“My mother was dying. She had had several strokes and could no longer speak. My siblings and I had gathered to be with her. Then, she lost consciousness, yet we could sense her agitation at not being able to go out for another smoke–one last cigarette.
“My mother had been a two-plus-pack-a-day smoker all of her adult life. In fact, I think this is why I suffered so many ear, nose and throat infections throughout my childhood. My mother’s habit certainly caused me to choose medicine as a profession.
“Anyway, finally in the hospital as my mother’s agitation grew, it dawned on me that, if we cut a straw down to the size of a cigarette, placing the straw between her index and middle fingers might calm her. And, it did.
“The moment we placed that dummy cigarette between her fingers, something in her spirit relaxed–or her nervous system at least. Isn’t that funny?”
“Our habits certainly wear deep grooves in us,” I affirm quietly.
Moving into the city, where we currently reside, my husband and I were initially amazed by the generosity and open kindness of the local people. Whether we needed directions or help finding a phone number, complete strangers were more than willing to assist us, proving to be extremely patient and generous with their time. While walking our dogs, strangers have not been afraid to slow or stop their vehicles to shower compliments on our canine companions—for good behavior, glossy coats or general demeanor. And, among our closest neighbors, we were and are often treated to shared produce, jams, jellies and helpful local information.
Thus, when I first started my regular and extra-long walks in order to spend the afternoon writing in some of our community’s best coffeehouses, I was not overly surprised by the occasional vehicle that would pause, with the driver turning to address me directly and ask politely, “Do you need a ride?”
As a writer, I always decline these polite offers because I do not know these individuals and my long walks are designed to balance out the time I spend seated. Still, when this first started happening, I would think to myself, “Wow, the people here are so considerate.”
Then, one hot afternoon in mid-July or mid-August, after we had lived here for a few years, I am walking through a neighborhood between our own and the one where that day’s coffeehouse is situated. Across the street from me, two or three small groups of men are sitting outside of a not-so-large manufacturing complex, taking their mid-afternoon breaks in the outdoor heat. The temperatures inside of the buildings must be sweltering.
Suddenly, someone from among these men wolf whistles. Loudly. The whistle is jarring enough that I stop thinking about the book issues I have been mulling over in my mind and shift my focus back to the present moment and into the context of my body. Glancing about, I look for, perhaps, a new car, a custom truck or another situation or person who might warrant such vocal attention. There is nothing and no one else around.
Then, gazing down at my summer garb, I notice the jumper I am wearing. The linen or light cotton jumper is a practical, fashion nod to the day’s incredibly high heat index. In that moment, I also realize that with my being across the street, the man who has whistled probably cannot see my face and most certainly does not realize that I—in terms of age—could have easily be his mother.
“Hmmm. Odd,” I think to myself. My mind clicks and whirs. That wolf whistle grants me something of a non-spiritual epiphany regarding the probable nature of those previously “kind” offers for “a ride” which may have been code for something else entirely different.
Our postal carrier likes to refer to our small section of his route as “The Ritz.” In order to walk to the many coffeehouses I frequent to complete my book projects, I often pass through three, four or five distinct micro-neighborhoods, each with its own flavor, challenges and/or expectations. Interestingly enough, the offers for “rides” which I have received do not come in the evenings, as might be expected, but usually during the early afternoon—somewhere between one and four. So, it is not as though I am inviting this potentially questionable contact into my life by walking at “inappropriate” hours of the day.
After the wolf-whistle event, I return home to sort through my clothing, donating any potentially “questionable” skirts, jumpers and dresses to a local charitable organization for resale. I do not want to experience further future miscommunications due to wardrobe content. A tall stack of stylish, fun clothing in neutral to light colors is traded in for a stack of somber-colored capris, slacks and practical short—all in an effort to prevent confusion.
I wonder about clothing signals specific to this region. Still, even after the change in wardrobe, a few vehicles do pause, on occasion, stopping long enough to ask me whether or not I need “a ride.”
Over the years I have lived here, I have looked in the faces of men ages twenty-five to seventy-five, searching to fill the void of loneliness inside of themselves with the specter of love which commercialized, sexually intimate touch attempts to provide. Yet, Grace is the only thing capable of filling that chasm of emptiness which forms when we experience long periods of unwanted soul solitude. And, so, for now—I continue to pray that the hearts of these passersby become filled with God’s unremitting Light.
Recently, while travelling to promote books in a region where I had once functioned professionally, I took time off to care for my physical frame by having some bodywork done. Bodywork seems to redress the compression travelling produces in my body.
Because I was in an area where I had once worked, I still know a few of the regions most long-standing alternative-care professionals. Still, for this trip, I opted to work with a practitioner who was completely new to me.
While working through the compression in my body with this new practitioner, the name of yet another of the community’s stalwart alternative-care providers came up. My sense was that this new-to-me bodyworker was about to recommend the work of this other woman. Yet, taking a deep breath, I felt the need to stop her short.
Hearing this other woman’s name for the first time in many years, I informed the new practitioner that although this other woman may be a completely competent alternative-care provider in her chosen field, she behaved uncharitably toward me during my professional tenure in this community.
Because I felt the statute of limitations had passed on my self-imposed silence, I explained to the new practitioner that this other woman had insisted–among friends and clients of hers–that I had “taken her job.” This was her widely propogated story and not the reality.
After this other woman had been released from her job at a local center, I was in fact the “hire” who had replaced her. This employment circumstance did not turn me into the person who “took” her job.
Ultimately, the experience taught me this. We all tell fetid little, or big, lies to protect ourselves, cocoon our egos, shore ourselves up professionally while undermining someone else’s constructive efforts or blind ourselves personally from the various truths in certain of our life circumstances.
In the end, I had to move into forgiveness because, upon carefully combing through my own uncensored history, I unearthed select junctures in my own life where I too had told myself fetid little lies, which kept me separate from the Light in my heart and may have dimmed the Light in the heart of another.