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Meow-Meow

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I first noticed Meow-Meow nibbling at some bread crumbs I had thrown out for the birds. I felt sorry for her.  When she saw me, the petite calico cat was quick to greet me with her pretty little face looking up at me. I was allergic to cats, so never much cared for them and had dogs instead for most of my life. But when I grabbed some gloves to put on to pet her and she let me, she stole my heart. Shortly thereafter I starting buying cat food to feed her.  We lived in a rural area with neighbors few and far between, and I asked around but nobody claimed her.  From then on she lived outside our house under the deck and meandered around the yard.  She was content.

I finally decided I should get her spayed and neutered if she were going to stay.  The day I had the appointment I couldn’t catch her.  The next morning I found her – along with her newly born kittens- all males. They were in a sheltered place and safe, so life went on.  Once I bought the kittens some little toys that looked like mice.  The next morning I found a real mouse (dead) lying in front of them.  Meow apparently was trying to outdo me!

My brother unwittingly adopted two kittens, and I just kept the other two.  They were all neutered and spayed and given shots. Time passed, and the cats eventually moved inside the house.  My allergies somehow subsided, and the gang came along with me through two moves.

Meow-Meow was smart and serious and pretty and ruled the roost.  She kept everyone in their place – even the dogs. She watched over me quietly and was attuned to all my moods, sitting with me and comforting me when I was sad or sick or unhappy. Vocally meowing when she wanted my attention – never really demanding much except love and affection.

She outlived all of her sons and just left this world at the age of 16.

So today my heart is aching, and the tears fall for this precious little girl who came into my life and stayed with me through some pretty tough times. Who sat in my chair snuggling with me as I read, wrote and watched TV.  Who cuddled up with me on my bed nightly, even feebly on her last night. I never really felt alone with her since she was always, ever so quietly, present with me.

People say you shouldn’t feed stray cats. But if a cat finds its way into your life, isn’t it something you should do?  Because if not you, then who? And if the worst thing people can say about me when I die is that I took in stray animals and cared for them, then that’s something I am proud of.

I’m one of those people who believes that I’ll be with Meow-Meow again in heaven one day – running around and batting her sons with her paws in a lush green garden. Until then I’ll think of her with fondness until the day she sits quietly by my side again, warming my heart with her gentle purring.

 

 

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Jake

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As retirement loomed in the not-so-distant future, I was doubting what I had ended up doing with the past ten years of my life and wondering with trepidation what would come next. The job hadn’t paid well, my savings were nil, and I was worried about my future. Then Jake slipped his hand into mine.

Jake is a very shy, non-verbal, multiply-disabled, five year old boy in the other classroom. He’s very tall for his age, almost reaching my shoulders and has thick, curly black hair pulled back into a pony tail.  He covers his big, dark eyes with his hands when he gets off the bus or when a lot of people are around. I don’t see Jake often because I usually have lunch during their recess, but I’ve observed him on and off in the playground always by himself, wandering aimlessly around.

To be honest, I didn’t really choose this job with these children on purpose. Through a friend I was hired in a school as a one-on-one aide to a severely autistic child after I had lost my job, relocated and was having trouble finding employment. There was an instant connection with the child, and I found it rewarding to be able to help her navigate through her daily activities.  I remained with her for two years until the family moved out of district.  Then I was assigned to the multiple-disability classroom where I remained for another two years. It was a tough job, but I loved it.  The last three years I’ve been working in the preschool classroom. The children are not impaired except for a few behavior problems, which is not as gratifying as the special ed students. I became disenchanted. Health problems ensued, along with age, and retirement became imminent.

But that morning, Jake was walking with another aide who stopped to talk. I said hi to Jake and commented on his cool dinosaur t-shirt. He smiled slightly. That afternoon he came up to me and took my hand.  He pointed to his dinosaur t-shirt and smiled. I remarked again how much I liked the shirt, and he was pleased. We strolled around the yard – me talking; him listening, sometimes smiling, but happy to just be walking with me. My heart ached, and in that moment I realized that the past ten years were not in vain. I connected with these children in a positive way, and that’s more than enough for me.

 

A Penance Service

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When I was a little girl, I attended a Catholic school, where we went to confession as a class once a month. Nuns were our teachers, and the school was a strict, respectful environment. Probably the polar opposite of what we have in our public schools today.  Back then (in the stone ages) eating meat on a Friday was a grave sin.  One particular time I confessed to a priest (who had the reputation of being rather nasty) that I had eaten chicken noodle soup on a Friday.  I was sick, I explained, and my Mom gave it to me because it was the only thing I could eat and made me feel better. Well, Father Nasty reamed me out as if I had committed murder.  “Wasn’t there anything else in the house to eat?” he scolded. Thank God the confessionals were private back then and he couldn’t really see who I was for I was sure I was blushing. My penance was heavy, consisting of at least five Our Father’s, ten Hail Mary’s and I don’t know what else, but I remember kneeling and praying for a very long time for the dastardly deed of eating meat on Friday, which added up to a few pieces of chicken in broth. I told my Mom about my confession, and she was really mad at the priest.  I don’t think she ever actually spoke to him about it, but she had conversations with the other moms and her sisters. I recall avoiding him like the plague after that.

Many years have passed, and times have changed. Nowadays meat is only prohibited on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays of the Lenten season.  I make it to confession not monthly but maybe once a year, usually around Easter or Christmas. The other day I went to the Easter Penance service with my aunt.  When we arrived, I was surprised to see that there were already many people in line. We got in a line for an older, silver-haired priest. The line moved quite quickly, and before I knew it, I was up.  Last year my mind went blank when I was confessing, so this year I wrote a little list to remind me of mostly petty, insignificant stuff, but sins nonetheless.  I started with number one, which I did remember and then glanced at my list, explaining to the priest that I went blank last year and needed some reminders. “May I see the list?” he asked.  “Um, sure,” I said hesitating. I fumbled and unfolded it, handing it over to him.  He barely glanced at the note at all then looked into my eyes as he ripped it into tiny pieces. Oh geez, I’m in trouble now, I thought.

“I think this is what Jesus would do if you handed him a list of your sins,” he said. A tear escaped my eye as I stared into his kind eyes and saw his gentle smile.  “Pray one Our Father.”   He put his hand on my head and gave me absolution. Then he said, “Just be a good person and do better.”

A lot is being said about priests these days, and for some rightly so. Someday the atrocities of some will have to be answered for. A lot of people have turned away from the Catholic Church because of it. But I can’t help to think that good, sincere priests outnumber the others. I believe there are priests who genuinely want to care and minister to people for all the right reasons.  They want to teach us kindness and forgiveness and are trying to direct us to the power of faithfulness and the path to trusting in God and in His goodness in all circumstances. Tonight I was blessed to be in the presence of one of those.

I knelt in a pew in the quiet of the Church and said one Our Father.  I marveled at the lesson I had just learned. I was reminded that Jesus gave his life for all of our sins, and we are forgiven.  My faith just keeps getting stronger.

On the way home, my aunt recited something which she learned in her Catholic school:

Good, better, best.  Make the good better and the better best.

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

 

Going on a Bear Hunt

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The kids in my Pre-K class are fond of many silly little songs that are just fun to sing. They love to hop and twirl to “Freeze Dance,” act silly as they reenact “Totty-Ta,” shriek “EW!” to “Do You Like Broccoli Ice Cream,” and sing about the fate of the meatball “On Top of Spaghetti.”

A favorite is “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” written by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. We sing a few variations. The premise of the original is that these children are searching for a bear, but they just can’t find him.  Challenges surface that they can’t avoid because as the book/song defines: you can’t go over it; you can’t go under it; you can’t go around it…you’ve got to go through it. They proceed to go through tall, wavy grass, swampy mud and a swirling whirling snowstorm complete with sound effects, swishy, swishy, squelch, squelch and hooo wooo respectively, repeating the choruses over and over and reenacting climbing in the grass, swimming in the mud and braving a snowstorm until they reach the bear.

As I was walking the children into school one morning, one little girl was softly singing the song to herself.  Now I had personally been going through a rough patch, and a new meaning to the words dawned on me…you can’t go over it; you can’t go under it; you can’t go around it; you’ve got to go through it. I mean, isn’t this a life lesson, after all?  Problems surface…health problems, financial problems, marital problems, personal problems, where you just can’t see the light of day and you want to find a way over them or under them or around them to avoid them completely.  But the fact is, you can’t skip the hurdles because that’s life. You’ve got to knuckle down and just go through them until you come out on the other side.

In the book the children find the bear at the end who ends up scaring the bejeebers out of them, and they wind up running back through the snowstorm, mud and grass to home base (along with the screaming and sound effects!). That’s probably what I would do if I were four-years-old and being silly. As an adult, I think I would face the bear and keep moving forward through my fears and challenges.

I guess they’re not all silly little songs.

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HOMESICK

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I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment, and today I decided to clean out some things in my bedroom.  I came across a tote bag with a number of letters from way, way back when I lived in California foot loose and fancy free.  I had driven cross-country dreaming of becoming an actress, gotten a job in a bank and was alone in an apartment without a TV, just an old radio, which played constantly.  I guess that’s why every song I hear from that era throws me right back to those California days and that little studio apartment.  New to the area with little money and knowing only a handful of people, I became a big letter writer to family and friends back home in New Jersey. Back in those “olden” days when cell phones and social media were just a far-off fantasy, and phone calls charged hefty long distance fees, letter writing was a way to keep in touch with loved ones. I feel like it’s a lost art.

Mom and Peaches, the dog that never shuts up!

I read through the letters and was somehow transported back in time. I became engulfed in a period of my life I had almost forgotten.  People recounting their uneventful, day-to-day activities in writing made me feel less homesick.  I imagined their laughter and felt their love and concern. A few old boyfriends I regret letting go of, some old friends, one of which I still keep in touch with.  My family, and one letter in particular from my Mom dated November 12, 1974.  It was the only letter from her I could find. I opened the beautifully scrolled paper, for my Mom had lovely penmanship, another lost art. She wrote that it was 7:35 AM, and she was writing a quickie before heading to work. She told me it was a miserable day, with rain heavy at times.  She said the dogs were barking their heads off at the school kids, especially “big mouth” which was our dachshund, Peaches.  Gigi, our pug/Scottie mix was the “good” dog.  She continued that Peaches never shuts up between barking and eating!  It brought a smile to my face. She told me she took a day off yesterday to wash the blinds and windows.  She wrote that they still had their Sunday routine of church, breakfast and bargain shopping.  She wrote about my brother having friends over. She asked if I had received my Christmas Club check from the bank – do those accounts where you put $5 or $10 a week in until October and then get a check to buy gifts still exist?! She enclosed some paper clippings of people we knew who got married. She also enclosed a small paper clipping with a little saying on it. She said she got the card I sent and that it was a tear-jerker and that my Dad said to tell me he wants our little girl to get home where she belongs.  She said they both missed me – no doubt about it.  She asked about my friends  Then she wrote it was now 7:50 AM and by the time she gets those 2 dogs out and do a few odds and ends it will be time to run.  She took a bus to downtown Trenton every day to work at Dunham’s department store because she didn’t drive.  Then she wrote the temperature was 51 degrees and again that it was cloudy and rainy.  She said be good; God bless you. Love, Mom and Dad. So in the 15 minutes between 7:35 and 7:50 she filled me in and made me feel closer to home, melting a little of the loneliness away.

I found the clipping:  COURAGE – He who fears to venture as far as his heart urges and his reason permits is a coward.  I think she was complimenting and encouraging me for being brave enough at such a young age to venture out to a place I held close in my heart.  California. Turns out I wouldn’t be brave enough to stay and pursue my dream. I was homesick and home is where I wanted to be.

When I finished reading the letter, tears in my eyes, I felt I had visited with my Mom.  She’s been gone for 22 years now, and for a short few moments I felt like I was with her again. I could envision my Mom and Dad in the house, running their Sunday errands, my Mom washing the windows and blinds, Peaches and Gigi sitting in the bow-window barking.  I pictured her writing the letter at the kitchen table, mailing the letter on the way to the bus stop. I miss her, and my heart is aching.  I want to go back and talk with her. I just wished I had made more time to spend with her.

Finding this letter was a gift, and I’m thankful for all the love I felt reading between the lines of an ordinary life that meant the world to me.

 

 

Be Still

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It’s 5 am, and I lay awake in the darkness not quite wanting to start the day and not quite tired enough to sleep any longer.  So I savor the stillness, and I think.  Not all good thoughts; not all bad thoughts.  Just things that randomly drift through my mind.  Things I really can’t control. Sometimes anxiety and stress can sometimes take over. I should stop fretting and worrying.  I try to refocus on things that bring a smile. Things that fill my heart with gratitude. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason or control in those wee small hours of the morning.

Life isn’t always smooth. Things usually don’t go the way you had planned or dreamed about. Maybe for some but not for most. Some are left to wonder why and trust in a plan that really hasn’t been defined as yet. And it’s OK because there is a lot of goodness and blessings that make your heart happy and satisfied if you can only envision them and realize what they are. There are moments of sheer satisfaction and contentedness and even joy. These are the things I have been focusing on.

In this time of Thanksgiving, it’s so important to be grateful for and to count the good things. To think about the graces and try to put the other stuff on the back burner.  You don’t have to resolve everything or have a plan of action.  Sometimes you just have to trust and give in and away that stuff that bothers you and know that it will all get taken care of and eventually figured out in the light of the days ahead.

The daylight is starting to dawn through the darkness. It’s getting brighter, and I can hear the peeping of the morning birds. I am filled with hope that all will be well. It’s a good place to arise and start the day.

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You Are Never Alone

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I came across something I’d written a few years back when I was hospitalized with a minor condition.  I’d actually been suffering for a week before I decided to seek a doctor’s attention.  And although my threshold for pain is very high, being admitted to a hospital was daunting.

I remember being scared and alone.  I was newly divorced and living in a rental by myself; my daughters were grown and lived hours away as well as my brother. They had put me on a strong medication for the pain while testing, and I was out of it. During the night a nurse came into the room to check my vitals.  She asked if I needed more medication, and even though I did, I requested a lighter dose because I felt I needed to have my wits about me.  She obliged after consulting with the doctor.  We got to talking and she was divorced as well, although way younger than me. She had taken a chance on marriage again and was very happy.  We had a little bit of a heart to heart, which I desperately needed.  When she was getting ready to move on, I confided in her that I felt so alone.  She turned and looked me square in the eyes and said, “Oh, you are NEVER alone.” Then she was gone.

That one sentence gave me the confidence I needed because I realized God was always with me. I looked out of the window and up into the sky and saw a brilliant orange moon, which was typical on an oppressively hot August night.  I prayed for my friend who was also in the hospital in the distant state of Indiana living out the last weeks of his life. My heart ached with the thought of how I would miss him when he passed because he had been my father figure, mentor and encourager since I was 19 years old. It was a horribly sad night for me.

I awoke the next morning somewhat renewed.  I luckily had a kind doctor who decided I would not need surgery and treated me instead with a heavy dose of antibiotics in an IV drip.

As I progressively improved, my family came to be with me.  I got stronger, and in a few days was able to leave the hospital. Although I wanted to see and thank the nurse who had helped me through that rough first night, I never saw her again. I still think of her as an angel sent to me.

I began to write down the lessons I learned during that trying period to encourage others who might find themselves going through a similar situation:

  • You are NEVER alone.
  • You can take care of yourself most of the time, but when you need help, asking for it is not a weakness.
  • You can have an infection without a constant fever.
  • Taking a shower with an IV in your arm wrapped in a plastic bag is doable.
  • Ice chips can be a big treat.
  • Clear liquids can be nourishing.
  • You don’t always need heavy-duty pain medication to get by, but can ask for them when needed on demand.
  • Just what the doctor orders is usually best, albeit contrary to what you think should be. Trust.
  • A private hospital room, if you are lucky enough to have one, is awesome.
  • Spending time in a hospital is not the worst thing in the world.
  • Construction outside your hospital window is not always noisy.
  • You don’t need TV to pass the time.
  • People are basically kind and caring.
  • Angels show up when you think you’re alone.
  • A big orange moon can seem like a friend smiling down on you.
  • Cards and flowers are wonderfully uplifting and heart warming to receive but not necessarily needed to make you feel cared about.
  • There are people in the hospital way sicker than you are, so it’s a strength to keep from complaining and pray for them instead.
  • God sends angels to call on you out of the blue.
  • God is always and forever with you.
  • Trust in God and in His goodness in all circumstances.