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As any horror aficionado knows, those title words signal the apex of panic for our poor heroine: The maniacal “crank” caller that has haunted her all night has been revealed to be in the very same house as our terrified victim! (Aside: I never understood this trope. This was used back in the olden days of landlines, so it’s not as if the killer could be calling on his cell phone. Is he using a second landline in the same house? Most houses only had one. And how does he know what number to call? Is he close friends with the owners of the house? This is never explained to my satisfaction.) Recently, these words caused something of a spiritual panic for me.

Last Saturday night, we went back to church. I was hesitant, but I knew the bishop was about to lift the dispensation for missing mass, and since both my hubby and I are vaccinated, I figured…what the hey. Our parish is not new; it was built in the 50s. The ventilation is poor on a good day. And lo and behold — at least a third of the folks in the church were eschewing masks. And singing. Let me tell you, I was scared.

And judgmental. Even with my vaccination, I know infection is still possible. How could anyone be in an enclosed area with a large group of people and not wear a mask? How could our pastor allow singing? All of these thoughts so overwhelmed me, I did not feel the emotion I ought to have felt at receiving Eucharist after more than a year. I should have been buoyant. I wasn’t.

And then I realized: The call was coming from inside the house. In other words, it was me. I was preventing my own enjoyment of the celebration of the Eucharist. I was the problem. I was the deranged killer.

There is a time to hang up the phone. A time to realize that you’ve done your best to keep yourself safe and that you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. So enjoy what you can. Move into the world and try to experience it without terror, especially where your spirituality is concerned. We need the normality of that connection in our lives. We need the strength of that bond to lift us up and out.

We can’t hold ourselves captive. God wants us healthy, but God wants us happy, too.

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.

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!

ray of light near body of water

Imagine being an explorer from outer space, having traveled for years, and finally, you’ve landed on the third planet from the sun. Phew! That map you bought at the fueling station on Alpha Centauri was a bit outdated, but you made it eventually.

The cut-rate “Learn to speak like an Earthling in ten days!” lessons you took were supposed to enable you to converse with the natives, but you’ve encountered some snafus. 

So you say a “pantry” isn’t a place you store trousers, but food? Huh. And a roomatologist isn’t an interior designer, but some kind of doctor? Wait. It’s spelled how?!?

Also, your spaceship doesn’t fit into the drive-thru lane at the fast-food place. You put the food in front of you and it just sits there. It’s not fast at all! Should you get your money back? 

And what is the deal with money, anyway? Tiny pieces of green paper? This can’t be the most valuable thing on this planet. Back home, it’s a compound called blargen, which is a rare, strong mineral that emits a noise and spins. 

If it’s hard for an alien to understand our language and ways, it’s become equally hard to decipher what our fellow humans are communicating to us these days. 

A wedding with 10,000 guests in NYC? At the height of a pandemic? That’s a head-scratcher. People intentionally provoking fights over masks? Going on vacation and flouting rules? It just does not compute.

Others may make questionable choices, but there’s no need to lower yourself when those around you engage in pettiness and politics. Act as if God is watching (guess what?) and speak as if everything you say will be in history books. Calibrate your moral compass to the Golden Rule and always do the right thing.

heart shape book page close-up photography

“…as an answer to prayer, ‘do what you’ve done’ seemed too easy. I guess I was expecting something trickier. Have you needed a friend’s help to hear God’s voice clearly?”

Maybe having a soulmate isn’t the fairy tale of finding a romantic partner who fulfills your every need and with whom you “click” instantly. It seems to me that you find that connection with friends over the years. Could it be that “belongingness” (as author Brene Brown termed it) consists of components of a whole constellation of characters in your life?

There I go with the alliteration again! Lori and SueBE know I love to use it in posts, so much so that we’ve termed it “alloteration.” Think I’ll flag it 🚩for your safety as you proceed.

SueBE’s post, “How Do You Pray?” resonated with me, and I realized we’d both gotten the same sense of God’s nudging again, even though we live so far away from each other.

Lori, SueBE and I have been discussing a project we can do together, and it seemed natural to believe it was something different than what we are already doing — writing this blog together.

But as I prayed about it, the “words on my heart” were so clear: Just what we’re doing now. Like SueBE, I thought, that can’t be right, can it? Doesn’t it have to be more complicated than that?

Just what we’re doing now. 

So what are we doing now?

  • Writing posts and prayers
  • Bouncing ideas off each other
  • Exchanging emails to catch up on our lives and discuss current events
  • Encouraging each other during hard times
  • Learning from moments of conflict (after ten years of friendship, we’ve only had one, initiated, regrettably, by me)

These things may seem inconsequential, but they form the foundation of our friendship. 🚩

Paradoxically, that moment where I left my common sense in my other purse and said hurtful things to SueBE has deepened the soul-sister relationship for all three of us.

It was me at my worst when SueBE was at her lowest. It was Lori at her best, standing by and offering care to us both, knowing it would eventually be resolved in the spirit of grace. It was how people who care about each other seek redemption, forgive, make amends, and heal together.

But as for the project we set out to do together, we decided to write “laments”, a type of sorrowful prayer, so I’ve been writing, discarding, starting over, stomping away from the desk. I just haven’t found a way to express what I’m trying to say. It could be because I’m trying to write from a perspective of hard things are happening, but in the end, we have hope. 🚩 I always have hope, but trying to make it universal with how I feel about everything going on in the world has been…? Fraught? Feels false somehow.

So maybe the three of us are supposed to do something similar to what John Green and his brother Hank do under their moniker, The Vlog Brothers. They record videos addressed to each other about all kinds of topics.

Of course, selfies are not my comfort zone, so I doubt I’ll be climbing on board the video wagon. Lori and I aren’t used to presenting our personas as a package for perusal (🚩). SueBE is more comfortable with public speaking, as she has done it often, and does it well.  She offers classes on the art of writing. She’s our professor, and it’s her purview (½ 🚩)

I’m not sure how this new project of just what we’ve been doing will manifest, but I know that we’ll figure it out from afar, together, with prayer, patience, and the persistent push of providence. 🚩

Do you have to be there in person to understand what someone else is going through? No, of course not. If you care, you can be there by phone, email, or video. If that person is part of the swath of soulmates in your life, you can be there with your heart.

woman in pink shirt sitting on chair“Any coughing, sneezing, diarrhea?” The woman asked as I rolled down my window.

At first, I thought my son had taken a wrong turn and driven us to the Worst Wendy’s in the World. 

Are these items… a la carte?

Should I respond, “No thanks, trying to cut down! Just a baked potato. Hold the mucus.”

But we were actually at the vet to drop off our cat, Squeaky, for his first well-visit. People aren’t allowed inside the vet’s office, so the procedure now is to pull into a parking spot, hand off your pet, and wait for them to call you with results.

It’s important to ask if anyone in the household is sick, but it would’ve been nice to be greeted with a “hello” first.

I think we can all relate to the harried, masked workers making their way through the day with uncertainty hanging in the very air around them.

Last month, a utility worker in a mask confronted me at my front door. “Step out of the house, please, ma’am.” I looked at him for a good, long time, like DeNiro. You talkin to me? You’re telling me to step out of my own house? I don’t think so. 

When I didn’t move or speak, he finally received the energy of my fixed gaze, and softened his tone. “Company policy, ma’am. We have to ask you this outside before we can come in.”

“Then say that, son,” I told him. He was actually nice, but was grappling with how to keep himself safe while doing his job. He’s got to put food on the table. If he gets sick, nobody eats.

One of the lessons I’ve learned during this pandemic is that people can somehow not be themselves for a protracted period of time. Trying to balance health, safety and financial security has had an impact on the human psyche.

So for the time being, if you find those on the frontline a bit curt, don’t take it to heart. Common courtesy may be uncommon these days, but cover your own karma. Keep the mask on your face and the forcefield of faith around your soul. This too shall pass.

silhouette of three people up on mountain cliffI loved Lori’s post about our confab the other day. It was so nice to see my sisters-of-the-soul, almost in person. Her characterization of me as a ballerina impersonating a longshoreman sent me into spasms of snorts (laughter, that is). I’ve been trying to come up with a word to combine those two terms. Balleshorman? Longshorina? Either way, it’s me all over! As we say in Jersey, not for nothin, but she’s on the money.

We’ve never met in person, so this call was truly an event. I could see SueBE as a professor in a college setting, as she just has a way about her that says, “Trust me. I know my stuff.” She’s warm and wise, and feels like family.

I could see Lori as a poet-in-residence at an idyllic lakeside writers’ retreat. She’s got a way about her that says, “I feel things deeply, and can put emotions to music till words dance on the page.” She’s refined and regal, and feels like family.

During the call, workmen were bumping around in my basement, tearing down walls and cleaning out the mess caused by a broken sewer pipe. I was concerned because they had asked me which walls to cut down, even though I had previously told their associate all of the details. What if they cut out the wrong wall? Threw away boxes of mementos inadvertently?

Then as we started chatting, my cat, Squeaky, climbed up onto the desk, and right into the camera shot. I loved that Lori and SueBE would get to meet him; however, I hadn’t taken my Benadryl to help with my cat allergy that morning. Before long, my face flushed and I felt the itching start. I didn’t want to pause the call, because it was such a momentous occasion, so I soldiered on through the allergic reaction.

It was so good to be together from afar, and even though I wasn’t fully myself, I felt like we were all present enough to create the foundation of our sacred space. A shared, virtual meeting room in which we talk about joy, grief, hope, the pandemic, politics, prayer. The stuff of life. I know that when any one of us isn’t able to be wholly present, the others will step up so we can shore each other up.

Dear readers, finding your sisters- (or brothers) of-the-soul is highly recommended for your mental health, for spiritual sustenance, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world with friends on the same frequency. You know they’ve got your back, and you’ve got theirs, whatever may come.

Harry Potter and his pals studied “Defense Against the Dark Arts.” And it’s a good thing they did! For us Muggles, perhaps a more salient field of inquiry would be “Defense Against Trolls.”

You know what trolls are. And if you don’t, a quick perusal of SueBE’s latest post will put you in-the-know. We all deal with trolls, whether on the internet or in real life. They come out of nowhere, ready to do anything to get your goat (so to speak). So when SueBE complained about her personal troll, I was ready with a full-throated Billy Goats Gruff counterattack: “No one bothers my friends! Get out of the way, Troll, before I ram you right off this bridge!”

I do this without thinking. As my friend Susan recently said to me, “You are always, always on my side.” That’s my impulse, to fly to the defense of anyone I love. But is it the most effective means of dispatching trolls?

Trolls don’t respond to logic. You can’t argue with them. Neither do they respond to loving gestures — because they don’t truly understand love. They understand control: If they can control you, all is well. But if they can’t…here they come crawling from under the bridge looking for a fight!

God calls us to love one another. But God does not call us to surrender who we are (our safety, our conscience) to any living person, troll or otherwise. Perhaps the best defense against trolls is to avoid them altogether. With no one to pick on, what are they, really? Just sad creatures who live in the dark.

And if you can’t avoid them? May I suggest always traveling with companions? SueBE and Ruthie are my die-hard backups. They’ve always got me, and I will always have them. I wasn’t born a Capricorn (sign of the goat!) for nothing.

When crossing bridges and other shaky places,
you needn’t walk alone.
Look for your sort. You will know them
by sight and by soul.
Once you have their hands and hearts,
hold on. Consign your strength
to their care. No one need deter you.
Clip-clop where you will.
It is not by hoof and horn you will succeed,
but in turning to your herd, to the warm, soft wooliness
of kin and kith and kind.

pink tulips on white vaseToday is my birthday, so I’d like to start by saying…what’d you buy me? I jest, of course. You shouldn’t feel obligated to get me a gift or anything, even though I’m always here, encouraging you and sending good vibes your way. 

Please don’t feel you must buy me a lovely scented candle, a cashmere shawl or make a donation to my 1-800-MISS-RUTH hotline. (That’s not real, by the way. Just jesting again!)

So I turned 55 today — although I’m told I don’t look a day over 54 ½ .😊 I’ve gotten some text and email birthday wishes, which I really appreciate. 

By far, the best gift I could ever ask for, I already have.

It’s taken decades to achieve, but I feel a sense of peace in my soul. 

I’ve got a modest home. A son who watches out for me. Friends I can count on. Projects that interest me. A mackerel tabby who cycles between maniacal and completely inert. Who could ask for anything more?

A friend told me the other day she’d give up one of her pinky fingers to lose weight. She believes her life will be better if the numbers on the scale go down. Less of her (body weight, that is) is the “more” she seeks.

It’s easy to feel guilty for things we haven’t done, like lose weight, finish that college degree, or find a mate. You’re establishing the rule Until I accomplish this one thing, I can’t allow myself to be happy!

The problem becomes a partner, and every time you find a tiny bit of joy, that problem reminds you it still hasn’t been solved. 

Sometimes the more you seek, the farther your goal seems to move away from you. When you look to someone or something else to complete you, you give your own power away.

Really, the “more” you seek is a sense that you’re on the right track. That your life has meaning. Hang your hat on hope and partner with Providence. Stop chasing after that nebulous “more,” and let your good life find you.

gray rock formation near body of water during sunsetOhhhh, dear. Let me rephrase that. Choose your “Yes’s” in life so you don’t end up with things you don’t want. If you don’t aim for a positive, “yes” goal, you can end up picking a negative, “no” goal by default. There. That’s better!

Aeons ago, when I was in school (in ye olden days, when we spelled “eons” with an extraneous “A”), my philosophy teacher was the first adult who actually listened to my opinions. 

He also gave sage advice. If we said, “I don’t think so,” he would correct us. “Don’t tell me what you don’t think. Say, ‘I think not.’”

The same thing is true in life. Say “no” to what you don’t want. By doing so, you say “yes” to what you do want. This might seem obvious, but is it?

How much of your life is frittered away by doing things you said “yes” to reluctantly, or to please someone else? 

Be clear about what you want. The map to your yes life is littered with wrong turns and detours. Those were defining moments. Now you know where your yes life isn’t. You can use that information to keep driving.

Don’t be equivocal about what you don’t want, or, as Mr. Kielblock would say, be unequivocal about what you want. 

So be sure to pick your no’s today — er uh, to choose your yes’s. You’ll save yourself from obligations you gain nothing from. Decide what matters most to you, and set your sights on that “yes” goal. 

And never forget to check in with your co-pilot, Providence, along the way. I mean, always remember to check in with your co-pilot, Providence, along the way. That’s what a prayerful, purposeful, positive life is all about.

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