Boredom is Underrated

Life can be so ridden with boredom I find myself wishing for one of those spontaneous surprises that come out of nowhere and plops me in a whole new realm of possibilities. Something I’d only hoped or never even thought to hope. Something least expected. Something that elevates me into excited whimsy. Life needs that. Every life needs that.

Learning how to be bored is a talent if not a discipline. Uneasy with it at first, I consoled myself that boring was much better than drama-filled alternatives I’d too intimately come to know. I encouraged myself to be satisfied with boredom. Now I’m so content with it I’ve come to expect little else and find ways to give myself more time to be bored. I think that’s a good thing.

And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. [Mark 4:39]

mail1The mailbox is a bit of a distance where I live and in my well-rounded state of predictable boredom I came to check mail only a couple of times a week. Each time I pulled out a slew of junk mail with one or two envelopes of any significance, if that many, sometimes none. I wish I knew how to get rid of that stuff. It’s darned tedious, which, oddly enough, means boring. If I’m going to be bored I want it to be of my own making, not someone else making my boredom time boring work.

If I could stop junk mail I could get away with checking it only once a week and wouldn’t I be in my boring-glory then? In fact, my life is so boring I actually ponder perusing junk mail magazines as an entertainment option. There are a lot of new things I could buy to perk up my boring existence if only I would let go of a few bucks to do it, but I figure if I have to pay for a feeling of specialness then it doesn’t count.

Nope. I want a natural event of real life exuberance. I kept reassuring myself, when the time is right that special moment that shatters boredom with a new lift of excitement would come, because that’s how the natural tides of life flow when they’re at their best. It was all in the odds of how long I had to spend in boredom waiting, and, oh boy, how good it was going to be when that special uplift did come. The longer it took the better it would be and the more life I’d have under my belt to parlay well adapted boredom into a sense of genuine elatedness.

For a while now I’d felt the time for an uplifting life surprise was right, that in all of my boredom I’d finally categorized my priorities as they should be. I had boredom down to a science and was primed for that special something new. After all, my boredom gave little else to do.

It came yesterday.

Yesterday I pulled more than usual hauls of junk mail out of the mailbox, struggling tomail3 grasp oversized advertisements to ensure not to drop anything that might be important like a utility or car insurance bill. If I didn’t pay one of those and with how infrequently I do (don’t) check mail, God knows how long it’d be before I realized an essential was past due and then boredom would succumb to disgruntled agggravation and I couldn’t have that. Not disrupting the peaceful flow of these menial things plays a huge role in keeping life safely and soundly boring.

Because the trash dumpster is also a bit of distance, I’m exceedingly disciplined in how I accumulate trash and, as you might imagine, junk mail plays an important role. I time my trash runs to coincide with mail checks, because that streamlines things, leaving more time for more uneventful boredom. Ahhh, there is no greater peace than the peacefulness of boredom.

So as I’m juggling yesterday’s overload of junk mail, I pilfered the pile while in the car so I could dispense of the bulky junk to the back floorboard, where I’ll also cart my next load of mail2trash to the dumpster. This routine is critical to not disrupting boredom time and actually enjoy being bored rather than boredom being just enough of a passing fancy that I actually feel bored, if you know what I mean. Any experienced boredom-basker knows there is a fine line.

In all of yesterday’s hoard of mail there was a mere one envelope worth opening. (Well, just between you and me, that doesn’t include the other piece that came looking like a check. For a brief moment of reality abandonment I thought I might be able to buy my way into a nice surprise after all. Nothing good ever comes easy.)

The meaningful envelope was hand-addressed, an unusual trait in today’s times and it wasn’t one of those perfectly scripted-by-computer “handwritings.” This was sloppy, human handwriting. This was a real letter! I had received a r-e-a-l letter from a real human being!

As if that weren’t excitement enough and I suppose to subconsciously prolong this rare moment of suspense, I struggled to make out the name on the return address. I knew I knew it, I just couldn’t recall how I knew it. Then it dawned on me:  This was from the oncologist I had twelve-years ago during cancer.

I’d always sent a Christmas card to him at his office, each year appreciative for and counting the culmination of years of life I couldn’t have had without his compassionate care. I thought the letter must be from his wife (what man these days handwrites a letter?). Then I feared whatever it said, for it must surely be bad news about his passing or something, because when you live in my boredom bad news is about the only news you get via letter. That was really going to blow my boredom safety bubble to smithereens.

Inside was a handwritten letter from the doctor himself. After twelve years of sending cards, he was corresponding with me as a friend, not a patient. He spoke humbly of retiring, a small farm he’s working for himself, the things he’s doing with nature, and how he misses his practice and the people in it. He has found his own little piece of boredom. Then he mentioned coming into his own first year of cancer survival. Setting his health trauma aside, the life he was making sounded so blissfully and boringly peaceful I could almost put myself there. He’d shared his piece of boredom with me and his little plot of it had truly blessed mine.

In my boring, little world, it doesn’t get any better than that kind of special surprise.

When is the last time you handwrote a letter that could turn someone else’s everyday boredom into a real sense of purpose? Some of us have learned the value of loving human surprises in their purest forms and we find them so wonderfully enjoyable we’re willing to wait years for another.

 

In response to WordPress Daily Prompt, Parlay.

 

The Pragmatist

He was such an authoritarian pragmatic it took a lifetime to realize not everyone is like that. The world isn’t like that. Most people in the world are not like that. That made me the weird one. W-h-a-a-a-t?

It’s not surprising this presented a unique set of challenges in sustaining whimsical love. Isn’t ‘whimsical’ the very nucleus of love or is that just the woman in me speaking? Maybe pragmatists love the whimsy of love because it is the exact opposite of who they are and what they live. There’s truth to that. For me, anyway. It’s like a forbidden potion. But, after all, I am the weird one.

If I wanted to be a good, upstanding adult, I believed I had to be like Dad, and likewise, I wrongly thought, as all other adults. So being ‘the weird one’ was my unintended goal. Ipragmatic1 succeeded in rare form. To some degree I suppose I was prewired for it, for surely not every child reared by an authoritarian pragmatist takes kindly to it.

Mom was the busied housewife with homemaking and social duties as one might expect of the perfect 1950’s mother. At a young age it was my job to iron Dad’s white hankies for his suit pocket (remember, this was the 50s). She seemed to enjoy her role and she was very good at it. Dad was the deep thinker, the one who probed places of the mind and universe that most people did not share with a little kid like me. When Dad gave me one-on-one time, I was euphoric, in heaven, soaking up his words, his perspectives, his ambitions, and his values. I loved Mom dearly and I learned much from her, but ironing hankies, cooking a good meal or catering a crowd came second to where Dad’s deep-ponderings took me.

I suppose it’s impractical to expect any woman to forever be a good textbook wife and mother as Mom tried to be. Or maybe the differences between she & Dad were just too great, which is more likely. She left years later, with us secured in familiar surroundings and Dad’s financial stability. Even through that heartache and turmoil, Dad kept himself above the fray of speaking badly about Mom. He always reminded us of special occasions, like her birthday or Mothers Day, lest we forget to show her we were thinking of her.

Now that is the ultimate pragmatist.

pragmatic2Even through my rebellious years I kept my eye on sound reasoning, whether I let it influence my own behavior or not. I readily identified when I was doing wrong, I just did it anyway. As most youngsters, eventually I settled into living a real life, having no idea that my innate pragmatism was causing more problems than it was solving.

It took years – way too many – to learn that people in general resent a person like me. I could feel the resentment, I just didn’t know why it was there. I didn’t figure that out until I was senior in age. Maybe I’m a slow learner or maybe that’s how seriously I took being what I had so admired in Dad. It was all I knew to be, really. It’s how I was programmed and the older I got the more I had perfected it – except when it came to love.

What was supposed to work so well for the makings of a good adult caused a lot of personal grief. I kept sloughing it off as others being strange or morally deficient until, one day, I looked around and came to the stark realization that, as good as my intentions were, I was alone in thinking like I do and in being as self-disciplined as I am … I am the weird one. I am the exception to the rule. Oh sigh. What to do now?

Well, we all know you can’t change your internal programming. You can try to rearrange it, better it, polish or tweak it, but you cannot change it. My only choice was to keep being some updated version of me and hope the day would come when I could attract the rare few who must be out there like me (there must be others?).

I’m still waiting.

There are no others like me.

I should’ve known that, too. That’s what makes us all uniquely individual. There’s no one like any of us out there.

The moral of the story is,  we’re all weird. We are all the same in that we are all different. So as I continue working on myself I’m also tweaking ‘what/who’ I’m waiting for. Now I’m waiting for someone who values my innate uniqueness and whose unique form of theirs I can embrace. That’s a lot more likely. I think. At least it increases the odds. I think.

pragmatic3A friend once told me of his father’s advice:  “In a good marriage the debits equal the credits.” That’s an accounting term, which means all of the assets [debits] equal all of the liabilities [credits]. That’s how you know everything is in balance, as it should be.

Now that’s pragmatic. Ahhhh, I’ve come full circle.

 

Putting Heartache in its Place

Surely the road was leading me where I intended to go – because that’s what I wanted and that’s what roads do. Defying reason, I drove hastily forward and the more I did the more bogged in muck the car got and the faster I drove …

It’s been three years. A long, rough & tough three years. Most days were spent eager for a time when it would dawn on me that I wasn’t living in daily, torturous regret and anger. I knew the time would come eventually. Past experience taught me that. I waited. Every day that passed the same as the one before it, each feeling so uneventful, I clung desperately to the hope that I had a cause to hope the future would be better.

We all have visions of what we expect of our lives. When we’re younger we make the assumption that all we have to do is head ourselves in that direction and somehow it’ll fall into place. We don’t account for the bumps in the road or, better said in my case, the road itself being one that’s still under construction.

pondfrogWhen I was much younger I was in a hurry to find an address. It was at night and I wasn’t familiar with the small town’s roads. I darted down one street then another, trying to make up for lost time. One turn landed me on an unusually dark and muddy road, but in my haste to get to my destination I didn’t stop to make sense of it. Surely the road was leading me where I intended to go – because that’s what I wanted and that’s what roads do. Defying reason, I drove hastily forward and the more I did the more bogged in muck the car got and the faster I drove to push through it. I ended up stuck in a shallow pond at the end of a barren road that was “still under construction.”

That aptly exemplifies my life’s last three years. Coming out of divorce from a lifetime with a miserably mean narcissist, at first I drove myself frantically forward, determined to reach a personal destination that I knew I needed to find but was ill-equipped to navigate. I wanted it so badly I dismissed all reasoning. That first year was full of wrong turns and least-expected bog downs of a most painful kind. I had to get it right this time or I was destined lost in the muck of anger and bitterness for the rest of my days and there aren’t that many of them left now. I didn’t want that, as much as what I did want.

The easiest way to get past this kind of pain is to replace bad memories with new ones, usually finding another loving companion who comforts you – or so you think. I wasn’t about to make that hasty mistake again. So this was something I had to do on my own. It would take longer, but that was the only way I could ensure the result.

For a long time, I marinated myself in videos and reading everything I could find that identified what I’d gone through … exactly what my pain was and what had caused it; how I was accountable for enabling it and what I had to do to not fall victim again. I didn’t indulge any entertainment that brought dark feelings back to mind and sometimes that meant sitting hours in total silence. I went to  counseling. When I’d absorbed so much information that all the information did was remind me of its pain – I stopped. I worked to change how I interacted in the world, including accepting my own quirks with grace, which is a lot harder than it sounds. That will always be a work in progress.

Most importantly, I made a point of reminding myself of the robust blessings I did have instead of the losses I’d suffered, made easier by listening to others’ struggles much worse than my own. Then I began to feel grateful again, rather then self-pitying. Fearing I’d lost natural empathy to a deep-seeded anger, as if in slow motion my love and compassion for others came back to life like a spring’s new tree buds. It was freeing and delicious.

Along the way, I slowed down. I shook off the extra baggage of daily routines that I’d done simply to keep someone else happy. That’s more difficult than you think, by the time you’re my age. Though almost too slight to notice in the scheme of things, it was a pleasure to gradually redefine myself. Then I added little enjoyments to my life that, from merely having been denied them, were once unthinkable. Things I knew I could change without shaking my world to its core. And I rid myself of things (including toxic people) that served only to waylay and hinder healing. That was the hardest part.

All of those changes, slight as they may have been over the course of days that made up years, culminated into a meaningful motivation to enjoy the journey to wherever it was I was headed, rather than forcing my way down a one-way street that just wasn’t working.

It was okay to not know the route, as long as I took time to evaluate the one I was on one step at a time. I started forcing myself to follow my gut instincts, one of the biggest shortcomings that led to all of my pain. I allowed myself days, even weeks, to make decisions that, through others’ expectations, I used to pressure myself to make on the spot. My decisions were becoming good ones for a change.

Then I worked on forgiving myself and loved ones (disqualifying the ex) who’d gravely wronged me simply because I was vulnerable. I allowed myself to accept that I was most angry at myself for allowing it and I owned that. I identified their weaknesses as the sad part of life they are and they owned those. I wouldn’t forget the lessons and some of the people I love are still not a part of my life … but the important thing is, I am not living in anger or bitterness. I love them – it’s just from a distance now. That’s how it has to be.

I ran scenarios through my mind how I would react if I saw one of those estranged loved ones again – people who had so badly hurt me I thought I could not recover from the pain. I hadn’t seen them in what was becoming years now. I practiced visualizing, being as I would want to be with them were there not those obstacles, how I feel about them in my heart. My forgiveness was put to the test. One approached me when least expected out shopping. Because I’d practiced living that opportunity, it took no time for me to extend a sincere hug and lighthearted chat. That felt good. I liked me for doing that. I didn’t care what they thought and I didn’t expect anything in return. I did it for me.

All of these baby steps day by day helped me recover and to like myself again. For the first time in too long, I’ve noticed that all of those dreaded, tormenting regrets and the anger they caused do not haunt me anymore. When something does jar a flash of old memories, now it is such a vague recollection I can’t even remember its circumstances (nor did I try).

I have arrived. Thank You, God, for the recovery. I am so grateful for it.

I hoped sharing this tedious journey might offer encouragement to others struggling with their own pain. There is an end. There can be happiness again. Life may never feel the same, but that’s okay and, in cases like mine, it’s preferable. The better we can understand something, the sooner we will come to terms with it.

 

Who Takes Handicap Parking Spaces?

I ask that sarcastically, as in

“What kind of able-bodied person does that?”

Some time, some place, some how we’ve nurtured a society so full of twisted senses of self-entitlement that some people think parking spaces marked for the disabled are theirs for the taking, because, you know, they are just that exceptional. What happened to compassion, humility, nose3shame?

Even in my most ignorant phases of self-absorbed youth I respected others enough to not take a parking space labeled for the disabled … the less capable than I, those who really need it. Even in becoming disabled it took quite some time before I felt okay using one. As long as I could reasonably get where I needed to go I have always left disabled parking open for those who needed it worse than I.

Since then my disabilities have deteriorated and I need those spaces more frequently than used to be. Well let me tell you an unbelievable story.

I moved to where I live a year ago. It’s a well kept place with nice parking but spaces per building are limited and described as ‘first come first serve.’ Being the new arrival and regardless that my place is the farthest from parking, I respected those who came before me by not taking their spot. There was only one handicap space, almost always taken by the same car. Figuring that individual was here first and likely needed it worse than I, even when it was available I left it for them. That’s what good neighbors do, right?

Having come to know some neighbors by now, I noticed the lady who uses the handicap space gets around just fine. Her car has no disabled tag nor placard. So I asked and, come to find out, she is not disabled at all. She just feels entitled to the only handicap space our building has. Really?

For the most part the lady rarely moves her car, it just sits parked there. She has frequent visitors who always take the next closest spaces, inevitably leaving me on the farthest end of a parking lot that is already the farthest walk. A couple of times I’ve returned with loads to bring in only to see her visitor leaving, so I’d wait to park closer and unloadnose2. When her visitor noticed me doing that, then when she saw me waiting she’d go all the way back inside and stare out the window, to prevent me from parking closer. Clearly these were not nice people.

I’ll do anything within reason to avoid unnecessary conflict so I gave this situation weeks of thought. I could’ve easily reported the neighbor’s abusive parking to police, which would’ve resulted in a $250 fine, but that’s not very neighborly, right? All I wanted was reasonable access to my place, where I come & go every day and where I pay rent to live.

I decided to ask management about labeling “resident” on closer parking spaces so I had a chance at reasonable access. I was surprised when they decided to add a second handicap space instead, which I thought was a great solution! In doing that they addressed the lady’s abusive parking, which I could predict would not be received warmly but that was their decision. Honestly, it should’ve been done before now. Even more honestly, the woman should’ve known better in the first place – period.

Well, this extra space has made my shopping life tremendously easier! The first day I used the new space I was all chipper walking back to my place and the lady who’d abused the other one for so long was sitting on her patio. As I always did, instinctively and without hesitating, as I passed by I hollered out a chipper “Hi!

nose1My eyes could not believe what they were seeing. The lady was sitting with her nose stuck so prominently far up in the air that she, literally, looked like a comic book character. I am not kidding. It was disgustingly laughable. Ever wish you could un-see something? I couldn’t begin to crink my neck far enough to get my nose that far up in the air if my life depended on it. Of course she didn’t respond to my greeting. She was sending the message, [huff puff & snort] ‘how dare you!

How dare I’ what? ‘How dare I,‘ a real disabled person, ask for a ‘resident’ parking space where I pay rent? ‘How dare I’ have one? ‘How dare I’  be disabled? Just ‘what’ the heck have I done? Apparently the only alternative this self-entitled nitwit thought suitable was for me to keep sluffing tremendous hardships back and forth, because, I guess we all should know, no one makes their life livable if it causes consequences of her moronic behaviors? Oh give me a break.

This isn’t some stupid college student protesting on a campus. This is a full grown senior adult woman who definitely should know better. How bullies like this ever reason to themselves that somehow they’re the ones who’ve been slighted is so far off of my scope of comprehension I couldn’t begin to make sense of it. A mind that can think like that, in my book, is a very scary one.

 

 

An Ominous Fall Day

I wanted to write lightheartedly and was determined to do that. After days of pondering and stewing, no topic reached out to me.

Fall is my favorite season but it seems an inescapably sad time of year. Those I’ve loved who’ve died all passed in fall and now there’s the foreboding loss of a dear friend. Maybe seasons1that’s reason enough. No matter how I’ve tried I can’t seem to shake the melancholy.

Nature itself is dying. It teaches us to know that there will be new life and fresh vigor. For fall-season-lovers like me, we also know there will come new beauty in a new winter.

Dogwood trees are turning leaves and a small woods out back is thinning again, its gray jagged branches reaching up from what green remains. Colorful leaves dot the ground and many that aren’t float in breezes soon to turn bitter cold. Snowflakes will fall, hopefully the heavy gentle, silent ones that I love so much, bringing to peace reminders of the sadness.

Surely our lives cycle in the same ways as nature. I cannot imagine a better example of what life is than the reliable cycles of seasons. Surely God gave those to us for that very reason. Could it be any more obvious?

Is it wrong to look forward to dying? Is it strange to think of it as much as I do right now? Sometimes I look forward to it and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes dying feels like a grand reprieve to all of the struggle it takes to live; other times it feels like a scary journey that I’m not sure I’m prepared to take. In the meantime I still wake up every day and as long as I do that I have to suppose there’s a reason for it. As natural as death should feel it never does.

seasons2I’m in the fall season of a lifetime … my leaves have blown around for a while now and my branches reach up in a starker gray. When my time comes I hope it’s as peaceful and pure as that first walk in a freshly fallen, heavy & silent white snow.

Marie’s home is just a door down from me. For the first time I can recall, at my pup’s mid-morning outing all of Marie’s blinds are drawn tightly closed .No one is seen or heard moving about or coming & going. Sitting out with my pup, even she keeps poking her head around the corner, seemingly curious herself why there is no activity or, perhaps, instinctively knowing.

That makes this fall day feel all the more ominous.

 

Rita Marie’s Footprint on the World

“In first realizing her time was so limited, she wondered ‘what footprint’ she had left on the world, as if regrettable she hadn’t left a more prominent one. Oh my goodness, Marie. How do I even try to tell you …”

A good, healthy, unexpected cry is something I forget is there. It’s a reminder that I do still feel and that there are still people worth feeling for. As if a complete contradiction of itself, spur of the moment crying makes me feel better, softens a blow, cleanses my heart’s sadness into something fresh and new again.

cry1Yesterday’s cry was for a lady, who, upon meeting her, I knew is a dear and kind human being. She spoke of similar values as I and without knowing it or having the slightest idea herself, she affirmed my sanity with remarkably gracious insights. I really like who she is as a person so that meant it was okay to like ‘me.’ Liking oneself can be a more difficult task than many realize. She quickly became very special to me and it was obvious she is a special person to all those she knows.

Her name is Rita Marie and she’ll tell you with a cheerful, toothy smile how people just call her one or the other and she answers to either. So I call her Marie.

When I met Marie in the beautiful weather of a few short months ago she was recovering from brain cancer surgery and using a walker, determined to make the not-so-short trip to our mailboxes. That walk is a bit too long even for me but she did it. She grew concerned that she’d forgotten her hat to cover its scar, not in vanity but thinking the scar might be unpleasant for others.

Being about the same age and having cancer recovery in common, we chatted for a long time. I saw clearly all of the nuances we had in common, from overstocking toilet paper and needing our own space to surviving chemo. There was always a family member staying with Marie by then and she is blessed with a large, loving one.

Still taking chemo, every time she could get out when I walked my new pup she’d have a dog treat in hand to win her over. I was surprised how my timid pup, otherwise freakishly shy of strangers (even those bearing treats), took right to Marie. Every time we walk outside now, like an overly intrusive neighbor, the first thing my pup does is check out Marie’s place, looking into windows for activity. Her ears perk up as if to say, “What’s going on in there, what’s Marie doing without us, wanna go [pant pant] wanna go?”

A few weeks ago Marie took a downturn, sleeping inordinately with cognitive difficulty, struggling to collect her thoughts and find her words. Her brain cancer is growing, they’ve stopped treatments and she’s said to have three days to three weeks to live. Even with all of this, this lady exemplifies her unique specialness. She remains a glowing testament to loving life, to loving family and to the tenacity of just being a loving, good person. That’s not easy for most people in her condition, but it comes naturally for Marie. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Marie’s large family is with her now and she receives many visitors. Last evening they invited me in for dinner and there is nothing warmer than being among a family that’s so loving to one another and gathered for the sake of such a special lady. Marie’s two sisters tend to her every need and I presume to everyone else who comes and goes, making it possible for so many people to come and go. Marie’s daughter,footprint2 son and niece and their spouses add a spicy flavor of youth and laughter to the mix. I was so honored to meet her family and to be able to be a part of them.

Marie is in bed most of the time now. She sleeps so much they don’t hesitate to wake her because she goes right back to sleep again. I am absolutely amazed by the familiar, cheerful, broad smile that is Marie’s face staring back every time they do wake her. She’s too weak to keep her eyes open so she’ll sit wearing varying degrees of her genuine smile, often finding short phrases to let you know she hears what’s going on and she is taking part. Then she’s back to dozing until you engage her again and she responds not missing a beat until there’s another lull.

My pup jumped on Marie’s bed and gently licked her hands. They say animals sense these circumstances and that was an unusual thing for her to do, in such a crowd of strangers and with so much going on. I believe she was returning Marie’s love by extending her own.

I don’t recall in recent years laughing so much as I did last night with Marie, Linda & Rose her sisters, her daughter & her niece (and whoever else wandered in & out). All of us ladies gathered by Marie’s bedside in a jovial, clucking hen party that gapped Baby Boomer, GenX and Millenials as if we were all just giggling teenagers again on another sleepover.

We asked Marie silly questions about her Halloween costume and high school crushes and told stories of going into labor with our children. She broke into audible chuckles several times at jokes we made or stories we told and, hand to the air, I could’ve sworn she had the biggest laugh over my slightly off-color one. When it was time to go, she offered, with her eyes still closed but that special alive Marie-smile on her face, “I had fun tonight.”

footprint1As did I, Marie. As did I. You warm my heart so.

Marie said to me not long ago, in first realizing her time was so limited, she wondered “what footprint” she had left on the world, as if regrettable she hadn’t left a more prominent one. Oh my goodness, Marie. How do I even try to tell you the unique specialness that you are is so much more than many of us know how to give or have the gift to leave. I’ve only known you a few months and you’ve influenced my life in more touching and tender ways than some of my own family in entire lifetimes. Your footprint has an indelible place in my heart. As long as we live, you live.

That’s one doosey of a footprint, Marie, times all of the people your life has touched over its many years. I hope I can leave just one person behind who will say as much about me. My world is a considerably better place simply because you and your smile and your sense of humor and your family and your kind ways were in it. There can be no better footprint to leave than that.

The tears I cry are not for you, Marie … they are for my loss and the world’s loss of such a uniquely delightful, joyful and graciously compassionate woman. God rest your soul in a seat on high near Him, where you are comforted and content in wait for us. I don’t know if God allows hen parties the likes of what we just had, but knowing God’s perfect ways I know that party will be an even better one.

 

Remember Scouts?

“We learned things like sharing chores, knot-tying, handling a scout knife (with all of its neat blades), building a camp fire, and properly raising, lowering & folding the American flag. There were scavenger hunts, sing-alongs and scary story telling around spooky late night fires.”

Once Scouts were the saving grace of a community, teaching children important life values and dedicated to providing an opportunity for learning and fellowship that superseded social status. Scouts today seem to have fallen off the grid or maybe they felt so special then because of the era and small hometown where I experienced them.

scout4Girl Scouts started by being a Brownie and that was a natural transition. Boy Scouts began as a Cub and excelled into an Eagle, considerably more difficult. For the kids’ sake, age determined eligibility among ranks more than anything else. My parents were scouts5Scout leaders so I was blessed to be active in both. Being a tomboy at heart at that age, I enjoyed trips with Dad and the Boy Scouts as much if not more than I did the Girls.

Mom was a naturally creative woman. To this day that’s what stands out most in my memories of her. In statewide troop competitions Mom ensured every child had what they needed to participate. She’d come up with the ideas and help us make costumes, create props and direct us in pulling skits together. She made sure every girl had what they needed in a uniform.

One most impressionable memory is making parade floats. A local farmer would donate a hay wagon and it was housed safely in a garage. An idea was framed out and each section outlined with chicken wire. We spent hours giggling and looping bundles of loose, white restaurant napkinsscouts6 in all of the holes until it took fluffy shape then spray-painted details and cut out letters forming our message. Whalla, we had a magnificent parade float and a lifetime of splendid memories.

The  easy-going time we spent as a group and the sharing and learning special talents of kids who had little opportunity to express them elsewhere was irreplaceable in self-esteem building. The friendships and healthy competitions that developed, as a group and between one another, could not have so spontaneously crossed social barriers otherwise. Scouts taught us kindnesses, appreciation, and sportsmanship we would not have grown into without the experiences. Everyone participated and if our stipends of meeting dues didn’t cover something, Mom found ways to meet those needs.

Many of Dad’s Boy Scout activities took place outside and I loved joining them, especially when it involved camping. In my small, young mind it was every bit the equivalent of “Survivor” today.

In advance of one camping trip Dad took us to a friend’s wooded land where he created anscouts91 obstacle course for his troop to overcome. I loved crawling over and under whatever nature he’d rearranged to make their way through the meandering trail while putting his more manly creative genius on display. scouts8During the camping trip they built a long lean-to and a fire after making a clearing for sleeping bags. In the middle of the night one kid caught his bedroll on fire, which must have posed a serious danger because everyone scampered frantically learning on-the-spot how to safely put out a sleeping bag fire.

Dad loved flying and taught a course about airplanes and how they worked, often taking boys who would never have had the opportunity for an aerial view over our Christmas-lit town. To this day I hear from local friends whose most impressionable memories are of that unique perspective on life and their own farmland, some describing how it led to adult careers and interests.

Both Girl & Boy Scouts enjoyed week-long summer camps at our local park, which provided short rows of tiny cabins in a wooded area off a small lake, each just big enough to house four wooden beds. There was a canteen for eating and rustic restrooms that had to be cleaned. We all brought whatever was necessary (usually crepe paper & thumb tacks) to decorate our bed’s window and we were generous in helping others do theirs.

We learned things like sharing chores, knot-tying, handling a scout knife (with all of its neat blades), building a scouts9camp fire, and properly raising, lowering & folding the American flag. There were scavenger hunts, sing-alongs and scary story telling around spooky late night fires. Everyone chipped-in to do daily chores and I don’t recall anyone ever balking, even when it was their turn to clean the bathrooms.

At the close of one of Mom’s camping trips, a small flag ceremony was planned for the evening parents came to pick up their kids. Of course we practiced it every day. We were to properly take-down the American flag, fold it then sing “Day Is Done.”

scouts7The ceremony went as scheduled with all of the parents gathered around. When it came time for the song at the end not one Scout started singing ~  big awkward pregnant pause.

I am by no means a singer and even I knew then that I was an absolutely painful singer. But since they’d all apparently forgotten the cue, I figured I’d start the song and everyone would join in so no one would notice my bad voice. Surely I could get the first refrain out in reasonably good form. So I began, wobbly and horrifyingly off-key, singing …

“Day is done … gone the sun … … … [u-h-h-h, big ‘WTH’ gulp]”

… oh for crying out loud. In that whole group of girls not one other started singing with me. Not a single one.

Well I was no quitter and being on such public display by then I knew I couldn’t stop in the middle so I finished just as painfully as I’d started, gaining regrettable volume & vibrato out of sheer horror for what I had started. As could be expected the entire crowd erupted in laughter. The moment it was over I ran to the car and hid in ultimate adolescent humiliation. Mom, being the Scout leader, had to stay until everyone left. When she finally came back to the car she was still laughing. So much for trying to salvage her darned ceremony.

Mom died years ago and she & Dad divorced years prior to that. She’d moved out of state but, even now, half a century later, hometown folk speak of remembering her and how much fun they had in Scouts. It’s especially heartwarming after what has been another lifetime since she was out of sight but never far from mind.

If you weren’t a Girl or Boy Scout, you have missed something very special (the lesson in public humiliation excepted). I don’t know much about them today, but I hope they are as free-learning and encompassing of youth in all walks of life as they were back then. It’s sad life has become so complicated that the simplest and most innocent things in it must be more carefully guarded, namely, our children.

scouts3It’s likely neither parent today has the spare time, energy or resources to indulge Scouts as wholeheartedly as my parents embraced them. Granted, I didn’t earn any Boy Scout badges, but within Scouts our individual capabilities were nurtured and encouraged to personally achieve the ones we did.

 

 

I Can’t Afford to Die

Back when death was a less cognitive matter and always finding myself alone, I wanted a lyric from the song “Just A Gigolo” on my headstone:

“I ain’t got no body … no body cares for me”dlroth

Given the song’s popularity, I thought it an ingenious and laughable pun expressing my inevitable legacy. (https://youtu.be/MFV1biHrOBU)

Well, I’m considerably older now. It’s time to give more serious thought to these things and save grief for family who care enough to concern themselves. That will fall on grandchildren whose young lives are least prepared and can least afford it. Given my demise is a lot closer to my doorstep than when Mr. Roth was a big hit, I figure I should do what I can while I’m here to do it and, more importantly, to pay for it.

Having done no preplanning of any substance, the first thing I had to decide was ‘where’ to be buried. I’ve mulled this over for a few years. The only place that makes any sense is in our hometown family plots, where Dad and my baby sister are and where all of the friends who knew me best live. I do love the idea of and there’s something really comforting about spending eternity with Dad.

I already knew I wanted an inexpensive burial, which includes cremation, because the cost of anything else is just impracticably ludicrous. I never was one for fanfare and if family wants more they can do that. Given the outlandish cost of burials now I’d rather leave whatever I have for those I love to better their lives than “take it with me” in some ceremony. “Keep it simple stupid” is my motto.

It should all be that simple. Right? Au contraire.

I’d be content for someone to sprinkle my ashes with loved ones in our family lots. So first I inquired about putting a simple marker with my Dad & sister’s, even if a just a small grass foot marker. Having been a genealogy buff, a marker of some sort is really important to me regardless where my ashes go andheadstone1 I think everyone should have one memorializing their life. Dad believed that, too, taking great measures to ensure one for our mother years after they’d lived very separate lives.

Of course, the cemetery can’t allow a simple head or foot marker on someone else’s plot without a bunch of rigmarole. The complications were unbelievable if not incomprehensible. This is a small, rural town so I figured let me see how “cheaply” I could get the whole shebang simply done.

There is no word “simply” in the burial business. But I was ecstatic to learn that some 60-years ago Dad bought burial plots for all of us. There were more than enough to go around. That sounds like a good thing, right? Au contraire again … and in more ways than the obvious so I’ll elaborate one step at a time.

I thought I was prepared for a simple DIY cost. People need dollar-sign headstones with their investment etched into them, for certainly it is an investment of no small measure. Can’t you just envision a cemetery with all of its headstones as dollar signs? Wouldn’t that vision be a more apt impression for all of its passerbys? To DIY you need the equivalent of a General Contractor foreman just to gather hidden costs that come from every direction. Thank you Government Regulations for making those even more cumbersome and costly.

Now I’m a newbie at this but I’ve learned some states have laws about whether you must use a vault for an urn with cremated remains and what kind of vault you must use. Think about that. I’m just a lay person but what the heck could possibly be more sanitary than remains incinerated into pebbles by an 2100-degree furnace then soundly sealed in urnsome ridiculously expensive urn of reputable quality? It makes more sense that the urn itself would be more environmentally unfriendly than the remains in it.

Give me a break. Just get your Sharpie permanent ink marker and put me a Coke bottle, since environmentalists say those last 1,000 years. Better yet, let my ashes go to dust as was meant to be and where, I assure you, millions have gone before.

Some states have laws making it difficult and more costly (if not impossible) to be cremated in one state and interred in another, which, if you want that, is the only cost-effective way to do it. Else we incur cost of transporting an entire body? God forbid common sense prevail. Cemeteries also have regulations for how many cremations are allowed per grave. Hey – here’s a novel idea: let me have a head or foot marker and don’t put me anywhere in your cemetery. I’ll sit on a shelf in the closet and haunt my loved ones. Oh yeh … I’d pay to do that.

The list goes on and on and I ask you how laymen are supposed to wade through all of this? It’s the equivalent of being penalized for not filing taxes when the Pied Pipers have made doing that so unreasonably complicated we’re forced to pay others to do them. Of course this industry is geared to paying funeral homes something in the range of $10,000. Talk about a monopoly that taps into every single one of our pockets with no escape and no alternative. What’s wrong with this picture? When did dying stop being a natural God-given right?

All I can say is, funeral homes must have one heck of a political lobby. But death is inevitable and they have the market on it, so they don’t have to worry about the cost of dying. Sometimes I think those who come up with this stuff find themselves so entitled they’ll somehow avoid consequences of the hereafter all together.

God forbid you do wade through this menagerie and get something wrong. Then all of your DIY due diligence was meaningless banter. The forces that be come back on your least-informed family when you’re too long gone to dispute them, because someone has to pay the Pied Pipers. I can almost ‘rest assured’ knowing that’s bound to happen even if you pay big bucks to a funeral home. There’s always some new way to cop a few extra and the buck stops with us long after we have.

Things like this make me want to claim myself a Libertarian (political party wanting the least government oversight and intervention.)

Because my Father died either not knowing or thinking these meager burial plots would be easily and equitably distributed by surviving family, they apparently converted as jointly owned property among his living heirs. And, uhhh, thanks to Government Pied Pipers, all estateplanfive of his heirs now have one-fifth joint interest in each plot. This assumes he didn’t have a will: in my world only God knows and it’s an awkward thing to ask.

It’s safe to say when one of us die our one-fifth fraction of joint ownership becomes more fragmented by virtue of its transfer among all of our living heirs (unless willed otherwise). The logistics are mind boggling. Who thinks up this stuff and how much are we paying them?

Anyone who knows families also knows the differences between individuals in them and the dysfunction that can develop because of those differences. In the best of families it’s all but impossible to get any two people to agree, let alone five, but that’s especially difficult when dysfunction has evolved. Suffice it to say our only option is to ask the others to ‘relinquish’ their one-fifth ownership. Oh sigh. Not a pleasant undertaking, of a most unpleasant topic, in any circumstance.

Against those foreseeable odds and with hope it’s always possible to be pleasantly surprised, I began the undertaking. Would others ‘relinquish’ the final resting places Dad bought for us as children? In the past I’ve given some low marks, but this will be the ultimate test of family character. Stay tuned.

Perhaps the good news is, the number of cremated burials that could take place in Dad’s plots is twenty. Surely that’s enough to go around. It’s also reasonable to think that the majority if not all of the other four – all with more means and extended families of their own than I – would want to be buried elsewhere where they’ve etched their own lifelong relationships.

So while that plays out I needed to think about other costs. There is that whole conglomerate of issues about where and how to be cremated. Then there are cemetery fees and, of course, the costdyinginfamously expensive headstone. Then buying an urn and vault if required. None of this touches on funeral home costs if necessary to get remains from one state to the burial site of another.

There’s a lot more footwork to do, but I’m guessing cremation would cost upward of $3,000. The urn is probably around $250; the vault, who knows, maybe $750 for one to hold an urn. A meager but reasonable headstone is likely upward of $2,500. Cemetery charges for placing a headstone and/or private grave digger for opening & closing the grave would probably run another $350, but cemetery costs can’t be prepaid so the family ends up with those anyway and we can only hope that doesn’t skyrocket. If you don’t have a plot and depending on where you live (are buried), they can add another cost between $500 to upward of $4,000.

affordSkimming it down to some form of a DIY, not including plot or funeral home “foreman” charges if need be, it’ll cost about $6,800 just for me to die. Oh sigh. It’s a good thing I started early. I need to keep trimming … maybe a smaller headstone or dig the hole myself, because my gigolo years are well behind me.

 

Woman’s ‘Best’ Best Friend

This is one of those fall days where dry leaves scamper and sun warmed breezes swirl between trees in a voice that all but speaks. I find myself straining to hear what’s inside them, knowing if I could just understand their wandering wisdoms I’d have the secrets to life. Of course it’s never that easy.

Apparently my affinity for writing here takes six-month intervals so it seemed appropriate to start with an update of sorts. Maybe it takes that long to transform from one phase of life into another that’s fresh enough to want to write. If you’re anything like me you get weary of the sound of your own written voice so you wait for it to have something new to say.

It wasn’t long ago (uhh, about six months) I’d reached that plateau again. I was still struggling with drastically changing circumstances, seriously wondering if the newness in life could ever feel like anything normal. I was so hurt and angry and I’d struggled with it for so long that ‘normal’ seemed impossible to reach.

So I sat back and not-so-patiently waited in hope that passing time would make a healing difference, reminding myself to be content if not grateful for what I had. I’d long been mystified with how the seemingly smallest decisions in fleeting moments of a lifetime end up being what we live. So I did what little things I could, what made sense, to try to move myself in some direction.

One of the decisions I made was to get a pet. It was no small contemplation, really, knowing that in my meager life this would be one of those small but life-altering choices and it could go either way. The last thing I needed was something that felt like another ‘failure.’ That was critical. Every day I visited shelters and researched breeds, each moment taking me closer to actually doing something. I’d talk myself into it then out of it then into it again, until I landed on what felt right.goldendoodle

I decided on a GoldenDoodle. If you don’t know the breed, they’re a specifically bred mixture of Golden Retriever and Poodle, two of the best-natured dog breeds. Many are large, often looking like a giant poodle and they are exceptional for their unique appearance and playful personalities. I went to a breeder who specialized in smaller sizes, which was necessary for me to handle as well as to stay under the weight limit where I live.

I knew I didn’t have the stamina for training and cleaning up after the rambunctiousness of a new puppy and it wasn’t common to find an older one through a local breeder. Finally I lucked into a pup just under one-year. She was considered undesirable because of her age, so at first they weren’t going to even show her to me. (One of those mystifying little life-blurps that changes everything.) What an absolutely precious animal. She is smart, was easy to house train and is the most sincerely affectionate and well behaved pet I’ve ever owned.

Soon I let her sleep with me and she loved to snuggle close. I woke up in the morning with her smooth warm puppy paw across my neck and it was the most tender, sweetest sense of affection that I’d felt in years of an abusive marriage. As I lie there basking in its tenderness my mind jumped to how, in all of my years, I thought a man was the only place to find that affection when all I really needed was a dog. Go figure the complex simplicity of that epiphany. If you know how burdensome abusive spouses can be you totally get the humor in it.

I talk to her and she listens with attentive ears. She gives me reason to get up in the mornings and to enjoy outside when I used to hide indoors, even meeting people now that I wouldn’t otherwise take great pleasure in knowing. I only have to feed her once a day, she never complains about her meals and when we go out she’s reasonably obedient on a leash. When I want to go somewhere she’s content to lounge quietly in her crate and never complains about the money I spend. She loves to peacefully snuggle on my lap and she has her own room with toys when I’m not up for the intimacy. She never hogs the bed and lies patiently every morning, staring at me for some sign of movement before tail-wagging kisses of excitement for a brand new day. So far I haven’t taken to dressing her in clothing … but winter isn’t here yet.

pupbutterflyTrust me, ladies. The right pet is a woman’s best BFF. That nonsense about a man filling these needs works fine for some, but I’m not one of them and we all end up alone sometime.

When I got my pup last spring I thought there could be nothing cuter than a young pup’s curiosity in jumping after flitting new butterflies. This fall that’s matched by the tender heartedness of a pup sopupleaf intrigued with blowing leaves it chases them with the fervor of hunting big prey. I suppose the flavor must be disappointing but they seem determined to believe it is a catch worth tasting. And isn’t that innocence what makes them, life, so irreplaceably precious?

God bless the innocence in life. It keeps my heart alive. And all of those anguished feelings of six-months ago? They’re gone. Without realizing the gradual changes of everyday living I’m in a better normal than ever envisioned could be. It’s the seemingly innocuous decisions we make in the moments of each day that lead us there – or not.

Coming back to the simple things in life is the secret to it. This morning’s fall breezes told me so.

 

Don’t Pee on My Leg & Tell Me it’s Raining

It was just a matter of time before my old laptop gave way. Buying a computer is as overwhelming as buying a car. I hate those decisions, they’re way above my pay grade. So I spent a couple of weeks picking brains & reading & learning, finally convinced I knew exactly what I wanted. If I was going to invest in a new computer I was going to get the best I could afford.

Getting myself out the front door these days is always a challenge but I made it to the store ready to order. Walking to the counter I spit out the name of the computer expecting to swiftly be done with the whole unpleasant ordeal. Some two hours later, after learning still more from the young techy (does computer learning never end), I ended up with a very different one. And as it goes with these things, ever since it’s been one frustration after another getting familiar with how to use it.

computerWhat impressed me most – and not in a good way – is how much you don’t get with a new computer these days and how much cheaper they make them only to charge more for what you’re not getting, as if they’re offering something uniquely special when it’s really just a stripped version of what you already had. I suppose the younger crowd, not knowing better, takes it in stride. For us older folks it’s an insult to our intelligence.

To stress my points here, I’ve used computers since they first came out using DOS. Working in New York at the time and with a long career after that, I experienced the best as soon as it hit the market. By nature my career field required systems problem solving so I always ended up being the in-house IT Go To when issues arose. This is not to imply I am a well-versed techy, but I certainly do know their fundamentals and I do have a reasonable sense for making comparisons in the direction technology has taken us over these last thirty years.

Now, granted, I realize the younger generation is more interested in real time technology, be that social sites, music, videos or a unit’s mobility. What interests me requires something a little deeper. So kudos to young people for thinking that’s the way to go but it wasn’t going to work for me.

Probably self-evident, most of my needs involve writing and the one thing I expected in the exorbitant price charged was a basic Word program. Nothing fancy, but I did expect something basic. Oh no, not today, you have to buy that extra and you get a package chock full of other programs that people like me will never use, just to get a word processor. Then, alarmingly so, now they only sell subscriptions … you have to keep paying for it every year. Give me a break. This is the ultimate insult. What a sham.

Of course the new computer came with this “new & improved” operating system that’s all the rave and for the life of me I don’t know why. Many of basic features, once second nature, aren’t even accessible anymore. This OS is nothing more than a stripped shell of everything I’d ever known. Using it is like going from driving a new Cadillac into a ten year old polished-up straight-stick Ford that’s in dire need of shocks.

They kept hyping this computer’s new processor but, even brand new, it doesn’t boot any faster and is constantly locking up a heck of a lot more than my years-old computer ever did. Go figure that. This truly is the sensation of technology digressing if not renaming an old product so they can sell more, charge more.

Where I come from, at best they call these kinds of shenanigans “deceptive business practices.” Unbelievable.

If this is any indication of where ‘advancement’ is headed it doesn’t bode well for future generations. At this well-established age of technology and given how dependent on it they’re making society, how hard could it possibly be for someone to develop, at a reasonable consumer price, a computer & operating system that makes all of the money these gurus so enjoyed of their One Percenter wealth in the first place, more years ago now than I care to count. When is enough money enough?

Techy companies certainly aren’t doing much to improve their basic product, they’re simply making it cheaper with less while devising more ways to charge more for how much less you do get.

The almighty buck. I’ve lived too long.”