Banter

A TEACHER’S PRAYER

Help me be grateful

For the students who like to learn,

And feel challenged by those who don’t.

Help me be thankful

For the students I love,

And understand those I’m learning to love.

Help me be motivated

By the students who learn to think,

And be committed to those afraid to try.

Help me be inspired

By the students who choose right from wrong,

And be patient with those who lack the courage.

Help me be gentle

With the students who make mistakes,

And learn to forgive a difficult child.

Help me be wise

With the students building character,

And be unwavering with those without conscience.

Help me be committed

To the students who are responsible,

And be persistent with those who value nothing.

Help me be calm

In the midst of violence,

And model self-control in the midst of anger.

Help me be faithful

In the days of discouragement,

And be dedicated to make one child smile.

Countdown to Christmas

It’s countdown to Christmas! What holiday memories cling to you like pine sap? Mine replay every year.

When I was four, I was a determined little stinker. (My older brother and sister said so; therefore, it must be true.) I lined up my dolls on the sofa. Each sat up, facing the fireplace. Walking from one to the other, I said, “You wake me when Santa comes!”

My dad wore a big, secretive smile. He was jealous, of course, because I was going to meet the REAL Santa while he slept and snored until Christmas morn. I took one last look and marched upstairs, dragging Cat, my fluffy toy with a bell in its ear. Bump. Bump. Bumpity-bump. It was Cat’s job to jingle me awake as the dolls raced into my room.

Christmas Eve passed. Christmas morning came. I raced downstairs. Bump. Bump. Bumpity-bump. Cat bounced beside me, holding tightly with its paw. Imagine my surprise at seeing, not one, but ALL OF MY DOLLS asleep on the sofa! Oh, the disappointment. I didn’t know why Dad kept smiling for weeks.

When I was old enough to help decorate, I learned that “seeking perfection” sours the moments. Dad’s job was to hang silver tinsel after Mom roped red garland around the tree. I watched Mom and began looping garland. No. No. No. “Start at the top, not the bottom. Make even loops.” So…I watched Dad. I grabbed strands of tinsel and tossed, hoping the shiny ribbons would magically wrap around the end of a branch and fall gracefully in parallel lines. No. No. No. “One tinsel at a time.” Watching Mom and Dad wasn’t as much fun as helping. When our son was old enough, I caught myself stressing as I watched him lob loops of ribbon around the tree’s bottom. Then I remembered what it felt like “watching” instead of helping. I laughed with my son and let go.

After turning 21, Dad served us Brandy Alexanders made with ice cream. We dressed up fancy for our silent home movies and made silly faces for the camera. When Auntie Mamie and Uncle Johnny visited, we played Charades. After downing several of Dad’s “hospitable drinks,” we let loose. Memories of our gaming nights and uproarious laughter make me laugh until I get melancholy over long-ago family times.

As a young adult, I had many alone Christmases when flying home was too expensive. I celebrated with other families and hid my loneliness. Long-distance phone calls didn’t help.

Memories are tricky mind moments colored by our emotions. When my siblings and I compare memories, we remember differently. So…we can’t let memories define our holidays. But we can build new moments. Maybe they’ll turn memorable. Maybe not.

Christmas is not about us. It’s about Christ—His unending love for all people. Whether we’re believers or nonbelievers, we must do “good” in this world. Build a good memory for someone. A Walmart “greeter” told me that few shoppers smile anymore. They grab stuff in Grinch-like fashion, forgetting that Christmas “doesn’t come from a store.”

This Christmas a dear, dear friend is struggling to create mini-memories while cancer spreads rapidly, suffocating his body. Four of us go out to eat. We talk of life, of death, of sports, of Donald Trump. We love on one another. We hug. We cry. We laugh. We build moments for him and of him.

Moments are all any of us really have….May we live in the moment this Christmas and help someone create a memory to last a lifetime, no matter the length of that life.

Ready for the Morgue

After being prepped for minor foot surgery, I laid back and waited. The medical staff that roamed up and down the hallway amused me. Laughter. Chatter. Mumbles. Beeps. Clangs. That first hour passed quickly.

Then came hours two and three. I made a game of waddling without incident to the bathroom while wheeling my IV contraption. On the seventh trip to pee, I accidentally yanked the red emergency cord when I flushed. So embarrassing! Back in bed, I pushed the array of buttons: up, down, forward, backward. I tallied holes in the ceiling tiles. I made puppets out of hospital socks. I looked in the hallway without getting caught. But my escapades lost their appeal. My stomach growled, and my mouth tasted like toxic waste.

During hours four and five, I starred in my own daydream. Taken hostage, I was imprisoned in solitary confinement at a hidden military base. Observed by unseen eyes, I had to stay strong. Interrogators blinded me with bright, white overhead lights. But I wouldn’t give away my secrets. When my imagination turned stale, I began to rethink my surgery. I sat up, looked for my clothes’ sack, and got ready to leave. Then a nurse came by and said, “We’re about ready.”

The sixth hour was brutal. Everyone had left. No footsteps. No laughter. No chatter. No noise. Nothing. Just me…waiting…waiting…waiting. Did they forget me? Was everyone on dinner break? Even God felt far away. I argued with myself to stay put.

No one came to claim me. My body refused to heat under the blankets. My eyes hurt from the lights and loneliness. I saw my physical body magnified. Was I lying on a cold, solid slab? My thin skin turned luminous. Exaggerated wrinkles lined my fingers, hands, and arms. Blood pumped and pulsed. Veins bulged. Spots darkened. I was skin, bones, muscles, organs,…. What had become of my soul?

A knock jolted me. Another nurse had come to claim me! Off to surgery…

Sometimes we live in a morguish life. We struggle to think. We struggle to feel. We barely move through the fog. We’re unsure of who we are, where we are, and what we’re doing. We’re waiting to be claimed or identified, accepted or forgiven, believed or loved. Our souls are numb. Lost. Bruised.

What remakes our humanity? I believe it’s through connecting. In connecting to others, we begin to crack the walls of fear and indifference. We learn to look beyond ourselves. In connecting to nature, we learn how fragile it is. We learn to conserve and protect. In connecting to God, we realize our purpose: to serve and love and forgive all people, especially ourselves.

Connecting isn’t popular. It’s not a meme. It’s not easy at all. Yet, by connecting, we begin to counteract the greed incubated in today’s toxic words and acts, polarizing beliefs, love of money and power, and apathy. In connecting, we’re cognizant of our souls once again.

Next month, I have foot surgery again ….

AGING

My mom’s reflection overlayed mine in the mirror this morning. I saw her lines, sags, and bags. Her silver locks, wispy and white. I smiled at us. Without trying, my face had morphed into my mother’s.

I often hear how “aging is BAD.” True, our bodies break down. And, we struggle to cope with the wrinkles, flabs, aches, diseases, forgetfulness, lethargy, libido, and more. But, the curse of aging is just psycho-babble.  Plastic surgeons make BILLIONS on our fears. Advertisers make more. I got a brain freeze when a 26-year-old asked me which face cream I thought was best at preventing wrinkles. Did she even look at my face? Mark Twain said, “Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.” Bless you, Mr. Clemens!

Some of us are gym jockeys. Fighting the good fight against aging. I admire these people. I do home workouts but don’t beat myself up over missing a day. My goal is to keep trying harder and to wear my bumps and bruises with grace. My aging face confesses how I’ve handled quests, adventures, mishaps, tragedies, and comedies. Coco Chanel said, “Nature gives us the face we have at 20; it’s up to us to merit our face at 50.”

We all know that gravity sucks. We curse it when peering into a magnifying mirror or waking up stiff and achy in the morning. I find myself asking Siri, “How old is ____?” Then I wonder why that actor who is my age looks SO MUCH YOUNGER.  My husband’s theory is “She’s had work done.” Yet, gravity is an equalizer, bridging the gap between youth and old age. We can masquerade our faces or cut out our lines and bulges, but underneath all this expensive fuss is just us—human beings on a planet. Humans who can love, comfort, create, laugh, learn, hurt, and hate. Our bodies house our humanness, our souls. Wouldn’t the rewards be greater by repairing our spirits instead of our faces?

Aging doesn’t make us invisible. In fact, Betty White said, “I may be a senior, but so what? I’m still hot!” Old age empowers us. Inspires us to be more authentic and in the present. We socialize more. Accept more. Laugh more. Forgive more. Love more. And, risk more.

Tonight, I met Mom’s face in the mirror again. I was gratified to see her in me. My mom was a loving, adventurous woman. Finding her in my gestures and my crooked fingers and wrinkles is reassuring. Her unconditional love graced me through childhood and uplifts me in my aging days. If you remember anything from my bantering, remember this: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” (Satchel Paige)

CHOOSE TO BE FEARLESS

My mother was fearless. She fed a cub in Yellowstone before “Do NOT Feed the Bears” became park policy. She eluded a cobra attack in her garden in India, thanks to her mali lopping off its head. In the dark before dawn, she and my father escaped Hitler-occupied Germany on a last ship sailing to America. And she raised three kids, taking her career seriously as a “stay-at-home-mom,” without pay or applause.

Margaret Elise Grum grew up with 11 siblings who left school way too soon to gain employment and help pay the bills. Grandpa was a cold miner, often living away from home. Grandma housed borders to augment the combined incomes.

A tough schoolyard taught my mother early on to face her fears. Kids taunted and teased her. They threw rocks at the girl whose mom and dad “didn’t speak like Americans.” But my mother understood her parents’ courage in emigrating from Slovenia, so she endured the abuse and refused to be shamed by their broken English.

Her courage continued as a young woman. After months of working long hours in a secretarial pool, she approached her supervisor and asked for a promotion. Her knees quaked and her heart accelerated, but she stood tall and looked him in the eyes.

She met my dashing dad when she was only 18. Although in love, she turned down his marriage proposals three times. She was way too young to settle down. She wanted more living and laughing. Finally, after becoming husband and wife, she linked arms with my father and shipped out across the Atlantic to live overseas.

It wasn’t until my adult life when I learned how my mother’s fears simmered below the surface. She was shy, terribly so. Her shyness taunted her at every gathering, event, and vacation. She had a limited education. Her self-taught knowledge came from books, travel, and crossword puzzles. Her lack of a formal college education intimidated her when meeting new people. Then rheumatoid arthritis invaded her body. When it confined her to a limited life, a new fear was born that of “being a burden.” Yet, living with fears, she chose to be fearless.

Fears propel us into the corners of life, and if we’re honest, sitting on the sidelines gets comfortable, especially as we age and are more hesitant to take risks. So what does fearless look like? Most of us don’t have to fight off cobras. But we could join a conversation. Sit in silence, quieting random thoughts. Step on the scale and laugh at the number. Sign up to learn something new and actually GO. Try something new in a favorite restaurant. Say “no” when we know we should. Say “yes” when we want to! Throughout the world, women and men are being fearless in big, life-changing ways. But, small acts of courage count, too. They prepare us for those serious choices up ahead.

WAITING

Waiting…waiting… our kitten is waiting for something–anything–to fall off the Christmas tree. My younger years were spent waiting: my first doll, bra, period, date,  license, car,  job, apartment, lover, and love. I waited for what was coming and ignored the ordinary days. I missed much in front of my face. Maybe that’s why many memories are a blur. Waiting built my excitement. Waiting created markers for my growing years. But waiting built expectations that were too often more exciting than the actual experience.

One bonus about aging is that we don’t have time to wait. We can’t waste a moment waiting for life to happen. Every morning we flex our fingers, pump our legs, and set our feet on the floor. We live the in-between moments, the dots connecting those special days. Although our eyesight is fuzzy and we don’t like driving at night, we don’t really miss much in front of our faces. We anticipate each day, knowing that life is what life is.

Our challenge is to embrace the ordinary days, painful days, and empty days as we do the special joys. On a ski trip in Taos, New Mexico, I bought a locally-crafted mug from the yummy breakfast place Gutiz. The manager pointed out the artist’s mistake in its painted print: “Live to its Fullest Life.” This clunky wording makes the message worth remembering!

But when we’re hit with severe tragedy and pain, how can we live fully? What a stupid message when our minds and emotions weep, when we’re emptied and immobile. Years ago, I was broken into shards when my former husband announced, “I want a divorce.” I huddled in a corner, hitting my head against a wall of our empty home. After days of vacuous living, a wise friend sat me down. “You’ve shattered. And like clay, you can be reformed, remolded, re-glued. Day by day, choose a flower that fell from your brokenness or pick a new one, one you’ve been longing for. You have the chance to rearrange the blooms and buds of your life any way you want.” I began to pray and found wisdom from within the devastation of my life. Slowly, I put myself together. That “stupid message” was still meaningful.

We can “live to its fullest life” even in pain because we’re still alive. Our purpose on Earth is to offer others the good parts of ourselves. And through tragedy, others have the chance to offer the good parts of themselves to us. Living each day while waiting for special times births a full life.

These days I’m often with Skittles under the tree. She expects cat toys. I expect God’s love come to Earth. Just a few more sleeps ’til Christmas! But as I watch the dust dance within the filtered sunlight streaming inside our newly-cleaned home, I’m reminded to laugh at life with its expectations, its waiting times, its times of full living.

 

 

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

Cats have been family a long time, so I’ve learned from the best: they’re Masters at Hiding. During these last few weeks, I haven’t written stories or posts; I haven’t revised manuscripts. I’ve been hiding. Hiding from discovering that I’m “good enough.” Hiding from discovering what my love of word craft can create. Hiding from success. Hiding from failure. Two weeks ago at a writers’ conference, published authors, agents, and editors discussed “great” story writing. The lyrical lilt to language spins an authentic tale, grabbing the heart and humor of the reader.

When I returned home, I shook the daylights out of a manuscript. My story was going to be “GREAT”! Somewhere in the battle for rhythmic wording, I lost my authenticity, my voice. Fear swung its fist at me and shouted, “You’ve got nothing!” So, I mastered a new skill–hiding in plain sight. I was EXCEPTIONALLY PRODUCTIVE! “I was TOO BUSY to write stories.”

While talking with God in a nightly prayer, my inner voice lost its patience. “NO MORE HIDING!” it shouted. I countered, “Whoa! No way was I hiding. I was busy. I’ll get back to writing….” Harrumph, I lost that argument. But in my loss, I realized I don’t like hiding. I HAVE a voice. In fact, I like my voice. My writing will get better, but I must keep writing and writing and writing.

During nights that followed, my imagination woke up with my bellowing bladder. At 2 a.m. I found myself squinting at my monitor’s back-light and writing and rewriting stories. Maybe writing in darkness helped me find the courage to write in daylight.

I learned much from those professionals who know book publishing at its best. I DO want to become a part of that world. I DO want to leave behind a legacy of literature–“good stuff, even ‘great’ stuff.” On the plus side, when we find ourselves hiding, we can certainly learn about ourselves. We need to appreciate our self-discoveries. We need to be gentle as we prod ourselves to move on, growing while groaning. We will become stronger and won’t hide so long the next time.

BIRTHDAY LULLABY

Birthdays spice up our lives! I’m celebrating whole-heartedly by wearing pj’s until noon, sipping honey-laced tea, and nibbling English muffins sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. On my birthday, my brain ruminates over the day my son Tyler was born. A 13-hour labor guarantees long-term memories. Becoming his mother gave me such love and such overwhelming responsibility. Baby and mom shared many song-filled sleepless nights. I rocked and sang through every Broadway musical my zombie state could recall. In those beginning days, singing soothed me, grounded me.

During  early morning feedings when no one else alive was awake, I wrote and sang this LULLABY night after night.  While reading, I hope the metered lyrics soothe you as they do me. Try belting out your own beauty. I’m listening….

 

LULLABY

By Marsha Elyn Wright

 

We’ve marched in time

Upon the stairs

And put away

Our balls and bears.

 

We’ve read our books

Of knights and kings,

Of queens who fly

On dragons’ wings.

 

And now it’s time

to hug goodnight

And ride the stars

‘Til morning’s light.

 

So close your eyes

While Mother sings,

And angels fly

On golden wings.

 

And you and I,

Two sleepy-heads,

Tuck into dreams

As nighttime spreads.

 

CONNECTIONS

Strange but true, toes remind me of our humanity. (My own feet aren’t pretty even with polish.) In this gyrating world, toes say, “We’re all human.” If someone tries to talk when I’m closed off in my busyness or movin’ lightspeed because “I’m LATE” and I glance at my toes, I actually stop and breathe in the moment. I look at the person talking with me. I listen. I appreciate the connection. I remember we’re human, fragile, and temporal.

My home office is a stained-glass, sunlit room, filled with soulful colors and calmness mixed with creative inspiration–photos, art, notes, and quotes. When I’m writing, I’M WRITING. Only in this room  does the clock jump from eight to five in seconds! I don’t hear anyone or anything outside my door. So, when my darling husband bops in to talk, I look at my toes!

We’re only here for a few moments. We must remember the humanity we share. Otherwise, we’re robotic like technology. What nudges your humanity?

POETRY PERCOLATES MORE THAN COFFEE

When our prose is clunky or cloudy, writing poetry can keep the mind and imagination percolating. After all, our mantra is Write, Write, Write. We jostle words and arc stories daily to crack open that gem of a story. When our brains are fuzzed, I suggest penciling poems.

Living in Colorado in 1981, I often sat in nature when wrestling writers’ block. One day, while sitting on a boulder with my journal, a lizard scrutinized me. We started a conversation. I tried to capture it verse:

Hello, Mr. Lizard, or Are You Ms.?

How clever of you to camouflage your existence

by blending with bark and bushes!

You must teach me the art of concealment,

if you would be so kind.

Plainly, my red flannel would not be

your choice of attire in these woods.

 

May I peer closer to get better acquainted

as you cock your head my way?

Oh, how your golden eyes mirror the sunlight,

reflecting rays of unease at my presence.

Would you please forgive my intrusion

into your Utopian solitude?

 

Oh, the jokes we would swap if we could but move

beyond the language of body and eyes!

What wisdom you could share given your age

and my youth!

 

Thank you, dear lizard, for our silent conversation,

an exchange of emotions between species.

After all, we are family under this galaxy of stars;

vital allies in our quest to carry on.