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Sophia Grace LeBlanc is recognized for her heroism by Premier Stephen McNeil at a Medal of Bravery Award ceremony. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Congratulations! You’ve won an award. For your efforts, you’ll receive:

  • A pat on the back
  • A piece of paper, and,
  • An uncomfortably close, cringe-worthy photo op with an elected official you’ve never met before!

Did I mention that the “you” in question is six years old? Sophia Grace LeBlanc, who bravely climbed from the wreckage of her family’s crashed car to get help for her injured mother and siblings, received an award for heroism. When she learned that the “award” was just a piece of paper, she spoke her mind.

“I thought because I was so brave, I thought I would get something a little better,” said Sophia.

She had done a wonderful, brave thing, and probably would have liked to receive some toys, or to be taken out for pizza with her friends. A piece of paper? A hug from some random (presumably unintentionally) handsy man? No thanks!

When do we unlearn honesty? Should kids be taught to be quiet, be polite, and tolerate the strange man huddling in for a cuddle? Is it rude to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Setting boundaries is humane. That way, the person who is offending you won’t have to apologize later, and will be educated since they didn’t know they were crossing a line.

Saying what you mean is compassionate. That way, everyone knows where you stand and eventually, the people around you will re-calibrate and reciprocate.

Saying it right at the moment of impact, when someone commits an infraction, is an act of kindness in every direction. That way, you won’t have to bear the weight of that grudge you would have been holding, and your relationships will become more meaningful.

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

Crossed wires. Chaotic interference. Misunderstandings. Bad intel. Instead of seeing things clearly in 2020 (yes, that’s an optometry joke), we seem to be struggling with miscommunication. Some of this derives from how we say things — using texts and social media tends to obliterate shades of meaning like inflection and sarcasm. But part of the problem is the simple rise of noise: Everybody’s talking, but no one is listening. And even the people listening aren’t really hearing. What can we do about it? Let’s start by uncrossing some wires.

Being human is getting us nowhere;
it is time for us to be animals again.
Let go of your body, settle into fur,
into feathers, into exoskeleton
and antennae, into scales, scruff
and haunches. Purr when you’re happy.
Growl when angry. Pester like a fly
until answers emerge. Most of all,
stop touching words as if each is a
thistle. Land on them as blandly
as a bee, touching lightly, springing
from petal to petal. Open your heart
to the simplicity of winter sleep,
tucked in together with no more
motive than merely getting through it.
Share your den with the whole wide world,
wordlessly, remembering our common blood.

Early this morning, I opened the blinds and looked out at the yard. Hmm. Frost on the grass. Chilly today. The usual puddle at the end of my driveway is a frozen mini-lake, perfect for passing crows to do a bit of ice dancing and squawking. Oh, great. The mailbox was knocked out of place by wind again. Note to self: Buy sturdier mailbox. Find contractor to install it. 

As I was walking away from the window reviewing my mental to-do list, I saw the edge of a box in front of my porch near the bushes. It was in a secluded location, perfect for passing package-thieves.

I got the package into the house and opened it. Oh! Adorable. It’s a tiny cactus crafted by our own SueBE! Wonder how she made this? Add to mental to-do list: Must find out how it was made.

Cactus sitting outside in this freezing weather? Poor thing. She must be traumatized. I’ll put her right by the heat vent in the kitchen. That’s where my Plantie sits, so I introduced them and sat her down. Looks perfect. 

My to-do list continued in my head: I really should complain about the package being left outside like that. My new mailman, Bob, is great, but he’s on vacation. I know it’s a busy time of year, with all the gifts being sent through the mail, and hate to get the substitute person in trouble, but realized that sometimes feedback is necessary.  

That should be standard on everyone’s mental to-do list: speak the truth in a spirit of kindness. No need to poke at a person with a cactus spine. Feedback should be fair, because someday, the truth might just be fed back to you! Remember: The Golden Rule is the only gift that is one-size-fits-all.

So I’ve decided that today is “Find the Good” Day. If all goes as planned — and doesn’t it always? 🙂 — I’ll be able to cajole a smile out of even the grumpiest of people around town. I’m determined to find the good in everyone I meet and in every situation. 

This approach was put to the test immediately as I had to wait a long time to see my doctor. My appointment time, 2:30, came and went, as did 3:00 and 3:30. Once I was checked in, though, I realized the wait is long because she takes time to listen to each patient. I had a lot of questions and she spent a long time with me, answering every one of them.

“Find the Good” can be used as you go through the day.

Traffic’s bad on the road today? Great! Another chance to listen to some audio books. 

Sink’s clogged? No biggie. Now you can try out your DIY skills. YouTube has plenty of helpful videos on the subject.

Can’t find those pants you need for work tomorrow? Terrific. It’s a perfect time to organize your closet so you have everything in its place.

Of course, it’s not always easy to find the positive in a negative situation, but if every problem is really a project in disguise, it’s not as much of a burden anymore. 

“Find the Good” Day is another way of saying, find the good day. It’s always there, waiting to be found. Bad news may always make the headlines, but finding the good can become the story of your life.

bowl of vegetable saladsSueBE wrote about having lost weight on a diet, and she did it the right way: sensibly and over time. I did it the wrong way recently, cutting out everything with any fat, sugar, salt — heck, even taste. Ate only fruit and veggies. Sauteed squash with a bit of olive oil and Mrs. Dash turned out great, but other dishes weren’t as tasty, so it was discouraging. I was convinced it would be worth foregoing all foods with flavor when I got on that scale at the doctor’s office. Cut to: I’d gained five pounds! 

So what went wrong? It was a diet of deprivation, and I was focusing only on the numbers, not on how I felt. 

I’ve realized since that draconian approach failed that I really do love fruit and vegetables, just not as the only items on the menu. I’m keeping “heart healthy” and have shifted my focus to sticking with the basics: eating the things that are good for me, along with an occasional thing that just plum tastes good. (Plums are among the things I love, by the way.)

I’ve also gotten into the habit of moving more and sitting less. At a seminar for people with MS, a nutritionist told us this:

“Sitting is the new smoking.”

This means that the adverse effects of a sedentary life-style are on par with the negative impact of smoking on a body. Yikes. Okay, I’m on-board. Now I get up every hour, and if I’m reading a book on the computer, I’ll put it on “read aloud” so I can do some stretches while listening. 

Small steps over time. That’s how to make lasting changes, and stay positive along the way.

I was reading a book online and decided to put it on the “Read Aloud” option. A robotic voice named “Microsoft Mike” narrated the text without inflection and, often, incorrectly. When it got to the word “Malignity,” it pronounced it as, “Molly Good-Nighty,” which made me laugh. That sweet name sounds like the antonym of the word’s true definition, which is “malice or malevolence.” 

I was still cackling about “Molly” when I came up to a page break, which looks like this:

*****

And the robot-reader announced in its flat affect: 

“Asterisk-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk.” 

It was a book with a heavy theme, so these unintentional comic breaks were actually welcome.

A robot narrator has its limitations, and one of them is that it has no soul. It’s just reading a script as programmed. In real life, it’s hard to stick to a script. Days rarely go as planned. There are detours on the road. Unexpected delays on a project. 

When things get heavy, taking a laugh break might be just the answer. Laughing involves breathing (which we often forget to do fully when stressed), movement and social interaction.

Moments of levity can be the difference between going through the day on auto-pilot and feeling like yourself again.

This morning I woke up and was so tired, I slid right back into that pocket between sleep and wakefulness. That seems to be the place where I hear sage advice from someone.  (God? My own psyche? Relatives who have passed on?) 

And this time, I heard these words:

Expect the best like a dinner guest and set it a place at the table.

Then someone (my mother? A teacher?) said to me:

What are you punishing yourself for?

And I realized it was both a mildly exasperated, head-shaking statement, as well as existential question.  

So I had to mull it over. What am I punishing myself for? What do any of us give ourselves angst over?

  • Choices you made when you had no choice.
  • Stopgap measures that turned into persistent problems.
  • Mistakes that led to doing penance in perpetuity.

Many of us feel we’re in that pocket in between what we’d envisioned life would be and life as it is actually lived. We may end up making peace with where we are and making do with what we have. But maybe “expecting the best” is the mindset that precedes its arrival. Or perhaps it’s the clarion call your blessings need to hear. 

What if they’re flying overhead right now, waiting for you to tell them where to land? If changing your mind meant changing your life, we’d all set that extra place at the table. That way, when “the best” comes knocking, it will already feel right at home.

alex-jones-Tq4YjCa2BSc-unsplashGot a problem? “Give it to God,” they say. Only sometimes it’s not that simple. I, for one, tend to be an ambivalent giver. I claim to hand over my trouble, only to take it back obsessively, ruminate on it, rummage through the possibilities, ponder all the “what-ifs.” As if Providence rests in my nervous little hands.

The great and wise Richard Rohr once said, “The opposite of Faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is control.” It’s a lesson we, like poor Hamlet, learn the hard way. That in the end, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will—….”

And, as we know, “the rest is silence.”

Of what substance
is hardship made
that, in shaping it
with sturdy hands,
it liquefies, slumps,
refuses to hold its shape?
Persists with devilish intensity
to be captured or controlled?
If only we understood:
That in lifting our hands,
in setting free that which
we cannot sculpt to our ends,
the obdurate thing will fly from us,
ascend to one who will form it.
The shape it takes, no wringing of limbs
will change. It is what it will be.
Swallow it, in pieces, as you can.

What if the universe — God included — is like a book: a really weighty one, like War and Peace? I’d like to think each of us is born with a scrap of this book in our soul, just a word or two, really, though the best of us (saints, for instance) probably get a whole paragraph. Our job in this lifetime, as I see it, is to seek out each other’s words and gather them together as best we can into some semblance of the Truth.

Nobody has all the answers. Not even the Bible, which is full of concepts and words that don’t translate neatly (or at all) into English. Ask two people to translate The Lord’s Prayer from its original Aramaic, and you will get two different prayers. It begins with the word “Abwoon,” which can be translated to mean “father” (though the root word is actually genderless) or “parent” or “divine breath” or “birther of all things.” Or any one of a dozen other things.

Nothing about God is simple. I am content to remain a seeker, a wanderer, picking up words wherever I can and trying to fit them into the puzzle that is God.

Nothing about You can be known.
You slip through our hands like sand,
just when we think that we can hold you.
Even your touchable Son, fully flesh,
escapes our grasp. We humans
like our shapes defined: This, then,
is a square; this is a sphere.
But what is the shape of God?
Avian? Flame? The man on the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel, the one we
reach for but never touch?
Perhaps we ask too much.
We worry your lock with our
senses, with our brains.
If only we approached
with our hearts wide open,
the pins would tumble,
the lock would breach.
You appear, wide open,
when we least try to touch.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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