Monday, March 29, 2010

story and life inspiration

From a blog that i frequent and find highly enjoyable, the thoughts below are challenging and just what i needed to hear today, enjoy!

i noticed that #12 is missing too.  Gotta love that. 

Maybe i'll get to meet Keri Smith one day.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mr. Anderson, almost 95

i met him when i was a delivery driver for my previous job.

On Thursdays at 5pm sharp, i brought him a hot meal from the kitchen that i worked at.  When i would knock, he would move forward in his wheelchair and say 'Come in young lady!'.  I would let myself in, quickly unpack the paper bagged dinner, and have a seat on his couch.

Our interactions were always short, as i was on the clock for work, but we always managed a bit of basic conversation: weather, television, food, his late wife, reflections on life.

The first time i ever delivered to him was one week after Thanksgiving last fall.  Thanksgiving had been hard for me as it was the first holiday without my priceless grandfather.  After speaking to Mr. Anderson for only a few minutes, i found myself in tears.  i am a tender-hearted person; my whole family is disposed to tear-filled eyes with only the slightest sentiments.  But as i left his front porch i burst into tears.  My heart ached for my own PawPaw, having seen similar echoes of typical old men: gruff voice, stubbornness, friendliness, wood paneling and outdated pictures.  i knew that Mr. Anderson was someone that i was going to look forward to seeing every week.

Every week...until i stopped working there.  i had given my notice and it was the last Thursday that i would be delivering his food; i knelt down next to his wheelchair 'i won't be coming by on Thursdays anymore to deliver your dinner, i'm sorry."  He said, "You stop by anytime you want to, the door is always open for you young lady."

When i stopped by on Friday this week, i was not sure how Mr. Anderson would respond to me or my writer's tablet notepad.  Sometimes he doesn't remember meeting me, or seeing me merely a week before.  Friday was one of the "I don't who you are" days.  It made me sad to have to reintroduce myself to him; to see the look in his eyes when he realized that he should know who i am, and that he can't find a trace of me in his memory to draw on.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, i didn't know where to start.  i asked about his wife, as i know she is often his favorite and most cherished subject to talk about.

Tell me about when you met Theda.

"I was 17 and she was 15 when we got married.  I met her in school, she was the prettiest girl, and I was in love with her from the minute that I met her.  There's never been a person living that was as highly thought of as much as her.  I think as much of her today as when I first met her.  When I lost that woman up there, [he motions to her photo on the mantle], I lost everything."

This is a thought that he has shared with me many times.  This line haunts me almost every time we speak.  He says this often, pausing before and after he says it.  lost everything.  He still wears his wedding ring, a thin gold band.  I do know that it has been years since Theda passed away.  He still takes care of himself for the most part, even though he is probably what you would consider a 'shut-in'.  She had been his everything, and now she was gone.  It was a devotion that I saw in my own PawPaw after my beloved Gran passed on; everything was changed.  My heart ached.

i asked him to tell me about his family, and about his childhood in Goldsboro, NC.  He did not want to tell me much about that, saying that most of his family was dead now, except for one brother.  When i asked for his living brother's name, he couldn't remember it and said "That can't be that important, can we just leave that alone?".  i felt guilty for highlighting a bad spot in his memory.  He moved on.  His father had been a retired railroad foreman, but he also owned a farm during the Depression.  He worked on the farm, 'those were the days when a $1 was a $1 and men would work for $.50 a day'.  When he was old enough, he enlisted with the Marines and was stationed in the Pacific during World War II.  He said that when he got back, he never spoke about the war because 'war is war and it wasn't right to talk about it once I got home.'  My heart ached.

He and Theda built a home in an old neighborhood of downtown Raleigh.  Mordecai used to be in the woods and considered to be the countryside, now it is a neighborhood with a mixed lot of young families and retirees.  Theda raised their two children while Mr. Anderson worked as a freight driver.  He liked to drive and he wanted to see the country.  He liked that he would be in a different city every night and could see the countryside of America.  His extended family wasn't too far away and he would come home whenever he had the chance.  He said 'I had a family, I loved them all, I still do."  My heart ached.

He smirked as he told me that they had to drive to South Carolina in his father's Model A Ford in order to get married.  He and Theda had not even told his or her parents where they were going or what they were going to do that day.  But you couldn't get a marriage license in North Carolina if you were younger than 16, but they allowed it in South Carolina and so they set off to find a Justice of the peace.  After they had driven all the way back to Goldsboro, they parted ways and went to school as usual the next morning.  They each had to tell their families and their classmates that they had gotten married over the weekend.  It wasn't until a few months later that they began to function as a married couple: alternating between their family's homes until they were able to get a 2 bedroom apartment for themselves.  His light blue eyes and faint eyelashes flutter as i saw him reminisce about his late bride.  My heart ached.

Mr. Anderson asked me why i was writing things down.  Not thinking that he has any life-lessons to offer, he said that it would be pointless for me to write anything he was saying down.  It almost seemed as if he were miffed at me for recording any of his words.  i told him that i was going to write something about our time together, because i was learning from him.  He told me not to bother.  He'll be 95 this year, born on June 3, 1915.  His weathered hands and silver hair are souvenirs from a life that he says he enjoyed every minute of.

i guess that the biggest lesson i am learning from Mr. Anderson, especially in our extended conversation on Friday, is that even with all the heartache, life is worth living.  Even when a person may feel like they haven't done anything worthy of praise or worthy of recording, life is still worth living; he's still here, his heart is still beating. Regardless of what he may think of himself, i value him, i value his words, the lessons are being passed down.  He is making a difference to me.

It's my belief that everything works together for good, whether it's good that is apparent or good that is hidden.  Mr. Anderson has no idea what his time with me has meant to me.  i'm sure that he has made a lot of good happen for those around him, and most of all, he's taught me that love is powerful, love is important, it carries beyond this life and it connects us to one another in ways that are hard to describe.  And that is a lesson that anyone should be grateful to witness.

**i have not included actual pictures of Mr. Anderson because i am not sure how Mr. Anderson would want to be portrayed.  this is an exception to what will usually be the rule.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

stranger at Snoopy's

i ordered my two chili hotdogs, and greasy fries.

It was a pretty day earlier this week, before the rains, and i was glad to be grabbing something quick to eat.  Groceries have been sparse while being mostly un-employed.  Quite grateful for the babysitting gigs i've been able to string together, i am still technically 'job-hunting'.

My liberal arts degree [Philosophy & Religion] draws laughter and criticism from most potential employers.  The usual inquiry is "And what did you want to do with that degree?"; and more often than not, my feathers get ruffled.

i answer "i had hoped to go into youth ministry.  That doesn't seem to be in the cards for right now, but i am interested in ________ job because.....etc."

My feathers get ruffled yes, and i have to reign my sharp sarcasm in.  The retort in my head is often like this:

insensitive potential employer: 'And what did you expect to do with that degree?'

me: 'Oh, you know, i went to class everyday, graduated Magna Cum Laude, and earned my degree just so that i would apply and interview for this entry-level Administrative Assistant position and have you look down your long nose at me for not having majored in Business. 

The department and the professors that i learned from taught me how to think for myself, how to observe the world that has existed before my time, how to connect to the people i am surrounded by, and above all, how to rise above any notion that i am any better than anyone else because frankly we're all in this together.'

i was considering the job prospects that lie before me, although they are slim, i have some decisions to make: Stay in Raleigh?  Try moving to a new city by myself?  Explore the option of moving to Ireland for a year as a church-worker?

That's when i notice it.  i don't know how i had missed it before.  A pair of birds, or one really sick bird, must have been quite comfortable on the branches above my car earlier in the day; and they left me a nice, whopping smear of bird-poo on my passenger's side window.

A man in and Escalade pulls into the parking lot of Snoopys.  Parks right in front of where i am standing.  He gets out, surveys the menu, in the meantime, i nod to acknowledge him.

He says "Beautiful weather isn't it?", i nod and tell him how glad i am that the weather is finally warmer.  He has his hands behind his back, folded together; his white t-shirt is thin and he's wearing loose fitting sweatpants.  He can tell that my car is the one that he just parked next to.  He motions towards it.

"Shit on your window" he says with a smile on his face.  "It looks like they had a party doesn't it?" i reply.  He laughs.  He says "One time I was driving down the interstate with my arm out the window.  I don't know how or why, but when I got where I was going, I had purple and pink bird-shit on the sleeve of my white t-shirt and down my arm.  I guess it happens to us all sometime, better on your car than on your arm."

He was right.  Things could always be worse.  We all get crapped on in one way or another; literally and figuratively.

Later that night, it rained and the bird-poop was gone.

Things are looking up.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Marilyn in the Park

It was the second day after i had launched the YourStoryMattersToMe project, and i was in the park with the children that i sit for. There was a woman and her granddaughter just on the edge of the playground. As the sun was setting  and it was time to leave, we headed in her direction and as we did, i could tell that she wanted to talk to me. And, well, i was not opposed to it.

She was an older woman, in her early 60's, gray eyebrows, red hair, light blue eyes. She says her name is Marilyn and that her granddaughter's name is Clarice. Clarice begins to play with the older boy that i am watching. Marilyn tells me that she came across this park on accident; that she and Clarice were headed downtown for dinner but the train had diverted them into the park for a spell. She tells me that that she and Clarice spend 3 days a week together after-school.

Without Marilyn, Clarice would have to ride the bus for 1 hour to and from school. Instead of allowing Clarice, who is in first grade, to continue feeling lonely and alienated on the long bus-ride home everyday, Marilyn volunteered to pick her up 3 days a week. She and Claire have a relationship because Marilyn CHOSE to have a relationship with her granddaughter.

She said: "My daughter and son-in-law were like, Are you sure you want to pick her up and watch her this often? to which Marilyn replied "Of course! I want her to know me and I want to have a relationship with her."

i asked Marilyn what she does, she tells me that she had retired at age 50 a few years back, after having been an accountant. Her husband's job as a computer programmer was secure and provided more than enough for them to live on. She laughed as she said that she had just bought her Mercedes when her husband's company went under and he lost his job. She said that when that happened, she had no choice but to come out of retirement and go back to work. She found a job at a temp agency and worked in three different offices before she was able to work part-time at her son-in-law's business.

Marilyn's husband has been going blind for a few years now, and she told me with a distant look on her face. She wasn't seeking pity, although, that is the emotion that i felt immediately. As i spoke to her, i asked her if she had any advice for me about finding a job. Her answer:

"In these CRAZY times? I don't know if I should be giving any advice on that! My father, who finished school in 1936 said that when he got out, he and his friends took WHATEVER THEY COULD FIND. Maybe that is what you should do, although, it looks as though you are already doing that."

i do have to say that i wasn't exactly encouraged by my exchange with Marilyn, more like challenged by it. i don't want to do "Whatever i can find", the thought of this sends my mind to babysitting, waitressing, cleaning, etc. But in the same stream of thought i find myself asking "What's wrong with those things? Aren't i called to serve?" the answer is Yes. i would hope that my own sense of entitlement isn't keeping me from experiencing my life, and serving others.

This was our final exchange, as we parted ways my oldest boy and Clarice acted as if they were devastated to be told that their bird and squirrel hunt was over.  i was surprised and caught unprepared for my conversation with Marilyn in the park, as i had nothing to write on and my camera was out of my purse. She will never know that she was a part of this project, or that she was being interviewed, unless someone can figure out who she is and then pieces puts us in touch. i was glad to talk with her; for us to provide adult-conversation for each other for a little over 20 minutes. In any case, from now on i'm equipped with notepad and camera, ready to embrace the conversations that are provided for me as i continue to learn about myself through others.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

meeting: Ken

As much as this YourStoryMattersToMe project is aimed to meet and interview strangers spontaneously, i went out on a limb to meet and interview Ken.  After hearing Ken being interviewed for NPR on "The Story with Dick Gordon", i quickly facebook searched him, and 'friended' him.  Under normal circumstances, i intend to meet and interview strangers 'on the fly', i will defend this interview as justifiable because Ken was a stranger, regardless of our intentional meet-up.

Ken, is not your typical Duke student.  In fact, Ken isn't typical in many ways at all.  in graduate school at Duke, Ken is in process of writing a thesis for a Liberal Studies Masters Degree.  His Liberal Studies degree is an interdisciplinary degree covering a broad spectrum of topics in various departments such as: literature, history, political science, biology, etc.  Ken helps tutor students at a local school, studies on campus, works out at the gym on campus, and he cooks, eats and sleeps every night in his van. 

The main way that Ken is not like your typical Duke student: he lives in a van that he bought locally for $1500.  No it is not 'down by the river', but it is on Duke's campus, in a spacious parking lot, with a large grassy field that he likes to think is his 'backyard'.  He jokes about starting a garden on the Duke lawn that he parks in front of, Ken aims to live a simple life.  Not wanting to go into debt, and learning to live within his means, Ken has found a way to afford higher learning with a little creativity and a lot of adventure.

While living in a van is definitely a story worth telling, i was prepared to recognize Ken beyond his current van-dwelling experience.  (for more about Ken's van-life, visit his blog here.  i highly recommend it, and tell him yourstorygirl sent you!)  Ken's adventuresome lifestyle has been exemplified through his experiences hitch-hiking, living and working in Alaska as a tour guide, and during a 2 month "voyage", equipped as an 18th century explorer covering 1500 kilometers across Ontario in a birch bark canoe.

Whew, just squeezing in 2 hours with Ken became an endeavor for me, but we managed to meet for coffee.
i had to talk to Ken.

i asked him a question: would you change anything about where you've come from?  As in, if you could meet a younger version of yourself, is there anything you would say to your former self?  Not missing a beat, Ken pondered and responded:
Wrong turns are lessons learned, they become parts of your character.  It is impossible to visualize anything different.  Who I am is who I always wanted to be.

Whoa.  Pretty wise for a 26 year old.  He recalled a specific moment from when he worked at Home Depot in the parking lot.  A bumper sticker that read, Remember who you wanted to be, stood out to him one day as he was pushing the carts across the lot.  He said that he stood still in his orange apron, and he took the time to remember who he wanted to be.  Continuing, he said that misery breeds insight.  from a job at Home Depot (and in other jobs i presume) Ken was able to see how many people dreaded their work-life 5 out of 7 days a week.  it drove him to ask "Why are you living this way?"  In his experiences, Ken acknowledges that a majority of people have the elbow room to change their lives for the better and yet they don't.  He says it takes courage to change things, to reinvent yourself.

In his trek across Ontario, Ken was challenged by an interaction with a man who had been intrigued by Ken's trip.  After showing interest in why and how Ken and his companions were making the voyage in the birch bark canoe, the man went on to say "That is really fantastic for you, I could never do that".  Something about this comment didn't sit well with Ken, he thought to himself "there is nothing that makes me special except that I am willing to test myself."  Ken went on to describe how he thinks too many people do not understand how much we, as humans, are capable of in mind and body; that it is amazing how we are so unwilling to discover what we can do for ourselves.

Ken, who has a beaming smile and kind eyes, reminded me of the boys i used to tag on the playground.  Thoughtful with words, careful in demeanor, Ken was kind enough to treat me to coffee.  He also gave me a tour of his home, humored me as i rambled every time i spoke, and repeated after me as i taught him how to pronounce "Appalachian Trail" as we do 'round these parts [lesson here].

There are many more things i would and could like to write about Ken, he is definitely someone to watch; he has big ideas and big dreams and when he gets there, he won't owe it to anyone but himself.