Tag Archives: gratitude

Will You Go

I need to tell you about this friend of ours.

The first time I met him–or I suppose I should say “the first time I remember meeting him”, because there was a period there where I met a lot of people in very rapid succession and tend to jumble things up a bit–he was sitting in the corner of Star’s living room with a guitar.

(Side story: I went to Nerd Camp–not its official name–during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. The year I attended it was held on a college campus in the middle of nowhere, and the first several people I met were variations on the Cheerful/Perky/Chipper/Future Greek Pledge theme…and at that point I was firmly into my grunge-angst-meets-hippie-DamnTheMan period, so I felt pretty out of place. So I went on a walk, and ran into another attendee–a long-haired guy who looked like Jesus, wearing an ankle-length crushed velvet skirt, sitting under a tree and playing the guitar. We became fast friends and are friends to this day, some 20 years later. I have good luck with Guys With Guitars.)

…So this guy was in the corner of Star’s living room with a guitar. I was there because Star was throwing a party, and while I now look back on Star Parties with a great deal of nostalgia and fondness, at the time they were a source of full frontal terror: everyone there knew each other, most of them having been friends for periods ranging into the decades, and I was the new kid. The new, socially awkward kid. The new, socially awkward kid who doesn’t like to be in situations where she doesn’t know most of the people (but they sure do know each other), in a new place, in a new city that was about 10 times bigger than her comfort zone really allows for and apparently populated by drivers who believe it’s Thunderdome all day every day around here, who gets overwhelmed pretty easily by a) large groups, b) new places, c) loud situations, d) heavy traffic (did I mention Star lived right off one of the main roads?), and e) being the odd man out. Whee!

So this guy was in the corner of Star’s living room with a guitar, and because I was about ten seconds from shutting down completely and maybe going to the bathroom to cry for a little while but because I knew from experience that Guys With Guitars are usually safe places for me, I went and sat down. And Moon Man came and joined me, and someone called for a tune, and somehow or another (there’s a certain amount of grey, Overwhelmed Just Existing Please Don’t Ask Me Anything time in here) the guy with the guitar ended up playing “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” from Sesame Street. Doing a passable Ernie impression to boot, I should note. And I sat there and listened and within about two bars had sunk beneath the surface of the music and shut out everything and was mouthing the words and holding back tears and holding Moon Man’s hand and the only things in the world that existed were the sound of the music and the pressure of Moon’s hand and suddenly, easily, everything was ok. There was a Guy With a Guitar and a voice that resonated at exactly the right frequency to open the peaceful places–carefully, oh so carefully guarded–in my heart, and everything was ok.

Eventually we became friends with this guy and his family, and we get together sometimes to do social things or we go see him perform. And while he’s not exactly playing Shea Stadium–he’s more in the “coffeeshops and occasional private parties” circuit, including playing at our wedding because he’s also a damn good sport about driving 45 miles to Topeka for a tiny private ceremony on the day after Thanksgiving–his music always, always takes me to that place where everything is ok. Even when everything is most decidedly not ok–I went to see him once a couple of weeks after Dad died, and those two hours were the first time in 14-ish days that I believed that I might actually be able to get through this. I played his CD for Little Bit, my feline best friend of 16+ years, while Bit was dying–it calmed him down, and calmed me down, and didn’t change the fact that I was holding my little buddy while he died, but it made it possible to believe that things might be ok again later.

And y’know, it’s just this thing this guy does. He just, like, plays the guitar. And sings some things. He also makes clothes and builds decks and does something complicated with computers and fixes dinner and raises children and, I dunno, tells inappropriate jokes sometimes and grumbles about the price of things. He’s just a guy with a guitar, doing what Guys With Guitars do.

But as it happens, he was the guy with the guitar in the place where I was at exactly the time I needed a Guy With a Guitar. And he’s been that for me more than once, which makes me a little extra glad we both happened to agree to go to that Star Party in the first place.

And here’s the thing, y’all: being a guy with a guitar is just part of his day. If he’s going somewhere, he takes his guitar with him just in case there’s some music that needs playin’. And it occurs to me that a lot of us have That Thing We Do–we have words, or we have music, or we have interpretive dance or underwater basket weaving or being a kung fu master or being a rocket scientist, that Thing We Are Made Of that we do just because it’s in our soul to do it–and I think that sometimes the most important thing we can do is to do that Thing. Even if we’re not making money at it, even if it’s not our main occupation, even if we never get more than a few hundred hits on our blog post or a slightly overfilled coffeeshop for an audience.

Because you never know when someone in the room is going to be in desperate need of a Guy With a Guitar…and if she’s there, and you could fill that need, why the hell would you leave the guitar at home?

Love ya, brotherman.

Love ya, brotherman.

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Thank You, Fred Phelps

Dear Reverend Phelps,

Word has spread that your health may be failing. I am in no position to offer you anything but sympathy and my prayers: if you are to recover, may your recovery be swift and simple; and if it is your time to leave this life, may your transition be smooth and peaceful. I hope that your nearest and dearest are keeping you good company, and that you are comfortable and well-cared-for, wherever you may be. Illness can be a frightening time, and I hope that yours passes quickly.

But since recovery gets harder as we get older (it happens to us all) and someday the fight will simply be too much for your body, I want to take this opportunity to thank you while there is still a chance that you will (somehow) stumble across and read this blog post.

Thank you, Reverend Phelps.

I don’t suppose you hear that all that much these days. It’s pretty “in vogue” to publicly rebuke you, to curse your name and to sling hate at you. If we’re going to be completely honest here, I’m sure you can understand–you haven’t exactly been known for your “free puppy kisses and lollipops for everyone” approach to spreading your message. But I believe strongly in the idea that everyone who enters our lives is a blessing in some way or another–even if it takes a bit of soul-searching to find the blessing buried at the bottom–and you are no exception to that rule.

Here’s what I mean:

1. You’ve taught me about respect. If this is your first visit to BuffaloTracts, you may want to stop at this post before your blood pressure shoots too high, but if you’ve been here before, you know that you and I don’t really have a whole lot of beliefs in common. That’s ok; we don’t all have to agree. But the process of writing this letter–more precisely, the process of deciding how to address this letter–has really underscored what I’ve learned about the difference between agreement and respect; i.e., I don’t have to agree with a single thing you say to respect that, for instance, you have earned the title of “Reverend”, at least within your own organization. Whether I would join your church or not is irrelevant; and whether you would have any title at all in a church I would join is irrelevant; “Reverend” is your title in the church you lead, and “Reverend” you shall be called. It’s a respectful thing to do, much like calling the Pope “Your Holiness”. Thank you for helping me pin that down.

2. You’ve taught me that a person should never, ever be judged by their parentage. I went to school with a couple of your grandkids; as I recall, they were actually pretty nice folks. I mean, sure, we had to steer clear of certain topics, but even that was a good learning point: that it’s absolutely possible for people with radically different beliefs to coexist peacefully, as long as they’re all willing to play nicely and share the toys. And since I came from a lineage that included a lot of blue-collar folks but went to school with a lot of doctors’ and lawyers’ kids, I came in primed to feel inferior based on my background–but you and your grandchildren helped me see past that and start learning to recognize people’s individual merits regardless of what family tree they grew from. It did great things for my self-esteem, frankly. Thank you for that.

3. You’ve taught me that wildly disparate people can absolutely work together to achieve common goals. I think the various counterprotests around the nation are excellent examples of this–there is no way anyone can possibly convince me that every single person in the human wall at Aurora, or the human wall at Texas A&M, or the human wall at the University of Missouri, or the human wall at Newtown, or the human wall members of Angel Action, or the other human walls that come up when you search for “human wall Westboro Baptist Church” (about 425,000 hits when I searched just now–wow, that’s a lot of object lessons!) all knew each other before they arrived to form their walls on those days. But there they all were, some of them arm-in-arm, some of them wearing huge angel wings that they’d built for the occasion, some carrying signs, some revving motorcycle engines to drown out your chants–there they were, united by a common purpose. Total strangers. Working together. It brings a tear to my eye every time. Thank you for that.

I suppose the bottom line here, Reverend, is this:

rock-of-ages-e1380981517484

I have (again with the honesty) absolutely not enjoyed the experience of interacting with you. We are not friends, and we are not particularly likely ever to be friends. I have not enjoyed seeing you on the streets of my childhood hometown, I have not enjoyed having your signs as part of the background scenery as I grew up, I have not enjoyed watching you gain a national stage, I have not enjoyed seeing Topeka’s private shame get international press, and I have not enjoyed witnessing the hurt and anger and fear your message has caused.

But I have learned to appreciate your existence for the lessons you have taught: about respecting someone despite fundamentally disagreeing with them; about basing your opinion of someone solely on that person’s own merits and actions; and about people’s abilities to overlook their differences in pursuit of a higher common goal. All those lessons, I think, were important in deepening my relationship with god. My god–not your God, because they are not the same entity at all.

If the role of a pastor is to bring people closer to the Divine, then by gosh, I reckon you’ve done it. For me, a woman whose sexuality and beliefs and politics would absolutely have inspired a garishly colored sign had you and I ever met in person.

Thank you for that, Reverend. You’ve done your work. Now rest comfortably, recover quickly if that is to be your fate, or transition gracefully if your time here is done. You’ll be in my prayers–whether you want to be or not.

Blessings to you,

Mama BW

 

Update, March 20, 2014: Fred Phelps has passed away. I hope his transition was peaceful and that he was surrounded by love as he left this life and entered the next stage of his soul’s grand adventure. I will continue to pray for his family’s peace during this difficult time for them–it is never easy to lose someone you love–and I trust that we will all take this opportunity to tell our own loved ones how much they mean to us. Remember, gang, today also happens to be Mr. Rogers’ birthday; let’s all be good neighbors and make careful choices about which Fred we want to be most like. Love you hooligans.

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Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There, General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely, Share the Toys

The Red Purse

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine came to me with a crisis: she’d won a Coach handbag.

More accurately, her husband won the handbag for her; his company held a raffle, and for $10 you could get 15 tickets. The proceeds from the tickets were divided among three charities including the Humane Society and a local domestic violence shelter, so even if you didn’t win you got the satisfaction of knowing you’d done a Good Thing. And–hooray!–he won, and she got a $300 gift card to purchase the handbag of her choice. (Ok, technically he got a gift card and could’ve bought himself a nice handbag, but he’s not really a handbag sort of fellow.)

Now, here’s where the crisis comes in: my friend is a Very Nice Person(TM). And $300 is a lot of money to spend on a handbag. So her first impulse? Her first impulse was to pick out a nice, neutral sort of bag that lots of people would like, then turn around and sell it on eBay so she could get herself a much less expensive purse (say, from Target) and give the remaining money to charity. As she put it, “I can feed a lot of people with $300!”.

But her husband had won her that handbag fair and square (by making a charitable donation of his own accord, no less), so she didn’t want to say “thanks but no thanks”…but there are needy people in the world and how could she possibly justify carrying a $300 purse when people are hungry…but she’d found a really nice purse that she really did love…but seriously, though, how do you justify keeping all that money to yourself…

We could run around that track that for a long time. The bottom line is that she’d won a super-expensive purse, and was trying to convince herself that she should keep it, despite all (well, ok, most) of her inner urges telling her to flip the thing.

By now I reckon you’ve started developing an opinion about what she should do in this situation, so let me go ahead and toss in a couple more tidbits (y’know, either to bolster or make you rethink your argument):

1. This friend works as a patient advocate. Basically, this means that she helps folks–mostly folks with some sort of mental or psychological challenges–navigate the complex maze of government paperwork to get them access to things like health care, housing, and food assistance. Her caseload is roughly 300 people per week. Lest you think that’s a typo, I’ll say it again: she helps three hundred people per week.

2. This friend took this job partly because it would enable her to help people professionally, but also partly because it came with a giant pay boost over her previous job–which meant that now she could make ends meet and have some money leftover for splurges and charitable donations. That’s right, kids, she donates regularly to local food banks, participates in the annual holiday Adopt-a-Family drive, etc, etc, etc–in addition to the folks she helps during the day.

In other words, chickadee is pretty much superwoman, saving as much of the world as she can before I’ve even figured out what to have for lunch on a given day.

I reckon you can guess how I felt about the purse situation, then. But in the interest of clarity, let me spell it out: if anyone on the face of god’s green earth deserves a spontaneous prezzie just because she’s awesome, it is this gal. I mean, c’mon. Seriously, now.

So you know what she did?

Drumroll, please….

She accepted the handbag. She decided that it was a lovely gift from her husband, and her husband declared it to be a lovely gift from the Cosmos for being nice people, and now she has a shiny new purse.

This shiny new purse.

This shiny new purse.

And here’s why I’m telling you this story: I can’t speak for the rest of y’all, but I for one profoundly empathize, to the core of my very soul, with her crisis. When something nice comes my way, or when someone tries to do something generous to/for me, it freaks me all the way out. I will go to great lengths to try to help someone else, will be more than happy to help folks on moving day, will blow half our Christmas budget on total strangers, will insist that people bring me food bank donations instead of presents on my birthday; but if a person says to me “I would like to do this thing for you”, it just shuts my brain all the way down.

Another friend said a few months ago that I’m the sort of person who, if I found $20 in my coat pocket, I’d turn around immediately and give it to someone else. And that’s not entirely untrue, particularly if I happened to be sitting with someone who needed it.

But when she said that–and again, when the Great Coach Crisis of 2014 arose–I made myself sit and really think about what that says and what that means. It’s great to be a cheerful giver; it’s actually really important to me to be a cheerful giver.

But don’t we also have a responsibility to be gracious receivers? There are folks out there who are reliant upon assistance from other people; but if all we ever model is this sort of excessively humble sheepishness that prohibits us from taking anything from anyone, ever, how are these folks supposed to feel like they’re not transgressing against social norms by accepting help when it’s offered? Shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility that by having the courage to accept blessings when they arise, we’re demonstrating to others that this is really, truly ok, and that they are also permitted to receive blessings without feeling an obligation to turn around and immediately pass them off to someone else?

brave

And do we really want to tell people–or the Universe–that their spontaneous expressions of loving generosity are somehow not welcome here? That seems like an awfully dangerous precedent to set, if you ask me.

So frankly, I’m glad she took the purse–not just because she deserves it, or because she will rock the heck outta that shiny new red handbag, but because it gives her the chance to show people that if someone does something nice for you, you are allowed to accept it. You are allowed to say “thank you” and mean it from the bottom of your heart, and you can keep the gift and still be a good person.

You can cash in your karma points from time to time, is what I’m saying. You’ve earned ’em, and you can spend ’em.

And besides, if you’re anything like her, you’ll build 1,000 more points before you go home tonight. You’ve got points to spare. Rock that purse, honey.

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A Million

Dear Moon,

I don’t know what’s happened to time lately. We were just talking about this the other day, how time seems to have been doing these weird slip-skip things, so that one minute we’re toasting the New Year and then suddenly we’re baking the turkey for Thanksgiving. All I really know is that one morning I woke up and took a shower and put on fancy clothes and went and stood in front of a room full of our closest friends and family and promised to have adventures with you as your wife, and then I blinked and somehow a million minutes have passed and it’s our second anniversary.

I did the math–if a year is ~525,600 minutes, then two years is more than a million. Yowza.

A million minutes as your wife, your partner in crime, your sidekick. A million minutes as your first-line support system. A million minutes as your fashion adviser (ha!), your personal chef, your cheerleader, and occasionally your very own in-house Grumpy McGrouchyson (sorry about those).

A million minutes.

And I was thinking about all those minutes, and since a million minutes is a little abstract, I converted them to dollars. Y’know, like if we won the lottery or something. And if I think about it that way, something kinda jumps out at me: suppose we were told that we were going to get $1 million deposited in a bank account every other year for the next, say, 40 years; but if we put aside $20 a day, like into an interest-bearing account or something complicated involving stocks or something, we can get an additional few payouts. So, y’know, mo’ money, honey. We like mo’ money. And that’d be pretty easy–we could set up an automatic transfer, maybe–and even if we had to hop into the car and take 20 minutes to run to the bank and make the transfer manually, I reckon we’d still do it, ’cause, y’know, money. Money money money. And it’s only 20 minutes. Maybe we could make an adventure out of it, or a ritual.

Now convert that back to minutes. Still with me? No more money (boo), but now we’re talking about time. I’ve had about a million minutes with you so far, and I’ll be delighted to take every additional minute I can get; and from the quick googling I just did, it looks like using 20 minutes per day to exercise instead of sitting in front of the television can add between 2 and 14 years to our lives together, depending on which article you want to believe.

2 to 14 years. That’s up to 7 million additional minutes.

If it was cash we were talking about, I think we can both agree that it’d be no problem at all to wedge in a quick daily bank run–20 minutes, or $20, isn’t very long / very much / very difficult, in the grand scheme of things. We’d do it without even thinking about it. But somehow when we talk about time, and more precisely about time spent looking after our health, it becomes this big giant bothersome irritating thiiiiiing, and we doan wanna do eet. I’m guilty of it, and let’s face it, so are you.

But y’know what? One million minutes doesn’t even come close to the amount of time I want to spend with you. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of how many times I want to sit on your parents’ porch and watch the waterfall with you, or how many times I want to play in the lake with you at Grandpa’s house, or how many times I want to watch you show Mom how to use a complicated gadget, or how many times I want to hear you read a story to our nieces’n’nephews. It doesn’t begin to cover the number of minutes I want to spend watching you skritch the critters or put away the dishes or drive us to some new and exciting place. It doesn’t even come close.

So maybe it’s not the sexiest anniversary present a man could ever want, but this year my present to you is my workout pants. They say the second anniversary gift is supposed to be cotton; so this year you’re getting my exercise clothes. T-shirts, tank tops, pants, shorts, socks, the whole shebang. And in return, I want yours.

And I don’t want them pristine. I want your workout clothes in the clothes hamper, sweaty from use and smellin’ weird. It’ll give me an excuse to use that homemade laundry detergent I’ve become addicted to (seriously, have you smelled it? It’s sooo niiiice). And eventually I want new workout clothes from you, because the old set is too big.

I want us to not spend 20 minutes together each day, because we’re busy spending those 20 minutes by ourselves, doing whatever it takes to earn the extra 2-14 years. Sure, sometimes we can do activities together; and this is a family show so I’m not going to get overly descriptive here, but I know I can think of a fun workout we can do together in 20 minutes or so (longer if we’re feeling particularly–ahem–motivated); but I also want us to cultivate a pattern of exercising even if the other person isn’t around to be a cheerleader.

I want to put those 20 minutes into a timey-wimey bank account and let the interest start growing, because dammit, I want my extra 7 million minutes. Especially if they’re going to go as quickly as these first million have gone.

So happy anniversary, sweetheart. Thank you for the first million minutes, and for all the adventures and misadventures and laughter and love we’ve shared so far, and please know how very, very much I look forward to all the millions of minutes we have ahead of us.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go gift-wrap my socks.

I choose you every morning and I love you more each day,

–Your BW

…seriously, though? Two years already? WTH?

 

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Thankful

It’s Thanksgiving, and I imagine that in a few hours people all across the country are going to start circling their wagons around tables heaped with food and reciting their litanies of thanks: thanks for the food, thanks for each other, thanks that we could all make it here this year, thanks that their favorite politicians did the things they approved of (or blocked the things they disapproved of), thanks that they weathered whatever storms this last year brought. And I agree–I am thankful for all those things.

But this year I also want to take a moment to focus on being thankful for the other things, the things on the flip side of the coin, the things that are harder to appreciate but which deserve our gratitude nonetheless.

So this year I am thankful for:

  • the goodbyes, because they make the hellos that much sweeter.
  • all my failed relationships, because they have taught me the skills that make my marriage a place of comfort and joy (and taught me what to look for, and what to avoid).
  • all the people who have been hateful, spiteful, cruel, or just generally irritating, because they have taught me that there is a kernel of goodness inside everyone, even if you have to search for a really long time to find it. Case in point: that one ex, who was frankly kind of a terrible person but who used to make a 15-hour drive once a week to take his father to chemo because nobody else could do it.
  • the traditions that have become corrupted over time, because they let me have nostalgic stories to share with (impose upon) the next generation. The Macy’s parade, for instance, which used to spend a lot more time showing the floats and a lot less time watching pop stars lip sync to their latest hit song.
  • the scary politicians who briefly seemed to stand a fighting chance, because their defeats were almost–almost–as  enjoyable as the victories of their opponents.
  • this nasty cold I’ve been fighting for the last week or so, because breathing through my nose this morning reminded me of how glorious and wonderful that is, and how I should never, ever take that for granted again.
  • cooking disasters, because they remind me of the bounty we enjoy most of the time. There are people who would cry over a burned pie not because it’s a little embarrassing to have burned the pie, but because that pie was all they had.
  • sniping relatives, because they really do mean well, and because it’s good to have someone around who loves us despite having nothing whatsoever in common with us.

…For all those things and more, I am thankful. And as always, I am thankful for you–each of you, and all of you–not because you teach me anything by counterexample, but because you are simply magnificent and inspire me daily to reach for greatness. Please know that you are loved today and every day, and that somebody in this world is profoundly grateful that you exist.

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to start preparing the feast.

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