Thank You

I was thinking I should attend a Memorial Day ceremony or parade today.  And, as usual, God gave me what I asked for.  Instead of taking my usual right turn toward the library on my morning walk, I went left towards the firehouse.  From the open second-floor windows, I could hear the local bagpipers practicing.  I figured they were preparing for the parade in the next town south at ten AM.  I walked over to the park and took a look at the war memorial lined with flags.  I was struck by how many times I saw a last name listed not twice, but three times.  I stopped counting after four instances of this.

“You sticking around?” a guy asked me.  “Yes,” I said and he handed me a program.  I had no idea, but our town’s Memorial Day Ceremony was taking place in five minutes.  The bagpipers accompanied our volunteer firefighters over to the memorial.  As I stood watching, a woman from my crochet group at the library said, “Do you know the story of the bagpipers?”  “No,” I said.  “Well, they practice in the firehouse every Thursday night and in exchange for getting to use the firehouse, they accompany our firefighters in parades.  ‘Cause it’s expensive to hire bagpipers, you know.  Especially for parades.”  I love small towns, I thought.

The pastor from the local Episcopal church opened the ceremony with a prayer.  Our veterans came forward to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d said those words.  We sang God Bless America and then one of our veterans gave a short but touching speech.  He explained that veterans write a blank check to their country, payable in duties and services up to and including their lives.  He teared up as he asked us to be thankful for all of those that had made good on that check.

Stood Up

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I wouldn’t have stood you up,” said the bartender.  “Thanks,” I said, doing my best to hold myself together as I plopped down his tip, hopped off the bar stool I’d kept warm for a half hour, and headed out the door.

I’m not a big fan of sitting alone at a bar.  But if I’m waiting for someone, I’ll do it.  I’ll try to get in on a conversation with others at the bar so I don’t feel so alone.  And that’s just what I had done this time.  After ordering my drink, the bartender asked, “Are you meeting someone?”  “I’m supposed to,” I responded, already knowing in my gut it wasn’t going to happen.  I knew as soon as I walked in and he wasn’t there.  But I had put on a happy face, saddled up to the bar as if I drink alone all the time, and ordered myself a glass of wine to calm my nerves.  It didn’t help much.

After ten minutes I texted him to find out where he was.  Contrary to popular thought, checking your text messages every three minutes does not make new ones rapidly appear.  Fifteen minutes later (though it felt like an hour – how long to do you wait?  I figured until I finished my wine…) I declared to the bartender I’d been stood up and asked what I owed him.  He asked if I was sure I didn’t want another drink.  I don’t think it would have eased my pain…besides the fact I’d driven an hour to get here and had to get home.  I was going to have enough trouble seeing through my tears – another glass of wine would not have helped.

He tried to console me saying that he would have never stood me up.  And that’s when it hit me.  I am SO worth more than this.  Or so I try to tell myself.  How many friends had I seen do just what I was doing?  Give someone another chance only to be shot down over and over.  Why do we women do this to ourselves?  In hopes that one day he’ll change?  That one day all of a sudden he’ll be someone other than who he is?  Or is it because it’s easier to at least have someone in your life, even if he’s not perfect, because we know no one ever will be.  So how close to perfect can you get, anyway?  Well, closer than this I’m sure.  I’m sure because I’ve had it before.  I’ve had men that never stood me up – not only that, but I never feared they ever would.  I’ve had relationships that were flat out easy – not a single fear that he would not call, that he would forget my birthday.  I remember one of my sisters once asking me, after her boyfriend dropped off the face of the earth for a few days, “What do you do when your boyfriend doesn’t contact you for a few days?”  “Uh…I don’t know,” I stuttered.  “I’ve never had that happen.”  Well, that was a long time ago.  And since that time I’ve had men I cared about, and thought cared about me, drop off the face of the earth.  And when they show up again I’m there.  And now I understand all my girlfriends that do the same thing….

I wish I knew a fool proof remedy for recovering from such situations.  I wasn’t in the mood for chocolate (odd, very odd…), nor ice cream…I sought the solace of friends  but all were out enjoying their holiday weekend.  Why can’t I be let down on a random Tuesday?  Why does it have to happen on a night when everyone else in the world is with friends having a good time?  I finally made it home, and thankfully it’s time for bed.  Here’s to hoping tomorrow is a better day:)

The Things People Say

“Are you independently wealthy?” he asked.  It’s sad that people think in order to live the life I do, I must be independently wealthy.  “No,” I said.  “I just choose work and manage my money in such a way that I can do what I want.”  I wasn’t going to get into it any further with this guy.  I could see he could not at all relate to what I was saying.  Most men of a certain generation can’t.  I don’t fault them – they grew up at a time when people married young and therefore had a family to support, a home to pay a mortgage on.  Sometimes I’ll say, “Well, I don’t have a family or a mortgage,” to try to explain to these men how I can do this.  But I’ve stopped saying that recently because I know people with families and mortgages can follow their hearts, too.

I’m used to the money questions because I have a father of that same generation.  He got married at 25, and by the time he was my age he had three kids and was building a house for what would eventually become a family of seven.  It seems that money is the language is which these guys speak.  Their language also involves security, and thoughts of the future – the very far-off future. It’s not that I don’t care about my far-off future.  I’m just not going to let those thoughts stop me from doing what I want to do now.

Though I know I don’t have to justify my life to my father, I like the guy and can’t help but share things with him.  I just hope I don’t give him a heart attack.  I used to ensure I wasn’t the one who killed him by telling my ideas to my mother first.  She would then present them to him and handle the brunt of his shock.  Now I try to prevent his imminent death by preparing him for the inevitable changes I will make.  When he gets excited about a new job I’ve taken up, he’ll say something like, “Oh – it sounds like you really like this.  Maybe you’ll stick with this one, huh?”  “Dad – you know the minute you say that I’m going to quit, so don’t get your hopes up,” I’ll respond. I’m not sure whether he’s adjusted or if I’ve just gotten better at handling his reactions and worries about me.

“I don’t know what your relationship is with your father, but as a father myself, I just feel I should tell you that  they’ll come a time when you won’t be able to just up and go wherever you want,” said a man of my father’s generation to me the other day. He was dancing around what he really wanted to say: Has someone told you you need to save for retirement?  I was in a room full of folks who had worked for 30+ years and were now “enjoying” their retirement.  I got the feeling a lot of them didn’t enjoy their working lives nearly as much.  I was the youngest one there by 25 years I’d guess.  “I put money away,” I told this dear man.  “I have money saved for retirement.  I have health insurance, and disability insurance.”  His face gave away his surprise.  I told him my dad is adjusting to my way of life.  “Well, he’s doing a good job,” he said.  As in, “Thank God someone told you…”

I know these folks don’t mean to burst my bubble.  And they don’t anymore.  That’s because Barbara Winter’s words from her book Making A Living Without A Job have stuck with me: basically that people who don’t know a lot about something are usually it’s biggest critics.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t talk to these people.  It just means that if I’m talking to a guy who worked 30 years in the same job, he might not have a clue as to what to say to me.  Or his advice might be completely off base.  Or might be coming from a place so very different from where I am in life.  And as long as I recognize it as such, it doesn’t stop me.

The Next Adventure

I have the good fortune of being blessed with a mother who listens to my ever changing ideas and when she sees something that might be of interest to me, she sends it my way.  So thanks to Mom, I’ll be spending a week living and working on an organic farm run by the Sisters of Charity at the end of July.

This all came about because my mom read, in the Catholic New York newspaper, an ad seeking volunteers for the Sisters Hill Farm.  Volunteers would plant, weed, and harvest for the farm which has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.  She left me the name and number of the contact person.  I googled the place and mom was spot on.  It sounded like the perfect opportunity.  I have a growing interest in eating local food and have twice participated in CSA programs (and written posts on the topic here).  I also have done plenty of volunteering with women religious and have loved every experience (see my posts about Sr. Cathy and Mississippi). And ever since I found out you could basically travel the world living and working on organic farms in exchange for room and board with WWOOF, I’ve wanted to “test out” my stamina for the work.  No need to plan on three months of farming in Italy only to find out I can’t stand it!  So a one-week test drive sounded perfect.

Yesterday I found out I was accepted into the program – but only after I assured them that I have no physical problems that would prevent me from squatting down to weed (and being able to get back up again!).  I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my experience July 24-31:)

A Vision

I stood at the top of the stairs at a local cafe admiring a piece of artwork hanging on the wall.  I heard someone coming up the stairs.  He got to the landing below me and as he turned to come up, I stepped back to let him by.  But he looked at me and stopped.  There was the briefest pause as he held my gaze, then he stammered and finally said, “You. Are. A. Vision.  That dress…it’s…”  The guy was literally speechless.  I laughed and thanked him. As he walked by, he said something about being “ruined” for the rest of the day.

The guy was in his late 60s, and the dress was nothing revealing.  It’s red and white, though, and I happen to know I look fabulous in red.  You know how you have one thing in your closet that no matter how crappy you feel or think you look, if you put that on you look like a million bucks?  If you don’t have one of those in your closet, go out and find one.  I have a couple.  The dress I wore yesterday was one of them.  And to make it even better, I bought the dress at a consignment shop, so not only do I look fabulous in it but I paid hardly anything for it and it’s recycled.

But my whole point with writing this is that that guy made my day.  A “vision”?  He called me a “vision”?!  That’s a first.  I’ll take it.  The guy literally was at a loss for words – this never happens to me.  The whole incident reminded me of reading once that you should give three compliments every day.  I try to do that.  But after the high this one gave me, I’ll be sure to do it more often.

The Story of our Lives

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers.  You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw  a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen.  The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back.  Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful.  The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.  Here’s what I mean by that:”

So starts Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, the book that took up a good portion of my Monday, and another example of God sending me messages.  My story is getting a little predictable and I don’t like it.  No, it doesn’t have to be movie quality.  But I love stories – reading them, writing them, living them.  I have been known to respond to the question of, “What did you like about (insert name of an ex-boyfriend)” with “We had such a good story of how we met.”

My new chapter is taking shape.  Simple Abundance today talked about writing the outline before the chapter – about how we do that with our lives as well.  But the outline might just be in our heads for a while.  That’s where my outline lives right now.  Here’s what I’ve got so far: living someplace else for a month this summer.  Quebec City, actually.  In a very simple apartment.

My vision for this apartment comes from one I house sat in Washington, D.C.  The woman was my boss at the time – though I hate using that word – doesn’t ‘boss’ sound so mean?  Probably because I relate it to the word ‘bossy’.  This woman was nothing like that.  She was the kind that, when you walked into her office, you felt like the only other person on her planet.  And when you walked out, you felt like you’d just had the best therapy session ever – even if you’d only spent two minutes in there.  She could see right into my heart, it seemed.  She would ask a question that would stop me in my tracks – make me see something in a way I’d never thought.

It also turns out she was a former nun.  And her husband a former brother or priest or something.  This is the second couple like this that I’ve met in my lifetime.  And I hear there are lots of them out there.  Anyway, I could see it in her – the calmness, the simplicity.  In fact, this is one of the things that prompted me to look into becoming a sister at one point – this lifestyle in which you are quite busy, but still in such a calming space; you’re grounded in something or someone that gives you this peace.

A large part of this feeling comes from how these women live.  I have come a long way since Catholic elementary school, when the nuns lived in a building in the back that none of us ever saw.  It was a great mystery to me – what did the house of a nun look like?  Well, I’ve been in the homes of many sisters since then.  They live in apartments and houses like everyone else – from the outside.  But when I walk in, they all give me that same sense of peace and stillness.  There is usually a simplicity in their decor: not crowded, but filled with just enough.  And each piece on the walls has a story – of one of the sisters former assignments, or a place she’s visited.  Never would the response to, “Wow – that’s beautiful – where did you get it?” be “TJ Maxx” in these womens homes.

I can’t say it’s easy to find a place to rent in Quebec City for a month.  There are a few ads on craigslist, but in the pictures they all seem too stuffed with furniture.  I want to be in a place that has space – space for me to think, literally and figuratively.  So then I thought about living in a convent or monastery for a month.  This is very common in Europe.  The sisters (and brothers and priests) rent out rooms and provide some food as well.  Imagine waking up to monks chanting…now there’s a story!  And of course, the rooms are simple.  This is what I love about going on retreats.  You get a room with a bed and a desk – because that’s all you need.  A couple hooks to hang some clothes.  Perhaps a sink and mirror.  And I love those rooms.

So if anyone has suggestions, let me know.  And I’ll surely keep you posted.

Time for a Change….

I’m ready for a change.  That feeling I get every so often of life getting a little too predictable has returned.  It comes on gradually, like something you hear so softly you’re not sure if you heard it at all.  You say to the person next to you, “Did you hear that?” and they say, “Hear what?”   You think maybe it was nothing, but then you hear it again.  And now you’re sure it’s there.  Even if no one else hears it.  Then, it becomes so noticeable you wonder how you ever doubted it was there to begin with.  I’m not at the point where it’s that noticeable yet.  But I definitely hear it.