Banning the W-word

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I am now old enough to remember several words that were used during regular dinnertime conversations that would never be used by educated people in a discussion today. Many words have been ‘banned” and as a society we have agreed that because of the pain inflicted by certain words they are no longer acceptable in either written or spoken forms.  I hope that someday there will be other words added to this list of hurtful and unnecessary words. Words that we will no longer let glibly roll off our tongues without first giving thought to what we are saying. One word that I would like to see banished to the garbage can of history is what I call the W-word, the word “Worthy” and along with it, its twin sister, “Unworthy.”

The single greatest regret of my life, the one for which I will never be able to make amends, is leaving my Dad sitting on a couch in the foyer on my wedding day, along with my sweet, Nana. At my father’s funeral my aunt told me that the greatest heartbreak of his life was never seeing any of his daughters married.  Long ago, back when racial epitaphs were still being used on a regular basis, I, too, succumbed to the idea that an arbitrary set of rules could determines if someone was “worthy” or “unworthy.” During a time of immaturity, I overlooked the fact that my father had raised me, cared for me, supported me, sat by me when sick, taught me to drive, moved me into college, hiked with me, fished with me, dreamed with me and loved me enough to travel and sit outside on my wedding day; but was not deemed “worthy” to see me married. Worthy-what a painful word.

When we use the N-word we make a person less-than for the color of their skin, when we use the R-word someone is made to feel less than for the level of their intelligence and when we use the W-word someone is made to feel less than because of capricious standards of right-ness.  Would we ever use the word “unworthy” in connection with a cousin who smokes an occasional joint, but then picks up a homeless teenager on the street and takes him home to give him a roof over his head? Does anyone have a right to judge as worthy or unworthy the gay man who has devoted his life to being a cancer nurse, lovingly caring for men in the last days of their lives? And what of the worthiness of a young, single mother who has given birth and now cares for her young child during the day while working the night shift?

Most regrettably, is the use of the W-word, by those who stand in self-judgment; never quite feeling that they are enough in the sight of God, never feeling they can live up to some unattainable standard of morality. What a cruel and painful word for any young man or young woman to inflict upon themselves as they struggle towards maturity.  What a burdensome word for any father or mother to allow in a family conversation. In our human experience, we all make mistakes and have regrets, we struggle and triumphant and learn and grown…no one is immune to the turbulence of life—young and old alike. Ironically, it is these very experiences that make us worthy (in the middle English sense of the word): honorable, admirable, deserving.

As members of “the family of man,” no one should be left standing outside of the circle. And as we partake, serve, stand, bless, enter and especially marry, the words we should use are those that must never be banned—I am Joyful. I am Blessed.  I am Grateful. I am Loved. I am Striving. I am Human. Scan

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ride of my Life!

DSC_0104A few years ago, I was attending the third funeral in a row of a family that had been forever changed by the ravages of Huntington’s disease. My friend and neighbor, Lael, had lost her husband and two children within a very short time. As her son spoke at the funeral, he paid tribute to his mother and said, “My mother is who she is because of this disease.” Lael is a wonderful woman; perhaps one of her greatest characteristics is her sense of humor.  I have never suffered the pain of this dear lady, but sometimes I hear those words in the back of my mind when I think of my son Andy.  “I am who I am because of Andy.” And, isn’t it ironic that at a time I am wondering, “What’s in a name?” that even my name carries an inside joke between God and me—about the need for a sense of humor in this life and also it offers a clue about who I am. Never does the last week of January pass without a few moments of reflection on that day when Andy came into my life bringing with him the gifts of Peace, Love and a lot of Rock and Roll!

Few people go through life spending as much time together as Andy and me— we have certainly spent more time together than I have with my parents, siblings or spouse. We do a tricky dance, the two of us.  He  “doesn’t need parents”—just ask him; but he still needs a “driver!”  At 28, Andy is very much an adult—not a kid in an adult body, but an adult, with adult needs, adult wants and adult frustrations from living in a world where things don’t always go according to plan. In other words, your “driver” doesn’t always get you to your desired destination! Oh Andy, how I can relate! Somehow, though, we just crank up the radio, keep moving and rock on!

No longer do I look back at what Andy has taught me—but now I look at how Andy has changed me. I am a much different person than when we met so many years ago. He has made me slower—perhaps that is not the politically correct way to phrase that-but life in the slow lane means that you take your time going everywhere and doing everything. We take our time getting dressed; we amble through the grocery store, we don’t hurry when we eat and together we get to enjoy the journey. (I practice A LOT of patience at Sam’s Club-because that is a BIG store to walk slowly through.) Andy and his friends have blurred my vision. I no longer can see those socially constructed lines between normal and not-normal, able and disabled. Everything is fuzzy and I now realize that everyone I meet in life has “special needs.” Even though I am still a “work in progress,” Andy has made me more honest with myself. Living with someone who is 100% authentic at all times, makes you envy the genuine life. It makes you appreciate being able to say, “No, I don’t like that” or “No, that doesn’t work for me” (his favorite phrase of late)—without having to tag on an excuse! But when Andy does smile and laugh—it is from the heart, pure, guileless, no strings attached.  Finally, Andy has taught me to love, unconditionally—as best I can anyway. Andy has poor vision too. He has no concept of class, color, intellectual ability, occupation, religious beliefs, age—he doesn’t even pay attention to the difference between mean people and nice people. Everyone just is in Andy’s world.

When I think back on that cold, January morning, twenty-eight years ago, I remember Steve laying Andy in my arms and telling me what the Dr. had just told him—I remember saying, “It will be o.k.  We will just take him home and love him.”  Maybe what was really going on in that moment was Andy was laying there in my arms looking up at me and thinking, “Well, she has potential, I will go home with her and see what I can do. Her eyes are a little different than mine, but they look kind.  I will just love her the best I can and hopefully someday in the future she will be whole again. Meanwhile, I will be patient and remember that she does have “Down” syndrome—and that is o.k.!”

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The Write Name!

DSC_0025“What’s in a name?” Juliet laments as she thinks of her lover Romeo-of the rival Montague family.  “Who am I?” Jean ValJean sings as he is torn between revealing his true self or allowing another to be charged with a crime he did not commit. “Did you lie?” Oprah grills Lance Armstrong. All of these questions mix in my mind as I think about writing, as I consider “what to do next” and even as I carve my initials in a slightly off-center bowl I have just pulled off a potter’s wheel.

“You have a contract with your reader…,” the English professor looks me in the eyes through my computer screen as I complete an online lesson on Writing  Creative Non-Fiction, “…a contract to always  tell the truth!”  “What difference does it make?”—Hillary Clinton screeches to a committee looking for answers. “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” A quote from Anais Nin, hastily written on a post-it note, stares at me from my desk drawer. These voices fill the empty spaces of my imagination as I clean and fold and drive and shower.

“Why do you want to write?”—my friend asks, as we sit in the warmth of the January sun talking about life and death, dreams and poetry. “I wish I had a pseudonym,” my daughter says as we discuss our blogs and I think of the one I would have chosen—Anne Honeyfield—names from both of my grandmothers. “My what a tangled web we weave when at first we do deceive,” so learned Manti Ta’o the Norte Dame football player caught in a game of Catfish! All of these thoughts have continued to simmer on the back burners of my mind, while other more important ideas evaporate into doubt and confusion.

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And, as the questions brew, slowly the answers begin to come. Gradually, new goals come into focus and stories once again begin to form. I grow to love the outspokenness of the family matriarch in Downton Abbey and secretly yearn to be like her. I feel indignation rise in my blood at the suggestion that “women who understand their roles have no need to lobby for rights!” I smile when I see a .com that bears my name and long to use it. I remind a teenager to be a leader not a follower—and realize I am reprimanding myself. I cheer on those elite women Navy Seals who will now be able to work beside their male counterparts, as I watch the evening news. I sink into warrior pose as I follow a morning yoga DVD and “feel the strength of mother earth” moving up through my legs.  I reclaim my name and boldly sign a piece of art…Colleen. I install Word on my new computer and once again begin to write.

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Auld Lang Syne…

New Year

As I get older, I am finding that it is almost more important to reflect back on the old year and the things that I have learned, than it is to set goals for the New Year.  My greatest learning almost always comes from the experiences I would never choose for myself and certainly not from resolutions I make and break on paper.  I am not the person I was a year ago and many events in 2012 have changed me, refined me and helped me to grow. So here are a few of things I have “learned” in the past year…..

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*  The election of a president, the rantings of an incarcerated “prophet,” or the chiselings on an ancient Mayan Dayplanner will not bring about the end of the world. Each night it is important to set your alarm and your Mr. Coffee and prepare for a better tomorrow!

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* Little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice…and really fun to shop for.

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* Don’t try to explain the unexplainable. Silence truly can be golden. Sometimes the only prayer that can be uttered is, “Help us to bear, the unbearable.”

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* Any “change of life” is best done with a support group!

* “Cool parents” is an oxymoron. These two words should never be used in the same sentence.

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*  True art, whether it is poetry, a painting, a film or a novel (or even clumsy hands on a potter’s wheel), must push us to the edge of our comfort zone. It must make us make us slightly nervous and cause us to look at the world in a different way. It needs to speak to and for a part of our soul that has not yet been addressed.

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*The full and abundant life cannot be poured into a pair of “skinny jeans.” (I speak from experience!)

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* Dreams can come true—just put them out there! There is nothing that a lot of faith, hope and love cannot build!

* Some injuries take a very long time to heal, but we can learn much as we trust the process. A massage can heal both body and soul!

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* Happiness is not a state of being. Happiness is found in small moments that need to be acknowledged. If it were a state of being there would not be room for sadness, vulnerability, discouragement, yearning, melancholy, anger—all of those other emotions that make us human. However, the more we recognize the moments of happiness, the more content we will be.

* FaceBook is making the world a kinder, gentler, smaller place (except for those weeks leading up to an election!)

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*All we must do to keep hope alive in our hearts is to leave the door open so that the “breath of life” can circulate in and around and through us. Even the smallest spark of hope can be fanned and tended until a flame begins to grow and we once again experience warmth and light. Never shut the doors of your heart or hearth so tight that circulation is cut off!

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* After thirty-two years, Steve still loves me as much as ever!

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* EVERYONE needs a set of wheels!

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*Love is tangible enough to hold up a nervous groom walking down the aisle and to hold up a grieving bride following down the aisle to memorialize him  a few months later. The love of family and friends can fill a room to the point of being able to feel it wafting through the air and moving across your skin. Hearts and lives are sealed together by tears, laughter and love. Period.

Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with Stephen Hawking who said, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” I have also learned the more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know! So here is a toast to 2013 and the lessons that will keep coming!

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For Clarissa

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I feel so blessed that I could be in Texas for the birth of little Clarissa. She has now taken up residence in that part of my heart where I pray and worry and dream for my children and grandchildren. I have thought of her often these past couple of months and wish that I could once again hold her in my arms, rock her and whisper a blessing in her ear of all that I would hope for her. Like Fiona, Fauna and Merriweather, the matronly fairies in Sleeping Beauty, I wish I could wave my magic wand and bestow my deepest wishes upon her.

For Clarissa

My Dear Clarissa Ann, my little Southern Belle, you were born into a long line of Southern ladies, women gracious, hospitable and strong in every way. Texas ladies who single handily ran cattle ranches and cared for the sick. And in your line of ancestors you have those who fought in the Alamo and preached self-reliance and hope after the Civil War. I hope that you will be strong of character and gentle of heart as you look to this wonderful heritage you have through all the different lineages.

 You were also born into a city of diversity. It is a melting pot of so many cultures, a city of art and science, a city that put men on the moon and is a mecca for art and theater. I hope that you will carry this tradition in your heart also and be open to all. Seek learning and wisdom. Embrace science and math. Surround yourself with art and literature.  Follow your mother’s example of seeing beauty and delight in the smallest flowers and in the most glorious sunsets. Glean from her those principles of art– balance, movement, color and composition that will help you to look at the world with wonder and amazement. From your father learn reasoning and science so that your life will be balanced and full.

 Take advantage of every opportunity you will have for travel, to explore, to circle the world and to share your experiences with others. Live broadly and deeply. Read broadly and deeply. Love broadly and deeply. Know how much you are loved and thought about, no matter where you may be living. Know that even a picture brings joy to a Nana’s heart. You were born into an age when the world is shrinking and we are connected with each other in so many different ways, always take advantage of these to stay in touch, both with those you love intimately and those whose lives you may cross paths with briefly.

Gather all of life in a loosely woven basket. Gather the moon and the stars and the sunrises. Gather the smell of pines and the fragrance of roses. Gather the sounds of rushing rivers and the songs of birds at the end of the day. Gather smiles and tears and love and laughter. Gather hugs and pain. Gather manna daily from the poets and philosophers; the thinkers and the musicians. Gather joy and sorrow. Fill your basket to overflowing and then share with others. Give of your meager loaves and fishes and then gather the abundance that will come back to you.

I bless you that you will always be yourself and never try to be someone else. Nurture your spirit and soul and learn of those gifts which only you possess and which only you can use to help heal this world. Dream big. Live fully and at times even recklessly. Take risks and be prudent. Climb mountains and swim in oceans and then sit quietly under the stars and ponder your place in this vast universe. Rejoice in the mystery of it all. Be satisfied with not knowing while always continuing to seek.

Most importantly, I bless you with a strong heart, a loving heart, a giving heart. Open your arms and life to all those around you. Notice the one who is not within your circle and bring them into it. I pray that you will be healthy and strong. I pray that you will have all you desire and need in this life. I pray that you will be safe and secure. Never forget how much you are loved and prayed for and thought of and how delighted we are that you are part of our family, welcome to our hearts, our sweet, precious Rissy.

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Remaining Relevant

The heads of the Kings of France from the statues of Notre Dame Cathedral “cut off”  and buried during the French Revolution

Surfing the net, amid the post-election, post-hurricane, post-Petraeus rubble, I stumbled on an article in the New York magazine by Frank Rich, a former op-ed writer for the New York Times. While not at all what any Republican wants to hear and somewhat biased, as any political victor is wont to be, there was certainly enough truth in the article to leave me feeling unsettled. The unsettled feeling was not only political in nature but the same raw sensation I have felt at other times, in other areas of my life whether it is professionally, spiritually or in my education.  It was the painful jolt of a loss of relevance.

It is the same emotion a mother has when her kindergarten walks into the classroom without looking back and she realizes she is no longer the only person in her child’s life. It is the reality an author faces when her bestseller is now being sold on the $4.98 clearance table. It is the quiet resignation of setting down the phone when you have once again reached the answering machine of an adult child because their life is much too busy to be checking in on a daily basis. It is realizing that your sacred rituals no longer speak to the souls of the next generation. It is scrambling to learn a new 3.0 app when you can’t remember where you put 2.0 on your desktop and you never figured out 1.0. It is packing up a product into a cardboard box that you once put your heart and soul into developing and marketing—because no one on the planet even owns a cassette tape player anymore. It is a feeling common at some point in life to every human who resides on this rapidly spinning planet. It is the stark realization that you must change, and quickly, or be relegated to a corner rocking chair or thrift store—both dusty, lonely places.

It will take humility and innovation for the Grand Old Party to recognize that it must also move forward and become more relevant to a younger, more diverse electorate. All loss, whether it is a divorce, job loss, health issue or an empty nest requires pondering and introspection. Most difficult of all, a loss requires transformation! Like many wordsmiths, I have found many of the answers to my most difficult struggles in that ancient book of wisdom—Webster’s dictionary. The word “relevance” comes from the Latin word “relevare” meaning “ to lift up.” If we are to remain relevant we must always look for new ways to lift each other up. Relevant is also closely related to the word “relieve” –literally it is to lift up each other-to lighten the load. Loss of relevance is a feeling—but it is certainly not a state of being. As my nest empties, the world changes, my flip-phone become obsolete and three paragraph blogs need to be reduced to a tweet- I can remain relevant by finding new ways of providing relief and lightening burdens. My generation can remain “relevant” as entrepreneurs, teachers, parents, grandparents and even political candidates by listening, changing, growing, lifting and like “The Boss”-Bruce Springsteen—occasionally changing our tune! (See “8 Lessons from Bruce Springsteen on Staying Relevant”)

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A Day at the Museum

This past summer I took an Art class where we discussed several modern artists. One of these was Mark Rothko and our teacher mentioned that his famous gallery was in Houston, the Rothko Chapel. I made a mental note to myself that next time I was in Houston I would check it out. Fast forward a few months and I am in Houston with my very pregnant daughter, waiting for the birth of a new grandbaby. We had time to kill and we needed to walk—and walk and walk! So we decided now was the time to go to the Rothko. She called a friend and we all headed downtown to the Museum District.

In the back of my head, I remembered the words of my teacher telling us that modern art is more about what you bring to the experience than what the artist is showing you. Modern art is most often a reflection of where you are in life. True art often unsettles us and makes us uncomfortable. Walking up to the Rothko Chapel, I had no idea how true this was going to be. In the foyer, we signed the guest book and glanced at the scriptures from all the world’s religious traditions on a bench by the door. Lowering our voices, we went into the chapel where we were greeted by 15 large paintings—all black and also a grim looking hostess—also completely dressed in a black suit with her hair pulled tightly in a bun (think the principal in Matilda here).

Within seconds the commotion began. My three year old grandson, James, jumped out of his stroller causing it to tip and spill the content of Jessica’s diaper bag, including her half filled water bottle onto the concrete floor.  “That is why we do not allow drinks into the Rothko,” the hostess hissed. I grabbed James hand while I quickly tried to take in the large black paintings in the windowless room.  Jessica grabbed some paper towels and a day before delivery dropped to her knees and began mopping up the floor—counting her blessings that it wasn’t her water that had just broken in the Rothko man cave. Her friend grabbed her daughter and as quickly as we entered, we exited. Standing under the noontime sun and over-arching trees, the tension broke and we began to laugh…and then we went to the park!

Sitting on a bench, watching young mothers helping their children swing and feeling the sun on my face, I realized, once again, that darkness whether it is in the universe, a room, a painting or a hostess is simply the absence of light—and in this case color. Darkness absorbs light. Mark Rothko was a very troubled soul who eventually committed suicide. Very briefly, facing myself in those black paintings, I knew that I would not find God in dark, windowless chapels, devoid of children, surrounded by dusty closed canons and I cannot find myself either. For me, god exists in wide-open spaces, with colorful skies as a ceiling and mountain peaks as the walls and always there must be water flowing freely—bringing forth new life. The experience was a gentle reminder that we can all reflect light and in my daughters words as she stood up from cleaning the floor, “no one ever wants to be made to feel less than.” All in all, a very productive “day at the museum.”



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