To my Fop (Father & Pop)

Once upon a time, a little girl was born.  She had incredible gifts of insight, wonderful writing ability, and the great capacity to love others.  But she was born into a family that was flawed.  Her father could love but he could not work.  Her mother could work but she could not love.  They filled each other’s holes sometimes, but there was little left for the gifted little girl.  She had to learn to mother herself, even though it was incomplete and never quite enough.  After all, she was still a little girl.  She needed much more than either of her parents had to give to her, but she did feel the ray of love coming from her father.  And she did learn how to take care of others when they were sick which came from her mother.

So a mother was born inside the little girl, right from her own personality.  If her real mother was not truly a real mother, then her made-up and created mother could always be there inside of her – waiting at any moment that the little girl needed her.  Sometimes the little girl forget, and cried alone.  Then she would remember, and bring her inside mother to life – to help the girl, or to answer a question, or for encouragement.  This was comforting and it allowed her to lean on her inside mother but it wasn’t the same as having warm arms, a huge smile, and a big kiss.  A mother who read to her at night, lay down with her until she slept, calmed her fears, and shared her childhood stories.

But when she thought about it, she really got much more than that with her inside mother.  Probably every little girl (and boy) would like to have a mother like her fairy tale description, along with loving hugs.  Probably most didn’t have that.

She remembered that her father did indeed love her very much.  He had always seen in her what she could grow up to be and what she could do.  He was proud and told her so.  Perhaps if she had been born a boy, she would have coped better with the life she had.  Her brother had done it.  But that wasn’t her reality.  She was a girl.  And she had the love that her father had given to her which was still a great big love.

For that the little girl inside the grown-up woman was extremely grateful.  She could remember her father, and smile at him.  And she loved her father in return.  Not everyone gets a father who can love with his whole heart.

Thank you, Fop.  Happy Father’s Day, and I love you.  Great Big.

Laughter IS the best medicine

When is the last time you planned to spend time with people who just make you laugh?  A week from this Friday, I have a date with my older brother and sister.  We try to do this at least once a year, but the time slips away before we know it.  I think its been 1 1/2 years now since we sat down together and relived our past through funny memories.  We share our real today lives together too, but mostly we laugh and make everyone else in the restaurant wish they were sitting with us.  My sis lives 5 hours away from me, and my brother two hours.  Doesn’t seem like far enough to keep us from doing this more often, but isn’t it amazing how life does interfere with such plans.  I believe that as we are getting older, this becomes more important.  This time, my brother initiated the get-together.  My brother!  I don’t use exclamation points often but that deserved one.

Our childhood story is unusual.  You possibly believe yours was as well.  Parents divorced, and the three of us went to live with our dad.  That was in the early 60’s.  I don’t think too many divorces ended with the children living with their father in those days.  The home also included my grandparents and my uncle.  On a working farm and a country store as well.  The home is a character in my childhood – as much as my grandmother and grandfather.  The house itself holds an interesting and compelling place in my imagination and life story.

We didn’t arrive together.  That is something I would like to delve into during this visit.  My brother went first, I was second, and my sister a rather distant third arrival.  I do enjoy finding out about these childhood stories.  All siblings carry their own independently of their family.  What I remember is colored by my own emotional makeup, my gender, and my age.  My brother has a much more positive viewpoint of our childhood in North Carolina.  I like to hear his version a lot.

I will be pleased to share this experience here.  As you can probably tell, I am looking forward to it.

Forgiveness vs. Acceptance

Is the biggest reason we struggle with forgiveness because we fear it indicates approval?  Or we fear that if we forgive, that which was “done” to us will be “done” again?  What is the essence of forgiveness and how do we wrap our minds around a concept that may indicate to ourselves that we have not only allowed our perception of a bad thing to happen to us, we are almost encouraging it to happen again?

I was married young and divorced young.  The anger and pain which I held  for years did not allow me to consider forgiveness.  The ongoing financial trauma and lack of monetary support by my ex of our two sons kept the crappy feelings fed.  I knew nothing of forgiveness at that young age, nor did I want to forgive.  I was years away from forgiving my parents for my upbringing, along with many other perceived wrongs which I had experienced in my youthful life.  I had no concept of the understanding of forgiveness.

For my experience of offering forgiveness, it has ebbed and flowed.  I have offered it, I thought, only to have it pull back a bit.  I believe I have finally reached the point where I have forgiven my ex, but I don’t have the need to tell him so.  Perhaps that is only the tip of forgiving, and perhaps it is the essence.  Forgiving really doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be a rug again.  No need to lie down and get stepped all over.  So forgiveness comes hand in hand with awareness.  And good judgment.

A  young man has stepped forward from over a decade ago who wants forgiveness.  From me.  He did nothing to me, or in this case, to my son.  The choices he made for which he has been punished were poor choices and involved illegal actions.  But he didn’t attempt to bring my family into these bad decisions.  Still, he has asked for forgiveness from me.  I hesitate.  Is it because I fear acceptance of him and offering of this to him will somehow implicate me in approval?  What if I find out later that I was mistaken to go there, and want my forgiveness back?  I just don’t believe it works that way.  I think forgiveness is a one way street, and you can’t turn around and head in the other direction.

There are many things for which I hope I am forgiven.  If this was withheld from me from the important people in my life, I would be lost.  The things which I have on occasion done to hurt people aren’t illegal, but I establish my punishment.

This is one I shall have to offer to my own higher being.  I need direction and comfort.  I want to offer comfort.  But I want to be sure.  However, I think it’s a lot like being in love – if you haven’t felt it, you can’t know what it is by explanation.  For now, I’ll work on acceptance.  For tomorrow, I’ll think about forgiveness.

Do you conversate?

Some verbs simply sound wrong.  I think that is one of them: conversate.  Regardless, do you?  While reading a sermon in my city paper (yeah, me), my imagination was caught by the title, “Leadership: Caring for Conversation.”  If a headline does not grab my imagination, I am unlikely to read it.  This one did.  Big fight with my spouse yesterday mostly over conversation.  Perhaps it truly was about communication, so there’s something I need to think more deeply about.  The difference, that is.  But I think conversation and communication necessarily go hand in hand.

I digress.  In the article, I quote the question, “Today, are you and I caring for our conversation?”  What does that mean?  In this man’s opinion, it has to do with first truly seeing the people to whom we are speaking.  Seeing them as fellow human beings with needs and desires and baggage.  See the person to whom you are talking.  SEE.  His argument is that we are leaders no matter what role we play, and as leaders, when we speak we are then most God-like.  Hmmm.  This is connected to his belief that creation began with language.  The very first thing that happened to start our world were the words  “Let there be light.”  So in living our lives through language, we are displaying our most God-like similarity.  I’m not espousing that anyone needs to embrace the creation story.  But as a history teacher, a mother, friend, spouse, daughter, etc., etc., I am fully aware of the importance of language.

Part of his discussion revolves around de-dramatizing our speech.  Along with rejecting the “temptation to to overstate, over dramatize, ratchet up the conversation for the purpose of drawing attention.”

Today, this captured me and it happened to be from a man who is a minister.  I speak a lot about communication which includes conversation.  There are many other types of communication, including facial expressions, gestures, personal space, etc.  But when it comes to choosing words, which words you express, which ones you don’t, and which ones you change, how important is it?

Here’s another thought.  I recently read that the Latin root of discipline is “to listen”.  To listen.  When is the last time you felt truly listened to? Or did your own total body listening to another.  When  I make the conscious decision (and it isn’t often enough) to listen to the person speaking to me – and I consciously stop myself from preparing my answer ahead of time – the whole tenure of the conversation changes.  If I go back to try to remember what I was preparing to say, I can’t.  Its gone.  I have involved myself in the conversation in more ways than one – I have gone below the surface – and the response is usually delightful.

I venture to guess that some people go into therapy just to have someone sit for an hour and listen.  I gave up on a therapist once because all he did was talk.

We all have personal agendas.  Sometimes these are business situations, family, neighbors.  Perhaps we don’t know what the agenda is, or perhaps we do.  But the effort spent to wrap someone in your needs is not nearly as satisfying as connecting on a deeply emotional level with someone who matters to you.  I will try it with at least one person today.

(If you’d like to read the article which I cite, you can find it at http://www.wpc-online.org).

A New Day with a New Walk

Once again, I’m going to do battle with my natural rhythms, which encourage me to sleep until nine.  For more attempts than I care to remember, I’m going to again try to change my biorhythms to get myself up at 6:00 AM, and walk.  I know that my body has settled into a specific expectation when it comes to my exercise plan and that nothing changes once the routine is remembered.  So I will do what I have managed to do on occasion, and get up for a morning constitutional.

This is what I’ve learned in the past when I’ve tried to do this.  First, my brain will fight it heartily.  It will tell me things like, “you haven’t slept well.  Just stay in bed and get that lovely morning snooze.  Ummmm, it feels good.”  It will also say, “the weather is lousy outside, and cozy in here,” or “you can do it later.  You can work harder at the club.”  Even, “you don’t really need it today.  you worked out yesterday.”  And on, and on, and on.  I’m quite impressed with the procrastinating creativity of this brain that walks around with me.

This morning, I tricked it.  Last night, I got all the preparations ready.  I put out my shoes, my shorts, my bra, and I slept in the t-shirt I planned to wear.  So, when I awoke at the sound of my phone alarm, which was placed where I had to get out of bed to reach it, I was up.  I simply bent over, and begin putting on the walking clothes, went to the sink, drank some water, and took off.  Granted I yawned much of the way, but I was there.

And I discovered what I always discover when I’m out early — I really love it.  I enjoy the sounds of the birds, and the wind in the trees.  I inhale the different personality that is there every morning, and feel better about my particular changing moods.  I try to pick out the morning dove, and the mocking-bird.  There is one bird that sings out, “Cader.  Cader. cadercadercader.”  That doesn’t mean anything to you, but I have a brother-in-law named Cader.  I have to find out which one that is so he will actually believe me.

I greatly enjoyed my morning constitutional (what an old-fashioned word).  I came back huffing, but that’s a good thing because it means I need to get in better shape for walking.  After a couple of weeks, I will be strong enough to tackle hiking with an undisciplined but beautiful German Shepherd, who I’d love to be able to take places.  But first we have to learn to walk together in a more disciplined manner.

Mornings are lovely and being healthy is even lovelier.

I write to breathe…and other lifely challenges

I spent the night with a girl friend in another state last evening.  Her father is in the twilight of his life – perhaps the sun has already dipped below the horizon but the tenaciousness of life has not yet allowed him to transition to the other side.  Three weeks ago, he caught a virus that was making the rounds of their family, and now he has lost close to 30 lbs.  From 135 lbs to 109 lbs.  He is almost 92 years old.

My friend is burdened with the decisions that determine the rest of the moments of his life.  Does she allow the hospital system to install an oxygen line?  Is a feeding tube appropriate?  Should he have a fluid drip to allow his body to pass wastes?  This man has defied odds for 20+ years.  Between he and his wife, he was always going to be the first one to go.  His wife died 2 1/2 years ago.  And yet he lingers and she struggles with the decisions.  Yes, there are other siblings.  A brother who lives three states away and has decided to become his sister’s critic, and a sister who simply cannot handle this increasingly difficult situation.  Her sister is truly grateful, but has little to offer with physical help.  My friend’s daughter, son-in-law, and husband have stepped up to the plate.  But ultimately, this is a 1-pitcher game.  My friend will make all the decisions.  This is a story that likely duplicates itself across the world on a regular basis now that modern medical science has allowed us to live longer and longer with bodies that don’t necessarily come equipped to do so.

My friend is attempting to keep her viewpoint along with her life affecting decisions based on her compassion of a quality life. She’s also hanging on to her sense of humor – by a thread. The thought that her father, once such a vibrant and lively man, would not want to continue on this side of life with so little ability to be mobile, to read, to participate, and to be a part of life is forefront in her conflicted mind.  He gets confused easily, which is not a big surprise, and he responds with whatever is being said at the time about his health – does he want to get better or would he rather go?  He is also an incredibly polite person, which can drive anyone to distraction.  We can much more easily get angry and retaliate to those who are rude and confrontational.  How do you respond daily to man who says “I’m sorry” and “thank you” continuously?

I went to visit because I needed to see her for me.  I wanted to know that she was truly dealing with her struggles, and not wasting away with the weight of life nor continually second-guessing herself.  I didn’t think I could provide any particular support that would make a difference in her suspended animation called life, but because I want her to know that whatever she decides in this almost no-win decision, I will support her fully.  There is no second-guessing from me, and I can’t come close to imagining what she has endured for 2 ½ years.  I am there to say to her, and to her family members (which won’t be necessary) that she has been a most loving and compassionate daughter.  She has gone above and beyond what most of us could do, and I love and respect her deeply.

Those of us who have endured the reality of this sandwich generation can relate fully.  I wouldn’t have made it two weeks.

Thank you, friend, for showing us what real love is.  I am in awe of you.

The Love of a Father

On July 27, 2009, my father in law, Irv, turned 90.  Ninety years of life with one wife of 66 years, one son, and one daughter.  Both of his children had one son each. Consequently in my father-in-law’s down line, there are only four direct blood relatives.  Where I come from in the south, that isn’t many.  But for my husband’s family, it is plenty.  Among my own siblings of five (including me), there are three with whom I am rarely in touch.  My husband and sister-in-law speak to each other once or twice a week.  Sometimes less is more.

At Irv’s 90th birthday party, my husband offered a special gift.  A gift of travel.  A trip back to Irv’s birth hometown in Bristol, PA, next to the Delaware River.  A river Irv swam across in his youth and a town of Jewish merchants.  Can you swim across the Delaware?

Irv’s parents were Russian immigrants.  So were Edna’s, Irv’s wife.  Towns that no longer exist due to the pogroms against the Jews in the early 1900’s.  But Irv and Edna exist regardless of the Cossacks and later, the Bolsheviks.  They come from hardy stock.

So, they went to Bristol – Irv, Edna, son and daughter.  What they found was not exactly satisfactory to Irv.  The world has changed and people have moved on.  Died.  But the high school was there along with a dedicated and delightful Italian teacher who offered a tour of the school, including the part that had not been renovated.  Irv — with his 90 ½ year old legs — bounded up the two flights of stairs to the third floor.  There, he and three of his down line   admired the trophies given to generations before.  They did not include the year of 1938 – Irv won a track trophy that year.  Perhaps it was his team.  Doesn’t really matter – the recognition existed and his pride is palpable.  My spouse and his sister took plenty of pictures.  Even of the Bristol, PA, trash cans.  On a trip like this, everything is valuable.

Included in this trip was a niece, Barbara, whom Irv had not seen since she got married forty years earlier.  Her daughter came too.  What a reunion.

This was a trip of a lifetime to celebrate a lifetime.  They didn’t know it during the trip, and may not yet.  I didn’t go – I’m the shiksa in the group.  We have things at home that must be cared for.  More importantly, this was a trip for bloodlines.  We have photos of gravesites and tombstones.  The love and respect of mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers.  Not what I would refer to as classic shots but ones that will be cherished in our family for years to come.  Thank you to the Whites and Hoffmans.  At Ellis Island, only one name was completely changed.  You made it and you allowed your bloodline to continue, which includes my youngest son.  Thank you deeply.

The Hoffman Bristol, PA, trip, May 2010, was a classic memorable journey for a man who has lived almost a century.  I’m both impressed and envious.  Few of us will get this opportunity.  Happy Birthday, Irv.  You are loved.