Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Exercise is Good For You

Reprinted from an earlier post on another site:

I had an interesting day in the city today, one which reminded me why I love to live here. I attended a meeting downtown and as part of an exercise was presented with a quote from John Holt, a well-known author on education

 “The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” 

I had this rumbling in my mind as I headed to the train and the repetition of the phrase took on an almost musical quality in my head. Then I realized there was a gentleman playing clarinet at the corner under the tracks. Jazz. It was sultry and sweet as a slow rain seeped over the city. I kept his rhythm with me as I headed up the stairs and waited for the train.

I found a seat headed back to the office and busied myself with emails. So immersed in my own importance was I that I barely noticed when an older gentleman sat down beside me. I did notice when he offered his seat to a gal carrying several packages, only so long as to be mildly annoyed at the thought of her clumping down next to me, and then to smile at the gentility of his offer. I thought it quaint, and pleasantly uncommon. She demurred, however, so I returned to my urgent emails about nothing urgent at all.

A few moments later our overburdened friend found a spot right across from us and fumbled with boxes and bags on her lap. She smiled sheepishly and the gentleman who’d offered his seat took the occasion to smile broadly in return, flashing a full set of brown and broken teeth.

I hope I didn’t shudder obviously when he turned to me and said, “You must be so pleased to still be able to read such fine print,” motioning to my phone.

 “It’s getting harder and harder,” I confessed.

 “I had to get glasses shortly after I got one of those,” chimed in the box and bag lady.

I had a choice at this point to return to my silent, imaginary space or to engage a bit more and see what came of it. I didn’t know what to do. She might be too gabby. He might be more brown teeth than genteel. I might tire of the conversation and then – since mine is the last stop – I wouldn’t have a way to extract myself politely. But there was something so sincere about that moment I couldn’t help myself. 

“I’m reading an article about voter apathy. I just can’t stand it!” I blurted.

“Ugh! In this day? I can’t believe it!” he fumed.

She shook her head, too.

Past the pristine and prominent, through the most pricey and on to its most humble abodes, the city offered a sometimes vibrant often grey backdrop to a conversation that traveled from politics to the economy to immigration and baked goods. It was funny and real and sometimes uncomfortable.

Our gentleman friend had served in Vietnam, spent time in Germany and had traveled the states and now, in his 60s, was back in school. The gal with the accoutrements was sympathetic to those who’d grown tired of the political system but, weary and wary, was still committed. She was taking flyers to an event.

I got off the train giddy, bade my companions farewell and good luck and headed out under a more persistent patter to my car. And then I sat there for a few moments collecting myself. I know an awful lot of people, as do many of us. But it’s not often that people I don’t know impact me so profoundly. I’m so glad I had the opportunity and good sense to enjoy that clarinetist’s serenade on my way to the train. I’m so grateful for the rich and robust conversation with the two strangers on the ride back to work. And mostly, most deeply, I’m so thrilled to live in a city that lays this feast of opportunity at my table every day. I simply love Chicago.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mom. You're bugging me.

I can't count the number of times I've said that. Out loud and to myself and to a closet wall and to the pillow I'm screaming in. Any number of inanimate victims has suffered behind the force and tire of my "Mom. You're bugging me!"

Sadly, I've been brash enough to say it directly to my mom, sometimes in a tone less-than commensurate with that owed such a fine and worthy person. (I mean, if you're going to be mean, you should at least be polite. Can't say I have always held to my own standard.)

But there are reasons!

My mom picks lint off of me, still. That bugs me.

My mom talks too long on the phone. Then she calls back two minutes later and talks more, because she finally remembered what she meant to say when she called the first time. That bugs me.

My mom never says what she means directly (unless she's pretty fired up).

Instead, she asks, sweetly, "Are you going to leave that there?"
  'Yes, mom. I'm leaving it right there. Don't touch it.'
"Oh. Do you think it's a good idea to leave it there?"
     'Yah. Mom. Leave it. It's fine.'
"Hmm. I bet if we put it over here that would be even better."
"You know you've gotten so angry as you've gotten older. Fine. I'll leave it there"

That bugs me. And as soon as I turn my back, she moves the cup. That bugs me!

My mom mutters a running commentary on everything that pops into her head, all the time. "Now let me see... yes... OH, I know... Sam... are you going to leave that there?... Sara where are my glasses? Can you go in my bag... Don't put your shoes there - ooh - I gotta remember to call Josie... I don't suppose you have any bananas? Carmi are we leaving now? I can't forget I have to go to the bathroom--Did you read that article about those girls? Oh I just love these flowers you have all over the house. How is Eileen doing? Remind me when it'stimetotakemymedicationisanyoneupstairs..."

This stream of consciousness and the oral history it has perpetrated on all the memories of my life? Bugs me.

My mom says, "the Jewel" and "K-marts" without affectation, even though I distinctly remember she and I making fun of her mother doing that. She was thrilled to learn that there was, in fact, something called "the Face Book" but deflated to realize that "the Face Page" was her own invention.

My mom keeps kleenex tucked in her sleeve, over-garlics and under-salts everything she cooks, and wraps everything in about twenty-seven plastic grocery bags. Everything. That bugs me like crazy.

She has a little lisp (actually, that's kind of cute) and articulates every word like she's speaking a love letter to annunciation. She still corrects my grammar and tells me when to 'ssshhh--beeee quiiieetttt--'.

My mother has the softest hands in the world and taught me how to be a mom and loves me so deeply and genuinely and so effortlessly that I've known exactly how to go about getting good love for my own self, and how to give that love to my children and share it with my husband, in-laws and friends. If you've known me for any length of time you've heard me say a million times "My mom always said..." because even now with all I have lived and learned as a grown person no one has or ever will be a more valued teacher, companion, co-hort or confidant than my mother. She's amazing.

That said, she's annoying. I think I've made my case. So, it's true, mom. You bug me.

And I love you for it.

Happy Mother's Day ~ 2014