“A Not So Happy Birthday,” May 2, 2023

Note: This column is from 2009.

My mother left this world years ago. I always celebrate her birthday with a phone call to my brother to remind him that he is still her favorite, despite the fact that he is hopelessly pig-headed.

As if Joe needs reminding. He never forgets anything. Our mother used to say it was because he was born blind, that God gave him a great memory to make up for his loss of sight.

That didn’t seem to me like a very fair trade. But every time she said it, Joe would light up like Christmas. I figured, if it made him happy, why argue?

Personally, I don’t think Joe’s memory has anything to do with being blind; he just likes to recall things that I’d rather forget.

My age, for instance. He loves to remind me that I’m older than he is. Or how when we were kids, I locked him out of the house and he smashed a window and cut his wrist and had to get 12 stitches.

Or the names of all the boys I dated in high school (both of them), and how he’d be waiting up for me when I came in late.

Or the exact date I left home for good, and the ill-chosen words I said to our mother on my way out the door.

He remembers all that and more. What he can’t seem to recall is this: Sooner or later in every loss, there comes a time to stop grieving, to let go of sorrow and be thankful for the memories you treasure in your heart and for the love that will never leave you.

But grieving is different for each of us; no one can determine it for anyone else. Joe and I lost our mother in 1996, and he has missed her most every day since _ especially on her birthday. I could tell him that’s long enough, he doesn’t need to be sad on her birthday any more. He can honor her memory with laughter as much as with tears and she’d be proud of him and want him to be happy.

I could tell him all of that, and he’d agree, absolutely. But it wouldn’t change how he feels, the ache in his heart, the catch in his throat when he thinks of her, the tightening in his chest.

When we were growing up, if Joe wanted to know what something looked like _ the wind in the trees, the lightning in a storm, a stained glass window at church, or the grease on his fingers from a leg of fried chicken _ he’d nag me to find words to “picture” it for him.

I have no words to describe his grief. I can’t picture it for myself, let alone for him. It is big and dark and scary. But that doesn’t begin to describe what Joe feels. It seems connected, and renewed, as grief often is, with other losses he has suffered in recent years: His wife, the love of his life; our stepfather, his best friend; and our younger brother, the buddy he grew up with.

But as much as I try to make sense of it, and as much as I want to help him let go of it, I cannot pry it out of his heart. All I can do is sit beside him, long distance, and listen to the words he uses to try to tell me what he’s feeling, and how much it hurts.

As his sister _ and as my mother’s daughter _ that is the most and the least that I can do.

So on our mother’s birthday I called to let Joe say whatever he wanted to say, for as long as he wanted to say it. Then I told him he is still our mother’s favorite, and always will be, even though he is hopelessly pig-headed. I said he doesn’t have to be sad on her birthday; that he can honor her memory with laughter as well as with tears; that she’d be proud of him and want him to be happy.

But nothing I said to him seemed to help. We can’t take someone’s grief away from them. We can only help them carry it.

Wait! I suddenly remembered something I could say that would comfort my brother and light him up like Christmas.

“Hey, Joe,” I said. “It’s baseball season, isn’t it? I’ll bet you’re pulling like crazy for your Clemson Tigers.”

“Oh!” he hooted. “I sure am! There’s a game on the radio today!”

We ended the call, as always, with “Love you, let’s talk again soon!”

As I put down the phone, I said a quick prayer for my brother, adding, “Please, Lord, let Clemson win today.”

Then I smiled and whispered, “Happy birthday, Mama.”

“How My Sister Tried to Kill Me,” April 25, 2023

This column is from 2006:

Sometimes if I’m feeling low, I call my sister and it’s like candy, how Bobbie cheers me up. Never mind that she once tried to shoot me. Yes, with a gun. No, I’m not making it up. I have an eye witness who will back me up, if he knows what’s good for him.

But let’s not dwell on that. Far be it from me to hold a grudge against my only sister, even if she never said she was sorry.

Forgiveness usually requires repentance, but I afforded her grace for three good reasons: One, she’s my sister; two, I’m still alive; and three, by the time Bobbie repents, I’ll be dead of old age.

But enough about that. I want to tell you about how she brightens my day. Here are some examples:

When we were little girls, our parents split up. But Bobbie told me that sisters never split up, they always stick together.

When our brother was born blind, she said his blindness wouldn’t matter to anybody, except to people who didn’t matter.

When I won a scholarship and went off to college, and she stayed behind with three babies and a bad marriage, she told me to be safe, have fun and make her proud.

When I left the South to live my life in California of All Places, she flew out to be matron of honor at my wedding and let her 3-year-old scatter rose petals in my path.

When my first husband died, she put me to bed and made me rest. Six months later, she took me to Mexico and made me pose for a picture with a live chimpanzee.

Years later, when I brought my former editor to the South to meet my family, she told me if I didn’t marry him, she would.

So I married him. But that is not to say that jealousy was a motive in her nearly shooting me.

OK, here’s that story:

One summer, when I flew home with my new husband for a family reunion, my sister loaned us her car to pick up my kids at the airport. As we were leaving, I suddenly recalled what she always kept handy in the glove compartment.

“Wait here,” I told my husband, “I’ll be right back.”

I ran back in the house and found her half-asleep in her recliner.

“Sissy!” I said. “Wake up! Your gun is still in the car!”

She yawned. “My what?”

“Your gun!”

“Well, bring it in,” she said.

“I’m not touching it!”

“It won’t hurt you!”

I crossed my arms and gave her a look. She made a face, got up and stomped out to the car, mumbling words I won’t repeat.

My husband was sitting in the driver’s seat listening to a baseball game on the radio. He raised an eyebrow when he saw us.

As Bobbie opened the car door and bent down to reach into the glove box, she made a totally rude remark about my character. Never mind what. And then, OK, I’ll just go on and tell you: I poured a Diet Pepsi down the back of her pants.

It had not occurred to me that, at that very moment, she might already have the gun in her hand. I began to suspect it, however, by the look on my husband’s face — the same look I once saw when we went for a walk and a bulldog ran up and bit a chunk out of his arm.

Imagine my surprise when my sister’s head spun around like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist.” And then, yes, she fired off a shot.

Never mind that she fired it up in the air. My husband didn’t know that. Suffice it to say, hers were not the only pants that were wet.

Bobbie claims that it was all my fault. And that, if she had actually shot me, she’d have gotten off free and clear on grounds known in the South as “The fool needed killing.”

Still, there is one good thing about that incident. I mean, besides the fact that she didn’t kill me.

Since that day, if I call her up and she’s not home? It still cheers me up like candy, just to think of my sister, and the sound that Diet Pepsi made gurgling down her pants.

“Saying Goodbye,” April 18, 2023

This column is from 2014. The grandboys are older now (yes, so am I) but so far, they still seem to remember who I am.

Most things get easier with practice. But no matter how many times we do it, it never gets easier to say “goodbye.”

Some years ago, when my husband changed jobs, we left our families and friends in California to move to Las Vegas.
It was hard having 500 miles between us and the people we love. But we tried to make the best of it, visiting often, especially after grandchildren (that we thought we were never going to get) started coming out of the woodwork.

The difference between grown children and grandbabies is not how you feel about them. I love and miss mine all the same. But the little ones change overnight.

Skip a month in the life of a toddler and you’ve got to start all over. Not only will he forget you, he will look and act like an entirely different child, one that doesn’t want you near him.

My grown kids don’t change quite that fast. If I don’t see them for a month, at least I know they’ll remember me.

They’d better. I’ve spent a lot of years chiseling my name in their memory banks. I started when they were born: “I’m your mama,” I whispered in their tiny ears, “don’t you dare forget me.”

I said it so often that in time I didn’t need to say it. I could just give them a certain look and they knew what I meant. So far it seems to be working. Either they remember me or they’re pretty good at faking it.

The grandbabes are different. I don’t see them often enough to do much chiseling. But I try. For starters, I send them stuff. Books, usually, that cost $3.99 and ship for free. Talk about a bargain. I order online and a few days later, I get a call from a little voice: “Thank you for my book, Nana, I yuv it!”

And every time they see a FedEx truck, they shout, “Look! It’s Nana’s truck!”

When I go to visit, as I did recently, I send their parents out for a break, so I can spend time alone with each of the boys, doing whatever they like best.

Randy is 3. He likes trains. So I built a trestle that went nowhere, and he doubled over belly-laughing when I showed him how trains can fly.

Henry is 2. He likes jungle animals. So I threw a jungle party and all his favorite animals showed up: the lion, the rhino, the gorilla, the giraffe. And we danced until I dropped.

Wiley is 1. He likes his mama. I can’t compete with that. But he also likes to eat. So I fed him his favorites: eggs for breakfast, yogurt for lunch, pizza for dinner, crackers for snacks. And he gave me a big Wiley kiss.

I bathed them, diapered them, zipped them in their jammies and read 50 books, give or take. (“Goodnight, Gorilla,” “Giraffes Can’t Dance” and “Snuggle Puppy”were the biggest hits.)

Randy said, “Thank you, Nana, for being my nana.” Henry called me his “little darling.” Wiley pointed at me with his chubby finger and grinned.

Then I tucked them in bed, one by one, rubbed my face in their curls and asked God to watch over them forever and always and, please, Lord, bring their parents home soon.

It was easy. Exhausting, yes. Even my teeth got tired. But it was easy in the ways it’s always easy to do what you love to do. The hard part, as usual, was having to say goodbye.

It is an unnatural act to leave someone you love. Especially a child who can’t understand why you show up for a few days to build train tracks and throw jungle parties and let him eat too many crackers, and then get on an airplane and fly away.

There’s no way to explain it to them. So I kissed their parents and promised to come back soon. Then I hugged those little boys tighter than I should and whispered in their ears, “I’m your nana, don’t you dare forget me.”

Then I flew home and went online to send them more stuff.

You cannot buy love. You can only give it freely and hope to get it back. But $3.99 is a small price to pay for a memory.

And especially to get a delivery truck renamed in your honor.

“The Waiting Game,” April 11, 2023

NOTE: This column was written in 2014. It’s about my oldest child, who is now married with two children, and still acting.

His message was brief. I read it twice: “Hey, Mom, can I come see you guys this weekend?”

I wrote back, “Yippee!” Then I called the boy to get the plan. He had stuff to do before leaving town, he said, but hoped to make it in time for dinner.

I laughed. Dinner would be whenever he could get here.

“No hurry,” I said, “drive safe.”

It’s about four hours from where he lives in Los Angeles, to our home, if traffic isn’t bad. And traffic is always bad. I figured I’d be lucky to see him by 6, at best.

I made a quick run to the market, put sheets on the guest bed and set the TV to record the Warriors’ game, so if traffic was awful, he wouldn’t have to miss the first half. Then I got busy cooking, cleaning, watching the clock, pacing the floor, praying for his safety, listening for his footsteps coming up the walk.

It’s called waiting. I’m good at it. I’ve had a lot of practice. I’ve been waiting for that boy in one way or another all of his life.

For the record, I’ve waited just as much for his brother and sister. Maybe more for his sister who spent half her teen years barricaded in the bathroom blowdrying her hair. But he was my first child, my introduction and guidebook to the waiting game for moms.

When he was a newborn, I’d wait for him to fall asleep so I could do something fun like eat or brush my teeth. But pretty soon, I’d start to miss him. Then I’d stand by his crib waiting for him to wake up.

I waited, watching in awe, as he took his sweet time learning to walk and talk and feed himself; button his shirt, tie his shoes, comb his curls; pick up his toys and stop teasing his sister or putting the dog in the dryer; throw a ball, swing a bat, ride a bike, read a book.

I waited for him to start preschool, kindergarten, middle school, high school, and spent years waiting in parking lots to pick him up.

I waited with dread for him to start driving. And I waited up for him, every single time he came home late.

Next thing I knew, he was off at college and all that time that I’d spent waiting for him didn’t seem like much time at all.

So it goes with being a mother. We wait for our children to grow up _ to learn to manage just fine on their own without us. And then one day, sooner or later, they do.

That doesn’t mean the waiting game is over. It never really ends. But some waits are more memorable than others.

I well recall, for example, waiting on the set of a few TV shows to watch the boy work. (He grew up to be an actor.)

Once, when I visited him at his place in New York, our dinner plans were interrupted by an attack of appendicitis. We took a cab to the hospital. I waited for him to come out of surgery. Then I spent a week taking care of him, waiting for him to heal.

On the morning of 9/11, when I learned of the terrorist attack in New York, I kept trying to call him, but lines were jammed.

There was nothing I could do but wait and pray. When he finally called, after trying all morning to get a call through to me, he was standing on the balcony of his apartment in Manhattan watching smoke rise from the World Trade Center. 

I was far more fortunate that morning than my neighbor. She also waited by a phone, praying to hear from her daughter, only to learn hours later that she had died on board the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

Mothers wait for all sorts of reasons _ good news or bad, happiness or heartache, grace or forgiveness or just a little peace of mind. But the waiting is soon forgotten, usually, the minute a long-awaited child finally walks through the door.

My boy will be here soon, Lord willing. If he’s late, I’ll wait. I’m good at it. And he’s worth it. I will always leave a light on for him.

“An Easter Story,” April 4, 2023

This is an Easter story. I first told it some 20 years ago, but it’s still true. And truth bears repeating, now more than ever. Here it is.

I don’t need new shoes for Easter. There was a time in my life when I thought I did. But maybe I just wanted them. How do we know the difference between want and need?

The best thing about the small Southern town where I grew up — aside from its peaches, its views of the mountains and its interesting assortment of characters — was that it seldom let any of us feel truly poor.

A lot of us were, in fact, poorer than the red dirt beneath our feet. We lived, as my mother said, hand to mouth, from one mill paycheck to the next. But the families that were well off never flaunted their wealth nor allowed their children to do so.

We all went to the same school, played the same games and ate the same fried chicken in the cafeteria. We had most of what we needed, some of what we wanted and very little sense of anything that we lacked.

On Easter Sunday, most folks went to church, rich and poor, saints and sinners alike. The difference, as I saw it when I was 9 years old, was simple: Some wore new shoes, and some wore old, and we all knew who was who and which was which.

I sat in church that Easter Sunday dangling my legs from the pew, staring at the shoes my mother had polished to look almost, but not quite, good as new. They weren’t just old. They were ugly. So I promised myself, next Easter, I’d be wearing new shoes.

Want to know how I kept that promise? I lied. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I told my daddy that my mama said I needed new shoes for Easter. She didn’t say it, but I’m sure she thought it. Ever since their divorce, if she said I needed something, he’d try his best to get it.

The look on his face when he saw the price tag told me those shoes cost a fortune. But, oh my, they were worth it –white patent leather with bright silver buckles. And the clerk threw in a pair of frilly socks.

I wore them to church that Easter Sunday feeling shiny and clean, fancy and free, saved by the blood of Jesus and a brand new pair of shoes.

Then my feet started to hurt. I had blisters on both heels and all ten toes. After church, we went to my grandparents’ house for a big family dinner. My mother wouldn’t let me hunt Easter eggs with my cousins because she said I’d ruin my new shoes. I didn’t care. My feet were already ruined.

But the next day I smuggled the new shoes to school (I hid them in my jacket to get past my mother) and put them on before class. We played tag at recess and I had to be “it” the whole time because I couldn’t limp fast enough to tag anybody.

Then at lunch, I sat next to a friend who was wearing, I swear, a pair of old, beat-up, hand-me-down sneakers that were three sizes too big and had once belonged to her brother. She kept staring at my new shoes. And the longer she stared, the more my feet hurt.

By the time I got home, I never wanted to see those shoes again, let alone, wear them. I finally gave them to my cousin Bad Linda, who wore them unbuckled because they were too small, and nagged me until I gave her the frilly socks.

I learned some lessons that Easter. First, salvation is a lot like true wealth. It’s not about the shoes on your feet; it’s about the love and compassion and saving grace that’s in your heart.

Second, if you’re going to lie to your daddy about something your mother said, you’d best be sure he never talks to her.

Finally, it doesn’t matter how good you look or how fancy it makes you feel. If the shoe doesn’t fit — if it hurts your feet or your friend or slows you down in any way — you’ll be happier without it.

I don’t need new shoes this Easter. Maybe next year.

“All That Matters,” March 28, 2023

This column is from 2003:

“All that matters,” said Lewis Carroll, the English cleric who gave us Alice and her wonderful adventures, “is what we do for each other.”

I’m not sure if what we do for each other is all that matters. But I do know that it matters a lot. Sometimes it matters more than anything. And often, it’s the smallest things _ a touch, a smile, a few kind words _ that somehow seem to matter most.

Looking back over my life, I can list a thousand kindnesses, large and small, that were just what I needed, when I needed them most _ and I’ll always remember the people who sent them my way.

When I was a very little girl with a rather broken heart, my grandmother made for me a doll _ a magic doll that had the power to heal, she said, a doll that would tell me, if I listened closely, all the things I needed to hear, things that every child ought to be told. Her name _ both that of my grandmother and the doll, who still tells me, if I listen closely, things I need to hear _ was Grace.

When I was a senior in high school, praying for a miracle to pay my way to college, a deacon in my church made all the arrangements _ signed me up, paid the fees and drove me to the school _ to take a test that resulted in an all-expenses paid scholarship. His name was Mr. Christopher, but I mostly called him Sir.

Years ago, when my late husband was diagnosed with cancer, we had a chance to find out, as they say, not only who our real friends were (more than real, they were true) but also, how incredibly kind so-called strangers can be.

Readers of my column _ people we had never met _ wrote to say they were praying for us, and that their children were praying for our children.

So many casseroles showed up at our door I began to think I might never need to cook again.

There were countless offers to do errands or chores, whatever we needed, if only just someone to sit and listen. I can assure you, every kindness mattered.

But one of kindnesses that I remember best is this: A colleague of my husband’s _a fellow teacher he knew, but didn’t know well _ came to visit him after his first surgery. And then he kept coming back. He showed up most every day, come what may, on the best and the worst days of our lives _ for the last four years of my husband’s life.

It was gift to my husband, to our children, and especially to me. But I am certain it was also a gift to the giver. When we feel as if there’s nothing we can do, it helps just to do whatever we can.

The things we do for each other _ to prop each other up _ matter once in the doing, and always in memory. Having sat on both sides of that lovely fence _ and having received far more than I’ve given _ I have to say I like the giving side best.

To some, or maybe to all of us, nothing matters more, or feels better, than doing something to help someone in need. That’s just how we’re made. Sometimes, if you’re feeling low _thinking you don’t matter, wishing you could hide under the porch with the dogs_ maybe it’s be it’s because you’re not doing enough to help someone who needs you. Or maybe you’re doing too much. Only you can be the judge of that.

Often the hardest part of helping someone is knowing what to do. Recently, I learned that a dear friend was hurting for her child, a burden almost too much to bear. I wanted to help her carry that burden, but couldn’t think of a way. Then I remembered what someone had done for me once. And I offered to do the same for her.

It’s simple. When she needs a break from worrying about her child, she tells me and, for a while, I do the worrying for her, so she can take a break. We all have our gifts. I’m good at worrying. And slowly, after years of practice, I’m learning to turn worry into prayer.

Like candles on an altar,or fireflies on a lake, kindness makes dark days brighter and hard times easier to bear.
My friend says it helps her to know I’m praying for her child. It helps me, too. And it matters a lot to us both.

“All Is Grace,” March 21, 2023

This column is from 2014:

We make the world a better place by being better people _ kinder, gentler, slow to judge, quick to offer grace. I believe that. But somedays, it’s easier said than done.

Last week, I stopped at the market to pick up a few things. I was in a rush to get home and start dinner. Yes, that’s a lame excuse, but it’s all I’ve got.

I grabbed what I needed and dashed to the check-out stand. Lines were long, except at the 15-items-or-less counter, where only one customer was ahead of me: A man with just one item, a small jar of some kind of salve. He slammed it on the counter.

“I bought this yesterday,” he told the clerk, “and you didn’t give me points. I want my points.”

I hate points. I’m never sure how to use them. Apparently, if you save them up, you can get 10 cents off a gallon of gas under a full moon at a Speedy Mart 40 miles across town, if your membership card will scan at the pump, which mine will not.

I hate those cards. I can never find them when I need them. Then I get dirty looks for holding up the line while I paw through my purse for something that will give me a discount that everybody ought to get anyway.

But back to the man and his points. The clerk smiled and said, “Sorry, sir, you need to take that to customer service.”

“No,” he snarled, “you do it!”

So she spent five minutes punching in numbers for the refund, and then re-rang the sale.

Meanwhile, the man ranted a blue streak on his cell phone to some poor soul (his wife?) about the audacity of the store, the ineptitude of its employees and the general unfairness of life.

“Here you go, sir,” the clerk said. “I gave you the points.”

He studied the receipt. “I had more points before. What did you do with them?”

I started to offer him all the points I never use, but a manager showed up to take him to customer service.

I told the clerk I admired her graciousness and she laughed. “It goes with the job,” she said.

Driving home, I thought about her answer. It made me wonder. Is it really our “job” to offer grace to someone who is being so completely ungracious?

I’ve been asking myself that question for days now, and the answer keeps coming up “yes.” Not because, like the clerk, I get paid to be gracious. But because grace is a gift that I have been given countless times in my life with just one condition: That I give it back to others in need.

I have no idea why the point man behaved as he did. I know nothing about him or what might’ve been going on his life to make him lose patience so quickly.

Years ago, when my first husband was battling cancer, I lost patience for lots of stuff. The December before he died, a friend came to stay with him so I could do some Christmas shopping. I promised to hurry back. In line at Macy’s, I heard a woman complaining that she always had to buy her own gifts because her husband never gave her anything that she liked.

I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood. Then a man cut in line to ask the clerk a question and I heard myself say, “Hey, buddy! There’s a line here!”

Every head in the store turned to stare at me. I was mortified. I wanted to crawl under the counter and hide.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, I burst into tears. And the woman who had complained about her husband said, “It’s OK, honey,” and handed me a tissue.

No one that day could’ve known why I behaved as I did. I couldn’t believe it myself. But somehow it seemed they all agreed, God bless them, to give me a little break.

I wish I’d done the same for the man who wanted his points.

Everybody needs a break once in a while. We don’t have to know the reasons why. We just have to remember that sooner or later, it will be one of us _ yes, you or me _ desperately in need of a little grace.

Not to worry. It will probably be me.

“Finding Peace,” March 14, 2023

This column is from 2018.

If you have traveled for long on this rocky road called life, you might’ve noticed that it is a beautiful and baffling blend of conflict and peace.

It’s not just one or the other. It’s both. To experience both conflict and peace, and embrace them as gracefully and honestly as we can, is what it means, I believe, to be truly alive.

Some 30 years ago, I was a feature writer for a newspaper when my editor called me into his office and said he wanted me to start writing a column.

“About what?” I asked.

“Think about it,” he said.

So I thought about it all evening while keeping score for my son’s baseball game.

There were many fine columnists writing about all sorts of things. What could I possibly have to say that wasn’t already being said by someone who was smarter and far better at it than I would ever be?

The answer to that question would change not only my job, but my life. It came to me at the end of the game when I heard the coach tell his young team (who had lost another “close one”) not what they did wrong, but what they did right:

“You guys gave it your best today,” he said. “I was proud of you, and you should be proud, too. See you at practice tomorrow!”

It occurred to me that most newspaper columns, not all, but many, focus on conflict — on the countless things we get wrong in this world and the ways that we might make them right.

That is as it should be. Someone needs to write about conflict, clearly and honestly and compellingly, to help us understand and resolve it. But that was being done, and done well, I thought, both then and now.

So I decided instead to write about peace. About ordinary, everyday matters of the heart. Things most of us can agree on, rather than argue about. Things that tell us who we are and how we are alike. That bring us together rather than drive us apart.

I’ve never done it half as well as I wish I could. But in every column I’ve ever written, I’ve tried in some way to say this: We are all in this life together. We need to care for each other, rely on each other, and put up with each other as best we can. It’s a matter of faith and humanity, practicality and survival.

In my personal life, I don’t ignore conflict. It refuses to be ignored. Somedays, perhaps like you, I feel as if I’ve reached my limit. When that happens, I turn my face to the sun, listen for the laughter of those I love, take a deep breath, and begin again.

We never need to search for conflict. It will always find us. But to understand and resolve it, we need to begin by finding peace within ourselves and offering it to those around us.

How do we do that? I don’t know what brings you peace. I usually begin by reminding myself (yes, once again) that I am not in charge of the world. There are some things I can do (pray, mostly) and a lot of things that I can’t. Either way, life goes on with or without me.

How do we find peace for ourselves and, in turn, offer it to one another and to the world? Sometimes I think it helps to practice some of the things we were taught as children:

_ Stop shouting and say clearly how you feel.
_ Stop name calling and speak your mind with respect.
_ Use your words, not your fists.
_ Ask questions. Don’t interrupt. Listen to the answers.
_ Seek first to understand before trying to make yourself understood.
_ Be polite, but persistent. Never give up, or give in to injustice. Speak the Truth for others who can’t speak for themselves.
_ Do your best everyday in the game of life. Be proud of your efforts and those of your teammates. And always show up for practice.

More than just an end to conflict, peace is an act of forgiveness for ourselves and for others. It’s a gift we are given, free and clear, every time we give it away. May we all find it together.

“Sisters,” March 7, 2023

This column is from 2017.

There she was, my best friend in the great state of Nevada, the kindred soul that I call my “oasis in the desert,” beaming up at me from a photo she posted on Facebook with two women she’s known even longer than she’s known me.

Linda might not say she likes them better than she likes me. But I can’t blame her if she does. They’re her sisters. Blood kin. They’ve known each other forever. They grew up together. Skinned their knees on the same rocks. Dried their backsides on the same towels. Buried their faces in the same pillows. And fought, laughed and loved each other in everything and nothing.

They know each other’s stories and played major roles in most of them. And three years ago, when they lost the mother they adored, they held each other close, dried each other’s tears and promised to get together again soon. It’s hard to forge a stronger bond than that.

I know the feeling. I have a sister, too. Mine lives in South Carolina. Linda’s live in Kansas. It’s a long way from Vegas to South Carolina or Kansas. We don’t get to see our sisters as often as we wish we could.

Maybe that’s why Linda and I have become so close. We live a few miles apart. When one of us calls the other to say, “Wanna meet for lunch?” the answer is usually, “I’m on my way!”

Our husbands are friends, too, so when the four of us get together, they don’t seem to mind that Linda and I talk nonstop and ignore them.

But our friendship is far more than just one of convenience. Spending time together helps to fill the void that comes from missing our blood sisters. It also allows us to tell our stories.

Ten years ago, when my husband’s job took us from the coast of Northern California to the desert outside Las Vegas, we left behind, not only our grown children (my three and his two) but a wealth of friends we’d known and loved for years.

Good friends can never be replaced. If you move far away from them, you stay in touch as best you can. And when you get together, you pick up where you left off. But at the same time, if you’re lucky, you make new friends to share your new life.

More than lucky, I was blessed to be befriended by Linda. We met through our husbands who worked together. From the start, we felt a connection, as if we knew things about each other we had no way of knowing.

Turns out, we have lots in common. We grew up in small towns in families that struggled to make ends meet, but always had “enough.” Our values are remarkably similar. We care about the same things. And though we can’t prove it, we like to brag that we’re the only two women in the Las Vegas Valley who ever used a real outhouse.

Mostly, we like to laugh. And we love to tell stories _ stories about growing up, raising our children, becoming who we are.

In the past 10 years, we’ve spent hours every few weeks or so telling each other our stories. And we still have more to tell.

Sharing stories can turn strangers into friends. It can also turn friends into sisters.

Linda and I aren’t sisters by birth. We’re sisters by choice. I have one birth sister and a whole family of chosen ones.

I hope you do, too. You can never have too many sisters.

The photo Linda posted is a keeper: Three women of a certain age with the same smiles, same eyes, same history and same joy at being together.

In their faces are the same little girls they once were, and will forever be, holding onto each other, come what may _ and having too much fun.

I wish you could see them.

And I really wish I could’ve been in that photo with them.

(Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or www.sharonrandall.com.)

“The Spring-Green Persistence of Life,” Feb. 28, 2023

(Note: I wrote this column in 2015, while living in Las Vegas of All Places.)

For me, two of the loveliest words in the English language are “Life persists.”

I happened on them years ago as a college freshman, sitting in the library on a gorgeous spring day, bored spitless, working on a history paper. I don’t recall what I was researching. Funny, isn’t it, the things we find while looking for something else?

Out of nowhere, those two words came dancing off the page in a quote by Gandhi from his essay “On God”: “In the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.”

Suddenly I wasn’t bored any more. I reread those words a dozen times. Then I closed the book and left the library. Outside in dazzling sunshine, I kicked off my Weejuns and danced barefoot across a spring-green lawn back to the dorm to call my granddad.

A man of many talents, and the father of 12 children, he’d been a baker, a shoe salesman, a restaurateur and a sometime Baptist preacher, who, as my grandmother liked to say, “worked for the Lord when he couldn’t find a paying job.”

Growing up, I loved to talk with him about what he called “the things of God.” I was pretty sure the Gandhi quote fit that category, and I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d think of it. He was a mite hard of hearing, so I had to repeat it a few times, but once he got it, he laughed.

“All I can say to that,” he said, “is amen and amen and amen!”

We talked for a while about other things, my schooling, his checker playing, the weather. I told him how glad I was, after a long winter, to finally see spring and especially to find that quote.

“Why is that?” he asked.

I was feeling all full of myself, a big college freshman, so I said, “Well, spring is a sure sign that, like the quote says, life persists. And it just makes me happy.”

He chuckled again, the way you might laugh at a slow-witted dog that finally learns to sit up and beg for a bone.

Then, in his lovely baritone preacher’s voice, he recited just for me his favorite “springtime” verse, words from the prophet Isaiah: “The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose … even with joy and singing.”

My granddad. I wish you could’ve known him.

I told you all that to tell you this. I love spring. And this year, I was especially hungry to see it. Maybe you were, too.

Flying home last weekend to Las Vegas, after 10 days in California, I looked down on hills that were so green I could almost taste them. Nearing Vegas, the green turned a drab desert brown. We landed after sunset, and the only green to be seen was neon.

But the next morning, to my surprise, I awoke to find signs of spring all over my yard. In my absence, all sorts of things had sprouted and leafed and budded and bloomed. I’d tell you their names, but I’m sorry, I don’t know them. I just call them Lucy or Ethel or Fred.

Three days later, my husband and I drove to Scottsdale, Ariz., to see the Giants play the A’s in spring training. The drive across the desert was flat-out spectacular, a profusion of wildflowers and blooming cactus. I could almost hear my granddad laughing, “The desert shall rejoice.”

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re still alive.

After my first husband died, a friend sent me a card that made me want to kick off my shoes and dance barefoot on the grass. It read, “Just when you think you will never smile again, life comes back.”

Life persists, and so do we, in the green of spring and the dead of winter; in the birth of a child and the passing of a loved one; in the words and deeds we leave behind and in the hearts of those who will remember us.

Spring reminds us that life persists and we’re alive forever.

Amen and amen and amen.

(Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or www.sharonrandall.com.)