Long Story Short: Tis about the journey

This story starts long before I come in.
This is a story about two college students. Both undergraduate theater majors at Northwestern University near Chicago.
They met at a Halloween party in Willard Residential Hall (named after Frances Willard, “one of the temperance movement chicks,” according to my friend.)
At any rate, they were both sophomores. He had just transferred to Northwestern from a small liberal arts school in Virginia.
“Was it love at first sight or what?” I asked.
“It was love at first sight for me,” she said.
The pair hung out most of the time for the next three semesters.
“I invited him to have dinner with me at whatever the fancy restaurant was in the Hancock Tower on my 21st birthday,” she said. “I remember a time we were headed to Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, Il. He decided to stick his head out the window and lost his glasses. The soundtrack playing in the car was Paul Simon’s Graceland.”
She paused.
“It had a line, ‘Weren’t you the woman who received the Fulbright?’ ”
And I knew why, all these years later, she remembered that line so clearly.
“Because, you know, I did many years later,” she said.
However, like the rest of us, neither of them had any notion of the course life would take in the years to come.
She and I met in the winter before she got the Fulbright. We were standing at a ticket counter at Washington National Airport. She was organized and clearly well-traveled.
I was not.
Even still, we both ended up headed to teach English in Slovakia shortly after Communism ended. We became great friends. When our Eastern European teaching gigs were up, she left to accept her Fulbright in Korea.
I came back to the States, to the real world, and got married.
Until three years ago, my friend took one such journey after another. She has literally seen the world.
Her urge to go places got in the way of her relationship went with the fellow back in college. About 18 months after they first met, she left Northwestern for a semester in England. He gave her a going-away present — a book called, “Fold the Banana and 146 other things to do when you’re bored.”
His inscription: “The English winters can be long and dull. Here’s some relief. Lots of love from someone you’ve known only a short time. Until the fall of 1985. Love, Stephen.”
Mutual friends say Stephen moped around the whole semester she was gone. But by the fall of 1985 and her return, they first saw each other at a citywide tag sale he was with another woman. Things were never the same for them after that. They continued to be friends, but something had shifted. College ended. Eventually, he got married. They lost touch.
Years later, he reappeared on her radar on television. Yours too perhaps. If you’ve been paying attention, you may have seen him recently in the news.
He’s Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report.
This weekend, he co-hosted a sizable rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. By the time you read this, you’ll know how the so-called Million Moderate March went down.
Also know that my friend and I will be there with the goal of re-connecting her to her old friend. Yes, he’ll have his hands full. Why would we try to re-connect with him now? Because it’s fun. We realize our mission is great — and that the chances of succeeding in connecting with him are slim. But we’ll have fun in the journey.
And isn’t the journey what life is all about?

LSS: Get your goat here.

Heads up.
This short read has the potential to be a strange ride.
So, I’ll dive right in.
Nearly two years ago, I read a news story about an incident that happened in Nigeria. Basically, the story went like this: A man stole a car. A group of vigilante pursued the car thief. As they chased him, the thief transformed into a goat.
Stay with me.
The vigilante then turned the goat over to police who paraded the animal in front of a crowd of journalists who photographed the “culprit” and wrote stories about it.
The story fascinated me.
A few weeks ago, I read another story about two goats who wandered on a 6-inch ledge of a Montana bridge and stayed there for nearly two days until rescuers used a cherry picker to pluck them from their perch, safe but hungry.
Those two stories convinced me that there might be something universally interesting when goats make the news. So, I set up a news alert for the words “goat” or “goats.”
I have not been disappointed. Goats in the news lead to many things and places I’ve never considered.
For example, I’ve learned that members of the Indiana National Guard are being trained in goat farming before they go to Afghanistan where they will work with the region’s farmers.
In Uganda, the Royal Ascot Goat Races are considered to be the socialite event of the year, complete with celebrities, glamorous fashion and lots of food and prizes.
In Seattle, a company that used goats to clear land left a goat named Betty White at a park. The New Moon Farm Goat Rescue and Sanctuary eventually rescued Betty.
Police in Santa Fe, NM, are, apparently, still searching for the suspect who killed a pet goat named Maria in a drive-by shooting. Its grieving owner, who did not want to be identified, told reporters that the goat brought the neighborhood together.
Goats are to weird news the gift that keeps on giving.
Even the Wall Street Journal can’t resist a good goat story. On Sept. 17, the paper featured a page-one story about a Wisconsin restaurateur who trademarked goats eating grass on the roof of his restaurant. The restaurateur sued a grass-roofed Georgia market that also put goats on their roof. After some wrangling, the Georgia market bought rights for goats on their roof from the trademark holder in Wisconsin.
Last week, tragic goat news struck. An experienced hiker in Olympic National Park was attacked and killed by a mountain goat. It’s the first such death, according to park officials. The man was hiking with two friends when the goat came too close, eventually goring the man in the leg and then standing guard preventing others from rescuing the dying man. The goat has since been killed and his brain is being analyzed.
I’ve also had plenty of local goat encounters. I’ve met more goat farmers in the past few months than I ever knew were in the region. I haven’t sought them. They just appear in my everyday life.
My goat experiment has been a reminder of all the strange and wonderful things out there. I just have to be curious enough and open-minded enough to look and listen.

LSS: Retreat and recharge.

Months ago, an acquaintance asked if I would facilitate a writing workshop at a women’s spirituality and creativity retreat.
I said I would, the way you agree to things so far in the future they seem they’ll never happen. I had no idea what a spirituality and creativity retreat was, but it sounded nice.
As the weekend approached, life – as it almost always is — was so full of so much, I still didn’t give the retreat much thought. I was planning to facilitate a workshop I had led hundreds of times. It didn’t require much preparation.
Then I started getting e-mails from event organizers suggesting tactics to use to prepare for the four-day retreat. The e-mails even said the organizers were praying for me by name — and that always gets me. They suggested using the drive to the remote, rural location as quiet, reflective time to detox from the stress of everyday life.
So, last week as I charged past Hammond on the way to the retreat, I tried to follow the orders I had been given. I used the time to be quiet and to reflect. I realized that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I like leaps of faith.
Turns out, the spirituality part of the retreat came in small, manageable doses, which generally has a greater effect for me than bigger, more difficult-to-swallow treatments. For me, the creativity part of the weekend was powerful. Over the years, the organizers have collected massive quantities of art supplies – with cigar boxes and plastic tubs full of beautiful buttons, beads, old stamps, oil pastels and scraps of dazzling fabrics. It looked like all the stuff loads of women bought and collected through the years for fun projects – which, of course, they never had time to do. It was a crafters’ heaven open 24 hours a day.
The retreat suggested making prayer beads, but they also encouraged participants to create their own art. Surrounded by piles upon piles of the coolest array of art supplies with the simple instructions, “Make something,” was magical.
No one pulled at you or asked what was for dinner. In fact, no one asked me anything. I was able to sit there and try my hand at making something beautiful.
In doing so, I found myself reflecting on life’s weightier questions (including some of the spiritual nourishment the retreat was offering). You know, the kind of thoughts that often get lost in the white-flag-waving-we’re-out-of-milk-practice-starts-in-20-minutes-have-you-finished-your-homework-we-need-gas-world we operate in on a daily basis?
The longer I focused on stringing beads or creating watercolors, the clearer my head became. The simplicity and joy of conversation that takes place as women sit and work with their hands was nourishing in and of itself. The experience was kind of like a summer camp for wives and mothers, complete with requisite hugs, tears, address exchanges and promises-to-stay-in-touch following closing services.
In the closing service, we each had the opportunity to participate in the homily by filling in two blanks, inspired by one of the writing exercises we had done: God is ___________. I am _______.
Per normal, I didn’t prepare in advance and sat there trying to figure out how I could honestly fill in those two blanks. I grew up in a faith that left little room for questions. My adult perspective on God and spirituality doesn’t jive with the rock solid answers I had when I was younger.
Suddenly, my answer came to me for the first blank.
God is a mystery.
How could I answer the second blank? What am I?
After a few minutes, my answer came for that blank as well. My answer made me happy and gave me a peace that I had missed for a long time regarding my spiritual life. When it came my turn, I said:
God is a mystery.
And, I am a mystery-lover.

The weekend was the perfect surrender to the importance of taking time to step back from the rat race and recharge. Guaranteed that I’m a better, more appreciative mother and wife this week than I was last for having had the opportunity to retreat.

Long Story Short: Supporting caregivers and those they care for

I was shopping with friends in the beauty supply store when I got the call. It was my baby brother.
He’s 30 now.
It’s probably time to stop calling him “the baby.”
But I’m not quite there yet.
He’s a rabid college football fan. I knew if he was calling me in the middle of a Saturday afternoon during football season, something was wrong.
“Have you talked to Mama?” he said.
“No,” I answered, quickly looking at my phone and realizing I had missed her call that morning.
During those next few seconds, I held my breath. I knew something was wrong. Whatever he said next would decide a lot about life.
“Something happened yesterday. Something’s wrong with her. She can’t remember things,” he said.
I took a deep breath.
He proceeded to tell what had happened in the bits and pieces a 30-year-old guy does. I was standing there with a blue bottle of shampoo specially formulated for fine hair, listening to him, knowing this wasn’t good.
We hung up. I was grateful for his call and was on a mission to talk to my mom.
I called and called and got no answer. She and my dad live four hours away. I started contemplating putting the shampoo bottle down and getting in my car and driving to Mississippi. Finally, I got her on the line.
She told me what had happened.
And it didn’t sound good.
My mother is only 67. She’s in great shape. This was not supposed to be happening. From what she said, I thought she had probably had a mini-stroke. She definitely had difficulty in remembering things and was clearly shaken.
As we talked, she was lucid, but I could tell she was working extra hard to convince me she was better than she really was.
We both knew what we were saying – and what we were not saying.
My grandmother, her mother, had suffered from “hardening of the arteries,” for nearly 20 years. We, along with my aunts, uncles and cousins had helped take care of her.
It was a horrible, horrible thing. Today’s doctors would call what my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. It, as many readers know all too well, is and was a nightmare.
Since that call, my family and I have danced a careful conversational choreography. None of us wanted to say certain things, and I am not certain saying them would have served a purpose – except maybe to evaporate the elephant in the room.
Even though my mother has tried her best, she has not been herself. Part of her problem has been trying to put such a good face forward for the rest of us.
This week, a team of physicians thoroughly examined her and determined that she suffered a mini-stroke. They called what followed it transient global amnesia, a condition which causes an almost total short-term memory loss – and whose defining characteristic is that it is temporary.
We are grateful for the diagnosis, but the weight of our fears has been a reminder to me of the importance of outside support to those suffering from Alzheimer’s — and their caregivers.

LSS: Magic jacket

Friends north of the Mason-Dixon line would laugh out loud had they seen my two daughters Monday morning.

In case you don’t remember, Monday morning was that first glorious morning of ever so slightly cooler temperatures.

When my daughters and I went outside, they both darted back in quickly.

They returned after a moment wearing jackets.

After all, the thermometer was below 80 – clearly, jacket-wearing weather in Louisiana.

The girls insisted on keeping the jackets on, even though the air-conditioner kicked on inside. What really got my attention was the specific jacket my 13-year-old daughter, Greer, had chosen to wear.

Every fall since she was in second grade, she has pulled that jacket out on the first day it turned cool. It is the jacket she has worn for far too long but refuses to give up. I’m embarrassed to admit that I bought the jacket for her when she was 7. To be sure, she’s nearly doubled in size since then.

Second grade to seventh grade covers quite a growth spurt. The strangest part about this jacket is that neither of us remembers it being particularly big for her back then. I don’t understand how it fits her now, but somehow it does. She smiles as she puts it on and doesn’t want to take it off.

We talked about the jacket this week. Some of what she said surprised me.

“The first time I wore it in second grade, we played in leaves. I put leaves in my pockets. I had crumbled up leaves in my pockets for the next two years,” she said.

And proceeded to turn the pockets inside out in search of tiny pieces of leaves.

“See, I found another piece of a leaf,” she said as she held a brown speck up in the air like a tangible piece of pixie dust.

Maybe they were magic leaves.

She recounted other major events that occurred while she was wearing that jacket, including, “In third grade, I wore it to an opera with Charlotte. I wore it to Washington, D.C. in fourth grade. I wore it to my best friend’s garage sale in fifth grade. I wore it to the church’s Halloween camp-out in fifth grade too.”

But mainly she remembered wearing it in second grade and playing in the leaves.

And she doesn’t want to let that go.

As we talked, her sentimental edge was hard to miss. She reminded me of a Barry Manilow song — and I mean that in a good way (with no reference whatsoever to Copacabana). Think: “I write the songs that make the young girls cry.”

Greer didn’t cry over the jacket she’s outgrown, but something about the whole scenario made me remember more of what it was like to be 13 than I have remembered in a long while.

This week she and I searched high and low for her a new jacket. She was a reluctant shopper. Begrudgingly, she finally agreed to one.

Maybe when it arrives, she and I will find a giant pile of leaves and do our best to create some new leaves in her pockets.