The Color of Human

I’m white.

Even if you haven’t ever met me, you likely assumed that. Most of us here in the middle of the rectangular states are. However, if I slipped out of my skin, you wouldn’t have any idea of what color I was. I would simply be human.

But, my skin is white. And that provides me with some definite advantages that those of different hues don’t just get handed to them. For example, I don’t have to be concerned that if I loiter a bit while shopping it will raise suspicion that I’m shoplifting. My friend, Eric, does have to be aware of this and tries to be focused and deliberate, getting in and out quickly, when shopping. Eric is black.

I’m white. Which means when I get pulled over for a broken taillight I’m concerned about the fine that will likely be a result of my negligence. My friend, Will, knows as soon as he sees the flashing red lights that anything interpreted as a wrong move, word or expression could be disastrous for him, possibly even resulting in death. Will is black.

I’m white so I have no idea what it’s like to send a son, any child, out into the world – to school, to play, to jog, or shop – and worry that they might not make it back home. My friend, Kimtri, tells me that every time her 12-year-old son leaves the house they make sure to hug and tell each other “I love you.” I imagine many mothers send off sons with that reminder, but Kimtri does it because she’s black and she fears someone will determine her son’s skin color makes him “less than” or someone to fear.

I’m white. I’ve always been white and I grew up in a community and culture that was nearly exclusively so. It wasn’t until college that my world began to enlarge as it became more diverse. Honestly, at first, I wasn’t that comfortable being around people different than me. But when I took the time to get to know those from different backgrounds and cultures, and who were different colors, I quickly realized where we come from and the color of our outer covering has nothing to do with our value or our humanity. On the inside the same blood flows through the same human tissue. 

But, I’m white. And because of that I now understand that I can never fully know what the lived experience of being Black, or any other color, is like. However, white as I am, that does not mean that I can’t learn more about the racism that, despite our past efforts, is still rampant in this country.  

I’m white but the history of this nation was built, in large part, on the backs of enslaved black human beings. So it isn’t surprising there remains remnants of prejudice, bias and even the evil toxicity of white supremacy. But we have more than remnants. It appears we have large swaths of racism still running rampant. Despite the progress we may have made during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, we never had the hard conversations. Instead, we buried our history, or clung tightly to the white wash of it, never bothering to correct it so generations behind us might learn the truth. And by burying whatever residual racism and misunderstanding that lingered, we ended up planting its seeds so more grew. Looks like we may have a bumper crop, huh? 

I’m white and it’s time. It’s time we looked at this country, and ourselves, had the difficult, often heart-wrenching conversations about race and racism and began to understand, no matter the color of our outer wrapping, we want the same things – to feel safe, to find comfort, to be valued, to love and be loved.

I’m white and I pledge to learn more about the black experience, how racism harms those who have been marginalized and prevented from the freedoms, justice and equality that I often take for granted. I’m white but I am determined to be a better ally. I’m white, but my eyes and ears are open and I’m ready to be shown and to listen to what it’s like to live as a person of color. I’m white but I will show up however I can. If I can help counter, in even the smallest way, the hatred and violence against those seen as “other” or “less than” that still lives in this country, then I will and I must.

I’m white, but, please, color me human.

Note: Here are a couple of links that have helpful information on how we can all educate ourselves about racism and how we might better understand the experience of living as a person of color.

This is a link to Ibram X. Kendi’s recommended reading list.

And here’s an excellent organization that, among other things, offers lists of everything from recommended films to Instagram accounts to follow:

Posted in As I see it, Finding my way, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Conversation with Mabel

“Lou Ann! Wake up!”

What the… What’s going on?

“Come on!! Wake up! I want to talk to you.”

Who ARE you?  And how did you get in here?

“You know me by many names, but most people call me God. I know you don’t care for that name because many humans have made it so patriarchal. But I am also Goddess, as well as LoveBeautyJoy, Spirit, Inner Being, but you can just call me Mabel, if you’d like.”

Really? God/Goddess – Mabel? You’re here? Talking to me? 

“Of course, I am. But the really surprising thing is that you are finally listening.”

Well, you did yell loud enough to wake me up.

“Yeah, I know you’ve been dealing with a lot these days and I have some time so thought I’d check in and see what’s on your mind.”

What isn’t on my mind? But this virus, this Covid-19, is always somewhere in my head or heart. I’m concerned about what’s going to happen with all of this. We’ve never been through anything like this and no one has any idea what might be ahead. And even when it’s over, if it ever is, how do we move forward? There is just so much we don’t know and can’t even imagine. The uncertainty is overwhelming and so worrisome and scary. I feel paralyzed a lot of the time. Stuck in the muck of fear, sadness, isolation, and loss.

“So you believed before this virus created a global pandemic that you knew what was going to happen in the future? You honestly believed you had control over future events? If this is true, I feel as though I’ve failed you somehow.”

Well, I usually felt like I had a general idea about what was coming and that, if I nurtered positive thoughts, kept an optimistic outlook and held my mouth just so, that things would work out. But this is showing me otherwise.

“Good! You humans need to loosen your belief that you are in control. You aren’t. The only things you have any control over are your own reactions and responses to what unfolds around you. However, the majority of you appear to not be interested in controlling that which you can and prefer to focus on the things that are completely out of your control – like the weather. How many floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural ‘disasters’ do I need to create before you realize most of life outside your physical costume is also outside of your control.”

So, I’m just supposed to trust that everything’s going to be okay? That I won’t get sick? That my heart won’t give out? That our economy won’t completely crumble? That all of those unemployed will find safe shelter and sustenance? I’m suppose to trust that we’ll all make it through the isolation, the risks and the fear that often feels like it is so enormous I can’t hold it in any longer.

“Then let it out! Let it out!  Let the fear out, because it’s only smoke and mirrors. You can believe in illness or you can believe in well-being. It’s really your choice. You get to decide what F.E.A.R. means in your life. Does it stand for Face Everything And Rise or Fuck Everything and Run? That’s one of the lessons with this. You get to determine how you navigate this unknown territory. But, remember, no matter how this plays out for you personally, you will grow and you will go through it all with me at your back. There are always lessons to be learned. Why else would you have created all this chaos?

Wait? I created this situation, this disruption to our lives?

“Well, not you personally. You had help. Honestly I don’t find many of you humans very gracious houseguests. You do realize, don’t you, that you are basically my guests here on this planet? It’s time to acknowledge that and return to the days when your species practiced gratitude and respect for the land and her creatures, including other humans. It is the long history of taking your quarters and blessings for granted that altered the DNA, if you will, of cooperation I originally created in the Universe. You all have behaved like spoiled children who have grown into vagrants and ingrates. I had to do something drastic to get your attention, so I put you all on “Pause” so you could think about what you’ve done. It’s time to realize how much you have in your lives that you take for granted, how irreverently you treat each other, and how disrespectful you are to everything around you. Do you not realize that every thing – EVERY THING – on your life path is a gift placed there for you? Why do you not treat it so? My hope is whatever lessons you may be experiencing, will help each of you make some serious changes before you destroy yourselves along with everything else good and beautiful.”

That’s a lot to take in, but I know in my core what you say is true. But, I still find it difficult to trust that we will be okay in this. It’s too much. Too scary. And you just admitted that this is to teach us a lesson. How can I trust that that lesson won’t be too difficult for any of us to pass?

“I assure you, you can indeed trust that whatever happens you will not be alone. Okay, I saw you roll your eyes when I said that. But, just think about it, you’ve not only survived every lesson, every challenge you’ve been given so far, but you have truly thrived as a result of the process of doing so. Even in the times when you felt most fearful and alone, you found strength inside of you and helpers beside you, didn’t you?”

Yes. That’s true. When I was quiet enough, or scared and confused enough, to reach into the space inside of me or to pull up adequate courage and humility to ask for help, I did find whatever I needed to navigate whatever I was facing. But all these lessons! Why do they always feel so big, so overwhelming and require so much from us?

“Maybe because you don’t learn from the easy times when everything is going your way? Even in your personal relationships the real growth, the times when the relationship moves forward, when you learn something about yourself, someone else or humans in general, are when things aren’t going so smoothly. You learn most when challenged. These times require you to look inward, to find your center and to define the kind of person you wish to be and the kind of relationships in which you are willing to invest your value. This also is a good time to evaluate and improve the relationship you have with the natural world. Even the isolation of this time is useful. You are missing your loved ones and appreciating them more. You are realizing how much freedom you had and how you took that for granted. You understand how much sound, texture, touch and even love you missed by creating such busy lifestyles with overflowing calendars and to-do lists. Taking some forced stillness has opened you so you can hear, not only my voice, but also yours. This is a time to discover, and become, the human you most wish to be.”

Sounds like this is a turning point in our shared humanity.

“I think that’s an accurate conclusion, with emphasis on “shared”. This is a time when individual decisions will add up to Global change and that change can go either way, so choose wisely. There has never been a time when individuals had so much responsibility for each other, and therefore for the world.”

I hope I’m up to the task.

“You are. I believe in you. But you might want to get a little more sleep. You’re looking rather old and haggard these days.”


Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Appreciating it all – before it’s gone

We humans are a funny lot. I make this judgment based on my personal experience as a human. And, I admit, I am a pretty quirky one. One of my more ridiculous human traits is to not fully appreciate something until it’s gone. 

Many instances of this revolve around my health. There was a cancer diagnosis 21 years ago that first opened my eyes to how poorly I treated my body and how little I appreciated all that made my life full and fun. The disease woke me up and I started appreciating everything more – including this physical vessel in which I have the pleasure of navigating life.

The cancer made me understand on a new level how fleeting health, and therefore life, can be. And I was doing little to make myself healthier, so I made some changes. I lost a lot of weight, became more active, ate better and felt great. But over time, old habits crept back in and old beliefs returned. My diet became less healthy, stress kept me feeling too burned out to exercise and I started to not feel the same surge of excitement and appreciation for each morning to which I awoke. I might still notice a hawk riding the thermals over the river valley, but I no longer made a point of stopping whatever else I was doing to watch it. 

Then, about a month ago, when I was falling behind in a fight against the respiratory crud that was going around, I went to the doctor and learned that a heart murmur, discovered a couple years ago, appeared to be getting worse. My general physician wanted me to do further tests to determine the extent of the murmur, which I did. With each test and procedure I became more and more alarmed, because each one seemed to be indicating I had something pretty serious going on. Eventually I was sent to a cardiologist and began learning about heart valve replacements and open-heart surgery. And with each piece of information I became more frightened and regretful that I had dropped the ball on taking good care of my body vehicle. I knew that if my body failed, I would fail and I once again took serious stock of my priorities and behaviors. I mean, I take better care of my car than I do my body. I tend my shoes better than I do my body! 

I was afraid I had let myself down. I had not only neglected my body, but I had regularly fed it poorly, under exercised it and rarely ever said a good thing about it. So when my heart health became a question, I began to freak out. We only have one heart and we are completely dependent upon it. Okay, yes, some people do get heart transplants, but even then they only have one heart at a time. And the truth is for all of us that if the heart goes bizarr-o, then life will inevitably change and usually not for the better. I was scared! 

But, the cardiologist had a nagging feeling that the echocardiogram that had indicated the aortic valve being severely jeopardized, might not be completely accurate, so she ordered a Trans Esophageal Echo And thank goodness she did because it indicated I have a bicuspid aortal valve, which basically means instead of three functioning flaps on that valve, I have only two. This is usually genetic, so it is likely I’ve had it since birth, but has grown more discernible with time. And since no one in my family has been diagnosed with it or has had heart issues, I never knew I had a wonky heart valve. 

Now I do and so, once again, I am waking up. Eventually that valve will have to be replaced, but it’s not to the point where that needs to happen now. I will see my cardiologist every six months unless I begin to have symptoms before then. Really the only limitation I have is I am not allowed to run marathons, which isn’t an issue for me. In fact, if you see me running know that it means someone is chasing me or I am chasing them.  I will also take a baby aspirin every day since having a bicuspid valve makes me more prone to a stroke. But that’s it.

Well, that’s it, as far as this medically applies to my heart. But that’s far from it when it comes to my awakening, or re-awakening. The morning after I learned what was really happening with my heart, I awoke for the first time in a month not worried about it or afraid. And, once again, I am finding a deeper, more appreciative connection with…well, everything, especially my body.

I don’t buy into the generally accepted belief that our bodies must degenerate with age. I can’t deny the long-term affects of gravity on a human body – I mean, my breasts and my thighs are inching ever closer to overtaking my knees – but I refuse to believe we have to suffer, even during our later stages of wisdom gathering. I know too many people who are healthy, vibrant and running circles around others decades younger than them to believe in a planned obsolescence of our bodies.  Okay. Yes, I know. They won’t last forever. All I’m hoping is that mine lasts, in as healthy a condition as possible, a little longer. For that to happen I must make my body a priority and take the best care I can of it.

 I have a lot more fun planned and I intend to show up for every minute of it.  There is a lot more laughter to experience, more hugs to enjoy, more kisses to return, more walks and deep to silly talks with friends, more exquisite meals and bottles of wine to share, and a lot more play time ahead. And I have a much deeper appreciation for every one of those things, including thousands of others from tiny to huge.

I’m also hoping that I don’t need another health crisis to wake me up to appreciating all that I have. It’s my intention to not forget just how fortunate I am and how beautiful every minute can be if I fully show up for it. I plan to appreciate it all as it comes and feel each moment as a grand gift that needs cherishing.

Learning that I am not facing immediate open-heart surgery tastes like freedom and I intend to eat it all up!!

Posted in Aging, As I see it, Finding my way, Health and Well Being, Transitions | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Twinkle in Time

I remember the first time I looked down and saw my mother’s hand at the end of my arm. It was unsettling and I felt old. That was 20 years ago! Twenty years ago!

What a young whippersnapper I was back then, although you would not have ever convinced me of that at the time. No, I was middle aged. And that was old. Then. It’s funny, isn’t it? How when we were younger, what we thought of as old isn’t that old now that we’re old?  But there was no denying I was aging. I tried to make it funny, if not always fun, but that lasted only briefly and soon I was asking friends, “Does my hair look grayer to you?” Most quickly looked at my “do” and changed the subject. But I already knew it was.

I noticed aging first in people my age. They started to look old and making that old person’s sound when they stood up. You know the one. It starts with what might be interpreted as a heavy sigh and is followed by a sound like someone causing internal bleeding. It most often occurs when attempting to free a body from whatever sitting position in which it now finds itself frozen.  I also noticed my peers pace had slowed some and they began to tilt a little more toward the earth as they walked. I thought, “Lucky me. I’m not that old,” completely ignoring the fact we were the same age.  And just when I thought maybe, possibly, could it be, that I was immune to aging dust? Or to turning into dust? I learned the truth. Which was, “No.”

I was “showing signs of age.” That’s how we say it when we aren’t really accepting we are actually doing it. We’re “showing signs”. Mine included more wrinkles appearing around my lips, eyes and, good God the neck! What happens to a woman’s neck as she ages? What have we done to deserve such a thing? I began comparing myself to the wild turkeys that roam the pasture north of my house but soon I wasn’t winning that comparison, so stopped. And there is nothing I could wear to cover it up. Turtlenecks actually made me look like a turtle; a really old and layered one. Open collars drew attention to the multiple chins now dangling under my jaw. There was nothing I could do short of tying a bandana around my face. Which by the way only draws unfavorable attention when entering a bank or retail establishment. Just trying to save you some unneeded embarrassment, because showing a couple of chins is more pleasant than a strip search!

Oh, yes, back to the hands. Since that first realization that I was becoming my mother, or at least her hands, they have only become more so. Now they are looking more and more like my mother’s hands looked when she got old. They have become more creased and the fingers have developed a slight permanent bend like I remember my mother’s doing. The veins and tendons are more pronounced and they’ve lost some of their grip.

But the face! Oh my, the face! I remember when it was once tight and a smile didn’t remind me of a topographical map of southern Utah. My entire body of skin is now in rolling hills mode. The whole damn body is “showing signs” and I can’t stop it. It appears to be a natural part of life. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this when I was young? What? You tried? I wouldn’t listen?

Well, maybe that’s the true gift of youth. When young, we rarely listen to old people, especially when they talk about being old, which they do a lot. But I like having had all those early years when I didn’t worry much about getting old. Sure, I could have taken better care of myself. But, I’d still be old. If I was lucky, anyway. That’s where I see my luck now manifesting. I’m feeling lucky to be able to grow old. And I’m still growing too. I’m learning more about myself all the time and sinking deeper into whom that is. I like that. And I’m learning I like who I am in this skin and this body. This wrinkly, baggy, costume for my eccentric soul has served me well.

That’s why I’m no longer accepting that what is happening to me are “signs of aging”. Yes, I know, they really are. Wrinkles, bent bodies and groans are happening and it’s not likely this process with stop. And I honestly I hope it doesn’t for a while. So I’ve set out to make peace with it. To make peace with aging. It’s real. I am growing old and older. Damn it! But there is such harmony and groundedness in settling into my body and accepting its natural unfolding and becoming. I love my body more than I ever have because I know it better and more intimately than I know anything else. It has been with me my entire life. We grew up together. I know that sounds a little silly. But it really is true. If we make friends with our bodies we have a friend for life.

I’m working on learning how to love, care for and nurture my body. It’s a process and a practice. When I ask it what it wants, assuming it will respond it wants a salad or a walk, I am often surprised when I hear it say, “Just love me. Love me as I am.” I’m working on that. One of the first steps has been to stop looking at the growing miles of wrinkles as a sign of “old”. I now call my life, love and laugh lines my “Twinkles” knowing that I earned every last one of them so should wear them like gold stars!

My face – my entire body really – is a map of my life. The bumps, the blemishes, the scars and wounds – many still healing – are all reminders of my passage through this life. And I’m grateful to still be moving forward. May this trip continue to be one of laughter, love and learning. And may my Twinkles become bright reflections of a life well lived and long remembered!

Posted in Aging, As I see it, Finding my way, Health and Well Being, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How did this happen?

I have no idea how any of this happened. Just a few months ago I was boasting to a friend about how healthy I was. Oh sure, I was diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago, but that was 20 years ago and, as far as I know, I’m cancer free today. And, yes, I need to have a shoulder replaced, and, of course, I have aches, pains and stiffness. I’m not denying the effects of gravity on a human body over time, but overall I was good with no big issues and no big complaints about my body vehicle.

Then, the wheels started falling off my chassis. I had to have minor surgery on a foot. Before that completely healed I had my gallbladder removed, and being a bit of a problem child, there were of course complications with that surgery which resulted in a longer recovery. I was almost back to good a few weeks ago.  No, I was actually feeling better than I had in a long time when my right knee went wonky. It did so because things were out of place causing pressure on the meniscus. Everything was put back into order and I was again feeling frisky and free. That lasted about 10 hours before I threw the other knee out. At some point during the knee issues a tooth started causing me fits.  Turns out, that tooth is split in two and is coming out tomorrow. Eventually, in a few months when the mouth tissues and bones heal, it will need an implant. So my sorry saga is not over yet.

And it does feel like a sorry saga sometimes, but I am working hard to not believe it is so. I refuse to see this as my body falling apart, or my “getting to that age” – even though I am at that age. I know this because my friends and I now share notes on all kinds of topics that I remember my parents talking about with their friends. I tried to ignore those conversations about new aches and pains then and I am trying to ignore them now. I just refuse to believe that this housing for my eccentric soul is required to rust and decay. My body has been a dependable vehicle for a long time so it’s going to show some wear and tear. I’ve used it well and abused it often, and honestly, until the last decade or so, I didn’t really keep up on regular maintenance that well. And yet this ride has continued to serve me admirably.

So I want to believe it will continue to do so for however long I get to be in it.  But it is obviously demanding some attention and work these days- a touch up here and there, some new parts, a brush and buff – all understandable. Even though we’re not suppose to turn these bodies back in at the end of our ride like we do with rental cars – no dents or dings and with a full tank of gas – we are charged with caring for them and keeping them in the best working order we can. Yes, we’re supposed to use them up, enjoy the ride and turn them in well used, but also hopefully indicating they were cared for and appreciated.

It would be easy to blame age and the thought that all of this is a sign of my wearing out and the slippery slope of things going wrong, falling off, being removed and conversations filled with names of new medications and updates on the “Pain of the Week”. It would be easy to see this as my life winding down and the deterioration of a finite soul vehicle.  And maybe it is.

But maybe it isn’t. Maybe instead of my body telling me it’s starting to wear out it is instead telling me it needs some TLC to get spiffed up and road worthy for all the new and fun adventures ahead. Maybe this isn’t the way my story ends – with hardship and hurt – but rather this is how the next chapters of my story begin. Maybe my body isn’t falling apart, but is instead asking for my help to get it where it needs to be to enjoy the best yet to come.

Even if that’s not true, believing it is sure is a lot more fun than not!


Posted in Aging, As I see it, Health and Well Being, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Calling all angels

“Wondering how many angels you have?

All of them.

They insisted.”  

~ Mike Dooley, Notes from the Universe

            I believe in angels. Whether in the form of a feeling, a thought, an impulse, a kind word from a friend or a helpful person appearing just when I need it, I believe there are angels among us. I’ve been touched by angels and benefited from them in my life. When my house was destroyed by a flood an army of angels showed up every day to help me clear it out, clean it up and eventually rebuild. I also believe there are times when I have been called to become an angel for someone else.

That was the case recently when my friend Gavin and I were on a day trip to Lucas. We were heading back when as we drove down the highway I glanced to my left and saw an older man trying to shovel his old, beat up gray Buick out of six inches of snow covering a couple inches of ice. That quick glance was all it took for me to see that he was in trouble. His footing was wobbly and with frigid temperatures, combined with his obvious exhaustion from working for who knows how long to free his car he was in big trouble. I mentioned to Gavin that the guy we had just passed in his driveway looked like he needed help, and Gavin’s response was an immediate, “Then let’s help.”

I didn’t even bother turning around, but threw the car into reverse and backed down the highway to pull into the top of his driveway. As we got out we asked the gentleman, Morey, if he could use a hand. His response, as he leaned over the hood of his car, was also an immediate, but weak, “Yes. Yes I sure could.” As Gavin shoveled the snow that rose above the car frame and buried half the wheels, I helped steady its owner who was gasping for every breath. I put my arm through his for stability – for us both, and could feel his heart pounding a wild and scary rhythm in his chest. He was indeed in trouble, but we were determined to help. I talked to him calmly, asking him to breathe consciously and slowly with me and told him we would get him out of this mess – somehow. At the time, I thought I might be lying to him, because I didn’t see any way we would be able to free his car, but sometimes you do what you have to do to convince someone else as well as yourself.

Gavin and I took turns shoveling and eventually we were able to clear enough of the icy mess to push and rock his car forward so that it gained some traction and was free.  Morey got out of his car once it was safely beyond the ruts, ice and snow and started thanking us profusely. He kept calling us his angels and maybe we were, but we didn’t help Morey to earn our wings. We just knew he needed help and we were able to give him some.

Someone else had their hands on the wheel at that moment. Something made me look in Morey’s direction and it was immediately apparent that he was in trouble. We didn’t discuss whether to go back and help or not. We didn’t even think about it, we just did it. But after we did and both Morey and we were on our separate ways I realized that helping Morey had done a whole lot for me. It felt so good to help him. I felt more positive, more optimistic. My heart felt open and much of my usual defensiveness and guardedness had fallen away. Ever since I’ve felt a deeper connection with everyone whose path has crossed mine and I’ve been much lighter in spirit and mood.

As I’ve pondered this experience of helping Morey and what I gained from it, I feel less like his angel and more like maybe Morey was my angel. Maybe it’s not the ones who have – the time, the money, the strength, the means, whatever – who are the angels to those who have not, but rather those who have less are the angels who open the rest of us to our shared humanity and whatever is the best in us.

Maybe instead of feeling like we’re the heroes for dropping a dollar or two in the can held out by the homeless person, or for contributing to a food bank, or stopping to help an older gentleman shovel his car out of a snow bank, we should recognize the Morey’s of the world may be the real heroes. Maybe they are placed along or even sometimes put in the middle of our paths to shake us out of ourselves and offer us the opportunity to grow, to reach, to open our hearts and to remind us of the goodness that is within us all. To be able to feel helpful we all need someone who needs our help, so how can those courageous souls not be real heroes? They are the ones taking the risk. Their risk is that we will stop, acknowledge them, reach out and respond.  If we don’t, we all lose, but they may pay with their well-being, even their lives.

Or maybe even more accurate, I, Gavin and Morey are all angels. In fact, maybe we ALL are angels. That would mean every one of us have the capacity to respond, to show up, to reach out to each other and to be someone’s helper.

Which means there are not just angels among us, but also angels all around us. They are all of us and they are us.


Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Help and helpers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

A Heart Remembers

My heart remembers things my head tries to forget. At least that’s the way it felt this morning when I woke up remembering today marks ten years since I got the call that my mother was failing fast and I needed to get to her quickly.

I made the dash to the care facility where I had moved her just 10 days earlier to find her barely conscious. But as I walked into her room she looked up, managed a weak, but grateful, smile and in her last act shakily stretched her hand out to me. I took that hand and rarely let go of it through the next 18 hours or so that I sat by her bedside listening to her struggle for every breath she took.

Below are the two columns I wrote for the Topeka Capital-Journal during this time. The first I was working on the morning of that call. I hastily finished it and raced to my Mom’s side. The second ran the next week, right after her funeral.  I share them as a way of honoring my memories of my mother.

What I’ve Not Said

I want to tell you what I’ve not been telling you. In the last few weeks my mother’s health has taken a serious downward turn. Mom has been fighting lung cancer in her left lung for the last five years. That would be bad news for anyone, but for Mom it is even worse. At age 92, this is her second battle with this disease. She had her right lung and three ribs removed because of cancer 19 years ago. With only one lung, and it compromised with cancer, it was only a matter of time until the disease would grow stronger than my mother.

It appears the tide of her fight has turned. The cancer is winning. But I’ve learned through the years to never count my mother out. She may not win this battle, but she will be the one to decide when it’s her time to throw in the towel.

Over the last several weeks her pain has increased and she is becoming frailer, but still she gets up every morning and dresses for the day. She greets visitors with as much enthusiasm as she can muster and she hates, even now, asking for help. Mom has told me several times over the last week that this is not the way she ever wanted to live. I can only nod and fight back tears as I say, “I know Mom. I know.” And I do know how much she dislikes feeling so helpless and being in so much pain that even to breathe takes enormous effort and will.

I do know it’s hard, yet I don’t know squat about how this really feels for her. I’ve never felt that kind of pain. I’ve never been 92 and looking at the end of my life. I have been in situations where I had to ask for help, and I didn’t like doing it either.

What I do know are my wishes for my dear mother. I wish her happiness, joy, peace, painlessness, and to feel completely worthy and deserving of love and goodness. But I also know the only way for her to have those things is for her to leave her physical body and make her transition to whatever awaits beyond it.

So, I’m stuck between a rock and hard place. The rock is wanting what’s best for my mother. The hard place is I must let her go in order for her to have those things. But, this is her journey and I can’t slow it down, speed it up, or stop it. All I can do is stand as a caring witness and love my mother through whatever lies ahead.

When she was told the cancer had returned to her remaining lung, just six months after my father died, I promised her she would not go through this alone. I told her I would be there, through it all.

She, after all, was there for my first breath, and I intend to be there for her last.

My Mom, My Angel

There was no way of knowing when I wrote last week’s column that my mother would make her transition from this life to whatever awaited beyond it in a matter of hours. My mother, Loreen A. Thomas, took her last breath April 17, and I was blessed to have been there to wish her well and to love her on to her next great adventure. I like to think she was met with a big, joyous party, complete with balloons, streamers, a Kelley Hunt CD playing, and with my dad waiting to again dance the night away with her.

And when that celebration wound down, I’m quite certain my mother got busy cleaning up the party residue and doing whatever she could to make Heaven more organized than it was before her arrival.

That was my mom. She never wasted a minute. Whether it was keeping the books for the family farm, creating a tidy home, teaching 4-H sewing and cooking, helping with the field work, or contributing to one of the many community organizations in which she was involved Mom was rarely idle.

My mother was one of the most gracious, courageous and bright women I have ever known. Hearing stories from family and friends as we prepared her life celebration I learned that my mother was even more of those things than I previously knew. I never knew that my mother drew up the plans for our house, which was built in the mid-50’s. I didn’t know that Mom had baked the county champion angel food cake for several years running. Mom never talked about those things. In addition to being one of the brightest and most talented women I knew, she was also the most humble.

Reverend Susan Montgomery, pastor of the Belvue United Methodist Church, said at Mom’s services, Mom never thought of herself as anything special. But to me, and her many friends, she was indeed very special, and provided a shining example of a life well lived.

My mom and I shared a love of books, especially well-written biographies. Mom was always more interested in other people’s stories than her own. She loved a good conversation and was not only articulate, but was also a good listener. When she asked about you she wasn’t doing so to be polite or pass the time, she really cared about your answers.

Mom instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors and wildlife. She knew the names of every plant and tree, and fed any critter that wandered into her yard. Mom loved picnics and would use any excuse to eat alfresco, which she thought was a rather high falootin’ word to use for enjoying a good meal outdoors. There was nothing pretentious about my mother. What you saw was what you got, and what you got was a compassionate and kind woman who dearly loved her family and friends.

Mom was my rock and I feel untethered without her. She was always my hero. Now, she is my angel.

Posted in As I see it, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tearing down the walls

I want to talk to you about building a wall. Not that wall. I’m talking about the walls we build inside of ourselves. The ones we create believing they will protect us. We feel loss, hurt, deceit and betrayal so we build a wall around that pain trying, hoping, and doing our best to avoid ever feeling that again.

For me, these walls are often accompanied by old tapes so familiar I could recite them in my sleep, and actually do on occasion. When those tapes of not deserving respect or kindness, of not being worthy start looping in my head I know old wounds are being triggered. That pain from the past is no longer valid yet it continues to inform my actions and reactions. When I feel these old hurts being poked my natural instinct is to shut down, run away, close my heart, and build a wall.

But shutting down and building walls of protection and distrust is exactly what created this deep pain that sends out tendrils of despair, discouragement and doubt whenever it is, even by accident, pinged. It’s ironic that in our thinking we are protecting ourselves by not allowing more pain in, we actually create a situation in which pain from old wounds isn’t able to get out. In reality, the wall stops the flow of life and keeps the bad stuff locked up inside and all the good stuff locked out. The walls I build, assuming they will protect me, actually become my prison that keeps me locked up with all that old pain from which I now react, often over react, because I’ve lived awhile and have a truckload of that shit just waiting to be dumped.

That stuck pain can become deeply embedded thorns that are easily bumped, brushed and tweaked during life with fellow humans. Like a thorn wedged under your skin, the only way to heal the wound it causes is to locate it then yank that mother out! Is it painful? Yes, but only temporarily. Once opened up and exposed this pain can move and heal quickly and easily, while the pain created by the festering thorn is ongoing with little hope of relief and can infect self-esteem and the way we relate to others.

It feels counter intuitive when we’re in the midst of feeling any of the old hurts we carry with us, to not close down, to not run away when they are poked. I know this, because going dark is one of my specialties. Often when I feel hurt, I close up and stuff it down inside of me. I’m too fearful to bring it up. What if I make the other person mad? What right do I have to express my feelings anyway and if I do, what if they aren’t accepted? What if I’m wrong in feeling what I’m feeling? What if it is discovered that I am sometimes weird and needy? That last one is likely already known, but it can rejoin the list when I’m on a roll with fear as my frosting. And the other “What if’s”? They too are old stuff that have become habits of thought that may have once felt like protection, but now worrying about what other people may think or do just creates more bricks in our prison walls.

Until we begin to ferret out these old patterns and habits of thought and reactivity, and gradually begin training ourselves in new ways of being and relating, our basic need will remain self-protection and preservation. That’s why I build the damn walls, right? That’s why I shut down.

I spent over 10 years not talking to a couple of my good friends. They pissed me off. And they may have deserved a meeting with Jesus because of their behavior, but I never arranged that meeting. I never brought it up. I went dark instead. As a result I lost over 10 years of time with my friend Phil, who recently died.

And, sadly that is not the only time I’ve done this.

One of my life’s greatest regrets is shutting out my friend Margaret. I met Margaret playing “Old Lady Softball” when we were in our 40’s. We hit it off immediately and soon were cracking each other up with only a look or a glance. We spent hours together playing all kinds of sports – softball, volleyball, racquetball, horseshoes, we did it all – but golf was our favorite. We played in several leagues and tournaments every year together and never failed to make each other laugh so hard leaving a puddle was a possibility. (Did I mention we were middle-aged women? Then you understand puddles were definitely a possibility.) God, we had fun. Finally, in my 40’s I had found a best friend. We were like childhood playmates, getting into more trouble than we could have ever gotten out of alone. I was having the time of my life!

Then we had a silly falling out, nothing more than a misunderstanding really. But we never talked about it. In fact, we never talked at all for almost two years. Two years! I thought about Margaret often; daily on warm days because I knew we should be playing golf. I wanted to patch things up; I wanted to heal our friendship more than anything. Well, more than anything except apparently actually talking about what had transpired between us. I didn’t want to bring it up, I was scared or maybe just self-righteous, so I stayed quiet and kept my distance. Finally, I got very brave (insert whatever emoji denotes sarcasm here) and “friended” Margaret on Facebook; we restarted our conversation and eventually reclaimed the magic of our friendship.

Then, about a year later, Margaret was diagnosed with some serious shit cancer. She fought like the warrior she was and tried many things including a stem cell treatment, lots of chemo, whatever she could to win this battle. But, the cancer won and I am deeply saddened at having lost those two years of laughter, fun and companionship.

The moral of this story could be we’re all going to die, because, yes, we are all going to die and we don’t know when that might be. That too is part of the moral of this story. We not only don’t know when we’re going to croak, but we don’t know when someone we’re not talking to because, whether correctly or not, we feel they did us wrong, may croak either. If we never said the feeling-words then we deprived them of the opportunity to do so as well. We also denied them their chance to clarify, to explain and to be understood, and we robbed ourselves of who knows how long we might have celebrated their presence in our lives.

Those lost years with Margaret and Phil are reminders of what I lost because my fear – of expressing myself, of rejection, of looking at the old wounds – kept me from being present with them and sharing our most precious commodity in friendship and life – time. I built a damn wall instead of taking the risk to trust and open my heart, and to allow our friendships the opportunity to grow even stronger. That happens, you know. Sometimes when you tell someone how you feel, when you risk letting someone else see who you are; when you trust the other and open up letting them in and you out, you find those people who love you even more. It can happen. After all, if you aren’t who you are, does anyone really know you? But if you take the risk and show your authentic self, others can relax into their true selves. It’s a win-win, really.

But there’s no denying that taking that risk to say it, be it and not hide behind the wall feels imposing the first few times. It’s new territory and new behaviors are scary. The other humans may not like it. They may get mad. But instead of closing down in an attempt to protect ourselves, thereby ensuring the wounds remain active, what if we open our hearts so those old hurts can be released, so we can be released, and can welcome all the good stuff in again?

Honestly, these days, I’m not that fond of the impenetrable walls I’ve built. So I’m taking those suckers down. I’m tearing them down by saying the words, expressing my hurt or anger or feelings of being misunderstood. I’ll do my work first. I’ll do my best to determine if this is an old wound being triggered, and if so, I’ll find that thorn and its lesson then set my jaw and wrench that sucker out! I may have to pull some thorns multiple times to become completely liberated from them, but each time I do I allow myself the freedom to act and react from a place of strength and courage grounded in the present. I’ll learn as I go to sort out what part of the hurt is old and needs to go and what part needs me to pull up my big girl panties and say the feeling-words.

Every time I tell my truth without blame, shame or playing the “poor me” game, I gain more balance, harmony and freedom to be who I am now – a grown ass woman with a wild heart, an expanding compassion for herself and others, and a high blue belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Who needs a frickin’ wall?

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Again? Yes, again.

“It happened again,” was one of the first things spoken about the Valentine’s Day school massacre at a South Florida high school. Yes, it happened again. And if we don’t get this figured out, it will continue to happen, likely with even more frequency. In fact, we have experienced 18 incidents of guns fired on school property and eight school shootings resulting in injury or death since the first of the year. Please note that we aren’t even out of February yet!

It is heartbreaking to see our youth, our teachers and school personnel, as well as the first responders, law enforcement and medics going through this again, and again, and again. All of them are personally affected by this horrendous violence playing out in our society. The Washington Post, using archival information, has determined that over 150,000 students have witnessed a school shooting since Columbine in 1999. Those students may have survived immediate physical injury, but their mental wounds run deep and the long term emotional and psychological injuries may last a lifetime. Even if they don’t develop symptoms from their experience, their lives changed the minute they heard the first shot and will likely never be the same. How can you retrieve any sense of safety after it has been shattered so quickly and so needlessly? How can you ever forget seeing your classmates or teachers gunned down in front of you in your classroom or hallway? How can you ever shake that fear? Fear of what, you don’t really know, but you do know how quickly and horribly worlds and lives can change.

Having spent ten years teaching high school English and journalism, each time another school shooting occurs I feel scared-sick and wonder how I would feel, react, help, or hide. And I think of the hundreds, probably thousands, of students who passed through my classroom or I passed in the hallways and how they would cope, move forward, and what it would be like to lose some of them so senselessly. It would be devastating! I think of my former students and am so impressed with how they grew, learned, developed and became such amazing people. They are activists, advocates, teachers, lawyers, judges, accountants, artists, mental health workers and business professionals in every sector of our society. They are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, wives, husbands, partners and if any one of them had had their life shortened by such a tragedy as a school shooting we all would have lost big time. Our world would simply not hold all the goodness it now does if any one of them had not been allowed to live their lives of enfoldment, discovery and compassion.

But when I think of the lives we have lost and all the lives altered because of this violence I wonder what accomplishments each of them may have achieved. I do know most of them had aspirations, dreams and abilities that were far beyond our imagination. We will never know what good they were going to bring to our world. What opportunities, what advancements may we now miss because these young lives were snuffed out with such cold-hearted horror? What kinds of miracles were in store for us because of them? Miracles we will never know now.

It’s not just the 17 dead in Florida that saddens me, but the myriad of lives each of those losses affect. There are parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, co-workers – hundreds, if not thousands, of lives have been permanently changed by the actions of a young man with way more weaponry than anyone outside of the military or law enforcement should ever have.

And there’s the rub. Guns are everywhere. They are way too easy to get, way too easy to carry, way too easy to use. Where else in the world are school shootings happening with the regularity and the impact in loss of life than they are here? The rate of people killed by guns in the United States is 19.5 times higher than economically similar countries in the rest of the world.  What sets us apart and makes this even a possibility? Well, the number of guns, for one thing. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there are over 310 million guns in the United States. That means there is basically one firearm for every man, woman and child. And the really sick thing about this is that gun ownership increases after school shootings. Again, according to the ATF, gun manufacturers in the United States produced nearly 11 million guns in 2013, the year after the Sandy Hook massacre. That was twice the number they made in 2010.

Oh, I can hear the gun rights advocates screaming now about how dare I want to take their guns away or challenge their constitutional rights to buy, carry, use and, yes, even misuse, their weapons. The loudest voices always come from the National Rifle Association, which if you really look into their finances and efforts has little to nothing to do with individual gun ownership. The NRA is clearly a lobbying entity for gun manufacturers. With enough guns already in existence that we each can have one, if we choose, gun makers must keep creating a demand in order to stay in business. And they have identified one of the most powerful motivators of human behavior – fear. So they manufacture fear- fear of someone “taking away their guns”, fear of encroachment on their “rights”, fear of not being able to “shoot first”, fear of “rising crime rates”, fear and more fear. And that fear creates demand so they can manufacture more guns. More guns are good for business. However, more guns are not good for the rest of us.

I wish I could end this with a foolproof way to stop this insanity, but I honestly don’t know what the answer really is, other than we need some serious gun reform. Stricter background checks; making it more difficult, if not impossible, for everyday citizens to own large capacity ammunition magazines and assault-type weapons, like the AR-15, which is the weapon of preference of most who have carried out mass shootings, are good and much needed policy changes. We can also do better identifying, assisting and treating mental illness while doing all we can to keep guns out of their hands for their own and others’ safety.

Will tougher gun laws stop mass shootings? No. Most likely not, but statistics do clearly indicate this handful of policies can drastically reduce the number that occur. And who does not want to save lives, especially the lives of our school children? All of those options require a compassionate and reasonable response from our elected officials. We need to remember who put those supposed representatives in that position and for the most part, we did. The voters put them in office, so like our parents likely told us now and then, let’s not forget we can also take them out.

We must vote in alignment with our hearts and what is best for each other. So I urge you to make sure you’re registered to vote, get everyone you know registered to vote, and then we all need to show up to actually vote. In the 2016 election only 58% of eligible voters actually voted. That’s putting control into the hands of others and I, for one, no longer trust most of that 58 % and I don’t want them making decisions for me. So vote!

Until the election, we have to keep calling, writing, emailing our present representatives in Congress. It may feel as though it’s not making an anthill of difference, but we have to keep at it. We do matter. Our children matter, our families matter, our communities matter and most of all, our schools matter. Our voices must be heard. Our future depends on it. We have to take whatever action we can think of for all the kids who have been lost, but also for all the lives that have been permanently altered by these horrendous acts of violence. We have to remain vigilant and LOUD for all the families who must go on with huge holes in their hearts and homes, for all the school personnel who now must feel they are on the front lines of a war for which they did not sign up, and for all the parents who now question when they drop their kids off at school, “Will they be safe? Will they come back home?”.

We cannot give up hope for change. We cannot become complacent regarding gun violence, and especially school shootings. Of the 18 school shootings that have occurred since the first of the year, how many of them do you remember even hearing about? Probably a few, but did you know about all of them? I didn’t and I’m a journalist and news junkie. We cannot afford to become numb to this!

We can no longer sit idly by, sending thoughts and prayers, pointing fingers at others and believing there is nothing we can do to change this ugliness in our society. I will not give up. I will not stop advocating for gun reform. There is something we can do. We can demand decent candidates and vote for representatives who truly represent us! We are the bosses of those yahoos and we need to use our power for change and for betterment! I will call every day for my fellow teachers and I will do it for every student who had to sit in my classroom throughout those years. It’s the least I can do for them. After all, that alone should be punishment enough for anyone! But I am also doing it for their children and grandchildren, who all deserve the opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment.

If you want to join me in holding onto hope and in holding our elected officials responsible, you can find contact information for local, state and federal elected officials here:

At some point this madness has to stop. And if no one else is going to step up, then it’s up to each of us to do whatever we can with whatever we have right where we are.

I don’t want to ever hear, “It happened again” leading the news cycle, but until we fix what is broken, the likelihood is unfortunately good that I will.



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Finding our way

I’ve been trying to make sense of the events of the last few weeks. Well, some of the events of the last few weeks. There have been so many!

If your head is spinning too, it may help to remember that in just two weeks we have gone from the ugliness, hatred and division of the events in Charlottesville to the ugliness (floods are nasty), love and unity of the events in Houston. From August 12 to August 26, two long weeks, we have seen the worst of this country’s underbelly and the best of its heart. We are both.

But it is focusing on those hearts that has me feeling more grounded. It is hearing of and seeing the hearts of the men and women who, to the best of their abilities, are responding with whatever is needed in the rescue of SE Texas. It is the sixty Houston Zoo employees who have stayed at the zoo since the rain began to make sure all of the animals remain fed and safe.  It is neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger; of people opening their homes, their businesses, their hearts to each other. That’s who I believe we are. Or at least who we want to be. It is who I want to be.

In all of those search and rescue stories there are no doubt conservatives helping, even saving, liberals. There are also liberals helping and saving conservatives. There are people helping each other who would disagree on many things, but they agree on one of the most important, which is, “You are worthy of saving.” I doubt any of the things that divide us, such as political affiliation, ever comes up. I hope not. My hope is, at that moment, at these moments, we only see each other as fellow human beings – with hearts that beat in both. There are, and I hope continue to be, beautiful stories of helping each other rise from the disaster in Texas. Although it doesn’t make up for the loss and hardship, it does help remind us that we are all worth saving.

The images of a battalion of volunteers taking to the water to rescue people, the stories of people reaching out to each other, friend and stranger alike, reminds me of the quote by Ram Dass – “We’re all just walking each other home.” And, in this instance, trying to save each other’s ass from rain that only Noah has likely seen before. But, yes, we are here to help walk each other home – as well as through a storm.

And Charlottesville was also a storm through which we must find safe passage and solid footing once again. The horror of those events, and aftermath, unleashed an ugliness and hatred that feels toxic – like thick smog. All of that rage and hate is still a dis-ease in us. We need to address what hate and racism looks like in this country. Then we need to decide what we want to do about it.

For now, as heartbroken as I feel about what is happening to the people in Texas, the way the best of our hearts is responding, indicates although there is still a lot of work to do, there is a lot for which that work is worth doing.

It feels good, doesn’t it, like a breath of fresh air, to be reminded of what is kind and good about us? Unfortunately, it took a horrendous natural disaster resulting in great loss and suffering for us to be reminded of it. Sometimes we are just not good learners. Let’s hope the images of both storms help us finally learn what’s really important and find a way to higher ground.

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