Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No blessing for you!!! *

There are a lot of weird phrases and behaviors that have been ingrained in us since childhood. Some such traditions help pave the way for courteous interaction; it has even been said that "good manners are the glue of our society," or something similar to that. Yet there exist a few archaic, misguided cultural morés that simply don't make sense.

The act of pronouncing "God bless you" after someone near you sneezes, for example. Doing just a few minutes' worth of research turns up limitless possible reasons why English-speaking cultures do this, but not a one of them still holds water. When someone sneezes, do any of us honestly believe that the sneeze is a vulnerable millisecond upon which the soul is more exposed to evil spirits? Is there a one among us who truly thinks the heart stops while the sneeze happens? No one is sneezing as a pre-cursor to the plague any longer; why do we all still bless each other as if the sneezer were at death's door?

The thing that makes me pause most of all is the fact that nearly everyone uses this phrase, or its secular third cousin, the shorter version of "Bless you." People who don't utter the word blessing in any other context are sure to trip over the next person in order to bless a complete stranger after his face has contorted and blown droplets nearby. Why?

We have decided in our home to oust this phony proprietary phrase. We're not saying it anymore. Instead, it's the burden of the sneezer to pardon him or herself after sneezing. After all, sneezing is actually rather disgusting, often resulting in flying spittle, snotty nose, and a loud shout whilst all that nastiness is expelled. In my family, it's more often a volley of sneezes. Yeeeeeuch.

I invite you to join us in the "No Blessing for You" campaign. It's easy. Simply say nothing when someone near you sneezes. It's okay. The sneezer likely does not have the plague, nor did his heart stop. And I hate to break it to you all, but evil spirits are all around, all the time—not just when you sneeze.

Blessings are good, when intentional and heartfelt. Praying for blessing for people is even better. But not when they spit on me.

*If you're a fan of the 90s sit-com Seinfeld, then you know the Soup Nazi—the crazy foreign fellow who makes stupendous soup but serves or withholds it as he sees fit. This title is a nod to that episode. The "glue of society" comment is another Seinfeld moment--Kramer said it.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Serious stuff

I guess it was hearing about Gary's death that brought this post to existence.

Gary, someone whom I'd barely known, but knew that I liked immensely. I "walked the aisle" with Gary over 15 years ago, as attendants in the wedding of friends we had in common. We'd never spoken before then (he was slightly older, in a different crowd in high school) but the entire event was so much more relaxed and fun because he was on the team of over-dressed people sitting at the big table. Funny, easy to know, and so comfortable in his own skin, his joie de vivre was contagious.

He's dead. I found out recently that he died a few months ago, of an aggressive form of cancer. Just a year or so older than I am. That spark of a person is gone from this place.

There are many people I used to know who've already left this orb. Those who are considerably older than I am still hurt, but don't have the same ability to shock me. It's the people who are my age that feel most unnatural. Like Zane: I still can't believe he's gone. How can someone so alive cease to be alive? Heart attack, I think. And Greg, a person I'd never formally met but whose teenage image lives indelibly in in one of my scrapbooks because he happened to be standing next to an ex-boyfriend at some gathering. Greg was murdered in what appeared to everyone to be a random shooting. I don't believe they've ever caught the killer.

And then, last week, the crazy downpour of rain which led to an unprecedented wall of water that took four lives here in our city. It happened on a stretch of road I've traveled before, not far from some regular stomping grounds of ours (the zoo). Gone. Who could have predicted that tragedy?

I don't want to be a downer. I just feel a strong tugging at my soul that I need to be a voice of truth right now. And the truth is that none of us know when we'll depart this globe. For some, it is far sooner than we ever expected; others, like my husband's going-on-91 grandmother, admit readily that she's stayed longer than she ever thought she would. But the simple fact, courtesy Jim "Jimmy Mo" Morrison, is that no one here gets out alive.

People, if you are reading this, and you don't have a clue what will happen to you when you die, I pray that you'll stop right now and think about it.

I spent more than half my life trying not to think about it. I pushed it away even while two of my high school classmates were snuffed out before finishing college. I ran the other way, pursued stupid things, tried to achieve earthly goals, convinced myself halfheartedly that my fellow humans and I had somehow crawled from slime. I didn't want to appear unworldly, you see. I didn't want to be one of "those people" who blindly follow an invisible God who judges. I didn't want to be responsible. I didn't want to be accountable.

But I was empty, and sad. I made hurtful choices. Like the song says: I was lost.

It's funny how your eyes are opened widest when you are lowest. You're emotionally naked, and you finally take a good, clear, unwavering look around you. It's then that you become aware of a loving presence Who's been waiting, walking beside you, sometimes behind you, but always within arm's reach. Once you acknowledge the presence, you are not the same. Now that the presence is real to me, Jesus is a person I know and not an unachievable ideal. Over time, the idea of people coming from monkeys, let alone muddy water, is utterly inconceivable to me. There's a line from the remake of Charlotte's Web where Fern's mom is asking the doctor whether he thinks Charlotte's web words are a miracle—and the doctor basically reminds her that the web, itself, is a miracle. All of creation reveals a creator. The eye, the ear, alone are unbelievably complex systems. The brain? Beyond explanation. Pollination? Photosynthesis? The fact that we are perfectly distanced from the sun for survival? From the moon to control tides?

Maybe there's one person out there who will read this and really think about it all. If that's you, and you're thinking about it, then please read this, this and this. There is a savior and He loves you, all of us, even when we don't deserve it. He's already given everything for you. Accepting that outstretched hand will change your heart, and the way you think about this world. And this world is a very temporary one.

Bad things still happen. Every day. This small planet can be a pretty evil place, and people will disappoint, fall short, and treat each other unspeakably. I still feel pretty down at times, and there's a lot I don't understand. But it's funny—I find that I need less and less to understand everything. My mind isn't as restless as it used to be. Is it humility? The understanding that even if someone explained it all, I still wouldn't really get it? Has God taken away my troublesome desire to comprehend everything? Either way, it doesn't really matter. What matters is this: I am not the same person that I was before I took that hand. There are days when I cling to the hand, and days when I try to pull away from its stubborn grasp, like a little child trying to extract a sweaty palm so he can stray. But I know there is more than this world, and that I am forgiven and accepted once I leave it. I know that when I wise up, that loving hand will still be there for me. And that's a pretty good feeling, especially in these God-forsaken days.

Next post will be light as a feather. Promise.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The incredible shrinking tomatoes

The creation of homemade, home-grown tomato sauce is a journey. From planting, to tending, to gathering, to peeling and gutting and cooking... and the result? Not nearly representative of the amount of work and time put into the creation. That starting pile is only a sampling of the mound of tomatoes with which I began. The second photo, of the naked tomatoes in the sink colander, is the real number of messy globes that were destroyed in this process.

And yet, the flavor is luscious. So, I suppose it is worth it, sort of. It's not as if canning is really difficult work, only hot and time-consuming. And you can wander around while the stuff cooks down, and stop by for an occasional stir and taste... There are far worse ways to spend your time.

Yeah, I'll do it again. Next week. I'll freeze some, too. Much easier. But canning is a sure thing, just in case the power grid goes out, and honestly? Those rich, red jars are just plain pretty—and far more satisfying to regard upon completion.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Against the wind

There are seasons in your life when you feel palpable resistance. A lot of resistance. What was simple so many times before, now becomes suddenly complicated. Easy, mindless actions require more thought and planning than you would have believed possible. People who supported you are nowhere to be found, or worse yet have had a change of heart; decisions that would have been made in a heartbeat now flutter around in your mind like moths near a dim light, endless quandaries to be painfully pondered, situations that have grown so many sides it seems you've gained a couple of new dimensions in your mind.

That's pretty much where I am these days. If I were the kind of person who posted pictures of myself, I'd find one where my eyes are squeezed shut tightly, lips pressed together to keep out the dust, hair whipped frenziedly in all directions, because that's the sort of resistance I've been encountering of late. From the universe, some would say. From Satan, I believe. But there it is. Against the wind.

The most recent example? My car keys don't work reliably anymore. The car is old but still good, and without warning, my car keys, BOTH of them, have decided they no longer hold the necessary information to start the car when inserted into the ignition. I have jiggled, wiggled, and sworn at the keys, to no avail. They go neatly into the ignition, and then they mock me by refusing to turn. I turn the steering wheel with increasing force, wiggle the keys more roughly, and sweat breaks out on my brow... Nothing. And then, usually, after a couple of long-suffering minutes (with my child witnessing all this madness from the back seat), then the car starts. And we're fine.

The solution? Hopefully, a newly created key, etched from its source file instead of copied from the weary keys in my purse, will do the trick. No guarantee, of course; something called "tumblers" could also be the problem, I was told by a mechanic. But we are required by common sense and thriftiness (since lock replacement is far more expensive than a new key) to try the cheap key replacement method first.

Except, remember, I'm moving against the wind. Because I am a slacker, and I never got around to it, I have never changed my name officially with the people who issue car registrations. My correct married name is on my driver's license, on my car insurance, and I've repeatedly written the corrected name each time I've renewed the registration... but the people in PennDOT never changed it, nor did they tell me that they required a copy of my marriage license in order to do so.

And to get the key re-cut, from the car records, any dealer requires that your registration name and the name on your license match exactly. EVEN IF YOU HAVE EVERY DRIVER'S LICENSE EVER ISSUED TO YOU, AND BOTH YOUR OLD AND CURRENT SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS, AND THE *!@?&% TITLE OF THE CAR BECAUSE OH, BY THE WAY, YOU'RE THE ONLY OWNER. And did you know that every blasted PA Department of Motor Vehicles is closed on Mondays? I know that, NOW. I remembered it as soon as I'd sweated and sworn my feeble key into action at the cursed dealer's garage, and then driven my angry self to the DMV to beg for an updated registration. Which I found out, yesterday, would not have been possible anyway. AAA was kind enough to help me, but apparently because we live in an archaic state, Pennsylvania processes all name changes only through Harrisburg, the old-fashioned way.

I called AAA today, after almost getting stranded at the grocery store. Could they at least plead my case? Could anything be done? We're afraid to go anywhere. I have a little son. It's summer. We don't want to be stuck in the grocery store parking lot, cursing the melting ice cream. We have a perfectly good car! We have every document known to man EXCEPT the bloody registration with a perfect name match! Our lives and safety are in jeopardy here, people! (Dramatic music rising in the background)

Can AAA help us? No. Sorry. Does PennDOT care? No. I called them, too. Could they please do it quickly? Process it ASAP? Make a note on my file? No, no, and no. They're not allowed. They get 4 days to process it once it's in their hands. Getting it back to me via good ol' U.S.P.S. snail mail can take up to 10 days. That's 10 business days, mind you. Remember how many holidays these people get?

So, this is just one little example of the forces that have worked against me lately. I never dreamed that getting a replacement key would cause such stress, duress, and fury. And the other thought that's coming to me again and again is that this is such a small matter, really. I honestly don't have any right to get really upset. People all over the world are truly suffering, the economy is staggering and tripping its way further into a malodorous cesspool of debt, there are natural disasters and helicopters crashing and sickness and poverty and drought... I truly have no right to complain. I know that.

Okay, I'm done now. No more self-pity. The key issue will get resolved in time, although not my time. And these are all small issues in the big picture.

Thanks, Lord, that we haven't really been stranded yet. Thank you that this is the biggest problem on my mind right now.

P.S. Can you help us out with this key madness, Lord? Please?