Class of '85

Thirty years ago I sat on my high school football field, draped in a light blue graduation gown, a mortar board bobby-pinned to my 17 year old head, listening to our commencement speaker (a minister,) drone on about the statistical diagnosis of the class of 1985. He cast an uninspiring message of death, divorce, failure, and bankruptcy. He talked about the world from the perspective of numbers, the Russian roulette message of motivational speakers, he predicted the odds against us, against our success, against our happiness.

Throughout the past thirty years, I have thought of that speech, of the sadness he threw upon the future, of the cruelty and (sometimes accuracy) of his forecast.

In the movie, “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed ponders, (I am paraphrasing here; you will capture the essence,)

“What if I forgave myself? What if I was sorry, but if I had to go back and do it all over again, I would do it the same way? What if having sex with all those men taught me something? What if I learned a lesson doing Heroin? What if it was just as it was supposed to be?”

I think about Strayed’s monologue and my own version of these questions, minus the men and the Heroin. I think about my tattered, weather-beaten, joyful, sad, crazy, happy, life. While some of my experiences have been external circumstances, the rest have been a culmination of my choices and my ability to navigate through the fallout. Like the writer, Strayed, losing my Mom put me in a personal wilderness, where I both wondered and wandered for a long time. After seeing “Wild,” I think that the wandering/wondering was the significant point. Without the internal investigative work, we are stuck in a purgatorial space. It is important to look even when the screen reads like a warzone.

I love words. I often pour over the Thesaurus, pin-balling from word to word to find the right assembly of letters, the perfect match for the thought or emotion I am trying to convey. It is part of a writer’s art, just as a painter might blend colors, we seek the words.

At the turning of 2014, my brother, Nigel, threw out a challenge to read, One Word That Will Change Your Life. It’s a quick read that asks simple, thought-inspiring questions. The ultimate goal is to choose the one word for your year. This isn’t an easy task for a word girl. After much meditation and single word journaling I settled in on my word for 2014: kind.

To me, the word, kind, different from her sweeter cousin, nice, meant that I was responsible in my thoughts and actions. Kind meant that I was on purpose with conversations, that I was loving and fierce with my truth. It also meant that I extended grace and avoided sarcasm and hurtfulness. Kind meant that I didn’t push others aside or down to elevate myself, even for the sport of humor.

Several decades ago, I stood in the Dakota Badlands, marveling at the wagon ruts left over from the pioneer days. The tour guide said that these travelers had many fears and motivators as they battled the tough terrain. Rough winters and coyotes, the search for food and a driving inner fire blazed the trail, forging them west towards the unknown. I remember thinking that these people were risking their lives for a chance to start anew. Hard to know what they were running from or to, but not hard to understand the scamper. I remember my twenty-something self, looking down at those ruts and thinking that maybe their motivator was getting the hell away from their families where ruts of relation run deeper than those made by wagon wheels.

“Where the hell is this God of yours?”

“It’s funny that Lt. Dan said that, because right then, God showed up.”

Forrest Gump

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZH9ebAZouk

Bill Goans asked for volunteers to stand and speak about their experience with God. His request for comment centered around feeling or sensing God in the walls of the sanctuary during worship service. The cynic in me smirked that church is the least likely place for God to appear. As the saying goes, it’s not God that’s the problem; it’s his people. Above all others, Christians can really piss me off.

People obliged Goans’ request. They stood and talked – about love, about messages, about conviction and change. My own daughter talked about YoungLife. Our lives a collection of short stories, accompanied by plot and meaning.

I suspect that most of us could have told a story. It is probably why those of us who choose to worship in a traditional way, go to church. For me it is often like looking at those three dimensional posters. If I can make everything else be quiet and go out of focus, I occasionally catch a glimpse of the dolphins before the world crashes back in with its loud perspective.

Hurricane Life

 

     On August 31, 2006, I sat in the living room of an oceanfront beach house with my mom, my

two daughters, my Aunt Betty and my mom’s best friend, Margaret. We were watching the

weather channel’s rain-soaked, wind-blown forecaster explain that Hurricane Ernesto would

charge ashore somewhere around our couch and kitchen table.

     The prediction was off a bit. It was a lot worse on the second floor in the bedrooms. We

survived the storm. We just rode it out. The sun came up the next morning and we found some

rockin’ shells along the waterline among the pier and house debris.

     Nine short days later, my mom died. As my friend Chris Lewis says, “Sometimes, facts trump

feelings.” Shit happens.

Once upon a time, before husbands or kids, I worked with this crazy chick I will call Vickie. I call her that because that’s her name and unlike some written word, this is non-fiction.

Vickie carried a suitcase of a purse which was home to a grand sized wallet, assorted beauty accoutrements, Fat-Free Italian Salad Dressing, Listerine, and Vodka. She consumed all three of these liquids with commitment and enthusiasm.

As is the case with most crazies, Vickie was quite fond of me and we had a quirky, entertaining friendship that spanned over our years of working together … well, until the wife of her boyfriend threatened us with a gun. I pulled back from her a bit after that. (Ah, but that is another story.)

Vickie with her slightly buzzed, Listerine breath once talked me into going with her to see a Fortune Teller. It was a winter night and we wound down country roads before the days of iMaps or Siri, turning at stumps and old country stores to land in front of a trailer with a paint-peeling sign that read “Lady Wonder - Predictor of the Stars.” The fortunes were $15, but if you paid with a $20, the change became a tip.

I am gladly shedding the skin of 2012. Tattered, torn and ripping at the seams, I am itching for a new year’s frock to cast light and hope beams on a calendar’s turned page. I would sum up this past year, the Chinese year of the Dragon, as a time of learning.

Lessons …

People pass on. Even when you know in your heart that she should be the one to beat the odds, life as we know it has an expiration date. Rest in peace, Ivy, you stand remembered.

Dreams come true and you can have the happiest day of your life marrying the man you were born to love.

Great and crappy things happen in the name of business. Do what you must in the name of your company, but behind patents, tax codes, and web domains, are still people with discretionary morals and the free will of right and wrong.

At Carthage Elementary School, art time came in the form of an 11 X 14 sheet of off-white construction paper. I loved that paper. I would stare down at it and think of all the wonderful things I could draw. I saw castles with wild horses and knights. I saw a field of wildflowers with a log cabin on a ridge. I saw the circus complete with trapeze and big top. Oh, the things I would draw.

My artistic ability never matched my imagination and after I sketched a horse that looked like a hippo having a seizure and a castle that resembled a mobile home just before the repo dude arrived, I suffered the harsh realization that things had not turned out as I expected. But since I was eight, that never got me down, especially since I could flip the paper over and dream some more about what I might draw on the other side … the side that was clean, unlittered by my failed attempts to design and execute the perfect picture.

On August 31, 2006, I sat in the living room of an oceanfront beach house with my mom, my

 two daughters, my Aunt Betty, and my mom’s best friend, Margaret. We were watching the

weather channel’s rain-soaked, wind-blown forecaster explain that Hurricane Ernesto would

charge ashore somewhere around our couch and kitchen table.

The prediction was off a bit. It was a lot worse on the second floor in the bedrooms. We

survived the storm. We just rode it out. The sun came up the next morning and we found some

rockin’ shells along the waterline among the pier and house debris.

Nine short days later, my mom died. As my friend Chris Lewis says, “Sometimes, facts trump

feelings.” Shit happens.

I would like to wax all philosophic here with a profound message of understanding. If I

understand anything … it is this … life has an accomplice called death.

I used to be into the rah rah of New Year’s. I would form a hyper-enthusiastic pyramid of hope and prosperity along with all the folks in Times Square pledging that this would be the “Best Year Ever.” I had this type of New Year’s in the turning of 2006. Interestingly, this happened to be the year I couldn’t shake a staph infection and wound up in the Center for Infectious Disease Control. It is also the year I lost both my parents to cancer. I am not waxing cynical here, I am just saying that even with the greatest of intentions, the boldest of resolutions, the grandest of New Year’s plans … life unfolds in a year, good and bad.

My friend Neill used to say that every year he copied and pasted the next year’s resolutions from the year before. His argument was that it saved time from re-creating crap he might try to do but wouldn’t or couldn’t sustain. When we compared lists, I asked that he copy and paste for me too. I am pasting a similar list below to save you some steps in case you want to use our handy dandy, Norelco insta-resolutions…