Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Suicide Note

Have you ever had somebody attempt suicide and find out they left you a note? Not only that, but not be able to read the note because the police were keeping it as evidence?

It happened to me, years ago. It wasn't even somebody I felt particularly close to, but came out of the support group experience you should have just read about. If not, I recommend you go back and read that first. It gives context and perspective.

Her name was Elaine. He was Roger. They were a couple, for years, perhaps. There were for at least as long as I had known either of them. I'm sure I knew them from small group discussions, though it was so long ago that there is absolutely no danger that I will be repeating anything that was said confidentially. This is all from events outside the groups.

It started for me one Saturday night dancing at The Anchorage, that center's current "Afterglow" spot, where people went in a group to socialize, and unwind after the emotions of small group. Here it meant listening to jazz and dancing.  Roger had asked me to dance, and I agreed. He was something of a tomcat, which I knew. But he was also something of a friend at the time, though this was to spoil that. He made no bones about their open relationship, along with the fact that Elaine had problems with its openness.

That night he came on to me fairly strongly while we were dancing. Now I was immune to the suggestions, both because I knew about Elaine and from my own perspective didn't consider him to be free enough to make the offer seriously, but also because he reminded me physically of my own ex-father-in-law. That was a turn-off, for many reasons. I was there dancing just because I loved dancing and this was as safe a situation as any to do it in. Pretty much what happened on the dance floor stayed on the dance floor. No ties, obligations, commitments. Just a few minutes of harmless fun.

That was the theory.

Next time I saw Roger, he asked my if I'd heard about Elaine or from the police.


Elaine had wandered away from their Richfield home to a quiet, open spot nearer the airport and opened her veins. She was found hours later, surrounded by blood and suicide notes. I do not know how many there were, but Roger told me one was addressed to me. He added the police had it as evidence, it had been sealed and blood-covered so he had no idea what was in it, but I might be hearing from them. They might have questions. Elaine was hospitalized, having survived her attempted suicide, and likely would continue to be hospitalized for a few more weeks in a psychiatric facility.


O! M! G!

I was devastated. Did she blame me for dancing with Roger? Did she know he'd propositioned me that last night? Was I somehow responsible for what she did? My mind spun with questions, self-blame, anger at Roger, guilt, and on and on.

And why me? I barely knew her, certainly didn't think of her outside of group except as an adjunct of Roger, wasn't attracted by her personality as a potential friend. What was making me so important to her that she'd write me a note as she thought she was ending her life? What was she accusing me of?

I was reeling.

It was weeks before I had any answers, and I can't tell you now whether I finally got them from Roger or Elaine. I do know I never did receive the note. The excuse was it was too blood-covered to be legible. But the reason for it was not blame of any sort. Rather, she was thanking me for having been such a good friend to her.

That was almost worse. Here's a person I really barely knew, don't think of, have probably listened to incidentally to my functioning as facilitator, and she's considering me a valued friend? What kind of awful person does that make me? And what kind of a life has she been leading if her "good friend" is all but indifferent to her and unaware of her needs?

If this were a fairy tale, Elaine and I would have become best buddies and I would have all kinds of useful answers to my questions, leading to marvelous personal growth and happiness. In real life, Roger and Elaine shortly broke up, Elaine quit coming to the support group, Roger dated many more women often simultaneously, finally found a strong woman who insisted she'd only date him if he became faithful, and they eventually married. I have no answers, just the realization of how even a near stranger's suicide attempt can affect others. I try not to be the person I had fears I was being blamed for being.

FRL's We Care: The Groundrules

Years ago a support group formed for those dealing with the ending of a significant relationship, whether by death, divorce, or separation. It was called We Care. In the late 70s, divorce was still rare enough that a support group was very helpful. I didn't find it until the early 80s. It became the healing influence in my life. The reason it worked so well is the groundrules it developed. Some will be familiar to anybody used to, say, 12 step groups, like confidentiality. Others were different, like non-judgmental support as opposed to the often confrontational style of AA. The groundrules were the framework which made the group a safe place to open up, explore your self, and share with others. I heartily recommend them to anybody thinking about setting up a support group, or wondering why their current group just isn't working for them.

We usually met in church basements, not from any religious connection, even philosophically, but the space lent itself to the group needs: evening availability, one large meeting room, several small rooms, a kitchen or other area for coffee, plentiful free parking. The space was usually very inexpensive or free. A basket was passed for donations from those able to make them, paying for coffee and space. Nobody was paid for their services. Nearly every night of the week a group was available, sometimes two.

People were encouraged to stick with the group past their own crisis which brought them there, continuing their growth.  Many did, and of those some were encouraged to become facilitators. Twice a year facilitator training was held, where listening skills and a host of other things were taught. Would-be facilitators would do at least three practicums, leading small groups in a center setting with an experienced facilitator evaluating them and giving feedback. Not everyone made it through the rigorous process to become a facilitator.

A management board, the Fellowship for Renewed Living or FRL, was also developed to oversee quality, fund raise, offer workshops for those interested in further growth past the support group setting. One topic became an annual workshop tradition: sexuality. Part was education, part was exploring our own values and the new "resingled" situation, part was exploring personal issues, including abuse. Some was taught by outside experts, such as STDs in a time when AIDS was a new thing. Some was explored in the setting of small groups. Eventually interest and need waned and the board and center groups formally disbanded. The records are archived at the U of M.

The format was similar to many support groups. It opened in a large circle, with one leader. Everybody was welcomed, given a chance to go around the circle and give their first name, often followed by a word or two about how they were doing.  Announcements were made, groundrules listed and briefly explained, topics and locations announced. The body broke into small groups for about an hour, led by a trained facilitator, then met back in the large group for closing announcements and putting chairs away, cleaning up coffee, etc. For those who could and wanted to, a purely social time followed at a different location, usually a bar with music. Dancing and conversation was for many a "safe" reintroduction to being social with the opposite gender before actually getting back into dating.

Following are the groundrules for those small groups.

CONFIDENTIALITY: What is said in the small group stays in the group. It isn't talked about later, in large group, at afterglow, at home, not even next week to the person who said it in the first place. If you want to know how somebody is doing, you simply ask them that, not what they did about a specific issue they mentioned.  You don't tell Sally what John said. For some, it even extends to not telling Sally how it is you even know John, where you met, what kind of group you share. Knowing that our personal stuff stays in the group makes it safe to open up.

EQUAL AIR TIME: Everybody has the same right to air time. Just because Sally is really hurting doesn't mean she gets to take the group's time. John may find his own issues equally as urgent, to him. And Sally might well welcome not being the center of attention or feeling like she was the only one there that evening with some kind of issue. When she did listen, she could be giving back to the group, rather than just taking. You did have the right to pass and not speak, although sharing was encouraged.

ACTIVE LISTENING: When somebody else was speaking, we listened to them. It seems like basic manners, but the active part meant that we weren't just quiet while planning what we would say next, but really hearing what the other was saying.

WE DON'T INTERRUPT: The speaker was given a gift all too rare in ordinary conversation: the right to finish their thoughts. What they were saying was important. Some of us were coming from abusive relationships, and this may have been the first place where we felt like we had some value to others.

YOU CAN ASK A QUESTION. YOU DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER: Not everybody is a good speaker, or storyteller, or even clear about what their issues are. For our own understanding as well as theirs, as well as demonstrating we are really listening to them, we can ask a question. On the other hand, being able to refuse to answer is often the first step in learning to set personal boundaries, and again, those of us entering the group from abusive relationships often have no idea that boundaries are even possible, much less how to go about setting them.

WE SPEAK ON THE "I" LEVEL: The group is about me. It is what I am or have experienced, done, felt, plan to do next. We're told in society not to be selfish, but here is the safe place to be as selfish about our own needs as we need to be during our air time. I don't speak about others: they're not here to defend themselves. We can't change them. I can only help me by dealing with my stuff.

WE SPEAK ABOUT OUR FEELINGS: Some of us enter the group not able to recognize feelings even as they are biting us in the butt. Gradually we get behind the actions, past what we intellectualize about events, learn the language. We are angry, sad, ashamed, guilty, happy, scared, frustrated. We learn not to fear feelings but to accept them as universal. Feeling anger is not the same as needing to act out from that anger. We begin to understand we can't assume that everybody knows how we feel about something in our lives because they lived different lives and often feel differently about the same things. What makes up happy may well scare them or carry sad memories, and vice versa. We learn to ask, "How did that make you feel?" We learn to figure out the answer.

WE NEITHER GIVE NOR TAKE ADVICE: Nobody else can fix our problems. Their situations are different, their morals are different, their needs are different, their feelings are different. Their solutions are not what will work for us. Nor will ours work for them. Any time we hear a sentence with "you should..." in it, we shut down emotionally rather than digging deeper into our own situation. We've all been "shoulded" way past any sense, and it's part of why we need to be here. What we can do, however, is relate to the speaker, carefully saying, "I was in a similar situation once, and I tried such-and-such, and this is what it did for/to me." That allows the other to decide if there is something they can learn from your experience, and take away however much of it for themselves as they wish to. It also allows them to feel they are not alone in their situation, and that somebody in the group actually is listening to them.

NON-JUDGMENTAL SUPPORT: This is one of the big keys that make it safe to explore our own deepest, darkest, and most painful selves. If we're truly not judged, it's finally a way to get past the shame and guilt that are the big barricades preventing self-healing. Without judgment, we can finally say, "I did this, and here's why, and what else was going on, and how I feel about all of it, and now I see how it's been interfering in my life. Now I can change." Nobody says you were awful, stupid, slow, rash, mean, selfish, or any of the truckload of things you've heard about yourself in the rest of your life. The turtle inside its shell can't walk down the path, and neither can you.

Another big part of this is we recognize that we are all adults here, each capable of taking care of ourselves, able to see ourselves and do what needs to be done in our own way, at our own speed. We learn to trust ourselves and others, to be human, make mistakes, learn from them, set goals, grow, heal, change.

SMALL GROUPS WILL BE ON MANY TOPICS, BUT THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A "HURTING" GROUP: The centers come in many sizes, having one or ten small groups. Facilitators are also working on their personal issues, and set topics useful to both themselves and others at the same time. You are free to pick a group to meet your needs and interests. Large groups can grab another facilitator and split in two so everybody gets useful air time. But whatever else is going on, there is always a "Hurting" group, taking care of the needs of those in emotional pain or crisis, whatever their topic otherwise is. That is the core group.

YOU CAN ASK FOR A ONE-ON-ONE: Sometimes we come in hurting so badly that our small share of air time just won't do it for us that night. We're in too much personal pain to listen to anybody else. We can ask somebody we've come to know a bit and trust if they will spend their small group time listening just to us. There are often other facilitators attending the groups but not facilitating that evening who would be willing. They too get to tend to their own needs, and can refuse if they're not in a place for a one-on-one. They will be in the best position, however, to recognize other facilitators there and steer you towards somebody else who can listen.

I personally spend 13 years in We Care. I thought I was there for a quick fix and as a way to meet nice men. I listened long enough to start figuring out that the real questions were. I became a facilitator, a Lead Facilitator in two different centers, joined the board and became an officer for several years, both Recording Secretary and President. When we made a connection with the YMCA, I organized and attended week-long workshops at Camp Northland near the BWCA. I left for a while, to come back and help with the formalized disbanding process, as FRL was a non-profit. I learned a lot, healed a lot, helped a lot, met the best friends of my life there. And, oh yeah, met Steve there in one of my first weeks. At the end of facilitator training, we were asked to line up along a row from one to ten, giving the trainers feedback on just how valuable the training experience had been to us.

We two were the ones standing at "11".

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Are Those Pretty Bitty Shoes Pinching Your Brain Too?

I had a bit of shopping to do on the way home. As is usual, my first stop is the restroom, and WalMart has nice big ones. As I proceeded down the row towards one of the handicap stalls, always at the end, I heard another woman in a stall I needed to pass yakking away on her cell phone. I couldn't avoid hearing her, loud as she was, but it just wasn't a conversation I was interested in eavesdropping on. What little I heard sounded like girly gossip about people I didn't care to know. I had a much more important goal in mind.

As I was pulling my door shut, and seemingly without a break in the cell conversation, I heard a clear, "Sir, I think you're in the wrong restroom."

I decided to ignore her.


Oh shit, not another one. I'm starting to get fed up with these. It's one thing to get addressed as "sir" on the job, where the uniform is the first impression and people are used to men filling it. There I put on the charm, open my mouth, and let the high voice clue them in to their error. It's another thing to have some bimbo think she could chase me out of a restroom when I had a pretty urgent reason to be there.

But what did this twit think she'd seem through the gap in her stall next to the door while she was busy yakking away? Navy shorts, light blue short sleeves, short white hair and comfy shoes. Walking past, other than her voice, to me she was just a shadow to politely ignore through that same gap.

So many retorts flashed through my mind. I could challenge her stereotypes of femininity. I could explain to her that senior citizens didn't need to fuss with skirts and high heels, at least not in my world. I could probably get away with any number of things since I doubted she'd actually still be there to see the uniform and take offense at the company by the time I left. I could do absolutely nothing and let her continue to freak out. I could try a suggestive response in a deep voice to help her along in her freakout... if I had a deep voice. I can't even fake it. I could ask her if she was so paranoid about the possibility of a man walking in, then why on earth was she doing her business in a public restroom? One with not only no lock on the front door, no door on the front door. I could challenge her by offering to let her see my qualifications for using the facilities, if she'd let me see hers! I could....

The overabundance of possibilities left me unable to choose the best retort. I settled for just letting my attitude of contempt ooze through, "I'm not a guy!"

I'd like to think it was embarrassment that had her shut up, end her phone conversation immediately, and leave the restroom without even flushing or washing her hands.

On the other hand, it could be a character flaw.

Brain Dead? Or Just Trying?

St. Paul was full of kids, more politely referred to as school children, one mid afternoon last week. There were enough of them pouring out of one location that cops were lined up enforcing barricades and detours while the hoards were parading between terminal tall people on their way to orange buses parked within a couple blocks.

So, the detour was going my way anyway, and the kids were NOT MY PROBLEM. Fine. Interesting for about 23 seconds, but hardly worth blogging about.

Well, except for this one stray.

He may not even have been a part of the larger mob, removed as he was by a few blocks distance. It may have simply been juxtaposition that connected them. Same general timing, location, and age, and the brain makes the connection. I now can't think of the one without the other.

He should have been in school. I put him at about 14, that delightful age where children have just discovered that their parents are not perfect and simultaneously decide that fact justifies any crappy behavior they want to pull in the name of rebellion. He was thin, dressed in black, light-skinned, and sported a full crop of shiny black dreadlocks that hung evenly to just short of his shoulders and swung along with his head whenever he shook it in his display of attitude.

There was construction in the middle of the street, leaving everybody one lane to move into. My light had just turned green, and he was crossing against the light. Two adults stopped at that point, in the center by the barricades. He kept going, ignoring the light change - or at least that's a charitable way of looking at it. It may have been true as it started. He looked up at me as I moved into the intersection and stopped before the other side as I saw he wasn't going to clear before I got there. Seeing me stop must have emboldened him, as he stopped in the middle of the lane, pivoted and planted his feet wide in a full stop. I waved at him, sort of a brushing across motion, thinking to signal him that I was going to wait and would he please oblige by finishing crossing.

Still at his dead stop blocking the lane, he shook his head back and forth in a "no".

We both knew I wasn't going to proceed and hit him. But I figure he wasn't quite so sure about both the dock truck and semi behind me, one on each side, waiting for traffic to clear before the light changed so the both could swing into my lane, and both laying on their horns. That got him moving again, however slowly.

As pissed off at him as I was, I had no power in the situation. He could have kept me there in the intersection past the light change and stuck blocking even more pissed-off cross traffic.

It's good to have back-up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

All In A Flash

It happens so quickly. You have about a second to figure out what you're seeing before it's gone, with no going back to look again. What you saw is so unlikely that you start filling in the details to confirm what it was, then gradually to challenge what it was. All the while, you're planning what to do about it, trying to get all the details straight in a way that might mean something to somebody else while remaining true to... whatever it was. What the heck was it, really?

I believe Wisconsin is trying to save its taxpayers money by not cleaning up the carcasses of roadkill deer until several days after the last rolling clean-up. It's either that, or last night was one hell of a hard night on its deer population. Considering the low levels of bloat, and of decomp odor which may have been caused by kindly wind direction, I'll concede the latter is possible. Dead, certainly. Just maybe not long dead. Perhaps the high number of carcasses along I-94 can be explained by yesterday's really hard rain.

I was barely thinking about the deer I was passing, even though I noted them on my way out to Chippewa Falls with a delivery. No antlers, some broken necks, some seeming intact, few straggling entrails or separated parts. Face it: half deer are upsetting and always beg the question of where the other half got hauled to and just who it surprised, and red smears and highway hamburger require more careful driving lest the pavement be slippery. Altogether, the dead deer were not too messy, just plentiful.

I approached yet another one when I was surprised by the lightness of its color, buff instead of brown, except for a couple small black spots down between the legs, then by the quality of its fur, the wrong shape of the hind legs, and finally by the long tail with what would have been an upward curl at the end had it been standing. At 65 miles per hour, I was already past it when it registered. That was no deer. The whole back end screamed feline. It screamed at me, "Cat. That was a cat! A really big BIG CAT!"

Omigod, I just passed a roadkill... puma, no we don't call them that here, not a mountain lion either, it's a cougar! That was a COUGAR!

And somebody's going to want to know about it. They are so rare, a dead one would make the news. Call 911? No they wouldn't be interested, there's no crime here, not even a road hazard, as it's well off on the shoulder. Their DNR, that's who. But I'm driving, can't look up the number, wouldn't even know what city to tell the information... uh, directory assistance operator to look it up in. But Lynn would know. She lives in Wisconsin, and if she's not busy, there's a computer right in front of her. If she is too busy, I'll go for plan B.  Whatever that is.

At the same time, I'm asking myself where I am. I can't tell anybody else where to find it if I don't know. There has to be a mileage marker coming up. There's an exit sign, for exit 24. Have we passed that marker already? Nope, it's just ahead, so the cougar must have been just after mile marker 23, since I didn't see one yet after seeing the cougar. Already I have Lynn on the phone and have pulled off on the exit ramp to write down the DNR phone number. She finds their main 800 number after a few pleasantries, and we're both off to other things.

The woman from the DNR assured me that they were interested in a report of a "possible" dead cougar along the road. It did, however, take quite a while to make her understand where it was located. "What county?" I explained I was a Minnesotan and had no clue. "What part of the state?" I had to repeat what I'd already said about heading east into the state from St. Paul, through Hudson, and onward past mile marker 23. Menomonie was still ahead. "So you were northbound?"

Jeez Louise, lady. I'm driving so I can't dig out a map, and memory is overloaded with essence of dead cougar so much that I can't remember the sequence of towns along the way to guess at what might be a close one. Does the rest of the world not know maps and mile markers?

We finally get the where sorted out, and she asked me to fill her in on the what of my sighting, I presume to make her believe it would be worth her while to track down the local DNR employee to locate the body and document its location and former existence. I continue on my way, now partly occupying my brain with finding my destination. But only partly.

The second guessing is about to start. What did I really see? That tail stands out, that plus the wrong legs and color for deer. I recall padded feet and just as quickly question whether I really do or I'm just filling in blanks to make my memory match what I know I saw. It was such a quick flash. I never saw the front of the body. No head. I can't remember seeing hooves on those wrong legs, so they must have been padded feet. Roundness is the overall impression: rounded tail, rounded legs rather than bony ones, rounded feet. Part of that is the fur, sticking out rather than lying sleekly down, filling out the form, fluffing up the tail. Anyway, the tail was long with that hook on the end: that was the tip-off: it was no deer. They're named "white tailed" for a reason.

Coming back, it started in again. So why didn't my brain decide it was canine? Again, I came back to that tail and the tip up at the end. I can see in my mind cats over the years switching tails like that back and forth, so vividly that I knew that's how the dead animal moved its tail, even though it hadn't, couldn't have moved, even in the wash of wind from a passing semi.

I determined to watch for it on my return trip, counting the mile markers to make sure I didn't miss it. If it was still there, I could exit a few miles up, turn around and come back, maybe even pull over and take a picture, stupidly dangerous as that would be. Perhaps it was lucky for me that there was no body visible from my westbound lanes. I could still see an occasional deer along the road, on both sides even. But nothing the right form or color or location. Apparently somebody had removed the carcass. I'm hoping it was the local DNR person. It might have been somebody after their own version of a trophy. Any critter wanting to eat it would have had many more and tastier meals to pick from, and most likely have been nocturnal anyway.

All I'm left with is a story.

And a brain that talked itself into wondering just what, exactly, I saw.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Re-Thinking A Popular Book

When I first read it, my reaction was, "Oh, how sweet. It's all about sharing." But now it's on the "horrible" list.

My apologies for missing the title. Perhaps I've repressed it. I never actually bought a copy, as it came out after my own kids were too old to appreciate reading it. But a posting on Steph's blog brought it back to me:  In her post she discussed hating "The Giving Tree" as a kid, plus linking to a rethinking of the concept, reminded me of this other one.

If you are of a certain couple generations, you will most likely have read it, either by yourself or to your kids. It's the one about the fish with all the beautiful scales but no friends, since all the other fish are jealous. The fish's "salvation" comes from removing its scales one-by-one and sharing them with the other fish.  Now everybody has a pretty scale and everything is fine.

I'm sure the message is supposed to be about sharing. It's a lovely thing to teach children. But it's also about conformity, denigrating excellence, envy, and, worst of all, self-mutilation to fit in. Having raised aquarium fish, I'm well aware of the consequences of how damage to scales leads to sickness and death in fish. Is that what is necessary to fit in? We're not talking toys here. Sure, let's share those with other children. But destroying one's own beauty and health in order to spread around something as superficial as beauty, that's a terrible lesson for children.

Why not a story telling about how every kind of appearance had it's good and bad points? Spectacular beauty brings attention, yes, but some of it is unwanted. How about compassion for the downsides of that? Let's show how the plainer fish might be swifter and avoid the bigger, hungry fish. Let's show how different skills and behaviors help protect babies. Praise cleverness, excellence, work. Beauty should never be made such a value that we hate the beautiful while simultaneously wanting what they have to the extent of destroying them for it.

Our society is already screwed up enough in its values without teaching this to our children. Look at rates of anorexia, plastic surgery, botox, cosmetics use. How quickly clothes are tossed out because they are last season's fashions. Billions are spent on such superficial things when we could be educating and feeding our children. I know you can find examples all around you, if only you'd look.

We can start by not reading that book to our children without having a discussion with them about what it really says, and about better ways to share with their peers.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Colorizing... FAIL

I read Steph's blog regularly. The only down side is when I go to shut off my laptop, there is an ad behind all the other windows. Not a real biggie: mostly I just delete that too. I've learned my lesson.

Yes, I really did click on one of them, months ago. It was something to do with lower mortgage rates, and I wondered idly just what rates were at that point in time. I don't have or need one so it was simply idle curiosity in a time of fluctuation. It didn't take me very long to realize they were way more interested in getting my information than giving me the promised information, so I shut it down and went to do something useful.

The only after-effect is that now every single pop up ad connected with any website deals with mortgages. Nobody has figured out yet that this might be the one single thing that I'm never going to be interested in. Tough for them. Easier for me to ignore.

Until yesterday.

It was another semi-clone of the same old same old, starting with something Obama offered in some program or other. This one had a picture of a youngish black man covering most of it, looking as if somebody had just startled him with some kind of wonderful offer.  It was done in black-and-white, mostly, but somebody just had to express their genius by colorizing just a wee bit of it.

They made his eyes bright blue.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mom's Day

Other than the people who couldn't show up, the day was perfect. We'd extended the invitation to both sides of the family for a backyard bonfire/weenie roast with s'mores.  Work, health, animal care post-surgery, previous plans, all intervened. We were down to what pretty much passes as nuclear family these days: Paul, Richard and Brenda, Steve and myself.  Rich showed up early to scrub kitchen and bathroom for me, a lovely present and one quite within his pre-work season budget: win-win.

Despite rain leading up to the fire and following it, wood had been kept dry enough for hours of bonfire. The menu was simple: brats and buns with cheese and condiments, potato salad, s'mores and sugarless punch. Paul did the honors with fire and roasting, though once he tired of the event after several hours, Richard kept the fire going a while longer. He and Brenda were also packing for their summer jobs, planning to leave by the end of the day but getting slightly delayed, enough to decline to take off into possibly severe weather and wait until today. We'll see them briefly and rarely this summer, and they'll miss any subsequent bonfires, so they were enjoying this one for all it was worth. After the cold long winter and chilly wet spring, this was the first fire of the season. By the time they get back this fall, it'll be mostly too cold to enjoy any more.

Steve was tickled that "his" tulips picked the day to open fully in a large patch next to the house. Daffodils were ending their glorious season, joining the crocus and scilla which were delayed this year by heavy snow cover. A smattering of older tulips are up but show few buds at this point. Dandelions are just beginning to open, as are violets. Grass is growing and threatening us with the start of mowing season. The neighbor's weeping willows were golden, full of catkins with barely a hint of green leaves to come.

 A pair of cardinals appears to be nest building in the bigger of the backyard blue spruce trees, robins are setting on eggs in the cranberry hedge, and wrens are checking out nest boxes in the garden. Chickadees, flyover ducks and geese, and mourning doves added their voices to the chorus, as did an ambitious tree frog from inside an uncapped metal fencepost in the neighbor's chain link fence, lending an odd timbre to his courting.

Bugs and fickle breezes were absent, making it possible to set a chair in one spot and not need to move - after, of course, finding a dry enough spot in the first place that your chair leg didn't sink into the clay and tip its occupant! The dogs were well-behaved, though Ellie had to learn that she was not going to be fed by somebody "accidentally" dropping a piece of brat or bun within her reach. Fred, however, took advantage of the occasionally dripping Hershey bar from a s'more warmed by a melty brown marshmallow onto the grass. Fortunately, those were kept to a minimum, both for the sake of dog and human.

All in all, it would have been hard to ask for a better day.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Protecting the Orange

You don't often get to see the results of a small act of charity. That's just one of the reasons I have learned to mostly ignore people on street corners with signs begging for help. Others might be that I just don't know what any money I give is really going for, how honest the sign is about the need, or whether I'm really doing any good. Plus I seldom carry cash, operating mostly on plastic these days.

Friday was one of those days where I noticed the guy with the sign as I pulled up to the red light and prepared to ignore him like most of the others.  It was a pretty simple sign: "Anything helps." He really caught my eye when he flipped the sign over and wagged it a bit, emphasizing the single word on the back: "Anything!!!"

I guess I had that look on my face that said I was considering (which I was), because he approached my car before I even reached for the window control. I was also reaching for my lunch cooler, as I asked him if a couple of oranges would be appreciated. "They were on a tree in Arizona two weeks ago," I added.

"Real oranges?" He indicated his appreciation by words, a smile, and holding his hand out. I placed the two oranges I was carrying around in his hands. Mind you, this was a very small sacrifice for me. I had been enjoying two oranges like these every day since hitting Arizona to bring Steve back. One day skipping a snack or replacing it was no big thing for me. The fridge was still well stocked, and I had started throwing out too-ripe spoiling oranges that weren't getting eaten fast enough just that morning.

With the oranges in his hands, I had time to observe him as the light finally changed and traffic slowly moved out. He turned his back to traffic, brought one up to his face, peeling and eating it as quickly as he could, head and shoulders hunched around it as if protecting it from whoever or whatever would be attempting to take it away from him. I drove away musing about the implications of that particular move and what that meant about how much those two simple oranges were appreciated. There was no doubt in my mind that day that it had been the right thing to do.