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My husband and I had just parked our car at the grocery store. As I got out of the car, I glanced into the car next to me. A quite normal-looking man (conservative haircut, wire glasses) had a large can of baked beans in one hand; with the other, he was scooping beans out of the can and into his mouth.

I was a little gobsmacked by this.

Two days later, still processing the incident, my husband asked where I wanted to eat lunch. “I don’t know,” I said. “We could drive to the grocery store and eat baked beans out the can with our fingers.” Deadpan, my husband looked straight into my eyes and replied, “We would need a nicer car.”

Sometimes life is so absurd, you just have to laugh.

Funny thing, life.
It hands you a joke
disguised as drama,
as awkward as an equine in an overcoat
trying to check out a book at the library.
You could weep at the incongruity,
or seize on the strangeness
and laugh yourself hoarse.
Stop trying to solve things.
Throw back your head.
Throw up your arms. Give in to the odd experiment
that is the universe.
When you’re in on the joke,
God will entrust you with things
you’re too wise to know now.

gray concrete building
Picture of an archaeological site in which various people are digging.

As I was reading an article about the extinction of homo erectus, I realized that somebody is going to tell your story one day, long after you’re gone, and they may get it wrong.

A group of archaeologists at Australian National University who were researching the species, Homo erectus, concluded that the reason they became extinct is that they were lazy.

“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves,” said Dr. Ceri Shipton, lead researcher behind the new theory, in a press release. “I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”

Retroactive snark. That’s a new one! Even if you asked Judge Judy for a ruling on Homo erectus, I’ll bet she’d take a pass. “Throw rocks at people from the stone age? Not me, pal.”

For a group of scientists, these folks seem awfully petty. But I suppose pettiness has been around since the dawn of time. In fact, even cavemen must have had to deal with critics. “That not how you make fire, Irv. Must put more oomph into it.”

The way the Homo erectus story was framed also varied, with some online outlets reporting it as fact, and others as conjecture. One conservative UK tabloid even ran the headline, “Homo erectus went extinct because they were lazy!” Yikes!

So, don’t wait for anyone else to tell the world who you are and what you stand for. Tell your own tale now, while you still can. Don’t wait until you’re a fossil in a field only to have some snarky archaeologist (snarkyologist?) talk smack about you. Tell it in living color, in gruesome detail, in pretty pictures, in mellifluous music, in your own way. Then, when you’re an ancient artifact, you’ll give that snarkyologist who finds you a lot to talk about.

I’ve been wondering for some time what God has planned for me and whether I am, in fact, mulishly resisting his call. I think my hearing is adequate. I say, certainly, that I am willing. So why do I remain standing alone, the wall at my back, watching others in the dance? Perhaps my partner is waiting for the right accompaniment?

Turn your will to music;
teach my heart to dance.
I will move to the tune of your making.
I will follow your footsteps as you lead.
I haven’t the grace you gave the stars,
pirouetting ever heavenward,
nor the artistry of angels,
nor the simple step of saints.
My raw parts hold no rhythm,
yet you call me to perform.
Here. I hold out my arms,
angled to envelop you.
Let us take up the tune
together.

two coffee lattes in yellow cup with saucer on brown wooden table
Picture of two cappuccinos in sunny yellow cups with heart-shaped froth in them on a dark-brown wooden-slat table. Next to the cups is a small picture frame, and inside it are the words, “Inhale the future, exhale the past.”

What do you call something that hangs around your neck, weighs you down, and clings like a parasite every day as you live your life? Please don’t say your spouse! I jest, of course. No, the answer is: pain from the past.

Maybe one day, scientists will discover that regret, guilt and shame are all forms of the same invisible substance that sucks the life out of you at the molecular level. Let’s give it a name, using the first two letters of each word: “Regush.” The way I envision it, this substance has the motility of plasma and the diffuse nature of vapor. 

Slights and daily difficulties normally bounce off you or pass through you, like water through a porous teabag; however, when there’s a build-up of Regush in your psyche, that negative energy sticks to you and slows you down. It’s as if the past has stayed with you and lodged itself into the cells of your soul.

The way to alleviate Regush is to do unto yourself as you do unto most others: give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

You did your best at the time, and you’re actually a different person now.

When you fully believe this to be true, you’ll start to treat yourself better in the here and now. Forgive yourself for what wasn’t your fault anyway. God has forgiven you for what actually was your fault. 

Regush (regret, guilt and shame) really is a thing of the past. Get past the past by loving yourself as you love God, and as God loves you. As for what you did when you didn’t know any better? Forgive it so you don’t have to re-live it.

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.

white petaled flowers
Close-up picture of pink and yellow flowers

I got my “Fauci Ouchie” last week — that’s internet-speak for “COVID-19 vaccination” — and, as we waited in the line of cars for an hour, I reflected on how the world has changed. And how, in some ways, it hasn’t changed at all.

By now, we’ve all got the precepts of pandemic-prevention down pat. 🚩Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Maintain social distance. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Learning the ropes took some time, but most of us adhere to these life-saving rules.

But, try as you might, you may still encounter someone who is just looking for a reason to get in your face and into your space. You want me to put on a mask in a grocery store? Them’s fightin words! That’s the part of life that hasn’t changed at all. People who want to blame others for their own unhappiness.

Anyone who’s ever had a baby or owned a pet knows the secret to staying in your own airspace. You’ve got to change a diaper? Change the litter box? Breathe your own air. Put one hand over your mouth and use the other hand to attend to the task. Sometimes you’ve got to hold your nose to get things done. 

Don’t engage with anyone who’s on a mission to cause misery. This doesn’t just apply to anti-maskers, but to any random thorns in your side you may encounter. Breathing your own air is a practice that will still be useful post-pandemic. Why?  Because there will still be things that people are arguing about. Stay in your own sacred space. We’ll all breathe a sigh of relief once the pandemic is over, but until then, take care of yourself and breathe your own air.

My office is (mostly) a normal place. Sure, there are maybe too many model cars. I wouldn’t recommend opening the closet. And yes, there is a poster of a guy who looks a lot like Ted Allen of “Chopped” smiling benignly from the wall behind the door. No, it’s not Ted Allen. It’s Estes Kefauver.

Estes Kefauver was a politician from Tennessee. Among his noted accomplishments: He took on mob corruption. He took on big Pharma. He was the running mate of Adlai Stevenson, who (until recent times) was the winner of my personal award for “Best President We Should Have Had But Didn’t.” Why does Mr. Kefauver grace my office wall? That’s complicated. What’s more important is the slogan on the poster: “For All of You.”

Nowadays, it’s nigh-unto impossible to get anyone to do anything for “all of us.” Wearing masks, for instance. Taking a vaccine. Listening to reason. Just when exactly did “the common good” become none of our business?

Today, look into your heart and really examine what you would or would not do for “all of us.” Estes Kefauver, for instance, died in 1963 after a heart attack on the floor of the Senate, representing the good people of Tennessee to the bitter end. Jesus was crucified. And you? And me?

It is easy to love a pear,
hip-heavy as an old auntie,
golden, flecked, sweet to eat.

Harder to love a lemon,
seedy, hard to swallow,
still: sharp with possibility
to sweeten and refresh.

Until I can love a durian fruit —
see past the bared fangs of its rind,
snub its scent (compared kindly
to sewage or rotting flesh),
taste on my tongue its gummy innards —

only then can I name myself
ready to tackle the harvest
of a higher order:
the fruit of the tree of humankind.

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.

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