Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December 18, 2013

My love of the Christmas season is tied up in my memories of childhood—both my own, and that of my children. This love has been tempered through the years I have lived, and has grown and evolved not only from happy experiences, but sad ones as well.

As much as this time of year can be joyous, it also has the potential for being a difficult season, emotionally, for many to cope with. Those who are out of work, or who’ve just returned to work and still haven’t caught up on their financial situations, feel the pressure because they can’t provide those extras for their families, the way they want to. I know, because we’ve been there, many times.

Those missing loved ones feel that loss even more keenly at Christmas. I think it’s because this time of year, for those of us who celebrate it, is drenched in tradition. As you light that special candle, as you prepare that special meal, or as you head out to choose that perfect evergreen, you can’t help but recall the past, and the times you spent with that one who is no longer here.

Losses and crises suffered now seem somehow more tragic than if they happen, say, in the middle of March, or near the end of September. Christmas is a time for families, and so, when things impact the family at this time of year it seems more.

Today is an interesting day, historically for the Ashbury family. On this date in 1989, we had a house fire – our second, by the way – and while no one was hurt, we did suffer property loss, and financial loss, as we were, at the time, uninsured.

On this day in 2002, I had been transported from one hospital here to one in another city to undergo angioplasty, which, mid procedure turned into an emergency requiring triple by-pass, when the artery being given the stint, tore.

Through all of the disasters and near disasters we, like many of you, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. What else can you do? But no matter if you do just keep on keeping on, those incidents add shape and substance to the season.

As I have gotten older, I’ve come to understand that if life is to be lived to its fullest, then we have to do more than just endure hardships and tough times. We have to make them mean something.

I got out of the hospital on December 24, 2002. I came home to a house that was basically tidy, but there was no tree, and not much food in the cupboard. Y’all know I love my husband, and he is a man with many fine qualities. But he does not cook—no, he will not cook. So that Christmas Eve I did send him out to grab a bit of Chinese food at one of the take-out restaurants in town. And then I phoned my brother, who lives in this same town, and who does cook, and because I was a little grumpy 7 days post op, told him, flat out, he needed to bring us Christmas dinner the next day.

This he did with great grace and style—even including a pickle tray.

That was the first of two times in our lives we ‘celebrated’ Christmas without a Christmas tree. The second, of course, was the first Christmas without our son.

The enduring image I have of Christmas morning with my children, is them, in their pajamas sitting on the stairs, waiting for permission to come down to see the tree and the gifts awaiting them. They vibrated with excitement. After only two hours sleep, Mr. Ashbury and I needed our coffee first. We had to have those first few sips, because we needed to be alert enough so that we could enjoy their discoveries.

Because for us, their joy and pleasure was what Christmas was all about.

Next Wednesday is Christmas Day, and I will not be posting Wednesday’s Words. Instead, I will be snuggled down with Mr. Ashbury, and then preparing the dinner for 10/15ths of my family.

May you enjoy love and laughter, and the magic that is Christmas next Wednesday, and in all the days yet to come.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 11, 2013

Are you tired of the “holiday season” yet? Personally, I hate what we as a society have done to what is a very special time of year.

Every year, it seems to me, the hype at the malls gets bigger and louder and glitzier. The music, the decorations, and the push to buy more, get more, have’s enough to give anyone a headache.

As much as possible, I try to stay away from the malls during the Christmas season. For the last couple of years we’ve been giving gift cards to everyone (except the very young), and we give everyone the same amount. One stop shopping for just about everyone on our list. But that isn’t the only giving that we do.

In our grocery store, where we shop every week, there is a big bin that has the words, “food bank” blazoned across it. It is there, permanently, every single day, but it only seems to be full, or nearly so, during this time of year.

I believe that if every single person who shops there, every week, were to buy just one thing—a jar of peanut butter, some tuna, jar of baby food, or even a can of stew—that bin would be full every day, and those most in need would be fed, every day.

But ‘tis the season when the status conscious (as opposed to the morally conscious) make a big show of giving to the poor. Seeing this, knowing this, used to make me shake my head. It’s like they’re saying, hey, if you’re really poor, and hungry, then hurray, you got to eat well for one day of the year.

I saw something last year that really shocked me and made me think. I never spoke out at the time, because I think such acts as this invoke their own Karma. And it happened at this time of year.

In December our local grocery store sponsors a “fill the cruiser” campaign. On three weekends, a police cruiser is parked in front of the doors of the store, lights flashing, and people are encouraged to give the officer some food for the needy, that he then puts in the cruiser. These donations are taken to the Salvation Army, a charitable group that does wonderful work in our community.

Last year, as I had just left the checkout and was heading out of the store, a well dressed man (suit, tie, overcoat and hat) stepped in front of me after going, empty handed, through the lane at the “express” counter. He then scooped a bag that had been placed in the food bin by someone else, and carried it outside and handed it to the officer collecting donations.

Of course, the cop thanked him for his charity, and this good Samaritan stood and chatted with the nice officer for a while, basking in the glow of his goodness.

I didn’t say anything at the time. But I thought about that episode a lot later.

Some people, I guess, are happy with making a “show” of generosity and caring, like that man was. And he got the only reward he’s ever going to get: an empty “thank you”. Not that the officer was disingenuous, because he was not. But since the man had done nothing to earn gratitude, then the gratitude he was given, was worthless.

I believe—I choose to believe—that most people are generous and genuine. I choose to believe that most people will lend a hand to a stranger if the opportunity is there. I choose to believe that the number of selfless acts performed quietly and without fanfare every day outweigh the moments of false braggadocio—or the moments when people simply turn away from helping.

There are always people in worse straits than we are; and no matter how humble are our means, we can always give something.

If I buy one can of stew for 1 dollar, and you buy one can of stew, and everyone buys one can of stew, and there are 1000 people shopping at the store that day, then that is 1000 cans of stew! And if a family of 4 were to eat 2 cans of stew per meal, for three meals a day, that is 6 cans of stew. One thousand cans divided by 6 means that 166 families could eat for 1 day – and all you donated was a dollar.

Yes, that illustration was very simple. But then, so is giving, when you get right down to it.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December 4, 2013

Wednesday’s Words is 7 years old!

Over the course of the last seven years I’ve been privileged to write essays that you, my readers, have read faithfully. There have been maybe four Wednesdays in total that I have missed, primarily due to being on vacation where the Internet connection was sketchy.

What amazes me the most when I think about it is that I have found something to say every week for so many years!

As most of you know who’ve read my essays each week, I often let you see me, warts and all. I don’t put on airs, choosing instead to let you see the flaws and the foibles that have followed me around for most of my life.

I’ve had different people—people who know me personally and claim to only be thinking of my best interests—tell me from time to time that this isn’t a good idea. Some have said that since I am an author of romance, my business should be primarily “exporting happy” to everyone, since romance novels are the quintessential happy-ever-after books. They think that if I am going to offer a blog at all, it should be hearts, and flowers, and all things wonderful.

I’ve had others tell me that I need to preserve an air of mystique. I guess they subscribe to the maxim that “familiarity breeds contempt”, or some such business. They feel that I need to keep myself “apart” from my readers (they call them fans), that all celebrities do this, and that very attitude of being “apart” [and here I think they meant ‘better’] helps to make celebrity what truly it is.

I’m not a celebrity, I’m just me.

Then there are those who say, “You shouldn’t let people know your business” as if letting people know my business was tantamount to letting them see me in the bathroom. I’ve asked why they feel that way, but so far, no answer has been forthcoming.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and to make their own choices in this life. Over the years I’ve been very honest with you about the tough times we’ve been through, and the journey we are on. I’ve shared with you my most vulnerable moments, especially in the aftermath of our son’s death.

It is important to me that I write these kinds of essays, showing you my vulnerabilities, and the reason is simple. I need to share the crap that happens to me in my life so that others out there know they are not the only ones digging themselves out of the muck.

When life serves us up these piles of poop, for want of a better term, we humans tend to hunker down, withdraw, and often, we feel as if we’re the only ones going through, well, what we’re going through. This feeling of isolation is really the worst part of what we have to endure on this earth.

Anyone who has been blessed, as my husband and I have been blessed, also has a responsibility to give back. One of the ways I give back is to let you see me without my makeup, with all my scars showing, all my flaws hanging out, so that you know you are not alone.

The truth is that very little of what we experience in our lives, we homo-sapiens, is truly unique. Individualism exerts itself in how we handle what we’re handed. We can find victory even in the worst of circumstances, if we don’t allow tough luck or hard times to defeat our spirit. If, in other words, we remember that hardships don’t come to stay, they come to pass.

I often have no idea what I’m going to write about when I sit down to pen these essays. But I usually don’t have to wait long for inspiration to find me. Thank you for continuing to read these words of mine. And thank you, especially, for so many of you who so often share right back.