Tag: friendship

A Little Birthday Advice To Rev Up Your New Year


No, it’s not a national holiday, and no one famous has died (at least I hope not). It’s just an ordinary day. The second to the last day of 2016. BUT it is my birthday (and LeBron James’). It’s also “No Interruptions Day.” So excuse the interruption, but this entitles me to share a few thoughts, right?

You see, I’ve picked up a bit of wisdom this year, what with writing and publishing a book and all. I figured today would be a good time to impart a gem or two to whoever is reading this post. YOU!

Consider this your lucky day.

Don’t Give Up (Too Soon)
I read a recent blog post encouraging the reader to toss out anything in their life that doesn’t make them happy. Stuff like their job that’s less than satisfying or a spouse or a friend who never gives back. It’s all about focusing on yourself the writer urges. Hmmm. Seems a bit…I don’t know…selfish?

The truth is the job is not always going to be satisfying even if you love what you do for a living. As I wrote in a previous blog post, I don’t like to write. Writing takes hard work and discipline. I have to force my butt in the chair, day after day, month after month, year after year. I have to suffer through gobs of rejection from readers, critique partners, reviewers, editors, agents, friends, family or anyone else who has an opinion. More often than not, writing sucks.

But then there are those precious moments, few and far between, when the long days of writing, critiques and bouts of insecurity reap dividends. Like the moment I wrote the last word of my 86,000-word manuscript or the time I won a writing contest or the day I saw the cover of my published novel for the first time. The high during these moments can’t be bought or manufactured. Their worth is measured directly by the effort I devoted to achieving them.

People will fail you.
Whether it’s your spouse or family or friends, they’re bound to disappoint. The easy choice? Dismiss those people who annoy you, hold you back or cause you pain. Why not? Won’t that make you happier? Maybe. But maybe you’ll miss out on some of the most satisfying relationships life has to offer.

After twenty-five years of marriage, I’d be lying if I told you there weren’t moments when I wanted to strangle my partner. There are times we can’t see each other’s point of view no matter how hard we try. There are moments of resentment and anger when it seems we argue about the same stuff, like we’re trapped on an endless merry-go-round spinning in circles.

We could jump off and save ourselves the pain and nausea. Or we could stay on the ride and work together to bring it to a satisfying end. It’s a choice we make. Walk away or hang on tight. We choose to hang on tight. The ride isn’t always easy or fun, but it’s now bigger, better and more exciting than we could have ever imagined starting out.

Don’t get me wrong. There are instances when no amount of hard work can keep a relationship alive. But if you give up at the first sign of stress, how will you ever know the heart-warming laughter of a deep and abiding friendship? The friends I have who go way back–back to college and first jobs–are some of the most enduring, loyal and truest friendships I possess. These are the friends who made a choice to stay during life changes or arguments. They’ve put up with me, offering a rare and precious gift I’ll treasure forever.

Don’t be afraid to try something new
Fear is a thief, robbing us of future joy. Often it’s easier to stay in a situation we know is not good for us or allow ourselves to be placed in a role that doesn’t fit. We grow beyond the role or situation but are afraid to move for fear of failure. We let other people’s view of us define who we are.

Stop. Now. Today.

Don’t do what I did. It took me forty-six years to drum up the confidence to focus on my writing. I made dozens of excuses to keep me in the same place. I let others opinion of me and my fear of the unknown guide my thinking.

The last two and half years after I took a giant leap into the unknown have been the truest, most productive and satisfying of my life. I only wish I would have made the jump sooner.

A few weeks ago, I met a local Cleveland author who survived cancer twice. She wrote about her trials and what she learned from them in her book, A Beautiful Journey. She told me she’s now living for a higher purpose. It took a dreaded disease to shake her from her comfortable life and move her into a profession of blogging, speaking and authoring books.

Sometimes we need these life events to shake us up and show us what truly matters. But you don’t have to wait for something tragic to happen.

So do it. Follow your dreams. But work hard, stay disciplined and don’t give up on yourself or others too soon in the process.

As my birthday buddy, LeBron James has said, “You can’t be afraid to fail. It’s the only way you succeed.”

Great #Birthday #Advice for the #NewYear! Click To Tweet

 

Missing: One loving grandma and her famous chocolate chip cookies

“She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26

Grandma and I after a tough shuffleboard game. She is 90 in this picture.

Grandma and I after a tough shuffleboard game.

Some days my heart aches. I can feel it in my chest, pounding away, sending out desperate signals for warmth and friendship. But the crisp chill of fall is in the air, and these warm summer days are taking their final bows. The dark curtain closes, and just like that, a new scene is upon us. This one is not to my liking.

Last week, we said goodbye to our grandma. She was 91 and had led a rich and full life. I suppose we should be happy that she passed quickly. But she was the type of person that had such a strong light, it seemed she could easily live to be 100. It’s hard to believe she is no longer with us.

Grandpa, her husband who passed seven years before her, once said he wished he had a nickel for every chocolate chip cookie she ever made. By now, her descendants would be wealthy. The supply from her hands to our mouths seemed limitless.

Cyber granny

She loved her computer and traveled with her tablet.

Grandma on her tablet. She is 90 in this picture.

She loved her computer and tablet and soon learned how to make posts to Facebook and play “Words With Friends.” When I marveled at her abilities, she shrugged her shoulders and told me matter-of-factly that she had always been interested in computers.

That humble quality was attractive, perhaps because it is so rare in our modern world of social media selfies and one upmanship. It was common for her to take the worst seat at the table or sleep on the couch when we spent time at the family camp in Pennsylvania so that everyone else could have the beds.

Her home had that warm, comforting feeling that you might expect to feel at grandma’s house. The sheets on the beds were soft, the lazy boys sucked you in and kept you from getting up, the warm apple pie smell and rich hamburger and rice casserole or chicken potpies made you long to dig in.

You never went hungry at grandma’s house. Even the neighbor’s felt it. Every holiday, the bachelor next door would come fill his plate with the delicious food grandma prepared. Many of the neighbors came to her funeral and mourned her death and celebrated her life right alongside the family.

Grandma was a devout Lutheran and took her responsibilities seriously. When the pastor listed off all the many activities she led or was involved in, it took a full minute. The church lost a dependable and loving member the day she died.

My homemade birthday cake next to her birthday cake for Jesus.

My homemade birthday cake next to her birthday cake for Jesus.

I never knew my own grandparents, who passed away when I was two, but it was easy to adopt my husband’s grandma as my own. Although she had lots of grandkids, she showed me warmth and kindness and accepted me as a grandchild the moment I entered the family. She made me a homemade birthday cake every year, the pink frosting wishing me a happy birthday etched out in her scrawling grandma handwriting. Once when I was visiting, she brought out a special teacup she had gotten when she was first married and gave it to me as a keepsake. I was deeply touched.

She shared recipes with me, too. One summer we picked fresh rhubarb from her garden, and she showed me how to make her famous rhubarb jam. I have her chicken and noodle recipe, her peanut butter fudge and her recipe for a Jesus’s birthday cake, which she made every year and decorated with fresh evergreen and a crystal angel.

Grandma made me long for something more — to be better than I am. To be that light of goodness and compassion for my own family and to strangers. To welcome the outsiders in and share the warmth of grandma’s heart with them.

The world, and all of us, can use a few more grandmas like our grandma.

 

Across the divide: Finding friendship, fashion and acceptance in a college dormitory

Me and my hair, newly permed and ready for action.

Me and my hair — newly permed and ready for action.

I remember the day I met her. She strolled over from next door and introduced herself to me and my roommate, Katie,* friendly like.

“Wampum,” she said. “That’s hello in Jamaican.”

Her skin was as dark as the color of black walnuts, and she laughed a lot. I liked her right from the start.

It was the first semester of my freshman year in college, and I was having a tough time getting acclimated to dorm life. I had grown up simply, out in the country with plenty of fresh air and food but not much in the way of expensive gadgets or fine clothes. I didn’t wear makeup and kept my hair in a perpetual ponytail.

My new friend was about to change all that. “If I had your looks, the guys would be tumbling over me,” she told me. “Why don’t you put on a little makeup and wear something cute? C’mon, let’s see what you have.”

And just like that she dragged me over to the closet and began pulling out clothes until she found what she wanted. “Here, wear this,” she said.

When she couldn’t locate the perfect shirt to complement my skirt, she pulled me into her room and went into her own closet to find the best blue color. “To match those eyes,” she said.

I had never had someone fuss over me, especially not an exotic, new friend with style who was raised in New York City. I found myself opening up, like a delicate flower in the presence of the right combination of temperature and sunlight.

“Girl, we need to get you to the beauty shop,” she told me, chuckling heartily. “You leave it to me. I know a good place. It’s not a place I’ve ever been to cause they wouldn’t know how to do a black girl’s hair. But it’s where all the white girls go.”

We took the bus that ran across campus into the nearby town and entered a fancy salon. I only had $40 in cash and the haircut and perm cost $60, but the stylist was kind and agreed to do the job for what I could offer.

A rare image of me with a perm. Sadly, I did not own a camera and never snapped a photo of my first college buddies.

A rare image of me with my first perm. Sadly, I did not own a camera and never snapped a photo of my first college buddies.

I stepped into that shop a country girl and came out a sophisticated college student. My long, straight hair was now six inches shorter and consisted of tiny ringlets. As a bonus, the perm lightened the plain brown color into a golden blond. For the first time in 18 years, I felt beautiful.

That evening, the three of us went out on the town and like Cinderella, I met what seemed like a fairy prince (although later he turned out to be the green, toad variety). It was the first of many fun outings and midnight conversations over popcorn and hot chocolate.

Break-in
Late one night, as we studied for finals, each in our own bedroom, we heard the sound of shattering glass, screams, and two sets of footsteps running through the hall. “He’s got a knife,” someone yelled.

“Let me in. Let me in.” The raw pounding on the resident advisor’s door across the way (or RA as we called her), reflected the panic of the knocker.

I cracked open our door to catch the action and was just in time to see a girl slip through as a man with a knife went flying by. I closed my door quickly and locked it.

There was a long silence. No one knew what to do.

“Amanda, Katie, you okay?” Her scared little voice was so close, it sounded like it was coming from within our room. For some reason, Katie and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“Where are you? Are you in the….closet?” I opened my closet door but no one was there. The walls were so paper-thin, that when she was in her own closet, it sounded like she was in mine.

“Yeeess,” she said, and I could hear the quiver in her voice. Clearly, she was frightened.

“Why are you hiding in the closet?”

“Ain’t that what you’re supposed to do? Girl, I’m from New York. That’s the first thing they teach you. If someone’s attacking, you’re supposed to hide.”

Growing friendship
We went to see a movie together: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The show starred Whoopie Goldberg. I don’t remember anything about the film. What I do remember is that we were three friends, hanging out: A former cheerleader and student council president (my roommate), a country bumpkin (me) and a New Yorker with a funny, Jamaican accent.

There was no prejudice between us, no black versus white issues, no police brutality or white supremacy. It was a time of friendship and a blooming perspective. We talked politics, religion, death and taxes and found common ground. We shared some of our most painful memories and happiest dreams. We laughed, we cried, and we hugged often.

Over winter break, I took her to meet my family, and she worked her magic on my parents. So much so that my father, who had never entertained an African American at his dinner table, kissed her cheek when she departed.

She left me at the end of the semester. She wasn’t happy with her major and had run out of money. Katie and I also parted ways at the end of that year. She went to the “quiet” floor, and I stayed behind to enjoy a little noise with my studying.

A new perspective
The years have passed like gray dots on a rolling filmstrip. I have had many friendships since then. Some carried me through graduate school. Some were there when I got married. A few witnessed the birth of my three children. Many are still involved in my life today. But none carry quite the same sweet innocence, openness and profound acceptance as my first college buddies.

Sadly, those two girls have disappeared from my landscape like shooting stars in the night sky. I haven’t found them on Twitter, Facebook or any other online media. Still, in my mind, we remain in innocence, giggling at the absurdities of life, exchanging confidences and beauty secrets, and listening to one another with focused appreciation and a matching desire that all our wishes would one day come true.

*Names have been changed.

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