June 9, 2012

If Wishes Were Horses...

I wish someone had told me, when I was in my 20’s, that fear was a limiting emotion to be acknowledged and then ignored.  I wish someone had told me that pain and sorrow come no matter how carefully we plan, that being cautious and conservative and walking with reserve is never a guarantee for a breezy, safe life.

I wish someone had told me that pain is only a feeling just like hunger or thirst. It’s unpleasant, but it doesn’t kill you. It’s a thing to be tended to, to be dealt with. It’s a sensation that doesn’t define you.

The girl ran barefoot through the dirt, back and forth the length of the house. She imagined, as the breeze stirred, that she was just like the wind. So fast. Inside her mother was doing the spring cleaning, flinging out dirt, debris, old things that needed to be gathered and taken to the burn pile at the edge of the property.

A searing pain stabbed through the girl’s foot and leg. She lifted her foot to find a piece of wood with a nail through it lodged into her heel.

At the hospital the girl cried because she didn’t want the tetanus shot. She wore an old memory of weekly allergy shots like under-armor, a defense against the prospect of pain.

“If you don’t cry,” the mother said, “we’ll go get you a treat afterward. A toy or some ice cream.”

But she cried anyway, one nurse squeezing her tight while the other nurse gave the injection which turned out not to hurt at all.

Wiping her face the girl said, “That didn’t hurt at all! Can we go to the store?”


“But it didn’t hurt. I didn’t know it wouldn’t hurt…”

“Our deal was that you wouldn’t cry and you cried.”

I wish someone had told me that bumps and bruises when you are twenty hurt less and heal faster than the ones you get when you are thirty. Or forty. I wish someone had told me that regrets for things we didn’t do hang with us far longer than regrets for things we did do.  I wish when someone had seen me doing brave things, courageous and expansive things they would recognize them for what they were and not see them through a layer of their own fear.

“I wish you wouldn’t go. You don’t have to.”

Her mother twisted the dish towel around in her hands.

“Mom, I have to. I want to. It will be fine.”

“But where will you live? What about a job? There’s nobody out there to catch you if you fall.”

“I’ll be fine. If I fall I’ll get back up again. Don’t worry.”

“They have earthquakes out there.”

“They have tornadoes here.”

The mother sat heavily down at the table, understanding how pointless it was to convince her to stay. She could see her daughter on a path of destruction and was helpless to stop it. Bad things were coming and there was nothing she could do about it. Nothing.

These are the things I know now. I know them now when I’m weighted down by adulthood, by an accumulation of my past experiences. I know them when I’m driving to a boring job wearing jeans that start to feel tight in my waist and Sheryl Crow is on the radio singing about Steve McQueen. Good God, when was the last time I left anyone feeling breathless? When was the last time I took a leap of faith?

“You know the joke about you going around, right?”

He looked sideways at her, half afraid of what she was about to say.

“They say 30 years ago you arrived here with $1,000 in your pocket and a backpack on your back. And now look at you.”

He smiled and shrugged.

“I admire your courage and all you’ve made out of nothing.”

Finally after the silence he said, “You know the only difference between me and you? I’m braver than you are. That’s all. No other difference.”

I’m not sure I can remember the last time I leaped. Or if I could, I’m not sure I’d want to. It wasn’t yesterday. Or the day before that, or the day before that.

But maybe it will be today.

[Comments are closed for this post, but you can reach me at: wendy at wendy dot com]

June 5, 2012

The Church of the Good Neighbor

I’m starting my own religion.

How presumptuous of her, you might be thinking.  It’s not, really.  It’s more a matter of pragmatism.

You see, for years I have been bothered by the fact that very little about religion makes sense. 

I was raised to believe that Christianity is the “right” religion.  That God is an old white guy who sent his son down to die as a sacrifice to save all of humanity from our imperfections. Setting aside how illogical that is, Christianity is a relatively young religion. Why is it “right” when we have all these old religions that came before it? What is wrong with those religions?  Just because they are old doesn’t mean they are bad.  I use dinnerware from the 1950’s and it does the job and looks good doing it.

And then there is the matter of religious dogma. In one Christian religion I’m supposed to only wear dresses. Or not use a car.  Or eat meat.  But in other ones it’s okay.  And in some I can use birth control and in some I can’t.  And in some it’s okay for leaders to molest children and then other leaders cover it up.  Some religions say I am going to burn in hell forever if I’m bad. Some just say, “Meh, when you’re dead you’re dead, but boy are you going to miss out on some good stuff when we’re all resurrected to Paradise Earth.”

(And as a side question... if you’re picking a church, why would you pick one that believes in hell when you can pick another church that doesn’t and still be just as Christian?)

If we’re all reading from the same bible, can’t we all somehow agree on what the book actually says?  And why do some Christians conveniently say, “Oh, ignore that part. It’s null and void.”  And some don’t agree with the null and void thing at all.

But the thing that really gets me is the hypocrisy. It states very clearly in the bible that you’re not supposed to have sex outside of marriage, but a lot of people do it. And religious leaders says, “Well… we’re weak, we’re sinners. Come in on Sunday and we’ll kind of give you this little chore to do that makes you feel bad and unworthy for 10 minutes and you’ll be forgiven until you do it again and then just come back next Sunday. Let’s do this as often as you can and if you time it right and you’re forgiven just before you die it’ll probably work out okay.”  Unless it doesn’t. Then you’ll burn in hell forever. Unless you go to a church that doesn’t believe in hell. 

(I think the reason they do that is because if you tell them nobody can have sex, nobody will come to church. Except the Catholics.)

I could go on, but to spare you my ranting I’ll get right to my proposal. I say let’s start a new religion that has a very simple set of commandments that are easy to remember and easy to follow.  In fact, let’s boil it down to one commandment.  Surely everyone can remember that.  Here it is:


Be a good neighbor. That’s it?  No, really.  That’s it.  It’s elegantly simple. All things can be measured by the good neighbor rule.

Would a good neighbor sleep with your wife? No. Would a good neighbor borrow your lawnmower and not return it?  No.  Would a good neighbor steal from you or murder you?  No.

Would a good neighbor feed you if you were hungry?  Yes.  And you, as a good neighbor would not take advantage of his kindnesses.  If you borrow his car you would fill up the tank when you returned, maybe even wash it or vacuum it out.

And “neighbor” can be defined broadly. There is the literal sense of me living next door to you in houses on the same street. But it’s scalable.  When I sit next to you in the movie theater I am your neighbor. America is the neighbor to Mexico and Canada. Earth is a neighbor to Mars which, by the way, is why we should stop dumping our trash out into space.

If we have a problem with each other we work it out like good neighbors. Or we ignore each other and do our best to live with it. We should not roll around on top of each other in the lawn and black each other’s eyes as if we were 10 years old and unable to control ourselves.

Idealistic? You betcha. I’m not afraid to be idealistic because someone has to start this church and it might as well be me. I am 100% certain that I can be a good neighbor. If I can get you to commit to being a good neighbor that’s two of us. And then if we do it again that will be four of us.  And if we keep doing that, who knows what kind of delightful madness will ensue.

And then a thousand or two years from now when they dig up our homes and study the beginning of this new Golden Age of Reason they will make up stories and theories about how it all began and some college student will write his doctoral thesis on Fred Rogers, the Patron Saint of the Church of the Good Neighbor.
They won’t remember you and me, but who cares.  We’ll enjoy each other’s company in the meantime.