The Power of Hope- On Racism

Among those I admire most are people who are unafraid to have their voices heard; I’ve always longed for the courage to be one.

Recently a friend and I were talking about racism. Her parents were an interracial couple who married in the 70’s and lived in the Deep South, her mother Caucasian and her father African-American. It is difficult to imagine the prejudices they faced daily as they raised their four children. My friend’s parents shielded them from much of the hatred but they couldn’t escape it entirely as their mother was shunned by some of her family members. Their father’s family was completely accepting of them.

My friend and I each have a child, hers a teen-aged daughter and mine a son who will very soon turn 21 (yikes!) Our children have friends of different ethnicities and do not see “color” in the same way that we were shown through either direct teaching or observed behavior. They give us hope that one day racism may not exist. When my son was in high school and talked about new friends he’d made, I never knew what color their skin was until I met them, and I loved that.

As she and I talked that day, I said the words I’d never spoken out loud before: “My dad was a racist.”

Is it guilt, shame, or a sense of betraying my own father that makes those words so hard to say? He’s no longer here and cannot defend himself. I never asked him why he held the views he did and suspect that he just couldn’t move past what was taught to him. Hatred is a heavy anchor to be chained to and it drowns any happiness that comes along. I think Dad found peace near the end of his life and I’m so thankful.

Some of the negative reviews for Go Set A Watchman: A Novel are reflective of how we feel when someone we once looked up to lets us down: ‘I hated it!’ ‘Don’t read it! Read the other one instead!’ ‘How could Atticus act that way?’ ‘What an awful story!’ It’s not an awful book or even an awful story. Lee’s writing is descriptive and easy to read; the reader gets to know the characters and is able to visualize the settings, just like in To Kill A Mockingbird. All these years, Atticus Finch has been our hero- we loved him and loved Scout for being a part of him. In Watchman, we see the grown-up Jean Louise’s disappointment when she finds Atticus upholding laws that were in place even though they were wrong. Her hero is a human who has faults…that means she is too.

When I was a very young girl, Dad was overseas a lot working as a consultant for an oil company and was gone for weeks at a time. Mom and I often travelled to wherever he was working, but when I started school those trips were limited. When Dad would come home, there was no greater joy! I wanted to spend all my time with him…we went on walks and drives together, had our “cocktail hour” every night (his was bourbon and mine was coke), and he told me stories about when he was young while showing me the places he’d been on our lighted spinning world globe.

I was nine when I first became conscious of Dad’s saying the n-word and he said it often. Though I didn’t fully understand the implications of that word, I felt sad every time I heard it because it was uttered with such hatred. How could my dad hate anyone? Why did he hate people because their skin color was different than ours? I don’t know what else was going on in my dad’s life around that time, but I was definitely aware that my parents’ marriage was dissolving quickly. I wanted Dad to be happy and I felt like a failure because I couldn’t make that happen.

It was three years later when my parents divorced and my father quickly remarried. Two years after that, he had another daughter. By that time, my mom had remarried as well and was happier. Throughout my teen years, Dad and I stayed in touch and continued to spend time together, albeit rather sporadically and sometimes at my mother’s urging. I’d become someone he didn’t like very much who no longer sought his approval. He liked young women who were thin, pretty, and agreeable- I was none of those and he voiced his disappointment.

We still took trips together, mostly to my grandparents’ farm. It was during one of those trips that we had a heated argument about the Civil Rights movement; Dad always placed high value on education, and every time we were together he wanted to know what we were studying in school. He asked what I thought about it. I told him that the Ku Klux Klan was a group of cowardly monsters so afraid of showing their faces that they had to cover themselves with sheets, and that they were wrong to persecute and kill others. Dad had a completely different view and was furious over mine. He never asked for my opinion after that, nor did I ever ask for his. As years went by, he tried the best he could to maintain our relationship. My own effort wasn’t as strong as his- that’s something I have to live with.

There were some good times though. Dad had a dry sense of humor and could come up with the funniest one-liners. He loved to sketch cartoon characters with hilarious captions on paper napkins. He was an innovative thinker with a brilliant mind who was an avid reader; we shared the love of reading- many of the books I have in my home today were gifts from him.

Even as I was not the daughter he’d hoped I’d be, we attained a sort of reconciliation with each other during the last several years of his life. Secrets he had kept for most of his life were exposed, he got to know the son he had fathered years before, and he was relieved of the burden of living a lie. Joy, love, and acceptance began to seep into his heart leaving less room for bitterness and fear.

I was with Dad when he took his last breath and was blessed with the gift of time to be able to tell him that he was loved, to thank him for all he had done for me, and to let him know it was okay to go.

Throughout history, each generation has complained about the one that follows- “Kids today don’t know how good they have it. They don’t have any respect. They don’t know the value of hard work. They listen to devil music. They don’t know how to dress. In my day…”-blah, blah blah. Our parents complained about us, and their parents complained about them. Everyone has their faults. What I see with my son’s generation is hope. I see young people speaking out against bigotry. I see college athletes, knowing they are role models for young children, publicly giving glory to God. I see love. Will they make mistakes? Yes, plenty- haven’t we?

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.





When I finished paying bills today, I cried. Undoubtedly, this was not the first time in history paying bills has made someone cry, but these were different tears. They were tears of joy and thanksgiving.

Years ago when my son was little, his father and I separated then divorced. Expenses that I had not incurred became ones that were my responsibility; I was fearful of not being able to provide for my son and too prideful and ashamed to tell anyone of my struggles. At the same time, though, I was so grateful holding that sweet baby in my arms, knowing how blessed I was to have that special love!

At first, things were a juggling act…making partial payments to utility companies, paying with one card to make a payment on another… all things many of us have faced at times. Gradually things became better, and I remember clearly the day I’d paid ALL the bills and saw I still had money in my account. It was five dollars, and I was so excited! That was THE day I knew we would be okay. Five dollars between paychecks became a little more every time, and about a year later, I bought a blue portable stereo/cassette player from K-mart. It was the first non-essential purchase I’d made in a long time, and I felt really guilty until I saw how much my toddler loved “dancing” to the music and hearing me sing to him… that was back when he enjoyed my singing, and those days were short-lived! Understandably. I really can’t sing… or rather shouldn’t

Though I’ll never be rich in the material sense and there probably will be times again that may not be easy, today my son and I have everything we need, I was able to pay bills and have a little money left over, I have a job I like, a car to drive, and a house to live in. Most importantly, I have a few close friends, family I love who love me back, and great coworkers- riches I certainly don’t deserve but do appreciate. I thank God for that every day.

The Point

(There really is one; I’m just always painfully slow getting to it whether the communication is written or verbal. My friends, family, and boss can attest to that. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by very patient people!)

For those who are struggling, and there are so many, please hang in there and persevere. We develop our strengths the most when we are at our weakest; tough times really don’t last forever.

The One That Got Away

Or it’s all fun and games ‘til Jaws shows up…

Yesterday, I went to the beach at Grand Isle, and it was glorious! There’s definitely something soul-renewing about being on the beach, listening to the birds and the sounds of the waves, and feeling the warm Gulf breeze.

Before leaving, I decided to wade out into the water and had gotten only a few steps in when I saw a big triangular fin about twenty yards out moving parallel to the shore line. While I don’t remember backing out of the water, it was probably done at the breakneck speed of Wiley Coyote equipped with the latest Acme invention chasing the Road Runner. I thought of what Katie (my very smart niece who is pursuing a degree in marine biology) had said about sharks biting people because they looked like seals… ‘Try not to look like a seal’ and then ‘You’re standing on the beach already, Einstein.’

There were two state park employees nearby, a young man and woman, working on the bird sanctuary fence. I asked them, “Have y’all seen many sharks this summer? Because I see one now.”

Him, looking out into the water: “It’s probably a dolphin.”

Her, not looking up: “Yeah, it’s a dolphin. We see them all the time.”

Me (annoyingly persistent): “Ok… but it looks like a shark.”

Her, still not looking up, but friendly nonetheless: “It’s a dolphin.”

Him, finally seeing the fin: “Wait… it IS a shark. It’s a big one!”

Her, looking up now: “I see it too! It’s definitely a shark!”

shark fin

Not a dolphin!

Both of them whipped out their phones and started snapping pictures while I was thinking ‘Told ya…’

Her: “It’s not dangerous though… it’s not a bull shark. We don’t get bull sharks around here.”

(No offence, lady, but I’m not listening to you anymore. Aren’t you the one who told me the shark was a dolphin?!)

Him: “You might want to stay out of the water…” And off they went, speeding down the beach in their golf cart to take more photos.

Perfect timing- it is Shark Week on Discovery channel after all.

I Should Have Told You This A Long Time Ago

For my family: It has been said over and again that we are not promised tomorrow; with that mindset, I would like to share with you a few of my favorite memories and what makes me smile widely when I think of you:

Mom: That infamous day at Callaway Gardens when you ran into your only daughter with your bike because you couldn’t figure out how to use the pedal brakes- I can still see your face… laughing so hard you were crying and unable to say anything, including the helpful words, “Move out of the way!” That memory has made me laugh so many times!

You have sent me a Valentine’s Day card every year of my life. Thank you. You always know how to lift my spirits.

Trying to figure out how to work the card/key elevator in NYC… eleven!

Dr. M: When I was in high school, you would come home from work in the evenings and kick around the soccer ball with me. That was so awesome of you.

It takes a special man to love someone else’s child as if she were his own, and that’s what you have done.

Playing the word game, “Ghost,” on car rides, and “pocket repeat” from Radio Shack- I still have it after all these years.

April: Sitting on the floor with you at the Point Clear house listening to records; we looked at the Doobie Brother’s album jacket and you told me all of their names. We sang to each of the songs.

I love your sense of humor and hearing you talk makes me happy.

The night before I left for college, you gave me a popcorn maker; you covered my eyes with your hands as I opened it so I wouldn’t see the box and we laughed so hard while you gave me directions on getting the tape off.

Claudia: After I passed boards, I came home, pressed “play” on the answering machine, and heard your voice saying, “Woohoo! Is there an RN in the house? We are so happy for you!” That meant so much to me.

You make life fun.

We were all together in church one holiday years ago, and I spontaneously started crying snotty tears for no apparent reason. You didn’t try to ask what was wrong- you just handed me a tissue, smiled, nodded, and held my hand. That was perfect and made it all better.

Hank: Going with you and your Dad to the old auction building on a covert pigeon rescue/adoption/relocation mission in the dark of night- I think we may have rescued one or two. How did we get in there anyway?

The ways you show your love mean a lot; I never have to walk to my car alone after a family get-together because of you.

You let Austin ride in your boat as you pulled it back to your home. I don’t know whose grin was bigger that day as you both drove by and waved, yours or his! Thank you for doing that for him.

Missy: The Great Loon Rescue… you were so brave.

No one can make me laugh as hard as you do! I also love it when you open that tender heart of yours – talking with you replenishes my soul and releases buried tears turning them into laughter and snorts…well snorts for at least one of us…wait, I have heard you snort before! Shhh, I won’t tell anyone…

You taught me how to drive stick-shift. I’m not sure we were completely successful that day, but I do remember you saying it’s easier to feel the clutch bare-foot then warning me to always drive with shoes on.

Mary: Playing countless card games at Point Clear- MAMTG and AMCTG- many great memories of that summer.

You have such a sweet voice.

Walking with you at Gulf Shores, talking, dreaming, and collecting sea shells, then seeing a school of dolphins… we came close to deciding to swim out to them…until a fish bumped into my leg. Then it was over.

Mark: Seeing you at the grill every Easter with the lamb chops, and knowing you are doing it out of love.

I’m grateful for the special bond you forged with Austin that exists still. He would talk your ear off when he was little and you were always patient and listened.

The well-timed SEC football fan e-mail

For My Son

What I want you to know:

There are times I am disappointed for you yet I am never disappointed in you. I am so thankful that God chose me to be the vessel through which you came to be here; He is the One Who made you and He loved and knew you long before I did. You are a precious gift.

Even as I am happy being with you, it is not your responsibility to ensure my happiness. We choose to be happy or unhappy and any poor choices I have made are my own, not yours.

You inspire me. I am braver when I am with you. I see your love, your sincerity, your ability to make others smile, and I want to be more like you. I have never wanted for you to be like me; God made you who you are, and He knew what He was doing.

I want you to know, really know, that you are loved. You are loved not just by me, but by those who want to be a part of your life and to have you in theirs. My prayer is that you see yourself through God’s eyes- when that happens, you will have immeasurable joy and peace.

My wishes for you:

To love and be loved back.

To find your path doing what makes you happy. Please don’t waste your time with a job that you hate as a means to an end so that ‘one day’ you can be happy. ‘One day’ may never come and I don’t want you to ever look back with regret. It’s the little moments in life that bring smiles and they are easier to recognize when we do what we enjoy.

For you to laugh and to laugh often. Your laughter is a blessing to you and to those around you.

That you may know your worth, share the gifts God has given you, and see how much He loves you.

A Prayer

Dear Lord, tonight I feel weak and I ask for Your help
-that I may be a beacon and not a burden
-to be accepting and not controlling
-to be patient, kind, and forgiving
-to remember the times that You have forgiven me
-to be thankful and joyous instead of anxious and regretful
-to listen with my ears and with my heart; when I speak, to ask You for the right words to say
-to carry Your Light which chases away all darkness
-and to love, no matter what, no matter when.
Thank You for all that You have given me. You have always been in my life, even during the times I tried to push You away. Please continue to watch over my family.
In Jesus’ name I pray.

Stuff Happens- A Regrettably True Story

watre closet

In an effort to cut down on colorful language and not embarrass my parents (too much), I’ll be making a few word substitutions.
“Come help me! The toilet exploded!”
Those were my first words said to my son a few mornings ago. I should have known something was a bit off when I put a load of laundry in the washer and then heard a gurgling noise coming from the kitchen sink. We live in an old house and according to my neighbors, the folks who lived here before had an interesting way of performing home repairs.
As I rinsed a glass, I wondered why the water wasn’t getting very hot. When the loud gushing sounds reached my ears, I raced to the bathroom to find a volcano was erupting and hot, steaming, brown lava was everywhere. It coursed down the sides of the bowl, six or more inches up over the seat and with the speed and volume of the water at Niagara Falls… so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration… but maybe not.
“What’s going on?” my son asked as he came to join me in the bathroom. “Ohhhh…”
“The sewer line backed up and exploded. Inside. Grab some towels, there’s wit and miss everywhere!” I reached down to turn off the water- that didn’t help. Plunging only made it worse. Never try to plunge if the wit in the sewer pipes is going the wrong way.
“That’s old wit! Ugh, I’m gonna be sick! There’s wit from the whole neighborhood in here!” He did manage to find every towel we own and we worked as a team to at least cover the wit.
“Old wit, new wit, our wit, their wit- it doesn’t matter! We’ve got to get rid of ALL the wit!” Oh, what a twisted Dr Seuss rhyme.
“Mom, it’s all the way up to your ankles!” And off he went… heaving. Not everyone has a nurse’s stomach.
Mount Vesuvius finally stilled, leaving only steam escaping from its base. At least I knew where all the hot water had gone. The supply of towels was extinguished long before all the wit and miss had been cleaned, so I reluctantly started the washer up again, fearful of having the house fill with another explosion of wit. Once the towels were in the dryer, I had to get some bleach.
One of my neighbors was outside, so we chatted for a bit. I told her what had happened while she was getting some things from her boyfriend’s truck. She held one of his work boots, and then said, “Ewww, I wonder if he stepped in something… it smells like wit!”
“No, Cynthia. That would be me. I’m witty.”
“Oh!” Then quieter and a little sadly, “Oh… Sorry.”
Well, hoarding has come in handy; I had about ten of those cute little pocket-sized anti-bacterial thingies from Bath and Body Works. After pouring them all on my jeans, then running a little through my hair, there was a lovely combination of French Vanilla, Soothing Pear, Luscious Lavender, Citrus Peach, Christmas Holly, Merry Mistletoe, and Winter White going on to titillate the senses- what kind of scent is Winter White anyway and does mistletoe really smell like cinnamon?
Judging by the looks received from fellow Wal-Mart shoppers, not everyone’s senses were happy and there must have been a lingering cloud of wit surrounding me. Ah, so much for not embarrassing my parents with this story. However, I’ve never experienced shorter lines or quicker service while shopping! The lady in front of me at the checkout lane unloaded her cart at break-neck speed, no one got behind me, and the cashier’s hands moved so fast they were a blur.
Halfway through the decontamination process and while I was regretting not owning a Hazmat suit (you can find them on Amazon and the customer reviews are pretty entertaining), my sister Mary phoned to help me keep a sense of humor. We were soon laughing hysterically- me aided by the bleach-fumes high and her by the mental picture conjured from the stinky story:
Mary (her voice hitching through the laughter): “So it wasn’t just plain wit, but steaming wit? That really is a big hot mess!”
Me: “Yep, we are full of wit over here.”
Mary (so sincere)” Oh sweetie… I wish I was there to help you. Kind of.”
Me: “Thanks honey and I genuinely kind of appreciate that.”
Like a bad dream, it’s now all over- except for hoping to become best friends with the new plumber. Into everyone’s lives a little wit must fall. Keeping it in perspective, there really are worse things, this certainly brings new literal meaning to having a witty day, and if it makes my sister laugh then it’s all worthwhile. Kind of.

Put Me In Coach- For Beth

Those who impact others the most do so naturally with their souls; it is part of their being and it is beautiful.
This weekend was a big one- the opening weekend of softball season with my niece in her first position as head coach of a university’s softball team. All of the family is so excited for and proud of her and we loved being able to gather together in her honor. As an athlete and a coach, her accomplishments are impressive; even more impressive is her character and her integrity. As a very young girl, Beth worked hard to become the best she could be at everything she did and she succeeded. She did so quietly and humbly. As a young woman, she gives all of herself to help others become their best. She doesn’t take the credit for it- it’s just what she does.
Before the last game, her parents and I got to spend a little time with Beth who spoke about her most improved player, telling us, “She came from a town where no one expected her to be anything good, so she expected not to be anything good. She’s made such a turn-around.”
Listening to her gave me chills and I wanted to shout, “It’s because of YOU, Beth! Don’t you know? YOU are changing this girl’s life! I wish you were my coach!” But I didn’t. I listened. Her parents didn’t have to say it. They know.
The girls played hard but the score wasn’t in their favor this time. It’s early in the season- just the beginning- but it’s hard to find the right words to say to a disappointed coach after a loss. The team is already winning the big game. When I saw Beth afterwards to say goodbye, she said, “I’m sorry…” There was nothing I could do or say to help her feel better- just hug her and tell her, “Love you, baby.” I hope she felt what was in my heart: Sweet girl… beautiful lady…strong woman…you are affecting so many young lives and the world is a better place with you in it… But there’s a time for words and there’s a time when words need to be left unspoken.

When You Think Your Bike Is Your Best Friend

Having strong ‘loner’ tendencies, it’s no big surprise that I was drawn to cycling; I didn’t realize just how consuming my love affair with my bike had become until last night when I attempted to recount the details of the most recent ride to my son.
Me: “…so we were riding along Jefferson Highway and the rain was coming down in sheets…”
Him (trying not to laugh): “Mmmhmm…”
Me (becoming more passionate and slightly louder): “All three lanes had traffic, so we had to ride through the standing water on the right side of the road….”
Him (shoulders beginning to shake and eyes watering from trying to suppress the laughter):”Uh-huh…”
Me (louder still and very serious): “Suddenly our tires hit something slick-“
He started laughing out loud, incapable of holding it in any longer.
Me:”…and then we started skidding into the street… Just what the hell is so funny??”
Him (tears running down his face):”Mom! Who is ‘we?’ You and the bike?”
We’re both still smiling about that. By both, I mean me and my son. Not me and the bike!

To Our Patients and Their Families- From a Transplant Nurse

We are often humbled by the grace and courage you display. We remember your words many years later as you affect us so deeply and we are honored that you allow us into your lives at the most intimate times. Because of you, we love harder, smile wider, and appreciate the little/big things in life that we used to take for granted. Thank you for that gift. You are our greatest teachers.
We don’t want you to be in pain and we feel frustrated when we can’t make it better.
When we have been off for a few days, then return to work and find out you were discharged home, it makes us smile and we wish we had been there to say goodbye.
We get excited when we see your labs before we enter your room knowing that ‘new’ kidney is working well and are eager to share that news with you. We also dread entering your room when your labs indicate no signs of improvement knowing we will see your disappointment.
Sometimes we think about you when we get home, wondering if you are doing better, and cannot help calling to check on you. Sometimes, too, we try not to think of you as we are reminded of our own mortality and that frightens us.
We are moved when we hear you speak with sincere gratitude about your donor and the donor’s family. We want to hear about how transplant will change your life and what you are looking forward to the most- walking your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, going shopping with your friends without having to carry an oxygen tank, looking into your newborn grandchild’s eyes and feeling him grasp your finger with his tiny hand for the first time.
We love having you come back later to visit and giving us the opportunity to see you feeling well and enjoying life. You give us hope and that hope inspires our care of future patients.