Day 7: Dear women

*Thanks to my friend Kenton Adler (AKA Ken Doll) for utilizing his wit while writing this heartfelt post for Day 7 of the Dear Gratitude project this November.*

Dear Women,

Thank you.  Thank you VERY much.  I am not kidding.  I am so thankful for women; it’s kind of ridiculous.

Obviously, my mother was a woman.  I thank her for my very existence.  That’s a given I guess.  I also thank her for exposing me to so many things, like the car trip with her and my dad to South Dakota the summer between second and third grade in 1964.  I got to see the Great Plains, Dinosaur Park, Mt. Rushmore, and then we went down through Wyoming and Colorado where I saw the Rockies,  a volcano in New Mexico, and a different kind of desolation in north Texas.  I thank her for the trip to New York City around my 13th birthday, when we went up in the Empire State building, and later I got a copy of “Yellow Submarine.”  I thank her for letting me sit in the kitchen and play the latest Beatles song I’d learned on guitar while she cooked dinner after a long day at work. I’m thankful for the spring car trip with her and my brother in 1974 when we drove all over New Mexico and down to El Paso and Juarez.  My whole life she took me to parties with artists and crafts people from around the world.  She taught me manners, which I occasionally use, and a thing or two about good taste.  I thank her for putting me up on trips to Dallas in the early 1980s when she was living there.  Later in the ‘80s she sent me an airline ticket to San Francisco that accompanied tickets to the San Francisco Opera to see all four nights of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” in one week.  She could be a little bit annoying at times because she liked to have everything her way, but overall she introduced me to a lot of remarkable things that a lot of other people I knew never experienced as I did growing up.  I thank her for talking frankly with me about her  terminal cancer when I was taking a class on death and dying in 1986.  She died at the age of 52 in 1988.  I’m nearly 58 now, and that weirds me out a little bit.

I’m thankful for my grandmother, Mam Ma Deaton.  She was my mom’s mom, and she taught me how to drink coffee.  We would often be the first ones up when I stayed at her house sometimes on weekends.  She was raised a farm girl and got up real early.  My coffee was mostly milk and sugar, with just enough coffee to turn it a little brown.  She would play country gospel on the radio, or sometimes sing herself as she fried sausage or bacon, or made eggs for breakfast.  She gave me my early love for harmony and fried food.  I’m also thankful for her teaching me about gardening by handing me a little shovel and letting me work with her in the dirt while she planted flowers and vegetables.  She let me go off and play in the woods down the street from her house, and she would hand me a hatchet and let me chop on an old stump on the side of the house until I was worn out.  Sometimes she would make me get a switch and would put a few welts on my calves.  I usually deserved it, and it made me a terrific dancer.  I thank her for nickels to take up to Mrs. Walker’s store, for MANY stories and songs and for unconditional love for the short time I knew her.  She died at the age of 60 in 1967.

I want to say thank you for every single girl I ever loved.  From kindergarten on, I always loved somebody.  I never really bought the whole, “Girls have Cooties,” thing.  Thanks to the little girl across the street who let me kiss her, even though my baseball cap kept whacking her in the forehead.   Thanks to the girl in third grade who didn’t die of embarrassment when I wrote a song about her and got the local radio station to record it and play it on the air.  She let me kiss her by the apartments up the street. Thank you to the little girl who liked me when we moved to Colorado, and let me walk her home from school and tell her about Batman and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with my funny Arkansas accent.  I never did get to kiss her, and that bothers me a little, but I did sing songs to her over the phone.  I am thankful for my high school girlfriend who was a great kisser.   I’m even grateful for the girls who didn’t love me back, for whatever reason.  All of those I wrote love notes to that didn’t get answered, or those who already had a date to the dance, those who had to wash their hair on nights when they could have gone out with me, or those who met someone else and went away.  I learned something from every one of them.  Or at the very least had the pleasure of seeing them and appreciating whatever the beautiful thing about them was that fascinated me in the first place.  Thank you to every girl who ever kissed me in a car, or her front porch, or on the couch,  in the middle of a bridge, on a mountain pass, or out in the woods by the river, or wherever else we might have had a romantic moment or two.  To every woman who ever inspired a poem or a song to work its way out of me, whether happy or sad, I thank you.

I spent a year in 1978 and 1979 living on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  There were no women there except for an occasional visitor.  I’m thankful for the singer from a USO band that had to stay over an extra night because of a mechanical problem on the transport plane.  She talked to me for over an hour at the radio station, just sitting on the floor in the hall outside the studio.  It was my birthday.  I’m also thankful for the governor’s administrative assistant on another island off the coast of Indonesia.  She was Australian, looked a bit like Olivia Newton John with dark hair, and even though she didn’t drag me off in the bushes, she told her friend that she wanted to.  That was quite a nice compliment.  Not being around women most of the time was really strange.  Not just because of the obvious, but because there was no feminine influence of any kind out there.  It made me appreciate even more the softness, or the different kind of strength, the emotion, and the nice smells that women bring to the table. Thanks for the nice smell that T.J. brought to the table after I got back to the U.S. and was out at a bar one night with my buddies.  She smelled really great.  It got to where I could find something wonderful about just about every woman met after that year.  Thanks to every woman who never realized that I appreciated some aspect of her being and just WAS.  Like the beautiful blonde girl on The Tube in London in 1989 who smiled at me when I gave up my seat to an older woman carrying shopping bags.  That girl validated what my mother had taught me.

Thank you especially to my beautiful, brilliant and talented wife who finally found me when I was about 48 and eventually agreed to marry me and be around all the time.  I enjoy looking at her pretty face, appreciate her wit, and relish her excellent ideas which inspire me to try harder to do cool things.  I enjoy her cooking, and her musical talent, and I am extremely thankful for her skills as a grammarian and editor.  She’s the world’s greatest traveling companion and musigator.  She’s off right now getting an advanced degree, and I will be thankful when she comes home and is able to keep me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed.

I could go on all day.  I’ve known hundreds, or more likely thousands of women over the years.  Some friends, some fellow students, some co-workers, some bosses, some relatives, and finally one who is my wife.  I am thankful for every single one of you and what you brought to enrich my life.

Seriously.  Thanks.

Kenton

Things never change

Gratitude rarely actually changes things.

Not in my life, anyway. Things stay the same. Circumstances come and go, as all circumstances do.

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My family members who irk me continue to irk me. The one who never says “I love you” may never say “I love you.” My sisters will probably never agree with my lifestyle choices. I will probably never agree with all of theirs. My mom and mother-in-law will probably always dish out unsolicited advice, despite multiple attempts to curb this behavior.

The people I know and people I love who are addicts may or may not get sober. If they do get sober, they might or might not stay sober. They may never accept that their lives are unmanageable. They may never find serenity or the courage to change the things they can.

The turds in my life will probably always be turds. When I worked for a miserable woman I affectionately referred to as Satan, my writing a daily gratitude list didn’t change her attitude one bit. She did not become more kind or human. She might still be a turd to this day.

The list of things that stay the same, get worse, or may never change is endless. It overwhelms me if I let it.

Thankfully, I don’t have to. At the advice of my mentor, I began writing a daily gratitude list about five years ago. Since then, the practice of gratitude has morphed me into a more gracious, loving, and appreciative person. It’s restored a sense of wonder and adoration in my heart. It hasn’t changed my life. It has changed ME.

This morning, for example, my baby girl woke up at 5:15 a.m. Her normal wake time is about 7 a.m., and sometimes later. She also happened to fight sleep for quite some time last night. That, coupled with some annoying health issues, resulted in this mama getting about five hours of sleep in comparison to her usual 7 or 8.

As I rolled over to look at the clock while listening to my daughter coo over the monitor, I groaned. I did not want to move. I did not want to get up and make the doughnuts. I wanted someone else to nurse my baby. I wanted breakfast in bed with extra shots of espresso, please.

But I couldn’t change the fact that my baby woke up early. I can’t change the fact that she fought sleep last night, either.

All I can change is me, and sometimes, that’s a struggle, too.

Switching my attitude from one of contempt, grumbling, negativity, self-pity, and cynicism to one of gratitude almost always changes me. It changes the way I view those things that I can do nothing about.

Yes, my daughter woke up early and went to bed late. Yes, this caused me to get way too little sleep.

The three of us, May 2013

The three of us, May 2013

But she woke up this morning.

She is alive.

She suffered no ill effects from any of the annoying symptoms I faced during pregnancy. She recovered like a champ from a somewhat traumatic delivery with no side effects. She has slept in her own crib since she was two weeks old, and has slept through the night since she was about six weeks old. She smiles. She eats well and has no digestive problems. She is, as I often pray, healthy from the top of her head to the bottom of her toes. She laughs and tries to talk to me and touches my face and lights up my world every single day.

After thanking God aloud for these gifts while nursing my daughter in a semi-conscious state, I realized that between 6:15 and 6:20 a.m. this morning, nothing changed.

But I did.

My attitude switched gears.

It works every time, if I work it.

 

Mothers and more mothers

*Thanks to my pastor, Paul Seay, for serving as today’s guest contributor.*

“For women, though, without children of their own, who like mothers have nurtured and cared for us, we pray to the Lord…”—Book of Blessings, USA., United Methodist Book of Worship, page 438

My own mother, Clora Lee Walker Seay, went home to heaven a little over 30 years ago.  She was a saint of a lady who put up with my father longer than she should have, but that’s the way she was.  She vowed before God that she would take him for better or worse and she lived that commitment until her death.  She also put up with my five brothers and sisters and me, which I know had to be a struggle also.  In the years since her death I have been able to witness other women who have been wonderful mothers although they never had children of their own.  I want to mention a couple of them.

Paul and his sister, Sue

Paul and his sister, Sue

My older sister, Sue Ann Seay Smith, has always been a rock for our family.  Although she and her husband, Larry, have no children of their own, they have helped raise us younger brothers and sisters along with countless nieces and nephews on both sides of the family.  Sue Ann also taught fourth grade in the Jackson, Missouri, school system until she retired after 30 years of service.  When I visit her, we run into former students in the grocery store or Wal-Mart, and I am amazed how they always want to visit with her and share with her about their lives and the influence she has had on them.

Another lady is our Children’s Ministry Director at Central Avenue United Methodist Church, Dennie Story Baker.  Whether it is the children’s message on Sunday morning, directing the Ringing Cherubs or Allegro Ringers Bell Choirs, or the Heavenly Hallelujahs children’s choir, she is always on the top of her game.  The girls and boys love Ms. Dennie, they pay attention to her, and they learn from her.  In the many years she has worked here at CAUMC, she has been a wonderful influence on hundreds of our children, youth, and young adults.

Dennie with some of her kids

Dennie with some of her kids

As I was writing this there were many others just like Sue Ann and Dennie that crossed my mind.  I just want to say that mothers are not always defined as those who have given birth, and we should thank God for them all.

Big inspiration

 

*Thanks to my friend Debra Dickey-Liang for sharing as today’s guest contributor!*

ElephantI’ve been a long-time fan of elephants! It’s taken me a while to figure out exactly why. I only knew that they were regal, majestic animals, dignified in their bearing, who have such expressive eyes that allow you to see into their very beings, and that they are excellent mothers who are fiercely protective of their young.

So by doing just the simplest of research, some of the admiration I have always felt for the magnificent elephant was put into very meaningful context. I’ve confirmed that:

• Elephants form deep family bonds.

• Having a baby elephant is a serious commitment.

• They are quite peaceful if left alone; typically very affectionate animals.

• Elephants are extremely intelligent and have memories that span many years.

• The matriarch and other senior females carry within their memories the wealth of knowledge gained from their life experiences. This is vital to the extended family’s well-being.

• They also display signs of grief, joy, anger, and play.

• Recent discoveries have shown that elephants can communicate over long distances by producing a sub-sonic rumble that can travel over the ground faster than sound through air. Other elephants receive the messages through the sensitive skin on their feet and trunks.

• The elephant is not thick-skinned, but actually has a very sensitive outer dermis.

• The elephant’s feet are an amazing product of genetic engineering making them unsurpassed as a means of traversing saturated ground or marshland. (An amazing, but nevertheless accurate, fact is that an elephant’s height at the shoulder is twice the circumference of his foot.)

• Different herds can come together at favored water holes or grazing sites. There is never friction between the groups, and observers have reported that often these appear to be joyous reunions. (Peace holders!)

• Although they are the strongest of animals, they can truly die from a broken heart.

• Elephants have no natural predators; however that doesn’t mean they are always safe out in the wild.

Strength of character, unconditional love, quintessential sensitivity, together with rich knowledge and abundant understanding, family-oriented, peace-loving souls, also possessing essential tools which enable them to negotiate perilous ground without misstep, fault, or waver – yes! Not only are these the same traits that I seek to find in myself, but these are also the beautiful characteristics that I find demonstrated in the wonderful array of fascinating, gifted, talented, and caring people in my life. Now I absolutely understand the reason that the elephant has always held such a high degree of regard and attraction for me!

As an aside, I have also noted that the elegant elephant expresses positively no self-deprecation about being gray, wrinkled, and completely devoid of an hourglass figure . . . yet she still exhibits an abundant supply of confidence and self-esteem. Such a resplendent, stately creature. Who of us wouldn’t admire that?