When I Wore Wings

This post originally published May 4, 2018. But something triggered me to recall it, realizing that, in an ever more troubling world, it is still how I feel…

I choose to, believe in the unbelievable: in lovely legends, and in miracles.

I had to give up Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, but I refuse to give up the Loch Ness Monster. I absolutely adore tales of Nessie, along with those of all other sea monsters. I love the grainy, out-of-focus pictures and the videos that somehow never quite display the monster they purport to reveal. I’d prefer to believe in Big Foot, also, both in its North American incarnation, or as the Yeti. I long to believe in garden fairies and leprechauns; in mermaids, and dragons.

The simple truth is, I miss the overwhelming sense of wonder I had in childhood, when life was a series of endless, unimaginable possibilities; when daydreams were an alternate reality. I miss it all dreadfully. And that is why I long to, choose to, believe in the unbelievable: in lovely legends, and in miracles.

Children see the world using brains that are not yet imprisoned in the confines of an oft-unpalatable reality. As adults, we find their thought patterns difficult to follow, and invariably label those patterns as “wrong” or “undeveloped”. “Magical thinking”, we call their unusual and curious view of cause-and-effect. But their thought patterns are neither wrong nor undeveloped; they are simply different. (And, let’s be frank: as adults, it would be a touch frightening to admit that those childish thought patterns might, after all, be right.)

I recall an article I once read in which a woman, who as an adult was diagnosed as having a mild form of brain disorder, described her first day of school as a child. Distracted by something, she sat down on the school steps and the principal, happening by, asked her if she did not know where she was supposed to be. She found his question bewildering. Of course she knew where she was supposed to be. She was supposed to be in her body. And she was.

Another adult told me of a friend’s small child who’d received a poor mark on a school paper. The exercise was intended to determine if children could understand the difference between reality and fantasy. The child had labeled the statement, “The little tan dog barked” as fantasy. Why on earth, her mother scolded, would she say that was fantasy? To which the upset child protested, “I didn’t know doggies could get a tan!”

A few years after I heard this story, my own small daughter was given that same lesson paper, and, while passing the tan doggie question correctly, marked “The whale sounded and moved to the surface”, as fantasy. Just as that other mother had done, I scolded, and received a wailing protest, “But whales are under water! They can’t talk! The Little Mermaid is PRETEND, Mommy!!”

I want a child’s brain like that! I am tired of seeing the world in black and white and sepia and grey. I want to see it in brilliant technicolor. I want a brain which recognizes that doggies can’t get a tan, while not yet knowing a thing about whale song, so that the logic of statements all comes as a brilliant surprise. I want a brain that understands that I’m obviously supposed to be in my body. I want a mind that sees wonders and marvels and sensations everywhere. I want existence as it once was, as in the poem I wrote decades ago:

When I Wore Wings

When I wore wings and gowns of green and jewel-dusted robes,
I danced on clouds and rainbowed paths, and sported crowns of gold.
I flitted soft from wood to sea, and rested on the stars;
vacationed in the silent spheres—on Venus, and on Mars.

But then, as creatures of my sort, it seems, must always do,
I traded up my crowns and robes for less enticing truths.
I placed my dreams on dusty shelves with labels (“Childhood Days”)
and took as recompense a drear allotment underpaid.

Yet, somehow she lives on in me, that creature lost in time,
for sometimes, when I least expect, her eyes look out through mine,
to glimpse the pixies dancing ‘midst the roots of giant trees,
and light from secret cities at the bottom of the sea.

I was a child who wore wings.  I want to be that child again.

I want to wear wings.

I’ve written a lot of poetry, none of it brilliant, but it satisfies my soul. If you liked this little piece, you might also like the poem in “Epitaph in an Elevator”, about the passing of a coworker, which you can find in the Archives by scrolling below. It published on September 28, 2018.

Forgiving With Integrity

Telling another that they need to forgive is wasted breath.

I commented once in these posts that to tell another person that they need to forgive is to stand in judgement upon them. In effect, that statement says, “I know what’s best for you. Listen to my wisdom. It’s not just that you’re hurting yourself by failing to forgive. You’re also failing to live up to my standards.”

Quite aside from being judgmental, telling another that they must forgive is also pretty useless. “You need to” is essentially a criticism of the way in which someone is handling difficult and likely justified feelings. In essence, the command to forgive says to a wounded person, “Yeah, they were wrong, but if you haven’t forgiven them, then you are wronger”. (Excuse the atrocious grammar! That is an actual statement once made to me by a person whose existence in my life is probably best forgotten.)

Providing such advice, especially when unsolicited, to an adult who is enduring the difficult experience of unforgiveness is simply futile; nothing but wasted breath. The implied criticism merely engages another’s automatic defense system, resulting in irritation and anger–exactly the opposite of what one intends.

Rarely, though, the answer to that officious command is a deeply drawn breath and the words, “Yes, I know that. I even want to forgive. But how?!”

I’ve spent long years working out that puzzle for myself, and the answer that I’ve finally landed upon is this: To forgive, one must also retain personal integrity by speaking both truth and justice.

Even when I don’t believe that I can forgive, or am ready to do so, or even really want to forgive–I say it, anyway. But I also say the rest. I speak with conviction the part that those who so blithely recommend forgiveness seem to carefully ignore: the element that vindicates my feelings; that validates my anger so that I can, at last, release it. I speak the essence that pats me comfortingly on the back and reassures me that I did not deserve this; I state with certainty the words that acknowledge my pain.

When the wounds that I’ve been dealt rerun themselves on the movie screen of my mind, I have finally learned to say, “I forgive you. I do not exonerate you. What you did was vile, wrong, cruel abusive, hurtful, and you bear completely the shame of your behavior. I do not absolve you. You owe a debt, not to me, but to the Universe, and you must work out your own absolution. You must decide and perform your own penance. But I do forgive you.”

This statement allows me (as I have read and heard, over and over again) to forgive the person without excusing what they did. It permits me to forgive without belittling the anguish of my experience. It states that my anger is justified, my pain real, and that I will not blindly lie down like a doormat beneath the feet of my oppressor. It returns to me my personal power: the power stolen from me by another’s terrible words or actions.

I forgive YOU. I forgive the soul, the spirit, the divine spark within you. But I do not exonerate you. I cannot, in fact, acquit you, for you are to blame. Nor can I absolve you. Only a Higher Power can do so. You must achieve that absolution by both acknowledging the wrong you did and working in some manner to resolve the debt you now owe.

Speaking these words with conviction franks the letter of my exercise in forgiveness, while in no way providing amnesty for those who have wronged me. It reasserts my rights while allowing me to extend both mercy and justice to the individual who has harmed me.

It is, in fact, so complete a statement, such a perfect means of clearing the logjam of old bitterness and futile anger, that it astonishes me to realize that it took me nearly 70 years to find the technique; that none of those who prated at me about the need to forgive were able to provide me with this simple key to genuine forgiveness.

Having stumbled upon this, my personal truth and cure, I am at last empowered with the ability to forgive. “I forgive YOU. I do not exonerate you. You are, no matter what your circumstances or reasons, to blame. I do not absolve you. You’ll have to work out your own penance. But I do, absolutely and completely, forgive you.”

Somewhere, somehow, I suspect, even hope, that someone is speaking this exact statement to and about me. I am far indeed from sainthood, and the number of wounds I have dealt others—remembered or forgotten, realized or unrealized—is, I’m sure, legion.

I hope they will forgive me. But they need never either exonerate or absolve me. I accept my blame, and I will work to absolve my offenses.

If this essay struck a note with you, you might also appreciate “Anger and Loss”, which was published April 3, 2018. You may find it in the Archives.

Aging Gracefully

What does that phrase even mean?!

Not long ago I celebrated my 69th birthday. Shortly thereafter, a woman with whom I have only slight acquaintance (for reasons that will be totally apparent in just a moment) asked me when I was going to stop coloring my hair, allowing it to grow out to its natural white. Without engaging in the question of why this could possibly be any of her business, I retorted that I’d already covered this territory in a previous blog post, and if she really wanted to know the answer, she could read The Body I Inhabit. Since she never reads my blog, and wouldn’t be about to do so even if she really wanted my answer, I felt pretty certain this reply would shut down her prying. (I was wrong.)

What seemed most laughable, though, was that her question was triggered by the fact that I’d changed my hair color. After twenty years, I’d decided that the shade I’d been using was now too deep a color for my aging complexion. I’d updated it to a lighter shade of the same basic color. This was my first step in a planned transformation that would slowly permit my hair to transition to its genuine pure white. But as I disliked two-tone hair, roots a glaring shade different from the strands, I was going to take this action in phases.

Unfortunately, my evasion didn’t satisfy my officious friend, who lectured that I needed to “age gracefully”.

What does that phrase even mean, I now wondered? Aging is, in Western culture, a pretty despised condition; hence, the reason that I, once a young woman who’d used nothing more than lemon juice and chamomile to brighten my natural dark blonde, became a middle-aged woman who regularly dyed her hair to combat an onslaught of whitening strands. But though I’d originally begun coloring my hair because I felt it was almost expected in our youth-oriented society, the action slowly melded into my choice to do so because I enjoyed what I saw. The hair color that began and then continue to use for twenty years flattered my complexion as my natural shade had never done.

Was it only because my hair color was my most obvious attempt to disguise the rush of oncoming age, though, that this person felt comfortable in hectoring me? Or was it because she, just a few years older than I, had given up hair dye at about the age that I’d just reached? Was she resentful that I had not followed her lead? Did giving up a self-care routine equate with “aging gracefully”?

Shrugging at her comments, I launched into an irritable tirade. (Hey, she started it. If she didn’t want to listen to my remarks, then she shouldn’t have done so.)

“Well, I do facial exercises, too, to reduce the sagging. I whiten my teeth because years of coffee and tea have done their damage. I always used spot corrector on my freckles; now I slather it on my age spots, too. I use a depilatory every week on my facial hair because I don’t think female mustaches are attractive! There’s nothing I can do about my veiny hands, and I draw the line at cosmetic surgery, so I’m stuck with the rest of it. But I do these things because I want to feel comfortable with the image I see in the mirror: an aging woman who acknowledges that she’s no longer young but still enjoys putting some effort into her appearance. And that’s the crux of the matter—I enjoy it. It’s fun. When it becomes more trouble than it’s worth, I’ll quit. But in the meantime, I’ll color, correct, and fight.”

My outburst gained me raised eyebrows and put an end to the discussion. (Would that it had put an end to the relationship, too, but I couldn’t get that lucky.)

As I pointed out in that previous essay, all of my self-care routines are a form of self-love. Caring for my appearance is a healthy form of pride. Every five minutes of facial exercise or tooth whitening gel, each gentle massage of dark spot correcting cream or depilatory, says to me that the body I inhabit, despite onrushing age, is worthy of my attention. I am worthy of my attention.

Never having been, even at my best, any more than moderately attractive, I always put effort into my appearance. Plain I may have been and was, but I saw no reason to be sloppy, as well.

Now, aging, I see no reason to take any less care of my appearance merely because I am growing old. Call it vanity; call it pride; call it just a refusal to acknowledge the inevitable. It doesn’t matter. Eat right, exercise, die anyway… I’ll go down fighting the appearance of age tooth, nail and claw, enjoying every minute of the brawl.

If you’d like to read the original post on this topic, “The Body I Inhabit”, you can find it by scrolling to the Archives, below. It published on August 11, 2021.

Healthy Fear

Malignant fear shackles the spirit.

In an email to some friends, I once, and only half-jokingly, closed with the words, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” One friend, whose opinion I very much respect, responded with thoughts on how damaging fear could be; how destructive.

Her point was well-taken. Early in life I’d learned that fear shackles the spirit, limiting ambition, ability, and productivity. Unhealthy fear looms like darkness, blotting out each sunrise. Constrictor coils of fear, formed of apprehension and catastrophizing, squeeze every particle of joy from the simplest happy moment.

Malignant fear is born sometimes of abuse; other times of neglect; often from trauma. Unhealthy fear paralyzes. It is a parasitic vine destroying the very tree to which it clings, and is ultimately destructive.

Malignant fear thrives in an atmosphere of pessimistic What Ifs. “What if I don’t have enough money?” “What if someone I love becomes seriously ill, or is in an accident?” “What if I go on vacation and the pet-sitter neglects my animals?” “What if there is a tornado, a wildfire, a hurricane?” “What if I’m making the wrong choice?” This sort of fear never remembers to ask any of the positive possibilities: “But what if it’s wonderful?!” “What if I have the best time of my life?” “What if this is the perfect path for me?”

I began to recognize malignant fear in my life only after years of working on myself. Growing up in a household of addiction meant that anxiety welded itself to my personality at an early age, and perpetuated itself long past the time it should have been acknowledged and done with. A morbid fear of being alone, for instance, chained me to several very unhealthy relationships. It took me the greater part of my adulthood to finally comprehend that being alone was in no way more miserable than being in a bad relationship.

Malignant fear also kept me from speaking out endless times throughout my life when I was ill-treated. Sad to say, I’ve watched this circumstance play out in the lives of many women I’ve known. Staying with one’s abuser, accepting mistreatment as the price of companionship, is the ultimate expression of malignant fear.

Yet, despite such negative aspects, I’ve finally come to realize that not all fear is unhealthy. There does exist such a thing as healthy fear.

Healthy fear is protective and intelligent. It is built on logical, rational decisions and concern for the welfare of both self and others.

In its simplest manifestation, healthy fear keeps one from foolish physical choices. Healthy fear prevents a person from standing too near the edge of the cliff; it clicks on the seatbelt and checks the mirrors before driving away. When there is a choice to be made, healthy fear examines all the possible consequences before making a decision based on the available facts. Healthy fear focuses a realistic gaze on both the virtues and faults of a potential partner, and weighs the future in that balance.

Healthy fear declares, “I will not allow you to belittle me or treat me with anything less than courtesy, not only because I deserve respect, but because of what I might become if I permit that sort of conduct.”

Healthy fear is also, conversely, courageous. It bravely acknowledges the bad examples in life, and admits the possibility of replicating that behavior. I experienced healthy fear when I faced the truth about my alcoholic parent, read everything I could find about the genetic component of alcoholism, and, conceding the possibility that I might perpetuate that behavior, spent the first 23 years of my child’s life as a non-drinker.

There is often a fine line to walk between a determination of whether a fear is malignant or healthy. It requires soul-searching that delves into the depths of old trauma, facing long-forgotten pain, before rooting out the parasite from the symbiont.

Some say there are only two genuine emotions: love and fear. But that explanation is simplistic. Love, as well as fear, splinters into shards and factions, each mutating into something different: rich and strange, or small and cruel. Love, as well as fear, can be unwholesome and damaging. But when properly understood, acknowledged, and managed, fear can become the surprising beacon that guides our soul through the shoals of a perilous existence.

You might also enjoy the essay “The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Rose Up to Smite Me”. You may locate it by scrolling to the Archives, below; it was published on October 27, 2017.

Good Ideas!

It is so delightful to see someone scorned now vindicated!

Although they may not actually say the words, everyone loves the feeling of being able to announce, “I told you so!” Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah! I told you so! I was right and you were wrong!

And so it came to pass…

During the Great Recession of the early 2000s, I was working as the head Administrative Assistant for a very large division at the State of Indiana. I felt myself extremely fortunate to have a secure job during that perilous time, counting my blessings regularly. No raise? No problem. I’ve got a salary, and a lot of people right now don’t. We might be asked to take a partial work week? Again, no problem, I told my boss; I’m just happy to have a job.

My co-Admin in the division—we’ll call her Julia–felt the same way. The two of us got along well, working together easily. I appreciated her sense of humor and her willingness to dive in and get the work done, and we shared what others probably considered eccentric viewpoints on many matters. Julia was also one of those women who did not hold back when she had an opinion. People could think what they would of her; she would say what she thought.

So when the Great Recession of 2007 hit and bank bail-outs became the event du jour, well, Julia had an opinion. And “banks too large to fail” rubbed her (well, actually, a lot of us) the wrong way. She began referring to this government intervention as “ginormous” corporate bail-outs. (Ginormous was Julia’s favorite word. It drove me nuts, but she used it constantly. In this particular case, though, it was accurate and appropriate.)

Julia said, and said loudly, to anyone who would listen, that she had a better idea: If you’re going to give money to corporate America, then do it equitably: Give some, a lot, of that money to people. Not just to banks and big corporations; to the little guy in the street, the one hit hardest by recession. The person whose job was hanging by a thread—or gone completely. The mothers who couldn’t pay for childcare so they could get to office. Joe Schmoe who couldn’t afford gas for his car to drive to work. Jane Plain who didn’t have cash for groceries. Let the little people have and spend the money, and get the economy back on track by doing so.

Set up rules, she suggested, and, yes, she had an opinion for those, too. Incarcerated? Nope, you don’t get a cent. So rich you have a hundred tax loopholes? Nope, you’re getting your government funding in a shady manner. On disability, though, yeah; you probably need the cash more than anyone. So do the retirees on their pittance from Social Security; they’d done their bit, working for 40 or 50 years. But, otherwise, government, hand those funds out, but to people. Living entities, not corporations or banks.

I listened to Julia’s ideas, and nodded sagely. I thought she was onto something pretty smart. But I also immediately tapped onto the fact that only a few of us (mostly the underpaid serfs) agreed with her. Others, especially the top echelon types—division heads, supervisors, department managers– found Julia’s idea utterly absurd and absolutely hilarious. “Did you hear Julia’s plan?” one supervisor asked me, grinning broadly. “Yes. Yes, I did,” I answered mildly, my tone indicating nothing. The supervisor then began to expound on the nonsense of Julia’s scheme, while I continued to say nothing, keeping my expression quite neutral.

In the years following the Great Recession and all its bailouts, though, I thought often about Julia’s plan to save the nation. And I recalled it clearly, and with a genuinely wry twist of the lips, when I held in my hand the first of the checks willingly handed out to Jane Plain and all her next of kin during the economic ruin of Covid. Stimulus monies, they called them. Here’s a wad of cash for those of you who can’t leave home and go to work—who don’t have money for groceries—who have “ginormous” medical bills after battling Covid. Here you are, ma’am, sir—cash in hand. Go forth and spend it well and wisely and get our economy back on track.

Even better was the later plan (now so bitterly embattled) for student loan forgiveness. Excavate the little people from mounds of debt, debt incurred so that they could get the education necessary to find a decent job, but which now prevented them from actually living the lives that the decent job promised.

Put money into the hands of those earnest, hard workers who need it most, rather than grease the palm of yet one more shady, overpaid CEO.

Julia, they laughed at you, those bigwigs and VIPs, those key players and stuffed shirts. They mocked your idea, shaking their heads and chuckling.

But you were absolutely right.

Happy Administrative Professionals Day, all you smart, unappreciated people!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like the essay “Tales of the Office: Jackass Bosses I Survived”. You can locate it by scrolling to the Archives, below. It published on April 27, 2022.

No Excuses

“If anyone causes one of these little ones…to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6

(Note: This post references sexual abuse cases, which some readers may find disturbing.)

When I read that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had died, I could not deny a momentary response of schadenfreude. “On behalf of all the innocent victims of predatory child abusing priests,” I thought to myself, “I hope there’s a special corner of hell just for you, Joseph Ratzinger.” Then, acknowledging my hubris (… he that is without sin among you…), I admitted my fault with the very words I’d learned long ago as a Roman Catholic child: “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

The irony is, of course, that I don’t even believe in hell, or in heaven, at least as I was taught of the two concepts. I do believe that we continue in spirit following the cessation of our physical bodies, and that we are required to review the successes and failures of our lifetime, and how much (or if) we grew in grace and goodness. That review is both our heaven and our hell.

Nevertheless, and while yet acknowledging that my opinionated response bore a karmic burden, I sat in judgement on Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict. Having read the conclusions of the Westphal Spilker Wastl report, I simply could not do otherwise. He knew. At least four times (and almost certainly more) he knew of the horrific abuse perpetrated upon innocent children. He could have acted. But he did nothing. He sheltered the abusers in preference to their victims. He protected the organization at all costs; at the cost of untold human suffering.

I kept flashing back to a discussion with an acquaintance, a very devout member of the Roman Catholic church, who explained to me why the priestly perpetrators of child sexual abuse had not been called to account at the time their crimes were discovered. They had, she pointed out, confessed, and been forgiven.

But what of their victims, I questioned her. What of the damaged, wounded children? She had an answer for that, too. “Back then, we just didn’t know. We didn’t know it would affect them for their whole lives. We thought children just got over stuff,” she remarked casually.

Despite my respect for this woman, I was utterly aghast. I might have further debated the question, but it was clear that any protest I made would be quite useless. She hadn’t merely sipped the Kool-Aid; she had drunk deeply of it. To her way of thinking, it mattered nothing that pastors, bishops, cardinals and popes had failed to report child sexual abuse to the proper criminal authorities, but instead quietly moved the abusers from one post to another. The predators, after all, had only to confess to be forgiven…and their victims ignored, silenced, discredited.

I longed to ask her, “Do you not remember the Roman Catholic concept of mortal sin? We were taught that it was the most terrible of sins; the one that, if a person died bearing that sin upon their soul, consigned them directly to hell. These little children, these innocent victims, were led into what they believed was mortal sin by the very religious figures they trusted! I cannot even grasp the agony of shame and confusion they must have endured. And when they dared to speak up, far from being given reassurance, counseling, comfort for their anguish, they weren’t even believed! They were belittled, silenced–even told that they had brought this upon themselves; that they, not their abusers, were the sinners.”

But I said nothing of this to the excusing woman. She had accepted the Church’s hypocrisy, for to believe otherwise would have shaken her worldview to its core. Older than I, and a devoted member of the Roman Catholic church for far longer than the mere 13 years I had adhered to it, it was much too late for her to change a lifetime of unquestioning acceptance of and obedience to the Church.

But there are, there never were, any excuses for what not just the Roman Catholic church, but many other religious organizations, allowed to happen to thousands of child victims. There is no justification for the cover-ups, the intimidation of witnesses, or the cossetting of sexual predators.

And so, hearing of Benedict’s death (and despite the fact that I, personally, was not one of these victims), I quietly accepted my karmic burden as I wished damnation upon him for the evil he knowingly, willingly, helped perpetuate.

I’m sure there are thousands of victims who did likewise.

Having left my childhood faith decades ago, I have formed and dedicated myself to a strong personal spirituality. Consequently, I acknowledge my fault—my sin, if you will–in playing God by pronouncing judgment upon the soul of Joseph Ratzinger. Therefore I hope, I genuinely pray, that the forgiveness I cannot personally extend to him, or to all the other priestly predators, is somehow waiting for them at the hands of a merciful Deity there on the Other Side.

If anyone recalls my post in response to Dr. Uju Anya (“When the Queen Died”, posted 10/19/22, viewable in the Archives)…guilty as charged! In my own defense, though, and quite unlike Dr. Anya, I acknowledge how judgemental is my condemnation; nor am I speaking of someone who was merely titular head of an organization, but an active participant in perpetuating evil. And, in the final analysis, I, quite unlike the good doctor, pray forgiveness for the evildoers.

The Book of Joys and Sorrows

The concept fascinated me: a chronology of important points in one’s life.

Perhaps 40 or more years ago, I came across an article by a man who had chronicled his life, not through a diary or journal, but by simple notes jotted onto paper calendars. When something significant or simply interesting happened in this man’s life, such as the night he attended a dance where he met a fascinating young woman, he penciled a remark onto his calendar. At year’s end, he tucked the calendar away, saving it. Thus, he could look back over the years and know precisely when a major event occurred; i.e., the night of the school dance where he met his future wife; the day his first child was born.

This concept fascinated me. Already in my late 20s, I wondered if it was too late to begin compiling my own chronology. But I was blessed/cursed with a ridiculously accurate memory. I might not be able to recall the exact dates that certain events occurred in my childhood and early adulthood, but I could make a good estimate at least of the years, perhaps even the seasons. By asking older relatives for information, I could probably target many incidents more closely, reconstructing my early personal history.

And so my own chronology was born. I began compiling what would eventually grow into My Book of Joys and Sorrows.

Beginning with misty, distant memories, I chronicled my earliest years: important moments of my childhood, such as my first memory as a tiny child; my first day of school. I noted our family’s move to a new home; the joyful acquisition and sad loss of pets; new friendships; my mother’s many mental health hospitalizations and suicide attempts. Meanwhile, just as the writer of the article described, I now began jotting down daily events onto the pages of calendars. At the beginning of each new year, I would sift through the old calendar and transcribe the most momentous occurrences into my Book.

From its simple beginnings, that Book has now grown to over 70 pages, the notations ever more detailed and involved as my life, and my understanding, has grown complex. Reading over its pages, I see, even touch, the dates of the most important moments of my life: my wedding day…and the date my divorce was final. My dreadful miscarriage. The date of my daughter’s and granddaughter’s births, and of their first steps, first words. The day of my daughter’s wedding. The dates that I graduated high school; began jobs, received promotions. My mother’s and father’s deaths, and the sad passings of beloved friends and pets. The day I learned I had cancer; various surgeries and illnesses. My memory of 9/11. The “Coloring and Tea” party I threw myself for my 65th birthday.

Moments of my life, as the title claims, of both great joy and immense sorrow.

Had I been born in today’s more technological era, perhaps I would, as the younger members of our family constantly do, make endless videos of my daily life (recording their lives instead of living them, I sometimes think). Mine is a book, though, and while certainly not literature, it is all the more complex for not being a video record. As I have become more deft at creating my Book, I no longer merely document an event, but instead sift though the most minute details. I delve into the emotions of that moment, or the responses of others, describing how their behavior either affected or caused my own; examining my understanding of each situation while holding to the light the success or failure of my own conduct.

I’ve never shared my Book with anyone. It waits there, a document on my computer; a hard copy in my filing cabinet, but not gathering dust. Instead, it is alive with constantly expanding information. It is a detailed record of my existence; a map of my growth or regression and changes; my few accomplishments and many failures.

It is my great hope that, when I am gone, the pages, hard and digital, of my book will not be discarded into some trash heap, but kept—perhaps cherished; at least read. I flatter myself, laughing aloud even as I do so, that, like the journals of the great diarists of past centuries, my Book of Joys and Sorrows will be a chart that future readers in some distant day may use to gain slight understanding, not just of this era’s daily life, but of thoughts: the constantly-expanding hopes and fears of those of us born midway into one century and surviving all the shocking changes to the next.

Perhaps you might also enjoy “My Kindness Journal”. You can locate that essay by scrolling to the Archives, below. It was published on November 2, 2017.

Happy Birthday, my darling daughter, light of my life!

Passive Aggressive Peanut Butter Pie

As promised in yesterday’s post, here is my recipe.  Years of making this pie have taught me not to use any generic substitutions for the specified ingredients.  Make this pie to give to YOUR most difficult relative, and when they go nuts over it, refuse to share the recipe!

1                8 oz. Package Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1/2             Heaping Cup Jif Creamy Peanut Butter
1 & 1/2      Cups Powdered Sugar (do not sift)
1                8 oz. Package Cool Whip
1                Keebler Oreo Crumb Crust
1                Small Bottle Hershey Syrup and/or Chocolate Curls

Cream together the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth.  Slowly add powdered sugar, and 2/3 of the Cool Whip.  Turn into the crumb crust and smooth.  Top with remaining Cool Whip and blend the topping to the edges of the crust.  If you’re feeling fancy, make swirls and patterns in the topping.  Drizzle with Hershey’s Syrup, and/or scatter small chocolate curls or chocolate shot over the top.  Cover (you know this game, right?  You use the plastic press top from the Keebler crust to make a lid for the pie) and chill at least 3 hours or overnight.  Oh, and serve with more Hershey syrup for chocolate lovers to drizzle!  (Grandpa Bob used to like a little peanut butter pie with his chocolate syrup!)

The Joys of Passive Aggression!

I have definitely enjoyed my share of passive-aggressive behavior!

Not long ago I got sucked into a clickbait about windshield notes left on cars parked by people who seriously needed an extra session (or sessions!) of parking practice during driver’s ed. The notes were hilarious. I especially liked the ones which included simple diagrams. I really appreciated the time it must have taken to produce these little gems.

Like many people who avoid conflict at all costs, I understand, even approve, of passive aggression. Leaving an anonymous message when someone has upset me often seems like a really smart choice, especially in today’s violent, mannerless society. So, yes, I’ve left a parking note (or two, or five) on the windshield of various thoughtless asses, and have definitely enjoyed my share of other passive-aggressive behavior.

There was, for instance, the note I left blatantly on the building entry door of the apartments where I resided. I taped the poster-sized missive, written in heavy black felt tip pen, to the glass, where it would be visible to everyone entering or exiting the building:

To the Couple in Apartment 4B:

WOW! That was some GREAT SEX you had last night!

Thank you for sharing it with all of us!”.

Then there was the harsh winter when the post office put out a warning that, if deep snow was not cleared in front of our condo mailboxes, our mail would not be delivered. Displeased with my Old Curmudgeon of a neighbor*, I considered our condos’ three side-by-side letterboxes before shoveling out my own mailbox and that of my other, inoffensive neighbor. Then, leaving the Curmudgeon’s box still encased in a tall, mail-proof glacier, I dusted off my hands and marched inside to drink hot chocolate.

That wasn’t the first time I’d used snow as a P/A weapon. At another apartment where I’d resided, we had no assigned parking spaces, but each still had our accustomed spots. I’d cleared my usual space after a snowstorm, and even helped my elderly neighbor with her customary spot. But when I returned home from work that evening, I found that my upstairs neighbor (young, strong, healthy, childless, and therefore without excuses), who’d always previously parked in his own place two slots down, had co-opted my beautifully-cleared parking space. Sighing, I took a hit off my asthma inhaler and, wheezing, began to dig through the now-frozen snow to unearth a new parking space. But I carried every shovelful of snow and carefully dumped it right behind his car. I scooped up a few spades’ worth of snow from the lawn, also, and tossed them on his windshield for good measure.

Apartment parking was a bone of contention almost everywhere I’d lived, though. One night I hustled out the door to hurry off for an evening meeting, only to find that I was blocked in by a moron who’d slewed diagonally into the space next to mine. With a vehicle also parked on the other side of my car, there was no room for me to exit. Fortunately, the individual parked to the other side of my car happened to come out. Seeing my dilemma, he not only moved his car to give me space to maneuver, but helped guide me past the diagonal car. However, when I returned home that evening, I was forced to park over a block away, since the only space left was the one made impassable by the moron.

Happily, though, just a few days before this incident, I’d purchased a lipstick which turned out to be a Very Bad Mistake. Now, using that unwanted tube, I carefully wrote in glossy, greasy magenta across his windshield, “LEARN HOW TO PARK, YOU CRETIN!”.

Parking at my condo hasn’t always exactly been a joy, either. Just as the mailboxes are grouped, the driveways of the three condos are diagonally conjoined, emptying out into a single area for entry/exit. Often, careless people pull in, blithely ignoring that each section actually leads to a specific condo. I returned home from the supermarket one afternoon to find an unknown SUV blocking my single-car garage.

Grumbling, I parked my car immediately behind the gas-guzzler and schlepped several shopping bags across the lawn to reach my front door. But when, an hour later, I heard irritated banging on that selfsame front door by the offending driver, I took my time both in answering the door and then slowly putting on my shoes before pretending to search for lost car keys and finally moving my car so that the offender could exit. Playing the dithering old lady, I smiled sweetly the entire time.

But the crowning jewel of my passive aggression probably occurred when a relative texted to ask for a recipe: the peanut butter pie that I have for over a decade brought to Thanksgiving dinner–the same Thanksgiving dinner from which she’d trounced my daughter and her family not once, but twice, due to a situation over which I had no control*. Now, considering her request, I responded calmly that this particular recipe was one that I never shared. No one was getting it until I died, I said.

Then I smiled evilly and sent the recipe to every other person I know.

Ah, the joys of passive aggression.

If you want to know the stories behind the Old Curmudgeon or the Thanksgiving Shunning, check the Archives for “There’s Always One”, 04/20/2020, and “Typhoid Mary, Covid Carrie”, 08/24/2022

A special issue of this blog tomorrow will carry the recipe for my Passive Aggressive Peanut Butter Pie!

Blessing the Hearth

Celebrating Women’s History Month!

The hearth was the center of the home.

A couple of years ago (pre-pandemic, when one still casually opened the front door to an unanticipated knock or ring of the doorbell by a stranger), I was accosted by a salesperson attempting to convince me to sign up for home insect control. Now, I’m not the sort of woman to simply slam the door in the face of some hapless huckster. I know that door-to-door sales work is a thankless job. So I usually allow them to get in a few (very few) words first before saying the obligatory, “I’m really not interested” and firmly shutting my front door.

But I did have a bit of trouble controlling my mirth when this young man gestured to the porch overhang, talking about all the spiderwebs that gathered at rarely-used front doors as family came and went through their attached garages. He pointed directly to the corners where such webs would be expected to lurk.

There were none. I mean NONE. Nope, those corners were free of spiderwebs, wasps nests, cobwebs, or cottonwood drifts from the blooming trees. It sort of put paid to his little demonstration. I grinned only a little as I told him I wasn’t interested and closed my front door on his bewildered face.

The only time I’d had greater enjoyment from a front porch peddler was the spring afternoon near Easter, when I’d opened the door to a proselytizer trying to drum up customers for a local church. He invited me to join with them on Easter Sunday to “celebrate Jesus’ death”. (Yes, he actually said that! I could not make this stuff up.) Now, it’s been a long while since I practiced organized religion, but even in my dim and distant memories of such Easter services lay the notion that we were joining to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. For this particular porch peddler occasion, I did not even attempt to stifle my astounded chuckles. But I digress….

You see, there were no webs or cottonwood or nests, or indeed, any detritus of any sort on my tiny front porch or its rafters because I regularly practice blessing the entryway to my home. Stepping out armed with a broom, I sweep away anything on or above or around my porch and walkway while repeating the words, “Bless this home and all who dwell therein. This home is surrounded, enfolded, protected, and watched over by the Divine. Bless this home and all who enter here.”

Performing this personal ceremony, I feel empowered. With each stroke of the bristles, I claim the protection of the Divinity in which I believe. The exterior of my house is both cleansed and wrapped in a mantle of security; warded and protected; cocooned within a shelter of psychic defense that I create as I move from my front porch to my back patio, sweeping and safeguarding both entryways.

There was a time when such household protection rituals were common, especially when every home was both lit and warmed by a fire. The hearth was the center of the home; the place where family gathered for warmth, and where women worked to cook the meals or to sit nearest the light to sew and weave. To bless the hearth was to bless the home, and was the exclusive province of women. For centuries women, denied the right to be priests or ministers, or to even participate in any meaningful way in many, most, religions–those women were, nonetheless, the hearthkeepers; the ones who genuinely “kept the home fires burning”. Women swept away the ashes and laid the fresh fires upon their hearths and kindled the logs. Women spoke their blessings over the flames, weaving a circle of protection about their homes and loved ones; blessings woven of love and belief, and as sturdy as any cloth upon their looms. They swept their front steps and dooryards, presenting a clear path for all who came and went. They polished the brass of door handles to a shining surface, reflecting the faces of those who visited.

And so, sweeping my own path and entryway and porch roof beams, clearing the ashes from my wood-burning fireplace before laying a fresh fire to be kindled on another cold night, I feel the shades and spirits of those centuries of women who came before me. I am following, not in their footsteps, but in the path of their work worn hands, as I perform the same rituals they once did. Performing these homely rituals, I am translated, shifting from my merely human form to become the daughter of all those who went before me, themselves Daughters of Demeter, goddess of hearth and home; tenderly weaving words of beneficent protection about my dwelling, while envisioning all those I love cocooned within the warmth and undying fire of my love.

This post originally appeared on December 15, 2021. If you enjoyed it, you might also find other essays from that year to your taste. You can locate them in the Archives by scrolling down.