356. For the Love of a Glove

So I bought a pair of leather gloves at Cabela’s on the way up to NYC last month. They were on sale and fit me like, well, a glove. My loving wife, who also fits me like a glove, insisted on buying them. I’ve enjoyed wearing them while I drive, which is about all they are good for since they are unlined. However, since we’ve had such a mild fall/early winter so far, I’ve been getting a lot of miles out of this structured cowhide. Now, what is the most common fate for gloves?  Divorce due to neglect. Somehow I always lose one glove in a pair. Which is what I did during my walk abouts in town. I only walk between my parking space and my office, and then from my office to the coffee shop and back. So the odds of finding one of my lost gloves are pretty good, I think.

I noticed that I was missing one last week during the rainy days as I walked by the industrial green dumpster behind the big church. “I’ll be gall durned!!” How irresponsible of me. It was a new glove. Why is it you never lose an old threadbare glove or sock? It’s always the new one. Dang it to heck!  I reproached myself for a full thirty seconds and then moved on to something else. My blessings. At least I had a glove to lose. At least it’s been warm. At least I have hands and a jacket. Focusing on the overwhelming good in one’s life can suck the air right out of whining.

My Arizona daughter and granddaughter were coming soon. Yippee Cow Yodee Oh!! Ayyeah. And my NYC daughter was coming to stay for the same week. Shoooby dooby. Who cares about a glove when you’ve got someone to love?  I got my Sam Cooke, my Otis Redding and my Nat King Cole mojo going. It’s a condition of deep satisfaction in the blood that warms your entire body, not to a sweaty mess, no. Instead it brings you to a blissful homeostasis similar to the effects of bourbon.

I still thought about Michael Jackson and his solo glove. It was weird but a signature for him. I thought about the one armed man in The Fugitive. Maybe he’d want my surviving glove. I hate to waste things, though words and time I seem to have no problem vaporizing. Maybe I could start a new look, the single glove theory, by keeping my left hand hidden at all times and only wearing my surviving right glove. Mysterious, yes. Why do we never see his left hand? We all have our darkness and secrets, don’t we?

Does everything need a pair, afterall? “Every pot has its lid”, we tell folks who are tired of the miserable dating scene. “Every goose has its gander.” But do you really want to be compared to a goose or a pot? These are not reassuring truisms. “Every fool has his folly.” “Every dog has his day.” “To each his own.”

Well, finally the daughters came home, first NYC and later Arizona with my adorable granddaughter. As we hugged in our foyer the little princess announced, “Mommy has a baby in her tummy.” I could hardly believe what I was hearing. It was a total surprise, not even a consideration as far as I knew. “Yep, 12 weeks now.” I must have beamed at her because she told me later on that mine was the biggest reaction of any, which sort of reassured her. I only know that I had that same floating feeling I experienced when I walked her down the aisle at her cathedral wedding in Atlanta six or seven years ago. Then again,I had a head full of Robitussin starships fighting a galaxy of snot monsters.

Maybe that’s how a single glove looking for its mate can even fit in alongside a precious little girl looking for a sibling playmate… under some mind altering dextromethorphan fog.  Little Leah has been calling her baby dolls her sister lately, while I’ve been calling for my lost leather glove mate in the rain. There is something in common between the two if you think long enough.

Now for creative purposes I have altered the actual sequence of events. I found my glove beside the big church I walk by daily. It was soaked and bleeding a bit of reddish stain. But there it was. I grabbed the lost glove and squeezed as much rain out as I could. Alright!! The prodigal glove came home to its father on the steps of the church no less. I realize that I am now giving an article of clothing a free will and capacities that are reserved for humans. However, in the blog business you are not held bound by regular laws of physics or logic. You simply have to make people feel like you can tell an interesting story that is equal to or greater than store brand onion dip without any garlicky aftertaste.Image result for onion dip pictures

So, the pair of gloves is re-mated for now. In six months we will see what sort of child pops out of mommy’s tummy. Will it be a boy, as seems to be the smart bet? Or will we have yet another princess in the Burrito family? It does not matter a jot. He or she will be loved and valued without having to go missing. And that is truly a tragic state of affairs, when we have to lose something before we value it– a reputation, a job, a marriage, a friendship, a home. Someone said that the average man learns from his own pain, whereas the wise man learns from others’ pain. Count me in on loving the first time around, not because I’m wise but because I have learned the hard way.

 

 

 

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300. Pining

Percy Sledge is singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” as I am constructing my 300th post. It’s been over three years that I’ve been at this blog business, and it still feels fresh and interesting to me. Sort of like my marriage. Surprisingly. I’m still surprised by language and human behavior, so I guess I’ll keep pecking away at my keyboard and the edges of credibility… and stay married. Though Steve tells me that my stuff lately has been too esoteric ( my word). I don’t know what to say. I can’t be shallow all the time. Doug agreed all too quickly that my blogularization mix is too dense and seems to be getting stuck in the chute. He suggested more fiber. I don’t know. My faithful readers, give me some feedback here. Dear Vera gave me high praises the other day at the coffee shop, but she is so nice that I’m afraid if I wore a cardboard box around town she’d say, “You look good in brown. Are you with UPS now? Anyway, I love it!”

So, back to Percy Sledge…

“When a man loves a woman
Can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll trade the world
For the good thing he’s found
If she’s bad he can’t see it
She can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend
If he put her down

When a man loves a woman
Spend his very last dime
Trying to hold on to what he needs
He’d give up all his comfort
Sleep out in the rain
If she said that’s the way it ought to be

Well, this man loves a woman
I gave you everything I had
Trying to hold on to your precious love
Baby, please don’t treat me bad

When a man loves a woman
Down deep in his soul
She can bring him such misery

If she plays him for a fool
He’s the last one to know
Loving eyes can’t ever see

When a man loves a woman
He can do no wrong
He can never own some other girl
Yes when a man loves a woman
I know exactly how he feels
‘Cause baby, baby, baby, you’re my world

When a man loves a woman”

Songwriters
WRIGHT, ANDREW JAMES / LEWIS, CALVIN HOUSTON

Well, I suppose there is a point here. I love my wife. Mind you, I am not sleeping out in the rain or blind to her faults, nope. I am dry and warm, all snugged up while she’s been away for two weeks with our Grandbaby Cow Yodee. She left me a honey do list five inches wide and 29 inches long, taped to the kitchen counter. It was not all hard labor. For instance, item one said, “Pine for your wife and daughter. Miss us till it hurts.” I wasn’t sure how to pine. I know it means longing for something or someone who is not present, often a loved one. So I sat there at the granite counter top and tried to pine. I wailed. I pouted. I covered my face with both hands. I sniffed vinegar. Nothing came out. No pineage.

Well, I am no quitter. I thought outside the box. (There’s a shocker, huh?) I opened the refrigerator and found some pineapple preserves, which I slathered on a toasted English muffin. I chomped on that sucker while listening to some low down blues on my Pandora Blues station. Nothing. I was failing miserably with item one. Eleven more tasks swarmed below it, mocking me. I couldn’t take it. A sweaty panic broke out all over me. I had to run outside, though it was raining again. But I knew what I needed to do. I went over two yards where our neighbor has a nice white pine tree. Beneath its lofty branches is a wide natural bed of ginger needles with a few pine cones here and there. I picked up the smallest one I could find and returned to my empty house, shaking with fear and exultation.

I could not find any recipes for pine cones, only pine nuts. No help. I was on my own. I steamed it to soften the bristly cone and then microwaved it for good measure. I soaked it in white wine then covered it in a hazelnut chocolate spread. Finally I did my best python impression and swallowed the pine confection whole. It was painful and awkward and hard to breathe. Yet, I knew I was doing the right thing. I felt my upper gastrointestinal system scratch and scream against the foreign object. I kept swallowing hoping to pass the organic grenade. No luck.

And then I realized:  I was pining, full bore pining!! Elation rose up and filled my head like helium and dental gas . I was giddy as long as I did not move because that brittle wooden cone slugged mercilessly through the twists and turns of my intestines like the Santa Maria through the mud flats of Hispaniola. I cried out, “Baby! I love you and I hurt! I am pining for you. Don’t do me like this!!! You got to come home.”

By day three I knew was in trouble. Things weren’t moving as expected. Apparently my gastric juices and enzymes were no match for the spindly wooden missile stuck in my lower g.i. I hesitated to call the doctor and explain what I’d done. I didn’t want to risk the harsh judgment I expected. “You did what? Huh? How stupid are you?”

Eventually the pain of the blockage overrode my pride. The price of pining was too great for me to pay. I was torn between calling an upper g.i. doc or a lower g.i. guy. I flipped a coin and went with tails. After a nine hour surgery I was deconed and no longer pining. I got home just in time to tear up the incomplete honey do list and make it look like a break in had occurred. Whoa, Dude, I never want to pine again.

 

275. The expansion of love

Empty Chair/Empty Net /John 21

 

Do you have room at your earthly table for those in need? I have observed over and over that many churched folks like to keep their dinner table just the way it is—Mom, Dad, Grandma, Uncle Bill, Aunt Sarah, the kids. If the table seats 8, then 8 is the magic number and homeostasis sets in, which means there is an internal balance to keep things just as they are. Equilibrium was the title of my last post… it seems like a positive that is achieved by negatives cancelling one another out for a sum of zero. That is control not love.

Now it is wonderful to have close family ties, to huddle up in a comfortable and secure manner every Sunday afternoon or evening. Many families do this, and God bless them.

My concern is that when your family is huddled up, is there room for another? Or is the newcomer, the stranger, the foreigner only shown your backs?  Do you practice hospitality by opening your self and your home to others?

I believe that many folks hold a mistaken and sometimes pathological belief about love—that it is a finite thing. In other words, love is diminished if given to too many others. To control and conserve the love, it is parceled out to immediate family only. In-laws are treated with a watered down love that depends on the immediate family spouse. In a similar way I’ve known a few parents who chose not to have a second child because they could not conceive of sharing their parental love with another being, as if loving a second child would dilute their love for the first child. And then I knew a man who said he had all the friends he needed for life—3, and unless one died, he did not need another. In this view, love is a fixed amount like a law of physics. No expansion is permissible.

There is a difference between being content with who is in your life and barring the door against anyone else, as if someone late to the party is an intruder.

And what if you have no room at your table? Is it okay to add a leaf and grow the table?

Can you extend your table or add another table to your intimate gatherings? A good hearted brother told me once that his wife was uncomfortable with sharing their home, their table. Consequently they were not hospitable outside their family boundary line. I responded that I didn’t think Jesus called us to comfort. I know He promised to comfort us in our pain and mourning. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. The brother told me that I was stepping on his toes. I agreed that maybe his toes needed to be stepped on.  God does not call us to comfort and happiness. He calls us to serve Him, to be holy, and to worship Him. Happiness and comfort may come later, but if you seek those first, you miss the point of it all.

I explain it like this. When we wanted to see dolphins in Tampa Bay, the boat captain explained that in order to see dolphins, he needed to bring the boat up to a certain speed that attracted the dolphins. Once we achieved that speed, lo and behold dolphins appeared next to our boat, jumping and winking at us. It was a magical moment I’ll never forget. My take away lesson was this:  if you go directly at dolphins or happiness, i.e., take the shortcut, you’ll ram them and ruin the mission. If, on the other hand, you go forward in faith and pursue holiness, dolphins and happiness will show up. It’s not magic but miracle.

I met my buddy Dave in Honduras 12 years ago. We clicked and just enjoyed each other’s company. Once back in town, we continued to develop our friendship by meeting each other’s families and spending time together. Over the past years we have vacationed with Dave and his wife’s family on several occasions. They have room at the table and I have been blessed by their hospitality. It’s this way with most of our church family: we spend time in one another’s homes for prayer, fellowship, comfort, and material help.

Are there empty chairs at your table?  Maybe you are a widower who is alone, recalling your deceased husband’s presence. Maybe you are a single guy who craves the presence of a soul mate across the table. Or you are a childless couple who desperately want a child to care for. The empty chair can be filled with grief over a divorced spouse or a broken family relationship.  Whatever or whoever you believe should be in the empty chair, consider this:  invite Jesus to your table. Make Him the first guest, your primary relationship. And knowing that His spirit resides in all believers, invite someone new to your table, someone in need of comfort or companionship or joy.

Once you make room for Jesus, you will find that people show up and fill that precious place.

Now let’s pause and go to John 21.

“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathaneel from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.”  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord!” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

The disciples ate breakfast with Jesus, finally recognizing Him. Then Jesus reinstated Peter, telling Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

The disciples had fished all night in futility. Not one fish did they catch. But once Jesus appeared, they brought a bounty to shore, 153 fish in all.

What do these two themes have to do with one another? Well, empty chairs and empty nets share emptiness, a void, an unmet need. In John 21 Jesus feeds his disciples and commands that they feed others. At your dinner tables you can also cast your nets in a different direction if you hear Jesus telling you to do so.  If you put Jesus in that empty chair, He will bring His blessing to you. It may not be a spouse, but it could be a friend. It may not be a child, but it could be an opportunity to minister to someone else’s child.

When you invite Jesus to your table, you are inviting the source of love, the multiplier of fish and loaves. He did not conserve or control love and limit the distribution of love. Instead, He gave all He had, bled out, so that we might love as He did. Though you are tired and despondent, cast your nets once more. Though you have a void at your dinner table or you feel smugly self-sufficient, invite Jesus to your table so that He may feed you too. Finally, listen to your Lord and be reinstated as Peter was, to feed the precious flock of Jesus.Image result for shepherd with sheep flock pictures

 

 

 

 

228. thirty five years of bliss and blisters

It must be said, blog sparrows, from every hill and dale: my bride and I are celebrating 35 years of continuous, uninterrupted, matrimonious existence together this July, (next month for the calendar challenged). Let it be written; let it be done.  In our present day and age it’s approaching the nearly unimaginable that ordinary married people can survive the institution of marriage for three and a half decades. Consider this:  Jimmy Carter was president in 1979 when we wed. For political junkies that’s pre-Reagan 1 & 2, Bush the first solo, Clinton 1 & 2, Bush the second 1 & 2, and Obama 1 & 1/2. Over these decades our fearless leaders told us, “Just say no.” “Just don’t ask.” “Just don’t ask me. Ask Dick Cheney or my dad.” “Just do it but don’t tell me about it.”  But along our private path my wife and I had three kids. Two and a half foreign exchange students. A mortgage, refinanced three times. Two undergraduate degrees and two masters degrees. Four distinctly different jobs. Hair loss. Weight gain. Ten cars. Two dogs, two cats, a pile of lizards, a clutch of birds, fish, bunnies, guinea pigs, and an albino frog. Yes, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

It has not been easy. Anyone who has tried to just be a sibling or a friend for most of a life can tell you that. But add on marriage partner and parent to that load, and it’s entirely in another league, like flying a jet off an aircraft carrier is to flying a kite from a sandy beach. Complicated, scary, dangerous, thrilling, burdensome, rewarding, and much more. But we have plodded along the slow and steady path of delayed gratification. Yep. We have read books on communication and marriage, purpose and meaning, novels, psych books, and spiritual books together. We’ve listened to speakers on the radio and cd’s. Went to church together and prayed together.  Did small groups together. We did a marriage retreat or two.

Counseling helped also when it didn’t suck. Mostly it sucked, which is how I got into the business. I think my bride told me once, “You could do a better job than that.” Hey, ringing endorsement or not; I ran with it into my second career. Now that I think about it, my wife’s advice also started me in my first career of teaching. She told me I was a people person not a paper person back when I was a proofreader for a Big 8 accounting firm in D.C. She saved my eternal soul if not my mortal life. I quit the proofreading job that very day and left this note behind…

“How do you get a one-armed proofreader out of a tree? Wave at him. Goodbye.” I was home before the rush hour, unemployed but invigorated.  Rather than setting up like concrete, Life became an adventure again.

Over our forty year relationship we have argued and resolved hundreds of issues. Okay, my wife has and I later agreed with her wisdom. But it comes out to the same thing a few years down the road if you don’t overanalyze everything, alright? I have learned how not to pack a suitcase. How not to do laundry. How not to eat. As a single guy I could just throw my wrinkled clothes into any old bag and be on my way. Likewise I could wash shirts, gym shorts, socks and sneakers in the same load. No worries there. I could also wolf, gobble, slurp, gorge, smack, lick whatever I chose. Life was simple if crude, like a coyote in its natural habitat eating feral cats. Now I am more like a collie dog who occasionally sleeps on the couch but gets wheat free, all natural dog food twice daily. Domestication is not so bad. Shed no tears for me. I could be this homeless guy living on the street. Single and desperate.

I am a fairly classic extrovert married, of course, to a fairly classic introvert. I used to think this was a good thing until I recently read Quiet, by Susan Cain, which elevates the tortoise introverts to hallowed heroes and deflates extroverted hares like me to zeroes. The problem I have with her book is that it’s true and resonates through me on every page. I look over my shoulder now as I shower. It’s creepy how she seems to know my faults.  Slow, methodical approaches to problems win the day in science or buying and selling stocks, she asserts. Extroverts are impatient risk takers. Okay, true. More scholars and researchers are introverts, which makes sense, but it does not make for much of a party. Remember the Far Side cartoon scientists? There’s a dormant party looking to go viral. Just add fun and personality.  I would take offense to her claim that the 1% sexy extroverts get credit for the efforts of the 99% hard working introverts, except I have no ground to stand on there. Dang it!

My bride and I met 40 years ago. I was instantly attracted to her, but that alone is not unusual for 18 year old males who are just larger versions of mosquitoes, I’m afraid, seeking pleasing females doused in clouds of cloying pheromones. What was unusual was that she was attracted to me. My record with attracting girls was pretty weak to that point, and then I retired from that field early on. We struggled in our dating. We struggled as married partners. We struggled as parents. And somehow we survived it all. We are not 51% married and 49% other. It’s not like that. Overall, victory has its share of losses and failures. Ours is not a fantasy marriage. She still hates how I drive and I can’t stand how she drives. She has gotten better at making coffee, however.

No matter the exposition of flaws and disappointments in one another. That is just negative space that enhances all the good and great qualities that remain, like a statue that is exquisitely carved from a clumsy block of stone.  I know my wife thoroughly yet still incompletely after 40 years of intimate life. I like the wonder of love that is never exhausted or fully known. Joy-filled summer breezes still blow through our relationship, scented with honeysuckle and lilacs, roses and peonies, and promises of more years ahead. All my loving… I will give to you.

 

 

 

221. The wall of excrement

In the movie Slumdog Millionaire there is a scene early on where the main character’s abusive and jealous brother locks the Slumdog boy into a public outhouse to prevent him from experiencing the arrival of a Bollywood movie star in the slums.  Hundreds of poor kids run to meet the movie star as he arrives by helicopter like a divinity descending. All the slum children clamor for his attention and autograph.  Slumdog is desperate to meet this celebrity, so desperate that he takes his only available option to freedom…he plunges about 8 feet into the poop tank below the outhouse. He comes up covered in human waste and runs headlong toward the crowd around the star. Because of his repulsive appearance and stench, everyone moves out of his way, allowing him to meet the star and gain his autograph. His brother is incensed by this stroke of fortune and sells the autographed picture in the next scene, thus stealing his little brother’s joy. This theme of jealous power and resentment versus innocent love and forgiveness continues throughout the film.

However, the excrement covering the Slumdog is not his own. It really just reflects his older brother’s sin. His brother knew exactly what he was doing to the innocent Slumdog. He did not want Slumdog to have this extra-special experience. Instead he greedily sought the whole thing for himself only.  Good old human nature does not vary by culture. Whether it’s Jerusalem in A.D. 29 or Calcutta in 2009, people behave badly. We may recoil at the caste state of India and the hierarchy of Jewish culture in Jesus’ time, but we have our own pecking order in modern America. The great melting pot ideal still excludes the poor, the tired, the huddled masses, and the wretched refuse of teeming (foreign) shores that are welcomed symbolically by Lady Liberty. They can come in the back door, thanks very much, just to do the dirty jobs and then leave quietly.

As I’ve thought about human sin, I’ve thought about excrement. Our sin is like that—repulsive to God and boiling in its own stench. It creates a barrier between us and God, who would love to embrace us. Unfortunately, in our stench and mess we simply add to the barrier with anger, jealousy, resentment, envy, hopelessness, etc. We smear sin all over our spirits, then layer sin over sin like icing on a decadent, poisoned cake. God wants us to abandon the barrier, to disengage from sin. By turning toward God we are cleansed. He wants to autograph our hearts but sin gets in the way. We don’t need to be perfect to approach God, but we cannot continue to sin and gain access to His holy Presence. We must repent.

Salvation is free never earned. Like the movie star’s autograph, salvation is a gift, a sign that the Slumdog met his movie idol.  How great it is to have Jesus Christ’s autograph on your heart!  Others may try to steal or destroy your salvation. Demons may attack you, but they cannot destroy or steal your salvation. Ever. It’s tattooed onto every cell of your existence.

Later in the movie the Slumdog appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  He moves through each round’s question by recalling memories from his life, during which he finds the answers to these obtuse questions tattooed on the folds of his cerebral cortex.  He does not have to provide the movie star, just his name. He does not have to produce a U.S. hundred dollar bill, just the name of Benjamin Franklin. He does not have to produce the gun that was aimed at his face, just the name Smith & Wesson. Likewise, just calling out the name of Jesus Christ is enough. His name protects you, completes you, and advances you. It’s tattooed on every cell of your existence.

 

Slumdog advances round by round and becomes a national phenomenon while the girl he loves seeks him, and his prodigal brother finally repents of his sins. Simply naming someone or something by faith keeps Slumdog alive while his brother sacrifices his own life as a sort of guilt offering to free the Slumdog.  The movie’s plot is told in this fashion, through random questions whose answers create a linear narrative. The driving force throughout the movie is love. Love triumphs over seemingly insurmountable evil, including the rigged t.v. show and its greasy host.

Salvation is free not earned.  Though a greasy Prince of Darkness would cheat you out of your reward, he cannot. Why? Naming Jesus Christ is the key to each moment, each round, the entire contest of life. Jesus has called us to an exuberant, abundant life with Him not to millions or celebrity. He wants us to run boldly in our faith and not to cower in fear. Understanding that sin is our own hardening excrement is the beginning of wisdom. Repenting and washing it away is the critical first step for us to embrace God’s Holiness and to reflect His Glory.

Satan attempts to condemn us as Slumdogs who are hopelessly covered in excrement, while Jesus redeems us as His precious children, pure and simple. And we each have a choice as to which voice we will believe: the excrement of sin or the sacrament of love.

 

 

 

141. Dancing at the winery

While listening to the Al Parson’s Band at the local winery on a hilltop overlooking Gettysburg, Pat said something about blogging this. Okay, I can do that. It’s a nice place to chill out after a hard week. The crowd is not too boisterous and only rarely do folks get noticeably drunk or obnoxious. So the winery is pretty smooth, easy to take.

We usually meet our friends Pat and Clark and share a couple of hours of their company. My wife gets a glint in her eyes and says, “Let’s dance.”  And then stands over me awkwardly, a dance bully who won’t take no for an answer. This after a day of yard work, yanking weeds and grass, weed whacking, push mowing, and groundhog hunting. Slavery and dance bullying were supposed to have been outlawed by the 13th amendment.

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Well, I have to hobble to my feet and justify the hours of dance lessons we have endured over the past three years. I’d be completely content with the Grope and Shuffle while Al sings, “You were always on my mahnd”, more Willie than Elvis, but my wife wants more. Swing, swing, swing. I think it’s because the woman is the elegant one in these dances; she twirls and sizzles while the hapless post up guy who has to actually think through each carefully choreographed turn and catch is tired from yanking and lugging weeds and groundhog carcasses. It’s not fair that the dance gene is so randomly and rarely distributed. I don’t know one straight man who possesses it.

Okay, so here’s something you don’t see everyday. In preparation for this night out my wife was searching frantically for her black knit tights that she wears under a cute dress she would not wear without leggings. I’ve told her she looks good in this outfit, and I’m sure that she can figure out that if I’m getting her vibes, so are other guys in my demographic and perhaps younger dudes, but definitely older letches if they still have their blood pressure and eyesight. Anyway, she could not find the black leggings, which I called Spanx. Now I know they are not Spanx, and she knows I know this, but I told her I’d look for her Spanx. I did for about 2 seconds and then gave her unhelpful suggestions. “Did you look in the laundry room?”  “Maybe Jess put them in with her laundry.”  “Do you think the guy who is staking out our house at night stole them while we slept, you know, for a creeper trophy?” No good. She did not like my  counter productive hints. Finally in a fit of madness or perhaps a fashion-driven or possibly rabid seizure, she turned on a neatly stacked pile of clothes and began digging through them like a terrier after a gopher. T-shirts, blouses, pajamas, shorts, underwear went flying up behind her as she scoured through the pile until there was nothing but bare floor in front of her flushed panting face. “Aaaghhhh. I’m mad! I wore them in Tucson. They’ve got to be here.”

I began laughing out loud, realizing that such behavior had a 50/50 chance of ending in bodily harm for me. Fortunately, she began to laugh at her furious canine activity. I began to scream in my Black woman falsetto voice, “I’m sooooo mad. I’m a get me my black Spanx. This aint right! I’m maaaad. Oh I’m so maaaaad.” And so it went. We never found her black tights. We left the bedroom in total chaos with a solemn promise to downsize, recycle, reduce, and refuse to shop ever again.

On the way up to the winery, which is a mere 15 minute drive, my wife will sometimes engage me in a deadly debate that she presents as an innocent “conversation”. For example, not long ago we were three minutes into our drive and she asked me if I’d thought about end of life nursing home care! I foolishly said, “No” without thinking that this was not what I thought it was. It was an ambush.

“Well, I have. And if I’m in a horribly critical accident, I want to come home. I want you to make the therapists rehabilitate me so I can come home.”

“Okay, sure.” Again, stupid move. Not enough compassion and reassurance. I did not get on the cruise ship Empathy with her request. I stayed in my little dingy of disinterest.

“I’m serious. So many rehabilitation hospitals hit a certain plateau and then they give up on you. I want to pull out all the stops so I can live a full life. Promise me.”

The red light seemed stuck at 997 and Route 30. Time slowed down as my blood pressure began to rise. My survival instinct was activated. “Well, you can leave me in the nursing home. Pull my plug. I’m okay with that. I don’t need any heroic efforts to bring me back into full turnip capacity.”  Again, stupid move. Now I did not value her since I was devaluing my own potential  incapacitation.

“Well with that attitude I will leave you in the nursing home.”

I broke into laughter. I could not take another dramatic moment engaged in a passionate debate about something that was unlikely to happen ever, but the more we talked about it, the less likely it seemed we’d arrive alive at the winery. “Honey, it’s five thirty on Friday night. We’ve both worked a long week and we’re going to relax for two hours on the mountainside. Why are we debating end of life issues now?”

“You don’t care.”

“I do care about my sanity, and this conversation is pushing me off the cliff.”

“Fine! I’ll leave you in the nursing home, and I’ll go out dancing with some younger man.”

“Hey, that’s okay. Just don’t forget where you put your Spanx.”

11. Empathically

Today my wife needed to swap cars, which is no big deal. She wanted to go to Lowe’s for some hardware needs and my 2000 Honda CRV is more suitable for messy loads than is her 2010 Honda Civic. I didn’t think a thing of it until I was driving into town, leaning down to see out of her mirrors. I thought about adjusting them, but why? She would need them reset by the end of the day, 10 miles later in my commute. The same thought skated across my frozen pond mind regarding her seat. I could stretch out a bit, but why?  Her legs are not that much longer, and, as I zoned along Route 30, I fell into a brief reverie…they were part of the initial attraction I had for her. I like long legs, which means I like tall women by default. Truly, though, it was her gorgeous smile and chocolate mahogany eyes that sizzled my soul like fajita meat. And they still light me up 38 years later, though I don’t think she would believe me on this point. Maybe my soul is refried beans now, reheated in a microwave, or just a warm flour tortilla.

 yeah, maybe just Velveeta with taquitos.

I started thinking about her car being her space and wondering how she interpreted my vehicle. Ooooh. My car is not clean and neat. It has stuff that resides in it– a glove, a five month old magazine, an order for bloodwork that I never had done, and a layer of dust particles. My car is a noisy five speed that requires more work than her quiet automatic. But there it is– because my car is dirty and nearing its blue book value death, it ironically has more value today!  I like pulling a positive out of a negative! My cd player skips a bit, which is fine since I rarely use it. I listen to crappy local radio stations if I listen to anything. My steering wheel has an old leather cover that is sort of sticky with age and the sweat of twelve years in it. Yeah, and the front left disc brake makes a chirping noise lately, so I must get it into Danny’s Garage.  Oh, and when the weather is nasty, it’s my expendable car that gets used in snow and ice and heavy rain. All wheel drive, baby. One more keeper quality.

Now Sara’s car is definitely cleaner.  Not only does her cd player not skip, but it plays on beautifully. And this morning it played a Christian praise disc that made me think further about her heart for God. She often listens to inspirational music or radio stations. And she grows spiritually. Each song I listened to made me think and feel as I imagined she did… in a sort of strange melding that is empathy. I was in her car and slipping slightly into her skin, so to speak. In doing so, I realized that my skin is pretty thick and coarse, like pigskin. And hers is soft and supple like a calf’s. And I think that’s okay when each is in its proper context. Still, there was a little thought bubble growing above me in her Civic that led to minor guilt twinges. Would she be as charmed in my old vehicle and even consider what it’s like to have thick rough skin that feels like boiled beef tongue? Probably not. A rubbery hard heart is not such a spiritual thing. It’s just a hardened muscle that keeps you alive, whereas a soft heart can give life to others in compassion. A soft heart can bend and blend; a hard heart is just a rough ride.

I could use a lot more time in my wife’s car, not just because it gets better gas mileage. Looking through her eyes and feeling her feelings might just reset my psychological odometer and stretch out my skin, allowing me to be exquisitely sensitive at times.

“The transformation from neurosis to personality health is indeed a wonderful process” says John Sanford.  I’m thinking he’s right when he adds, “Love comes into the man’s life to vanquish his loneliness.”  Almost 40 years ago she came into my life and loneliness left for extended periods of time. Not sure it has been vanquished. As I drive her car today, I know he is not around in this car and hope he’s not in the old dusty one either.