Tag Archives: Story

Uncanny

Do you know who this man is? Neither do I, but I feel like I should. This picture popped up when I Googled the tiny cemetery in rural Oklahoma where my great-grandparents are buried. It’s the spitting image of my great-grandfather, but it’s not him. Great-grandpa lived to be 100, and I was blessed to know him as an adult. Humans are hard-wired to recognize those we know. Though the resemblance is uncanny (my mother says “amazing”), I know it’s not him.

So who is he? The Internet associated him with a country cemetery of maybe 350 residents, of whom I’m related to a meaningful percentage. Plus he’s looking at me with my grandmother’s eyes and her brother’s face…he’s got to be a relative. We have no idea who he is, and there’s no one left who would know. The last of my great-grandparents’ twelve children–ironically their oldest–died five years ago at 100. My guess is that he’s my great-grandfather’s father, after whom he was named, and who’s buried in the same cemetery. The resemblance between them is too strong for him to be anything else. According to his headstone, my great-great-grandfather died in 1925. Anyone who might remember him would be at least 100. I doubt that person exists.

His face has stayed with me since I found the picture; it bothers me that I don’t know for certain who he is. He looks just like a man I grew up loving, a man who attended my wedding. We must be related, yet he is lost to time. I suppose that’s the fate of us all. We’re here for a brief instant, then the day comes when the last person who remembers us is gone. It is sad, but it is life. Already I’ve lost friends and loved ones at this halfway point of my life. Yet I remember. I remember them with fond memories; I will see them again, all too soon. And I will learn who the man in the picture is, and we will remember together.

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”  –Antonio Porchia


Scars

injury

Everyone in my immediate family has surgical scars. It’s one of the things I’ve always pointed to when highlighting ways we’re alike, even though we don’t all share DNA. When the girls were little, our new puppy “played with” a beloved stuffed Tigger, requiring surgery to repair; even Tigger was proud of the scar which made him one of us. While I’ve pointed to our scars to help us focus on what makes us family, I also wanted the girls to be proud of the scars from the heart surgeries which saved their lives. Little did I realize this lesson would come back to teach me one day.

Megan and I were passing time recently on one of the long drives to Little Rock, retelling family folklore. It comforts us both, somehow, to process our past as we face a somewhat scary future. I was sharing the story of adopting her kid sister when I realized, for the first time and with the full clarity of hindsight, how much fate intervened so that our youngest would end up a McCleary.

We were a few months into the adoption process when we discovered that I had a stomach tumor. We spent the next six weeks on a cancer roller coaster, which included a major and unpleasant surgery. By the time we got the all clear, we needed time to recover from some pretty deep scars, both physical and emotional. When we eventually restarted the adoption process a year later, our little peanut with the million dollar smile joined our family.

I now realize that without that unwelcome interruption, we would have ended up with the wrong daughter. While I’ve long been grateful for the gifts of perspective that specific trauma gave me, it hadn’t dawned on me that I owe the very makeup of my family to those scars. But I suppose that’s often the case, isn’t it? Our scars make us who we are, not just shaping us inside and out, but acting as serendipitous detours which help get us where we end up. Thank heavens I was never really in charge of shaping my life after all…if so, I’d have gotten it very wrong.

“Scars show toughness:  that you’ve been through it, and you’re still standing.”  –Theo Rossi


MMA


I visited Argentina once. I liked it. The countryside was pretty, the architecture in BA was cool, and the food was great. But the most memorable part of the trip happened before I stepped foot in the country.

As a frequent flier, I boarded the plane early to find room for my bag. I had an aisle seat on the inside section, which had four seats. My traveling companion was a dear friend, and she happened to have the other inside aisle seat in the same row. We sat chatting over the two empty seats between us as the plane filled. As people stopped boarding and our departure time drew near, the two seats between us were still empty, as was the entire group of four directly in front of us. We began to hope that we could stretch out and chat during the long flight. We were wrong.

Just before the plane’s doors closed, the last six passengers boarded as a group. They were memorable. These were six big guys, with shaved heads, muscle tees, and more than a few tattoos. My heart sank as they took their seats between and in front of us.

They weren’t as loud and rowdy as I feared, though it was clear that flying was a novelty to them. I kept to my personal space in my aisle seat as much as one can when the guy next to you (and next to him) is a seat-and-a-half wide. We both tried to sleep, me as much to shut it all out as being truly tired. Finally, about an hour from landing, it got interesting. As breakfast was served, rousing the cabin, my seat mate woke and…changed his shirt! Right there in his seat. As I sat there horrified, fully aware of what was happening, he pulled a shirt out of I’m not sure where, took off the one he was wearing, and put the new one on. I’ve never so desperately tried not to look somewhere as right then and there. But it only got better. He then pulled out a bag of peanuts, again from I’m not sure where, ate half of them, and then offered me the rest. “No, thank you”, I mumbled. I’m good. Really.

At the same time I was earnestly trying to be as distant and alone as I could possibly be in a modern airline cattle car, my friend was chatting up her seat mate. They were headed on to Uruguay. No, he’d never been there. Boy was this a long flight. When she and I finally reconnected in the airport and watched as the burly group went on toward customs, my friend couldn’t wait to have a good laugh at my expense. It is funny now. But who were they, and what in the world were they going to do in Uruguay? For all of her friendliness, my friend didn’t have the guts to ask. I’ve never forgiven her, nor myself, for not asking. Her theory is that they were MMA fighters. I wondered if they were construction workers for some specialized industry. We’ll never know. Which means we can each write our own ending to the story, which, I admit, I like best.

“The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.”  –Eli Khamarov


What’s Your Story?

Sometimes I’m amazed that I keep finding things to write about, and sometimes I’m amazed that I can’t think of anything to write about at all. I’m always amazed at writers who can write every day. I’m just not inspired that often. Don’t they have bad days that kick their butt, leaving them in a vegetative state on the couch? One of my new writer friends wrote a daily inspirational piece during Christmas. It was only for a month, but still impressive.

I keep a running list of blogs I’ve started all the time. Some are just a title, a quote, or a link to an interesting article, but this way I always have an idea to choose from on the (many) weeks I’m not inspired. Some of the ideas aren’t likely to ever see the light of day, like the astounding fact that Vladimir Putin may be the richest man in the world. I know the Obamas are rich lawyers, but at a net worth of $2-12M, the contrast to Putin’s $50-70B is stark. I’m thinking he likely didn’t make that as a KGB agent, which means the Russian presidency evidently pays well. Makes you think about themes like true democracy and capitalism, but it’s probably not enough for a whole story on its own. Or like most of America seemed to, I had an opinion on the recent Duck Dynasty controversy. But when the airwaves became so inundated with every possible perspective that it drowned out real news, I decided not to give the non-story one more instant of air time. I couldn’t have improved on the countless commentaries, anyway (my favorite here).

The reality is that everyone has a story…human existence is nothing but billions of stories. Each day, for each one of us, is its own mini-story:  some interesting, some boring, some uplifting, some tragic. I don’t know how long I’ll keep writing these, but when I stop, it won’t be because there’s nothing left to say. I’ll leave you with a friend’s awesome get-to-know-you question: “What’s your story?” I’ll just bet it’s cool.

“There’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  –Maya Angelou