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. 🙂

 

 

 

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letters

 

Letters

bundle letters

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I came across some letters between 40 yr old Anita and her 60-year-old friend, mentor, and former college professor Ruth.

The letters are deeply personal and without a hint of pretension…refreshingly so.

Stuff you would never tell another person, unless you trusted them explicitly….

They cover many of the same issues  I wrestle with as a man, and we have as couple.

The letters that I have read so far have covered things like the inner angst Anita was having at  turning 40, such as:

” I looked in the mirror today.  I didn’t just glance to fluff my hair.  I gave myself a good, long look.  First, I cocked my head for a general assessment.  Then I leaned in for the scarier, unforgiving version of my own reflection.

     For the first time, it was a forty-year-old face staring back at me.  A smidgen of cheek sag…a bit of something turkey-like beginning on my neck…and some forehead frown lines all staking their claim on this once-unmarred facial frontier…”

Anita’s inner struggles to find a balance between career, motherhood, marriage, and her personal needs.

She had questions about sexuality in their marriage of 18 years.

She wrote about the struggles with an ongoing pattern of anger in her life….

There are a dozen additional letters that I have yet to read, all on topics of substance.

If you’d like a copy of these letters  you can get your own copy of them here. 😉

Pause.

CS Lewis wrote:  “We read to know we are not alone.”

Do you have a person or three with whom you have this kind of relationship?

I hope so.

Someone(s) with whom you can unpack the nitty-gritty of your inner world?   Someone you trust explicitly..someone who won’t judge you. Someone with whom you can be completely honest and share the most, off the wall, bizarre thoughts that occasionally (or regularly)  flitter through your brain?😉

Not to worry, we all do it.

I have several such relationships, and that is not by accident.  Back in 1995 for reasons that are not relevant here, we left a local church group I had sunk my emotional roots into…deeply. Unfortunately, 95% of my closest relationships were people in that group, and by and large,  the intimate conversations with those people came to a screeching halt when we left.

Swore I would never, ever again, keep all  of my relationship eggs in one basket, in one spot.  One of the spin-off results of that decision was to start keeping in  better touch with a handful of people via e-mail, interacting on things of substance in my life. That impulse eventually morphed into me starting  my first blog.

Same dynamic, just on a larger scale.

Spent some time with a young couple last night that are struggling. Towards the end of the evening, that came up (their struggling).

I was  glad they felt safe opening up to us.

Nothing harder for me than “festering” relationship stuff where I feel stuck.

_____________________

Those of you that occasionally or regularly interact here on this blog.  I appreciate it.

DM

 

Ordering Your Private World

“Throughout the film he contrasts the frantic pace of modern life with a thoughtful interior life….”

French film director Eugene Green in a recent interview

Those words…“the frantic pace of modern life with the thoughtful interior life” jumped off the page to me last night as I was winding down.

I forget  what it feels like to live  life at a  “frantic pace.”

My life has not felt that way ever since I began to intentionally weave “margin” into my life.  I am loath to get myself suckered into the rat race again.

It did  happen briefly last fall.   I had two major construction projects needing to start at the same time, due to weather and customer delays, but that is no longer the norm.

Don’t get me wrong…I have not “arrived” in terms of anything…BUT, I am convinced the frantic/ manic pace of life will suck the life out of me unless I am very careful.

I am a first-born type A personality.  I grew up on a dairy farm which compounded my need to stay busy, so I know what I’m talking about.

There are two young families that I know, (sort of) where the financial and job pressures are sucking the life out of their marriages. (Like  fire sucking the oxygen out of a room)  There is the illusion they have made it.  Super nice homes.  Nice cars.  Both spouses making multiple times more per year than I.

We could live off the income of any one of those four people and  have money set aside.

If that is the lifestyle both of you  love and enjoy…then there is not a problem.

Just different priorities.

If however, one of the people in either one of those situations feels trapped….then it is (a problem.)

How sad to live your life, day in, day out, commuting to a full-time job you hate,  never feeling like there is enough money, not enough hours in the day.  Being married to someone, who (initially) you thought you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, but now..not so much.

That is what I am talking about.

I’m a visual person, so it helped me to have something I could look at to get my bearings.

In my mind’s eye, I felt like I was the captain of a large ocean-going vessel, headed the wrong way….  So  I literally, drew a diagram with a large ship on a piece of white poster board/ taped it to the wall in front of my desk, with different positions on the chart showing the boat changing directions.

I needed to turn my ship around and set a new course….Well, you can’t turn a ship that size around on a dime…but once you move the rudder hard  you do change directions.

Moving the rudder meant setting some new financial, time management, and relational goals and then acting on them.

Just drawing that chart gave me hope.  I knew where we were headed,  even if the circumstances had not changed in the short-term.

There was a new sense of hope and purpose in our home, in our relationship, in my heart.

It all starts in the mind.

There were a couple of books that also helped me re-plot my course. One of them was called “Ordering Your Private World.”

I’ve written on this topic  before…As I find the older posts in  my archives, I will put the link to them here..

Here’s one of those earlier posts.

Moose Hunting

This morning I had to stop by a farm to check on some possible work. As I was waiting for the hubby to finish doing chores,  I asked his wife if her mom was still living with them?

She teared up instantly.

The words just tumbled out…

Up until now we’ve had a bath aid coming in two to three times a week, but starting next week, I asked for help every day.   I just can’t do it any more…”

I listened. …and the words kept coming….

“I promised her I would never put her in a nursing home..but….but you have no idea how hard it has been.”

“How is your mom mentally?”  I asked…

“Ever since her stroke, she’s gotten worse.  Right now, she probably has the mind of a 5th grader…..

She’s lived with us  seven and one half years…..”

I (DM) remembered when her mom  first moved in.  I assumed she was still with them, but you never know. Her mom reminded me of my mom, the first time I met her….about the same age, body build, both have a twinkle in their eye.   I sensed she (the mother) had mixed feelings about moving in with her daughter, and yet, due to circumstances outside of her control, there was no other option….

Tonight as Mrs DM and I were out on a date, I thought back to this mornings conversation.  In the past an interaction like that would have left me feeling uncomfortable, but it didn’t.

I was humbled she trusted me enough to be vulnerable and tell me what she was really thinking.

Raw, unguarded pain.

Come to think of it,   I had four different conversations like that just this week.

And in none of those conversations, did I feel any pressure to say something wise or helpful.

When a person is really hurting,  the most helpful (and hopeful) thing you and I can do is to listen.  Really listen.  Not fill the moments of silence between the two of you with words.  Yes, there is  may be a time to speak, but mostly, just the act of listening, (or asking a question) does more that anything else to communicate hope.

I really do not have a clue as to what it’s like to be a full-time care taker for more than a few hours at a stretch.

Some of you do.

My dad, who is in his mid 80’s,  will occasionally put it like this…“Once a man, twice a child.” 

Not so sure I want to do the childhood gig a second time.

Told my wife this night I am going to ask my brother-in-law Loren to take me out moose hunting when I start to fail… wait until it’s good and cold, prop me up against a tree, out in the middle of nowhere and  call it good.  We laughed, because  first of all, I don’t hunt, and second of all, Loren is my mom’s go-to person when she needs to dispose of a pesky critter.  I know this is not the politically correct (Christian) way to talk about aging, but, if I am granted a long life (and there are no guarantees) I do not want to fritter those last years away, stuck in some room, needing to have my diaper changed every few hours.

So,  if you ever hear me talking about going moose hunting, you’ll know something’s  up….

DM

But I’ve Been To…..

“We we were in San Paulo last Summer with our two sons on a family vacation.   We wanted to expose them to the cultural institutions and a rich architectural traditions.  It was amazing!  Have you ever been there?” said Fred.

(I was at one of those boring high school graduation receptions, trying to mingle with crowd of complete strangers.)

“Nope.” I said.

I could tell Fred wanted to tell me more so I asked some open-ended questions and listened politely.

“The summer before that we took the boys to Saint Petersburg Russia.  It is a port city on the Baltic Sea….have you ever been to Russia?”

“No. I replied, but I did spend two weeks in Ibiza when I was sixteen…” (My comment fell on deaf ears.)

Five minutes later, Fred moved on to another guest at the party.  I could tell he was  talking about one of his favorite subjects…

Himself.

Himself and his travels to far away places.

Pause.

I remember being at a family reunion several years ago,  the same dynamic was taking place. Some of the cousins were trying to one up each other by talking about certain far away places they’d been to and discussing obscure facts that you would only know if you had been there too.

At the time it left me feeling inferior and inadequate.

I have a forty-year class reunion coming up next month.  I’m not going.  I am pretty sure I’ve written about it here on the blog not too long ago  (but I could be wrong). 😉

I grew up in small town USA.  My high school class numbered around 150.  I spent 13 formative years of my life  (counting kindergarten) with many of these people.  I was small and shy the whole time, except for the last 6 months of my senior year.  I was one of the last ones picked whenever we would choose sides in PE class, because I was so small.

I take full responsibility for the fact there are just a couple of classmates  with whom I still keep in touch.

In the past, I have gutted it out, and attended all the five and ten-year  reunions.  As many of you, I have grown and matured in my people skills, and while no one would ever consider me the life of the party, I do know how to engage in small talk with perfect strangers if I need to.

I can actually be kind of funny sometimes.

Few weeks ago, as I was again mulling over this upcoming class reunion,I decided to reprogram my  dark thoughts with something new. Identify some things to be thankful for, from  my years in school.  Here’s what I came up with:

I met my wife there.  If I never went, I most likely would have never gotten that first date .

I learned to read.

I learned to write.

What really excites me when I compare the person who graduated high school forty years ago and the person I am today is what has happened on the inside. The feelings of inferiority and inadequacy are 80% 90% less than they used to be.

I have navigated the treacherous waters of life, parenting 4 young people into adulthood. They all  stay in touch and  love to come home.  I have stayed married to the same woman for thirty-eight years, and we still like each other….a  lot.

Well, I need to run.  My siblings and I are taking my dad out for breakfast this morning for his 84th birthday.   I am a rich man…even if I have never been to  San Paulo.

Red Cloud

Tuesday morning we headed west.

Hit the road for Red Cloud Nebraska.

A month ago, we were kicking around the idea of taking a road trip to see my wife’s Uncle L.   He is the last living connection my wife has with the small town of Red Cloud Nebraska.  When we were first married we would stop there every couple of years to visit aunt and uncle L.  When her grandpa was still alive we would see him too.

L. is 94.   All of his siblings are gone.   His wife passed away in 2011. His son lives out-of-state. L is  hard of hearing and has been for years. Talking on the phone is out of the question.   I haven’t seen him in  years, but always enjoyed bantering with him to the degree we could.  He had his own plumbing and heating business for years, so our conversations tended toward construction.

When you have a relative who is 94, you know it’s just a matter of time until you get “the phone call” so I really encouraged my wife that we should take the trip now.

We decided not to let him know we were coming until the day before, just in case something fell through.   Tuesday afternoon, wife called  the  facility where L lives, and  talked with Melissa.   She was excited  and  promised to give uncle L a note, to let him know we were coming the next morning at 10.

He never got the note.

L’s neighbor, Lavae (who lives two doors down ) got a message to expect a Mr and Mrs DM  about 10 AM. ) Lavue didn’t know who that was, figured maybe someone working on genealogy so he placed an order with the kitchen for some extra ice tea to serve his guests.  He waited two hours but they never came. 

We found this out while we were sitting in the large dining room table over lunch with a dozen other 80 and 90 year olds…

😉

After we finished eating,  we checked uncle L out and  headed to his house to check on things. He moved into this facility this past December, so everything is just as he left it.

Just as I remembered it too…

The several dozen trophies in the trophy case he’d won racing go carts in his younger days. The cart still hangs from the ceiling in his garage.

The  Indian figurine in the hutch, the calendar still turned to  2015. The picture of his baby sister sitting at a desk when she was two, who has long since passed away herself.  A Christmas card on his desk from the nurses at the VA.

He has one of those walkers that has a fold down seat on it, so for a while we sat quietly in his living room, him on his walker seat, wife and I on opposite sides of the room in  stuff chairs.

You could hear a mourning dove just outside the window, singing that quiet mournful song they make. That bird’s song matched the emotions that were sloshing around in my head.  L said it felt good to just be in the house for a little bit.

We walked out into his garage.    We talked about a tool he wants to give his grandson when he’s gone.

I imagine, after living 94 years, to  get to the place where you are no longer able to live on your own, and have to leave 99% of your earthly possessions behind, it would feel good, even for a half hour,  to smell the familiar smells,  touch the old tools, look at old photos, and just sit.

I’m glad we went.

 

Closure

I was reminded of a conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear  today.  The conversation took place over forty years ago… One of those family gatherings, the ladies  were in the kitchen doing meal prep, men and children told to stay out-of-the-way…

I was in the next room and heard my name mentioned, so I slid over to the doorway to listen…

“Don’t you think Steve is just a little bit smarter than Doug?” grandma said to my mom.

“Now mom, they both get A’s and B’s, so I would say they are about the same! ”

“I don’t know, I still think Steve is just a little smarter!” grandma snipped back.

My brother Steve favors my moms side of the family. His  features and hair remind me of  Grandma’s first husband. (grandpa died when my mom was a little girl, so  I get why grandma might have been just a little more partial to him.)  Fortunately for me, I have a good relationship with my mom, and after everyone left that day, I told mom I’d heard the conversation from the other room, we talked about it and mom assured me, she was not one to play favorites.

After that, however, whenever I was with that grandma, to the day she died,  I knew she had her favorite, and it wasn’t me. 🙂

We went to hear some live music last night. Talented couple of musicians but by the end of the night, I had had enough. It was all original music, a lot of it written during darker periods of the lead musicians life.  He would give the backdrop to the song and after a while I would think to myself…“Not another dark one.”

Told my wife on the way home, “That guy is an angry man.”

Even though he’d written those songs (I am assuming) to help release the pain, it didn’t seem to  be working.  You could almost feel him trying to suck every little bit of empathy out of us as listeners…

I felt sorry for him.

I thought about those of us that are bloggers today.   Some of us, coming out of really painful situations write in an attempt to release the angst.  There is something healing that can happen when we share our hearts and  a random stranger comes along and  enters our pain.

That can be a good thing.

Once in a while I will stumble across a blog that is full of negativity.  I don’t stick around.

Where am I going  with this?

I’ve been able to process grandma’s crap and can even joke about it now.  On the other hand, there is another area of my life I am stuck in, and have been for years…I have another class reunion coming up and I am loath to go. I grew up in small town USA and every five years, I wrestle with whether or not I should go to my class reunion.  Most years I end up going, because I think to myself, I am a bigger man than that.  I do not want to turn into a small negative person the older I get.

I hesitate to write about it here, because I don’t want to be the negative musician I went to hear last night.

I know the issue is forgiveness.   Handful of encounters that continue to play on the loop in my head.  No one knows about them but me.  I don’t even want to tell you about them.I know the answer..I need to forgive…not for their sakes but for mine.

Any suggestions on effectively bringing closure to old hurts?

What do you do?  I am especially interested in hearing about old wounds from your days in school….