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For All I Do Wrong

I felt like a child on the verge of a temper tantrum. I wanted to put my hands over my ears, stomp my feet and  tell temper tantrumeveryone to be quiet.

But, I couldn’t. I was attending a meeting in a professional capacity.

And so, I could only throw an internal temper tantrum during which I raged about how easily people can point fingers.

Maybe, I had just reached my capacity for simplistic thinking. Maybe I was exhausted by all of the people who expend all of their energy finding fault rather than solutions. Maybe I was tired of putting labels on people without taking into consideration all of the external forces that helped shape them. And maybe, just maybe, I was too aware of all of the mistakes I’ve made in my own life.

And so, when I was forced to listen to people make a blanket statement that all homeless people are drug addicts and criminals, I twitched.

Here’s the truth: not all homeless people are criminals or drug addicts and very few drug addicts and criminals are homeless.

Here’s a greater truth: no person arrives at rock bottom on purpose. No one makes decisions with the sole purpose of destroying all of the good things around them. Most important of all, no person can be described by one or two simple adjectives like addict or homeless or loser.

I’m not just saying this because my work involves individuals who struggle with those labels so I have the opportunity to see how complicated people and situations are.

I’m saying this because I make mistakes EVERY SINGLE DAY. Sometimes the mistakes are small and easily forgotten. Sometimes they are significant enough to hurt others, and I carry the guilt and regret with me as though they were an actual physical presence. And, more often than not, I’ve hurt myself with a pattern of wrong decisions that have left scars on both on my body and my soul.

And yet, few, if any people, label me by mistakes. Maybe that’s because I’m able to hide them behind a shield of respectable friends, family and job. Maybe it’s because I am surrounded by people who are not so weighed down by their own mistakes that they still have the energy and ability to help me when I fall. And maybe it’s because I was raised by parents who, even as they reached out a hand to help pick me up, never allowed me to escape the consequences of my mistakes.

But if I ever discovered that, instead of being identified as a unique individual, I was being forced to wear my mistakes as a label, I would not just feel shame. I would also feel less than human. And when I feel bad about myself, I am much more likely to make bad decisions.

Which is why, as I sat in that meeting where blame was being thrown around like baseballs at spring training, I wanted to fingers-pointing-1-away-3-at-you1remind people of that old saying “when you point a finger at someone, remember there are three pointing back at you.”

In other words, we can’t expect the world to change until each of us changes too. That starts with spending less time finding blame, more time trying to understand the complex issues that cause our biggest community problems, and, most importantly, relying on ourselves rather than others to be part of the solution.

A Movie Moment

Life is comprised of millions of moments.Cardinals  Win

Some are significant, and some aren’t. Some have a long-lasting impact on us, and some don’t. And some are memorable, and some are easily forgotten.

The moments that make headlines either tell us about events that will affect us or are intended to engage or entertain us.

But the moments that help shape who we are and who we are becoming are often less dramatic or public. But sometimes they are, and in those rare occasions, they might get a brief nod in the back pages of a newspaper.

Such were the events of last Friday night.

Anyone who attended the Spring Mills High School football on Friday night probably recognized the events had everything a good Hollywood script requires, including an ordinary beginning.

Students, parents and community members trickled into the stadium to the sounds of rock music. The football team, cheerleaders and band warmed up. And the announcers checked the sound system.

The only thing outwardly unusual about this Friday night was the biting cold and the students who came dressed in costumes.

“It’s the last football game before Halloween,’ the younger sibling of one student told me. “Of course they are going to dress in costume.” She then puffed up a bit. “My sister is the one in the poodle skirt.”

Almost on cue, the night became magical.

When the band played the national anthem, the whole stadium was unusually silent. Even the younger students who are generally unruly, paid tribute. Later, when a boy didn’t have enough money to buy a hot chocolate at the concession stand, an adult offered him change. The boy looked at him in awe and said, “thank you, sir,” at least three times.

And then there was the game itself.

Spring Mills High School, which has no senior class and, until Friday, had never won a football game, scored 14 points in the first half.

The other team didn’t score anything.

For the first time since August, our team had hope.

During the third quarter, the other team tied the score, and that hope began to diminish until Spring Mills scored another touchdown.

As the final seconds of the game ticked down, the energy in the frigid stadium went up. When the final buzzer sounded, the student body rushed the football field and celebrated for a long, long time.

Some students may have been celebrating a win for the sake of winning. Others may have been celebrating the football team’s history making moment. And others were celebrating the individual successes of all the young men who had persevered.

One by one, the students left the field. Then the football team left the field. And then, finally, the band members left the field.

The band, like the football team, is new this year, and it, like the football team, is smaller than those of other high schools.

But, for the first time ever, as it marched off the field after a football game, the band played in celebration. The band parents in the concession stand stopped what we were doing and started clapping and cheering and crying.

The moment was movie perfect until the young girl, who hours before had bragged her sister was wearing a poodle skirt, came back. In child-like innocence she said, “Did you see the other team? The looked so sad when they left the field, Their heads were hanging down.”

For an instance, I felt guilty about all the jubilation.

But then, I realized we weren’t really celebrating our defeat of another team or the points on the scoreboard. We were celebrating the community we are becoming. For the first time, we had collectively experienced a memory that will stay with us the rest of our lives.

There were no reporters and television crews at the game, and the victory received only a brief mention in the local newspaper.

But for those of us who were there, the script for that evening unfolded in a way usually reserved only for movies, and we will all carry that perfect movie moment with us forever.

Public Indecency

Flasher-in-a-mac-001I’ve heard people say that  writing is like going naked in public. If you write from the heart and are completely truthful, you are also completely exposing yourself. And even though my husband sometimes jokes that I have nudist tendencies, I really don’t.

Exposing my most private thoughts and experiences is incredibly scary. And yet, I still feel compelled to do so.

My need doesn’t come from my ego but rather from my heart. I have a deep-seated desire to make people think.

I won’t lie. Sometimes I fear how my words will be interpreted or that some people will twist them to meet their own needs. And sometimes they do.  But, instead of worrying about the critics, I try to focus on all the people who express their appreciation that I am speaking up. And, ever once in a while, the power of my own voice surprises me.

Yesterday, I was talking to Angela, the mother of one of my son’s former classmates. She asked how Shepherd likes attending a brand new (as in newly constructed) high school.

I said he’s very happy, but that there are challenges in trying to establish all new programs, including music and sports. We joked about the football team, and I asked if she had seen a letter to the editor in our local newspaper.

In it, a parent complained that students in the northern end of the county got a brand new school when the students at Martinsburg High School should have one. Her reasoning was that the Martinsburg students deserve a new school because of their championship football and basketball teams.

Angela and I laughed about priorities, but then she said something that took me off guard.

“You are such a good writer, you should write a letter in response.”

I wasn’t just surprised that she knows I write. I was surprised that she thought my words are powerful enough to make a difference.

Instead of acknowledging those thoughts, I simply laughed and said, “That wouldn’t be worth the time.”

She agreed, and our conversation drifted. But my own words stayed with me.

I hadn’t said that writing such a letter wouldn’t be worth my time, I’d said the time. At some point during my journey as a writer, I stopped thinking about my blog as an individual activity and one that involves a community – other writers, readers, friends and colleagues. And in doing so, I also realized I’m not as alone or exposed as I felt when I first started writing.

And for that, I am very grateful.

365 Reasons to Smile – Day 68

cardinalLast Friday evening was a bit chaotic.

My son is attending the newest high school in the state, and Friday was the first home football game.  When I arrived early to volunteer in the concession stand, guards were already directing traffic, music was already blasting and the color red was everywhere.

The community was celebrating the area’s newest team – the Spring Mills Cardinals.

The team lost 75 – 0 anyway.

The loss wasn’t unexpected since Spring Mills has no senior class this year, but the score should have been discouraging.

Yet no one seemed particularly bothered.

The students still expressed pride and enthusiasm, and the community still showed its support. Adults and youth alike stayed late to clean up the stands and haul garbage.

And no one complained.

Recognizing that a sense of community is more important than a sports competition always makes me smile.

Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness   Day 66: Living in a Place You Love  Day 65: Gifts from the HearDay 64: The Arrival of Fall  Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird   Day 62: Green Lights Day 61:  My Canine Friends  Day 60:  Differences   Day 59:  A New Box of Crayons   Day 58: Bookworms  Day 57: Being Oblivious   Day 56: Three-day Weekends  Day 55:  A Cat Purring  Day 54: Being a Unique Individual   Day 53: Children’s Artwork  Day 52: Lefties  Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer   Day 50: Campfires  Day 49: Childhood Crushes  Day  48: The Words “Miss You”  Day 47:  Birthday Stories   Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us  Day 45:  Play-Doh   Day 44: First Day of School Pictures  Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes  Day 42: Appreciative Readers  Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote   Day 40:  Being Silly  Day 39:  Being Happy Exactly Where You Are  Day 38: Proud Grandparents  Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies   Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories  Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want  Day 34:  Accepting the Fog    Day 33: I See the Moon  Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap  Day 31: Perspective  Day 30:  Unlikely Friendships  Day 29: Good Samaritans  Day 28:  Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet?    Day 27: Shadows  Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads  Day 25: When Harry Met Sally  Day 24: Hibiscus   Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck  Day 22:  The Wonderful World of Disney   Day 21: Puppy love  Day 20 Personal Theme Songs     Day 19:  Summer Clouds  Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory Day 17:  A Royal Birth    Day 16:  Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle   Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter     Day 12:  Round Bales of Hay Day 11:  Water Fountains for Dogs    Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers  Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember Day  7:  Finding the missing sock   Day 6:  Children’s books that teach life-long lessons Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment     Day 4:  Jumping in Puddles   Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill    Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street