Childhood can be Painful, but Nothing Lasts Forever

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“Beach Buddies II” 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas

I’ve never figured out why the news media and the talk shows delight in keeping us on the edge of our seats. Not from excitement, mind you, but unadulterated fear! I personally know many women who avoid the news altogether because of how it leaves them at the end of the day: wilted, worried, and unable to sleep. Like ostriches, they prefer having their news spoon fed to them in small doses.

I must admit I was quaking in my slippers when a new “super bug” made its debut on the Nightly News. The spread of this dreaded super-sect is caused from a “teensy weensy” camera on the end of a gastric probe commonly used by Gastrologists to detect stomach and bowel problems. Apparently, the magical instrument on the end of the probe is difficult if not impossible to sterilize.

My ears perked up as I moved to the edge of our soft leather couch. I had had that test this past year. My “hypochondriac tendencies” went on high alert. “Is that why I’ve been feeling so lousy these past few months?”

It’s not only super bugs we have to deal with. Many of the old diseases that were once eradicated are making a comeback; and with a vengeance! Outbreaks of old fashioned Red Measles have been playing out in large cities and states across the nation. Tuberculosis is becoming more and more prevalent. Yet not once have I heard anyone ask “What about all those illegal aliens who flooded the borders and were transported by bus to places across the country?” Most of them had never been immunized at all, and some were carrying viruses and bacteria that children in the United States had never come in contact with before.

When I was a child, Polio was not only a new word but a disease to be feared. Children who didn’t die from it were left crippled and prone to get diseases later on in life. The aftermath was almost as bad as the disease itself. If you survived, your limbs became shrunken and deformed, at least on one side, and you probably limped for the rest of your life.

“Few diseases frightened parents more in the early part of the 20th century. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. They were a visible, painful reminder to society of the enormous toll this disease took on young lives.” (Wickipedia)

My grade school playmate Eddie Knowles died from polio. We used to climb trees together and play outdoors all summer long. My mother would supply us with popsicles when we were sweaty and hot. Eddie liked to dunk his in the irrigation ditch running beside our property. It made the icy pop melt in his mouth. At the time, I firmly believed that this had caused his polio, although, we now know the disease is caused by a virus.

More from Wickipedia: “Because of widespread vaccination, polio was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1994. Today, it continues to circulate in a handful of countries, with occasional spread to neighboring countries. (Endemic countries are Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan as of 2013.) Vigorous vaccination programs are being conducted to eliminate these last pockets. Polio vaccination is still recommended worldwide because of the risk of imported cases. Polio has no cure, so prevention is the most effective means to combat it.”

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“India Rising — Prince of Thieves” mixed media

Another school mate, Alice Johnson, had polio, and because of it she was teased and taunted most of her childhood; but especially into the teen years. She had a shriveled right arm and leg, and when she limped, it made the smaller arm flop up and down. If not for the love of her family, I don’t think she would have survived the relentless nicknames and the other health problems she incurred.

As a kid, I had my own nemesis. During puberty I had hormonal problems which caused me to break out in pimples. For awhile, some people even thought I had the measles. It was a painful ordeal that took several months and years to rectify. Childhood is painful enough, but when we’re saddled with a disability or a visible problem it becomes almost unbearable.

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“Broken Hearted” pastel on Bristol; matted and ready to frame or canvas print

My heart goes out to these brave little souls who weather the taunts of their friends and deal with a fatal disease or a discriminating disability. As we mature, most of us outgrow the need to put others down so that we may appear better or smarter. My friend Nancy was one of those people. When I was 12 and feeling like a leper and the ugliest toad on earth, she invited me to her father’s ranch on the lake for the weekend. I was thrilled!

I learned how to ride bareback on a shiny black horse that reminded me of my two favorite books: “Black Beauty” and “Red Horse Hill.” After that ride, I fell in love with books about horses. I devoured them like peanuts.

About this time I also began bringing home stray cats. Animals don’t care what you look like or how ugly you feel, and these strays were sometimes as scabby and scrubby looking as I felt. They sopped up every ounce of love I could give, and then gave it back to me. Animals can heal a lost soul.

When I had a chance to give back, I made friends with the kids who had problems like Alice, the overweight friend who limped from having polio, and Gale who was neglected and so poor there was rarely anything to eat in her cupboards or refrigerator. One day I shared a moldy piece of cake with her that was left on the counter top. Her sad eyes told me how lonely she felt when she came home to an empty house after school.

Sadly I had a new problem to deal with: I was being teased and taunted for befriending the un-friendless, the outcast or the new kids in town. Thankfully, I ignored their sarcasm and did what I knew I had to do.

"Looking Outward" 3-D painting in an actual window frame

“Looking Outward” 3-D painting in an actual used window frame

Lorraine had a bedwetting problem. You could smell it when she walked into class. Every afternoon during story time, we’d hear the sound of water trickling to the floor and we knew it was Lorraine. She handled her humiliation well. The janitor was called and he mopped it up quickly and silently, and then the teacher would go back to reading. But at recess, Lorraine stood alone.

I wish I’d found a way to reach out to her, but I didn’t; although, I thought about her a lot. I did hear she married and had a family. I’m certain she eventually overcame her lack of muscle control.

These problems seem insurmountable when we’re young. They only become bearable when we have a friend or a loving family.

And you know what? Our lives don’t really change that much as we grow older. There are new hurdles to overcome and harder challenges to cope with. Acceptance is sometimes the only way to suffer through. “. . Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

If we just wait it out and hope for the best, we will finally get to the other side.

Lasting Friendships are a Gift that Strengthens and Supports

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"Beach Buddies"

“Beach Buddies”

Two pods of Pilot Whales have stranded themselves in waters off of Florida’s beaches. When one whale is sick, the whole pod follows the one who is ill or injured and stays with them. In shallow waters, they cannot forage and some will die with their friend. Entire pods have been known to perish in sympathy and support. Now that’s friendship!

Alice was a neighbor. The kind that welcomes you into her home like family, or waves at you the minute you step outside. We became fast friends, talking about our children, the weather, the neighborhood school and the rising cost of food.

It wasn’t surprising then to see her on my doorstep after I’d suffered a long illness and a traumatic experience. Others had asked, “What can we do for you?” smiled and then returned to their own little worlds. Here was Alice, standing on my porch with a shovel in one hand and a plant in the other.

“You’re coming outside,” she said emphatically. “You need some sunshine and we need to plant this start I brought from my garden.” The plant was one I’d admired some weeks before.

You didn’t argue with Alice. You didn’t want to. She had a way about her that said, “I’m here for you. Let’s work on this thing together.”

We dug, we planted, and we chatted about everything but what was troubling me. She never nosed, she never snooped. She gave me the ball, and let me carry it where I wanted to go. She helped me more than she will ever know. She gave me the love and support I needed to deal with some difficult circumstances. She helped heal my heart and soul just by being Alice.

When we moved away from Phoenix, I wept like a baby as I gave her my final hug. She was one neighbor I would miss forever. We stayed in contact for over 20 years, but the distance and our lives soon became a living memory. My gratitude still remains.

Many people come in and out of our lives. The good ones stay. Other friendships are not meant to last: the brief encounters on an airplane flight, the people we chat with on vacation, the ones who share in the trauma of a tragic event. Some friendships are meant to last forever, and some of them aren’t. Who can measure what any of these people bring into our lives?

When my own life was in a downward spiral, I never regretted the people I met along the way who made me laugh, who taught me something I didn’t know, who opened my eyes to see the possibilities that were waiting there. These people became the threads that formed the warp and the woof of my character and my life. During that time, I learned that some people are just plain evil; but that most people are basically good, warts and all.

Through acquaintances and friendships, I discovered things about myself I never knew. Antique cars, for instance; I like everything about them, the hobby, the shows, the people. And jazz; I love the earthy vibes and rhythms, but I’m also enthralled at a symphony. I like to see a good play, and I’m enchanted by Shakespeare. All of the things I discovered about myself, I learned through the people around me; my likes, my tastes, my values.

People enrich our lives and help us realize we’re all human. All in need of grace and forgiveness. My favorite saying is: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Historians don’t know for certain who said this, but the wisdom remains.

Friends can make us or break us. Bad friends are those people who urge us to say and do things we wouldn’t say or do in better company or when we’re alone. They’re the people who dare: “Oh, come on, it can’t hurt. Just this once?” or “Who will ever know?”

Good friends are the ones who make you want to try harder and to live better. But they accept you where you are with all of your baggage, weaknesses and flaws.

One of my favorite books is ” The Little Prince ” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery. There’s some profound wisdom in this tale. My favorite chapter is the encounter of the Little Prince and the Fox.

The prince invites the fox to come and play with him because he’s feeling sad, and the fox says he can’t, because he’s not tamed. Then the fox explains what it means to tame someone, and slowly and gradually they become fast friends.

When you tame someone, the fox tells the Little Prince, you create ties…you begin to need each other…you create rituals.

“For instance,” said the fox, “if you come each day at four…I’ll begin to be happy by three. The closer it gets to four, the happier I’ll feel. By four I’ll be all excited and worried; I’ll discover what it costs to be happy! But if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when I should prepare my heart…There must be rites.”

Lasting friendships! Who can measure their value? The bonds of friendship provide warmth and laughter in our sojourn on earth. Friends who join hands and hearts in prayer for our health or safety give us strength in time of need. Without friends, life would, indeed, be empty.

Alice, my dear friend and neighbor, if you’re out there–thank you! You were there during a ” rough patch ” in my life; a godsend and a blessing. I miss you, Alice; may God bless!