Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It certainly is audacious

I am by no means a tree-hugger, a sit-inner or an activist of any sort. I've never marched on anything except my local Macy's and the only picket with which im familiar is the white fence-like kind found in the sunny suburbs. Lord knows I have never burned a bra though on occasion I have given it some thought, but of course, that was motivated by irritation and discomfort and not as a sign of outrage or protest. I don't own a stitch of patriotic attire and I have never once sported a bumper sticker advertising my affiliation with any candidate. I DO take the time to familiarize myself with the major platforms of those running for office and exercise my right to vote, but that is usually about as far as my civic duties compel me to go.

I hail from a small town in a southern state that is often referred to as the Belt Buckle region of the Bible Belt, and where to this day you might actually hear it said that those who vote Democrat are likely to burn in the fiery pits of eternal hell. Somehow in this sector of the nation people developed the notion that true followers of Christ show loyalty only to the GOP. I've always found this to be extremely fascinating because while its true that the Republican party tends to shape legislation that further the ideals of things such as "the right to life" and "putting prayer back in schools" its typically Democrats that fashion laws and foundations to do things God himself commissioned us to in both the Old and New testaments such as feed the hungry and clothe the poor. But political parties are of human design and therefore riddled with flaws.....just as there will never be one religion that possesses a lock on all truth there will never be one party with all the right answers. Personally I believe that America holds itself back tremendously by perpetuating the two-party political system.....but I also think Condi Rice merits the label FABULOUS for her personal shoe savvy alone so what do I know?

I consider myself a Christian.....not the bun-wearing, Bible-beating hell-fire-and brimstone kind, but I most certainly believe in God. While raised in a home that most definitely leaned to the right, my folks were both intelligent and humble enough to encourage me to seek my own personal Truth and for that I am eternally grateful. I gather that they might lose their marbles over some viewpoints I have developed in my latter years, but they will have to hold tight to the fact they gave me insight, instruction and more than a little guidance.....and at the end of the day it's my ship to sail. Im hoping that being that they were ushered into adulthood on the cresting wave of Woodstock and all manner of revolutions that they will remember what courage it actually takes to plot your own course in this life and not be strung along like every other generation, mindlessly swallowing the rhetoric of the one before without a single individual thought of one's own. If you love those who gave you life.....and in return respect them..... it can prove to be difficult sometimes to allow yourself the luxury of disagreeing with them.....especially when it comes to fundamental human and religious ideals.

For the record, I would like to pull back the velvet curtain and reveal that I did NOT in fact, vote for Barrack Obama. Putting that in print suddenly leaves me feeling as though I am buck naked in Times Square on New Year's Eve. It wasn't a decision I made quickly or easily either for that matter. Im no big McRage fan either. God Bless the man for the sacrifices and services he willing gave for our country and its freedom but during many of his public appearances he always seemed one step away from biting the head off a bat Ozzy Osborn style to me. I, like most of the rest of the nation, was captivated by Obama's charisma and outrageously charming grin. The man can flat out hold the attention of an audience.....and of course, after 8 years of Bush's constant verbal diarrhea he was like a breath of fresh air. I saw the potential in some of his plans for our nation's healthcare as well as a few other key things in his platform. But in the end, I simply couldn't embrace his openly clear connection with the tenants of socialism and his ridiculous views on gun control. I realize that last statement combined with my disturbingly strong southern accent makes me appear to have arrived barefoot and billybob-toothed straight out of the trailer park, but I assure you, just because I talk slow doesn't mean im simple minded. I've simply spent a substantial amount of time living amongst people such as the Cubans and seen first hand how repealing the right for everyday citizens to bear arms can lead to oppression and dictatorship in a hurry.....im not a fan. And I don't know about you, but I tend to lose motivation to succeed when I know MY earnings produced from MY efforts are going to be taken away and then equally reallocated amongst myself and the three jokers down the street that sat on their asses all day not earning a dime. I am all about a hand up but not a hand out. One of the things that make this country unique and such a coveted place to live is the idea that we each have the opportunity to achieve success if we simply push long enough, hard enough and with enough force. It's the economic equivalent of reaping what you sow which I think makes a great deal of sense. Changing that dynamic is, in my opinion, dangerous and asking for trouble.

But we are a nation ruled by democracy.....and while I may not have chosen the candidate, I willingly accept my contestant's defeat because the majority has spoken and I respect the process of free election.

Its no secret that today's inauguration is historical. And I don't care what policies or parties with which you align yourself, it was simply inspiring to see a black man stand on the steps of a monument built less than 200 years ago by SLAVES and be sworn in as the leader of the free world. I haven't forgotten that I am middle class white chick that grew up in the 80's and couldn't be more removed from the plight of the black man if I lived on the moon......but still. It renews my hope in humanity's ability to change......That a little less of the suffering and injustice of those before will be passed to those to come........That maybe one day equality will be more of a reality and less of an idea.....

Corny as it sounds, today, well, I was proud to be an American.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life Outside The Box

Likely one of the most profoundly moving experiences we encounter as human beings is the death of someone we love. Even when the hour and time it’s likely to occur are known, there is never really any way to prepare oneself for such a moment. It brings out the worst in us.....anger, resentment, bitterness......while simultaneously pulling from us the magnificent......compassion, empathy, and kindness. Its total emotional upheaval, and at any given moment you aren’t sure just which side is winning the war.

The world lost an amazing young man a few days ago by the name of Nathan Smith. I’ve known Nathan and his family for the better part of my time on this planet. And while I haven’t actually spent time with him in years, it saddened me to hear of his passing. We were never extremely close because I was several years older than he with just enough gap in our ages to prevent us from ever being at the same school at the same time or in one another's peer group. But, I knew his older brothers and even spent some time traveling with his mother on a trip abroad where she acted as a translator for the expedition. Our lives circled over one another's in many ways and I would certainly never have hesitated to call him friend. When I think of him, it’s likely the first thing I will always remember is his extremely warm smile. He was incredibly bright and sometimes goofy which made him all the more endearing. He faced many challenges in this life and he seemed to meet them all with a great deal of grace and perseverance which made him all the more admirable. He spent his relatively short time on this planet involved in the field of medicine and healing which will make him all the more unforgettable.

I suppose its only natural when someone with whom you are somehow connected leaves this world for the next that it ushers in memories of all those whom we have cared about and have lost before. And in the hours since I have heard of Nathan's departure, ive been overwhelmed with thoughts of an old friend. It’s surprising even to me that I haven’t written of her before now. Being that I am prone to pouring my heart out via the written word, that is very interesting indeed. Perhaps it just took this long for me to find the courage. Her name was Samantha and she actually suffered from the same disease as Nathan (Cystic Fibrosis) though she lost her battle at a much earlier age than he.

I will never forget the day we met. Granted, I was young......4 years old actually.......but its one of those moments that lives like a leaf encased in amber.....perfectly frozen in time and etched in my mind. It was day 1 of Kindergarten. I bounced in positively electrified with excitement. Keep in mind I come from a small town and even though this was a private institution there were several children in that room whose mothers were friends with mine and with whom Id played with before on more than one occasion. I said hello to my friends, compared new shoes and the joys of owning my first Trapper Keeper and started looking for a place to put my Cabbage Patch lunch box. She was sitting next to the table by the bookshelves wearing a polka dot dress with lady bugs on it. Her hair was split into two thick braids that fell clear to her waist and were tied neatly with red ribbon. Id never seen her before and from the look on her face she didn’t know a soul in the room. Her eyes were a soft brown and seemed terribly large in her small pale face. I began to feel something very strange and new......she looked at me like one of my precious dollies come to life and I just wanted to wrap her up and put her in my pocket. I’ve had that feeling several times since as I have grown into adulthood and I see it as a real gift, because ive come to recognize it as my heart speaking directly to me. Now, because I don’t possess a completely perfect memory, im not sure just exactly what was spoken, but I imagine the conversation to have gone a little something like this:

Me: Hi
Sam: Hi
Me: I like your hair. Wanna see what my mom made me for lunch?
Sam: Sure

And that was it. The bonds of sisterhood we forged.

I’ve come to believe that there are certain people in this life with whom we just instantly share a connection......its indefinable, unpredictable and absolutely one of the best parts about being human. Even though in many ways we could not have been more different, I saw something in her that I instantly recognized as familiar and she seemed to feel the same. Its relationships like these that I believe led Aristotle to define friendship as a single soul inhabiting two separate bodies. In fact, I never really noticed that not only was she different from me, she was different from everyone else as well. I would later learn that wasn’t only true of her health but also of that brilliant mind behind those brown eyes too big for that small sweet face. By the end of that day, I swear, it was as though we known each other two full lifetimes and then some.

From then on, we took on Kindergarten and the World together. Her disease while ever present in things like daily routine somehow seemed removed to me. We made games out of swallowing her pills......with age they increased in size and number and the goal was to see how many she could swallow at once without gagging. When she was too weak for that, id break open the capsules and pour them into applesauce.....we'd see if she could eat the whole bowl in less than 5 spoonfuls. I became familiar with the ins and outs of the local pediatric ward of the hospital where she routinely went for treatment and therapy. When illness would extend her stay to more than a day or two, id sleep overnight curled up on the vinyl couch in the corner or directly in the bed next to her. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand her life was fragile......myself probably more than anyone knew that she suffered and struggled in ways many of us will never comprehend. But, we chose not to focus on that and instead plotted a strategy to become doctors when we grew up and fix this mess of a disease the current grown up population couldn’t seem to figure out. We certainly thought we were bright enough that’s for sure.....in confidence we were far from lacking. I look back on photographs of us over the years......together we were nothing but a mess of long thick hair, skinny gangly appendages and optimism.

We learned to ride bikes together.....went to summer camp....bought our first bras and discovered the wildly intense pleasure of falling for a boy. We taught each other sign language to communicate secrets while sitting in the same room with our parents.....and eventually as a way to speak to one another when tubes down her throat made using her voice impossible. But we would both learn that sometimes volumes can be spoken without either words or symbols when in junior high I became the victim of sexual assault. I melodramatically refer to that era of my life as the dark night of the soul. There were so many voices swirling around in my head it was impossible for me to single out the one that was my own and speak of these things. But when I couldn’t hear myself, Sam could because she knew my voice as well as she did her own. We'd lie side by side under the cottony pink gauze of her canopy bed and just BE. Sometimes we wouldn’t say a word for hours but id walk away feeling like she'd really heard me. And it was Sam who pushed me to work thru things on paper.....let my fingers say the words my tongue seemed to find so thick and difficult. And thus a writer was born.....

The summer before high school the fabulous Make a Wish Foundation granted Sam a wish. She asked for a vacation in Hawaii and they complied. For two weeks she and I and our crazy mothers traveled the islands. We saw active volcanoes and dipped our toes in the tide on the beautiful black beaches. We snorkeled and rode boats and even tried to learn how to surf. We stayed in fancy hotels, rode around in flashy convertibles and had every bit of our inner princesses pampered. Thanks to my mother who saw most of the scenery through the lens of an 18 lbs video camera, I have 10 hours worth of recorded viewing pleasure. We returned home tan and exhausted but ridiculously happy.

A few months later Sam landed in the hospital with an infection. In accordance with routine procedure, I gathered together the survival kit: contraband chocolate, fashion magazines, nail polish, my walkman and my headphones.....and had my mom drop me at the hospital. We'd paint our toenails and then lying with our heads super close together on the pillow we would stretch the headphones apart until one pad was on her left ear and the other was on my right. We'd crank up the music (more often than not Bon Jovi) and thumb thru the magazines wiggling our toenails till they were dry. How silly we must have looked with two heads squeezed between one headset......it never occurred to us to just take turns or buy a walkman that had a port for more than one pair. Mom picked me up at dinner time and I told Sam Id be back the next day after school. It was a Monday night. Tuesday it was raining and cold. I was in the cafeteria eating a nutritionally packed lunch of powdered donuts and mountain dew when I heard my name being called to come to the office. Mom was there to check me out and I knew then something was wrong. It seemed Sam had endured a pretty rough night and asked for me several times. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when we arrived at the hospital. It seemed like a nano second since id last seen her but she'd shriveled away to bones. Her eyes were shrunken and set off by ugly shades of purple bruising. I remember thinking how shocking that shade of indigo seemed next to the paleness of the rest of her. Tubes snaked out her nose and mouth and ran down her body to lie across the sheets. It was as though she were a small flower resting on a wild vine. She lifted her hands to sign but fatigue and the massive amounts of narcotics made it difficult. So I just crawled up next to her, made myself very still and said....."It’s ok. I hear you. Let’s just BE."

After some time she fell asleep and they made me get out of the bed. The doctors informed me she was more stable than she had been in hours and that i should go home and rest. We'd just gotten home when they called to tell me she was gone. I'd had her for almost a decade.....she died just 8 days shy of my 14th birthday.

To say Sam was my "friend" seems almost ridiculous when she was SO much more than that......she could evolve from playmate to teacher to co-conspirator and back again all in the span of a day. She inspired me and challenged me and heard me when no one else could. You know, as adults we seek to harness the relationships in our lives.....to define them, give them boundaries, labels and absolutes. Oh but that we could learn to not put people into boxes stamped with titles....we just might see that parents that teach might also challenge and inspire.....that those we mentor may actually have lessons for us to learn.....or that the person we call best friend could actually be the love of a lifetime we have been waiting for.

I miss you, Sam. Hug Nathan for me and you two try to stay out of trouble up there.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Real Deal

It’s rare that I ascribe much thought to the ideology of universal signs or omens. It isn’t that I don’t believe that Nature could be used as a pathway for communication between us and the Greater Powers that be, its just I suppose I’m more of a concrete-earthbound kinda girl. Oh, I had my hippy phase- it just didn’t stick. I was down with all the sandal action, I just couldn’t seem to get on board with the patchouli.....but, I digress.....

Lately, it seems the Universe is intent on blowing one reoccurring theme in my direction.....AUTHENTICTY. What it is and what it isn’t and how to judge the difference. And in particular, the areas in my own life where im guilty of the "isnt".

I certainly get that its simply human nature to want to portray the most positive YOU possible. Most of us just put the highlight reel on endless loop and let it roll. For example, I’m a halfway decent singer.....I don’t claim to be Broadway bound or anything but I can carry a tune in a bucket, a teacup, AND a champagne flute. You visit my mama's house more than once and she is at some point going to brag on this.....odds are she may even force, I mean invite, you to watch a video of any number of my recorded performances. (God help you, if you’ve been subjected to this already or ever are in the future. I offer my sincerest apologies.) But, another personal fact about yours truly, is im a mouth breather.....which pleasantly means that at night in my sleep, I tend to drool like a toddler cutting 2 eye teeth and a molar. It aint pretty, people. But, I highly doubt you will ever be subjected to endless photos of THAT...... and god knows, im certainly not going to ever bring it up intentionally in conversation. Promote the Affirmative/Camouflage the Adverse. Case in Point: these social networking sites that myself and so much of the planet are addicted to. We fling up photo albums full of happy family moments, good hair days and finish line crossings like its going out of style. To read most of these bios you'd think Coke-a-Cola really did teach the world to sing. I mean, seriously. It’s as though we are all only one step away from our own personal shang-gri-la and world peace. I was looking at some adorable Thanksgiving photos on a friend of mine's blog the other day. Said friend has two adorable little demons that smile like cherubim but would likely feel downright at home working at the right hand of Satan. I know these guys.....I was present at their births, yet even IM not entirely convinced they are human. These little monsters don’t sit still even in their sleep, yet there they were side-by-side, arms slung over each other's shoulders in matching britches, hats and scarves like something straight out of a Gap ad. It made me laugh out loud. I personally once posted a picture of myself crossing the finish line at my first charity 5k.....im all dewy and radiant with charisma.....hands thrust in the air in triumph......what you don’t see, is the time it took me to run those wretched 3.2 miles or the ambulance parked nearby that I nearly needed.

But this sort of "advertise the positive" line of thinking isn’t all evil.....it’s understandable to want others to view you in a pleasant light. I’m a natural born people-pleaser myself and would just about rather be hog tied and drug behind a moving vehicle down a gravel road than be a boat-rocker or a facer of confrontation. Like most everyone else, I feed the strong inner desire to be liked and loved and accepted. Personally, im not sure how well it would go over if we all posted photos of every aspect of our real selves. I have no desire to see you sitting on the couch in the middle of a three day Twinkie binge or fighting on camera with that husband of yours you love so much. Ok, ok....I might get sucked in to that out of mere curiosity for like 3 or 4 days but sooner or later it would just get depressing. So keep on posting those fabulous pageant shots and award winning moments of joy.
But, while I was enjoying a kicky little cinematic ditty the other evening, I heard someone on screen say "Love never means having to say your sorry".....I nearly choked on my overpriced refreshments. If you subscribe to that line of thinking I’d wager my next two paychecks on the fact that you are SINGLE. Love, and relationships in general, actually mean having to say you are sorry A GREAT DEAL. But, what im starting to believe is that while real love may not mean "never having to say you’re sorry".....it SHOULD mean, never having to say you’re sorry FOR WHO YOU ARE. And that means ALL of who you are. But how can you expect someone to appreciate and accept authentic you, if you aren’t brave enough to show the world who that really is?
I’m certainly not throwing stones here, people, I am gloriously guilty of this myself. The vocation on my resume may read: "Healthcare Professional" but I bet I exert nearly as much if not more energy in the form of "Personal Publicist". Say my life were a novel..... I might pen the inside book jacket to read: "Im the girl that will send you cards in the mail for absolutely no reason. I will drive 20 minutes out of my way to feed your dog when you are away on vacation. I will call you back at 2 am to field your random medical questions and do whatever is within my power to ease your suffering when possible. I will lend you pretty much anything I own regardless of value from clothes to camping equipment to my car. I'll hold your hand and pour the wine while you pour your heart out about love gone wrong. I will drop everything at the last minute to baby-sit your children when emergencies arise. I'll remember your birthday, dance at your wedding and attend funerals when you lose someone you love"......on and on ad nauseum.....
And while all of that IS TRUE.....somewhere in there, right next to all that inner goodness is a small closet in my heart where I hide all my secrets. I tend to pick and choose whom I grant access.....like an air traffic controller, waving in only those that meet my strict security clearance, and the list of those who qualify seems to be ever-shrinking. It’s my own personal version of "emotional transit management". On some days you’re more likely to break the ranks of the CIA then to crack my internal code. This is a rather stark contrast to my general overall demeanor. I typically come off as rather warm and unassuming and for the most part rather confident. I tend to gush over babies and cry at the weddings of total strangers. But on certain levels I have become fairly adept at keeping folks at bay emotionally when I want to. The strange fact, is that on the rare occasion when I have been courageous enough to allow someone I have grown to trust to see every aspect of myself, even the parts I find the most deplorable, I have been met with a surprising amount of understanding and acceptance. You would think that positive experiences such as these would encourage me to relax some of the strict borders and emotional boundaries I have placed upon myself. But strangely I find that as the years roll by I tend to only add more emotional camouflage.

The more relationships I develop in this life, the more I realize this behavior is actually rather common. But the question is WHY? At what point did we come to define being loveable as meaning we must be a person that never behaves in such a way that would mean we would need make an apology? Where did we get the concept that we are only worthy of love when we behave as though we aren’t flawed?

The fabric of human nature is by definition riddle with imperfection. We are all aware that perfect people don’t exist so why do we waste our time trying to pretend we are one? It’s the intellectual equivalent of pretending the world is flat. You'd have a better chance of convincing the population that you are a unicorn or a descendent of Big Foot. Why waste so much energy marketing that which people aren’t buying in the first place? Its just simple economics, folks.
Some people claim love is a choice.....while others would tell you it’s a sacrifice or the ultimate act of service. And while at times it may be all of those things, it is first and foremost a GIFT......if it is performance driven or something you must work tirelessly to retain, people, that isn’t love.....that's called a JOB.

Love of the most profound kind is forged and fixed by the flaws. Certain bonds can only be formed by experiencing the less than ideal. It isn’t the blemishes themselves that do the binding, but rather the process of refining them that does. It’s like forging steel. It must be subjected to the intensity of heat in order to rid itself of the imperfections and become the most effective and malleable version of itself. If one chose to ignore the impurities within and casually construct something without purifying it first the product would simply be inferior. While it might have the desired appearance it likely wouldn’t have the strength to stand the test of time.
When we choose to keep parts of ourselves hidden from those we care about and who care about us, it’s really ourselves to whom we do the greatest damage. We obstruct from our lives one of the greatest of all human experiences......and in my humble opinion the kind of intimacy that makes being alive worthwhile....and that is being loved for no other reason than because you are YOU.....not in spite of yourself, but rather BECAUSE of it......mouth breather tendencies and all.

The beauty of the fallibility of human nature is the fact that it gives birth to uniqueness. If we were all cut from the same cloth of perfection, there would be no individualism. The truth is, it’s often that which we find the most odd or unlovable about ourselves that can with the right person be the very things that endear us to them the most.....and love like that is authentic as it gets.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fear Factor

Surprisingly, my favorite part of Halloween ISNT the candy. Shocking I know, considering that I have a sweet tooth so mighty that I can and sometimes do ingest levels of sugar that would induce a diabetic coma or at the very least bring most average folks to their knees. No, what I really enjoy about this day is the kiddos. I practically get high from all the adorableness spilling out of the schools and roaming the streets. Those sweet little faces, eyes wide with wonder as candy seems to suddenly be EVERYWHERE and theirs for the taking. And the costumes......could they BE ANY MORE PRECIOUS? I saw a little fella this morning, marching up the sidewalk to school wearing a Superman get-up complete with cape and built-in biceps. His scrawny little 7 year old frame suddenly sporting pecs and a six-pack. More muscles that Mr. T. yet he was still struggling with the weight of his 5lb backpack. It made me chuckle for a solid three minutes.

In years gone by, I once lived in the historic section of my hometown, where annually they shut down the block for the little ones to run rampant thru the streets collecting goodies. I would sit on my front porch for hours as the parade of munchkins toddled by filling their buckets. You couldn’t buy a ticket to a cuter show. Since living in Atlanta, I haven’t really resided in an area conducive to many tricker-treaters and I have greatly missed it. So, yesterday when one of my favorite little fellas on earth walked in the door rockin it Storm Trooper style, I nearly melted down with excitement. I’ve written about him before as he is often times a surprising little well-spring of inspiration (see http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.ListAll&friendID=30156294 "Batman Befriends" ) This little man's wardrobe is far from ordinary on ANY given day......I routinely see him sporting more than one superhero ensemble at a time. I doubt ive ever met a bigger fan of make-believe. He gives me a sticky kiss and I notice the roll of half-melted Smarties coating his palm. It seems he has started the all out sugar spree early. His Pop shrugs as if to say, "Why not, you’re only young once". He grins at me and sticks his candy-coated tongue thru the gap remaining where his front teeth once were and I get the urge to just squeeze his sweet little cheeks.

He's been in my exam room with Pop on more than just a few occasions, and for someone so young shows a great deal of curiosity in the experience. Instead of flinching when I instruct Pop to lie back so I can draw some blood, he inches closer so he can watch. I see his sweet little brown eyes darting around catching everything I am doing. He pretends the tourniquet is a giant python squeezing Pop’s corded arm. "Oh No!" I shout in mock horror, "the python is getting Pop!" He giggles and says, "Don’t worry, Ms Melissa, pythons aren’t scary." "They aren’t?" I question. "They don’t have the poisons" he informs me matter-of-factly. "And their teeth are VERY tiny" he explains, demonstrating their smallness with his sticky little thumb and fore finger. I sink the needle into Pop's waiting vessel and the blood washes back into the tub resting in my palm. Little man is now pretending my needle is a Vampire's tooth and its lunch time. He is making slurping noses with his tongue and missing teeth. "Hurry, we have to save Pop from the scary Vampire!" I yell. "Ms Melissa, vampires aren’t scary either" he grins. "You just have to wear onions around your neck and that makes them melt".

"Well, if pythons aren’t scary and vampires aren’t scary, just what is?" I grin.

He wrinkles his freckled forehead in deep thought for a few moments. I begin firing off a list of possibilities. "Spiders? Zombies? Ghosts? The dark?"....on and on I went and as I did his giggles increased. Each and every time he offered an imaginative yet concise and rational explanation as to why none of those things should make one fearful. Impressed, I informed him he might be the bravest little monkey I knew. "What things are YOU scared of, Ms Melissa?" he questioned. "Too many to number, little man, too many to number." He thinks about this for a moment and then makes me an offer. "Make a list of the scariest ones and then if you think real hard, I bet you can see how they aren’t really scary after all. Next time im back, if you still have any scary things on the list I will explain them to you, ok?" I smile, my eyes filling with tears at the glimpse into his pure, caring little heart. "You got a deal, big guy" I manage to say.

Later I could hear the echo of his question in my head "What are you afraid of Ms Melissa?" and silently I began to list them.
Fear of failure.
Fear of losing those I love.

I started to think about failure..... and the interesting concept that it truly is......much like beauty, I suppose it’s truly in the eye of the beholder. I remember reading once, not too long ago actually, something about Mother Theresa that not only shocked but inspired me. On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the "Saint of the Gutters," went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. "It is not enough for us to say, 'I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'" she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had "made himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one." Jesus' hunger, she said, is what "you and I must find" and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world "that radiating joy is real" because Christ is everywhere — "Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive." Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "But as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves in prayer but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have a free hand." The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared. That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were there, you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'" But her priest saw things differently and he produced the book of her letters to him as proof of the faith-filled perseverance that he sees as her MOST spiritually heroic act. He called it a new ministry for Mother Teresa,.....a written ministry of her interior life and says, it may be remembered as just as important as her ministry to the poor. It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. And you know who that is? Everybody. Atheists, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone. What she thought of as her greatest failure, humanized her and may actually reach more people than all the works of service she humbly did in the name of her God.
My mind then wandered to a little fella known as Dom Pierre Pe'rignon. Most know he is credited for the invention of champagne, but it was NOT the 17th century Benedictine monk’s intention to make a wine with bubbles in it – in fact, he had spent years trying to prevent just that, as bubbly wine was considered a sure sign of poor winemaking.Pérignon’s original wish was to cater for the French court’s preference for white wine. Since black grapes were easier to grow in the Champagne region, he invented a way of pressing white juice from them. But since Champagne’s climate was relatively cold, the wine had to be fermented over two seasons, spending the second year in the bottle. This produced a wine loaded with bubbles of carbon dioxide, which Pérignon tried but failed to eradicate. Happily, the new wine was a big hit with the aristocratic crowds in both the French and English courts. His greatest "failure" is now synonymous with the best of the best in champagne around the globe.

And what of the fear of losing those we love..... In truth, love isnt tangible. Its not solid or liquid nor does it breathe. It’s absolutely nothing and completely part of everything all at once. If we can’t master, control or contain it in the first place how can we fear losing it?

These thoughts began to tumble around in my heart like stray wayward change that has managed to find its way from forgotten pockets into the revolving cycle of the clothes dryer.....a repetitive tinkling of sorts that after a while seemed almost like a melody. What if little man was right after all? What if the things we tend to fear the most are like the ghosts and goblins that line our streets and porches during this Halloween season......and when we shine the bright light of Truth on them we discover they are nothing more than hollowed out pumpkins and old white bed sheets lit from within......and nothing really to be feared after all.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mama Mia

To My Mother Upon the Occassion of Her Upcoming 60th Birthday.....

My Mama.........makes the BEST fried chicken in the universe. Absolutely. No question. End of story. And incidentally she somehow manages to burn herself EVERY single time.

...........responds to every request posed to her with the same phrase, "I'll do it for a quarter". "Hey Mama, will you sew this button on for me?" "Yep, for a quarter!" "Hey Betty, can you give me a ride to the airport?" "Sure thing....for a quarter!" I would go as far as to say if the president of the United States called upon her to perform some top secret duty saying, "Mrs. Holmes, your assistance is needed at the Pentagon. Could you fly to Washington immediately for a briefing?" Betty Jo would look directly at him and say, "For a quarter."

...........can make anything grow, anywhere, in any soil. Its likely the reason one of my favorite smells on earth is freshly cut grass and i can not help but think of her anytime i see ANYTHING in bloom.

.......is an annointed shopper. The woman can smell a bargain upwind and three states away. Forget coupons. If you wanna save money, shop with Betty Jo.

........is a GIVER. You wont come to visit her without being fed and you wont leave empty handed. If you even hint that you like something decorating her home she will take it directly off the wall and give it to you. Like that plant? Before you know it, she has dug the sucker up and stuck it in a bucket in your back seat. She delights in sharing with others more than anyone i have ever known.

.....she is warm and kind and quick to laugh. There is, without doubt, NO ONE else like her.


Though Im well aware that you had a life well before I came on the scene, its often hard for me to grasp this completely. While you have only worn the label "Mama" for only HALF of YOUR existence, you've worn it for ALL of MINE. I sometimes look at old photographs of you that look astonishingly like my own reflection in the mirror and i wonder what you were like then. What were your big dreams? What plans did you have for your life and did they turn out at all like you expected? While i may never know the secrets of your heart back then, what i do know for certain, is you were born to be a mother....more importantly, you were born to be mine.

They say that it takes 6 weeks for you to return to normal after having a baby, but i would wager that from the moment you give birth, "normal" pretty much goes right out the window. I imagine raising a child as precocious as myself was often far more difficult than you let on. I remember clearly the day that i decided it was high time i grew up and became sophisticated. I marched up to you and said "Mama, if you will stop calling me Missy and refer to me as Melissa, I will call you Mother instead of Mama". I was 7 and this seemed like a pretty good bargain to me. I will never forget how much that made you laugh. This was merely the begining of signs i was one independent and head strong little bugger. And knowing you as i now do, Im certain this was often hard on you. I know very few 3rd graders that rise from bed to the sound of their own personal alarm clock, but you bought me one and let me do just that because that's what i wanted. This independent streak often meant i would become hellbent on blazing a trail all my own and would come to learn many of Life's lessons the hard way.....sometimes with great suffering. But the thing is...the suffering....well, THAT part i never did alone.....because YOU were there....and i didnt even have to give you a quarter.

Anyone who has ever thought that motherhood was boring has never ridden in a vehicle operated by a teenager with a learner's permit. Im fairly certain that was actually the first time i ever heard you swear. I can still see your face in the window the day i got my liscense and Kent and I sped off down the driveway totally alone for the first time. Ive seen that same look several times since......the day i started college.....the day i moved in to my very first apartment......the day I moved to Atlanta. Anyone who thinks that labor and delivery is the hardest part of bringing a child into the world has never had to watch them walk in to school all by themselves for the first time. Its not the all nighters when i was sick or the eternal helping with the homework or even the teenage agnst and attitude that were the hard parts for you.....its been the letting go. But here is the funny thing, Mama. Its kinda like in junior high when I would say "Brian and I are GOING TOGETHER" and you and dad would laugh and say "Just where are you going, you cant drive!" ......i wasnt really GOING anywhere then.....and i havent GONE anywhere now. And i never will....but thanks for being brave enough to let me cutt the strings.

I know you are going to find this hard to believe.....but I am in fact, NOT perfect. And I am slowly begining to see that after 3 complete decades on the planet, I am still a very long way from acheiving any such state. Put it this way, if the Buhdists have it right and reincarnation is the real deal, i'll be coming back as a free range chicken. HINDsight may indeed be 20/20, but i often feel as though i move FORWARD in step with the legally blind.Many a night, I crawl beneath the covers in wonderment that i survived another day and seriously believing i couldnt make more of a mess of my life if i made it my full time job. But im able to brave morning because I know you are in my corner. Even when i make decisions you diagree with or disapprove of, I know you love me. You've supported me even when I do downright crazy things like consider chucking 10 years of medical training to pursue the notion that the soul of a writer lives within me.

Thank you for being my greatest of fans. Thank you for seeing me thru the darkest of moments. Thank you for the nights i know you stood in the gap just for me.

It is my sincere hope that this birthday is just the begining of a whole new chapter in your life.....the best chapter yet. May it see adventures beyond your wildest imaginations and moments that take your breath away completely. May it be filled with all the love your heart can hold and then some.

I love you with all my heart and gizzard.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Loose Change

I’ve spent some time as of late pouring over a book written about Sir Charles Darwin and his theories on evolution. If you’re of the mind that such research is hazardous to my health as a Creationist you couldn’t be more incorrect. God Himself endowed me with this inquisitive mind and isn’t the least bit frightened by my need to explore all possible conclusions and explanations concerning the why's and how's of which I came to be. I don’t believe in the one true God as the author and finisher of my existence simply because I've ingested the contents of Genesis countless times, and conversely won’t be convinced my ancestors crawled from some primordial soup simply by reading the works of the world's most renowned theorist on the opposing view. My beliefs, like everyone else’s, are deeply rooted in faith. For whether you choose to believe it or not, it’s a matter of such either way. Empirical, undeniable proof for either side of the argument doesn’t exist. Either God is or He isn’t....you simply have Faith in one or the other.

But my diatribe today isn’t concerning such weighty matters as the existence of God or the Big Bang Theory. Frankly, I'm too weak for such a discussion from eating like a citizen of a third world nation for 6 weeks all in an effort to slide into a bridesmaids dress. I was simply struck by something Darwin said from an angle of new perspective.

It was 5 am....I had returned to my hotel room, removed my party dress and a thousand bobby pins from my hair .....everyone had at long last settled down and I was alone in the quiet. My little brother had just gotten married. I let my mind drift back over the events and memorable moments of the day and this quote floated in from the recesses of my memory where I was unaware I had even tucked it away: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

I have to tell you folks, ole Charlie got THAT one right. And nowhere is this theory more evidently true than in the arena of human relationships.....for here, evolution is inevitable.....without it, things simply cease. I thought of my brother and the new chapter he'd just written into his own existence and realized that even while I hadn’t been looking I had seen him evolve from a young boy full of mischief and wonder into a strong intelligent man of integrity and further still into a capable and willing husband. I thought of Amanda, his new bride, and how in a matter of months she'd evolved from a stranger to a friend and now into a sister.

Every relationship in my life has encountered Change.....chased by the emotional predators of Life we are forced into rabbit holes, underbrush and landscapes completely unfamiliar with anything we have ever experienced. We either grow the thick skin and sharp teeth necessary to reinvent all that we were into something even grander or we never learn to breathe under water. Parents begin as providers evolve into mentors and eventually into dependents of those once dependent on them. Friends become lovers that sometimes melt back to friends. Love is fluid and will follow and fill no matter what shape the container becomes. If we only had the insight to realize that as we become flexible in the winds of change, we bend our lives back over one another’s in new and intricate ways creating bonds infinitely stronger.

I lie there in the dark thinking of all the ways in which I feel my life shifting in new directions. I once saw Change as some to be leery of.....to approach with caution and apprehension. I pray now for the grace to see if for what it is, a chance to evolve into an even greater version of my truest self....a me that will not only survive, but one that will flourish.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Economics of Love and Chocolate

I have a friend who has the most curious habit of speaking as though every conversation he produces is a screenplay. He is so full of detail, he even changes his voice a bit when indicating a different "speaker"....something im pretty sure he isn’t even aware he is doing. Throw in a soliloquy, an aside and a monologue or two and we're bordering on Shakespeare here, people. He is an unending source of fascinating musings some of which would look damn good cross-stitched on a pillow. I enjoy simply watching him speak. I love the way his eyes crinkle as the tension in the story builds or how his hands seem to be in constant motion. It’s like watching a dancer move across the floor.....im transfixed by the swirling motion of it all......sometimes so much so that his words might instantly filter into my mind, yet take more than a moment to actually register. He is a writer and his love of language is apparent even in his movement.....a living-breathing-speaking work of art.

This particular evening I am exhausted to the point of near crazy. I can see the weariness of the day tugging at the corners of his eyes as well. We are seated on the patio of my favorite local restaurants, and the night smells of the rapid approach of Fall. The air swirling against my bare legs beneath my dress gives me a light chill, but it’s a delicious contrast to the warmth sliding into my belly from the glass of wine in my hand. It had been a difficult day....you know, the kind where you get the itch to sell most of what you own, shove the rest in a locker at the train station and hop the next ride out of the country. Ok, so maybe you don’t know. But, personally, I have those days every so often. I’m not sure what makes me think I will somehow become spontaneously brilliant and less of a mess if I simply make a drastic change in location, but I think it nonetheless. He tells me this insanely funny anecdote about one of his students that while trying to entertain his peers with a rather immature and brain damaged stunt managed to lose control of his bodily functions and shit his britches. The vibrations of laughter thru my chest begin to loosen the tension wound tightly inside and for the first time all day I take a deep breath.
He begins another story pertaining to one of his students and I am content to sit and allow his voice to wash over me. If I focus solely on him, I can momentarily silence all the other worries in my head and just BE. I notice one small curl of dark hair that seems intent on falling down across his forehead and I grin remembering how distressed he'd been when just a few short weeks ago a Nazi hair stylist went all Edward Scissorhands on his noggin and left him looking like a chemo patient. Suddenly he shifts gears. Drastically. I’ve grown accustomed to this and now it feels natural, but the first few conversations of this kind felt like driving 180 mph down a straight stretch of road with your foot on the floor and having someone suddenly jerk the wheel hard to the left.

"That's the thing about love " he says, "Do you know how to tell if it’s authentic?"

I’m always amazed at his ability to round mental corners at the speed of light. He's practically the only person I know that can go from a discussion on the literary nuances of Moby Dick to a full blown explanation on the inner workings of the greatest of all human emotions all without getting dizzy.

"No, enlighten me, wont you" I mutter.

"It’s Free," he says.


"Absolutely. Without question. I may not have a lock on the truth, but THIS I know."

"Care to elaborate, your Holiness?" I quip.

"It’s simple. Real love doesn’t ask for anything in return. It’s simply given away for free. It doesn’t expect a reciprocating gesture or even acknowledgment. It doesn’t coerce or attempt to impress. It doesn’t say well if only you hadn’t failed me in this way or if only you had been better then you would be worthy of me. Nope. It doesn’t care about the flaws."

"Interesting little interpretation you have there. Sounds similar to this passage in a little book called THE BIBLE." I say, my voice dripping with sarcasm. "This isnt exactly late breaking news, Sugar."

"Perhaps. But it’s clear that though you've heard this before you don’t GET IT. Because if you did, you would recognize it when you see it.....or rather, recognize what ISNT Love but claims to be. It irritates me because you are bright. You should get this. I’m confused as to why you are wasting time. But, you’re not alone. I meet very few folks that do."

I raise my brows and look at him in a squint. I’m torn between fascination and irritation because I don’t particularly like to be analyzed. He grins because he has seen this look before. Often. Suddenly my eyes fill with tears and brim over. Oddly, he is one of the few men I’ve encountered that isn’t the least bit awkward with crying women and he simply leans over and pats my arm.

"I’m sorry; I don’t know where that came from. Ok, that’s a lie. I do know, but I don’t want to talk about it." I mutter.

"So, how do you feel about New York City in the Fall?" he grins. And just like that he's on to something new as though the last 10 minutes hadn’t happened.

I crawl into bed that night thinking about that exchange. Why do we as humans find it so hard to wrap our minds around the concept of love without conditions? Why do we have such difficulty recognizing what real love looks like? I mean, I learned early on how to identify CHOCOLATE. Smash it flat into a bar and wrap it in tinfoil.....hallow it out and mold it into the shape of a bunny......or liquefy it and hide it in the middle of a sponge-filled cake and I can STILL identify it. The shape doesn’t matter.....the source doesn’t matter.......the amount doesn’t matter. I know INSTANTLY - Yep, this is chocolate, people. I can smell that margarine-infused, hydrogenated, fake coco-flavored candy shit from a mile away.....I am NOT fooled. One look at that shiny waxy mess and I know it’s not the real deal. Oh, it looks the same, but because I KNOW chocolate, I’m not fooled, Mr. Hershey.....even when its closetoalmostnearly-madewithSplenda-stampedwiththelogo-butstillnotchocolate.....I KNOW. And here is the kicker, I don’t settle for it either. Hmmmm......and that's just CHOCOLATE.

Ok Ok....so chocolate is tangible.....but let's face it, it’s also often times almost a transcendental experience just the same. Am I right, ladies???? But if I am as educated about and as picky over simply my choice of sugar infused indulgences, it does seem a little weak that im not better at identifying other things in my life as authentic and worth the investment......

Isn’t it just a kick in the pants that Love-the most PRICELESS of all commodities- is actually only of real VALUE when it is FREE.......and the second you put a price on it, it becomes worthless.