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silhouette of two person sitting on chair near tree
Picture of two friends sitting in chairs seen in silhouette at sunset under a large tree. They are facing each other as if deep in conversation.

Happy as a clam.

Cute as a button. 

Fit as a fiddle.

Do these phrases even make sense? How do we know clams are happy? Has someone taken a seaside-survey?

A button, cute? Useful, maybe. But I’ve never seen a button in a beauty contest!

And a fiddle is fit? It looks like it’s wearing a tiny corset. Maybe this musical pun is a groaner, but that can’t be good for its organs! 

So how about this saying: Goody two-shoes. Do the baddies only wear one shoe? 

It’s not possible to make sense of things as they once were, because time marches on and things change. 

Old sayings are like old ways of doing things.

It might’ve made sense to someone, at some point in time. But we’re in a new era. So just as a general rule, and public service, let me offer some sage counsel.

When someone confides a painful truth to you, please do not do this:

  • Gaslight them (say, “I’ve never experienced it, thus, it hasn’t happened to you.”)
  • Blame them (say, “What did you do to cause X? What were you wearing/saying/thinking,” etc.)
  • Snow them (say, “I know exactly how you feel.” No you don’t. You know how you feel. What they’re going through is another person’s situation.)

Show up as a friend, and if that person with a painful truth wants to talk about it, honor that. If they don’t, you know the drill…. Honor that. Silence isn’t the enemy. They may just want to sit and “be.”  

Come to think of it, there are some wise old sayings that still hold true, like this one: “A sweet friendship restores the soul,” Proverbs 27:9. Give your friend in pain space when they need it, and solace when they ask for it. You’ll know how to be there when you listen with your heart.

brown and white short coated dog on white ceramic floor tiles
Picture of a door that is slightly ajar, open enough to see a sweet, brown puppy

Is nothing sacred? I thought, as they head-butted their way through the bathroom door.

Early on, it was my puppy, all floppy ears and fluffy tail. She’d used her considerable nose to push her way through the door, which had been slightly ajar. What’s doing? she seemed to say, with a tilt of her fuzzy head. With that, she sat down and took a nap.

Then it was my toddler, all cherub cheeks, binky and blanket in tow. He’d barge in like a mini-caveman and sit on the floor by the “throne.” Want some company? he seemed to ask. With that, he’d lay on the floor with his blankie and take a nap.

Finally, it was my cat, all wild whiskers and stealthy feet. He looked like a tiny, tuxedoed man, with dark pants tucked into white tube socks. He seemed to say, Are you aware that my food bowl is only 99% full? With that, he’d put his head down on the bathroom rug and take a nap.

“This used to be single occupancy,” I’d say to my audience, all of whom would just look at me, bemused.

I realized some things are sacred. These moments. The slow pace of time. The invasion of space. The crumbs and legos and dog toys strewn around the living room. Those moments were golden, although at the time, it didn’t feel like it. I often felt as if there were things coming at me from all sides and I never had a moment to myself.

We’ve all been through a lot lately, with COVID fatigue, political clashes, and the general sense of distrust that has set in.

It’s easy to slam the door, to shut everything bad out, but sometimes, when you leave the door ajar, good things come toddling in.

My mackerel-tabby, Squeaky, in his situation of blessings: napping on a comfy blue blanket on the golden-colored couch, while bathed in a patch of sun rays.

Before I start the day, I listen for God’s leading. What’s on my mind today? What’s on my heart?

So, at 55-years-old, I’m thinking about going back to college to finish my degree. I found myself thinking that if I’d accomplished this one specific thing, my life would have turned out better. 

But is that true? 
If I’d gotten my degree, I might still feel incomplete.
Okay. Got my Bachelor’s. 
Shoulder shrug.
Great. But you know what? I still feel incomplete. If only I’d gotten my Master’s! Okay. Got my Master’s. If only I’d gotten my Doctorate! Okay. Got my Doctorate.

Head shrug. Hmm. Still not quite “there” yet.

If only I’d gotten that research grant! Okay. Got the grant. 

If only my lab were bigger! Got the bigger lab.
I’ve got it now.
If only my lab coat were more comfortable! Oh, I could be so much more productive. Why, I’d discover great things, even unlock that last, implacable door and find the key to happiness! But alas. Scratchy lab coat. What can you do?

Soul shrug. It’s an impossible dilemma!
Maybe it’s not about waiting for the perfect circumstances. It’s okay to be where you are, as who you are. You’re not incomplete or broken. You’re you, in the process of becoming even more you. It’s not about perfection, but being in what I call, the “situation of blessings.”

Be around people who are warm, welcoming, and with whom you feel a kinship. Do the things you love, in a relaxed environment. That’s where you bloom into your own fullness. I may go back to school, and I may not, but I’ve learned a life lesson today. 

Where is “there” anyway? Doesn’t matter. Right now, just be here, reading this blog. In the palm of God’s hand. In your situation of blessings.

bird flying over the sea during sunset
Picture of a gradient-pink sunset over a shimmering ocean as seagulls fly in formation around the sun

Kind people, I’d like to share with you Auntie Ruth’s Rules of Life. In a nutshell, you and I will get along just fine if you’ve got the following attributes:

  • Sense of decency
  • Sense of humor
  • Sense of purpose

I don’t need to know your pedigree. What letters you’ve got after your name. Your group affiliations. Your alma mater. Your net worth. 

As long as you’re a decent human being who treats me like a decent human being, we’re golden.

So I found out recently that someone I’d thought of as a friend was actually a bigot, which violates the “sense of decency” rule.  I was surprised when I realized this; as a person with a disability who’s been on the receiving end of discrimination herself, you’d think she’d have more empathy.

You might say, call her out on it. But it won’t change her mind. She won’t suddenly see the light after our conversation.

Here in New Jersey, there’s a gesture that I’ve termed, “the up-down.” Someone looks you in the eye, scans your body all the way down to your feet, then looks back up at your eyes again. It’s an insecure person’s way of diminishing others in the mistaken belief that it will elevate them.

Maybe bigots are trying to be “big,” so they need someone else to be “small.” Maybe they’ve been hurt so many times in life that they’ve become one of the hurt-ers.

It could be that the only answer is no answer. Just disengage. As with any problem too large for me to get my arms around, I’ll pray it out, get back to center, and leave it in God’s hands. 

sun reflection on calm water near green mountains
Image of sunrays bathing the shimmering ocean next to majestic, moss-covered mountains

Two men from the basement-waterproofing company arrived to give me an estimate to fix a small leak, walking into my house as if they owned it. 

Following me downstairs, they headed into an isolated area of the basement. One said to me, “Come here! Look! You can see cracks in the foundation. Water’s bound to get in here.”

I said, “I know.”

“No, look, you can see it,” he said, gesturing for me to go toward him.

“Yep, I’ve seen it,” I said, staying put.

You’re going to tell me where to stand? In my own house?

He said the leak from my bilco door couldn’t be fixed without addressing the structural issues in the house, to the tune of $4200. When I looked at him blankly behind my mask, he said, “Could you manage $3200?”

“Thanks for your time,” I said and ushered them to the door.

Another time, my son’s friend asked if he and his boss could give me a presentation about insurance. He said, “I’m not trying to sell you anything, just trying to learn how to do a ‘customer spiel’ from my boss.”

Oh. Sure! I was born yesterday, while simultaneously falling off a turnip truck by the Brooklyn Bridge. Why not? Come over to “not” sell me things.

When they arrived, his boss said, “Why don’t we all move over to this table so we can see the presentation better?” 

Hackles raised.

“I’m fine over here,” I said.

“Oh, but we could all see what I’ll be talking about…”

“Couch is better for my back.”

“Oh, if it’s a back issue, that’s fine,” he said.

As if he was giving me permission to sit where I wanted. In my own home.

People who try to physically move you in this way are gauging how malleable you are. No matter what they say, everybody is trying to sell you something.

Knowing you’ve got the right to say “no” is the most important life-lesson you’ll ever learn. And remember, you’ve got a rock and a foundation to stand on, so, when push comes to shove, you will not be greatly moved.

person looking at the milkyway
Picture of a man facing away from the camera, seen in silhouette, looking at the star-speckled night-time sky

Not to make light of the violence that occurred last week in the US capital, but I’d rather ponder esoteric ideas like life in outer space right now. Quite frankly, proving there’s intelligent life here on Earth at the moment might be a challenge. 

Science fiction books and movies always portray aliens as monsters, but what if they’re watching us right now, not with nefarious intentions, but kind-hearted curiosity?

A study claims there may be many civilizations in the universe, and I find this fascinating. 

What if extraterrestrials are watching you the way you watch those two bluebirds as they flutter around the cherry blossoms in your front yard every morning? Aren’t they magnificent! What will they do next? Pick up a tiny branch? Must be making a nest! Wow! Ain’t nature grand?

What if they’re checking in on you the way you keep an eye on that stray cat who visits your backyard. Does he need food? Where does he sleep? Is he okay? What color is that kitty really — black or brown? He almost seems to have subtle stripes. Look, honey, he might have stripes! Isn’t he a marvel?

Every day, as I look at the headlines, I ponder how strange our new normal has become. At this point, if we had an alien invasion, I might not bat an eyelash. “Aiiight,” I’d say, “just stay in your lane, supply me with coffee and chocolate, and we’ll get along fine.”

Mankind has become desensitized to disaster and demonstrates an utter lack of decorum — even humanity — but one day, civility will return. Empathy will emerge. Compassion will make a comeback. 

Until then, hunker down as best you can, and hold on till morning comes. Or at least till the Mother Ship comes to take us away from all this!

books on ground

I just read that there’s a mystery phisher out there who is scamming authors out of their manuscripts, but has in no way shared or monetized them. 

Why do this? It’s making my brain hurt. 

It’s causing a fissure in my understanding of evildoers in the world, to wit: 

a. They do bad things. 

b. They profit from said bad things.

Maybe miscreants don’t even know why they do the wrong thing themselves. It could be they don’t set out to cause harm. And you never know; good people might have a whole other side we know nothing about.

Maybe it’s our own writing professor, SueBE, who just happens to be working on a cozy mystery and needs an unexpected plot twist. She and the Mystery Phisher both like books. Coincidence? Hmm?

Or our poet-in-residence, Lori, looking for new sources of inspiration for her work. Like the mystery phisher, she, too, uses email. Coincidence? Hmmmm?

Best bet would have to be, well, me! The Kindly Auntie who spins humorous little yarns, knits on a round loom, and has a cat named Squeaky. Who would ever suspect such a sweet soul? And admittedly, I, too, have used the internet. Coincidence? Hmmmmmmm?

This may be the year when we all finally, collectively, decide it may not be possible to understand all the Whys in the World — chief among them, why did we have to suffer through a pandemic? — but we can help each other with the How.

Fissures are divisions, and we’ve had our share of those this year. Politics. To wear a mask or not. To gather socially or not. To shut down towns or not. It’s a mystery why we’ve decided to stop getting along. 

If 2020 was a wounding time, let’s make a resolution for the coming year: to resurrect compassion. To allow the tincture of time and the poultice of prayer to heal all these fissures. It’s no mystery Who to call on to help us write this story of hope.

person writing on white paper

Hand writing with pink marker on white paper to create a list of projects to be managed.

This week, the idea of “maps” was on my mind. Some days, it seems clear what I need to do and where I want to go, but lately, it’s been murky. I decided to strip it down to basics, as if I was re-upholstering a chair. The cushion isn’t comfortable? Let’s get rid of it. 

My early morning “routine” (scanning news headlines, scanning my body for what hurts most today) leaves me anxious, so I had to ditch it. Instead, I’ll start the day with “beditation”  — meditation in bed, comprised of deep breathing, stretching and prayer.

The fabric on that armchair is rough? Let’s find soft, new material. 

In the same way, sometimes it helps to re-define and re-design your goals.

What actually is working right now? Stationary biking for half an hour, praying as I go through the day and counting my blessings by name. That stays in the “best practices” category. 

What really isn’t working right now? Not having the stamina to keep the house as clean as I’d like it to be. Always having pain somewhere in my body. Keeping track of appointments and zoom calls. That goes into the “project management” category.

What’s uplifting? Writing with Lori and SueBE. Not just our blog posts, but the emails we write to each other. We really do a deep dive into life. My low vision community. Bluebirds. Bach.

What’s troubling? Re-label that a project, not a problem. What resources are available to address it? Connect with others who face the same issues, and you’ll heal along with them. 

Find comforts you can count on. Have some herbal tea or chocolate milk. And every morning, bask in your blessings. Breathe in grace. Breathe out gratitude. Calibrate your compass to align with Providence, and you’ll be heading in the right direction.

Potbelly stove - Wikipedia

Picture of rusty, brown pot-belly stove

At the physical therapy center last year, I sat on a table, getting TENS unit therapy for the pain in my legs. 

There were several patients there that day, and most were pleasant enough, considering we were all in various levels of pain.

An older man named Steve was getting treatment for his neck on the table next to mine. “Women always let themselves go after marriage,” he said to his physical therapist. “They never put themselves together with hair and makeup. And the worst part is, they always gain weight.” He shook his head.

There was silence as the other patients and physical therapists around him — all women — processed what he’d just said. Lying on the table there, his own gut was what one would call “voluminous”. He had the girth of a pregnant woman carrying triplets. As he stood up, it occurred to me that he resembled a pot-belly stove: short, squat, and kind of rusty.

That insult to women hung in the air until finally, his physical therapist said something to the effect of, “Sometimes, we just can’t see ourselves as others do,” which I thought was just the right amount of diplomacy and wisdom. Nothing else needed to be said.

This time in history may be remembered for many negatives: the pandemic, divisions based on race and politics, and most notably, an alarming deficit of empathy.

Whatever negativity you encounter today, rise above the visceral instinct to “put someone in their place.” Remember, Comeuppance Coordinator is not an actual job, even though it’s a way of life for many on social media. Keep in mind that everyone is an amalgam of humanity and divinity. This mindset will help the world find its way back to grace again.

Squeaky the cat sleeping peacefully on a forest-green, chocolate-brown and cream-colored blanket I knitted.

The clock in my kitchen stopped working at exactly 6:35 on a day many years ago. Removing it is one of the things on my to-do list, but because its cord is incorporated into the trim, I’d have to hire a contractor to punch out part of the wall to take it down. 

So there the clock sits, not working, but also, not going away. 

Isn’t it a lot like the problems in our lives? 

Every day seems like a dance in which you step back and forth, trying to strike a balance between what you should be doing and what you could be doing.

What if life stopped at 6:35 like a train pulling into Splendor Station and let you out to toddle around? Would you be able to savor life if you literally had all the time and resources in the world? 

Many days, I find myself saying, I’ll just plow through my to-do list and be “in the moment” later. 

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the autumn leaves wafting onto the ground in the backyard. Those two bluebird pals sky-diving from the fence to the feeder. Wait, there’s a deer in the backyard. Here comes his friend, bounding playfully. Now they’re running back and forth. Are they racing?

The cat bumps against my leg and slow blinks at me. 

“I’ll be right there, Squeaks,” I tell him. But I’m already there. Aren’t I? We’re here. At home. Where the heart is. 

Let’s not wait until time runs out before realizing it’s not about getting “there” before everyone else. Or acquiring things so you’ll have some way to measure your accomplishments. God’s metrics are simpler: be yourself. Be where you are. Be grateful for your blessings. Be centered in your soul. Breathe. Be.

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