Really, How Are You Doing?

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Fine.

Actually, not fine.* I write this on the second day of non-stop rain (flash flood warning!). Morning headlines informed us that the administration will finalize the rollback of clean water protections. Gun violence continues, including a murder-suicide a block from my home. Having chosen to leave my professional career to pursue a dream of actually completing a novel, I stand one disaster away from taking a deep dive into my modest retirement savings.  My ankle still hurts eleven weeks after a ligament-tearing incident. My normally dependable ability to sleep soundly has devolved into lying awake at 3 in the morning.

So how are you doing today? Are the problems in our society getting to you? How’s your personal life? How’s your health? Your work? You’re finances? Your mental  health?

During the long course of yet another sleepless night, this phrase came into my mind: To triumph over darkness, give light. Not get light. Give light.

After choosing an early retirement to pursue writing, I took a part-time job at my local Target in women’s apparel. It gets me out amongst people, provides a little extra cash, and ticks about 5 miles on the FitBit each time I work. Yesterday an older woman, let’s call her Bernice, came in shopping for some new clothes. She and a helper from her nursing home were trying to find a suitable pair of black pants.

“I haven’t been shopping for a year!” Bernice said. Her manner was anxious but open, her conversation a little confused but enthusiastic.

After helping her to explore various options in black pants, we found a pair that suited her needs–black, with stretchy fabric, durable, washable, and classy looking.

She pointed to my required-by-Target red shirt. “I sure would like to get a new red top. It’s my favorite color.”

The attendant looked worried. “Remember, Bernice, you have only $40.00 to spend. And you also want to get those cough drops.”

Earlier in the day a red top on the clearance rack caught my eye. “If you can wait a moment, I have an idea. No promises, but we might have just the thing.”

There it was. In her size. A loose-fitting red top with lace trim on the sleeves.

“What do you think of this?”

“It’s so beautiful!”

The attendant pulled out her calculator.  The pants, top, and cough drops came to just over $39.00.

Bernice looked up and held out her arms to me. I leaned down for a hug.

“I love you,” she said.

As of that moment, I was doing fine. Thanks, Bernice.

FYI, I am not depressed or despairing. Just speaking truth about life.

 

 

 

 

Steve’s Gift

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En route to a show at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, a friend and I decide to park halfway and then take a bus.

“Easier than parking downtown!” say I.

Then again, maybe not.

Waiting for our bus, we chat with a man named Steve. One leg artificial, the other wrapped in an Ace Bandage, Steve has the appearance of a too-young-for-VietNam vet. Friendly and talkative, he continues to engage with us on the trip downtown.

Getting off the bus on Nicollet and 7th, I manage to trip, ending up sprawled on the sidewalk. My friend helps me up and to a nearby bench, as my left ankle rapidly puffs to double its normal size.

Having gotten off at the same stop, Steve walks over.

“Wow, that looks bad. You need to head to the emergency room,” he says.

We had reached the same conclusion.

As we arrange for a Lyft driver, Steve unwinds the Ace bandage from his leg. Handing it to me he says, “Don’t worry, it’s clean. You need this more than I do.”

Rather than a concert at First Avenue, I spend the evening at the Abbott-Northwestern ER. My ungraceful fall results in ligament tears on both sides of the ankle, as well as in the ligament connecting tibia to fibula in the calf.

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Twelve weeks recovery,” says the orthopedic doc.

But the residual glow of Steve’s open-hearted generosity continues to defeat the shadows of temporary discomfort and inconvenience.

May he receive a thousand times over the goodness he shared.

 

 

WARNING: TRUTH WILL BE TOLD

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If I were to draw a picture of my childhood home, it would show a single-family house, clean to the point of pain, silent in what is left unsaid, false in what is shown to those who dwell beyond the four walls, rising in the midst of a fastidious yard, on a quiet street in a small town dominated by self-contained Scandinavians.

My brother Rick died recently. Properly my half-brother, he was a little guy when his birth dad died in a car accident. Ten years older than me, he left home for college when I was only seven. My dad, his step-dad, adopted him and our older sister Sylvia after he married our mom. Dad could be sarcastic to my brother, and Rick felt that I was the favored child. Which, in some ways, I was. I wish it could have been easier for him growing up. And then he served two tours in Viet Nam. But with humor, a loving wife, great sons, and many friends, he appeared to do very well in his life.

Yet we never fully know the secret complexities of another’s life. Upon others, we may pronounce judgment and dismiss them. We also judge ourselves, as we do our best to cope. And that coping may lead us into the darkness of disfunction and shame until we stop accepting responsibility for circumstances over which we had no control.

As I only learned many years later, our high school counselor, Mr. Woods, suggested to my parents that I see a psychologist, so apparent was my emotional disarray. They declined without telling me. In those days, I carried a well of sorrow that flooded into tears at the slightest provocation. My anxiety was constant. At age 13, I began stealing liquor from my parents in an attempt to ease my distress. After high school, I floated in and out of college and relationships, in and out of jobs and apartments. Then in my mid-twenties, I changed my college major to forest management. The study of solid subjects like calculus and botany and meteorology and surveying began to balance and rectify my soul.

And I wrote.

Now I am older, calmer, kinder to myself, immersed in the beauty of life, family, friends, nature, and my own true beloved. We are composite creatures. Bodies which function autonomically, souls which guide us if we listen. We are the result of myriad generations of successful reproduction and survival. We are born and we will die. What comes after is a supposition.

Today, we are.

Beyond the basics of survival, which none of us should ever take for granted, does it matter how much stuff we have? Are we concerned about the judgment of others, when all anyone else can know is the teeniest corner of someone else’s life? Do we dwell in regret and shame about a past that has brought to where we are today?

No. No more. And the relief is beyond words to express. My story is my own and I turn it into healing words.

Peace be with you. May we each find our way.

Creating a World

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Creating a World

As one writes a novel, letter by letter, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, people say things, do things, see things and feel things. Babies are born. People get sick; they recover or die. Characters are created and take on a reality of their own.

Each of us, second by minute by hour by day by month by year, write our own life story. We each create our world, including places, people, communication, and action. While a novelist controls the life span of characters, our own personal comedic drama unfolds in an unknown span of time.

Over many years of counseling hospice patients and their families (work from which I retired to focus on writing), I learned that no one regrets saying, “yes” to adventure, or to healing broken relationships, or to foregoing material pursuits for the sake of personal integrity and well-being. At the end of life, what matters is quality of relationships, and the sense of peace with where one stands spiritually. By this I don’t mean religiosity; this can actually present a hinderance to a peaceful end, through a sense of guilt or fear.

What I mean is “being right with the world”. Knowing that one has done more good than harm, that we have forgiven ourselves and others for mistakes, that we have asked pardon for the harm we have done others, that we took chances and lived fully and fearlessly.

Today is The Day, friends. Let’s each write a story of love, kindness, laughter, acceptance, and adventure.