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Two Pairs of Keds

"One for dress, one for everyday."

Dark Clouds Overhead

You can blame it on the season.

Here in Michigan, winter hangs tenaciously on, while spring tries to bat its way home. In the morning, you leave in your commuter parka. That afternoon, you walk out of work sweating with your coat flapping, jumbling around for your sunglasses that have plummeted somewhere to the bottom of your purse.

Up? Down? Usually, you can chart me by whether the sun’s shining, at least until the weather regularly tops 60º.  But not this year. This year, there are dark clouds overhead.

It might seem sunnier if I wasn’t a social media coordinator. I’m pretty sure, at this point, that it’s not good for me…or anyone to follow the trends and messaging so closely. This past weekend, our campus had an active shooter alert. When we got the all clear, it was a relief, but not the kind that makes you smile. Instead, I wondered if we’re ready, if there’s someone out there that will copycat something terrible, if the rumored popping balloons were a malicious prank to remove persons at the New Zealand shooting vigil.

It might seem sunnier if there wasn’t a threat of funding removal from libraries, and the arts, and public television. Did you know that PBS is the most trusted news outlet we have? Why do you suppose someone or some people would want to do away with that? Dale Carnegie (no saint) said of libraries:

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

It might seem sunnier if our ever-overreaching government would leave anything alone. [You should know there was incredible restraint exercised in keeping swear words from that sentence.] But we now have another false promise of loan forgiveness, which we have yet to fulfill, as the brain trust that is Washington DC considers limiting student borrowing for college education. Who is government to say how much someone can borrow? They forgave the banking industry for loaning homeowners too much money. Now we need restrictions on the ONE THING that has proven to increase life opportunity? There are darker days ahead.

You might see me as the harbinger of rain, a personal nimbus cloud of doom. If so, you might be interested to know that, along with my co-writer and beloved colleague, I lead a group of incoming first-year undergraduate students through a curriculum of digital citizenship. Over seven weeks, we offer online navigational tools for transitioning to college from high school. We talk about fake news, self care, and global responsibility. We talk about ‘netiquette’, a mash-up term for internet etiquette.

A majority of students participate. They engage in online discourse, even before they meet each other face-to-face, including setting standards for their interactions. At the onset, most reference the “Golden Rule” (Do unto others…), although some call down the “Threat of Grandma” (Do you want your grandmother to…). Usually some light is shed when we prepare and lead the course, as well as when we read their considered comments. We have not once had to arbitrate an argument between over 550 students in the last two years. And believe me, we read it all.

But the sky is falling. How does one hold students to a standard of kindness, while our acting president bashes a dead man? Refuses to see that his white nationalist commentary has impacted public opinion and behavior? Refutes his responsibility to provide not only military might but education, informed public news outlets, national parks, and ecological protection?

There are dark clouds overhead. The storm? Oh, it may blow over, but I doubt it. Already, we’re looking at national elections, while our Midwest states are drowning from the rains.

 

 

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No, we definitely had it worse than you.

Talking about your generation. (With apologies to The Who.)

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation) [My Generation|The Who]
~c 1965. In which I was five years old…but I played the hell out of the song years later.

My youngest and I were discussing a recent article about the terrible burnout of the Millennial generation. Both the parents and children of this generation were led to believe things would continue an upward economic trajectory. The promise was alive: if you went to school and worked hard, you would prosper – at least as well, if not better – than the previous generation. And then 2008 struck America.

The gist of the author’s point.

They’re tired, this group. Turns out, their college costs escalated. Even though they’re one of the best educated generations, they owe enormous debt, took jobs that used to require less formal schooling, and are battling for their careers in the trenches with middle-aged people who had to restart, reset, and are frantically trying to cover retirement expenses. Move over, punk.

If it’s not enough, insult to injury means that the same old geezers who took these entry level jobs are the very folks who raised them to believe that every season of soccer participation deserved a trophy. That their inventive spelling was A-okay. That Disney stars and starlets were leading real lives. Then we handed them a mobile phone, thinking it was a safety feature while we were working dual careers, and flipped opened the world of digital unreality.

Now? Well, now, they are ‘adulting’, a verb applied to the types of transactions formerly associated with being an adult, but which do not always happen in 2018. Buying a home? Maybe not, because their student loan payments are the same as their parents’ house payments. Buying furniture? Not at Ethan Allen (my mother’s preference), sister. Maybe Ikea. Having families? Yes, but the birth rate is decreasing in the United States. They have less hope for the future, thanks to the national and global scene. In short, they are tired.

Our conversation turned.

At this point, I was ready to launch into my trek to school, uphill both ways. Ten miles. In the snow, in every season. It occurs to me, now, that this is the point of telling familial stories, of the recitation about how grandma and grandpa came to own the farm, how our great-grandparents found a way to craft a better boat.

Who the hell isn’t tired?

My generation? Oh, well, one of my earliest memories is of JFK’s funeral procession. And then Bobby Kennedy’s. And MLK’s. It’s blurry to me, through my child’s eyes, the sequence. But I can still see the war in Vietnam playing out over the TV during the dinner hour. My uncle was a pilot and I wrote a child’s letter to him, while he was…somewhere. Far. While my aunt and their four children lived at my grandpa’s farm, we waited for his letters back to us.

And the twins from around the block had an uncle who wasn’t quite right, who was home from the war. He slept on the couch. We weren’t supposed to bother him. He scared me. Nixon was impeached.

And the drugs. Everyone was worried about the Charles Manson gang, while a small book called The Electric Koolaid Acid Test was secreted about. Because, freedom, man. And free love. And Woodstock was somewhere in here, but these were all blurry, too, because we weren’t supposed to know. But a rocket landed on the moon. And again.

My dad lost his job at Plumbrook in Sandusky, OH, because nuclear power, turns out, was not something that the American public was ready to embrace. Cue China Syndrome. Goodbye, Norwalk. Hello, Cleveland. Then, one year later, Jackson, MI, which was already slightly depressed and which I hated.

There was a gas crises in high school; I can remember idling the car in a line at the Clark Station. Our nation celebrated its bicentennial. We painted fire hydrants in a show of patriotic loyalty (whose idea was that?). I graduated two years later.

Oh, but we were talking about the promise of adulting.

My version of adulting? No help applying for college. No one really cared where I went. No help with money, either. Some pocket change. My parents’ relationship was in trouble before the fall I entered college. My mom had received the equivalent of full-time expenses for her high school achievement as valedictorian in a class of 16 students, 24 years prior. She had no idea. Neither did I. I accepted WMU and off I went.

During those years, the energy crises worsened. One holiday season, President Carter asked American families not to hang electric Christmas lights outdoors, in solidarity. And they didn’t.

Hostages were held in Tehran. Not just one or two. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held 444 days, from November 1979 to December 1981, the month and year I graduated.

Jobs were still in short supply, particularly because of the poor automotive market, which tanked Michigan in particular. I moved to Los Angeles, where Bill had been transferred. I took two suitcases and two Pier One baskets tied with twine. From this point, I worked in the crazy-ass LA mortgage industry, got married, moved to Philadelphia, worked three months in accounts payable, moved to Detroit, went back into mortgage banking, and watched the whole preliminary to the mortgage banking crash by packaging jumbo loans (100K+), as real estate agents qualified just about any monkey who applied. Oh, and I was paying back my student loans.

I took every stick of furniture thrown my way. The first time my brother came to our apartment in Farmington Hills, he said, “You’ve done alright with what you had to work with.” And wasn’t that the truth?

“You’ve done alright…”

This is the T: every generation before us, and I do mean each one, sat down at the end of the day with a heavy sigh. A worry. An insecurity. A fear.

I am no historian, but one thing I do understand is the ever-present trial of mankind. Sometimes we get it right. And many times, we do not. Sometimes, we benefit from our cleverness. And other times, we suffer as fools.

PBS made An American Experience of Coney Island (1991), in which they talk about the fire that burned New York’s favorite amusement park, Luna Park, in 1944. The owner posted a sign on the fence to encourage future guests: “I have trials today I did not have yesterday. But I had problems yesterday that I do not have today.” Although the park never reopened, the indomitable spirit of hope shone through.

Who had it worse?

Possibly the worst thing we could do to our children is to leave them without a possibility of hope. The problem with the trekking-in-the-snow-uphill story is that it negates the current suffering. Oh, suffer, we will. But we will also have moments of the sublime.

You laugh. You see a sunset. You breath in. You dance. You hold hands. You taste. You love.

No more, with the self-pity. My generation definitely had it worse.

[Source: Wiki. Luna Park, 1905, “Electric Tower” in the foreground.]

. . .And faith.

You’ll have to look this up, if you want sources, but studies have shown that people of faith have more hope than those without. This may mean Christianity, but more, it understands faith in divinity and a hope for tomorrow. I’m not here to preach, but if you find yourself short on hope, you might look into faith-based cultures. I have a
C.S. Lewis book I’m willing to lend.

 

 

And Over Again.

It’s five days before Christmas and I’m home with the day’s tasks before me: finding a sirloin roast (Marv’s Meats) and wrapping gifts (where did I put that one for Sam?).

There’s a joke that runs around each year, something about Christmas only happening because of women. As if our hustle and bustle make it so. As if the perpetrators don’t know the story of Christmas: it came, just the same.

it came just the same
From “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” 1966

They also don’t know my dearly beloved. My husband suffers through the long preliminaries, only to get fully in the spirit in the final few days, but get into it, he does. He loves to make spritz cookies. He likes shopping at Pier One. It was my son who planned a go-together gift for his dad with my youngest. And decided to bring his new significant other to meet us on Christmas Eve Eve.

So, it’s not about gender and we need to stop joking that it is. Maybe your partner – of any gender – wouldn’t do it the way you prefer, but if you’re celebrating, you’ve both got some vision of what makes it special, holy, and worthy of remembrance.

About that vision. This week, a colleague announced at the lunch table, “I hate Christmas.” He’s from another country, which, in and of itself, doesn’t factor so much, except he has none of the fond childhood memories: favorite foods, particularly. But also the decorating season was short. And it doesn’t sound as if his family was much into the spirit, either.

As a child, I can vividly recall the wonder. It started every year with the Sears toy catalog. My brother and I would play a game: pick a present from every page. The letter addressed to Santa would miraculously find its way. The elementary choir concert brought in all the families, kids dressed in red and green and white. At the church pageant, lines and cues might be missed, but the reading of the Gospels rang out. The wonder of the star was proclaimed.

Later, in our own homes and in our own ways, we sought to create that wonder. For Bill, his memories are of receiving a boost of holiday cash from his parents that always smoothed over the financial rough spots. He recreates this again and again for his own children, placing envelopes in the tree boughs, included with a note from dad that speaks of pride and love. For myself, baking cookies, decorating to the nines, and planning special menus is repeated time and again for my loved ones.

Whatever religion you celebrate, whatever way you bring tradition into your home, these are the ties that bind. You illustrate caring in remembering, in repeating, in sharing. When it would be so very much easier to pull the blankets up over your head and ignore it all, bringing yourself and your family into the light is a great, good gift.

I believe our culture would like to demolish this spirit of goodwill. If evil can get us to criticize, to give up, to bend down to petty daily demands and to profess we have no time to give, it wins. To show love, in the ways of celebration and the joyous marking of time passed, is the purpose. To do this again and again centers us in a way that very little else will.

Even the smallest ways are significant. Light a candle. Tell a story. Watch the clock strike twelve and press a kiss. Express love in your own way. Again, and again, and again.

_________________________________________________

Inset: Gfycat [https://goo.gl/images/NfJpUX] (Usually, I would completely avoid a misspelling – in this case, that Christmas isn’t capitalized – but I wanted to have the .gif.)

Cover photo: Faith Cumberland Presbyterian Church [https://goo.gl/images/uqX1b3]

 

 

 

Live or Fake? The Difference Between Us.

Oh, the holidays. We get together. We exchange hugs. Gifts. Recipes. Words.

Not all fun and games for everyone, are they? For some, holidays are a painful time. They highlight the gaps. The spaces in between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Disagree on cranberry jelly versus cranberry relish? Do you watch football on Thanksgiving or turn off the TV, leave the Lions to themselves, and play a board game? Do you believe in gift wish lists or in allowing the giver to determine? Do you prefer to stay home for the holidays or travel to loved ones? Each preference highlights a difference.

There are deeper differences, too, aren’t there? Religion. Politics. What we believe about the past. The present. And depending on your personality, you may experience the need for fight or flight.

And yet, at their essence, the holidays are a time to be our better selves. To live in light. To issue in the behaviors that comprise the ideologies which escape us during the mundane execution of 365 days around the sun.

Here’s a basic divide for practicing Christians (with enough space for either): a real or fake tree? A distant friend of mine, in defense of her position, recently posted a story entitled “As Many as 25,000 Bugs Could be Living in Your Live Tree.” Clearly, no live tree for her. Yet many will set aside their buggy fear in support of live, and only live, trees.

Here’s another divide, this one with a sharp escarpment, and potentially more harmful: family or no family? No doubt, family can be painful. We have differences, some dug deeper than the actual number of passing years suggests. At times, gathering with families can feel like walking into a springing trap. Say the wrong thing and snap! Discord. Disagreement. Descent into differences.

We wonder why our government can’t solve its differences. On the big issues, why can’t we just get along? Why do we seem so far apart? Are we beyond repair?

I recently took an online class called “Common Ground” (Coursera), offered by Arthur Lupia,
U-M Professor of Political Science. In it, he talks about an “80/20 principal,” where he posits that on 80% of government’s major issues – gun control, health care, caring for the most vulnerable in society, infrastructure – elected officials actually agree that something should be done. In fact, research by a graduate student supports his theory. We are not so far apart as sensationalism would have us believe.

What if we could hear each other on our issues and simply affirm that people care? What if that were at the beginning of the agenda?

Folks, I know that there are some extremely toxic situations out there. You need to practice self-care and awareness for you and yours.

But what if we could do it? What if, instead of eye rolls, snarky comments, and assumed injury, we could set it all aside? Fewer differences. More commonality. Peace on earth. Goodwill toward the people with whom we are the closest (which means we know each others’ flaws).

My family can recite by heart National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Well-intended and over-reaching Clark W. Griswold sets out to create the best family celebration ever, with disastrous, but ultimately redeeming results. As he explains his plan to his long-suffering wife (Beverly D’Angelo), she reminds him of previous experiences with their argumentative parents, but Clark (Chevy Chase) counters, “Christmas is about resolving differences and seeing through the petty problems of family life.”

If we can start this at home, we stand a better chance of creating a ripple effect across our country. Real or fake, we’re in this together.

[Featured image from Coco Gone Global.]

 

It’s kick off. And students are the MVPs.

When I left my church job, oh, over seven years ago, my next job was at a bank.

It’s a great bank. In fact, I recommend it. It has community spirit, a proud place in the city of Ann Arbor, has won several banking awards, and continues to post some of the most creative advertising, particularly for a bank, that I’ve ever seen. If you know me, you’ll understand that creativity ranks highly in my book.

Yes, Bank of Ann Arbor and its world-class employees were an excellent transition away from a 13-year career serving the Lord and his children. Until I missed students.

Maybe it’s because so many adults I meet think we’re finished. Our old days were the best. We’re set in our beliefs and values. I’ll be having a conversation with someone in their forties, fifties, or older, and I realize that they’re concretely complete; they don’t think they have anything to learn and they’re not all that interested in anyone else’s story, either. Their thoughts are frozen solid, a closed play book.

This is not so with students. Students quest. They strive. They struggle daily in the trenches. I was recently a student and the whiplash of going back tostudent etymology the role of “learner” hit me hard.

If you look at the etymology of student,
you will find this:

It’s true. To be a student, one has to apply oneself. It is a painstaking application of study, acquisition, and assimilation.

Practically skipping with happiness, I went back to work with students at the University of Michigan. I work with students (almost daily) and for students (daily). Here’s what I want you to know.

If you are calling them “snowflakes,” if you think they are nothing but indoctrinated liberals enslaved to the institution, if you think they only think shallow “hipster” thoughts, you are missing out. Indeed, you are missing them entirely.

The first students I met were already employees of the program and they basically trained me. They cheerfully supported the changes I made at the front desk without demur. Later, I learned from Amanda that I had completely ripped out the previous system. Yet, to a student, they supported me with no complaint.

I work annually with resident advisors (RAs). This is a job like none other. Parents send  freshman off to dorms without compunction. Dorms. In the fall. With Rush. And football. And roommate drama. RAs earn free room and board for the delight of not only mentoring your students, but often cleaning up after them, literally, while planning trips to see a movie, go skating, and take in a game with dozens of your little darlings. And they do it with conversational and group-building skills that will serve them well in the “adult” corporate world.

I meet students that write theses on topics I can’t even spell. They talk to me, discussing labs and research. No idea, though I do a really good head-nod.

Students stay on campus to be peer mentors to your students during Orientation, a process that exudes stress. Every student faces first-year challenges, but every day the questions are the same. Will I get all the classes I want? (Maybe, but you might have one on Friday morning at 8:30a.) Will I be able to graduate on time? (Yes, most likely.) What is the ROI on my degree? (Basically, what you put into it.) Does anyone here care about me? They do.

They are knights-errant: sleep-deprived, physically and figuratively hungry,  impassioned, sometimes homesick, creative, smart, and caring.

They care deeply about the country, the planet, and about their fellow humans. I am a course creator for #honoline, an 8-module summer series on digital citizenship. In the two years this course has been offered, the dialogue surrounding extremely controversial topics has been respectful, considerate and well-informed. How’s your personal Facebook or Twitter feed going?

The students I meet go on to do crazy, barrier-breaking things. I can’t count the number of students I know in medical, dental, PA, pharmaceutical, and ophthalmology programs. I know Chemistry PhD candidates (a class I failed abysmally, so it’s my definition of impossible). I know a PhD student studying the effects of police presence in school systems. I know an Elle writer and contributor. And a daytime Emmy winner who worked for Dr. Oz while completing his medical degree and studying at a culinary institute in NYC. There are so many, I can’t do them all justice; Daniel, you travel-crazy thing, working for Hand-in-Hand; Alex, you Fulbright winner; Colin, good luck working in Rwanda; Gabe, keep mapping – you’ll be an amazing professor. Jesse, if ever we needed an environmental economist, it’s now. Heather, have a great second year with Teach for America in Detroit. And there are several lawyers, including Mallory and Lauren, if you need a good one.

Oh, and they’re out there, on the street, with more major student debt than any one of us ever imagined with interest rates that rival crappy credit cards. That our country has allowed the government to administer the postsecondary loans and grants program, when it is cannot balance its own budget, is yet another hurdle that they willingly leap to achieve their goals.

I’m geared up for Kickoff. I’m tired of reading posts about the “good old days,” when we were recovering from wars (aren’t we always?), hiding from Soviet missiles under desks, building cold war shelters, hanging black men for looking at white women, and impeaching President Nixon. These are the good old days and these people are on the field, ready to kick off. They are our bright future. No, they’re not perfect, but neither were we. Can I get a wave?

Pictured: One of the first students I met and with whom I worked, Mary, who is now learning German and studying as an History MA candidate in Berlin.

 

Simple Abundance

I sit outside.

I take deep, conscious breaths.

I listen for the sound of windchimes.

Simple little things. Though I had a lovely night with friends and a good laugh, the next day brought reminders and responsibilities. It’s coming up on a year since my mom’s death. It’s been three months since Shirley’s. My favorite cat is missing, presumably gone for good, although we’re going to flyer the neighborhood tomorrow.

It’s been a year of heavy losses. Yet, there is also good. It’s there…even when it’s slightly out of sight.

Simple. What can I do, simply, to be in the moment and have gratitude?

Oh, thank you, God, for gardens. And for the same dear friends earlier mentioned, who bestowed upon me a veritable farmer’s market of vegetables. On my kitchen counter sit squash, zucchini, green and yellow beans, cucumbers.0805181626

I have a meeting here on Tuesday. Overwhelmed by work and my own introspection, at first I thought to dodge feeding them by staging a potluck. But really, I have food to feed an army. I love to cook for people. What to do? What to do?

These days, I’ve taken to keeping an entertaining record, a curtsy to those housekeepers of yore who kept records of dates, guests, menus, preferences, successes. A spring party. Dinner for my uncle and his partner. Anne’s graduation barbeque. Armed with my trusty notebook, I write out my simple plan: an all-garden dinner.

Menu:

~Pickled green & yellow beans.
~Zucchini casserole with eggs & mozzarella.
~Baked zucchini spears with parmesean.
~Cucumber & tomato salad.

I make a note:

~Ready-bake chocolate chip cookies. No one cares if anything with chocolate is homemade.

It feels useful, a careful consideration of bounty. Breathing in. Giving thanks for simple abundance.

 

Space Check

All these years later, I know the triggers. I just didn’t expect to feel their impending impact at Brighton MJR Theater with nine friends.

We went to see Ocean’s Eight, which I recommend. Like Ocean’s Eleven, each featured performer is a gemstone. The sparkles of humor are terrific and the sequencing is quite nice. For a $5 movie night, you can’t beat it. Smuggle in some mini wine bottles and kick up your feet. (Little puns intended.)

But when we arrived, a man was already sitting in one of our ticketed seats. He was probably in his early to mid seventies and he said, “You can sit anywhere!” This is not strictly true, because these are ‘luxury seats’ and are ticketed, but the theater was quite empty.

I took the seat beside him to put space between him and my daughter, and so that my friends could file in behind us. You won’t be surprised to hear he was a talker, all through the trailers. Did you see this? I don’t like that. I might want to see that, if only for the music.

Once MJR ran its PSA reminding patrons not to talk during the movie, he piped down. But he continued to speak in nonverbal ways: hands overlapping the arm rests, legs draped over the foot rest, arms stretched up over his head, legs akimbo and hands inside a hoodie pocket. He took up as much space as he could, loudly announcing his presence without saying a word.

What was this no-nonsense, assertive person doing? Practically crawling into my daughter’s lap. I leaned to the right throughout the whole show. Mentally, I played out all the scenarios. If he stepped over the line, I would castigate him in front of the entire theater and deliver him from our presence. But he really never did.

This is my own personal reaction to abuse, no matter that it happened decades ago. In my early and mid twenties, I had one man sit across from me and try to jack off through his pants in a WMU library. While living in LA, another man sat by me on a bus and proceeded to pull out his erect penis. Both times, I fled. The last time, a man jumped me from behind on the way home from a bus stop and grabbed my breasts. This time, I started swinging and swearing. He ran.

I said, when our pussy-grabbing president took office, that four years is a long time to be afraid. I do believe, whether true or not, that our Commander in Chief’s words encourage action in many people. I believe, founded or not, that we are less lawful because of his unflinching disregard for authority, expertise, basic human rights to dignity. An elderly white man, now, from my own conservative Republican community, has become a threat likely outside of proportion.

Four years is a long time to be afraid and I am not alone in wanting to dispel the fear, as witnessed by #MeToo. I cannot speak for the lingering ghosts visiting other survivors, particularly those on whom violent abuse was perpetrated. Women are becoming braver about speaking out. But, we are also in the strange realm of having to consider if we’re overreacting.

Ready to go full-on crazy, the movie ended without injury. I tried to summon up my common courtesy for people who attend movies alone and who are chatty, indicating a certain loneliness, and asked a how he enjoyed the show.

Then, I practically ran down eight friends in my rush to leave the theater. I pushed Anne in the back to get her going and when I explained myself, she said, “Mom, I know. I wanted to tell him to check his space the whole time.” And I do believe she would have.

This is the best I can hope. That, even though the fear is still there, we are raising a generation of women who continually space check and stand strong.

 

 

Chipped

I spend a lot of time trying to be better than I am. Blame it on my birth order (eldest). My zodiac (Virgo). My personality tests (Type A, Driver, blah blah). I worked hard to earn the nickname, “Perfect,” even though my mother-in-law knew I was far from it.

Recently, I took into my home a few things that were slightly damaged. As a collector of antiques, I recognize that this diminishes their value, and yet it does not. Chipped is the new “desirable” for me.

Shirley was a bit of a klutz. She was certain to drop a glass, chip a vase, burn a skillet. Don’t get me wrong. She had beautiful things. But one of her favorite lines was, “They’re just things.”

You might want to assume that she came from great wealth and had no need to hold on to material possessions. That wasn’t the case. She said she never wanted to care for them so much that the loss of them would make her angry.

She also had these signs in her home: “Life is too short to be small.” And “Because nice matters.” She wasn’t talking about a nice vase.

Do you have a stranglehold on something? Is there something you’re trying to make perfect, even though there is no perfection this side of heaven?

Consider owning and embracing the chipped, even if it’s just beautiful you.

Note: I wrote this prior to the death by suicide of the quite famous Kate Spade. This news is fresh and there are sure to be details released, but we do know that depression does not discriminate. Let me assure you that someone wants you, someone cares, and that someone will not mind your chips and imperfections.

National Suicide Hotline 1.800.273.8255  Chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

(Photo: Crystal vase with an incredibly beautiful chipped base.)

 

Planning for After

We are so wise. So clever. Trusts. Wills. Lists of bequeathments. Discussions on deathbeds. Sometimes, before. I’ve heard that some families with little to share have spent it all in arguments over legal settlements.

So, there’s after. What happens? What makes up for the loss?

Bill and I recently went through the Biltmore. Think of it. All that property. All the ego. The purpose and mission of one of the largest privately owned estates in the country. What leviathan plans were made?

Oh, money. I understand that there is a generational separation, that those who came before us, my parents, were the last to make more than their parents. Today, we will not make more than our parents, statistically, and will not leave our children better off. Yet, we will inherit.

In my own family, my father’s second wife decided we weren’t worth the trouble. Once the funds rolled over to her name, she kept everything, including a Victorian photo album she had promised to me. My brother received his veteran’s flag and that was all.

What do you want?

My first experience with this was after my father’s mother’s funeral. We went back to her trailer. My Aunt Phyllis told us to take whatever we wanted. People were asking for Rubbermaid, a colander, opening drawers and cupboards. My grandma was a QVC shopper in her final years and there was a stack of jewelry. I picked up a bracelet and hastily drove away from Willard with a guilty backward glance.

What do you need to remember?

Although both my parents were dead first, my husband’s parents’ home is the first dismantling of which I’ve been a part. Strangely, I worked with dispositions of trusts recently and, long ago, I worked with mortgages. I know the technical proceedings. But what about the coffee table over which my sister-in-law labored all those summers ago? The secretary in the living room? The lady’s writing desk in the master bedroom? The summer home? What keeps memories and what lets go?

I did not like the zero sum separation from my father. But I don’t know what to do with the potential acquisition of my dear mother-in-law’s things. What items are heirlooms? What will help us remember? Do we need any material things at all?

Today, in preparation for the funeral, I copied pictures for the service. I cried all through the store, framing them. At the register, I was afraid I would see someone I knew and have to explain myself. There’s a group of folks who love to chastize cell phone users for not “living in the moment” because they are taking pictures of every little thing. Let me tell you, today I was grateful for the saved image of every little thing. I did not plan them to be part of the grieving, but I would defend anyone the right to click away, although I did not take them as part of a plan.

We are so smart. So wise. We try to plan ahead. Yet, we are, in the end, unable to plan the steps we walk and the bags we pre-pack when we say goodbye.

So, here are my short-term plans. I don’t have much beyond this.

To my mom: I’m sorry that I didn’t have a chance to talk to you during your final days. It was your time and God knew when to take you. I just didn’t expect to let you go without saying goodbye. I will wear your diamond pendant – I think from your engagement ring to my dad – to the funeral this week, because I believe that you will add your blessing.

To my uncle: I wish I had better used family reunion time in the last several years. I really didn’t want to talk to all my uncles about the trials Bill and I were facing, when we got together. It always seemed that everyone’s kids were doing better, were more successful. It took the combined loss of my mom and you for me to reconnect to my roots. I will walk into this service knowing that someone, somewhere feels disconnected and needs to come home.

To my dear Perfect: Use whatever gentle spirit you have left on earth to guide our next time together as a family. Let us choose wisely what to keep, what to honor, and what to let go. We miss you beyond measure and there really is no way to plan for what comes after, except to go forward.

 

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