Apr 13 2015

Happy to be a Follower

Published by Kathy under General

The Relief Society presidency came recently for a visit, and I happened to remark how happy I was that I was the one being visited rather than ones who were tasked with visiting every woman in the ward.

I acknowledged how hard it must be to have stewardship over all the women in the congregation. There are so many needs — births and deaths, people moving in and people moving out, catastrophic illnesses, unemployment, problems with rebellious children, marriages that are struggling, and problems that I cannot even fathom.

I don’t even know a fraction of these problems. All I know is that, based on my observation, most of the families in the ward are dealing with some issue or another. Some are big; some are small. Mine may be more conspicuous because I come with a wheelchair or a walker, but make no mistake — many people are suffering and need help of one kind or another.

I am only glad the buck does not stop with me.

For some reason I went on to say how glad I was that the buck of church leadership has never stopped with me. When I was in high school was Little Miss Pep and Energy. If there was a club in the school, I was president (unless it met at the same time as another club in the school over which I was president).

I was the editor of the school newspaper. I was the world’s worst yearbook editor. I was the varsity boys’ basketball scorekeeper. I wasn’t pretty enough to be a cheerleader so I was captain of the pep club. I was secretary of the student council. You get the picture. I was positively sickening.

So when I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and learned that people take turns leading the various organizations, the first thought I had was that this was right up my alley. I could do this in my sleep!

Then the second thought came. It was a thought that did not come from me, and I can still remember it word for word. It said: “You already know how to lead. You will spend the rest of your life learning how to follow.”

I was stunned. What? I already had the best ideas. I already knew exactly what to do. Didn’t the Church need me?

Actually, the Church did need me, and it does need me. It needs the thousands of people just like me. The reason is simple. Only one person can be at the top of any organization. That person cannot succeed unless the rest of us hold that person up.

One of my favorite pieces of artwork probably isn’t a very good piece of art, but it is a constant reminder to me of what my job is as a member of the Church. The painting “Victory, O Lord” depicts the scene from Exodus 17:10-12.

In that scene, God had told Moses that as long as he held up his hands, the Israelites would prevail in battle. As soon as he lowered his arms, the Israelites would fail. Moses held up his arms as long as he could, but eventually his strength was spent. He could hold up his arms no longer. The Israelites were doomed.

So Moses’ brother Aaron and a follower, Hur, took Moses to a rock and had him sit down. Then they held up his arms for him so the Israelites would win. I love this painting because it shows the terror in Hur’s eyes. He knew exactly how important it was that he held up his leader. If he failed to support, or sustain, Moses, all of Israel would be doomed.

"Victory, O Lord" is by John Everett Millais

In a sense, we who follow are all Aarons and Hurs. The success of our leaders rests upon our shoulders. I do not consider it any small thing that I have been assigned to be a lifelong cheerleader. In fact, it is an honor that I take seriously.

Some people are hurt that they are never asked to be the leaders of an organization. They feel sorry for themselves, possibly with some justification, because it is the “same ten people” who rotate from one leadership position to another in every ward, or in every stake.

I know I am always happy when I see a bishop or a stake president who is wise enough to choose a Relief Society president or another ward leader who is a dark horse. Sometimes I am just a little annoyed to see a Primary president released to be called as Relief Society president, who is then released to be the president of the Young Women. But then, we don’t know what goes in to choosing those ward leaders, either.

I was recently visiting with one of my favorite dark horses, and I was stunned when she told me she had been asked to be a Relief Society president not once, but twice, and had turned the calling down on both occasions. She told me why, and I could see why she had done it.

But the bishops who had asked her to serve as Relief Society president had then gone on and chosen one of the “same ten people” had been criticized for it on both occasions. The criticisms had been unjust, because one of the same ten people had not been those bishops’ first choice.

I have heard bishops say we have no idea how many people have turned down a particular calling before someone finally accepts it. We all expect it is hard to fill a calling in the nursery, but we don’t expect that people are turning down callings to be Young Women president or high priests group leader. Nevertheless, it happens.

When people keep turning down the bishop or the stake president, it comes as no surprise when he turns to the “same ten people” — people they know are not going to turn down a calling, but who are going to do a great job in any position.

Another reason that one of the same ten people are called may just be that a ward needs a particular person in place at a particular time, even if it is a person who has been used time and time again. Our current Relief Society president is one of those people.

Our ward has really been hammered in the past couple of years, with catastrophic illnesses, personal crises, and even deaths. Right now we don’t need just any Relief Society president. We need a five-star, cream of the crop Relief Society president.

Fortunately, we have one. I do not covet her job. The things I know about would weigh anyone down like an anvil, and I barely know anything. I only see the waves on top of the ocean. The sharks and the jagged coral reefs below the surface are invisible to me, but Rosie sees all of them. She knows where all of them are. It is her job to know, and to care, and to keep these things in her confidence.

I would not want that responsibility.

There are some, however, who do. There are some people who agonize because they have never been chosen to lead the Young Women or the Relief Society or to shepherd the Primary children. There are many men who are raised from boyhood with the idea that they will be failures if they are not called to be bishops.

Fluffy and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary this year. In that time, we have had twelve — count ‘em! — bishops. When you consider that a ward generally has about 400 persons in it, for us to go through only a dozen bishops in that amount of time tells you that there are few men who are called to be bishop. If the rest of the men in the ward are failures, there are a lot of failures in the Church.

Not everybody who would be a good leader can be a leader, just because of the logistics of the thing. But those leaders can never succeed unless they are held up, Hur-like, by an army of good followers.

Here are some of the things I try to do as a cheerleader for those who lead us:

  • I try not to gossip about the people who lead. If I see something they could be doing a little better, I try to keep my mouth shut about it. This is not easy for she who knows everything, but everybody has a different way of doing things. But if I see something a leader is doing that is dangerously wrong, I try to go to that leader, rather than going to other people and making it a matter of gossip.
  • I try to help leaders out when I have an area of expertise. For example, I can do funeral dinners in my sleep. Our current ward does not have a lot of experience in funeral dinners. If we have need of a funeral dinner, and if someone asks my advice, I will give it. However, it is then my job not to notice if they do not take my advice. Sometimes they may even do it better than I would.
  • I try to be available if ward leaders want to confide in me. Be advised that when ward leaders confide in you, they will do it in the most general of terms. Names are never mentioned, circumstances are changed to protect the innocent, and (above all) your absolute confidentiality is expected.
  • If people were in my social circle before they were called to a position, I make sure to keep them there afterwards. Most of my friends tell me that as soon as they’re called to a responsible position, most of their friends drop them like hot rocks. News flash to the rest of you: They still need friends, just as they did before they got their callings. In fact, they are probably more in need of friendship.
  • I look for things ward leaders are doing right, and try to remember to compliment them on it. Sometimes I compliment them to their faces. Other times — and these may be the more important times — I point out the good things they are doing to other people.
  • If I am asked to do something, I try to do it. Yes, visiting teaching is a pain in the neck. Try being a good visiting teacher when you don’t have working feet, and when you have a person who does not want to be contacted. But otherwise, I’m uber-reliable. I’ll try to be a better visiting teacher. Maybe.

Only one grain of sand can be at the top of the pyramid. Maybe there are a few more that are near the top, holding up that uttermost top grain of sand. They have a pretty good view, too. The rest of us are destined to be down below, holding up the people on top. The ones at the top may have the view, but they pay for it with the responsibility.

As for me, I’ll be down below. There have to be a lot of cheerleaders in this world. Being a cheerleader is good enough for me. Besides, we get to wear the cute little skirts.

No responses yet

Apr 06 2015

The Peaks and Valleys of Life

Published by Kathy under General

Recently I had the most stellar of weeks. My birthday was on the horizon, and strange and extravagant birthday gifts had started arriving out of the blue.

Every time Fluffy was up and walking around, I would ask him, “Why don’t you go to the front porch and see what new packages have arrived?” Much to my pleasure (and his dismay), there were usually new packages — sometimes enough of them that it was difficult to open the front door.

Oddly, though, gifts started arriving for other reasons — or no reason whatsoever. One day, we got two surprise gifts from two different people, and they weren’t just for me. They were for Fluffy too.

That same day, we had visits from two groups of people. Boy, did we feel loved! We felt as warm and fuzzy as the lint trap in an industrial dryer. You don’t feel any warmer and fuzzier than that.

But later in the week, I learned that while I was having the best week ever, other people were having what was possibly the worst week of their entire lives. Some of them were people I loved.

When we got to the temple for our weekly work assignment, for example, I heard about a family who had planned to come to the temple with their daughter that day, and it was the first time the daughter would attend. This is usually a big deal for active Mormons, similar to getting married or being baptized. The mother and two other daughters had planned to accompany her, and all the preparations had been made.

The night before the appointment, the woman — a mother with two young children — had died. Nobody had expected it. It was a complete surprise to one and all. Doctors had found cancer in her only the week before, but they didn’t expect her to die that quickly.

I saw the mother and the sisters when they came to the temple office. They had decided to attend anyway on her behalf, even if the guest of honor could not be there, and they got ecclesiastical permission to have the dead woman’s work done so she could be buried in her temple clothing.

As I watched the sorrowing family, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of guilt. How could I have been so happy that week when other people in the world were so ravaged? How could I be oblivious to the pain of others around me? How could I be brimming in joy when others were drowning in sorrow?

But then I thought of the obvious answer. We can’t all be in pain together. If we were, who would be there to administer to our needs? Part of the reason for pain in our lives is to provide others with the opportunity to serve. If we were all grieving at the same time, this would never happen.

There has to be a system of checks and balances. Some of us have to have full wells, so that when the wells of others are empty we can help.

If all of us were empty at once, how parched we would be! There would be nobody to help any of us, because all of us would be exhausted from tending to our own needs.

But when some of us are feeling so loved and cherished that the world is a warm and happy place, we are the very ones who have the strength to provide comfort to those whose lives are torn apart through illness or pain or bereavement.

The next time you are having a particularly wonderful day, consider that the same day may be the most terrible day for someone else. Spread some of your cheer to them, and both of you will feel more loved.

Waves of joy may deposit us on higher ground. When it does, we can reach out into those troughs of sorrow, holding out our hands and clasping onto those of our friends and loved ones who grieve. Perhaps through our love, our concern, and our service, we can bring them to firmer ground with us.

I’ve mixed so many metaphors here that I’ve worn myself out, but you get the picture. Just as He always does, God knew exactly what He was doing this past week. We have all been put here to take care of one another, and the best way we can do that is if at least half of us have the mental and emotional stamina we need to help the other half out.

I was so emotionally and even spiritually giddy last week that I had the reservoirs to reach out and help others who were suffering. Fluffy and I were able to do everything we were called upon to do, and still have some strength left in reserve in case more is needed — which indeed it still may be. We have it covered, just as others have covered us when we were the ones in need.

I like the way it works. I like the way we learn to take and then to give. It’s like breathing. We inhale, and we exhale. In and out — it’s the way of life. We can’t always take; that makes us selfish and needy. We can’t always give; that makes us feel too indispensable — too important.

We’re all in this together. We hold each other up. Sometimes we’re the flower. Sometimes we’re the stem. That’s the way life is supposed to be.

One response so far

Mar 30 2015

Acres of Nightgowns

Published by Kathy under General

Here’s Kathy’s little gem of wisdom for this week: There aren’t many perks about sitting around in a wheelchair, but one of them is that you get to entertain guests in a nightgown and nobody blinks an eye.

I never even thought about this little privilege until I was wheelchair-bound myself. Suddenly it didn’t make sense to get all gussied up if I wasn’t leaving the house, so I didn’t.

I am not the first female who has lounged around in her nightie in a wheelchair. I am not personally acquainted with a whole lot of wheelchair demons, but when I was growing up there were people in wheelchairs in movies. They were black-and-white movies, so the ladies wore black-and-white nighties.

Nevertheless, the nightgowns were quite attractive, and they served to make the people in the wheelchairs look ever-so-frail.

I have never for a minute felt frail, nor have I had any intention of conveying that impression. But nightgowns are comfortable, darn it. They are my favorite articles of clothing. I always looked for any excuse to wear nightgowns full-time. I would rather not be in a wheelchair, but if I am going to be in a wheelchair, mind you, I might as well take advantage of the situation and be comfortable.

But there is particular nightgown etiquette at play here. I am certain it is in the wheelchair etiquette rulebook, and even though nobody has ever given me a copy of the rulebook, I have memorized it by osmosis. One of the rules for women must say that if you wear nightgowns to entertain in your home, they cannot be the same nightgowns you sleep in.

Sure enough, my downstairs nightgowns are solely for entertaining or for working in my office. There is a whole different inventory of upstairs nightgowns for sleeping.

They have not made one another’s acquaintance.

You probably think I have a dozen or so nightgowns in assorted colors. This would be an understatement. I have a slight tendency towards overkill (“Overkill, thy name is Kathy”), and overkill has hit the nightgown department with a vengeance.

I have one nightgown in eight different colors. I have another in four. There are other patterns and assortments, but you get the picture. I even have a few duplicates of the same nightgown. When you have that many, it’s difficult to keep track.

Although I am not a short person, now that I have lost a considerable amount of weight, most of the downstairs nightgowns are taller than I am — way taller than I am. Most of them should be shortened by more than a foot. Would that I knew how to do it!

I had a grand total of three nightgowns (the same nightgown in three colors) that I cherished because, unlike all the others, they were nice and short. They went only down to my knees, so they did not cause me to trip when I tried to stand. They did not get caught in my feet when I tried to navigate the stairs. Oh boy, is it scary to go down the stairs on paralyzed feet when your nightgown gets caught in your shoes!

As much as I liked those three nightgowns, the just did not appear in the nightgown rotation often enough. I wanted a dozen more of them, but even one would have been a boon and a blessing.

So it was cause for great excitement last week when Fluffy found an unopened gray plastic mailer, opened it, and found a new nightgown, just like the other three — nice and short, and in the same flowered fabric as the other three short nightgowns, but in a different color.

He looked at the receipt in the bag. I had purchased the nightgown in November of 2013 and then never opened the bag when it arrived. For a year and four months, it has been sitting in a corner somewhere, unopened and unloved.

This is something I have a tendency to do. I’ll order something and then won’t have time to open it when it arrives. Or I’ll feel guilty for spending the money. Or I’ll be afraid it won’t fit and think I’ll try it on later, but later never comes. The mailer sits in a corner for weeks or months, gathering dust. Sometimes it sits in a corner for longer than that.

How many of the blessings in my life, and in your life, are recognized and unclaimed — as useless to us as a nightgown sealed in a gray plastic mailer?

It’s like that old story “Acres of Diamonds” about the man who sold his farm and wasted his life in the pursuit of diamonds, only to learn that there were millions of diamonds buried under the farm he sold. I suspect we have many such diamonds waiting to be found in our own lives, if we just take the time to look for them.

Perhaps the reason we are commanded to not covet is because coveting the blessings of others distracts us from the even greater blessings that remain overlooked or unappreciated in our own lives.

2 responses so far

Mar 23 2015

A Time for Becoming

Published by Kathy under General

Last week I read something that was written by a friend of mine, Daryl Hoole, who recently started writing a column for the Nauvoo Times. In her article, “Space and Time Enough,” she wrote:

When Hank and I were serving a welfare/humanitarian mission in Asia, based in Hong Kong, from 1999-2001, our area president, Elder Cree-L Kofford, counseled us senior missionaries by saying: “We’re approaching the time of life when we do less, but we can be more — it’s a time of becoming, not of doing.”

Instead of just doing kind things, we can endeavor to be kind; instead of just providing service, we can strive to be a servant; instead of just sharing wisdom, we can try to be wise; instead of just doing exemplary things, we can be an example; instead of just being a member of the Church we can become a disciple of Christ.

This was a real comfort to me, because it addressed something that has plagued me lately.

When Fluffy and I were younger, we were real Energizer Bunnies of activity. Our Sundays were a good example of this. We lived in an area where Mormons were as thick as fleas on a mangy dog. In fact, we could walk to all the homes of every member of our church congregation.

And that’s exactly what we did. On Sunday afternoons, we would bake cookies or some other caloric treat, and then we would walk to the homes of random members of our congregation, knock on their doors, and exchange the treats for a visit. Surprisingly, people will pretty much always be glad to see you, even if you are almost a perfect stranger, if you have a plate of freshly baked cookies or a loaf of bread in hand.

This is how we got to know the people of our ward. We started out not knowing anybody. By the time we moved out, some eleven years later, people said we had the best-attended farewell party of any party they had ever seen. It was those Sunday visits that did it. We baked. We walked. We visited. We served.

Contrast this with a recent experience. My visiting teachers dropped by for a visit on February 9. They brought me a little Valentine’s Day container of “Cracker Candy,” something that contained exactly four ingredients and that could be made in five minutes flat. I decided we could make our own batch of the stuff and recycle the container, giving some candy to Kim, a lady that Fluffy and I home teach.

We had all the ingredients on hand. Thanks to my visiting teachers, we even had the cute Valentine’s Day container (once we ate our own Cracker Candy out of it). Once Leslie gave me the recipe, we were all set to go.

Days passed. Some days were stormy. One cannot make candy on stormy days. (The same goes for caramel corn.) It does not set up right. That was nice. We were not in the mood anyway.

Valentine’s Day passed. Oops. This did not bode well. Then February ended. Can one give Cracker Candy in a cute Valentine’s Day container in the month of March?

St. Patrick’s Day approached and then left us in the dust. Easter is on our bunny tails. The Cracker Candy still has not been made. It isn’t that we don’t love Kim. It’s just that we’re tired — and I mean that sincerely. We’re just too tired to go into the kitchen and make the five-minute effort.

Why in the world does it wear me out to think of melting butter and brown sugar in a saucepan and then spreading it over crackers in a jelly roll pan and then melting chocolate chips on the top? Tell me, people — when did that become a hard thing to do?

As it says in Matthew 26:41, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Frankly, I had no earthly idea my flesh would ever get so weak that making cracker candy would become a daunting task.

I have no idea where the days go. Our marriage has always been a compromise, because I am a morning person and Fluffy is a nighttime person. Now that he is retired, we wake up sometime in the eights and get out of bed a little after nine, after doing a little lying in bed and planning our day. You would think that would be plenty of time to start our day, but no, it is not.

First I have to get dressed in my nightgown o’ the day. Then Fluffy has to put on my shoes and socks. If you think it is easy to put shoes and compression stockings on paralyzed feet, think again. This is a comedy of errors, but we do try to focus more on the comedy than on the errors.

I do have to mention here that pain hurts. Fluffy is pretty good at ignoring this little factoid, but it is true nonetheless.

Next we do my foot exercises. Fluffy does his best to imitate André, my former Québécois physical therapist, but his techniques are more in line with a German SS officer. Fluffy’s accent sounds more German than French, too.

I get to my office to work at about ten. I work until one or two, when I wash my hair. Then we have lunch. (You may notice there is no breakfast in the equation.) There may be a couch nap after lunch, but it usually only lasts ten minutes or so. We do my walking practice in the afternoon, sometimes a little more work, and then my scripture exercises come in later on. Then we have dinner and the day is pretty much shot.

The next day is a rerun of the day before. You know, there appears to be plenty of time to make cracker candy somewhere in there – or assembling atomic bombs, for that matter. But the days gallop away inexorably.

The clock has no mercy on old people. We don’t need to worry about running out of things to do in retirement. If anything, our to-do lists are getting longer rather than shorter.

I have been feeling so guilty about this that it has been eating me alive. I have thought I was the only person in the world in this situation, and I have been blaming it on my coma. And then Daryl Hoole’s words were a Band-Aid on my soul:

We’re approaching the time of life when we do less, but we can be more — it’s a time of becoming, not of doing.”

I am not the only one. Swimming in molasses is the normal state of affairs for people my age. (Heaven help us.)

I have been blaming my coma for something that was not my coma’s fault at all. Well, perhaps my coma gave me a twenty-year head start.

But the quote from Daryl’s mission president did more than diagnose the problem. Daryl then gave the solution:

Instead of just doing kind things, we can endeavor to be kind; instead of just providing service, we can strive to be a servant; instead of just sharing wisdom, we can try to be wise; instead of just doing exemplary things, we can be an example; instead of just being a member of the Church we can become a disciple of Christ.

As I have thought about that quote, I have realized that when Clark and I were in our Energizer Bunny years, we were not in competition with the old people in the neighborhood as far as delivering treats to other people’s doorsteps. We did not get cookies or cakes or pies in return for our labors — nor did we expect any.

Occasionally we did get thank you notes, written in spidery, old-lady penmanship. We didn’t even expect that, because we had already been thanked on the spot, but the thank you notes were nice to get. That was the level of reciprocation one expected from old ladies, if one got reciprocation at all.

Now, I guess the shoe is on the other foot. Occasionally we answer the doorbell and are the recipients of loaves of bread and plates of cookies and other treats. We may be a little younger than the people Fluffy and I used to visit during our Energizer Bunny years, but my health may have thrown a wrench into the mix.

Also, we live in a young congregation. Like it or not, Fluffy and I are just about the oldest people around here. We may not be wise, but we are geriatric by default. I guess it is our job to try to act the part.

As we move through life, we cycle through different roles. In turn we are infant, toddler, student, teen, young adult, college student, young married, parent, empty-nester, and golden-ager. Some of us have more roles than these; some of us have fewer.

But the progression is there, and as much as we may want to linger in one stage of our lives or another, it does not happen. We go from birth to death — to our graduation into the next life — as surely as a tree goes from spring into the winter.

I have been foolish to expect to cavort about as a spring lamb when I am really an old sheep with no spring to my step. I still think I should be able to muster the energy for cracker candy, or even for more ambitious projects, but perhaps it is time to step aside and let the Energizer Bunny tasks be left to the Energizer Bunnies.

There is still a role for me — and it may even be an important one — but it is different from that of the role I have been expecting myself to continue doing for these past two-plus frustrating years. If I can get through each day and make a positive influence on just one person, perhaps that will be enough.

5 responses so far

Mar 16 2015

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Debt

Published by Kathy under General

I am in a race. It isn’t a footrace, or I would lose it, seeing as how I do not have working feet. And there are no other contestants in this race, but it is a race with a finish line nonetheless.

Right now the finish line is in 8.6 months away. I am counting down the numbers — yes, indeedy-do. Those numbers have been staring me in the face for several years, although, of course, the numbers change every month.

This is the first month, for example, that the number has been so low that Fluffy has said that a person could get pregnant and have a baby, and my race would be finished before the baby was born. Now that was a satisfying thing to contemplate. I have seen hundreds of women at church go through pregnancy and childbirth, and the time flies by like lightning (well, maybe not for them). But I can do this.

The number that is staring me in the face is the number marking the day I will be out of debt. I’m determined that this will be the last time I will be out of debt, mind you, because it is the last time I will be in debt. You see, after a lifetime of getting in debt, I have finally learned my lesson. And, as Fluffy would no doubt tell me, it certainly took long enough!

In my defense, I learned my lesson before the last time I got in debt. I had already learned my lesson before I lost my last job, but then I got laid off from that job and I had regular payments I was expected to make anyway. I kept putting those things on charge cards, fully expecting another job was going to come up soon. Little did I know I was going to be unemployed for four miserable years.

One can amass a whole lot of debt in four years, even if one lives frugally — which I did and I didn’t, depending on the month (and sometimes depending on the moment).

Okay, let’s call a spade a spade. During those lean years I spent about $6000 per year, which is pretty darn conservative, when you think about it. That money paid for vitamins and my clothing and Fluffy’s clothing and a lot of our food and Christmas gifts and birthday gifts and virtually everything else in the world I needed (or thought I needed, which is a different thing altogether).

When you think about it, spending only $6000 per year made me a wise steward of the money I did not have.

But it’s hard to pat myself on the back when, cumulatively, I racked up almost as much debt as the amount we paid for our first house back in the dark ages, which is a whole lot of money to pay off. I screamed like a turnip being squeezed when it was time to pay the bills every month.

I took a two-pronged approach to dealing with the situation — ignorance and denial. Every financial question Fluffy asked was answered with, “I don’t know.” Finally to reduce both of our frustration levels, Fluffy took the job over from me. Now he pays the monthly credit card bills and performs other magic acts so that I’m not paying the outlandish interest rates that I used to pay.

All I have to do is earn my monthly paycheck and keep my spending under control. The monthly pain of actually paying the bills is gone, but the money is going no farther. At least he tells me exactly when I will get out of jail free.

I have a modest monthly allowance that is set aside before the credit cards are paid. Once this is spent, I’m high and dry until the next month rolls around. This has presented some challenges. Every visit to the supermarket forces too many decisions.

I may have a craving for pork chops, for example. Well, that’s just too bad! There’s a birthday this month, or maybe it’s Easter. I only get pork chops on months when there are no days to celebrate. Maybe I will get pork chops in June. And the same goes for cheese. Other than your basic cheddar cheese, cheese is a thing of the past. We’re holding off on cheese for the duration.

But in 8.6 months I will be out of debt and we can live like regular human beings. All that money that is now going to pay for past sins will be available for riotous living. I can buy pork chops every month, or maybe twice per month. We can march up to the cheese counter and buy a whole wheel of Société Roquefort, if we are so inclined. How I look forward to that day!

I am learning the lesson of what happens when you continue to spend money when you are out of a job. You get in debt, and then you have to pay down that debt one miserable month at a time.

I am paying the piper. In December, all this will behind me, and I will have learned my lesson. (Actually, I have already learned my lesson, but I am still paying down the piper.)

This is a lesson in repentance. You can be sorry for your actions, and you can be forgiven for your actions, but sometimes there are consequences for those actions that still have to be paid. Sometimes those debts have to be settled with a bank, as mine are. Other times those debts have to be settled with other human beings, as you forgive others or beg their forgiveness for your sins.

Sometimes those debts have to be paid with yourself, as you change your habits or wean yourself from addictions. Some addictions can ride your back for a lifetime.

(I look at the idiot young people who slouch down the street with cigarettes hanging from their mouths, looking oh-so-cool. Ha! I think. What imbeciles you are! But some lessons can’t be told to you. You have to learn them by yourself, and pay for them that way too.)

You can repent all you want for what you did in the back seat of the Chevrolet. You can forgive yourself, and God can forgive you. But nine months later, if the stars aligned, you are still going to find yourself in the maternity ward.

Repentance washes away the spiritual stain. We still are left to deal with the earthly consequences of our actions.

I have a list of things I am going to purchase when I am out of debtors’ prison. I will order all the ruby red grapefruit I want, for one thing. And See’s chocolates will be on the list too. And of course pork products will be a big priority. It is time to replenish our food storage, and I am beyond ready to do that.

I will hire a housekeeper — just once a month. Fluffy deserves a break, and it’s about time he got one.

The big purchase will be night stands that are not made of particle board. I will have had thirty-nine years to decide what I want, so I am pretty picky about it. But I am not going overboard. I do not need thousand-dollar pieces of furniture. I am a frugal person. I know what they cost, and I am willing to shop around.

Fluffy is afraid that the first month I am out of debt, I will get myself right back in debt again. Fluffy is wrong. You see, the biggest gift I can give myself is peace of mind. That doesn’t cost any money. In fact, that requires that I don’t spend it. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

That’s the most important thing about repentance, you see: The person who is repenting must change his ways. I want to show Fluffy, and I want to show myself, and I want to show God, that I am a new person.

As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I want to show myself, most of all, that I am one of those new creatures. And if all goes well, the new Kathy will emerge before the New Year appears.

No responses yet

Mar 09 2015

Hanging Onto Happiness

Published by Kathy under General

It is now officially the second week of March, and we keep talking about the need to take down our Christmas tree. We still turn on the tree lights every night, and enjoy the festive glow that it provides as we eat our dinner and watch TV.

Fluffy keeps saying, “Well, I guess we need to take down the tree this week,” and I agree with him. But then he puts it off for another day and I never complain, because I’m enjoying it too.

By this time you are probably thinking that we have one of those fake trees, but you would be wrong. In fact, the reason it will eventually come down is that it is becoming more of a fire hazard each day. But all things considered, it is only looking slightly droopier than the day it was first put up.

Still only marginally droopier than it was in December, here is our Christmas tree the first week in March.

In fact, other than the fact that it’s a fire hazard, the only problem with the tree is that now that the branches go downward, the ornaments are starting to roll off the branches and land with a thunk on the floor. Those thunk sounds surprise us, and we are too old to be startled. Nasty things happen when old people get startled. For one thing, they might choke on their teeth.

Also, I am afraid that some of our ornaments might break. After carting some of our Christmas ornaments in my lap home from exotic places, I would hate to have them end up in pieces on the floor because they slid off the branches of the Christmas tree because the branches were pointing downward because they no longer were perky enough to point up. Fortunately, the tree sits on top of a protective rug, so most of the time the fallen ornaments don’t break.

Between church activities and friends, we have lots of people come to visit us — people who might be a little taken aback by the Christmas tree in our family room. Just this week we had the Relief Society book group meeting in the same room as the tree. No one made any comments, however, having gotten used to the fact that, well, the Kidd family is just a little bit strange.

The thing is, everyone we know is used to our leaving our Christmas decorations up as long as is humanly possible. We may take down our tree in March, for example, but the wreath on our front door stays up until it falls down. And the wreath inside on our stairway stays up (I should be embarrassed to say this) until the friend who makes our wreaths needs the ribbon to make next year’s wreath in December.

Yes, it is true. I have no shame.

But Fluffy and I like Christmas. We like the music. We like the decorations. We like the food. We like the way Christmas makes us happy. We want to hold onto that for as long as we can. And if that means we listen to Handel’s Messiah year-round and keep up our indoor live Christmas wreath until December (long after it is technically not alive anymore), well, that’s our prerogative because it’s our house.

We have noticed something interesting in this year of 2015, however. Usually, Fluffy and I are alone in leaving our Christmas decorations up way into the New Year. But this year, we have seen many holdouts as we have looked into windows on our street and beyond. This year, we will not be the last people in our town to take down our Christmas decorations.

Maybe it’s the cold. Maybe it’s the bone-chilling “global warming” that has done everyone in, here in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and along the East Coast. We have gone far past seeing our breath when we talk. We have been so cold this winter that feeling comfortable is a dim memory.

Fluffy is outside shoveling snow as I write this. Children have a snow day off school today and tomorrow, and even the federal government is closed, which means the temple is closed. We are socked in, snow-wise, even though spring is allegedly just around the corner and temperatures are predicted to be in the fifties just next week.

But even though snow days like this are rare, the rest of the winter has been bone-cold. Even indoors I have been so chilled that the only time life is bearable is when I am swaddled in a blanket, with a shawl around my shoulders, and Fluffy on one side and a space heater on the other. Then I feel toasty, but only until Fluffy gets restive and leaves me so he can do something else.

I don’t know what people do who do not have a Fluffy and a space heater. Maybe they are the other ones whose Christmas trees give them that psychological warmth. There is something about a Christmas tree that says “happy.” When the summer sun is shining, people don’t need that extra boost. Now, in the dead of winter, we need that extra reminder, so Christmas decorations are staying up longer than normal.

Just last night, Fluffy went to a meeting in a home that had a Christmas wreath on the door. No, it wasn’t our house. There was a little bit of happiness on the front door of that house, and maybe that went into the inside too. The woman who let him in said, “I keep wanting to take it down, but my husband says to keep it up a while longer.”

Christmas gives us a frame of mind that human beings need as much as we do food or water. We think kindly of others as we wonder what gifts to buy for them, and as we wrap and deliver, or even as we make those gifts. We do good deeds. We make elaborate or not-so-elaborate dinners that we share with others.

The bottom line is that we spend time with the people we love, or the people we should love. We look for the good in each other, and we celebrate that good in a way that we may not do during the rest of the year. As we make all these Christmas preparations, the side-effect is that most of us are happier than we are at any other time.

We bask in the joy of Christmas, but then the day passes and then all too many people pack up the Christmas spirit with their Christmas ornaments at the end of December. As soon as the trappings of the holiday are put away, it’s business as usual again. We have friends who put their Christmas tree out on the curb promptly on December 26th.

Some of us have a hard time letting that joy go. We are the ones with Christmas trees that are still glow warmly into January and February and even into March. We would still be taking gifts to others, but the recipients would get that uncomfortable feeling that maybe they should reciprocate, and that’s the last thing we would want them to do.

In a world with so much sorrow and suffering, it may not be bad to wish that the warm feelings associated with Christmas might extend through the rest of the year too. Tonight when I go to bed, Handel’s Messiah will accompany me up the stairs. And even after the Christmas tree is taken down, I hope that Fluffy and I will live in a Christmas house this year.

3 responses so far

Mar 02 2015

False Assumptions

Published by Kathy under General

I am officially freezing.

Of course this is an exaggeration, but it isn’t much of one. Even our Christmas tree, which is still sitting in our family room this first week of March, looks cold and forlorn.

It is so cold and snowy here on the East Coast that church was canceled here in our own little corner of Mormondom last week. This is something I did not mind. Snow days, whether they are in the form of vacations from elementary school or days off from work or even a rare day of hooky from church, are days to be cherished.

But when it gets so cold that even our goosebumps get goosebumps, I can’t help but think of my first car. It was a beautiful car, back in the days when automobiles were built to be powerful as a locomotive, and gasoline was so cheap that sometimes people would just drive around if they had nothing else to do.

My car had a V-8 engine, which meant it was designed to go 120 miles per hour so smoothly that you could rest a glass of water on the dashboard of the vehicle while you were driving and see hardly a ripple on the surface of the water.

In fact, cars those days were designed so well that you could easily look down and see that you were going 120 miles per hour, thinking that you were only going 55. Oops. It was easy to have a lead foot, back in those days.

Today, if you go more than 65 miles per hour, your car starts to shimmy and shake. Bolts and screws and pieces of plastic start flying across the open areas of the vehicle as dangerous projectiles, and if you chew gum with your mouth open you are liable to break a tooth.

Millennials may have a hard time believing this, but back in those days cars did not have seat belts. Nobody had ever heard of air bags, so we did not have those either. If you got in a car accident, you died. It was sort of the equivalent of so-called “Smart” Cars or Mini Cars today. You just knew you were going to die, so your life depended on avoiding an accident.

I bought my first car for a hundred and fifty bucks. I don’t know why the owner was getting rid of it. It was in great condition. It was a 1963 Oldsmobile 98, and I bought it in the autumn of 1972. It was a boat.

Here is a picture of a 1963 Oldsmobile 98. I assure you, it was a lot bigger than it looks in the picture. It got eight miles to the gallon. This is not a typo. I’m sure when I was driving 120 miles per hour, it got even fewer miles than that.

Fortunately, gas only cost 25 cents per gallon at the time.

For the most part, I was only using the car to drive to and from school, which was only a mile or so away from home. Being inside the car protected me against the bitter winter winds as I commuted between home and school. I did not, however, use the car to keep me warm. I decided I could not afford to run the heater, so I did not touch the heater.

Even when I went to and from Salt Lake City — a hundred-mile round trip from Provo, Utah — I was careful not to touch the heater of that car. Instead, I bundled myself up in a coat, scarf, gloves, and other assorted warm clothing to keep the cold out. Oh, thinking about that warm heater was a real temptation, but I was on a tight budget and could barely afford to keep the car gassed as it was.

It was a particularly bitter winter that year. I am sure there have been worse winters since then, but that year people talked about the record-setting cold. For a week or two the temperature was 18 degrees below zero. I did not turn on the heater in that car, but I was glad to have the windows protect me from the arctic wind. I just could not afford to pay for the extra gasoline that running the heater would cost me.

The following summer a friend borrowed the car to take a girl on a date. He drove it straight up “Y” Mountain in Provo to impress her and got the car stuck. The men in our ward had to trek up the mountain and pick up that boat of a car by hand to turn it around so Dale could drive it down the mountain again. Have I mentioned that the car was all steel? The car never drove right after that, so when he asked to buy it from me, I sold it to him for $150 — exactly what I paid for it.

Years later when I met Fluffy, I told him this story and he laughed and laughed. He explained that car heaters work using the heat that is given off as a natural byproduct of the engine running. Running the heater will not burn an extra drop of gasoline, and in fact the engine might run more efficiently when the heater is running too.

So I could have been running the car heater in that car and its successor as much as I wanted without squandering an ounce of gasoline. Air conditioners may eat up gasoline, but heaters do not. All the freezing days and nights I spent in my powder blue Oldsmobile could have been spent in happy comfort, but I assumed that the heater used gasoline and worked from that assumption without ever checking to see if my assumption was correct.

I think about this story on occasion, and wonder how much of our lives we waste based on false assumptions. How many times do we chase after things, only to find when we reach them that they are not what we thought we were pursuing?

We all know individuals who have been so focused on a particular goal that they have set aside other things (sometimes things that are much more important) in the pursuit of that goal. Often times it is only by achieving that goal that they realize they are not happy, and that true happiness could have been obtained via some of those things that were cast aside as unimportant during their journey.

All of us get sidetracked sometimes. It may be something big, such as a career that takes us away from our families. It could be something small, such as a hobby that takes us away from something that may be a little more important.

We all have our temptations. They come into our lives like railroad trains or like butterflies, and they may blind us for the moment or for long years as we follow false assumptions instead of things that are better.

Fortunately, life is full of second chances. When I make a mistake and find myself going in the wrong direction because I thought the ring on the merry-go-round was gold and it turned out to be brass, God allows course corrections. With a little hard work we can often do a course correction to get us back on the path to obtaining those treasures in life that are of true value.

No responses yet

Feb 23 2015

Truth in Inconvenient Places

Published by Kathy under General

When I was freshly graduated from Brigham Young University, I got my first real job as a reporter for the Salt Lake City Deseret News, the city’s Mormon newspaper. Because we were the newspaper that represented the Latter-day Saint viewpoint, everybody who worked there had a Mormon association to one degree or another.

We had new Mormons like me. But there were also old Mormons, lapsed Mormons, non-Mormons and even anti-Mormons. You see, we all had “Mormon” of some sort in our description, whether we wanted it or not (and I assure you, the anti-Mormons assuredly did not). And because we were a Mormon newspaper, one of the things we talked about the most was the Mormon religion.

As a newly-minted Mormon, I was still stupid enough to think I could convince people to see the beauty in the new truths I had discovered, if I could only get them to listen to it. So I helpfully would try to tell “Joe” or “Nick” some of the truths I had learned, and was puzzled when they laughed me down.

The reason they laughed at me was what puzzled me. They liked what I said, you see. But they were not going to accept it for one reason, and for one reason alone. It was tainted because it was found inside the Mormon religion.

If they had found the same nuggets of wisdom in Catholicism or Zoroastrianism or Buddhism, they would have embraced them. Hey — this was during the Age of Aquarius. Even the hippies were zoning out to whatever crazy ideas they tuned into. But if it had the word “Mormon” attached, my co-workers wanted none of it. “Mormon” was the ultimate crazy. It was truth in an inconvenient place.

Later on, after Fluffy and I got married and had our own home, we saw a different instance of that sort of thing. We planted raspberries and asparagus in our own little garden plot. They occasionally produced a tiny asparagus or a raspberry or two — never enough for a meal, mind you, but enough for one of us to have a bite from the garden on a rare delightful occasion.

But occasionally, way out in the yard, fifteen or even twenty feet from the bed where the raspberries and the asparagus were planted, a raspberry cane or a volunteer asparagus would spring up, unbidden, in the middle of the lawn. Nobody had asked for it to be there. Nobody wanted it to be there. When he found one of these interlopers, Fluffy mowed it down relentlessly with the rest of the overgrown grass.

If the raspberry cane or the asparagus stalk had grown in our garden it would have been prized, but it didn’t. We didn’t want it out in the grass. We couldn’t accept it there. It was in an inconvenient place.

Brigham Young was a man who was two hundred years ahead of his time. He used to counsel Mormons — men and women alike — to seek learning “out of the best books.” Indeed, for the non-Mormons who are reading this, we Mormons have an actual scripture that counsels us to do that:

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

But Brigham Young took it to heart. He didn’t care whether the books were written by Latter-day Saints. In fact, the Church was new enough at the time that there were precious few books written by Latter-day Saints anyway.  So he encouraged Mormons to look outside the Church for their enlightenment, gleaning knowledge wherever they could find it.

Thus, it should not surprise a Mormon to find kernels of truth in any church, or wisdom in the mouth of any babe. Of course, sometimes we’re so surprised to find it that we may not recognize it until it hits us over the head with a mallet. But then, we’re human just like everyone else. Sometimes it takes a whop with a mallet to convince us to see things that are plainly in front of us to see.

One example occurred about a year ago, when Fluffy and I were just about to go on a road trip. I was checking the computer one last time when I clicked on Facebook and was stunned to see a little snippet my Facebook friend Catherine Keddington Arveseth had posted. She casually mentioned the Three Stages of Marriage as though everyone had heard about it.

She said that couples in a marriage traditionally go through three stages:

  1. Loving but not knowing.
  2. Knowing but not loving.
  3. Knowing but choosing to love anyway.

I had never heard anything about the Three Stages of Marriage, and it hit me like a bombshell. Fluffy hadn’t heard it either. How we wished we had known it all along! It would have saved us years of heartache. Like millions of other couples, we had spent years mired in the quicksand of Stage 2.

Once we learned this bit of information, Fluffy and I have told many couples about it. Some of them were extremely grateful. They were men or women who were in Stage 2, and this was a lifeline for them. It was more than good news for them to know there was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel; it was something that allowed them to go on when they otherwise believed their marriage was stuck in a hopeless rut.

But other people — people whose marriages were equally troubled — did not take hold of the lifeline. The reason stunned me. They thought the concept was worthwhile until they asked where we got it. When they learned I had read it on Facebook they sniffed, “Oh. I don’t go there. Facebook is a waste of time.”

I don’t doubt for a minute that Facebook can be a huge waste of time. I have been spending less and less time myself there for the past few months, as life has demanded more of me. There isn’t time for me to squander hours on Facebook, the way I used to do. But to discount something solely because it came from Facebook, or from the Mormons, or from reality TV, is premature.

Sometimes truth can be found in inconvenient places.

I’m not smart enough to wake up every morning with the knowledge I’ll need for that day. I have to go looking for it. God has to teach me lessons. He does it through the scriptures. He does it through Fluffy. He does it through my mistakes. He does it through friends.

Sometimes that truth is found in inconvenient places. When it is, I hope I have the wisdom to pluck it up, dust it off and use it. I want to be smart enough to recognize gems of truth and embrace them. I’m just a regular person. We regular people, still in the learning stage of eternity, need all the help we can get.

No responses yet

Feb 16 2015

Celebrating Small Things

Published by Kathy under General

We recently passed one big anniversary and are approaching another one. February 5 marked the two-year anniversary of Fluffy’s unexpected retirement, and March 5 will be the two-year anniversary of my hospital release after my coma and the subsequent paralyzation of my legs and feet.

If you are a regular reader of this column, I can hear you exclaiming in surprise. What? It has only been two years? The way she yammers on and on about it, you would think it was the eighty-seventh anniversary, at the very least.

I know. But when you write a column about your life, and your life changes in this particular way, what can you do? I can hardly report I had been recruited by the Bolshoi Ballet, and had been off at a secret training site for the past two years.

After a while, when no pictures were forthcoming, you might start to suspect that something was just a little bit rotten in Denmark — or Nairobi, or Fort Lauderdale, or wherever the Bolshoi Ballet is headquartered these days.

I really hate to bore you with my coma saga, but it was a big, big deal for me. One day I was the size of Jabba the Hutt. I had feet that worked just fine although they could barely walk me across the room because my heart and lungs were about to stop working. The next day — whammo! I woke up from a nap and I was a hundred pounds lighter.

The good news was that my heart and my lungs were all well — fully and miraculously recovered from two fatal diseases that people don’t recover from. But the bad news was that I no longer had working feet.

It was like going to sleep as an elephant and waking up as a giraffe. There’s nothing wrong with an elephant. There’s nothing wrong with a giraffe. It’s just that you don’t go to sleep as one and wake up as the other.

Even two years later, I can’t wrap my mind around it. Altogether, I vastly prefer being the giraffe, especially considering I’m going to get my feet back one of these days. I’m really happy about the way things have turned out. But that doesn’t mean I can wrap my mind around it, even two years after the fact.

I was told in the hospital that I’d be in a wheelchair for a year to a year and a half. They lied. I’m sure they justified these lies by convincing themselves that they were just “encouraging” me, but they were lying through their teeth nonetheless.

It’s going to be a long time before I can walk the way a real person walks. It’s going to happen. I am determined that one of these days I’m going to have a pedometer I keep in my pocket that will register 10,000 steps per day, just as Fluffy does. But before I have one of those, I have to learn to walk. And before I do that, some really obnoxious nerves in my legs have to grow back.

Right now, all they are doing is causing a whole lot of pain. But that’s a good thing, my neurologist says. To paraphrase my dead mother, “You must suffer to be functional.” (She really said, “You must suffer to be beautiful,” if you want to know the actual quote.)

In some basic areas, my life has remained a constant pre-coma and post-coma. I still have the same job. That’s a huge blessing. I still go to church with the same people I love. That’s a huge blessing, too. And then there’s Fluffy. What a rock he was and is! And my family and friends — it’s good to know that the important things have remained unchanged.

But as for my day-to-day life, that’s what’s completely different. When you take your feet and your physical strength out of the equation, you don’t have to be a mathematician to know that your number isn’t the same as it used to be. As for me, I turned into a little old lady overnight. I haven’t been able to come to grips with that, especially in the mental sense.

Nobody ever told me that a coma steals pieces out of your brain. Nobody has done an MRI of my brain post-coma, so I don’t know if there are literal holes there, but I can tell you the old brain isn’t what it used to be.

I could not read anything for months after I got out of the hospital. When I finally picked up a book, the most I could handle was the Little House on the Prairie series of children’s books — and even reading those was like studying quantum physics.

I could handle a few pages at a time, and then I had to put it down. It was just too much to absorb. I did not get past the first book. Is that pathetic, or what?

I am now reading actual books, but I am doing them my way. If I start reading a book and decide I do not like it, I no longer finish it out of guilt. I just put it down. I will not finish Middlemarch even though many people said it was wonderful. I didn’t like it, and life is too short to waste time on such things. I didn’t finish The Count of Monte Cristo either. So sue me.

In fact, life is too short for a lot of things I used to do. The days gallop away too quickly for me to spend a lot of time on Facebook, so I don’t. I want to keep in touch, but the days pass and then they turn into weeks.

I’ve been too busy concentrating on work, and on getting well again. And before I notice, the day is over and it’s time to go to bed. And then the month is over, and then my birthday is over, and before you know it Christmas is over. The Christmas season was so short this year that we still have our Christmas tree up. Yes, it was still up on Valentine’s Day. Life moves so fast in these post-coma days.

Despite the challenges of the past two years, Fluffy and I are grateful for the things we have learned, and the different perspectives we have gained through this journey. We still look forward to the big events in life such as birthdays, holidays, and vacations. But we have also come to appreciate small blessings such as the warm sun on a winter day, and the beauty of a wonderful sunset.

Each day is a precious new gift from God, and should bring us great joy, even if we have to celebrate the small miracles in life that are so easy to overlook.

Look for something to celebrate in your life today, even if that event is something as insignificant as the way the howling winter wind at least makes the wind chimes sing. The harder you look for those events, the easier they are to find, and the more you realize that every day in your life can contain a cause for celebration.

One response so far

Feb 09 2015

When “Helping,” Doesn’t

Published by Kathy under General

A friend and I were talking about crazy pet stories the other day, and she reminded me about talk that introduced us to “Cholo, the Pet that Would Not Die.” It was such a bizarre tale that I had no idea how I had ever forgotten it.

Cholo was a black and white mutt of indeterminate lineage. He lived an unremarkable life, right up until the day he got mowed down by a car. The family loved their little dog, but his skull had been fractured in the accident and one eyeball had popped out. They could see brain matter dripping out of his head, and it was obvious that the little fellow was not going to survive.

As much as they didn’t want to do it, the family knew that the most humane thing they could do for Cholo was to put him out of his misery. They could not afford to take him to the vet to have him put down, so they did the best they could do.

They didn’t want for him to just lie there suffering until he died, so they grabbed a gun and a shovel and took poor Cholo out into the desert. They didn’t just shoot Cholo once. Oh no. They shot him five times to make sure he was out of his misery. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Then they buried him in the desert and sorrowfully went home.

A week later they opened their front door and to their horror found Cholo sitting on their doorstep. He had regained consciousness. His eyeball had somehow popped back into its socket. He still had five bullets lodged in his little body, but he had been able to extricate himself from his grave and find his way home from the desert to the people who had lovingly tried to do what was best for him on the day of his “death.”

The family, realizing that by “helping” poor Cholo they had actually caused a whole lot of harm, took every penny they had, bundled up the little dog, and took him to the vet. They only hoped the vet could undo the damage they had done in their efforts to do the right thing for their beloved family pet.

The vet was the person who told the story. He reported that despite the little dog’s car accident and the family’s subsequent attempts to help him, Cholo was actually in pretty good shape. He said that the family did not need to give their life’s savings to repair the damage they had caused. They were able to take Cholo home, and all was well.

Dogs are the most forgiving of animals. I can’t see a cat coming home to a family that had shot it five times and buried it in the desert. But how often do we do the same thing as Cholo’s owners do? I’ve never shot a dog once, much less five times — but in my own ham-handed way, I try all the time to do the right thing and instead do something that is exactly the opposite of what I have intended to do.

Life is a minefield. Does the young mother whose child recently died want a word of condolence, or is this the day she has said she can make it through church if only nobody mentions her loss? Does the recent widow want to laugh, or does she want you to share her grief? Does the mother of the bedridden child want to talk about the burden she is carrying, or does she want to forget it for just a moment?

It’s a temptation in such situations to just say nothing, but that causes problems of a different sort. A few years ago a dear friend died suddenly, leaving her husband to mourn her loss. The husband mentioned months later that most of his former friends had pretty much forgotten him, choosing to take the easy way out and not risk offense by avoiding him completely.

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but I can tell you one thing — I always, always do the wrong thing in any given situation. You can call me Cholo’s Mom. I am the one who puts the bullets in the gun. I pull the trigger myself.

(Parenthetically, who shot that little dog anyway, so that not one of the five bullets hit any major organ? Somebody here is really, really inept.)

As I have grown older and, hopefully, wiser, I am learning that the reason I keep getting in trouble for saying the wrong thing sometimes is because I choose to say anything at all. In the act of offering love to people who are undergoing trials in their lives, we often forget that philosopher Paul McTillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

The hard part about listening is that a lot of times the people you are listening to aren’t actually talking. They speak with nonverbal cues that have nothing whatsoever to do with speech. It is hard to remember to let people speak nonverbally instead of running all over that nonverbal conversation with words like a rhinoceros, because you’re too blind to see the part of the conversation that doesn’t have words.

I am a good rhinoceros, sometimes. I can trample nonverbal conversations just as effectively as I can shoot wounded dogs five times and then bury them in deserts to put them out of their misery, even though I have never shot an actual gun. It’s all part of trying to help, and then doing exactly the wrong thing.

But I am not completely untrainable. Recently I have been trying to stand back and wait for those verbal cues. Or when I say something, I try to make sure that the first thing out of my mouth is not something relating to the tragedy at hand. I do not always succeed, because there is that inner rhinoceros and he is big. His first instinct is to trample, and he is hard to control.

Then, when I have trampled someone’s feelings and made things worse, I gallop away, hating myself for a week or even more because someone who was smarter or wiser or kinder would have known how to be a better friend. But alas, I have only been Kathy for all these years, and the older I get, the more Kathy-like I become.

But I have also been on Cholo’s end of the exchange. Well-meaning friends have tried to help me and have done just the opposite. I remember the visiting teacher I had, years ago, who was determined she could help me lose weight if I knew more about diet and exercise — even though I had forgotten more about nutrition than she ever knew.

The interesting thing about her unwanted and unsolicited advice was that she closed every visit by giving me a plate of highly caloric treats that were made with ingredients Fluffy and I would never have eaten. I tried to thank her graciously for the stuff every month, and then we threw it into the trash. We always shook our heads at the mixed messages she sent, and I tried not to be upset. I did not always succeed.

I want to always be as forgiving as Cholo. After reading his story again last week, I am going to work on it some more. But just as much, I am going to work on trying to really help the people I want to help. I want to help people the way they need help — not the way that my first easy impulse tells me to help them.

After all, the rhinoceros Kathy and the spiritual Kathy could have two distinctly different ideas when it comes to the help people actually need. The rhinoceros Kathy may be louder, but the Kathy who listens to the still small voice is the one whose ideas should be trusted.

No responses yet

« Prev - Next »