Keep Your Prayers

We’ve got work to do.

I’m sure that I’ve mentioned before that my son and I lived in New Orleans when Katrina hit. We left before she made landfall; but, we lost nearly everything we owned in the storm. A renter, I could not afford renters’ insurance; so, when I say that we lost nearly everything, I mean that we lost it.

An experience like that really colors your view of things afterwards. It becomes a watershed moment of your life and you are forever changed.

I became angrier. Well, not angrier, in general, but certainly angrier about particular things – hypocrisy and sanctimony to name two.

A friend of mine asked her brother whose friend owned a climate controlled storage unit to call his friend to see if he had a unit available for her to rent. She didn’t ask her brother to ask for a donation or a discount, she just asked him to make a phone call. She would have done it herself, but she was elbow deep in vat after vat of the reconstituted sewage that she was washing from the belongings she had actually been able to salvage from her house. Let me reiterate: she asked him to make a phone call. That’s it. A phone. Call.

You know what he said? He couldn’t. He had to go to his church to participate in a prayer walk to pray for all the victims of the hurricane.

Say what?

His sister had lost nearly all of her belongings – a victim of the hurricane if ever there was one – but he couldn’t actually help her by making a phone call. He had to go pray for a bunch of strangers.

Right.

This week, I shared a GoFundMe page benefiting a former colleague whose fiance had an aneurysm nearly a month ago. He has been in neurological intensive care ever since and the prognosis is not especially good. Between them, this couple has five children. They both work hard at unskilled jobs, but are living paycheck to paycheck. Now, their income is 40% less than it was a month ago since he is on medical leave in the hospital and she is on intermittent leave to be there with him. In my post, I tagged about 80 people – some of whom worked with her, some of whom didn’t. (Honestly, I couldn’t remember who had and who hadn’t.) Several people commented that they loved her and were praying for her; but, guess how many contributed. That’s right. None. Not one of the people who said that they loved her, were praying for her, were sorry she was going through this, etc., had five bucks to send her way to help her keep the lights turned on.

I was, and am, livid.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that people have to contribute to every little thing that comes across their screens. I don’t think that people have to contribute to everyone they know. I don’t think people are required to do anything, really. Don’t want to give? Then don’t. But don’t claim to love someone while you turn your back on their need. You can do something – babysit, make dinner, clean their house or maybe you’ve got an extra five bucks laying around somewhere. If 50 people gave just $5 each, that’s $250. That’s the electric bill and maybe a tank of gas. Trust me, when you’re down to your last $10, you are thrilled with anything someone chooses to give you.

While my experience after The Storm certainly made me angrier about some things, it made me more grateful for other things. I am so grateful to the sweet friends and strangers who saved me from bitterness by reaching out to us – those people who prayed for us, but who also made sure we had food and clothing and shelter.

Sure, pray for people, if that’s your thing. Pray for the Afghans who are reeling from yet another bombing in Kabul. Pray for our country with its idolatry of ignorance and malice. And, yes, pray for people you know, but help them. Prayer is all well and good, but when you’re drowning, you need a rope or buoy. When you need to keep the lights on, you need a little more than “thoughts and prayers.”

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and :thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:15-20

 

 

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There’s Always a Reason to Cheat

On your diet, that is.

Last week, I told you that I had given up ice cream for my OktoberFast. I don’t really know that you can appreciate just how big a sacrifice that is for me. I used to say that Little Debbie was my homegirl; but, y’all, Debs ain’t got nothing on Ben and Jerry. If you don’t understand that, then I can safely conclude that you either: 1. don’t like ice cream (and what kind of mutant are you?) , or 2. have never tried either Phish Food or Karamel Sutra. (Side note: this Spring, I started cheating on my boys from Vermont, though, by taking the High Road. Their Aztec Chocolate is transcendent. Seriously.)

But….that’s not really my point, plus I’m drooling on my keyboard.

My point is that I love ice cream and that I notice its absence acutely. In spite of this – or rather, because of this – I gave it up for OktoberFast…..totally not thinking about my friend’s birthday being in October.

Traditionally, what do we have for birthday celebrations? Cake and ice cream! Yes! So, when discussing his birthday dinner, we agreed that I could take a “time out” just for that one night. After all, it was just one night. And it was his birthday, for pity’s sake!

Right. It was still cheating.

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of October that I would keep the sinks clear of dishes and that I would not eat ice cream. Neither commitment really matters to anyone else but me; so, who really cares if I lapse? No, not lapse. Cheat.

I care.

We were celebrating. That’s a good reason to have something special, right? Sure. It’s as good an excuse as any to cheat. So is having a bad day, having a good day, or Thursday. There’s always an excuse to cheat if you look for one.

I’ve regained 80 of the pounds I lost six years ago with just that kind of thinking. “I can have it just this once.” But it wasn’t just once, was it? That one cheat day became a cheat weekend, then a cheat month, then fat pants with elastic waistbands.

It’s just like several of the times I quit smoking. I would go for months and even a couple of years without a cigarette. Then I would be with a group of smokers and I would think that I could have just one. BAM! I’d soon be back up to a pack a day on regular days and over two packs a day on the weekends. The truth I had to face was that I couldn’t have just one. I was (and still am, I suppose) a nicotine addict. One hit of that Camel Light and I was hooked again. Intellectually, I know that my body responds to all addictive substances in basically the same way – the pleasure centers of my brain go nuts. And my brain doesn’t really care if the cause is a cupcake or a crack pipe. It just knows that it’s getting something it likes and it wants more of it.

Ultimately, my addiction isn’t to ice cream. It’s to sugar and to casein, the protein in milk that, when broken down during digestion, releases opiates called casomorphins. To be fair, there is some debate on how much of an effect casomorphins have on the human body; however, sugar is still there so my issue remains. In the end, I have to break my addiction to sugar by drastically reducing my intake of refined and added sugars. Ice cream is just the first step.

And, just so you know, I bought the container pictured above for my friend to enjoy ice cream with his cake while I limited myself to cake. Hey, it was chocolate ganache and I never claimed to be a saint. I obeyed the letter of the law. Obeying the spirit of the law will come later when I’m a little stronger.

As for OktoberFast? I’m still faithful and going strong.

 

Clearing Space

Twice this year I have helped move other people. As I packed their belongings, sometimes I wondered why they kept some of the things they did. Sometimes, I wondered, but only sometimes since that kind of question leads to uncomfortable introspection in my experience; so, mostly, I just kept my mouth shut and packed.

At the best of times, I am not a great housekeeper. Knick-knacks give dust a place to settle. Knick-knacks also create an obstacle course for dusting, making an unpleasant task even more unpleasant. So, I rarely do it. The cooling temperatures motivated me to do a some Fall cleaning this weekend which has lead to a little introspection on why I keep so many things.

I have books that I bought 10 years ago intending to read.  I still haven’t read them. My guess at this point is that I’m not going to. I have bowls that belonged to my grandmother. She used them daily. They have been in the back of my cabinet for 12 years. I have two 32″ CRT television sets. One hasn’t been turned on since December. The only has been dark for 5 years. I have enough mismatched wine glasses to have 30 people over for cocktails and canapes. I don’t even know 30 people I’d want to have over for cocktails and canapes! I have shelving units and storage furniture that does nothing but store things I don’t use –  things are weighing me down. They are cluttering my space, making it harder for me to keep an orderly home that feels good to be in. So, I started boxing things up, listing them for sale and giving them away.

It gave me a stomach ache.

Can you believe that?! I actually felt physically ill when I delivered a reproduction ice box to a woman who wanted it. I felt panicked putting books into a box to go to the library. How silly is that?

Every item I identified as useless, the hoarder in my soul identified as something with priceless memories attached. “You can’t get rid of that book on felting with cat hair! Think of all the projects you are going to make with that!” I felt like a child with a toy I’ve long ignored until someone else wanted to play with it. Suddenly, it was the Most Important Toy Ever.

Organization experts say to keep only those things that make you happy. Get rid of things that you are keeping out of guilt or habit. Keep useful things that contribute to your positive sense of well-being. As I sorted through things to keep, my Inner Hoarder said that everything makes me happy – in fact, I might need a few more things! My Inner Hoarder talks too much, contributes nothing to the bills, and won’t dust for love or money.

So, I have these useless things all around me, clogging my space, draining my energy, hiding dust that makes my nose stuffy and, still, I am reluctant to give them up. I know that it is wasteful for me to keep them when someone else can actually use them; but, still, I hesitate. I know that I will feel better physically if I get rid of the dust that hides in all these extra books and knick-knacks, and yet…….

They are familiar. They are tradition. And I don’t like change even when it’s good for me.

From the looks of all the storage facilities lining the highways,  I’m not the only one.

 

 

 

 

A Bellyful of Mortality

See those flowers? I bought them as a treat for myself. Normally, I eat my emotions. This weekend was kind of a tough one and I didn’t want to dive into the Ben and Jerry’s; so, I bought the flowers to lift my spirit. If looking at them doesn’t work, I’ll be having them with ranch dressing later.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a friend stepped outside of his home to smoke a cigar. Five men he didn’t know were standing there. He suggested that they leave. They shot him twice. My friend is a retired Air Force officer and pilot. He is a war veteran. He is a bona fide  American hero and these thugs shot him. He is hurting and has quite a bit of rehab to do; but, he should recover just fine. He’ll have no income and a ton of hospital bills because those jackasses; but, he should recover.

Saturday afternoon, I began to smell death around my house. By Sunday morning, it was unmistakable. My sister went under the house and found one of my feral kitties – Blu – had curled up in an area the ferals use as a den in bad weather, and died. Blu had been missing a couple of weeks ago. He was limping when he reappeared; however, because he did not allow touching, I had no way to know how badly he was injured. After showing up for three mealtimes, he disappeared again. As I said, my sister found and buried him Sunday morning.

Sunday lunch was spent with a friend who has metastasized breast cancer. She has one of the greatest survival stories I’ve ever heard. To escape childhood sexual abuse, she literally ran away and joined the circus – well, carnival. She traveled with the carnival and it saved her life. She hasn’t had an easy time of it by anyone’s measure; but, she is a kind woman with an amazing spirit. She’s dealt with some pretty horrible things in her life and here she has another one.

Injury, death and illness. It was an awful lot of mortality for this empath to handle in 24 hours. My mind is awhirl with thoughts of love and motivation. As a professor,  Robert Pirsig (author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) literally drove himself insane trying to define the idea of quality. I’ve felt a little bit like that today trying to define the idea of love and divine the motivations behind our love for people and things.

I can easily tell you why I love my son – he’s funny, with a kind soul. He’s nobody’s fool and knows how to draw boundaries for himself. He’s intelligent, curious and articulate. But, I didn’t know that he was any of those things the night when, as an infant of only maybe three months old, he began fretting in his sleep. His diaper had leaked, leaving his pajamas and sheets wet. Now, the truth is that he was so little, I could have changed his diaper and his clothes, put him at the dry end of the crib and he’d have been fine. But. I didn’t do that. I changed his sheets, too, so that his whole area would be clean, dry and comfortable for the rest of the night. Why? Because I loved him. I didn’t really even know him; but, I loved him. I had chosen to make that Love commitment to him, plus there was all the biology going on encouraging me to nurture him, ensuring the continuation of the species.

I say that like it’s a given, don’t I, that mothers will love and care for their babies? But we know that’s not always true. It wasn’t true in ancient Rome where brothel babies were routinely killed and disposed off in the sewage system and it’s not true now when babies are killed and hidden under couches. The Love commitment -or perhaps, I could more accurately call it the urge to nurture doesn’t always happen. I’m less interested in why it doesn’t occur than in why it does.

The loss of something we love hurts. We know that it’s going to hurt long before it does. Most of us have a biological imperative to mate. We are compelled to find a partner. Many of us are also compelled to reproduce. The species wants to continue; so, we many of us are programmed to have and care for babies. I can objectively understand the biological urge to do those things that overrides any desire to avoid the pain of losing that mate or a child. But what about friends and pets? Why do we risk that pain?

Why do we choose to love?

Brew up some coffee or steep some tea tomorrow morning and we’ll talk some more about it.

 

That’s Entertainment

When my son was little, there were several shows he wanted to watch that I wouldn’t allow: Clarissa Explains It All, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Everybody Loves Raymond, to name three.

Clarissa was banned because she was a smart-assed (pardon me) tweenager who knew everything about everything while her parents were clueless morons. Um, I’m pretty sure that a natural part of the maturing process from toddler through teen into adult is believing that your parents don’t know anything. From where I was sitting, my son was going to come to this conclusion and might possibly develop the attitude that often accompanies this belief on his own with no help from Clarissa, the Disney Channel or anybody else. My days as the Slayer-of-Monsters-Keeper-of-Fruit-Rollups-Knowledge Goddess were numbered from the time his cord was cut. I was not about to let some sitcom writer with a stunted sense of humor cut those days even further. Forget it! Clarissa got the boot!

Courage and Raymond were punted for a different reason; but, it was the same reason for both shows. Those people were MEAN! Eustace was a horrible human being and, clearly, NOBODY loved Raymond. I have always believed that your home ought to be a safe place – a place where you can feel free to be who you are without fear of judgement, denigration or, as seen in these shows, outright bullying. I don’t know about you; but, I don’t hang out with mean people if I don’t have to and I don’t care who they are. Mean neighbors? Across the fence, thanks. Mean co-workers? See you at the water cooler….in passing. Mean relatives? Across the room at a family reunion is close enough. I figure I have like 20 energy points to use every day. Mean people suck up my energy points and what do I get out of it? Nothing.

Which brings me back to TV, movies and other forms of entertainment. Those mean people suck up my energy, too. Life is too full of REAL issues, REAL negativity and REAL challenges for me to spend all my energy points dealing with pretend ones. I noticed this weekend that I was spending far too many of my energy points on Facebook.

The amount of bigotry and ignorance that I see spreading there unabated gives me a rash. Seriously. People forward the dumbest things without bothering to check validity – like the one I saw this week purporting that Christian children were being forced to practice Muslim prayer. Those children were practicing a tornado drill! Um Fact Checker, Party of None? sigh.

Once upon a time, the greatest fear of nearly every kid I knew was “looking stupid.” Now is seems that the greatest fear is bad lighting – everyone wants the cameras rolling whether they look like an idiot or not. Fact checking is for sissies and fortune favors the BOLD, even if the bold are addlepated.

Social media used to be a form of entertainment for me. Now, too often it reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s remarks in the January 21, 1980, Newsweek article “A Cult of Ignorance” –

The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

It’s not.

This current culture of rampant, willful ignorance! Holocaust Centers? Land mass between New Orleans and Mobile? Slave ship immigrants? I just can’t handle it anymore! It puts my energy points in the negative every day (plus that nasty rash); so, to all these forms of “entertainment,” I quote the immortal Ice Cube:

“Bye, Felicia.”

 

Somebody Poisoned the Waterhole

A waterhole, an oasis is someplace I go to get relief from daily stresses and from reality, in general. Social media outlets used to be that place for me. I could see photos of friends’ vacations, their children, their pets and their dinner. I could read encouraging stories, find funny memes and see cat videos – you know I love cat video compilations. Social media was a place where I could go to take a break from the world.

It’s not now. That waterhole has been poisoned.

Now it’s a place full of self-righteousness, vitriol and ignorance. I find myself unfollowing more and more people I know – many of whom I even agree with – because I cannot stand the constant negativity. I am angry at the fake news stories being shared without thought or consequence. Those fake stories negatively impact the real stories in the same way that false rape claims reduce the believably of real ones.

Here’s the thing: I haven’t had a first choice candidate win a presidential election since the first time I voted in 1985. I think I’m bad juju (and available for hire to jinx your opponents, for any future candidates out there). Here’s the other thing: I’m an adult. I don’t whine about my candidate losing, not even when I think that the system has been perverted, which has been claimed this year in both the democratic primary and in the general election. I don’t gloat about my secondary candidate winning. And, frankly, I’m tired of hearing about it.

I am a woman and, unlike some of my friends, I have lost jobs and I have been paid less than less qualified male counterparts. I have been sexually assaulted and not reported it because I knew that I wouldn’t be believed anyway. I know that sexual discrimination is alive and well. Still, I didn’t put on a vagina costume (which is, in my opinion, both in poor taste and counterproductive) and take part in a march that accomplished exactly nothing. Planned Parenthood will still be defunded based on lies. Rapists will still walk because their victims weren’t saints. Women will still make, on average, no more than 94 cents for every dollar a man makes. I know all of these things; but, I cannot spend every waking second of every day dwelling on it. I will cease to be able to function, if I do.

And that’s what I see happening around me. As a country, we have drawn lines in the concrete, not in the sand, and we can’t communicate anymore. I remember once having a conversation with my son’s father. He wanted to have a balanced conversation about my religious beliefs, but I distinctly remember morphing into Little Miss Dogma. The entire conversation cratered into a disagreement when it didn’t have to. No real information was exchanged and neither of us was enriched by it. Rather, we were further alienated.

Again, that’s what I see happening around me. So many on both sides are plugging their own ears while shouting their beliefs and demanding to be heard that no one is being edified. Instead, there’s a great deal of really terrible noise. Noise that is dividing us and we’re letting it. Only we can take our fingers out of our ears, stop shouting and choose to listen with an open mind. Only we can chose not to be divided and that is a choice we must make. That is our imperative for, in the words of a much wiser person than I, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

We still have a union; but, we cannot continue to stand this way. We have to stop being Republicans and Democrats, and get back to being Americans.

 

T.Hanks

I want to talk about something a little different today – I’m going to go a little fangirl on you. Yesterday I finished watching Band of Brothers. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were the executive producers of this miniseries. These two men were also executive producers of The Pacific. They worked together in Saving Private Ryan and clearly believed that The Greatest Generation had more stories to tell; so, they told a few more of them. Some time ago I shared with you something of my own experience at Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery there in Walking Boys Home. That experience was so utterly profound that I feel an obligation to watch all military films based on real people and real events.

I hate it. But that’s beside the point.

People lament that we don’t have any “great” movie stars anymore. We have a surfeit of these idiot, reality show personalities but a dearth of real talent with real character. We have Real Housewives (who, incidentally, probably don’t know how to clean a toilet) and a host of others famous for being famous. People who make money being scandalous, tasteless and exhibitionist – the click-bait millionaires. We don’t have any Jimmy Stewarts, John Waynes, or Gary Coopers. I can think of some exceptions to that, though – Gary Sinise, Angelina Jolie, and Tom Hanks specifically.

In 2016 year, President Obama awarded Hanks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This actor whom I first remember seeing as a cross-dressing guy living in a women’s apartment building drooling over Donna Dixon won the Medal of Freedom. His early career was spent playing silly and sometimes buffoonish parts; but, that all changed when he went to Philadelphia. He played AIDS-stricken, homosexual Andrew Beckett at a time when taking the role of a gay man was a dangerous career move in any film; but, to take that role in a drama discussing a serious subject like discrimination based on sexual orientation was potentially career suicide. It turned out to be his first Oscar-winning role. It was followed by other serious roles that were heroic in some way: Forrest Gump, Jim Lovell, Captain Miller, Paul Edgecomb, Chuck Noland, Captain Richard Phillips and Captain Chesley Sullenberger. Well, and Woody. Behind the camera, he helped tell heroic stories by producing From Earth to the Moon, West Point, Band of Brothers, We Stand Alone Together, John Adams, The Pacific, and so many more. He was instrumental in raising money to build the World War II memorial. In fact, without his efforts, there might not be a memorial.

And there should be.

The US was officially involved in WWII for four years and lost over 400,000 soldiers and citizens. They should be remembered and I’m thankful that someone like Hanks who has the voice and the platform to promote their memory, is willing to do it.