The Only Way Out

The only way out is through. I’ve been familiar with that truism for so long that it almost always springs to mind when I learn of someone who’s going through a difficult time. Whether physical, emotional, social, or spiritual, people just want to be “done.” They want the pain, uneasiness, anxiety, heartache, trauma, or ____________ to end. But it’s not that easy. Like Frost says, “I can see no way out but through.” 

And you have to get through. That’s where the good stuff is—the light, the victory, the prize, the A, the blue ribbon, the accomplishment, the baby, the increased confidence.

Last week we went on a triple date to see Midway. Afterwards we went to Top Dawg at Sandhills to discuss the movie over a late lunch. I kept thinking about a scene that had impressed me and tentatively mentioned it to the five at the table, tentatively because I thought they might think it was sappy or sentimental.  

Dick Best, a dive bomber, is leaving for Midway and having a conversation with his gunner who is scared stiff of what might lie ahead. Best seems annoyed with the young man and heads toward the exit. But then he stops, turns around, and speaks his truth. He tells the gunner that he can stay right there on the ship if he wants to, but that later he’ll remember the moment when he decided to let his fear prevent him from fulfilling part of his destiny. He’ll remember that while others were fighting for their country, he was sitting below deck nursing his dread and succumbing to panic. 

Those weren’t exactly Best’s words, but that’s the gist of his remarks. His gunner suits up. The following scenes are traumatic and terrifying. And yet, what could the men do? The only way out was through. 

Everyone in the booth at Top Dawg agreed that the scene taught a powerful lesson. One of the men went so far as to say that was one of the most important things for all people to consider when they think of quitting, turning away, giving up, or taking the path of least resistance. Although the scene portraying the conversation between Best and his gunner took less a minute, it made me realize that a person’s life could be turned around by hearing the right words from the right person at the right time.

I’ll never fly a bombing mission…too old—and a fraidy cat to boot. But like everyone reading this, I’ve realized the truth of The only way out is through many times.

One incident took place early one August morning when I was in labor with my first child. The pains became increasingly unpleasant (understatement) and closer together, and I turned toward my husband and said, “I don’t think I can do this any longer.” It’s been decades, but as well as I can recall, he didn’t say anything, just gave me a helpless look. I mean really, what could he or anyone else in the room say? I was in it for the duration. There was no backing out. The only way out was through.

My first beautiful daughter was born about four hours later–a miracle, a treasure, a delight well worth any discomfort.

When younger, my brothers and I participated in a few marathons and half-marathons. In fact, the baby mentioned in the above paragraph signed up for a Team in Training Marathon for the Leukemia Society. It was to take place in Alaska on June 21, and it sounded like a fun thing to do. I registered. So did about four dozen other people from the Myrtle Beach area. We went to motivational lectures, walked/jogged/ran with our would-be marathoners, and had yard sales and other fundraisers to collect the $3,200 (each) to participate. The fee paid for airfare to and from Anchorage and two-night accommodations, and the rest went toward leukemia research.

There were times, especially when jogging along what seemed to be endless miles of Army tank trails, when I felt like quitting. But where would I go? The Red Cross was always nearby to whisk weary or wounded people to the end for medical help. But sheesh, how could I embarrass myself like that? The only way out was through.

Even now, nearly twenty-five years later, I can still recall a small clearing near a bridge where water and fresh bread were being distributed. I’ve never tasted water so fresh nor bread so satisfying. Nor have I forgotten the sounds of cheering as we crossed the finish line in a high school parking lot six hours after my first step. 

This blog has gone on far too long. It’s your turn to share an instance of the only way out is through. I like success stories, but stories in which people give up are welcome, too.

Connections

Lately I’ve been walking down Memory Lane more often, and I’m fairly sure it’s because I’m older and have more to remember and more time to reflect. I’m still busy, but it’s not the kind of frenetic coming and going and getting and spending that accompanies young and middle adulthood. Getting an education, raising a family, developing a career, and adjusting to all sorts of changes can be challenging—rewarding, yes, but challenging too. 

A week or so ago, I got together with some friends I’ve known since I was a child (two of them) and teenager (the other two). We talked about some of the challenges of aging, including health issues, hearing loss, and cataract surgery. That wasn’t the hottest topic, though. The most popular and recurring theme of the day and evening centered on connections and relationships, the ties that bind and those that sometimes come unraveled.

As friends who’d known one another for decades, those lasting bonds surfaced many times as we shared memories and inquired about those not present. Some of those absent from our circle at the table were “in heaven,” others were living with illness or misfortune, and still others were probably right in their own comfy homes planning trips, knitting fashionable ponchos, or watching Netflix. And it wasn’t just our contemporaries who came up in our conversations. Families, immediate and extended, came up, too. A couple of the “girls” are still fortunate enough to have their mothers, but no one’s father still walks the earth these days.  

As we waited for our checks at J Peters that evening, I recalled some impressions of a brunch in Rapid City, South Dakota in June. The hubs and I breakfasted one morning Tally’s Silver Spoon, and the atmosphere, service, and food were all phenomenal. As we neared the eatery, we saw several people dining outside, and an infant was sitting in a man’s lap. The baby had that terrified “Where in the world am I?” look, and it occurred to me that both the little one and his parents were fortunate. There he was securely sheltered in the crook of his dad’s arm sitting at a table among family members on a bright June morning in Rapid City, SD. Everyone was laughing and talking. They were jolly.

Once inside, we were seated at a table affording a close up and personal look at the family. The only other child I saw was a little girl who looked to be about four years old. Done with her chocolate chip pancakes, she walked haltingly over to some rocks in a corner decorative area. Her mother (or aunt or family friend) joined her. Sweet. The group was spread out across a couple or three round tables, and as everyone split up to go their separate ways, a lot of hugging and fond farewells were exchanged.

I felt happy watching them—and a little melancholy too. I told my husband we’d been lucky our whole lives, too. Even though we didn’t dine at outside eateries as babies or small children, we’d always been in the midst of family…as babies, children, young adults, older adults, and so forth. We had played and are still playing the roles of everyone in that scene. Coming together like those gathered that Saturday can fortify people and imbue them with confidence and strength and love as they separate and go back to their other lives, the ones shared amidst another group of people.

As one of my friends and I walked out to our cars that evening in Murrells Inlet, we chatted a minute (really just a minute) about how our lives had changed since we had met as children. 

“We’ve played so many roles,” I said. 

“Yeah, and we were babies, too.” she replied.

Yes, we were. It’s funny how we arrive on the planet as tiny, helpless beings who develop and mature and survive and thrive—or not. But regardless of our choices and circumstances, our lives are enriched (if we’re lucky) by connections and love. 

Shadow Sides

I’m woke. I finally get it. And my awakening came during church yesterday morning.

The speakers gave talks on topics such as love, forgiveness, and following Christ. While sitting there, a character in a short story I’d just read came to mind—Mr. Stovall, a deacon in the Baptist church. In the story, Faulkner’s “That Evening Sun,” a black woman asks him when he’s going to pay her: “When you going to pay me, white man? When you going to pay me, white man? It’s been three times now since you paid me a cent—” Mr. Stovall knocked her down and kicked out her teeth.

Nancy spent the night in jail, attempting suicide toward morning. When the jailer found her, “Nancy was hanging from the window, stark naked, her belly already swelling out a little like a little balloon.” After he revived her, the jailer “beat her, whipped her.”

Barely into the story, I knew

  • that Nancy is black, 
  • that people (including Mr. Stovall, the Baptist deacon) use and abuse her, 
  • that she’s expecting a baby, 
  • and that there’s something sketchy about this pregnancy. 

Who’s the father? We soon learn that it’s not her husband, a man who says white men are allowed to come freely into his house but that he can’t go into theirs. Jesus, the husband, is angry and wants to kill Nancy—or so she believes. Is it because of her behavior or because of his own powerlessness over the abominable situation that exists?

Does Jesus know the father is white? Yes, and so does the reader. The fact that Faulkner makes a point of the interaction between Nancy and Mr. Stovall implies that Stovall is the father—or that it’s someone like him, some respectable white Christian.

But wait. Aren’t Christians supposed to love one another regardless of race or creed? Yes. everyone knows that. And yet. And yet here’s the poor, scared, powerless, penniless black woman carrying a white man’s baby (against her will) who gets her teeth knocked out by a white man who’s quite possibly the baby’s father. And he’s parading around as a Christian. And her husband plans to kill her because of her situation.

Some people see Christians as hypocritical and scary. Honestly, I can understand the hypocritical aspect a little. A bit hypocritical myself, I struggle with always being fair, loving, kind, generous, and forgiving. At the same time, I have to hold back when I hear a Christian dissing someone of another race or religion when they themselves are often cruel, bigoted, and judgmental. I have friends who dislike Mexicans, Muslims, Indians, Hindus, Syrians, Jews, transgender, gay, and any and everybody else whom they either (1) don’t understand or (2) feel superior to. 

My husband has a friend who used to say, “That ain’t right, Bo. That ain’t right.” Although his comments weren’t related to Mr. Stovall types of behavior, they align with the current hate mongering. Being okay with white supremacy and condoning racism, sexism, and all other isms that demonstrate hate, not love, just “ain’t right.”

So here’s my epiphany from yesterday. Neither Mr. Stovall nor thousands like him have personal insight into their shadow sides. They can’t see themselves with a clear eye. And nor can I. Fortunately, I have people in my life who can and do try to help me see the light. I say “try” because I, like you, am a work in progress.

Change or Die

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Evolve or repeat; change or die; don’t look back; inhale the future, exhale the past; be proactive. Do those phases look familiar? I bet they do. We’re inundated with reminders and recommendations about change, improvement, and moving on.

Last week I saw Evolve or Repeat on Facebook and immediately thought of a similar phrase: Change or Die.

It’s been a while, probably fifteen years at least, but I’ll always remember the moment when I first saw the words: Change or Die. I had l seen them before, but this time was different. The title of an article, they were capitalized, and the font was large. The students were taking a test while I read updates on the computer. I glanced up at the class immersed in their work and then began reading.

“Change or Die” referred to businesses that refused to get with the program, so to speak, those who continued to follow traditional ways of attracting and keeping customers. The author of the article advised that unless they became internet savvy and kept up with the changing times, they would soon become defunct. Although I already knew this to be true, there was something about the title that forced me to sit up straight and take notice.

 I walked through a huge Sears store two weeks ago and recalled the days when such stores were bustling with customers in all departments. On this day, I was one of three people walking through the aisles, and truthfully, I was there because I was trying to get a walk in, not to shop. I thought things would surely be better when I got to the tools area, but no. Row after row of Craftsman air movers, garage door openers, hook sets, work benches, pocket planes, saws, tool sets, wrenches, and drills lined the shelves. The two employees stood talking to each other, and I wondered if they did that all day, every day.

I thought of the days when my children delightedly pored over the Sears catalogue choosing Christmas gifts. The huge books were even used as seat elevators when little ones couldn’t reach the dinner table. I’d love to see one of the catalogues today. Who could have foreseen their end? Who could have predicted Amazon? Not I.

I recall when the college where I worked began online instruction. Excited about the possibilities, I jumped on the bandwagon. When some naysayers resisted, one administrator was overheard saying, “This train is leaving the station. Climb aboard or be left behind.” There’s a lot of jumping, leaving, and climbing in this paragraph, but I’m not a good enough writer to write without a cliché or two. Those terms imply action and change.

For the record, the students above were taking the test on their computers, one of my first forays into paperless tests. A younger colleague mentioned that he planned to go paperless with just about everything work-related, and he graciously volunteered to be my mentor. As a retiree, I’m still teaching online classes. There are virtual schools everywhere. Teaching has changed, and if I hadn’t adapted, well, you know.

Changing or dying applies to all areas of life, personal, business, emotional, social, spiritual, physical–everything. Want to share how changing has kept you afloat–or how refusal to change led to stagnation?

I Can Do Hard Things

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Sometimes I read Facebook posts and think, “Been there, done that.” Come on, admit it. So have you. Often this thought occurs when reading about the trials of being a mother/parent/employee. But today I’m thinking of three young women who’ve done things I’ve never done and likely never will.

One of 30-somethings was walking around Habitat with me last week, looking at treasures and talking about life, families, love, and work. We commiserated just a little about no one “here” knowing much about our families and the vast network we are part of elsewhere. It works both ways, of course. No one “back there” knows much about our lives here.

I realize the above is true for every person who’s left his or her place of birth to go out into the wide world. It’s also true for people like me who’ve had the opportunity to live, love, work, and play in other areas and then return home sweet home. In Myrtle Beach, friends at work and church saw me as Jayne the friend, wife, mother, and teacher but rarely as Jayne the daughter and sister. When family members came to visit, they were perceived as “visitors.” In Camden, many acquaintances see me as I am now, without the people and roles that I formerly held.

Back to my young friend’s visit to Habitat. I learned from our chat that her first child was born by C-section, a fairly common practice within the past twenty years or so. But here’s something that’s not so common. Within two weeks after her baby’s birth, she was driving a tractor, stopping now and then to nurse the baby. I was amazed to hear this. This feat, so casually mentioned and evidently easily performed, stopped me in my tracks.

Have not been there, have not done that. I’ve had babies but never driven a tractor, much less a newborn who needed nursing.

Another young woman of whom I’m thinking drove from South Carolina to California with her five children for an Easter visit with family and friends. She’d said goodbye to them a few months ago when she and her husband and children moved to the Palmetto State and was hankering to see their faces.

Again, I was amazed. If the weather looks threatening or messy (like Monday), there’s no way I’m going to drive to Columbia, much less across the country. The young mother mentioned above drove 6,000 miles across nine states—with five children, one of them a toddler. Just thinking about bathroom breaks with kids makes me kinda crazy.

Have not been there, have not done that. I’ve driven alone with young children but no further than 150 miles.

Without going into specifics, today I spent about three minutes with a beautiful young woman who’s been stuck in Camden for four days. And yes, stuck is the appropriate word for her plight. Between destinations, she’s waiting on money to be wired for a bus ticket out of Dodge, She had a black eye, black and blue and painful to look at. No wonder she was so antsy and apprehensive. I’d be looking over my shoulder, too.

I leaned forward and told her things would work out. She murmured something likeIt’s got to.” I could have piled on some platitudes, but I refrained. Later, I saw her pacing back and forth, back and forth. She’s in the middle, her old life behind and the new one ahead and vague.

Have not been there, have not done that. In the middle, yes. Abused and afraid, no.

I’m not saying I’m a wimp or a softie–although I could be both and more. I’m just saying that my admiration for the young generation shot up during the past several days. All three of these people impressed me with their courage, confidence, and choices. And they reminded me of my grandchildren who’ve already been taught, “I can do hard things.” Now if I could follow their example….

What about you? Have you witnessed examples of people doing hard things? Have you done some hard things?

Cherry Pie Tempation

It can’t be that fattening, right? And after all, it has fruit in it. At least that was my thinking when I bought the cherry pie a couple of weeks ago. Usually, I just scoot right by the pies when grocery shopping, but on this particular afternoon, my progress through the crowded aisle had come to a dead stop right in front of the dessert choices. The apple pie crumb pie looked good but not quite inviting enough to tempt me. That’s when I saw the cherry one. After hesitating about ten seconds, I tossed it into the buggy.

I maneuvered the cart though the rest of the aisles as I picked up yogurt, milk, bagels, apples, grapes, bananas, and a yellow onion. No cookies, chips, or ice cream landed amongst the healthy choices. But then, there was that cherry pie. The picture on the box looked so tasty. And well, it conjured up a memory of a Sunday afternoon decades ago.

Dinner was over, and the rest of the family had skedaddled to do whatever whatever they chose. I, however, was stuck with kitchen duty that day. As I removed the plates and leftover food from the table, I noticed two pieces of pie, tempting and tasty, left in the pie plate. I wanted one—or at least a sliver of one and asked my mother if I could have a piece of a piece.

I’ll never forget her reply. In fact, it’s become somewhat legendary among the females of my family.

“Of course, you can a second piece, but you need to know that’s how people get fat.”

She didn’t say “gain weight” or “get chubby.” She said “get fat.”

At that time, I was on the skinny side of the curve. Seriously, maybe the 35th percentile for weight. Not only was I not in any danger of becoming “fat” (hate that word), but also there was no talk anywhere about the dangers of kids’ diets and exercise. Those topics were just not part of the social conversation. We played outside A LOT, and very few people had sedentary lifestyles—at least not the people I knew.

But when my mother warned me about the perils of a second slice of pie, though a small one, I cringed. Even as a child, probably ten or twelve years old, I recognized the truth when I heard it. Choices count.

“No Ma’am, “ I told her. “I think I’ll pass for now.”

Now whenever I think of having a second piece of fried chicken, a extra dollop of ice cream, or a loaded baked potato instead of broccoli, I remember a Sunday afternoon exchange between my mother and me.

Big deal, you might be thinking. Who cares about cherry pie? What I knew then was something that has been reinforced over and over and over throughout the years. Choices count. As Sartre said, “We are our choices.” Do your homework or go to class unprepared? Pay your bills on time or get a bad credit rating? Clean your house or allow it to get so cluttered that you feel unsettled? Walk around the block (or do some type of exercise) or do your laps on the couch? Finish college or drop out?

It’s your choice.

I succumbed to temptation and bought that cherry pie a couple of weeks ago. I also bought some small cups of ice cream to plop on the top of our warm slices. Right before beginning this post, I got the pie out of the freezer to read the directions and learned that there are 340 calories and 17 grams in one eighth of a pie. Seriously.

When I told my husband the bad news, he asked, “What about the sugar?” I could hardly believe my eyes: 17 grams of sugar in one eighth of a pie. And this is without the cup of ice cream!

We decided to wait for another day to enjoy that tart, red, juicy fruit cooked in the flaky crust. I also decided to go for a short walk around the block, do a little work on my fall classes, and sweep the kitchen. Choices count.

499 Steps

I was surprised to learn the fee was only $13, and the woman selling tickets said the price had been reduced because the elevator to the top wasn’t working. No one said anything. Not a word.

Tender to the touch, my left shin serves as a reminder of last week’s adventure My sister, her daughter, and one of my daughters took off on a girls’ trip to North Carolina, and after “doing Asheville” on Friday, we decided to make Chimney Rock State Park Saturday’s grand finale.

We cruised into town around 10 o’clock after oohing and ahing over the sights along Hwy 64. We wondered aloud how it would be to attend Bat Cave Baptist Church the next day, and that led to yet another discussion about how many different ways there are for people to live and love and play and worship. We heartily agreed that it was important, imperative in fact, to get out of Dodge once in a while to see more of the world than our own narrow corners of it.

Once in Chimney Rock, the park entrance was upon us before we had a chance to signal and turn in. No problem. We rode through town and took in the sights, and since Lake Lure was right down the road, we went there too. I wanted to have a look at the beach. There were no ocean waves or roaring surf, but there was a beach. Water too. And a lifeguard. The area was fenced in, off-limits to us, and people were lined up to plunk their money down.

We headed back to Chimney Rock, not turning again until we got to the park. I was surprised to learn the fee was only $13, and the woman selling tickets said the price had been reduced because the elevator to the top wasn’t working. No one said anything. Not a word.

“So we’ll have to walk up?“ I asked.

“Yes. Is that a problem?” she said.

The general consensus was that we had come this far and by golly, we were going to get to the chimney and touch the flagpole.

“Let’s do it, y’all,” I said.

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Feeling overdressed and hot, we stopped at the restroom area and changed into lighter clothes and bought some water. I had learned from an earlier experience not to hike any distance on a hot day without H2O. We got back in the car and around and around the mountain we rode until we got to the parking lot.

We got out of car and looked up at the tall stone chimney. I had climbed this rock before, but it had been a beautiful fall day with brisk temperature. Now it was July. Truthfully, I think we all felt a bit of trepidation. Elizabeth had misgivings about walking in flip-flops, but since she had no extra shoes, it was wait on us at the gift shop or step forward. She started walking.The journey of 499 steps began with the first one. On we went, stopping to peer into a cave, look over the edge at the parking lot, or simply rest a minute. At one point, Elizabeth muttered to me, “This is the worst day of my life.” Lucky girl, I thought, understanding what she meant but knowing she could do it.

“You can do hard things,” I reminded her. No response. She just kept climbing in her flip-flops.

I took dozens of pictures and listened to the encouraging words of folks coming down. “It’s so worth it,” they all said. Some lied and said, “You’re almost there,” when in reality we had quite a way to go. The four of us made small talk and continued climbing—together.

At last we ascended the final twenty or so steps and walked on the rock itself. We laughed and shared “war stories” of the trek. We took selfies, and snapped photos of other people for them. There were so many people with us at the top that I had to carefully maneuver my way between them and the several big rocks. At one point, I got pushed (accidentally) and scraped my shin. Immediately, a goose egg puffed up, and a reddish purple contusion appeared. Ouch.

 After relishing our accomplishment for a few minutes, we began our descent, reluctant to leave the mountain top but anxious to begin the next adventure. Going down was so much easier than going up, and we gleefully told the tired looking climbers that they had a treat in store. “Keep on climbing,” we said. “The view is so worth it.”

Today I’m aware of my tender shin and the memories it conjures up of a day four of us, united by blood and purpose, ascended Chimney Rock. We encouraged one another, swigged our water, kept putting one foot in front of the other, stopped for breathers, and reached the top—together. It’s easier that way.