Gratitude. People usually say thankful. Like,
“I’m thankful it didn’t rain today, we’da missed our last game.”
Or, “I’m thankful they started using skim milk in my latte, last thing I need is the extra calories.”
Being thankful is good, of course. I’ve been thankful most of my life … ever since, I guess, the Methodist minister’s wife picked me up at the gas station where she found me. I’d run away from kindergarten after daddy dropped me off, I was so afraid of being late again.
But now, in my dotage, I’m pretty much always grateful.
Grateful I can hobble to the bathroom in the morning.
Grateful I can plant my foot against the shovel, and heave piles of dirt in the garden.
Grateful for clarity of mind, and the continuing passion for learning more, about everything.
Grateful for friends who take me, love me, and support me as I am.
Grateful for sunshine, and rain, and every season under God’s heaven — even this week in February, 2021, when we’re iced-and-snowed in. At this point, they all have a poignancy I’ve never experienced before.
We never know when our last breath will be drawn, our last hugs given to those we care about, our last expression of love, however large or small.
My most recent experience of love expression was the cleaning out of my garage. My son and grands helped, and we filled a dumpster with stuff that, had I not done it then, they’d have had to face it when all my “lasts” were done.
I think about that a lot. My home, which I’m grateful for, is an estate sale in waiting. I know that, and it helps me take things a little lighter.
We’re all in this big parler game called life, waiting for our number to be called. And while we play this game, let’s be grateful for the brilliant, heartbreaking, surprising, messy, beautiful life we’re living.
And may we never forget … there’s a last time for everything.
I believe in the inherent goodness of people. I believe that, when we’re born, deep down at our core, even in the worst of us, goodness abides. Time, and relationships, and places; experiences we have can, in many ways, play a role in determining whether that goodness blooms and flowers. Or not.
There are very few people that I’ve allowed into my inner circle; to know my story. They each hold parts of it, but nobody’s privy to all of it. I’ve always thought it too heavy a burden for anyone else to carry: abusive alcoholic parents; rape; a marriage where emotional abuse was so pervasive, the final betrayal so breathtaking, that it’s taken me almost a quarter century following the divorce to even get back to square one. Those are the highlights. Every creative dream, save motherhood, sabotaged. Save motherhood. Motherhood saved. It saved me.
I sit here on this chilly November morning, coffee in hand, and think back on the chapters I’ve lived through. They’ve been difficult; the few close friends who know some of the intimate details swear I should be dead. They look at me in awe. And I laugh. No, I should be alive. Very MUCH alive. In my dreams, I should be twenty seven and feeling this way, but I’m not. Time marches on, and so have I.
I’ve come to realize that the people in my life who betrayed me through the years−while they never should have been so abusive or cruel−needed something I couldn’t give them. They were coming from their own pain. I know that. And pain takes many forms: anger, judgment, cynicism, betrayal, violence, addiction … and too many more than I have space to list here.
It took me a couple of self-examined decades to arrive at this philosophical place. I’ll admit, I don’t always like being here. It would be easier to sit in judgment, to make those who hurt me “wrong.” But the thought that always rings in my heart when that judgment creeps in is: “Finding their way.” They were finding their way.
When my father died in March, I went home to Oklahoma. My daughter came here to Tennessee from Atlanta and we rode together.
I’d dreaded the funeral gathering for decades. A quarter century, to be exact. Since my youngest sister and my husband had their very public affair. Yes. That. But the time that stretched between then and now was made up of the self-examined decades I mentioned earlier. The woman-of-me who arrived at the funeral home that Friday evening was not the same sleepless woman whose hair and eyelashes had fallen out from the betrayal back in 1990.
I was in the viewing chapel with my children when I saw my sister come in. I walked over to her and wrapped myself around her. I took her face in my hands and whispered to her that everything’s okay. I had no preconception of what would happen; I’d just kept asking the Holy Spirit to take over. And He did. It was probably the hardest and the most natural moment I’ve ever experienced in my life. After twenty five years, we stood together to bury our Daddy. In each of our worlds, with a relationship broken by choices that could not be undone, we’d known this day would arrive. And now here we were. We’d found our way.
So getting back to me, sitting here with my coffee. I have to chuckle, because I started writing this morning as a way to share my thoughts about the whole kerfuffle surrounding a cup. A coffee cup. A red coffee cup. I haven’t heard from anyone who’s actually upset about that cup. But I’ve heard plenty from people who are upset about the people who are upset.
First, I think the company whose cup it is (and I won’t mention their name, because wow! Their “anti-campaign campaign” is already off the charts successful) has executed this brilliantly. And a cup with no graphics is cheaper than a cup with graphics. Another win for them. Just … genius.
Second, the ingredient at the center of this branding creativity is the required manipulation of people. It’s the use of “human capital” and their proclivities, in order to achieve “trending” status; instigating the posting, and the pitting, of people against each other. Persons of one “group” calling those in a “group” with opposing views names. Really? This is not who we, at our core, truly are.
But yes. It’s happening. Over a paper cup. And unnamed coffee company is LOVING it.
There’s even rumor that one presidential candidate called for a boycott of said coffee company. I checked before writing, to make sure I quoted him accurately, and discovered there was actually no call. In fact, his first words on the subject were, “Maybe we should,” and his last were, “but seriously, I don’t care.” Again. It’s a coffee cup. Yet so much faux sturm und drang. Smart people of all stripes are embroiled in this non issue. Well played, unnamed coffee company.
And as things do, I’m reminded that this, too, shall pass. Next week there will be yet another deliberate media manipulation of well meaning people. Good people, on every “side;” people who are finding their way.
What I’m saying, in probably way too many words, is that part of the “finding” of our way that’s required is the brutal task of self examination. The minute I think I’m better, holier, smarter, more evolved, more caring than you or any other thinking person, I’ve entered the ranks of the Pharisee. My daily call, first thing in the mirror, and at various times throughout each day is: “Check yourself.”
For today, part of finding my way is collecting shoeboxes to fill with goodies for children who might otherwise get no Christmas. I’m going to fill as many as I possibly can. I’ll do it because it’s fun, not because I’m wonderful. I also do it because I enjoy the thought of making the lives of children somehow better. So I have to be honest about the fact: I do it mostly for me.
And during the course of days I’ll make my own coffee. I’ll drink it in my own cup. I’ll pray for my Daddy. I’ll love my sister. Yes, I do. And will. I’ll wish my ex well, though I have to admit, sometimes that still has a glitch to it. I’ll love my children and grandchildren as big as I possibly can, which is the easiest thing I do in my life.
It’s just the story of me, finding my way. And praying for you, that you are finding yours.
“Those chairs are upsy down.” His shrill young voice echoed across the water, hovered in the air, trailed the heron down river.
I opened one eye to try and locate him. His red hat bobbed in the tall grass and disappeared. I sighed and settled back against the Adirondack.
“Whatever,” I murmured to no one. The sun was hot and high, the locust buzz was steady. I felt a bead of sweat let go and travel slowly down the center, between my bosoms. My fingernail played with the peeling paint on the arm of the chair.
“UPSY!” he crowed. I raised my head, squinted both eyes open.
“YOU! You’re upsydown!” Oh, for god’s sake. I settled back.
“Jasper, STOP. I’m tryin’ to relax.”
“Well, you’re relaxin’ but…” he trailed off. I heard him laugh, then saw him jump in the water, watched him stream across like an alligator, right before the chomp and roll. Just as I started to shut my eyes, his head popped up near my feet, gasping for air.
“You’re upsy down!” I raised my head and looked at him, then noticed something floating down stream.
“There goes your hat.”
He let out a shriek and started paddling madly toward it. He caught up to it, wrestled it for show, poured out the water, and slapped it on his head. I closed my eyes, and listened to the splashing rhythm as he slowly made his way back to shore.
He climbed out, dripping, and slopped his way up to me.
“Did you know?”
“That you’re upsy down.”
I sat upright and stared at him.
“For god’s sake, Jasper, what in hell are you talkin’ about?”
He shrugged his tan shoulders, turned and walked over to the water’s edge. He peered at his reflection.
“Well,” he said, “from here you can’t tell. But from over there,” he pointed a bony finger to the far shore. “Everything is upsy down.”
He looked back at me and grinned.
“In the water.”
photo credit: http://www.catherineandersonstudio.com