Identity Crises


Am I supposed to be surprised?

Am I supposed to be surprised?

This morning I had to call the airlines to make a correction on my ticket confirmation. My first name was misspelled. The matter took about five minutes to correct and I could print new confirmations with the correct spelling of my name. I needed to do this to ensure that there were no delays for my very early morning flight in regards to the difference between my ticket information and my ID. It was likely a precaution, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

I wish this was an isolated occurrence.

You’d think that a simple two syllable proper name that sounds phonetically like it is spelled, Sylvie, (Sill-vee) wouldn’t be such a problem for people that encounter that word. You’d be wrong. When I was a child, every single teacher I ever had, would take one look at my name on the roll, and ask how to pronounce it. It got so I knew what to expect and as soon as the teacher would pause to my expected spot in the roll, I’d just go ahead and call it out.

Then there are the mangled spellings. One of my old banks had all my personal information exactly correct on bank related documents, except in one location, my bank statements. Every single one from that bank, spelled my name wrong. They flipped the l and the y, turning my name into Slyvie, pronounced, Sli-vee. I sent multiple requests for correction, that were never resolved. For the record, my brothers ensured I would know exactly how Slyvie was to be pronounced, along with their other  mangled versions of my name, Sliver, Silverware and Sylvester. Aren’t brothers fun?

Of course the more common incorrect spelling and pronunciation of my name is Sylvia, which is close, but still wrong. It it the version that appeared on my flight confirmations. I’ve learned to answer to that, as it’s just become  too much trouble any more to keep correcting every third person I encounter. What I find amusing is that friends attempt to do the pronunciation correction for me, as I’ve just given up on it. People are usually mildly horrified at this etiquette breach and try to remember to say my name correctly from that point on. It has a fair success rate.

You’d think my identity crises would end with just simple letter misplacements or pronunciations of my name. Again you’d be wrong. My name is apparently so incomprehensible to the average person, that they substitute the nearest facsimile they can think of instead. Some of those substitutions have included:

Sheila, Stella, Shirley, Sharon, Sybille, Wanda and Jennifer. I have no idea how the person got Wanda from Sylvie. It remains a complete mystery. Jennifer, however isn’t. I do purchasing at my job, and a staff member needed for me to pay for something offsite. He had the vendor call my office for payment. The vendor already knew who I was, but asked for Jennifer anyway. I told him that there was no Jennifer in my office. It was about then  that I heard my co-worker over the phone.

“Is that Brad (name changed to protect the guilty)?” I asked the vendor. A brief exchange could be heard over the phone.

“Yes.” The vendor said, “It’s Brad.”

“Ok, I’ll pay for the item then.” I then completed the transaction.

When Brad returned to my office, receipt in hand, I asked him what my name was, which he answered correctly. I then asked him why he called me Jennifer at the store. his excuse was he’d forgotten what it was, and in a panic, Jennifer popped in his head. He still calls me that on occasion.

This same vendor, called me Sylvania several months ago. He had just put light bulbs on a shelf and when I called, the brand name transferred to my identity. Another co-worker overheard my exclamation of “Sylvania!?!” It didn’t take him long to realize what had happened. Thanks to that one monetary crises of identity, I earned another nickname. Arent co-workers fun?

 

Sometimes Love


images (1)Sometimes love is snuggling before the snooze alarm sounds again.

Sometimes it’s making the bed together.

Sometimes love is putting on a bra, on your day off, to run an errand for a friend.

Sometimes the bra doesn’t matter.

Sometimes love is going to a professional wrestling event with your son when you’d rather watch ballet.

Sometimes it’s just watching him play.

Sometimes love is the delighted cries of your grandchildren crying “Nana!” when you visit.

Sometimes it’s just those sticky hugs.

Sometimes love is feeling just as helpless as people you know who are in pain or peril.

Sometimes tears are all you can give.

Sometimes love is pouring out the pain inside of you.

Sometimes  shared pain equals healing.

Sometimes love is loud and passionate, as grievances are aired.

Sometimes love is silence.

Sometimes love is the thought of growing old together.

Sometimes it’s holding a life brand new.

Sometimes love seems elusive, for others, out of reach.

Sometimes it makes unexpected appearances.

Sometimes love is an unfettered mystery that defies explanation.

Sometimes its as simple as the smile upon your face.

Human Remains


potluck-connect-westheights-orgIt was over. The last person to offer comfort was finally departing down the gravel driveway to head home. Mama had long ago pleaded exhaustion and was lying down in the second bedroom, and I was dismayed with size of the mess. Grumpily, I started picking up the Styrofoam cups that had found their way to every flat surface in Gram’s living room. I carried the first load to the sink and dumped out the half-drunk contents before throwing the empty cups into the trash. Then I went back for more.

As I straightened up the room, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the day. It had been a long one with phone calls beginning at 6 a.m., followed shortly after by the first visitor to Gram’s house. Mama had decided her mother’s house would work as the place for people to gather. It offered more space and better parking than Mama’s condo. The fellowship hall at the Holly Ridge UMC, Gram and Mama’s church was undergoing renovations so it was unavailable. Somehow my grandmother’s little 1200 square foot home on Bluebell Lane had ended up with enough room for everyone. But I suspected it was thanks to her large yard that made it possible.

Despite what they say, the dead can’t wait, at least for a better time to deal with the task of burying them. We discovered, while sitting at the funeral home to finalize preparations for the funeral that Gram’s pastor was out of the country.

“He’s on his honeymoon, Isn’t it just the sweetest thing? They eloped” said Mr. White, the funeral home rep.

“Honeymoon?” Mama asked, “Isn’t Pastor Miller about my mother’s age?”

“He’s 79. He and his bride are in Aruba and won’t be back till next week.” The rep, who’s comb-over dated back to the Nixon era, crossed his hands on the folder that contained the paperwork for the funeral. “Now you can certainly choose to wait till he returns, and if so we can discuss the holding fee..”

“Isn’t there another option?” I asked.

“Well, we do have a list of pastors who rotate on an on call basis for those times then a dearly departed’s regular minister is unable to provide the necessary service.”

I looked over at Mama. She looked utterly worn out. I doubt she had slept 8 hours since leaving the hospital three days ago. She closed her eyes a moment, then said, “Alright. You have our denominational preferences, and I know she would have preferred someone a lot like Pastor Miller.”

Mr. White looked at a sheet of paper on his desk. “Ah, Pastor Eckhart is on call this week. He will perform a wonderful service for your mother,” He opened the folder and pushed some papers over to Mama. “Now if you will sign here, we’ll get everything taken care of just as you asked.”

Mama and I met Pastor Eckhart about fifteen minutes before the funeral. He was at least as old as Pastor Miller and I couldn’t help noticing that most of the hair that had once graced his scalp was instead growing thickly out of his ears. The elderly pastor had been quite soft-spoken as he introduced himself with fifteen minutes to spare before the start of the service. I stood awkwardly by the casket as people I barely knew continued to pay their respects. Friends of my grandmother, relatives I hadn’t seen in many years, and some I didn’t remember hugged me tightly and commented on how much I’d grown while Mama and the pastor stood off to one side speaking. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d long since mastered the growing up part, and didn’t even need permission to stay out late any more. I thought it best to keep my sarcasm tightly reigned, even thought I had inherited that trait from the woman currently in the casket beside me.

“I had to strain to just hear the man speak.” Mama whispered to me as we finally sat down in the front row. The opening measures of It Is Well With My Soul, began to play. “I hope those who have them put fresh batteries in their hearing aids.”

So it was a bit of a shock to the friends and family, most of whom were Methodist and expecting Pastor Miller’s usual gentle words words of comfort to sit through Pastor Eckhart’s funeral service. Instead of a gentle homily, the people packed into the funeral home chapel found themselves subjected to the exuberant style of the fire brand preacher from the First Apostolic Holiness Lighthouse Church.

“At least no one is sleeping through this service.” I had thought as I could feel half the room jump behind me every time Pastor Eckhart banged his bible down onto the pulpit. Sometimes someone would let out a surprised squeak as well. Mama was mortified. She had wanted a quiet service with little fuss. Between the cavalcade of relatives who’d been calling non-stop since getting word Gram’s passing, some of whom had asked at this morning’s viewing for Mama or I to arrange for a place to “lay their heads”, a mix up with which coffin was actually hers and a very enthusiastic preacher, quiet was hardly what Gram’s send off to heaven could be described as. I watched as Mama sat there, hands clasped so tightly together they were white, as she fought back the tears that had been threatening all day.

“Just think Mama,” I whispered to her, leaning so I could be close to her ear. “This will be over soon. Besides, just imagine Gram’s conniption fit over this spectacle. I bet it is taking a whole host of angels having to hold her back so she don’t come right down here and haunt the lot of us. Why, what she’s probably planning for Mr. White is likely giving St. Peter fits.” The pastor stopped in mid-sentence and scowled right at us, as Mama fought to get her laughter under control. He then got over his outrage and continued on about the wages of sin, as my mother took my arm and linked it to hers. She only let go long enough to get in and out of the car for the graveside portion of the service.

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Xmas Wars


Its Christmas eve, eve, or as my daughter Ashley calls it, Christmas Adam. Gary and I received a restaurant gift card and wasted no time treating ourselves to a nice dinner out. We have a couple of days off for the holidays, and if I had my way, I’d burrow myself into covers on the couch and not venture out till Monday. But, I know that won’t happen. We will, make the rounds of local family delivering gifts, hugs and well wished, and I hope little else.

I have managed to avoid much of the holiday insanity, a goal I try to accomplish annually. As with every year, church music took its normal chunk of time and energy. I enjoy it immensely, but I’m glad to give my vocal chords a rest and to put retire my hand bell gloves for the season. Yet, I can’t help notice insanity all around, not at Walmart, or the mall, but on social media.

Today I saw two opposite extremes on the “War on Christmas!!!!!!” The first was a propaganda style meme bemoaning the fictional war on Christmas. It mentioned an unnamed town in North Carolina, that may have lost a court battle, to display an overtly religious display on government grounds, a display that had been there, where ever that is, for 40 years.

After I rolled my eyes, I did the math. Prior and up to 1975, there was no religious display on the grounds of a government building, and guess what? No one cared. A few churches would have nativity or similar displays, and a home or two may have something in their yard. Showy displays of holiday decorations was just not a big deal back then.

I don’t get the whole war on Christmas thing. Local churches advertise their Christmas presentations on local tv, you can’t walk through Walmart without seeing someone in a Jesus Is the Reason Sweatshirt, and local fast food chains have satellite radio stations tuned to a Christian station that airs someone singing Silver Bells in worship music style….yes its as bad as you think. I’ve yet to see anyone prevent the holiday from happening, or from anyone from enjoying to their full religious minded heart. I’ve only seen some people asking for a bit of respect and understanding for the non-Christmas partakers.

Which brings me to the opposite end of the war on Christmas spectrum. As I mentioned in my last entry, I didn’t grow up keeping Christmas, so seeing the following article this afternoon brought up the memories of hearing these reasons to avoid the season at all cost. I get point #1 on that list. The commercialism of Christmas is ridiculous, but there are billions of Christmas celebrants who don’t go batshit insane over commercialism. Its mostly a USA phenomenon. So that point really doesn’t fly.

The second point tries to hammer home the fact that Christmas wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. Well neither was Thanksgiving, Mother’s day, or Memorial day, all three US holidays. Then they try to make the date of Jesus’ birth an issue. It’s common knowledge that no one knows the date, that’s not the point of honoring the event of his birth. One of their proofs, as if we can call the absolute ridiculousness of it proof, was that shepherds would not have had flocks in the field in December. There’s this assumption that Judean winters are hellish and too cold for any livestock with heavy wool coats to survive. I just looked up the weather for Tel Aviv. As I am typing this, its 3am there. The temperature is a frigid 54 degrees. Its actually colder in SC.

There’s more of course. On the surface the list seems to make sense, but as with the sheep example, they really don’t hold water. Yet these folks are determined to fight the war on Christmas; just on the opposite end of the battlefield of those who made the government building meme.

I, like most of the billions of people  will be celebrating Christmas over the next few weeks, as our Orthodox partakers wait until January. I suspect that many will probably think all this warring over a holiday is a waste of time. Some of us are religious, some not so much, and some think “Meh, religion. Pass the eggnog.” Its still a delightful holiday, with so many wonderful traditions, and excuses to get together with family and friends, show a little extra loving of our neighbors, and gear up for our New Year’s diet.

So, if you, want to go full on baby Jesus, and place manger scenes all over your front yard, sing O Holy Night until your dog’s ears bleed, and be waiting impatiently for the pastor to open the doors of your church, be my guest, and may your holiday be merry and bright. Let me also assure you that you’ll get to do it all again next year, and the next and yet, also the next.

For those of you who are quite certain that Christmas is the epitome of evil, that those who celebrate the holiday with all its pagan debauchery and frivolous frolicing, and that God is going to make sure that we are punished for our wicked ways,  I wish you a happy and joyous Thursday. Let me also assure you that you have nothing to fear from a celebration season, nor are your neighbors, your family members doing so a danger from God whatsoever.

For all of us, whichever you fit on the Christmas spectrum, as well as those of you celebrating the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Eid, Kwanzaa, and any celebration I missed, I wish you Happy Holidays and/or a restful rest of the week

My very First Christmas


charlie-brown-christmas-tree_watermarkI remember my very first Christmas. We had a very small table top tree that possessed  a few more needles than the one Charlie Brown had. There was a string of lights and a few ornaments, including a hand made cross  tree topper that was fashioned from two sticks gathered from the front yard. The tree and the trimmings were borrowed, the year 1994, and the guilt I was feeling over that dinky bit of fake pine was nearly palatable.

Its a difficult thing to decide to do something you’ve been told your whole life was wrong, that participating in such a ritual was a sure sign of apostasy and that to do was was to willingly turn your back on God. It’s rather terrifying, wondering if they, the religious leaders you are now ignoring,  were right all along, and everyone else, who is doing just what you are doing, is wrong. But then fear was a huge part of my religious construct.

Most of what I believed and practiced up until that year was because I was terrified of the consequences if I didn’t. I questioned the faith I’d been brought up in all the time. I just never voiced them. Fear kept them on a little shelf that resided only in my mind.

What did I know about Christmas? Oh the usual.

1.Jesus was not born on December 25. That day was a Roman pagan holiday and must be avoided at all costs.

2. Ancient Pagans had Christmas trees. Its right there in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:2-4)

3. Wise men, Mistletoe, Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, tinsel, carols, etc, are an affront to God and those who participate in those Satanic things will be thrown into the Lake of Fire

4. No true Christian kept such evil holidays, along with any other holiday that may remotely be attached to the traditional Christian calendar.

That naughty little list, along with the other teachings of my old religion held me back, kept me afraid, of God, of religion, of how others perceived me. But despite my spiritual and emotional terror, I have this one fatal flaw, stubborn curiosity. By the time my sad little tree was settled nicely in my living room, I’d spent a year in an ongoing comparative religion experience, splitting time between my old church, and a small Southern Baptist one that I’d been roped into playing piano for. That time helped me walk away from the faith that kept me in terror, and started me on a path that was brand new.

While my new religious path was initially terrifying, my fatal flaw went into overdrive. I began to understand the hows and whys that millions of Christians celebrate Christmas. I began to respect that there is a rich tradition and history to this holiday, and I began to realize that even the non-religious or people of other faiths can find some value in parts of this winter holiday. I also discovered that there are other major holidays that occur during the same period, practiced by people of different faiths, yet that get very little attention, outside those that participate. A comparative religions course I took a few years ago showed me that even though all faiths have their unique aspects, it is in what they have in common, that intrigued me.

Its been 20 years since that first Christmas and I enjoy this time of year, but religion has less and less to do with my personal celebration. I have never been able to go whole hog over it. I’ve tried, but the effort ended up feeling forced. I enjoy some of the holiday music that plays, leaning heavily towards the classics, Handel, Mendelssohn, ancient folk tunes and spirituals. I enjoy the decorations, but keep them fairly low key at my house. I love buying presents, trying to find the right thing for each recipient, but I’ve never been one to spend lavishly, mostly because our budget is small.

Yet my religious past, just doesn’t have me going whole hog over the religious aspects of it. I’ve tried, but just can’t make that leap. I find the story beautiful and endearing, and there is much depth and richness in the lessons of the birth of Christ. But my fatal flaw has me asking questions, that surround the religious tenets that surround this time of year.

But, I don’t have to be afraid anymore about how I celebrate a holiday. I don’t have to fear stepping out of the boxes of religious dogma. I no longer have to be in terror of questioning all things God. I can continue down the path, I embarked upon 20 years ago, at peace with where I am at as a skeptical mystic, who doesn’t quite fit within the boundaries of traditional Christianity. I wish at times, I still had that pitiful little tree. It represents a shift for me, a journey that began, even though has taken me a very long time, to discover that fear makes for a very poor aspect of faith, and is a terrible way to live one’s life.

Cat Eye


This morning, my alarm went off. As, per my usual fashion, I turned over, groping madly in the dark for my cell phone. My intent was to set my phone’s alarm to snooze. That I accomplished, while also sending my glasses to places unknown.

This is a more common occurrence than I should be willing to admit. What makes this even harder is that I literally need assistance when it happens. I can get on the floor and blindly pat around the stand, under the stand and as far as I can reach under the bed in search of my run away spectacles, which is always done in the dark. Or I can be patient and ask my husband for assistance.

Yes, my vision is that bad.

When I was seven or eight, my dad, a single parent at the time, took me to the eye doctor. I don’t know what prompted him to take me there. Maybe the teacher noticed my squinting to see the board, or my dad noticed that a book, always close at hand, was too close to my face while I read. Whatever the reason, I had an eye exam, and my first ever visit to a doctor. My father’s church avoided medicine like it was a deadly disease; ignoring the fact that medical treatment could actually help avoid catching or dying from said deadly diseases. The doctrine was, that trusting in medicine meant a lack of trust in God, a ridiculous, very dangerous theological stance, as my family had already experienced with tragic results.

I guess eye exams and glasses were not considered sinful.

I will never forget picking out my first pair of glasses. They were blue, my favorite color, with oval framing for the lenses that were going to help me see better. They were perfect. They were not what I got. My father, who has the fashion sense of a…ok he doesn’t possess that sense. This is the man who was known in the office as the winner of the ugly tie contest, even on years they didn’t hold such a contest. He was frugal, and decided on a cheaper set of frames for me. They were plain grey with a cat eye shape, a shape still in style in the early 1970’s. He was also a bit gullible; as the eye doctor had talked my dad into upgrading an 8 year olds eyeglass prescription to include…bifocals. That’s right; I had glasses in the style of the average woman in her 50’s.

Scan.BMP

I loathed those horrible looking glasses, feeling my already weird status amongst my fellow students,had been upgraded to super freak thanks, to the dowdy clothes I had to wear to school, being rather shy, and my strange religion . As soon as I was able, I began to “lose” these glasses at every opportunity. Sadly I was terrible at doing this. Either that or the woman Dad had hired to care for us, aka. Attila the Nanny was even more diabolical than I have always assumed. I believe that shey must have  had multiple eyes under her tightly permed hair, plus a homing beacon in her bra.

Thank the parenting gods, my dad met my step-mom and Attila the Nanny left us, either to retirement, or to proceed to haunt the futures of other children. A couple of years later, my vision worsened and I was able to pick out my own glasses, wire frames. I loved them! I loved them, because I didn’t look like an AARP reject, but like a normal 6th grader. I felt them a vast improvement despite that every other day, one of my very thick lenses would pop right out of the frame, usually during P.E.

Even so, I still felt somewhat like a freak, because even though my glasses did not scream, WIERDO, I felt it whispered at every turn. That is because my lenses had the ability to set dry leaves on fire, if the sun was bright and a lens angled just right. My self-esteem was in the toilet in my youth. It ddidn’ttake much to keep it there. So, deciding to boost it a bit, I saved my babysitting and fast food cashier money until I could afford…CONTACTS!

I don’t remember if soft lenses were available in the late 70’s, I just know that even if they were, I was not a candidate, and would not be until just a few years ago. So for many years I wore hard lenses. They worked nicely, and I’ve always seen better with contacts than with any glasses I’ve owned. Hard lenses do have their drawbacks though. One is the risk of wearing hard contacts 15 seconds too long, especially if you are prone to dry eyes. The result is 24 hours of red, tear gushing agony as the irritated eye vents its frustration by poking a needle on the sufferer’s optic nerve. The other, at least for me, was my eyes’ ability to eject contact lenses without provocation. The usual settings were someplace dark and dirty, covered in grass, or thick carpet, or in one memorable case, the step of the moving escalator I happened to be standing on.

Yet glasses are still a necessity for me. If my allergies are flaring up, the contacts stay in their little container for the day. I try to give my eyes a contact break at least once a week, and never wear them over night. I am back to bifocals…apparently my first eye doctor was just a few decades early on that prescription. When I was told I would need them, I quipped. “So doc, what you are saying is that I’m going blind from near and far?”

He was not amused.

Thankfully bifocals are the no-line kind now and technology has advanced so that the lenses do not resemble the bottom of a shot glass. I do have to wear readers for contact days. They are cheap, and I own a couple of pairs that are rather cute, especially the pink ones that my husband always ends up borrowing when we go out.

Hear me Snore


snoring“You snore.”

That’s a personal trait that most of us do not want to admit. I know I certainly didn’t. I first heard that a few years ago, thanks to my daughters. Of course I didn’t really believe them, or blamed it on allergies. I’m allergic to all sorts of ordinary things, although not as much as I used to be, thanks to five years of allergy shots. Still, on occasion my children would mention that I snored.

When I remarried, I had to adjust to sharing a bed with another person again. Thankfully we have a king sized bed. I know I have chronic insomnia, and frequent back pain, so I tried hard to ensure my tossing and turning wasn’t keeping him awake. He has back and hip issues, so has done the same for me. He has gently mentioned that I do snore, but has never made a big deal of it, just so I didn’t hog the covers and spent at least a part of the night snuggled up close.

Then last winter we went to Texas to visit the oldest. We took a side trip to San Antonio, and we shared a room with Mike. He woke me up several times in the night telling me that my snoring was disturbing his sleep. The next morning he suggested I get it looked after, as I was also stopping breathing during my nasal orchestrations. I said I’d get it checked out, then promptly forgot about it.

Flash forward to this past summer. We went to the beach with Mike and the darling woman he’d soon marry. That is when that stinker of a child recorded me whilst I slept! I’d snore, then sound like I was choking, then silence. Gary, has told me that I also will say “no” when this happens as if my subconscious is telling me to not do that. I had to accept that I had sleep apnea….a condition that robs people of a restful night’s sleep and can lead to all sorts of health problems, including the more permanent one of death.

So I made an appointment for a sleep study. Those are an experience. I was placed in a room with a nice bed, not the hospital kind, but a real, double bed. There are cameras aimed at the bed, so you know every move you make will be observed. In order not to miss any nocturnal activities, I also have about 68 cords attached to me to monitor movement, including a mic taped to my neck to record my vocal cords. Several corded monitors were attached to my legs and torso, the rest were semi glued onto my scalp.

wiredNo it wasn’t that extensive, but It sure felt like it.

Once I was all nice and hooked up. It was time for me to attempt sleep. That took a good hour, maybe two. I was having a back pain flare up that was causing my left hip to spasm and my leg to twitch. Not pleasant. Eventually I slept, only to have my bladder wake me up far too soon. They unhooked me, stating they’d had enough for a sound diagnosis and sent me home. I immediately went back to bed, to try to catch an hour or so more sleep.

I then got to do it all again several weeks later, this time with this little machine called a c-pap. I wore all the wiring plus a mask on my face that constantly blew air onto my face by way of a hose attached to a machine. The mask looks like kind of like the kind fighter pilots wear, but not as insect looking. “Goody.” I thought. “I’ll not sleep a wink.” once everything was ready for me to make the attempt.

Six hours later, they woke me up. To my surprise I was sleeping on my back. I never sleep on my back, because I feel like I’m suffocating if I try.

I now have my own personal machine. I used it for the first time last night, and all was quiet on my side of the bed. It will take a few nights to adjust the tightness on the mask because it tends to leak. When it does, the escaping air aims for an eye. Now I can again insist that I do not snore without wondering if I’m being completely honest.