all of the selves we Have ever been
I collect beautiful words like others collect exquisite jewelry.
A pen is always handy so that I can acquire moving and delightful phrases wherever I find them. I like to study my gems, holding them up to the light, examining their many facets. I memorize them so that I can be properly attired when an occasion calls for jewels.
I look through my treasure chest often, mining the contents for comfort, hope, inspiration, and motivation. Somewhere in the box I always find what I need to go on.
Today is such a day, the last day of a difficult year. In 2020 there were few occasions to dress up and step out, but there were many days to mine the treasures of my word chest. A jewel I wore each day came from the Book of Lamentations, the Bible’s book of sorrow from a time of suffering. The page in my prayer book is marked by a Kleenex tissue, but I do not need to turn the page. The tissue reminds me of the words I know by heart: “The Lord’s love never ends; his mercies never stop. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NCV)
There were days in 2020 when those mercies found me, and days when I had to remind myself to open my eyes and look harder. Every morning there was a cup of steaming spiced tea. I sipped the tea while cozy under warm covers as I prayed for the world, my country, and the people I love. There were bitter cold mornings when the old battery in my car turned over and the engine started. There were phone calls from friends and plenty of laughter. There were hot showers and enough to eat. There was yet another day without COVID in my home or in my family. God’s mercies were new every morning; promise fulfilled.
In my treasure chest are words written on a paper napkin. I heard them on the radio while driving. A woman was being interviewed. She had survived 9/11 in New York City and was there again trying to survive COVID-19. The interviewer asked the woman how she kept going. “There are seeds under the ground,” she said. On a dreary and bitter cold morning at the end of a terrible year, there are seeds under the ground. The world will blossom with life again. The seeds are patiently waiting to fulfill their promise.
An older gem in my collection came from a greeting card I purchased when a friend had a baby. The front of the card contained a quote from Charles Dickens: “It is no small thing that they, who are so fresh from God, love us.” Ah, something bigger and more important than the coronavirus…This jewel reminds me of another. When my own children were still so fresh from God and learning to speak, they thought the traditional greeting for the start of a new year was “Happy You Near.” I have always treasured those words, and now as we leave 2020 behind and enter into a new season of uncertainty, those words have never been more meaningful or appropriate. That gem rests in the same crown with the Irish proverb: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
I do not know what the next year will bring. I do know that I will continue to add to my treasure chest and to look for the words that comfort, inspire, and motivate. May you have your own deep mine of diamonds. Whatever else happens in 2021, may you find shelter in that palace of people you love, and may fresh mercies find you each and every morning.
Happy You Near!
My sweet nephew went off to kindergarten a true believer.
It didn’t take long for the “big kids” to shake his faith.
That first Christmas after entering school, my nephew launched his own inquiry: Is there a Santa Claus? After weighing the evidence and talking to experts such as his grandmother, Tony concluded that, to stop believing, was just too big a chance to take.
Many years later, my son Sam, went off to grade school. It wasn’t long before he began to ask questions suggesting that he was having doubts of his own. Then, on Christmas morning, with tissue paper flying, flashbulbs flashing, and the video-camera recording, the action came to a sudden halt. “Santa must be a thief!” Sam announced to the room. “There are tags on these things!”
Stung and surprised, I recovered quickly and came up with an explanation—something about the size of Santa’s sleigh, and helping local businesses. Sam accepted my words. We were back in action with the camera rolling.
Eventually, Tony and Sam each became one of the big kids with the holiday scoop. They seemed to accept their changing understanding of reality and how the world works, but it was the parents who grieved the loss.
It has been a very difficult year. Many are wondering, will there still be Christmas? More than ever, I want to believe. Fighting the gloom, I decorated the Christmas tree and hung up the lights. In the process, I realized something: no matter what the big kids say, children do not give up on magic. They trust in a successful transfer of power. Our children let go of Santa because they believe in us. There will still be Christmas.
As my nephew Tony concluded, it is too big of a chance to take. Keep believing. There is magic in each of us. The show must go on because someone believes in you.
The first lacey snowflakes drift past my window. They are the delicate advance men for a fierce nor’easter on its way.
The anticipating world is already subdued.
A forecast of snow brings with it a universally shared sense of caution. Go slow. Take your time. Tardiness will be excused. Don’t go out if you don’t have to.
The snow provides a buffer against sound and activity. All is surreal. We watch the world, but are we in it? On such a day, the snow-covered earth is like an innocent bride in a gown of white while home is the church where children give thanks for snow-prayers answered.
Staring out my window this morning, I feel the way I once did as a child living in the hilly suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a time when the world had no problem sheltering in place. It was the average lifestyle. During the day, neighborhoods were devoid of traffic. Dads had the only cars with them at work. At home, Moms were busy with all of the hard labor of keeping house and maintaining large families. Kids went only where their feet could take them. Most businesses were closed on Sundays and there were blue laws. For school-age children, the lights went out by 9:00 PM, and the three television networks stopped broadcasting after the nightly news. Depending on the location, a ten or eleven o’clock public service announcement adjourned the day by asking parents, “Do you know where your children are?”
We had a large bay window in our living room. On a snow day, that window was our weather channel. We were all budding Al Rokers, shouting weather updates from the sofa and providing special reports of kids sledding or cars skidding down our steep hill.
When the snow accumulation became deep enough, we bundled up and went outside to play in the yard, throw snowballs, sled, or build snowmen. We might also shovel the area around the mailbox to make way for the postman or sweep the walkway to the front door for the paperboy and the milkman.
My little brother, a budding entrepreneur by age 8, was quick to mow a lawn or shovel snow. He was born knowing how to make a buck. One winter, HB got his hands on a used snow blower. He made up little business cards offering services to the neighbors. He cranked out the cards on a small hand-held device that contained an ink-filled roller. In addition to my brother’s name and our home phone number, the cards listed his services including lawn mowing and blow jobs. We didn’t understand our father’s reaction to the cards, but they were confiscated and a new batch prepared with parental supervision.
After hours spent outdoors playing, shoveling, and giving blow jobs, we came back inside through the basement, stripping off our ice-crusted boots and top layer of clothing. Clothing was hung on a makeshift clothesline where it could drip dry into the floor drain instead of all over the hardwood floors upstairs. We made hot chocolate from Nestle’s Quick which we all agreed would have been much better if only we had marshmallows. We spent hours playing Monopoly, and when that got old, we sleuthed with Nancy Drew, or helped to fold laundry.
Snow days had the pace of a day one might expect in heaven. By nightfall, we were exhausted but happy. We paused in our home chapels to pray for more snow. Sometimes God heard us. More often, he took mercy on our mothers and gave priority to their prayers. He sent sunshine.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,
as cases surged, government and health officials continued to believe they could harness the energy of youth and youthful feelings of invulnerability by pleading with young people to stay home and save old people from the coronavirus.
Let’s get real. Young people don’t go to crowded
bars to drink to the health of senior citizens.
The public has been confronted with horror stories about droves of older adults dying in nursing homes. Many young people, and some not so young, don’t know anyone living in a skilled nursing facility. Some folks believe that older adults go to nursing homes to die, so what’s the big deal? With all of the focus on frailty and “underlying conditions,” the picture painted is one of aging citizens about to tip over the edge at any moment. Why shut down the economy for such a hopeless cause? Never mind that 42 is the median age of COVID-19 cases in my state of Ohio.
Advertising adds to the misperceptions of older adulthood. If most of your education about aging comes from television, what is a person to believe about the quality of life and the value of seniors?
Let’s take a look. Turn on your televisions sets. Stop with the Pilates and pay attention.
Senior citizens watch a lot of television and are big consumers of cable TV services. Cable? Yes, cable. How quaint. Didn’t cable go out of style along with typewriters and rabbit ears? How can you take someone seriously who doesn’t stream?
“Active” seniors are depicted out in the park walking their dogs. The really hip grandparents are busy snapping smartphone photographs of their pets and sending three of those pictures each day to their grandchildren. What a full life! Really groovy grandparents might work part-time and still manage to walk a couple of miles twice a week, but the fact that they can still concentrate and remember their names is due to brain-preserving over-the-counter medications.
And speaking of medications…how many erectile dysfunction advertisements do you think a child sees in the years from preschool through college? Is it any wonder young people can’t imagine adults with intimate relationships and full lives? Based on advertising, a viewer might believe the number one problem facing older adults is sexual dysfunction.
And why would senior citizens care about sex when they are the subject of so much advertising for arthritis pain relievers, heart disease remedies, and diabetes medications? How about those sexy ads for bladder and bowel leakage products? If you were a teen, wouldn’t you rather die from COVID-19 than humiliation?
Body and mind problems aside, older adults fall and they can’t get up. When the ads come on, they take notes about term life insurance, reverse mortgages, and pre-paid funeral services. None of those products implies a future.
Add to the regular diet of product advertising, more recent election campaign ads zeroed in on helpless seniors. How about the one in which an older woman, one with a landline, is trying to call 9-1-1 while an intruder with a crow bar breaks through her front door? Of course, the police have been defunded and the woman’s call goes unanswered. The intruder enters her home and the phone falls to the floor.
The media paint a pathetic portrait of growing older in America. Most of the sad images are of women. Now I don’t expect to overturn the developmental processes of youth and the accompanying lack of insight about aging and responsibility to elders, but I would like to see more images of the men and women that I know. Show me the seniors who stream, run marathons, and direct corporations. Let me see some sexy women on Mediterranean diets with robust health and a string of boyfriends. Give me a gal who comes to her own defense, tripping the intruder with her running shoes, clobbering him with her hand weights, and tying him up with her shoe laces. Show me the lives of the older people that I know, lives with a quality that even a teen can deem worth saving. Then we can all meet at a bar and drink to that!
Dear Mr. Santa Claus:
It has come to my attention that many people are planning to submit their Christmas wish lists on paper via the U.S. Postal Service this year. That can’t happen. It will be a total disaster. Don’t be fooled by claims that people need to submit their wishes in this manner just because of a little worldwide pandemic. People are making too much of this Chinese virus, or the Kung flu, as I like to call it. We need more focus on the economy and on me. Therefore, I insist that any individual who wants a present this year come to a crowded department store and make his or her request in person. Feel free to give each person a MAGA hat for stopping by—that’s on me because I am the most generous President that’s ever lived, and Christmas is a red holiday.
Please be aware that I am onto those letter-dumping schemes. Millions and millions of people all over the United States are filling Santa mailboxes with multiple letters using different names, even the names of dead people. This is especially true in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I will not stand for this. We will be sending pole watchers to read every letter and cross-check every address and signature. We don’t care if it takes all year or even four years because we know the result we are looking for, and we won’t give up until we get it.
I want it clear that I will get everything I want for Christmas this year or the entire timeless holiday tradition is over. I will bury you in litigation and send angry mobs to your home to dismantle your workshop, terrorize your elves, slap the red nose off of Rudolph, and hang you out to dry like a string of blown Christmas lights. People will forget you ever lived. We’ll even do away sleighs and snow.
One of my campaign promises was to bring back coal. It’s a beautiful thing, and I expect your full cooperation with this initiative. Since I am the one who determines who is naughty or nice this year, every person in each of the blue states, every registered Democrat, and every relative of a registered Democrat should receive a stocking full of coal this year. It’s my two–birds-with-one-stone policy.
Believe you me, I am already searching for your replacement. Krampus is tops on the list should you let me down by becoming a stupid loser. No administration ever has had the record-setting turnover of this administration. No one. Ever. I’m not afraid to tweet, “You’re fired!” You’ll find out. You’ll see.
A President of the United States
Dear Santa Claus,
As you know, there is a world-wide pandemic this year. With just days until Christmas, we have no hope that this scourge will end in time for your annual visit. As an essential worker, you may ignore the stay-at-home orders and the curfews. Considering your traditional twelve-month quarantine, we have deemed you safe for travel, and we are providing you with this authorization. Continue to come when we are sleeping to avoid face-to-face contact. There will be no holding children on your lap this year. And please do not attempt to kiss mama underneath the mistletoe.
I know you are a manufacturing genius, but can you please shop local this year? There is curbside pick-up so you won’t be slowed down. Food is a welcome present this year, and if you have some jobs to offer, there are many in need. Rent vouchers and gift cards are also appropriate. Please send as much PPE as you can spare and adequate vaccine for all of our citizens.
An American Governor
People have been calling us health care heroes, but we don’t feel much like heroes. We cannot keep up with the need. We are exhausted and terrified. A microscopic Grinch is stealing Christmas this year.
We don’t have much time for list-making, and the accumulation of stuff no longer matters. We won’t be home to open presents from under our trees. We now appreciate what it means to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. The entire world is falling ill.
You know what it means to have everyone wanting something from you. We get it now, and we want to lighten your load and the weight of your sleigh. These are our most fervent wishes, and they will not take up much space: Bring us health. Bring us unity. We know that joy will follow.
We need you this year, Santa. We are short on beds, short on staff, and short on strength.
An American Health Care Worker
I am convinced that AI
is the next life form.
Technology is getting out of control as we willingly turn over our human superpowers to machines. The faculties that placed human beings at the top of the food chain are slowly disappearing, abilities such as reasoning, calculating, problem solving, planning, and decision making. As our primal brains take control over our rational minds, language is disappearing as well. With all of the acronyms and abbreviations, we soon will be grunting like Neanderthals.
Apparently, telephones are no longer for conversation. I am meeting more parents who tell me that their school-age children do not like to talk on the phone because talking makes children anxious. They prefer all communication to be via text messaging.
With rapid, acronym-filled text messages, we are at the end of substantive communication. Deep meaning is to be found in expressions such as WTF, CWOT, EM?, IDK, IDC, and SEP.
I grew up in a world of “use your words,” and I’m still trying to get straight with POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS. But it’s a DIY world, and I will have to learn this new language on my own. What frightens me is the room for error and misunderstanding. For example, if you text your boss LOL will that be assumed to be laughing out loud or lots of love? B3 can be a vitamin, an electric guitar, or a rock band. B3 can also stand for blah, blah, blah. Was my nurse practitioner ordering me a vitamin, inviting me to a rock concert, or giving me the brush off?
Acronym-illiterate as I am, I am grateful my own children are grown because there is an entire shorthand vocabulary devoted to KPC (or keeping parents clueless). It includes P911, PAL, PAW, PIR, and POS. If you have children and have no idea what all of this means, then your children will be ROTFL at what they’ve just pulled off.
And as someone who is old-fashioned and still strives to be on time, I am forced to wrestle with both my covered wagon and the many acronyms for time including: 2moro, 2nte, AEAP, ALAP, ASAP, B4YKI, BRB, BRT, CUS, CYT, EOD, L8R, N-A-Y-L, OMW, RN, and EOBD. I never thought I’d say this, but thank God for stay-at-home orders. I am glad there is no place to go because I have no idea what time I should be there.
There is another vocabulary for our closer relationships, if texting can be considered intimate communication. There is BFF, a title for someone closer than an FOAF, and there are greetings and closings such as HAK, ILU or ILY, IMU, and KFY. Somehow I just can’t feel the love in ILU. But maybe a cute, dancing emoji will fill the bill. Nothing says I love you like a grunt and a cave drawing.
RU following me on all of this? JC. NTIM.
The more I struggle with this new vocabulary, the more anxious I become. I guess those talk-averse children have a point. It is a scary world when you don’t understand the language.
SITD but CUL8R.
“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (1 Samuel 18:1)
I treasure this ancient and beautiful description of friendship and the image of souls knit together into one fabric, a cloth fashioned from threads that are soft and strong and deep. A similar description in the book of Mark describes marriage: “and the two shall become one flesh” (10:8).
Like Davidandjonathan, we all know relationships that share one name in our mental directory: Rickyanddennis, Maryandbill, Betsyandjoe, Bobbyanddenise, Momanddad, Nanaandpop-pop, brotherandsister, husbandandwife, parentandchild. When one dies, our minds struggle to compute.
For the surviving half, the ache of loss can become like phantom limb pain. It is not psychological, as in “all in your head.” It is not “unresolved grief,” or “complicated bereavement.” As the brain continues to remember the missing limb and continues to try to communicate with it, so the soul still speaks, activating emotions, trying to connect with the missing member.
Dr. Gordon Livingston who experienced the deaths of two sons, one from leukemia and one from suicide, writes in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: “Like all who mourn I learned an abiding hatred for the word “closure,” with its comforting implications that grief is a time-limited process from which we all recover.”
During this year of 2020, we have experienced so much tragedy. The pandemic alone has generated a landslide of loss. Add to that disaster the unprecedented wildfires, a record hurricane season, increases in violent crime and murder, and deaths from drug overdoses and suicides. There are so many who have been ripped apart from their other halves, carrying on with aching, missing limbs. And there are the thousands of health care workers who were present as the threads were cut who will forever carry the memories of those moments and the grief absorbed.
A vaccine is coming. This viral-crisis will end, but words like “let the healing begin” or “getting closure” will be inadequate. There is not a starting line and a pistol shot to mark the beginning, and there is no finish line. The effects of this difficult year will be felt not just individually, but in our national soul forever.
In Greek mythology, Pandora opened a jar containing sickness, death, and evil. Before she could close the container, all of that darkness escaped into the world. Pandora hurriedly closed the container, and all that remained in the jar was hope.
Dr. Livingston offers some advice to other survivors of loss. He writes not about closure or healing, but about hope: “This is what passes for hope: those we have lost evoked in us feelings of love that we didn’t know we were capable of. These permanent changes are their legacies, their gifts to us. It is our task to transfer that love to those who still need us. In this way we remain faithful to their memories.”
Today, there are millions in mourning. We must call upon our better halves and transfer some of that love to those who need us.