As the Lady From Joisey Said . . .

The Rape of Ganymede by Rubens

The Rape of Ganymede by Rubens

“We think we know everything. We don’t know shit.” The name of the play escapes me, as does the plot, but this line sticks with me, as does the image of the world-weary drag queen who delivers it.
Growing up, I thought I was in the know. My brand of church taught that we had the inside track on salvation, knew exactly what God wanted. It was up to us to point out to others how wrong they were.
My eyes opened when I came out gay in mid-life. I went from a desk job at a religious organization to biscuit maker at an interstate truck stop cafe on the early morning shift. One of my co-workers was a large imposing woman with a thick New Jersey accent. I loved her sense of humor and take on the world. I often told her so. “Aw, ain’t you sweet,” she’d say. “You want to know what I think? I think you’re full of shit.”
I didn’t want to believe her. These twenty years later I begin to think she was spot on.
Last month I wrote a short piece about the brevity of life, how everything changes and how quickly. How to manage in such a world, I wondered aloud, and concluded: “Live as fully alive and fully aware as possible. Choose love. And gratitude. Laugh often.”
This on a Wednesday.
Thursday morning, my employer called me into his office to tell me he’s decided to change my job description. I’m to identify prospective customers and sell them on our services. “I know this has been a revolving-door position,” he said, noting the average tenure of marketing personnel at our company is three months—people get fired when sales quotas are not met. “I’ve decided this is what I want you to do.”
Had my anxiety been rocket propellant, there’d be a big hole in his ceiling. I am no salesman. As a kid, I tried peddling magazine subscriptions, and in college, vitamins. I proved an abject failure on both counts. After college, armed with a communications degree and no job prospects, I went into telephone marketing. That career topped out at a week. My next position, also in sales, lasted four times as long: I sold popcorn and caramel apples out of a wagon at the Covered Bridge Festival in Parke County, Indiana. I haven’t looked back. Until now. My boss orders me to walk the plank.
What I wrote about living awake and aware, embracing what is? Ehhhnhh.
When change stares me in the face, I notice I sing a different tune. I go all queasy—and with good reason.
It has to do with the story I heard Saturday at graduation open house for a friend who just earned her Ph.D. in psychology. As we ate out on the deck, we heard the neighbors’ chickens. Erin told us they’re being picked off one by one. Coyote? Hawk? Conversation turned to a YouTube video she’s seen: a family sets their baby bunny free to live in the great outdoors.
As Dad videotapes its first steps toward freedom, a hawk swoops down and carries off the little rabbit squealing.
“Run, run, be free!” said Erin, gesturing wildly. “Then wham-o!” A bunch of us laughed.
“That’s not funny,” said her mother-in-law, who finished chemotherapy two weeks ago.
“I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time,” Erin said. “But isn’t that life? It’s what happens.”
Indeed, life pulls no punches. A bald-headed woman. Bunny nuggets. Me a salesman. Everything changes in an instant and it’s not funny. It’s tragic—except that it’s also somehow comical.
We traipse through life thinking we know the score.
“We don’t know shit,” says the drag queen, kneeling at her friend’s grave. She carries her purse over one arm, in the other, a toilet seat lid.


A Blow Job — and All Best Wishes for the Year Ahead

The telephone rang—our son calling from Indianapolis to say a tornado had been sighted minutes away and was headed in our direction.

All day the wind had been blowing hot and cold, blustering its way across the Midwest. My husband Dave and I had been keeping a weather eye on the heavens. There’d been quite the cosmic argument up there and Somebody had overturned the barbecue grill, set gray-white-black briquettes scudding across the firmament.

We dashed outside (it made sense at the time) to batten the hatches on the chicken coop. We were almost back to the house when the wind took a sudden turn. Heavy rain pummeled us. We nearly tumbled into the basement.10999807874_1e079eb581_z

Turning the radio on, we listened to a litany of storm warnings and watches. Our governor had hurried to a homeland security bunker somewhere we learned and was now urging all citizens to take cover, stay alert. It seemed a bit overblown.

But maybe not. About this same time a tornado was tearing through a town the next state over. Dave and I would later look at a news magazine photograph of the devastation. Trees denuded. Landmarks leveled. More than a thousand homes blown away, damaged or destroyed.

Suddenly our lights went out. Radio silence descended. We’d be among the lucky ones; no tornado would strike our little home and power would be restored after 24 hours. Some of our fellow citizens would sit in the dark for a week.

Dave and I lit candles, then darted upstairs to grab crackers and spoons and fill two bowls with the chili we’d had bubbling in the crock pot all day. Before we ate I offered a simple prayer of thanks. “Amen,” we said together. I opened my eyes to see my husband sitting across from me in the flickering light. We smiled to each other. Then he said, “May we always have this much.”

His words caught at me, lodged in my heart. It was one of those moments that even as it unfolded I knew would stick with me for some time to come. One, Dave is a gorgeous man: bright eyes, energetic, a swimmer’s build, kissable lips, cute butt. Two, candlelight was casting a romantic glow on a scene already sharpened with the tang of danger. Three, there was the sentiment itself: gratitude for simple things, awareness of how much we are given, shared pleasure in each other’s company, a present blessing, and hope for the future.

In Dave’s words I hear my wish for all of us in this new year: shelter from the storm, nourishment for the body, comfort in good company. May we always have this much.

And may we nurture the capacity to be grateful for it. There is wisdom, not to mention mental health, in being thankful for small things. A basement. A bowl of chili. Crackers. Candles. We can spend more time feeling happy when we are happy with what we already have, when we look for reasons to be grateful rather than for excuses to growl.

May we nurture also awareness. May we recognize what is going on around and within ourselves, our present blessings. May we listen to the heart and live true to its leanings.

Too, may we surround ourselves with people and projects that add to our experience of life, not sap our energy. May we ourselves be joy-bringers.

Nature is not sentimental; our circumstances can change in a moment and without warning. Our time is short: why spend it chasing after the wind? Rather, let’s choose mindfully to embrace life. In gratitude. And with all the energy we can muster. May we always have this much.

Photo credit: Dave Malkoff, tornado damage in Washington, Illinois; photo modified