My Father

As I move through my life, I realize how very much my father meant to me. There was a long period, when he was still here on this Earth with us, that I ignored his value. I spoke few words, wrote few letters, and called few times. I wasted so many opportunities to be near him. I will regret that loss forever and the regret grows as I age. I moved off to college, life, bills, marriage, and, basically, disconnected from him and his world. And now that I am at an age to appreciate and honor him, he is gone. I never really told him how valuable he was to me. I hope he knew.

I suppose I resented him at first. I blamed him for our family falling apart. I don’t remember all the details of my childhood, but I remember the feelings, the crying, the frustration, the fear when voices were raised in the house, echoing from the living room. He had high expectations. He wanted us to succeed. He wanted results.

“Stand straight.”

“Shoulders back!”

“I’ll give you $5 dollars for every ‘A’ on your report card.”

But hypocrisy was there. You know the typical, parental double standard, “Do as I say, but not as I do.” You see, my dad wasn’t perfect and for that he could not expect perfection of us. His weakness was alcohol. How could I respect what he said when he was drunk? How could I control myself, when he couldn’t control himself?  I begged him to stop drinking. He did not heed my request. How could his words or his requests mean anything to me? He was an alcoholic. In my young world, I could only see that he chose alcohol over me.

Now I understand. Alcohol and drugs twist the spirit, dampen it, disconnect it from the conscious mind. That’s how users feel relief, they separate themselves from awareness of self. He didn’t love me any less, actually the problem was that he loved himself less. So, I didn’t really know my dad till he was sober and by then most of my siblings had moved on in their lives. I was the youngest. I was ten years old when my dad went through treatment. No, I don’t remember all the moments, they blur together. But I do remember, in spite of everything, his love.

Some of my best qualities actually lead back to him. I am hard working, an over achiever, always struggling to be my best or to better my best. I admire how he pulled himself up from those depths. I learned from his warm and open heart to be warm and open to all. I look at his photo and wish I could touch his hair or lay my head upon his shoulder. Actually, he was so tall that my head fit just beneath the hollow of his rib cage and he would press me there so tightly that I could not breath. But I didn’t want the hug to stop. I preferred to be momentarily breathless to still feel his strong arms around me. A father’s embrace whispers, “you are dear to me, you are so special, you are my heart…”

Now I see my own mistakes and pray that my children take the best of what I have offered and forgive me for my shortcomings. No one is perfect, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving to be. I wish I could have told my father that and thanked him for all the good of me that I see came from him.

My Napkin of Bits

Have you ever felt like there are so many things you need to do and they all pull on you in different directions? When I think about one task, another pops up in my mind. I feel like I can’t keep up. I’m on this obstacle course of decisions heading to a destination that I have not yet defined. So I just push the gas pedal and start. I have to do something, right?

I envy the people who have fixed goals. They know what they want and take specific steps to get there. Even if they are sidetracked, their goals are still there. They recalibrate and move forward again. My goals are malleable. They shift and readjust as I move along. Which is perhaps why I never seem to attain them. I’m moving, I’m developing, I’m making progress but the direction is not in my control.

Making lists helps. I list concrete tasks and mark them off as I complete them. Then, I have this false sense of accomplishment. And later when I lay on my bed waiting for sleep to envelop me, I ponder the day’s accomplishments and realize that I am really not any closer to achieving any major goals.

When I was young I used to love Lucky Charms. Do you remember that cereal? There were toasted oat pieces that were rather bland and tiny multicolored marshmallow bits. I would spend fifteen minutes pulling every marshmallow bit out of my bowl. I piled the bits on a napkin. Then, I would pour milk over the toasted oat pieces and eat them all. I rewarded myself for finishing the plain tasting oat pieces, by eating all the sweet bits at once; like having a delicious, well-deserved dessert after an ordinary meal.

It was a strange habit. It didn’t stop there. I also had a method for eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I would first make myself eat all the crust around the edges and my reward was the soft, sweet middle portion. I did the same with my cinnamon toast. Now that I think about it, I was rather OCD. But that strategy, that habit of earning my reward has stayed with me in every aspect of my work. I can refrain from dessert for long periods of time on the premise that I don’t deserve it, yet. In this way, I can trick myself into accepting mediocrity under the rationale that I don’t deserve success.

In many ways this approach has served me well. It has motivated me to continue to function even without reward. One time my older sister noticed that I would separate out all the bits. In typical parasite fashion, she would eat her full bowl of Lucky Charms and enjoy sweet bits in every bite. Then, she would distract me and steal my napkin of bits. Before I could complain to my mother, she would eat them all. It so disappointed me that people like that could exist in the world, people ready to steal your hard earned labor and not blink an eye about it.

Innovators of the Future

game-boy-1143675_1920_paintingChildren today are tech-savvy. At face value, this may be a good thing. “Oh, my Johnny plays the most sophisticated games on the computer. He has 1,000 Facebook friends.” However, Johnny, although adept at downloading games and navigating Vine or Instagram, is nothing more than a ‘user’. He can use programs that have been designed to be ‘easy to use’. Cushioned by his vast list of ‘friends’, confident in his prowess to rack up money in Grand Theft Auto or create Lego-style structures in the worlds of Minecraft; he has become an inactive observer, a follower.

The reality is that our children are sitting prone, exercising their thumbs. Modern technology is fun; it’s useful; it’s clever — there’s no doubt. I’m not dissing it. But, for children to step beyond ‘user’ and enter the realm of ‘creator,’ a vibrant and expansive imagination is required. They need to imagine the possibilities to make the reality. Build their imagination. Encourage them to read. octopus-1235006_1280Readers construct worlds in their minds based on words. Readers turn a good book into a movie in their brains. They are not fed entire images. Their minds learn to fill in the gaps; seamless worlds, seemingly formed from a thread of black ink on white.

Considering the present rate of consumption and the overall health of our planet, our children may very well need to build the world new. They need to be science wizards. We must give them the tools to succeed.  If we expect them to be innovators of the future, we must cultivate their imagination today.

Pretzels in a Paper Towel

img_0052I felt like having a snack and something profound occurred. I took a handful of pretzels of uniform size and length and tossed them into a half-sheet of paper towel. At this point the pretzels pretty much fell where ever they fit, a few even threatened to escape. This wasn’t the profound thing I mentioned above. Actually, I am beginning to think that I should not have characterized this entire event as ‘profound.’ By so doing, I have lifted your expectation to a height that I may well fail to approach.

The profound thought struck me when I attempted to pick up my paper towel full of pretzels. I didn’t want to drop any. And so, to ensure that they all remained on my paper towel, I picked up the four edges and proceeded to my seat. When I set the pretzels down on the table, the paper towel folded back flat to reveal img_0053that all the pretzels had aligned themselves in an orderly fashion. What had been chaotic and disjointed previously, now lay uniform, facing a common direction. I stared at my pretzels for a long time. They had conformed. I couldn’t decide if they were more beautiful now in their unity or more beautiful before in their wild abandon. I pondered the affect of that sheet of paper towel. Once encased, previously unruly individuals had been pressured into complacency.

For a moment I glimpsed the paper towel as our environment and the hapless pretzels as human beings. What power our environment has over us. It nips at our heels, herding us into place. A steady, subtle, coercion infiltrating our minds and hearts, twisting us to fit in.

But then again, it’s only a handful of pretzels in a paper towel.

The Phenomenon of Resonance

water-1563229_1920Today in my son’s science class the topic was weather. This sentence about the effect of an urban landscape on wind patterns struck me as quite beautiful. The sentence was, “The various broken streams (of wind interrupted by the tall buildings) can combine and reinforce each other to become faster than the original wind. The phenomenon is called Resonance.” Resonance suddenly felt powerful. The definition implied an unbroken stream of wind prior to impact. The notion that a unified force when broken by jutting structures, rather than faltering or dissipating, would gain momentum and strength, filled me with hope. A confrontation need not break me. Obstacles need not weaken me. Via Resonance, these obstructions can serve to strengthen my resolve and momentum.

all-human-beingsIt occurred to me that Resonance could apply to any force of change. If enough people work in a common direction, although occasionally interrupted by blocking structures, the streams of activity could combine and reinforce to become faster and more productive than they originally were. Could we make this the Era of Resonance? I feel Humanity struggling, gasping for air, begging for support. We sit on one side of a viewing screen interpreting life through multiple, biased lenses. We need to step out of our self-fabricated, comfort zones and recognize that beneath the layers of color, nationality, religion, and language, we are all human beings after all.

Who will pause for me?

mother_paintingToday has been hard. I want to explain why I choose to label today as hard, but it is far more complicated than that.  It hasn’t been hard for me, so much. But it has been hard for her. Some days she wakes with a semblance of energy and tends to her small chores. She feeds her dog. She puts birdseed on the porch for the pigeons and sparrows. She checks her sugar and writes the number on a calendar on the wall in the bathroom.

I have left chores for her, so she can feel her value. Although, I don’t measure her value by what she does, she does measure herself that way. She often frets that she is not helping me. Not putting the laundry in the machine or washing the dishes. Such menial tasks. What she does do for me she cannot even see. And I couldn’t explain it to her without drowning in guilt and shame.

loveI tell her, “You are my mom. I love you. You may not remember all that you have done for me, but I do.” I can never repay what she has given me. Yet, when I think of my own children, I also believe that they owe me nothing. Isn’t that odd? That I, too, feel unworthy. I don’t deserve for my children to put their lives on pause for me, to escort me out of this reality. So…I can understand.

How little we women value ourselves…

An Open Letter

expectant-motherI think the happiest moments of my life were when I held you in my womb. I felt magical and special. Things were tight. We didn’t even have our own space, our own home. Those external worries couldn’t touch me. I would lay with my hand caressing your temporary home and feel a deep peace. I was chosen. I felt insulated as though I were walking in a bubble looking out at everyone else. I carried a secret, a small life.

Inside me, you grew and I could feel its pull on me. My appetite changed. Fatigue tugged at me sooner and longer than expected. When I would sleep, I would place my hand gently on my forming mound and love you from a depth I didn’t know even existed within me. I read books. What to Expect When You Are Expecting was a favorite. I wanted to be informed. I wanted to be the best I could be for you. I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Already you were perfect and I didn’t want any of my actions to mar that.

babyTwo minute cells joined, formed a blastocyst, then an embryo. How magical is that? The entire order of events have been detailed and confirmed scientifically. Each stage, each development in sequence. Intricate, detailed, and unfathomably  precise. When I think about it…really think about it, I feel awe. There you were, transforming and developing in my womb. A little life that would one day grow perhaps taller than myself. I was once that little life for my mother, too. How did she feel? Did she have any idea how amazing this really is? In her lucid moments, when she smiles at me and hugs me warmly to her shriveled form, I know she does.

Shopping for a Home

house1So now I have to find a house. I’ve been living with and caring for my mother for four years and each year they increase the rent. In January, a letter will arrive announcing the increase in rent and asking us to decide if we want to sign a new lease or move on. Moving on is not so simple with an eighty-three year old who is ill. That’s why we’ve stayed the last four years, in spite of the annual increase in rent. I guess they (that infernal, nebulous ‘they’) are trying to improve the housing market by making it cheaper to pay a mortgage, then it is to rent an apartment. Hence, I am looking to purchase a home.

This entire exercise is completely outside of my comfort zone. I’ve never owned a home or even thought of owning one before. Ever since I was five (and that was a long time ago-just take my word for it), I’ve been moving. At that time, the average cost of a small house was just under $5,000. And if you wanted to splurge, you could find a six room ranch home in Pennsylvania for $12,900. Now, I’ll be lucky to find a decent home less than $200,000. Last year, when they raised the rent I foresaw my present predicament. I knew they would just keep doing this and that it would be beyond our means to stay.

My demons weren't this cute
My demons weren’t this cute

This gave me motivation to finally write that book. You know, the one that everyone wishes they could write. But honestly, it has been my secret desire to become an Author since my mother read the Chronicles of Narnia to me at five months’ gestation. A desire confirmed by my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Possis, who insisted my poems were inspired. When I finally read the Chronicles on my own, I wished I could properly thank C.S. Lewis for the countless hours of magic that the Wardrobe gave me. What better way to return the favor then to give some magic back to young readers. I shoved my ‘you can’t do it’ demons in an empty shoebox under the bed (I wanted to put them down the garbage disposal, but years of attachment wouldn’t let me chuck them altogether) and tied myself to my desk chair.

image3356Countless hours and an expanded buttocks later, I finished my book. I took an online class to learn how to publish it and put it up on Smashwords and Amazon, both.  I felt so accomplished. I really did it! But as I skipped over the top of that daunting ‘write a book’ hill, I came face to face with a sheer ‘market the book’ cliff. The consequent mutiny of the demons under my bed finished me off. I don’t know what I was thinking. How could I be so delusional? I had this naïve idea that suddenly people would start buying my book and I would be able to afford that home. What’s a few dollars for a well-written book? I mean people pay more for a Starbuck’s coffee every day. Well…I plan to learn more about marketing. But first I have to round up those demons. I’ll need a bigger box…and a padlock or superglue…

Misconstrued Second Glance

town-1360594_1920_croppedI was thinking about this today. When I walk by someone on the street or as I stand waiting for my son’s gymnastics lesson to finish and see all the other parents waiting. These people I have never met and may never know, but with whom I share  a few moments of time, our paths momentarily crossing.  In one glance, I see their hair, their clothing, their posture, whatever, and right away I create a framework of assumptions. I classify them in my mind without realizing that I am doing it. Mostly it’s a blur, I don’t even pay attention to it anymore, all wrapped up in my own worries and thoughts. But sometimes, when I come upon an individual that sits outside my general assumptions, I take note.

Curiosity requires another glance, further examination. How many ways my second glance could be misconstrued?  The individual could feel measured and thus analyzed become defensive and rude. Or do as I do, immediately detailing my many personal flaws and wondering which fault has elicited a second glance from a stranger. Often, I am surprised and gladdened by a third unexpected reaction, the individual acknowledges the glance with an open, heart-felt smile. The pull of that genuine smile flows into my heart and, involuntarily, I find myself smiling, too. For a moment, everything is good.

This all means something to me, because, literally I am that individual that sits outside of the common. I was born in America and I feel like America is mine, not only because I was born here, but because I have lived here for so long. I have always walked on America’s soil, fully confident that I belong here. I have never been a conformist, but neither have I demanded conformity from others. I love all creation and step through my world assuming the best of everyone I meet. My most powerful gift is a readiness to share my smile, a sincere wish for the happiness of all human beings, and an overwhelming drive to exercise intellect and spirit.

maria-1798792_1920
Blessed Mary, mother of Jesus

I am so comfortable with my journey that I falter, baffled when I rub up against open hostility, particularly a hostility inspired not by my actions, nor by my words, but merely as a result of my attire. You see, I am a Muslim and I have chosen to wear a head covering. As a young girl, I always felt drawn to beloved Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her purity and sweetness protected beneath flowing robes. Her head covering represented the peak of piety. For me to accept the head covering felt entirely natural and an extension of the deep love and respect I always felt for her. I find it ironic that a society that claims to love her, fails to see the beauty of her attire.

I do understand though. There are some who allege to be Muslim who have by their actions tainted the reflection of my selected faith. But they are not me and I am not them. I would hope to be judged by my own actions and interactions. I am a mother, a daughter, an aunt, a sister, a friend. I want the best for my children and all children of this world. Regardless of faith, we are all human beings.

Can you count to infinity?

pay-937884_1280_croppedThere was this kid in high school, I will never forget. At this point in my life, I am ashamed to admit, high school is a blur. I can literally count on my one hand kids that I will never forget, for one reason or another. Quite pitiful, isn’t it? That time period in which I was so absorbed with my appearance and when friends meant EVERYTHING, can be reduced to my five fingers. And one of those five fingers is allotted to the kid I mentioned above, who wasn’t even a friend and was barely an acquaintance.

I even remember his name, Tony. I rarely interacted with him. I’m sure he wouldn’t even remember my name or my presence. In fact, he is likely sitting somewhere busy in his world and has absolutely no idea that someone out there is remembering him. That thought leads me to wonder how many people could be sitting out there remembering me at this moment.

Nah...nothing this ominous...likely school supplies
Nah…nothing this ominous…likely school supplies

So, Tony was the classic nerd type. He carried a large, black briefcase with him to school, which pretty much singled him out right there. I always wondered what exactly he had inside that thing. Anyway, the reason why he is so memorable to me is that he claimed that he could count to infinity. I’m totally serious. He insisted that he could count to infinity. I asked him one day how he could do that and he said he would just start counting and never stop. I told my mom and she said, “Don’t make fun of him. He’s probably a genius.”

I still don’t understand why people assume that attempting the impossible equals genius. There are two kinds of impossible. The impossible that is actually probable, if you work very hard to achieve it and the impossible that is down right IMPOSSIBLE, like counting to infinity.

Infinity implies that there is no end. You could count to your deathbed, to your last breath, and there would still be counting to do. You would have counted your entire life and still not achieved your goal. How depressing. Its much like saying that Objective Reality does exist. Reality exists because we perceive it. Perceiving it makes it immediately subjective. We can attempt objectivity, but the truth is our perceptions will always be bound. Better to accept the impossible and focus on the attainable. This very well may be the only life we get.