Tag Archives: Wisdom

December 18 – The Christmas Helicopter (When Santa Came to Town)

by Sara Etgen-Baker

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / kongvector

It was Christmas Eve morning at our house. The Christmas lights twinkled; the tinsel glistened; the ornaments sparkled, and the Christmas tree silently awaited Santa’s arrival. I peered out the window; newly fallen snow blanketed the neighborhood streets. Barren, frost-covered trees shivered like frail skeletons trembling in the blustery winds; and silent icicles hung from shimmering housetop roofs.

The temperature outside was well below freezing. Mother wrapped me in my heaviest coat and forced my hands into last year’s mittens. We stepped outside, the gentle snow crunching under our boots as we walked to the downtown plaza where Santa was appearing.

As I stood in the plaza with other children, Christmas waved its magic wand over me. I looked up in the sky certain I heard Santa’s sleigh bells jingling. I glanced above me and realized I wasn’t hearing sleigh bells; rather, I was hearing the pole-mounted Christmas bells swaying in the wind. I continued waiting in the bone-crunching cold until I heard an unfamiliar sound; a steady but rhythmic wop-wop, wop-wop sound.

Out of nowhere, a red helicopter emerged from the overcast, wintry sky and slowly descended toward us, landing just a few feet from me. I watched in disbelief as Santa turned off the helicopter’s engine and headed straight toward me and the other children shouting, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”

For some reason, Santa’s unconventional arrival just didn’t seem right. When I approached Santa, I blurted, “Where’s your sleigh, Santa? Why didn’t you ride it into town?”

“Well, little lady,” he chortled, stroking his white bear, “it’s at the North Pole being repaired.”

“What’s wrong with your sleigh?” I continued.

“Oh, just some minor repairs. Nothing for you to fret about.”

“Who’s fixing it?”

“Well, uh…the magical elves, of course.”

“But..but I thought elves made toys. Will they fix your sleigh in time to deliver presents to all the boys and girls? And what about Rudolph and the other reindeer? Where are they?”

My persistence rendered Santa speechless. He raised his right eyebrow, which was brown rather than white like his bear. I gasped; in that moment the Santa Claus illusion was gone forever.

I leaped off Santa’s lap. “You’re not real, Santa Claus!” I exclaimed, bursting into tears. Mother wiped away my tears and took me aside.

“You’ll be okay, Sweetie,” she said reassuringly. “I’m proud of you. You’re right; Santa Claus isn’t real; he’s made-up like the people in the stories you read. Those stories aren’t real, but you like them anyway, right?

“Yes,” I said, my eyes meeting hers.

“Writers make up stories to tell lessons or share something important. The Santa Claus story is like that. It’s made up to tell children about the spirit of kindness and giving. That’s what’s important. You understand, Sweetie?”

I nodded, taking comfort in Mother’s forthright explanation. Despite my disillusionment and disappointment, Mother gave me a timeless gift that Christmas Eve: An understanding that life is sometimes fictional, and reality isn’t always what it seems to be. So, don’t waller in it!

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

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October 23 – Mortality Check

by Ariela Zucker

Nine o’clock at night and all is quiet. I doze in my hospital bed when suddenly the monitor I am hooked to with many leads starts flashing an angry red.

Startled I look up at the heartbeat counter, it shows a big red 0. Before I manage to move, five people show in the room. They stand in front of my bed in a row, they look at the monitor then at me. I look back at them not sure what is going on but sensing that I play a key role in this bizarre scene I cannot resist the urgent need to say something meaningful.

“Zero heartbeats, does that mean that I am not alive? “this is the best that I can come up with being totally unprepared for playing the dying patient. No one smiles.

I feel a bit winded and light-headed like I did for the past week but my heart that for a few weeks now was beating and fluttering in my chest like a caged bird desperate to fly away feels strangely quiet. Maybe I am indeed dead.

I cast another look at my attentive audience. Two female nurses and three very young, attractive male nurses and I wonder if the abundance of male nurses in this hospital presents a subtle way to help female patients stay alive. It’s a funny thought, so I start to giggle while I toss in the bed in a try to get a better look at the alarming signs on the monitor. In that exact moment, the display flickers and my heartbeat start to climb up. I breathe in, breath out, smile an encouraging smile at the crowd in front of my bed.

“I guess I am still here,”

No one smiles back.

I nod my head to my unresponsive audience, rest it back on the pillow and close my eyes. I am tired. It’s been a long week and tomorrow they will fix whatever it is that does not work in my heart. The long words and explanations that were thrown at me had one thing in common; like a flawed machine my heart, the one I trusted until now has failed me, and someone needs to go in and fix it.

Tomorrow another piece of machinery, a pacemaker will assume the responsibility. The pacemaker will do an excellent job they assure me.
“You will be as good as new,” these words are like a mantra that supposed to make me feel good.

A specific model, a series number, battery life, all this detailed information is shared orally and in written documents. My signed consent is requested, and still, I feel that my presence in the process is not, I am not a heart mechanic I am only the carrier of this damaged piece of equipment. Only the carrier.

It’s a somber thought that I need to come to terms with. It makes me feel that in some ways the process of separating from my body had already begun.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

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July 6 – China…Up Close and Personal

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

(c) Can Stock Photo / kentoh

Just a week ago my only encounters with someone born in China were dining out at a local Chinese restaurant or dining in Chinatown in San Francisco, California. As a child, I was admonished to clean my plate because there were starving children who lived in far-off China. Their bony ribs became an image that haunted me. A fourth-grade teacher taught us about many of the traditions of the Chinese. I was horrified when I learned that the feet of Chinese women were bound.

However, just last week I found myself sitting amongst folks from all ethnic and racial backgrounds as we listened to the stories of what life is like living at the Mexico/Arizona border or living in the midst of daily fighting and turmoil in Palestine. We were all seeking Common Ground in the midst of a political climate where policies divide us with the rhetoric of hatred and disdain for the different.

To my right sat a very vivacious young Chinese woman. We exchanged names. She became curious about my being a Quaker when this tradition was a topic of discussion.

“So, what brought you to the U.S.?” I asked. Pei Pei had met a young American man in China and they now live in his home state of Idaho. “Come and join us at Quaker Meeting,” I proposed. She accepted and our day was spent sharing our traditions from both cultures. Her feet were not bound and her ribs were not showing. I challenge all of us to seek Common Ground with those we perceive as being different from us.

“Pat” was raised on a farm, and thus developed an imagination pondering the nature of the universe. Words held the magic of stories. Other cultures intrigued her. She is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who lives in a retirement community with her husband and their cat “Spunky.” 

April 22 – Inside and Out: Women’s Truths, Women’s Stories

Inside and Out Book CoverIf you enjoy the writing in this blog, we have something special to share with you!

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Story Circle Network has something for everyone! 

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March 14 – Cooking for Passover

by Ariela Zucker

CookbookIt is my mother’s cookbook that I kept after she passed away many years ago, so most of the recipes are hers. Every year I open it a few days before Passover and minutes later I am treading knee-deep in thoughts and images and even the smells of my childhood. I know from prior years that these entangled sensations, a neurological condition called synesthesia, is temporary and will pass after the holiday but for a brief period I let myself back into the land of memories.

The book’s hardcover is dull brown that is peeling in all four corners. When I open it, a stream of papers of all sizes and colors fall out and spread unevenly on the floor. Another thing I tend to forget is my habit to write recipes on random pieces of paper and tuck them inside the book, for a keepsake. The pages themselves stained from the years and the many times they were touched with oily or flower covered hands.

As I flip through the book, gently, so not to tear the pages that tend to stick to each other, I make it to the part marked Passover. I look at my mother’s angular handwriting and remember how the Hebrew letters, she adopted late in her life, never gained an easy flaw. I remember how she complained about it yet insisted on writing the recipes in Hebrew so I will be able to read them. In between, my handwriting, round and flawless, unlike her I drew a lot of satisfaction from the act of writing.

Passover flowerless cake, a family recipe my mother learned from her mother. Matzo dipped in chocolate, my favorite. Chicken soup with matzo balls, gefilte fish, brisket, compote, the list seems endless and with each recipe an image of the Seder table and the voices of people who are no longer alive mix with the loved flavors.

I look at the recipes and sigh. Like my daughters when they ask for a favorite recipe, I remember how I tried to follow the detailed instructions of the dishes just to fall short, time and time again. All my efforts did not produce the exact texture, or smell, or taste. I know that it will not happen this time around either, but that I will give it my best try.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://paperdragonme.wordpress.com/

September 3 – Life Lessons in Mentoring

by Kali’ Rourke

Kali

I started mentoring a first grade girl last year through Seedling’s Promise, a school-based, research driven and metrics based program that has great training and support. I will mentor her again this year!

My childhood family had its share of poverty, dysfunction, and divorce. I even had a Dad who committed suicide in prison when I was an adult. The parallels between me and my Mentee are many. You would think I would know everything I need to about how to communicate constructively with her, but you would be wrong.

You see, I have forty plus years on her. During that time I had a career, married, had children, became a philanthropist, and along the way I became removed from the culture of poverty and crisis. I had to re-learn these lessons. Thank heavens, Seedling’s Promise assumes we will all need that and prepares us to be intentional mentors.

Here are just a few things I learned this last year.

  1. The gifts I bring to my Mentee are hers to do with as she wishes with no expectations from me. Why? Because in the culture of poverty, all things brought into the house belong to the family. When I gave her flowered bobby pins for Valentine’s Day, she told me her mom “put them on the baby.” Untrained me might have said, “But those are yours; you should take them back!” or perhaps even worse, “Oh my gosh, why would you put those dangerous things on a baby?” Both statements would be damaging and would distance my Mentee from me because it would be painfully clear to her that a.) I didn’t understand her family at all, and b.) I disapproved of them. Instead, thanks to my Seedling training, I simply told her that she was kind to share with her sister.
  2. I must avoid judgment of her parents. One of the most damaging things a Mentor can do with a child of the incarcerated is to express disapproval of the missing parent or the caregiver who is present. I helped my Mentee write a note to her Dad in prison. It was simply filled with the unconditional love of a child for a missing parent. (And smiley face stamps, of course!)
  3. I must always respect the pride of the Caregiver. She is the gatekeeper of the mentoring relationship and it exists only with her approval.  I don’t know her story and I don’t have any right to judge anything about the way she is parenting. We are all tempted to jump in and “save” or make them fit our paradigm of success but good mentoring is combining acceptance and role modeling. If you have an effect on a child, it will be because of your friendship.
  4. I am there for my Mentee. Anything else is just distraction, and my focus in this relationship is to listen and do no harm.

What will the coming year bring? I have no idea, but I hope it includes her smiles and giggles!

Kali’ is an active volunteer in Austin, Tx, and serves on several boards and advisory councils for mentoring. She is also a mentor, an Impact Austin Philanthropist and a social media wonk.

December 30 – My Next Door Neighbor

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

nails

As a hospice volunteer I entered the room of a new resident who had just been transported to the Dove House. Often just my presence sitting by the side of the bed is all that is needed, but that was not to be with this still-very-much-alive woman.

Often, as death is imminent one begins to reflect on one’s life. What events have constituted the days, minutes, and years that we spend in these physical bodies?

This woman became tearful as she poured out a story of an abusive father she remembered as being drunk most of the time and getting her mother pregnant with yet another mouth to feed and care for. He sexually abused her and her sisters. They survived the best way they could, getting a couple of bucks here and there to go dancing. Yes, her face lit up as she talked about going dancing.

“Oh,” she said, “You fingernails are beautiful. I want polish on my fingernails.”

I headed for the nurses station and several different shades of red polish were already awaiting me. They had heard the request.

Ragged edges on her nails were filed and then polished with her choice of red. She was ready for dancing again.

“My sisters didn’t have time for me,” she said, “so I would go to the next door neighbor’s. She had an abundance of kids herself. She was poor, but she always gave me a sugar cookie. She believed me when I told her of the abuse. My next door neighbor was my safe haven all those years.”

If you are a next door neighbor, always remember that it may be through you that the Divine Presence shows up in someone’s life.

Patricia Roop Hollinger, better known as “Pat”, is a Pastoral Counselor in a mental health facility. Voracious reader. Lover of cats. Losses in life have been launch pads for future ventures. She married her high school heart-throb in 2010.