Dancing with a Welcome Mat and Other Embarrassing Things

I thought that I would write about my most embarrassing moment in life and then decided against it. That specific moment included the realization that I have an intense fear of heights when I’m hanging from a suspended pole hundreds of feet in the air. I’ll tell that story publicly when I can be honest; more authentic.

patty1This story, however, happens on the ground. I must have been fifteen or sixteen years old. Patty was my best friend. We did everything together. We were in band, drama club, and clown ministry together. We finished homework together, went to church together, curled each other’s hair – big bangs! We shared clothes and make up and had so many sleepovers. We learned all the lyrics and dance moves to NKOTB (90’s reference) and fantasized about Mark and Joey. We knew how to have a good time together. I mean a really good time. We once spent an afternoon playing kiddie pool Frisbee. We would take a kiddie pool with about a half gallon of water in it and then sling that thing across the backyard towards each other. The goal was to catch the kiddie pool Frisbee without getting wet as the water sloshed around after the catch. What made it even funnier was her three dogs would chase the “Frisbee” as well. This silliness was our pastime and it was awesome.

Patty’s father was a Colonel in the Navy and worked at the Army base hospital. He was a drunk and verbally abusive to her. This made it even easier for us to find reasons to be silly together and escape. One of our escapes was shopping (no surprise there). Living in Hinesville, Georgia provided very little opportunity to do the appropriate teenage shopping every sixteen year old deserves, but we made the best of it. We incorporated guy watching by going to the Army base and perusing whatever might be in store for us at the Post Exchange (PX), including the young government issued guys (GI Joes). Yummy!

So, on this particular day in the middle of a hot Georgia summer, we decided to make ourselves look good (big bangs) and head on over to the PX. We parked and began to walk into the store. I knew I looked good and smelled good and felt good. There’s this theory I learned about years later in college psych class about teenage invincibility. I was proving that theory on this day. I. WAS. A. SUPERSTAR.

We walked towards the door; Patty and me, me and Patty.
The next sequencing of events was choreographed like a Janet Jackson music video minus the finesse. It went something like this:

Step 1 – Tango with big blob of gum. Without looking, as I was too busy worried about who was looking at me, I stepped on a large piece of Hubba Bubba, nasty, sticky, hot lump of gum. It stuck.

Step 2 – Tap dance with the large welcome mat at the front door. This is the choreographed sequence where I met my dance partner – the mat. Somehow the gum was the perfect consistency to attach to my shoe, which was attached to my body with perfect cohesion to the corner of the large plastic rectangular “WELCOME” mat. We were the perfect couple, “Mat” and me with a love bond of stringy, sticky gum.

Step 3 – “Mat” tried to lead me through a step ball change, but instead he brought me to my knees. I fell to the floor. This was not rehearsed. As I fell, another dance partner entered the scene. The corner of the mat was right next to the small cylinder trash can.

Step 4 – Cylinder can enters into a graceful free spin as it rolls out passed the sidewalk, passed quite a few people and into the parking lot. I watched while I was still on my knees. The base of the can rolled to the right and littered pieces of trash as it gently rolled away. The top of the can holding kitty litter and cigarette butts rolled to the left, leaving a trail of gray pebbles and used up cancer sticks.

I looked up and made eye contact with a few folks. Superstar status depleted.

Patty..? Where was Patty? Patty was watching the entire time and with uncontrollable laughter from a safe distance. She walked over to me and helped me up. She made it okay for me to laugh at myself and we proceeded to walk in to the PX to implement more silliness.

I think this moment will always stand out for me for a couple of reasons. First of all, in just mere seconds, I went from total invincibility to hanging out with some already been chewed gum on the ground. It was a humbling life lesson. It is also one of the few memories I still have of Patty. After graduation, she joined the Navy and was very disappointed to be medically discharged. Three years after high school and before any of us had really experienced adult life hers was taken away due to complications from Epilepsy. It was too soon. She left me with so many humorous memories and most importantly the reminder to not take things so seriously, including tap dancing with a cigarette butt can as well as myself.

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The Next Big Thing

As I sit by his side, watching his chest, waiting for movement (validation that he is still breathing) my senses are alive. I hear his elder mother sing gospel hymns softly; hymns that she has known for 80 or more years. I feel his calloused dry hand in mine becoming colder. It seems that it is already lifeless. I am close to his head and smell the foul, dry breath that comes out of his mouth. I kiss his forehead as a reminder that we are still here with him. As she heads for the door, his wife speaks, “I’m going to have a cigarette.”

“No, mama,” I say strongly. “Stay here. Come sit next to me. It is time.”

I have been watching, observing. We have been waiting for death for days and the pattern of breathing I have come to know has changed in the last minutes. Somehow I know that if she leaves now she will regret it. She looks at me half surprised I gave her such a command and half questioning what “time” I allude to. Our eyes connect and she now understands as I begin to taste the tears running down my face. She comes to his side and takes my seat next to him. She begins to sing some song I have never heard about her baby’s eyes or his baby’s eyes maybe something blue eyes. I can’t follow as she barely sings. I am still holding his hand. His mother switches from hymns to prayers, naming her God in every way she can as if by doing so her son will be carried away by a group of Deities to Heaven. “Dear Jesus, Holy Lord, Heavenly Father, O Lord, Our Lord, Father in the Promised Land.”

The three of us hold vigil as his weak body seizes up to take its last breath. Exhale.

Pause.                             I close his eyelids.

There is something incredibly humbling and beautiful poignant to witness someone that you care for take their last breath. When you accompany someone through their end of days, it is not something you ever forget.

I had the opportunity to help take care of Tony for a few years before he died. He actually lived with us for over a year from the time when he could barely walk to the time when we could no longer properly care for him. During this time and while he was under hospice care, I fed him, I gave him his medicine, even awkwardly changed his diaper a couple of times. I would sit and watch endless reruns of Law and Order with him.

Much like death there are times in our lives that demand help from others; sometimes just to be a witness and testament to whom we are and what we represent.  It is during the most difficult times, usually at the end of a chapter, when we are in the greatest need of an escort. And, we are all in need of escorts; someone to hold our hand, to plead for our soul’s happiness, to sing a love song, to remind us that they are still there, with us, escorting us to the next big thing.  

8 weeks of joy

Braylen Elijah entered the world in a hurry and without breath. He was coaxed back to life with love and medical miracles. His mother, while healing and exhausted from her own physical trauma, immediately took on her new role with courage. Most parents spend their first few days after new life has been born introducing their precious gift to the world and enjoying “firsts” — the first moments of a baby’s breath and cry; the first feedings, changing of diapers and, days later, bringing baby home. Instead, Braylen’s parents had the courageous and critical role as the medical advocates, life historians, public relations coordinators and personal cheerleaders to this helpless newborn.

They lived in and out of hospitals and a Ronald McDonald home for eight weeks. They sacrificed whatever was necessary to chaperone, protect and validate his valuable life. They took advantage of every opportunity to touch him, to hold him, to take one of the thousands of pictures of him. They washed their hands raw to prevent infection in the hospital room. They stood watch over the machines and quickly learned what the oxygen saturation, blood pressure, heart beat and breathing patterns indicated. They became best friends with the hospital staff, spending more time with them then they were able to be with their own family, friends, co-workers. They watched as other babies in the NICU recovered and families and medical staff celebrated as those babies were discharged from the hospital. They ate hospital food. They slept little. They were exhausted. They became more selfless than they thought they could ever be – life giving unto life.

We are born and then we die and we have little to do with either one of those events, but how we live in between, however brief it is, is what makes all the difference. Braylen’s life was quiet. He never made a noise, never opened his eyes, never moved around and he was able to have a greater impact in his eight weeks than many of us could imagine. This little baby was able to change policy in the NICU, allowing fathers to participate in “kangaroo care” – the magical technique of holding a preterm infant skin-to-skin. In Braylen’s eight weeks, he provided boundless joy from the simplest things. Every one of us found a different part of him absolutely irresistible: his fighting fists, his crazy toe, the soft caramel skin, thick dark hair, his sweet hand that he let anyone hold, his cute nose. People from all over the country, all over the world, watched and prayed and sent notes and love letters and held mass and sent gifts and provided messages of hope and love. They kept his name on their lips and held his name in their hearts. They had acceptance and admiration of this little bear cub and his parents. They continue to hold him in their hearts, forever validating his life.

Life is a sacred adventure. A baby boy was born, lived eight weeks and died. Death begets legacy. So does joy. What will be your legacy of joy to the next generations?

Hello Blog. It’s me…and my Edited Flight Plan.

So, yes…it’s been a long time since I blogged. Recently, somewhere along my road I got lost. I got distracted. I got lazy.

I’d like to blame it on my “soon-to-be-but-not-soon-enough-ex-husband” and his change in game plan to suddenly be nice. Not all the time nice, mind you, but at least amicable. At least, most of the time. Whatever it is, he started being nice. And me? Well, I just got confused. Clearly, he is not to blame. Changing to anything from how it used to be is welcomed. Honestly, I should be grateful.

I had been set in my position without knowing it. Playing defense; offensively. I was set and when you are set and the world you know (known as defense to me) shifts, you gotta shift with it or you get lost. And I did. I lost focus at work. I disassociated with family and friends. (It took a lot to spend Christmas with the ones I love the most and it shouldn’t.) I stopped running. I drank more alcohol than I would care to admit. I gained 10 pounds. I stopped writing.

“So, Self…” I said to me….”this playing defense thing clearly is not what I need to be doing anymore.”  Maybe it was useful at the time and helped me to avoid caving into some sort of crazy lunacy, but it is no longer necessary.

So, now what?

As I sit on this plane headed towards California (and seriously looking forward to hanging out with my sister’s girlfriend), I am reminded of flight plans. The thing about flight plans is that they change. They change constantly. A flight plan includes a series of different points the plane “touches” en route (mysterious coordinates involving imaginary lines and degrees that no one can see or touch, but I am told they exist). The plane is expected to hit these points along the way, but things change…weather, interaction with other planes, delays, crazy passengers, etc. and when they do, the flight plan gets adjusted; new coordinates are obtained. The plane still lands at its original destination (almost all of the time), but the route is adjusted along the way based on reality.

“Self, it’s time to change your flight plan. What are you waiting for? Clearly you have had your fill of crazy and it is now time to adjust.”

And so I am.

I am re-assessing.

I am re-focusing.

I am re-booting.

I am adjusting my flight plan. I realize that these mysterious coordinates I am striving for are still destined for more editing along the way. So, I make my edits still focused on my original destination. Look forward to seeing you there.

Uncle Rod

I slept with a woman last night because that’s what you do when her husband dies and there is no one else to hold her hand while she tries to remember every second of the last day with her husband until she falls asleep from exhaustion at 2:34 in the morning.

My uncle died at the young age of 54 and I am heartbroken. Uncle Roddy was spectacular. He told the silliest jokes, had such passionate views, a genuine smile, the coolest handshake (included shooting pistols) and absolute committed love for my aunt. He was proud and worked hard for all that he had. He was not afraid of physical labor. He was not afraid of calling people out when they were wrong. He was not afraid of owning his mistakes. He was not afraid of investing in the souls of other people around him. This is what I call love. He was not afraid of love.

A cowboy at heart, he and my aunt stirred my daughters’ interests in horseback-riding, raising their self esteem in the process and created forever memories that will never be forgotten. They helped me to mold my girls into the brave, beautiful women they are today. My uncle taught me so many things…like how to handle what we like to call “unscheduled dismounts” off of horses to using your hand to know what time the sun will set. He was my family before we were family. Always gracious and providing to others and now he is gone, too soon.

In his memory…tell silly jokes, be passionate, be genuine, smile a lot, be cool, create goofy handshakes, love. Be proud of what you are and what you have accomplished, appreciate physical labor, stand up for your beliefs, apologize when you should, love. Life’s too short to be anything but happy. Be happy now.