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Archive for July, 2011

It is days like today when I am reminded of the things that I have lost and then, almost immediately, reminded of what I have gained. It is rough, as I would love to wallow in the self-pity of being abandoned and alone – and then I get hit with the reality of really, how very lucky I am now. I can dwell on the losses of the last year – or I can choose to celebrate the gains. What kind of a person do I want to be?

It would be so easy for me to live in a constant state of fear and anger and bitterness. Hell, those would be comfortable zones for me to live in, not a difficult leap – so many times I have all of those emotions running through my mind. And yet, I really don’t WANT to be that girl. I don’t want to be the kind of ex-wife that turns nasty and vindictive. I was thinking about some of the people that I know in my life that have gone through divorces – both male and female – and comparing their styles of handling their situations. Some opt for resigned indifference, some have gone in for just plain mean, and others have come out with better lives, second spouses, and happier homes. I would SO MUCH rather be the type of person that is in the latter category. I want to learn from the last 10 years, grow from it, remember the lessons learned, and move on with my life. I don’t want to be the mean and nasty person who just can’t let go.

And I am lucky, truly. I have a wonderful circle of friends who love me and accept me for who I am, even the bitter and angry self that appears occasionally. I have guy friends who can look at me and tell me that it’s time to get over it; and I have girl friends that plot theoretical (!)  homicide schemes. I have close friends who have hugged me while I cried, picked up the pieces with me, and who will support me no matter where life leads me. And I have learned a lot about myself from the last year. I have figured out (or at least have started to figure out) how I want to be treated and the kind of person I want to truly share my life with. I have learned that I DO have a brain and a backbone and that they aren’t gone forever. I have learned that it’s not ok for someone to treat me badly – and I have to try, daily, to remind myself that I deserve better. And I have learned the value of having someone (or several someones) who will hold your hand, let you cry, and love you regardless.

If this were the stock market, I think I’d be doing quite well. I won’t stress over the losses – I will instead be grateful for the gains and try to find contentment in who I am now….

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As Collin Hay wrote, “sometimes I wish I was born in another time.” I suppose that’s why I went into history as a profession – a desire to connect with and recapture days gone by. We, as a society, tend to glamorize the past and to forget that it was hot, dirty, inconvenient work to build this country…not to mention the major groups of people that were oppressed throughout the years.

But, yet, I can’t help wishing that I lived maybe 125 years ago. That would put me in 1886, the height of the Victorian age – let’s have a brief history review. Queen Victoria reigns over the British Empire, including India and Burma, Australia and Canada, and South Africa. Grover Cleveland is president of the United States, all 38 of them, and Congress is investigating claims of hate crimes against former slaves by the Klu Klux Klan. Apache chief Geronimo ends the last Indian war, after more than 30 years of fighting the loss of western lands. Labor unions are beginning to form and strikes occur in Chicago and New York seeking better conditions for lower-class workers. Sears Roebuck begins to allow for long-distance commerce, taking orders via the telegraph. Karl Benz applies for the first patents on the motorcar and the first telephone directory is published in Chicago. The first toilet is invented by an Englishman named Thomas Crapper (no, I’m not kidding) and the first sterile surgical dressings are used in medicine. Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, and Hires Root Beer appear on the market for the first time. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, a thrilling story of a man divided, is printed for the first time and Cosmopolitan magazine begins in Rochester, New York (of course, it wasn’t meant for women to read – that shift wouldn’t happen until 1965’s arrival of new editor Helen Gurley Brown). Ty Cobb was born and John Deere died. It was, as you can only imagine, a totally different world than we know.

Yes, I know that as a middle-class white woman in 1886, I would have been born to opportunities and treatment that most average people didn’t have. I would have studied at a female seminary and probably could have married decently. I might have had more commercial goods and exposure to more art and culture. I would have had to suffer through the daily donning of a corset BUT I would have had a bustle to conceal my ever-present ghetto booty. I would not have had the right to vote and, once married, I was considered property of my husband. I wouldn’t have been encouraged to do any heavy reading or deep thinking and my sphere of influence would have been mightily confined. Finance, politics, and technology would not have been on my radar – my social circle would likely discuss church activities, jam recipes, and neighborhood news.

But, you know, intellectual and material comforts aside, I do think in some ways I would prefer those simpler times. Chivalry hadn’t died and a man’s word was his bond. I would have been treated as a lady, with respect and decency, after a man had asked my father’s permission to court me. His top hat and morning coat would have been freshly brushed and pressed and a bouquet of flowers ever-present in his hands. My life would not be cluttered with the incessant ringing of phones, chatter of television, and the glare of the computer monitor . People honored and valued upright morals and those caught in serious infractions (adultery, lewd behavior, and dishonesty for instance) were socially shunned – and not celebrated for their lapses. Books and newspapers were read by people wishing to explore their world and music was made by your own two hands. Letters were penned with love and care and elocution (that lost art of effective communication) was taught to children early. And, most importantly, a declaration of honest emotion was to be believed and not just thought to be the most convenient way to get what you want.

Yes, I do believe I would have done well in another time….

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One of my favorite movies of all times is a little-known Will Farrell film called Stranger Than Fiction. Now, I know that most Will Farrell movies are either dumb (Talladega Nights, anyone?) or an acquired taste (for those of you that loved Anchorman). But Stranger Than Fiction is a totally different breed of movie. It follows a tax accountant, Harold, who lives a quiet, routine, and boring life – who suddenly wakes up one morning with an unknown voice narrating his life and controlling his movements. He struggles, every single moment, with a suddenly-changed life and the new concept that someone else is making the decisions to control his life. See where I’m going with this? Do you understand why I can identify with Harold? I too am now wandering a path laid by someone else – and am struggling a bit with it. I do have to admit, though, that I envy Harold – he has Kay (his narrator) to help guide him. I often feel that I am on my path alone, that I am standing alone in a room screaming for help and no one is there to guide me.

But one of my favorite parts of the movie is when Harold discovers what contributions can be made to this world, how the little things around us can save us from drowning.

Kay Eiffel: As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true. And, so it was, a wristwatch saved Harold Crick.

This little concept has really made me think, made me ponder what contributions I am making to the world around me, what small things I can offer to the human beings around me to help make their journeys easier. What small gifts can I give to the world to help make someone else’s life better?

There are so many things that I want to do and to be, so many dreams yet to be lived and so many goals yet to be met. It’s almost overwhelming to me sometimes. But I do know that I have decided one important thing: if I’m going to make the world a brighter place, I’m going to do it with cookies…

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I have once again revisited one of life’s sadder lessons – you just never know when your time on this earth will be up. I have lost many loved ones along the path of my life but still can never seem to grasp how fragile life is and how quickly it all can change. I am once again reminded how important to live your life well and fully – not only can it all end suddenly, but you want to leave behind a legacy of kindness, love, and faith.

A good friend of mine plays in a vintage baseball league and I have been watching him play with his team for years. Their captain, “Curly,” was one of the most lively people I had ever seen – constantly cheering his teammates on, shouting instructions, keeping the crowd educated and excited about the game of vintage baseball. He never once forgot to congratulate someone for their good play, regardless of what team they played for. He could run like the devil and hit like an angel. He loved the game and he shared that love with his son. He was a fair and strong leader, constantly encouraging and rallying his teammates. He was, as many have observed, a true gentleman ballist and a great guy. And, sadly, I do use the past tense, as he collapsed and died at last week’s game.

My heart breaks for his friends and family, as he was still a young man with so much life yet to live. Many times now, his team and his family will feel that tremendous loss. He has left a hole in the fabric of the league, his team, and his home. My thoughts and prayers have, all week, been with those that were with him when he died doing what he loved.

Someone once told me, when I had lost my friend Liz to cancer, that God needed her – there were angels needed to do his work. I have more than once taken a great deal of comfort in that statement, praying that my loved ones were now serving in the Lord’s kingdom using their special gifts. My uncle, for instance, is now watching over hunters and fishermen, making sure that everyone stays safe. Liz, that wonderful mother and friend, is still providing guidance and encouragement to all of us that loved her. My grandmother, that sweet Southern lady turned Rosie the Riveter, is baking heavenly cookies for the children of Heaven. My brother firefighter, Larry, is now guarding us all every time we gear up, making sure that everyone comes home. And now I can guess that “Curly” is leading the Lord’s base ball club and cheering on his earthly team.

So, live your lives well, my friends, as you never know when your last day will come. As Linkin Park says in their song Leave Out All the Rest: “When my time comes / Forget the wrong that I’ve done / Help me leave behind some / Reasons to be missed.” Life is short and fragile and wonderful and I don’t want anyone to miss a single minute of happiness and love. And rest in peace, “Curly,” and know that you will be missed.

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Today, as all of my American friends know, is July 4th, Independence Day. The day that celebrates the first Americans declaration of freedom and independence from England. A day for family and friends, fireworks and fired-up grills, beers and burgers, celebration and restoration. We honor the brave and noble men and women in our past and present who have struggled to keep American freedom protected. And we rejoice that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Days like today are especially difficult for me, partly because I am so far away from my family and partly because I am reminded of what I have lost. I no longer have someone to share holidays with. I wake up in bed with three purring, furry friends instead of a husband. I have to travel 8 hours for a hug from my mom and the only memories I have of my current hometown are tightly bound to memories of my ex-husband.  Luckily I have my fire department brotherhood that helps to fill the holes in my life. They invite me to parties, share their families, and allow me to pretend, for just a little while, that my life is still normal. And they let me serve the department and to do what I can to help others. They have given me a wide circle of friends that have supported me for the last year.

So today is a day to declare my independence! To remind myself how brave it was to move to a place far from the support of my family and to have planted roots deep enough to weather the storm! To celebrate that I have survived the shattered marriage and have slowly begun to rebuild my heart! To declare that I am free, as a woman and an American, to wear pants, cuss, vote, and otherwise live my life how I choose! To rejoice that I’ve come a long way, baby! For every firework tonight, I am going to send up a prayer of thanks for those hardships I have survived, those tears I have shed, and those lessons I’ve learned. And I think I’m going to use those sparkling lights to make some new dreams…

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