“Why are you still single?” (re-visited)


weddingring

A while back, I wrote a scathing rant about why I was still single. So scathing that some men actually stopped talking to me for awhile.

I was okay with that.

I didn’t feel like I needed to apologize for breaking bad in a blog about things that at the time I felt really needed to be said. But I was harsh.

Let’s just say I wrote the blog on a day when I was really pissed off about how  men sometimes treat women.

At the time, it had been assumed by a guy with an unrequited crush (and some major personality issues) that I was a lesbian because 1. He hadn’t gotten anywhere with me and 2). I had suggested that humanity should be kinder and less judgmental to all–including non-heterosexuals.

I knew I was fighting a losing cause, at least with this guy. So much of our population, male and female, are unbelievably messed up about their sexuality. But his assumptions made me mad enough to speak my piece.

It isn’t easy to be  ’50-something’ and single. Especially if you’re reasonably attractive and have certain expectations about what you consider to be reasonable and fair.

Yet, when I went back and re-read my blog, I found that in that year, I’d made quite a journey away from the frustrated single person who wrote it. Yet, some things were still the same.

I have lived, for the most part, for almost 10 years in a very conservative small town. This town, which proclaims itself ‘the Holy City’ has shown me some of the most unholy people I’ve ever met. I sometimes wonder why the cross that some get so worked up about doesn’t fall off the water tower in celestial disgust.

In that small town, I’ve had women treat me badly while clinging to their unattractive, creepy and sometimes leering husbands  as if I, by my very single status, must want them. I’ve even been told by a church secretary that if a woman is single, other women assume that she must be ‘on the make.’

I had one woman accuse me, because I met and began a relationship with a male of a small devotional group, of treating that group like ‘a singles bar.’

I don’t have anything to do with these individuals anymore. At some point, something in me rose up and cried “Nonsense” to such silly women and equally silly men. If a marriage is so fragile that a woman has to stare down every single woman they meet as possible competition, I suggest they go ahead and call a lawyer. They really don’t have a marriage.

These days, if I encounter women who act like that, I immediately distance myself and don’t give such foolishness dignity. I don’t need to. While I am not a fan of marriage, I honor it. If a couple has gone to that trouble, there is no way that I’m going to do anything to rock their boat–not even if the guy really wants me to do so.

And yes, there are those men–often in the church or religious community. I’ve had ministers and other respected church members leer, make suggestive comments, even feel way too compelled to stare at my chest during conversations. I’ve had fellow church members contact me for what I thought was going to be a date, when it turned out that all they wanted was quick, easy sex.

Or, when some men get caught flirting by their mates, they have blamed me, saying that I had the wrong idea about their intent (when you really couldn’t get another idea about their behavior.) Their wives believed them because it was easier to blame me than to address with their husbands why they lacked self control or respect for their marriage or their wife.

I have certain expectations about how I think men and women should act. When such ham-handed attempts at getting their desires met are not successful, I am shocked about how nasty and childish such men can be. It makes me angry.  And it reminds me of why I choose to be single, even when I’m often judged for doing so.

I’ve been engaged twice, but I never really wanted to get married. I’ve only recently realized that. The two engagements took place in my twenties when I was still buying into what I thought society expected me to do–get married, settle down, have a few kiddos and then start pressuring others to follow suit.

For years, I found myself in one go-nowhere relationship after another. Some were really painful, because I really loved the men involved. Some of them said they loved me, and I believed them. At least, until their consistent actions showed me that their words could not be trusted. Or worse, once they realized that the relationship might take some work, they jumped ship and acted like there’d never been a relationship.

This can be especially hurtful in the church, where men I’ve known break up by saying “God” told them to do it. You know, sometimes, that is valid. But I think that is  often an immature excuse by someone who really needs to man up. If God is going to end a relationship, I really think he’s going to tell both parties.

Or, you find the super spiritual guy (or thinks he is) who confesses all his sins in the relationship, usually on social media or at a church service. Of course, the ex-girlfriend is made out to be some unstable Jezebel type. He gets the forgiveness of his fans in church, and goes on to create relational havoc elsewhere.

Lastly, you find the couple who have, in their pasts, been up to everything immoral under the sun. Things that would make Hugh Hefner blush. Some of it while in church leadership positions. Yet, they are the first to lecture the single person struggling with very real temptation to sexual immorality. They are the first to pretend they are  something they are not.

In my journey as a single woman, I was once treated as a sexual ‘hit and run.’ I got pregnant during that brief relationship. The man in question had married a former girlfriend by this time and never knew he was a father. I had a miscarriage, alone and without medical care. It took years to forgive myself for going from a college ‘good girl’ set to go to seminary that Autumn to whatever it was that becoming sexually active (with the wrong guy) had made me.

At a later point in that journey, I  tried to turn my sexuality over to God. So much so that I gave him permission to even decide who gave me the next romantic kiss. Now some would say it would be foolish to think God would be that much of a micromanager. However, I didn’t. And time went by.

Lots of time. Decades even.

During that time I was in relationships with men who couldn’t commit, were abusive, who hid behind the church and did very inappropriate things. I was determined, that when I next had sex, that it wouldn’t be a booty-call or a one night stand. It would be making love on both sides, something that God could look at while it was happening and smile, knowing that two of his kids had finally gotten it right.

Recently, I was talking to a male friend, discussing my most recent ‘go nowhere’ relationship attempt. He’d been there for all of it, from its exciting beginning to its sputtering end. He’d seen me cry about the guy involved. He’d held back his opinion for the most part. But finally he didn’t.

He just called it as he saw it. He told me that I purposely chose men who were not appropriate relationship choices. The narcissists, the users, the spoiled brats, the men who see women in full color stereotype–with no room for adjustment. He said, “Laura, if you wanted to be married, you would have been by now. You just don’t want to commit.”

I was almost ready to admit this. Almost. But my friend’s revelation shocked me. I wanted, at least a little, to blame someone else. The men who treated me badly. The women who tried to make me fit their stereotypes of a old maid. The churches who made me feel as if I were a leper because of the absence of that little band of gold. But not me!

But you know, my friend was right.

It’s just not possible, unless we’re living in a really ugly world, that there could be that many men who are that relationally inappropriate. And yes, I’d had some great platonic guys for pals. But had ‘friend-zoned’ them like crazy. Like a person who was….terrified.

I just was not willing to believe that there was a man who would treat me right. I told myself I had never seen it. And maybe I hadn’t–because I was too busy looking for the cheaters, players, Peter-Pans, and abusers.

Having said all that, I remembered recently joining a dating site. I put up what I thought was a honest profile, and by the next morning got 5 hits. I took that profile down in an emotion that I can only, in retrospect describe as terror.

I don’t like some parts of being single. Having better boundaries now that when I first came to my town, I can stare down the weirdos and the wanna be wandering husbands. I can choose to avoid the men who stare at my breasts as if they’ve never been weaned. I can choose not to be in friendships with insecure women who want to act like they are in some petty 50’s sitcom.

Yet, I still meet the types that drove me to write my earlier, angry blog. That day, I announced to the interested world why I was growing old with my cat instead of the latest dream-guy.  I described the guys who use inappropriate behavior to try to pencil women into a certain box, but instead just proclaim to the world why they don’t have healthy relationships.

I guess I will always meet them.

However, now, I’m willing to believe that there are also nice guys out there too. I’ve met them. I work with them. If they are eligible, and the interest is mutually there, well, I guess we’ll see. I’ll ask God about it. And believe that He, being the loving Father (not micro-manager) that he is, will take as much interest (if not more) in arranging a match for one of his daughters.

Till then, I remain single. Not because I hate, or am frustrated, or even because I match some stereotype of some equally hating and frustrated male. Because I choose.

And also because I think I am worthy of someone who will treat me as the gift God  has been making me into all these years.

I choose health in how I deal with others, and how others deal with me. It’s not negotiable. And I will wait, even if that wait takes years or a lifetime, because finally, thankfully, I know my worth.

Finally, I expect others to recognize it as well.

And that, my friends, is, one healing year later, why I’m still single.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mixed Blessings


Here’s a few previously unpublished poems from the last couple of years….

ALL THAT I NEED

I love how you chase me

Back into your arms

When I so often stray away

How many times you go searching for me

When I go looking for other things

Things that appear to be tantalizing

But are really not what I need

You set me back on my feet

Lord, you love me so well

You are all that I need.

**********************************

COULD I LOVE YOU MORE

Could I love you more

If I had never been without you?

Or if shades of what could have been

Had sooner become

Shades of what I no longer wanted?

Could I love you more

If I had always known you

Seen you progress from year to year

Age to age?

Could I love you more if I’d always known about you

Your passion, your faith, your heart for all that matters

Your tender, sweet soul that means more than precious treasure?

Could I have loved you more

If I had been awakened from gloom far sooner

And saw a fellow wandering heart?

All I can say, is… this is the beginning

And right now I can’t possibly see

How I could

Love you more.

********************************************************

 

LAND OF A THOUSAND WONDERS

 

Somewhere, in the midst of waiting for Spring

It came, like incandescent butterflies

And settled all around me

Somehow, while waiting for the dance to begin

I found myself already moving to the music’s time

Without knowing how it all began

I found myself playing the ancient tune

Unaware that the music had even started.

In a land of a thousand wonders

I found that the gift was you.

 

**************************************************

WELCOME DARKNESS 

Come, welcome darkness

Floating in an un-poisoned womb

Sitting here beside you

In a nearly empty room

What is left, once there is nothing?

What more can be said?

Each moment, emptiness magnifies

Until there is nothing left.

 

******************************************************

WHEN LOVE COMES

When love, true love, finally comes

It comes disguised as a gentle touch

An extra effort on a hot day

A smile that makes everything seem worthwhile.

 

When love, true love, comes

You don’t waste time questioning,

Worrying, second guessing

You seize the moment, love the day

Because true love isn’t about pain.

 

When love, true love finally comes

In the Autumn of a journey

You have traveled enough to know the difference

Between lust or mere fantasy

 

When you are loved, really loved

And find yourself able to really love in return

You dance in the garden of God’s creation

And every moment awaited is ‘soon.’

 

EMBRACING HOPE


It had been several days. The apartment that we had moved to with such hope and excitement was empty. Empty of spirit, empty of joy, empty of life.

Of course, I was still there, still breathing, still alive. But the reason that got me up out of bed on the most difficult of days, the one who had taught me about love, commitment and being a real adult, the one who’d saved my life every bit as much as I’d once saved hers was gone. Gone.

She was sick, we all knew that. For the last year, I had seen so much that told me of her coming demise. But hope kept me believing. I would see my 17-year-old cat jump, or meow or visit her litter box regularly, and I would hope. Maybe we would have another few years.

Maybe?

But then, over 24 hours, I could no longer hope, because hoping would have been cruel. There was no point in keeping even a greatly beloved pet around just to have them there. Still, even at the vet before she was put to sleep, I hoped my cat’s vet would scold me for being an over-reactive pet owner, and send us both home with meds for her and recommendations for me.

I had such hope upon entering the clinic. Going out was another matter. I left empty, as if something inside me had also been euthanized.

Hope can be a dangerous thing, especially if you are stubborn person like me. Over the years, I have placed hope in people that everyone else long since had given up on. I have placed hope in romantic relationships long after it was a foregone conclusion that I was doing 95percent of the work, and they, at best, were doing 5 percent. Still, some nice moment, some half-hearted gesture kept me going. If I didn’t have hope, what would I have?

Hope can also be healthy. If we didn’t hope for a good day, it would be hard to venture out. If on some level, I didn’t hope that my car would run, my job would be productive, my volunteer work would be satisfying, would I even bother?

We have to have hope. It is as essential as the air we breathe. Hope can keep our souls alive.

The week after my cat died, I felt like I was in a gray tunnel. Nothing felt good or right. My apartment was no longer home. I found myself coming in, and looking for my cat. A dozen, dozen decisions I was used to making in the morning and evening were no longer necessary to make. I no longer had to worry about being late home. I could stay out as long as I wanted! There was no pet to upset, no feeling of neglect on my part. There was total freedom.

And I didn’t want a bit of it.

I know now, that the life I lived for the last few years was actually unhealthy. I hovered. I fussed, I worried. I hoped, despite mounting evidence that my cat was not only elderly, but declining rapidly. Hope kept me from having to make the decision to take that final trip to the vet.

A few weeks later, I adopted a young cat, a Siamese male. He is as unlike my former pet as could be possible. You would think with a younger cat, there would be a whole lot more responsibility. However, there is much less. I had no idea how hard I worked keeping my former cat alive. How attuned I was to her behaviors, her routine, always on the alert for something off kilter. In the last few years, I’d made my whole schedule around making sure she had enough attention and care.

I was surprised at the overwhelming positive response from family, loved ones and friends when I adopted so soon. I felt in a way like I was just brushing my cat aside, as if she never mattered. The grief had moved inside me now, and was still very real and searing. It could not be seen, only felt. So, I expected judgment, maybe even wanted it, for bringing a new pet in my home so soon after my cat’s death.

That didn’t happen. Perhaps it is the sheer number of healthy people that I surround myself with now. After a small group at church, I sheepishly confided to a group member my concerns about how adopting so soon would be perceived. Her comment blew me away.

She told me I was embracing hope by welcoming new life in my world. Hope.

In this way, hope could be good. I could sit in the coffin of a place that my home had become, or I could willfully choose to bring life back into it. I chose life. Several weeks later, I don’t regret it.

The trees on my road are blooming right now. We just had two nearly back-to-back snowstorms, and this past Saturday was full of snow, freezing rain and sleet. Yet, the trees are putting out their blooms. Hope in the face of evidence that should have called the act hopeless.

I know trees have no living spirits within them, but seeing those blooms in the midst of sleet and snow stopped me short. There are times that despite what is around you, hope can be a good thing. A necessary thing. In fact, hope can be the only thing when you are walking in the dark night of your soul.

Soon, we will celebrate an empty tomb. The celebration of good hope brought to life. Even in the darkest of times, we may need to examine the deadness within, and look to those stubborn buds that insist on trying to grow. Hope, healthy hope is there. It takes root in the darkest of times.

Embrace HOPE.

 

 

To Dig a Grave (new short story)


 

By Laura Kathryn Rogers

 

Even tragic figures should not be annoying.

This was my thought as I shoveled more dirt into the grave of my brother, Aaron.

You’d think that every Cain and Abel story that could ever be told had been by now. I mean, what new light could be shed on the subject? The details are mostly the same. You have the overachieving brother, loved and praised by all, even by the God-figures in life.

And then you had me, the n’ver do well, the consistent disappointment. My best efforts made people cringe. My very best day, an embarrassment when put next to my stellar older brother, Aaron. Nothing he touched could fail. He was going to forge a path to stardom, be the epitome of every Dad and Mom’s all-American dream.

That he seemed to do this effortlessly just made me hate him more.

It was bad enough, all those years the locusts ate, standing in the deepening shadow of Aaron’s inspirational success story. Bad enough waiting, counting down minutes until high school was over and I could set out on my own, never see any of them again.

I would have done it too. Just as soon as I, diploma in hand, had turned 18 and could legally go, I was ready. Past ready. Aaron, by that time was a Fullbright scholar on his way to Oxford.

Yet, somehow I stayed in this small town after graduation, waiting for our parents to notice that I got a job, lived independently, didn’t ask them for a dime. I waited for the accolades that never were to come.

I would have done so much if I’d just had a little support, a fighting chance. However, there was one problem.

Aaron insisted on following me.

Not in the literal sense. But his presence was palpable. He was everywhere. Even the guys in my trade school had heard about him. Each time someone found out my last name, they asked about Aaron.

It wasn’t like Lane was an unusual surname. It was frankly, common as could be. However, no matter where I went, what small achievement I incremented on my scale of minor ambitions, Aaron’s name, his damn name, came up. “Oh yes, that’s wonderful, Jacob (me). Very good. It reminds me of something I read about Aaron Lane. You wouldn’t happen to be related would you? Now, he’s a genius of the first order.”

It was the same everywhere. Friends, employers, girlfriends. Somehow they all seemed to have heard about Aaron.

Of course, it was easy to know a little about him. He’d written two bestsellers while in his doctoral program at Oxford. He’d been on countless television shows, one with Simon Schama. He’d had his own PBS special for a while about tracing his roots.

During the show, any number of celebrities came and went, wanting to find out who they might have been related to in the shadows of history. In tracing our history, Aaron found that we were directly descended from King John, the tyrant king, and through him to William the Conqueror. Through another line we were directly related to Charlemagne. That was as far back as he could legitimately go, but wasn’t it enough? No wonder he was so great! It was in his blood!

Note that I say ‘his.’ When Aaron was on that show, he mentioned every damn family member in the tree. Almost. He somehow managed to leave me out.

Almost like I never had existed. No one but Aaron existed, it seemed. He had it in his mind that of the two of us, the decision had already been made. He was the only significant one.

There were more bestsellers, more television shows, more news and magazine stories. He became an in demand speaker on popular and social history, and turned down professorships at Harvard and Yale. One year, during some horrible storm somewhere, he got out and saved half a dozen lives. He was given the key to our town and to the city where he saved the people.

I was appalled. Hadn’t he done enough to eclipse me?

This triumph led to him running for public office, and easily becoming a U.S. senator from Maryland, our home state.

Last year, he made it to the cover of Time magazine as Man Of The Year. In the article, it showed his manor-style home, the home he’d had built for our parents on the property, his perfect blond wife, Paula, and adorable 3 children—Gretchen, Mark, and I don’t know the other kid’s name. They never let me meet the kids.

It wasn’t enough to be the most favored child of the two of us, it seemed that Aaron wanted to be so successful that no one would bother asking about me, his only sibling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a decent guy, not really prone to bitterness. I had a good life. I too, had married, had a nice wife, Annie and two great girls, Meggie and Sarah. Our parents never gave them gifts, cards or the slightest recognition. Luckily Annie’s family adored our girls, and more than made up for my parents blindness. They were nearly grown now and hardly ever asked about our parents.

However, they did ask about Aaron. A lot.

They wanted to meet him. They thought that he was fantastic. He made history sound like fun on You-Tube videos. The legislation he sponsored was surely going to improve the world. Heck, he even sort of resembled the paintings of our Norman ancestors. Not like their plain Dad, who was nearly gray and showed his age. Who worked a boring job delivering snack foods to grocery stores. Why couldn’t I be more like Aaron? My children had a hard time believing we had been formed in the same womb.

I kept giving them excuses, but finally, I knew. Soon Meggie and Sarah would be out of the house, able to go wherever they wanted, and they’d go to him. He would win them over, be the perfect uncle. And I just could not have that. I could not lose one more thing to the brother I finally had to admit that I hated.

It wasn’t as if I were some home-grown psychopath. I never terrorized my classmates, hurt animals, vandalized property, assaulted sweet little old ladies. No, I was just beige in Aaron’s bright palate. So colorless that no one noticed me.

And, so, the year that he turned 45 and I turned 41 I decided it was time for him to experience some failure—of a permanent kind.

It was time for my brother to die.

Three days ago, I decided that the job had to be done. And quickly.

Aaron and his family were going to go to Europe on holiday. One of their many trips there, of course. They lived an amazing, opulent existence, when myself and my wife were struggling to just keep the bills paid. The unfairness of the inequities in our lives rankled me.

Aaron was a devotee of long-invigorating hikes. He loved them, and missed getting to do them as much as before he became a senator. Now, he had armed protection, and it didn’t seem kosher to force them to share his passion for sport. But this day, he’d gotten away from his secret service agent. Pulled on his expensive track shoes and left his fine leather loafers in his office.

Wink, blink, gone. Within minutes, he was deep in the woods that surrounded his mansion.

And I was there, waiting for him.

You see, my stupid brother didn’t think to fence the property. Some nonsense about wild animals getting caught in the fencing and hurting themselves. Well, golly-gee. Give the man an honorary sainthood. Aaron had thought of everything that would add to his blindingly already bright image.

Despite his success, he still lived in the same town, and so I was familiar with his comings and goings. Every day after I made my decision, I would sit just inside his woods and wait—hoping, hoping.

My family thought I was at the library. Never mind where I really was. They rarely seemed to care. I was the disposable, see-through dad, who just kept them fed, clothed and sheltered. What did I matter to them?

Finally, I would make this blandness work for me.

First, I had dug a grave. I wondered how hard it would be to drag his well-shaped, healthy corpse to that grave if I got him in another part of the woods, but he made it easy for me. He actually saw me first.

It didn’t occur to him that there might be something strange about his easily forgotten brother being on his property. When was the last time we had spoken? He saw me, and his bright blue eyes lit up in recognition.

He stepped forward, saying my given name with great pleasure, reaching out his hand. He noticed the hole behind me, and I think he started to ask about it. But, I didn’t give him time to ask. I shot him once in the temple. He dropped to the ground less than a yard from where his grave had been dug.

At last, I told myself, something was going my way.

He was lighter than I expected him to be, and so it wasn’t hard to get him in the grave. What was hard was what had to happen next. I had to make him literally disappear.

It would be tragic. All of it. However, I was ready.

I had made no speech to him, given him no explanation about why he had to die that day. I thought it was obvious. He had spent his whole life making me invisible, now I was going to return the favor.

The pathos of the situation amused me. Tragic, so tragic. The young, vital senator with everything to live for at the bottom of a hole on his fancy property. Who would think to look for him? No one had even known where he had gone! There would be no body to mourn, no over-wrought funeral that perhaps even had the President in attendance. No grieving trophy wife trying to look strong in the best Jackie Kennedy Onassis fashion. Only I would know where he was. And I wouldn’t be telling.

Could there have been room in the same world for the two of us? Perhaps. I would have been willing to share. If only he had. But Aaron had been selfish, selfish, his whole life, and now it would be my time to shine. Perhaps I would console his widow, be a ‘super’ uncle to his kids. Maybe I’d even use the sympathy vote to run for his terminally vacated senate seat.

And there wasn’t a damn thing Aaron could do about it.

I noted that the first shovelful of dirt had not landed where I had aimed it. I wanted to cover his face first. That handsome, ridiculously charming face. The eloquent tongue had been silenced, now it was time to make him totally obsolete.

Time for my total vindication.

I tried another shovel full of dirt. The same result. Again, again, again. No matter how many times I tried, not one of my carefully aimed loads of dirt touched his handsome, lifeless face. I began to grow anxious. Could he be annoying even in death?

Then, he sat up.

That made me scream. Because he was dead. I knew he was. He had to be. No one could take a direct shot in the head and live. Not even my perfect brother.

He looked at me and gave me a smile. Shook a finger at me as if I were still the pesky kid brother that was getting on his nerves. “Tsk, Tsk, Tsk.” He said softly.

He stood up, and using his powerful forearms, hoisted himself out of the grave. The dirt fell off him, as if repulsed by his perfection. We stood there, in an eye-lock that made me feel that I was in a surreal situation. One that was growing more odd by the moment.

“You should have known.” Aaron said, “I always win.”

Suddenly, he had me by my shoulders, and picked me up in the air like a hawk going after some prey that had no chance, no chance at all. Before I could scream again, I was in the hole.

I felt a leg break as I hit the ground. I knew I could not crawl out.  I was at his mercy. As I had been all of my life.

“Your turn, now.” He said quietly.

Suddenly I saw it, for the first time, on his face. Hatred.

The reason for the things he had done. The mark of Cain on his perfect features. It had been there all along, but I was only now recognizing it.

I saw it. I was Abel, not Cain. The things Aaron had done to shine had been out of hatred. All of his successes had been his way of striking at me, making me feel….the way I had felt my entire life. Inadequate. Unsuccessful. Unloved.

Now I knew the source of his hatred. My birth had kept him from being an only child. And that, my brother could never forgive. It didn’t explain my parents obsession with him and total indifference to me, but it explained everything else. This had been war, from day one. Only I didn’t know that he had actually fired the first shot.

I stared up at him, waiting for the inevitable. He stood at the very edge, his grin beatific, his teeth shining as if they’d been polished. He picked up the shovel and prepared to throw in the dirt.

Then, it happened.

I’m not sure how. His feet held up by the ground next to the hole no longer were secure.

I made a sound of pain as his strong body landed on top of mine. This time, he was dead. The bullet had been delayed, but it had ultimately done its work.

But now, the grave I had dug would not be for my brother alone.

It would be one that we would finally, forever share.

Funeral for a Friend (new short story)


It was dreary in the bar, a real dive.

An experienced connoisseur of places that stank of fear and desperation, I found this place dismal even by my admittedly low standards. Every stereotype was being played out here; the unfaithful husband on business but also on the make, the wayward wife supposedly out at ‘girl’s night’ but really looking to hook up with the stranger.

The place smelled of sweat, perfume of varying costs, spilled liquor and cigarettes. You saw the long-time alcoholic who had given up hope and drank alone in the corner. You saw the barman eying him, knowing exactly when to cut him off and send him on his way–likely to another bar. You saw the hooker who was sizing up who might pay her the most with the least effort on her part.

I was in a great place to view it all without being disturbed.

Mostly, because I was invisible.

At least to those in the temporal state.

What I am and what I represent is hard to explain. I don’t remember ever NOT being around. I don’t remember ever NOT being busy. Tonight, there was a lull in business, so I decided to take a well-deserved rest.

I had about an hour. An old lady with lung problems at 11:20. She would be found in the morning by her landlady, who had come to collect the rent. A young kid who wandered into a area with a non-fenced swimming pool would be at midnight. The parents would wonder how he got out of the house, which of them should have watched him more closely, and later would divorce over it. It was an old, sad tale.

Because of the nature of my busy trade, I had numerous staff who worked for me. They handle the usual sad, but inevitable things, the heart attacks, the car wrecks, the suicides and murders. These days, I picked only those that had some element of interest for me. Whether it was something about the person being dispatched or something about their lives, or impending deaths.

I suppose you’ve guessed by now, who I am. Over time I’ve been called a number of things. Anubis, Yama, Thanatos, or just plain Death. My favorite is the Grim Reaper. That one really cracks me up. For there is nothing grim about me. I’m the guy you’d gravitate towards at a really good party. Rod Serling had it right. If a human actor were to portray me, I’d more likely resemble Robert Redford than Billy Bob Thornton.

Tonight, I was just soaking up the atmosphere. I never expected to have company.

Here she came, though. Beautiful, sexy, the kind you would hate to see take their last breath. Long, raven hair, ruby lips with the perfect bow curve. Emerald eyes. The kind of woman who would be beautiful without makeup first thing in the morning. A full, womanly body, plump in all the right places. I’m not a man, never have been, but for a moment, this goddess made me wish that I were.

I decided to be casual as she approached me. Perhaps an applicant for a job? If so, she was hired. Who wouldn’t want to follow her to the grave–or anywhere else for that matter?

She sat by me, watched the scene as I did for a time, commenting on nothing. Then, slowly, almost as if thinking about every half inch she turned, she faced me. She drew out a graceful, slender hand. “Irkalla” She said, her voice sultry and appealing, just deep enough to make a man think of all sorts of delights. But then again, I’m not a man.

I thought quickly. No need to play games. “I suspect you know who I am,” I said, meeting her smoldering eyes directly.

“Yes.” She turned back to watch the predictable, sad antics of the mortals around us. “I have been one of them. Or, at least when it amused me to do so.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. I’m very well traveled. Athens, Milan. Constantinople. London, most of Europe.” She drawled out the itinerary as if talking about a not particularly exciting grocery list. As if it had all become boring for her. I heard that bit of world weariness in her voice that made her seem for a moment….vulnerable?

With a momentary surge of a lust I’d never before felt, I leaned toward her, feeling greedy to savor this lush morsel, and not just in the earthly sense. Would she be an unexpected addition to my list tonight? It seemed odd that I didn’t know in advance. I didn’t keep track of all deaths, there were far too many, but as I said, I did stay informed of the impending interesting ones.

“Easy now,” She said calmly, reaching a hand to push at my chest. Gently, gently, she pushed, but the pressure felt like fire. I had never breathed, but I felt like I needed to catch a breath. I’d never had a heart beat, but something inside me was making a frightful noise. I felt the sensation of a new emotion….fear?

“I feel like we’ve met before.” I said, pulling back, hoping that these previously unknown sensations would go away. She smiled impishly, her green eyes seeming to reach out and grab at my own. Or what passed as my eyes. I had the outward appearance of a body so that I wouldn’t frighten those who I came to dispatch.

“We have.” She said, “In all the places I mentioned.”

Her hints were maddening. Yes, I’d been in all those places. Sometimes for prolonged periods of time, but not in centuries.

I again had the perception of having bodily sensations. I could feel blood pumping in veins where there should not be veins. A shiver in skin that had never responded to cold, heat or anything else. I’d been on ships–the Titanic, and guided hundreds out of life. I never felt the icy cold of those waters. Now, I felt a positive chill.

“Are you ready to go?” She asked gently.

“I’m not sure what you mean.” I said, fear now a true part of what I feeling. Who was this woman? What did she want with me?

She pursed her lush lips. “I’m disappointed.  After all, I’ve told you my name.”

I thought  hard, conscious of a headache, something that had never happened before. Those places she’d visited, places I too had once visited, long ago. They had a common thread, I was certain of it, something to do with my job…..

Milan. Constantinople. Europe. London.

Plague.

I saw her smile. But she worked for me if that was what she was. She must. Why did she want me to come along with her?

“You don’t quite get it, do you?” She asked. I shook my head.

“Well, its nothing like a hostile takeover. I hate confrontation.” She held up a mirror. I looked, now completely horrified. The face looking back at me was not immortal. The hair was straw white, lusterless. The eyes cloudy with age. The face, lined as if it had survived multiple eons. The mouth, toothless. I was old beyond belief. I felt the ache of every joint in a body I now realized was my own.

I had become a man.

“Yes, I am plague.” She said, gently, putting the mirror down. “I’m also earthquake, I was there at Pompeii. I have been here forever. Long before you. You thought you were in charge of things. I merely let you work for me. But as with everyhing, there is a time to end things. You were getting too jaded. I need to promote someone else, who will take the job seriously. I am Irkala. Do you know me now?”

And suddenly, I did. Irkala was the goddess of the dead. I hadn’t heard much about her in a few millennia. Hadn’t known that while I was unaware of her, she was very much aware of me. She was in fact, if you wanted to call it thus, my supervisor, my boss.

“You may think I am unkind. I’m not. I fear that you might be at times. You were looking only for enjoyment from this job, not seeing it as a necessary part of life. Part of the order of the universe.”

She waved her hand, and I saw several heads drop on tables as if falling naturally to sleep. However, I knew that they were not asleep.

She touched my arm, and I stood up, following her towards the door. I took a last look at my bar-mates who were no more.

Soon, I knew, I would understand what it was like.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Petty–Why we didn’t want it to be the last dance


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I know where I was when Elvis died.

Well, sorta.

But only because we were on vacation, where I had access to a beach and all the fun stuff that goes along with that. Instead of that, or organizing food drives for the army park’s homeless (but extremely well fed) cats, I had to sit by my mother, as she held a personal wake for the King.

We listened to all of his songs, because that was all there was on the radio. Then we listened again. I was in 8th grade with an attention span to rival a snails, and I suffered through the day long experience.

To hear my mother, it would have seemed that everything good in life died with Mr. Presley. Once home, she then went out and bought all his records. I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about.

Which brings me to Tom Petty.

I was driving down the road to my apartment. I heard a DJ say, as if everyone knew what he was talking about (and I think most everyone did, I’d just not been on social media that day) how the world was better ‘just because Tom Petty had been in it.

WHAT?

That was my immediate reaction, then a heartfelt ‘Oh, no!” Surely it could not be true.

And, actually, it wasn’t–yet. At the time I heard that, news sources were jumping the gun, reporting the singer’s demise, when he had been taken off life support, but was still, as the papers later put it, ‘clinging to life.’

I had a pessimistic feeling about it though, as being taken off life support is rarely a move towards recovery for many of my clients. I woke up, early that morning, and it was confirmed. Tom Petty had truly died.

I was tearful, shocked, and felt that it could not be happening. How could someone as young and full of life as Tom Petty be dead? In the weeks since, I still fight a sense of it being surreal to me. I sort of know (or think I know) how my mother felt when her idol, Elvis Presley, died.

Maybe.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that Tom Petty was my idol, but he was definitely one of my top three favorite singers for many years, along with such heavy hitters as Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. In company with Jimmy Hendrix and Neil Young who sometimes jockeyed for position.

It really wasn’t for the work with the Heartbreakers. I got into Tom Petty for his solo work, and stayed into him because of that. “Mary Jane’s last dance,’ and “You don’t know how it feels” especially.

The latter was my theme song while in Wilmore. I liked to blast that one from car windows as I passed near the seminary in hopes that one of the judgmental souls who named me unworthy of being a student there were listening, and might have an “Aha” moment about themselves–and perhaps about me.

Honestly, I laugh about that now. A little more maturity and common sense down the road, I know that a song that encourages folks to ‘roll another joint’ is not likely to make a person more redeemable.

However, it spoke for my defiance, and anger, as well as my hurt at being rejected. Tom Petty sang perfectly, with just enough attitude, for my generation and others, the soundtrack of angst. Made it sound universal. Relatable. And his words gave hope that ‘this too, shall pass.’ It would eventually get better.

He was the face of everyone who has ever been unfairly treated, underestimated, or screwed by the Establishment. He was out there, living, doing his best, because even if others didn’t understand him, he knew that he really was okay–perhaps even more okay than those who judged him.

One of my first reactions was that he was ‘too young’ to be gone. Then I found by reading various accounts, that he was in his late sixties. Listening to his music, I always thought he had to be my age. He seemed to really get what it was like to be in my shoes, in my life, what it was like to ‘be me.’

Weeks past, I have wondered why I haven’t seen more coverage about his demise. It was all over the internet of course, but you didn’t see it taking front cover of major magazines, or even sleazy tabloids.

Now, the later would have pissed me off, because in death, Tom Petty had become saint like to me, not to be spoken of with any sort of slur. But Tom would have been the first to tell you that he was no saint.

He drank and partied hard in the early years, he-chain-smoked, and he considered himself ‘a reefer guy.’ He’d seen a long time marriage end in divorce. He’d experienced deep depression after his friend, George Harrison died. He could be, ‘cantankerous.’ He freely used the ‘f’ bomb, and didn’t care if it offended those around him. He was an admitted recovering Heroin addict. He didn’t like those whose politics he didn’t favor using his music for propaganda, but loved it when Barrack Obama used one of his songs.

In short, he was real.

And truly, I think the media, even the tabloids, have treated Tom Petty’s death with respect because the man demanded respect. Even if you didn’t like or get his music, you had to respect the man himself for the stands that he took in a world where he could have chosen to back down and take an easier road.

And, I’m not saying that we should all run to the nearest head shop and light up, folks. I wasn’t really thrilled about the ‘let’s roll another joint’ part of the song that I loved, not if it led one young person to think drug use was cool. However, Petty, an adult, was talking about HIS life. He was the rebel who didn’t compromise, who didn’t back down.

As with the true greats, once he became financially comfortable, his music, in my opinion, got immeasurably better. Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers proved that. It took me longer to appreciate the Traveling Wilburys. I have a knee jerk tendency at times to reject anything ‘weird’ and the team of Wilburys seemed that way. Later, I listened and learned not to judge so quickly.

With his death, I thought you’d hear, as when Elvis died, a day of his music on radio stations. Didn’t happen, at least in my neck of the woods. A Rolling Stone Commemorative Magazine came out, and I snapped it up. While waiting for an oil change, I bought his greatest hits including most of those with the Heartbreakers.

I had pretty much worn out Wildflowers, but wanted to listen, post Petty’s life, with a different ear. And, as I listened, I found that music that I had largely ignored such as “American Girl,” “Refugee,” and “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” took on a new life to me.

From reading, I found that Tom Petty had penned most of the lyrics. And when it wasn’t sandwiched in between music that meant more to me in the late seventies, or stuck in the backwash that was the eighties, I realized, with a bit of shame, that this stuff was original…..and worth listening to again. Then, again after that.

Tom Petty and his band didn’t go into the cheesy prom song mode like Journey and Foreigner after their original success. They didn’t repeat the same song over and over as did some of the Hair bands of the 80’s. Each song was different. Each song had something that made it special. A chord, a turn of a phrase, or maybe a totally crazy (but unforgettable) video.

It’s been three weeks now since the world got the news. The guy that everyone (at least his fans) thought would live forever, didn’t. And if you look at his final pictures, he looked exhausted. Ready for a long rest.

The family have been the epitome of class throughout in how they have privately mourned, and laid the legend to rest. Wherever Tom is, I’m sure he would likely approve–and possibly be humbled.

His career was 40 years of original, ass-kicking rock and roll that will be remembered after all the bubble gum and ear-rot of the 80’s and 90’s and the ‘dull’enium are forgotten.

He showed us that some things were worth taking a stand for. He reminded us to be, as he learned to be, grateful for the good stuff.

He was a man who made mistakes, but one of those mistakes was definitely not a tendency to compromise. That was what made him and his music great.

Rest in Peace, Tom. We didn’t want the dance to end.

However, we’re glad that it went on as long as it did.

 

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ON HONORING


About two years ago, I started blogging about my take on the ten commandments.

I got off to a good start.

Then, I came to “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” I came to a screeching halt. I didn’t want to sound hypocritical. How could I talk about what I no longer do?

You see, I’ve not seen nor spoken to either of my parents since 1993-4. For years, if anyone challenged me on this, I trotted out my dog and pony show of parental horrors visited on me from a young age. Sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Neglect. Total unwillingness, years later to take responsibility for it. Insistence on shifting the blame towards me, saying, in my father’s words, that I was ‘delusional.’

This former Youth Director/Sunday School teacher and vestry member didn’t want the light to fall on him that way. Never mind that he had molested two younger sisters and a cousin by a young age. Never mind that his work history was littered with problems with people because he expected everyone to do things his way or they were bad people.

Never mind the neighbor who saw the marks on me from my mother and said, “I don’t want to get involved.” Then wondered why I wanted nothing more to do with her.

If I think much about it, I can still touch some anger. Despite a lot of counseling, prayer, healing, and let’s face it, a lot of learning from some lengthy bad choices, I can still feel like that abused (and not believed) little girl. Sometimes, with authority figures who act angry and impatient, I inwardly curl up, anticipating a frenzied, out of control beating.

There’s a lot I chose not to do out of fear of my parents passing on trauma to the next generation after me. Not having children being a big decision. I didn’t want another person, especially someone I had conceived, nurtured and loved having to go through the type of junk that was my life for 28 years. Or to have to spend the next 24 years after that struggling just to be a semi-functioning adult.

What was there to honor about these two individuals? That they did what was necessary to bring me into the world? That they fed, clothed and housed me until a certain age? Were those privileges worth the price? There came a time when I decided not.

And there came a time, just prior to that, that I knew that I no longer wanted to be as unkind as I had to be to make either parent, especially my birth mother, back off. Just to get her to respect a simple boundary, I had to verbally hurt her to the point that she would leave me alone. It felt like beating a cow sometimes. She never seemed to get that her need to control and manipulate weren’t okay. Just as my father never seemed to get that treating me like a girlfriend rather than a daughter wasn’t okay.

I’d started growing closer to God in a real way about that time, and my conscience got to me about the things I would have to do and say just to have them treat me with a bit of respect (fear?). Finally, I knew that backing away–for life was the only way that we could have peace between us. Their sickness just wouldn’t allow them to show me respect. They couldn’t stop trying to get their unhealthy needs met, because getting those needs met meant more to them than I did. So, I stepped away. Geographically, physically, and legally.

Years later, I have very little patience for a manipulative or controlling person. I try to get away from them if I can’t get them to treat me with respect.  I have left jobs, church congregations, friendships and love relationships where I felt dishonored.

Honoring wasn’t just a one way street.

So, what is this thing called honor? How do you honor long distance? How do you honor when a relationship is broken beyond repair?

I never thought I would forgive my parents as much as I have. There’s still more to do. But I finally learned that carrying the anger, hate and grudges was tantamount to carrying them on my backs as I walked through life. Big load. So, for the most part, I stopped.

I never thought I would ask God to forgive my parents. Or, to bless them. Help them. But, with God’s help, I have done that more and more as I’ve gotten older. I can’t honor them by being in their lives, making sure that they, as seniors, get what they need. I know that the manipulation and attempts to abuse and control would just start again. I escaped once, at 28. I’m not sure I could escape twice.

Honor, finally, to me, means what you do to be able to show respect. To not abuse or manipulate back. I’ve seen adult children ‘snap’ and abuse formerly abusive parents. I swore that I would never be that person. Forgiveness and reconciliation do not always go together, sad to say.  Honor for me, meant walking away.

And so, on a late January day in 1994, I picked up a court order that gave me a new legal name and a chance for a new life. It wasn’t easy. I had to suddenly, at 28, learn things that many teenagers take for granted. Life skills that perhaps some children have. But, again, with God’s help, I’ve done a lot of work on that. I’m still lacking in many ways. If someone angers me once too often, its far easier to end the relationship than to do the tough work of figuring out a solution.

Sometimes, to honor means to stay.

Sometimes, it means to go–so that the sickness no longer has an outlet.

Today, at 52, I honor my birth parents by accepting that we just can’t be around each other in peace. I honor them by trying very hard not be like them. I honor them, despite some near misses in my 30’s and early 40’s by having survived.

It doesn’t really matter that I can’t honor them face to face. I honor in a way that is least destructive to me.

I honor by giving  my parents to God and letting him sort it out. Ultimately, they will stand before him, as will I, and no manipulation, lies or denial will be accepted–from any of us. On that day, we all will have to account for what we have done and left undone.

I walk the earth as a woman broken in some places, healed in others. I walk this journey by knowing what is healthy for me, and what would just break me down again.

Most of all, I honor my father and mother by doing what honors God, others and, just as importantly, what honors myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Song of Leah


We’ve all had our moments.

It seemed, back in the last decade, like I barely got up before some life event was knocking me back down.

While in South Carolina, I had the landlord from hell, a shady individual who refused to fix major things. He blamed me for what his property neglect had caused over time.

I lived in a neighborhood where I was the only person of my race, and was shunned by my neighbors.

The person who managed my rent-assisted home was very bigoted and told me flat out that my rental should have gone to someone of her race, and not of mine. She refused to do anything to force my landlord to correct problems, stating on one occasion, ‘what do you want me to do, spank him?”

The house was infested with roaches, another thing the landlord refused to fix. Before he rented the place to me, he had said the home was in a stellar neighborhood. I was renting long distance, and took his word for it.

The neighborhood turned out to be in the middle of one of the worst crack neighborhoods in the area. I quickly learned not to go out at night. Even in the daytime I was very wary.

During that time, an 18-wheeler totaled my car, leaving me without a reliable means of transportation until my case with the trucking company was settled and I could buy a dependable truck.

That summer, I offered a young man in his teens a ride in my truck because it was well over 100 degrees and I felt sorry for him. Despite the several decades’ difference in our ages, he assumed I was trying to pick him up and made an outrageous sexual pass.

When I put him out on the road after turning him down, he found my house, tried to steal my truck, and did steal my cell phone and some emergency money I kept under the driver’s seat.

When I reported it to the police, I was told that it was my own stupidity for being kind to a stranger of a different race. I was advised to make my neighbors think that I had guns, and would use them.

I had other people do outrageous things, it seemed on a daily basis. I complained to my family, who had had enough of my ongoing problems, and cut off contact. I was alone, isolated and without a friend. I had given up hope. I began to plan what I felt would be a fool proof way to take my life, and planned it to happen on my birthday.

The Lord proved that he hadn’t given up on me in a miraculous way, intervening in a way that ended all thoughts of suicide for the time being. There followed a time of growth, change and calling that eventually led me to a completely different life. By October of 2007, I was able to shake the dust off my feet, and say goodbye to South Carolina forever.

One thing I began to learn during that difficult time, was I had a choice of how I looked at things. I began, very slowly, to try to look for something good instead of dwelling on the bad. However, it would take years before I got even close to understanding that looking for the good was good FOR  me.

In the early days of living in Kentucky, in Jessamine County, I experienced some bizarre behavior from people who claimed to be Christians. When I would complain, people around me would advise me to try to give the individuals the benefit of the doubt.

I didn’t want to. I kept remembering how God had brought me away from South Carolina, and was showing me, sometimes on a daily basis, his provision for me, and proof of his calling me to Kentucky. However, I didn’t want to speak hope or gratitude.

Childish person that I still was, I wanted to moan about how bad my life was. And, yes, there were major challenges for the first five or so years in Kentucky. Many of the problems were either self-created or made worse by my attitudes and choices.

I thought in a negative way, so I LIVED in a negative way. Anyone who went around trying to see the good in things, I dismissed as being idiotic or fanatical. Pollyannas.

Who needed that?

This past week, when I was reading part of the book of Genesis, I read the account of Leah and Rachael. You have to feel a bit sorry for Leah. She wasn’t loved in the story, but was used as a sexual outlet for her husband, a brood mare to give him children, and all the while she had to watch him gush over her much prettier sister.

By the end of the story, nothing really changed. Leah had given Jacob multiple sons and at least one daughter. She’d been a faithful and good wife. He still didn’t love her, or at least nothing is said that shows evidence of it. He’s still, all the years later, drooling over Rachel.

But then, something changed.

Leah CHANGED.

Leah, upon giving birth to her last son, named him Judah.   And, she said, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”

I’d read this story before, but this time, that comment really jumped out at me. Leah stopped demanding her husband’s favors, stopped hating her sister, possibly stopped competing with her. She didn’t have any more children, so it is possible that she didn’t demand from Jacob, or beg from Rachel her conjugal rights. She just stopped, and lived her life. And—she praised the Lord.

We really don’t know if the rest of her life was happy or sad, but it seems that Leah made a great step forward on the day that she chose to find the good in what she could, and let the rest alone.

I’ve only recently obtained the gift of gratitude. Something that I just didn’t have for nearly the first 50 years of my life. But when that gift was given, and it took root, man—it took.

On my darkest days (thankfully not nearly as many as when I was younger) I find that picking things in which to praise God often lifts that dark cloud and helps me calm down.

We can choose.

Leah was in a culture where she didn’t have a lot of choice. She was not valued for her gender. The only thing she was valued for by her society was that she gave her husband strong and healthy sons. However, Jacob did not seem to value these children as much as he valued the children that Rachel, her sister, gave him. This had to devastate Leah. However, she finally chose to direct her longing for love to someone who would appreciate it and give it back—God.

Today, if you are drowning in problems, heartbreak, depression, feeling unloved, unvalued or lost, take a moment to thank God for what you do have. Maybe it’s just that your heart is beating correctly. Or that you took an easy breath. Some days that is all I have had. But the habit of gratitude, once encouraged even a tiny bit, might surprise you.

Once you find a few things to be glad about, you find a few more. And suddenly, because you look at the world differently, you might find you have a whole lot to be happy about.

I’m not saying that going around with a goofy smile and a extra positive attitude will make all your problems disappear. Life might hurt like hell for a long time. Tears may be all that you know as you walk through the darkest of valleys. But–find that one thing, that little piece of hope, and hang on tight. Refuse to let go.

Next time, when you feel hopeless, pick up the song of Leah. Next time, choose. Next time, praise the Lord.

Amen.

With a little help from my friends……


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This morning started out in a grand fashion

I lost my keys and my phone, and was rushing around trying to find both. Had to borrow a neighbors phone to tell my supervisor that I would be late when zero hour came and I was still looking.

My dear neighbor had just gotten off the night shift but was kind enough to invite me in and let me use her phone. My boss was great about it (after some good natured picking about how I should look in the freezer, as I have left cell phone, keys and a debit card in one before.)

So I put down the phone, go back to my apartment, rush around, then sit and think about the last time I had the keys.

I also said the ‘car-key prayer’ (Oh, Lord, please help me find my car keys!) I learned this prayer from my mother growing up. Her version had all the elements of a good prayer:

Petition: “Oh, Lord, I don’t know where those keys are, but I know that you, O God, do. And I need you to help me find them.”

Confession: “Oh Lord, I have been gossiping like crazy about (fill in the blank) and you know I can’t stand her, but you help me on this, and I won’t say another word about that nasty heifer again!”

Exhortation: “Lord, I’m going to be so late and can’t get anywhere, pulllllllllease help me find those keys!”

Dedication: “Lord, I’ll read my bible every day even if I have to miss ‘The Young and the Restless’ if you just help me find them!”

She finds them in some obvious spot.

Adoration: “Thank you Lord! You are just GREAT! Gotta go now!”

I wasn’t as specific as my mother in my prayers this morning, but soon after asking God for wisdom to find the blankety-blank things, I lifted up a towel (that I hadn’t put away) on the couch–and Ta Da! There they were! Thank you, Lord! You ARE great!

Humor aside, I am grateful to the Lord and to my new neighbor. I agree with Ringo Starr–We do get by with a little help from our friends!

 

 

Choosing SANITY


This week I had an unfortunate experience at work with someone who I was forewarned was ‘difficult.’ Despite my inner alarm bells going off, I approached the person, confident (smug?) that my social work skills would make it easy to get the verbal information I needed and be on my way.

Two hours later, I was sitting in my supervisor’s office, explaining what happened. While being supportive, he asserted that I had allowed the conflict to go too far.

That evening, I sent an email to a trusted person with whom I know I can be myself. I also know that he will be honest with me. He agreed the day had been difficult for me. He also said something that really made me think. He said, “I’m glad you were able to make it productive and recovered your sanity.”

Huh?

I quickly understood. When we are confronted, regardless of how we get there, our choices can lead us into something a lot like…insanity.

Especially, when I left the high road and started being as unprofessional as I perceived my ‘opponent’ to be.

It quickly became…insane.

Now, let’s look at that word. When one uses ‘insanity’ we think of all sorts of images. Being a bit on the dramatic side, I visualize frothing at the mouth, Bedlam, all sorts of mental health nightmares.

However, what is insanity? I’ve heard a simple, but apt definition.

Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome.

That’s what happened to me in my conflict. The moment it looked confrontational, the most wise course was to have retreated and handled things a different way.

Instead, I went straight into battle. Ultimately, I was able to prove that I was, by policy, doing things correctly. However, it took time to wage that battle. None of it served the client, or ultimately me or the professional with whom I battled.

It started with me feeling blindsided with antagonism. It worsened when the person adeptly twisted nearly everything I said to try to make herself right, and me wrong. She went back 15 or more years and quoted outdated policy. She threw out comments that sounded like she was a therapist dealing with a unreasonable client. It felt like being sucked into a whirlpool of…you guessed it, insanity.

I got angry, defensive, and became determined to prove that I was right. Maybe, in part, I ultimately succeeded. But what was gained? My sparring partner was difficult by reputation, difficult with me, and likely will continue to be that way with others.

Why? Because it works for her.

It works.

It may only work in her very distorted way of feeling okay about herself and her actions, but it nonetheless works for her. Otherwise, she would have changed it. As dysfunctional as our lives can become, when something no longer serves our needs, we change it.

When I was addicted (a lesser word does not suffice) to unhealthy relationships with men who were stubbornly unwilling to act in healthy and respectful ways with women, I went through decades of misery. I was determined that my love would show them a better way to live.

During my last unhealthy attempt at ‘relationship by being a therapist,’ I was shocked by a sudden insight into the character of my would be ‘love.’ The way he behaved, pushing love from himself and treating women as objects to use and abandon while calling himself a nice man. It was hypocritical behavior that most everyone around him saw through.

People who had known him much longer accepted him as he was. If he truly wanted to be different, he would have been. However, his self-deception worked for him. It worked. And until he got sick of the lies he told himself, he wouldn’t change. Why should he?

Going back to my recent conflict, the similarities are amazing. My community partner is about the same age as my former love interest. They have years in the professional world. Lots of education. To hear them talk, lots of insight and wisdom. Just not much evidence that any of it shows in their dealings with others.

Now, about how I responded.

For years I struggled to help my would be ‘love’ acknowledge the deep wounds that caused him to behave as he did. To grieve those wounds, and move forward. He resisted with a vengeance. The adult ‘dirty diaper’ he wore was very comfortable.

Ultimately, with regret, I moved forward. Left him ‘stuck’ as it seemed he wanted to be stuck.

I wanted to grow, and could not do so trying to weed an unproductive garden.

It wasn’t easy, and I’ll probably always be worried about him, concerned about the barren way he lives his life. However, my 12 step experience reminds me that he chooses this life.

He chooses.

Healthy love inspires both parties to grow and become. Co-dependency brings both people down.

My community partner also chooses her life, even if it regularly plunges her into conflict with others. Even if it makes most of her time likely about those conflicts and not about serving her clients. It is a waste of God-given gifts, time and talent. However, it is her choice. Whether she actively recognizes it or not—she chooses.

I had a choice, too.

That day, I chose insanity.

That day, once I blundered into the orbit of an antagonistic person, I chose to try to fight a war that I could not really win.

To ‘win’ would have meant that I helped my community partner to see my good intentions, and for her to follow existing policy. It might have even led to an apology from her for being adversarial in a way that did not serve our mutual client or agencies.

To ‘win’ (if such a win was needed) would have meant that neither of our supervisors would have had to get involved to mediate.

To truly win would have meant that the conflict didn’t need happen at all.

Could I have done it differently? I’m not sure. It was later easy to sit with a supervisor who knows me well, wants to see me succeed, and who wasn’t being adversarial, and do a situation ‘autopsy’ if you will. To calmly discuss what might have been done differently.

I want to do better should there be a future encounter with this worker. To do that, I have to be rational, and yes, sane, no matter how tempted I am to act otherwise.

Embracing sanity is choosing rational behavior. I don’t have to like, or be best buddies with my adversary, whoever they are in life. I do need to, with knowledge of who I am and what my motives are, walk into situations with truth. Let that truth be what defines me, not my reaction to unexpected moments of push-back.

When I choose sanity, I chose to take a deep breath, step back and choose the high road. Will I do any better next time? I don’t know. As this situation retreats into memory, I may forget. But what I can’t forget is this—as others have a choice, so do I.

Today, I choose to behave sanely in an often insane world.