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Despite my beloved mother’s best efforts (God rest) and the hours she put in playing Bach on the piano, I’m still nowhere near as cultured and refined as she was. She’d quote Chaucer for me, in middle English. She’d school me on the origin of words.

Still, I’m just an easily-distracted, uncultured, good-natured gal from New Jersey.

Doesn’t matter if I’m looking right at you as you tell me your long-winded spiel. In my mind, I’ve gone to Carolina.

Watching this video of Hilary Hahn, I was reminded of my mother playing Bach on the piano.

I’m amazed at how beautiful even one note can sound in the right hands. At the same time, I’m also utterly distracted by the fact that her producer looks like a combination of Fred Mertz (of I Love Lucy) and Cheech Marin (of Cheech and Chong).

Then I realized that her conductor looks like Art Garfunkel (of Simon and Garfunkel). 😎

So whilst (little faux fanciness for ya) I try to be good at culcha, alls I can really do is appreciate it in my own New Jersey way. I’ll never have tea with the queen, p’raps, but I like to spin a yarn and have a good laugh.

I noticed that when Hahn plays, her whole body moves in a particular choreography. It’s as if she knows that she can’t reach the notes with her hands unless her feet move in a certain way at the same time.

Her whole body is her instrument.

In the same way, your whole life is your testament.

Most of the people you meet would never stand still and let you convert them to your beliefs.

All of the people you meet are seeing, hearing and feeling your beliefs every time you speak.

With all that’s going on in the world, all I can do is offer you this cozy corner where you’ll always be welcomed like a friend and we can share our stories. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, kind people. You’re okay with me.

Here’s a picture of the singer, Pink, cooking in her home, carrying her baby in a sling in front of her. When I saw it, I was concerned that the infant was too close to the frying pan and might get splattered with grease. I also noticed that the child in the back, climbing on the counter, looks distracted and may fall.

Now, is having this opinion actually another way of saying that I’m “Mommy-shaming” the singer? I don’t mean it to be. I suppose it’s all about intention and tact. She’s obviously doing her best to take care of her kids, as we all do. It’s hard to know how much you should say to or about another parent.

Once when my son was three years old, we stopped at a local donut shop. I kept him right in front of me, pressed against the counter so that no one would snatch him. A lady nearby was just paying for her coffee and said quietly into my ear, “They put the coffee right there on the counter near your child…just saying the coffee is really hot.” And she left.

Of course, I was offended and shrugged her off with the body language equivalent of “Well! I never!” But you know what? She was right. There was a definite danger that my son could be scalded by the cups of coffee that were being placed inches away from where I was vigilantly keeping him safe from child abductors. Sometimes we’re so hard-wired to watch for large, looming boogeymen that we don’t see the small vipers in the garden in front of us.

If conversation is constructive and considerate, there’s nothing wrong with respectfully disagreeing. Pink is doing fine. Her kids will be fine. Trolls will live under bridges, as well as in the shadows of cyberspace. Life will go on, not to worry. I look at it this way. It’s better to be kind than right. It’s better to be blessed than to be a budinsky. For our younger readers, a “budinsky” is just an old-school way of saying “troll.”

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? The difference between the two is often defined by the old “is the glass half full or half empty?” conundrum. Guess what? Turns out it doesn’t matter what you think about the glass. We are all, deep down, optimists, or we wouldn’t be here.

Reading the news can get you down. It does me, anyway. Just scanning the headlines convinces me that the world is a dark, ugly, little place full of small-minded, uneducated people who just want to watch the world burn and toast marshmallows on the flames. But the news doesn’t tell the whole truth. Not that the news is in any way “fake” — a phrase I detest — but simply that it cannot cover the complex entirety of the modern human condition. Even I can spot the better headline: “Man Kills Dozens” will always triumph over “Man Happily Distributes Free Lemonade and Hugs.”

But you turned up this morning for all of this news — bad and good (mostly bad) — didn’t you? You got out of bed. You put on your socks (or omitted them; it’s kind of too hot for socks). You gave your body fuel and opened your front door. Congratulations! You are officially an optimist. And pretty darned brave, to boot.

Do you think it takes more than just showing up to show courage? Maybe. But for any thinking person it’s more than enough. To watch bad things happen and still say, “You know what? I’m going out there anyway” is a testament to human resilience. After being ejected from the Garden of Eden, did Adam and Eve just pack it in and give up? Nope. Even though they’d lost access to unbridled happiness, they went on anyway. This kind of steel is precisely what God knew we would need to function in the world.

So if you’re here today, reading this, and just trying to bumble through life, I salute you. Thank you for continuing to take a chance on the world. Thank you for not giving up or giving in. The world needs you. I need you. Don’t give up. Despite what it says in the news or anywhere else, most of us are just like you. We’re trying. It is the stuff of superheroes, of saints. It is brave.

So indulge me in a bit of reverie. Picture me one thousand years in the future, after science has unlocked the key to longevity, so that everyone in the world now has long life, prosperity and an uncanny knack for sassy accessorizing. Acc-sass-orizing, if you will.

This would be after science discovers that people like me with eyes that may be considered green or blue (depending on the comfy sweater we’re wearing) can actually see into the future, so we’re given government jobs sitting at the computer all day, surfing, and predicting stuff (sometimes correctly, sometimes not so much – but, like meteorologists, we still get paid.)

This would be far, far in the future, when I’ve finally learned that just because my Cosmic Cat is sitting at the back door of my mansion on Mercury, facing me with those big moon-pie eyes as if he wants to come back inside, he’s just window-shopping. I’ll ask my inventors to build an auto-cat door that scans his hologram retinas so he can open the door his dang self.

Maybe then my son will read my blog posts! This humble blog has become a time capsule of sorts, a snapshot of my life through the years. What’s important to me at the time. What’s in the news. What I hope for my son as he wends his way down the road of life.

Every so often, I’ll tell him I mentioned him in a blog post. Read it, would you, so I can be sure I’m not saying anything a teen-ager wouldn’t want his mom to mention. Of course, I do realize… That covers just about everything!

So in a thousand years, I’ll ask my son, About reading that blog, honey… How ‘bout now?

Sure Mom, I’ll get around to it. Just about to catch the shuttle to Saturn!

Oh well. If you only read this, Cole, just remember. I love you like nobody’s business. Wherever I am – New Jersey or some nebula in the night-sky – I’ve got your back. And if you call from Jupiter again, don’t call collect. It’s long distance!

We try to tackle the big topics on this humble little blog: life, death, spirituality, peace, love, justice, mercy. So, in comparison, my topic today seems ludicrously flimsy and terribly vain: I am going to write about my recent decision to let my hair go gray, as it has been wanting to do, lo these many years.

I started going gray — white, really, if I’m honest — in my thirties. I’ve been dying my locks ever since. I consider being brunette part of my identity. I could never wear colored contacts, for instance. My brown eyes are also part and parcel of who I am. A good deal of this identity is wrapped up in pop culture: Brunettes are serious. They’re smart. My earliest role models were Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas on “That Girl” and Catwoman — all brunettes, all “making it after all,” on their own terms. That was my tribe!

So why change now? Why not go to my grave with my roots intact? Well, for one, my husband recently encouraged me to go natural. And if he doesn’t care, why should I care what the rest of the world thinks? Secondly, it’s a drain of time and money to continue to color my hair, and the chemicals involved are not as healthful and innocuous as one might think while watching a Clairol commercial. Third, why lie, even to myself, about what I look like? I like to think I embrace truth-telling. My white hair is a truth about myself.

But here’s the big one: I truly believe the purpose of life is in embracing the little “yesses.” After all, at the end of our lives, there is going to be a huge “yes” that we will have to embrace, like it or not. By accepting and welcoming each little “yes,” I prepare myself daily for the big “yes.”

And this is, despite being firmly entrenched in female vanity, a tough yes. I look at other women who are letting their hair go natural and I judge. It looks slovenly. Like a lack of self-care. And yes, I know that’s a horrible thing to think. I’m appalled at myself. But there it is. And this is what I will have to see in myself as my “skunk stripe” covers the crown of my head and extends, inexorably, downward. I will have to confront the worst in myself. I will have to deal with my own feelings about aging and about how women are judged and valued on their beauty and youth. I will have to see myself lacking.

And I will have to find God in all of this. I will have to grapple with a God who loves everything about me, but who created humans to love what is aesthetically pleasing. I will have to align myself with a God who expects my power to come from something bigger than a bottle of dye. I will have to say “yes,” not just once, but over and over again, every time my fingers itch to solve the problem with a box from the drugstore.

I am hoping all of this will be good for my soul. Because that’s the part of me I care about most. And it doesn’t need anything artificial in order to be beautiful, does it?

People these days are scary. They’ve grown fangs and spew poison. Get on their wrong side (easy to do) and you could be punished in a number of vituperative and terrifying ways. There is no shame. There are no moral boundaries. There is only internet anonymity and anger.

I read an article by a journalist opining this very same theory. One of the comments on his article was simply “you suck.” Ah! Well met, my friend! Your brilliant repartee reveals you as a man of wit and ingenuity. You are the Sam Johnson — nay, the Mark Twain! — of our times. Sadly, considering the level of discourse these days, that last statement may very well be true.

On the other side of the equation: SueBe’s and Ruthie’s posts this week, celebrating friendship, specifically the friendship of the three of us that led to the creation of this blog. It’s true; we deeply love and care about one another. Also true — we have never met in person. Just the other week, SueBe mentioned something about being short, and I was dumbfounded. All this time, I’d been picturing her tall. I’ll say it again: We’ve been working together for the better part of ten years, yet we’ve never actually hugged. Or eaten a meal together. Or heard one another’s voices, except on the phone.

Yet our bond persists, will persist, through the tumult and turbulence life hands us. This essentially boils down to a choice: We chose each other. We continue to choose each other. It’s what every great friendship, every great relationship, is made of. And it may be the one and only cure for the pollution that swirls around us politically and spiritually.

I once taught a mini-course on “The Company of Women” — both the book by Mary Gordon and the idea that enduring friendships enable us to become our fullest selves, allow us to thrive in the most polluted of atmospheres. I still believe this is true. All I have to do is think of my fellow bloggers to know it is so. This blog — and its posts by my fellow bloggers — has become a haven for me. When the world seems just too awful to continue to breathe in, I come here. I listen to SueBe and Ruth. I feel better.

Let us cultivate our own fresh air. Let us seek out those of us who are willing to be patient, to listen and to love. Let us keep them close to us. When darkness closes in, let us cling to them.

Let us not let pollution overtake us. Take our hands. Join us.

Okay. Maybe he’s not Adonis, I’ll grant you that. Hair growing out of his ears. Snores like a buzz-saw. Wears the same outfit every day: long black, mohair pants tucked into white socks. So why is he part of my life? Well, it’s my cat, of course! He’s one of the blessings that make my house feel like a home. I like seeing KitKat curled up on the couch, dreaming of the squirrel that got away.

I also like seeing my teen-age son with his headphones on as he composes songs the new-fashioned way: on the computer. Just knowing that he’s doing what he loves and that he’s comfortable here at home warms my heart.

So what is it that makes a house feel like a home? Well, of course, it’s the people and pets we love, but it’s more than that.

A little boy was lost at ComicCon and wandered around in tears until he saw two of his friends from childhood: Wonder Woman and the Flash. Soon, he was all smiles. It was like stumbling upon a little bit of the comforts of home: someone you know. Someone you can trust. Someone who will steer you in the right direction.

Of course, my idea of the comforts of home may be different from yours. For example, I love to see the process of houses being renovated. All of it. The tractor digging dirt in the yard, the drywall going up, paint color being chosen, deciding on the decor. That stuff may seem boring to most, but I like to see something being created out of nothing, so a blog like this one, “Enjoying the Simple Things,” feels welcoming to me.

This post about a trip to Ireland by the wonderful writer/artist, Jan Richardson, really conveys the sense of being greeted like family, even if you were a stranger when you walked in.

It’s what we’ve tried to do with this humble blog: create a place where you feel welcome, even if we’ve never met in person. So, feel free to consider this your virtual home away from home!

So I dropped something the other day – it made a loud noise, and I got annoyed because my teen-age son didn’t bother to check to see if I was okay. Out of nowhere, I experienced intense anger, and a real moment of unforgiveness. The place where my heart usually was felt like a stone.

Normally, I’m as pleasant as pie. So pleasant, in fact, I’ll bet some crotchety-types might find it annoying! Hey there! Turn that frown upside down, grumpy cat! 😾 There I go with the emojis again. I heart smiley-faces!! 😍

So that’s my default setting. Finding myself in such a foul mood was jarring. Now, it lasted less than an hour, but what an intense experience it was. I really had to ask pointedly in prayer, “Take this from me, Lord. I don’t know how to release it.”

The negative narrative was running in a loop: How could he not have heard such a loud noise? Doesn’t he give a heck? Haven’t I raised him better than that?

Even trying to forgive felt forced:  Why have I always got to be the one to let things slide? After all I’ve done for him! I just couldn’t let go of this anger.

In a previous post about Hugh Jackman (my next ex-husband-to-be, only he doesn’t know it yet. Yes, I’m willing to re-locate to Oz-Trailia) I said that it’s possible to find wisdom in unexpected places. This time it came from a roots Rock band called “The Record Company.I gotta pick myself up off the ground. I got the answer to my biggest question. Got to lose where I was to get my direction.

Staying in the moment that had hurt my feelings meant I was stuck in it, as if time stopped there. There was no present anymore, only this past pain.

I talked to my son again after I’d cooled my jets. He’d had his headphones on halfway, so it’s possible he didn’t fully hear the loud sound. Still, I reminded him: we watch out for each other. Because I don’t want to be emoji-less again! 🌈😊😺

There used to be men (and women, I assume) called holy fools, perfectly ordinary (and often brilliant) people who faked idiocy so as to be daily humbled by the world. It was good for their spiritual lives, they felt. I am coming to grips with the place of foolishness in my own life — it’s not something I’ve chosen, but rather a facet of my being: I am a social idiot.

I was forced to confront this aspect of myself last weekend at a party. Surrounded by outgoing, extroverted folks, I grappled with a tongue roughly the size, shape and weight of a cast iron skillet. “Amazing!” I heard myself saying. “Wonderful!” I’m a writer. I ought to have facility with words. And I do, to some extent. That extent lying within the power of my mind and my fingers…not in the vast rolling pastures of speech. Add in a dash of shyness, and you’ve got a wallflower extraordinaire. Move over, Emily Dickinson. There’s a new weird, silent poetess in town.

All of this — coupled with a fascination for the sound and substance of words, which once caused me to mispronounce the word “full” in prayer — brings us to this: a sort of love poem, penned by a fool who may or may not be holy, but who certainly hopes for its salvific grace.

Pixilated,
besotted with love,
love coursing through blind alleys,
traffic circles, cul-de-sacs,
languishing in corners, deaf to
directionality, wholly lost in translation. I fish,
pull up old shoes, tin cans, frank inadequacies.
Brooks babble better.
Helpless, hopeless heart!
Could I crack you open and let
the depth of you spill! And yet.
There is a solace in silence, dim wisdom
in the fractured code, the blank flags,
the broken nibs and worn erasers.
I send up smoke signals,
too random to be cumulus,
received by God like an armful of roses.
Wordless. But heard.
I am a fool of grace
and God is with me.

At the end of the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” Ethel Merman (playing her usual role, a loudmouthed nag) slips on a banana peel. The entire cast bursts into laughter. But the beauty of the scene is the state of those characters — they have been through unimaginable awfulness. They are bandaged, their limbs in casts, their marriages frayed, their careers at an end. And they laugh. Because what else is there left to do?

The scene is a metaphor my brother used recently in summing up what keeps him going. It was an extraordinarily bad week for his family, and his usual sunny disposition had cracked under the pressure. He had every right to throw in the towel, but he didn’t. He took a deep breath and pictured Ethel Merman slipping on a banana peel. In the midst of our greatest darkness, there is a ray of light. We just have to find it.

My personal perk-me-ups come from literature. I am terribly fond of this line from Joan Didion’s Democracy: “I’d be leery of those ice cubes if I were you, Frances. Ice cubes are not a national craft.” You have to know the context, of course, but it always makes me smile. As does the word “grape.” (Ellen Raskin fans will know why.) Sometimes I think God gave the author her entire oeuvre just so I could yell, “Grape Mrs. Carillon!” when necessary.

Oxymoronically, these “banana slip” moments don’t happen by accident. I truly believe the hand of God is in them, providing us with a glimpse of absurdity so as to leaven the loaf/load. It is when we fail to see these glimmers and allow ourselves to plunge into darkness that we have a real problem.

This is increasingly easy to do in a world that seems overrun by greed, lies, violence and terror. So I am suggesting this: Arm yourself in advance. Find your Ethel Merman moment and hold onto it. Then, when the chips are down, you have something to bring you back from the brink.

Of course, prayer does this marvelously well, too. But it’s nice to have options.

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