeonhole myself into one dimension. I would rather acknowledge the monsters under the bed and give credit where credit is due, than spend energy and a lifetime being foolishly self-assured of falsehood. I would rather enjoy the painful process of risk than waste away in comfort. I would rather be damned for trying and doing, than damned if I don’t.

Hey, God…thanks for the trip. Thanks for multi-dimensional universes and for the generous samplings of each one despite our limited awareness. I pray that the monsters under the bed, and yes, the yi-yons in the woods, can someday know the joy of reverse-planking on the swing. Maybe they’ll come out at night when we’re not looking and party under the oak tree.

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Lingering at the island’s only stop sign, I was reluctant to make the turn which led to the bridge to the mainland. I was at the mercy of Time, and had to go. The only consolation was the obligation to be at another beach in a different part of the state by a certain time. Still, the need to linger was paramount, and no promise of paradise could eradicate the innate drive in the quest to rest.

To be still.

But also to trust, even if this creature of habit preferred to stay put and revel in the status quo, that the change would yield fresh opportunity.

The mental condensation must be wiped down after its inevitable buildup, caused by sitting too long in one spot. It is the only way we can see things anew.

Arriving at the next destination, the margarita tasted even better beside the palm trees, with the din of the zealous fans of the favored football team co-mingling with the incoming rhythm of the sea. Touchdown!

And just like the game, all good things must come to an end: eventually it was time to find a deserted stretch of beach to celebrate a momentous occasion, which involved the end of one era and the welcoming of another. The pause to do so was all too short, however. I tried, with all my power, to stop the mighty sun from sinking into the next time zones, wistful that I could not control, capture and retain these moments at will. My will.

But it had to be His.

Thus, I could fight what was to be, or take the next step into the future, complete with my expectations, be they accurate or not. One step at a time, each step involving a choice as to whether I would have the courage to be open and flexible in the face of the Unknown, or whether I would stubbornly resist destiny, clinging to those experiences I have become accustomed to and comfortable with. After all, it took a lot of work to embrace the last batch of novelty.

Yes, the week was rife with forced choices to move forward or stay put and risk getting stuck. I just wanted to stay on that spot in the sand, where I’d worked hard to master the footing; it was warm and comfortable. But the external forces persisted, and my balance was compromised. I had to forfeit what was, for what was to be. I had to go forth. And I had to make the best of it.

Looking back at the tracks I made in the sand over this past week, I see that by moving forward, I did not get stuck. I did not get off track. I did not always feel comfortable moving forward, but I did, and the result was a satisfying path leading from past to future. I noticed that the path was easier when I adjusted my attitude accordingly, and turned my sights from what was, toward what might be, with eager anticipation. Walking in the sand is really hard; running is even harder. And tiring. But taking it one step at a time was manageable, and afforded me the time to adjust to the forward movement, without getting too caught up in the grief of losing what had been.

I thought about the number of people who moved with me this week, some of them kicking and screaming, but moving forward nonetheless. Painful, but productive. We are all stronger and wiser for it, even though it involved moving through difficult sands.

I thought about the multitudes on Facebook who are loudly protesting radical changes. Is it more that they’ve grown comfortable, or the notion that another is in control?

As I helplessly permitted the preoccupied sun to drain from my world last night, I thought perhaps I would keep part of the day as a souvenir into the night, by letting my physical state linger as long as possible. I would refuse to gain control of the unruly condition in which the sea had left me: artistically random strands of hair bonded by the sweet salty mist; dried salt creeping up my legs as far as the warm water had willed, the sand around my ankles refusing to let go. Yes, I would remain in this state as long as I dared, so as to savor the scent of the day I could not stop from ending.

In the inevitable shower, I thought about various forces which propelled me forward in other ways this week, learning to be okay with knowing things I’d rather not know, with not knowing things I’m dying to know, or how things will turn out, or what will become of things, or how I will be prepared – or not – for storms ahead.

Regardless, it is imperative that we take the next step, even though we may not fully know where our next step may be, or how it will feel. Or how it will change us. Or where it will take us.

Hey, God…thank you for helping us move forward, for guiding our next steps, and for blessing us with graceful confidence in the Unknown.

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