In high school I was told to choose. And each of the tellers told me to chose the thing that was theirs:
Sister Mary Judith said to choose writing
Sister Mary Thomas said to choose music
Sister Mary Dominica said to choose fine art
Sister Josephine said to choose fashion design
You MUST choose this one, each said. This is your gift, each said.
I said no. Was it the best answer? I guess I’ll never know, but I knew in my gut it’s the only answer I could give.
I saw each as one of my children. How do I choose one, and leave the others, orphaned?
How do I nurture one, and leave the others fallow? It was the craziest idea I’d ever heard. But I was just a kid, what did I know? These were brides of Christ telling me to do this. But I couldn’t.
First of all, as I now know, what the creative well is filled with is beyond my control. It is a central space whose energy flows through me. I cannot dictate to the well how it is to express itself. I can only say “yes” to whatever shows up.
I am not the boss of it. I am the steward; the guardian. It is up to me to facilitate, not to dictate.
In my adult life, there are creative threads that have expanded; writing grew to — not only prose or poetry, but a career in songwriting. Design grew to — not just fashion design — but a career in interior design. Music grew to a career as a vocalist. I guess you could say my ‘children’ had ‘children’ of their own.
I sometimes wonder if this is just me, not wanting to “settle down” with something that could organize my life in a way that some would call “adult.” But when that thought comes to mind, the counter argument is always there to ask me, which of your creative ‘children’ would you have abandoned in favor of others?
The answer is, I cannot choose. I have not chosen. They choose me. Even now, in my dotage, I do not regret saying “YES” to all of them.
I was a child of the sixties, and grew up in a household centered around the Holy Catholic Church and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. My parents were children of the Great Depression; they learned that life means do without, stretch a dollar, work hard, and drink harder. I was their first child, born to them when they were still young, tragically beautiful, and very much in love. When I was a little girl I would shyly study my mother’s face … her wide eyes, long eyelashes, full red lips. She was clearly a movie star in hiding. I wondered what she was doing in this little life, in this house on North Marion Street, with its linoleum kitchen floor and one parched sapling in the front yard. Even at five, I knew she’d been miscast. Through the years, five more babies, and alcoholic chaos, it became an undeniable fact: my mother belonged in a different movie.
As the oldest daughter, I took on the job of laugh inducing peacemaker. Lots of oldest daughters have that role. My brother, two years younger, was mother’s tenderhearted caretaker. We spent our childhood together in the family foxhole. Nothing will bond siblings like friendly fire. It’s a sort of hellish, heartbreaking love that no one else knows. No one. But at the time, it was our family’s brand of ‘normal,’ so imagine my surprise when, years later, I learned that some families have no foxhole at all.
I lurched through the decades, reinventing myself over and over, determined to be whoever those claiming to love me told me I was. It took over forty years, and one spectacular betrayal for me to stop, and turn my attention to the whisper of truth. It was there all along, but I hadn’t heard it before, because I wasn’t ready. Not only had I become ready, I threw up the white flag of surrender. I’d run out of things to try, people to be. And I was exhausted.. All I had left was me. When I finally gave into myself, it felt like declaring bankruptcy.
I remember the date. May 12, 1991. My attorney’s call that morning woke me up. She was calling to let me know the divorce was final. She’d used the word, “Congratulations.” I got off the phone, and laid in bed, waiting. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought surely I would feel … something. Relief? Excitement, maybe? All I got was silence. I threw off the covers, walked into the bathroom, and stared in the mirror. I looked into my own eyes, searching for … someone. Who will I be now? I whispered. I had no idea.
Ever since I was a tiny girl, there’s been … something … like a tiny thread … woven deep inside me. Piled over with years of Catholic school, alcoholic parents, sweet babies, abusive marriage, broken dreams … you’d think that thread would have broken, or suffocated, or disintegrated. It never did.
Like a flower finding its way to the sun through a crack in the stone, that shimmering little strand found its way back to me.
The very thing I feared would be most difficult has become easy, feels natural. Coming home to myself is simple, and honest. I am moving back toward the center of someone I’ve always known. It warms my heart, settles my belly, and brings perspective into sharp focus. I know where home is now. And I see that I was right here all the time.
A recent checklist:
Have you locked in on who you were put here to be?
Are you accomplishing all that you were put here to accomplish?
How much longer is your life’s to-do list?
How’s that memoir coming?
Will your work projects pay off?
What will be written on your grave marker?
Will you have a grave marker?
Will your grands know how much you loved them?
Will you have made a difference in any positive way?
What is the one thing, if you had to choose, that you’d want to be remembered for?
How will your children carry on once you’re gone?
What will happen to your writing?
What will happen to your artwork?
What will happen to your design work?
Once you’re gone, will you even care about any of this?
Questions that, once posed, tend to send me into one of two places: a deep and thoughtful period, or a moment of ironic flippancy where I say, “Who cares about that? I can only handle ‘now’.”
And really, those questions generally pop up only when I’m down. And I’m down so seldom that I had to conjure to bring them up at all.
I keep my eyes on the horizon, and my heart in Gilead. My path is my testimony, marked by my feet, which I put one in front of the other each day.
It is a varied, and a beautiful life. Trouble? Yes, we see trouble all around us. But we are not the trouble itself. No one is. We are the very love we seek; we are the center and the stillpoint of this amazing planet. And what we focus on increases. Think about that.
So, as I look back on this list of questions I raise, I can quietly and with blessed assurance say,
“It is too soon to tell. But I’ve read the Book. I know how this ends.
“And it is beautiful.”
Blue Velvet, Blue on Blue, Blue Horizon. Blue is the color of my true love’s eyes. Am I Blue; blue bloods, blue stones, blue sky, blue sea.
I dream of the seashore, with its blue lapping waves. The Caribbean shore is my birthstone, aquamarine blue. Tanzanite is lavender blue, dilly dilly, deep and true. Blue satin ribbons, tying up my hair. Take them loose and let it fall.
The blues rock me and roll me, clear to my soul. Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Skip James, they run blue in my veins, sing my truth from sea to shining sea.
Blue eyes cryin’ in the Rain. Blue Monday; call it Stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad.
Baby’s blue lips in the wintertime, get her inside, swaddled in the blue blanket.
Blue is the feeling when the loss is real.
Blue is the laminin cross, in every cell. Blue is the glue, holding us all together.
Holding us together.
We are held and connected by the blue.
We are blue.
The other evening, I was on the internet at my desk. To be specific, I was on YouTube. To be even more specific, I had been there for about an hour, watching video after video of singers auditioning before Simon Cowell and friends.
It’s easy to get pulled in by these clips. They’re inspiring; sometimes the performers have overcome incredible odds to be standing in front of that panel of judges. So I watched, and cried, and cheered, pumped my fist in the air. But the last woman woman who sang that night has stuck with me. I can’t stop thinking about her. When she told her story, it was as if I was listening to myself.
She was in her thirties, and Simon asked why she’d waited till now to give it a try. She said, “I was born loving music. I have sung my whole life, but all along, people told me I couldn’t. That I shouldn’t. And then,” she paused. “I was in an abusive marriage. He was cruel, and destroyed my belief in myself. So, for many years, I didn’t have music at all. But,” she smiled … “I am single; I am free now. I’m free to sing whenever I want to.” And then she did. She blew the roof off. I cried.
I shut down the computer and tucked in for the night. And that night, I had a dream. I dreamt that I approached a male friend who had a band, and told him I wanted to be their female singer. Even when I was dreaming, the “lucid” me shrunk back from that idea. Was not sure that I could. If I should.
In these later years I’ve had to make peace with the fact that my hopes/wishes/dreams regarding music have not materialized like I thought they would. I’ve also had to give myself a break in the ‘lack of determination’ department. And part of that is embracing the truth that God’s plan is at work in me, regardless of the path I’m on.
As far as my past, it’s one thing to be a cute little baby who sings before she talks; whose first words were “Ickle ickle ickle.” That’s something that new parents think is cute, and smart.
It’s something, in fourth grade, to be singled out to sing a solo in the school music program, with no clue that how you sang was unusual. It was just you. Singing.
Then again, it’s something else entirely to sing while washing dishes as a teenager, and have your dad walk into the kitchen and hiss in your ear that if you’re going to make that racket, go to the back of the lot to do it. Singing — me singing — was suddenly not cute. Not okay. Stop.
My folks were very strict, which I guess may have helped drive my love of music. It was my salvation; my only escape. I could go into my room, tune my little Philco radio to KAKC, make the volume barely audible, and sleep with my ear against it.
During the divorce from my husband of twenty five years, one of his complaints was that I was always singing. We were both in the music business, but he was determined to keep me as far out on the fringes as possible. He was fairly successful at that. But not as successful as I thought at the time. Many years later I’ve had conversations with music industry people who make it clear they were aware of the gifts I brought. Of what my contributions were, and can still be.
At first, that was hard to wrap my brain around. I’m still learning to be okay with people who acknowledge my talents, what I’ve done, and what I do. I’m getting better at that.
Like the woman standing in front of Simon, I am single; I am free now. I’m free to sing whenever I want to.
Another year has come … and gone. I’m on the fifth day of “next year;” it feels good to have a full tank of gas.
That’s what I call it when a Birthday arrives. The month sliding into my natal day typically finds me “running on fumes.” Through the years I’ve observed that I’m usually a little scatterbrained during that time, forget where I put things or what I’m talking about. Yeah, that can happen any time of year, but it becomes a several-times-daily occurrence during February and most of March. My wheels get loose and jangly, and I careen a bit from side to side. Until March twenty-one.
Somehow I picture myself on that auspicious day, jumping out of bed, backlit. Looking good in spandex. Doesn’t happen quite that way.
This year I spent the entire day in my robe and slippers. It’s a fairly new robe, quite cozy, and the weather was spitting snow in the morning, freezing cold, so … it seemed a good choice. And I thought a lot that day about life, and Birthdays, and what they are. What they mean.
I know some people don’t think Birthdays are a big deal. But I love celebrating other people’s Birthdays. I’m responding to the day they arrived on the planet. I’m saying, “I am cheering that you were born, and that you’re in my life. And every year, on this day, I get to say ‘YAY’ to you!” In this world of automated distance between us all, to me that’s more important than ever.
I saw a story the other day about a man who was celebrating his 105th Birthday. There were people crowded around him as he sat in his chair, wearing his military cap. He was staring at the inferno of a Birthday cake on the table in front of him, and grinning from ear to ear. That man has experienced things I can’t even imagine. He has a lifetime of stories to tell, and I hope there are people he can tell them to. They will be richer for it.
We bear a growing wealth of knowledge, the longer we’re here. None of us know everything. But those of us who pay attention, we know a lot. And much of what we know won’t launch a rocket … but it will settle a fussy child, comfort an old dog, feed a family of eight on one potato and one onion. Plant and tend a garden; use a remedy from that garden to heal a sick one.
It feels good to become “one of those” to whom some turn, seeking comfort, or knowledge, or aid. I have more to give than ever, because I’ve never been here longer than I have today. And with each day that comes, I pray I am open to know more, that I learn new things, and that I have opportunities to share what I know and who I am with any and all who seek it out.
For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. [Proverbs 9:11]
Today is January 1, 2018. I haven’t written prose in awhile — life has a tendency to get in the way, especially as the Holidays come steamrolling toward me. But I’m back with my morning coffee, on this New Years Day.
Here we are at “the morning after;” the “new box of crayons.” It’s the “First blank page, book 2018.” No matter how anyone’s viewing it, I’ll take it. It’s all good.
I’ve seen several online posts today referencing how “difficult” 2017 was. I’m sitting here in my warm kitchen, sipping my big mug of coffee with Peppermint Mocha creamer; the Citrus Bowl on the telly, and I’m thinking about “difficult.”
Like anyone else, I can rack up a litany of things that were/are difficult in my life. Some would include rigid, cold-handed parents who, if not full blown alcoholics, were certainly “problem drinkers.” A complete lack of support — in fact, demeaning feedback — toward my creative endeavors, from childhood through twenty five years of marriage.
Gaslighting was, if I’m honest about it, my family’s brand of “normal.” No wonder I sought out a husband who specialized in it. And the years of betrayals, both emotional and physical, were just “part of the deal.” After severing ties, it took me years of therapy to learn that my kindness does not have to mean weakness; that standing up for Self does not mean I have failed to support others. In fact, quite the opposite.
If I’ve faced anything really difficult in my life, it is the effort to embrace that concept.
Which leads me to why “difficult” is, I think, a subjective thing.
Nick Vujicic knows difficulties. Born without arms and legs, he is an amazing motivational speaker, and now the father of twins.
There’s my sweet friend Gianna Jessen, a young woman, self-described “God’s girl,” who is alive literally “in spite” of being aborted. She lives with what she describes as “the gift of cerebral palsy” — a direct result of being deprived of oxygen during her birth process.
These two people live lives of unbridled joy. What examples they are of “transcending the obvious,” with God as their compass.
A favorite Meme of mine says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
When I was a first grader at Christ the King school, I collected holy cards. Each card had a beautiful illustration of a martyr who lived, and died, for Christ. On the backs of the cards were descriptions of their agonizing demise, and a prayer of intercession.
I tell you this as a way to think through why I pretty much never think of my life as difficult; I tend to “suck it up.” My early childhood references of “difficult” told me, if anything, that I had little to complain about. I was taught to think “other.” And, with proper balance, M. Scott Peck seems to endorse that approach:
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” – M. Scott Peck, Psychiatrist & author
So, to all of you, from the heart of me, have a Happy, Happy New Year. Let’s roll up our sleeves, let’s focus on the work ahead of us, and let’s be grateful every single day. Let’s breathe deep, laugh a lot, say our prayers, and let it go. Because “difficult” just doesn’t matter.
Here’s to us all in 2018!!
I got the news back today, and it was good. Bloodwork was off so they needed more tests. The liver. I’ve had issues in the past with my liver. Not of an alcoholic nature; I’m not a drinker. But other things that can plague such an organ, they were plaguing mine. So, bloodwork.
And the result is that — while things need watching — all is well.
I shared the good report with a dear friend and said “That’s a load off.” She said she was relieved because she knew I was concerned. But the funny thing is, I never was really concerned. It just weighed heavy. It occurs to me that not many people have that experience. And even fewer people are aware of the difference.
The weight of things can bear down on the joyfilled. And I am one of those.
Through the years there were life experiences that had my spirit bent nearly double. Moments when I found it difficult to breathe; moments when my joyful self wanted to forget how. When I ached to be done with it; climb out the window of this life and in the window of the next. To be honest, there’ve been times when, due to health or surgery, I faced a decision: stay, or go; I chose, each time, to stay.
The redemption that lives in the small moments is what saved me, restored me, brought me back. That is always what keeps me here.
So the blood test, in the grand scheme of things, is what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. A little window into one aspect of what’s going on with me. The rest finds its place somewhere in the personal, panoramic pages of my own ‘Lonesome Dove’ story.
I’ll live my life, in all its chaotic splendor, across my own prairie … until I don’t. But life, its own self, will go on. And that’s a weight I’m glad to carry.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Not sure why that saying came to mind this morning, but it wouldn’t leave me alone so I wrote it down.
I’m finding myself in an interesting place. The last quarter of last year was probably the most difficult, the most challenging, in my life. I say that, then I find my gaze drifting back through the past−pregnant at twenty, hysterectomy at twenty seven, trying so hard to be all I could be to everybody−and completely missing the mark on self awareness, self care, self sustenance.
Did it have anything to do with those Holy Cards? We were big on collecting them in second grade. They were like baseball cards for Catholic girls. The gilt edged ones with Saint Theresa, Saint Cecilia, Our Lady of Fatima, all were coveted.
Which brings up a whole different thing since coveting broke the tenth commandment. We were eight years old, and all guilty.
And then there’s the pride thing. Mary Margaret Snyder had more gilt edged cards in her Missal than anyone else in the class. She held it up during Mass, ceremoniously turning to each card as the priest said his Dominus Vobiscums, his Kyrie Eleisons, his Oremuses. We sat, stood, or knelt as was prescribed, but we were watching her out of “side eyes,” elbowing each other, and hating her. Rack another one up on our confessional hit parade. Hate. It’ll take at least three Hail Mary’s plus an Act of Contrition to scrub that off.
But where I was going about those cards is, they were Da Vinci-esque renditions of martyrs who died for their faith. They were bludgeoned, or decapitated, burned at the stake, nailed upside down to a cross, tortured in a wide variety of ways. And now were featured on Holy Cards, bathed in heavenly light, eyes cast upward, heads tilted ever-so-slightly, hands outstretched or coming together in prayer.
Every so often Sister Diana introduced a new Holy Card; she’d say in soothing tones,
“Children, which martyr is this who became a saint because he/she died for Christ?”
She held the small rectangle up like Vanna White, and cut her eyes toward it with her Mona Lisa smile. We were transfixed, and determined to add it to our collections. Two guilt-edged Michael Archangels in different poses were worth a fortune. Mary Margaret Snyder held three, and wasn’t trading. So you can understand the hatred.
But the point is that I recently started thinking about the focus on “dying for Christ.” A kid takes stuff like that literally. I remember trying to figure out which way to do it−I wanted it to be quick. Decapitation, maybe? I didn’t want any Daniel in the lion’s den stuff. That would take forever.
But eventually−third grade, I think, during Lent, when they took the boys for Latin lessons−we girls were told we should “die for Christ every day;” Some of the pie eyed looks traded amongst us are legendary. Karen Flanagan wet her pants and started crying. Jesus H. Christ, people, don’t EVER speak in metaphor to anyone under eleven!
But, you know, we got over it, and life goes on. We all grew up, went our separate ways; some of us probably separated from the saints, and the church, and the rituals of holiness.
Some of us learned, eventually, that the stories told about goodness are true, and that our lives are the very celebrations, the Novenas, the prayers of righteousness for which those icons sacrificed. So some of us found our way back.
Now, listen: I’ll admit straight up that I’m a holy mess. I’m a desperate contradiction between a hunger to express my own goodness and the need to barge right in, stop the proceedings, and tell the idiots running this world a thing or two. The older I get the more I care about telling the truth, and the less it matters to me how I’m excoriated for it. That, it seems, has become my Novena.
So there’s that. Stuff. DNA; corpuscles−all laced with it. Not the only ingredient, but it’s kinda like cayenne pepper: a little goes a long way. Remember to mind the burn. It will warm you, if you let it. And it can last a lifetime.
I’ve had several conversations lately about “Hope” and “Faith.” People ask me: are they different, or are they the same? I’ve given it a lot of thought; reflection from my seminary days. I’m going to write down some perspective I’ve had about it … mostly to clarify it in my own mind:
Faith is the element of knowing without seeing. It is the bedrock of my heart’s center, the knowing beyond understanding. We are born broken, and all long for redemption, for goodness, to finally believe we are lovable. Most of us are afraid to believe that, but it’s a critical piece on the journey to wholeness as the Father created us.
I know that my Creator’s Almighty fingerprints are all over me. I know that, in spite of my failure to always exercise “right use of will,” His plan is at work. When I feel alone, when I feel without hope, “hopeless,” it is I who have moved off center. The Creator – being truth and love – never yields, never moves. The truth is that my Father will be standing, arms outstretched, a beacon of Light, long after the noise of falsehood has collapsed under its own weight.
How can I declare this? How can I be so certain that these things are true? I have no explanation except … faith.
My parents did the best they could, but their profound brokenness saturated every thread of my childhood. Even so, it did not define it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my childhood was defined by, and my heart was protected by, my faith.
I was born with it. In my earliest days I thought everybody was. I can remember even as a tiny girl, age two or three, looking up to the clouds, talking to the angels. No one told me they were there. I knew it. I could see them. And they saw me.
Growing up, Spirit surrounded me at some of the darkest points, when most would ask how a kid could make it through that. It was not remarkable to me. It was my “normal.” There were my parents. There was my faith. Faith was my trump card. It trumped everything. I always trusted it would be there.
And the best way I know to describe trust is, imagine a baby learning to walk. The Mama or the Daddy is right there, giving the toddler its freedom, but keeping watch in case the child starts to fall. She learns to trust that a parent will be there for her. Trust. Faith and trust. The baby is not “hoping” that someone will catch her. She moves forward on faith, “trusting” that protection is present.
Hope … hope springs eternal, but faithful hope in action is “trust.”
There are those who question the atrocities in this world, and ask how a loving God could allow such things. My answer is, we are human beings with free will, and we are each given a moral compass. Free will has a perfectly calculable algorithm called “cause and effect.” Do many people suffer from the actions of others? Without question. I believe that all the inhumanity in this world is the expression of people who are driven by their own brokenness. Happy, loving people do not have on their agenda the harming or destruction of others.
Men are not evil. Women are not suffered. We are all brokenhearted. Casting aspersions based on ANYthing – gender, race, religion, nationality … only causes us to further break our own hearts. Division helps nothing, heals nothing, takes us closer to nothing good. It carries us further into the darkness.
Satan is about separation. People often attempt to … “hope out a plan.” And I don’t think I’ve ever seen it work … in large part, because they had no faith that it would. This is a process of isolation and futility. Separation tells us to make a plan, and cross our fingers, but don’t count on it, ’cause people suck and shit happens. And with this approach, it probably will.
God is about connection. Hope-as-Trust is the fierce tangent of faith that gives us the fire to move forward smiling, in spite and in Light. When we are in sync with that Divine energy, we make plans, but remain open to the fact that it could all shift, and may even appear to fall apart so that other things can fall together. We are flexible, and willing, and openhearted. We believe that all things will work together for good.
In either case, everybody believes in something. And whatever we believe, we’re right.
The best, most radical thing we can do for ourselves and the world … is to strive to be exactly who God breathed life into at the moment of our birth. If we all, every person on the planet, would be our authentic selves for one hour, the transformation would be miraculous. Instantaneous. The world could never again return to its former state of being.
My advice, if I have any to give, is this: be brutally honest, and ultimately gentle with yourself. Let yourself have, and hold, the truths of who you are. Look deeply into your own eyes. Be tender with your own shattered places. Hold closely those parts you have a hard time embracing. Make that list of loving things you’d do for someone else, and do them for you. We love others in direct proportion to our love of the Self God created in us.
My prayer is that every person, everywhere, will ultimately bear witness to their own loveliness, their own lovability. We will discover that the peace we long for abides in us. And it’s been right there all the time.