It Has to Start Somewhere…

I’ve struggled this morning with whether or not to respond to the deaths of the 5 officers last night or the death of the suspect that lead to the protest that ended in 5 officers’ deaths. Here are my thoughts; if you scroll past, no problem.

I’m tired of this. My heart breaks for communities that have become so divided, for families who live in areas rampant with violence because economics don’t permit them to choose security, for families who have watched their once “whole village” streets filled with kids playing under the street lights under the watchful eye of their elders, disintegrate into places where their children can’t play without being taught to be afraid of slow moving cars that may signal a drive-by or “hunt”.
My heart breaks further when friends become enemies over reports of actions, to which neither of them were personally involved or witnessed: reports that, if you’re a discriminating reader, will eventually show themselves as often hasty and inaccurate. But the damage will have already been done and the seeds of hate planted and watered.
I am disgusted at what the media is doing, and the role social media plays in this dumbing down of our people and culture. I am reminded of that one kid in school who would take a small fact and sensationalize it in order to gain attention for themselves. It’s all about the ratings, right?
I’m angered by those suggestions that this is a problem, fixable by creating more restrictive legislation…monitor this, take away that, and suddenly the problems will disappear. I could throw legitimate statistics from actual research at you now, but it’s not the intent of this rant to persuade you as to the right or wrong of use of one object over another.
My base thoughts are this: we are losing our touch with our most basic of character traits. We are becoming lazy: we want things now before having to work for them as our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents did. There is value in learning patience, how to overcome obstacles, and how to work together to achieve a goal for someone other than ourselves. We want our information now, even if it’s unchecked or untrue: just give it to me now! We’ve grown to expect and demand a handout…rather than ask for a “hand up” when we need a boost. Or even worse, we often fail to learn to live without something until we can afford it, confusing our “wants” with “needs”. Our priorities are skewed: the latest phone, bigger tattoos, flashy cars, expensive clothes have replaced feeding our families nourishing, healthy food and needed medical care. We have become desensitized to violence in our movies, tv shows, music, games, and everyday words. We tolerate degrading portrayals of women as sexual objects and justify it by calling it “artistic expression” or “sexual freedom”. We put pressure on men to be “macho” or primary providers for the family when the economy makes that a challenge or an impossibility for many. We are quick to lump all into a category based on the poor decisions or actions of a small percentage of the many.
And compassion, forgiveness, and understanding….when did we dump these in favor of furthering our own agenda? WHY do we look in disgust at the homeless man or woman, head down, dirty, maybe drunk, and decide it was our privilege to judge them? WHY do we avoid eye contact with strangers who dress differently, look differently from ourselves? WHY do we interpret the actions of others, no matter how truly insignificant, as a personal assault?
Before I finish this, let me preface the final paragraph with a definition. To me, “love” is this: thinking of others, forgiveness whether it is deserved or not (not my call to make according to my beliefs), tolerance, compassion, and even being firm and having to tell someone “no” for their own good. I also, personally believe, that my faith holds me to these principles; although as a fallible human, I don’t always live up to those teachings. I know that though my Father’s grace, I am forgiven though, and try harder.
I believe the solution is this: we stand up, as a nation, and speak up. Love our neighbor as (or better than) we love ourselves. That means the drunk, the little kid throwing rocks at your car, the lonely woman on her front porch watching through cloudy eyes as the last years of her life slip away unnoticed…the construction worker, blocking the road for the 4th week in a row, just trying to do a job to feed his family…and yes, the kid who broke into your car to steal your change. Yes, the kid who had no guidance from a strong support system growing up, who just shot another person for their phone. Yes, the officer who drew his weapon before thinking. Yes, please love the lady in front of you at the grocery store, yelling at her kids that they can’t have candy while her cart is filled with steaks and beer. Yes, please love that college kid, barfing his guts behind your house at 4 in the morning. If we take back our nation by modeling and teaching “love” for ALL our fellow man, I believe we CAN start a peaceful “revolution”. That means we start in the home, on the streets, and in our schools and workplace.
But we have to start. Are you with me? I can’t do this alone. You can’t do this alone. But WE can do this together…all we have to do, is start.

 

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Serenity

photo credit to Christian Hastings

photo credit to Christian Hastings

First off, this post is completely unedited; sometimes, you just gotta roll with it.

If you’ve been following along up to this point, you know we’ve relocated from the ‘burbs to the city. Not a high-rise block of flats overlooking busy streets choked with blaring horns and a mass of human-ants scurrying below as one might envision the view from a walk-up in Manhattan, but a third floor 110 year old historic building with an incredible view of the Confederate Memorial at Hollywood Cemetery out the front and the droning of an expressway to the right, banked by my school to the left. For a small city like Richmond, this is pretty peaceful a place to hang my hats. But I’ve been restless. Unsettled. At times, I feel as if the walls are closing in, attempting to squash me into some mold I’ll never fit. As I spill my thoughts onto the keyboard though, I’m not in there, even though its beautiful walls safely hold in slumber two of the many people in my life I cherish. I’m on the front porch, coffee and smokes (don’t judge) on the rail, bare feet up on the table, taking in the light breeze as I sit tucked in the cool nook of the brick and stone walls and rails that invite me to pull up a rocker, sit, and do nothing but watch life wander down the brick sidewalk in front of me.

So I do just that. I sit. I watch. I listen. I type.

I breathe.

More so that just about any other place I’ve lived in my adulthood, this neighborhood feeds my soul. There is such a diversity of life: college students just stretching their wings for the first time; young couples, perhaps beginning their forever journey together; sometimes, sharing the agony of a relationship whose time has come to an end too soon; laughter of friends gathered for no reason other than it is the end of a Tuesday; older residents who have spent their entire lives on the Hill here, and who will most likely rest eternally in one of the hills or bottoms that grace Hollywood. Then there are the homeless who live here, some choosing this life, others dumped into it rather tragically. There are stories here, all around, if I’m willing to open my eyes and ears to hear them. For a writer, this is potentially the mother-load of material passing by my windows and self, countless times a day and night. So why am I so restless?

This photo. This photo taken by my love’s son of his roommate, just this morning, as they made an early morning trip along the James just below them. The same James River that winds through boulders and fallen trees, crashes over the Fall Line, and lies still in pools along its shore. The same James that is a mere four blocks or so from where I sit now. The same James where Christopher Newport planted his cross on a small island below in 1604 in route to Jamestown to drop his weary passengers. The trees, light streaming through their summer greenery as the sun begins its daily march across the heavens. The birds, tiny sparrows sit on the rail not two feet away, heads twisting to see if I’ve brought them an easy catch for breakfast, or fighting for branch space in the overgrown boxwood blocking my view of the street.

It’s not enough to throw open my windows, sit on the sill with my laptop balanced precariously on my knees, although that has been a sanity saver. I need that ability to flow in and out of my spaces, surely as I need oxygen to breathe. When I’m flustered, or thinking, or bored, I need to step outside if only for a moment, to dig in the dirt, pick up sandpaper and a hunk of wood, or just sit on the steps with my eyes closed and feel sunlight. I can pray anywhere. But it is in the outside spaces that I can truly feel connected with my Father and at peace. The stresses of life dissipate, if only for a few moments, and allow me to recharge my own batteries. Don’t take me for an ungrateful brat, whining about what I don’t have. I don’t need acres of land and a huge home to avoid feeling compressed and squished. A studio apartment would be space enough if it had an outside deck or balcony. A place where I can watch my dog snuggle its bulky self against my leg and snore without feeling persecuted for daring to have a four-legged hairy companion is required. Noisy neighbors are even tolerable if I have “my space” (see prior posts about the home in Bon Air). But it’s that instant, brief moment of stepping outside the man-made into the God-created that gives me my peace.

Anyone have serenity to rent on the Hill in February?

The Old Married Couple

Not being able to sleep tonight, I dusted off a draft from about six weeks ago.   At the time, I was in a snit about something from work, and everything seemed to irk me in the worst kind of way: the coffee was too weak/strong, the laundry was taking too long to dry, the dog had the audacity to start showing her age, dishes kept appearing in the sink, and work just turned into countless hours of chasing my tail with little to show for it.  Did I mention women at a certain stage of their lives are, well, prone to exaggeration and crabbiness?  Doesn’t help the feminists’ cause, but biology is unrelenting like that.

So I nearly threw a dish at his head that night. It started off innocuously enough…he was making plans to join two of his kids for a night at the movies, and my middleton and I decided we needed to take a wander over to the nearly-all-night cookie spot a few blocks away. This is what we do: carve out time for our kids both together and separately. We all need that. So I’m putzing around in the kitchen after dinner while he’s on the couch surfing Facebook or something when I hear, “We haven’t been to a movie in a while.” Before I can respond, he tacks on this zinger…

“We’re turning into an old married couple.”

Now there are a couple of ways to take this. Either you can think to yourself: How sweet! He thinks we’re one of those adorable older couples you see wandering around town, holding hands, him grinning at her every word (even if he isn’t really paying attention to what she’s saying). She looks adoringly at him when he gently steers her around an obstacle. Or…you take it like I did (remember, hormones at play):

He thinks we’ve become boring and predicable.

Hence, the potential encounter his noggin had with the dinnerware. See, my first marriage ended in a whimper when I’d finally grown tired of redrawing that line in the sand. We never made it, incredibly, to even being boring and predictable; we just, well, quit being a couple. At one point after our separation, we talked about why the marriage ended, and the ex told me that during one of our attempts at reconciliation, I commented on an elderly couple walking towards us holding hands and laughing. I remembered telling him as they passed that I wanted to be that couple. Apparently when I said that, he knew that we were done, because he just couldn’t be that. Fair enough. I just wish he had said that then, instead of three years later. But back to the story…

I’m a romantic at heart, and like a dolt, it took me nearly 28 years to get it through my thick skull that I was married to someone who wasn’t. I love writing mushy little notes and leaving them for BW to find. I love walking around town holding hands. I love just sitting on a wall outside the shops, sipping coffee, and people watching. Walks around our new neighborhood, spotting previously unseen details in the homes or gardens, or just chatting to the neighbors around the block, these are all activities that make me feel all warm and fuzzy when we’re together. Cuddling is good for the soul too. Hugs from behind when I’m in the kitchen will put a smile on my face every time. And I give really great back rubs (seriously, they will put you right to sleep)! These simple activities seem like a recipe for “growing old together” I could embrace for eternity.

But here lately, we’ve both been under some pretty heavy stressors for any couple to have to endure: parent in failing health, first of his children to marry, we officially moved in together by moving to a third floor apartment in the city (as opposed to living in a house with space and yard and room and a commute), juggling finances to cover kids and college and medical and vehicles, major project beginning at work, church commitments…the list  of situations and circumstances we are learning to balance seems to go on forever, all while learning to be together as a couple. But apparently, we weren’t doing such a swift job of that last one, at least, not recently. But as my Dad has always been fond of saying:

Lessons that we learn in pain, we seldom have to learn again.

 So rather than smash ceramics, we talked. In my first marriage, I know I was guilty of just clamming up and doing the whole “stomp and huff” routine if I was frustrated. It seemed to me that it would not be wise to try that approach again (after all, look where it got me). I shared my frustration of feeling as if we were just coasting through our days, and thankfully, he could see it too. No hurt feelings on either side, just talking and acknowledging how the other felt. So simple, right? It seemed it…so why was this so difficult to do the first time around? Why did we not speak up out of kindness and a desire to help our partners help us, instead choosing more passive and confrontational ways of showing just how “wrong” we felt our spouses were in their behavior/thoughts/ideas? I don’t have an answer for that. All I can do, going forward, is learn from past mistakes, and do all I can to not repeat them. In hindsight, though, perhaps BW is on to something. Maybe the target should be the “old married couple”. After all, they’re still together through all of their shared life’s challenges and joys.

Old married couple….yes, that is an cliché I could embrace after all.

Moments in Time

Sixteen months…

Eleven months…

Only a moment…

These are measures of time with significance in the second half of my adult life.  Certainly, the birth of my children and grandchildren are beyond measure in their impact on my life, but when I contemplate recent events, these measures of time are landmarks of sorts.

Sixteen months ago, I made the decision to end a broken marriage, and make a fresh start in my life.  In an instant, I left behind uncertainty, self-doubt, and sadness. In their place, I filled my heart and actions with hope, confidence, and faith. I didn’t shed a single tear, instead choosing to wake up each morning and find the joy of the moment. True, some days I found myself exaggerating the mundane to give it a positive spin, as life would seem to just take an obscene amount of effort to maintain. But the more I made this the first thing I did every morning, the easier it became. It really didn’t take too long before the new point of view became the norm, and the change in attitude seemed to follow an upward tick in circumstances. Posts to Facebook would reflect the affirmation that indeed, in spite of major life changes, “…every little thing, gonna be alright…” (https://youtu.be/mACqcZZwG0k Bob Marley). Ah, Bob Marley…it’s tough to stay in a foul mood when you listen to this song. I dare you to listen to it and refrain from half-closing your eyes and nodding your head to the beat. Go ahead. Try it. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Welcome back! Let’s continue the story…during the months following my separation, I made the choice to just let dating happen if it happened, but I wasn’t going to pursue it. Coffee dates were the perfect “re-entry” into the world so to speak: casual, no pressure, and relatively easy to bail out if it was uncomfortable. I had one with a friend who needed to stay a friend; a few that seemed to make the coffee bitter, and a couple that warranted repeated trips for caffeine. How great is coffee (or tea or hot chocolate)? It seems to soothe, relax, and just encourage conversation between friends. You can have serious discussions or knee-slapping, pants-wetting fits of laughter, and it’s all perfectly appropriate. You can enjoy a cup in solitude, and no one will question your mental health or sobriety.

So when I accepted an invite to coffee on May 23, 2014 with a former high school alum, I had no expectations about it being any more than a chance to touch base with someone from 30 years in my past. Shoot, we were only really acquaintances then, but I did remember him as being a nice guy…a year behind me, tall, played football and basketball, dark curly hair, and always seemed to be smiling or up to something a tad bit mischievous, but never malicious. Five hours later, coffee had turned into dinner and walking laps around the parking lot because we couldn’t stop talking. Holding hands happened naturally, as did our first kiss. We were just standing in silence after that tender moment, me snuggled with my back against his chest, staring across the parking lot at the western wear store on the other side. He took me completely by surprise when he announced, “I’m going to wear cowboy boots to our wedding. Thought you should know.” I didn’t panic. I didn’t bolt and run. I just smiled.

Eleven months later, we’re counting down the days now to the marriage of his oldest daughter. It is such a special time for him and his ex-wife. Giving away his first daughter to a great man will be a bittersweet moment in time, I know, but her fiancé is wonderful. I know they will be very happy together! We’ve shared some incredible times while learning a lot about trust, faith, and forgiveness together. I’ve had some health scares that have been easier to navigate with him always comforting and positive by my side; we’ve had some trying financial hiccups and so many, many sweet moments of just “being”. We’re getting to really know each other’s friends, children and families, and consider ourselves beyond blessed with how well each has been welcomed by the others. We recently moved into a new home in a totally new setting for us both, but the city seems to suit us both so well, constantly changing, always entertaining. Being the “elders” in a building full of twenty and thirty somethings has been energizing, even if the three flights of stairs are exhausting at times!

The final point in time…only a moment.

When you’re content, happy, and in love with someone, time passes effortlessly and quietly. Each day feels like an elusively passing instant you wish to be eternal. To me, this is how we are meant to be.

Rain and Rebirth: Originally drafted June 5, 2014 at 6:51am

Again, found another post I had not published.  This one also dates back to the first week of June, what was so obviously a turning point week in my life.  Strong and deep, without bashing you over the head with what’s on my mind.  If you know me, or have been following along to this point, draw your own conclusions.  Heck, interpret this how you will anyway!
June 5, 2014
Sometimes standing in the rain is required. Or at least, standing under shelter in the rain. Conducive to writing with a depth of emotion I haven’t felt in years. Enjoy ( or skip… Your call)Thunder is rolling in. Best sleeping weather in the world. Yet here I stand on the deck. Fresh smells, cool water in drips on your skin. Refreshing and cleansing for body and soul. Even the night-time creatures are quiet as if they sense a washing away and purging of the day’s heat.Pause again, face upturned, and just breathe. I am alone out here, but not lonely. I am blanketed by darkness, but not in the dark. I feel small, but not helpless. The rumbles grow louder and bright streaks flicker slowly at first, then more urgently, glimpsed through full shadows of leaves.
Normally the storms bring pain to my body. Tonight, I don’t feel it though I know it’s there. I pause. Rain begins to flow over my shoulders and down my back and chest in thin rivers, washing away the day’s troubles and doubts. I feel reborn with each chilling trickle.

I know for certain there is a Power greater than myself leading me if I am wise enough to follow. It is known by many names, but for me tonight, this Power has no name, only a sense of strength and comfort.

The thunder rolls in, more insistent that I listen, yet more gentle in its chiding. “Change is coming,” it whispers, then startling me, it booms an aftershock that startles me back from my mediation.
“This change will be a challenge! Are you afraid to face this? Can you stand there, as strong as you think you are, and take what comes next? Or will you retreat, cowering for someone to rescue you?” The thunder shouts at me to listen.

I draw a deep breath. Wait. Observe my heart pound. Exhale. Rain pours around and on me now. What is my answer?

My response comes slowly, with conviction:

If the rain continues to fall as if to drown me out, I am ready to fight it.

If the rain softens to a caress again, I will accept it with love.

I bid the night and its energy Namaste, then walk to the door, confident I am where I need to be, even if I am unsure where I am.

 

A Time for Knowing: Drafted June 5, 2014 at 7:22am

I thought I had published this one…apparently not.  It dates back to early June, nearly 6 weeks ago.  It still is very much a description of me, perhaps even more so than ever.  I challenged “Bruce Wayne” earlier this week with the prospect of being in a relationship with a writer..that we just aren’t “normal”.  Everything that happens to us impacts us, but we’ve got to learn to get it in check to avoid hurting those around us who perhaps didn’t sign on to be part of our story, while still remaining true to our hearts and needs.  He simply responded that it is part of who I am, and that it is part of what attracts him to me.  Crazy person….I’m dating a crazy person…and loving every minute of it. Enjoy!

June 5, 2014

This is me, as naked and laid bare as it gets for a writer; I am sharing a work in progress.  It will change; it will morph, but I’m laying this out there to share a process.  I am strong enough in my feelings to allow you to watch.  I know that only those who know me best, will understand how I can share a process like this.  I know my fellow artists/writers may question my sanity.  I need to do this. 

 

 

I didn’t sleep a great deal last night following a brief, yet intense storm. It wasn’t a violent storm, but it had moments of demanding thunder, brilliant lightning, and steady purifying rain. The episode moved me to write an intensely personal piece. As someone who must write as surely as I must breathe, this unleashes an almost palpable pain.  Years of not writing interrupted by a torrential flow of thoughts and emotions is as excruciating a release as cramped muscles screaming in painful protest after sitting in hard-backed chair for too long: it was necessary to do to accomplish a task, but the end of that torture is exquisite.

 

As I write again, I am quietly aware of a flood of emotions, all competing for attention.  Which will I acknowledge; which will I ask to wait patiently? Which is certain to be ignored, if only for a little while?  Joy, sorrow, faith, doubt, trust, jealousy, love, apathy…these all jostle for time in my mind and heart. There is no better way to describe these qualities than yin-yang.  In the Chinese culture, yin-yang refers to two complementary forces: not precisely opposites, but complements.  There is no darkness without light; these forces all must co-exist, in order to exist. The yang, or “sunny” of these if you will,  can leave me breathless with their intensity; I crave them more as I experience them in their various forms. The yin, “shady” complement of these, at times leave me confused.  I want the yang of life! Why should I have to accept the yin as well?

 

In order to appreciate the sun, it is necessary to also know the night.

 

It strikes me that I may not be quite as simple a person as I thought. True, you don’t get much plainer than “let’s cook at home/take a walk/paint a wall/read a book/play in the rain/go to the thrift store”, but it will take someone truly gifted, and even more patient than I am, I think, to accept my need to express my thoughts and observations.  Right now, they are raw and reflecting where I have been; a river overflowing its banks after a storm.  It will subside, but who will flee, afraid of the power and intensity?  What remains to be seen, is who will stay, confident with the wisdom that the excess water will return to its source, once again flowing on its gentle path.  The river is beautiful in its grace, giving life, supporting life, bending around obstacles to continue on its journey. I hope that I too, will return to my banks, more gentle yet fuller, than I was only months ago.  I’ll overflow my banks again in time, of that I’m certain.  But I hope that this time, there will be someone along to patiently wait out the fury as I grow.

What is in a Name?

I just responded to a private message from someone on Facebook about changing my name after the divorce is final, and I got to thinking really hard about this.  Seems folks have some strong opinions both sides of the fence.  Some believe quite strongly that I should keep my married name, or change it to be hyphenated with my maiden name.  Various reasons given included:

  • I’m published under the married name
  • The married name is a part of my identity/history
  • It’s shorter than my maiden name…

Others chose taking my maiden name back approach:

  • It’s my original identity
  • Purging old wounds….

Let’s stop right there on “purging old wounds”.  I have rather strong feelings about the married last name at the moment.  It is, and always will be, a part of my identity, as I was married many more years than I was not.  My children are Dells; it seems to me, that if I were to remove that piece of my name entirely, it may send a signal to them that I am trying to also distance myself from who they are.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  So for now, the name stays “Dell”.  

Q: But your Facebook has you hyphenated maiden-married name?  Explain? 

A: Yep, did that donkey’s years ago so high school friends and family could find me easier.  Next question?

Q: But what if you remarry?

A: Goodness some of you spend a lot of time thinking about me…starting to make my head swell.  Stop that (love ya)!  I suspect, though I don’t know as I’m not in that position of having a man on one knee in front of me at the moment, that out of love and respect for whomever that might be, should that day actually ever come, that I would take his last name alone.  It would be the start of a new journey and path, and would deserve all of my heart and attention that would mean.

Q: But…

A: Enough…go back to watching cat videos on YouTube.