Don’t Blame It On the Rats

Yesterday, I lost my stapler three times in two hours. Each time I found it in the same exact spot, five inches from my right hand, but not before the impulsive thought: “who the hell stole my stapler THIS time?” Of course I knew full well no one had been in my office all morning. It’s just my initial reaction to cast blame on something other than the true cause of what has me upset, which in the matter of the lost stapler: my failing eyesight. 

Isn’t that what we sometimes do: place blame elsewhere for things we are fearful about/don’t understand or shortcomings we are in denial of?

Like poor peripheral vision.

Or bad decisions.  

Bella discovered a dead mouse on our trail walk today. Her nose was in deep inhalation before I realized what she was so interested in. My intuitive response was to wipe her mouth and nose with my hand in a quick upward motion. Like many moms, I have held the super power of fearlessness for years, which has helped me to take potential deadly germs off my kids with one swipe of my magically immune hand.  Simultaneously my other hand grabbed a stick to gently flick the little body off the trail next to a bunch of yellow flowers, a more dignified burial for little Stuart. This is something I would have done with one of my toddlers. Each would have been very interested in the dead mouse for varying reasons. I can picture them squatting down in that curious little kid pose, his or her chubby, pink cheeked face concentrating, filled with a mixture of respectful, silent awe for the lifeless furry body and this deep, intrinsic  NEED to touch and poke at it. A couple of them would have undoubtedly tried to explore the little corpse with their mouths though I won’t name any names. But my toddlers are long gone, grown into five, giant man-boys and one beautiful queen of her own domain, my dog face wiping clearly a wistful remnant of my joyful but chaotic past as a superhero mom.

Bella’s face had a brief  ‘WTF?’ look before she scampered off to find other yucky things to smell, leaving me looking at my hand that now had on it dog snot/slobber mixed potentially with dead mouse disease. And GAWD KNOWS anymore if my body is capable of staying healthy from shit. My walk was now tainted with fear and I didn’t know what to do with my hand so I just held it out, away from me while we walked the trail loop so I wouldn’t touch my face. People who saw me probably thought: “Is this crazy chick going to take a left hand turn or what?” 

Here were my thoughts while I walked the trail with my turn signal blinking: 

I feel really mad that I no longer have my super power. 

THE MEDIA IS TO BLAME. They put all this damn fear into my head about dying or killing someone else from a virus that may or may not have a 98.9% recovery rate. So of COURSE I’m going to be scared about something even MORE worrisome like dead mouse disease harming me or worse, Bella. 

Furthermore, it’s the government’s fault that the mouse is dead to begin with. I’ve heard that rats are going crazy in the big cities and EATING each other because there is no food in the dumpsters on account of the government shutting down all the restaurants.

NO WAIT. It’s the MEDIA’S fault that I even know this bullshit. The government and the media are clearly in cahoots trying to make me afraid of everything. 

ACTUALLY it’s the media’s fault that my HUSBAND knows about the rats. He’s the one who told ME. 

THIS IS ALL MY HUSBAND’s fault. He has always been jealous of my super powers.

That’s when the writer in me finally took the left turn, in a quirky trip back full circle to my superpower of fearlessness: 

That little Stuart mouse clearly starved to death because he had morals and refused to be a cannibal like his rat cousins. What a wonderful creature to be so stoic and strong and disease free!  Bella and I are BOTH going to be just fine regardless of whether or not the media, government or my husband gives reasons why we should be afraid. Rest in peace under the yellow daisies little Stuart! 

In summary, as though this were some kind of logical dissertation:  

First, do you see how silly it can be when we don’t take full responsibility for our own shortcomings, beliefs and decisions? You’re welcome for being a good example of this.

Second, clearly we need to stop wasting so much food if we want the rats to go away. 

Finally, for what it’s worth, I made it the whole way home without once touching my face. And despite my renewed fearlessness, I made it a point to wash my hand before I touched my husband, who may or may not be vulnerable to dog slime. There’s no sense being reckless with my super power.  

Running to Truth

I have been running a lot more these days. 

Running from the news. 

Running from fear.

Running from sobriety. 

Running from emotions.

Running from growth. 

Running from faith. 

But of course everywhere I run, there I am: a ball of rigid resistance. I did finally cry on the yoga mat the other day for what logically seemed like no good reason. I wasn’t even doing a difficult pose. But I felt better after so I decided not to over analyze it.

Later that day I took Bella out on our usual route which is about five blocks down to Wyakin Park where we do about a mile of trail walking before heading back up the hill home. 

Recently, I noticed that I sort of sing/chant in my head to my breath when I walk. Usually just a weird repeat over and over of whatever song I most recently listened to, implanted into my mind and in rhythm with my steps.  I thought on this day to replace it with prayer instead of mumble rap which is what I’m hearing a lot lately with my three youngest boys all home, quarantining with me. I inserted Hail Mary’s into my breathing. It’s been forever since I prayed like this: meditative, prayer chanting. I arrived faster than usual at the trail park. 

I let Bella off her leash and she jumped into her routine of darting ahead, whipping back and forth across the trail and then falling way behind so she could then run fast to catch up to me, all the while sniffing and snorting and dog smiling. 

Bella’s not worried one single bit about anything except maybe the robins, who have recently come out in full force and on this day were friskily taunting her into chase before flying up, untouchable. The robins aren’t worried either. They are unwavering in their praise of the day, singing it loud for all to hear. They do not question that there will be water to flicker-splash their wings into and dip their faces in deep satiating drink. They have no doubt that the worms and bugs will be there for them and their babies to eat.

I stopped in my tracks in stunned recognition and remembrance of this basic fundamental truth: the joy of being cared for so deeply and lovingly that one need not have a worry in the world.

“Oh!” I whispered. “I forgot for a minute.”

Just as I whispered this a huge woodpecker with a stunning head of red feathers flew across our path and landed on a tree about six feet from us. Bella and I both just paused in awe while he stared at us for the longest time. When I reached for my phone to try and capture him in a photo, he flew away. I swear he whispered “You’re welcome my love.”

Ordinary Fear

Today is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, according to ‘Today’s Missal’ at church. There is something very soothing about calling time ordinary. I don’t know about you, but if a day is already labeled extraordinary before it has even happened, I’m probably not going to live up to it on account of the pressure. I tend to do the opposite of what is expected by me, especially when it is me doing the expecting. It’s like knowing I should be outside enjoying a beautiful sunny day when I am in a stay in the house rainy day kind of mood.

On this particularly ordinary Sunday I slept in but still rallied for Mass, dirty hair and all, because lately it has felt good to go. I have been enjoying the intellectual and emotional stimulation of church without expectations or demands with the understanding that an open heart and mind can allow surprising and simple treasures to sometimes land in my lap like that chewy, nourishing heaven bread landed in a desert of hungries.

Fears have been keeping me awake and unhappy lately, ones that seem insurmountable and singularly unique to me: career failure; money worries; having ‘all the cancers’ plus a touch alzheimer’s; not teaching my kids how to properly clean a toilet; and my annoying fifty something belly fat are a few of my current fears. I have felt a bit shameful about these fears believing that I MUST overcome them in order to be happy, but seeming to lack the faith and intellectual strength to do so. Consequently, I have grown them like big, fat inedible mushrooms, nourished in the dark recesses of my heart.

Okay, that’s a little melodramatic. My heart is mostly not dark. Ha!

The words “Action Conquers Fear” are written on my motivation wall from an article I read on LinkedIn called “11 Powerful Mantras for Those Who’ve Lost Motivation” by Ross Simmonds. So it feels like I should be DOING something about these fears.

But the visiting priest’s homily today landed a bit of inspiring and timely “ah-ha manna’’ in my lap that made me look at this mantra from a slightly different angle. In speaking about the last supper and the Eucharist, he mentioned the name of a scripture interpreter who’s name I can not recall, though I know she was a woman, and quoted this from her writing:   

“He prepares the table in the presence of my fears.”

I found myself having a little chat with Jesus:

Me: “Does this mean that I can enjoy the great dinner you made even though I have all these nasty fears?”

Jesus: “H. Bring all of you to the table. Your fears will continue to grow if you focus too much on conquering them. If you think having ‘all the cancers’ is bad, trying being a slave to a giant ugly mushroom. Now there’s a good horror movie idea!”

Me: “So I shouldn’t take action to kill the mushrooms? That doesn’t seem very Jesuit of you, especially you being the founder and all.”

Jesus: “You’re such a dork H, always trying to complicate things. The only action you need to take is to step up to the plate as you are every day and let yourself taste and savor what’s right in front of you. This is where the light is. And mushrooms don’t take kindly to light. It really is that simple.”

Me: “Sometimes you don’t realize you are starving until you get a taste of inspiration that has been missing from your plate for a bit. Thank you J.”

Jesus: “You’re welcome H. Now, go be in the light, with all your ordinary fear on this ordinary Sunday.”

Me: “Now I’m singing the song ‘Gravity’ by John Mayer.”

Jesus: “Ha! Whatever it takes to keep you where the Light is.”

Wearing White on the Roller Coaster: A Metaphor, Sort Of 

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Does it matter that I closed my eyes, clenched my butt cheeks and pretended I was sitting on a quiet beach somewhere when I rode a roller coaster called “AFTERSHOCK” with three of my boys a couple weeks ago?

I mean, I DID it. Does it matter how?

I agreed to go on the ride because our youngest Mitchel, was still stating adamantly that he was “just not into roller coasters” despite relentless mocking and attempts at bribery from his four older brothers. So I felt like I needed to set a small example of fearlessness for the boy, who has worn a coat of anxiety armor his entire twelve year long life. It’s possible I was too still when I was pregnant with the boy causing him fear over too much movement outside the womb. Isn’t it always the mom’s fault?  But in my defense being pregnant at 38 with five kids already born makes a gal want to be in perpetual nap mode.

Anyway. I rode the ride.

But I did bring a little shame upon myself when we were waiting in line and the ride zoomed past us at two thousand miles per hour and  I yelled “OH HELL NO!” and bolted. The boys coaxed me back saying I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t overcome my fear. The words didn’t work on the twelve year old but throw them at the fifty year old mom and her internal selves are gonna talk…

“If you were dying right now you would be sad you didn’t do this with your boys…”

“We are ALL dying.”

“Yes but if you died SUDDENLY tomorrow and didn’t DO this you’d have regrets.

“You could die SUDDENLY on this RIDE. Besides you can’t regret shit when you’re dead.”

“Have you forgotten about “Ghost Whisperer”? The entire theme is about regrets from beyond the grave. Besides, the family would be taken care of for life with the lawsuit money if you die on the ride.”

“Except you would be haunting them for MAKING you go on this ride.”

…on and on it went until the next thing I knew I was snugly belted, harnessed and forced slightly against my will into my execution chair. My last words to my sons were “I’m wearing white shorts. If I shit myself we are ALL going home. So you know.” I’m pretty sure all of the people on the ride heard me. I’m just not the quiet sort when I think I might die.

UP UP UP we went, slowly backwards to one hundred and ninety one feet in the air where we were left staring straight at the ground for a brief anticipatory moment before BLAMO down we went at sixty five miles per hour twisting and then turning at a ninety degree angle and then hanging upside down in what felt like mid air and then silent CRYING (that was me) when we did the same thing all over again only BACKWARDS.

Now, in all honesty, I actually did not SEE or really feel any of this. The boys tried to tell me I would enjoy the ride more if I opened my eyes and relaxed my body. But I just could not do that. I was too busy trying to live through it by squeezing my eyes shut, attempting to put my body and mind into a state of quiescence so that when death came to me I would not feel it. Quiescence is a real thing people! Go ahead, use it in Scrabble. You’re welcome!  It is when a body literally goes into a state of paralysis when the mind is faced with sudden terror,  I think in hopes that the grim reaper will walk right on past, thinking you are already dead. The problem is that with this attempt at playing possum, your blood pressure and pulse rate can actually drop too low and you can potentially die ANYWAY if you stay in this state too long. A paradox, yes?

When my first baby and I returned from the hospital over twenty three years ago, the love that I felt for this tiny little person made me feel like my heart was going to literally explode. There really are not words to describe this brand new, all encompassing feeling that took hold of me and shook me like a rag doll. Because with the love also came the fear of the loss of love. For about two weeks I pretty much just stared at little Duncan, afraid to turn away for even a second should something happen to him. It’s probably why he has trouble falling and staying asleep to this day, because I was constantly waking him up because I didn’t see him breathing. I became a neurotic mess and complete hysteria loomed very near. Paralyzed by fear, I was for sure not enjoying the little guy one bit. Another paradoxical state.

Then there was this shift. Just when I was at wit’s end, sobbing from exhaustion and terror and darkness, a whisper came: “Darling girl. Your attachment to the gift has rendered the gift joyless.”

I remember hearing the whisper, breathing in his beautiful baby smell for a minute and then, much to the relief of my husband, putting him in his crib in the nursery so that I could actually get some rest.

Whispers are sometimes a sign of insanity…other times they are angels giving a little direction.

Regardless of where the whispers came from, I remember that moment as being pinnacle because for the first time I was able to flick this internal switch and ever so slightly detach myself from the fear of of loss just enough to be able to live in a state of quasi peace with knowing that while there was no way to completely avoid loss, dwelling on its possibility was like asking for double the loss without  experiencing the joy of the very gift you want to keep and hold on to and love with all you are.

Enter me the SECOND time on Aftershock. I was still hysterically giggling from surviving the first ride and you simply can not clench your butt cheeks when you are giggling. At least for very long.  So I was able to FEEL the rush of what felt like dropping off a cliff and the elation of rising back up again. And while I only opened one eye, I was able to see the joy on the boys’ faces and feel the pure euphoria of being alive. I’m so glad I got a do over.

So. Yes. One could say that it doesn’t matter how you ride the roller coaster so long as you actually get on the ride. There is for sure bravery in this. Roller coasters are fucking scary. But there is something to be said for letting go of the fear just a little in order to experience the actual ride a little more fully, in all its heart stopping glory. And the chances of shitting yourself are really not greater either way. But if you are worried that relaxing your butt cheeks could allow this to happen, well, simply avoid wearing white my friend.

P.S. Let it be noted that Mitchel eventually got on a roller coaster that day: and it was on one that was WAAAAY scarier than Aftershock.