Thursday, March 13, 2014

Human Kind is Alive and Well

I can be a ginormous misanthrope. Like all of us, I have had some crappy experiences with human beings in this world and it can sometimes cloud my judgment of the human race.  I am working on this cynicism, but I will admit, it is an uphill climb.

But not today.  Today the universe clunked me over the head with the idea that human kind was alive and well in this very small town and most likely if it's here, then it must be around the world as well.

Let me give you some background:  I just got a new car.  Now I  am not materialistic in any way shape or form.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, this family of mine has learned to live without.  So, I happily drove a car for over ten years until one day it simply died a natural death of old age and  loyal service.

Getting a new car was stressful to this mother who constantly has numbers flying through her head making sure that she can make ends meet each month.  A car payment was going to ramp up those maniacal thoughts to a frenzy, but it was absolutely necessary and so with the help of my super special in-laws, I purchased a car a few weeks back.   I have to admit that the new-fangledness of this vehicle gave me a warm feeling all over (and it wasn't just because of the special--er um--seat warmers!)

Today, after a snow and ice storm for the ages, I ran out with my daughter to pick up some needed groceries and tooled home.  Driving down a windy road, the car in front of me came to an unexpected stop.  I slammed on my anti-lock brakes but still helplessly careened toward the car that was stopped in the middle of the road trying to take a left turn.  My mind buzzed with the inevitable.  I was going to crash right into the back of it.  Suddenly, I could see two baby car seat tops in the rear window and I knew what I had to do.  I cranked the wheel to the right and instead  of slamming into the car, my car, my beloved new car drove up and over a very tall snowbank coming to a very loud and groaning stop.  (Ok...maybe it was me who groaned....but anyhoo).  I threw it in reverse to no avail.   I was stuck.  Stuck, stuck, stuck.  My four year old was in the back asking nervous questions and my mind was spinning heart in my throat trying to find the right solution that wouldn't cost us money that we didn't have to get the car out of the bank.

That's when it happened.  A truck...a blue truck with those yellow lights on top that flash to indicate that the owner is perhaps a volunteer fireman or something like that, pulled up behind me.  A man named Ed walked up to my window and said, "Let me try and help you."  He climbed up over the bank in just sneakers and jeans and instructed me to put my car in reverse.  He pushed with all his might...but the car didn't move.

He came back to my window and said, "You are really stuck.  Right up over the bank.  It's not going to be easy to get you out."  The cynic in me figured he was giving up and I absentmindedly thanked him and went back to my figuring and numbers and money.  But to my surprise he climbed back up the bank.

Then, a jogger stopped and asked "Ed" if he wanted help.  Ed immediately gave him some instructions and once again told me to put the car in reverse.  They lifted and pushed with all of their might, but still, still I was as stuck as my attitude.  They both walked back to my window and once again "Ed" explained the dilemma and I once again resigned myself to figure out how to take from Peter to pay Paul.

Once again, I was surprised.  Soon a man, in a red SUV came upon my stuck car and the two good Samaritans and inquired if they'd like to use his tow chains!  Both men rejoiced with the gusto of one who actually owned the car and then sent "The Tow Man" to my car to ask permission.  I instantly shouted, "YES!"  (I may have scared him just a bit...) and  back to work the three men went; unraveling chains and hooking hooks, maneuvering the big red SUV behind my car so that it was in a good position to pull me out.  They did it with the joviality that I imagine angels have when doing God's work.  "The Tow Man" came to my window and told me to put my car in neutral and to try and keep my wheels straight. the blink of an eye...the red SUV...maybe a Suburban...pulled my car up and over the bank. The scoffer in me immediately retreated and left a very vulnerable grateful optimist in its place. Tears in my eyes, I immediately took off my seat belt to get out of my car to introduce myself to these divine humans and to thank them profusely.  However, by the time I opened my door, the jogger was running down a wooded path, the red SUV was a spec on the horizon and dear sweet "Ed" was honking his horn as he sped by me with a wave and a wink.

I stood in the middle of the road bewildered at the kindness of these men, at their willingness to take a moment out of their own lives to help a perfect stranger, and most of all at the fact that they did it without want of gratitude or laudation.   And so...I wept...right there on that windy road...I wept with big plopping grateful tears unable to hide them as I got back into the car.

My perplexed daughter still sitting happily in her car seat behind me tilted her head and asked, "Why are you crying mommy?  Are those happy tears?  Isn't it wonderful that those humans were so kind?"

"Yes, my love.  Absolutely wonderful."

And so, to the jogger, the tow man with a NY license plate FFV 9546, and to Ed, thank you--for your kindness, for your selflessness, and for teaching this self-professed pessimist a thing or two about the state of human kind.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Midlife Crisis by Suzanne Hooker Patrick

"The rush of panic, as the ringing gets louder, keeps me up at night. This empty nest thing is real, y’all. It’s painful. It’s frightening."
Just let it go to voicemail….

Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. That’s all I can hear in my soul. The sound of a phone ringing. It’s a white courtesy telephone. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. It’s getting louder as the days go on. RING. RING. RING. RING. With each moment, with each blink, with each breath, with each ring, comes the reminder that my mid-life crisis is looming, and my empty nest lifestyle is lurking around the corner. RING. RING. RING. RING. Panic is setting in as I scramble to find my identity... to find my purpose… to find my reason for being.

That answer was easy almost 21 years ago, when I had my first baby. You see, all my life, all I ever wanted to be was a mom. Well, to have as much fun as legally possible in life, and to be a mom. Most days those two go hand in hand, and other days, not so much. But that’s not the point. Even though I graduated from college, it wasn’t because I attended in order to define what I should be when I grew up. Honestly, I didn’t really go to college to learn a profession. I went to have as much fun as legally possible. (You may have heard that already?) I went to learn a little, but mainly to enjoy life, and make amazing memories until I married and became a mom.  And I did just that. My plan had worked! My identity was handed to me the day my son was placed in my arms. I loved each and every step of being a mother. (Ok, well, let’s not get carried away… I loved most steps.) I cherished my babies and much like you, they are my heart. My entire life has been devoted to loving, encouraging, teaching, playing, and raising them. You know the drill. My life was complete. And there have been no casualties, so apparently, I don’t totally suck at this parenting thing completely! Go me! I was a mom and I was blessed two times over.

But, in life, there is a season for everything, and all good things must come to an end. Two years ago, my oldest son graduated high school and left for college, leaving a void in my world. Only my ‘baby’, who now has one more year of high school, was left at home. ::gulp:: I forgot the part about when they grow up and leave home no matter how much you promise to make them their favorite chicken enchiladas and bribe them with doing their laundry. Nope. They still leave home. I’m not ok with this.

With that said…. the rush of panic, as the ringing gets louder, keeps me up at night. This empty nest thing is real, y’all. It’s painful. It’s frightening. It’s heartbreaking, and if you aren’t ready, it will sneak up and pounce when you aren’t looking.  I know this because I tried to wear the ‘I’ve got it together … this is just a fact of life chapter’ mask… but no matter how big I cheesily smile like I’m ok, it continues to knock the breath out of me. It shows up in dark circles around my eyes… in my restless nights of sleep… It consumes my deep thoughts… It manifests itself in this mom’s soul... and it aches. Oh, how my soul aches. On the outside, I pretend I’m fooling the world- that I have it all together, but on the inside… I feel like a complete train wreck with a looming deadline. Can you relate? Have you been, or are you currently on this stupid path I’m on? While it’s true misery loves company, I hope you aren’t.

Wait- did you hear that phone ringing just now? It’s just so irritating. I’m pretty sure it’s my midlife crisis on line 1… I’m just gonna let it go to voicemail. I’m not ready to answer. I have things to over analyze. I have decisions to make. I have dreams to pray for. I’m doing these things not because I’m forced to, but because I want to beat this annoying chapter of my life to the punch. Stupid, unwanted, uninvited mid-life crisis with a side of empty nest syndrome. Who ordered this junk anyway? If I have it all figured out before I pick up the nearest white courtesy telephone, then I can continue on and hopefully it will be dead on the other end of the line. The sooner I get a handle on this, the sooner I don’t have to address my looming panic. The more prepared I am when my last child leaves home, the more I’m equipped to tackle my identity and who I want to be when I grow up… and most of all, I can avoid the pain and confusion and loneliness that comes with all of it. You see, parents, I’m not telling you anything that hasn’t been handed down from our ancestors. We’ve all heard the tales. I’ve listened to those who’ve gone before me, and warned about this empty nest thing… I never gave it much thought because it seemed so far off… but then I blinked. Stupid blinking. Your babies will grow up when you blink. So don’t. Listen, when it happens, it feels like a game changer, and I’ve never felt more ill prepared. When we’ve devoted our lives to our children, when our identity has been defined as parent, when we’re only known by our labels of ‘parent, child, spouse, sibling, friend’- we are stripped of truly defining WHO we are. As that dang courtesy telephone continues to ring louder and louder, my challenge for myself, and for all of you on this same journey, is to strip yourself of those labels I mentioned, and find out who YOU are without them… what YOU want out of life for YOU… what passion drives YOU… what speaks to YOUR heart and what sings to YOUR soul… search for the answers that illustrate what YOU were created for… because before long, that phone ringing is going to be for you… will you be prepared to answer?