Tag Archive | people

The Many Faces of Courage

When the Vanity Fair “Call Me Caitlyn” cover came out, it took the internet by storm.  Literally every social media site was flooded with her images, and it seemed that everyone from politicians to hair stylists had an opinion about her transformation from Bruce to Caitlyn. I was happily surprised that the bulk of the reactions were supportive and complimentary.

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Most commented on her physical appearance – how elegant and stunning she looked in the pictures.  And while I agree it’s hard not to be envious of her gorgeous legs (that no amount of cycling or squatting could EVER earn me) , that wasn’t my first reaction.  I was absolutely blown away by the courage it took for her to decide that after 65-years, she was finally going to show the world who she really was.

Showing the world your uncensored, genuine self can be incredibly HARD.  It makes you totally vulnerable to a world of criticism and judgment; but when that brave decision is made, it has a ripple effect.  Marianne Williamson once wrote, “….As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others….”

To me, you can’t compare or quantify this kind of courage because everybody’s journey is different – what takes courage for one person, might come easily to another.   It can’t be measured by a calculator, ruler, or Richter scale, but that is exactly what people in social media are trying to do right now.  As the sun set on Caitlyn’s first day in the world, the fickle tides of the internet turned against her.  Once her nomination for the Arthur Ashe award for courage was announced, people were quick to point out how her courage paled in comparison to others.

*** My point of contention is that there are NO pale shades of courage *** 

Courage by its very nature is bold and bright – which is why it makes the world seem more radiant and hopeful when we witness it.  When fear presents itself to someone and they don’t back down, that act of bravery deserves our kudos, not our condemnation.  Not only because of the courage it takes to face fear head on, but also because of the inspiration it provides to others.  Along with Caitlyn, there are so many other beautiful faces of courage – each one causing its own amazing ripple effect in an otherwise weary world.  ALL equally magnificent and awe inspiring:

1.  A 5-year old who puts a smile on his face and decides to kick cancer’s ass like a ninja turtle….  

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2.  A woman facing the remainder of her life without the man she spent over 68-years loving….

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3.  The woman who endures stares and snide comments while she fights to get her life back….

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4.  The police officers and firefighters who stare fear down every time they go to work…. 

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5.  The shy kid who stands up to the bully who has made his life a living hell….

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6.  The athlete who isn’t deterred by words like “disability” or “handicap”…. 

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7.  The woman who leaves her abuser in search of a life where love doesn’t equal pain….

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8.  The teenager who rises above the influence of her peers and dares to be different….

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9.  The social activist who doesn’t just dream of a better world, she makes it a reality…. 

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10.  The soldier who knows the true meaning behind the phrase “No man left behind”…. 

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It’s my hope that you’ll remember Caitlyn and the rest of these beautiful faces the next time you encounter ANY act of courage.  Then instead of trying to belittle or compare that act against others, just say a simple word of thanks because they all shine a collective light that makes our whole world brighter.

And for that, I’m incredibly grateful to every one of them.

 

Other Related Articles:

Introducing Caitlyn Jenner

Cheer Caitlyn, But Learn About Nicoll and Marichuy

This Viral Facebook Post About Caitlyn Jenner Taught Everyone a Lesson in Irony

No, A Disabled Vet Was Not Second Place For Arthur Ashe Courage Award 

What Kind of Junk is Stuck to Your Trunk?

I’d like to think of myself as a pretty tolerant person, but sometimes when a pet peeve of mine is triggered, I momentarily lose my amiable nature, and become something akin to an R-rated version of Oscar the Grouch. I’ve had the same pet peeves for years, most of which are pretty standard. But recently I’ve felt a new one beginning to crop up. At first, it started out like one of those underground pimples – an annoyance that I tried to squelch before it came to a head. But now this sucker is red, ripe, and sitting right on the end of my nose, just begging to be popped.

 

I CAN’T STAND “Proud Parent of….” BUMPER STICKERS!!  Damn that felt good….

 

I’m aware of the fact that I probably just offended half of my readers, but it has to be said because parents have gone totally over the top with these stickers.  The back of some of these cars read like college applications. Since the dean of Harvard is unlikely to be driving behind you, why do you feel the need to advertise all of your child’s academic and athletic achievements to the world?

 

I get it, you’re proud. By all means, call Grandma and tell her all about the fact that little Sally made the honor roll, won a gold medal at her gymnastics tournament, and then rescued a baby whale during her Greenpeace excursion. She’s SUPER awesome!! But nobody but Grandma (and maybe you) cares.

 

You might argue that you’re just letting your child know that your pride for them is like these bumper stickers – permanent and unable to be removed without the use of a razor blade and/or blowtorch. But here’s a secret that your child might not be willing to share with you: they find these stickers just as obnoxious as the person driving behind you. And if your child is over the age of twelve, you can add a hefty dose of teenager embarrassment to that as well.

 

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Part of me gets why these bumper stickers are so popular. Besides people wanting to brag about their kids, they also promote a sense that the world is a perfect place to live in. A place where all children get smiley face stickers on the top of their math tests, and score the winning goal at their soccer game. It’s a lovely idea, but it’s also total crap. Parenting is a messy, complicated business, and rarely idyllic.

 

Which is why I’ve come up with a better way for proud parents to decorate their cars – I’m calling them “The Real Deal” bumper stickers.  Not only will EVERY parent find something they can relate to, but my bumper stickers also won’t make the person driving behind you want to smack the shit out of you.

 

1.  For some kids, getting on the honor roll is about as probable as Macaulay Culkin getting another big movie deal – but that’s OKAY!!  Getting straight A’s isn’t nearly as important as learning not to share your poop with the people you live with….

proud parent toilet

 

 

2.  As a parent, it’s important to not only pick your battles, but also take your victories where you can get them.  No matter how small they may seem….

math.homework.

 

 

3.  Let’s face it, sometimes sitting on the sidelines of your kid’s game is BOOORRRRRING!!  There’s just so much cheering you can do before you start to pray for death – beginning with the screaming parent next to you that just ruptured their spleen (and your eardrum) because their son missed the ball.  For those parents who want to show support but would honestly rather be somewhere else, this one’s for you….

soccer parent

 

 

4.  After the age of ten, most honor students are like those cars that drive themselves.  They really don’t need parents behind the wheel directing them where to go (or taking credit for getting them there).  I know this because my daughter is like one of those freaky self-driven Google cars.  So I made this version of the “proud parent” for her because we both know the truth….

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5.  Being a parent is hard.  Being a parent stuck inside a metal box with a toddler is HELL….

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6.  It’s not much easier when they get to be teenagers and discover dance music that makes you want to gouge out your eardrums with a set of car keys….

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7.  Sure, driving around with your kids can sometimes be annoying, but those little rugrats can be a real lifesaver to the other drivers on the road.  Especially for the ones who cut you off in traffic….

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8.  It’s been a decade since I had a baby, but I remember the trauma of sleep deprivation the way most soldiers remember the horrors of war.  For all you parents out there driving around like extras from The Walking Dead, I’m here to make sure you don’t get pulled over during your commute to work….

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9.  Along with sleep deprivation, babies can also make you forget that you have sexual organs, and that you once used those man/lady bits for something other than creating life.  Go ahead and post your problem on the back of your car so other new parents won’t feel like the only sexually castrated Ken/Barbie dolls on the block….

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10.  Having a teenager brings with it a different set of hardships, most of them chock full of hormones and seething hatred.  While I may get a full night’s sleep now, I have to do it with one eye open….

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11.  Most kids will test your patience on occasion.  GOOD parents learn how to control the urge to strangle their offspring when their kid throws a temper tantrum.  GREAT parents go on to promote world peace despite being given a lot of shit at home….

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12.  Just once I’d like to see a “drive carefully” bumper sticker that wasn’t put on a car to protect someone’s baby or grandma.  Like a drug lord, for instance….

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13.  Trying to keep your child engaged in activities that challenge their mind and body is hard, especially when it’s Sunday afternoon and all you want to do is take a nap.  You wish they came with an auto-pilot button so you could just get a little bit of  “me” time.  And then you realize that they do…..

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14.  A subset problem of  the “Proud Parent” bumper stickers are these stick figure family decals.  Here’s why:  you know that creepy guy who lives in your neighborhood?  The one you checked out online to see if he was a registered sex offender or just gave you the willies for no reason?  Well, your decals just made his life a whole lot easier….

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15.  Whether you choose to go back to work or stay at home after having kids, it’s easy to feel like the grass is always greener on the other side.  I chose the latter and after about a decade, having a misogynistic boss who doesn’t appreciate me has become a fantasy of mine….

stay at home mom

 

Some Lessons Death Taught Me About Life

My father passed away two weeks ago.  Since then, I feel like I’ve been thrown off my axis – like my world has stopped spinning, but everyone else’s has just kept right on going as if nothing’s happened. It makes me feel slow and lost – like I’m always racing to catch-up to everyone else, but can’t. My brain has totally shut down and can’t seem to process anything concrete – all I can do is grapple with my emotions.

I know exactly how you feel, Kid.

But life is a stubborn bitch, and refuses to be ignored for long.  When you least expect it, life barges in and demands that you pay attention because it has a lesson or two it wants to teach you.  Even though I felt like my brain would explode from the effort, I tried to pay close attention.  I figured that if I looked attentive enough, maybe life would leave me alone long enough to catch an afternoon nap.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far….

Go Acquire Some Funeral AttireI’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, so when it comes to dressy attire, I usually have to scrounge around in the back of my closet to find anything appropriate (and then pray that it still fits).  You can plan a shopping trip for something to wear to a wedding, but it’s difficult to do for a funeral.  You should have at least one black suit or dress on hand at all times.  Otherwise you may find yourself tearfully begging a sales lady for help in finding a piece of black clothing that’s as comfortable as the pajamas you wish you were wearing.

God, please let there be a pair of black pants in here somewhere….

Starve a Cold, Feed a GrieverI’ve sent flowers and fruit baskets to people for all sorts of reasons – birthdays, anniversaries, and various holidays.  But I’ve never sent them to someone who was grieving; I usually pick up the phone instead.  But what I recently learned is that sometimes, the person in mourning doesn’t have the energy or desire to talk to anyone, but they still want to know people are thinking about them – that’s where heart shaped pineapples and chocolate dipped strawberries come in handy!  Although, cookies, muffins, or assorted goodies would work too because they all say the same thing, “This basket of stuff is ridiculously expensive, but I love you and don’t mind having to eat Ramen noodles for the rest of the week in order to pay for it.”

It’s hard to be depressed when you’re stuffing your face with chocolate covered yumminess.

It’s hard to be depressed when you’re stuffing your face with chocolate covered yumminess.

Hugging 101When we are kids, we hug with our whole body, clinging to the target of our affection like little, balding monkeys.  Then as we get older, propriety steps in and our hugs lose a little bit of their fervor, sometimes feeling no warmer than a handshake.  But being wrapped up in a heartfelt hug can be more effective than a handful of Xanax at easing depression – because when you feel like your world is shattering into a million pieces, sometimes all it takes to keep it together is someone else’s arms.

I tried doing this with my cats,but they don't seem to share my appreciation for hugging.

I tried doing this with my cats,
but they don’t seem to share my appreciation for hugging.

United We Stand, Divided We Bawl:  Get yourself an arsenal of good friends because they are like the biological weapons in the war against grief.  I found comfort and support among family because we were all mourning the same loss.  But I turned to my friends for an escape from the insanity.  My friends sympathized with me, but more importantly, they gave me a reason to laugh again.  After crying hard enough to make my eyes burn and my head pound, laughter was the best gift they could’ve given me.  Well, that and the awesome fruit basket.

Our love for each other remains as big as our hair was back in the 90's.

Our love for each other remains as big as our hair was back in the 90’s.

Regret Sucks More Than the First Twilight Movie:  How often do you get the urge to call, text, or visit someone just to say hello or I love you?  Now how often do you ACT on those urges?  Too often we shelve those impulses because we allow other things to get in the way.  Work, kids, food shopping, or cutting our toenails become the priority because we assume we can make that call or visit tomorrow.  It isn’t until tomorrow is abruptly taken away that we begin to mentally tally up all those missed opportunities, and then the crappy feeling of regret sets in.  We can’t do much about the regrets of the past – whether you blew off calling Mom, or made the mistake of sitting through another one of Kristen Stewart’s movies, try to learn from those regrets and work towards avoiding them in the future.

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Eat Your Goddamn Vegetables:  I’ll admit that if all the vegetables on Earth were destroyed in some sort of veggie apocalypse, it would probably take me a year to notice.  And don’t even get me started on exercising or my loathe/hate relationship with my treadmill.  Clearly, I wasn’t born with whatever healthy-living-genes Jillian Michaels seems to have in abundance (don’t get me started on her either).

But when I hit my thirties I got a serious wake-up call that implored me to take better care of myself – a front row seat to my father’s triple bypass surgery, and my best friend’s battle with lung disease.  When you see a prolonged illness suck the will to live right out of someone you love, you find out that there is a lot of truth behind the phrase, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”  If you’re like me, you hate to hear preachy clichés like that– especially when you’ve got a donut in your hand.  But I’m saying it anyway.  So do yourself a favor and eat a freakin’ string bean once in a while.  Okay?

Except during girl's night out.

Except during girl’s night out.

Don’t Sweat the Small StuffGood grief Linda, how many clichés are you going to throw at us in one blog entry?!  Sorry, I know this slogan has been stamped on a million different coffee mugs, t-shirts and bumper stickers – but again, it’s true.  Let your grudges and petty annoyances go – the guy who cut you off in traffic or the co-worker who drank the last of the coffee isn’t going to spend a single second thinking about you.  So, why should you waste hours of precious time imagining all the different ways you could kill them and avoid trace evidence?  Especially when Google can do it for you in seconds….

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I Double Dog Dare You:  Accomplishing something we didn’t think we were capable of is exhilarating.  Which is why I’m urging you to push aside all the imaginary roadblocks you’ve created for yourself (lack of time, money, ability, etc.), and take on a task that you find challenging.

I will be facing two challenges this summer.  Initially, both of them scared the crap out of me because there’s movement involved – a lot of movement; and I’m pretty sure I can’t bring my couch and TV remote along with me.  But after a little bit of thought (and a lot of alcohol), I decided to push past my fears and see if I’m still capable of surprising myself.

Here are the two upcoming events:

The 5K Foam Fest – I’m going to need a chiropractor and a few drinks when this race is over.  And I’m sure I’ll be spending the better part of a week cleaning mud out of places that should NEVER get muddy. But it looks like a hell of a lot of fun…..

The Long Island walk to help fight breast cancer – 2 days, 35 miles, and probably a boatload of blisters.  If you would like to help me raise money for this great cause (without the nasty blisters), all you have to do is click the link below and pull out your credit card. Personally, I think you’ve got the better end of this deal…..

https://www.li2daywalk.org/donor_info.asp?MEMBERID=13166

If everyone who reads this donates just FIVE dollars, I can reach my fund raising goal of $1,000!!

BRING.  IT.  ON!!!!

BRING. IT. ON!!!!

Dear Dad…..

I got the call from Lesley this morning at 6:00am.  I can’t even imagine the strength it took for her to make that call – having to somehow find the words to tell me that my Dad had passed away last night.  She did the best she could…. tried so hard to be gentle.  I lost my shit anyway.  I didn’t hear anything she said beyond, “He’s gone.”  I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my own screaming and wailing.

There were no questions at that moment – Why?  When?  How?  It didn’t matter.  All that mattered was that yesterday you were here, and now you’re gone.  And with you, all the memories we had yet to create.

You just retired a week ago.  You were counting down the days until retirement for the last few years – couldn’t wait to practice your golf swing, and start racking up the miles on your bicycle.  You spent the last fifty years busting your ass, and you were finally going to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation.  I could practically hear the smile in your voice over the phone as you told me about how you were going to sleep in as late as you wanted on your first day of freedom.

I should have called you to find out how it felt to not have to wake up to an alarm clock that morning.  I thought of calling you a dozen times this past week, but when I finally dialed your number, it was too late.

I got your answering machine….

“Hey Dad, it’s Linda.  I’m calling you in the middle of the day just because I can now – we’re finally on the same schedule.  How cool is that?!  I hope you’re out playing golf or doing something fun.  Give me a call back when you can.  Love you.”

But that’s not all I wanted to say…..

Had you been there to pick up the phone, I would have told you that I had thought a lot about our birthdays coming up – you were turning 70 and I was turning 40 this summer.  I wanted to say that I didn’t want anything from you that came in a box.  That suggestion I made about the diamond earrings was just a joke.  We both know I’m not the diamonds-are-a-girl’s-best-friend type.  They would go horribly with my converse sneakers.

What I wanted more than anything was a memory.  Growing up with hundreds of miles between us, we didn’t have much opportunity to create memories together.  Jobs, kids, crazy schedules, and the physical distance always seemed to get in the way.  I think we were both counting on your retirement clearing away some of those obstacles, and finally allowing us some time to get to know one another better.  I know I was counting on it.  I didn’t realize just how much until that time was taken away from me with one phone call.

I feel grief-stricken.  Robbed.  Angry.  Regretful.

I’m mad at myself for taking so much for granted.  Even though your health wasn’t the best these past few years, I still stupidly thought you would be there to create all the memories I had only dreamt about.  I was going to share one of those dreams with you over the phone that day….

I imagined us going on one of your 30-mile bike rides together this summer; both to commemorate our milestone birthdays and to stubbornly prove that age is just a meaningless number.  I thought one or two days of pedaling together, bitching about the hot Florida heat, and laughing at all the old-timers in spandex bike shorts, sounded like the perfect birthday present.  Then at the end of the day we’d compare sore muscles to see whose ass hurt more, and you’d attempt to teach me how to cook one of your signature dishes – all the while I’d be nodding my head, but hopelessly lost.  After dinner you’d insist on topping off the meal with dessert – who am I to argue with homemade strawberry shortcake?  But it would taste extra sweet that night because we’d know that we earned every one of those delicious calories.

That’s just one of a thousand would-be memories I have swimming around in my head right now.  I’m trying desperately to hang on to the happy memories we did manage to create and let go of the rest, but I have to admit that right now I’m not having much luck.

I can’t promise that the sting of regret won’t taint those happy memories, but here’s what I can promise:

I promise to take that 30-mile bike ride this year, even though I won’t have you pedaling by my side.

I promise to honor both of our weight loss efforts, and pass up on more donuts than I eat…. I can’t promise the same about coffee cake – but I know you’ll understand.

I promise to make the most out of the gifts you gave me:  your sarcastic sense of humor, your love and talent for the written word, and your immense capacity to love anything on four furry-feet.

I promise not to complain too much about some of the physical traits I inherited from you:  the odd long torso/short legs combo, the ability to gain weight when even pondering a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts, and that deep crease I get in between my eyes when I’m looking at someone like they’re nuts.

I’d like to ask you to promise me something in return.  Promise me that there is something beyond this crazy, fucked up world where nobody seems to ever get what they deserve.  Promise me that you’ll do your best to protect and comfort those of us who are still stuck down here, missing you.  And promise me that when it’s my time to go, you’ll be waiting there for me.

I hope there are bicycles in heaven….

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Sandy’s Wake: The Hysterical and Heroic

Monday October 29th 2012:  it was a dark and stormy night…. no really, it was.  Never before had an overly plagiarized line felt so apropos as I stared out my window with an odd mix of terror and fascination.  Hurricane Sandy demanded my undivided attention like one of those bratty Toddlers & Tiaras kids in the throes of a full-blown temper tantrum.  As much as I wanted to ignore her, I couldn’t silence the pandemonium by changing the channel because she was everywhere.  My thoughts rarely strayed far from the tempest that surrounded me, but when they did all it took was a 90-mile an hour, house rattling, bitchslap from Sandy to remind me of my imminent doom….

I’m hungry, I think I’ll go make myself a sandwich.

WHHOOOOOSHH!!!!!

Oh, that’s right I’ll probably be dead by morning.

I blame the media for my hysteria – why not?  Everyone else does.  They didn’t technically force me to watch two solid days of media coverage the weekend before Sandy’s tumultuous arrival, but they knew no one would have the ability to look away from the meteorological wreckage.  After 48-hours of being told just how completely screwed everyone was in the northeast, I was in a panic before the first gust of wind hit Long Island.

Like the good sheep I am, I followed the herd to the grocery store and bought what remained of the bottled water and cans of soup.  My house might flood or be blown away in a hurricane, but at least I would be well hydrated.  Then I sent my husband out on a scavenger hunt for D-batteries and flashlights – he would’ve had an easier time getting laid in a convent.  He wandered for hours, in and out of half a dozen stores before he found the only D-batteries left in New York.  He called me as victoriously as he had several Christmases ago when he secured the last remaining Tickle Me Elmo doll in the toy store.

With my inner boy scout satiated with storm supplies, I was ready to face what lay ahead.  When hurricane Sandy finally arrived, there was nothing left to do but hunker down inside our house, watch more terrifying news on TV, and wait to see what the fates had in store for us….

This was me…. minus the flag, gun and psychotic expression.

Would our house be swept out to sea like so many others had been along the eastern seaboard?  Or would we be spared the ocean’s wrath and merely flooded with several feet of rainwater and sewage?  Would the 100-foot tall pine tree in our backyard succumb to the punishing winds and crush our house the way so many other trees had done on Long Island?  Would we lose power and freeze to death in the temperatures that threatened to plummet during the course of following week?  I felt like we were playing the weather channel’s version of Russian roulette.

As it turned out, there was another option I hadn’t considered – we would win the hurricane lottery and escape the storm entirely unscathed.  Sure, I could complain about all the twigs and leaves scattered around my yard, but that seems a bit petty.

I was awash in feelings of gratitude and relief.  But when I took a step outside my mile-wide protective bubble, I realized that the people around me had fallen victim to all my worst fears.  Almost 1 million Long Islanders were without electricity, many of whom also had severe property damage and flooding to complete the hellish trifecta.  My original feeling of gratitude over not being effected by the storm quickly morphed into survivor’s guilt when the horror stories started to flood the media – first panic, now guilt.  Thanks, you multi-media bastards.

The guilt multiplied whenever I spotted my storm supplies piled up in the corner of my kitchen, now unnecessary and unopened.  They had to go.  My husband and I decided to load up our minivan with all the supplies and donate them to the American Red Cross.  But rather than feeling like I had helped the victims of hurricane Sandy, I felt more like I had tried to mend a mortal flesh wound with a Hello Kitty band-aid.

Can I get you a piece of gauze and some Neosporin?

I turned to Facebook and offered up my house to anyone who needed to recharge their batteries, both figurative and literal.  I begged friends who had been hit by the storm to allow me to help with their clean-up efforts because I needed something to do, other than pick my cuticles bloody and torture myself with the nightly news.  No takers.

In hindsight I should have told my friends that I didn’t care whether or not they wanted my help, they were going to get it.  I should have showed up on their doorstep with a garbage bag in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other – I thought Cuervo Gold would be particularly good at numbing the pain.  Always worked for me.

But I didn’t do any of that…. and I guess I’ll have to live with that regret now.

Lucky for me, there was plenty of time to contemplate my inadequacies while waiting on hour-long gas lines, and during my search for a gallon of milk that hadn’t spoiled during the power outages.  As twisted as it sounds, these petty annoyances actually made me feel better.  Maybe because I felt like I deserved it – you can take the Catholic girl out of the church, but you can’t take the guilt out of the Catholic girl.  Or maybe because I knew I’d have a really cool story to bore my grandkids with forty years from now.  Although when I retell the story, the gas lines will be two-hours long and I’ll be walking uphill through a snowstorm for my gallon of spoiled milk.

No matter how many inconveniences I encountered, I never quite purged all of my survivor’s guilt. The loss of those who suffered through the worst of the hurricane’s wrath became the barometer by which all other hardships were measured.  I didn’t allow for any complaints from anyone in my household  in the weeks that followed.  When I found myself curled up in the fetal position on my couch, suffering from a particularly unforgiving bout of cramps, I silently said a word of thanks that I still had a couch to curl up on…. though I might have waited until the Advil kicked in first.  When my kids complained about what I served up for dinner, I was quick to point out all the people who would go without dinner that night because of the storm.  My kids might not have been as grateful about their broccoli as I was about my couch, but at least they stopped bitching about it.

You don’t want to eat your vegetables?
How about a hot, steamy plate of perspective instead?

Thankfully for the victims of hurricane Sandy, there were many other people who did more than sit on their ass being grateful for what they still had.  Amidst the dismal scenes of destruction on the news, came stories about amazing heroes.  There weren’t any capes flying or muscle-clad men leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but these heroes were no less awe-inspiring.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of real people put their lives on the line to save others – and some of those being saved weren’t even human.  A 26-year old man named Spencer Service walked almost two miles during hurricane Sandy in order to save a litter of kittens.  Check out this kitty hero!  I love kittens as much as the next guy… well, maybe not as much as Spencer…. but I don’t know if I’d be willing to risk my life to save one.

Here are the cats who owe Spencer at least one of their nine lives.

Another one of my favorite hero stories was about a group of runners who got together and decided to help the victims of hurricane Sandy.  Over 1,000 athletes who were scheduled to compete in this year’s NYC marathon (before it was cancelled) found a way to put all their hard work and training to good use.  Instead of running in the race, they strapped on backpacks and ran food and supplies into devastated areas on Staten Island.  Read about the race to help so you can feel amazed… and maybe a little lazy .

Awesome, right?  I can barely jog twenty minutes on my treadmill without needing defibrillator paddles, and these people not only ran for miles through flooded, storm-ravaged streets, they did it with a backpack full of stuff.  Makes complaining about carrying grocery bags from my car to my house seem a bit silly now.

I’m proud to say I know one of these powerhouses personally – my good friend, Desi.  She’s the pint-sized dynamo wearing red in the middle of this picture….

GO DESI, GO!!!!

In true heroic style, she made me promise that if I told her story, I would also include a link that my readers could click on to help those who were affected by the storm.  Promise fulfilled – RunnersForRelief.  I know you’re jealous that I have such an incredible friend, but you can’t have her because I need someone around that I can live vicariously through.  Get your own hero.

These stories and the dozens of others just like it have given me hope that New York, through the sheer determination and resilience of its everyday heroes, will manage to rise up from the ashes once again.  If I’ve learned anything about my hometown in the last decade it’s this –  what New York lacks in affordable housing, good manners and sensible drivers, we more than make up for in heart.

Young at Heart…. Slightly Older in Other Places

When I was 7-years old, I lost my grandmother to lung cancer (she was only 63).  I was too young to grasp the lesson inherent in that tragedy – appreciate your grandparents now because they won’t be around forever.  My mother took great pains to completely shield me from the grizzly details of my grandmother’s illness and death, so I was still able to see my other three grandparents through the invincible eyes of a child.

I spent years having obligatory conversations with my grandparents over obligatory holiday dinners, and never took the time to really talk to any of them.  I’d tell them about my friends and how I was doing in school, and they’d tell me about the plants growing in their garden and how they saved fifty cents on a loaf of bread at the grocery store; conversations that were superficial and quickly forgotten.

In my eyes they were grandparents, not people.  I never bothered to learn about their childhoods, likes/dislikes, fears, or hopes for the future.  I saw them as the sweet old people who did their best to spoil me with gifts that never quite hit the mark, and hard candy that tasted like it had spent the last decade on the bottom of their purse/pocket.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realized I had NO idea who my grandparents really were, but by then two more of them had passed away.  When I gave birth to my first child, I suddenly had the pressing need to get to know my last remaining grandfather, Pops.  I wanted to find out all I could about the life he led, and I wanted to share more of my life with him.

I’d like to tell you that Pops and I shared many warm Hallmark moments after my epiphany, but that kind of sentimental crap only happens in chick flicks.  My revelation came too late, and by the time my first-born was 6-months old, Pops passed away.

At least Pops got to share a couple of
Hallmark moments with my daughter, Meghan

Here’s where you say, “For chrissakes Linda, if I wanted to get depressed I would have curled up on my couch with a box of Kleenex and watched Steel Magnolias!  Can we PLEASE get to the silver lining part of this story before I put my head in the oven?”

Yes we can.  Because there IS a silver lining to this story, and her name is Auntie Helen.

My silver-haired, silver lining.

Auntie Helen is technically my great aunt, but after the early loss of my grandmother, she filled that void in my life and has felt more like a grandparent to me.  She lives in Massachusetts, and during my childhood I saw her (at most) a couple of times a year.  When I became an adult, I was determined to learn from the mistake I had made with all of my grandparents and make an effort to span not only the physical distance between Auntie Helen and I, but also the generational one.

I wanted to see past the differences in our ages, and stop pigeonholing her as just another old person on my family tree that I couldn’t relate to.  She made it very easy because even though Auntie Helen just celebrated her 95th birthday this past July (2013), she has NEVER been old.  If you call her old, you’d better be outside striking distance or prepare to get your ass kicked.

Childhood trauma in 3…. 2…. 1

While her physical being continues to age, mentally she never got past her thirties.  She still dresses to impress, drinks people half her age under the table, and flirts with good-looking men that catch her eye. She continuously busts out of the stereotypes that society tries to impress on her, and refuses to be treated like a frail, old woman. As far as she’s concerned, you can take your knitting needles, bingo balls, and Bengay, and shove them straight up your ass.

She wants to surround herself with young people because she identifies more with them than with people her own age – as is evident by her best friend who is 30-years her junior. Her youthful spirit and hysterical sense of humor draw people of all ages to her, and prove that your age doesn’t have to define you.  A few years back, she was forced into a nursing home to recuperate from a medical illness.  When I spoke to her over the phone and asked her how she was she said, “I’m doing fine, but I’ve got to get the hell out of here!  All these old people want to do is sit around complaining about their aches and pains, and nap all day.”  After her brief recovery, she busted out of that place and went back to living independently, just as she has done for most of her life.

Auntie Helen induced perma-grin.

When I was little, most of the adults in my life treated me like a kid, but Auntie Helen didn’t see any reason to pacify me or sugarcoat the truth just because I happened to be under 4-feet tall. She saw me as a person, so it made seeing her as one easier than it was with all of the other adults in my family.

In one of my earliest memories of her, a group of us went out to dinner at a restaurant by her house.  The waitress brought out a round of cocktails for the table, but she brought my Shirley Temple in a plastic kiddie cup.  Before the waitress could leave, Auntie Helen stopped her, handed my drink back and said, “This young lady’s cocktail needs to be in a glass.”  It was a small gesture, but it had a very large impact on me – it said, you matter.   It also said, you don’t screw around with a woman’s cocktail.

The early bond I formed with her set the stage for what would become one of the most cherished relationships of my adult life.  Despite the nearly 60-year age gap, I feel like I have found a kindred spirit in her – not just because we share a fondness for the f-word and perfectly made margaritas, but also because we both think the other person poops sunshine and rainbows.

Here’s an example of her blind adoration:  I had eye surgery two years ago to help correct my lazy eye.  I sent out an email showing her what I looked like a couple of weeks post-op.  It wasn’t pretty….

It looks like my right eye went out and got stoned,
and my left eye stayed home and went to bed early.

This is an excerpt from the email (yes, the woman EMAILS!!) she sent me in response to that picture….

“Looking pretty good to me, baby.  You are beautiful.  That’s how I see it – never saw any difference.  In my eyes you glow with beauty.  There should be more like you, full with the love and compassion that just pours out of you.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you are just that in my eyes.  Love you, Honey.”

Shamefully and unabashedly biased as hell, but sweeter than a basket of kittens dipped in cotton candy.  I need an audio recording of her reading this excerpt for when I’m in desperate need of an ego boost.  Then I could just hit “play” and it won’t matter if I’ve got a zit the size of Texas on the end of my nose, or if I gain ten pounds and can no longer fit into my jeans – I GLOW WITH BEAUTY, DAMMIT!!

The feeling of obligation I felt towards my grandparents doesn’t apply with Auntie Helen, because with her it isn’t about have to, it’s about want to.  I want to be around her because when we are together, I feel like the best part of myself comes alive.  It’s like having this Uncle Kracker song playing in my head the whole time we’re together….

You just skimmed right passed the song and didn’t even hit the play button, didn’t you?  I’m TRYING to set up a little sentimental ambiance here.  Help a girl out, would ya?  Now go back and listen to it…. I’ll wait.

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled program….

I feel the same kind of ease with her that I do when I’m hanging out with my closest girlfriends.  When I talk to her, she stays present in the conversation and doesn’t judge me.  She also doesn’t automatically launch into a “back in my day…” story the second I take a breath or try to compare my 39-year old life in 2012 with hers from 1957.  She’s much more interested in staying current rather than dwelling on the past.

Speaking of staying current, not only does she email, she also joined up with Facebook a couple of years ago.  Every time she posts something on my wall or comments on one of my status updates or photos I’m amazed!  I brag about her to all my friends like she has discovered the cure for cancer.

That’s HER laptop folks, not mine.

She impresses me because I think most 90+ year olds would be too scared to learn how to navigate the intimidating world of social networking, but she doesn’t seem to think anything of it.  And just when I think she can’t do anything else to surprise me, she finds a way – she recently discovered “Words With Friends” and we’ve had a running game going for months.  How freakin’ AWESOME is she?!

If you don’t have an Auntie Helen in your life, you need to get one.  Seriously.  Maybe you could scour the nursing homes to find one of your own to adopt…. wait, what am I saying?  You’d NEVER find an Auntie Helen in a nursing home.  Maybe you could check the dance floors of your local VFW hall on a Friday night – she’ll be the one with the scotch in one hand and a gorgeous soldier half her age in the other.

I’d share this one with you, but she’s ALL MINE….

Don’t be jealous…. actually, you should be jealous.
I was just trying to be nice.

Daily Post Writing Prompt:  My Number One

Spot the Creepy

My husband gently rouses me from sleep – although at 3:30 in the morning, no rousing is gentle.  At this hour,  even the birds look at you like you’re nuts for being awake.  Our bedroom is still black as pitch, and there isn’t a sound to be heard, aside from my own early morning expletives and complaints of inhumane wake-up calls.  My husband, probably anticipating my foul mood, has a mug of hot tea at the ready.  Smart guy…. I knew there was a reason I married him.

I have always been a night owl.  I sleepwalk through most mornings, functioning just enough to get my kids ready for school, and not crash my car into a tree getting them there.  Many morning people have tried to convert me, all with no success.  Here’s how the conversation usually goes between me and a typical early bird:

Annoying morning person:  I love early morning!  The entire neighborhood is still asleep and the only sound you hear is the birds singing.  It’s so peaceful!  *Sigh*

Me:  You know another time of day when the neighborhood is peaceful?  Eleven o’clock at night.  And what’s so great about birds?  All they do is crap on my car and repeat the same two notes over, and over again.  You call that singing?  If Beyonce did that, she’d be out of a job.

Annoying morning person:  But what about sunrises?   Sunrises are SOOOO beautiful!!

Me:  Yeah, I know.  I see them all the time in the cheesy chick flicks I watch at night.  *Exaggerated sigh*

Annoying morning person:  (With growing agitation) You don’t know what you’re missing out on.

Me: Well I know what I’m not missing out on – three extra hours of sleep.

That’s usually where the conversation ends.

But on this particular morning, I’ve got to set aside my natural night owl tendencies and rise with the damn birds.  We are on our way down to South Carolina to visit my in-laws – a twelve hour drive we try to make twice a year.

I chug my mug of tea in the hopes that the surge of caffeine will prevent me from crawling back underneath the covers.  But the caffeine barely makes a dent in my feeling of exhaustion, and the heated liquid is having an unexpected soporific effect on me, like I just drank warm milk.  My husband’s urging to get my butt in gear is ultimately what gets me moving – he wants to get on the road before rush hour traffic has the chance to clog up our only means of escape off Long Island.

I go into the bathroom and attempt to put in my contacts, but my eyes practically recoil to the back of my skull.  So, I decide to put it off until we are ready to leave the house (apparently my eyes need even more time to wake up than the rest of me).  Instead, I get dressed and pack the few remaining items that didn’t make it into the car the night before.

Around four o’clock, I wake up both my kids with kisses and apologies, and I promise them that they only need to stay awake long enough to go to the bathroom and crawl into the car.  Within an hour or so, we are all packed into the car, in various stages of alertness.  My seven-year old son, Aidan, the only natural morning person in the family, doesn’t seem to be too effected by the loss of sleep.  He is peering out the car windows, observing the world around him that is still cloaked in darkness.

We stop off at 7-11 for my second cup of tea.  Despite the fact that this will make me have to stop for a pee break much sooner than my husband would like, I don’t see how it can be helped because without more tea, I’ll be comatose before we reach New Jersey.  As I fill up the biggest paper cup I can get my hands on, I notice that I’m surrounded by a bunch of burly guys –  blue collar men that have more callouses on their hands than fingers.  I suddenly feel pathetically girlie making tea alongside these guys as they fill their thermoses with coffee.

Our second stop is a gas station so we can fill the tank before beginning our 750 mile trek down south.  I’m surprised to see the gas station buzzing with customers – I had no idea so many people were conscious at this ungodly hour of the morning.  Again I notice the abundance of scruffy, blue collar workers that surround us, all clad in their stained sweatshirts, jeans, and construction boots.  Most of the guys look as though a shower and shave isn’t a part of their morning routine.

As my husband pumps the gas, Aidan blurts out, “Mommy, why does everyone look so CREEPY?”

A surprised laugh escapes my mouth, and I realize he’s been people watching too.  I look over at the guy pumping gas next to us, the one  I’m guessing prompted Aidan’s non-politically correct question – he looks like Santa Claus’s much less jolly alter ego.  I start to pay closer attention to all the other patrons, and I suddenly I feel like I’ve slipped into the pages of a Stephen King novel.  Aidan’s right – these guys are creepy.

Most of them looked like this guy.... only creepier.

Part of me felt bad for poking fun at hard-working guys who have to rise with the sun, and bust their ass all day to earn a living.  But the other part of me, (the part that could never run for political office), finds it funny when someone has the guts to say out loud what everyone else is thinking.  And when you catch me off guard the way Aidan did, I can do little to mask my amusement.

I already told you I barely function before noon – did you really expect me to be a good parent at five o’clock in the morning??  But don’t worry, I made a mental note to give the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ speech later on… once we stopped laughing.

By the time my husband, Kevin, got back in the car, my daughter (Meghan), Aidan, and I were still giggling.  Just so Kevin didn’t think we had slipped into some sort of exhaustion-fueled delirium, we filled him in on the details of Aidan’s new game –  officially named spot the creepy.

As we got back on the road, Aidan continued pointing out the window at the creepy looking drivers around us and exclaiming, “There’s another one!  Mommy, look at THAT guy!”, which was often met by another round of giggles from everyone in the car.

But along with the sunrise (which I have to say, was entirely overrated) came an infusion of clean-shaven guys in neck ties and smartly dressed women with up-dos, making the population appear decidedly less creepy.  It seemed our game was at an end…. at least until our return trip back home.