Thursday, July 22, 2010

When I'm Not Listening In Church

In heaven
I will wear Jimmy Choo
and the wings of Victoria Secret.

Words that cement me to this era, this moment.

But someday.

history's concrete will be jack-hammered away
and the earth beneath it
and restored to the garden it first was.

It will be there I will rest,
when my wings tire of soaring,
admiring my shoes.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

My Own Private Wilson

I originally started this blog post about a year and a half ago. It's about time to finish it, don't ya think?

In early November 2008, I went to one of my favorite stores in my city. It's a party supply store that has the feel of an old-fashioned general store. Many items are stocked in big bins and sold in bulk. They have a large room entirely devoted to balloons that's like the United Nations of Balloons, all shapes and colors displayed together in utopian harmony. Even though it was a week past Halloween, still floating about the store were a few helium-filled mylar balloons with spooky themes. As I paid for my purchases, the store clerk gestured toward a round mylar balloon that was almost the size of one of my car's tires and featured the face of a smiling jack o'lantern. He asked if I would like to have it--for free. I hesitated for a moment, then shrugged and said, "Sure. I'll find some kid who'd like it."

It turned out I was the kid who liked the balloon. I remember watching it in the review mirror as I drove away from the store. It bobbed and weaved in the backseat, where I had finally been able to get it to "sit, stay." At stop lights, I had to turn around, grab the ribbon, and pull the balloon down behind the front seats so I could see out the rear window.

Despite the challenges of traveling with a large helium-filled balloon in the backseat, I soon found I enjoyed its company. It was something I could talk to--it had a face after all--something I could bounce my ideas off of--and the balloon thought all my ideas were great ones. That November was a lonely one. The Kid was in his senior year of college and living on campus. The Old Man was busy with a Christmas play and away from home most evenings. So I decided to make the balloon my companion for a season.

After a week of traveling together, I decided the balloon needed a name. As we drove here and there through the city, I thought of how isolated the balloon and I seemed to be, the car an island, the balloon and I castaways.... Castaway with Tom Hanks ... a volleyball named Wilson ... So, that's how we rolled: me and Wilson, Wilson and me, until ...

About three weeks into my relationship with Wilson, the Old Man borrowed my car and I woke to find Wilson had left the car island and was now bobbing and weaving in the living room. Wilson spent the remainder of his days there. I was still alone, still a castaway, but I was comforted to know that whenever I passed through the living room, Wilson would be there. "Hi, Wilson," I'd say as I walked past him to the kitchen. "See you when I get back from work," I'd say in passing him to go to my office. Some days, I would sit with Wilson in companionable silence as I read. Sometimes I read aloud to him so that we would have the comfort of an audible voice. There was at least one time, possibly more, that I remember sitting and having a good cry with Wilson as my only comfort.

Wilson died of natural causes. December 2008 brought snow of a depth that our city seldom sees. As the days grew colder and the snow fell, Wilson's energy sagged and his helium lost its lift. Every day he drooped a little more, his ribbon had a little more slack, and gravity pulled on him relentlessly. Then came the day that Wilson touched the floor and laid there. My grinning, gap-toothed friend was breathing his last.

I took Wilson and held him, looked at him for a long time, and then untied his ribbon, loosened his knot, and squeezed him gently to expel the remaining helium. With a quiet whoosh, Wilson breathed his last. I sat with him for a few minutes more, running my hands over his mylar that was already beginning to crinkle, trying to smooth it out. I considered taking him back to the party store and asking the sales clerk to revive him with another shot of helium. Maybe I should have. Instead, I gave his mylar body a final stroke, folded him neatly, and laid him in the trash.

I haven't forgotten Wilson, and people who knew him sometimes say, "Remember your balloon friend? What was his name? Oh, yeah, Wilson." This last November, with The Kid busy with his post-college life and The Old Man busy with another Christmas play, I again was the castaway but without my Wilson.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Howdy Neighbor!

Long time, no blog. I know you're all asking, "Why now?"

I've been meeting with someone (we'll call her "H") every few weeks for support as I try to become a healthier person. I would say we have a helper-helpee relationship. One specific way H supports me is by helping me formulate goals. One of the goals I set today was to write for at least 10 minutes a week. After I left the appointment, I considered how I could work writing into back into my life and decided it was time to revive the blog, because I did (and do) love my blog. So my first post back will be in honor of H.

I first met H when she was trying to help The Kid become a healthier person. I immediately liked her. Great eyes, cool glasses, funky clothes, and a laugh I loved; bright, articulate, interesting, compassionate, the very definition of supportive. And she liked The Kid!

Because H is a professional person, there are boundaries, which are good and necessary in these kinds of helper-helpee relationships, but I still wish we could be friends. Really, I feel like we are in this gray area where H is more than just a professional helper person to me yet could not appropriately be defined as a friend.

This is what I think: H is my neighbor.

And this is why I think that: When Jesus was challenged with the question "Who is my neighbor?" he responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan and then turned the initial challenge on its head by asking "Who in the story behaved as a neighbor should?"

H behaves in response to me the way a neighbor should. And, like Jesus, H turns things upside down for me so that my world can be right-side up.

So, if I greet you with a "Howdy Neighbor!" I'm not going all cowgirl on you. I'm letting you know what you are to me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Beauty Of Air One

It's hard to believe it has been virtually one year and one month since my last blog. "Where does the time go?" she asked tritely.

I was out running errands today (which included a trip to Captain Henry's Pirate Store--a whole other story) and flipped on the car radio. I usually listen to Dr. Laura in the afternoons, but today is her yearly joke show and I wasn't in the mood. After cruising past Sean Hannity, Terry Gross and the (K)Blessed Virgin Mary, I settled on Air One, a contemporary Christian music station that the Fruit of My Womb (FOMW) had introduced to me a few years ago. In our new car (another whole other story), the station comes in quite clear to the great delight of the FOMW.

I like Air One okay, but sometimes it gets on my nerves. And it's me, not them. Well, it's a little bit them. The reasons Air One gets on my nerves are a) I think they play too many songs that sound alike (something Air One can control) and b) the songs they play that we sing in our worship services sound way better on Air One (something Air One can't control) and that irritates me, just because.

Today, Air One was getting on my nerves because of reason a). However, in one of those sound-alike songs, I heard something that I thought was profound. Because of Google (I love Google--I wish I could marry it), I was able to find the artist, the name of the song, and all the lyrics. This is what I heard:

"But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair."

The group is Reliant K. The song is Be My Escape.

It's just one of those lines that you can roll around in your mind like a jawbreaker in your mouth.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Women's Retreat

Born under a cloud of never-meant-to-be,
Surrounded by elephants and leeches,
It doesn't take me long to reject
The God of the Plan.

Some are warmed by this God.
To me, that God is cold comfort,
Like worshipping an unlit yule log.

Searching for order in the Mystery,
I embrace the God of the Choice.
I flirt with Pelagius,
and throw my lot in with Arminius.

I embrace the God of the Process,
This messy, dynamic, frightening Being,
Who is willing to wrestle with me,
Down in the dust like two small boys,
Like he wrestled with my forefather Jacob.

This is what warms me: this Opponent-Friend of mine.
I taste the salt of his sweat.
I feel his hot breath on my neck.
I hear his calls for my surrender.
We are locked forever in each others' grasp,
and there is no letting go.

It is the struggler who reaches Peniel.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Regular readers of my blog may have guessed (and they would be right) that I have a rich inner life. I was just pondering that today. I don't know if I think more than other people, or think harder than other people, or what. I do know that it seems like I'm thinking all the time, that I seem to be aware that I'm thinking all the time, and that I often find my own thoughts quite entertaining, going so far as to laugh out loud at something I have thought to myself. How embarrassing. But, back to Guinness.

Guinness is my new alter ego. When people find out about Guinness, their first question to me (after they quit looking at me funny) is "Why?"

This summer, I was feeling a little blue. I decided that what I needed to do to snap out of it was inject a little playfulness in my life. And I needed something non-fattening and cheap. So, eating caviar out of the old man's navel was out.

Instead, I played a game called "If I could change my name, what would I change it to?" If you're being honest, you will admit that you've played it, too.

I have to say that thinking on this question entertained me for quite a while and did distract me from what was bothering me. After considering and discarding a number of possible new names, I finally hit upon one that I thought I could live with: Guinness.

I called my sisters immediately and announced that they should begin calling me Guinness forthwith. I taught my little nephews to call me "Aunt Guinness." I began signing off my e-mails with my new name. Most of my birthday presents this year were addressed to "Guinness." Even a co-worker calls me Guinness. I have a baseball cap (courtesy of my sister Monte) that says Guinness. Call me Guinness and I will answer.

People often ask me why I chose the name Guinness. I like it because it's a strong name and a fun name. It sounds old-fashioned and new-fashioned at the same time. It's associated with sin (well, beer anyway) and sainthood (Os Guinness, theologian). It's an Everyman (or Everywoman) kind of name.

The only person who refuses to call me Guinness is the old man. He is adamant about this. No amount of cajoling on my part can get him to budge, although he did acquiese on my birthday and on my birthday only. Even pointing out that my computer's new desktop sports a graphic that reads "Now Enjoy Guinness Anywhere" has not convinced him that he should address me by my new moniker. His loss.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

How I Helped An Old Man Run Away

This is a true story.

It was not my typical Monday morning as my car was filled with tubs of the high school's benefit auction invitations that were headed to the bulk mail unit of the downtown post office. My goal was to be there at 7 a.m. sharp.

I hate the bulk mail unit. My experiences with that place deserve a blog entry of their own. Perhaps another time. Suffice it to say that I never leave there feeling the 5'6" I was when I entered. Those bulk mail guys (and they are all guys) usually whittle away about five feet of it. That Monday I hoped to deal with them before I was fully awake.

I made it to the bulk mail unit by 7:20 a.m., dropped off the invitations, and left relatively unscathed with only one joke made at my expense, five incredulous "how could you not know that?" looks, and three condescending remarks. On that basis, this particular trip to the parallel universe of the bulk mail unit I considered to be a mild success.

Having once again negotiated the world of bulk mailing, I decided I deserved a congratulatory edible. But what, exactly? As I drove toward work, I pondered where I should purchase my reward. MacDonald's? Winchell's? Burger King? Where, oh where? I passed a number of viable alternatives, finally settling on a small, Vietnamese-run grocery store that, although I passed it almost daily, I had never frequented before.

It’s a corner grocery store just like any corner store in any big city run by any Vietnamese family. As I went in, I noticed an elderly, white gentleman, a day's growth of beard on his face, wearing rumpled blue slacks (the kind that appliance repairmen often wear) and tennis shoes. He was seated on a stool drinking coffee from a cardboard cup. The store’s owners had created a kind of three-sided corral for their pastry selections, and this old man was seated on a stool in the midst of it. How dare he sit there and separate me from the comfort I craved?! Not wanting to ask him to move, I maneuvered to the beverage cold case to get some juice, hoping that in the interim the old man would move. Sure enough, he did!

As he slowly made his way to the cashier, I crashed the space he had formerly occupied, choosing a couple of items sure to boost my blood sugar quickly and ease the pain of my bulk mail unit experience. Despite the difference in our ages and weights, the old man and I arrived at the counter at the same time.

"Where's the nearest Washington Mutual?" he asked the young Vietnamese woman at the register.

She looked puzzled.

"The nearest Washington Mutual?" he asked again, louder.

"Um ... I think ... I think ..." She looked out the front window of the store, cars flying by. "Um ..."

I had to get out of there with those snacks!

"It’s that way!" I practically shouted, pointing east. Both the old man and the cashier turned to me. "The closest one is that way," I said more quietly. The cashier nodded and murmured, "Yes, yes."

"How far?" asked the old man.

"Probably about 15 blocks," I said.

The old man thanked me and then thanked the young Vietnamese woman for letting him sit and rest while he had his coffee, and then left the store, dropping his cup and napkin in the trash as he went out. Finally! I quickly made my purchases and left, knowing that in a very few minutes I would be alone with my well-deserved treats.

As I was getting ready to put my key in the lock of the car door, I noticed the old man standing just around the corner of the store. Just standing. I did a quick assessment of him and seeing that I was slightly shorter but three times heavier and about 30 years younger, I thought, "What the heck? If he gets out of line, I believe I can take him."

"Sir," I called. "I’m going right by that Washington Mutual. Would you like a ride?"

"It’s not out of your way?" he asked.

"Not at all. I’m going right by there."

"That would be nice," he said as he moved toward my car.

I unlocked my car door and climbed in, reaching across the seat to unlock the passenger side. The old man pulled on the door, and it creaked and protested as it always does because it’s old and sticks. He slowly sat down in the passenger seat, pulling in first his left leg, then his right. I waited to start the car until he got settled and put on his seatbelt. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill and extended it toward me.

"Here. For gas."

I waved it away. "No, you keep it. The Washington Mutual is right on my way to work. I’m going right by there."

He hesitated, then returned the money to his pocket. "Okay," he said. "I just didn’t want you to think I was a bum."

"I can tell you’re not a bum," I said. And I could. Despite that fact that he was slightly disheveled, there was a dignity about the old man. He struck me as someone who had worked hard and lived simply, not needing or wanting much more than a comfortable home and a good supper at the end of each day.

We rode in silence as we pulled from the store’s parking lot onto the street that would take us to the Washington Mutual. The old man looked out the passenger window, watching the homes and businesses slide by. He sighed.

"You see, my wife died last Thursday."

"I’m so sorry," I exclaimed.

"The funeral was yesterday. I didn’t know it would be so hard. I cried like a baby. She was a good woman."

I looked over at him. Although his voice was strong, I could see his eyes were beginning to water.

"After she died, people told me, ‘You should go live with your son in Portland.’ So I thought about it and decided maybe I should. But, I heard my son and his wife talking last night. She was telling my son that I was going to mess up their ‘lifestyle.’ I guess I get up too early in the morning or somethin’." His voice trailed off and he was quiet again for a moment. "So this morning, I decided to go back home. To Albany. My son and her were asleep when I left. They don’t even know that I’m gone." He paused, then continued, resolute. "I’m going to the Washington Mutual to get some money out of my account. Then I’m going to the bus station and going home."

We rode a few more blocks in silence as I took in all that he had shared. "How long were you married?" I asked.

"We were married 58 years," he said, proudly. "She was 78 when she died. I’m 80. She was a good woman"

"That’s a long time to be together," I said.

"Yup. I can’t believe she’s gone. I can’t believe how much I cried at her funeral."

"Well, this is a big loss. You were together for so long. She was a big part of your life for lots of years."

"She was a good woman," he said again.

I spotted the Washington Mutual sign. "We’re almost there," I said. "Just a block and a half."

"I sure do appreciate this," he said. "I was going to try to walk down here, but I don’t know if I would have made it. The last two years, my wife was sick and I had to take care of her. I took real good care of her. But she was so sick. So I didn’t get out much to exercise like I used to do." He drew a breath. "She was so sick."

"Well, like I said, this was right on my way," I replied.

As we pulled into the Washington Mutual lot, I realized that it would be another half-hour until the bank opened. Slowing to a stop, I said, "Listen, this bank doesn’t open for another half-hour. But there’s another Washington Mutual on down the street. It’s in a Fred Meyer store. How ’bout I take you down to that one? Then you can get another cup of coffee or do some shopping while you wait for it to open or whatever. What do you think?"

He paused. "You know, that would be real nice."

I pulled through the lot and merged back into the eastbound traffic.

"Do you have any other children," I asked, "besides your son here in Portland?"

"Yup. Two girls, but they’re back in Florida. And I have a son in Lincoln City. He came over right after my wife died. But all he wanted was her stuff. I said ‘Take whatever you want.’ They were her things and they were things that made her happy. I didn’t really care about them so much. And without her there to enjoy them, it don’t seem like they matter at all anymore." He sighed. "She was a good woman."

"I know that she was," I said.

"I can’t believe how much I miss her."

"You were together a long time."

"She was so sick. Finally the doctors said there was no more that they could do. But I took real good care of her."

"I know that you did."

"She was a good woman."

"I can tell that you loved her very much."

We rode in silence the last few blocks to the Fred Meyer store and pulled in. I took him to the entrance closest to the bank.

"Well, here you go," I said.

"I sure do appreciate this," he replied.

Again, I waved it off. "No problem. Like I said, I was going this way."

"So, I’m going home," he said as he unbuckled his seat belt.

"I hope you have a safe trip."

He nodded and reached to unlock his door, pushed it open, and got out. He turned to push it close. As it often does, it made its awful creaking sound and didn’t want to budge. The old man looked worried.

"No problem," I smiled, "Just push it hard. It’s fine."

"Okay," he said. And then, "God bless you."

The old man gave the door one, two and then three progressively more forceful pushes until, with one final protest, it gave way and closed. The old man gave a wave, then turned and walked into the store.