Worthy of Friendship

In the last few days, the social media newsfeed has shown numerous posts reflecting upon creating our circles, and choosing friends wisely. It’s left me with this thought. We teach our children to choose their friends carefully, curating relationships based upon outward actions, reputation, behavior, and other attributes that we can see with the eye. This is understandable. We don’t wish ill will or difficulty to come to our little ones as they learn and grow. We don’t wish their reputations before being fully formed, to be tarnished. We don’t want them to be on the receiving end of cruelty or ridicule by other students, and honestly, by other parents. We teach them to select friends from whom they will benefit by matter of character. We use these same principles when selecting our own circle of friends and colleagues. It’s said, “choose your tribe”, “select those who will help you soar”, “be around those who benefit you and challenge you”. This has merit. Yet, I ask, upon what is this based? The majority of the time it is based solely on outward presentation. When first meeting someone we have no other knowledge from which to draw a conclusion. It seems to me, rather than draw a conclusion of any kind, rather than selecting myself who I want to associate with, rather than picking and choosing based upon reputation, the focus should be inward. Am I someone that others would want to be around? Am I someone that helps uplift others? Am I someone that has depth of character and compassion to be a good friend, a good human to any and all or only to those who fit a certain mold? It saddens me to read things about discerning the character of others based solely on reputation, especially so when the person is young. I knew a girl in high school who had a poor reputation. She was referred to by many as “trashy”. Yet, few knew the details of repeated abuse that stole her value. She truly had not even “slept around”, as it was said. All it took was one or two foul mouthed male students who took from her something and then by their actions made her daily life hell. Freshman year, my second school already, and being the new girl with few friends, I was fortunate to have made a friend in her. She was real. She was honest. She was smart. She was significantly more than anything ever repeated about her.

Sophomore year brought another change of schools and a student who was decidedly cruel to me was waiting there. I never understood why. She would call me names in Spanish that would be inappropriate to repeat. She whispered to other girls about me. She occasionally pushed too hard walking past me, but not hard enough to be considered hitting. There was no reason, of course, so on most days, I shrugged it off. Somehow, in my 16 year old jolly optimism, I decided to do the opposite of what I wanted to do. She did frighten me because of her tough persona. Yet, nearly every time I saw her, I said, “Hi Angelina,” as if she was my best friend or on lesser days, I would at least smile. She wouldn’t talk other than to ridicule me. Other times, on days when I couldn’t handle it, I did steer away. Flash forward to graduation night after all the diplomas were passed out. There before me in white cap and gown with black mascara streaks down her face stood Angelina. She looked much smaller that night than when encountered in the halls. She said she never understood why I was always nice to her even though she didn’t return the treatment. Then she thanked me. What?! This girl, this bossy mean girl was thanking me? She then briefly told me of a rough life, of not having much, of not even having one true friend. She apologized to me for the nearly three years of whispers and hallway jabs. There was nothing to apologize for and standing there on the field in 100+ degree heat of late spring Phoenix weather, we hugged a long, earnest hug. We never saw another again. We didn’t exchange numbers. Yet, to this day I am changed by that moment with that girl of bad reputation and mean outward behavior. I can only hope she was changed too. Rather than focus on those who we perceive as worthy of spending our time with and worthy of befriending, it seems to me, we should focus on being worthy ourselves by not giving attention to outward representation shown to us by others, but instead on the inward reality of ourselves. Show love, give love, be love. This is what changes lives. đź’“

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Life Lessons and Laces

This summer has been particularly challenging for my teenage daughter. She spent it working hard on studies to complete freshman year of high school. The most difficult for her was Algebra. Having a mom who is basically a mathematics idiot certainly did not help.

By misfortune that resulted in a positive, her dad was laid off from his job in DC, thus, he was able to spend the last month tutoring her. With advanced degrees in mathematics and physics, he literally is a rocket scientist. Who better to serve as her teacher than dear dad?

In the final countdown of preparing for her last exam, they crammed several chapters into hours of review yesterday. By this point, they had each had enough…enough of math, enough studying, and enough of each other. After fielding a few calls and texts from each of the exasperated duo of teacher and pupil, I was up to my limit as well and let them both know it in not the most gentle way.

Once home and able to observe the lesson firsthand, and all of their mutual frustration about how she was repeatedly skipping steps leading to the wrong solution, a thought struck me. I remembered teaching her to tie her shoes. She refused to wear the kind with Velcro straps or buckles and insisted on laces because she was “a big girl.”  We both repeatedly and with loving care taught her over and over again how to hold the laces in her stubby fingers using sing-songs and cute anecdotes to form a bow. This recalcitrant teenager had once been that precious, little, angel child. This  obstinate father, had once been the guy who spent hours teaching her the simplest of life’s tasks with joy.

Algebra was her new set of velcro-less shoes and without the shiny buckles. With all her strength of spirit, independence, appearance, intelligence, and confidence, we had forgotten in some ways, she is still a little person. Her fingers are less stubby and instead of stickers and marker smears, they are now adorned by metallic blue nail polish.

I reminded her dad that just as he did so gingerly with her five year-old version, he needed to tenderly teach the fifteen year-old version how to tie her laces using equations and polynomials.

Although the years have truly passed so quickly, we somehow lost sight of the  patience we once had with her. No doubt part of this is her constant reminder to us that she’s “a big girl.” I can only imagine that there will be many more of these tutoring lessons as life goes by. In the future, hopefully when she doesn’t tie the laces tight enough and they come untied, or when she ties them without thinking and they end up in knots, we will remember our roles. Then proceed with tolerance, love and probably a few concentrated breathing techniques until her laces form well tied bows.

The Sweet Scent of Giving

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The Gardenia flower is a flowering bush within the coffee family. The evergreen plants can grow into trees as high as six feet in the right environment. Their leaves grow in a particular windmill pattern. In the center of the sails, is a fragrant bloom with sensitive petals. Gardenias are my most favorite flower. Their leather like leaves yielding to delicate petals. The scent of a tree in bloom fills the area beckoning admirers.

Gardenia trees surround a property in East Texas where generations of our family are laid to rest. The dense humidity of the South make it an ideal climate. Many years ago, my great granddaddy had the fortune and good sense to purchase a section of land within the Rosevine Cemetary. This is where he and great grandma lay overseeing uncles, great aunts, a few cousins, my father and most recently, my little sister.

On this day two years ago, my sister was murdered. After several months of questions, sadness, frustration and even fear, we learned the identity of the person who took Deborah from us. It is a twisted, confusing tale of a middle aged man, a complete stranger to my sister, who offered her a ride that ended in multiple gunshots to the back of her head on the side of a country road in Palestine, TX.

Before learning the details and knowing who took her life, our family made a decision. While not all agreed, our mother, my older sister and myself chose not to seek the death penalty. It isn’t something you ever truly think about. Sure, the debate comes up at election time. However when your child or sister has been taken and her life stolen while she is on her knees in the dirt, you are forced to truly think about the value of a life. Although the killer may not have a conscience, we do. In faith and in our hearts, we could not wish for another’s life to end. What would then separate us from him?

As we later learned, similar to the Tell Tale Heart, the killer- Bobby Franks, began to grow insane at the thought of his crime coming to light. He spun an odd story, complete with pretend characters to alleviate some of his guilt. Ultimately he killed himself taking his secrets with him. We will never know why he took the life of our sister and what happened in those final moments. This- not knowing- is difficult to process but I have accepted it. The Sheriff’s offices of both Anderson and Smith counties along with the Texas Rangers were relentless in their efforts to solve the murder. Although they feel justice will never truly be served, they were diligent. They continued the case even after the killer committed suicide and did not rest until the grand jury agreed with their findings. There is not any doubt about the who in this case. The why will never be known.

Upon learning of my sister’s death, I fell to my knees, crying out. That emotion once again fills my heart as I type. A rush of thoughts and what ifs, profound sadness, confusion and anger. Then I made a choice.

The only way I know to fill the spaces of sadness and despair from losing my sister is to give. Give of myself. Give love. She had many demons and I will not allow that darkness to continue its triumph over our family. Some may laugh or take this thought lightly; the thought of doing good works. I’ve been called a do-gooder (as if that’s a bad thing) or goodie-goodie. Laugh if you will but know this. These actions are with a strong desire to fight against hate, to combat evil. You cannot see and experience what my sisters and I have and not be changed. The choice on how it will change is within each of us. So today, I will give. I will punch Evil in the face and kick Hate’s ugly teeth in. They will not win, not over me or my family. Each time I give, I release a little more of the loss felt from having my sister taken from us.

It comforts me to know that Deborah is laid to rest, surrounded by family and by Gardenias with their pure, perfumed petals. In the Summer, with their sweet scent filling the air around her grave, I will inhale…holding my breath just to keep that sweetness inside a little longer. ❤