Unlikely Love

When I was a teen living in Slovakia I took a Slovak language class and every other person in the class was a male Muslim Arab. Being a female Christian American, I stood out.

I remember being cornered in a hall on the way to the classroom one day and scolded for not being escorted by a male relative. When I explained all of my male relatives were on another continent, my classmate became downright apoplectic. He said things I didn’t understand like, “I believe your father has no honor.” I’ve since learned that in middle eastern cultures my father’s honor is tied to my chastity and he and my male relatives are expected to literally guard it.

Seeing me ‘unguarded’ some assumptions were made I guess and a few of my classmates made sexual advances that I rebuffed. After one such would be consort violently threatened me when I turned him down, I considered dropping the class. However, I was soon adopted by two older classmates and following that, all of the awkward or threatening behavior of my classmates ceased immediately.

Ali was a younger, married man and though his wife didn’t speak Slovak or English, she was extremely affectionate and fussed over me whenever I was with her. Eunice was my Dad’s age and had preceded his family who were still in Iraq. His gentleness and corny humor reminded me strongly of my Dad and he told me often that I reminded him of his own teenage daughter. I remember him meeting me at the corner outside the language school and escorting me to class every day. We also had a standing appointment for coffee at a café in old town once a week where talked about everything under the sun.

One day we were comparing religion. I being a devout Christian and he an equally devout Muslim but both pretty ignorant of the particulars of each other’s faith. We focused on similarities and I was very much enjoying the conversation when he sighed deeply and I realized there were tears in his eyes. This seemed to come out of nowhere and, suddenly concerned, I asked him what was wrong. He said something that has always stuck with me.

I can still see him sitting at that sidewalk table in his sweater vest and beige sport coat. I can hear his soft, accented voice saying, “I am a man. You are a girl. I am old. You are young. I am from Iraq. You are from America. I am Muslim. You are Christian. Here we sit in a café in Slovakia. We talk about religion and philosophy and love.” He shook his head and a tear spilled down his cheek. “Ah, if only the world could be you and I.”

I hadn’t really realized how unlikely our relationship was until he laid it all out like that. I was still just a kid then and I feel as I get older and as the world seems to spin further and further out of control I understand more deeply but even as a kid I felt some of the weight of what he was saying. It brought tears to my eyes then and still has the power to do so all these years later. I wish the world could be full of people like us, even though that sounds so very conceited.

Eunice and I loved each other in a very simple way. Our relationship was one of the most pure I’ve ever experienced, certainly outside of my familial relationships. We were as different as two people can be except in the most vital way, we valued our mutual humanity and love. We exchanged ideas and considered each other’s point of view with no fear or threat because we absolutely trusted in our mutual love for each other. He would never intentionally hurt me and I would do anything to keep him from suffering.

We lost contact almost immediately after I left Slovakia. He changed his address and gave a letter with his new address to my former boss who, instead of mailing it to me, decided to hand deliver it months later during a trip to the States. That address, as it turned, out was a temporary one. By the time I got it, mailed a response and that letter trekked across the globe, he’d moved on again.

I’ve never forgotten him. I wonder if he and his family have managed to survive the violence. I like to imagine him living in Europe somewhere, meeting his daughter at a café once a week to talk about everything under the sun. He’s always wearing that sweater vest and beige sport coat.

When people talk about Islam and Muslims I see his face. I remember that the world is not just full of hateful, prejudicial, violent people. It’s full of people like Eunice, too.

I can’t solve the world’s problems and lately they are legion. I do believe the root of them is hate. Fortunately, I’m a love factory. I’m chuck full of the stuff and it would spill over and out into the world even if I for some bizarre reason tried to stop it.

The only thing I can do is keep putting love out there. I can keep being compassionate. I can keep helping people wherever I can. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving someone a ride, buying lunch for the homeless man on the corner, taking a little time to be nice to the people behind counters or on the phone. Sometimes it’s hearing about how a friend’s divorce is hurting her daughter and inviting that little girl to an event like going to see the Nutcracker. Giving her a night of magic memories to hold on to in the storm of emotion surrounding her. That bit of kindness cost me so little and was such a huge thing to her.

Today, I want the world to be more loving. I hope whoever reads this will do what they can to fight all this hate with love. You never know how a simple act or statement of kindness could change a person’s life.

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How To Build A Flower Bed

1. Measure everything in the most scientifically reliable way, with your feet.
2. Go to Lowe’s.
3. Find the garden soil and load 30 bags onto your flat cart.
4. Find the cedar mulch and load 4 bags on top of the soil.
5. Check out and load all those bags into the truck.
6. Go home and unload the 34 bags.
7. Go back to Lowe’s.
8. Enjoy quizzical looks on employee’s faces that seem to ask, “Weren’t they just here?”
9. Find the wall bricks and load 60 bricks onto your flat cart. (Smashing fingers optional)
10. Check out and load all of those bricks into the truck. (Smashing fingers optional)
11. Go home and carefully build your wall in the shape desired. (Making Pink Floyd jokes optional but recommended)
12. Using a box cutter, cut an X shape into garden soil bag and flip to disperse soil. (repeat 30 times)
13. Dispose of packaging.
14. Go back to Lowe’s.
15. Enjoy quizzical looks as employee’s break down and ask, “Weren’t you just here?”
16. Carefully select flowers and shrubbery that will tolerate full sun, likely temperatures and at the very least bloom in Spring and Summer (preferably Spring, Summer and Fall).
17. Load two flat carts with these plants and check out.
18. Load truck with flowers and go home.
19. Unload plants and arrange in beds as desired.
20. Remove plants and dig 50 holes.
21. Plant 50 plants.
22. Open ridiculously over-sized bags of mulch.
23. Almost kill all plants trying to figure out how to get mulch into flower beds without burying flowers.
24. Take larger plastic flower pots, fill with mulch and use to spread mulch evenly and safely.
25. Water plants.
26. Take shower.
27. Fall asleep.

Flower Bed

I’m Grateful for the World Cup

Today I’m grateful that I teared up when USA was knocked out.

I’m happy that I’ve been a fan of that team as long as I can remember and that when the commentators made a joke about the hairstyles I immediately thought of Cobi Jones and blurted, “Well, it’s not like we’ve never had wild hairstyles on the pitch before.” I love that I don’t just know that little snippet, I remember it and all the dashed hopes that go along with that memory.

Sports are great because you can care deeply and become so excited and heartbroken and IT DOESN’T MATTER. People point this out to me like it’s a detractor, silly things. They’ll say, “Why are you so emotional? This doesn’t affect your life at all.”

That, my poor uninitiated friends, is the whole point. How often can you let your emotions flow and feel genuine hope, exhilaration or despair and then go home secure in the fact that none of it matters? It will not have any impact on my day to day life that I don’t allow it to have. If we ever, wonder of wonders, win the World Cup, I will be floating on the ceiling for just AGES. It will be a crystallized moment of sheer joy and exultation for the rest of my life and all I have to invest is hope and enthusiasm. It’s a win-win.

The tear that escaped when we were eliminated was felt deeply because I choose to care about this, not because my circumstances require it. I love the deep and abiding respect I have for Tim Howard and the fact that I’ve developed feelings of affection for people I’ve never, and most likely will never, meet.

Being a fan, to me, means that I get extra love in my life. I love the game. I love the team. I love the other fans. I shed a tear not just for my own disappointment but because of the disappointment I saw so clearly on the faces of the players. I genuinely wanted to reach through the screen and comfort them and let them know how hard they played and how proud they should be. I wanted to hug all the gutted fans on the screen.

I love this beautiful game. I love that so many of my countrymen are being exposed to it and falling in love. As more and more of my friends become besotted, I’m sitting back with a smug smile saying, “I knew you’d be perfect for each other.”

I love that my international friends have stopped ragging on my team so relentlessly. See? I’ve done nothing to bring this about. I didn’t hire Klinsmann. I didn’t participate at all in this transformation. I just kept believing. I think that’s why I love that chant. That’s all I do. I believe. They do everything else but I still get to reap the rewards for their effort.

Yes, I cried a little bit when we were eliminated but I have cried many more tears of joy in this tournament.

Today I’m grateful for soccer because it brings that joy, excitement, hope and love into my life and all it costs is the occasional moment of heartbreak. #100DaysofGrateful

Confession: I’m glad I grew up a girl

I went birthday present shopping for a friend of my kids’ this weekend.

As I walked down the toy aisles, I tried to think back and remember if toys were so strictly segregated when I was a kid. It was pretty startling. There was the pink aisle and the ‘every other color’ aisle. There were fashion dolls on one side and, pretty much, every other kind of toy on the other.

My first thought was that being a girl was pretty limiting. You had a lot of different versions of the same toy and that seemed to be it. Then I realized how wrong I was.

I was a tom-boy. That’s a thing. That’s what you call it when a little girl acts in a more masculine manner. I played with G.I. Joes and nobody thought anything of it. I played baseball, tennis, soccer and softball and no one said it was weird. I climbed trees and scraped my knees and it was fine.

I cut my hair short and few commented on it.

The truth is that my daughter can walk down the ‘boys’ aisle at that store, pick up any of the toys in the rest of the color spectrum and no one will think anything of it. That’s acceptable.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are serious restrictions imposed on women and girls. But, in my opinion, masculine women and girls are much more accepted in our society than feminine men and boys and that’s not a good thing.

If my boy walked down the pink aisle and picked up one of those fashion dolls, people would notice. When he paints his nails, people notice. When I sit for long periods of time tending to my daughter’s hair, my son will often sit behind me. He’ll brush and style my hair, generally loading it down with so many ‘hair pretties’ that I make clinking noises with every step I take afterward. I know that the same people who give him and me funny looks when they see his painted nails would most likely look askance at that practice as well.

My daughter has been blessed in that her temperament, personality and likes align pretty well with societal expectations. She’s just naturally very girly. She loves nothing more than fashion dolls, fashion video games, hair pretties, dancing, and all things pink and princess.

My son is a somewhat feminine boy. He doesn’t identify as a girl but he’s sensitive, he likes cooking, dancing, live theater, My Little Pony and fashion. He has quite firm opinions regarding fashion, too. Let me give you an example outfit. Sneakers & socks topped by navy slacks. Then a red polo shirt with the collar sticking up and a black t-shirt worn over it. He topped that ensemble off with a brown tweed jacket and a herringbone ivy cap.

He has plenty of masculine tendencies but many our society dub feminine as well. While masculine tendencies are generally indulged in girls, feminine tendencies in boys have been strongly discouraged. Boys are told to ‘be a man’.

My son cried at the end of the new Spiderman movie and my husband won my heart yet again by telling him it was okay to cry at sad stories. I love that my husband looks on my son’s tears as a sign of empathy and, as such, something to be valued.

I’m lucky my husband isn’t opposed to letting my son wander down whichever toy aisle he pleases. I hope that we can start moving more away from our strangely segregated child rearing practices and just treasure all aspects of our children’s multi-faceted personalities, both those dubbed masculine and feminine.