I’m a firm believer that walking can be a metaphor for anything in life. A journey of a thousand miles . . . the path less traveled . . . it’s not the destination, it’s the journey . . . the straight and narrow path . . . two steps forward, one back . . . am I right, or am I right?
I’ve been on a bit of a journey lately, and frankly, I was afraid to take you along. I thought you might jinx it. I felt fragile. Like writing about it might break it and I’d have to go back to the start. Besides, the introvert in me likes to travel alone, and you might talk too much. You might disturb my inner thoughts or suggest a different trail.
Well, I decided it might be good for me, and maybe even you, if I tell you where I’m at, what the terrain looks like, how far I’ve come, and maybe where I think I’m headed.
The trail is called Intuitive Eating, and there’s a book by the same name. There are many books by other names, and social media pages you can find by Googling Body Acceptance, Self Compassion, Body Love, BoPo, and Anti-Diet. It’s a movement that encompasses bodies of every size, age, color and ability. It’s about inner peace and love, and you know I’m all over that.
I’m not a stranger to beginning a journey. I began anew every morning and by nightfall felt lost. I cried alone in the dark. At daybreak I’d set out again. It’s a cruel circle. I’m talking about dieting. I was a self-proclaimed, out-of-the-closet diet junkie. I’ve described it as trying to stand still in the surf. It’s impossible.
Wading into the water, there will come tides and surges. There is no controlling it, only adjusting to it. And sometimes you need to let the waves carry you in or out a little bit before you find footing again.
Dieting isn’t that. Dieting is willing yourself to stand still. Most of us just end up face-planted in the sand wondering what happened. Then we wake up and try the same thing the next morning, maybe from a different spot on the beach, exclaiming over the roar of the surf that, “Today we will stand!” And expect a different result.
I’m afraid I’m mixing up my metaphors, but let’s just imagine this trail meandered somewhere along the ocean and opened up on a beach. And that’s just it! I’m not sure exactly where this trail is going to go next. But I do know it’s already taken me to some awesome overlooks and some really rough terrain.
So if you can stand the poetic metaphors, I invite you to lace up your walking shoes and join me. If you just want to sit at home and read my posts from the couch, that’s okay too. I’m not a trail expert by any means, but I am an expert on the steps I’ve taken. There are historical centers and information booths I’ll point out along the way, but if you ask me, all I can tell you about is my own experience and send pictures of the view from here.
Here I am at my coffee shop, sipping on a non-fat latte with an extra shot, or moosed, as our local chain likes to call it.
The damn dog woke me up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning. Lucky for him, he raced out to relieve both his bowel and bladder. It’s the mornings he goes out to bark at the birds that I could just as easily cut him loose. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who can effortlessly go back to sleep, and so like I said . . . here I am.
There was a time when I used this blog as therapy. I must have worked through several of my issues, because I just don’t seem to need it like I used to. This morning brought back memories of rising early,sneaking off for coffee and writing before Bubba wakes. And so it seemed only natural I should log in and click “Add Post” while the sun slides up in the sky.
A friend sent a note a week ago. Not electronically. She made it with real paper, with a hand-drawn fish on the front. She wrote a few words, not many. “How’s it going?” “What’s new?” but the card said so much more. It made me think about her. She lives on the coast, and fish are ever-present on her mind. Big fish. Like whales. Drawing a fish on a real paper card is so like something she would randomly do, eagerly dropping the envelope into a mailbox on the way to the rocky shore to look for shells, or jellyfish, or whatever the sea rolls in.
I can’t say for sure, but I imagine her finding the little oval cards with their matching envelopes at a humble second-hand shop or old-fashioned drug store. The price was right, and she knew she’d find some way to make someone’s day brighter; the thought of their smile involuntarily igniting one of her own. She has this crooked little grin when there’s something she’s thinking but not saying.
Perhaps she stared out over the waves when she decided what to do with the notecards, or maybe she was pulling weeds in the garden. But I know she spent some time contemplating. I know she thought about each person who would be on the other end while she drew. She undoubtedly laughed at her illustration of a fish swimming through the weeds. And she sent it anyway. Because that’s who she is.
And in this age of email and text messages, what kind of person does this random act of drawing a fish on a plain pink card and sending it in a matching envelope through the mail? It reminded me of how much I miss her unapologetically real and honest soul. If we asked her, she’d laugh and say she is quite unremarkable. And perhaps she’s right. Maybe we want to believe it takes a certain someone to make time for this simple deed. Maybe we’re afraid of learning that if we slow down for just a minute, we, too, hold the potential for honesty, love, following our dreams, and sending real paper notes through the mail.
This little card reminded me just a bit of who I want to be. When was the last time an email did that?
Peace . . .
Check out my friend’s Instagram Account to know her better:
Instead of clipping, sorting, and filing newspaper ad coupons every week, I watch for coupons through member perks. Everyone has a membership program these days. I have three coffee shop apps that track my activity, send me coupons, and even let me pay, all on my phone. Everyone from convenience stores to Chinese restaurants message me to stop in and pick up the latest special just for the trouble of showing them the text.
Text coupons are convenient. They don’t clutter up my purse. I always have them with me. There is nothing to throw out when they expire. The problem? Half of these coupons are BOGOs.
Technically, I’m not a single. I’m not married, but Bubba and I are a pair. Two peas in the same pod. I’d love nothing more than to take him out on one of my BOGOs and spend a lazy morning conversing over two cups of coffee, one of them free. Except he doesn’t like coffee. He doesn’t like hot chocolate, frozen blended drinks, or teas — neither hot nor iced. The only thing he wants from my coffee shop is a muffin and a Coke. And he doesn’t want to laze around watching the sun come up while eating his muffin. No. In fact if you blink, you might miss seeing him eat it at all. So I happily go alone.
When my kids were in school, they sold coupon books for fundraisers. My mom would probably have bought one, except they were mostly BOGOs and she was a widow. When they were both alive, Mom was a loner, and had no problem seeing a movie or stopping for lunch by herself. A BOGO would have gone unused even then.
I get what they’re doing. They want your business, but they also want you to bring someone else. That way they can get more add-on sales with food, beverages or desserts. They’re also trying to double their pay-off for the marketing. Except they are excluding half of their audience, so in a way I really don’t get it.
For Valentine’s Day, my coffee shop sent out a BOGO text. I wondered how irritating that is to those who have no valentine, or for those who have loved and lost. It’s not enough that I have to listen to those horrible diamond commercials on the radio. Now I have to consider buying two small lattes in the drive-through, drinking them both on the way home.
How about they just give me a percentage off my entrée? Or a free dessert? What about buy a coffee, and get a free muffin? Now that’s something Bubba could sink his teeth into. Or swallow whole, whichever comes first.
I’ve itched to get back to my writing. You poor people are the benefactors of my fruit. I appreciate your faithfulness, ever patient while I restructure my life around holidays, diet and exercise. Just kidding. The exercise bit hasn’t been working out very well. Get it? Working out? I crack me up.
The holidays, you ask? Well we went up north, as Midwesterners are oft to do. We go waaaaaay up north. Bubba has family up there, and as such, they are as good as kin to me as well. It’s a trek, but the road trip is nice. There are several hours (about 7 to be exact) where there is nothing but the two of us exchanging meaningful conversation and healthy snacks.
Yeah . . . just kidding again.
Actually, Bubba turns up the tunes, we do a little head-banging until I have something to say and he politely turns it down. He nods in agreement, waiting to see if I’m done, and when I go back to checking out Messenger, Snapchat, or Instagram, he turns it up and we return to the head-banging.
In Clearwater, Minnesota, we stop at the Travel Plaza and buy a muffin from the Nelson Bros. Bakery. It’s tradition. They boast cinnamon rolls the size of your head, and they aren’t just bragging. One of those things would feed a small family.
We listen to podcasts like TED Talks, Freakonomics, This American Life, Radiolab, and sometimes I can get him to listen to Savage Lovecast. Then we stop to let Bubba and the dogs pee on some secluded back road. We switch command posts, me taking the wheel while he naps.
Our route takes us through Fargo, until at last we settle in a little Minnesota town a stone’s throw from both Canada and North Dakota. At first glance, it’s a quiet little place with not much going on. But then the Canadians come to visit.
Bubba’s late mother came from Canada. I never met her, but she lives in the pictures and stories that surround the place. Once a year, the Canadians come down from parts north. They bring with them Coffee Crisps, homemade wine, and border stories.
Bubba loves Coffee Crisps, something that until recent years, had not been found this side of the Canada/US line. As I write, he brushes the crumbs from the last one off his beard. The new dog, Mosh, climbs up to check for remnants.
I, however, love the homemade wine. And roast beast with gravy, and potatoes, and jello salad, and Christmas cookies. And conversation. I must let you know that no Canadian conversation, in my experience, is complete without a good border story. It starts out innocently enough.
“How was the border?”
“Not too bad.”
“You got through pretty good, eh?”
“Yeah. Pretty good.”
“Not like that one time, eh?”
And then we’re off. Homeland security only adds another layer of interest to the ever-increasing buzz. It doesn’t matter that I’ve heard the stories before. I love to listen to them talk. I imagine they like to listen to us, too. There was a moment when we had to clarify that a parking lot was the same thing as a parkade, neither of us fully understanding the other. Call me a word geek, but I love those moments.
The “eh” is something we laugh at or joke about, but they use it the same way we say either “huh” or “ya know,” which is just as strange to say when you think about it. I wonder if they laughed about the way we talked on the way home? I really hope so.
My grandparents were from Saskatchewan, Cananda — they talked a lot about Moose Jaw, Saskatoon and Regina. Gramma used to say Regina like it rhymed with Vagina, and my mom would purse her lips, shake her head, and correct her. I don’t remember Gramma saying “Eh” very often, if at all, but Grampa used that word regularly. He lost most of his hearing in the war — the artillery going off too close to his ears — and he would interrupt us mid-sentence with a loud, “Eh?”
Gramma would often whisper something completely inappropriate in his extra-large ear, to which he would reply, “Eh?” Then before the hair on the back of my neck could fully stand, it was out. Gramma, taking a breath of air, and speaking as loud as her tiny frame permitted, would announce something like, “I said . . . It’s very sad how large that woman over there is.” And she would point. And he would stare. And I would try to hide in the neck of my shirt.
Grampa also used it in place of an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. “The thing with kids these days is they’re all doped up . . . eh?” That was not a question. That was a statement that you were meant to a agree with or suffer his resignation from the conversation.
But mostly, he kept quiet, trying to look interested in what was being said. He had hearing aids, which only helped a bit. He complained of the background noise, and still halted conversations by interjecting something completely off topic, followed by “Eh?” I suppose it was a lonely place — amongst family and still alone. I used to believe he was a man of few words, and only spoke when he had something to say. Looking back, I think he was doing a lot of lip-reading, and waiting until he thought he might have something relative to say.
Listening to the Canadians made me wish I knew my distant relatives that still live up there. We are ghosts to one another, linked only by those who came before us. Still, every Christmas I make the Butter Currant Tarts from the recipe that Gramma passed down to me. And occasionally, you may see an “Eh?” in my writing. When you do, that is not a simple verbal interjection. That is me waving my Canadian flag, singing “Oh Canada!” — incidentally the only two words I know from that anthem — and saying, “Hey Grampa and Gramma, I haven’t forgotten.”
There is a quilt draped across the back of my desk chair. It’s just a small lap quilt, the kind I remember from nursing homes. The fabrics are old-fashioned prints, woven from cotton. The simple squares are sewn together in random sequence. The layers are tied with yarn at the corners of the pieces. I don’t even know who made it.
It is, by all standards, a quilt of no distinction at all.
Given to the University of Minnesota by a quilting group, it was made to keep oncology patients warm. Diminishing weight and the treatments they endure leave cancer patients extremely cold all the time.
When I first saw the quilt, my father sat at the kitchen table, where all memories of my father lead. He wore a thin grey goose-down jacket. The stocking cap Mother knitted sat high on his head. The quilt lay across his lap and over his slippered feet.
The strong, firm man of my childhood was now frail, thin, and weak. His face produced a genuine smile that visually drained precious energy from his body. I noticed the quilt immediately.
“Where did you get this?”
I hugged him then walked over to do the same to my mother. She explained where he received the quilt, and we all agreed how very nice it was.
As the weeks progressed, my father was never without his quilt. And now, as I look at it these twenty-four years later, I imagine it wise and gentle. The threads woven in purpose. The pieces cut with precision. Love somehow supernaturally layered between patchwork and batting and backing.
For decades the quilt sat neatly folded on my bedroom shelves as a reminder of the care my father received during his last months from so many faceless angels. It is a steadfast message that we just never know when the good we do will affect the lives of others.
Recently I brought the quilt from its place on the shelf and rested it on the back of my chair. When the temperature dips down, as it can in Minnesota, the quilt comes out to lay across my lap and over my slippered feet. It reminds me, as I work diligently at my job, to do well. But more importantly, it reminds me how lucky I am to be in a position where I can do good.
“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”
I was young. How young, I am not sure. I was still obsessed with drawing horses, which started in grade school and ended in junior high. Neither of my brothers were along on the trip, so at least nine years of age. Too young to understand, but old enough to know.
We were on a plane bound for California. I was going to Disneyland with my parents. The seats in first class came in twos. We were three.
Before settling into their seats near the front of the section, they walked me to the last row, double-checked the seat number, and smiled at the man who would share the flight with me. They introduced him to me, and explained how impossible it was to get three seats together. He assured them he would watch out for me, and see that I had everything I need.
And then some.
As the plane rumbled toward its runway, he asked me if I had flown before. I had. The takeoff pushed us back into our seats, and then lifted us light as a feather until we settled at a gentle climb through the clouds. The man helped me order a 7UP. I didn’t need help. I’d been flying since I was six. I was beginning to wish he would ignore me.
Once tedium set in, I pulled my carry-on from under the seat in front of me. Paper. Pencils. Erasers. I flipped past several sketches of horses to a clean page and began to draw. The man made small talk. He said my drawing was good. He asked to see my others.
I shared my work because I was a polite little girl who was taught to be polite to strangers. Not because I wanted to. Why couldn’t he just read a book or stare out the window or fall asleep? He asked if I had a horse. I didn’t. He asked what I liked about horses. I don’t remember what I answered. He asked if I had ridden a horse. I had. He asked if I liked how muscular they were. I did. He asked if I liked having all that power between my legs. And something seemed wrong.
Because I was a polite little girl who was polite to strangers, I answered this and the other questions he asked. He asked about the dog I had drawn. It was a miniature schnauzer. He was my dog, the one I was missing now. The one I wanted to be at home with more than I wanted to be on this flight to Disneyland. He asked if I ever had to scold my dog when he did something wrong. I did. He asked if I ever had to spank him. I said I did. He asked if I ever had to spank him so hard that my hand tingled afterward. Why did I say I did? I never hit my dog that hard. I loved my dog and barely brushed him away when I was angry with him. Why had I told him that? Why did the man enjoy that answer? Why wouldn’t he just leave me alone?
I put my artwork away and wished the plane would fly faster. My mom checked back with me. The man said everything was just fine. I begged her silently to switch places with me. But I was a polite little girl who never wanted to cause my parents any worry. The sun shone through the thin air above the clouds. When he spoke, he leaned in very close to me. I could smell his alcohol-laden breath.
He asked me if I knew my eyes were like shimmering pools of water. I didn’t.
I heard that somewhere before. It was on t.v., and grown-up men used those words when they wanted to be close to a woman. When they wanted to kiss her. When the scene faded out and went to commercial. I was so confused. This wasn’t like the boys in the neighborhood who tried to sneak a kiss and clumsily missed and hit my ear. It wasn’t the blushing, teasing, playful flirting of children. This was a man who was supposed to watch out for me. Someone my parents had trusted to help me.
I knew I was safe. This was a plane full of people. My parents were near. It was daylight. I would never see him again. But I felt violated. Right there in front of everyone, and they never knew it. No one heard me scream. No one reached out to pull me away from him. I had no marks to prove it.
As the plane opened up, we gathered our belongings. I wanted to push through the people to my parents. I wanted to leave that man behind. Mom and dad waited for me to reach their row. They told me to thank the nice man standing behind me. Because I was a polite little girl, I did. And then I just let him take my face with both hands and kiss my forehead. I let him put his lips on my face just like that.
When they spoke later of the nice man who accompanied me on the flight to California, I told my parents I didn’t like him. They told me to stop talking nonsense. When I said he was icky, I was told that he was a nice man and I shouldn’t talk that way about him.
And I never spoke of him again at all until I had children of my own. My message was this; if something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. It doesn’t matter who believes you, or who the person is, or what authority they’ve been put in, or if they have actually done anything wrong. If you don’t like the situation, get out in any way you can. Talk until someone listens.
It so happened that one day in a group of young people, there was a man who all the girls agreed was creepy. Not just a little creepy. They had that feeling that I had that day on the plane. Something happened that they thought was wrong. And it would have been if it wasn’t the act of an ignorant man. My female co-leader and I thought they were crazy. What had happened was most likely a stupid mistake. And I still believe that.
But what I think doesn’t matter. What matters is that young girls felt something was wrong and there was someone who listened. I told them to make sure they didn’t find themselves alone with him. Not because I thought something would happen, but because it is very important they listen to that voice inside of them. The voice may be strong or a whisper. It may be right or it may be way off track, but it is important that they listen.
As adults we owe this to our children. And by our children, I mean any children; sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, friends’ children and those for whom we are leaders. Trust them. Listen to them. Believe them. Empower them.
Like most parents, I recorded every first of my children’s early years. There are pictures of first trips to Grandma’s, first steps, first solid food, even taking their first poop in the toilet. A post by Emily at The Waiting, reminded me how easy it is for the lasts to slip by unnoticed.
Do you remember the last time you were picked up and cuddled? I have four children, and found myself searching the dark corners of my memory for any recollection of the last time I lifted each of them into my arms. There is none.
We acknowledge the achievements, the going-forwards, the milestones of where we are headed and not so much where we have been. Maybe it’s because we don’t appreciate the significance of what we leave behind until it’s gone. Or maybe it’s because we just never realize it’s the last time . . . until it is.
Firsts, like lasts, are not eloquent or refined. The last step we take will most likely be much like the first — feeble and clumsy. Each brings with it a demonstration of progress. But one is a beginning and one is an end. One is noted and one is forgotten.
Humans, unlike animals, carry the burden of understanding time. We romanticize a past we strain to remember. We grieve its loss. The future is hope and wonder, even amidst uncertainty and trepidation.
Between the first and the last is the present. It is the center. The now. We forget to stop and live in this moment. And this one. And this one. Each tick of the clock is another gone by. The present moment is as steadfast as time is fleeting. Always here, for better or for worse.
A moment in the present is not reliant on memory, nor hope, nor wonder, nor dreams. There is no uncertainty or vagueness. The instant you are in right now is as real as anything is ever going to be.
If we could know the last time we were picked up, or rode in a pedal car, or fit in the shopping cart seat, that it was our last, would we have enjoyed it more? Would we have whined less? Would we have grieved the loss?
Probably not. Children don’t perceive the elapsing of time. A baby lives in a constant state of “now,” his only concern if he is hungry, wet, or sleepy. Eventually, he will understand time by experiencing it — what is a minute, an hour, a year?
Maybe this is what allows children to move forward at the speed of light. If they knew all the wonderful things they leave behind — naps, strollers, wagons, wearing pajamas in the middle of the day and yes, being lifted high above someone’s head — maybe they would want to stay children forever. Maybe the lack of grief is what allows them to grow.
. . . And maybe our grief of the past is a gift we are given that allows us to relish the present. It permits us to cuddle their round little bodies one more minute, or stop and watch them as they nap, or slip into their world of imagination, or pick them up just once more before they are too heavy and we too weak . . .