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.

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.

Rainy Day Thoughts

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Years and years and years ago, my brother Mike and I went for a walk around the block in the rain. Why we decided to do such a thing, I don’t know. Neither of us were particularly into fitness in those days, mainly because we were young and thin and healthy. Our mother was a stickler for the major food groups. We never even tasted pizza until we were in high school, not because our parents didn’t approve of it but rather because there were no places to buy it in Camden until the 1960s.

But I digress. Yesterday morning I put on a hat, opened my bright orange IKEA umbrella, and headed out the front door for a walk in the rain. “Enough is enough,” I thought. “I’m not going to be held captive indoors by this rainy weather another moment.” Undaunted by the steady drizzle, out I went for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. It was delightful! With temps in the 60’s, the plunk-plunk of water splashing into puddles, and the cool rain hitting my calves, I was glad that I had decided to brave the elements.

Here’s what I noticed right away, the circles in the puddles. Puddles were everywhere, and the steady dripping of rain made some interesting circular designs. Some circles were big and some were small, and just about every single one of them overlapped or intersected with another, sometimes several others. Plus, ALL of them rippled out into ever widening concentric circles.

The puddle patterns made me think of my brother and our walk that day decades ago and of our parents and their love and care for us (not just the two of us, but all four children). All six of our lives intersected and overlapped, then and now. Today even the grandchildren and great grandchildren are affected by that original family of six and the experiences, choices, and interaction that we all had. Plus, none of the family members live a cloistered life. All are involved, even the young ones, in some type of work, church, play, or community activity, thus giving them the opportunity to intersect with even more lives.

Here is my point (at last). The choices we make and the things we do have a ripple effect, and some of them affect others with whom our lives are entwined and connected. Right now I’m getting ready to go on another walk around the neighborhood. Like Mike said, “I keep moving so I can keep moving.” I know exactly what he’s talking about. After my walk, I’ll get gussied up (sort of) for church. I know for a fact about the ripple effects of that experience. If I didn’t go, well, we don’t even want to think about how beastly I might feel and act.

I could go a lot deeper into the above, but if I do, then I’ll lose the time for walking and worshipping. Can’t do that. The ripple effects of exercise are far reaching. Plus, the interlacing of lives, just like puddles, will be made more pleasant for my family and friends after I spend a couple of hours in church.

What about you? What are some ripple effects of your actions? How are some ways that your life and the decisions you make affect others?

Philosophizing at Nacho Hippo

I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day, choices that can affect our future, our health, and our careers.

One of the many enjoyable things I did during the Christmas holidays is reconnect with old friends. On New Year’s Eve, I met Dorothea at Nacho Hippo at Market Commons in Myrtle Beach, and we spent an enjoyable hour or more reminiscing and philosophizing. Dorothea and I had a great time talking, talking, talking, and I found myself wishing we’d had more time to get better acquainted when we were younger mothers.

One of our topics of conversation was personal choice. Over delicious nachos and tacos, I told her that the most profound thing I learned in college was that I am the master (or should that be mistress?) of my fate. I can blame my disappointments and shortcomings on the weather, the economy, my children, or my ancestors, but that’s a copout. Really, it is.

Decades ago, I was sitting in a PHI 101 class stealthily working a crossword puzzle while I listened to the professor talk about some of the great thinkers in philosophy. A lot of the things he was saying were either too complicated for me to understand or too boring for me to think about. But then, Dr. Jones began extolling the work of Jean Paul Sartre and said these thought provoking words of Sartre: “I am my choices,” a simple phrase that I’ve never stopped thinking about.

Granted, there are “extenuating circumstances,” but overall, I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day. Plus, as Dorothea and I discussed, the little choices we make pile up over time and can affect us in all sorts of ways, some good and some not so good.

As I sit here at the computer, I’m dining ( late lunch) on some goodies that one of the admissions counselor’s mothers brought by for us. I ate a ham sandwich on white bread (no wheat available) without mayonnaise. I opted for pretzels instead of chips, one dark chocolate Bliss square, and a tiny little piece of a brownie. Oh yes, and I’m drinking water. I can’t see myself drinking another soft drink after reading about the correlation between sodas and diabetes and obesity. I’m not bragging on my restraint (I wanted a brownie, chips, and another sandwich) but merely demonstrating the impact of personal choice. Oh, and I also went for a three-mile walk before work this morning, and YES it was cold, very cold. It would have been easier to stay in my warm house and play Scrabble on my Kindle, but too many choices like that, and I’d end up stiff, grumpy, and chubby.

That’s one type of choice. Here’s something else I heard from a student yesterday. She’s begun and dropped out of three different programs at the college, all for the same reason: they take too long to finish!

“What are your career choices if you don’t graduate?” I asked her.

“That’s why I’m back again,” she said. “I’m going nowhere fast in my present job. I don’t even have any benefits.”

Looking through the schedule of classes, we found a couple that would fit her schedule. Unfortunately, she hasn’t committed to either of them yet. Too late at night, too hard. What will she decide? It’s her choice, and it’s a choice that could affect her entire future and that of her children. It’s only a semester and only two courses, but these courses are fundamental stepping stones…or not.

Last week Dorothea and I walked out of Nacho Hippo still animatedly discussing the importance of personal choice, and I’ve got a feeling she’s still thinking about it today. I know I am.