The Perfect Rug

Many (many) years ago, I graduated from college, Magna Cum Laude. It was something I really should have been very proud of. I should have been happy that I attended college, graduated with honors, graduated at all. As one of only a few people in my family who had gone to college at that time, I should have given myself some credit. Instead, I celebrated with a smile on my face and bitterness in my heart.

You see, I am ashamed to say that I felt robbed. My GPA was 3.49. A 3.5 would have earned me Summa Cum Laude, and I was really angry with the school for not bumping me up to, what I felt, was a much deserved ranking. I worked really hard to get those grades. I went to school full-time for four years holding a double major in very demanding studies (history and political science) with an even more demanding concentration (American military experience). I worked full-time for the last two years I was in school, taking every shift I could, waitressing at busy restaurants all day or late into the night, weekdays and weekends. I wrote four major thesis papers, for crying out loud!

I was really angry with the school, but I was more angry with myself. Why hadn’t I pushed just a little harder? Why had I taken the research paper-only option (no exams – just a 50 page paper) for the toughest professor? Why hadn’t I skipped a few social gatherings and stayed home to study instead?

These questions plagued me for days, until…

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A Father’s Love

All month long, I’ve written and posted about love. I’ve touched on romantic love, self-love, and the love between mothers and daughters and grandmothers and granddaughters. I’ve talked about our Father’s love more than once. What I haven’t mentioned is the love between a daughter and her father, a love which I happen to think transcends all other types of earthly love as a reflection of the love between a daughter and Our Father.

Pope John Paul II said, “In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family.” How true that is.

It took my parents several years to have me. Just as they were in the throes of adoption, I gave them the surprise they’d been praying for. By then, my father, at thirty-three, was a little older than most first-time fathers of the time. Of course, I didn’t realize this until much later in life; but now I am reminded every day how truly blessed I am to still have him with us at eighty-four (eighty-five in April).

Growing up, my father was loved and adored by everyone, which was no surprise as he was always a kid at heart, and he has a heart the size of a mountain.

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Lessons Learned From Gram

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to my family, friends, and those of you who follow me on social media that I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot over the past month. My grandmother was, to say the least, extraordinary. She didn’t win any awards. Gram wasn’t known outside of her hometown. She didn’t do great things or travel to faraway places or lead protests or discover a new star. She didn’t do anything special at all unless you count every single little thing she did with extraordinary love, and she taught me so much.

There are many lessons I learned from my grandmother, but there is little that she taught me through words or preaching or admonishments. Almost everything I learned from her, I leaned by watching her, and I try my best to emulate all that she taught me.

These are the things I will always cherish and strive to uphold.

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What’s Your Hurry?

“Well, here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”

When George Bailey’s mother tries to scoot him from his brother’s welcome home party to the house down the road where Mary has just returned from college, George teases her that she’s trying to get rid of him. While George does tell his mother that he’s going, he takes his time. He strolls through the town, taking a look at the marquee and talking to old pal, Violet. He meanders around Bedford Falls and makes his way down the sidewalk, in no hurry at all, finally pacing back and forth in front of Mary’s house until she calls out and asks what took him so long.

George was in no hurry to get there, mostly because he’s unsure of what he wants to do. He takes his time. He thinks about his decision and where he’s going, and after a lot of thought and consideration, he ends up at Mary’s house where he gets the girl. Though his plans never seem to go the way he wants them to, he eventually learns that It’s a Wonderful Life.

In fact, George’s entire life is a lesson in taking things slowly. He puts off college so that his brother Harry can attend. He puts off his adventures to take over the savings and loan. He slowly grows older in a house that needs work, a family that keeps expanding, and a job that weighs him down. The pressures get to him (thanks to interference from old man Potter), and he wonders if life is really worth living.

So what happens?

His life comes to a stop, and he’s taken backwards on a journey that shows him the things that really matter. He’s literally made to stop, not take that sudden leap off the bridge, and reassess everything he’s known to be true.

Yes, I know Christmas is over, but there are so many lessons to be learned from the Frank Capra masterpiece, and I think this is one of the most important ones…

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The Power of Love

We are now in the month of February. It’s the month of love. It’s the month when lovers express their feelings for each other and typically the month when we begin Lent, the greatest season of love in the Church. It can be a cold month, when this part of the world can be blanketed in snow, when much of nature is dormant or dead, and when the sun is often obscured by clouds or rain or snow. I think it’s also a month of hope, a month of looking forward to spring, the month when vacations and summer camps are planned and colleges are chosen. It’s a month to love and be loved. American journalist Linda Ellerbee once said, “In the coldest February, as in every other month in every other year, the best thing to hold on to in this world is each other.” The power of love will get us through the coldest of times. It is the greatest force in the universe.

On those winter nights when snow falls silently in a barren world, it’s easy to desire nothing more than to crawl into a hole and retreat from everyone. I say, like Ellerbee observed, that it is at those times, when we feel the coldest, that we should reach out to others, pull them to us, and love them fiercely. It is the power of love which creates the warmth we so desperately need, and I don’t mean just on that one day of year that comes in the middle of this month.

We live in a world that seems to believe that love is nothing more than the sugary-sweet outcome of a Hallmark movie, but true love is so much more than that! True love is the food of the soul, the opening of the mind, and the completeness of the body. It is a powerful thing indeed.

Ken and I got engaged in February–February 13, 1993. We had decided that we wanted to have formal pictures done, so we got dressed up for a photo shoot and dinner afterward. While we’d talked about marriage, I didn’t know when, where, or how our actual engagement would take place. I was truly surprised when, between the photos and dinner, Ken got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. We were so young then, barely adults, and hardly knew what we were pledging to each other when he presented and I accepted the ring I still wear today. It has not always been easy, and I’ve gone to bed angry more than once (don’t lecture me–that’s what I need to do to get myself past whatever has upset me). We’ve had our share of fights, but we’ve had so many more joys. After twenty-eight years of marriage, I wouldn’t change a minute of it. That’s the power of love.

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Healing for Mind, Body, and Soul

I recently came across an article in Scientific American that really intrigued me. As we (fingers crossed and prayers said) go into the diminishing phase of Covid with its strange ailments, long-term effects–and trust me, I know about these–its indiscriminate taking of life, closing of churches, separating of loved ones, and alienation of those who most need socialization, I have become keenly aware of the rise in mental health issues and disorders, including in my own inner circle. It seems that the world has fallen into a deep pit of despair, and our lives have become meaningless and out of focus. We have lost the spiritual connection that is necessary to thrive.

Enter, David Rosmarin, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the McLean Hospital Spirituality & Mental Health Program. In his study of psychiatric patients throughout the pandemic, he found that prayer increased significantly in March of 2020 and continued to rise throughout the year despite the closing of houses of worship. He found this to be an extremely important find since “Spirituality has historically been dismissed by psychiatrists.” He noted that, in 2020, American mental health sank to the lowest point in recorded history with diagnoses of mental disorders increasing by 50%. The use of alcohol and drugs rose as did contemplation of suicide. YET the mental health of those patients who attended religious services, in-person or online, actually improved significantly!

Rosmarin goes on to say that studies show that nearly 60% of psychiatric patients have a desire to discuss spirituality with their psychiatrist yet are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to do so. He says we can blame it on Freud and his characterization of religion as a mass-delusion. We see this trend in suggestions by both the American Psychological Association’s and Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for coping with the pandemic. The only near-mention of religion is the CDC’s recommendation to “connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.” The author goes on to say, “we ignore potential spiritual solutions to our mental health crisis, even when our well-being is worse than ever before.”

According to this study and another, “a belief in God is associated with significantly better treatment outcomes for acute psychiatric patients. And other laboratories have shown a connection between religious belief and the thickness of the brain’s cortex, which may help protect against depression.” He also concluded that “many nonreligious people still seek spirituality, especially in times of distress.”

Now, sit back and take all that in for a moment.

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Lessons Learned From the Game

We are deep into NFL Football Playoff Season, when every highlight, every victory speech, and every cooler of Gatorade poured is shown on the news, ESPN, YouTube, Instagram, and every other outlet. I always wanted to be a football player. When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was play football in our backyard. I still remember the names of most of the other kids–Lex, Kelly, Danny, Jason, Paul, Jerry, Steve, and David (and I’m talking @1975-1978 when I was 5-8 years old)–kids who were my age and as much as five years older. Notice that these were all boys! I was the only girl on my street and learned an early life lesson in keeping up with the boys!

My father had the nicest grass in the neighborhood, and we had a pretty sizable backyard, so everyone gathered to play football there on a regular basis. That was my first introduction to the game that my parents watched every Sunday while I played Barbies in my bedroom. Because it was my yard, I got to play whatever position I wanted, but looking back, I’m pretty sure the guys made up whatever position I played since I had no clue and was a lot younger than most of them! I actually do remember them giving me the ball sometimes, and I thought I was the biggest playmaker on the field. With a start like that, how could I not fall in love with the game?

By the time I was in middle school, I was a football watcher. Oh, how I idolized Tami Maida, whose story was told in the movie Quarterback Princess (starring Helen Hunt, 1983). I still remember the 1982-1983 season and the amazing Riggins run in Super Bowl XVII in which the Redskins beat the Dolphins 27-17. We even attended the parade in DC after the win. Our school principal, Sister Victoire, actually closed school that day so that everyone who wanted to could attend, a great lesson in knowing that sometimes learning from experiences is more important than learning in a classroom.

As a lifelong fan of professional football, I’ve made many observations of what happens both on and off the field. I think there are many aspects of the game that can be translated into life lessons for everyone.

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Lightening Your Burden

Last week, most of the Mid-Atlantic was covered with a soft blanket of white. It has become a rare thing to see a foot of snow here on the Eastern Shore, and our family enjoyed the beauty of the falling snow as well as the beauty of being together. Morgan and her best friend, Cat, abandoned the confines of being adults and revisited their childhood, finding joy in the falling snow. I loved watching them play outside like they used to do when they were little, unmindful of the snow and the cold.

The day after it snowed, I got up early and took my phone outside to capture some photos of the snow-covered world. Everything around me was enchanting – the way the snow clung to the branches, the pines that bent to the earth, the sun that shone through the trees and glistened on the white surfaces, even the lonely pinecone that clung to a tree, determined to hang on even as the snow weighed it down.

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Marriage Requires Love

Last week, my daughter sent me a link to an article in the New York Times. The article upset her, and she knew I would have the same reaction. She was correct.

In Marriage Requires Amnesia, Heather Havrilesky presents a section from her new book (coming in February), Foreverland, On the Divine Tedium of Marriage. Unable to read the book as it hasn’t yet been published, I can only glean info about Heather and her marriage from this article. And the article makes me profoundly sad and even angry.

With passages like this: “Do I hate my husband? Oh for sure, yes, definitely. I don’t know anyone who’s been married more than seven years who flinches at this concept. A spouse is a blessing and a curse wrapped into one. How could it be otherwise? How is hatred not the natural outcome of sleeping so close to another human for years?”

How can one not take umbrage to the sentiment?

The writer goes on to list everything she hates about her husband from his daily habits–“He is exactly the same as a heap of laundry: smelly, inert, almost sentient but not quite”–to the way he sneezes and how he clears his throat. And though she says he is exactly the same person she met seventeen years ago, she can’t stand the man that he was and is. “This is just how it feels to be doomed to live and eat and sleep next to the same person until you’re dead. Because the resolution on your spouse becomes clearer and clearer by the year, you must find compensatory ways to blur and pixelate them back into a soft, muted, faintly fantastical fog.”

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New Year, New Chapter

Merry 5th Day of Christmas! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas weekend and is looking forward to the new year.

2021 wasn’t all that much better than 2020. With the exception of things opening and the promising vaccines and treatments, the fear rippling through our world remains, especially with non-stop news coverage of the dire situation we’re in. Despite the vaccines and treatments and lower risks strains, everyone is still being told that this is practically the end stages of Armageddon. Of course, if that is the case, I know that I had better step up my game before that final day of judgment!

The point is, there’s a lot of hope that 2022 will be a game changer. We want life to go back to normal, to be able to spend time with friends and family without fear, and to travel, go to the theater, and do all the things we used to do (and without masks). No matter how you feel about the virus or the treatments or the masks, I’m sure you hope that the day will be here soon when we can live like it’s 2019!

And that has me thinking…

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