A Mother’s Love and Lessons

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When people ask me what’s the best thing that ever happened to me, they are always shocked by my response.  “That’s easy,”  I tell them truthfully, “my daughter almost died.”  The faces are always palpably stunned, some look even mortified.  I explain.  “Almost being the operative word.”  This resonates a bit, but they are due an explanation.

My first words when the doctor told me I had just given birth to a girl. “Meagan, I knew it was you.  I love you so much.”  The obstetrician had a tape recorder in the delivery room; I would not allow a videotape (this I felt would be traumatizing to a child later in life. No need to ever see how the sausage is made or where babies come from).  The words were needlessly on the slim cassette because I would not ever forget that moment or the feeling of exquisite love.

When Meagan was born, there was a birth in me of a love so powerful, so selfless, so fearless, so unwavering,  I felt as if I had never really known love before.

When Meagan was still very young, I  wrote her a letter. As a single mother, my work demanded that I travel and, in the event that anything should happen to me, I wanted her to grow up knowing that my love for her changed my life. Although I had little spiritual basis at the time despite my years of Catholic upbringing, I came to believe that my child was not truly mine.  Meagan was too precious, too beautiful, too serene to have come from me.  She was a gift, and I was to love and care for her for the time that I had her in this life.

Motherhood is both incredibly satisfying and, at times, terrifying.  Children are sponges, observing, imitating and sometimes rebelling from the example they see.  It came as a great surprise to me that my daughter turned out to be an individual rather than a clone. Despite all my efforts to create a mini-me, she became a uniquely her.

For Meagan’s sixth birthday,  I decided that it was time for her to move from toddler to little girl, and had a grand scheme to change her room while she spent the weekend away with her father.  I bought a new bedroom set, replacing her twin bed covered with a bright quilt of Sesame Street characters, with a full-sized canopy bed.  I covered the pale blue walls of her bedroom with coats of blush pink paint and placed a striped pale pink and white quilt trimmed with white eyelet lace on her new bed.  The matching white dresser, bedside table and bookshelf were painted with a single small delicate bouquet of flowers. It was perfect.  It was the bedroom set I never had.

The unveiling of the magnificent new bedroom was a total disaster.  At the tender age of six, Meagan was sensitive to others, but instead of the joy I thought this makeover would bring, she was unable to disguise her feelings. She did not want new or pink or change. Meagan wanted familiar and comfortable. Instead of wrapping her up in luxury, I stripped her of security and took away her identity.  At the time, I did not see the lesson in this. I only felt our mutual disappointment.

“I don’t know what her problem is,” I joked later.  “I gave Meagan everything I always wanted.”

Oh right, this is not my life to live again, not  my chance for do overs or to avoid mistakes.  This is simply my chance to demonstrate unconditional love and teach by good example.. I learned that I cannot impose my will, but I can impart any wisdom. 

When my daughter became ill, it rocked me to my core and brought me to my knees.  For the first time in my life, I understood what it felt like to be totally and utterly powerless.  I remember literally falling to my knees and shouting to the heavens in anguish. “God, help me,” I cried through painful tears.

The feeling of peace that overcame me cannot be explained except to say that when I rose to my feet, I did so as a different human being.

Meagan’s illness turned out to be the greatest blessing in my life. It is the amazing gift that re-calibrated my life.  It gave me perspective that I never would otherwise have had. It made me focus on what matters most and filled me with hope, determination and new strength.  All the frivolous things that once consumed me, suddenly became unimportant.  I faced death and darkness and, in doing so, I found  light.

The small stuff?  I don’t sweat it anymore.  I place so much less emphasis on things and much more importance on the people in my life. Self-pity has been replaced by gratitude.  I count my blessings today and focus on what I have rather than what I don’t.  I’ve learned to forgive people and to forgive myself. I don’t regret  the many mistakes including taking my daughter’s identity and security when I whisked Elmo and Ernie away.  Mistakes have been my greatest lessons.

When I reflect my journey, I realize that while I may be the mother, Meagan has always been my greatest teacher. She taught me how to love and that is the greatest gift of my life.

For all you mothers out there who know the depths of maternal love and perhaps the pain of seeing a child suffer, I send love, prayers and hope.   There is no calling as enriching and rewarding as being a mother.  And there is nothing as beautiful or life-affirming as a mother’s love.

Happy Mother’s Day with my love and admiration for the grit and grace it takes to be a mother. And as my dear, devoted mother has taught me from her loving and living example,  “keep on keeping on” with all the love in your hearts.

Firewalking Over Fear

The smell of smoke is carried all around me by the heavy gusts of ocean breezes.  Before I see the fire, I feel the heat of the flaming coals that glow with crimson fire.  This is no longer just a concept of walking on fire. This is the fire I am to walk on.  The thought of walking across the 17 feet of burning embers seems less like a test of will and more like a test of sanity now.  Before I can be consumed by any flames, I am consumed by fear.

It’s impossible to walk across 1000 degrees of piping hot coals I tell myself.   The bravado and self-confidence are gone, carried off like the great puffs of black smoke.  All that is left is doubt and rationalization.  What’s the big deal, and what I am trying to prove anyway?  The inner struggle begins.  The real test won’t be walking across the scalding flames; it will be walking through my fear. That’s really the point, isn’t it? To prove I can do anything if I put my mind to it? Then why is it necessary to put my bare feet through it?   Wasn’t enough to shatter the arrow and bend the rod of steel?  What more proof is needed?

Before we work our way up to the firewalking, our instructor, Peggy Dylan,  hands us a wooden arrow with a steel tip. It’s the real deal type of arrow that I have only seen in an old cowboy western. Then she passes out Sharpie pens. She tells us to write our fears on the arrow. It’s impossible; there is not enough room on the narrow circumference to hold my laundry list of scary thoughts.  Fear of failure and success, fear of never finding romantic love and fear of finding it and losing it, fear of the future, fear of not having what I want and fear of losing what I have…  Now the fire seems like the more gentle form of consumption.  My thoughts are torture.

The arrow is quickly covered in thick, black indelible ink. My fears are out of my head now. I am holding them in my hand.  Peggy stands on stage opposite her husband who holds a square piece of wood chest high.  She places the arrow at the base of her neck, at the hallow of her throat that is soft and vulnerable.  The sharp, metal point of the arrow rests on the block of wood that her husband holds. I shudder at the thought of what is about to happen.

The audience is instructed to raise our energy and I am wondering if energy manifests as sweat and rapid pulse and heart rate.  Peggy is leaning into the board in the direction of her husband. She takes a few deep breaths and thrusts herself at him! The arrow breaks in half and she is unscathed.

The sweat of my hands loosens my grip on the arrow.  The slender cylinder is hard and, although I just witnessed the woman break it, I am skeptical.  Peggy instructs us to come onto the stage and break our arrow of fears.  I scan the room for exit doors.

One by one, I watch as people place the end of the arrow on the supple hallow of their throats.  Men, women and children imitate the instructor, breaking the  arrows. It’s my turn and I am determined. If they can do it, so can I.  With all the positive, fear-obliterating energy I can muster, I throw the weight of my body into the arrow. It does not break. It shatters into tiny splinters of wood. It practically explodes.  My fears are indiscernible among the wooden carnage. I am not hurt. I am stunned.

Next, we are handed a six-foot long piece of steel that I am told is rebar. Normally, it is the steel used to reinforce concrete.  For our purposes, it is the steel that is used to prove a point.  Instead of the arrow, the husband and wife team place the ends of the rebar at the hallow of their throats. They breathe and flap their arms slowly like a mighty eagle about to take flight.  The duo begins to walk toward each other until the steel is bent in the shape of a U. The goal is to walk close enough so they can hug, and they are on stage embracing with the bent steel smashed between them. Come on…

It’s my turn and I choke literally and figuratively as I try to walk to my partner for a hug. The steel bar pushes at my throat making me gag.   It can’t be done, except people all around me are hugging each other with bent bars between them. My thoughts change and then so does the outcome.  Soon I  am hugging a total stranger, laughing at the mind and rebar-bending magic.

The fire is different though.  It’s far scarier and my mind starts racing with objections. Third degree burns! Painful skin grafts, long rehabilitation and embarrassing explanations.

Walk through your fears.  Mind over matter.  If they can do it, so can I.  

Seventeen feet of eternal flames stands before me. I walk, focusing on the end and I feel nothing but adrenaline rushing through my body.  I am amazed and then, for a split second, I think this is impossible and I feel the intense heat on my foot.

Now I know there is no trick to this. It is  fire and it really burns.  I must walk over the coals again because now real fear exits.

There are two more times that I walk over the glowing red coals. There is no explanation and even though I have done this, I am still somewhat unbelieving.

Peggy stands nearby and I approach her with my astonishment.

“How is it possible to walk on fire?”    She answers quickly,  “Because you believed you could.”

The small container of ashes from the fire still sits on my desk.  It’s a reminder that when my mind begins to create limiting and crippling thoughts, I know how to conquer them.

After all,  I am a firewalker. All we have to do is believe, do and then walk right over fear to reach any goal.



An Epiphany about Love

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It was if the hand of God came down and smacked the selfish stupidity right out of me.   How could I have lived half a lifetime and have been so blind?  The endless search for romantic love that so many of us find elusive, is generally right in front of our face or maybe even in the mirror we face.

He talked so lovingly about his wife.  With each tender word he speaks, a tear wells up in my eyes, the lump in my throat gets a bit bigger, and the longing in my heart aches more.

His wife no longer recognizes him he says.  The debilitating disease is worsening, slowly claiming her memory and disconnecting her from reality.  But he is there for her, devoted, loving, caring and selfless.   Alzheimer is a thief, robbing them both of precious memories. But her disease is harder on him, I am sure.

The woman he loves is still somewhere inside an emptying shell.  He loves her more than the day they met, he tells us.  His smile is warm and his eyes glisten,  maybe moistening with a bit of his own tears.  He looks happy despite his pain, he feels gratitude for what he has rather than anger for what he is losing. She no longer knows who I am, he tells us, but he feels blessed that he can care for her now when she needs him the most.

He has just come from visiting his wife in a nursing facility.  She no doubt was ambivalent to the company of this stranger, but his love endures.  There are remnants of her and, although the disease is  slowly destroying her mind, it could never destroy his love. The room was silent as we listened to him speak. It was almost incomprehensible to me, this selfless love of which he speaks.

Why can’t someone love me this way I think.  What is the secret to this infallible connection that endures all things?

I begin to cry deep, silent sobs of empathy, regret and perhaps some envy.  This inescapable and intoxicating love.  The painful and unquenchable longing of my heart that will not be quieted. It will not relent; it will not be sated.

There is, of course,  deep love for my family, devoted love for my friends, unconditional love for my child, abiding love for my God. But there is a deep desire for romantic love – for a life partner and soul mate.

The old man is across the room, and I make my way over to him. I wipe away the tears still streaming from my eyes.  He  greets me with a warm smile and I begin the sentimental dribble. ” I was so touched by your story…  I am sorry to hear about your wife… She’s so lucky to have a husband like you!”  The old man smiles politely.

“I wish someone would love me that much,” I say, consumed and blinded by self-pity. There is an odd expression on his face. He says nothing. He places his lips to my forehead and gives me a gentle kiss.

I am not a mile away from where I waved goodbye to the old man, when I am struck with a revelation like a bolt of lightning. I am hit with a life-changing, eye-opening, mind-blowing epiphany.  This realization makes me feel both foolish and enlightened.   I am ashamed at the way I gushed with the old man and am humbled by his gentle patience with me.   What must he think?  Will there be a chance for redemption?

Two weeks go by before I see him again.   He’s standing in the church annex by himself and smiles when he sees me coming his way.

I am sheepish but determined.  “I got it wrong, didn’t I?”  He knows what I am talking about, and his face illuminates as he allows me to continue.  “It’s not about being loved that much.”   The old man knows wisdom has been revealed. “You’re the lucky one.”  Bingo! Our eyes connect and his expression softens.

Love is no longer a puzzle or a mystery that I cannot explain. “You are the lucky one to love someone so much.”   Now it is his turn to cry, and he does.

“I knew you’d get it,” he says as he plants another comforting kiss on my forehead.

I’ve always known that love was the most powerful force in the universe, but now I understand why.


In Giving We Receive

The prayer of Saint Francis has always struck a chord with me.  It’s essentially a prayer to be the good in the world. To bring forgiveness to injury, to conquer hate with love, to bring light to darkness,  faith to doubt, hope to despair and joy to sadness. Can you imagine a world where that sort of prayer was in the hearts and minds of every person? But St. Francis does not end his petitions there, sainted man that he is.  He asks that he seek more to understand, love and console than to be loved, understood or consoled.  It is the most selfless prayer I have ever come across, and it’s an aspiration in my life.  But there is something in this prayer that is an astounding revelation. If you pray to be so selfless, you will be the one pardoned, the one to receive and the one to be brought to eternal life.  Paradoxical? Seemingly. True? Absolutely.

Though there have been countless stories of the benefits of giving and even studies that prove more benefit to a benefactor than a recipient, I have been given the gift of firsthand experience.  We all know how good it feels to give a gift.  We all know how richly rewarding it is to bring a smile to a sad face or a ray of hope to someone in despair.  Giving creates an emotional high, but apparently it also provides a physical high.  The Cleveland Clinic reveals that giving has all kinds of health benefits – giving guarantees a healthier, happier and longer life!  Who knew? ( besides St. Francis).

A year or so ago,  I was walking out of a drugstore. An elderly black man was standing outside and asked me if I had any spare change.  Refusing to help anyone in need is not in my DNA, so I fished in my purse for my wallet, only to discover that all I had was change. There was not one single bill in my wallet.  Maybe I should be the one asking, “Brother can you spare a dime?”  The man gratefully accepted the many coins I placed in his hands and blessed me profusely  for my generosity.

Now I feel bad.  What I offered probably couldn’t buy him a coffee at the Starbucks next door.  I can do better.

An ATM stood at the far end of the parking lot and I ask my friend to stop so I can get some cash. Of course, when it was dispensed, I got a handful of twenty-dollar bills.  My friend  sees this and hands me three ones and we drive back to the man.  He’s still standing on the curb when we pull up and offer him the three dollars.   “See how God works!” he declares into the blue sky.  “This is a good woman,” he tells my friend.  “This is kindhearted woman and you are blessed to be with her.” Now I am somewhat embarrassed, humbled and ashamed that, in exchange for my offering of three measly bucks, I am high-fived all over heaven.  This poor man can buy a cup of coffee now, but he won’t be  getting any latte or frappuccino, let alone anything to nourish his skeletal body.

Oh Lord, there is tug of the conscience so strong I cannot ignore it. I have to do better.

The man blessed me for eternity when I gave him one of the newly dispensed, twenty-dollar bills.  My friend was dubious and admonishes me for the generosity.  “That’s why you don’t have any money, Mayo,” he scolds.  He can’t take away my helpers high or the buzz I got from the blessing.

Goodness is headed my way, because that’s just the way it works. It’s an inescapable karmic and universal law. Even if the only reward I received was a quieted conscience and good feelings, that’s more precious than money.  “Somehow, some way that twenty dollars is going to come back to me ten times!” I proclaimed with faithful certainty.  This friend has known me long enough not to argue. He’s not going to change my belief  that I have to help those less fortunate even when I’m close to being in need myself.

He deposits me at my house and I am practically skipping up the steps fueled on helpers high. The mailbox is full and I grab the letters – most of it junk – and I indifferently  flip through each envelope.  One is addressed from my bank, and I am sure it is another credit card offer or worse, a bill of some sort.   I’m tempted to tear it up but I open it instead.  I’m stunned. Perhaps a bit scared even.  It’s a check for a little over two thousand dollars for an escrow payment overage.

Coincidence?  Hardly think so. The exact multiple of 20?  Of course.   I said I would somehow receive 10 times what I gave, but I am always underestimating the Power in the Universe.  It was 100 times what I gave.  Just didn’t expect it so soon.

Helping someone in need?  Fabulous.  Getting reimbursed in multiples? Miraculous. The emotional, spiritual and physical benefits of giving?  Absolutely priceless.

Oh, the bit about dying in order to be born to eternal life in St Francis’ prayer?  Doubtful it means a literal death of the flesh. My take on it is that it’s about the death of ego and selfishness and a rebirth into a meaningful life of spirit that cares more about others. Deep down, I think most of us already know that it is in giving that we receive.

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Words that Change the World

IMG_5231.JPGWhen someone recommends that you read a certain book, you should probably listen. That’s been my experience.  A recent personal slump worried my girlfriends – they didn’t just recommend a book, they bought it for me. They care about me enough to lead me to water, and I respect them enough to drink from this well of knowledge.  They had enough of my crying baby boo-hooing, and wanted me to know that I was selling myself short. The book changed my life, or at least a chapter of it.  It’s the reason I went to Costa Rica. It made me determined to work on myself, to follow my passion and to find my purpose.

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Shortly after the I read the book that reawakened my soul and spirit, I ran into someone who needed to remember her inner awesomeness, too.  I told Sherry to pass it on to the next woman who could use a little lifting and reminding of the power we all have to accomplish great things and lead an incredible life.
That’s why I write this blog and spent years writing a book.  What fuels my passion to write is the thought that I might have a positive impact by words, wisdom or humor. God, how I pray my words could be so powerful.
This morning I was reading another book that a friend gave me.  Karen is  a better Catholic and person than I am, she was just born the person I strive to be.  She knows I am trying hard, so she nudges me along with real love and encouragement.  She’s the kind of friend that tells me that I look hot in my new ski suit walking down a green run right into jam-packed,  Mid Vail.  Most people would be mortified. Not Karen, she sees the silver lining in everything. Once, when I was whining about how little my house is (compared to the one percent), she shrugs this off and tells me, “Open a window, Girlie, you’ll be fine, no problem.” It’s the middle of winter and it’s 20 degrees out, but I get her point.
Somehow it was lost on me that the book she gives me is intended to be read the 40 days of Lent.  Since Easter is this Sunday, I have some catching up to do.
I feel a bit sage when I read the  book jacket that suggests giving up chocolate for Lent is probably not going to pry open any gate to heaven.  I’ve figured out that in most cases, unless we are giving up something like jealousy, resentment, selfishness, anger, unhealthy addictions and other similar negative energy activities, we’re not gaining much.   At best, chocolate abstinence may prevent a few cavities or unwanted pounds, but make you a better person? Probably not.  The book confirms that maybe Lent is about doing more of the good that is character-building and soul-nourishing.
There is a chapter about helping the poor.  (This blog is not religious or political – it’s intended to  be thought-provoking).  It talks about helping the “least of my brothers.” This strikes a chord.
There is a statue in my office that I got at a silent auction that is a daily reminder of this. Some years ago when I was at a financial low, I went to a fundraiser for “Food for the Poor.”  I joke that I was closer to being a recipient than a donor, because I was giving from my need, the surplus was long gone.   As I walk around looking at the silent auction items on display, I come upon this stone statue of a beggar holding out his hand. After closer inspection, I notice there is a hole in the center of the beggar’s hand and it sends chills throughout my body. The statue is called, “Whatsoever You Do.”  I peer under the beggar’s cloak and see the face of Christ.  This is life-changing.
I’m going through my closet and giving more clothes to a home that helps domestic violence victims find employment. Meagan has a friend who volunteers there.  I’m going to continue to help those who ask for money when I come across them.  They always bless me when I help and I know their prayers are blessings are as powerful as mine. It’s none of my business what they do with the money,  it’s only my business to show them that people care. I do it as much for me as them.
And I am going to continue reading the words and wisdom that makes me reflect, digest and act.  Hopefully, I will write a few words of my own that will help people re- remember (because deep down we all know),  the secrets to being the best version of themselves.
This is a quote from one of the greatest books ever written.
“To whom much is given, much will be required.”  


Life Lessons for Lennon

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The silver lining to returning home from Costa Rica is that I get to spend a few days with Lennon during his spring break.  We’re heading to an island off the Gulf Coast of Florida for a few days and staying in a friend’s beach home. There’s no better company than Lennon. He’s scary smart, wickedly funny, wildly entertaining and wise well beyond his six years.

He’s called me Jody or My Jody since he could manage the words.  It was a few years later that he learned I was his grandmother.  He just figured that I was a friend of the grown up variety.  Vanity plays a part in this, I must admit. He has a grandmother and a step grandmother so in my mind there was no need to confuse the situation with another grandma.  I’m clearly a better big friend than a knitting needle-toting, cookie-baking, cheek-pinching cliché in a rocker.  I am a rocker!

Lennon is savvy enough to understand the subject of age is a tender one for me. Since he has latched onto this it has been his stick to poke and provoke me and he’s damn funny about it.  “You’re a grandma, you know!” he giggles.  “Hey old lady,” he taunts.  If I weren’t so reactive, he would have abandoned the game long ago.  He made up a song when he overheard a conversation about hot flashes.  “You know My Jody, gets hot flashes, every single morning and in the nighttime…in her sleep.”  Honestly, Lennon’s hot flash song has a catchy tune to it.

Guessing my age is one of Lennon’s  favorite pastimes.  “I think you are forty,” he says, as if the number is as astronomical as they come.  My reply?  “And I think you are a very smart boy.”  Lennon is smug. He’s guessed my geriatric age.

A few weeks later, he challenges me.  “I heard Mommy and Daddy and you are NOT 40!” He’s indignant. “You lied, Jody.”  This stops me because this is not funny. Honesty is a lesson I want to teach this impressionable youth.  “Lennon, I don’t lie. You said I was 40 and I said you are smart. That is the truth. You are smart. But you made an incorrect deduction.”  Lennon is unconvinced by this technicality.  Yes, I really am this cagey with a then five-year-old.  “Besides,”  I conclude, sophmorically, “Your mother doesn’t know everything.”  Check.  “Well, she know what tricks you’ve got up your sleeves!” he trumps. Check mate.

The other day, he’s onto something. “Mommy is 31 so you have to be at least 50!” Lennon studies my face looking for a fragile fault line of horror. “You’re getting scared,” he observes and giggles.  Who the heck is teaching him math in his magnet school let alone the power of deduction?  “Twenties, thirties and forties are off the table!” he declares.  I am dying now, actually doubled over.  My friend William is with us, but he’s  too afraid to laugh.

Later, smarty pants Lennon thinks he heard me say, “He gotsomething…”  I’d rather eat a worm than have such an abomination emerge from my lips.  But Lennon will not be convinced and he corrects my grammar.  “He got something…” he says emphatically to his ignoramus grandma.  William wants to help out because he sees his friend getting verbally eviscerated by a six-year-old.  “I think Jody said got, she’s had 50 years to practice English.” Lennon  abandons  the grammar lesson with this new nugget of knowledge that he thinks slipped out of William’s mouth. ” So, you’re 50!!!!”  Lennon’s  ecstatic. So am I.


In Florida we spend time on the beach burying Lennon in the sand, which he thinks is so fun.  We take kayaks and paddle boards out on the water.  The weather turns cool, so we take to mini golf, visit the aquarium and take boat rides with friends and go on a dolphin tour. We get a bonus because we see over a dozen dolphins feeding and playing and three sluggish manatees. We play board games and drive the golf cart to get homemade ice cream.  I whisper, “Thank you, God,” when I watch Lennon skipping with childlike glee and wonder.


We take one final trip to Two Scoops Ice Cream and, since this is our last day, I let Lennon get two scoops, of course.   We walk to the pier across the street to enjoy our creamy confections and watch the aquamarine water.  We sit on bench that has a pile of  flowers and crosses made out of palms on it.  A man walks over and explains that he’s leaving for the day and we can help ourselves to his dainty bouquets and delicate creations. There are at least a dozen or more, so I fish into my purse and get a bill insufficient for the bounty, but it’s all I have.

The artist is waiting for the bus and he says the money is unnecessary but I insist and he gives me a hug.  Lennon asks me what we are going to do with all these flowers and I explain, we’re going to make people’s day.  

Groups of people are walking to the pier and Lennon finds a woman in a wheel chair breathing oxygen through a tube and walks up and hands her a flower.  He sees another woman being pushed by her son in a wheelchair and hands her a flower.  She is stunned and thanks the ice-cream-covered child that brought her a bit of sunshine. There is a another woman who he offers a rose, she is startled and then smiles broadly.  She and her husband sit on a bench across from us and watch as Lennon delivers roses to every older woman who walks by.  Each of them are touched. One  woman’s husband walks over to Lennon and thanks him for giving his wife a flower.  He tells Lennon that it’s very kind and hands him a dollar.  Another young girl gives him two dollars for the smile Lennon brings to her mother.  We tell them it’s unnecessary, we just want to spread some love. They insist.

“Jody, does the man that makes these flowers do it for fun or for money?” Lennon asks. He does it for money I explain. “Then we should give him the money.” Those powers of deduction are spot on this time.  “He already left, but we’ll make sure we give it to someone who needs it.” The woman on the bench tells me it’s so rare to see these random acts of kindness. “It’s a good lesson you’re learning,” she tells Lennon.

We’ve seen a circle of kindness. We witness good going around.   A little boy brings smiles to lovely ladies.

There are do overs and second chances. Life can be both forgiving and forgetful. Thank God.  My daughter saw a lot of conspicuous consumption. My grandchildren will see a lot of examples of generosity and caring.  Lennon feels very good about the smiles he created.

And this ole grandma got to share a lesson that it is in giving that we receive.

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Police, Priests and Perspective

FullSizeRender (78).jpgReentry to the U.S, is a rude awakening. The City of Atlanta did not accept, or even respond for that matter, to my request to postpone my court appearance. Failure to appear in court for any infraction, including  failure to stop  at a  sign that few can see without eyes on the side of their head, is an automatic warrant for arrest.  That bit of knowledge makes me stop in my tracks.

Principles will be the death of me.  My citation was an out-and-out trap and a money-making proposition and a travesty when the city is so riddled with bad guys.  Surely the police have better things to do than to pull me over driving my little ole’ Mom to the library?  A woman was gunned down in broad daylight in one of Atlanta’s busiest streets. But our police are out pulling people over for invisible signs.  Failure to appear in court  is going to put me in the pokey.  The small consolation is that I’d be confined with other traffic violation villains, because the bad hombres are on the streets carrying lethal weapons.  But the last thing I want is to be arrested at airport  immigration, so I come back three days early.

My Catholic upbringing makes me nervous when I see two kinds of uniforms- those of priests and police.   Sins and thoughts of sinning make me break out in guilt-ridden sweat. I want to blurt out confessions for everything I’ve done, failed to do or want to do. But the bully who pulled me over two months before I left for Costa Rica showed no mercy and granted no clemency even with my most humble admission of guilt.  Pay the fine or appear in court, he tells me hiding his eyes behind a pair of cliche mirrored aviator sunglasses.

The judicial system makes me nervous.  Really, what’s up with the courtroom throne, black robes and wooden gavel?   The policeman barking out courtroom etiquette in a Barry White deep voice?  Is it  me or is this just intimidating? Misdemeanors and felons fill the halls and I am a fish out of water.  I’m not adding insult to injury by breaking any court rules, so I carefully read all the instructions posted on the closed courtroom door.  No chewing gum. Check, Mom never let us chew gum because it’s not ladylike. She’s right, every time I put a piece of gum in my mouth I become a cow chewing cud or a hooker waiting for her next trick. This one is easy. No weapons in court.  Ah, this one stuns me, would someone in trouble with the law really appear in court packing?  But then I remember several years ago when a judge was tragically gunned down in his own courtroom.  The only thing lethal I’ve got  is my razor-sharp tongue but I keep the safety on that. It’s gotten me into too much trouble.  No “do- rags.” Yes, this is actually spelled out on a sign. I am flabbergasted and slightly amused.  I am tempted to take a picture except cell phones must be turned off and I don’t want to get into more trouble for making fun of the law.  Why didn’t I just paid the damn fine?

After much ado, I am admonished slightly and sent to pre-trial intervention where I get a mild slap on the hand, sign a pledge to be more careful in the future and pay a hefty fine. Justice is served and the city coffers are filled with a continuous stream of income.  Now please, will you keep our streets safer by getting real bad guys?

My dryer is not working, but now I know that you can actually air dry clothes. Problem is I can’t do so outside because Atlanta is in full bloom and blanketed with a fine layer of moss-green pollen.  Everything is covered in this dusty, gritty green. The clothes hanging all over my house looks slightly third worldy and there is something oddly comforting in this. I’ve adapted to a different level of living and the malfunctioning dryer isn’t really a problem.

Three weeks away has changed my perspective. The club across the street with the Olympic lap pool, golf course and tennis courts is sheer decadence.  When I eat the food on my plate that I warm in the oven or heat in the microwave, it’s not taken for granted. I remember to say grace.  Thoughts of the food kitchen and all the poor I saw in Costa Rica and Panama come to mind and I think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Gratitude fills my heart and a bit of shame for all the times I have honestly believed that I have so much less.  If I am going to compare in the future, I’ll measure up against the 99 percent of the population that would love my life instead of the one percent that lives better. What can I be thinking?

Now that I am home, I am wondering what will anchor me here.  Maybe I’ll rent my house and venture back out in the world. I’ve discovered a tour company that is part pleasure and part volunteer work and that sounds like a good plan. English teachers are needed in many parts of the world. I can’t be much help building schools or hospitals, but I can help build vocabularies.

This second half of life has to have meaning for me. It’s about making a difference and leaving a meaningful legacy.

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”

This wisdom from some sage by the name of Rabindranath Tagore.  This sounds right to me.



Culture Shock


Touchdown in Atlanta, United States of America. Land that I love. There’s no place like home,  just ask Dorothy or anyone who travels away from the familiarity of their own home. Amazing experiences and unforgettable moments are to be had beyond our own borders and backyards, but it’s always good to come back home.

There are at least 500 people who may not feel it’s so magnificent to be in our country. Young mothers with restless children and crying babies, elderly couples growing older by the minute waiting in the insanely long immigration line. Welcome to the United States of America. God, I feel so bad for these people, how awful and uncertain they must feel.  Maybe they are even afraid. This  shock is unnecessary, and this welcome is not the culture of our great nation.

In the more than 6o countries I have visited, I’ve never endured a wait such as the one I see at the airport.  All this added scrutiny is rooted in fear and “what ifs.”  What if that 90-year-old woman hobbling on a cane is packing explosives in her knitting bag?

The German I meet in Bocas del Toro says he’s avoiding any travel that includes connections in the U.S. He doesn’t want to deal with immigration. This makes perfect sense now that I see the endless line of weary travelers. I want to apologize as I breeze past them and head to Global Entry because, in my country, being a blue-eyed Gringo is a hall pass. News flash. We’ve got made-in-America bad guys.  It feels so wrong to single out races, religions, ethnicity. Maybe because it is.  Didn’t we shed our countrymen’s blood to fight foreign governments doing the same?  What am I missing?

My house keys unlock the door to opulence that a few weeks ago was inadequacy. Comparison and contrast is the deceptive work of the ego. Gratitude is the language of the soul. My little cottage has rooms to spare, reliable electricity, a refrigerator that produces ice and a heating and cooling system that guarantees comfort. The coffee maker is not a condom-looking contraption. Chantel says Michael Jordan lost something when I send her the picture of the Costa Rican prehistoric, drip coffee-making apparatus. My king bed seems ridiculous for just me, but I can’t wait to slip under the Egyptian cotton sheets.


It’s both fabulous and a bit unsettling to be home.   Why is there so much financial disparity and why do I ever feel moments of self-pity rather than living in a perpetual state of gratitude?  The new perspective from three weeks of living in the third world is transforming.

A tiny bug, attracted to the lamps that I have left on in my absence to deter any bad hombres, is smashed with my bare finger. He’s an amateur compared to his jungle relations. I don’t even wash my hands right away because Costa Rica has altered me. No more ‘fraidy cat here. Tough as nails and ready for this new chapter. Bring it on.

People are finding my blog and they take the time to write me lovely things. This encourages me. Michele lifts me with her words and agrees to read my manuscript. She’s been texting that reading about my Parisian adventures and misadventures, is causing her to need some Depends. It’s all true I tell her. You can’t – or I can’t – make this stuff up. Michele’s belief in me sprouts root and branch to hope. Maybe I am an author. Don’t I really believe that dreams come true? Of course I do.

The clarity of hindsight has been eye-opening. All those mistakes that I chronicle in the book? Follies and foibles? Heartache and heartbreak? They have now become lessons that I get to share, maybe to help others avoid the same mistakes.

A wise person learns from other people’s mistakes. A fool doesn’t learn from their own.

The lease on my car is ending and I wonder if this is a luxury I can live without. In the age of access rather than ownership. Maybe my carbon footprint can be minimized by more of my own footsteps.

There’s a lot to consider and reconsider about the things I need or want.

Anyway, happiness has never been wrapped in a package or purchased with a credit card, although God knows I tried.  My Paris experience taught me that happiness is found in a full and grateful heart. Costa Rica emphasizes this.

Will I remember to count my blessings each and every day?  Will I treasure clean running water, a toilet that can handle tissue, a refrigerator stocked with food?

Please, please never let me forget this lesson or to count my blessings at the end of each day to remind me.  Even if it takes all night.


A New Chapter, Not An Ending

FullSizeRender (76).jpgClosing a door to anything that once filled your heart is not easy. So I prefer to keep things slightly ajar, with the exception of toxic relationships. Lock the door. Throw away the key.  There is a whole wide magnificent world to discover, so I rarely go to the same place twice.  Never save never.  Maybe I’ll return, you just never know what life has in store. It is said that God laughs the hardest when you tell Him your plans.

When a chapter is closing, what’s next?  Another book, perhaps. In my case figuratively and literally. I decide to put the blogs I’ve written together into a book called Firewalker. In the time I spent in Costa Rica, I also found a book editor for the manuscript that I wrote in 2009. After much sweat and financial equity invested, it has been atrophying on a bookshelf in my office.  My mother and a handful of loyal friends read it and now perhaps, the “Book Angel” will bring it to life.

When intention is followed by action, it is said that the Universe conspires to assist.  In three months, the angel who is helping me, will return the manuscript. I’ve taken to calling her the “book alchemist,” because she’ll take my raw material and turn it into gold. She’ll polish the rough stone into a brilliant diamond. I’m so sure of it.

This book is called “I’m Just Looking,” because in this chapter of my life, that’s all I could afford to do.  After my daughter’s illness and a couple of years out of work, the money was all but gone. The silver lining is, so is my lust for all the things that once defined and then devoured me.  Since my childhood, I had dreamed of becoming an author and, without a job or any other reasonable excuse, I set out to write a book.  It’s my riches to rags memoir of redemption about a corporate executive that loses everything she once held dear to go to Paris and work as a dog walker in exchange for room and board. My how the mighty have fallen, Mom says about this chapter.

The dog walker learns the language, makes friends and more mistakes, becomes an author and discovers the real treasures in life and discovers herself.  The book becomes a metaphor for the search we all have in life – the quest and endless seeking for the jobs, homes, relationships, stuff that will make us complete when everything we need to be happy we already have. It’s not outside ourselves.  It is within our self.  It’s an epiphany for me of life-changing magnitude.

Costa Rica has been a similar experience. Who knew I could find these deep wells of resilience?  Run over my fears with a cast iron skillet in hand?  Find the discipline and determination to write for my handful of readers?  Stick it out and firewalk right over the flaming hot coals of self-doubt?  We are all so much stronger than we give ourselves credit.  But I have a secret that gives me the strength I wouldn’t otherwise have – it’s called faith. The rock that all impregnable fortresses are built upon.  Little ole me alone in the jungle surrounded by scary things wouldn’t last a day. But I was NEVER alone. It’s permissible to use the word NEVER in this case, and it is emphatic!


Kiana is up early and walks me to the gate where the van awaits. The driver arrives precisely at 6 am and has already placed the ridiculous suitcase in the van.  Kiana apologizes for the refrigerator that never worked and for anything else that may have jaded my experience.  It’s unnecessary.  If I was unprepared. then it was my naiveté.  I accomplished what I came here to do, I assure Kiana.  I started a blog, I wrote every day, I got an editor for my book and I discovered courage, perseverance and passion.  I found humanity and humor in the midst of it all and met people from around the world that gave me such hope that there is goodness and kindness everywhere.  Mission accomplished – don’t apologize for a single thing.

What doesn’t bite you, scare you or kill you makes you stronger.

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It’s a five-hour drive to San Jose, back through the twists and turns of the mountains. Trucks, burdened with heavy cargo, labor up the steep inclines making our journey slow. But the lush hills mesmerize me; they are covered with leaves so large you could curl up in a ball and siesta in their green vastness.  The biodiversity of this country is astounding.

There is a feeble attempt to control the flow of traffic on the two-lane treacherous mountain passage. The bright yellow dividers that are intended to keep vehicles from passing one another are dented, dinged, decapitated or flattened like pancakes on the road. The container trucks coming and going to the port of Limon have the right of way. Heavy plastic dividers are no match.


As we near the city, it becomes drier, dustier and arid. The grass is the color of wheat. I am told the Pacific coast is facing drought and the temperatures reach well over 90 degrees.  Night and day from the opposite coasts.  The houses are fortified with metal bars and barbed wire, portending of a problem with crime.  It’s too bad, but where there is poverty, there is generally desperation.

The tip I give the driver for his patient and careful driving is appreciated and he gives me a warm hug as he deposits me at the airport. There have been no strangers here. Only people who have not yet become friends.


I have no clue what I am going to write about once I hit home, or what the future holds for me. But that’s okay because I feel certain that it is a happy one because I feel so incredibly content. Passion and purpose were found in the Costa Rican jungle.  My love of words, adventure and people all came together. I don’t sense that this is the end. I have a feeling it’s a new beginning.

I walked on seventeen feet of burning hot coals three times.  Because I believed I could. And now I believe that there is an amazing new chapter of my life about to unfold.

Thanks for sharing this chapter  with me.  Knowing you were out there helped me more than you know.


Bug Home

IMG_5013.JPGThe journey back to Costa Rica does not seem as long or as arduous. The conditions are better – the passage over the sea is calmer, the weather is clearer and the wifi-equipped van is bigger and air-conditioned. Even the whole tax-paying border shenanigans seem less sheisty.  The latrine in the government building is clean and I am happy not to have to use the one in the Soda where the van waits for us to clear immigration.


After a few hours, I’m deposited right in front of Chimuri.  Of course, the first thing that greets me at my steps is a gigantic bug of a Jurassic Park variety. It’s at least two inches of unfamiliar black and red grasshopper, with huge bug eyes. It’s menacingly slow-moving and it is way to big to splat with the skillet.  The minute I unlock the door to the cuckoos nest, geckos scurry in every direction. They’ve had a field day in my absence.  Bet they’ve gone through my unmentionables and rummaged through my cosmetics, too.  There’s a momentary stand-off where geckos and me are undecided until we remember there’s nothing to fear and plenty of room for everyone. Heck, take the spare room it’s got clean sheets. Have it all to yourselves. I’ll stay in the room to the left.  Nighty-night.

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Now that I’ve come to terms with my imminent departure, I start loading my weekend bag directly into the Kim Kardashian suitcase stored in the other room.  Anything that won’t be used or worn in the next two days goes right into the bag. I marvel how much I brought and how little I actually needed or used. If there is one thing I have learned on this trip, it is that I can get along with a lot less of everything. My closet at home seems like excess. Time to cull and give away to those who actually have a need and no ridiculous surplus. Long ago, I implemented a one for one personal policy. Whenever I get something new, so does someone else.  If something goes into my closet, something comes out and goes to someone who, like me, might like to wear something new.  And it’s not my junk that I donate, it’s the things I love and appreciate. It makes me happy knowing someone else will too.

I have to arrange for transportation back to San Jose, so I walk to Banana Azul. They have been so helpful making arrangements for me and I am not even a guest. Kiana sees me and asks me about my trip to Panama. Love it there, I say all dreamy-eyed.  She gets a bit defensive about her special spot, telling me how beautiful it was here and the sea had calmed from its riptide roar. It was the more usual sunny weather and calm water, she beams.  Lovely, I smile. All that may be perfectly true, but it felt nice to be unencumbered by thoughts of thugs and bugs and to walk in the streets and into my hotel room without searching for creepy things like a human periscope.

Tomorrow is the soup kitchen and I have to stop by to say goodbye to Nanci and Berry and return Christen’s book that I borrowed from the lending library. Tonight will be my last yoga in the pavilion and I will miss the physical instruction and the spiritual awakenings. There is union here of body, soul and mind.  Pamela has mastery, but I am not even knee-deep to a Grasshopper (not the icky black kind).

Savasana, the Sanskrit name meaning “corpse pose” or final relaxation pose is the easiest physically but the hardest mentally. It requires that you cut off the incessant voice of the “monkey mind,” and lie still and thoughtless in the moment. This is not as easy as you would imagine. Turning off the crazy chatter in our heads is WORK.  Leave me alone, please, just a few moments of peace without “The List.”  What am I going to write about when I get home?  Why am I writing a blog for my 10 friends who don’t have to work and have the time to read it?  How am I going to live, no wait, where am I going to live? ….” You get the idea.  Shut up already!

Pamela and Jess hug me and wish me beautiful things for my life, health and future. This time there are real tears and I taste salt as I walk away.

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The soup kitchenis called El Puente, and it is already in action when I arrive. Pablo brought his wife and daughter. His little girls is adorable and somewhat apprehensive of the blue-eyed Gringo stranger, but I sit with them and her father’s familiarity with me puts her more at ease.  How old are you I ask, and her mother interprets. She holds up four precious little fingers.  Then she says something back to me.  Pablo smiles, exposing rows of ebony teeth. He’s amused. She asks how old you are, he explains.  Mind your ps and qs and eat your soup, Cutie Pie.  It will make you grow big and strong and healthy so one day you’ll be as ancient as me.


Barry had told me an intriguing story on a previous visit to El Puente about a local tribe and I ask him to tell me more. The story, legend or lore recounts that the women of a local tribe had enough with the abuse, drinking and generally abhorrent behavior of their men.  They had become prone to excess drinking that their indigenous natures can’t tolerate and then became sexually and physically abusive. The women took matters into their own hands. Evidently they dished out what they had been served, beating the men badly and driving them out of the tribe.  Several of the men were hospitalized and all were traumatized by the well-orchestrated and executed feminine upheaval.

The women went on to build a school and brought civility and community back where there had been drunken chaos and insane calamity.  The children learned the language of their ancestors and indigenous culture and traditions were restored. Over time, some of the men have sheepishly returned to the village, under strict conditions for their behavior.  Evidently, hell hath no fury like a tribe of battered women.

It’s time to bid another fond farewell at El Puente. This one is conditional…maybe we’ll see you again, you never know, perhaps one day… Nanci and Barry pose for a picture under a sign saying, “Love One Another” and clearly they do.  They also seem to genuinely love all the people that they welcome into their home including me. That’s the vibe they give out. Open arms, warm soup, loving hearts.

I’m so grateful the world has people like Nanci and Barry and I am so happy that  I keep running into them.  These are the people and stories  that I want to share with the world, because all of us to need a little hope for humanity.