Leaning Overcoming Valuing Exceeding

Forty-five days since the beginning of 2020, we’ve arrived. February 14th. The day celebrated by a two-semi circled coming-to-a-point red symbol representing a feeling of eternal bliss. Credit to Pope Gelasius for declaring this day so in the year 496. Every year since, thanks to this fine pointy-headed gentleman, societies have been strapped ,err.. burdened, err… blessed with celebrating a minor holiday relative to dates set aside for giving thanks and starting nations. One-thousand, five-hundred, twenty-four years of knuckle dragging the glass of countless candy counters, eye-scratching over card covers, and sniff-snorkeling the classiest carnations. Yeah, thanks so much to Sir Gelatin, or Gelasuis. Whatever.

I’m not down on this day. Sounds like it, but not. Thinking maybe Pope G. was a bit lonely, though. Maybe if he had some extra minutes (and encouraging friends) to think it through, a few slurp-sips of timely wine ounces headed up into his brain may have been able to change his mind … and, by extension, our forced buying habits on this, the most cherished love day of all. Ah, there it is …. the word: LOVE.

The word “love” produced 18 Trillion results in .54 seconds. That’s trillion with a “T” in Google. Took me more time to say it. Here’s the copy/paste: “About 18,180,000,000 results (0.54 seconds)” … Geesh. Tell me, again, how unimportant you think love is to people? Not that you ever said it, but really? … In 1980, Midnight Star released a song, “Searching for Love” … They ain’t kidding!:

I am searching for love, searching for love, searching for love
I am searching for love, searching for love, searching for loveSometimes in my life, I feel that I may have
Everything I need
But deep down inside of me, my heart ….

Source: Musixmatch. Songwriters: Belinda Bo Watson. Searching for Love lyrics © Sony/atv Songs Llc Dba Epic/solar, Sony/atv Songs Epic/solar Obo Midstar Music

So, now 45 days in, we’re left with a (presumably) dead Pope, candy, cards, flowers, … and love. Carving out the first three, for obvious artificial reasons, I’ll focus on the last – one letter at a time.

L

LEANING I’m a dog guy. “U” wouldn’t find this surprising seeing as how this is the only letter missing between our Doug & dog identifiers. Cat, Iguana, or pony didn’t seem right when pushing oversized pencils across inappropriately small lined paper, so I knew early on I would grow up to be a dog-man. Elementary school was great for drawing goldfish and stick horses, but there was nothing like a real dog welcoming home a tired pre-teen just off a bouncy, long bus ride from school.

Two legs or four, those first few moments were fresh and new. Suddenly, not so heavily worn were the paws of a friend waiting all day by the bay window, or the small canvas Keds tucked under a one-piece crayon scraped desk. An embrace between great friends. Love found a way through.

Hard times and rough patches are the large pencils in our adult lives. It’s certainly difficult to make things write a lot of the time. The paper is too small – if available at all – and drawing anything that makes sense to anyone else is … well … nearly impossible.

So what we ended up with is a long, bumpy ride on life’s bus to where-ever town … that place looking smokin’ hot in our fantasies until cold-showered by reality. Exiting the bus, we are searching for the one welcome home. The one real lean on me. The one who waits by the door with a hot cup of tea and an embrace saying, “I missed you. Come on in.”

O

OVERCOMING. Sometime around early spring of 2007, a well respected OB-GYN diagnosed stage 3 cancer in my mom. In my limited understanding at the time, this meant her cancer was a bit more serious than that “little small dot” was expected to be. This disease is sneaky. Mom accepted the news -tragic as it was – with full acceptance and a classic head tilt of resignation.

Those of us not in half snapped hospital gowns, partially torn bandages, and cheap paper thin sheets stood in the hallway half-stunned. We, the supposedly still healthy ones, were challenged more by the news than my mom who, by any reasonable standards, was merrily on her way thinking of someone else’s need by then. That’s how she rolled – or coped. Never quite sure.

Five years of treatments. I’ve told, and written, of her journey before and never tire of the story. Pain, for sure. Surgeries. Relapses. Never too far away from it. Travel. Rashes. Other ailments and problems due to the chemo and drugs. On and on and on ….. Her motto every day? “Today is my new normal!”

She died in March of 2012. I never asked her if that motto was original. I’ve also avoided googling it in fear it wasn’t. For me, it belongs to her. It is what I will always love about her. Overcoming her days of pain with optimism and hope … even when facing the most challenging of little, small dots that grew into monsters she fought so bravely to keep away from those of us she loved.

V

VALUING We have a True Value hardware store in town. I don’t visit very often for blatantly obvious reasons. One, hammers and I have an unfriendly business relationship. I’ve offered my thumbs as a contract bargaining chip without my prior consent too many times, so I temporarily halted negotiations. Two, if one more box of odd-sized brads, nails, tacks, or small pointy metal spears ends up on a shelf in my basement, my house will become the third magnetic pole. Finally, PVC cement smells so ridiculously sweet, I’m afraid the temptation to buy more under the ruse of building a gargantuan PVC playground would be too great.

This is the true value I place on not going into True Value. Sure, they’re silly words, but I do recognize the importance of not doing things that are not valuable. Ok, grammarians, I get the double negative no-no🤫😉🙄, however, you understand my mind-blowing, humbly proud genius here, right?

We need to love ourselves, and/or others, enough to value our time. If not, why do it? True value. Hold hands if asked, a meaningful hug, small dinner at home with the kids, time alone reading or playing an instrument, anything that helps us complete our picture of “full and valuable me”. Love is valuable. Try to not leave it on the bottom shelf of life where no one will see it.

E

EXCEEDING. In sales, if you under-promise and then over-deliver on a consistent basis, you’re as good as a ten-legged horse in a potato sack race. Promise $200, give ’em $100 … you’re a fool. Say, “I’ll bring ‘ya $50 by sun–up tomorrow”, and then deliver $100? You’re a hero riding a white stallion with four normal legs… maybe sporting a fancy black saddle with gold sequins emblazoned with a large “A” (for awesome), and …. well you imagine whatever you want from here.

Take this smooth ride into town – thankful it isn’t a long, bouncy trek – with your head touching the bottom of the highest cloud. This horse you ride is trotting you on a path well-deserved.

This attention to a career path has led many to great successes. Some continue to ride their great horses years after understanding the basic UP-OD principle. Translated, they love what they do, and it shows through constantly exceeding expectations of others.

My guess is Pope Gelasius leaned over, quite auspiciously in his wooden, creaky throne, to a random red cloaked Vicar and whispered, “Vicar, my man, we have not a day set aside to honor the greatest emotion among us – that of luuhve!”. He then, in quiet repose, must have retreated deeper into his thoughts. “I do believe, fifteen-hundred years in the future, a man will love dogs just enough to write a blog (note to self: I have no idea what a blog is) .. about what love really is on the very day I hereby decree a holiday”.

“Vicar! …. MORE WINE!!”

The Potter

“So now what?”, said Clay to the potter. A fair question. After all, Clay didn’t ask to be thrown on the potter’s wheel. Minding his own since the creation of time, the situation, now, is quite different.

Clay was only recently unearthed and his question was warranted. Very justified, to be sure. He was taken from his millennial friends whom he met as they passed by in the cold stream nearby. A place called home where small shiny fish swam in the riffle pockets swirling around glossy green pebbles. Familiar and predictable. Nature’s pathway to eternal growth, for Clay, seemed no more.

Finding his way back would be futile. There really was no return. The potter determined Clay’s fate with the first thrust of a generational, rusty shovel. Into the bucket he fell .. and unknown future.

The future needed to survive came from his tears – which were beginning to run dry after hours inside this pale yellow tin prison. Cracks never known before began to appear on his face as an original deep, rich hue changed to a pale, inanimate tan. As each moment passed, life affirming oxygen swirled still … stale, dormant inside. Darkness cut off the sunlight. With each sway – as he was carried away from his familiar – came less hope of ever being his familiar self again. Despair. Alone in a circular world of alien metal and foreign feelings.

A short distance away was the potter’s home. Extending from the porch a worn path of stones placed years ago by a loving great-grandfather. For this house was generationally bound to the present with each and every new step taken by his heirs. The dirty prints atop each stone remained as gifts paid forward to the next one blessed to have walked in his footsteps.

At the far end of the simple ranch house, a small wooden, simply-framed building stood in contrast to the house itself. Unconnected, it stood with four walls reaching up to form a slightly leaning roof front-to-back and also inside-to-upside. From age, not design, the roof leaned in a peculiar way. In one corner, rain water collected. Surely not the original intent … for there was no apparent way for the water to drain. Repairs seemed necessary, but not a priority. Whatever the cause, intent, or resolution, from inside a rusty old bucket, none of this mattered.

There was no revelation for Clay. No way of knowing. Cut off from what he knew, currently in a dark scary space, unaware of the future he could not see … fate dealt a massive blow.

Then the swaying stopped.

Silence.

What was to be? An end finally here? Motionless alarm.

At last in the distance a trickle. At first he wasn’t sure, but as it continued, he knew the sound. Suddenly, it was music so familiar a joy .. and then an immediate hope infused with water saturated his soul. The moment became momentarily possible as the still rusty bucket started to fill around him with precious familiar water. Life could continue with a renewed, but hesitant outlook.

Clay began to consider his recent nemesis a friend. Cracks healing, color returning, the bucket not naturally familiar, however, there was life ahead so everything was ok for now. And with that, he sat. Waiting. Pondering what to say. By this time, the potter retired for the evening back into his house, turning the single light off in this tilted, damp extra building where a bucket sat to collect rainwater leaking from the roof.

The traditional, predictable question, “why?” didn’t fit. Any answer to that wasn’t going to change Clay’s current state. He knew where he came from and where he was at present.. The future was unclear…until.

The potter’s warm hands reached in to embrace Clay the following morning as the sun dried the dew off the stones in the pathway. He gently placed Clay on the spinning wheel sitting in the dry corner opposite where the rain bucket sat almost full from the evening storm. With a trust formerly unfamiliar to him -especially never speaking to the potter – Clay, with humility and grace, spoke, “So now what? I am scared. I am alone. Please, please. What is your purpose with me?”

From the potter came a most unexpected reply,

“I have searched for perfection. Meticulously scanning the earth for years, I did not find it until yesterday. This craft of pottery was entrusted to me from my forefathers. The honor of continuing at their behest requires perfection – not in the final form, but in the basic, foundation materials. Such material has to be pure, aged, wise, loving, nurturing – all of the qualities I am blessed to finally find in you. You are perfection from the start. I am truly honored to work with you”

Silence. Then tears. Then friendship. Then love. That day a potter began a masterpiece never to be shown in a gallery.

Clay now sits on the potter’s book stand next to a rocking chair – the same wicker chair passed down from a great-grandfather. The same chair with worn side rails from a grateful great grandson’s arms resting on them every night.

The most beautiful of vases sits quietly, and majestically, next to a worn, aged, man who years ago carried a long since rusted out bucket back from a stream. The stream has since dried out. The fish are gone. The pebbles are still sitting there in the dust.

As Clay sits quietly, his friends are gone. Forever.

He is alive and more beautiful than ever thanks to his wonderful friend, the potter, who sleeps silently next to him with a partially open book over his chest. Silently he rests to arise tomorrow, possibly walking out the front door to make new footprints on the stone pathway into the future…

Everything is OK. It Really Is

December 25th, Christmas Day, and it’s 8:18 am EST in my western Pennsylvania town roughly two hours east of Pittsburgh on a “good” driving day. My neighborhood is quiet. Most, if not all, of the kiddos have moved away to start their lives in more robust, better opportunistic areas. We’re not nestled in the worst part of our great country where folks are really struggling. My neighbors, as well, are not driving Porches and spending any dot-com fortunes on 60-foot yachts and Beverly Hills vacations. “Middle-class America” is our best sweatshirt embroidered logo … and the best way to describe our work ethic. Today as I type, under most modestly decorated trees of tinsel and faux-gold in homes no more than a few paces from my keyboard, I suspect few families have Christmas going on. The trees are decoration. That’s all.

Am I writing this from the scientific method? No…. merely a guess. Boy, Id’ love to be wrong. During the last twenty-four minutes of typing, the idea of having neighborhood children interrupt adults with snowball fights, hot-chocolate requests, present getting pleas, sing-a-longs, and hugs would be magic. There has been silence, however. This is o.k. It means those once children are now adults making their own memories in neighborhoods of their own choosing.

It is December 25th. Christmas Day, if it’s your day.

I did not have children. I am not writing this as a parent. I am writing, today, from a house in a neighborhood three avenues deep, one street wide, with only one road to the main boulevard. That one access – in and out – is the yellow brick road to our Oz. We can walk and dance our way back knowing the isolation and joy of having limited, and destination only, traffic. One block in, you’ve already passed a wonderful auto mechanic, Frank, a tobacco store and church. Stop briefly at the intersection (this time of year) to see “house beautiful” so wonderfully decorated in white lights with a darling fountain of ceramic dogs, ornately adorned, draped elegantly in front of the porch. Neighbors, including us, spend very little in outside decorations because of “house beautiful”. A simple, “D-I-T-T-O” light-arrow display well positioned … pointed strategically toward said house … usually sends the proper message. We love them, though.

I can’t say “all” of us. That’s not fair. Most neighbors do decorate. That was an attempt to hide the fact I don’t decorate – ever. So much easier to share a blame than accept all of it. My neighbor directly across has a front lawn electrified with a snowman, castle, red mailbox for Santa, and reindeer, a sleigh, and something I can’t really make out. To my immediate left is a lawn with a bunch of white “sticky” things – and by “sticky” I don’t mean adhesive. I am trying to say “Edward-Scissorhandy fingery looking thingys” sticking out from the ground. It’s daylight, and with daylight comes ambiguity. With night comes clarity. Those sticky concepts become beautiful reindeer, snowmen, sleighs, and trees.

Still, with all the decorations, so quiet. No kids. No footprints in the frost on the ground. Exactly an hour since I started writing and no interruptions for candy, patter of feet on the hardwood floor running toward the window to see if Grandma and Pap-Pap are coming, or wrapping paper wadded in a ball prepared for a swish into the trash bag ten feet away. It is such a quiet neighborhood today…and this is ok.

Later there will be a gathering of friends. Not in my neighborhood, however. I need to shift. Adult-kids are meeting in an adult place to be together. It is a new normal for me. Middle-class America is represented well among my friends, save a few where life’s pile of good fortune has dumped heaps upon them. What an amazing cross-section of companions I have – to support, encourage, foster, and keep up with the ever changing emotional and societal demands I pile upon them…..as they do me. I don’t know, where, what, or how the path of fate visited me…, or, at what time it was when eccentric little anti-imps decided to bless me .. but they did. It is in a neighborhood of sorts I will gladly attend in a few hours only five minutes drive away. Another quiet town. Just today.

Five minutes drive in the opposite direction, north, is the bustling small concrete emptiness of our local mall. Another gathering of folks among the un-rented, overpriced, greed-ridden vacuous corporate, outdated expanse. For the most part, strangers on any given day -except Christmas – find their way around Applebee’s, a candle store, phone kiosk, and smattering of other hang-on stores. The anchors are gasping for a last retail breath this holiday season and I suspect there isn’t much left in the tank. Crowds, as they are, seem almost museum quality … eyes glazing at the stores seen as relics of misunderstood art seen for a few weeks’ time, subsequently moving on to one more throng … in another quiet town in a different, but oh so similar, cold concrete mall.

Certainly, that is fifty weeks out of a normal year. The other two weeks remain in the hands of unfavorable fortune due to the drive of commercialism this time of year.

It was in our mall, during the 14-day window of this credit card netherworld, I caught sight of the tree above. It wasn’t 8:18 am on a cold Wednesday morning as today when I started writing. I don’t believe it was a Wednesday at all. Quiet wasn’t in the forecast, either. Kiddos were hustling about as the inexpensive train ride around the tree was running full-steam ahead. Parents, if not smiling ear-to-ear with their little ones while sandwiched in the little train cars, were uncomfortably bent over the restraining fence to get that perfect picture around the last right turn of the track. Santa sat proudly listening intently to the hopes and dreams whispered from each child’s wishful lips. Casual walkers had to slow down, anyway, to catch a small hopeful glimpse of a child’s happy face. Had to. In the face of that single child was an innocence of the season. A “happy holiday” that is always lost somewhere between losing a first tooth and cashing a first paycheck.

There were times stopping at this tree was mandatory. The crowds were so oppressive pre-internet, one had no choice but to suffer through the shopping body odor bondage of “I need to get over there but how” problem. This day, however, unremarkably absent was the crowd. Silent. I stood at the tree, anyway. Resolved to be vertical in homage to the tree before me. Silent as it was, but in precise opposition to what it stood as … not for.

It stands FOR a holiday – a Christmas holiday symbol for the tradition of presents, hot chocolate, sing-a-longs and snowball fights. This tree, AS it is, is artificial. This tree is not alive. Inside a cold, public, artificial meeting place, it stands. Yet, the warmth of simple children under all, is the real present for all of us to open.

Today, it stands quietly. Strangely so, my neighborhood does as well .. still. Four hours later. I’ve been to Denny’s and back for a half-hour breakfast with my dad. He paid because that’s what dads do for their lonely on Christmas day sons. Families were nestled in booths and nudged around tables … eating large breakfasts and sipping warm, steamy tea. Some quietly, some not. Waitresses and waiters served limited menu items and had unforced portrayals of joy on their faces for having to work on this day. Kudos to them. The parking lot of the mall, as I spied from my rather worn, red vinyl seat, was empty as it should be on December 25th, Christmas day.

I returned home coming back through the very same neighborhood I’ve traveled through thousands of times before. One street and three avenues deep, I still love it here. Didn’t pass one kiddo playing outside or one neighbor walking. Once again passing by house-beautiful, sticky white things and electrified red mailboxes. Soon to be handsome-fied with a quick shower and fluff-up, I’ll head into town to meet my friends. They’re really nice … not artificial.

Remembering the children under the tree today …

They’ll soon be grown. The real trees and all the kiddos. Quiet, still, as I end. It’s ok. It really is.

Happy Christmas to you and YOUR neighborhood !!