Ken and I were in the car talking rather than moving up, out and toward our hair appointments. Because part of my defensive driving plan as I age is to pull through parking spaces so I will have a clear view when I exit, we had the perfect sight line to observe a speeding car travel catawampus across the parking lot. The dark blue SUV landed cross-way over three parking spots directly across from us.
I said, “Ken, look at her!”
Ken laughed more at my reaction than at the woman clearly breaking the drive-slowly-so-you-do-not-mow-down-a-pedestrian rules.
We watched a middle-aged woman step out of her car in a black, tight, yoga-type outfit. Fancy cut-outs near the hem of the Capri-length pants pulled our eyes away from her mane flying freely.
The lady moved quickly to the island between the parking area and the main pathway leading to HEB. Ballet lessons in her past were doubtful as she teetered on tip-toe, reached up and broke off a small branch of lavender crepe myrtle.
Her beneficence self-produced enough blooms to fully fill a large vase. Smart. If the plan is to steal flowers from a park or parking lot tree, why not take a generous arrangement?
The panther smelled the crepe myrtle and her face softened. I could see the pride she felt holding her prize.
When she returned to her car, she saw us – the old people watching her illegally park, vandalize a crepe myrtle and escape with her haul.
Her smile invited me to be a coconspirator – to revere nature and beauty, to live as an adventurer, and to be empathetic to her need for smell, sight, touch, and all the sensory experiences innate in each petal. The thief and I – kindred spirits.
He enters the kitchen,
his skin glistens and
the pungent smell of movement
pushed against the early morning greets me.
I am happy to see him.
He pulls me against his sweaty clothes,
so I fuss as he tightens his embrace –
a thoroughly pleasant ritual.
He gives me our subdivision’s farm report.
“I saw six Harvey* Juniors,
three squished toads
and one lizard entering our garage.”
I pat the stomach of my walking Buda
before he moves toward the shower.
Grand gestures inside a marriage are less
about flowers and candy than acknowledgement
as bare feet stand against worn walking shoes
on kitchen tile on an ordinary day.
Great men need not lead a charge or
command a Fortune Five-Hundred business.
Great men are aware,
count Harveys, toads and lizards,
recognize all joy is in the present.
*Harvey: the fictional rabbit friend of Jimmy Stewart in the movie Harvey.
Married for about three months, Ken and I allowed the stress to rise as we packed for a trip to Kansas. Between Ken’s compulsive need to pack everything neatly rolled and lined strategically in each suitcase and my strong desire to organize and complete the task before I died of old age, the loading of the car was a major challenge. Although I am a tough, independent woman, I allowed him to refuse the use of my garment bag the previous trip; so I fussed as I folded my clothes with the knowledge they would be hopelessly wrinkled at our destination.
Weary from our struggle over clothes and luggage, we had a difficult first day on the road.
Our first hotel morning I woke up to find Ken on the edge of the bed. He said, “I think I need to see a doctor.”
I immediately thought of chest pains or a stroke. Should I call 9-1-1 and ask questions later?
Ken continued, “I cannot sleep.”
Relieved that we were not calling 9-1-1, I asked why he could not sleep. I have accused him having the princess(prince)-with-a-pea-under-her(his)-mattress syndrome.
Ken said he had a paper cut from opening the mail he had picked up from his daughter.
I began to giggle.
Then he said, “I was up looking through the toiletries bag for anti-itch cream and antibiotic ointment….”
Now my laughter is rocking the bed.
He adds, “…and I could not find the bandages.”
I made the snorting noise that embarrassed me. I am out of control.
Finally, to make his misery more clear to me, he says, “And you did not help by getting out of bed to walk off the leg cramp.”
“I drove eleven hours yesterday,” I defend myself through tears and laughter.
He has the last word, “Well, my throat is sore because I talked for eleven hours yesterday!”
God help me, I love this retired LtC and his good, compulsive heart. Just call me Mrs. Monk.
Below is my WHAT I HAVE LEARNED list.
Number One: You were meant to be happy!
Make the decision to be happy. Think happy thoughts. Be with people who are positive. Be good to yourself. Watch more comedies and learn more jokes. Laugh at life’s absurdities. Take walks and long baths. Participate in good conversations. Travel. Eliminate people who are unkind from your life. Learn the value of being an existentialist. There is nothing you can do to change your history. Worrying about tomorrow is a waste. Focus on the people, places and experiences in the NOW. Energy will increase and new friends will be made. Happy, sporadic moments become living well.
Number Two: Recognize that life is fluid.
The end of a marriage, broken friendships, betrayal, job loss, death of loved ones, illness, financial issues, and the craziness in life passes and becomes memory. Take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other, walk out on the other side, and finally let it go!!! Take the life lessons and do not carry the baggage of resentment and hurt forward.
Number Three: Always be kind to children.
Talk to children in grocery store lines. Buy Halloween and Easter treats. Give hugs to your children, nieces, nephews, friends and grandchildren. Find something positive to say about every child you meet. Make an effort to make children feel more valued after meeting you than before you entered their presence. All children belong to all of us. We are obliged to care about their educational development, emotional well-being and physical safety.
Number Four: Support other women.
Encourage and celebrate the successes of others. Leave good tips—start at 20%. Women, share your stories and laughter with one another. Be sure your girls know they are part of the sisterhood. Remember how short our history is in the role of political participation, women’s rights, and laws to protect women in the work place and in our own homes. Never relinquish what your foremothers won for you.
Number Five: Respect good men.
Good men do not objectify women. Good men acknowledge a woman’s intellect and live with integrity. Whether in the workplace, worship center or at home, women have worth, as does he. Equals. Eyeball to eyeball. Media has belittled us all with stereotypes and caricatures depicting men and women in mind-numbing, foolish roles. We can do better.
Number Six: Have courage.
Some people live their lives in fear and cower behind bolted doors, locked minds and steel hearts. To be open and love requires great courage. Caring is risky and sometimes causes us pain. Better to absorb the pain than to never know love, fulfill a dream or travel into the unknown. Be an emotional risk-taker.
Number Seven: Be grateful.
Be grateful for the smallest gifts, wildflowers, the smiles of strangers, lessons pain taught you, your own mistakes and the insights that followed, elevator music, peanut butter sandwiches, sunlight and rain, inhaling and exhaling, memory, words, a thousand other things that you see or hear each day.
Number Eight: Not all acts or attitudes are to be forgiven.
This will be the most controversial item on my list. We put too much pressure on ourselves to forgive everyone for everything. People tell us it is for our own good to forgive rapists, back stabbers, abusers, and drivers who risk our lives by cutting in front of us at high speeds in heavy traffic. Let God, the universe or the courts forgive. Victims do not have to forgive. You must accept, grieve (if necessary), and move beyond the pain. Relieve yourself of the burden of forgiveness. If forgiveness works for you, go for it! If not, find another way to walk away from the hurt. My personal way of handling heavy hurts is to take life lessons from the events. The negatives become positives. I do not dwell on the person who caused the pain, so they become inconsequential. I focus on ways to use the lessons to make myself or the world a little better.
Number Nine: Be open.
Great things happen when we are open to change – a side trip down an unfamiliar road, a moment with a stranger in the store, a compliment given to person alone at a restaurant table, new foods, new hobbies, a bright, patterned shirt, a too high bid at the bridge table, a challenge to your own prejudices, volunteer, or make new friends outside your comfort zone. No change – no growth.
Number Ten: Love yourself.
You are the only person who knows who you really are. Be the person deserving of your love. While you are becoming a higher, mature self. Be patient with the changing, growing you. No one is perfect. Even when discouraged, something beautiful lives inside you. Your capacity to love and receive love is everything.
I was dressing for a date with Ken when I felt a sharp sting on my upper hip. How a wasp found his way into my bedroom will forever be a mystery. I screamed, interrupting the electrical current to the fan lights and cracking a glass on the nightstand. When the wasp flew into the bathroom, I slammed the door behind him. I felt great relief in the restored safety of my bedroom. Ken arrived and I handed him a flyswatter. He killed the beast I knew was bigger than the proverbial bread box. My hero!