Will you be mine?

Tomorrow is one of those days that some love, some hate. It is hard to find someone who has no opinion on it. I guess that makes sense.

Forced displays of affection + lots of advertising dollars + media-driven fantacies = impossible expectations/inevitable disappointment.

Love is great….mostly, and not great. Valentine’s Day is not necessarily so great.

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I remember studying love in philosophy class as a college student. Plato went on and on about the different types of love. I was intensely invested in the class, not because of any unique philosophical prowess, because I had a major crush on the professor. I can put myself right back in that desk chair and can feel the cramp in my hand as I wrote down every word that came out of his mouth, praying that he noticed that I cared more about Plato than any of the other students in that class and being convinced that my eyes were the ones that he met the most as his curly hair bounced with every gesture and his voice raised with excitement as he shared…..I digress….Here are the categorizations that he suggests:

  • Eros, or sexual passion
  • Philia, or deep friendship
  • Ludus, or playful love
  • Agape, or love for everyone
  • Pragma, or longstanding love
  • Philautia, or love of the self

I’m no Plato but I have a working list of love-categories too:

  • Dutiful love, or the kind of love that gets you out of bed at the sound of puking, keeps your arm asleep under a heavy head, lets your shirt be used as a kleenex, shows up, stays and swallows deeply.
  • Growing love, or that which comes in waves as you get to know someone more and more and find that they have etched themselves permanently into your heart. This love is open to seeing more, to peeling back the layers, to being caught off guard by the wonder of another.
  • Begrudging love, or the one that you give when you know that you have to but you don’t particularly feel it…but you do it anyway…no matter what…maybe not with a smile but you do it.
  • Tender love, or this stuff that seeps out of your pores, changes you, catches you by surprise, leaves you speechless, takes your breath away and brings you to tears.
  • Loaded love,  or the push and pull that guilts you and twists you and bashes you about inside of your head… sometimes on purpose
  • Belly-laugh love, the reflex that comes when you made it through the hard thing and are at the other side of it so you can look back at it together and give that knowing glance that erupts into laughter in the way that can only happen between folks who deeply know one another and have been through some stuff
  • Naked love,  a lens which makes bodily functions ok, sees parts as connected to function, as well as worthy of objectifying, doesn’t look away, doesn’t stare too long but also hooks a gaze deeply
  • Reflected love, all the ways that you see yourself that you would never have seen if the one who loves you didn’t point them out and remind you again and again of what you look like through their eyes
  • Gracious love, this is the one that forgives. This is the one that is prepared to have another go, to give a second chance, to offer the gift of seeing the big picture and understanding the context. This is the love that you never earn or lose because it just is. This is the one that we get and give glimpses. This is the one that is divine.

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There are probably more. None can stand alone. For you to be mine or me to be yours, we need the spectrum. I have gotten lots of love in my life. I have gotten to give lots of it too. This Valentine’s Day, I want to relish that. I want to honor that. I want to lift it up and wave it in the air for everyone to see.  I want to name that while love is patient, its also impatient. Love is kind but sometimes it can be not so nice. It is all the things that we are.

How could it not be?

It is us. It is us. It is us.

 

Do you like me?

In the dark, in the quiet of my room, when all the kids are in bed, when all the guests have left, when all the chores are done, when it is just us…that’s when the voice in the back of my head gets the loudest. We tag-teamed life all day. We parented. We friended. We served. On a good day, we laughed. We move through life closely but sometimes, we interact more with those around us than we do with one another. At the end of the day, it is just us….yep, that voice…loudly and clearly fills me with doubt about how he feels about me. I know he loves me but does he like me?

I’m just going to say it.

I lie perfectly still and wait for him to come to bed. I listen to him take off his shoes, slip out of his clothes and climb into bed. Will he turn toward me or away? I hold my breath. I don’t say anything. Me!  The confident, assertive, grounded person who has a great marriage is crossing fingers and making wwpid-c5c7464961d440d6b7d3c3a2ed32c40c1ishes like a five year old who wants a bike for her birthday. I am truly willing him to pull toward me in silence. It is pathetic! It is embarrassing! It is the truth…

Today, I felt him move his pillow over toward my side of the bed and felt his arm come around my waist. I felt that touch deeply. I need him but I don’t want to sound needy. I want him but I don’t want to seem foolish. It is so silly.

We talked about it because I could not help but start crying. There is nothing worse than knowing that you are being rediculous and not being able to make yourself stop. Thankfully, the one person who I let see all my dark and ugly parts does like me. Yeah, of course he loves me but….for some reason, he even likes me. I got myself all worked up because of that stupid-loud- sneaky voice squeezed itself into my head and pushed out all the truth. I held my breath and waited for the worst case scenario to play out so that all the fears I had about not-being-liked-by-him could  come true and I could roll over and tell myself that that voice was right.

It’s not.

He likes me.

Just stopping by to love you, friend.

A friend stopped by yesterday. That rarely happens these days. I had not seen her in some time. The gesture was quite touching. We have many in and out of our home and out table is regularly stretched to fit more-for-dinner but those are almost always on-the-calendar sort of guests. The gift of a friend who just is going to come over in the hopes of seeing you is precious. They need no preparation. You are worth the risk that they may not even catch you at home. That touched me yesterday. That felt good.

I have known what it is like to have friends, friends you thought were very close, just not seem to have space for you any more. Sometimes that is painful. Sometimes it is almost undetected. Sometimes, it is just part of the natural rhythm of life. People whom I spoke with many times a week and saw with regularity, fade into memories which are triggered by photographs that pop up on my Facebook feed. I can not quite decide which category to place this phenomenon: is it a good thing or is it a bad thing. Occasionally, I place blame on the hers or hims who drop off my regular circle. I like to take a self-righteous tour of the relationship where I point out, to no one but myself and for no other reason than to feed my ego, how they never really held up their part of the friendship and I was unerring in my attendance to it. That must indicate that I sense a wrongness in the dropping of relationships and want to ascribe blame.

There are those friends whom need absolutely nothing from you. They are steady and true. They will pop into your life when you least expect it and want no more than to remind you that you are dear to them, or to share a tale that made them think of you, or to celebrate a joy with you, or to cry over a loss with you. Selfless acts of gracious connection feed my soul.

I think of the all-too-familiar biblical passage that gets tossed about in wedding ceremonies. It comes to me as a call to friendships in general…

4Love is always patient; love is always kind;

love is never envious or arrogant with pride.

Nor is she conceited, and she is never rude;

she never thinks just of herself or ever gets annoyed.

She never is resentful; is never glad with sin;

she’s always glad to side with truth, and pleased that truth will win.b

7She bears up under everything; believes the best in all;

there is no limit to her hope, and never will she fall.

Let that sit with you for a moment. That is what we all long for in friendship. That is the good stuff. Can I hold this up to my own behavior in friendships and feel peaceful about my character…sometimes…definitely not all the time…

I suspect that 2017 will be a year where friendship will be of great importance. People who love one another can help to give perspective when the world looks bleak. Patience and kindness will be needed to counter envy and pride. Conceit, rudeness, resentment and sin will long for truth. Limitless hope will keep us from falling into despair.

This is where I will throw my energy this year. May you friend well and be friended well. May this be a year where we just stop in. May the grace of friendship sustain you.

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Dunbar’s #& some other stuff

I was poking around in the vastness of the internet to see what has been written about friendship. One of the things I stumbled across (read) connected me to a page about this person who came up with a theory about the number of friendships we, as humans, can really maintain. He had been studying monkey’s behavior and he sort of stumbled across some parallels in the human world and then pursued study there. If you are a person who likes research…read up on this guy because he seems interesting. If you just want to know what the number of friendships that are manageable in the human world…

it’s 150. Someone took a picture of what 150 people looks like…I borrowed it…

150 from the air

I like the way the author, Maria Konnikova, helps us to wrap our heads around this idea. She speaks in terms of how many folks you might invite to a big party that you were throwing. In Minnesota, maybe consider your guest list for a grad party. In New Orleans, you might think of who would land on your mardi gras open house list. For me, it would have be our annual christmas card list. Those are folks that we don’t see all the time and don’t necessarily have to dinner regularly but we catch up consistently and easily find conversation if we run into one another.

I am an extrovert, a southerner, a confident gal, a joiner and an instigator of social events. This sets me up to have a broad friend-base. My husband says that if it weren’t for me, he would be alone in a room somewhere. That’s an exaggeration, of course. He does have a point. He is an introvert, a midwesterner, a little unsure of himself in some social situations, not-a-joiner and not-an-inviter. He is a really great person to have as a friend though. In some ways, he is better than I am. I know that there is research on how many poor leaders get big jobs just because they are extroverted and confidant…I wonder if some similar research has been done on friendship…hmm…

Today, I went to visit a woman who is hospice. In the hall, while I was waiting to go into her room, a lady wheeled toward me and was turning into the next room. I said hello. She said, quite matter-of-factly, that she knew people in the hall were all for the other room because she never had any guests. She said that she had been there for ten weeks and had not had a single visitor.

Wow.

I asked her if we could visit with her, and she said she would like that. She talked about the injury that had brought her there and the daughter that she was estranged from and the grandchildren who were not allowed to see her. It was a stark picture of a life. She said that  she was pretty used to being alone and it did not bother her as much when she was home in her apartment. Here, in the bustle of coming and going visitors for other residents, she felt the isolation. She felt more alone than ever. I can see that.

So sad.

The woman I was visiting has so many folks who want to share time with her that a sign-up form has been created so that there isn’t too much traffic at once. Even with that, we were joined by another couple during our time slot. There was barely room for all of us in her room. Her walls were filled with cards and photographs of people who love her. She needed to have people reminded that she needed some time to be able to rest….

So many friends!

I don’t have a thing-I-am-trying-to-say or concrete idea that I am hoping to convey today. This woman’s face just keeps popping into my head. I guess talking about her here helps me to feel like her world is expanded a bit. She needs friends as much as any of us do. We are meant for community. There could very well be a long story to explain away the starkness of her isolation by placing some sort of blame on her….but that does not make it any less tragic. She needs people.

We all need people.

Child #3 is a gatherer of people. She went with me to visit our friend yesterday. She is organizing a group to go to sing carols to her this evening. Not a lot of teenagers spend their texting-time coordinating outreach…she does. When she was very little, we went to carol at an eldercare home and she saw all the folks who were placed around the perimeter in wheelchairs…unable to move themselves. We stuck to the hallway and sang in that we-are-here-but-we-are-not-getting0-out-of-our-comfort-zone style that Minnesotans are great at. She slipped away from he group and started going up to each motionless person and gave them hugs. Her little body topped with crazy curls reached into those people’s hearts and showed them that she saw them and assumed that they needed a good hug. I will never forget the tears that streamed down one very elderly woman’s face as she used all of her strength to pat my child’s back during her long hug.

She had been noticed.

Tonight, the people who are coming to sing with us are activated by connections that they have to our friend in hospice or to child# 3. They are responding to friendship. We will ask them to sing to this stranger as well so that she can have a little piece of that. The truth is, there is more than enough to go around. Maybe you could share some of the friend in you with someone who does not have quite 150 in their sphere….

This is child #3…she is pretty fabulous…

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Photo cred to W.Daberkow Photography

Bedtime story

I have not laid out the story of meeting our houseguest. It’s a good one..it all starts with some really fantastic crawfish hushpuppies from the Handsome Hogmg_1621-e1461532094189. Well…I guess those came after…

Once upon a time, a friend and I planned to meet for a lunch at one of my favorite spots. I got there early and found myself staring at the lunch-seekers  who came in and out as I waited.  A tiny woman and child came through the door. They looked very out of place. She was holding her phone up and he was clutching her other hand.

I smiled at her. She did not smile back.

I asked if she needed any help. She held up her phone and said ‘you will help me’ with a heavy accent. It was a strange sort of question/order that came from her. There was a screenshot of an address that would have been right around the corner from where we were. I tried to explain where she should go to get to that spot but she insisted again ‘you will help me’. Well, ok… I walked them out of the building and texted my friend to say that I would be delayed a little and we moved around the corner to the address. It was one of those strange buildings with cars parked on the main floor  as if they were on display but really, they are stored or something. I thought it seemed like a weird destination. She started to cry. She said ‘I need apartment. One day vacation to find. This no apartment. I need place live with my son.’ I could feel her desperation. I tried to tell her that someone must have given her a wrong address but she just did not understand.

I felt so helpless. It is awkward to be in the middle of someone’s pain when you don’t really know what it is about or how to help to alleviate it. I tried to talk to the boy and he spoke english. He told me that she was speaking Russian. I asked him to tell her that I would give her my number and she could call me later when I would have someone with me to help translate…because…amazingly, we know people who speak russian. She nodded and I just was not sure if she totally got what I was trying to say to her. I asked if I could take her phone and then I typed in my phone number and my address. I said that she could call or come to me that evening and that I would have someone there to interpret. She walked away.

That could easily be the end of the story. My friend patiently waited for me and we ordered the yummy hushpuppies. He laughed when I told him the story and said that he couldn’t wait to know what was going to happen next. He wasn’t surprised. He knows me.

That evening, we were changing our phone service. It took forever to get new numbers, new service, transfer data…all the steps that I really do not understand. I get a call on the almost-traded-in-phone from an unknown number and I answer. It is her. She says, painstakingly, that she will come to my house that night. Quickly I call a friend and she agrees to have her son come flex his russian-language skills for us. I arrange for child #3 to go to fetch him with not much time to spare. This is the moment when I start to try to lay out the story for my husband. Poor guy…I am a hard one to keep up with.

Now, if you know me, you will know that talking to strangers is  par-for-the-course in my world. Learning about their lives digging deep with them is also pretty common. My sweet husband is used to odd stories from my day and random folks showing up like old friends at the most unusual spots. My inviting a total stranger whom I could not even talk to over to our house was a new level. He, as any normal person would, had a couple of concerns. I, being fairly untypical, had not considered any of them…..not really surprising.

I call a friend and ask him to come to our house so that he would be there with our kids when the stranger was set to arrive. We would walk home as quickly as we could. In steps Verizon-Guy! He has been diligently working on our account and has heard much of the phone dealings and plans for this encounter. This guy was also a stranger to us…Graciously, he offered to give us a lift home. I know…sounds weird. Most people don’t find themselves in the back of their cell-phone dealer’s car racing home to try to get there. Wanna hear something else…he had a book from the library on Putin on the backseat! Right??!!!  Surreal!

He pulls into our driveway at the same moment that child #2 is heading out of the house with her friend, child #3 pulls up with translating-friend, friend-called-to-come-over as reinforcements opens our front door since he has just arrived as well, on the street…a tiny blue car is parked. She is in there watching this crazy scene. She has a man with her. They both get out of the car and walk toward the house. I really wish we could have filmed this moment. No one could have dreamt up a more bizarre cast of characters and scene.

We all sit in the living room.

She needs somewhere to live. She needs something right away. We don’t hear her story at this point but it is becoming clearer and clearer that she is not sitting in our living room because she has the same habit of striking up friendships with strangers. She is desperate and that makes people do things that go against their nature. All of us could feel it: me, husband, child#3, translator, friend-of-ours, verizon-guy…it seems random but I start showing her around the house and telling her she can stay here as long as she needs. It went so smoothly, you would think that we do this all the time. She follows. She nods as if she understands the blather I am saying. I smile as if I know that I am understood.

We come back to sit in the living room.

She tells the translator that she can pay. We say no, no, we don’t want any rent from her. We just want her to feel comfortable here. We have lots of extra space and it really is not any trouble. He translates that to her and she frowns. She asks him something and he replies. ‘What did you say to her?’ ‘I told her that you are a very strange family…but a good one’. Yep. That is pretty much the nicest thing that anyone has ever said about us. I was touched. She speaks up again and he translates for us ‘No one in America does anything for free.’ Bam! Nailed to the wall….she didn’t mean to say anything unkind or even evocative but it rang so loudly to me of a truth that she had come to learn here in a very hard way. I wondered what prices she had been paying since she came here. My mind filled in all sorts of blanks and I pictured my daughters at the sort of edge of life that would have them in a total stranger’s house deciding if they could trust them enough to stay with them for a while. I wanted to scoop her up and tell her that her story was about to change. We did not want anything from her. Life crossed our paths and we were going to honor that. I’m a God person and for me… this was a grace-filled moment. A miracle.

Two weeks later, she moved in… in the dark…after she worked all day…after she left her son with us for three days with a leap-of-faith that I can’t imagine making. Her friend helped her. Our kids helped her. That’s how it happened. That’s the end of that story and the beginning of a new one that is still being written. We now get to have a life with a few new friends all because of that chance meeting. We have her, her son, her friend, and verizon-guy and we are all living happily ever after.

The end.

Crawfish hushpuppies are good but they don’t top that. Not even close.

Matvei

We drove across town in the fresh snow and I distracted him with chatting about airplanes and farm animals and bridges and tunnels and anything else that popped into either of our minds.It felt like a race to keep one step ahead of his questions about where he was going and why. She did not want him to know. She was so afraid. She thought that he would worry the way that she was worrying and she wanted to spare him that distress. A whole team of people knew that he was coming and they had been making a path for him for months.

Connections… The family support worker at his kindergarten is connected to 360 Communities and they are connected to folks who care enough to make sure that a little boy who has rotting teeth and dangerously infected gums can be connected to a dental surgeon who donates his time and is connected to a clinic with nurses, anesthesiologists, doctors and a lovely woman who brings a therapy dog to visit patients who have trouble connecting.

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That’s where we met Getty. She was a perfect distraction from what was ahead. He smiled from ear to ear as he patted her with his blackened teeth showing for the last time.  He was guided through changing into hospital clothes and selecting his favorite chapstick flavor for his mask and touring the room with the stars in the ceiling while the interpreter quietly spoke all the details of the procedure into his mother’s ear. He was the picture of naiveté. His innocence and trust kept him in the dark even as he was squarely in the middle of all that was about to happen to him. All of the connections has been seamless.

He took the mask to his mouth and breathed hard in and out until he fell into a deep sleep. That’s when she crumbled. I held her as she cried and cried and cried. She had not been shielded from any of the worry. She knew that her boy was going to have almost all of his teeth extracted and those which were left would need to be emptied of infection and crowned. She now knew that he had been in so much pain for years and it had been so constant that he did not even know that he could feel different.

She cried for him.

She cried for herself.

She cried for the life that he had been born into and the ways that she had failed him because she was poor and had not been adequately connected.

Two hours passed.

A new boy was presented to her with new teeth, no more infections and a needle in his arm that he kept trying to rip out. He knew why he was there now. He was so scared and confused and angry. He kicked and cried and blood dripped out of his nose where the tube had been placed for him to breathe during the procedure. I took him and helped him to settle. She passed out. Now the two of them laid in tiny beds across the room from one another each worn out, each wanting this long day to be over, each sipping juice boxes and slowly gaining color in their cheeks.

When I checked on them, they were snuggled up into his twin bed in our basement. I thought of the fragility of each connection that brought her to our home. They could so easily be back on the street, be back in the hands of people who were not out for their good, be back to being alone….unconnected.

 

 

 

The road less travelled…post-divorce happiness

Child number six is memorizing Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken for school and i am typically her spotter as she recites it. This has always been a personal favorite and revisiting it through her eyes is a nice reminder of how its meaning changes as one ages. If you are not familiar with it, or even if you are, i would like to share it because it is well worth sharing.

The Road Not Taken  by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 
And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 
I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.
At different stages of my life, this has borne different meaning. As a child, it was all about adventure. Finding a secret path or hidden door was deeply planted in my imagination from The Secret Garden and the Narnia series. As a young adult, i remember stumbling across it and was struck by the expanse of choices in life and how they were all in front of me sort of like the choose your own adventure novels. Now, i smile to myself and think of the last stanza and how true that has been as i scroll back through the past forty years of full-throttle living.  Taking the road less traveled has been a tremendous blessing. i see this as i look at my divorce in particular.
Somehow, divorce has a script attached to it where you are positioned in an adversarial role with each other, then friends and family are cast as supporters of you or him, depending where their loyalty falls. It is kind of drawn along the same lines that seating at a wedding happens: you are either a guest of the groom or the bride for the we-are-so-mad-at him-or-her ride for the foreseeable future. It is easy to find people to be on your team if you want to bash your ex or complain about him. it is harder, i have found, for people to be comfortable with you remaining friends with him, much less entwined in his life. The less-travelled road that i have been fortunate enough to be on is one of new relationship with my ex-spouce that is rooted in our friendship and fueled by our commitment to each other as co-parents. We are further gifted with my husband’s support of our relationship and commitment to parent with both of us. This is not a path which has gotten as much space in the movies or TV shows or novels (that i know of), and catches people very much by surprise when they encounter it in us.
It has, however, made all the difference. 
You know the phrase that states that it takes far more muscles to frown than it does to smile, right? i don’t know if it is true or not, but the message is one that i resonate with. i know that it feels better when i am happy and definitely feels nicer to be at peace than to be angry. To a small degree, at least, one can choose to travel down the angry road and get wrapped up in negativity instead or moving toward forgiveness and contentedness which promotes positivity. For me, i have found veering away from the all-too-familiar path of marinating in negativity post-divorce has been the gift that just keeps on giving. i get to have another adult who has my back, can be trusted with my kids, shares my load, has known me forever, calls me on my crap, and wishes me well. i know that this is not possible for all but suspect that it is possible for far more than are taking advantage of it.
If you see, ahead in your journey, two roads diverged in a wood, i highly recommend taking the one that moves you toward compassion, reconciliation, and peacefulness even though it is not the popular route…it’s just nicer…i promise…