Tag Archives: luck

Panning for Kindness Atop Lookout Mountain

Gems--the girls and the stones that we found.

Pure T Gems–the girls and the stones that we found.

We ran to Chattanooga this weekend to try to rescue what was left of Spring Break from the clutches of BlarghFest ’13.  Today, atop Lookout Mountain, I found that opportunity to do a kindness for a stranger in memory of Richard.

Ruby Falls was the big destination for today–we’re kinda cave geeks in this family.  After the journey into the depths of the cave to see the majesty of an underground waterfall (totally worth the hike and the price), we took the kids up to the rooftop play area to get some wiggles out before the drive home.  Vivi ran straight for the play ground with Carlos toddling right behind.  He stalled out at the staircase and just as I had scooped him up, a young girl came barreling down the steps and ran into us.  She apologized and I told her we were fine.  Then she stood up really straight and added, “Be cautious at the top of the steps–it’s slippery.”  Her demeanor and sincerity impressed me.  Then I noticed her bright yellow Girl Scout t-shirt.  No wonder!

I hovered over the kids for a while then sat down in the gemstone panning area to enjoy the cool breeze and the burble of the dirty water sloshing through the troughs.  The same girl appeared again with two of her friends.  They were searching the wire trays for chips of stone that other people had left behind.  Her friends lost interest and wandered off, but she found delight in the smallest chips of quartz and calcite.  I was sitting near the gemstone identification poster, so our paths crossed again.  She asked my opinion on a couple of discoveries so we talked rocks for a while.  She told me her grandfather sometimes finds arrowheads on the farm.  Except she said, “air-a-heads.”

Her troop was from Forsyth, Georgia.  They had driven six hours to get to Chattanooga.  Then she totally put me under her spell when she said, “Really!  It’s the TRIP OF A LIFETIME!”  A gleeful traveler, nine years old!  A girl finding beauty in things that others discarded as “not pretty enough.”  Her fist was getting full with all the lovely chips of treasure that she had found on her trip of a lifetime.  I told her they had bags inside to hold the stones but she looked skeptical when I said “gift shop,” as if she had already been told that it was off limits.  We parted ways again.

Vivi asked if we could search for stones.  I went into the gift shop and bought the $10 bag of dirt and got 3 little “treasure” bags for the discoveries.  When we were getting set up, the Girl Scout was still searching for chips but stopped to listen to me as I showed Vivi how to wash away the dirt and uncover the gemstones.  And that’s when I felt Richard tap me on the shoulder.  I invited the girl to join us and for five minutes–until the dirt ran out–the three of us ooohed and aaaahed over the riches we discovered.  I gave her a treasure bag for her chips and for the stones that she had found.  She said, “Thank you–that was really nice,” and I answered “My pleasure–I think Girl Scouts are cool.”

Be Nice to Your Wife

Jamie Calkin's "The Globe"

“The Globe” by Jamie Calkin

I’m not sure what I think about clairvoyance, but here’s a story that points towards yes.

Our coffee date went so well that we decided to go out for dinner a few days later.  The plan was that we would meet at The Globe, a downtown Athens bar for grownups, then come up with a plan from there.  I love The Globe because they have rocking chairs inside, lots of Scotch, dark leather couches and Irish music, but not too loud.  My kind of place.

I got there first.  I ordered a drink and claimed one of the rocking chairs in the front window.  I was nervous, even though we had already spent hours talking to each other.  Richard came down the sidewalk a few minutes later and I remember how he took a deep breath and blew it out just before he reached for the door handle.  It made me think that he might be a little nervous, too.

We talked for two hours in those rocking chairs.  It was getting towards 7:30 and we still didn’t have a plan for dinner.  He had been looking at his watch on and off for the last fifteen minutes.  I asked him if he was in a rush to get somewhere.  He said, “Well, I need to ask a favor.  I’m got to go call my grandmother–my parents usually call her every day, but they’re in Italy and I promised that I would check in on her.  She’s 90 and goes to bed early so it will be too late to call her after dinner. I should call her before we go eat.”

This was before we all had phones with us all the time, children.  Try to imagine!

I understood perfectly (and he got points for being a kind and conscientious grandson).  He told me that he lived in the apartment building right around the corner (I could see it from the window), so we could go one of two ways:  he would get me another drink and leave me there at the bar while he went to make the call, or I could come with him and we could go straight to the restaurant after he called his grandmother.  Then he said the words every woman loves to hear:  “I promise I’m not an ax murderer.”  Who can argue with that logic?

It’s a good thing that man was so honorable and trustworthy because I sure as hell made stupid decisions around him.  OF COURSE I agreed to go to his apartment.  Good grief.  Idiot, party of one.

I occupied myself on the couch with his cat, whose name happened to be “Richard Nixon.”  He had never given the cat a name, just called it Cat, but one of his liberal friends was cat sitting one time and insisted that the cat have a name so she could love on it and coo to it, so he dubbed her (yes, Nixon was a girl) “Richard Nixon.”

Richard (the fellow, not the cat) called Sadie from the other room.  A few minutes later, he came back looking really perplexed.  I asked if everything was OK.  He shook his head as if he were clearing a cloud and replied, “Huh.  She must have had me confused with my cousin because right before we said goodbye, she said, ‘Be nice to your wife.'”

I never got to meet Sadie, but four years later, Richard gave me her ring when he proposed.  It was the diamond Jack had given her in 1927.  She had worn it for 75 years.  It turned out she was right–he was nice to his wife, that day and so many others.

Looking for the White Knight

So, my therapist has been talking about me to other clients.  I’m totally cool with that–it’s in a good way.  It’s like what Ellen Gilchrist said about her family’s reaction when she writes about them:  “They don’t care what I write as long as I say they’re good looking.”   The story that my therapist shares with others is the one I wrote about yesterday, when I met my second husband by the side of the highway when he stopped to rescue me.  She tells it to people who are rebuilding their lives and wondering if they’ll ever find someone to love.  The advice she gives them and that she gave me when I was rebuilding after a divorce was this–focus energy on YOUR life, not who you’ll share it with.  Plan the life you want, down to every detail and when you have it in place, you’ll be able to see the person who fits into it.  Don’t worry about looking for them first.

white knight

I had spent 10 years trying to make myself into a person who could make a life with the person I had picked out when I was 22 years old.  The problem was, Fartbuster didn’t much like the world because he was smarter than everyone else in it and didn’t see the point in bothering.  I had to get smaller and smaller and smaller to keep him comfortable.  For example, I told him I wanted to get back into writing and he said to go for it.  But when I came home at 8pm after my writing group, he was all pissy “because there was nothing for dinner.”  Ummm, you’re a grown man with a debit card, a car and an Arby’s.  Feed yourself.  I wanted to travel.  The only place he would go was England because we spoke the language.  He ended up SCREAMING at the snack bar lady at Stonehenge because there was no ice in his drink. I told him I wanted to have kids and he said that he really didn’t see how they could be worth the effort–we would have to run the dishwasher more often.  His number one concern about having kids was that I might gain weight. Yeeaaaaaah, I’m not making this up.

Still.  When it was over, I felt like I was starting from square one and I’d never catch up and get to have the life I wanted.  The Baby Store was going to be all out of babies by the time I got my act together!  The Happy Store would be closed for renovations!   I needed to FIND SOMEBODY and do it quick.  My therapist told me to pump the brakes.

My first assignment was to visualize the life I wanted.  Not in generalities like “I want to find love, ” but specifics:  do I want to come home and cook dinner or go out to eat?  Do I want to listen to music and talk or eat in front of the TV while watching CSPAN?  Do I want to go to bed early or late?  Do I want to exercise?  How?  Do I want to spend weekends with family or camping in the woods?  What color should the bathroom towels be?  Where do I want to go on vacation?  What do I want to do for holidays?  Every sentence had I as the subject…not we.

I started living my own life.  I cooked lasagna for one.  I put on a swimsuit for the first time in 10 years.  I went to the beach with my family.  I tried tequila shots for my 32nd birthday.  I went to movies on Sunday afternoon, all by myself.  I threw parties and went to parties.  I bought season tickets to Chastain concerts.  I volunteered with my college and a literacy project.  I joined a writing group.  I attended the Unitarian church.  I read all day or walked all day or shopped or slept or stared out the window.  I planted daffodil bulbs.  I walked my dachshunds.  I did a lot of work on myself.  I went on some dates and turned some others down.  I woke up one morning whistling.  I realized that I was happier on my own than I would have been if I were still married.  That was a really good day.

And what do you know?  A few days after that, my car broke down and I met Richard.  Our lives bumped up against each other’s and it worked.  Love plopped right into my lap when I had quit chasing it.  I think Nathaniel Hawthorne compared happiness to a butterfly.  If you chase after it, it will always elude you; but if you sit peacefully, it will sometimes alight upon you.

For years, I thought of Richard as the White Knight who swooped in and rescued me.  He was my reward for the miserable decade I had tolerated.  When he died, I was PISSED.  Not at him, but at the great scale of justice that had taken away my reward, my rescuer.

But here’s the thing my wise counselor pointed out.  There were two people who met on that cold and blustery day by the side of the highway.  Two stories.  One of those people was going to get sick and one of them was going to die.  One of them was in need at that immediate moment, but one of them would have a much greater need four years down the road.   Richard, brave and capable as he was, would need someone courageous and stalwart and true beside him for that great fight…and it turned out to be me.  I was his White Knight.  We rescued each other.

If you are feeling like there’s no white knight coming to the rescue, look more closely…it might be you.

Lucky Number Seven

mile 7March 6, 2001 was a bright and blustery day.  While driving down Hwy 316 to work, my radio died in the middle of a song.  As I stared at it in confusion, the whole car went whoooooooomp uhhhh waaaaahhhhhh.  I steered over to the shoulder of the road and rolled to a stop, right next to mile marker 7 outside of Bethlehem, Georgia.  With my heart rate rising, I tried to crank it–nothing.  Turned off the dead radio then tried to crank it.  Nothing.  Adjusted my rear view mirror then tried to crank it.  Nothing.  Damn it.  Took key out, looked at it, put it back in.  Grrrrr.  I popped the hood, propped it up in a stiff wind then inspected the engine.  Yep, the engine was still there.  (That was the extent of my mechanical diagnostic skills.)

It was freezing out there, so I sat on the passenger side away from the cars whizzing by me and stared at my shiny new cell phone.  I was alone (not “on my own” but ALONE) in the cold cruel world.  Who to call?  My daddy was two hours away, my brother lived closer but was at work.  My husband was now my ex-husband and my guy friends…well, most of them knew less about cars than I did.  I was just about to walk down the highway to the gas station over the next hill when I saw a car slowing to pull in behind mine.  The next few moments are lost in a blur of relief and babbling.  Someone was there to help!  I was saved!  By the time he stuck his head under the hood and leaned over to wiggle wires, I had calmed down enough to have my first cogent thought about the man who would one day be my husband:  “Dang…nice butt!”

ACK!  What was I THINKING??  This man was a good Samaritan  helping out a damsel in distress–he was probably someone’s dad or husband or an off-duty cop or something.  (In my own defense, he did have a spectacular skier’s butt.)  His head was still buried under the hood, so I checked his left hand for a wedding ring.  There wasn’t one.  Okey doke!  I gave him the once over.  Lots of cute things.  Tee hee.

He moved his car around to face mine and got the jumper cables set up.  He said, “So, are you a law student?” and pointed to the sticker in the back window of my car.

“Oh, no.  My ex-husband.”

“Your husband?”

“My EX-husband.”

“Ah.  I just asked because I teach at the business school, right by the law school.  Thought I might have seen you around.”  And so our conversation began.

He got my car started.  Since we were both headed in the same direction anyway, he offered to stay behind me in case it died again.  Once our convoy was heading back down the highway, I got my head together enough to realize that he was a really nice guy and this might be my lucky day.  I didn’t want him to see me preening, though, so I slid my hand across to my purse, extracted a lipstick and applied it surreptitiously without looking in the rearview mirror.  Sneaky minx.

The car stalled again just outside of Athens.  He stopped and jumped me…I mean jumped it off again.  He suggested I drive straight to the battery store and get them to check it.  He followed me there.  That didn’t work, so I drove to the mechanic and left my car there to get the alternator replaced.  He followed me again.  They needed to keep the car for a few hours and I had a class to teach that afternoon.  My good Samaritan offered to drop me at work and like a total blooming idiot who had never seen a single episode of Nancy Grace, I hopped right in.  That’s when it hit me exactly how “on my own” I was–I had gotten in the car with a total stranger and no one knew where I was.  I kept my hand on the door handle and planned to tuck and roll out the door if he tried anything crazy and was going under 20mph.  He didn’t.  He delivered me right to the front door and we exchanged business cards.

As luck would have it, my boss was walking by the entrance as I stepped from the car at 11am.  He smiled and said, “Glad you showed up to work, Kiddo!”  I told him about my morning adventures then I showed him the name on the business card.  “Why does this name sound so familiar to me?” I asked.  As a fan of DC Comics, he took one look and guffawed.  “You just got rescued by a superhero–Robin!”  Yes, my good Samaritan’s real name was the  same as Batman’s sidekick.

That night, in my gratitude journal, I wrote:

  • Zoe smells so good when she is wrapped up in a warm towel after a bath
  • my new blue shirt
  • when my car died on 316, I made a new friend when Richard stopped to help
  • I needed help with a jump and I got an aerospace engineer with a PhD in finance and Virginia Cavalier manners
  • teaching 20 people in a fun class
  • I can make it

stop-and-smell-the-roses

Taking Flight

Distrail

Distrail By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

Oh, serendipity.

This is an excerpt from my first travel journal, begun when I was rebuilding my life after a heartbreak.  I had met a lovely man who would become my husband, but I didn’t know that yet.  I also never dreamed he would become my late husband.  

I stumbled on this piece this  morning and its simple joy and excitement took my breath away then handed it back to me.  That woman was learning to take risks–on paper, in real life and with her heart.

Friday, November 9, 2001

Griffin

Every journey begins at home.  I am lying in the narrow iron bed at home and all is as it usually is.  Moxie is asleep downstairs in her crate; Gay coughs from their bedroom; Cassie whines at the door, just wishing she could be in here with Zoë and me.

I have a new travel clock and its ticking has captured Zoë’s attention.  Maybe it is strange for her to be aware of time passing by.

My first trip since Gay bought me this beautiful journal in New Orleans.  It is stiff and clean but the paper feels so rich as it slides beneath my hand.  Tomorrow, Baltimore and two nights with Richard.  I want to eat crabs, drink wine and sleep curled together with him.

So that is where this record of my travels begins—home, a narrow bed, a ticking clock.

November 10, 2001  8:00am

Flight 1044 Atlanta to Dulles

This is a haunted route.  Any plane to Washington DC has that sense of foreboding, drums in the distance or the eerie wait for night to fall so you can see the location and number of your enemy by their campfires.  Knowing one bad thing has happened and waiting for the next.

The dark-skinned man in the row behind me was stopped at the gate and his duffle bag rummaged while an embarrassed looking woman swept a metal detection wand over him, his outstretched arms and head dropped to his chest.  His shining gold wedding ring made the wand chirp.  We white women in line looked away.

Cabin lights dim and hands reach for the overhead light buttons, reflex.  I cut it close this morning, just at the gate 10 minutes before we leave.  Two flight attendants cut in front of me at the metal detector line, and when I said, “We can’t go anywhere without you!” they were thrilled to hear “someone nice.”  Maybe things are getting back to normal–I said, “Fuck you” to a stranger this morning when he fussed at me for walking the wrong way.

9:00am

One hour later and we haven’t moved an inch. This, too, is traveling—pointing yourself in the right direction and waiting for the wind to catch hold.  The pilot has reassured us that it’s a mechanical problem with the plane’s attitude monitor.  That’s so true.

10:10am

Off the right wing of the plane, there is a round white glow, the size of a small pond, that follows us on the ground.  I know it is our reflection, the angle of the sun, the same angle that makes the shadow of my hand across this page. But it is sweeter to call it an angel, to see something merry in the way it twinkles over rooftops, treetops and the flat shimmer of water in the Chesapeake Bay.

November 11, 2001  5:45pm

Baltimore—Richard’s bedroom

We had lamb in masala sauce with Mandy and Steve last night.  Listened to Marilyn babble as she served us from a plastic tea set.  Holding hands with Richard as we walk down the dark streets.  Making love on new sheets.

This morning, we ate sticky rolls and talked about going to Europe next month.  Watched a wreath being placed on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  I felt sad for the people left behind and he felt proud for having gone.  And lucky for coming back.

We walked around the harbor, watched the seals having lunch.  One seal named Lady looked a lot like Zoë.  We ate crackers and cheese by the water and watched the jellyfish sparkle when the sun hit them.  We sat in the prow of the water taxi and the spray wet my feet, but we snuggled together, our ears touching.  We joked with the gatekeeper about places for me to spend Richard’s money.

We drank coffee and lingered in the warm coffeehouse but suffered the clatter of the bathroom keys chained to old hubcaps.  We talked about other people’s problems.

And here I sit with a glass of wine in my solitude…and just as I write that, R opens the door and he and the kitty spy on a real writer at work.

He carries things for me.  He endures shopping for a Christmas ornament.  The first thing I saw this morning was the vulnerable curve of the back of his neck.  It’s been a good day.  It’s been a “we” day.  We started the day talking about football and we drove home talking about theoretical math and epenthesis.  Sometimes he explains, sometimes I do.

This is supposed to be my travel journal and here I am writing about a person.  But the best part of today was exploring the world with someone and exploring each other too.  Inner world, outer world.  Richard explained to me that theoretical math allows you to simulate reality and test variables.  I told him that writing does the same for me.

Five Security Blankets I Keep In My Wallet

  1. Two blue green winkle shells from St Simons Island because they are pretty and only cost 50 cents.  They remind me of a place I hold dear.  I’ve had them for a year.
  2. MagpieMy kindergarten school picture.  That was a great year in Mrs. Lemmon’s class…I learned to read, my right from left and how to tie my shoes!  It reminds me of a time that I treasure.  It’s 39 years old.
  3. The deposit slip for my divorce settlement from Fartbuster.  It was so hard to ask for that money as a token reimbursement for the three years I supported him during school.  I spent most of it on travel and there were times I wanted to send him a postcard!  It reminds me to insist on and fight for what I deserve.  It’s been in there for 11 years.
  4. Alphabet letters from a keychain that broke.  My very wise friend goes by the initials HRCFS.  Many of us rely on her counsel so when she left for a while we made keychains that said “WWHRCFSD?” to invoke her good advice.  They make me feel a little smarter.  I’ve carried these beads for a year.
  5. A piece of my nephew’s security blanket, Poppy.  This boy loved his Poppy with a devotion that most of us cannot fathom.  To the rest of the world, Poppy was just an old rubberized sheet.  But to my nephew, Poppy was the safest thing in the world.  He held it to his cheek and sucked his thumb to fall asleep when he was a toddler. His parents lived in fear that Poppy might be lost, so Poppy was divided into sub-Poppies for school, car, washing, etc.  One summer, we were at the beach together and the grownups had stayed up wayyyyy too late talking to Mr. John Liquor.  The next morning, we went out blueberry picking in the stifling heat.  We were all on edge and grumpy.  Someone snapped at someone else and the car got tense.  I turned to my nephew riding in the carseat next to me and said, “Don’t worry about it.  The grownups are not feeling very well today.”  A few seconds later, I feel his little hand tapping on my wrist.  He held up a thin strip of Poppy to me that he had torn off his blanket.  What a kindness!  What generosity! I have carried Poppy in my wallet ever since and that kid is almost a teenager now.  It reminds me that I am loved.

Did you have a security blanket when you were little?  Do you still carry something that grounds you or reminds you that you are loved?  That you are strong?  That you deserve your fair share?  That you are bright and full of promise?  I hope so.

 

And In the Other Pocket…

pocket coinsWhile I am thinking about amulets, charms, and talismans this week, let me share the contents of my left coat pocket–22 Euro cents.  I use these coins like worry stones; as I walk along, I rub them between my fingers, passing them one over the other and back again in a circle.  The feel of them in my hand is relaxing and never fails to make me smile.  If I were Greek, I might carry worry beads to calm myself into a meditative state with rhythmic clicking.  If I were Hindu, I might wear a mala on my wrist to count prayers.  Cultures and religions across the globe use prayer beads in one form or another to mark the rhythm of letting go, turning over or sinking in.  We all need something to fiddle with. 

Twenty two cents.  That’s what I had left at the end of my last trip to Europe, the week in Paris on my own.  Richard and I used to play a game at the end of a trip.  We’d try to spend our cash down to the last penny so we weren’t left with any foreign money to take home as souvenirs or god forbid, exchange at Thomas Cook.  I have a thimble from Munich, a bookmark from Prague, a postcard from Amsterdam.  I once spent my last money on a breakfast banana in Berlin then forgot all about it until I was busted by the USDA beagle sniffer dog once we landed in Atlanta!  I’m standing there minding my own business when I look down and the beagle has gone into a sit on the floor next to me and placed her delicate paw right on top of my trusty backpack!  ACK!!  I guess I’ve seen one too many episodes of “Locked Up Abroad.”  I mean, let’s just say…that backpack had done a good bit of living…not “Midnight Express” or anything but y’know.  A very serious customs agent escorted me to a plexiglass cubicle where I was directed to open my luggage and keep my hands in view.  There sat the contraband banana, cleverly concealed on top of everything.  I breathed a sigh of relief and asked, “Does the dog get to keep the banana?”  (The answer is no.)

I was in Europe the very day the Euro became the official currency of the Eurozone.  Shopkeepers grumbled at having to reprice everything and print new signs and they hated seeing us coming with our super-strong dollars (that was way back when!).  The day the currency switched, we were traveling by train to Bruges in Belgium from Delft in the Netherlands, so I kept guilders in my front left pocket, francs in the right, euros in my jacket.  It was New Years Day, so the restaurants and shops where we could have used a debit card were closed.  It’s pretty frustrating to get crisp new euros out of an ATM only to find that the vending machines all still take the old coin.  That explains why we had to make a meal in Ghent of leftover Christmas Hershey bars and two hot Cokes.  Ugly Americans…bringing Hersheys to Belgium!  It was a last resort.  We had mussels and black beer for dinner to atone for the sin. 

You can tell by the smooth edges of these coins that they’ve taken away many a worry for me.  They’re both from France (the RF mark indicates that) and minted in 2005.  I have one phrase that describes that time in my life and I stole it from a New Year’s shop window display in Paris:  “Love 2006, F*ck 2005.”  

But that’s just my two cents!