Lost stars

CYBER

Suppose for a moment you were lost, searching for the meaning of life, searching for a reason to belong, searching for a reason to live.

Where would you turn? What would you do?

The answer is quite clear, to me anyway. People turn to the next best thing if real people aren’t around, Facebook for the adult crowd, some other sort of social media for all the hep hipsters.

Have you noticed how some people pour out their souls, their drama, their mundane details of life on Facebook? Why would they do that?

Because they are searching for human contact.

We need human contact. We need to make some kind of connection. We are all so alone.

We all read our scripts, and we respond, and we go along our merry ways. We sit across from each other in a restaurant, but we don’t talk. We scroll FB, reading the last news. We check, check, check our text messages.

Maybe we tweet the maximum characters. Maybe we prefer Snapchat.

But we don’t chat. Not in person. Not anymore.

It’s just not cool to become intimate. We need a wall between us, a place to hide.

It’s easier to deal with rejection that way.

The price we pay for the lack of intimacy and connection is emptiness. There is nothing like that hollow feeling, except maybe death. I’m not sure which is worse, emptiness or death.

So what do we do after we have built this wall to protect our fragile egos?

We wait.

And wait.

And wait for the right person to tear it down, to scale it, to fashion a door, anything. We NEED someone to think we’re worth the effort to get past our walls.

And when it doesn’t happen, we venture out and go right back to the place that put us in solitary confinement—social media.

When we are lonely and desperate, hurting and sad, seeking and needing, we pour out our feelings, hoping that someone will listen, better yet, that SOMEONE will respond.

Truth be told, on many occasions, I’ve often wished I could text God or at least send him a private message on Facebook when in reality all I need to do is to talk to him via what most people call prayer.

The trouble is we only know how to communicate electronically these days. We have forgotten how to use our heads and our hearts.

I used to think, “Why is that person on Facebook telling me all about his despicable day? Why is she telling me what she had for supper and what caused her to stub her toe?”

But I know.

It’s that hollow feeling.

We have become so advanced that we’ve learned to travel far, far away from each other. We’re free falling into ourselves, and the space is immense, expanding like the Universe.

And the emptiness scares us. It reminds us how alone we are.

Oh, some say, just turn to God.

But what about those who can’t find God?

What about those who actually go into churches to seek him?

The signs on the building suggest He is there. But when they walk in, they look around and find busy, busy people—not God.

They meet rejection head on because the busy people are too busy to get to know them, let alone invest in them.

They judge them on the length of their hair, the color of their skin, the price tag on their clothes. Maybe they judge them by much they weigh, how old they are, how young they are, how educated they are, and so on and so on.

Or maybe no one notices they are there.

The youth groups are busy, busy planning their mission trips to help needy souls on the beach, at the ski resorts, or in foreign countries. They don’t see the intruder.

The women’s groups are busy, busy planning their next retreat, their next social event, their next charity event, too busy, busy to deal with the intruder.

And the other busy people?

He’s on this committee. She’s on that committee.

Heaven help the intruder who shows up at the wrong time during the wrong committee, especially committees searching for beautiful people who will make them feel good about their own imperfect, fat, uneducated, slothful, gossiping selves.

And, yes, I said intruder because outsiders disrupt the balance. Insiders have to stop what they’re doing to move over in the pew to make room for somebody else.

So what’s a poor, empty outsider soul to do?

Probably the same thing many other lonely people do. They go in search of people like themselves.

And, as I said before, what better place to find other lonely souls than the modern public forum, social media, a place where lonely people can send a message into the Universe just to see if anyone else is listening?

I know. I’ve been both the outsider and the busy, busy insider.

If you have found where you belong, in church or wherever, do you make the effort to search for lost stars?

If the answer is no, then why not? Are you too busy, or would the situation become too uncomfortable if you found one?

By the way, thank you for taking time to connect with me via my blog. I wish we could sit and chat eye to eye over a cup of tea or coffee. But that, I’m afraid, will never happen. My fault or yours. It doesn’t matter. It just is what it is.

So I ask a sincere favor of you, my friend. The next time you find yourself launching your FB app, ask yourself a couple of questions.

What are you REALLY doing? What do you really need?

Whatever you’re doing, whatever you need, I hope you find it. Connect.

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The mark of friendship

When I finally see my writing dream to fruition and see my book(s) in print, I hope one thing—that my words will make a mark on at least one reader’s soul. I am a fearless fighter for the underdog, so it’s only naturally that what I am writing now is geared toward young adults. But I won’t limit myself. People of all ages hurt. People of all ages need a friend, the connection with another human being who accepts them as they are unconditionally.

Tomorrow is my last day of my first of four graduate classes I’ll be taking this summer—all in English. What can I say? I loved it. I forgot how much I like learning. It’s so much easier to sit behind the desk than to stand in front of it. I felt right at home. Everyone in class was in tune with one another, and my professor is an expert on pop culture. How cool is that?

There is a point to my rambling. My final task in this class is to write a paper about some aspect of Moby-Dick. I noticed that in the front of the book Melville dedicates the book to Hawthorne. Seems like a minor detail, but I think not. I think Hawthorne make a very deep mark on Melville’s soul, and  his response is found somewhere in the book Moby-Dick. The question is what mark did Hawthorne leave on Melville, and how did this mark shape the writing of Moby-Dick?

A true friend leaves a mark on another person’s soul, but rare is such a true friend. We all have acquaintances, but rarely do we find someone who we connect with on such a deep level that it defies definition.

I don’t talk about my parents much in my blogs because they were such private people, but it’s been a year now since their passing—almost to the day, and thoughts of them, especially my dad, have weighed heavily on my soul. Everyone I have ever met talks about them being such good people. But why?

When it came to my dad, he knew how to be a friend, especially to my mother. Again, they were so private. I don’t think I ever saw them show any public forms of affection, and for that matter, I can’t remember getting a hug or a kiss from them past my elementary school years, but I do know they loved me.

My mom was probably the most stubborn, nit-picky woman in the world. Everything in her house had to be in perfect order, labeled, organized, and neatly put in its place. When I was cleaning out their house, I found my old dolls, still in their original packaging, still in almost pristine condition. Why? Because I never really got to play with them. I had to put in a request ahead of time so that my mom could unpack them and bring them to me. I never really had the freedom to choose or the option to make a mess. It was out of the question.

My mom was a bundle of fears and superstitions, and trying to rationalize with her was impossible. I remember as a small child, if it thunderstormed while my dad was at work, we had to unplug everything and go sit on the bed until the storm passed.

When she packed a lunch for me on field-trip days, she always packed enough for two or three lunches—better to overdo it than to be left without. She wrapped my sandwich in wax paper, put it in a baggie, and then covered it in aluminum foil. By the time I unpacked everything, lunch break was over.

I say these things, not to poke fun at my mom’s eccentricities, but to point out that it takes a very special person to put up with our individual quirks—without trying to change who we are.

My dad accepted everything. I can’t remember him ever raising his voice to her or showing any signs of temper. Later, when she became very ill and very afraid, her remarks would come across as curt, or even hateful—not to me but to him. And he would explain to me that she was afraid. He never got mad at her, never tried to make her see how wrong she was. He wasn’t a weak man. He was strong. He loved her so much that he just absorbed all of these things and let them slide.

He was at her side constantly till the moment she passed away. That’s a true friend.

My dad was a true friend to everyone he met. It used to scare me. If anyone were ever broken down on the side of the road, he thought nothing of stopping and helping them. I was always afraid he would run into a thug who would pull a gun on him and take his money, but I guess God protected him. Everyone he helped truly needed his help. And he expected NOTHING in return. Now days everyone wants something for anything. I don’t want to ever become like that. I hope I can just give because I love. I don’t want to become jaded.

I think the sweetest story I ever heard was when my parent brought me home from the hospital. My aunt told me this story not too long ago. I was a tiny little thing, five pounds or so. My parents had lost their first baby. It was stillborn, the cord wrapped around the baby’s neck. I remember the weeks just before I had Josh. I had hellacious nightmares that something horrible would go wrong—and sure enough it did. We almost lost him. The doctors told Kenny they were going to try to save at least one of us. (I didn’t know this until recently.) Josh suffered from a prolapsed cord, quite similar to what happen to my mother’s first child.I wouldn’t let Kenny call my parents to tell them I was in labor. I didn’t want them to worry. I  let him call after Josh was born.

When I was an infant, I’m sure my mother, who was always extremely anxious her entire life, was afraid something would happen to me. She would not go to sleep. She had to be awake when I was sleeping, just to make sure I was okay. My father, out of love for my mother, agreed to take turns staying up with me just to make sure I made it through the night—and I was a perfectly healthy baby. Well, I WAS perfectly healthy until my dad fell asleep and dropped me on my head. You can imagine the panic that ensued and the trip to the emergency room for the doctors and nurses to reassure them I was just fine. I mean look at me. I’m a picture of total physical and mental health. Just because I stalk celebrities and write psycho blogs doesn’t mean anything is wrong with me. Right?

When I was growing up, there were two particular games kids played. The first game called for a person to fall back into another person’s arms. Either the friend would catch him or not. The other game was mean. Just as a kid prepared to sit down on a chair, another kid would pull it out from him, and everybody gathered round would get a big laugh, everybody but the kid who hit the floor.

Those two types of games and kids who played them are great metaphors for the people we meet in life. Some people are just waiting to pull the chair out from under you, and some people will always be there to catch you when you need them–without wanting anything at all in return.

So as I prepare to write my final paper for my grad class, I ponder the art of friendship.

I hope when I complete my novels I can leave a mark on my readers that will inspire them to be a friend.

There is no greater gift than friendship. I don’t mean acquaintanceship. I mean true friendship, in which a person is willing to do the catching no matter the heaviness of the burden.

That kind of friendship is born of love. And my dad set a pretty good example of that.

Snapshots

I guess you just had to be there.

I’ve searched for weeks for something worthwhile to write about, but everything that comes to me is cliché. Or I’ve written about it one too many times.

Write what you know, “they” say.

What do I know? I know I’m weary. The school year has been great. My students have been awesome, but my mental faculties are zapped. My emotions are zapped. I’m depleted. So my focus isn’t what it should be. That’s okay, given the circumstances.

I’ve spent lots of time at my parents’ house. But I didn’t grow up there. The house once belonged to my aunt and uncle, and my grandfather lived there before he passed away. This is the first and only house my parents ever owned, and they were proud to call it their own. “My” childhood home was a rental house on the edge of the city limits.

I knew that old house, that tiny little, mildew-ridden house. I could stand in the hallway and see every room. The kitchen especially. I remember the green table cloth on the table. Green. My mom always decorated the kitchen in green. I don’t remember what I had done. All I know is that a switch was involved and that I was short enough to run under the table while standing up straight. Being short has its advantages.

I remember the black telephone hanging on the wall in the hall and the party line. I had some pretty cool conversations with an anonymous voice who said he was a vampire. I think his real name was Terry. All I know is if I picked up the phone and he was on there, our chance meeting turned into a mysterious conversation. Not that I believed any of it, but Dark Shadows was a popular show at the time, and my mom and I were really into it. I guess I was already writing books in my head at the time. I mean, how often does one have an interview with a vampire? I thought it was uber cool. Too bad we never met.

Before my parents bought their house and moved out of the rental, “my” house was grand central station of the neighborhood. I had a front porch with a swing and a basketball goal in the back and a beautiful redbud tree with limbs low enough for climbing.

I was a manipulative child, certainly not the demure individual I am now. But then again I was the only girl in the neighborhood, and it was every man for himself. And being the only girl on the street, there were times I had to man up for survival’s sake. Once I tied my neighbor to my beautiful redbud and refused to let him go until he paid for his crime. I don’t remember what he did to tick me off, but I’m sure he deserved the punishment. If he hadn’t convinced me he was having heart troubles, I would’ve made him stay there all night.

I am not a liar. In fact, if you ask me anything, I’ll tell you straight up to your face the truth. But back in the day, my front porch was home to some pretty profitable poker games. Again, the only girl, I learned to bluff—and held my smile when I raked in the loose change. We didn’t play for big bucks, but that’s not to say we kids weren’t privy to some secret info. I won’t say where, but it was a known fact that in my neighborhood, high-stake poker games were a pretty common occurrence. We used to ride our bikes by the place and count the cars out front, daring one another to knock on the door.

No one was stupid enough to take the chance. But dares were just part of growing up on my street.

My own kids never stepped foot in  the rental house I grew up in. They never would have understood. We couldn’t turn the wall heaters on at night for fear the water that ran off the iced windows might drip into them and short them out. Lack of insulation. We relied on quilts, plural. Piled high. We didn’t have showers; we had tubs, but we learned how to adapt with a hand-held sprayer. Nope, my kids would have never understood.

They grew up in a cozy little neighborhood, just down the road from our current home. Quaint, small, but comfortable–and safe.

Granny and Pa watched my babies like hawks. The worst thing that ever happened to Josh was a bicycle stunt gone wrong. He flipped it, literally, and did a 360 without any major injuries. Michael, my tough guy, made Pa play ball, made Pa, in his 70s, slide into home plate, again without any major injuries.

I can’t believe my parents let get me get away with the things I did as a kid on my street—namely, jumping out of tree houses just to prove I wasn’t scared. And I never broke a bone. Never sprained an ankle. Never cried. I ventured through fields, fearless of snakes, and I waded through ponds, never knowing how deep. And I never learned how to swim. And I rode my bike down country rodes and picnicked by myself in the loft of an old deserted barn just for the adventure of it. I didn’t mind being alone. I still don’t. It gives me time to think.

I learned how to be tough. I never cried when I wrecked my bike or got hit in the face with a baseball or forgot to let go of a firecracker before it when off. When it came time to choose up teams for baseball, basketball, football, whatever the sport, I waited to be picked–sometimes until the very end, depending on who was captain. The truth is I figured I was just as good as they were. Either they picked me for their team, or they didn’t.

I never whined. I never complained. If chosen, I went out there and did my best. I laughed when a new kid begged me to take my turn at bat. Ground rule. Got a sucky player? One of the better guys could take her–yeah it was usually a her–turn at bat.

I could take my own turn at bat, thank you. And if they didn’t want me, I didn’t tear up. I’d rather have someone tell me straight up how it is than to lie or pander to me. I still feel that way. Don’t like me? Don’t like my talents? I’m outta there. No hard feelings. Goodbye. Don’t expect me to beg.

When I was a kid, I roamed the neighborhood. I spent a lot of time  sitting on the porce steps of an old man’s house. Everyone called him Grandpa, but I never knew his real name. I just remember him playing a tune on his French harp, stomping his feet and stopping to sing a verse or two. “Oh, Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” And my favorite—“If you want a good man, you gotta treat him right.” I probably still have Grandpa’s voice on cassette tape somewhere. I grew up and moved before he passed. Probably a good thing because if I had known, I’m sure his death would have broken me.

Grandpa gave me my first dog, Lassie. Original name, huh? She looked a lot like a collie, and she was so smart. It was as if we could communicate telepathically. I didn’t even have to say the words. Lassie and I were so close that I could subtly give a command with my eyes and she did whatever I asked—sit, catch a ball, jump through a hula hoop, whatever. My parents begged me to give her up. They promised to buy me another dog. I wasn’t sure why. I loved THIS dog, and nothing could stop me from keeping her. Good choice. I think that was the only time in my life I ever stood my ground with my parents.

The Kennel Ration Dog Competition came to town one year and held a contest in the old strip mall across from the high school. Lassie won third place. I was never so proud. I still have the trophy in my case. I sure loved that dog. She was my best friend, my confidant, my everything. I had already gone to college when she developed cancer, and the vet had to put her down. No hope. I lost my best friend.

So there you have it, a blog that’s nothing more than a hodgepodge of memories, snapshots from a spunky little girl who grew into a disillusioned adult.

My parents’ bought and paid for home, the one I inherited, holds few memories for me but dozens for my children. But, every time I’m there alone, I have to admit, I feel a little strange. I hear things. Tonight I had shut off all the lights in the house and was feeling my way from the back bedroom to the front door. That’s when I heard the screen door shut. No one was there.

And the lighthouse music box turned on by itself the first time we started moving things out.

Once, while I was alone, I ventured up into the attic—defying my fear of heights, just to see what was up there. And while I was exploring, I heard footsteps walking around down below. No one was there.

I do not believe in ghosts, but I do believe there are things our minds don’t understand. I certainly don’t understand what I heard.  I actually sat down on a stool up there in the attic and had a rational conversation with myself.

“Do you hear that?”

“Yes. I definitely hear footsteps.”

I waited. I listened. They continued.

I wasn’t imagining things.

I assumed it was Kenny. I waited for him to yell at me to find out where I was. But no one ever checked on me. I finally climbed down the ladder. No one was there.

Go figure. I have no answers. I just have an imagination and my memories. And sometimes that’s all a writer needs.