::FIRST FROST::


Gloved Hands Holding Hot Chocolate

When the season turns crisp and cool; when there’s the tiniest bit of frost on the lamp post; when I grab a wool scarf on my way out the door “just in case,” and end up glad I did … those are the days I relish.

They take my mind a hundred different directions: shore up the house, bring in the wood, stock up on dry beans in the pantry for soup. Visualize where the garland will go, begin gathering little goodies to fill the “Christmas shoe boxes” that are shipped to children far away.

It’s the time of year when my eyes shine brighter, my step is quicker, and my to do list is longer. I have so many things to accomplish, and so little time to do it in!!

The Christmas movies start early for me — sometime just after Halloween. I keep them playing in the background as I move through the day. And, soon after, comes Christmas music. I know most people don’t want to hear those songs played outside the “four week Christmas window,” but I play them off and on year round. It’s like stepping back inside my favorite season anytime of year.                                                                                                       
So yeah, it’s November 9th, and the carols are playing in my house. Flannel pajamas are being sewn for all the Littles, and calls are out to handy-workers to get things done on the house before winter sets in.

Once the cold snap hits hard, “first fire” night arrives. Wood blazing in the fireplace, chili in the slow cooker, and friends gathered ’round for music, stories, and laughter. These are the things and the people that warm my heart.

Christmas tree – at least one, there have been as many as five – is installed, decorated, and the halls festooned with holiday swag. To me, too much is never enough. Let’s do more!!

Christmas cookies rolled, cut, and decorated by small hands. The gingerbread man’s leg broke off, tears start, but hey! Here’s an idea, buddy! Let’s give him a cast, and a crutch!  A laughing little boy, proud of his cookie. Problem solved.

Fudge making in the microwave, homemade pecan pies, peanut brittle, and my special “Nanny-Boo cookies.”

Holiday tins filled, ribbons tied, but no one enter the dining room! The sign on the swinging door, in big red letters, reads: “Nanny Clause’s workshop; boys and girls keep out!” The Littles are excited, but they grudgingly obey.

Advent wreath, three purple candles and one pink, marks the waiting for the Baby’s birth. Nightly prayers, with candles lit, keep us mindful of the meaning, and take us through each day.

A Birthday cake is made, white with white icing. Writing on the cake, “Happy Birthday Jesus.” The candle is a star.

On Christmas day, family gathers, and – just as it should be – children are the center of attention. Of course. It’s the Baby’s birthday, after all. Let us all be as little children this day; allow our hearts to fall open like old gates with loose latches. On this day … and every day henceforth … let’s hold on to what we’ve found in these moments. A feeling of connection, of love, of knowing that, while we’re part of something bigger, there is nothing bigger than Love. And that is what we’re made of.

But for today, I run out the door and grab my wool scarf. I smile, because there’s a nip in the air. I sense the beginning of something familiar and wonderful; I know it’s pulling me, and  I go willingly. I love every step of this journey.

 Snowflake

::JUMP::

Jumping Off a Cliff

The other day, I was thinking about how love works. There are, some say, many different kinds of love. Parental or ‘paternal’ love is one. Romantic love is another. The love between friends, the love between siblings … all real, all serve to soften the edges and warm the heart as we traverse the predictably rocky path of life.

I like the way M. Scott Peck talks about it:

Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” 

There’s a kind of love that keeps us going … in pursuit of a dream, pursuit of justice, pursuit of a passion. Sometimes even pursuit of a relationship. There’s the warmth of camaraderie between people who share interests — in music, theology, writing, art.

C.S. Lewis describes the recognition between kindred spirits:

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” 

The backside of love is the broken heart. Love and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin. We jump off the “love cliff” and fly for awhile – months, years, decades – but eventually experience the crash of loss at the end. Sometimes it’s the soft landing of age and knowing that it’s time. Other landings are sudden, unexpected, hard. Unforseen crashes leave our heart in pieces.

Somebody said it, though I can’t remember who … one of my favorite philosophers, I’m sure. He said the beautiful heart has been softened by being broken over and over again; it has been turned to grains of sand.

I love that analogy. For a heart to be in that state, the person has chosen love every time, knowing the crash always comes.

Those who jump off that cliff again and again are valiant. And yet, what are the other options? What would life look and feel like if we stayed away from that jagged edge, safe and secure, never jumping at all?

According to C.S. Lewis, we have that choice:

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

So yes, to love is a choice. And yes, it is a brave choice; we step into our own vulnerability when we open ourselves to it. But, given what Lewis describes as the alternative, it’s really the only choice to make, isn’t it?

Here’s what it comes down to: it’s love that keeps us glued together inside our own skin. It’s the connective spark that pulses through us, the flame that puts the light in our eyes.  it’s the sweetness that makes everything else worth breathing for. It’s what we’re made of. And it’s the stuff of Who made us. Love and dust. So, really, what do we have to lose?

Let’s jump.

::MY ROOM::

still-life-with-lace-painting-mediumIt sat in the back corner of the house. There were two doors, one off the kitchen, and one into the boys’ bedroom.  The windows were on two sides, big and drafty. In the winter, Jack Frost made icy paintings on them. I loved it. Sometimes I would lick the ice, and watch it melt.

The wallpaper in my room was from Swinney’s hardware, my uncle John’s hardware store.

I loved that store. It had hardwood floors, front to back. There were wooden stairs to a catwalk that ran all the way around the at the second floor level. The walls up there were a checkerboard of colorful wallpaper samples. Lift the flap of paper, and the rolls of paper were stored in the cubbies behind.

My grandmother chose the wallpaper in my room. It was white, with loose bouquets of wildflowers tied with trailing blue ribbons. During the paper selection process, I was asked if didn’t I like this, or didn’t I think that was pretty. I loved looking at the samples, and leafing through the big wallpaper books. But I didn’t know what I liked. I was eight. I just wanted to make the adults in charge happy; I wanted whatever it was they wanted, because that makes everyone happy, right? Then I don’t get it wrong. That’s what you think when you’re eight.

Later, I would decide that my room looked old ladyish, I was silently disgruntled that my grandmother had picked it out … though even at ten or twelve, I didn’t know what I’d have chosen. Thinking back, I can see it was a sweet, cheery space in that stark little house. I wish I could see that paper now. I’d probably love it.

One of the things in my room was a wicker desk that had belonged to the mother of my other grandmother. My great grandmother. White wicker, with a wicker chair. That little desk has followed me all over the country, throughout my adult life. And it currently sits int eh bedroom at my house that is used by my granddaughters.

I wonder if it will some day be taken, and treasured, by my granddaughter, Gabby. There’s no way to know … but I hope so.

Meanwhile, thinking back, I love picturing that little white desk in my childhood bedroom; the wallpaper of flowers and the white dotted Swiss Priscillas. It’s where I laughed, cried, prayed, slept, and dreamed.

It was my room.

::GONE BEFORE::

Those Gone Before Us

There’s been a lot of loss lately. Death. People much younger than I am, going home. “Home.” And yet, here I sit, typing on my laptop. Wondering, “Why them, and not me? I’ve pretty much done all I came here to do, right?” And the answer is, apparently not. If it were true, you’d be home too, Cece. Breathe.

Sometimes I feel a fleeting pang of jealousy. They’ve reached their final reward. I grieve the loss of their presence, but I’m very clear about the fact that God’s timing is perfect. Who am I to question that? And who am I to think I’m done here … I’m the boss of me, alright, but not to that extent.

There’s much to learn from these people who have gone before. How did they live their lives? Whose lives did they touch? And when the final moment came, were they ready? I pray so. And I wonder if I’m as ready as I think I am …”All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

I’ve seen the accounts of people who were pronounced ‘legally dead‘ but who ended up coming back. They’re still with us. What they said, every one of them, is that they had to be told, “It’s not your time. You must go back.” In other words, they were happy to be where they were: home.

The world is a chaotic place. So many people of divergent opinions are positively convinced that they are correct. Protocol is gone, respect for self and others seems dwindling. I remember the saying, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” I doubt many people even know what than means today. For the uninitiated, it means it is better to be prudent than merely courageous. Mind your mouth, and your choices. In other words: thoughtful. Be thoughtful.

I asked my attorney one day, in the midst of my divorce, “What should I do?” She said, “Go home. Plant flowers.” That was almost thirty years ago, and the weight of that advice has never left me. It’s saying, plant flowers to show your hope for tomorrow. Even if your time is up, you’ve made the world a more beautiful place.

Since then, I’ve given that same advice to others in counseling sessions; I think of it when I plant flowers today.

No one lives forever. But blessed are we who are still here and bear witness to the gifts left by those who are gone; the music, art, kindness, architecture, love, heart-stopping light – each individual “Magnum Opus,” are the flowers planted for us all.

Let’s live our lives, big and bright, as thankful celebration in their honor.

:: MISS HONEY ::

Miss Honey's House

 

Miss Honey seemed to love everyone. Her little house was surrounded by a picket fence, and the kitchen window faced the front. Perhaps that’s why the air around Miss Honey’s always smelled like fresh bread, sugar cookies, or apple pie.

Through the window at night, and in the early morning, you could see the kitchen light burning bright. And you could hear Miss Honey singing along with her Frank Sinatra records.

When the children walked home from school, they went out of their way to pass by Miss Honey’s. There were always tasty baked treats waiting for them in the wicker basket that hung on Miss Honey’s front gate.

During the Christmas Holidays, Miss Honey hung a fresh evergreen wreath on the front door, tied with a big red bow. Colored lights were swagged along the pickets, and a Christmas Cookiescandle shined in the kitchen window. The basket on the front gate filled up with decorated cookies: Santas, Christmas trees, bells, stockings, and gingerbread men.

Though everyone in town felt they knew her, people rarely saw Miss Honey. She was always calling “Heeelloooooo!” out the window or “Merry Christmaaaas!” as she swooped around the corner to the market or to church.

Miss Honey’s only child – if you could call him that – was a big orange cat named Carl. Carl was the size of a small dog, and acted like one some of the time.

When Carl wasn’t playing fetch with the school kids, he was parked on the welcome mat on Miss Honey’s front stoop. In the winter when it was snowy, Carl watched the lacy flakes come down from inside the kitchen window.

Miss Honey’s birthday was the first day of Spring. Every year, on her birthday, she baked cupcakes and used colorful frosting to create flowers on top of each one. She arranged Beautiful Cupcakesthem on a platter, and placed it on a little table underneath the basket on the gate. She watched through the kitchen window with a twinkle as the school children ooh’d, aaah’d, and tore in to the delicious treats. “Happy Birthday to me,” she whispered happily.

One year, on the night before her birthday, the school children and the townspeople all visited Miss Honey’s gate. They quietly placed hundreds of bouquets of Spring flowers in the wicker basket, and on the ground in front.

On her birthday, when Miss Honey came out with the cupcakes, she saw the flowers. She sat the tray down, swatted Carl away, and opened the card peaking up out of the wicker Miss Honey's Flowersbasket. Inside it read,

“We love you too, Miss Honey. Signed, everyone.” 

 

::ON FLAILING::

Flailing Drawing

Talking with my mentor today about flailing. Actually, we were talking not only about our own, but also about a mutual friend’s flailing. The friend’s really good at it. God bless her, she’s begun so many careers, projects, ideas, but somehow nothing ever sticks. Add all that to the list, and she one of those who looks real good on paper. But her specialty, if she was going to be honest with herself – which, at this point, not so much – is flailing. As I said, and I mean it … God bless her.

We all flail. Some of us flail occasionally, some do it daily, as a normal response to living, period.

Martha Tinsdale

I love the show ‘Good Witch’ on Hallmark Channel. Martha Tinsdale, the town’s Mayor, is a flailer. She’s skittish and going off about something pretty much all the time.

Cassie Nightingale, the owner of the little shop, “Bell, Book, & Candle,” is calm as the lake on a still day. She’s direct, thoughtful, and soft spoken.

She almost never shows her flailing. So she’s the one many turn to when Cassie Nightingalethey feel their own flailing going out of control.

I can identify with both Martha and Cassie. I feel the skittish “Martha” energy kick in when things take a troubling turn. Unlike Martha, my flail is usually internal. “Closet flailing” … like what goes on in deep water. Surface calm to the naked eye. All hell breaking loose below. It doesn’t often last very long, just a few minutes. An hour or so at most. But there’ve been periods in my life when, being under assault, I’ve experienced active “peripheral flailing” on a twenty four hour basis. For weeks at a time. Months, even.

But my exterior is generally calm. When I’m in that scrambling space, very few people know it.

I’m always striving to zero in on the path to calm. To my “Cassie place.”

There are those who seek shoulders, and those who are the shoulders being sought. Shoulder seekers tend to be the flailers, the Marthas of the world. Those who offer shoulders are the ones who present calm, dependable energy … the “Cassies.”

And, you know, life is messy … it tends to flail on its own from time to time. Traffic, crowds, water pressure … it all flails. And that’s okay.

Because there is a point at the center of it all where the quiet reigns. And all the flailing, the flagging about, is a misguided attempt to get “there.”

So my mentor and I, having chatted this subject through, are laughing about our own scatter shots, our flailings … and are glad that we have each other to hold the peace.

We’ll call it, “Holding Peace While Flailing.” Cassie and Martha would be proud.

::Ginger::

Ginger Franklin and Mary Ann

I didn’t know Ginger when she took a fall down the stairs in her home. They say she suffered brain trauma. Her elderly aunt – her only relative – couldn’t take care of her, so was advised to “conserve” her.

If you don’t know what it means to be “conserved,” here it is in a nutshell:

The courts take over your home, your possessions, your bank accounts, and your life. You no longer have autonomy, or agency over yourself.

Now, in a perfect world this would all be handled responsibly and with respect for the citizen being conserved; the intention would be to get them back to health and off conservancy. But this world is not perfect.

When Ginger was conserved, the court immediately took over her home, her car, and her bank accounts. She no longer had any rights as we know them. The court put her in what’s called a “group home.” Within the first six months, rather than seek Ginger’s restoration to health, the court sold her condo, raided her money, and her car disappeared. The car was later found parked in front of the Conservator’s office. Some say it was given to the Conservator’s son.

I heard about Ginger when I was advocating for a friend who it seemed had been wrongfully conserved. I learned that not only was she living in a group home, she was also in charge of dispensing medications to the other residents. Ginger was managing the home for the owners. The owners – who did not live there, and rarely showed up – got paid by the state. Ginger was paid nothing.

The day of the rescue we pulled up to a modest brick house. Ginger was waiting for us.
We moved quickly to get the car loaded up with her few possessions, because we were concerned that “someone” might catch us. And she was still “owned” by the state. Before we left, I told her to take pictures of her bedroom. She no longer had the beautiful bedroom suite from her townhome. Now she had a mattress on the floor, and her clothes were kept in a cardboard box and plastic drawers.

I took Ginger home with me and moved her into the blue bedroom. I watched her shoulders drop, heard her laugh, and that helped me know I’d done the right thing.

There was yeoman’s work to get her conservancy stopped, but I took on the job alongside Ginger … researching, making copies of documents, appearing in court on her behalf. In fact, my ass was in the crack now too, because I’d officially “kidnapped” a ward of the state.

Within the next few months, we went to court several times, and finally extradited her from the state’s control. One expert told us he had never seen that happen. “Once the state owns you, they pretty much always will.”

Ginger began the grueling work of building her life back. She no longer had a job, car, a home, or any furniture. That had all been liquidated by the state.

When she moved to a new residence closer to her good friend Mary Ann, I gave her the bed from the blue bedroom and the bedding that went with it. At least, I thought, she’d have that.

That was several years ago. I’ve talked with Ginger on the phone a few times, and she always sounded upbeat , positive and faith filled … her natural state. She began painting beautiful stained glass, and seemed to be fairing well.

When the news of her passing came yesterday, it knocked the wind out of me. My heart and mind are whirling with memories of her, the sound of her laugh, and her willingness to do the hard work necessary to make good things happen.

Some people may think kidnapping Ginger and helping her get out of that mess was a courageous thing to do. Others may call it stupid. But looking back, I’m not sorry.

And looking up, I know Ginger is free and happy … may God bless and keep her.

::The Perfect Birth Day::

It's A Girl

She was breathing her short little panting Lamaze breaths.
The nurse’s head emerged from between her legs.

“You’re doing great, Lilly. Not much longer now!” Lilly gave a small, sweaty laugh and sank back into the pillows behind her head. Then another one came.

“Oh!” Her eyes rolled and she grunted as she bore into the contraction.

“Push her knees up! Push them up! ” I had her left knee. I pushed that knee as high as it could go. Caroline was right knee, and we locked eyes with each other as she pushed along with me.

That one passed, and another came right behind it. They were in rapid, rolling succession now.

“Aaaaaaaaaah,” Lilly’s face went red, she dug her chin into her chest, her torso grew tense. I knew this growl, it came with the birthing push.

Sure enough, a head crowned, then emerged from her body. She pushed again. At this point, Caroline and I had her knees up to her ears, her nether regions were front and center.

The doctor walked in and deftly worked the baby’s shoulders out, which allowed the body to spit itself onto the bed.

“It’s a girl,” the doctor said matter-of-factly, clamping the cord and clearing the airway. He held her upside down by her tiny feet, she let out a lung inflating squall. Then, like a fish on a dock, the doctor flipped her up onto Lilly’s chest. Lilly grinned and scooped the tiny girl against her.

The nurse looked up at us from her work. “Ladies, you can release the legs now.” We hadn’t realized we still had Lilly in position. We laughed and put her legs down on the bed.

That night was many years ago, but I’ll always remember being there. It was my birthday, and probably the most heart-swelling birthday I’ve ever had.

And she made it look so easy.

::The Space Between::

Empty Space

I’ve heard there’s a way to live that is without pressure, or obligation. A way to avoid the mundane requirements of life; electric bill, rolling trash bins to the curb, changing batteries in the smoke alarms. I’m not real clear about how one achieves that no-pressure life without ending up under a bridge somewhere. I do feel pretty certain that there’s a way to find balance along the nothing/everything continuum.      

                   
I was watching Hoarders the other day. In fact I was watching Hoarders back to back. I was sort of hoarding 
the Hoarders series. I keep thinking about those people and wondering, what was their trigger? What was the last straw that caused that interior designer to pile her historic home so full of crap that she ended up living in the driveway, in her dilapidated van with her dogs? That when the cleanup people were climbing over the piles inside the home, she was cheerily bragging on it being her design studio? In her mind and eyes, there was no problem.

HoardingShe literally hoarded herself out of her home. She crowded herself out of her life with stuff. And though she declared the high value of it all, much of it was … nothing but garbage.

Another woman’s home was over run with  cottage cheese cartons, rubber bands – which she had huge piles of, and wouldn’t let the cleanup people touch – plastic bags. Anything. Everything. It appears that too much everything flips over and you get nothing.

I’m thinking balance. It’s a great term, most of us use it, and most of us think that, in some way, we have some sort of balance in our lives.

Those hoarders think they have balance too. Like the woman whose house was so filled with crap she was living in the makeshift aviary with her cats. She couldn’t live in her house. She cried. She didn’t want to let anything go, but at the same time knew she had a problem.

Not sure why I’m writing about this. What I’m sure of is, I need to hire a couple of teenagers to help me clean out my garage.

You never know when that last straw’s gonna show up.

::LAST DAY::

Police and Ballet

Locker clean out: check

Firearm, badge, and uniform turned in: check

Ten years of my life gone: check

Experiences that no one should ever have to go through, and some that no one should ever miss: Check check

If anyone had told me when I was five years old that I’d spend ten years of adulting doing this, I’d have run crying to my Mama. I was planning to be a ballerina. Or a veterinarian. But when Robert was gunned down in a drive by two days after my seventeenth birthday, I couldn’t find any other choice. My big brother was gone, a hole the size of the world was left in his wake, and I had to make sure that never happened to anybody again. Ever.

Applying to the academy was difficult. Admissions were grueling. I failed twice. But once in, it was even worse. I stuck it out, graduated, and for a decade I did what I could to keep good people alive. Even if it met traffic stops, stakeouts drinking bad coffee, or desk work when I was pulled off the force while an investigation took place over a cracked out kid I shot. You never want to kill them. You just want them to stop. Sadly, sometimes killing is the only way to make that happen. Luckily, the boy I shot survived … but was later shot and killed in a drug buy gone bad. He was on a dark path and just couldn’t get turned around.

I’m tired. And ten years wiser than I was when I set out on this crusade. I realize now that I can’t force people to be good, or to make the right choice. And nothing I could do – no matter what – was gonna fill that hole, or bring my brother back.

So today I officially disengage from law enforcement, and head into the world as a full blown civilian. I wonder if there’s a ballet class for thirty eight year old ex cops.

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