Here’s To A Non-Grinchy, Non-Scroogy, Christmas

My son, just home from college, asked if I was excited for Christmas. It was a reasonable question as I was in the middle of addressing Christmas cards. I thought for a minute, wanting to be honest without sounding Grinchy. The truth is my favorite day of the year is December 26; my personal “Hallelujah, it’s over” day. I reply, “I’m working on it.”

He raised one eyebrow – a genetic gift passed down from previous generations. Neither his father nor I have the ability to move our eyebrows independently.

I take a deep breath and respond to his one eyebrow question. “I’m really trying to be excited. I want to love Christmas, but it’s a struggle.” This makes me sound like I’ve suffered some personal tragedy; the holidays being difficult because of grief. That’s not the case. Although, now that I think of people who are legitimately struggling for those reasons, I get even more depressed and Christmas joy moves further from my grasp.

I add, “It’s just that Christmastime has become the epitome of what I hate about our overly commercial culture.” Images of our newly elected leader, the king of capitalism, flit through my head. Grumpily, I continue. “Everything is about buy, buy, buy. People have ridiculous expectations.” I flung my arm in the direction of the TV indicating an ad I’d seen. “We’re supposed to run out and get a Mercedes with a big red bow on it for Christ’s sake. When is enough, enough?”

My Ebenezer is Showing

My son smirked taking a sip of his hot chocolate. “So, Scrooge was right?”

I sigh, “No. It’s just that I feel like in order to get the warm fuzzy parts of Christmas, it should be more about spirituality and less about superficial stuff you know? I mean, If Jesus came down and walked around a mall for ten minutes he would say, ‘WTF?'”

Can you imagine what the man, who above all else, wanted us to love one another, would think about our rushing past a homeless guy in order to buy a chia pet for someone on our gift list? Then, we tell him we are doing it in celebration of his birth. Which, by the way, was in September. But, no one remembers the actual date, so December seems as good a time as any.

Jesus would want to throw his hands in the air and say, “I give up. These people are idiots.”

Luckily, I believe Jesus, or God, or the Universe, or whoever you like to think of when you need to believe there’s hope for humanity, forgives us for our many faults. I turn my internal rant down a notch and look at my son. He is genuinely looking forward to all the holiday traditions that I helped create. My Grinchy heart softens a bit. I look at him and say,

“I just want Christmas to be more about love and less about love of stuff. You know what I mean?”

He nods.

I return to the Christmas cards. I think about my image of the mall-cruising Jesus and his frustration over our methods of celebration. What would he have me do? He’d probably tell me to chill out, maybe take a sip of wine and reflect for a moment.

Checking My List Twice

I gaze at my never-ending list of things to do before December 25. Why am I doing all this? It’s not like someone put a gun to my head and said I had to do it. This is a list of my own making. I created it out of love; love for the people in my life and my desire to show them how much I care about them.

Mall Jesus looks at my list and says, “Do it or don’t do it. Your people won’t love you any more or less for having done it. But please, don’t do it on my account.”

its_a_wonderful_life_everytime_a_bell_rings_an_angel_gets_his_wings-clarenceSomething shifts within me. I notice my son grabbing a chocolate out of the advent calendar hanging on the wall. He held up the candy and said, “Only twelve more days.”

I remember buying the decorative countdown piece to help my kids manage their gleeful anticipation of Christmas. It had become a ticking time bomb to me. But now, seeing my grinning son, I see it for what it is; a holiday decoration filled with wonderful memories.

I look at my list with new appreciation. It doesn’t seem quite as unmanageable. I say a silent prayer to the heavens and thank Jesus for opening my Grinchy, Scroogy, heart. I breathe into the newfound openness. And, to my surprise, I feel a slight buzzing sensation. It’s the buzz of excitement, for Christmas; joyful, gleeful anticipation, not dread, for Christmas. I might even have time to watch a holiday favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

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Losing My Religion – How Maya Angelou Saved Me From Post Election Grief

Losing My Religion – How Maya Angelou Saved Me From Post Election Grief

As someone who has a rather tenuous grasp on faith, I find it is tested on a regular basis. It’s as if God gets a kick out of watching my histrionics. I’m at least learning from the pattern though. As soon as I feel like I’ve got it all figured out, something horrible happens to completely rock my world. When it does, my immediate reaction is to shout, “Screw this and screw God! All this magic belief crap is bullshit and I should accept reality. You live, you die, and you become worm food.”

My temper tantrum doesn’t alleviate my pain and I’m left to stew in my thoughts. My misery does not lift right away, but eventually, I get tired of wallowing. I begin to consider my options of either changing my circumstances or changing my attitude – often a combination of both. Then the clouds slowly lift and life goes on.

There’s a moment between the time when my dark thoughts end and the tiniest bit of optimism creeps in, that I feel as if someone or something has had a hand in the shift. Sometimes it’s almost tangible. I’ll hear a song on the radio, or something will catch my eye, which causes me to stop in my tracks and break the endless soundtrack in my head. That’s when the change comes and I know it’s attributable to something greater than myself. When I can recognize that grace for what it is, I am filled with awe at its magnificence. I wish I could bottle it to save for later or for the next disaster. But I can’t; it’s like a dream that fades from my memory. Before long, my ego takes all the credit for my change in attitude and outlook.

After the election, I felt abandoned by my faith. The concept of grace seemed like a figment of my imagination. How could such a horrid, misogynist, racist, xenophobic person be elected by my fellow Americans? It must mean they too are equally horrid and everything I believe about there being goodness in the world is wrong. How could God let this happen?

Maybe there is no God. Maybe God is dead. My anger, frustration, and loss of faith has me contemplating liposuction, a boob job, and partial lobotomy to better fit into the new world order. I roll racist words around in my mouth to see what they taste like. They are bitter and it doesn’t take long before I realize the “If you can’t beat em join em” strategy isn’t going to work for me.

My tears fall, darkness looms, and I see no way of lifting myself, when I hear a voice. It’s not the voice of God, or my guardian angel – although I don’t know that I’d recognize their voices. Besides they’re both pissed at me for the “God is dead” thing. No, the voice I hear is that of Maya Angelou saying,

“Stop it! Stop it and be grateful.”

I’d heard her say that in an interview once and now her voice rings clearly in my head.

sad woman sitting alone in a empty room

I do stop it, more out of shock than of reverence. I answer the voice, “Are you freaking kidding me? You have no idea how bad things are right now.” I don’t say it out loud, but I wonder if this is how people felt when Hitler came into power. Did good people learn to put up and shut up before being rolled up into the wrong side of history.

I try to tell myself I’m being overly dramatic. I know plenty of people who aren’t horrible; certainly not Nazi sympathizers, who voted for trump. Maybe I’m the crazy one. Then I think about the threats of mass deportations, the Muslim ban, the pussy grabbing and now the cabinet appointees, ugh!  How can I live in a world where this kind of garbage passes for leadership?

Again the wise poet says with firmness,

“Stop it and be grateful.”

“For what,” I rail, “My whiteness? Do you want me to hide behind my race and privilege while the world around me burns? You, of all people should understand how wrong this is.” Her prose echo in my head,

“I note the obvious differences, between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

“That’s right. That’s why this is such a disaster. Now, get out of my head, you crazy ghost.” I’m not in the mood for inspiration.”

“What I pray for is humility to know that there is something greater than “I”. And I have to know that the brute, the bigot, and the batterer are all children of God, whether they know it or not, and I’m supposed to treat them accordingly.” 

I take a deep breath. I’m not good enough or wise enough, certainly not strong enough to keep up with the great Maya Angelou. Besides. I’m just one person. I think about the challenges she had to face, and feel embarrassed for my weakness. I hear the ping of my phone; a text from a friend about a gathering of women who plan to organize, fund raise and stay vigilant against the coming tide of injustice. I shake my head wondering how this tiny group can do anything, but respond, “count me in.”

I hear Maya’s voice one more time,

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

I drag my sorry butt to a yoga class, eager to distract myself and quiet my mind. When I start the car I hear Andre Day’s voice belting out the chorus to her song, “I rise up.”

“Ugh.” I shout to the heavens. “All right already, I get it.”

I say a silent prayer of gratitude for whatever force enabled me to see things from a different perspective and apologize for losing my faith. I also give a shout out to Maya Angelou whose words never fail to enlighten and inspire. Then I vow to remember the grace I felt today and to learn to trust that it will show up tomorrow as well.

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The Day After – How to Deal After the Election

The Day After – How to Deal After the Election

The rhetoric and negative energy that fills our airwaves during election season is toxic and we’ve been swimming in a sea of it. If someone intentionally set out to make a person sick at heart, the plan would include a daily dose of the type of language we hear from campaign ads and stump speeches.

Still, I believe it’s important to participate in the political process. I eagerly absorb all the information I can. But I know that, like a steady diet of nothing but carbs, it’s not healthy. I’m going to feel depleted when it’s all over. I feel passionate about the historic nature of this election, but nervous about the unusually high levels of hatred and vitriol. We’re going to need a big, community hug after it’s all over.

Now that my vote has been cast, all I can do is pray that it all works out for the best. I try not to pray for a specific candidate; God hears enough of that. Instead, I pray for the wisdom to accept the outcome whatever that may be, even though I desperately want my candidate to win and the other candidate to drop off the face of the planet.

Can we go back to our normal lives and live peacefully among neighbors regardless of what names were prominently displayed on yard signs and bumper stickers? I believe we can. Don’t get me wrong, I hope I get to spend Tuesday evening of doing an end zone dance and rejoicing that my candidate won. If that’s not the case, Wednesday is going to suck. But, painful as it might be, life will go on.

Thinking about how I will react to either scenario, I made a list to help me deal with whatever the election brings. It’s a note to myself for after the election.

If the worst happens and your candidate loses:

1.) Deep breaths my dear; inhale trust and exhale fear. All is well; everything will be okay.

2.) Now, turn the TV off. Step away from all media displaying victory celebrations as well as images of your fellow supporters filled with sadness, anger, and disbelief. Your media diet should consist solely of babies, kittens and puppies, nothing more.

3.) Think of it this way, the job you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy has just been given to your worst enemy. This poor soul will age dramatically over the next four years.

4.) Look out the window. The sun has risen, birds continue to sing, and people are going about their daily lives. The world has not come to an end after all. Now stop your whining and know this. You have the choice of whether or not to be miserable. Do you really want to choose misery?

5.) We live in a democracy that has survived worse i.e. the civil war, not to mention a few bad Presidents. Plus, if the majority of Americans, ignorant as they may seem to you, voted for this person, it’s possible you might have been wrong.

6.) Reach out to someone who supported the winning candidate. This is a tough one, I know, but you do know people, who aren’t horrible, yet voted for the winner. Put away thoughts that these folks are uninformed and consider the notion that they may know something you don’t. See if they can point out one positive outcome from their victory. Now hug it out.

7.) Send loving thoughts to the new President. If you really believe this person is an idiot, he or she, not to mention our country is going to need all the positivity you can muster.

8.) Take comfort in knowing that events are unfolding in precisely the right way and at the right time even if you may not be able to understand how or why.

If you spent the night celebrating:

1.) First of all, drink some water, and make sure no one has video of your dance moves. No one needs to see your “dab” or “stanky leg,” no matter what the champagne might have been telling you.

2.) Once you’ve had your fill of reveling, you might consider going on a media diet. Step away from news sources that confirm your own beliefs. Ask yourself how wise it is to gorge solely on thoughts and ideas that match your own. Diversity improves intelligence.

3.) Don’t forget that a good chunk of the country disagrees with this new President’s vision. Remember progress in Washington is often achieved through compromise and nothing happens overnight.

4.) Reach out to someone who supported the other candidate. Ask them what, aside from immediate impeachment, they would like to see come out of a new administration. I know this is hard and probably only achievable with someone you respect. But, certainly the two of you can come up with one common desire for our future. Now hug it out.

5.) Send loving thoughts to the new President as well as the loser and his or her supporters.

6.) Think about the time and energy you’ve spent worrying about the election. Now see if you can fill that newly freed space with a more positive outlet.

7.) Schedule a massage.

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What Would Captain Kirk Do About Aleppo?

What Would Captain Kirk Do About Aleppo?

I sat down to write, but felt torn by two completely different topics: the horrible humanitarian crisis in Syria, or the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek. I realize, the conflict I experience between these two disparate topics makes me sound incredibly shallow.

I’ve been disturbed by the images coming out of Aleppo. The heart-wrenching photos of children, injured and orphaned amid the rubble that was once their home, sicken me. But I feel helpless to do anything about it. My knowledge of the drama playing out in Syria is, I suspect like most Americans, sketchy at best. My ignorance, combined with my inability to render aid, causes me to tuck my concerns about these tiny war refugees, however haunting, into the further recesses of my mind.

Besides, it’s better to write what you know. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of a childhood fav, Star Trek. While I wouldn’t consider myself a full-fledged Trekkie, I love the original episodes in all their geeky glory. The captain and his crew provide a nostalgia that comforts me in lieu of the reality I see on the nightly news. James T. Kirk always manages to outwit any opponent or complicated situation, especially when aided by his logical side-kick, Spock.

Then there’s Gary Johnson, poor guy. He looked like a deer in the headlights when asked about Aleppo; forcing many Americans to Google it. No one wants to look that dumb. But, who among us could pass the geography test on the second largest city in Syria? Still, if you want to be President of the Unites States, you kind of have to be smarter than the average bear. Well, that’s the theory; I guess we’ll see how this election turns out.

If Captain Kirk were asked a similar question, “What should be done about, Remus?” He would know from his Starfleet academy training, not to mention his friendship with a Vulcan, that the planet Remus is occupied by the Romulans – a group who rebelled against their peace-loving Vulcan heritage and fled to the planet Romulus. Once there, they took over the neighboring planet, Remus, and subsequently oppressed the natives. Kirk, backed up by his crew and the United Federation of Planets, would deal with any situation that cropped up on Remus, or Romulus for that matter. The bad guys would be identified and dealt with before the hour was up. Then, we would all sleep better for knowing it.

Meanwhile back on Earth, Aleppo is the definition of FUBAR.

syriaIt represents the epicenter of the five-year Syrian civil war. There are many different factions controlling the city’s borders, which have all but been closed to humanitarian aid. These factions include the government controlled forces, led by Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria. He’s the guy who used chemical weapons on his own people. His army is aided by the likes of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaida.

Okay. Got it. Bad actors. So the rebels are good guys?

Not exactly, the rebels include ex-Assad soldiers and Syrian citizens who want Assad out. But they are a small group who has welcomed the aid of over one hundred additional groups; each with their own agenda and reasons for wanting to see Assad’s government toppled. The U.S. is offering “aid” to the rebels, even though not all the groups in league with the Free Syrian Army are our friends (ISIS for example).

Wait, we’re helping support the side that includes ISIS?

Not exactly, but the U.S. is doing what it can to aid rebel forces without sending troops. Russia claims their only “aid” to Assad forces is in rooting out ISIS.

If Captain Kirk were here, he’d call “bull crap” on both arguments. He’d point out that each military powerhouse was playing a game of war with secret agendas, while the people of Syria suffer. Then he’d round up everyone with a weapon and transport them to the planet Romulus to let the fighting Vulcans sort it out as punishment for oppressing the people of Remus.

I’m probably getting way over my head here. My knowledge of Star Trek trivia isn’t that much better than my understanding of the complicated issues in Syria. The point is; I dream, however fanciful my imagination may be, of a time when the people of Earth come together to live in peace, where children grow up in safety with equal opportunities to seek out new life and new civilizations and boldly go where no one has gone before. I want all monsters to be identified and forced to wear lizard costumes, and good guys to carry phasers set to stun until the truth can be sorted out in any conflict.  Is that too much to ask?

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A Fresh Take on the Empty-Nest

babybirdcropEmpty-Nest; the words I’ve been dreading. I’ve been here before. There’s the vicarious thrill of seeing your baby set off on a new adventure mixed with the pain of saying goodbye. My heart physically aches at the thought of my last kid, or even the two before him, heading out the door bound for college.

My experience doesn’t ease the pain of this last baby bird flying the coop. The finality of my last child leaving scares me. My child – yes I know there’s wisdom in Khalil Gibran’s words, “Your children are not your children.” It is a beautiful sentiment, but Gibran didn’t even have children. What the hell did he know? I understand the concept that my children are not mine in the sense that I don’t possess them body and soul. But in coming through me they take a part of me; leaving me feeling less than whole when they’re gone.

It’s not even the physical departure that hurts. I know from experience they never really leave. They visit often. They share their successes; even seek advice with their failures. These moments, however, become fewer and farther in between. But it’s a slow progression; less painful than the abrupt rip of my heart that I brace for. I know, like the jab of a needle, the anticipation is worse than the actual experience. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t help but flinch at the thought of it.

I think the heartbreak comes from reaching the milestone rather than the actual flying away. The first steps, the first lost tooth, the first day of school, first date, driver’s license; these are all steps in the natural progression of events toward the day they leave. As a parent you spend decades dedicating your life, your love – your being, to the health and welfare of your child. Then, poof, your job is over. No wonder parents feel depleted once it’s all said and done.

I propose a paradigm shift for the empty-nest syndrome.

First, we need to ditch that label. There’s nothing empty about our lives. Our homes and hearts may feel temporarily vacated, but this is not a terminal condition. If anything, the extra space we now possess is filled with possibilities. We’re not empty, we’re free. We’re free from the challenges our beloved offspring present on a regular basis.

We’ll always be parents, but now we’re kid-free parents (KFPs).

Maybe KFPs need a commencement ceremony to solidify their new status. Just like our graduates, we deserve a new outfit for the event or at least a new pair of shoes. We should throw a party. Maybe have friends and family bring gifts to help launch us into this next phase of life.

This is after all, a beginning, not an end.

Our kids are sent with new linens and decorations for their dorm rooms. We should at least get a new set of sheets (the really nice ones with Egyptian cotton and a high thread count). Perhaps we too should expand our education. We could take cooking lessons or a pottery class, maybe learn to speak Italian. The point is, as a new KFP, we’ve got to place ourselves in situations that allow us to try new things and meet new people.

Let’s start a national initiative to encourage the dreams of these newly awakened individuals who, after taking time out to help procreate the human race, still have a future ahead of them. I challenge my fellow KFPs to pull out a picture of yourself before kids. Forgive yourself for the overly permed hair and padded shoulders and look deep into the eyes of the person you once were. What passions have you set aside in order to take on the all-important role of parent? Are they still there or do you have new ones? Now go forth with the same enthusiasm and determination you’ve managed to foster in your children and reclaim your own hopes and dreams.

By all means, love your kids, miss your kids, but don’t do it at the expense of losing yourself. You deserve a reward for raising an awesome human being. Now it’s time to get out there and raise the person you were meant to be. At least until they call to say you’re going to be a grandparent, then all bets are off.

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Support Humanity!

I realize the title of this post paired with the image seems a like a stretch, but bear with me.

I needed a new sports bra and popped into Dillard’s to pick up a new one. When I entered the lingerie department, I realized I had forgotten to check the size and brand of the tired one I was wearing. This meant I would have to go into the dressing room and try one on, or at least take off the one I was wearing to check the label. A woman asked if I needed help and promptly insinuated herself into the process.

She asked my size and when I threw out my best guess, she eyeballed me and said, “I think you need a fitting.”

I really didn’t want a fitting, but she followed me into the dressing room and before I knew it she was making me take my bra off. If you’ve never experienced a real bra fitting, let me say, you probably should because it really does make a considerable difference to have a properly fitting bra. But, I should warn you that it’s not for the faint of heart.

I once went bra shopping with my daughter who was still young enough that she didn’t yet need one. When the lady came into the dressing room with us and proceeded to relieve me of my bra and show me the proper way to “place my girls” into the cups to ensure a good fit, my daughter was mortified. As we left she said, “Remind me to NEVER ask for help in the bra department.”

I thought of this story as I held my hands over my breasts to provide a modicum of privacy as she told me to slip my arms underneath the straps, then she fastened the back clasp for me. She did all this so quickly that I didn’t have time to be embarrassed about the fact that my current bra was so old, the size information on the label had long since worn off, or wonder when I had last waxed my underarms.

After trying on several bras of various styles and sizes I settled on a few favorites. As I admired my new silhouette with my old T-shirt over a new bra, the woman said, “You see, you should listen to Latifah, when she tells you that you need a fitting.”

I’d been so focused on the task at hand that I hadn’t realized the woman had a rather thick, Middle Eastern accent. I looked at her name tag, barely visible through her long, bleached blonde, wavy hair, which cascaded over her chest, to confirm she was referring to herself. I said, “Latifah, that’s a pretty name. Where are you from originally?”

She seemed a bit shy, which was ridiculous since I had just spent the last twenty minutes half-naked in front of her. She said, “Well, Persia originally, but I have lived in many countries before this one.”

I surprised myself with my forward question asking, “Oh, did you leave Iran after the revolution?” I tried to guess her age and jog my memory of when Persia became the Islamic Republic of Iran. I had interviewed a man who had escaped Iran during the revolution and wondered if she had a similarly harrowing story.

Latifah, dismissing her Iranian background said, “I was quite young when we left and then we went to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan. Then we had to leave there. Oh, so many places and so many languages to learn. It was hard you know?”

I tried to show her that I did know by giving her a quick rundown on the Iranian I knew and how frightening his escape from Iran had been. His family had been persecuted for their non-Muslim beliefs. They had to sneak into Pakistan or face prison leaving everything they owned in the place they had called home for generations.

Latifah shook her head and said, “I know. So many people all over the Middle East, they just want to live and be happy, no matter what their religion.”

“Yes.” I said earnestly, “Of course.”

“Did you see that picture of the little boy on the beach?” Latifah’s accent seemed to grow thicker as she spoke, her “th”s sounding more like “d”s.

I knew the photo she was talking about. The corpse of a little three-year-old boy had become the image of Syrian refugee plight. I wondered what her Syrian connection was.

She shook her head said, “I went back there you know?”

I was getting lost in her accent and rapid manner of speech. Before I could figure out if she was talking about Syria or Iran or Pakistan she clarified that the home she fondly remembered; the one where several family members still lived, was Afghanistan. She told me that the mountains there were similar to Colorado, “Very cold with many places for snipers to hide.”

This was such an incongruous image for me to wrap my head around standing in the safety of a department store dressing room; surrounded by dozens of discarded bras; each with a price that could probably feed someone for a month.

Latifah replaced several bras back on hangers as she chatted conversationally about the atrocities of war, “The people there, they are just trying to survive and they are so shocked after many years of bombs, and rockets, and guns. They have seen so much and their homes and the buildings and the roads are destroyed. They don’t know who to trust, the leaders are all so bad and there’s so much greed.” She emphasized the fact by rubbing her two fingers and thumb together. “Last time I visited, this little boy, no more than four or five, tried to come up and wash my car for to earn some money. He couldn’t even speak, he just looked at me and held up a rag as if to wash.” She pantomimed the boy making a washing movement, but had to stop to compose herself before continuing. “I gave him some money even though my family tell me not to. I have to you know? How could you not help this child? My cousin told me about the soldiers there. They are all such babies and they all cry for their mothers when they are scared.”

I wondered if she was referring to American soldiers occupying Afghanistan or Afghani soldiers or the Taliban. Who were we fighting there? I was embarrassed to admit even to myself that I didn’t have a firm grasp on what really went on in Afghanistan, other than to think it was all over. Right?

Latifah asked, “Why do they send such babies to fight?”

I shook my head, dumbly replying, “I don’t know.” I concluded that it didn’t matter which soldiers Latifah was referring to, children are children. I tried to shake the image I had of my own eighteen-year-old son, still in high school, technically old enough to join the armed services, but still a child in my eyes. The thought made tears well up. I glanced around looking for my original undergarments.

Then Latifah told me another story she had heard during her visit back to Afghanistan. It was one of a family trying to flee a war-ravaged area. They had to hike through mountainous terrain, fording rivers, doing their best to keep their tiny son out of the water by lifting him overhead as they waded through the water, only to realize that the exposure to elements had been too much for his little body to take. He died on the way. From where? To where? I wasn’t sure, the devastation was the same. Latifah’s tears were getting harder to hide now, as were mine. No wonder that the image of the Syrian boy had affected her so.

It was so strange to cry with a complete stranger.  It’s one thing to do it in the darkness of a movie theater during an emotional scene, but here I was exposed, literally.  I tried to imagine a graceful exit, but couldn’t come up with much of a plan since I still needed to put my old bra back on.

Latifah continued, “All we can do is help where we can you know? Even here, I try to help anyone I see. If I see a homeless man, I always roll down my window and give them money. My friends say I am stupid; that they will just use the money for drugs or something, but I have to try to help anyway. We are all here living under one God so it doesn’t matter where we come from or what religion we believe in. We could all do so much you know? I see people come in here and they bring their little dogs with them in a little purse and spoil them like a child. I think of that little boy on the beach and wonder why can’t we help those children when we have so much; so much that we can pamper little dogs as if they are human. Working here I end up with so many clothes; one time I gathered up a bunch of my clothes and put them in my car. I drove down to where I had seen this woman and asked her if she wanted some clean, like new clothes and she was so grateful.”

I had, by this time, given up all hope that I could hold back my tears. This woman’s generous spirit was a thing to behold. There was a reason this woman had crossed my path. I didn’t know exactly what that reason was yet, but I was glad she did. If nothing else than to reassure me that no matter what the heartless, political rhetoric indicated about the fate of our country, I could still be optimistic about our future with citizens like Latifah. I was grateful to have met Latifah, her support for her fellow human beings, not just in the bra department at Dillard’s, but everywhere she saw a need was an inspiration.


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My Favorite Axe-Murderer

My Favorite Axe-Murderer

I had the opportunity to speak with an interesting man in my pursuit to learn about faith. His spiritual practice was Buddhism and he was particularly passionate about meditation and contemplation. As he described these cornerstones of his faith, I became increasingly uncomfortable. My discomfort came at the thought of spending time in quiet thought and reflection. What was I afraid of? Was my interior such a frightening place to dwell?

I thought it might have something to do with my lifelong friendship with a fellow I call Jack. He showed up one day, crazed look in his eyes, sweat dripping off his forehead, axe firmly planted in both hands. He even wore a T-shirt that had the word KILLER boldly emblazoned across his chest. Anybody in their right mind would keep their door tightly bolted, when he came to call. But I, naïve or stupid, I’m not sure, welcomed him. We developed relationship of sorts, and now when he pays a visit, I eagerly greet him and say, “Come on in. What hopes and dreams would you like to kill today?”

You see, Jack is the axe-murderer that lives in my head.

I first met Jack sometime around my teenage years. He would pop in occasionally to offer helpful fashion tips like, “Everybody wears these jeans. If you can’t fit your big butt into them, there’s something innately wrong with you. Buy them anyway and every time you wear them, I’ll be there to remind you how bad you look in them.”

He encouraged me to always look my best by saying, “Do not go out of the house unless you have make-up on. You are way too ugly to be seen in public without doing what you can to make yourself more presentable.”

I realize Jack sounds a little mean-spirited, but he always had my best interest at heart. If I tried to do something stupid like make new friends, he’d hold me back and say, “Whoa, you can’t talk to those people. You’re not ready to sit at the cool kids table.”

Jack wasn’t around all the time, just on occasion. He especially liked to surprise me whenever I was trying something new. He’d point out the ridiculousness of my pursuits and how I was destined to fail. Sometimes I would heed his advice and give up before I even started. But there were times when I became so invigorated by the thrill of stepping outside my comfort zone, that I found it hard to hear his voice.

As I got older, I discovered that I could hear Jack most clearly when I was especially tired, hungry or lonely. This worked out particularly well, because Jack was full of dieting tips, which almost always left me ravenous and eager to hear more words of discouragement.

Somehow or another, I got so busy with my life, career, marriage, and children, that I almost forgot my old friend Jack. But lately, he’s been coming around more and more. I guess it’s because I finally have enough time to think about new ideas and try new things. Jack is understandably concerned about the folly of my new pursuits. He says, “You can’t do that. Are you crazy? That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. It’s destined for failure.”

It’s hard to imagine my life without Jack; he’s become such a staple in my life, but I’m beginning to think our relationship isn’t a healthy one. Jack has become a little too cozy with me of late. He doesn’t even bother to knock anymore. He just comes right in, greeting me first thing in the morning before I’ve even gotten out of bed.

When I tell him I’ve had enough, and that we have to stop seeing each other, he grows desperate, dramatically insinuating that he can’t live without me. When I tell him to leave, he obeys, but he waits patiently in the shadows for a moment of weakness that we both know will come.

It’s hard to say goodbye to a lifelong companion. We can go for long stretches without seeing each other, then he’ll show up unannounced and it’s just like old times. There’s something about him that makes me believe we belong together. I mean who knows, the places I might have gone without his stabilizing force to keep both my feet planted on the ground? There’s some comfort in that it think; comfort in the familiarity of his voice. How does the phrase go? “Better to deal with the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Who came up with that ridiculous advice? Jack probably. He’s full of these little idioms. But if I listen very carefully, I can hear a new voice. It’s very soft and I’m not sure where it’s coming from. I can barely make out the words as they whisper. . . “Jack, go f**k yourself!”

These words couldn’t have come from me because thanks to Jack’s tutelage – and my mother’s, I know that ladies don’t speak that way. But there it is again; a little louder this time, “JACK, please GO F**K YOURSELF! (and louder still) F**K YOU JACK! GO! BE GONE! YOU’RE NO LONGER WELCOME!  Sayōnara!” – I’m not sure why I added this last bit. I don’t think Jack speaks Japanese – either do I. It just felt good rolling off the tongue; cleansing my palette of the more crass verbiage.

And then he left. He’s gone, at least for now. If he returns, I’m pretty sure I can recall the words that sent him away. If I forget, I might have to consider a tattoo with a subtle reminder. Can you imagine me trying to explain why I have the words, “F**k You, Jack!” permanently etched into my skin?  Jack would hate that. But, it would make for an interesting conversation starter.

I don’t feel sorry for Jack; he has so many friends. If you see him, tell him I said, “Hello.”  But better yet, let him pass by without acknowledgement. There’s no need for you to be counted among his friends, or you too might be considering some novel idea about how to remember your own lost words.

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