What Mary Said

Every three years, my wife’s  extended family gather in central Nebraska for a family reunion.  It  starts on a Friday night and ends Sunday after breakfast.

Saturday night is the talent show.

Singing, piano songs, tap dance, guitar.  One of the uncles brought some pottery pieces last time and talked about that. It’s open to everyone.  You just never know what to expect.

We’re about a month out from the next reunion…

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I was sitting in the lounge area three years ago, waiting for my wife at the end of the weekend.  One of her cousins with two little ones sat down on the couch opposite me.   The older girl  had performed in the talent show the night before. Her name was Mary.

I told her she’d done an awesome job in the talent show the night before.

Takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of seventy people, you barely know and sing a solo.

Mary singing in the talent show - Copy

Mary singing  in the talent show.

“Thanks.” she said.  “What’s your talent?”

Took me totally off guard.

She looked at me with the most intense, matter of fact expression.

 “Did you perform  in the talent show?” 

“No.”

“Why not?”

I mumbled something lame about being good in the audience.

Her question caught me off guard.  I remember mumbling something about promising to do something next time.

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I have thought about Mary and her questions for three years.

What’s your talent?

And why not?

The talent show is not about being better than the next person, or winning a prize.  It is about sharing a piece of my life  for the encouragement and enjoyment of the rest.

I am not a great singer.  I dabble in music.  Yes I was in choir, until the teacher asked me to be apart of a guy/ girl singing group where I would have to dance and sing.  I didn’t think so.   Yes I had 5 years of piano lessons and 2 years of organ lessons.  Yes I played the trumpet in jazz band.  Yes I know some basic chords on the acoustic guitar and can read music.  But sharing any of that in a family talent show?  None of that really lights a fire in me now.  So for the past three years I have been wracking my brain about what talent or story or hobby to bring with me to the next talent show, because I gave my word to Mary you know.

Yesterday morning it clicked.

I know what I am going to do. 🙂

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What about you? What would you say to Mary? What part of your life could you share with the rest of us  and sitting on the sidelines was not an option?  Because, here’s the deal.  I believe, in the big scheme of things,  each and everyone of us is a walking, talking repository of life stories, life skills, life lessons, meant not just for ourselves to hoard, and keep stashed away, but to share as well.

Where does the fire burn?  Do you love to garden?  What are some of the favorite things you grow and why? What are some gardening tricks you’ve learned over the years?  Art, do you love to paint, draw, work with your hands? Give me details!   Have you been given abilities to fix things with your hands?  Tell me a story about something that had you stumped, then figured out how to fix.   Are you good with children, older people, the sick?  Tell me a funny story about that.  Do you love the outdoors?  Why? What is it about the outdoors that brings you joy?  Do you live in a big city?  Tell me a story about life in the big city that will make me laugh…or surprise me because of the kindness of a stranger.

You’re up next. 🙂   DM

 

Here’s a link to a blog post about this same encounter written three years ago, right after it happened. To be totally honest, I’d forgotten I’d written it.  It showed up on my screen this morning after I posted the new one.  Maybe my clutch is starting to slip.  

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She Warned Me This Would Happen

The following was written by my friend and former co-worker Chris.  This week the two of us spent three days building a fence at his house. It was good.  I asked him if he would have any interest making a guest appearance on the blog…. maybe write about our time building fence together, etc.   I know he stops by here sometimes, because he will occasionally shoot me a text on something I have written.

Please give a warm welcome to Chris…. 😉 DM

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She warned me this would happen…

With the arrival of our first, the past year and a half have been a blur and a blast. What was a wriggling, cooing mass of cuteness only a blink ago, has since grown in to an adventurous, yet shy, beautiful toddler.

This addition to our family sparked a seemingly endless chain of spiraling adjustments, to almost all reaches of our lives. With the new plateau of mobility and curiosity came a sudden realization that dangers we could once keep at bay were suddenly within reach to Felix.

Rather than test the limits of his name (Felix; fortunate, lucky, blessed), we decided to erect a fence around our backyard. As much for his safety as our enjoyment, this decision cued DM’s arrival on the scene.

We have history, this carpenter and me. At a time in my life when I was landing kitchen jobs and had been constantly on the move, my significant and I made the decision to move back to my hometown. Life for us had been an adventure for quite some time. With a youthful desire to not limit ourselves in any way, we had been burning the candle hot at both ends. Looking back, I know we learned and grew a lot through those experiences, but we both were in need of a drastic change.

He said he was looking for someone with no experience, and that was what he got. Those first few weeks were an eye opener for me- my emaciated frame had never known such pain! Parts of my body I had not known existed suddenly were screaming at me.

At the same time, I found myself suddenly having conversations with a man who had crossed life’s seas and knew all the knots. I remarked to my wife (girlfriend at the time) that going to work was like going to therapy. Quick with encouragement and laughter, in the middle of a trench or on top of a roof, I found myself wanting to rise to his level of Zen.

I learned a lot over those two years; to not shy away from pain, to reflect and introspect daily, the importance of taking a break, how to set healthy boundaries, time management, the list goes on. Unashamed to share personal trials and challenges, his level of honesty with himself and with me was something not yet known in my life. It was just what I needed. Without realizing it I was making the transition out of childhood at a point in my life that I can reflect on now as ‘just in time.’

Snap forward to the present. It had been quite a while since I had seen DM, and I was looking forward to our time together building a fence for Felix in the backyard. My wife jokingly warned me the day before we were set to get started, “You’re going to want to quit your job and start working with him again after this I bet!”

My frame is not so emaciated at this point in my life, but the pain was the same as on that first job site. I made the remark something to the effect that physical work is so much more rewarding than mental anguish. As my muscles were ripped apart yet again (from neglect, admittedly), I was reminded of the journey I had taken under DM’s wing all those years ago.

She was right.

 

Fence building week

It Was the chicken taking a dust bath that did it…

Thanksgiving morning 2017.

Granddaughter asleep by my side.

She is two. She and I  were looking at pictures on my phone to keep her occupied, while her parents and my wife tried to get some much-needed sleep.

It was the chicken taking a dust bath that did the trick.

We watched it five time.  It was a forty-second video,  and out she went.

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This past Monday, in the middle of the night, I woke up with vertigo. It was nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was not the flu.  Mid morning I lost my cookies. (sorry)  No way was I going to be able to work on a roof, so I stayed home.

My first thought was cancer.  Dam stuff had went to my brain.  I have not been diagnosed with cancer…won’t have the biopsy for two more weeks.  We’ve already talked at length about living wills, what to do if we ever find ourselves in various situations. We’ve had those conversations multiple times over the years, while we were both healthy and not under the gun…so all of that gives a quiet back drop to my Thanksgiving 2017.

So,  sitting here this Thanksgiving morning, feeling very thankful and blessed.  The vertigo has subsided.  All of our children are back for Thanksgiving. Two more grand babies on the way, one is a girl, the other, it is still too early to tell.

I am cautiously optimistic that three weeks from now life will go back to normal…but until then, I find myself enjoying the small simple gifts.

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Have you ever seen a chicken taking a dust bath?

If you haven’t, check this out:

Tell me three things you have to be currently thankful for.  I want details. 😉 DM

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Update 12 hours later….here is a picture of me and my 6 grandchildren.  Took this @ lunch today.  It was a trick to keep them all corralled for very long.  Lots of wiggle.

Capture this while it is fresh

I’ll try to keep this short.  It has to do with unresolved emotional pain from my youth.

Wife had her class reunion a few weeks ago.  (Mine was last year, I didn’t go.)

A friend of ours (Marilyn) just attended her 50th high school class reunion on the west coast.  She was really looking forward to it….

So I’ve been thinking about it again… (the why I have absolutely no desire to go, in fact, just the opposite.

I  am not alone.

Growing up, I had a nasty case of low self-esteem.   Crippling shyness.  I’ve written about it here before..won’t unpack all of the why’s again, except for a few details.

As a young man, I did not hit puberty until my senior year of high school.  That is huge if you’re a guy, and one of the primary measurements of society is the physical….

So there I was this small, physically undeveloped  book loving twerp, with a musical bent, who loathed his body.  My ears were too big (I thought at the time) and I hated my name. Mandatory showers in gym were hell.

Fear,  fear of being shoved out of the locker room into the gym with my pants down… self loathing, low self worth….

And I wonder why I don’t have good feelings about those years?  Yea, right….

Looking back,  If I had matured earlier and felt cool and accepted, there is no doubt in my mind I would have been sucked into a lot of things I would now regret…so the very things I hated at the time, were a blessing in disguise.

 

Well, yesterday I had a lot of windshield time on my hands, and I was praying, asking God to touch  those 40 yr old wounds, if he would….

and out of nowhere, the thought came to my head….Remember the story of the ugly duckling….

(You remember that story don’t you?)  Baby swan  gets dropped in with a flock of baby ducks…he doesn’t fit in.  He is clumsily, body  out of proportion compared to his peers…they made fun of him.

Sort of like me back in the day.

You are a swan. 

 

A black swan. 

(These were random thoughts coming to my mind.)

So I have been thinking about that story ever since.

So, way down in the depths of my heart, in those pockets and recesses even I don’t have access to, a little more  of the pain has been released.

Don’t doubt me.

Black swan photo, compliments of google

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I am convinced 95% of us have unresolved emotional pain….and if you’re anything like me, it just stays buried, lodged in there, until some catalyst comes along to bring it to my consciousness…and then I have a choice…stuff it back down/ block it out/ or bring the nasty, pussy, infected crap, into the light.  Put it on the operating table.  Flush  out the wound, pull out the embedded sliver. Write about it.  Tell someone….Do whatever it takes so that it no longer  has as much power over me

That is just me.

That is just how I roll.

Later! DM

 

 

 

 

Making diamonds

I love hearing stories about what my kids are up to…heard this one this morning. DM

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“We decided to move our business here because of you!”  the young woman told my daughter yesterday with a grin.

(Daughter works behind the counter @ a local pharmacy.)

Daughter didn’t know who this person was, and had a puzzled look on her face.

Lady smiled and continued…

“Well, we are new to the community, and you stopped by where I work back on March 21st in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day, with those lottery tickets.  Your attitude really touched me.  I asked you if you  worked outside the home and mentioned you worked here…  My husband and I wanted to start doing business here because of you.”

Three years ago, our third grandchild was born.

Shortly after his birth, it was determined he had Down Syndrome.   The first several weeks of his life  were touch and go.  Even to this day, there are medical issues he is having to deal with related to Downs….

None of us really know how we will respond to  life’s challenges until we are in the middle of it.  Our daughter and her husband have decided to  celebrate the birth of their little boy by passing out lottery tickets in honor of him and raise awareness of those who have been blessed by down syndrome each March 21st.  (Those are her words)

Kasen celebrated his third birthday last week.  He is a hoot.  Loves to hang out with his dad, and grandpa when they cut firewood. He loves to sit on my lap and listen to Scottish drum music. His dad is a fire fighter, Kason has already been adopted by the local fire department as one of their own.

 

Kasen during one of his stays in the  Intensive Care Unit

Kasen and his new toy chainsaw

 

Life is good.

If you don’t want to watch all 9 minutes of that Scottish drum music (see link)  jump ahead to about 7 minutes…that last song is Kasen and my favorite. 😉 DM

 

Here and now I’m in the fire,
In above my head
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh
Being held under the pressure,
Don’t know what’ll be left
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh
But it’s here in the ashes
I’m finding treasure

He’s making diamonds, diamonds
Making diamonds out of dust
He is refining in his timing
He’s making diamonds out of us”

From the song Diamonds by Hawk Nelson

The Disease of Being Busy

 

Came across the following article just the other day, on the topic of business.  The first several years after we were married, even after the kids started coming along, as a firstborn, workaholic myself, spending some unhurried time just talking would not have fit into my schedule.  I’ve written about that season of my life before…I’ve been on both sides of the equation,  I know what it’s like to be running on empty, and I know what it’s like (now) to be able to have margin.

Trust me, margin in life is worth fighting for…..DM

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The Disease of Being Busy

by Omid Safi (@ostadjaan), Columnist

I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”

Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”

The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.

And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

Smart phones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

The reality looks very different for others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.

I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and face-paced sports.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.

We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

  1. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?

I am always a prisoner of hope, but I wonder if we are willing to have the structural conversation necessary about how to do that, how to live like that. Somehow we need a different model of organizing our lives, our societies, our families, our communities.

I want my kids to be dirty, messy, even bored — learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart.

How is the state of your heart today?

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

From this link:

https://onbeing.org/blog/the-disease-of-being-busy/

When Norah Met Mr. Dan

By Tara Wood

The day before my daughter Norah’s fourth birthday, something she said foreshadowed a remarkable event.

I’d just picked her up from preschool when she cautioned me to mind the elderly person walking across the parking lot at a glacier’s pace.

She went on to explain that she has a soft spot for mature folks:” I like old people the best ’cause they walk slow like I walk slow and they has soft skin like I has soft skin. They all gonna die soon, so I’m gonna love’em all up before they is died.”

Sure, it got kinda dark at the end, but I liked where her heart was.

I was struck by her thoughtfulness and empathy and posted that quote as a status update on Facebook when we got home.  I had no idea how much she really meant it.

The following day-her birthday again on the way home from school, she asked if we could stop at the grocery store to buy cupcakes for her and her six siblings to enjoy after dinner.

How do you say no to a birthday girl?

I popped Norah and her younger sister into one of those car-shaped grocery carts and headed toward the bakery.  After we picked up the cupcakes, I stopped at a clearance shelf that caught my eye.  While I was distracted, Norah was busy standing up in the cart, excitedly waving and gleefully proclaiming, “Hi old person!  It’s my birfday today!”

The man was elderly, stone-faced, and furrow-browed.  However, before I could shush her for calling him an old person or ask the earth to swallow me whole, he stopped and turned to her.

If he was troubled by my no-filter child, he didn’t show it.  His expression softened as he replied,” Well, hello, little lady!  And how old are you today?”

They chatted for a few minutes, he wished her a happy birthday, and we went our separate ways.

A few minutes later, she turned to me and asked,” Can I take a picture with the old man for my birfday?”  It was the cutest thing every, and although I wasn’t sure if he’d oblige, I told her we’d certainly ask.

We found the man a couple of aisles over, and I approached him,” Excuse me, sir?  This is Norah, and she’d like to know if you’d take a photo with her for her birthday?”

His expression morphed from confused to stunned to delighted.

He took a step back, steadied himself on his shopping car, and placed his free hand on his chest.” A photo?  With me?” he asked.

“Yes, suh, for my birfday!” Norah pleaded.

And so he did.  I pulled out my iPhone, and they posed together.  She placed her soft hand on top of his soft hand.  He wordlessly stared at her with twinkling eyes as she kept his hand in hers and studied his skinny veins and weathered knuckles.  she kissed the top of his hand and then placed it on her cheek.  He beamed.  I asked his name, and he told us to call him Dan.

We were blocking other shoppers, but they didn’t care.  There was magic happening in the grocery store that day, and we could all feel it.  Norah and “Mr Dan” sure didn’t notice.  They were chatting away like long-lost friends.

After a few minutes, I thanked Mr. Dan for spending a bit of his day with us.  He teared up and said, “No, thank you.  this has been the best day I’ve had in a long time.”  He turned to my daughter.” You’ve made me so happy, Miss Norah.”

They hugged, and we walked away.  Norah watched him until he was out of view.

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a weepy mess after their encounter.

I was blown away by this meeting and thought maybe some of the readers of my Facebook page might enjoy hearing about it.  I posted the story and a photo of the two of them.

Later that night, I received a private message from a local reader who recognized Mr. Dan.

His wife, Mary, had passed away six months earlier, and he had been lonely since his beloved had gone.  The reader wanted to let me know she was certain his heart was touched by my little girl, that he needed that connection and likely would never forget it.

I asked for Mr. Dan’s phone number and called him a few days later.

We visited Mr Dan’s cozy and tidy house- reminders of Mary still proudly displayed everywhere.  He had gotten a haircut, shaved, and put on slacks and dress shoes.  He looked ten years younger.  He’d set out a child’s table, blank paper, and crayons for Norah.  He asked if she’d draw some pictures for him to display on his refrigerator.  He happily agreed and went right to work.

We ended up spending nearly three hours with Mr. Dan that day.  H was patient and kind with my talkative, constantly moving girl.  He wiped ketchup off her cheek and let her finish his chicken nuggets.

We walked with him to his front door after lunch.  He pulled out a pocketknife and cut the single red rose blooming by his porch.  He spent ten minutes cutting every thorn off the stem before  handing it to his new friend.  She keeps that rose, now dry as a bone, in a zip lock bag under her pillow.

Norah asks about Mr. Dan every day.  She worries about him.  She wonders if he’s lonely, or cold, or has cheese for his sandwiches.  She wants him to be OK.  She wants him to feel loved.

Mr. Dan thinks about Norah too.  After another recent visit, he relayed that he hadn’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since his wife died.  He told me that he had slept soundly every night since meeting my girl.

    “Norah has healed me,” he said.

That left me speechless and my cheeks wet with tears.

Seventy-eight years separate these two people in age….

Norah and I have made a promise to see Mr. Dan every week, even if it’s for only 15 minutes, even if only for a quick hug and to drop off a cheese Danish (his favorite!)

I invited him to spend Thanksgiving with us.  He’s part of our family now.  Whether he likes it or not, he has been absorbed into my family of nine, and just as Norah said, we’re gonna love him all up.

Taken liberally from the April 2017 edition of my Readers Digest written by Tara Wood

Norah and Mr. Dan 

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I (DM) read this tonight after work.   Just what the Dr ordered after a hard day in the trenches.  Wanted to share it with you. 🙂