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?

The Mud and the Stars

The Mud and the Stars

Once a year, at Christmas time, I hear from a dear friend. This year, when I first got her letter, I waited to open it. I knew it would be full of good news and I didn’t want to envy her. I wanted to be happy for her with a heart that was full of pure intention

This morning, I read and responded to her with a happy and open heart. I’m convinced that it required a grace that I don’t posses on my own.

I found myself taking a clearer look at the circumstances of my life as I wrote the letter. I am sharing some parts of the letter here because I feel it is important.

This isn’t about me, although it seem it is.   I know how hard it is to find the good in others or in bad situations and I’m sharing why and how I struggle with this to encourage others.   If I can manage this, I’m pretty sure most people can. I’m not all that strong, or kind.

So often I hear people complain about money and all that they don’t have. All of them have a lot more security than we do. Poor people don’t usually complain a lot. They are too busy getting through the day.   Many people have sat in judgment of me, or us. Andy and I are often blamed for our own bad situation.   While I know that our choices or lack of effort is our responsibility and that it can have a negative impact and that it has a negative impact, we are human and we are struggling with challenges that threaten to crush us and to especially crush our spirits. Given this, I think it very important to appeal to hope, to faith and to our capacity to love. Life isn’t a dry run. It is the run. It’s the test. All this practice is part of the test.   Find joy where it is given. It can be hidden. Find it.

I had to find my joy before I could respond. At first, I felt small and jealous. I was missing the point. In time, I grew beyond my small edges. This is what I share today. It’s raw and honest and I am grossly uncomfortable sharing it. Here goes:

 

Dear ……….,

You’re letters help make the season bright! So happy to hear how well life is going and that you await the joy of more grandchildren.

We soldier on. Most days it feels more like battle than a joy but I’m beginning to believe that God gave me what I could handle and that there are lessons here that I need to learn.

Foreclosure is a long and painful process. As of yet, I have not solved the problem of future shelter. Hoping to be able to get through the winter and the worst of the weather before contemplating a tent in a nearby wood.  

Dear God, please send me some options. I’m taking a beating down here and am starting to lose it. Yesterday, I had several moments when I acted from my broken pieces, I didn’t rise above the fray but contributed to it. I’m sorry. I want to be so much better than I am.

I frequently label the fray, the mongrel hoard. Usually, this is done in the caverns in my head.   It’s those petty moments of retaliatory thinking that make me shed a light on the depth of my resentment. Wow, is that an ugly thing!

How I prefer cooperation over conflict, kindness over cruelty, generosity over selfishness.   How I long for unicorns, pink castles, lottery winnings, pigs that fly, an end to all war and the whole world singing as one. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

Real is often dirty, rude, messy, some times heartless and cruel. I can be all of those things.

I sit in the mud puddle of life and I look up at the sky and the stars. Their beauty makes me cry. It also helps me get out of bed in the morning. It boosts my spirits and drives me to paint a smile on my face and create fun morning songs for my children. 

Yet, there are days or moments when I forget about the sky and the stars. All I see is the mud and the other people sitting beside me and I hate all of us. I question the whole Christian premise that “Christ died for our sins.” Really? Honestly? What was God thinking? We’re not worth it. We’re a disaster 

It’s a really good thing I’m not in charge. It’s time to leave philosophical/theological questions to greater and better-paid minds. My energy needs be applied elsewhere.

In this darkness, my children are another very bright spot in my life. ….

And my dear husband, Andy…this last year we’ve watched as numerous couples in our circles have split. It frightens both of us. We know how stressful troubles can be, how easy it is to blame the other, to not work together, to grow apart.   We don’t always like each other. Our communication is less than perfect. Single life can beckon like a beautiful yet deadly siren. Together, we are better than when we are alone. I said, “for better and for worse, for richer for poorer, for sickness and in health.” I have a commitment to honor.   He is also one of my best friends. That is another blessing.

While I can’t judge the relationships that split, I still feel shaken and sad. They may have the best reasons for parting.   It isn’t the path I want to travel. Life in the mud puddle is hard enough without losing my partner and a dear friend. This can be easy to forget.

From my mud puddle, I see the sky and the stars. My life is a mess. That sky and those stars remind me that it is also beautiful and that there are blessings right beside me in the muck and mire. The beauty overhead gives me hope and something to reach for. This is a good life. There is much be to learned and much to do.

At the end, I can say, “I did what I could. I didn’t give up without a fight. I fought to find the good in others and in myself and in situations that looked like hell.”

God must love this broken person very much to give her so much. I am blessed.

It just doesn’t look like much from the outside. 

I love you. Your letter forced me to sit down and write out my heart and soul and I’m so grateful for what you inspired in me. You are a treasure. Your letters are a treasure. Enjoy those wonderful children and grandchildren. I am so happy to hear from you and to know that you are doing so well  

Take care!

Have the Merriest Christmas and a New Year full of miracles!

 

 

 

Up on the Rooftop

Dec. 7, 2014 Sunday afternoon: Time to give Santa some competition.

Donning a stocking cap and a bright pink anorak with large front pocket, I shove a hammer in said pocket and climb up the ladder.  Slower and less agile, I am surprised by how carefully my feet move up the rungs.  Then, I reach the roof.

As a child, I was small, agile and quick.   As an older adult, I am none of those things.  A nasty case of shingles several years ago, affected my balance.  Up on that roof, I suddenly appreciated the loss of that balance in a new and profound way.

“Oh, Lord!”  I say out loud.

Inside, I’m praying like mad.  “God help me find the strength and courage to be able to do get this tarp tacked down over the bad spots in the roof.  Make my feet swift and sure. “

I remember the story of the devil tempting Jesus to jump off a great height and have angels come to save him.  I start praying for angels. . . principalities, cerebrum, seraphim, arch angels, the guy next door with a head band halo…

Closing my eyes, I will my fear away or at least to insist it hide for a time.

Soon, my husband joins me.   I’m so glad I’m not alone.  “Breathe in courage.  Exhale fear.”

“Oh, Lord.”

Months of inactivity and overeating suddenly take an obvious toll.  Flooded with regret, I close my eyes and tell myself that self-loathing can come later when I’m on solid ground.  Self-loathing on rooftops is a really, really bad idea.

I close my eyes and swallow my fear again.  Fear is like cud.  It keeps coming back.

Together, my faithful spouse and I awkwardly crawl up to the crest of the roof.    Huffing and puffing, the side of my leg is raw from scraping across the roofing.  I thought yoga pants were a good idea.  I cling to the peak of the roof and look at what I now need to climb down.  An expletive leaves my lips.  I didn’t count on that.  It’s the fear talking.  Damn fear.

I close my eyes.  “Oh, Lord, Oh Lord.”

Since the roof has been leaking for some time, we know that the sub roofing may have been compromised.  I insist on being the one to cross the uncertain terrain.  Slowly scuttling like a half-boiled crab with a leg and claw missing, I begin to enter the potential danger zone.  Taking the hammer from my pocket, I hit the roof before me in the most awkward position possible.  The people passing on the ground below are being entertained.  The young neighbors down the street who are the secret stars of my imaginary reality show entitled, “Hillbilly Mechanic”  pass the house on a slow walk several times.  Their amusement is payback for my creating an imaginary show for them in my head.    (I learned of their interest later from my son.  I was too busy hanging on, hammering and praying for safety to notice what a spectacle we were.)  Maybe it’s time for a new imaginary reality show called, “Hillbilly Roofing Repair.”

Ah, but I digress.  I’ll do anything to sidetrack that fear thing from rearing its ugly head.  Even if its trying to rear its head in memory only.

Together on the roof, we unfurl the first tarp and discuss a plan of action.  I add nails to the hammer in my front pocket and we begin tacking down the tarp and then hammering slats down over the tarp to help secure it against the wind and rain that will come.  I rest a lot.  We lose a lot of nails.  They tumble pell mell down the roof and over the side.  Husband pinches his best bass playing finger and has a lovely blood blister to show for his efforts.  He lets out a weird howl at one point.  I expect to see him go over the edge.  Instead, he’d sat on a roofing nail.

Most of my injuries are covered by clothing in places my swim suit covers.  Fortunately, my gluts were a counterweight that helped keep me on the roof as long as I kept them in close contact with the roof’s surface.  My poor gluts.

After huffing, puffing, clinging, shuddering and almost crying, we finish.  I lay against the roof eyes closed and breathe.  Finally, I feel strong enough to head for the ladder.  Fear is absent as shaky calves find the rungs.  The ground is in sight.  I almost kissed it with genuine joy and gratitude.

Roofing is for the young and the thinner.  Santa, I’m afraid my little adventure shook my belief in you.  Up on a rooftop, going down chimneys, you’ve got to be kidding me.  In your dreams, Santa.  God, on the other hand and a bunch of angels were working overtime.

 

Fear

The urge to put words to paper often overcomes me.  Then, I remember how uncomfortable I became, how opening oneself up and putting it out there for the world to see put me at risk and contributed to what was to follow.

Not everyone liked what I wrote.  Writing and sharing made my world less friendly, more hostile.  Yet, I opened myself up to it knowing what was likely and was still surprised when the inevitable happened.  Maybe, I was looking for a reason to stop.  I had begun to feel as if I had nothing to say, nothing of value to suggest.  If I made others responsible for not writing, I didn’t have to face what I felt about what I was producing.  Writing had become a way of making myself feel better at a time in my life when so many things were falling apart.

At this extremely challenging time in my life, I have learned a great deal about human nature.  People who I expected to be loving and supportive are not.  I had to process the hurt, the grief and find hope.

I, who can easily sit in judgment of others found myself at the end of others poor opinion.  I was blamed for my own problems, given loads of advice and experienced rejection and anger when I wouldn’t do what others thought I should.  Since, I’m not exactly new to this earth, you would think I’d have been better prepared.

I am the first to admit that yes, humans, me included, often create problems for ourselves and then invest lots of energy into maintaining them.  Problems become a mantel we don’t break through.  We allow problems to define us.  They give us reasons to stop striving, to stop reaching beyond ourselves, to stop growing.

For a long time, I’ve been stuck in trying to figure out why others outside the problem have such an emotional investment in it.  As interesting as the answer may be, it really isn’t important.  Their reactions are their responsibility.  I have enough on my plate.  I allowed my problems to become excuses.  Problems can be reasons but when they become excuses something is wrong.

My limited readership is most engrossed in what I write when I write honestly about the nuts and bolts of my life.  While I prefer distant, philosophical fluff, it isn’t nearly as interesting.  I’m afraid to write about the real and maybe that is the only reason that I should.

My writing is imperfect.  I am often embarrassed by it but I can write moderately well and I feel drawn to do so.  I know what it’s like to be me.  I spend a lot of time thinking.  I spend a lot of time finding ways to cope.   This is something I know a lot about.  This is what I will try to share in the days and weeks ahead.  The world is often a cold and hostile place.  Some times that hostility and indifference comes from those close to you.  As painful as this can be, it provides an opportunity for growth, a chance to rise above.  It can open a pathway to being a more loving presence in a world desperately in need of redemption and love.

Violence begets violence.

Hate fuels hate.

Negative talk creates negative thoughts and feelings.

Love is the only force that can heal.

Love can be tough.  It may not look like love.  Love may create boundaries and say “no.”  People may accuse you of being unloving, of not doing the right thing.  They may tell you that you’re wrong or selfish.   They can be wrong.  Dead wrong.

It’s time to face my fear and begin again.

(Now, to tackle my fear of falling through the sub roofing and get up there with Andy to see if we can get some tarp to cover the roof where the rain is pouring in.  Welcome to my world.  There is rarely a dull moment.)

 

Powerfully Weak

I’ve missed writing.  Words empower me but  for a long time I have felt weak, defeated, a victim.

I allowed myself to become all those things.  I even sent out a few invitations to my pity party.

Fortunately, nothing lasts forever.  I started to get angry, first at others and then myself.  I was not very nice.

On a recent day, when my internal judge and jury reared its head and pronounced silently in the courtroom of my mind, that the people I was with at the moment were a mess, the wiser part of me stepped forward quickly and said,  “You’re a mess too.”

OUCH.

Wise me was right.  I didn’t want to admit it.  I started listing all the challenges in my life in hopes of building a case for myself.  What was I trying to justify?  Victimhood?  Dysfunction?  I deleted that list quickly.  There goes that blog entry.

Time passes.  I still wanted my fingers to flutter across the keys while words appear like magical rows of expression but I won’t let it happen.  I don’t feel worthy.  I don’t feel powerful.

Finally, a breakthrough. . . (which is a lot better than a breakdown.)

When this morning’s alarm went off introducing a chorus of guttural groans into my slumber, I stumble to the shower only to catch an unwelcome glance at myself in the mirror.

Internal judge and jury quickly announce “you look like a sack of potatoes!”

Wiser me tries to temper my unflattering announcement but gives up quickly.  I do look a bit like a sack of potatoes in which a few of the potatoes are not yet done shifting.

Finally, in the shower, the image of a burlap sack with a few loose potatoes falling into odd places made me smile.  There, in that little cathedral of soap scum and creeping mildew, I knew that in my weakness and imperfections lie my greatest strength.   Life and potatoes had distracted me.

As I shuffle into evening, I find this quote in the book I’m reading.

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is make perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Need I say more?

Coming Home

Not trusting myself to write, I’ve stayed away.  Life was crazy busy. At times, the challenges took my breathe away and I wondered if I would make it through.   Apparently, “what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger.”  I grieved the losses both big and small and tried to carry on as normal but often failed.  My heart wasn’t in it.  I was trapped in a prison of me.

Slowly, I let other people’s stories in.  I heard of their struggles, their sorrows.  I watched them cope.  I felt some of their pain and began to under stand that I am not alone with my troubles.  Everyone has something that plagues them.

In less than two weeks, I will be 56 years old.  I have no idea where the time went or how I made it this long.  My life is no longer an endless road that unfurls before me, full of options and potential.  The road has narrowed into a single small path and it gets narrower each day.  My own mortality takes me by surprise.  It tries to haunt me with regret.  It zaps me with jolts of reality.    Inside, I’m still young.  I have so much left to do.

One day, a short time ago, I was mourning my lost chances.  Using them as spears to pierce my well being, I was absorbed in the task of hurting myself with my own thoughts.  Quickly, something much sharper poked through.  Inside my head a clear, strong voice speaks:

“Stop!  You are living the life you want.  The details may not always be to your liking but the choices you’ve made have brought you to today and it isn’t that bad.”

I was speechless.

The voice inside me added, “Don’t waste any more time wishing for something else and missing the moments.  This isn’t a dress rehearsal.  This is the show.  Make it a good one.”

I wish I could say that I have devoted myself to the task and never fell into old habits.  It’s just much harder to stay stuck there.

Reminders of the joys of the moment keep making themselves known.

This morning, I find a link to this video in my inbox.  It is my time to shine.

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Only Human

The opinions stated in my blog are only opinions.  I am not always right, kind or fair, no matter how much I desire to be.  At times, the frustration I feel may impede my better judgment and my better self.  I may be small and petty.  I may be hurting and in that hurt lash out at some one or something unfairly.  Typically, I work hard not to do those things.  Occasionally, I fail.

While I write about lots of theories, ideas and opinions based on my subjective experience, the real purpose of this blog remains.  I am sharing my reflections on my human experience.  I will not always be “right.”

Lately, I’ve had several people obviously upset with me.  I suspect it may have started here.

As much as I dislike upsetting people and passive aggressive responses,  it is going to happen.  I have a right to my opinion.  I have a right to be occasionally wrong.  My life, my experience are mine alone.  We will not always agree.

In a normal day, I take in the opinions and subjective feelings of others.  I often disagree but due to my position, my natural inclinations, I rarely challenge those ideas.  Often, I can not.  I do not hold a position of authority in my day job.  In fact, I am often treated with mild suspicion and thinly veiled contempt.  I have a specific job to do but lack the power and the tools to do a good job of accomplishing my main objective.  I witness the destruction of inflexible thinking.  I see how investment in a viewpoint often hides the forest from the trees.  I hear. . .”They should________.”  And often I agree but should doesn’t address the problem.  What is done is done.  What can we all do now in this moment that is in the best interest of as many people as possible.  How can we put aside our individual ideas and biases and get this job done?

I may be more judgmental than average.  I know I can be petty and selfish.  I was given a mind, albeit limited, as a gift.  I’m expected to use it by all that is Holy and Just.  I am drawn to write and at present have only this blog as an outlet for the ideas and the words that churn within me.  I may be the worst thing to happen to the written world, yet have the right of expression.  Upsetting people is the last thing I want to do but sometimes it is going to happen.

I stumble through life, as a limited human,  I will fall.  If I look up and away from myself, I will see others falling, standing, marching and flat on the ground.  I am not alone.  We all stumble toward a promised land or the great abyss.  Our perception frames our experience.  Opposing viewpoints can open doors to a greater understanding.   We all stumble.  We all fall.  I am sorry if something I have said or done has hurt you.  Hurting people is not my intention.  Reflection on my personal experience,  trying to frame my life in more positive terms, trying to be a little bit better person than I was the day before, these are my objectives.  I share these only because I can, because words are often my only currency.

In my struggle to get by (and it is a very real struggle) there are days when the words seem to be the only thing that anchor me to something greater. Sharing them is often profoundly stupid.    So many of the choices I made have brought me to middle age with no safety net:  never enough money, no career, no retirement.  So many things outside my control have contributed to my situation as well.  Embarrassment, blame, shame are all impediments to persevering.  At times, I indulge in them.  Often, I dip my toes into self-pity and feel like a victim.  Old habits die hard.  I just want to crawl into a corner and lick my wounds.

Something inside me, won’t let me.  Something inside me takes risks and often loses only to try again.  Something inside me drives me to document this struggle and the small victories here, despite my embarrassment and my reluctance to be vulnerable.  Something inside me knows that my experiences, while uniquely mine, are profoundly human.  Profoundly human is something that taps into others’ awareness of their own limited humanity.   At times, my words and anothers’ feelings intersect.  That moment of connection is why I write, no matter how rare, no matter how uncomfortable I may be.

We are saved and forever in need of salvation.   I am not alone.  You are not alone.

 

Light

Not writing publicly, I have been writing privately.  I spill words on pages.  They blink back at me filled with sorrow, rage and jealousy.  I have a hard time seeing these words as mine.  It is wise to keep them private.  Finally, they start to sputter and lose their sting.  I turn to embrace them.

This morning, I walk.  An old back injury causes me to walk on the outside of my feet.  In time, the muscles along the inside of my foot atrophy.  They begin to telegraph pain along the nerves like little flashes of lightening.  They trick me by going numb when ever they please.  When the kids were small, I was told that surgery could help but that I’d be off my feet for 6 to 8 weeks. That was not an option.  Instead, I developed my own treatment.  I force myself to walk with all my foot touching the ground.

At first, I have to concentrate.  I can think only of walking and forcing my entire foot to carry my weight as it touches the ground.  The soles of my feet burn.    My feet, my walk, my soul remind me that some times pain is necessary.  Some times we just have to push through it.  Pain, sorrow, anger and jealousy are not bad in themselves.  They have valuable lessons to teach.

Lessons come from unlikely places.

On Tuesday, a book in the library catches my eye:  Assertiveness for Earth Angels.  The central premise seems odd to me.  The author maintains that once upon a time many people were angels in heaven.  At some point, these earth angels are sent to earth by God to help other people.  A picture of Joan of Arc surrounded by two cherubs graces the cover.  Was I once an angel?  I really, really doubt that.  I can think of no theological precedent.

And yet, inside this book, she reminds me that I am a being of Light.  My body telegraphs the truth of these words.  A warm feeling begins in the pit of my stomach and energy surges from the top of my head and the ends of my fingers and toes.  With a physical reaction this strong, I know that the words have hit home and something about being a creature of Light connects with my own reality in a profound way.

This Creature of Light begins her walk feeling like a broken marionette.  The nerves in my legs crackle and sting.  Moving feels awkward.  I hope that the passing traffic doesn’t notice how out of sync my body seems with this beautiful day.  I feel more like a creature of the shadows.

And then, a woman at the intersection pulls forward to make a left turn while I have the walk signal.  Suddenly, realizing I have the right of way, she backs up a bit to make way for me.  I smile at her brightly and mouth a thanks.  Her face awakens in the most wonderful smile.  Walking in the light can be such a satisfying thing.

As I walk, pushing those lazy muscles down toward the earth, I become more grounded.  The creature of the shadows needs a rest.  It’s done its job.   I stop, close my eyes and turn my face toward the sun.  Light feels right.

 

The Poverty of Compassion

Some times, the things that divide us are of our own imagining.

People’s capacity for denial always surprises me.  My own capacity for denial can leave me speechless.  On a recent trip to the Good will Outlet, I experienced a new kind of poverty, a poverty of compassion.

For those who don’t know: the Outlet is where all the Goodwill inventory rejects go to die.  Everything is dumped in large blue bins and things are typically sold by the pound.  The bins often emit odors including the occasional whiff of human waste.  This place is not for the faint of heart but it is the land of the best deal.  I glean those things that can be saved and either resell them or use them to clothe my family.  I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I frequent this place and even more embarrassed by what I’m about to tell you.

As I’m digging through the bins, I find myself glaring at a fellow digger who just entered my personal space.  A bigoted thought flashes through my mind based on ethnicity.  Some how I think I’m better than this person.  Suddenly, I realize how unfair, how unjust and just how crazy that is.  We’re both bottom feeders, risking putting our hands in poop  in order to survive.  I’m no better or no worse.

I feel a profound sense of shame at my arrogance.  I, who have been judged and found lacking time and time again, has the audacity to judge another in exactly the same way.

Later, in the week, I share my revelation with another who quickly assures me, “Carol, you are better.”

I know what she is trying to say.  I have a college education, I’ve got a few advantages but I am not better in any way, shape, or form.  She is as guilty as I was and often am of judging some one by a different criteria if they also happen to be poor or appear to be poor.

Now, back to my smelly bin.  This gentleman of color, accidentally pulls a garment from my hand.  My face reflects my frustration.  He apologizes and hands the garment back to me with the subdued posture of a dog that has just been scolded.  All this has occurred without a word from either of us but we know exactly what is happening.  I am dominant because I am white and for no other reason.  With horror, when I realize how awful this interaction is, how wrong I am to feel the way I do about this perfect stranger, I speak.  “No, it’s okay.”

He searches my face for a sign of gentleness.  Do I mean what I say?  His faces asks me questions that I don’t want to answer.

If he only knew the shame I felt.  Right now, I fight back tears.  I behaved in the same cold and indifferent way that people have treated me since the slide into poverty has become a trap.    The well-meaning often have given advice but it’s not based on the reality of my experience or the experience of being poor.  I desperately cling to the idea that I’m better than the next poor person.  Maybe if they made better choices, worked harder, tried harder, they wouldn’t be poor.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that has failed to provide for the least among us.  We deride single mothers of color for being drains on the welfare system without ever really knowing a single mother’s challenges.  Most of the poor work much harder than the people who believe they are above them in value or worth or potential.    I might have a college education but I’ve worked minimum wage jobs alongside some remarkable people who where kind and generous.  They often possessed a quiet nobility of character than I often find lacking in myself.

Every poor person, I know and I actually know more than you’d think, wants to work at a job that allows them to support their families without having to rely on government handouts.  I depend on food stamps to feed my family.  Every single time I use that card I am embarrassed.

When I’ve had to ask others for help and am turned away, I am embarrassed and ashamed.  I’ve tried to make sure that my children don’t end up homeless and I might fail.  We will have to move soon.  We do not qualify for any open market apartments.  Even if we did, our credit is terrible. We would love to be able to pay all our bills but despite the hours I do work, the digging through bins and reselling, the struggling to work an independent business because no one responds to the resumes and applications we continue to send off,  we can’t.

I’m often faulted for not working harder, for not making the “right” decisions, for not trying hard enough.  America is the land of  opportunity.  the rag-to-riches story is just an effort away.    Tell that to the over 46 million Americans who live below the poverty level.  A level that doesn’t do justice to the real cost of living.  (That figure is collaborated by two books I’ve recently read: The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West and So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America by Peter Edelman.)

After ten years of collection calls, a bankruptcy, food stamps, public health care, the stress of it all is chipping away at my health.  I have a few months to get my blood sugar down or I’ll need to add another medication to the list of things I already take to try and keep myself going.    Even with insurance co-pay, my months prescriptions cost more than $100.  That is a small fortune when you live so close to the bone.

The line that separates you from me is often a very thin one.  You might only be a paycheck away from walking on my path.  You might be a medical emergency away from poverty.  You might be a lay-off away from joining me.  Just like me, you might judge another based on something arbitrary or a useless criterion but it’s what it takes to keep the fear at bay, the fear that it could happen to you.

Every one of those 46 million Americans has a face.  There is a life behind the number.  There are victims who have given up and there are heroes no one will ever recognize. There are always people who abuse the system whether it’s welfare or corporate bankers who have never been held legally accountable for their role in the mortgage debacle.  They are not the majority.

The poor are worthy of respect.  Respect should never be based on income.  The lives behind the numbers don’t want to be judged or given advice that has little application to the world they must live in.    What they need, what I need is human compassion.  They need the opportunity to earn a living wage and to be able to provide for themselves.  They need a hand up.  They need support.  They. . . we. . . I . . .don’t need your judgment, your callous indifference, your insistence that if only we’d follow your advice our problems wouldn’t exist.  You prove ignorant of a reality you have never known.  I challenge you to trade me places for a day.

It’s easy to feel like a victim.  As we enter the final phase prior to losing our home, the feeling of defeat and the panic over what comes next can feel overwhelming.  Homelessness is a very real possibility.  The disappointment, I feel at many of the people in our lives is profound.  The gratitude I feel toward those few that have proven loyal and loving is equally profound.  It’s shown me the power of love and the nobility of courage and integrity.  There is a God of muck and mire.

I am humbled by this experience. It keeps me on my toes.  It calls upon reserves of resilience and courage that I didn’t think I possessed.  It’s allowed me to experience a side of human nature that I find abhorrent within myself as well as with in others.  It’s given me an opportunity to grow, to be better than I was.

I know I will be criticized for my candor.  So be it.  It is imperative that poverty is given a human face.  Instead of assigning blame or creating divisions that separate us into piles of “us” and “them”, we,  as human must begin to see poverty as an opportunity for compassion and a problem for which each one of us bears a responsibility to work toward solution.  It’s time some one had the guts to address the appalling indifference demonstrated by good people. It’s past time for the poor to have a voice, to be respected, to be embraced.

To paraphrase, Jesus: The poor, we’ll always have with us and we will be held accountable for how we treat the least of these.    Poverty and the response to it: an equal opportunity employer.

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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