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.

Too Small?

My life is a size 8.  I’m a size 20.  Nothing fits.  Nothing.

For a moment, I try to wrap myself in a dream.  There on a great wooden ship with sails billowing in the wind,  I ride a wild ocean.  A tall, handsome, stranger with a white puffy shirt, hair dancing around his head like a lively halo, grasps me firmly about the waist. . . well, he tries to grasp me firmly.    He ends up settling for a spot of muffin top and gives up on the encircling embrace.   I get pushed overboard.  Wild oceans can be icy cold.  Shiver me timbers and my bones.

Let’s face it.  I could never stand those bodice ripper books any way.  Fabio does nothing for me.  I hate puffy shirts.

Back on solid land, I sigh.  Escape is temporary.  Kissing dry land is out of the question.  I try to set sail again only this time, in present day.  Heading for Canada, passport in hand, Gucci suitcases in the trunk of my baby-blue, two-seater, soft-top Mercedes convertible.  I’ve got contacts, Jackie O sunglasses and a Grace Kelly-style scarf wrapped around my head.   I look fabulous!  I drive into Canada, through Vancouver, north to a great lodge in the wilderness.  From the warmth of my room, I search the surrounding forest for the elusive spirit bear.  Traffic woes, the demands of too many e-mails, too many obligations, no time to breathe and just be, fade away as the great spirit bear slowly lumbers into view.  Through my telescope, he seems so close.  I watch the majestic beast in the heart of a vast wilderness and I know that as long as there are spirit bears in the world, I’m going to be ok.  My heart rate slows.  I leave my telescope and crawl under a warm quilt and sleep for centuries.

But only in my dreams.

In my size 8 life, the alarm rings.  I had set the radio for soft rock.  I get a rap that sounds like gorillas beating their chests as they rapidly descend on their prey.

Before hope dies and the gorillas have their way with me, I wonder,  “Is this Saturday?”

A quick review of the days recently survived, would indicate that I’ve only made it to Wednesday.

“Maybe I am sick today?

Am I sick today?”

“Not sick enough,” reason says.

“I hate you, Reason!  You responsible fool.”

I give myself 5 more minutes to close my eyes and enjoy the feeling of a my body, warm and relaxed.  This feeling is non-existent in my day.  I want to capture it and package it so I can pull it out and put it on any time I want.  I forget I’m a size 20 in a size 8 life.  It just doesn’t fit.

All day, the complaint department is open.  I don’t know if I’m manning the desk or if I’m seeking services.  Every one wants something.

There isn’t enough me, enough time, enough money to go around.  What’s happening?  How did I get here?

Did you check your e-mail?  Did you watch that cute video?  Did you wear your Valentine socks?  Didn’t they have ham lunchmeat on sale?  Where are all the healthy chips for my lunch?  Did you give him permission to do that?  Why is she getting an F?  Did you read the e-mail I sent about the meeting? Why not?  You’re going to have to find time to check it. Doesn’t he have any homework?  Who has dishes tonight?  What did you plan for dinner?  Why don’t you know?  If you don’t know, who does?

This is how a size 20 gets stuck with a size 8 life.

My crazy life has ended up with pirates and gorillas bouncing around in my head but precious little fun.  I put off writing for weeks, months because the demands on my time, on my sanity are constant and over whelming.  I’m not having fun.  I’m not sure I can even spell the word any more.

There are so many things building up inside me, things I can’t say, can’t write.  I’ve got to protect the innocent and if not the innocent, myself.   The words spin around my head like dazed captives held against their will in a dark and evil gulag.  They long for freedom.  I am their captor.

Tears of sadness, frustration, anger push against the inside of eyes.  I fight against them.  I need to maintain a calm exterior.  I can’t let the armor crack.  If I give in to tears, I don’t think I’ll stop.

Suddenly, I remember a plump, middle-aged woman who was a student in an American Lit class.  The prof has just gone through a nasty divorce and seemed to want to take it out on women, this women in particular.  Several times, during class, he reduced her to tears.  Embarrassed for her and ashamed of his cruelty but fearful of his wrath targeting any of us, we cowards, looked down at our notes and didn’t say a word.  Tonight, I hold her in a heart filled with gentle regret.  I give her a hug.  She was a size 20 too.  She’d stumbled in a size 8 world and didn’t know how to make it fit.

Maybe it’s not too late for me.  After all I’ve got a pirate with a great ship and a whole bunch of gorillas at my disposal.  Better yet, I’ve got words.  Maybe I can’t pour every detail of my life on to public pages but I can write something.  I can write to save my sanity and remind myself that fun still lives inside me.  I can write for all the size 20s who live in size 8 worlds and let them know that we can do better, we can make the pieces fit.  We can overcome.

My life can expand to fit me.  I need to toss a few words on a page, now and then,  for emotional release and realignment.  I can slip into a big, beautiful, size 20 gown that will have been earned by not shrinking to fit the confines of my size 8 world but by allowing my world to grow to fit me.

Have any of you seen a pirate and a small band of gorillas?

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.


I am reading

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