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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.

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.

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.

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.

Just over a week ago, we bought a new toy for our seven-month-old kitten, Pugsley — a plastic butterfly attached by a wire to a wand. It fluttered, at least at first, rather convincingly, spurring Pugsley to terrific leaps and epic pounces. He gloried in snatching it away from me and parading his prey proudly through the house, wand dragging forlornly behind him. The toy today looks nothing like it did when it was new. It is chewed and bent and bedraggled beyond recognition. The wings have been mended with duct tape. It resembles a crumpled leaf more than an insect. But Pugsley still loves it.

Perhaps the butterfly makes a good comparison for our souls. They are tattered, sure, but God still loves them ardently. And all that wear and tear? Maybe it’s a good thing. To end our lives with a soul beaten and crushed by years and years of extreme love; by good, hard use in working for a better world — what could be better? Sounds like a goal to me.

Take me as I am, Lord, in ill repair.
Mend what you can, moving your hands lightly
over me like the sun that dapples the floor
where the cat shifts and rolls and purrs.
The worst bits can remain; I will wear them
as badges, each rip a reminder of how hard
I loved, how frantically I held to hope.
Though I am ragged, you regard me
as rare and precious as a ruby.
I am yours, despite my ravages,
whole and healed in your eyes.

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. 

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.

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