LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH

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Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.

If you haven’t read PEACE, SISTER, one of my earlier posts dated July 16th, that is required prerequisite reading prior to reading the rest of this post.  My mother had a plan for moving forward after a mess like this.

Sometimes, I am sorry to say, my posts will not detail an excursion with my sisters.  They will not tell a funny story about some aspect of our lives.  They will not be light and airy, and they will not have many pictures.

We have all seen enough pictures lately.

However, from time to time, I may spotlight one of our brothers.  Oh my.

With God as our Father, brothers all are we.

Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.

We all woke up last Monday morning to the news of more heartbreak.   We are all thinking the same things:  How can this happen again?  Why does this happen over and over again?  Who can do such a horrific thingWhere will it happen next?  When?  And ultimately, What can we do?

We can start within.  We can look inside ourselves and find any thoughts,  feelings or ideas that  may cause harm, even to ourselves.   Especially to ourselves.

Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.

With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow.

Because, after all, that is where it starts.  Peace isn’t out there somewhere, it is in here.  If the scientific axiom energy can neither be created nor destroyed is true for human interaction as well, then our job is to turn any negative energy into positive energy, starting with our own.

Pray for good things to happen. Send good vibes.  Do good deeds.  Smile more.  Forgive more–including ourselves.  Believe that humans are capable of more good than bad, and act accordingly.  Believe the world is a good place.   Above all,  do something.

The ripple effect is real, so make sure your ripples are positive ones.

To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally,

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

I wrote the next part of this nearly two years ago.  It has sat on my computer since then; I didn’t have a plan for it.  I simply wrote it because it came to me that day.  I found it a few weeks ago, and though about posting it for International Day of Peace, which was September 21st.  Obviously, I didn’t.  Now, it is time.

I have some work to do.  I am not fully meeting my mother’s challenge I described in PEACE, SISTER.  I am not doing all I can to let it begin with me.  As long as there is something I can change within, something I can work on to bring peace to others,  I cannot feel powerless.  I cannot feel like there is nothing I can do to prevent any more tragedies like the one last week.

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LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH

“…and let it begin with me.”

This was the opening line in a one of my favorite songs we sang in the church I grew up in.  It was typically sung as the closing song, sending us on our way with a positive message.   I remember the priest who sang it joyfully as he walked out of the church.  I won’t forget the song or the words.

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I went to a shop in Breckenridge, Colorado about six months ago while I was there with my son and his friends on a ski trip. (There were many shops I went to, but I digress…)  This shop—The Joy of Sox—had a wide selection of socks, but other gift items as well.  I am drawn magnetically to the clearance rack in any store, and way in the back, I found it in this store.  It was filled with various gift items, and several clothing items.  There was one shirt on this rack, a long-sleeved, rust-colored tee-shirt that featured the iconic PEACE sign, with these words underneath:  Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.  It was my size, and the only one there.  Like the peace sign, I took it as a sign.  So I took it to the register, and then I took it home.

Since that was in March, I put it away in my stash for the next season.   I pulled it out the other day, and decided it was time for its debut.  Today, Thursday, November 19th, 2015, I wore it for the first time.  I felt empowered by its message, I felt accountable to those words somehow, but I wasn’t sure how.  I didn’t act on it right away, I just wore it.  I looked down at the symbol and words on my chest several times throughout the day, and thought perhaps I should do something to be an instrument of peace, like my mother so kindly asked me to.

But I didn’t, really.  I just went about my day.

My last appointment of the day was with a woman younger than me who was rendered almost speechless by a stroke nearly several years ago, just days after her birthday.  She lived with her husband and young son in what I perceived as substandard housing in my perception of a substandard marriage.  When I arrived, there was no peace to be found.  She was in tears by an accidental, minor physical injury inflicted upon her by her husband, which was apparently overshadowed by the emotional injury due to his apparent lack of concern and caring.  Clearly, through her tears, we would not be accomplishing much today.  Her injuries needed to be examined, and our protocol was to call the Home Health nurse in charge of her plan of care, so I did.  I wanted to leave and let the nurse take over whenever she got there, but I sensed she needed me for the female companionship; the understanding I could provide until the nurse arrived about an hour later.  But–selfishly–I was impatient with this situation because I had things to do, groceries to buy, gas to put in my car and a sick teenage son to tend to at home, but I stayed.  I realized I needed to take the advice on my own shirt, so I let it begin with me.   I continued to attempt to provide speech therapy, mostly to distract her from her physical and emotional pain, not expecting any measurable results.

Perhaps rage can bring new strength, or a hotter fire burning inside to move forward and work harder, because on this peace-less day, in what a appeared to be war-torn marriage, in this shambled house, with one of her young sons present, she spoke her son’s name for the first time since her stroke.  It was a moment speech therapists live for.  The joy on her son’s face was priceless, and brought us all a small measure of peace.  It began with me.

I left her home an hour and fifteen minutes later after the nurse arrived–she was okay, and proceeded to the grocery store for my weekly triple-digit expenditure.  It usually takes me about an hour, and I typically treat a trip to the grocery store as the business it is, hoping not to make it a social hour.  In my small city, however, it is difficult to go out to any public place and not see someone I know.

Today, I kept my head down and my nose to the grindstone, and got my shopping done.  At one point, I thought I saw that one woman, the one, who, for reasons I won’t explain, I don’t feel completely at peace with.  I have toyed with the idea of seeking her out to offer an apology, but part of me doesn’t feel it was my fault.  Perhaps I should let it begin with me, but then again, maybe she should let it begin with her.  I’ll let you know how that works out.

I avoided the woman, just in case it was her.  I made it out of the store, and headed to the parking lot.  I reached my car with my cart, and had to turn around to do a double take.  It was another woman I knew; she and I had not always been at peace.  We resolved that about four years ago, just after her mother died.

I saw her at a public event shortly after her mother died, and, feeling her pain, I reached out to her.  I approached her, and offered her my heartfelt sympathy.  I told her how sorry I was, and that I knew the pain of losing one’s mother.  I knew her mother, she was kind and full of love, just like mine was.  I moved cautiously closer to suggest an embrace, perhaps a light hug, and she reciprocated.  We hugged that day, and the old pain fell away as we both felt the new and more acute pain of being motherless.  We soothed each other; I felt better too.

“Thank you for reaching out to me,” she said.  She meant it.  It felt so good to me, I had made peace.  The old hurts—whatever they were—had fallen away because both of us knew that pettiness had no space in our lives any more after a loss of such great magnitude.  We both spoke a new language, and we understood it too.

Today, in the grocery store parking lot, we hugged again.  We spoke of life after loss, and how good it can be; how good it is for each of us, and the peace we feel, as well as the feeling we both carry here:  I placed my hand on my heart.

“They are with us here now, all the time.  It feels good, doesn’t it?”  I asked her.

She smiled, and agreed.  “Yes.  Yes it does.”   We hugged again, and parted ways.

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Perhaps there is a space created in a woman after her mother dies, a space her mother so carefully carved throughout all her years on earth with us, a space she wanted us to fill with peace and positivity after she dies.  Perhaps all the love she showered upon us here on earth is the seed she so purposefully planted in her daughter’s heart for her work to continue through her daughter after she leaves her.  Perhaps the death of a woman’s mother, her departure from the earthly plane into the next dimension can ultimately propel a woman forward to create a life of greater meaning, depth and, of course, peace.  Perhaps, like the woman I saw today, I have accepted the challenge, and it will be a lifelong goal of mine to do my best to live it out.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. 

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Sitting with my brother, in perfect harmony.  Ryan and his family came to town last night, and we enjoyed the evening together.  It was the perfect time to wear the shirt.

 

Dedicated to all those affected by the Las Vegas tragedy.

 

HAPPY SISTER’S DAY

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HAPPY SISTER’S DAY

Typically, I don’t bat an eye at any specially designated day that is invented by someone trying to separate me—or anyone else—from time or money.

National Sister’s Day, however, is one I have decided to pay homage to.  However, Gail and Suzanne, you won’t get any gifts from me, not even a card.  You will get something better.

Let me first extend my heartfelt, genuine sympathy to any reader who is mourning the loss of their sister, and who may feel compounded grief from the observation of this day—without their sister.

It must be what I feel on and around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.   I wish those two days were wiped off the calendar.

They should be.  In my egocentric, the-world-should-revolve-around-me mind, nobody should be able to celebrate them if I can’t celebrate them.  When I am ambushed by the Mother’s Day Card display, or the ads for Father’s Day gifts, I roll my eyes and give a strong, glottal teenage-girl “uh.”

Not fair.

But fair, as we all know, comes only once a year, and it may have already left your town.

**

Today, as I write this, those who choose to are observing National Sister’s Day.  According to several online sources, its beginnings are traced back to 2011, when the first Sunday of August was designated as Sister’s Day.   I was not able to find any concise report on how it started, or who started it.

Nevertheless, social media—and other forms as well—are promoting it as a day to be observed.  So for worse or better–as it has become in our country–if social media reports it, then it is noticed.

I, for one, am observing it.  I have two great reasons to do so.

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The sun smiles down on Gail and me, and the moon is smiling upon Suzanne and me.

**

I will not see either of my sisters today, but I will call them to let them know how glad I am they are my sisters.

* I will tell them how much fun I have with them when we travel, or when we get together for any reason.

* I will tell them I couldn’t have hand-picked two finer sisters if it were up to me to choose.

*I will tell them I cherish all the memories we made as children, and especially as adults.

*I will tell them how much I appreciate that they accept me for who I am; faults, foibles, foolishness and all.

*I will tell them that I couldn’t have survived the loss of our parents without them.

*I will tell them that I love them.

They likely know all this already, but I need to tell them again.

**

My mother had three sisters, and no brothers.  She had a unique relationship with each of them because of a series of events in her young life.   Her older sister, Jeanne, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma—cancer in both retinas—at 18 months of age.   This was in the mid 1930’s.  Her eyes were removed, and she was not expected to live a long and full life, yet she did.

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She went The Kansas School For The Blind in Kansas City, so she was gone most of the time.   Their mother passed away when our mother was eight, which would have made Jeanne about 11.  Their father remarried a wonderful woman named Madeline when Mom was a teenager, who became the only grandmother we ever knew because our dad was an only child, and his mother died when he was eight as well.

In the last few years, I found out just how excited Mom was to have a new mother.   She wrote in a journal as an adult, reflecting back on her excitement about her dad’s new wife.  She was so impatient at the prospect of getting another brother or sister, and she started a rumor that she was indeed getting one.  That fact had yet to be established, but Mom yearned for a sister.

She got two more.  Reitha arrived when she was 17, and Sharon came two years later.

They became our cool, younger aunts, only 10 and 12 years older than me.  They would often make the 3-hour trip to our farm from Wichita.  Jeanne sometimes came along, sometimes she rode the bus part of the way, and we would pick her up.

Jeanne, against medical predictions, went on to marry, have two sons, become a medical transcriptionist at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Wichita, maintain an active social life and play the organ like nobody’s business.  She passed away at the age of 71.  Her husband continues to live alone in Wichita.  He is blind too, but lives independently with a little help.

Reitha and Sharon would first bring their boyfriends to the farm, then husbands, and finally husbands and children.

In my mind, as a child, my mother’s singular role was that of a mother to the seven of us; it has occurred to me only as an adult that she, too, treasured sisterhood.

Mom remained close to Jeanne until she died.  Reitha, Sharon and Mom were as close as they could be with three hours between them, and they worked together to take care of their mother until she passed six days before Mom and Dad.

We have honored that bond Mom had with her sisters; they are pictured below with one of our brothers several years ago at my home for an Independence Day celebration.  (My 2nd favorite holiday, if you recall.)  Left-right:  Reitha, David, Sharon.

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I realize I am a fortunate woman to have a close relationship with both of my sisters, and for them to be close to each other as well.

I realize this may be more of an exception than a rule for many sisters.  I know several sisters who, at best, despise each other.

I realize many of you have a sister or sisters whom you are not close to.  Perhaps you simply don’t keep in touch.  Perhaps you don’t get along well.  Or, worst of all, perhaps you are at odds, and choose to remain estranged.

In keeping with my mother’s last wish, I feel I have a job to do.  On this day created to observe the joys of sisterhood, I feel that perhaps, I need to try to be that Instrument of Peace that she so kindly asked me to be (see Peace, Sister posted on 7/16/17).

Perhaps you have no desire to ever speak to your sister again.  Perhaps you feel she wronged you past the point of reconciliation.  Perhaps you wronged her, and you simply don’t know where to start.

Or, perhaps you have no idea what came between you and her, and has kept you apart.  Perhaps she has no idea either.  Perhaps you are both waiting for the other to start the peace process.

Worst of all, perhaps you hold a grudge, and have no desire to let it go.  As ugly as a grudge can be, it may have become a part of you, and letting go in order to work toward peace would be, well, work.  It may be easier to just hang on to it, as wicked as it may be.

But here’s the thing about grudges.  They are toxic.  Grudges grant precious real estate in your brain to someone else, rent free.  They hurt you more than the person they are against.  It is as if you are drinking the poison, and expecting them to be poisoned.   Further, they may not even have any idea why you are carrying a grudge against them.

Worse yet for you, they may not care.  Perhaps they did at one point, but gave up hope.  Remember from several of my previous posts that giving up hope when it involves changing another person is a good thing.

In the event that you are thinking, I should reach out to her, but I don’t know what to say, you are in luck.

Because my profession as a speech-language pathologist involves helping someone who is struggling to find words to do just that, I am going to give you a free session, no strings attached.

Because I am a wordsmith with the written word, I am offering below a bounty of words, phrases and sentences to say to your sister, just in case, like my patients, your words are hard to find:

*Can we talk?

*I’m sorry.

*I have forgiven you.

*I was wrong.

*There are two sides to every story.  I will listen to yours if you listen to mine. 

*I think we are looking at this in two very different ways.

*I know we may never be as close as we once were, but I think we can make this better.

*I know I have changed, and that may be hard for you.

*I don’t want us to end our sister relationship because of this.

*I don’t want to feel like this forever. 

*We don’t have to try to be friends, but we need to try to get rid of these bad feelings between us. 

*Let’s agree to disagree.

**

If you need to make peace with your sister, please think about doing it today, or as soon as possible.  Help me honor my mother’s wish by allowing me to be an Instrument of Peace, or at least a catalyst.   Just pick up the 500-lb. phone already, and call her.  Or email her.   Text her.  Send her a snail mail card or letter.   Send her this post.

And if the shoe fits, remember the lyric from that great 70’s song I referred to a few posts ago:  There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me, and we just disagree.

My wish for you is that you have a sister or sisters to share the love with today.  Just be sure to let her/them know.

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Gail, Suzanne, me; circa (about) 1974.

 

This post is dedicated to Reitha, Sharon, Marilyn, Tracy, Denise, Gwenna, Sue and Tisha, and anyone else whose sister is smiling down from Above.

 

 

 

PEACE, SISTER

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This post was written in January, as I was preparing to launch my blog.   (Clearly, it took me a bit longer than that.)  There will be no post next Sunday night, as one of my sisters and I are taking the trip we postponed as described below.  Of course, there will be a post about this trip when I get back—Thanks for visiting my blog!

PEACE, SISTER

If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never understand how a person can inflict harm, pain, injury and/or death upon any other human being in the name of peace, in the name of war, or in the name of their god.

Another mass shooting occurred in a major airport in our country just a few days ago, a day after I was scheduled to arrive in a nearby major airport—with one of my sisters.  We had already postponed the trip due to an ice storm here, and bad weather there.

In the name of my kind of peace, I am writing about this awful reality.  I didn’t mean to make it so heavy so soon, but it begged to be written, so here it is.  I promised to keep these posts optimistic, so I will bring you back up before the end.

**

Our mother used to ask “Why can’t people just get along?”  Good question, Mom.  Let’s dissect it.

Because we are human.  Because we are flawed.  Because we are inclined to believe we are always right, and the other guy is always wrong.  Because we are in agony inside.  Because we think the other guy needs to make peace.  Because we don’t all define peace in the same way.  Because we can’t see past our own perceptions.  Because we choose to see the darkness instead of the light.  Because hurt people hurt people.   Just because.

What in the world can we do to keep this madness from happening again in this crazy world?  We feel helpless, we feel paralyzed with fear, but that gets us nowhere.

FEAR:  False Evidence Appearing Real.  I found that acronym and its meaning written somewhere in Mom’s handwriting after she was gone.  I had seen it before, apparently it was one of her favorites; she wrote down what she liked.    It’s a good one.  Fear is paralyzing in itself, and it gets us nowhere.  And there is usually no good reason for it.  Like when I am flying.

Mom loved to write.  Not books or poetry or anything long, but she would write quotes, quips, and letters.  None, however, were more memorable than The Letter.

The Letter Mom left was a masterpiece, a directive; a treasure. She kindly asked us, after telling us this would be the last time she would try to tell us what to do, to live lives of peace.  She was specific about her request; she left it in no uncertain terms, no easy ways out; no loopholes.  (I’ve looked hard, there are none.)  She asked us in front of 500 people, leaving it with a note to be read at her funeral.  She asked us to live our lives by the Prayer of Saint Francis, commonly known as the Prayer for Peace.

Saint Francis was clearly a Christian, and while he is most commonly associated with the Catholic Church, he is revered and honored by many Protestant churches as well.  He is known as the patron saint of animals, and many churches observe his feast day of October 4th with a ceremony to bless animals.

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Please know that I respect any religious views, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.  A major tenet of all world religions is kindness toward other humans, and this prayer exemplifies that very principle.   I am biased, I know, but I feel the core of this prayer is a universal message that needs to be heard, whether you are a Christian or not, a believer or an atheist.

Saint Francis was a living, breathing, imperfect human being who struggled like we all do, but also in a unique way that most of us likely never will.  He was born into a wealthy family who prospered in the textile trade.  He lived in Assisi, France from 1181-1226 A.D.  He chose to give up his riches, privilege and a life of comfort in order to lead the life that led him to write the following prayer.

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“Make me an instrument of your peace.”  It begins.  Note that it doesn’t ask for peace to be delivered on a platter to the person praying it, it asks for them to be a vessel, a tool, a worker bee.  It goes on to cover every possibility, every eventuality that any human could encounter, any situation whereby one may expected to be this instrument of peace in a situation that needs it.  It actually asks for work to be heaped upon the person praying it.

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”  We were never allowed to use the “H” word in our house, not in reference to a person.  We could hate their actions, but we couldn’t hate them.  She was grooming us for this task even then.

“Where there is injury, pardon.”  Mom loved the sitcom “Happy Days,” we all did.  Especially Fonzie, who could never say he was ‘sorry.’  He would drag the ‘s’ out, starting with “I’m ssss…,” but he could never completely say he was sorry; couldn’t utter that word.  For most of us—myself included, saying “sorry” is hard work.  Harder than that, is forgiving the person who cannot say they are sorry, even when they know they should—like Fonzie.  Hardest of all is forgiving the person who doesn’t even know they wronged you.

As a writer, I keep a prayer journal.  I try to write daily, petitioning for my own needs, as well as for so many hurting people.  In my imperfect efforts, I try—as much as it hurts—to pray for those whom I feel have wronged me.  It is hard, so hard that I can only write their initials.  There are seven sets of initials I write each time.  Not long ago, I looked back over those seven sets of initials, representing seven separate hurts I carry around.  I realized that if all seven could see their initials there, and know why they are there, five of them would likely say “What did I ever do to you?”  Some may even have the gall to say “You hurt me, I didn’t hurt you.”

Most of us, I feel, carry around such hurts, and the person who inflicted the pain on us has no idea, no sense that they did anything wrong.

Did they?  Or did I?  All I know is I need peace inside when I think of them, and I clearly don’t have it.   Dave Mason’s 70’s song comes to mind:  “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy.  There’s only you and me, and we just disagree.” 

Forgiving them, forgiving myself and moving on is the pardon this prayer speaks of.

“Where there is doubt, faith.”  Mom had an undeterred, rock-solid faith in God.  All she had to do for this one was set her example for us to see in her every action, every word, every deed, and every thought, when we were able to read them.  We usually couldn’t.  She remained a mystery in a good way.

Where there is despair, hope.”  None of my siblings remember her saying it, but I do.  One of her best quotes—I think—is this: “Since I gave up hope, I feel so much better.”  In her infinite wisdom, I believe she was speaking of giving up hope only when it involved changing another person.  The kind of hope she wanted us to bring is the kind that shows people that faith in God can chase away the dark clouds that hang over all of us from time to time, sometimes hanging over some people too long for them to dispel them by themselves.

Where there is darkness, light.”  I lived in several basement apartments in college.  Sunlight was a precious commodity in the little windows where it managed to seep in at certain times of the day.  After that, no matter where I lived, I maximized the sunlight through the windows.  I never shut the blinds during the day.  As I write this, I am just now realizing that perhaps my mother’s example in our childhood home set this tone for me. She pulled the curtains only when someone was lying sick in the living room—which became a temporary hospice room–in order to provide them the most comfort.  The curtains, where we had them, were always light colored.   We lived on a farm, so we didn’t have any peeping neighbors to worry about.   She always tried to live in the light.  Again, she was plotting.

“Where there is sadness, joy.”  At the expense of her own potential joy, Mom strived to bring joy to others.  She didn’t care about her own first, instead, she knew that if she brought it to others, then this would bring her the ultimate joy.  I continue to reap what she sowed, I find the seeds of joy she planted in small and large things in so many aspects of my life.  It is now my job to continue to harvest them, and most importantly, replant them for others.

**

“Oh divine master, grant that I may seek not so much to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

**

And there you have it.  A perfect prescription for living peace in everything you do, think, feel and say.  A tall order, I might add.  Since she put it in writing, and made sure it was read in front of everyone at their funeral, we really can’t break this contract, even though we didn’t agree to it; didn’t sign it.

Every day, I try to live by these words.  Gail gave all the females in the family a bracelet with this prayer engraved on it, and I wear it nearly every day as a reminder.   Most days I fail, some days I fail miserably.  But I keep trying.  I must give it my best.  If you’re not already doing it, I hope you will take these words and let them seep in, and then let them be the words you try to live by, too.

That was Mom’s wish in The Letter.  If we all follow Mom’s order, then perhaps her question would no longer have to be asked.

Along with The Letter, Mom left each of us a prayer card with this prayer on it.  We learned from her friend that she wrote The Letter about ten years before she died, and likely prepared the envelope with the seven cards in it at that time.   It’s the last gift—and the most meaningful gift she gave me to carry, and to carry on without her.

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The original letter sits in a safe deposit box in a bank vault.  While it was read to 500 people at their funeral, it remains a valuable and personal treasure for the seven of us, her “Magnificent Seven,” as she called us.  Therefore, to honor this privacy, it will not be shared.

Instead, please know that my parents were incredible Instruments of Peace.  To honor that, we chose to have this prayer engraved on the back of their headstone.  Any act of peace—small or great—is a tribute to them, and to all of humanity.  We are all in this together.

It bears mentioning that Dad’s middle name was Francis.  And, our current pope–Pope Francis–chose his name in honor of Saint Francis.

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Peace, sister.  Peace, brother.  Peace, everyone.

 

 

SWHEAT GIRLS PART TWO: NOTHING IS SURE BUT SISTERHOOD–AND THIS BRAND NEW TATTOO

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WELCOME BACK TO THE SISTER LODE!

This week I am honoring not only my sisters, but a special pair of sisters who have been an integral part of my life for many years.  Thanks for joining us!

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Left to right:  Tana, me, Amy

**

I wish I would have rolled that word around in my mouth a little longer back then, like a piece of hard candy.  I wish I would have realized its bitterness before I uttered it, before it had to be swallowed all these years later.  Now, it tastes more sour than sweet.

NEVER.

As in, “I am NEVER going to get a tattoo.”

I don’t know how many people I likely uttered it to in the last, oh, say, 30 years or so.  Probably at least several, because I thought it many, many, many times.

Life has a strange way of turning us into liars, even when we don’t want to lie.  Especially when we so desperately wanted to hang on to the truth as we once knew it.

The truth, however, is that the truth about ourselves changes.  It changes with us as we grow, as we evolve into that better person we are now today, different from the person we were yesterday.

And this is a good thing.  This is a thing to be honored at all costs.

**

Eight hours ago, I waved the big driveway wave as my dear friends drove away.   They were here for six days, and those six days raced by like six hours.  The other half of the group left before sunrise yesterday; we bade adieu before bed two nights ago.   Back to Phoenix they went.

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These two groups consist of two dear sisters and their families.  These two women have been in my life since 1984 when I was a mere 18 years old, and they were 12 and 8.

I was their babysitter. Now, their children are older than they were when I met them.  I wasn’t so much a babysitter as a household manager and a companion.  They lived with their farmer father during the summers, and their mother in Phoenix for the school year.  Their dad was a busy man who covered a lot of ground—farm ground– and he needed help with his daughters during his busy season.

And so it began.

We have pictures from their visits from the last 20-plus years; one such picture shows both me and the older sister pregnant with our now-almost 17 year old sons.   And here’s one from several years after that, with my sons flanking hers:

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Then, in just a few blinks of an eye, here they are again:

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They haven’t missed a year.  Their children, they tell me, start asking weeks ahead:  “How soon until we leave?”

We do essentially nothing.  We drink coffee until noon, work on a puzzle, talk, eat and then swim in our small above-ground pool.  We may enjoy a cold libation or two.   For the 4th of July, however, we become more festive.  We shoot fireworks, go fishing, and the boys hunt bullfrogs— as they are preparing to do above, and cook them for all of us to eat.  We have an annual water balloon fight.  We simply have fun, because, if you remember from my first post, fun is generally under-rated and under-exercised.

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And, of course, we do a puzzle.

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The girls and I love to bake; their mothers don’t.  This year, it was fresh cherry pie with cherries from our backyard tree, raisin cream pie and baklava.

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They enjoy my siblings as well; we stopped to see Suzanne at work.

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Gail passed through on her way to Michigan to see her daughter, taking her younger daughter along.  Those two sisters got to enjoy each other’s company, something they don’t always get to do.

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There are four children and one husband between them.  They are the houseguests extraordinaire.  They don’t stink after a few days, as the saying may suggest.  They are beloved by my husband and boys as well.  They know and love my siblings.  They keep the wheat separated from the chaff.  They make me laugh.  They make me cry.  They made me get another tattoo with them.

**

Tana and Amy have stuck together through thin and thick.  Through their parents’ divorce.  Through the loss of their beloved stepfather.  Through a divorce each. Through infertility, adoptions, the loss of one child’s father, estrangements, life and all it had to throw at them.  Through it all, they kept coming to see me.

Every summer, they join us for the 4th of July.  Every summer, since 1984, we have enjoyed jigsaw puzzles together.  Last summer, I was touched and honored by Tana’s idea:  “Let’s get matching tattoos of a puzzle piece with the American flag.  You have to get a border piece, because you have always held us together.”

And so we did.

This year, to celebrate our wheat farm-girl heritage, we had the same idea separately, from a thousand miles apart:  “Let’s get wheat tattoos.”

And so we did.

A single stem of wheat, with the writing of our choice woven into the stem.  Tana’s simply says “home,” because she will always think of The Wheat State as home.  Amy’s says “ad astra per aspera,” which is the motto on the Kansas state flag.   It’s Latin for “to the stars through difficulties.”  Mine, because I saw this on an antique poster long ago and have always loved it, says “swheat girl.”   Imagine that.  It is in my own handwriting.  My father likely would have rolled his eyes and laughed at this on earth, but I feel him beaming with honor and approval from above.

Each of these are small, meaningful, tastefully and discreetly placed.  That is all you need to know.

Through these difficulties, these “swheat” girls will always have a home in my home as long as they wish to come.   May they continue as long as we are all able.

**

So now I have these tattoos.  I swore I never would.  Never say never.  Greater than that, I am thinking about how I judged—and still judge– others for things besides their tattoos; other actions I have no right to pass judgment on.  Few of us ever have the right to do that.  Few of us ever have all the information.  Few of us can prove a spotless record and the authority that allows us to determine when others are doing something “wrong.”  And the definition of “wrong,” as we think we know it, may change over time, or from situation to situation.   Or our definition may be different from theirs.   I strive to make every day Non-Judgment Day.  It will be a lifelong effort for me, but I am trying.

**

In those early weeks and months after my parents died, I know my actions reflected my state of mind.  Unlike tattoos, however, this grief was hidden deep inside, invisible to anyone who didn’t know what was going on in my life.  I was likely–in alternate and unequal measures–sad, angry, flippant, depressed, crying, laughing, unaware, grouchy, sullen, short-tempered and any other emotion imaginable.  I likely treated people poorly in my efforts to make it through the day—or the moment.  If someone had treated me like that, I likely would have judged them—without having all the facts.

Now, when I encounter a grouchy waitress or an unkind stranger, I think, perhaps, “maybe her parents just died.”

I have a friend who has multiple tattoos.  She wants more.  She swore she never would.  Then, her college-age daughter died of cancer.  She pays tribute to her in this way.  It is one way she honors her daughter’s memory, and that, even though she once thought it was, will never be wrong.  Ever.

This post was hard for me to write.  It was hard to expose this part of myself.  Most of you don’t know me, but if you do, this may surprise you.  I was a wallflower for many years.  Now, I realize, I have become a wildflower.

“I never would have thought Kathleen would get tattooed.”  I hear your thoughts.  I still hear them in my head, too.  But, in order to honor that truth I spoke of in the beginning of this post, I got them.  And I am writing about them.  They are meaningful to me, just as other’s tattoos are meaningful to them.  They are art for the body, and art is a good and necessary thing—no matter what form it takes.

It’s more fun here on the wildflower side.  There was nothing wrong with life as a wallflower, but it was time.  Time to listen to the little voice that begged for expression through writing, my other favorite art forms and through the tattoos.

It is highly unlikely that my sisters will ever decide to take the tattoo plunge, and that’s the right thing for them.  They have supported my decision, and I am grateful for that.

**

No regrets, my friends.  This is as sure as sisterhood—and the tattoos.

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Once again, Happy Independence Day.  Keep it alive every day by separating the wheat from the chaff, and honoring the truth about who you are deep inside–even if it changes.

Special thanks to Brandon, our go-to guy for tattoos. Let me know if you need his expertise.  And, without the one-and-only Edgar Hake, I would have never met these “swheat” girls.

 

The Sister Lode

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I sat in 28B holding my sisters’ hands.  The take-off and landings are the hardest for me, so when I booked the trip, I put myself between them.  They are not scared.  I am.  I squeeze their hands for the first five minutes, those first five when the flight is most likely not to make it—extremely infinitesimal chance, according to one of our four brothers.  He pilots one of these silver birds; he knows.  But then, he always acted like he knew what he was talking about anyway.  We still love him, we love them all.  But this is only about sisters.

My sisters are used to my in-air neuroticism by now on this, the last of four flights to complete our trip.  We have never before flown on our travels, always by car.  We take off out of O’Hare, we will land in just under two hours.   The sun is setting to the west, and on the opposite horizon the full moon is rising.  We climb above them both.  This is something I have never seen before and may never see again.  It, like our latest adventure, is priceless.

We have had the time of our lives.  We always do.  This time it was on a beach.

**

I have always been close to my sisters, but over the last nine years, they have become my best friends.  They are always there for me, and I do what I can for them.  We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but that’s okay.  We respect each other’s differences.   We don’t argue.  We keep peace; we have to.  We have no choice because our mother saw to that in The Letter.

We know of many women who don’t feel such peace with their sisters.  Women who may want to feel it, but don’t know how.  Women who have the choice to opt out of peace and harmony.  We don’t have that choice, and that’s okay.  We don’t need it. We do feel the need to share our peaceable ways, to share the love.  We don’t always know how, but it usually involves simple advice like, “Figure it out,”  “It’s not about you,” “Let it go,” or “Life is too short.”  Advice that sounds easy, but is harder to put to work.   Most importantly, we teach by example.  This, my friends with and without sisters, is how we do it.   We would like to help in whatever way we can.

Perhaps we can help you too.  That is why we are here on this blog.

**

Life is short. We learned the hard way, and will never forget that lesson.   We use it now to celebrate our sisterly bond, to find all the joy we can on our travels, and to simply have fun every day, traveling or not.  Fun, we have observed among others, is generally under-exercised and underrated.  We refuse to follow that example. We try to compensate for all the fun our mother never had the time or the money to have, as well as our own share for our lifetimes.  And then some.

We post some of our antics on social media, but not all.  Some things, however, that happen on our trips, well, you know where they stay.  We don’t share it all.  We do, however, share enough to show people we have unparalleled fun; experiences that most people don’t think of having; don’t think is possible.  It is with us.

Many people ask—some in a coy, shy, roundabout fashion—if perhaps they might possibly be able to come along on one of these trips someday with us, maybe?  Perhaps? They see the fun we have, and they want to be a part of it.  Who wouldn’t?

The short answer is no.  The long answer is hell no.  Our sisterhood is the exclusive price of admission.  Nothing personal.

These are sister trips for us only, because only we three understand the importance of this time together as sisters.  We celebrate the joy in the moment, remember the good times of the past, and relish the lessons life and loss have taught us.  We stay positive.  It is a choice, and we choose positivity.  By and large, we don’t let crap creep into our lives.  We ain’t got time for that.  There is too much fun to be had; and we are out here having it.

 

**

It is fitting that our usual getaway destination is an active gold mining town.  Cripple Creek, Colorado is nestled behind Pike’s Peak, and in its heyday, it’s gold production rivaled the California Gold Rush.  The mother lode was struck there, and it became a boomtown.  There are beautiful mountains there, but no beaches.  And it was time for the beach.

We had already hit the mother lode, and the father lode too.  They were, quite simply, the best.  Now, we celebrate our sisters in the Sister Lode.

**

Most people wait five years to observe a milestone cancer survival date.  We’re not like everyone else, so my sister chose to celebrate it at four. Besides, she knows.  She has an unshakeable faith in God, in her good health and long life ahead, so why not celebrate now?

So we did.  On the beach.  Her choice.

Since we can easily make friends even with someone as cold as a snowman, we had no trouble signing up a fresh batch of folks we now call our friends in and around our new favorite warm, sunny beach town.  No snowmen here.  We have new BFFs in this delightful place; we could probably eat Thanksgiving dinner with them if we asked. We might.  Except that our oldest sister hosts Thanksgiving every year, so we probably won’t.  We will all be at her house.  Perhaps we will invite some of them to join us there.

In order to make these friends, we may need to go against some socially prescribed norms.  I’m all for that, rules are meant to be broken, or at least stretched, so we do.  Anyone who might have the good fortune to be around us when we are in this friend-making/rule-breaking mode will easily see that we mean business in our fun.  We make our own rules, and if we need to break them and remake them, we do.  For example: We just met this group of locals in this hole-in-the-wall bar, and most outsiders like us wouldn’t even talk to them, but we do, and when we leave, we will hug them and tell them we love them, and we will mean it.  Or, it’s probably not generally acceptable to most people to hug the manager/host as he greets us upon our arrival in his restaurant, or to dance with the owner—complete with a dip– as we leave, but we do it anyway.  We’ve told our life stories to the hotel clerk within five minutes of meeting her, made her laugh like never before (she says), then made her an honorary sister on the spot. 

Most people wouldn’t dream of these antics.  We don’t dream of it.  We do it.  That’s the difference between them and us.  We are doing it, and, if you want to, we want you to do it too.  Whatever it is.  Whatever makes you happy, sister.  Whatever brings you peace.

I will celebrate the wonderful sorority of true sisterhood through the bifocal lenses of Real Life and Real Loss, always from a place of peace and positivity.  I’ll double down—no, triple down–on optimism, with a healthy shot from each of us.  We want to share the love with you.

You, and perhaps your sisters—if you have any.

We’re here for you; right here in this blog.  Thanks for coming along.