Tag Archives: Comfort

Gift


This week I found myself again passing along a piece of wisdom and advice to a new friend from a wise old friend. Years ago after major surgery, my friends and colleagues were showering me with food and gifts and loans of books and videos to help me pass the time in recovery. While my friend was making a drop off, I protested how unnecessary all of this was. She stopped me dead in my tracks, asking me what I’d have wanted to do if it was one of them? “Help”, I had to sheepishly admit. Well, she said, then this was my gift to them…letting them help me. I had no good rebuttal.

Exactly a decade later, I again had the chance to practice being on the receiving end when Megan became ill. This time I got my friend’s advice right. So many people, even strangers, stepped forward to help us get through that time that it was almost overwhelming. But I let them. Showers of cards and gifts arrived at the hospital, from as far away as Europe. Peoples of literally every faith prayed for her. A dear friend’s sister-in-law, who I’d never met, became my first and only friend in Little Rock. She offered me clean clothes and a shower, to bake in her kitchen if I wanted, and the healing love of her golden retriever. Though I couldn’t bring myself to tear away from the hospital to take her up on it, it was deeply comforting to not feel alone in that strange city. That generosity repeated itself when another stranger had a care package and helpful advice waiting for us when we transferred to Cincinnati. Another friend texted me nearly every day for the four months in the hospital, just to check in; I’ll never forget that she was always there if I needed someone to talk to. An old friend from my hometown asked if there wasn’t some familiar treat she could send me. My instinct was to say no thank you, I’m fine. But I knew she just wanted to do something, anything. For the next several weeks, I was warmed by her kindness every time I broke into a box of the world’s best cashews. I’d learned my lesson. The year Megan was sick was by far the hardest of my life, and I’d undo all she’s had to endure in a heartbeat if I could. And yet I look back on that traumatic time with some measure of reminiscence for the love that so many showered on us. It’s an incredible reminder in this often ugly world that good and love will always win.

It’s now my turn to pray for and do what I can to support my new friend as she goes through her significant trial. And I’ll continue to pass along to others in need the wise words given to me all those years ago. It’s now my turn to receive the special gift of giving.

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”  –H. Jackson Brown Jr.

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Taken for Granted

I once spent some time with a middle-aged Russian woman. We never conversed, and I don’t recall her name. I’d been assigned to work on a project for two weeks in a remote village in Russia, five hours from Moscow. The village of 20,000 in the middle of Russian farmland didn’t have a hotel or restaurant, though we did eat at the local disco one evening (a whole other story). We stayed at the company’s “guest house” (do NOT think plush Swedish villa), and the Russian woman was our cook, laundress, and house cleaner.

I have three memories of her. She was always there with breakfast ready when we awoke in the morning, and again with dinner underway when we arrived back at the house, after we finished our work for the day. Every day but one, dinner was some version of “mystery pork.” Most were fairly tasty if basic, but the other picky eater in the group and I became the “canaries”, carefully testing a small bite before signaling the all clear. Breakfast was generally safer, but I was still really grateful to have 2-3 choices (though also basic) in the plant cafeteria at lunch. I’ve wondered if she always served pork because that was the cheapest choice on an allowance she was given, or if that was simply her only choice at all. By the end of the two weeks, several of my teammates came to believe that she only pretended to speak just Russian, that she really understood some English after all, as she hovered in the kitchen while we ate. We’ll never know for sure.

Though we never spoke, midway through the trip, one event made me decide I liked her. Given the utter lack of entertainment in the village, we hired a driver to take us to Moscow for the weekend. Ahh, to eat something other than pork, and to sleep in a real hotel bed that didn’t resemble a cot, with a heater adequate to keep out the March cold! Before we left for the city, we were told to leave any laundry we needed done on our bed, along with money to pay her to do it. How much money, we asked? Our teammate gave us a rough idea, but it was all pretty ambiguous. I took my best guess, rounded up, and hoped I’d been fair. When we returned Sunday night, my clothes were clean and neatly folded on my cot. Most of the team’s were. But two of our colleagues’ beds were empty. As we compared notes over the next couple of days, we discovered the pattern:  those us us who’d received our clothes immediately had paid her the most, either relative to the amount of our laundry or in total. One of our delayed colleagues, who’d left a respectable sum but also a mountain of clothes, got his back Monday night. She made the last guy sweat it out until Tuesday night, when he was down to his last clean clothes. I like my colleagues, but it was amusing to watch her school us all with a very clear and simple lesson.

But my starkest memory occurred in my last 15 minutes with her. I’d cleared my stuff out of my room, hauling it into the foyer to wait for the driver to take us the long drive back to Sheremetyevo Airport. When I unexpectedly went back into my room, I realized she’d already been there. While the room hadn’t yet been cleaned, I noticed she’d already taken the trash out. Well, some of the trash. What was missing were two unopened foil packages of crumbly Pop Tarts and half of a large chocolate bar I’d purchased in Moscow, still in the wrapper, displaced by my Moscow souvenirs. 

She took my used food. 

From the trash.

Items of literally zero value to me were worth taking from the trash to her. It was a jolt reminder of how much I take for granted in my very comfortable life. We’d struggled sometimes when I was a kid, but I never went hungry. I’ve never taken food out of someone else’s trash. In that instant, she gifted me with an even bigger lesson, one I’ve not forgotten in the years since. I’m so very blessed. I pray that she and her family are as well.

“Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.”  –Wayne Dyer


Comfort Zone


I learned a long time ago that my comfort zone is like a box with movable sides. If I stay comfortably inside my box, over time it slowly closes in around me, becoming steadily smaller. I find it critical to routinely push myself outside my box, pushing the walls out with me. By now, it’s a predictable, inevitable pattern.

It’s been awhile since I’ve pushed my box out in a big way. Three years ago, the sides of my box were abruptly yanked away altogether when Megan fell ill. Every day brought frightening new experiences, and for the first time in my life, all of my energy was needed just to keep everything from flying apart. Then just as things began to calm on that front, I changed jobs; that was plenty for awhile. I’m starting to feel rested and stable…not yet too stable, but I know it’s coming. 

I always need a next frontier, but I no longer have any idea what the next one might be. I’ve got a few loose ideas, but nothing that’s grabbed me yet. Guess I’ll have to take the small opportunities for awhile and wait. Patience has never been my strong suit…I may have to make something happen. I hear you can now take tours of Chernobyl…that should do it.

“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”  –Malmonides


New


The pads on our 6-month old puppy’s paws are still soft and pink. My husband said it’s because life hasn’t had a chance to wear them down yet, because she’s still a “new dog”. I like that concept:  “new dog”. If you think about it, we were all once new ourselves.

Puppies are such a gift, so pure and innocent. Ours has only five states:  streaking through the yard at top speed; playing; cuddling; afraid that she’s in trouble; and asleep. Life is very simple for her, and it’s refreshing to watch. Her few moods are highly contagious, especially her joy and love. She’d wormed her way into all of our hearts by her second week here. She’s easy to love.

Just as her paw pads will eventually wear down as she gets older, it’s easy for us to get worn down the farther we move away from being “new”. Life has a way of wearing on you, if we let it, even robbing us of our joy. That’s why I love having a puppy in the house again, even though she’s destructive and expensive. Her innocent antics make me smile and remind me of when I, too, was new. She gives the priceless gift of joy.

“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.”  –Carlos Santana


Fear


A leader whom I admire said this week that we need to drive out fear, versus using it as a tool for power. We were lamenting that this has been an election of fear. I told him part of my truth, but not all of it.

I told him that my brother-in-law is terrified that his Mexican wife of 20 years, the mother of their two daughters, will be deported. I told him that my gay friends are afraid their marriages will be dissolved. I told him that a sweet, young Vietnamese friend was disturbed by a horrible racist incident on her campus in Minnesota. I shared how troubled I was at the stories of harassment of blacks and Muslim women wearing hijabs, and of Hispanic children bullied at their schools with taunts of being deported and building the wall. And this is the experience of a privileged white woman since the election. But I didn’t tell him the rest.

I didn’t tell him that I’ve lost sleep over these last couple of weeks for fear of slowly losing our civil rights and democracy to an autocrat who trades in fear. I didn’t tell him how I’ve struggled to understand how so many could overlook such overt sexism, racism, and bullying for a single issue or for politics. I couldn’t admit that I’ve been unable to watch the news or open a newspaper since the election, as it’s too depressing to think about a racist overseeing the country’s law enforcement, or an isolationist as national security adviser, or a white supremacist whispering in the ear of the man in the most powerful job in the world. I’m having trouble coping with news stories about ripping families apart through the immediate deportation of 2-3 million citizens, or how there’s “historical precedence” for a Muslim registry or even internment camps. My world changed overnight, and I’ve struggled to cope with it all. My struggle is embarrassing and shocking at the same time:  after all, I’m a 50-year old strong and successful woman. How can this have impacted me so?

But I’m my mother’s daughter, and I knew that I would eventually pick myself up. The shock and fear are starting to wear off, being replaced by determination. I’ve started taking action, and that is lessening my fear. I will fight to keep the gains women have made over these last 50 years, for myself yes, but especially for my teenage daughters. I will be vocal in support of the right to basic dignity and protection that my LGBT family and friends deserve. And, as scared as I am of the thought, if necessary I would face water cannons and prison to ensure that the freedoms of religion and speech remain bedrocks of American democracy.

My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:38-39, and it reminds me that neither principalities nor powers can separate us from the love of God. And in Philippians 1:30, Paul invites us to join him in the battle. In my immediate reaction, I nearly forgot Who always has been and will be in complete control. But He has always needed arms and legs. I offer mine. I am not afraid.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.


Luxury

paper towels

I remember a retail merchant sharing one of his learnings from a consumer focus group. A young mother shopper told them that paper towels were a luxury she simply couldn’t afford, as she struggled to put food on her family’s table. This was clearly a novel idea to the merchant. For me, it was a memory.

We married (very) young and poor. One of us worked and one of us went to school for the first 7 years of our marriage. Our grocery budget for the first couple of years was $35 for the week, and that also had to cover toiletries and paper goods. Not only were paper towels definitely not affordable, we didn’t buy paper plates, Kleenex, or any “frivolous” food. For our lunches, I cooked extra amounts at dinner and baked desserts. While my husband’s co-workers looked on with envy at his homemade goodies, he complained that I never bought Oreos. I couldn’t:  if I spent $40 one week instead of the budgeted $35, we struggled to pay for gas. Money was tight, and it took real planning to make it work.

We’ve since been financially blessed and no longer have to live on the edge like that, but of course many Americans do. There has been such a widening of the gap between rich and poor in our country that too many today have no idea what it’s like to view paper towels as a luxury. I worry that my kids won’t understand how blessed they are…they’ve lived with paper towels and many other luxuries their whole lives. We talk to them about how fortunate we are compared to many Americans and the rest of the world. We tell them that we’re blessed largely as a result of luck, having been born through no action of our own in a time and place of extraordinary circumstances. But there is no way for them to truly understand unless they live it. I want them to understand, yet I guess I really don’t, if it means they have to experience it first hand. I wish my children a lifetime of paper towels.

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”  –Henry David Thoreau


Memory


My earliest memories are from when I was less than two years old. They say we don’t have memories at that early an age, but they are wrong. I was hospitalized with pneumonia at 18 months. I have only two snippet memories from that stay:  they are few, and they are short, but they are vivid.

My old-fashioned hospital room was straight out of Curious George Goes to the Hospital…a large room with 4-6 cribs and a play area. My very first memory is of my parents, grandparents, and aunt in that room bringing me an amazing gift–a stuffed bear as big as me! I loved that bear all through my childhood. I still have him, packed away in a plastic tote in the garage. He’s much smaller than I remember him, and he’s threadbare from love. Getting that bear, in that strange room surrounded by my family, is vivid memory number one.

The next thing I remember was waking at night in my crib in that strange room. My family was gone, and I was alone among the other sleeping children. I was scared and began to cry…I just wanted to go home. Except I wasn’t alone. A man was there, sitting in a chair beside a sleeping girl. He heard me cry and brought his chair over next to my bed. I remember him talking gently to me, though I don’t remember what he said. I only remember that him sitting there talking to me made me feel better. The memory then stops. I don’t remember waking the next morning, or leaving the hospital, or anything else until I was three. Just the bear and the man, both small comforts at a child’s time of fear.

I always tear up a little when I remember the man; this stranger’s kindness has stayed with me for nearly 50 years. I’ve since wondered if his daughter was ok…I’ve certainly hoped so. I now know that a parent doesn’t sit in a chair in a hospital through the night when everything is ok. I’ve also wondered if he remembers that night, whether he knows that his small gesture is remembered and appreciated. It’s a reminder that we all have the ability to make a difference in the life of another. But it’s also a reminder that even when we feel alone, Someone is always sitting next to us, ready to bring us comfort. We are never really alone.

“As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.”  –Hermann Hesse