TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Another New Year’s Eve has come upon us, a time for reflection and the annual woulda-shoulda-coulda list begins.

Tipping my hat and heart to those whose live’s woulda changed had they been given the opportunity, to those who died and shoulda lived a lot longer, and to those who did not prosper when they coulda, but life and the stock market kicked them in the head instead.

So many decisions I make are made on the spur of the moment; I always go for the gut reaction. The only thing I analyze are the people around me and why they do the things they do. Sometimes I move through this life without thinking, and I don’t know if its hurt me or hindered me.

I appreciate all that I’ve been given, but a lot of what I do have I worked my ass off to get. Nothing has ever been handed to me, and I don’t anticipate that happening anytime soon, unless I win the lottery.

I’m healthy, my husband loves me and my children are happy. Now that they are grown, they all sound the same on the phone. I don’t recognize who it is until they start talking about their day. My grandkids are loved by people that cherish them as much as I do. That’s the best that I could possibly hope for. The monetary success, the recognition of their peers, is expected, but realistically thinking, will come later.

So for me, although I lost a few friends both in death and deceptions, and made new ones in renewal and in response to an outreached hand, 2009 has been as confusing as the rest of years past. I think I finally understand what Charles Dickens was writing about when he began his tome on life in general:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Happy, Happy New Year, and God Bless Us, Everyone.

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IDENTIFY YOURSELF

I think I’m depressed. Or agoraphobic. Or maybe even suffering from GAD.

But I’m not worried, because this always happens to me. I tend to identify with what I’m writing about, because I always write about me.

Let me explain.

I recently picked up a freelance gig requiring I write 30 short articles each about several different medical issues. One of the issues is anxiety and the variety of forms in which it manifests itself.

People with social anxiety disorder don’t want to go out in social situations, don’t like performing in front of others and have anxiety about speaking in public. Well, that’s not me, although I did kind of wince after viewing my last gig on video– that place was enough to scare anyone out of performing. But I know it wasn’t just me, the others had a rough time too. Tough crowd, those ladies auxiliary.

I’ve been a stay-at-home homebody lately, not wanting to leave the dogs out in the cold weather. Is that crazy or what? They’re dogs, they have fur coats, they don’t care if its minus 2 out! For goodness sake, Simon rolls around in the snow like a polar bear! So maybe I’m becoming agoraphobic?

I’ve also begun to think I have OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have this compulsion to eat an entire cheesecake I baked for Christmas, knowing full well that we were going to my son’s house for dinner and dessert was already planned. It called to me from the refrigerator, so I repeated over and over to fight the compulsion, “must stay away from the cheesecake…must stay away from the cheesecake….” Kind of like an obsession, ya know? I did conquer the compulsion though. I froze it. The cheese cake. The sound is muffled and I’m too impatient to wait for it to thaw out.

But when I really think about it, I know I’m as healthy as a horse. Depressed? Nah. Just lazy. Or maybe exhausted. The holidays do that to me, and I know once the tree is down and the decorations put away, I will get back into the swing of things, do my exercises, etc.

Social Anxiety? No, just a bad performance, and the need to focus more on my writing. I can’t have two muses and have to choose between them both. I think the writing will most likely win, but maybe I can get my comedy fix by writing something funny.

Agoraphobic? No, this place is beautiful and sometimes all I need to do is sit in the big room with the wall of windows and watch the lake. Who wouldn’t NOT want to leave that?

I’m really appreciative I was able to pick up this freelance work, because the articles go fast and the subjects are relatively easy to understand. And like I said, I tend to identify with what I’m writing about.

Except, I’m not looking forward to the next medical subject on the list.

Hemorrhoids.

A CARDBOARD CHRISTMAS

treeEvery year at this time I am reminded of the many blessings I have, and the times where I thought I had none.

It was before the second husband, the onslaught of babies, and the beginning of a new awareness that my life was no longer my own.

I was the single mother of a three year old son, and had moved to a new town. It was far away from where I was born, and farther still from any family, friends or outside influences.

I was 23 years old and mad at the world. God was a distant memory from junior high school years and certainly wasn’t in my plans.

Having arrived with only our clothes and my young son’s toys, I found a house close to work, so that gas and parking wouldn’t eat up what was left of already a meager salary. I had recently started a new job as a secretary in a small firm, qualifying for help with day care. Not welfare, but an adjustable rate charged against how much my salary totaled. It was enough to buy food and pay rent, but not much else.

Time went by and we both made friends, although I didn’t invite anyone over, since I had very little to entertain with. I didn’t have a kitchen table, and the only bed was his, I slept on a mattress in the other bedroom. Our clothes were stacked neatly in cardboard boxes, our socks and underwear in plastic bins.

My kitchen table was a purple suitcase. Christmas was coming and I didn’t have much in the way of funds, let alone a Christmas tree. I was invited to a cookie exchange, something even more foreign to me than learning to balance my check book. I respectfully declined.

My boss was a gruff old cuss, but as is usually with crusty types, he was a softie inside. He was a retired Navy captain, and would regale us with stories of his travels from all over the globe. He noticed a lot but never said much. Fridays were Bagel Day, a day when we would take turns bringing in bags of bagels & cream cheese for fellow workers to share, a time to stop and reacquaint ourselves and not just talk business. Whenever it came to be my turn he would whisper to me “I’ve got it this week.” He noticed that I would always take an extra bagel and stuff it in my purse. He never drew attention to it except one time, to say conspiratorially “For the boy?” and I would nod, Yes. Thanks. It would be his treat after dinner, toasted and piled high with grape jelly.

Winter was in full blast in Pennsylvania, rumbling through the little town I had settled in like a locomotive on speed. Winters were damp and cold, and the wind chilled the bones so deep it is a memory that stays with me still. Snow was falling lightly the Christmas Eve of my memory, and I had wrapped the last of the three presents bought for my son with the money I had squirreled away. There was nothing else, no special dinner nor plans for church. I was still mad at God for putting me in this mess.

Putting my young one to bed, we talked excitedly about Santa and his expected arrival, for I didn’t want to dampen his mood or lessen his child joy of the season. I had cut a small tree down from the neighboring park, and it sat in the corner of the living room, minus lights or Christmas balls, just some silver tinsel I had gotten for 10 cents a package. Stuffed in a cardboard box to hold it up, it stood there, the bottom covered with a white sheet and looking as forlorn as I had felt.

I sat on the deep sill of the kitchen window, watching the flakes fall against the backdrop of the street lights. It was early evening and the t.v. was off, a small black and white portable that also sat on a cardboard box. It was quiet and snow muffled any sound, except for the crunch of tires on the street below.

I thought about the choices I had made which had put me in this position. Although I was tired, I was calm because I knew that I had done the best I could for my child and that was what really important to me. I knew that my time would come, but it would be a long time coming. It was then that I started to think about God again, and what I needed to do to make things right with him, to raise my son with morals and stability.

Lost in my thoughts, my eyes didn’t immediately focus on the truck that had stopped inimages[1] (11) front of my house. It wasn’t until I noticed the figure below waving their arms excitedly, that I realized I was looking at the face of my boss and some co workers. The crusty old man was beaming from ear to ear, and the doorbell rang loudly. My son ran from the bedroom asking, “Is Santa here?”

Running to the front and pulling the door open, I saw them standing there, holding chairs and end tables, a stainless steel kitchenette set and a mattress. With a headboard and frame, they smiled silently as they walked passed me and laid them down in the appropriate rooms.

One by one, they quietly placed them down, looking around the sparse rooms that were clean but empty. Box upon box of dishes, silverware and linens piled up in corners of the kitchen, until finally they were finished. They had cleaned out their attics, their cupboards and their wallets, also surprising me with a cooked turkey with all the trimmings.

They stood in my little living room, eleven in all, co- workers with spouses, standing there waiting nand ever uttering a sound.

The crusty old man gave the cue, and they began to sing.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

and a Happy New Year.”

“Merry Christmas!” They shouted and only then did I let the tears flow.

Full of gratitude and love for my fellow workers, I never forgot the feeling they gave me. I relive it every year at this time, and I give freely to others. I don’t think they knew the depth of their kindness and how much it touched me.

Two years after that, I remarried and spent a lot of years raising a family. I have been rich and I have been poor, but I have never forgotten the joy that comes with giving as well as receiving. I have thanked God for being and experiencing both.

Thank you all, where ever you are; your gift was more than you’ll ever know.

Merry Christmas to those who have and those who have not.

No matter what you have, share it with others.

It is truly what Christmas is all about.

WAITING BY THE WINDOW – A CHRISTMAS STORY FROM THE LAKE

The two brothers sat side by side, watching the snowflakes as they fell in big clumps, piling up on the ground right in front of them. The big bay window seemed like a wide screen t.v. as they sat for hours on end watching the day unfold. They loved to watch the cars go by every morning as Mommy and Daddy went about their day.

But today was Saturday and everyone was home, scurrying every which way to get things done. It was Christmas Eve and the boys knew that soon the ‘good smells’ would be filling the kitchen of the little house where they lived.

Daddy lugged the tree up from the basement earlier in the week, struggling and laughing as he stood the cardboard box in the corner of the living room. Surveying the remnants of box, they recognized the greenery and stray tinsel leftover from Christmas Eve’s past. Standing proudly in the same corner where it always stood, the brothers loved to watch the twinkling lights and shiny ornaments sparkle during the evening hours. They would lay on their backs on either end of the comfy couch, silent and content as Mommy hung the last of the candy canes, listening to the Christmas music playing softly on the radio.

Do you think we can sneak one? The older brother winked to the younger.

Do we dare? The young one whispered excitedly and they brushed against the tree gently to make one of them fall silently to the ground. Munching it quickly, they shared the sweet even though they knew it would never be missed, as there were many, many more throughout the tree.

Coming up from the basement with the last of the decoration boxes coupled in his arms, their father smiled to himself as he watched them lick their lips to get the last of the peppermint chips.

His face fell slightly as he spied the little box within a box, hidden knowingly so as not to remind them. The box that had once held an ornament he and his wife had purchased together, one of the few gifts they had gotten for each other for their first Christmas together. It was plain, a sparkly snowman that had hung from their tree for many years.

Suddenly it was gone, and they never knew what had happened to it. They looked everywhere, under the couch, underneath the chair cushions, and even outside near the car. They surmised it must have fallen from the Christmas tree during the hustle and bustle of opening presents, mistakenly thrown out among the wrapping paper. It was a sad reminder for several years that sometimes, bad things just happen.

“Better not let your mother see you do that” he whispered, and they nodded in agreement. Besides, it was time to get back to the window. They had an important job to do and didn’t want to mess it up.

I wonder what he’ll bring us? The younger one said to the older.

Who? He answered with mock innocence, knowing full well “who” his brother was talking about. He loved to tease him because it was so easy.

Who? His brother screamed, and then calmed himself. He didn’t want Mommy to know they were getting excited. They didn’t want to have to leave the window and not witness his arrival.

Who? He whispered now, almost to himself. You know who!

Yes, I know, I know! older brother answered, the enthusiasm of the younger contagious.

I can’t wait for Mommy and Daddy to see what we got them! he said suddenly, and his brother nodded excitedly in agreement.

They sat there all day, in front of the big bay window, and watched with hearts pounding, their eyes darting from corner to corner as the snow continued to come down, coating the cars and the tops of hats worn by those who passed by.

They were becoming sleepy, the afternoon sun fading and the room becoming dim, until the lights of the tree shone brighter and brighter. Their eyelids were getting heavy and long, dry yawns began to escape from their mouths. Try as they might, they were no longer able to keep their heads up, and laid on the carpeted floor in front of the window.

It will be ok, the older said to the younger as they snuggled up together, the warmth of each other’s bodies calming their quickly beating hearts.

Let’s just stay here until we hear him…the younger said as he drifted off to sleep.

Yeah, until we hear him…and soon they both were snoring lightly, a slow and rhythmic breathing that comes from the sleep of knowing you are loved.

Mommy and Daddy stood together, their arms wrapped around each other, smiling at the two brothers who lay contently on the floor.

“I wonder what dogs dream of?” Mommy said sweetly, kissing the side of Daddy’s cheek.

“I hope they dream of Santa Claus, just like everyone else” he said simply and kissed her back.

“Merry Christmas, boys” they whispered, and walked towards the staircase and upstairs to their bed.

They left the two sleeping dogs in front of the big bay window, who dreamt the dream of children, of wrapping paper, presents and St. Nicholas.

They slept close together, both of their furry paws protecting their gift for Mommy and Daddy, a gift of love and adoration for those they cherished.

A plain, white snowman ornament they had found in the dirt and hidden behind a lilac bush, just the day before.

Merry Christmas!