Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Do I Still Care?

My husband and I were having dinner last night - our third meal that involved cheddar cheese - and I sighed audibly.

"What's wrong?" he asked although I'm pretty sure he didn't want to.

"I dread putting on a bathing suit this year," I replied.

"Well," he started, but quickly stopped when he saw that look in my eye that said if you say one word about how WE can start exercising, I'm going to kill you!

Why do I care what I look like in a bathing suit anymore? If I'm on the beach with two thousand women, who are people going to look at, me or the woman in the bikini? I know I'm never going to weigh 120 pounds again, and if I do it's going to be a wrinkled saggy 120 because of the weight I've carried for the past few years. You don't lose skin any quicker than you lose fat.

There are women my age who look thin and beautiful, you say. Yes, that's true. I admit it. They work at it, make it a priority. And I could do that too, I guess.

But if I die tomorrow, are people going to look at pictures of me and say, "Whoa. She sure was fat." Or will they say, "I miss her because she meant this or that to me"? Will they fight over my exercise bike or my short stories and photographs? Will they give away my clothes after looking at the sizes or after inhaling my scent one more time?

It shouldn't matter. I know this in my head. But somehow I still dread the first glimpse of myself in the mirror, white skin and extra weight that was supposed to be gone by now (in October there seemed to be plenty of time).

At lunch today a friend and I were bemoaning the hot season. She said that one time she asked her husband if he minded that she had gained weight. He answered, "No, I don't love you for that anymore." To her that meant his love was deeper than her looks, that he saw her for the beautiful person she is and for all she had meant to him over the years. Sweet. Really sweet.

After I left her, I thought about what he said. And though it was touching the way we interpreted it, I do wish I were one of the bikini girls again. I was self-conscious then too, but it had a little pride and preening mixed in.

But I know I shouldn't care.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I'm Happy the Hooplah's Over...For Now

We've missed another false deadline for the Rapture, so I guess the last horrible days will be moved forward too.

I'd like to think that this kind of prediction is nothing but fear-mongering and false confidence that we "know." But to those who really believe, this looking forward to the Rapture might also be filled with hope. Hope that they'll be taken from this place we call Earth with its bad weather and wars and cruelty, and placed soundly at the feet of God in Heaven. Seated next to our Way-Shower Jesus. Happy at last. I can't criticize that because there isn't a one of us who hasn't said, "I wish this was over" or "I'm miserable," or "I don't think I can live through another day of this pain."

But the truth is, and it's been proven over and over, that we can't predict the end. Not the end today, not the end in 2012. We have not been successful in divining what God thinks or plans to do with us mortals in the end. And to put it out there as the gospel, as the Truth, I believe does more harm than good.

It sets the true believer up as an object of ridicule. It makes some of those that don't feel sure about their goodness feel unworthy and helpless. A few might panic and think, "What can I do to be good enough by May 21?" But mainly, when it doesn't take place, we scoff and look away, forgetting the simple truth: All we have is today. And we have to live it the best way we can, Rapture or no Rapture.

I thought today of something I used to do as a child. I had learned in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School that no one could know when the end would come. And I interpreted that to mean that if anyone thought they knew, it wouldn't happen. So for a couple of years, between the ages of maybe five and six, I would go to bed every night and say, "The end of the world is tomorrow." And I would be assured in my little kid's mind that I had another day to go to school and be with my friends and family.

I joked on Facebook about the fact that I would be happy when the Rapture was over and those of us left behind could begin to concentrate on things that mattered here on earth. Peace, taking care of our children, helping our neighbors, being healthy, feeding our souls. It was said lightly, but it's the truth. That's what I'm going to do today, like I did yesterday, and like I'll do tomorrow. But just in case, let me say it here: "The world will end tomorrow."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Change My Way of Thinking

Today at church, my minister suggested something that will probably cause you to read this blog and go, "Say WHAT?"

He suggested that for the next two weeks, when we get a bill in the mail, we open the envelope with a sense of gratitude. After all, we did receive electricity, cable, telephone, a house or car, insurance, etc. so why should we resent being charged for it?

Interesting thought and I think I'll try it.

On the same but slightly different note, I've tried to change a little of my thinking about money and things too. Instead of saying, "I need ___," or even "I don't need ___," I have tried saying, "I already have everything I need to do this." In particular this week, I have an event to attend. Usually I would go right out and buy a new item of clothing or two to wear. But once I approached my closet with the attitude of adequacy, I was able to put together two or three outfits that I liked.

I'm feeling particularly optimistic right now. I went to see my dad's empty house on Friday. It was just an echoing shell of a house, void of life. I felt sad but also thankful that we've moved the precious things to our houses. When I got back, my cat, Audrey, was mopey and her foot was swollen, but she's so much better today; it was just a cut. My writing is on fire, major revisions and new ideas and positive feedback the fuel. With all this goodness going on, I'm grateful. I'll try to extend my gratitude to Progress Energy and Time-Warner Cable. The fuel bill? That'll take some time.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes

One year ago yesterday, my dad had a normal day. One year ago today, all that changed. Here's a story I wrote about that day.


One: The doorbell rings. Your feet hurt a little as you walk from your bedroom to the stairwell and down the top stair. It’s Friday, it has been a busy week, and though the weekends are lonely, on Saturday you will put on your favorite gray corduroy pants and the red flannel shirt we gave you for Father’s Day, watch ball games and talk to some of us on the phone. On Sunday you’ll put on a suit, go to church and sing in the choir.

Two: The second stair, like the first, is fairly easy even though you are in a hurry to get the door, to pay the man who worked in the yard today. The money you pay him is so appreciated he always says, and though he does only a so-so job it is worth it because you are helping him. So many people you’ve helped through the years: giving donations, tutoring, baking pound cakes, sending get well cards.

Three: Three times a month you deliver meals to shut-ins. You, eighty-eight years old, get in your car and knock on the doors of those too old or too tired or too sick to fix food for themselves. You feel so fortunate as you walk down their stairs and sidewalks to drive to the house you’ve lived in for sixty years. “Three,” you think as you count your way downstairs.

Four: On the fourth stair you falter, grab the rail with a veined and arthritic hand. You re-balance and move on. Four times this month you have gone to funerals of friends; you know how fragile life is and how “like that” it can all be over.

Five: On the wall beside the steps is a picture of our mom, dead now these twenty-five years, with whom you had the five of us. Five children with children of our own, lives of our own; we don’t need you that much anymore and you try not to need us either. You keep the bad news from us: questionable doctors’ reports, high blood pressure, low energy, knees and back that ache as you move to the sixth stair.

Six: The knocking at the door has urgency now that you can detect even without your hearing aids in. We talk too loud when you wear them, too quietly when you don’t, make fun of you by saying, “Huh?” to each other when we think you can’t hear us. “One minute, I’m coming,” you call out as you move one stair closer to the bottom.

Seven: Your mother just died seven years ago. Maybe you’re only now beginning to feel free, an adult without a parent to answer to. You could live to be as old as she was—a hundred and one. You move carefully to the next stair.

Eight: Eight seconds it has taken you to get to this stair, eight seconds that your life is still productive; it’s still a time when you’ve never missed a Rotary meeting and go to work every day and sit in your chair in your house, yes, lonely but gratefully self-sufficient, so glad to be alive. And then for some reason you will never understand, you’ve miscounted the stairs—was it when you stumbled on the fourth one?—and your foot hits only air and you’re falling in a twist, landing heavily, awkwardly on the worn brown carpet. The pain is engulfing you so you can’t think and groans issue from somewhere inside you and the knocking at the door is more insistent; “Mr. Lewis? Mr. Lewis?” is muffled in your ears, but you can’t reach the doorknob or even the deadbolt key, and somewhere behind the pain, as frightening as what has happened to your body, is the certainty that you have counted your last stair.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Staying Calm

Right after Hurricane Fran wreaked havoc on our neighborhood, I became a mild hoarder. My children will attest to the fact that I stocked water, batteries and canned goods until the shelves sagged. I didn't want to use any of them because I was afraid we'd need them in a crisis.

That was 1996. It has taken me many years to be able to go into a grocery store and only buy what I need for the week or the month. I can only just lately let go of my fears for my children who live in big cities and who travel freely by plane, train and car. I don't worry obsessively when I get on a plane to go somewhere. I feel safe with money in banks and a few stocks.

I don't feel glad about the death of Osama Bin Laden. As a fellow blogger said, he was a cockroach, and if you kill one, there are ten more skittering around in the background. And the weather does seem to be more volatile lately. So it is very difficult for me, with the recent devastation caused by earthquakes and tornadoes and the increasing tension in the world, to keep my former unhealthy feelings at a distance. In my most worried moments, I think of survival again: moving away to a place where I can homestead (where though?), cashing in, going off the grid.

I love the interplay of life so much though that I think I would be miserable. Even if I felt safe.

I try not to watch too much world news, I steer far away from fear mongering bloggers, I meditate and breathe deeply. I go to my yoga and writing classes and distract myself by reading novels and magazines about psychology and spirituality. I go to work, live day by day without thinking too much about the future. It's a conscious effort.

I would love to hear how some of you deal with your stress over what happens around us. Fear is one of the things that keeps this world in turmoil. I don't want to participate in that.