In the midst of chaos, feeling hopeful

We all go through it: a time of discouragement, doubt, hopelessness.

Lately, I’ve been going through it. Feeling discouraged. Doubting my purpose: forming this nonprofit, The PEACH Pit, offering equine-assisted counseling sessions at no cost or and low-cost to our clients.

Having a nonprofit is hard and sometimes thankless work.

picture with a red heart in the middle and several spirals inside the heart and in the corners of th page

The hope of a child.

Applying for grant after grant, planning fundraiser after fundraiser. Receiving one rejection letter after another about how noble is our cause but how other causes are equally noble and will receive the grant money we sought.

I’ve long known that my least favorite word is “no.” My favorite word is “free.” I don’t mind asking for what I want, and I know that the answer sometimes will be no.

Sometimes, often, the answer is yes. The Combined Federal Campaign. Volunteers. Corporate employee donations and corporate employer matching funds.

People care. They recognize good. They give.

Applying for grant money for our nonprofit reminds me of applying for graduate school fellowships. I applied for four fellowships. The first two responses were one-pagers: Something like, “We’ve received so many great applications, which made our decision difficult. Unfortunately, your application was not selected.”

Two responses with my least favorite word.

On a snowy Friday night, a day with no expectation of good, came my favorite word, with the notification I was to receive a fellowship. I needed to respond, even as I waited to hear from my top choice. I accepted and within a week, received a letter from my top choice with my least favorite word.

As I headed home from a bicycle ride the other night, having enjoyed the mild temperatures after the heavy rains, I spotted what looked like a piece of blue construction paper on the ground.

Litter. Another word I dislike.

I rode past it and then turned around to pick up the paper. Trusting my gut that it was a sign of hope. The paper was damp. I held it in my left hand until I got home.

In all likelihood,  a child drew the picture, a child whose age is still in the single digits, probably the lower ones. Just when I felt discouraged, I found this elementary school piece of art.

The message I got from it was astoundingly hopeful.

In the midst of life’s twists and turns – and life is full of twists and turns, as the picture shows – there’s love. And even in the midst of love are twists and turns.

But love is bigger than everything, if we keep it in the center of our life’s purpose. Then, we will have hope and encouragement.

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Welcome to New Hampshire. Where’s your coat?

The realization woke me at 12:50 a.m. No one had called or knocked on my door since I’d arrived almost five hours before.

Someone should have knocked on my door by now. Or called. I had left specific instructions. Call. Or knock.

Yet, nothing.

That meant my bag still had not arrived from my flight the night before.

That meant, I would be wearing the same clothes two days in a row, and even as I type this, I sound whiny. People in some lands (including this one) wear the same clothes every … single … day … of … their … lives and are happy to have something to wear.

Still, I’ll have to wear the same clothes two days in a row. At least I’ll have clean undergarments, having gotten directions at hotel check-in to the closest department store for a quick purchase of three items.

I wonder if what the airline is calling “delayed baggage” (interesting metaphorical choice of words) is a consequence of taking two airlines for one trip. I checked my bags on Delta to Washington and then caught American to New Hampshire.

After deplaning in Washington, I recall looking for and not seeing my flight on the departure monitors. The lines at every gate counter were long, so I wandered looking for my flight, and not the one leaving at 6:53, but mine, the one leaving at 4:50.

No luck.

Down this way, up that way, Nothing.

Finally, I found someone who could tell me where to board an American flight.

Only, he didn’t know. He had on a badge, clearly an airport employee, and he didn’t know, either.

Argh.

A black back of tiny toiletries.

As a consolation for my “delayed baggage,” an airline agent game me toiletries.

Up this way, down that way. A gate agent walking away from the gate, who told me I had to exit the A Terminal, past security and go to C and back through security.

On foot.

That wouldn’t happen at Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (I think I got all the names in there), my home base airport.

Well, I still would have had to walk a bit, but at least I would have been able to catch a train between terminals and wouldn’t have had to go back through security.

The only (ONLY) plus to going back through security was that I got to show off my black polka-dotted socks as I walked shoeless all the way from the baggage screening area to my gate.

Well, a gate. The wrong gate.

I had heard my name on the intercom, telling me to go immediately down the escalators for immediate boarding.

I immediately went down the escalators to Door 1 and handed the agent my ticket.

“WRONG FLIGHT” flashed in red and filled the monitor.

“Where are you headed?” the agent asked.

“Manchester,” I said.

“I’m boarding for Chicago. You need to go down there,” he said, motioning to “down there.”

I walked down there, not fully knowing where there was.

And then, I was there, as a crowded bus — with just enough floor space for me and my computer bag — waited to take me to my US Airways plane (I had forgotten US Airways and American had merged), a plane with barely had enough room in the overhead bin for my bag. I actually had to remove power cords, snacks and such to make it fit.

All the while, never thinking once about my mustard yellow, hard-sided, plastic, 360-degree rolling bag with a pull-up handle, the one with a built-in baggage tag that I had just written my name on a few hours before.

The bag that had my coat (the temperature was about 70 when I left Georgia), my clothing for the next three days, my large bottle of ibuprofen and my secret weapon against the cold: a pair of fleece-lined tights.

And my toiletries.

When I reported my “delayed baggage,” an agent gave me a small toiletries kit with a toothbrush, shampoo, deodorant, a shaving kit, and a facial wipe — all stamped with US Airways.

The two things she couldn’t give me was a reassurance that my bag and I soon would be reunited, and she couldn’t give me a bar of the soap I’ve used for more than 10 years, a scented soap no longer made.

Only once before has my bag been lost while flying. That time, a gazillion years ago, we were separated for three days. At that point, I decided to always keep a change of clothes and my toiletries in my carry-on bag.

But after years of flying for a gazillion more years and not having lost a bag, I stopped the ritual.

It’s 36 degrees outside in New Hampshire as I write this, and the temperature will drop to freezing by the time I set off for work.

I have no coat, and I miss my soap already.

 

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A split-second glance

I saw her in my periphery as I turned left at the light.

Tall and slender. Holding a phone, I think.

The sight of her immediately caused my heart to race and my eyes to tear up.

Moments before, while waiting for the light to change green, I had raised my phone and asked Siri, the automated helper on iPhones, to get me to a particular park.

Just because the light is green doesn't mean the intersection is clear.

Just because the light is green doesn’t mean the intersection is clear.

As the light turned green, I noticed the car coming toward me was turning to its left, meaning I could turn without waiting for that car.

As I turned, the mechanical Siri said, “Getting directions to Melbourne International Park.”

Not what I was expecting to hear, so I glanced down briefly to be sure I had heard the voice correctly.

Yep.

Then, I saw her. The tall, slender woman.

In the crosswalk.

My glance was only a split second. I had checked out the car behind me, in front of me, to my right and even to my left.

How had I missed this woman?

In the crosswalk. Inches from my car.

At 3:15 in the afternoon.

From the intersection to my next turn was exactly one mile, the mechanical voice had told me. That one mile came quickly, but all I could think was how my glance had almost changed my life … and the tall, slender woman’s life.

One split-second glance.

The day before, I had talked with my mother about a man in my hometown charged with involuntary vehicular manslaughter. The man was distracted and ran off the road and into four people who were walking on the shoulder. One died at the scene.

In Georgia, involuntary vehicular manslaughter is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Mother was concerned that the man was not being punished enough with such a light sentence and fine.

I reminded her that the man’s life has changed forever. He killed two people. Even though their deaths weren’t deliberate, this man has to live with knowing he has killed two people.

These thoughts flashed through my mind as I drove farther and farther from the scene, especially when an emergency vehicle, sirens blaring and lights flashing, came toward me, stopping traffic during that one-mile to my next turn.

That could have been me, but for the grace of God.

I don’t know if the woman saw me, and scooted out of the way, out of the intersection, just in time.

I made it safely to my destination, but the tall, slender woman remained on my mind, etched in my psyche.

She’s there still.

I wasn’t texting. I had used my ear buds with microphone to get the directions.

I was using my phone hands-free.

That glance, though. That glance was a distraction.

In hindsight, the directions to my destination weren’t so important that I should have looked down at that moment. My most important job at that moment should have been clearing the intersection – safely.

I should have gotten the directions before I ever started up the car, not while the car was moving. Certainly not while waiting at a traffic light.

The tall, slender woman doesn’t know it, but our lives are forever connected. Because of her, because I hadn’t seen her … and … almost … hit … her, my driving habits will change.

No more distractions.

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Acting very childish; silly me

Ordinarily, I’m fairly conservative in how I behave in public, but Saturday, I acted so very childish, and I have the boo-boo to prove it.

Saturday was the first time this year I’ve seen five of my grandchildren. Initially, we were going to the barn so they could ride my horses, but I ended up taking four of the five to Atlanta’s version of Central Park.

Piedmont Park gazebo

The Atlanta skyline looms large over Piedmont Park.

From Piedmont Park, you can see part of Atlanta’s skyline. People flock to the triangular park for its tennis courts; basketball courts; and fields for football and the other football (soccer), volleyball, softball and other sports played with balls. Oh, and the runners and cyclists traverse the roads and the tracks around the fields. Oh, oh, and the weddings (we saw two while there, and the kids kept asking, “Did they kiss yet?”).

The park has a pool and several ponds, the latter drawing people who want to feed the ducks and geese, and catch whatever lives in the green water.

And then, there’s the playground, which is why we ventured there.

Holding hands, we walked around the park, with me pointing out (not literally, as I believe that the best way not to lose children in public is to hold their hands) such things as the rows of chairs set up for a wedding, the flowers in the fenced-off area,

and the golf carts that we couldn’t ride because they weren’t ours.

Ultimately, we found the playground, with flooring made of rubberized mulch and enough stations so that no child had to wait long to get on a sought-after apparatus.

I soon discovered I had a great challenge in keeping four children in my sights.

One wanted to swing, another to climb the rope wall, another to get on the self-powered rotating stick thingy, and the other one to just simply disappear from view.

Good thing they wore bright colors.

While pushing one on the swing and teaching another how to swing, one of them noticed a girl with her face painted in even brighter colors.

Yes, I told her, they could get their faces painted.

The face-paint artist sat strategically on the periphery of the playground on a bench; the girl we had seen was her daughter.

Red, white and black swirls painted over an eye.

Was I totally childish in having my face painted?

Smart. Free advertising.

About 10 minutes later, the kids were done and back on the playground. They had gone for the cat face, a fish, swirls and the word “diva.”

I felt like being childish, so I allowed the woman to paint red, white and black swirls around my left eye.  I’m not sure why she told me two or three times while painting my face that she also does full-body painting.

As they strutted around the playground, the kids were much easier to spot with their newly painted faces.

Soon, we left the playground to explore other parts of the park. I challenged them to several races: up the stairs, to the large bush, up and then down some other stairs. Of course, I let them win.

Wink, wink.

Then, we were off to climb trees and play at the edge of the pond.

I was able to hoist each one onto a limb, where they stayed long enough to take a few pictures before the younger two insisted on getting down so they could play in the dirt.

The other two scooted along the horizontal branches. Literally, out on a limb.

The child in me came out again as I jumped up to the lowest of the horizontal branches and flung my legs over it, dangling like an orangutan. (They dangle upside down, don’t they? If not, imagine some other animal that does, and then superimpose my face and painted left eye onto that animal.)

About 20 minutes later, we were headed back to my big honkin’ truck, stopping by the gazebo and watching men with homemade fishing poles trying to catch … turtles. No one succeeded while we were there, but the turtles seemed to enjoy the food.

I’m sure the kids slept well after the walk in the park.

As soon as I got home, I took a long, hot shower to soothe my aching being. I was going to say “body,” but my whole being was exhausted.

Later, I discovered my boo-boo.

A bruise on my thigh, apparently appearing when my thigh collided with the branch.

That bruise is my badge of honor for acting childish.

I wear it proudly.

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Who’s responsible for this mess?

While in my hometown of Columbus, Ga., recently, my pickup truck died, and I was forced to get creative so that I could get home.

That creativity led to a discovery that made me angry.

Because my first mechanic, and those who followed, taught me the basics of maintenance, I knew the battery was involved. Unfortunately, my 850-amp battery booster box (a standard piece of equipment for every vehicle) wasn’t enough to start this twin-battery, turbo diesel big honkin’ truck. And, with my mother at church, I didn’t have another vehicle handy to jump it off.

Not that her six-cylinder car would have been powerful enough anyway.

So, I stood on a chair, hoisted the one battery I could get out and put it on a seated walker. You know, the kind with wheels that allows stability, mobility and a seat for resting?

I then left my mother’s house, pushing the walker, and headed about a half-mile downhill on the sidewalk of Macon Road, a major thoroughfare, to the automotive section of a department store near the old Columbus Square Mall.

Step by step, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated and angry.

My mother’s street, and many nearby, doesn’t have sidewalks, so I walked in the street. When I got to Macon Road, I found the “ramp” for wheelchairs and other rolling devices almost too steep to push the walker up. I found the same thing at each curb.

As I proceeded, the cracks in the sidewalk made movement challenging. A work crew had left souvenir granite pebbles along the way, and dodging them was impossible. The vibration caused the battery to shift several times, almost falling off once.

The concrete surrounding the sewer covers was elevated, and I had to lift the walker to continue my trek.

So bad was that initial section of sidewalk, that I decided to cross the street. A few feet later, however, I encountered a pole in the middle of the sidewalk.

A pole. In the middle of the sidewalk.

My choice was to step off the curb into the road or go into the grass.

The grass was greener.

At the department store, the ramp for wheeled devices was easier to negotiate, but those raised bumpy things designed, I think, to slow the rolling motion, created more vibration that almost dislodged the battery.

The bad news was that the store didn’t have what I needed.

Rolling uphill was even more of a challenge.

Crossing the street at the light after pushing the walk button could have been deadly.

Who decides how long we get to cross the street?

I had to cross six lanes of traffic and a median (fortunately, it wasn’t raised). But, the “don’t walk” hand was flashing by the time I got to the second lane. The light had changed by the time I got to the middle of the fifth lane.

Decent folks. No one tried to run me over.

Well, except for that guy speeding down the sidewalk on a motorized two-wheel scooter built for a child. I stepped off the sidewalk to let him pass.

He thanked me. I muttered something in my head.

Exhausted, I made it back to my mother’s house, thankful that I had survived the trip and that I can walk without a mobility device.

I wondered, though, who is responsible for this sidewalk mess and how it is that those responsible don’t realize the sidewalks are not truly accessible to those who use wheeled devices for mobility.

I also hope that those who are responsible don’t find themselves needing to use wheeled devices on those sidewalks. Maybe, just maybe, they could put themselves in someone else’s wheelchair or walker, and experience it firsthand.

Maybe, just maybe, the sidewalks will be fixed.

School board building on Macon Road in Columbus, Ga.

Even the sidewalks outside the new school board building on Macon Road are a mess.

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