Maybe I Will

My 40th high school reunion is approaching, and last week I decided not to go. After digging up this old essay, however, I’m reconsidering. Maybe I will, just to check in with the elephants…


Dancing-Elephants-Cover-448x260The sparsely furnished convention center room, brown, dull and big enough to hold 300 dancing elephants, is empty in the west forty save for a young blonde DJ punching his board. Loosely knotted groups of electrified adults stand near the bar and exude the kind of confidence only those over fifty can lay claim to.

“I was an unruly teenager,” a friend reminds me, after receiving a compliment on his work as a psychiatrist who connects with troubled youth. “I know the behavior.” Our brief conversation is a pivotal moment during my reluctantly attended 35th high school reunion.

All grown up, we are. My unruly childhood friends have turned shrink, politician, ad executive, high school teacher and attorney. I hobnob with classmates, some who managed to escape the scars of a tumultuous and disorderly upbringing, and some who still channel Janis Joplin, Andy Kaufmann, Jim Morrison, The Devil, and other miscreant and spectacular spirits.

I used to believe the cooperative, obedient class members of ’74 missed out on spectacular things—a drug-induced near-death experience, perhaps, or an up close and personal audience with The Law. I don’t believe that anymore. Life is less about the spectacular (although I love it, love it!) and more about learning to live. It is more about the Nature of Grace, and how little I know about it.

See, tragic events happen. Our tears form a headwater that marks a high lonesome  landscape, a private place rife with sharp edges that’ll rip a heart to pieces. People die, love goes wrong, marriages fail. None of these events respects our best shoes, a tanned and thin frame, or a thick wallet, or cares one whit about our innocence or happiness.

The longing for a stable kind of magic teases us, and because we long for it so deeply, we get fooled again and again. “Shame on me,” we say – squared, to the tenth even. But we keep on believing in it. We have to, you see, because while the other choice may be more spectacular, we awkwardly carry on with the business of learning to live, of transforming ourselves into openhearted grace-bestowers. And therein lies the magic.

Differences fill the cavernous corners of the reunion room like piles of cast-off clothing. Those dancing elephants I mentioned earlier? They sift through our dregs, weave them together and create a safety net laid thick with grace. Suddenly, the entire room fills with brave elephants rumbling toward each other.

A cantankerous former beauty queen’s first words are bitter and jealous. But as an elephant tunes the safety net behind her, she relaxes. The elephant says silently through the woman’s softened eyes, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I forgive you for hurting me.” Good vibrations move through a roomful of elephants whose collective purpose is to tune our frequency to a higher plane, and we rise with them.

dancing-elephants-jean-norenShe smiles and says, “I used to think your mother was the most beautiful woman on earth.” I meet her soft eye, smile back and say, “Thank you. I will tell her you said so.” And there it is, a moment of pure grace.

Nobody complains seriously about the soulless venue, or the tasteless industrial foodstuff smoldering on the steam table. “Thankless job, planning a reunion,” we mutter. “We should be grateful.” The $45 entrance fee guarantees a live audience for a few hours, nothing more. We get our money’s worth.

No extra charge for the dancing elephants.

Elephant heart photo credit:

Dancing Elephants Photo Credit: Jean Noren

This “Loving” Business: Work in Progress, Major Revisions Underway

“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sometimes I look in the mirror and see bad behavior and gross errors in judgment tattooed across my face. Not that I’ve gone to this extreme, but no amount of hormone replacement therapy will erase my mistakes. It’s part of my history.

Some days, my life seems a rough outline of its future self, sort of like a Michelangelo in progress being carved from stone. But I like to Rainbow_Ocean__by_Thelma1think it’s more like a rainbow, exciting and colorful and fluid and fleeting. Some days, hatefulness seeps in and changes my true colors to black and white. But when I move out of hate’s shadow – for example, when I stop saying “I hate _______” (insert your favorite thing to hate) and start loving that hateful thing up, I see life in color again.

Here is my heart’s debate. Is it wrong to hate an action that threatens one’s survival? Hating the sting and loving the bee may be a stretch if one is deathly allergic to bees, but one has to start somewhere.

So I’ve decided to crank this loving business up a notch. I’m going to try to love those people whose actions I hate so vehemently. But first, I’m serving notice.

To all you people out there raking in the big bucks while making a mess of our air, earth, fire, water, and spirit (you know who you are), to all you child and animal abusers and all you human traffickers, I love you because you are human beings, but your actions are greedy and inhumane and it sucks sharing the planet with you right now. That noise you hear in your head at night? We hear it, too. It’s the sound of our souls crying because we miss you and need you to be whole. We need you to join up, see, because we’re all in this together. Please, come home. Come home now. I’ll make cookies.

This loving business is hard sometimes, but I am a rainbow. I promise to dream my life, and yours, in color. Starting now.

Rainbow Ocean by Thelma1

Together, forever

After a quick breakfast of muscadine grapes and crunchy toast topped with super greens, I set my intention on making the 9AM yoga class. But heavy school bus traffic got in my way this morning,  so I turned the car around and came home. All I could think about was the cigarette pack in the kitchen drawer, and how good it would feel to smoke one.

I’m one of those people who’s read Alan Carr’s “Easy Way to Stop Smoking” three times. I love that book. The little nicotine monster croaked easily after the first try, but was resurrected when my mama died. Mama was a heavy smoker the last twenty years of her beautiful life and, after her lively memorial service in December 2013, it felt dishonorable to ignore a chance to bond with my sister and nephew over a smoke. Had it been offered, I’d probably have taken a toke and a shot in the church parking lot, too, but Mama would have frowned on that.

A shiny metal, key-ring-sized cylinder, filled with a small batch of my parent’s mixed cremains, sits on my writing desk. I can touch them anytime I want to.  A few of their ashes are floating somewhere off the Adriatic Coast near Vasto, Italy and, in October, Dad will finally realize his dream of traveling to Australia. Mama has no choice but to join him, although she’d rather go to Hawaii.

By moms treasure boxthe cylinder is a sacred metal box filled with more tiny treasures. A lock of  Mama’s long steel-gray hair, held together by a narrow black ribbon, entwines around one of her lipstick-stained cigarette butts. Now, I realize non-smokers might find this creepy or disgusting, but feel free to honor your mama in your way and I’ll do the same.

The little red Cardinal feather lying in the top left corner of the box is a glowing ember straight from Mama’s heart, a gift of warmth that floated through the sky and landed on my arm a few weeks ago while I was working in the garden. Her message? “Have that okra fried with gravy on the side, doodle-lee-do.” Or maybe it’s a reminder that everything is going to be just fine, especially if I put my red lipstick on.

Soon, I’ll hit the mat and practice a few sun salutations. Then I’ll smoke another cigarette and think about my mama some more. Then, maybe, just maybe, I’ll pick up where I left off with Alan Carr.

Saturday matinee

A tired, beat up red 1999 Volkswagen Bug sits in my driveway, sighing and peeling in the sun. It’s a castoff, this car, once owned by my sweetheart’s punk-rock daughter. The gas gauge doesn’t work, and a siphon hose coils like a skinny, anemic snake underneath the flat spare tire. The headliner shrugs toward a fake, crippled daisy leaning in the vase that, apparently, comes standard issue with this model.

pink daisy vw

A flower vase. In a car. As if somebody ever said, “You know, I don’t like this car much, but I LOVE the flower vase! I’ll buy it!” (Actually, I know someone who did. She was stoned at the time and, driven by impulse, blew off her severe allergic response to cuteness in deference to the weed.)

Me: “Carolyn, aren’t you allergic to fake flowers?”

Her: “Yes, but aw, it’s so cute! Look, it’s smiling at me!”

Smiling car salesman: “Would you prefer a pink or blue daisy? Or, take me with you and you can have both hah hah hah.”

Said sweetheart and his  28-year year old, high-functioning autistic son (who splits his time between his sister’s house and ours) are headed out to the car wash and to make a few other stops.  Ryan is in charge of picking out the movie we’ll watch later today.

Me: “No Harry Potter, no Left Behind, OK?”

Ryan: “But popcorn and m&ms, right?”

Me: “Right.”

I wonder if m&ms will stack nicely in that vase…

Yoga Class

I walked out of yoga class this morning. Actually, I crept quietly out of the room because my body needed more air and less mat. It was as simple as that.

My dad walked his girls out of church one Sunday because the music was displeasing to his ear. He didn’t make a big production out of it, but he wasn’t going to sit and fidget in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat still when I should have moved, or the times I’ve moved when I should have sat still. So, here’s what learned in today’s yoga class: sit still, fidget restlessly, or move freely.

The choice is ours.

Lynn and Ace.