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I received my first vaccine last week, and vaccine #2 is on the books. What will that mean for my life? I’m not sure yet. There are plenty of things I’ve missed during this pandemic: receiving the Eucharist, seeing people in person, hugging, eating in a nice restaurant. But there are also plenty of things I have not missed…things I’m not looking forward to incorporating into my life again. I don’t miss crowded theaters. I don’t miss noise. I don’t miss socializing on a regular basis. I liked the quiet of the past year. It gave me something I can’t get enough of: solitude. Peace. Time to do — or not do — as I please. I had an excuse (and a good one at that) to withdraw. How will we choose to face life, should the pandemic become past-tense? I’m still pondering.

If I should opt out
what would be missed?
Can silence fill the spaces
where words have been?
Yes, and well enough.
And yet, I miss the muck.
Might I rush in like a fool
or tread, cautious as an angel,
into whatever haze lies ahead?
I think I will know. The time will come,
bubbling with possibility,
a soup that demands to be shared,
or, alternately, ice over, a caution
to step as lightly as a snowflake falls.
God must be our eyes and ears,
the cane that taps the ground,
the hand that reaches into the dark.
The way ahead is only as safe as our faith.

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.

How’s your Lent? Mine has been…arid, thank you. Perhaps it’s because the entire last year has had a Lenten quality to it, but I’m finding this season especially rough. I don’t feel like I’m connecting with my goals. I’m impatient. I am tired of wandering through the desert of my soul. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In more ways than one.

I made myself a desert place
and waited for Lent to come,
to roll like a storm,
rinse grit from my sand-caked soul,
beat into me a scrubbed resolve.
Instead, came dervishes of whirling dust,
heat to crack the skin, no shepherd
to steer me as pellets pocked my eyes.
I made myself a desert place
and longed for Lent to find me,
devour me like manna, drink me to the lees,
like the swollen tongue of a parched wanderer.
Instead, I have ceased seeking saints
to reckon with my resemblance
to things that slither in the shadows,
tongues primed to flick my skin, name me kin.
I made myself a desert place
and begged for Lent to change me
only to find I will not reach the other side
until the Lent of life finds me fallen
on the final dune outside the city
I sought so far, so long.

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. 

Wisdom gained in the past year: In a pandemic, days seem to blend together. To that end, I’ve made a conscious effort to find the goodness in each one. For example, by Monday evening, the house is as clean as it will ever be. On Tuesday, I write a blog post — or don’t — and either option is pleasurable. Wednesdays bring a phone chat with my friend Alice. Thursdays provide time for catching up, while Fridays — well, Fridays have their own magic, don’t they? Mine are enhanced by a weekly phone chat with my friend Marilyn. Weekends require little help to shine. They are the days I get to spend with my spouse, neither of us laboring (for the most part).

How are you marking your days? And how can we all add a little spiritual oomph to our routine? Maybe by focusing on each blessing, no matter how small.

Today may bring a miracle
or at least a small surprise —
catch either by the tail
and hold it up to light.
Bless its energy, no matter
how humble and nondescript.
Then let it go to anoint another.
What we cannot touch with our hands,
let us embrace with words.
What is left loose in our lives
is one thing less to do, a grace,
to fill with silence or bread baking.
Slow your expectations to meet
the small, still passage of hours.
Revel in them. You may never know
solitude like this again.

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!

The general consensus seems to be that we’ve kicked 2020 to the curb. Our long, international nightmare is over! But is it? The funny thing about time is that one year tends to spill over into the next year. We still have challenges to face. Old ones. New ones we can’t even foresee. Do we have the stuff to face it? Maybe with a little faith, a little hope and a little grace, we really can begin all over again.

We have swept the mess to the sill.
Still, it sits, casting an accusing eye:
What will you do with me?
It will not be as easy
as clearing the threshold
and shutting the door.
The scent of it lingers,
its obdurate conundrums
persist, twisted as steel
by the side of the road.
Fresh eyes, fresh hearts
are required, new courage
flowing from hope
we didn’t know we had.
Listen to the urgings of your heart.
It is time for a new song,
sung louder, though throats are sore.
Bear up. Lean in.
Call for change
and change will come.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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