Friday, March 27, 2009

Love Is Kind

One of the most handsome young men I've ever met in real life is my friend, Mao. Tall, dark, curly black hair, black eyes that sparkle like jet, and a smile that just holds you captive. He dances like a wild man and is not embarrassed to sing off key. He opens doors for me, shares his food with me, holds an umbrella over my head as we walk in the rain, gallantly escorts me to my car in the dark. I want him for my son. He is so full of energy I tell him he is the five children I never had. He smiles when I say this. "Kah-thee, I already have a moth-ther," he says in his Colombian accent. "I call her everyday because I love her and miss her so much."

"You call your mother in Colombia everyday?" "Yes," he said.

See what I mean? I want him for my son.

I met Mao in the workplace; he asked me for a ride home one night. We lived on the same street; I knew where he lived. He didn't look like a mass murderer, a rapist or someone who would clunk me on the head to steal my handbag. I said sure, and from that we were friends.

We were an odd pair, he's 20 years younger than I. I'm a dyed in the wool Yankee, raised Protestant, now more of a free-thinker; he's Colombian, Catholic, studied in a seminary for the priesthood. He doesn't like apple pie or peanut butter, thinks the Easter bunny is the work of the devil himself. I eat way too much apple pie and peanut butter. I understand there was no bunny and brightly colored eggs in the Resurrection and that it is a pagan symbol of fertility (and birth/rebirth connection), but I just can't get all fired up over it the way he does. Perhaps I should, but I don't. He was very stubborn; he did not come to my house for Easter even though there are no bunnies here; he did not accept any food I sent him. He called his mother where there are no Easter bunnies and brightly colored eggs. He is lonely, but he will not change his mind.

Mao was very protective of me (He said Colombian men were that way towards their women. I wasn't "his woman" but I was his "woman friend", which translated to the same thing in his mind.) As we became closer friends, Mao was concerned that "I did not have a man in my life." "Kah-thee," he intoned seriously, chiding sweetly, "You need a man. You need someone to take care of you. I will teach you how to get a man."

I assured him that I did not need a man that I chose not to have one right then. I had been married and widowed, been in love a couple of times since then. I was pretty sure that I knew "how to get a man." But he crossed his arms in front of him, stony and implacable. He was a Colombian man; he knew what was best for me. So, after much cajoling and a few cross words about who knew best what was best for me, he convinced me to go with him to a local lounge to scout out the prospects.

There weren't any that Mao approved of. What a surprise.

We sat, enjoying the band. He drank Sam Adams beers and I had a Coke and we were silent for a while, lost in our own reverie. I felt his eyes on me, and I turned to look at him. He was pondering a question in his mind. I tilted my head in question, raised my eyebrows, a sign I guess that my mind was open to his thoughts.

He leaned towards me and said, "Can you keep a secret?"

"It depends," I said. "How delicious is it?" when he did not fully smile, I said, "If it's important to you and it's not illegal, sure, I can keep a secret."

He drew a deep breath and when he spoke his breath rushed past my cheeks. "I'm gay."

I don't know what he expected from me. I was surprised; women of all ages were mad for him. They befriended me to get closer to him; they practically tripped over me to get his attention. He was charming, polite, attentive. I'd stand back to watch the show, and when he'd had enough, he'd give me the eye that said, "Save me," and I'd scoop him up and off we'd go. I was curious why he didn't have a girlfriend, but unlike him, I did not offer to "show him how to get a woman." He seemed to have that all figured out. I just thought he hadn't found the right woman and wondered what she would be like when he found her.

Mao was peering steadily into my face, trying to read the slightest impression. I shrugged. "So? I'm not." I could see the relief flood through him. His shoulders relaxed, he smiled so broadly that he had to pinch his eyes to make room for it.

"Does your mother know?" I ask.

"Yes, I told her. It was very hard. I didn't know how she was going to take it." He settled back into his seat. "You remember I was in the seminary?"


"When I was there, I realized that I liked men more than just as friends. I prayed to change. I was afraid of losing God, but I knew if I loved men, that it was blasphemy to stay in the Church. I am a gay man, but I am the straightest gay man you'll ever meet," he said defiantly, proudly. "It was a terrible time for me. Finally, I knew that I could not change the way that I felt, so I left. And when I left, I felt that I had left God and that He had left me."

He folded his hands on the table and leaned towards me. "When I had to tell my mother, I went home to tell her, face to face. I needed to see her. I asked her to sit down because I had something important to tell her." Mao gave me one of his huge smiles. "She was so worried. I had thought out what I was going to say. I just came out and told her that I was gay. Before she could become upset, I told her that I was not like the gay man who would sneak into her bedroom and wear her high heeled shoes or her lipstick. Those men are not gay. I told her that I did not fall in love with little children. Those men are not gay. I told her that I would not be getting tattoos, wearing leather vests and pants and chains around my neck. Those men might be gay," he laughed, "but they have poor fashion sense."

"Kah-thee, I was so afraid. I was afraid that my mother would hate me and never want to see me again. If that happened, I didn't know what I would do."

I waited for him to go on. "She cried a little, she was disappointed. She said this is not the life she had wished for me. She had wished for grandchildren (but now would have to rely on his brother for grandbabies). But she said she loved me and always would. She said her greatest wish for me was love and happiness." Mao stopped, throat tight with emotion. "Do you know what I realized? I felt something I had never felt before. It was like someone opened a door and let the sun in. That, even in spite of being gay, if my earthly mother could love me, then how could God, my Heavenly Father, love me any less."

There is not a lot to offer in my little city. We have two grocery stores, Wal-Mart and a K-Mart. Mao needed more opportunities, cultural events, brighter lights. He came by the house for the last time, and we hugged and kissed each other on the cheek.

"Kah-thee," he said to me, one arm slung tightly across my shoulders, hugging me close to him as we walked to his car. "You are the woman I love the most on this earth, next to my moth-ther."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Love is Ever Enduring

I saw my father slap my grandmother's face.

Just like that, he leapt out of his chair and he slapped her sharply across the left cheek because she had contradicted him.

She stood in the middle of our kitchen, stunned, hurt, humiliated. Her cheek streaked with red where his hand left an imprint. Her huge hazel eyes filled with tears and she bit her lips back, but she did not cry.

Still not satisfied, my father, screeched, "You're nothing but a whore!"

I was old enough to know what that obscenity meant, and I could see my beloved grandmother inwardly crumble. I rushed to her side, with unbound fury, and began pummeling impotently at my father. He laughed and knocked me away.

Gram, now alarmed for me, cried softly, "It's okay. He's right. I am a whore," and then the tears slid down her face.

Every family has secrets, some deeper and darker than others. Whenever my parents celebrated their wedding anniversary, I'd ask my grandmother why she never celebrated hers and granddad's. sometimes I'd ask why she didn't have any more children, only my father. She would just hug me and say, "Oh, I've been married so long, I don't remember the day we got married." And when I persisted about why she didn't have more children, she would be silent for a while, trying to find a place to hide her sadness, I think, and she'd say, "Because God didn't want me to." My grandmother had talked to me about God, a lot, and I knew He was no one to mess with. So if He said no, that meant NO.

I was a teenager when she felt I was old enough to understand. By today's moral standards, her story would raise very few eyebrows or set tongues to wagging. But she was born over a hundred years ago, when moral and social codes were strict and unforgiving. You married someone of your own faith, someone of your own ethnic background, and you had children after marriage.

She did none of those. My half-English, half-Irish Catholic grandmother fell in love with a Protestant Frenchman. She became pregnant without the benefit of marriage. She gave birth without the benefit of marriage (my grandfather's divorce was not yet final). She was disowned by her father, lost the comfort of her family, gave up the solace of her church, because she loved my grandfather and wanted his child.

Nearly, ten years later, my grandfather was taking a train to St. Johnsbury, Vermont. As circumstance would have it, his first wife was also a passenger, and they talked for a while, reminiscing about old times, good and bad. That brief encounter irrevocably created a chain reaction that rippled through generations: she had lied about their divorce being finalized.

You can imagine what ensured after that. The Secret was well guarded. That is, until my father went to join the Army at age 16 (to go to Korea) and he needed his birth certificate. He was standing in line to sign up with a bunch of other guys, when the recruiting officer pointed out that his mother's and father's names were different. Abject humiliation transformed into burning anger and seared deep into his soul. He learned unforgiveness.

From that moment on, he never forgave his mother for being an unwed mother. Never. He used it as a weapon at every turn. He used it as an excuse for all his failures and sour luck. He used it as a reason to despise all women. He wore his anger like a mantle, and his mantra became "I'm a bastard and the son of a bitch." His father, rancorous about his own soured life, did not dissuade him.

At his grave, an off key, off beat bugler played taps. A handful of mourners regarded his death as symbol of their own finiteness and unfulfilled lives. Grief was for potential unclaimed, for pride that did not allow love. He would not be missed.

I heard solitary muffled sobs and turned to see who would cry for a man who was so ill-regarded. His mother, my grandmother, cheeks flushed red and huge hazel eyes filled with tears, was weeping for the son she loved.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Raising My Standards

My father was an abusive alcoholic. Everyone learned to hide, say nothing, do nothing that might incite his wrath or attention. No matter what he said, we did not disagree; no matter what he threw at us, we endured. Defiance was painful. At 18, I couldn't want to leave home, but I took these lessons with me.

What I learned served me well, I thought, that is, until I met someone who coveted my job. I thought it only happened in movies that someone could systematically and deliberately destroy another person's career. I did not refute her outrageous statements, I didn't call into question the private meetings and whispers. I believed that my character and intregrity preceded me, that those who knew me would disdain any lies. I continued to do my job the way I always did -- to the best of my ability in the best interests of the company that employed me. What more could they want? Indeed. Humph! In deed, everyone received what they earned.

Experience can be a hard teacher. Sometimes you must stand up for yourself. Silence is regarded as acquiescence. Relationships are neither advanced nor elevated by silence if one is hurt. In essence, I held the door open and invited her in to treat me so shoddily and shabbily. By the time I stood up for myself, it was too late. A new belief system was firmly ensconced and she had my job.

Balance~it's all about balance. Knowing which battles to fight. Can this incident affect my reputation or is the person having a bad day and being a jerk? Will it all be forgotten in a day or two? Or is this incident, however minor on the surface, in the context of an entire relationship, one that needs to be addressed?

It's my observation that when you think you've learned a life lesson, similar incidents arise to test your knowledge. Do you really get it? Or do we need to do this again so that you do?

As it happened. a situation presented itself in another workplace where. I was ready. Based on my prior experience, I felt I must stand my ground. I believed my integrity was being maligned, my intelligence questioned, my willingness to adhere to company policy called into question. It's not easy for me to stand up for myself; I'd rather take on someone else's cause, but I learned not to revert back to my childhood practice of hiding.

I'm not going to bore you with she said/I said/third-party-said seesaw. The details are irrelevant and tiresome. What is relevant is that a person in a position of authority over me called me on the carpet because I was brazen enough to want to understand the intent of the communication sent to me by another person.

The written word is powerful (think contracts, for example). I take written business communication seriously, and if it's about me, well, let's say I take it very seriously. My meeting culminated with my boss saying, "Your standards are too high. You need to lower them. People are never going to meet your high expectations and they will disappoint you. Look and see who and where this is coming from. Take it at face value."

Lower my standards? And do what? Dye my hair blue, wear a backless dress with a bra, don't cross my legs when I sit,chew gum and blow bubbles? Okay. Wait a minute. I didn't actually say those words. However, they were in a huge conversation cloud over my head. (Unfortunately, when I become emotionally involved, rational thinking flies out the window. Try not to do that. You'll lose ground and credibility and any meaningful conversation ceases). Regardless, I'm sure my body language conveyed my repressed thoughts. (Hanging head here.)

The story ends happily. I received a written communication again from the same person, with content and wording similar to the first. And then I got it. I understood perfectly the intent. The writer is a chapter and verse person, quoting line for line from The Policy Manual (imagine deep, echoing voice here). That is her method of communication. No fluff, just fact. Not a lot of tact, just fact. No soft and warm offers of help, and assurances that everyone makes mistakes, that you're forgiven, just the facts' you figure out how to implement them accordingly.

I'm inclined to be nebulous, wandering all over creation, back and forth between the left and right globes of my brain, before my point is made. Having facts, figures, rigid rules and unforgiving expectations thrown at me made me regress to my child's mind--I felt threatened, angry, defensive. As an adult I learned to stand up for myself. But it's someone who's grown UP (up meaning up to our Creator) who can listen with their heart to hear what the other person is saying.

Got it. I'm not lowering my standards. I'm raising them. I'm working on listening with my heart. Speak gently. It's new territory for both of us.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mollie Looks for Spring

Mollie is still too young to go outside. But there is nothing to say she can't sit in the window sill and dream.

My Work Is My Missionary

When I lived in Massachusetts, Thursday nights (or was it Wednesday? I don't remember!) were special; I used to get together with two other couples for an evening of pizza, Friends, Seinfield and Kramer. We'd all sit around, laughing and recalling the week's events, the good and the bad, offering encouragement and support, and sometimes a little wisdom.

One of the couples, Dennis and Linda, was very active in their church, and they'd warm to their stories of their church's activities and their participation. One night I asked Dennis, "You love the church so much, why aren't you a missionary? It would just seem such a natural path. Or is it because you met Linda and she changed all that?" I teased.

He laughed his easy, soft laugh. "Well, Linda did change my life that's for sure." He grinned,looked shyly at her, making her smile back at him. "My work is my missionary. I get to be outside everyday,enjoy nature, talk to people. Many of my customers are friends." he explained simply. "Some may see me as just a postal carrier, but everyday I meet someone who needs a kind word or a helping hand. I know it's not showy like working for the Peace Corp or being a missionary saving souls in a third world country. But you know what? I can't tell you how many times Ive been told that I'm the only person who has acknowledged them. In my own way, I make a difference."

The other day, I was speed walking down the hallways of the office where I work, feeling as though I was running late after stepping out to purchase a cola. After weighing the pros and cons of elevator versus stairway, I chose the elevator. At the same time a young mother with two little boys boarded the elevator with me. I pushed Level 2, turned and asked her where she was going. "One," she said, "we're headed out." I nodded, smiled politely, pushed one. And as people in elevators often do, I pretended to ignore the other passengers; after all it's only polite, right?

The young mother blurted out, "Can I ask you for a favor? Can you go to the first floor with me? I have claustrophobia and I hate elevators. It would help me if you went with me." Her two little boys were oblivious to their mother's anxiety as they raced about in tight circles around her, but I saw her green eyes open as the doors closed and the elevator shrugged downward.

Truthfully, my first reaction was to be a little peeved; I was in a hurry for heaven's sake! Her eyes did not leave mine and I felt small and petty. "Sure," I said. "Be glad to."

Her face was awash with relief and her mouth relaxed into a small smile. I studied her for a moment, weighing what I wanted to say. "You know what I read one time? That sometimes when people have a fear of closed-in places, it's because of a birth trauma memory. Your subconscious mind remembers and your adult conscious mind translates it to fear of enclosed spaces."

She gave such a knee jerk reaction that she started us both. "Yes!" she said.

I breathed deeply and released my breath, and unknowingly she did the same. "Feel better, freer?" I asked her.

Her eyes shone bright with gratitude and new understanding. She grabbed her sons' hands. "Yes, I do! Thank you so much." The elevator doors opened, and she and her sons stepped out. She looked back at me one more time, and whispered, "Thank you again."

The doors closed, I pressed the button for the second level again. That small exchange maybe only took 45 seconds out of my workday, but they are moments that will stay with me for a long, long time.

The workplace as a missionary. Wow.


I look out my window this morning. Snow dances to its own etheral music. Soft, white, cold, beautiful, gliding, sashaying. I strain to hear it flit and fall and hit the earth. I hear...silence.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Buster Crabbe, My Blogging Buddy

This is Buster Crabbe, one of my five blogging buddies. Buster often sits behind me, peering over my right shoulder, making sure I'm not goofing off and thereby assuring a steady flow of treats and affection.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Words Matter

I love words. I love reading them, I love writing them, I love speaking them. They inspire, belittle; heal, wound. Yet almost everyday I hear someone say, "It's just words. They don't matter.

"What if someone said, "Being of sound mind I bequeath..." "With this ring..." "And the winner is..." Or what if they said, "I want a divorce!" "I don't know how to break this to you..." "You only have months to live..." All of a sudden words take on a whole new meaning and significance. I was in my 30's when I first learned this. It was a fleeting exchange but one that changed my life irrevocably and became a life lesson that I've practiced.

I worked for a particular life insurance company in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. Management positions were male dominated; women were clerks or administrative assistants. We were also supposed to be pretty and ladylike and almost subservient, though there were a brave few who were striving to break the gender bias (in a pretty and ladylike way of course).

As is wont in many office settings, there are women who always organized birthday parties for staff, and this office was no exception. On this particular occasion were were celebrating our supervisor's birthday. Someone had brought in a camera and was snapping and clicking pictures of everyone. That is, until she came to me.

I declined the photo op. Period. My body language made it clear there would be no further discussion. Nonplussed, the photographer turned her attention to the lady who was sitting beside me. Her name was Marion. Now as I mentioned, most of the ladies were quite fashionable and outgoing, taking great pride and time their in primping. Marion, however, was different. Her skirts were too long; so was her greying, kinky hair (considering she was middle age and all, some noted), and to compound it all, she really just didn't have much to say. She politely allowed her picture to be taken and the offending camera and photographer were gone.

Marion waited a moment and then she gave me an inquisitive, sloe-eyed look, and asked me in a whisper, "Why didn't you want your picture taken?"

I was still feeling edgy and high strung and gave her a brutally honest answer. "Because I think I'm ugly. I look like a troll in pictures." I immediately regretted the bluntness of my response but it was too late to think about it and take it back.

Marion's lips were not smiling, but her eyes were filled with a womanly compassion and wisdom that shone. She sat boldly upright, steeled with fire and conviction, and her words flowed firm and steady. "I don't know who told you that and you believed them, but they have lied to you. You are beautiful!"

And that's when it happened. I felt a dark veil lift from my heart; my spirit shifted. I saw myself in a new light, and more powerful than that, I felt a deep healing of a pain that I did not even know that I had. Those twenty words resonated right down to the cellular level. Me? Beautiful?

I never did thank Marion for her compassion and encouragement. I pray that someday she will know what a wondrous gift she gave me. And now because of her, when I see the opportunity, I, too, speak twenty words of compassion and encouragement.

You just never know where a person is at in their life and what a difference your words can make.Are you listening with your heart? Is there someone you know who may need your twenty words?

Do you know how beautiful you really are?