You’re On Your Honor

Those were the words. One simple statement.  Five little words. Spoken quickly and directly.  First a brief hug, followed by a look that recognized that adventure was going to abound, then some kind of glare that probably meant I was going to be missed, and finally just as my foot would reach for the first step towards leaving, he would lay it down . . . “You’re on your honor.”

My mind would have been filled with the promise of high jinx, with plans of spending time not so wisely, in the greatest of crazy-funny ways, with hopes of avoiding all rules and breaking those that accidentally cropped up.  And then he would add, “You’re on your honor.”   

He didn’t tell me to behave.  He didn’t tell me to make good choices.  There was no lecture and reminders of rules and such. He went for something  subtle and crafty.  He went for the big picture, using tiny words that I could easily remember.

You’re on your honor.

Honor wasn’t foreign term to me.  In fact, it was something that had been a part of my culture starting at a very early age. First, growing up in a large Catholic family, lots of time was spent talking about whether or not I honored my father and mother enough or in the right way. Like most kids, I was amazingly imperfect and caused my fair share of ruckuses. So, the term honor popped up regularly.

After all, honoring thy mother and father was and still is one of the big ten. I must ashamedly admit that it was one of my favorite venial sins to report in my weekly confession sin list because A) most likely I had done something to dishonor my parents within the past seven days, and  B) reporting that sin was better than reporting some of the other nine. At one point in my life, I distinctly remember a moment when my father looked at my heap  o’trash-  (with freedom at the heart) – filled bedroom and quizzically asked me, “Is that how you honor your mother? Clothes everywhere, bed not made, school work – dishes – and trash on the floor.  I’d say this is the definition of total dishonor, young lady.”   

The term honor also popped up at my childhood home when it was our family’s turn to house the traveling statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The OLF statue made its rounds throughout the entire OLF parish.  As the parish was quite large, the statue made its way to my family home  only once every few years.  But when it did, my mother was a force in teaching me what it meant to honor the life of Our Lady of Fatima.  We read her biography, said appropriate prayers, talked about why she should be honored, cleaned and polished the statue, and in general acted honorably for the period of time that it resided with us.  It was natural for me to equate the term honor with the term respect.

Finally, my childhood put me in routine contact with honor as all of my gal pals who moved with me from Brownies to Juniors to Cadettes to Seniors during the 1960s/1970s can attest.   For at each gathering, whether it be a weekly meeting, a special activity, an overnight event, or a multiple week long camp, we Girl Scouts would proudly recited the promise which put us in a state of honor at all times:

“On my honor, I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times and to obey the Girl Scout Laws.”

Through thick and thin, I pledged to do all that . . . on my honor.  This type of honor was still about respect, but it was also about something a little bit more.  We – my girlfriends and I –  were respecting the world and everything that was in it.  We were promising to give it our all to improve what we could, fighting for all that was right.  We were placing trust in each other than whatever the situation, we would behave in a way that brought pride to ourselves as individuals. We did not want, nor did we need anyone standing right behind us to tell us the best way to behave.  We were on our honor to just know what to do and we expected each other to do it. I was being held accountable by no one other than myself.

Hence, when my father told me that I was on my honor, he wanted me to remember that there were rules in the world and that some of them – for sure the big ten – needed to be followed.  There was also a belief when he mentioned those words that I would be able to recognize that there are individuals out in the great beyond that have lived lives that deserve honor. Some people show leadership during times of great hardship.  Some people lead saintly lives that should be remembered and revered.  They have done things that I can only aspire to.  Lastly, being on my honor meant that  I understood and respected the basic rules of society that can lead everyone to the greater good. And that someday there would be no one other than myself to make sure that I led an honorable life.

Currently, I am on my honor. But, I am not exactly on my ordinary honor.  Instead, it feels like I am standing on a tiny ledge on a high mountain in a vast world of what it means to be on my honor.  I know that it is not the time for me to step outside the lines of my honor right now.  It is important for me to look beyond myself in all of my actions.  I have a duty to assess the simplest of actions in order to honor society appropriately.  Honorable and dishonorable actions have so much more consequence today than they did a mere few months ago. 

With so much unknown in the world, I am very thankful. 

I’m thankful that I was sent out to practice being on my honor so many moons ago.  It becomes important when it’s no longer practice. 

Flowers

Nature is always honorable!

To Every Thing

He was always there . . .

He was always there.  Winter, spring, summer, fall. There he was.  As a child, I would see him each week, and though we never chatted or discussed it, I suppose he would have seen me each week as well.  Always wearing a brown three-piece suit.  Always had a hat.  Always happy.

He sat on the St. Joseph side while my family and I sat on the Mother Mary side.  Both of us walked halfway down the aisle every Sunday and scooted into a pew that was nearly a dozen shy of the front of the church.  In essence, we were ‘peripheral parallel pew partners’.  Always.

Oddly enough, the week, the month, the year did not matter.  From the earliest that I can remember to the time that Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church on Washington in Florissant closed, he was always there.  If I was in town for a visit and attended the 10:00am Sunday mass, he was there.  It didn’t matter how many people were with me or what the occasion.  If it was Sunday at 10:00am, I would lean forward in my pew, peer down the row, and there he was.  Always.

His name eludes me, but his personality does not.  He seemed to be a man of great faith, a man with a great smile, a man with friendly eyes and a confident step.  He also seemed to be a man who valued consistency, at least on Sunday.

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Consistency is an interesting concept, and at moments, has some type of attraction for me.  Call it a routine.  Call it a habit. Call it a custom or a tradition.  Regardless of the term, there is something about things that are the same over and over that catches my attention. 

However, consistency has its detractors.  Just ask Mr. Oscar Wilde, a nineteenth century Irish poet and playwright, who contends that “(c)onsistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.”  There are many different buckets that I placed myself into, but I shudder when I think about being plunked down into the unimaginative one.  Not a place I want to exactly go.

Still, I like waking up at the same time everyday, hopping out of bed and knowing that the first fifteen minutes of my morning are going to be spend exactly like the first fifteen minutes of yesterday’s morning.  In fact, the first sixty minutes of my day is highly, highly consistent. And that most unimaginative time seems to give me a wondrous opportunity to think and ponder and dream, often times bringing that which isn’t mundane out of the mundane.

Per Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  Thus, I claim that consistency has a greater purpose than what Mr. Wilde concludes. 

Take parenting.  I often link good parenting with consistency.  It seems like a natural partnership.  I can readily recall my children having been justifiably angry with me for being wrong as a parent and making related missteps because I was wrong as a parent, but they were never mad or disappointed with me for being consistent as a parent.  Case in point: they may not have liked the food I prepared for dinner week in and week out (I have never claimed to be a great cook – sorry gang), but they seemed rather appreciative that some sort of meal would show up on the same table at the same time with the same characters in the same seats each night. 

On the flip side, I relish the moments that are truly inconsistent, the times that I have no idea exactly what is going to happen next, and am aware of that feeling in my stomach that tells me that something very unknown is happening.  Mary Poppins, in Mary Poppins Returns, says is best when she leads the Banks children into a mystical and magical moment, and states, rather firmly, “We’re on the brink of an adventure, children. Don’t spoil it with too many questions.” Consistency is being damned at this juncture, sent away, chided, and left behind.  All jets are set to go, and imagination takes over.

And again, to every thing, there is a season.

I honestly hope, in the deep recesses of my heart, that I understand the difference between the beneficial consistency and the non-beneficial consistency, and  know when to use the appropriate bucket.  Certainly the turn of a new year gives me plenty of opportunity to work on it.

And if there is ever a moment, when my childhood church reverts from its current status as an offsite location for a regional university back to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, and I show up at 10:00am on a Sunday, I know exactly who I will see on the St. Joseph side of the aisle! 

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It’s a tradition for my daughter and I to consistently stand on the same side when being photographed. Just sayin’

 

Never Disappointed

Without a doubt she has been one of the funniest women that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  She was my mother’s best friend for decades, and I can recall with affection the numerous crazy-funny moments that led to nothing but sheer laughter and joy while in the presence of the fabulous Mrs. K.

With wispy hair, a petite frame, and sparkling eyes, it has always been easy for me to see why my mother developed such a tight friendship with this charming, humorous, spontaneous, unique individual.

I began thinking about Mrs. K recently – oddly enough after hearing a very negative remark about humanity. Humanity in general, unfortunately, and all of humanity, whitewashed all together.  I don’t remember the exact phrasing (and am secretly glad that I don’t), but the main theory was those who put their faith in the goodness of others will always be disappointed.

Hmmm.

My mind drifted away from the negative humanity comments and back to the stories of two young girls growing up in a big city. Isabelle and Jean (my mother and Mrs. K respectively) – as regaled in story after story from my mom, finding their fair share of trouble, making their fair share of mistakes, having their fair share of close calls, and lamenting & repenting over their youthful sins.   And living for another day.

Though I enjoyed each and every tale told by my mom about her time with her best friend, and I equally enjoyed each adventure that I shared as a young daughter in the mix – having similar escapades with the two of them, it wasn’t the stories, the adventures and/or the escapades that sharpened my admiration for Mrs. K.

…………

I feel very differently about humanity.  I have rarely – if ever – been truly disappointed when putting my faith in the goodness of others.  In fact, I will step out on a limb here and state that I have never been disappointed.  Just never – not to the point that I remember it in any way.  It could be that I block such negativity out of my conscience thought. Perhaps I only see that which is good, great, and positive in the world.  And if I do, it seems to work for me, so I might continue that process.  Or it could be that I haven’t lived long enough to experience the flip side of humanity.  Perhaps the future will bring something completely different.  I hope not, but it could happen.  Or perhaps the world is truly a great place to live and those who see it differently need to come up to speed with reality.

I can say that I find it quite inappropriate to ever anticipate disappointment when placing faith in the goodness of others.  I believe that it is imperative for me to have faith, to trust others, and to expect the best.  It is important for me to be reliable, to be trustworthy, and to offer my best at all times.  From past practice,  I do know that I will receive both what I expect and what I give.

Which brings me back to Mrs. K.

Though my mother routinely detailed the major moments of fun and laughter that trailed through their time together as life long friends, she also quietly and assuredly discussed something more.  Mrs. K had a sibling who required more care and more effort than most family members.  Often times in their youth, this sibling would tag along, making a trio out of the duo.  According to my mother, never once did Mrs. K voice any complaints or in any way be critical of the situation that required one sibling to help with another.  Mrs. K was asked to step up to the plate and help, and she did.  Mrs. K’s sibling had faith in her sister, and wasn’t disappointed.  For life.

Mrs. K is the goodness that I see in humanity, over and over and over.  And over.

I plan on continuing to look for the best that humanity can bring and to drift off and think of people like Mrs. K when faced with those who are less complimentary about this world of ours.

The Earth is a Beautiful Place

The Earth is a Beautiful Place

The Family Dance

For me, it was that incredible memorable family dance moment.

The band was playing what could easily be described as the music of many – the type familiar and beloved by both the young and the old, not too loud and not too slow – music for the ages.

The reception was in full swing. And at that particular moment, I looked around and noticed it immediately: all of us on the dance floor were related. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, moms, dads, and grandchildren. All of us were happy, laughing, smiling, and . . . dancing.

Admittedly, we could have never described the dance we were dancing as organized.  It wasn’t refined, or symmetrical. It wasn’t pretty, cultured, or structured.  In fact, if analyzed, it was fairly clunky and chunky.  No one had rehearsed, and although the family talents are many, there are no professional dancers in the mix.  Just a group of folks ranging in age from zero to 80+ who were happy, laughing, smiling, and  . . . dancing.

And, of course, it wasn’t dancing in the very traditional sense.  Rather than pairing up in a Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers type manner, the dance floor resembled more of a brood, a clutch, a gaggle, or a flock of individuals moving at the same tempo, in the same rhythm, using the same motions, to the same music, dancing that potentially awkward and always interesting family dance.

Large gatherings, such as this one happened to be, are not uncommon in my family.  With six siblings at the core plus twenty-one immediate cousins, all family gatherings end up on the large to very large size. Birthdays, graduations, holidays, weddings just turn into big, giant family celebrations. Luckily, in my family, each relative not only seems to know every other relative well enough to dance, but all family members seem to understand each other and have an over-arching acceptance of and pride in all kinds of similarities and differences among the group.

And with family dancing, it is the differences that can and do shine brightly.

At that particular moment, several folks in the teenage set were not only dancing, but singing madly along with the band leader, unabashed and unafraid of displaying their singing (or non-singing) aptitude.

One family member, who could normally be described as quiet and pensive, in a very brave move, having been coaxed to the dance floor by the young but married cousins, displayed some serious dance motion which added a new piece of delight throughout all.

An uncle was arm in arm with a tiny niece, tapping his foot, simultaneously swinging her in step with the beat of the music, while my sister and I held hands over the backs of our respective spouses with whom we were dancing.

As the music reached a crescendo, with bride and groom center stage – the rest of us broadly encircling them – our pop, a less than spry 80+ year old and only remaining grandparent, decided to join the group.  With his walking more of a chore than a pleasure, his participation surprised all of us.  We stared as he edged so gently and carefully towards the middle and watched as the wall of his grandchildren and children parted to accommodate and include him.

He didn’t know it at the time, nor did we, but he was dancing his final family dance.  And it was magical.

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His dance moves were quaint and soulful.  They were deliberate and slow and filled with youthful joy. As he cautiously swayed to the sounds, his family did the same, holding our breath hoping he was successful and hoping the moment wouldn’t end. For as he danced, he exuded an aura that captured a lifetime of happiness in a family dance that he had helped to generate and foster.

Without a doubt, it was a family dance for the ages.

And though usually during the height of a wedding celebration in the middle of a dance floor surrounded by generations of family, it isn’t the moment to capture a serious life lesson.  But, that’s the magic part of it.

It was obvious to me that the family dance was not for a moment about music and movement.  The band may have played and feet may have shuffled, but it was very incidental to the rhythm of the event.  We were throwing away our challenges and our barriers.  We were delighting in the common family bonds that we had cultivated for many years, and we were family dancing.

I don’t necessarily like the following adage.  It seems tired and overused, but it also seems to be true that life isn’t a short sprint, but rather a long, long journey with moments of challenge, of concern, of worry along with moments of joy, hope, and celebration.

I journey with many family members with whom I sometimes disagree, often disappoint, and always seem to need more than I have the ability to help.  But with enough time and with lots of concerted effort, I am hoping that my journey can include that one last magical moment, that perfect storm, that extraordinary symbiosis, the family dance.

I just have to plan ahead and work hard.  I say bring it on!

 

The Changing of the Guard

“Mom, you go first,” she said with confidence.

So I did, and as I looked back at her, I knew times were a-changin’.

The weather was beautiful and the snow was perfect. The slopes were glistening and we were skiing together as we had for the past 25+ years. This year’s ski-adventure started out like all those that preceded it. We arrived at the lift-line a few minutes prior to opening. We secured boots, strapped on helmets, slid on gloves, and clicked into our skis. Moments later, we hopped on the first lift and headed up the slopes. Throughout the initial ride, we chatted briefly about our ski-history . . . the times we had been together on this particular lift . . . the weeks we spent as a family skiing . . . all of the traditions of the past. We smiled because here we were doing it again – skiing for a week, and it was only day one.

Over those past 25+ years, I have learned that she prefers skiing in wide open spaces, in light fresh powder, the faster – the better. Steep downhills don’t phase her, nor does skiing over ice in cold, cold weather. In fact, she is an excellent skier – with the skill and ability to maneuver most any terrain.

At the top of the slopes, we plotted out our first runs – something a little easy to start the day. And for the first hour or so, we traveled back through some of our favorite ski-haunts – pushing powder here and there – gliding and sliding – laughing and chatting.

Finally, we decided to move on to bigger and better runs – something a little more challenging. With the snow conditions perfect and the sun shining, we opted to head to up to the top – to the summit – to see the sights and ski with gusto. A smooth six-person lift took us up. Once off the lift, we stood in awe of what we could see. We were slightly above the treeline – and the Rockies stretched out in front of us for miles and miles and miles.

And there we were paused – looking, watching, thinking – with the feeling that we were standing on top of the world. What we could see was so spectacular that skiing itself took a backseat to the scenery surrounding us. During that moment, time just seemed to stand still with the only sound heard best described by Robert Frost as “easy wind and downy flake.”

“Mom, you go first,” she said with confidence.

So I did.

The slope in front of us was actually a little dicey. Most of the snow at the top had blown off so we were starting out on ice. The second section had been well-skied by others, creating a few navigable moguls. Oddly enough, 500 feet from us, the ski patrol was assisting a young man who looked like he had an unfortunate meeting with a nearby tree. The final section would take us through glades and glades of evergreens until the run flattened out near the bottom.

Skiing is an interesting sport. Any great resort will have terrain for everyone – accommodating both beginners and experts and everyone in between. Most runs have an easy way to the bottom and a challenging, more exciting way as well. Skiers judge their own ability and choose their own paths.

Throughout our ski history, we have always skied following a simple rule – an unwritten and an unspoken one – but a simple one. The strongest skier goes last. If those in front of the last skier encounter challenges beyond their abilities, that strongest skier is a tremendous asset – having the skills to not only self-navigate, but to help navigate others when necessary.

In past years, more often than not, I was the last skier. There were many times when I hauled my children out of ski-misadventures – following them down slopes that were well above their abilities, chasing them down paths through snow-covered trees, fetching runaway skis, and pulling them out of piles of snow after a fall. The last skier.

But with those four simple words, I knew that the times were a-changin’.

I glanced back and saw her standing, confident and proud. She was perched just a few feet away from me and used her ski pole to casually point towards a solid direction that we should take. I nodded equally as casually and pushed myself slightly over the icy start.

The only sound I heard at that point was the swish of my own skis. I knew that she was waiting above me – as I had done for her so many times before – patiently and appropriately, making sure that I wasn’t going to encounter any problem or challenge. It was her turn now and my turn to let her have a turn.

Out of the ice, I hit the short section of moguls, and headed for the trees. I stopped for a brief second and heard snow spraying off of her skies when she stopped immediately behind me. Though nothing outwardly had changed – we typically stopped throughout any ski run, just for fun, laughing, resting, smiling – inwardly much had changed.

Everything in life has its own season, and though my initial response was to delight in seeing her move into a different one, it was also about delighting in my movement as well. I now had another person in my life who was following and watching over me, someone to follow me through my misadventures and fetch my runaway skis. It was the changing of the guard in a part of my life, and all I could think about was all the crazy-fun that would lie ahead for me and for her.

We finished the run with little to no fanfare – which is great when skiing – and hopped right back on the same lift to experience it – one more time, again.

The You Go First Moment

The You Go First Moment

(P.S. – I have been absent from my blog for awhile, but am glad to be back!)