Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Army of Love

I’ve watched the world’s reaction to last week’s attacks unfold with a sense of bafflement.

Are we really debating whether we should pray or light a candle or hold a space or raise a glass for the attacked? Anyone who does any of those adds love to the world. How can that be wrong?

Are we really shaming people for embracing images that might seem to prioritize one attack over another? Whatever flag or image reminds us to pray, light a candle, hold a space, or raise a glass—in love—adds to the love in the world. How can that be wrong?

Are we really debating whether we will change our behavior, our values, our essence, because a small percentage of the world turns to violence to force us to do so? Because—be very clear about this—if we turn away from love because we fear violence, the terrorists will succeed.

Love, the difficult, demanding, transforming verb that it is, is a choice. To love, we must choose to love. If fear waits downhill from us, where one slip, one tumble, one misstep can send us sliding into it, love waits above us. We must climb, strive, reach, and struggle up toward love much of the time.

In the wake of terror, induced by terrorist attacks, it’s easy to slip into fear. It’s easy to turn on those who react differently to the attacks, to those who think differently than we do, to those who are more vulnerable than we are. It’s easy to feel helpless in our fear and turn that fear into anger.

Fight against that fear. Raise your eyes above you and climb toward love. Speak truth in love. Look around you and join hands with the army of love in our world.

  • Love with the warriors for love that are our first responders, our military, our caregivers, our teachers.
  • Love with everyone who cares for the young, the old, the ill, everyone who goes on despite being ill—love them, love with them.
  • Love with people who care for animals and people who care for growing things.
  • Love our world with everyone who reduces, reuses, and recycles.
  • Love with those who love, with families everywhere—parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and all those who step in when none of those can.
  • Love with the poets, dreamers, and visionaries who show us how we can love and the social activists who lead us up the mountain of change toward that love.
  • Love with those who clean, repair, and maintain our world; love with those who invent ways to make it a better world.
  • Love with those who create beauty.
  • Love with those who believe in duty and responsibility and integrity.
  • Love with those who work. Love with those who give. Love with those love.
  • Love with those warriors of love who cannot love right now, those wounded in the battle, those lost from their army of love.

I’d like to share with you a poem I wrote after 9/11.

I’ve never done anything with it because it’s rough. It’s irregular. No one would ever consider it tight or well-constructed. Too simple in places, too insubstantial in others, it remains unedited. I don’t know how to edit it.

But I offer it to you as sign that love mattered most of all then and love still matters most of all. Love. 


Against a score martyred to hate
We send an army of thousands
Martyrs for love

Those who woke and worked that morning
Loving their families
Loving the skills they shared
Loving the lives they touched
Loving, as their lives were stolen

Those in doubt, who chose
Loving those left behind
Loving each other
Loving people they never knew
Loving, as they surely died for others

Those who knew and faced the danger
Loving their comrades
Loving their strength
Loving victim and survivor
Loving, as they offered their lives

Those with the longest, hardest call
Loving their children
Loving their country
Loving children in countries not their own
Loving, risked their lives for freedom

So many to prove
That though nineteen men died
As disciples of hate
More love exists
Than this world dreamed could be
Love, the true foundation of the land of the free

Friday, November 13, 2015

The School Store

This year, with both kids in one school, I have time in my schedule to be a part of their community. So I'm volunteering at the school store. For a couple of hours every other week, I hang in a haven of school supplies, eccentric erasers, tiny treasures, and awesome individuals. I love it. 

What do I love about it?

1.       Being in a place where no two kids dress alike. None of them. They’re individuals in every sense.
2.       Watching two best friends “split” a dime, buying a five-cent eraser each.
3.       Where else can you teach five preteens how to open a fan, Regency-style? And then have a discussion of how lucky we are that women can speak their minds these days, not just wave their fans…
4.       They’re good kids—I generally know the prices, but they tell me the right cost each time.
5.       The kids like my corny puns.
6.       I learn things like what type of lead a Papermate Sharpwriter takes and how to install it.
7.       The smell of coins clutched in a grubby fist. No, I really don’t love that smell, just what it means—the saving, the planning, the precious coins exchanged for long-desired treasure.
8.       Someone put a bumper sticker on the school golf cart. “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Howard Zinn”
9.       I get to Google things like the rarest Pokemon card in the world (1998 Pikachu Illustrator card) and if it’s worth $2 million (no, just $50-100,000).
10.   I sold a bouncy ball, a bag of marbles and a spiky rubber bracelet to someone who needed to make a model of a plant cell.
11.   Because you know it has to go to eleven… My kids like to see me there!

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Good Workout

You know you've done an awesome workout when...
1.       It’s fun right up to the point of muscle failure.
2.       Before you’re even done, you already start planning how much you’ll have to move for the rest of the day.
3.       Taking off your compression gear afterward feels darn near impossible.
4.       You absolutely have to take a shower for public health reasons, but you start to wonder if you really need to go to all the trouble of getting dressed again.
5.       At some point in that first hour post-workout, your entire being screams, “I want a pizza now!” (It’s a really good idea to ignore this feeling.)
6.       You line up glasses of water like other people line up shots on a bar—so you won’t have to keep getting up.
7.       Then you tell yourself to get up and move anyway—the longer you wait, the worse it’s gonna hurt.
8.       You wonder if work will consider “jelly legs” or “noodle arms” legitimate excuses to take a day off.
9.       You can’t wait to do it again—in a day or two!
10.   In a day or two, you feel awesome!


I'm a modern parent; it goes without saying that I have a lot going on.

By nature, I like to delve deeply into whatever I do. I like to do one thing intensely, then relax intensely, then do the next thing. I'm discovering that I have too many balls in the air to give myself that luxury.

It started when the kids still took naps. You learn pretty quickly that, when naptime's over, it's over. Whatever you got done is all you get to do until the next day. Then again, the kids and I shared long, lazy days back then. Maybe some days the kids needed me a lot, but we pretty much determined our own schedule.

Now the kids' activities determine the size of my blocks of time. And, in some weird twist of quirkiness, I now have a huge block of time alone each day, from nine to four, but I'm finding I have to deliberately divide it up in order to keep those balls flying. If I leave any project too long, I miss deadlines.

Look at our yard, for example. Well, don't look at it actually. Oh, go ahead.

We've had a long, wet summer here in southwest Florida. Stuff has grown. And grown. And grown. If I tried to do my usual One Long Day of Yardwork, I'd end up spending One Long Week. I can't afford to drop my other balls for that long.

So I'm teaching myself patience. One hour--or so--a day. I do as much as I can in the yard, then go inside and do my editing work. Then I do household management. Then I pick up the kids.

I have to be satisfied--or even a little proud--with incremental progress. A little at a time. One tiny step per day. Life is a journey, not a destination.

Days 1-3: Nearly finished--just needs mulch!
"To do" as of Day 3

Partly done on Day 4

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

These Boots

So, it’s almost too perfect—one of our first mother-and-middle-schooler moments came while buying boots for the first dance.

S. had her first dance a little while back, complete with a scheduling conflict requiring backflips to get her there, a Western theme, and a last minute trip to buy boots. I have absolutely no idea what went down at the dance—she says it was fun—but I loved the dance preparation.

The kids go to the same school now and have the same schedule, so I have more time to work, but less time with each of them individually. Like all growing and changing, it’s a tradeoff. Now that I have a nearly normal work day, I’m trying to keep nights and weekends for family time. That is awesome! But I miss that quiet time and space to hear each of them, to focus fully, to uni-task, if you will.

So it felt great to go to the mall on a school night, compare styles of suede ankle boots, text Dad for an opinion and roll our eyes over his tactful but less than helpful advice, wear the new boots out of the store, and then grab a soft pretzel. Well, technically, I bought the pretzel for her, but I took tax. I always take a little for tax. Really, they need to learn.

And no, I don’t mind that she’s wearing boots just one size smaller than I wear or that, when she tried on a pair with two-inch heels, we were nearly the same height. I love that I can put my arm around her waist and walk with her, just as I have with each of my sisters—both now taller than I am.

After all, her new boots? They’re made for walking. They’re perfect for strutting, for giggling, for striding, for spinning, for exploring, and for walking out into the big wide world.

The amazing thing about the whole process turns out to be what she brings into our home. Yes, she’s taking her first steps on her journey toward independence—on her journey out of our home and away from us. Just as she should! But I never expected to feel so blessed by how much she shares with us as she does.

Just tonight, after A DAY, one of those days that had me counting minutes until bedtime, she said, “Can I play you something I figured out on the piano?”

I said, “Sure.”

She started to play and my heart stood still. She played beautifully, recreating Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” by ear. As many times as I’ve heard that song, her performance opened my heart.

I love her. I love her heart. I love her gift. I love that she takes the things her dad and I give her, expands them, and gives them back to us.

I love that she’s growing up.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Do I Have To?

I’ve had two amazing experiences lately for all the wrong reasons.

I went to a parent orientation for the school year at our church. Our amazing DRE led us in a meditative prayer, as she does every year. Those few minutes of quiet consciousness redirected my night, restored my energy, and calmed me.

And I went to an exercise class a friend started. It ended up being a blast! Fun friends, fun music, and dancing! I laughed so much and I left feeling energized, restored, loose. (Yes, this is the Cize class I mentioned in my last blog!)

Looking at my mindset before and after both these intensely positive experiences, I got a bit of a reality check. I went to both because of obligations I felt—taking care of my kids’ activities, helping out a friend. I left realizing I’d been missing something from life, something I didn’t know I missed until a little came back to me. I went as a duty and found a pleasure I’ve lost.

When did you stop dancing.... Gabrielle Rothou  [beautiful]: Of course, it reminded me of this quote that goes around the internet periodically. I have no earthly idea if it’s correctly attributed. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s just call it part of our collective wisdom. So I’ve danced a little lately (at exercise class) and I felt some sweet silence recently (at the meeting). I’ve even sung a bit (as I drive to pick up the kids).

So, out of duty, I’ve stumbled across a bit of the joy of life. I realize I miss it. Why did I have to find it by force? Why don’t meditation, singing, and dancing make it on my list of things to do?*

I blame the Puritans. Sort of. As much as I blame anybody, because I’m not really into that. In all honesty, though, I think we Americans have taken a good thing too far. The principles that made America great are fantastic. Hard work, perseverance, and thrift will get things done. Self-sacrifice can accomplish amazing feats. Those means have brought about some amazing ends over the course of history.

When we work hard and sacrifice everything as an end unto itself, however, we’ve gone off the rails.

I can remember my friends comparing how much time they spent on homework in high school and college. “I spent four hours on that!” or “I was up until three this morning!” It sounded like complaining, but also like an accomplishment. Now I hear adults doing the adult equivalent. “I didn’t leave work until eight!” or “I’ve barely seen my husband this week.”

And, yes, I do it, too. And if I ask myself why—and answer honestly—I’d say that I do it because it’s respected. If I say no to something because I’m swamped or overworked or exhausted, people give it credence. Even…status. Would I get as much respect if I say, “No, thanks. I need a lazy Saturday” or “Not today. I plan to have dinner with my family and dance around to eighties music afterward”? I’ve never had the guts to find out!

If others’ experiences track with mine, then we have to ask why we, as a society, give more status to working ourselves to death than to enjoying life. C. S. Lewis said that “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

Do we just want to prove that we have lots of what it takes to survive or do we want to live a life with value?

I’d like to add some enjoyment back into my life. Maybe I can start with a simple, concrete talisman. Maybe my “To Do” list should become a “To Enjoy” list. Maybe then those truly valuable experiences will find their way back into my days.

*Notice that I didn’t mention being enchanted by stories recently. That’s kind of tragic for me, since losing myself in the world of a story has always been my greatest pleasure. It restores and revives me like nothing else can. It’s also an entirely solitary pleasure and therefore even harder for me to “justify” compared to singing, dancing, and silence. It’s definitely on my list of things “To Enjoy.”