Respite

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How decades can vanish in an instant…

Last May, Jeff and I went to Destin, Florida for a vacation.  We used to live and work in the area and every time we go back for a vacation, we drive through that same little town on our way to the beach.  And every time we do, I always remember the people we worked with and wonder whatever happened to them.  Last year I finally did some research and found out about my favorite one.

Martin was my first ever “work husband”, at my first radio job, so early in my career that I didn’t even have terminology for what that relationship was!  He worked the same midday air shift time as I did, in the FM studio while I was on the air in the AM side next door.  I couldn’t begin to count the times he put his side on “auto-pilot” for 10 or 15 minutes and came to stand in my doorway to talk and laugh with me.  He left the station, and radio, in 1989, about a year before the company was sold and everyone else was laid off, resulting in Jeff’s and my return to Knoxville.  We lost touch with many of our connections from there, including Martin.  But I often thought of him and wondered how his life had worked out.

Flash forward to last year’s vacation when I searched his name on Facebook and found several entries, including a face with a smile that was warm and familiar.  I sent a message and introduced (or re-introduced!) myself, apologizing if he was not the Martin I remembered and saying to have a nice day, and if he WAS the Martin I remembered, I hoped he would get in touch.  It was, and he did, and we became Facebook friends and began a correspondence.

Over the ensuing months Jeff and Martin also connected on Facebook…but the more substantial communications were between Martin and me. (I was always a letter-writer…now I am also a message-sender!)  We all decided that a trip to Asheville to visit Martin was in order, and I couldn’t help thinking it was a little ironic that we had all met 500 miles away in Florida only to end up living a couple of short hours apart.  Other things developed over the ensuing months as well, resulting in much more frequent messages between me and Martin…changes in his health and home life, a hospital stay, drama, frustration and sadness as he is in a transitional life stage now.  I’ve been humbled and amazed at his transparency and his remarkable sense of humor in the midst of all he is enduring of late…the same humor which endeared him to me almost 30 years ago when I first met him.  He often makes me “snaughle”—my term for the snort-laugh.  We have become family…which I warned him might happen, saying, “We’re bonding and God help you, because my friendship is relentless.”  He has assured me that he is OK with it.

For a brief moment I was nervous about us seeing him again in person, thinking we might end up with nothing to say to each other and the whole situation could become weird and awkward, especially since we had planned for him to spend the night with us.  The exact opposite scenario played out, as we stayed up very late with rarely even a moment of silence amidst all the catching up, storytelling and abundant laughter.  Jeff finally put himself to bed and Martin and I stayed up for maybe another hour winding down and feeling grateful…and decades vanished in an instant.

The next day came, and with it, Martin’s time to leave.  Jeff and I both hugged him goodbye, thanking him for coming to visit with us and for all the laughs we shared.

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Walking out onto the gravel driveway in my stocking feet and watching him pull his car away, I felt happy and sad and a little weepy all at once.  The end of a sweet visit often evokes such emotions in me, and this one, which had been so many years in the making, seemed especially poignant.  The rest of our afternoon was spent poking around in a bucket-list bookstore I had wanted to visit, getting supper and stopping by a fancy chocolate shop for treats, enjoying Jeff and his company.  The whole trip was a much-needed respite from the stressful realities all of us deal with on a daily basis.

The following day it was time for us to head back home, and back to reality.  Messaging with Martin, I admitted that I cried when he left.  He was understanding and sympathetic, as he always is.  And as always, a joke happened.

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Holding Space

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Learning by doing…

Recently while reading I came across a phrase and a concept that instantly struck a chord inside me:  holding space.  Specifically, holding space in my heart for others as they walk their path in life, especially when that path is a difficult, painful one.  It is actually something I have been learning to do my entire life.

Sometimes I’ve described this concept with the following phrases:

“You are in my prayers.”

“I’ll be remembering you.”

“I’m thinking of you.”

“My heart is with you.”

During my work in CPE, I learned that the work of the chaplain is mostly about meeting and caring for people where they are, walking alongside them in their pain, providing compassionate presence, sometimes without words.  It is often uncomfortable simply to “be” with another person, without trying to fix what they are enduring.  We want to fill the silence with words, or noise, or activity.  Often what is needed is for us just to sit with someone, quietly.  These are ways we hold space for a person in need, or in pain.

I remember the morning a few years ago when my friend’s father was actively dying and ultimately passed away, when my friend and I sent Facebook messages to one another as she kept vigil at his bedside.  Just four months ago, another friend and I exchanged messages and a photo as he lay with his beloved dog while she died.  Even though I was unable to be present with these friends in a physical way, I was able to love and care for them…holding space.

The truth is, I’ve been learning how to hold space all my life…I just didn’t know it was called “holding space”.  And that phrase may be one that comes and goes away, replaced by another “concept-of-the-moment”.  I do like the idea, though, especially when someone is of a different faith tradition from mine, or from no faith tradition at all.  Sometimes telling someone that I am “praying” for them might hold negative associations, if the church has hurt them (which happens so much more often than we want to acknowledge).  Sometimes my own spiritual life is not such that I can truly pray…but I can always hold space.  God hears what I can’t say, and the person I am caring for knows they are being remembered with compassion and tenderness.  I’m holding several people even as I write this, people dear to me who are enduring pain that I cannot begin to imagine.  I communicate as best I can with them, and when we are not talking or writing, my heart is with them…holding space.

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Because I Am That Person

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Most of us have one…

 

“You showed up in a dream last night and I wanted to check in and see if everything is all right…”

“Are you nervous about this appointment?”

“Let me know when you get back home safely.”

“I’ll be here for you in the morning before they take you back for the procedure.”

In the past few weeks I have uttered all these phrases, some more than once, to various friends or family members.  I can’t seem to help myself.  I am That Person.

Everyone has That Person in their lives, the one who asks if you have a jacket because it’s supposed to turn cold later on, who holds your hand when you’re sick, who makes friends with your dog…and everyone else’s.  When you are experiencing heartache, challenges, a loss or a life change, That Person will gift you with marbles, to remind you that you haven’t lost yours.

 

That Person genuinely cares about you, your life, your family.  She (or he in some cases) has a true heart, one as strong and sweet as Southern iced tea.  And it brings great joy to That Person when he or she is able to offer you care and compassion.

Sometimes people don’t know what to do with her, or about her.  And that’s OK.  She doesn’t care for you in order to be cared for in return.  She does it because she doesn’t know any other way to be.

So, if you have That Person in your circle, accept the care she offers in the spirit in which it is intended.  Be honest with him when he asks how you are, because he really wants to know.  At some point you may end up becoming That Person for someone else.

 

Take Me There

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Radio days…

This time of year always brings with it a tsunami-sized wave of nostalgia, memories of holiday seasons past and the people who fill those memories.  Sights, smells, flavors and especially sounds, fill my head and heart with both laughter and longing as I recall the many hours I spent “on the board” working in radio stations playing Christmas songs in the solitude of a tiny studio, music unheard at any other time of year except in my memories.

Working on the air was, for me, a chance to touch people without ever seeing them.  Different from live performance in that I spoke to an audience I couldn’t see, radio also allowed my listeners to imagine what I might be like without ever laying eyes on me.  I had regular callers at every station I worked for who, for the most part, were friendly, polite and respectful…even those who flirted and asked me out, sight unseen!  There were also occasional callers who made me feel uncomfortable, even threatened.  Anyone who has ever been on the air has experienced such things, especially my fellow “lady jocks”.  We all have stories to tell!

I’ve been out of the business for a long time now, but listening to the radio this time of year always takes me back to specific times and places.  I can’t hear Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” without being transported to the top of Sharps Ridge, remembering the view from the studio window…often with my friend Ron visiting after finishing his own air shift at another radio station across town, drinking coffee and smiling at me from across the console.  This is the same Ron with whom I shared my shortest radio gig and built one of my longest friendships, until he passed away last year. That relationship is not over…it’s just changed until we’re in the same place again.

A simple song can take me there.

The synth intro to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” immediately returns me to my first radio gig in a tiny building in the Florida panhandle.  I worked in the AM studio where I played Southern Gospel music and preaching/teaching programs, while next door the FM station aired “Light Rock & A Little Country”, hence the Paul McCartney holiday offering.  I cut my radio teeth there, learning how to do everything the old-school way because of the antiquated equipment I worked with.  My real-life husband and my first ever “work husband” worked on the FM side, with the work husband and me sharing a shift time and often standing in each others’ studio doors talking and laughing between songs on automation.

A simple song can take me there.

Music is such an evocative force in my life, whether I am singing it or listening to it.  The music I played during my radio days is especially poignant.  Those sounds bring to mind both the places and the people with whom I shared them.

A simple song can always take me there.

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(At my first radio gig, Circe 1989)

 

Alone

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Strength and struggle…

I am having a hard time right now.  It’s not easy to admit this, as I am usually “the strong one” and “the good girl”.  People come to me with their troubles, secrets and struggles.  And usually that’s fine.

Sometimes, though, I am given information that I don’t need, or want, to know.  Sometimes people tell me things they wouldn’t even tell their best friend.  Does this make me a real friend to them, or just a dumpster for something they needed to purge?

I haven’t been my best self lately for a number of reasons.  I’ve been distracted, preoccupied, unfocused.  Not feeling like a strong woman or a good girl.  Sometimes I wish I could stop time and escape from reality for a day, or even just a few hours.

I don’t want so much to lose control as much as just to…relinquish it, if only for a little while.  I want to surrender to the strength of someone else.  I want it to be OK for me to be vulnerable, even weak.

Being too strong for too long just leaves a person feeling alone.  I know I’m not truly alone, but my struggles are mine alone.  Nobody can live my life, walk my path or fight my demons except me.  And some days, I don’t have much fight left.

It will work itself out in time.  I’ll find my strength again.  And I’ll return to being my best self, intact for the people I care for, and able to care for them properly once more.

Just not today.

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Shelter

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We all need to feel safe…

Recently at work I noticed a small bird on one of the patios, sitting very still.  I thought it might be dead, as often birds fly into the mirrored windowpanes and break their little necks.  But this one was alive, just sitting in the shade of the building, getting wind blown.

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I approached slowly, not wanting to scare it, or hurt it.  But it didn’t fly away, even though there were no visible injuries on its little body.  I think it may have hit the side of the building and just stunned itself temporarily.  Still, it was so exposed I was afraid that a predator might take advantage of its helpless situation.  So, very gently, I approached it…and it let me pick it up!

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I moved it to a place in the mulch between two shrubs where it could have some shelter from the wind and protection from larger animals.  I always feel compassion for the vulnerable ones, those who are exposed, those victimized or exploited by so-called friends who turn out to be emotional predators.  It’s a difficult place to be.

People have always shared their hearts with me, from close friends and family, to workplace peers, to strangers standing in the grocery checkout line.  It’s amazing what people will reveal…and sometimes they regret having done so. I never want anyone to feel sorry that they shared something with me.  My goal is to justify their trust, to cradle them in safety…to offer them a place of Shelter.

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How To Make Hot Tamales

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It’s not about the recipe…

 

Making hot tamales is a process

First, you gather in a loved one’s kitchen

and find the well-worn recipe

Stir up the cornmeal, shortening and hot water

while you laugh about how

the generation before you used to

perform this same ritual

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Next it’s time

to roll the meat for the filling

and laugh some more

because somebody thought

the meat logs were funny

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Then comes the assembly line

of putting the cornmeal mixture

onto the tamale wrapper

sticking the meat log inside

and wrapping it all up

repeating until we’re done

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We congratulate each other

saying “these look like

they turnt out right” and

laughing about how

someone ended up with

cornmeal in her hair

Then it’s time to

boil them all up and

smother them in the chili

that’s been patiently waiting

And savor this

Belly-and-Soul-warming meal

seasoned with

Laughter

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