Broken

We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in — Ernest Hemingway

Lately, my crazy train has been making a lot of stops and picking up a lot of passengers.  It’s easy to forget that I can get off this train.

I press my face to the glass next to my seat and look out across the rolling plains.  Close to the train, everything moves too fast.  Fixing my eyes on the distance is the only way to travel.  Or is it?  I need some air.

Getting to the door at the back of the car isn’t easy.  There are too many people in the aisle.  As the train lurches and sways, I struggle to get my balance.  There are too many distractions.  Most of the people in the aisle are talking loudly.  They make demands I have no interest or desire in fulfilling.

“Where do you think you’re going?” they say with a sneer.

“You think you’re too good for this train!  We’ve got news for you, you aren’t.  Sit down and be quiet.  No one cares that you want off.  Get used to it.  This is life.  Toughen up.  Did you expect a free and easy ride?  We all have it tough.  You think you’re special.  You’re no better than any of us.”

I choke back tears and return to my seat.

The voices in my head wonder,  “Maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s wrong to want to get off.”

As I press my face to the smudged glass next to my seat, I see my reflection.  The burden of clarity creates a tight hard spot in my chest.  I’m free not to ride this train.  Letting other’s words and opinions confine me is wrong.  Accepting the limits they impose on me is wrong.  Internalizing their disrespect has been devastating.

This train isn’t going anywhere I want to go.  It’s full of meanness, of small mindedness and opinions that do not build or inspire but hurt and tear down.  When I ride this train, it’s very hard not to become like the rest of the passengers.  And, I have.

I have neglected what is good and holy.  I’ve listened to the wrong voices and forgot that like me, they are broken and struggling against something they don’t really understand.  We have lost our way on a hair-raising and chaotic ride to the end of the tracks.  We’ve forgotten that in the end, the end will come to us where ever we are.

I want the end to find me happy.  I want the end to find me mending my broken pieces while I mend others.

I stand on the edge of the stairs at the last car and practice my jump in my mind.  In the distance, the hills call my name.  I jump.  I roll.  I live.  The train vanishes around a bend.  A new chapter begins.

It’s Called Cheating

When you don’t know the answers to the test questions and you ask the person next to you, that’s cheating.

When you copy the answer off the people sitting next to you, that’s cheating.

When you text a classmate and ask them the answer that’s called cheating.

When I tell you it’s not ok to copy or get the answers from another and you tell me that you didn’t do that, that’s lying and cheating.

In todays, public high school classroom, cheating is very common.  Many teachers have learned not to see it because not seeing it makes their lives easier.  They don’t have to make a phone call or explain to a parent why a test grade is a “0” and have the parent insist their child doesn’t cheat.   We humans all believe what we want to believe for good reason or at least we think it’s a good reason.  Protecting one’s job, keeping one’s sanity, are good reasons to avoid acknowledging what is happening around us.

I wish I didn’t see so many students resorting to old-fashioned cheating sometimes with new technology, but I’m a witness.  Children often cheat.  People cheat.  Lying about it or not seeing it doesn’t change what it is.

After a day of witnessing rampant cheating, I confront my son and ask him,

“Have you cheated on a test?”

He hesitates.  I prepare for the answer I know will follow.  I know he is going to say, “yes.”

He knows I am full of righteousness and he knows better than to lie.  “I did last year, all the time. . .”

The pause and the silence tell me that if he cheats this year, he is not eager to admit it.  I know it’s possible.

I tell him,   “If you don’t know the answers and get an “F”, that is an honest “F”.  It’s the grade I prefer.  Cheating is wrong.  I don’t want you to do it.  You are cheating yourself when you resort to that method of getting by.  It doesn’t feel good.  It’s a temporary fix for ignorance.  It’s a cheap fix.  Do your own work.  Rely on yourself.  It’s ok not to know everything.  It’s never ok to cheat.

I remind myself that at least he didn’t attempt to deny it or toss out a bald-faced lie.

Boldly announcing this to the world may not set well with everyone.  I’m ok with that.  I’m actually a little peeved that cheating is so common and there are so few consequences.  What are we really teaching our children?

Enemy Within

After making a committment to write more, I found a lot of ways to avoid doing so.  This morning, everyone is still asleep, the house is quiet and my time is my own.  Instead of sitting down at the computer with a nice hot cup of coffee and a head full of ideas, I putter.  I move the clutter from point A to point B.  I start a load of laundry.  I put last night’s clean dishes away.  I think about the menu for next week.

I am keenly aware of the fact that I am my own worst enemy.  How other people get in their own way is often painfully obvious to me but being able to clearly see that I’m getting in my own way has been more of a challenge, until recently.  A smarter me has been working overtime.   The enemy within has made herself known.  Instead of fighting her, I wish her well as a smarter me takes over.  Smarter me knows that:

Everything begins and ends in our thoughts and perceptions.

For example:  Near morning, I awake and think it’s Friday.

My mind says, “I’ve got a weekend to look forward to.”

Then, I realize that it’s Sunday morning.

Moaning inside my head, the feeling changes.  “Darn it, half the weekend is gone!”

Fortunately, the newer, smarter me says, “Wait just a minute, young lady.  (Smart me knows how to talk to not-as-smart me.)  You have this day, this wonderful, beautiful day.  It is pure gift.  You never know what you’re going to find in it but whatever it is, you can handle it.  Get up, you have things to do, people to meet, a world to appreciate and you have gifts to give, things to share that are uniquely yours.  Today is a great day.  You, smart you, and God, we’ve all got this.  You’re going to be just fine.   It’s going to be a great day.”

And, so it is.  The enemy within and I are learning how to become friends.  It is a beautiful day.

The Write Way

After years of denial and avoidance, I finally have to admit to myself that I am a writer.  All the rest of the things I am, some of them good and some not so good are secondary to this.  Words arch and loop in my head in graceful swirls or jolt across the screen of my mind as frightening shapes casting cold shadows.  Being a writer is part of who I am.  It is how I’m wired.

It doesn’t matter if I ever publish or earn a dime.  I’m still a writer.

It’s time to act like one.

So, to this end,  I will write more.

I will make time to write.

I will take a writing class.

I will seek out others like myself.

I will post more entries on my blog. (They will be shorter and hopefully sweeter.)

I will get out of my own way.  I will write.

Everything has been too hard because I was afraid to be myself.  It’s time to do things differently.  It’s time to write myself home.

Happy Birthday, My Sweet Constellation

Today, my daughter is 17.  People told me that the time would fly by.  It has.

She was a beautiful, yet colicky baby.  The first 3 months were the hardest.  On my refrigerator I taped a big calendar.  Each morning I would cross off the previous day with a giant ‘X’.   As an exhausted new mom, surviving each day was one of my chief objectives but even then I felt a tinge of regret that I wasn’t totally embracing the joy that was now part of my life.

As I remember those days, I can smell that fresh new baby smell.  I can feel the soft, gentle, warmth of her tiny little body all swaddled in the perfect bundle that I held in my arms.

This tiny person changed everything.  She challenged.  She pushed.  She made me cry with frustration and worry.  She broke me time and time again in those first few months.  She taught me about love.  She made me a mom and she opened the door for her brother who followed 25 months later.  If I could, I’d give birth to them all over again.

I remember watching my toddler daughter at mom’s group.  As the other children competed for toys, or food, or a companion, my daughter was an observer.  Her face a zen-like mask of concentration, she would wait until just the right moment and move in to gain whatever had been the hotly contested prize just moments before.  She still approaches life that way.  I am so grateful.

Then, there was the first day of kindergarten.  As the other children cried or ran around the classroom, our daughter looked around the room, read the names on all the desks until she found her own.  (She learned to read at 4 without any assistance from us.)  She sat down, her back straight, her hands clasped on top of the desk.  Her face was eager for instructions.    My husband ushered me out of the room so I could indulge in a few tears.  She was ready.  There, in that morass of chaos and tears, my constellation, the center of my universe, sat calm, cool and collected.  I was so proud of her.  I am so proud of her.

At 17, she is the person I hope to be when I grow up.  She is one of the nicest people I have ever known.  She is patient and kind.  She is naturally positive and accepting.  She is a delight, my shopping buddy, my sweet honey bunny.

Guess, how much I love her!

I love her to the moon and back.

Happy Birthday, my sweet constellation.  You were and you are the best daughter I could ever have.  You bless me with your life and your love.  I am forever grateful for the wonderful gift you gave me on your birthday,  YOU!

 

The Gatherer

For years, I have operated under the delusion that my husband is the pack rat of this pairing.  Apparently, my capacity for denial is extremely well developed.  This past week, we have made 6 trips to donate “stuff”.  We’ve only begun to de-clutter.  I am the source of the acquisition of most of this “stuff.”  I am an amazing gatherer.

All this stuff has been making me a bit crazy.  The clutter tugs at my mind with confusion.  What to focus on?  What is important?   What to keep?  What to give away?  These are important questions that have often been lost in the”stuff” that floats around me like a Sargasso Sea.  I am the center of this stagnant spot.  With admission, comes a wee bit of shame, but mostly relief.  When I begin to see clearly, I will make better choices.  Delusion:  it’s time for you to go.

While I am an amazing gatherer and I’ve learned how to gather on a dime and make a profit on this flotsam, it’s not helping me any more.  It became an insulation against the world.  Building a fortress of others’ cast offs has been a simple way of protecting myself.  This stuff insulated me from feelings of loss, disparity, injustice, rejection, poverty.  It’s time to look this stuff in the eye and see it for what it is.  It’s looking back at me and helping me see that feelings of loss, disparity, injustice. . . are not ends in themselves, they are steps along the path.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  By giving things away, I’m clearing what has blocked the light.

“Light!  I’m so happy to see you.”

“I thought I’d find you by holding on.  I was wrong.  It’s all about letting go.”

Sanity is Over Rated

I am forgetful.  I am not as patient as I once was.  The other day, I screamed at a driver to get off her cell phone.  Fortunately, she didn’t see me.  I was shocked and ashamed of myself.  I wanted to pull over and cry.  I’ve had a few people call me nuts.  Ouch.  What happened to tact?  Wait, I don’t have a lot of that either.  Maybe I am a bit nuts.

Recently, I read about the prefrontal cortex (part of the brain).  It’s got an amazing job.  It regulates decision making.  It’s the seat of abstract thought.  It allows people to plan ahead and make strategies.  It controls emotions. It makes good judgments. . . all when working well, of course.  The prefrontal cortex is slow to develop and given as one of the chief reasons why smart teens may make such poor decisions.  It has limits.  In my case, it’s been overloaded trying to cope with the day-to-day that is my life.  My prefrontal cortex is having a bit of a crisis.

On top of circumstances beyond my control, I’ve got a decrease in estrogen.  Researchers used to believe that it affected the menopausal woman’s hippocampus.  Now they find:

“The prefrontal cortex is critical for intact working memory and estrogen enhances performance on working memory tasks. In conclusion, this study provides preliminary evidence for executive dysfunction in untreated menopausal women as women with HRT outperformed women without HRT on tests requiring directed attention, inhibition of inappropriate responses, and cognitive set switching.”  [Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11403979]

Which in lay person’s terms means, I am so screwed.

I didn’t plan on this.  “Lord, what are you thinking?”

“Lord, this is about faith, surrender, acceptance, isn’t it?”  The answer is a peaceful silence.

My God’s not much of a talker but then again, getting a word in edgewise with me, is no easy feat.   So, I try listening.  The clocks ticks off the seconds. I hear the soft rise and fall of my family’s voices as they enjoy a cooking show.  I can’t hear their words but the tone is sweet.  Soon their talk turns to the worm in Mescal.  Funny how quickly their voices rise.  I hear “Uuuuuuh,” then laughter.

Again, the ticking of the clock forces its way to the center of my awareness.  “Lord, are you telling me to heed the passage of time?” In between ticks, I realize that even in these challenging times, my life can be full and sweet.  Blessings are as abundant as sorrows.  One highlights and illuminates the other and I see with fresh eyes, not confined by logic or reason.   Mine is an exquisite kind of crazy.  I’m one lucky woman.  Sanity, is highly overrated.  I’m sure of it.

A Great and Terrible Adventure

On the way home from school, my son expresses his struggle dealing with our present reality.  I give a 2-minute inspirational talk which to him must have sounded like so much blah, blah, blahdy blah blah.  The same kind of things dogs and cats hear as we pour out our souls to them.  They are such great listeners.  Given that pets understand words like food, sit, roll-over, fetch, walk, those deep talks we sometimes have with them wash over them like a breeze.  They are great listeners because of their dependence on us not because they understand the words but because they understand our hearts.

I hope my son understood mine.  I gave it my best shot at motivational eloquence.

“How was your day?” I ask my son as we walk to the car.

“Ah,  it was boring,” he says with a voice loaded with dramatic sadness.

“What’s bothering you?”  I say, because I know there is more on his mind.

“Ah, what’s happening at home. . . (pause.) . .with the house.  I’m tired of being poor.” he says with a voice that almost drips tears.

Mentally, I start spraying the sadness repellant and reply.

“I know it’s tough but it doesn’t have to ruin our lives,” I say.

I can tell by his posture he isn’t convinced.  We navigate the parking lot and make our way home.  I feel that I must try again to pull him out of his funk.

“It’s not going to be fun to seriously downsize.  I can’t tell you exactly what will happen and when.  We can chose to be broken by this and become bitter and angry at the world or we can try to see this as an opportunity.  I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s going to be easy.  We need to start thinking of this as a new beginning.  We need to let this carve out compassion in our hearts so that we can really know and feel for others.  We can let this destroy us or we can become stronger and we can use our experience for something good and much bigger than ourselves.  Think of this as a great and terrible adventure. “

I look over at him.  Even his hair is sad.  He wipes a few tears from his eyes.  I need to let him have his sadness.   There are things I can’t fix.  I have to let it be.

My words are so much blah, blah, blah.  For a brief moment, I feel the power in them.  Life is a great and terrible adventure and so are many moments and chapters.  I have to let them be.

Hardship Letter

I held my daughter as she cried.  My husband and I have been discussing short sale with a real estate agent while she’s been listening in the next room.  She doesn’t want to lose the only house she’s known but neither of us can spare her the grief.  It is the only option left.  It will  provide closure.  It is the dignified way.  Going down with the ship is important when all you have left is personal dignity.

I have the task of writing a hardship letter to the bank, the great unfeeling, unethical, dishonest bank.  In the letter, I must describe what our lives were like before we stop paying our mortgage and explain what our lives are like now.  In the actual letter, I must use figures, dates.  This letter will be emotionally draining to write but it must be done.  I’ve done this multiple times in the last few years.

This last few weeks, my prefrontal cortex has been so busy trying to control my frustration, my grief, my anger that it’s starting to fail.  My emotional reserves are being maxed yet life and circumstances pile on more demands.  I struggle.  I fight back tears.  I rage.  I know why.

I am sharing what I’m about to write publicly, because I’m tired of feeling ashamed.  Both my husband and I have been blamed for our situation by people, many of them relatives,  who chose to find fault with us and our choices.  They choose to be angry with us.  They distance themselves from our lives as if what we have is contagious.  They don’t call to see how we’re doing.  They don’t offer emotional support.  We are the enemy.  In their minds it’s evidence of our character flaws.  In good times, they were near.  Why not now?

We never expected that after 18 years, my husband would be fired from his job, accused of falsifying time cards for a sum of approximately $100 dollars over a 2-year period.  We didn’t expect his union to tell him that the company’s got a “hatchet man” eliminating positions.  What idiot steals money so slowly?

“There isn’t anything we can do,” the Union Rep said.

What has happened to us can happen to most people.  The fast majority of people struggling with poverty are there not because of poor financial decisions but through job loss or a medical crisis that creates an insurmountable financial burden.  You can check my facts.  I have.  I’ve read about poverty in America.  It’s a topic that seems to make a lot of people uncomfortable.  Maybe they realize how easily it can happen to them and just don’t want to entertain the thought.

Once upon a time, we were comfortable.  Never well-off, we made do.  We had nice vacations.  We travelled.  We planned going to Europe together.  We could retire and be comfortable.  I was a stay -at-home mom, a good one.  I kept busy.  I was creative.  I networked with other moms.  I enjoyed being domestic.  Suddenly, I had to go back to work.  Those years spent out of the work force were a liability.  My age worked against me in a tight job market.  My skills were questionable.  I was a college-educated English Major who had worked in my field, several times, something not many English majors could say.   Now, I was lucky to get an interview for entry-level positions.  I couldn’t get a call back for jobs cleaning toilets and I had experience. . . work experience besides years at home.

After almost two years in a cubicle with a 90-mile commute each day, I found work closer to home, with the school district because things were starting to unravel at home.  I’d make the same choice today.  I’m still criticized from a distance by people who have never walked in my shoes, who don’t know my heart, who have learned to practice a profound indifference.  The status symbols of the American Dream and the desire to associate themselves with the images of success cut us out of their lives.

My husband has sent our more resumes, followed more leads, visited more companies, than any one should ever have to in the quest for a job so that he has a chance to provide for his family.    Some would have me give up on him now.  As much as I’d love to run from all this and from the problems that lack of work, isolation,criticism and indifference have created in his soul, that would not be the honorable or the right thing to do.  He’s made a valiant effort and if his spirit fails him, it is not without cause.

We’ve gone through harassing collection calls, bankruptcy, state assistance applications and reauthorizations that require oodles of daunting paperwork and proof of how poor we are.  I still hope that no one I know will see my using my Food Stamp card at the grocery store.    It’s how we eat.  We paid into the system those years were were working.  We understand how important such programs are and I have seen grown men cry in DSHS knowing that they can feed their children.  I’ve also seen those who abuse the system.   Life, assistance is more complicated than most people realize.  I never expected to sit in a room for hours waiting for my number to be called while I struggled with a deep sense of shame.

The feeling of failure is toxic.  I know first hand.  I’ve seen what it does to people.  I know how it stirs chaos in my mind and soul as I struggle to remember that I am a hard-working, decent human being who has fallen on hard times and I am doing what I can to get by.

As I prepare to write my hardship letter, I know that shame is counter productive.  As much as I want to believe that “something good will come of this” and “God has not abandoned us” there are many moments when I don’t feel this way.  I’m tired.  Everything feels like a struggle.  There isn’t enough of me to go around and there are never enough hours in day.  I look at my life, my job, my house and feel that I don’t belong in any of them.

We do not have a housing alternative.  I do not make enough to qualify for average rents in the area not to mention the lousy credit that would prevent our acceptance as tenants.  We’re a bad risk, a terrible risk.  As for agencies and churches,  the demands on them are overwhelming.  Phone calls end in dead ends.

Some times I feel sorry for myself.

Some times I feel angry.

Some times I feel sad.

I start to cry as my own daughter struggles with letting go.

I write this to educate, to inform, to put a human face on a problem, knowing that people have a commitment to their own views that is not easily shaken.  If one person sees the human underneath this, if one person is raised up just a little in knowing that bad things happen to good people not because they deserve them but because they just do.  Good can come of this.  I’m staking my life on it.

Don’t give up when things are difficult.  Know your value, your incredible worth even when others fail to see it.  You matter.  The world may feel hostile.  It is neither hostile or kind.  We shape our corner of it.  We can use what we have, who we are, to fight against the poverty of compassion.  We can be the light in the darkness.

Write Me Beautiful

My soul has been weary.  I dream about being someone else, having a new identity,  going into witness protection.  What I’ve been witnessing isn’t pretty.  I need protection.

Decisions should never be made when life is too heavy.  Such decisions arise out of panic, not reason.  A knee jerk reaction to life can end up kicking one’s own behind.  Staying calm in a world full of crazy is more than a challenge.   Last night, in my sleep, both knees and legs start dancing like fleas in a hot skillet.  Poor husband, who is awake staring at the cracks in the ceiling and pondering their significance, witnesses his wife appear to run while laying down.  Sleeping with me is never boring.

The timing of this activity is everything.

Just the other day, I was demonstrating to my husband what HIS jimmy leg is like.  When he is overly tired, he has a leg that jerks in a pattern that eludes my capture.  Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often.  If I’m not asleep when it starts, I have to move to the couch to get some shut eye.  Now in addition to hitting him in the head, sitting up and giving commands, raising my hand and talking about absolutely anything in my sleep, I can add running…sleep running.  I’m way ahead in this insane contest of who can be the most active bed partner.

My husband has my deep and sincere sympathy.  I’d have a hard time sleeping with me.

Notice how I went from soul weary to challenges with self-acceptance.  I’ve been miserable struggling with both and seeing little if any progress, until today.

Today, I had met 3 strangers who gave me messages of hope and one hug.   In those brief meetings, all excess fell away, all the struggle began to have a meaning, even if I can’t see it yet.  While I’ve felt like I’ve been sleep walking through a nightmare, I have been busy.  I have been making a positive difference in ways that I failed to understand.  And the world, that I often find so inadequate has been busy showing me the things that I need to see, even when I didn’t want to see them.

For days, I refrain from writing because, the words aren’t beautiful or inspiring.  They are heavy and full of whining.  I want to write more.  I want to give some thing beautiful, some thing precious and hopeful in my words and when I can’t I feel frustrated and empty inside.    At the same time, it is important to me to be REAL.  No sugar coated platitudes, or simple-minded denial for this gal.

As my evening begins I find these words on Pinterest:

“So build yourself as beautiful as you want your world to be. Wrap yourself in light and give yourself away with your heart, your brush, your march, your art, your poetry, your play. And for every day your paint the war, take a week and paint the beauty, the color, the shape of the landscape you’re marching towards.  Everyone knows what you’re against.  Show them what you are for.”   — Andrea Gibson, Evolution

God’s timing is perfect.  I’m going to write my world beautiful!    It’s time to remind myself what I’m for.

I am the person behind the words printed here. I write because my heart will not allow me the option of NOT writing. It has taken me half a life time to discover this basic truth, but now that I have, writing is as natural as breathing. This is where my breath takes the form of words.

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The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)
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