Stranger Opportunity

I have seen most (maybe all) episodes of Law & Order, SVU seasons included, so I am well aware of the risks of letting a stranger in your door. As a teenager I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which only graphically reinforced the lessons received in grade school about the perils of stranger danger. With my own daughters, we established a word that any person going to them on my behalf would have to know before they would leave with them (after reading a horrifying article on human trafficking). I get it. And yet.

One of these daughters asked me if a teenage boy she met had briefly in Santa Fe and connected with on social media could come for a visit and stay in our house. This boy lives out-of-state and not only have I never met him, I don’t know anyone who knows him or his family. My immediate reaction was NO WAY! But something small knocked inside me trying to get my attention – something about wanting to live a bigger, more expansive life. Something about not being afraid of the boogie man always crouching behind a dark corner. Something about being open and creating space for others, even the stranger.

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So we said yes. My husband Robert came home from a business trip to be here and we talked to the boy’s mom on the phone a few times. We ate together and I made him soufflé because not only has he never been to Kansas, but no one in his entire extended family has ever been. I told him to think of our state from now on as the place of tornadoes, Dorothy and soufflés, but I suspect he will think of it as the home of the lovely Emma.

I have to agree with a quote attributed to Shirley MacLaine, “Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.”

Here’s to a summer of more friends. Love, Molly

 

New friends

I was irritated that our plan was not unfolding as I had wanted it to. I was to fly back to Kansas to be with our older daughter while Robert was to fly to Palm Springs to spend a few days with our youngest; a complicated divide and conquer scenario dependent on flying stand-by. The new plan involved me driving in Los Angeles traffic to get to the beach and I wasn’t excited about that, in fact I was having to manage my anxiety about the whole notion. Instead of festering in my irritation – come on, I get to spend the day at the beach and almost a week in California – I tried redirect my driving neurosis. And since I was going to be in Palm Springs for several more days than I had planned, I decided to call about this sign I had seen at the pool.

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So I called and it turns out Toby and his human live right next door to the condo Robert and I are remodeling. Toby – sweet, cute and appreciative of getting outside. Toby’s human – an older man with health conditions that prevent him from getting out. I sat with and talked with my neighbor for over thirty minutes when I realized I had come to walk Toby; I instantly bonded with them both. He gave me tips on a toll road to take to the beach, we chatted about books and he told me about living in Palm Springs for the past twenty years. I visited my new friends next door twice daily, laughing to myself that I was initially irritated to have my plans changed.

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And the trip to the beach? The toll road was worth every penny and the day worth any amount of worry about the drive. I’m reminded to hold plans loosely and to be on the lookout for new friends everywhere. Hope your summer is exceeding your expectations. Love, Molly

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Hot and Cold

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Driving a Jeep with no top in the desert this week with my youngest daughter and her friend has reminded me of something that Cheryl Strayed taught in the workshop I was lucky enough to attend in Patmos, Greece – The power of holding two opposing truths in one hand. It’s hot here in Palm Springs, my friends. I finished hiking this morning at 9am and it was 95 degrees, with a high of 117 projected. In the Jeep I blast the AC – it’s got a serious blower – and with the forced air hitting me and the sun beating down, I feel hot and cold at the very same time. I can’t tell where one ends and one begins; they seem to simultaneously exist.

Which has me thinking about other opposing truths. I’ve just completed a new draft for my memoir and I feel finished and only just begun. Painful times remembered are isolating and connecting. Dancing ballet is highly restrictive and freedom-giving. Being on the trail I disappear and like those who pile rocks, want to find my way home.

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I’m taking these opposing truths and holding them as jewels in my palm, wrapping my fingers around them in appreciation. I hope this summer finds you both hot and cold, too.

Love, Molly

On Saying Goodbye

I’m working on a collaboration with Lawrence artist Kent Smith that is taking shape as a interactive journal/activity-book for caregivers. It’s a work in progress that I’m really excited about, so I’m attaching a short piece I wrote with it in mind.

I hope you are well and that you have moments like I did when I took this photo outside of Palm Springs, California – when you feel cradled and wholly immersed in the beauty around you.

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The Biggest Goodbye

My friend Sandy was forty-six when she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that was too advanced to be treated. The speed of her decline took my breath away. I saw her a handful of times in the month between her diagnosis and her death and we laughed, reminisced about our days of working together in the restaurant business and talked about our mutual love of writing. I clung to every moment I had with her; they felt so precious. I’ll never forget the moment when I realized I would likely be making the last visit to see her. I now had the opportunity to say goodbye and I didn’t want to blow it like I had with my dad over twenty years ago. The biggest goodbye may be the most important one. I rehearsed what I wanted to say to her in my head in the car ride over: thank you for being such a good friend, I will continue to love those you love, no one who met you could possibly forget you, I love you and goodbye, my friend. Climbing into her bed the day before she died and whispering those words into her ear as she squeezed my hand was one of the most special moments in my life.

This is hard stuff, this saying goodbye. This part that goes against every fiber of our desires. We don’t want to say goodbye and can easily let it go without being said, even when we have the chance. Perhaps we think that it would upset our loved one, as if they don’t understand that they are dying. Wanting to soothe and comfort ourselves, as well as our loved one, is tangled up with not wanting to let go, much less say goodbye. We can convince ourselves that it doesn’t need to be said. Sudden deaths – whether they are the results of accidents, suicides, or acute medical situations – remind us otherwise. In those cases we often long to be able to have had the opportunity to say the important stuff. I had many years to prepare for my dad’s death but, due to immaturity or entrenched family patterns, I failed to say out loud some things that I wished I had. Things like – You didn’t say it, but I know you love me. I didn’t say it enough, but I love you. I’m sorry if you felt alone during this past year. I’m grateful I got to be closer to you this past year. I will try to keep your creative spirit alive. Thank you.

Writing these words make me emotional and he’s been gone for decades. I can’t go back and say these things but even writing them is healing. It’s never too late to reflect on what you would have done differently and to use that insight to move forward more deliberately. What I failed to say to my dad helped bring me to a place where I planned my words to Sandy. The difficulty in coming to terms with the goodbye can be rewarded by the intimacy of a moment with your loved one, a moment that can be marked by a depth that is often lacking in our everyday lives. What an opportunity if we can open ourselves up to it.

Collateral Beauty

I feel privileged to share a beautiful essay by someone near and dear to me, my sister Nicole Palmer. I’ve been deep into writing about our childhood as I finish my memoir and I loved her honest perspective. I hope you find it as moving as I did.

Love, Molly

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ONE OF THE SMART KIDS…
I wanted to finally be one of the smart kids.

You know the ones… who always finishes homework on time (check), sits in the front of the class to absorb all the information possible (check), studies until their eyeballs are ready to pop out of their head (check), and passes major exams with ease…… (crickets)!

What the hell? I did all the things the smart kids do, but I didn’t pass a major exam?? This wasn’t just any ol’ exam. This was the exam that showed I knew all the absorbed information, the exam that says I deserve to receive my master’s degree, the exam that I missed by two-points in order to pass.

Devastation came like a tsunami. I got the email with the grade of 82. Passing score was 84. SERIOUSLY??

I took my time during the exam. I carefully read all the questions and actually thought I had achieved the goal of being one of the smart kids. I thought I was going to finally make everyone proud that I was finally going to be “one of them”.

You see everyone in my family is one of the smart kids. I grew up with a family of people who were all very smart. From my grandmother on down to my great nephew!

The intelligence of my family could probably cure cancer, solve world hunger, but not this family member. I was not an elite member. I was the “chosen” one.

I was one of those babies you see in the newspaper looking for a family and I had the unique pleasure of being adopted by a smart family, but I never felt I belonged.

Yes, of course my family loves me. It’s not about love. It’s about feeling like you belong.

Believing you belong with people who think like you, look like you.

All these memories (and more) came flooding back into my being and filled me with intense and overpowering grief and pain.

Why didn’t I go back and review all the questions before hitting the submit button? Why didn’t I study the areas I knew I struggled with more? Why did I even decide to go to graduate school? Why? Why? Why? Well, I will tell you why…

I’m tired.

Not just a little tired. I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

After 33 months of classes, crazy classmates, quizzes, papers, group work, clients, supervision, video taping, constructive criticism, an unstable boss, switching jobs, new responsibilities, running from meeting to meeting, and balancing a 50 hour a week schedule, and trying to spend time with my husband, son, and dog and taking a 3-hour exam it was time to admit it… I was exhausted!

When I opened the email with the passing score and a giant “82”appeared on my screen. I cried, I wanted to scream, I wanted to throw whatever was near me against the wall, I want to punch something… anything!

I had worked SO hard to pass. I wanted to pass so badly because I was so tired and had visions of high fiving with the smart kids and finally proving to the world, but more importantly to myself, I had finally made it to smart kids’ club!

The dream was crushed in a matter of seconds. I cried, and cried some more, and then cried some more. I slept for two hours that night and then woke up at 3 a.m. and sat out on my balcony.

I cried and grieved those 2-points like I did when my sweet babies died. And then it hit me.

My legion of angels was still around me. Eric was still behind me pushing me forward, Brad was on the other side yelling at me to keep going and don’t feel sorry for myself, my Dad was on the other side with his head up strutting with the resolve of a warrior, little Maya and Kristopher were still holding my hands tight, and my Grandmother was leading the way!

They were all still there, but I had become too busy to feel and sense their presence around me.

I’d become too focused on what I should be doing and not on what I needed to do. I needed to remember the collateral beauty that surrounded me. All of my angels that never left me.

I had missed caring for myself.

I wished all of them were still with me, but they weren’t in physical form anymore. They were gone. They had all moved on to another existence and I was still here two-points short.

I sat and stared at the sky. I remembered all those years ago when I learned that life goes on no matter what you are going through. The memory of little Maya dead inside of me and people and nature continuing to move and grow.

Time never stops. It changes, it evolves, it moves.

Time appeared to me as somewhat of an illusion, and then the sun began to come up, despite my desire to grieve my lost two points and revel in self-despair.

It was a the dawn of a new day and after the tsunami passed, there was calm. It was time to start swimming though my sorrow.

As I began to swim through my sorrow I realized I was a strong. I was a lot stronger than most people. Who the heck swims through a flood of emotions? Why not just drown in sorrow?

The verse, “God does not give us more than we can bear” came rushing back. For a moment I wanted to scream at God… I was tired of being strong. I was tired of always carrying so much. I’m tired, and damn it. sorrow swimming sucks!

Then it occurred to me I was given the task of carrying so much because I was given the blessing of God’s strength. I was created in His image.

Wow!

As a dear friend always reminds me, “there is a divine right order to the things that happen to us.” I went into my bedroom and I looked at the quote on my wall that has been hanging on bright orange paper next to my bed for 33 months, which says,

“The only way to fail at something is to fail to learn from the experience.”

So, what the heck was the lesson this time? I cried some more. Then the lesson came.

I didn’t fail my exam. I passed with a score higher than I could’ve ever imagined. I overcame a 34-year old fear of exams, I studied and worked harder than I ever had before. For the first time in 46 years, I believed in myself.

I learned I AM one of the smart kids!

I’m not smart because I passed an exam with ease. I’m smart because I’m the one who didn’t pass.

I’m smart because I’m the one who knows the deepest pain of loss.

I’m smart because I’ve been given beauty for my ashes and I use those ashes to connect with clients.

I’m smart because I know the pain of disappointment, the agony of defeat, with an undisputable understanding of the desire to give up.

But… with the willpower to move forward. To get up and use all of it as strength.

To get up and stand in the ring beaten and bloodied, absolutely vulnerable, with the resolve and resilience to NEVER stop fighting, to never give in, to never believe I’m not smart!

My pain and defeat is a plus, not a minus 2!

It provides me a lucent vision of humanity and the ability to change lives, and the knowledge to go to the edge and fall.

Not fall into despair and defeat, but to fall into the erudition of grace.

To fall into the love and support of God, my angels, friends, family, classmates and professors.

Most importantly — that it is not falling, but learning I have the ability to fly with brave new wings to soar to heights unimagined.

To be in seventh grade

When I’m reading something – whether it’s a novel, memoir or Facebook post – and I can relate, even if it’s an experience I’ve never had but my gut whispers ‘me too’, then I know I’m in a good place. That’s why I read and why I write, to commune with another over words.

Sometimes even just a sentence can deliver. Working with the seventh grade students at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School on their six word memoirs has reminded me of these truths. Because I want to see if you to can connect with them over their words too, here is a sampling of their work…

THE MAKEUP CAN’T COVER MY INSECURITIES.

I CAN ALWAYS MAKE MYSELF LAUGH.

TEARS ARE ALMOST SALTIER THAN ME.

YOU WERE MY LIFEBOAT; I DROWNED.

READY TO MAKE A BIG MISTAKE.

MY GENDER: NOT DEFINED BY YOU.

INDIAN TAKEOUT IS OUR THANKSGIVING MEAL.

I AM A TEENAGE LESLIE KNOPE.

I DON’T WANT TO DO BAD.

I WANT A BED OF CLOUDS.

INHALING DARK MEMES, EATING CANNED BEANS.

YOU DON’T HEAR ME, I’M SCREAMING.

NOT MY KANSAS ANYMORE. WHAT HAPPENED?

YOU MAY TRUST ME, I DON’T.

Aren’t they great?  Love, Molly

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Justice, Mercy, Humility

One thing I love about teaching writing is how much I learn. One of my adult students brought to class a writing prompt and an opportunity to share our work through her church, Plymouth Congregational Church (their Facebook page reads No matter who you are, you are welcome here).

The assignment was to write a Micah Moment, a short narrative inspired by the themes of justice, mercy and humility from Micah 6:8. I immediately thought of a student at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School where I am serving as writer in residence with the seventh graders. Here is link to the short essay.

Meanwhile, I have completed a draft of my memoir Taking Our Losses. I’ll keep you posted with information about publication.

And Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! My grandma Peggy gave me this pin when I was a little girl and now that sheRead More »