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Even though I’m a bit psychic myself (skeptical? I predicted that!) I wasn’t planning to get a psychic reading that day, but went along with my friend as she got hers. When she was done, she declared the psychic to be 100% accurate.

“100%? Come on,” I said.

“Try it!” she said.

So I did.

We were visiting the town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, for all its wonderful little shops. Antique tchotchkes, lovely little cafes. It was a haven for motorcyclists and mind readers. Big, bulky tough guys with tattoos right beside psychics who were giving readings for $10 a pop. I haven’t been there for over twenty years, but still remember our visit.

The psychic had predicted I’d have one son and I did.  Also, that my son would have a soul similar to my father’s. Well, both were Libras. I can’t remember anything else she said that was earth-shattering, but my friend had been promised she’d be rich beyond her wildest dreams, marry Mr. Right and live happily ever after. How did that work out? Well, not as planned. In fact, quite the opposite. She wondered: is it possible to sue a psychic for malpractice?

Maybe all we really want to hear about the future is that it will be better than today. That sounds entirely possible, and with some effort and a prayer for good measure, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I predict clear skies (sometimes), green lights on the road (here and there) and free will (all the time.)

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Let me just affirm what you already know: Things are lousy right now. There is no equality, no justice. No hope? Sometimes it feels like it. Then I hear a little voice (it sounds suspiciously like Auntie Ruth) saying, “Focus on the bright side; focus on hope.” Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. But hope, like faith, never claimed to be rational. It just is.

Advice for those who are sinking: First
find a reed, however slender, to grasp.
If muck sucks you downward, lie on your back,
float: improbably, hope will buoy you.

I read the handbook, yet trust forsakes me.
I hover, the slough still plucks and pulls.
Hope, foolish and fleeting, throws me a rope —
faith fills my chest; my heart is a red balloon.

Question: How are you?

If can’t complain, press 1

If fair to middling, press 2

If please don’t ask, press 3

You know me, dear readers. I’m always joshing. But I:

⬜ Usually

✅ Sometimes

⬜ On occasion

⬜ Once in a blue moon in a leap year 

…have a point hidden somewhere in that humor.

If you look at the headlines, all you’ll see is bad news.

Maybe we’ve gotten used to seeing that in our lives, too.

When someone asks “how are you?” we immediately run down the list of milestones in our mind to come up with a punchy headline.

  • Wife left me last month and took up with the mailman.
  • I almost hit the lottery but was off by one number. That’s what I get for using my wedding date!
  • Kid hit a baseball through my window yesterday.
  • Plus I had a wicked hangnail.

Somewhere lost in the sauce there: The couple had been estranged for years, and they were better off apart. Hardly anyone ever wins the lottery. The kid broke the window but apologized immediately and got a job after school to pay for it. The hangnail, the man deserved. Just kidding! He just needed a good nail clipper.

Check in with your blessings today. Even if you can’t say everything is all wine and roses right now, you can find one half-way decent thing to be grateful for. Maybe just a good parking spot or a semi-amusing blog post from your Kindly-Auntie.😊 Look around you today. Silver linings are everywhere.

My yard is populated with birds, squirrels, and an occasional deer. There are also some squatters that hang around: Rocco and Enrique, the raccoons, and Fred Sanford, the red fox I see once in a while. Inside, every so often, I’ve had to contend with Sid and Sylvia, the silverfish. And of course, Steve, the spider who lives behind the bathroom door.

Every last one of them thinks that this is THEIR house.

They look askance at me as I’m looking askance at them.

What are you doing in my home? we’re each thinking.

If we startle each other, both of us react in fear. I always try to capture bugs as opposed to having to squish them, but if they surprise me, I make no promises. As long as they respect my space, we can co-exist in peace. Isn’t it the same way with the world?

This is my country. What are you doing here? In this country that was founded by immigrants. Mind you, this land was already populated by native Americans. Religions all stake the same claim: We alone possess the truth. Abide by our rigid rules, or suffer the consequences! When we overlap, we tend to squish each other, talking louder, claiming the community’s shared space as our own.

Then there’s Grady the groundhog, who keeps finding a way back under my house despite a wildlife company trapping nine of his family members, sealing holes and installing underground fencing. It took him a while, but he found his way back in. I hear him knocking sometimes under my sunroom. We aren’t each others’ fans, but like religion and politics, if the best I can do is not burn down the house to get rid of a few pests, it’s a tiny step in the right direction.

(Or: In Which Lori and Ruth Pen a Poem Together)

You may not know that one of my very favorite poets is our own Ruth. As you probably have gleaned, she has a way with words. So when she emailed me with a premonition most poetic — Rows and rows of grown things. And it came from the pain. — I had to respond.

Oh Gardener, you surely tease:
what can grow from this blighted, salted soil
but stones and brush, blunted and stunted as bonsai?
What takes root in blood and mud but dashed dreams
and creeping evil? This ground has shown no promise,
not in all its years of sunward striving. Still, you laugh.
Crucifixion turns into Resurrection. Do I not recall?
And I see — rows and rows of grown things,
green shoots rooted in pain, turning new blooms
toward heaven. When will it come? You simply smile.
I carry no timepiece. Only wait for the rain to cease.
And you throw me an umbrella: a friend.
I resolve again to wait.

I was searching for good news stories online for a post yesterday, but for some reason, I couldn’t find an angle to write about. I realized later that I couldn’t detect the good news. I was in a bad mood.

Yes, even your Kindly Auntie can feel hinky. Not from New Jersey? That just means that something’s not sitting right but you don’t know why. You feel unsettled. Brittle.

So I sat down to try to put into words how I was feeling, and this is the closest I could get: Something rightfully mine hasn’t reached me yet.

I know these words are insufficient, but there was a kind of vague sense of why-not-ness. Why can’t I have what others seem to have, whatever it is on your checklist. Money. Love. A break. Just a pure, true good day. Other people have all their ducks in a row. Or do they? It could be that they just disregard their ducks.

Never assume that everyone else is living a perfect life, despite what you might see on Instagram. That’s the sound of a civilization giving up. Throwing up its collective hands and saying, I don’t know how to achieve a sense of accomplishment, a sense of community, a sense of peace, so instead, I’m going to present this image of fulfilled, joyous completion in its place. It’s a mock-up for where a good life might have been.

Luckily, when I woke up today, I was back to center. The good life finds me every day here on this humble blog. I’ve had all of the things and situations that we’re told will “complete” me, yet none of them did. Maybe that’s the point. To keep learning, growing, reaching, becoming, expanding. And to leave space for blessings yet to arrive to come in for a landing.

Image result for early sketches Michelangelo

Studies for The Libyan Sibyl, Michelangelo (from Wikipedia)

Isn’t it funny how it’s possible to give yourself a hard time over mistakes you made years ago? I wonder why the brain holds onto what hurts it in that way. Whoever made those decisions doesn’t even exist anymore. The you of today would surely choose a different path.

Rather than beating yourself up, seeing yourself as another person will make it easier to forgive yourself. That wasn’t you at all. It was the you of today in training. When you’re in training, you make mistakes. Good news: you’re not in training anymore. You’ve graduated to become the you of today. One thing is true: you won’t make those same mistakes again, having learned the hard way what doesn’t work. You get to make new mistakes! Lucky you!

But in a way, there are no mistakes if you’re sculpting a life of your own creation. You chip away until the figure forms and you’re satisfied. If you look at all the early versions of his great paintings Michelangelo threw into the scrap pile, you’ll realize those drawings weren’t mistakes. They were practice.

Think of the you of the past as a dusty still life on a shelf. And the you of today? A whole new work of art, in living color.

Emphatic disclaimer: This is NOT my poem. It was written by Grace Noll Crowell (1877-1969), and it is beautiful. So beautiful — and so essentially needed right now by so many people — that I had to share it. If you are tired (and I suspect many of us are, burdened by health problems, family troubles, lack of clarity in life, political frustration and despair over the violence that besets us), here is my attempt at comfort. Please know that you are never alone.

Dear heart, God does not say today, “Be strong!”
He knows your strength is spent,
He knows how long
The road has been, how weary you have grown;
For He walked the earthly roads alone,
Each bogging lowland and each long, steep hill,
Can understand, and so He says, “Be still
And know that I am God.”
The hour is late
And you must rest awhile, and you must wait
Until life’s empty reservoirs fill up
As slow rain fills an empty, upturned cup.
Hold up your cup, dear child, for God to fill.
He only asks today that you be still.

One of my favorite shows is Absolutely Fabulous. In one episode, Edina, whining about her weight, asks her daughter, Saffron, “Why am I so fat?” To which Saffy replies,“Well, you eat too much, you drink too much and you take no exercise.” Edina’s response? “Oh darling. Please. It’s far more likely to be an allergy to something isn’t it? Also, Sweetie, I’ve got a very heavy aura. Did you know that?”

This dovetails into my theory, that guilt, shame and regret have actual weight to them that lodges in your physical body. I think that negative emotions infuse your very cells and cause inflammation. Actually, that’s true: stress does cause inflammation.

And guilt does lead to weight indirectly. When you deny and deprive yourself because of the dreaded numbers on the scale, eventually you’ll binge. Add to that the fact that shame leads to isolation, which can result in overeating.

Now, we all know that the best way to lose weight is to stop eating altogether. Am I right? High fives all around? Of course not! That’s like doing home improvements with a wrecking ball. Small steps and healthy choices are the way to lose weight – slowly, and over time – and keep it off. Better still, learn to accept yourself as you are. Guilt adds weight to your soul. Let it go and you’ll feel ten pounds lighter.

If you’re a praying person, take it to the source and get real. Help me to do better tomorrow. Help me to see myself as you see me. Help me to be the best version of myself I can be. And do the best I can, right where I am.

In my day, sonny (cue nostalgic music), we used to quietly hold the world together with a pat on the back and a kind word. Nobody noticed but that one child who scraped his knee on the playground who we helped up. Or that person in the grocery aisle who couldn’t reach a can on a shelf, so you got it for them.

As short as I am (5”4), there was an older lady even shorter. She couldn’t reach the can of peas on the top shelf so she looked at it, looked at me, and tilted her head quizzically. She didn’t have to ask. In fact, she didn’t. She just knew a kind face when she saw it.

When my son and his friends were younger, they were amused by what one young man termed Ruth’s Random Rules. One such rule is that when anyone sneezes, everyone is to say “God bless you.” Don’t believe in God? Okay, say “Gesundheit.” Or “Salud.” Even, “I acknowledge that you have sneezed and you are in the same general vicinity as I am; now I shall go back to ignoring you.” Whatever you have to say — but in this home, young men, we shall be civilized.

Another one was that the boys were required to take our dog into the yard every hour on the hour. They thought they were doing me a favor and doing a nice thing for Sheena, which is true. But they were also getting exercise. I wanted to codify it so they had an excuse to take a break from the video game, a real reason to get out into the yard on a sunny summer day.

If you do your best and treat others with kindness every day, those small moments accumulate into a big bunch of blessings.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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