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When my son was younger, one of the kids from the neighborhood came over just as my son and his friends were getting ready to ride their bikes. Landon (not his real name) didn’t have a bike, so I told him he could borrow mine.

When Landon came back he looked guilt-ridden. One of the other kids was saying to him, “You’re in big trouble, man. She’s gonna get real mad at you. She’ll tell your mom, and you’ll be on punishment forever. Nothing you can do about it.”

When Landon finally came up to me on the porch, he apologized. “For what, honey?” I asked. “I broke the bike,” he said. “My mom gets paid on Friday, so I’ll ask her to pay for the bike, and I’ll do chores to pay her back. Might take me a year, but I’ll make it right.”

This was both touching and heartbreaking. What a long ride back it must have been for that young man. Especially with the other kid bending his ear, piling guilt upon fear.

“No need for that, son. That bike was already hinky. One of Cole’s other friends messed it up, and didn’t even apologize. Don’t worry about it for a minute. Come on. We’re having Jiffy Pop.”

I wanted to say to the other child who’d appointed himself chief guilt-inducer, You should be ashamed! But it was too late for that. He already was. Misery loves company, and that’s the only language he knew. Someone had said these things to him, too, in his lifetime. I decided to extend hospitality to him instead. “Popcorn for you?” I asked.

Shame can be contagious, but luckily, there’s an antidote: grace.

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A young man knocked on my door today and said he was in the neighborhood “helping out” my neighbors. He mentioned specific names of neighbors whom he said had already signed up for his services.

I said I wasn’t interested. Closed the screen door, closed the inside door, locked the deadbolt, walked down the hall and realized he was still pitching his wares! I heard him talking to the closed door for a moment there.

Finally, he packed up his digital clipboard, got onto his segway and rolled to the next house. That’s a high-tech way to pester people, I must say.

I’m sure that none of my neighbors had signed up because we don’t want to encourage solicitation. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say, “Oh, Rene signed up? Let me call her to confirm what you’re telling me,” but I didn’t think of it until later.

What was he selling? Pest control, of course! Oh, the irony. Is there some kind of repellent for pest control salespeople?

Hmm. This has given me an idea for a new type of insurance: anti-solicitation coverage. If anyone shows up at your door to sell you something, the insurance company will give you money. Of course, you couldn’t sell this type of thing door-to-door!

People deserve better than to be sold a bill of goods, especially when you talk to them about what you believe. Helping a neighbor, holding a door for a stranger, offering a kind word — being neighborly is more effective than being a noodge. In faith and in fumigation, it’s better to be blessed than to be a pest.

Due to my visual and memory issues, I’ve asked Lori and SueBE to proofread my posts for me, and for one post, Lori showed me how to use an “em-dash” as opposed to an “en-dash.”

Hold on. There are two types of dashes? How long has this been going on?!? I can’t seem to find that button on my keyboard. Is there one? I don’t remember it from school (insert em-dash here once I find it) eons ago (em-dash again) and, in all my years (em-d) over 50 of them (em-d) have been punctuating incorrectly.

It’s like finding a new/retro toy! How does this thing work? Where can I use it? Let me think of sentences in which I can insert this new (to me) kind of punctuation. Bear with me (em-dash) just for a moment (em-dash) while I collect my thoughts.

Okay, I found the secret code online. To insert an “em-dash” on a laptop, you press the “Alt” key, and on the numeric keypad, type 0151.

The em-dash seems like a parking spot for a pause. It’s longer than an en-dash and more meaty, if you will. Yes. Maybe it stands for the letter “M”, as in “Meaty.”

Or maybe the “M” stands for “Metaphor.” Sometimes, you put your own needs on hold to take care of everybody else. You might fall into the trap of Placeholder Syndrome. The spot you’re in now is a pause in your own life’s sentence, like a jail cell that you carry with you.

You think, I’ll just wait until retirement to pursue my dreams. Or, I’ll wait until the kids are squared away, and then I’ll put myself first.  Maybe that “M” stands for “Me.” So I’d say to you — respectfully, of course — today is the day.

A thank you letter from the residents who escaped without injury because of the local MuslimsImagine that you haven’t eaten much for days. It’s the end of long night, and you’re exhausted. You look up and realize there’s a building on fire! By the time you call for help, it might be too late. What would you do?

A group of young Muslim men who had just left their mosque for Ramadan service ran into a burning building, risking their lives to knock on every door until all the residents were safely outside.

One of the residents told the press, They made sure everyone got out. They knocked on each door until someone opened. If it wasn’t for them we would never have got out.”

I saw this news story on Reddit, and was puzzled as to why I couldn’t find it anywhere else online. It’s a feel-good story with heroes and a happily ever after. People of different generations and faiths coming together in the midst of a crisis.

The conspiracy-theorist in me is wondering: Why isn’t this in the headlines? Is it because it’s a story about Muslims that doesn’t feed into the negative, erroneous view some may hold?

Most people are peaceful and want to do the right thing. If only we’d see each other as relatives in the human family, labels and misconceptions would be a thing of the past.

On Twitter, I only ever followed positive accounts, and one was a website known for heartwarming pet videos. One day, I was shocked when they posted a video of a baby seal being clubbed to death, with the narrator saying sadly, “He never stood a chance.” They’re trying to raise awareness to put an end to the gruesome practice, but seeing it can do psychological damage to viewers. It’s as if they were clubbing us over the head as well. I unfollowed them and eventually left Twitter altogether. Social media can be used for good and for not-so-good.

The whole concept of viral videos is ethically murky at times. If you share footage of someone else’s bad day, aren’t you just making that person’s day even worse?

Last month, a man attacked actor Arnold Schwarzenegger at an event in Africa, and his reaction was laid-back. He said he was fine; in fact, he didn’t even realize he’d been kicked. He thought he’d just been jostled by the crowd. “And if you have to share the video (I get it), pick a blurry one without whatever he was yelling so he doesn’t get the spotlight.”

He went on to suggest that they post video of athletes from his event instead. Good advice for life, really. Give your attention to what’s good in life. And don’t put a spotlight on the negative.  

While waiting for my son to pick me up after my doctor visit yesterday, I saw two women pushing an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair. As one wheeled him out of the elevator, the other screamed at her, “Wait! Wait! For God’s sakes. He dropped his slipper. Hold on!” The other yelled back, “I was just trying to get him out of the (expletive-deleted) elevator! Gimme a break!” They went back and forth for a while, until one finally said, “I’ll go get the car,” and I thought That poor man. He’s being cared for by these two. I hope they do right by him. I can only imagine how things are at home.

But I also thought, those poor women. They’re in that sandwich generation, so they’re caring for an elderly relative and taking care of their own families as well. Tempers are going to flare. I wonder: Who takes care of the caretakers?

It’s not just people tending to sick relatives or sons picking up mothers who can’t drive anymore. It’s the cashier you chit-chat with as you pick up your morning coffee. The mailman who notices the lawn hasn’t been mowed for a while and checks in.

The people who take care of you could use a nod or a kind word. Chances are they’re also taking care of others at home, too. When you offer some encouragement, you’re taking care of them right back.

Rainforest, Palm Trees, Moss, Amazon Indians, Tree

What if you woke up one day and realized your life had been brought to you by Comcast? Little did you know, you could’ve switched providers and had a better life. Wouldn’t that be a shock to the system!

I’ve never been able to understand how anyone can claim ownership of the internet. Why are we paying companies to provide us with what really should belong to everyone for free?

An indigenous tribe in Ecuador won a landmark case against oil companies last week, preventing them from drilling in the Amazon rainforest. It took me a moment to wrap my head around that. This native tribe had to navigate the country’s legal system when they have their own internal system of government. Then they had to ask permission to prevent interlopers from coming into their home and taking whatever they wanted.

Who owns the Amazon rainforest? Please don’t tell me Jeff Bezos. Cuz I’ll punch ya. And nobody would believe you if you reported me to the police. That Kindly Auntie? She would never! 🙂

We seem to find many inventive ways to do the wrong thing at the expense of other people, or of the planet. Let’s designate a day where we do the right thing no matter what other people might get away with doing. We’ll come up with a catchy name for it, let’s see… we’ll call it: Today. And let’s extend it indefinitely and do it every day for the rest of our lives.

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.

A news segment on airline mechanics who feel pressured to hurry through repairs or not do a thorough job was really eye-opening. Reporter Gayle King commented, ”It’s amazing how much trust we have in people we don’t know to do their jobs well.” But even when we realize we can’t do the job, we still need to eat. Pay for minor sundries like heat and electricity. And pay the note on the car that gets us to the job we can’t do anymore but don’t know why.

Then there are the choices we have to make when there is no other choice.

Like the length of time it took me to realize that I couldn’t see well enough anymore to get behind the wheel and drive. Then one day, I was coming out of my garage and said “Hi!” to my neighbor on his porch across the street, only to realize it wasn’t my neighbor at all. It was a life-sized scarecrow sitting in a rocking chair that they’d put on the porch as a Halloween decoration.

Okay. This has to stop, I told myself. But with that choice, a host of other daily choices were spawned. With no source of transportation once I took myself off the road, I’d have to rely on family and friends when they were available, but they had their own obligations. I ended up using a paid rideshare to get around.

Look into the eyes of the people you meet today. The ones who deliver your mail. Ring up your groceries. If the cashier gives you the wrong change, it may be because they’re dealing with pain you can’t see and are working through it. You’ve been there. Maybe you are there. Being patient with other human beings is the point of being human.

Is it possible to speak about heavy subjects and still keep a light spirit? I think so.

Due to my obvious adeptliness at the Inglish langwich, I give all of the household items around me pet names. My car is named Carrie (pronounced Kahr-ee), my plant is named Plantie, and my phone, for reasons I know savvy readers will understand, is named Really. (Get it? I knew you would!) Words. Yes. Words are my strong soot.

But I think we ought to do a deep dive into the words that people of faith use to describe themselves.

“Christian” really doesn’t apply when you weaponize your faith as a way of targeting people with other beliefs.

“Because it’s a part of history” isn’t reason enough to display symbols of bigotry like the confederate flag. History should be stored in a museum, properly placed into context and used to educate, not perpetuate hate.

“That’s how it’s always been done” isn’t justification for doing the wrong thing, this far into our civilization’s development. The point of evolution is to continue to improve, and not to stay stuck in an antiquated era, like it’s set in stone and society cannot move forward.

The fact that we get to hit the re-set button isn’t just a random occurrence. Every new day is a clean slate. We can learn from yesterday or live the same day, the same way.

PS All of the creative misspellifications in this post are intentional. Have a gud dae!

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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