“Bitter or Better?” May 17, 2022

What would you say has been the greatest loss of your life? The death of a loved one? The end of a relationship? A fork in the road that took you to a place you never wanted to go?

When you look back on that loss, at the heartache it caused and the time it took to heal, what do you see?

Were there lessons you learned? Were there blessings that eased the pain? Did you find yourself feeling thankful, not for the loss, but for the gifts it brought, shining like rainbows in the midst of a storm?

Loss always brings gifts. The greater the loss, the greater the gifts. Sometimes we can only see them in hindsight. But in the end, we have to choose: Will the loss make us bitter or better?

My three children were barely grown when we lost their dad to cancer. He had been ill for four years, and watching him suffer took a toll on us all. We were so sure he would beat it. When he didn’t, it struck us so hard I feared we might never recover.

Then came this gift: We had always been close as a family. But losing him drew us even closer. My children were my inspiration. I leaned on them and they leaned on me, and by the grace of God, and the help of good friends, we grew not bitter, but better. Nothing has ever made me prouder. I’ll bet it makes their dad proud, too.

But my favorite example of the bitter-or-better choice will always be my brother Joe. I’ve written about him countless times and am always glad to hear from readers who find him almost as inspiring (if not quite as stubborn) as I do.

Totally blind all his life, and severely impaired by cerebral palsy, Joe lives alone, gets around with a walker, does his own cooking (he used to fry chicken, until he nearly set himself on fire) and always seems to be, as he says, “Just fine, thank you very much.”

Joe knows more about loss and how to survive it than anyone I’ve ever known. He and I live on opposite coasts but keep in touch by phone. The family we grew up in has dwindled nearly to extinction.

Some years ago, Joe lost, one by one, our mother, who was his champion; our stepfather, who was his best friend; and his wife, who was the love of his life.

He was devastated. But his faith never wavered. He leaned on his Lord, his family and the good people in his church. Then he gathered up the pieces of the darkness all around him, and moved on with his life, shining a light for others to follow.

Joe makes the bitter-or-better choice a no-brainer. He gets up each morning, straps on his leg braces, shuffles to the kitchen, fries up some eggs, turns on the radio and pulls for the Clemson Tigers to win another game.

I tell myself, if my brother can do all that and more without complaining, the least I can do is choose better over bitter, too.

It helps to have inspiration. I have more than my share. Not just from Joe. It arrives most every day in mail from readers who write to share their stories about the heartbreaks they are facing and overcoming as they choose to be better, not bitter.

I wish you could read them.

For more than two years, the pandemic has heaped loss, to one degree or another, on us all. The loss of lives and loved ones and time spent together. The loss of all sorts of things we once took for granted.

We try to tell ourselves loss is just a part of life, something everyone suffers sooner or later. But when it strikes, there is no way to diminish it. And no one should have to suffer it alone.

We all need inspiration. If you’re longing to find it, you will. Look to your faith, your family, your neighbors and friends. Look all around you.

But most of all, look in your heart. In the end, bitter or better, you’ll choose it there.

“Tips on How to Stay Married,” May 10, 2022

Marriage is an excellent teacher on life _ on how to live it and survive it and share it with someone you love.

And a wedding anniversary is a perfect occasion to look back and celebrate the times, good and bad, you have weathered together, and all the things you have learned along the way.

My husband and I will soon celebrate 17 years of marriage. I’m happy to say we’re still hoping for at least 17 more.

I was also married for 30 years before losing my first husband to cancer. Nearly 50 years of marriage doesn’t make me an expert. But it has taught me a few things. And like all the women in my family, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.

Here’s a freshly updated list I collected years ago (with much appreciated help from readers) of tips on how to stay married.

1_ Listen to each other. Seek first to understand before trying to be understood. When you are wrong, say you are sorry. When you are right, shut up.

2_ Don’t tie a half-hitch knot. Plan to stay married forever.

3_ Never go to sleep angry. Keep talking until you get over it or forget why you were mad.

4_ Laugh together. If you can laugh at yourself, it’ll be easy.

5_ Never embarrass, criticize or correct one another in public; try not to do it in private either.

6_ Remember one of life’s ironies: We are least lovable when we need love most.

7_ Don’t expect perfection. It doesn’t exist. If it did, it would bore you spitless.

8_ On days when you don’t like each other, try to remember that you love each other. Pray for the “good days” to come again, then act as if they have.

9_ Tell the truth, only the truth, and always with great kindness.

10_ Kiss for at least 10 seconds everyday without fail; do it all at once or spread it out.

11_ Examine your relationship often. Know its strengths and vulnerabilities. Keep moving in the direction you want it to go.

12_ Be content with what you have materially, honest about where you are emotionally, and never stop growing spiritually.

13_ To love someone is to wish them the best; always wish each other nothing but the very best.

14_ Never yell unless the house is on fire. Speak softly when you argue. Whisper when you fight. Keep it fair and show some class. Hurtful words can be forgiven, but they can never be forgotten, or taken back.

15_ Be both friends and lovers. Friendship is the oil that keeps you moving in the same direction. Love is the glue that holds you together.

16_ Show by your actions as well as your words that the person you married comes first in your life. Let nothing and no one ever come between you.

17_ Remember that you’re in love. Kiss in elevators. Hold hands in movies. Lock eyes across a crowded room. Say “You are beautiful and I love you” at least once a day. Then say it again every night.

18_ Never miss an anniversary, a birthday or a chance to make a memory. Memories may not seem important now, but one day you will treasure them.

19_ Take care of business. Pay your bills, change your oil, cut your grass, call your mother.

20 _ Open your home and your hearts to angels unaware. Teach Sunday school. Coach Little League. Feed the homeless. Talk to strangers. Pick up trash. Make something beautiful of your life together.

Finally, here’s the best advice I’ve ever heard or offered: Do what you want. Lead your own life. Follow your own calling. Be an interesting person, each of you on your own. But always save your best for each other.

And in the end, you will know you were better together than you ever could’ve been apart.

Happy anniversary. Here’s wishing you many more years to celebrate life together.

“Keeping Things Alive,” May 3, 2022

This may seem strange, but I need to tell somebody, and I’m trusting you to understand.

Here goes. I recently adopted a new family _ seven individuals with distinct personalities, not to mention a few peculiarities.

We’re having fun getting to know one another. Or at least, I am. If they have any complaints, they’ve not said a word.

Why did I adopt a new family? Let me be clear. My decision to adopt them had nothing to do with my love for the real family my husband and I share _ a big blended bunch of great people, including five wonderful grown children, their lovely others and nine of the finest grandkids the world has ever seen.

I adore my real family and love to spend time with them. Always have. Always will. Especially if I don’t have to cook.

But two years ago, when the pandemic brought gatherings of family and friends (and even strangers in the check-out line) to a screeching halt, I began to feel a need _ I’ll just say this _ for a little more life in my life.

Have you felt that need, too?

Again, don’t get me wrong. My husband is a great companion. We’ve made the best of our time in semi-solitary confinement.

We have lots in common. We both like to eat. And sleep. And talk. Or not talk. We take turns cooking and cleaning. We use a tag team system to empty the dishwasher. He hands me the dishes, I put them away. He takes the trash cans down to the street. I do the laundry. We both fold it. He plays a video game killing demons. I play FreeCell creating order in chaos. (I like to create order any way I can.)

We watch TV together: Giants’ baseball, Warriors’ basketball and “Station 19,” a show in which my actor son plays a really good-looking fire captain.

And if the weather is nice, as it often is, we sit outside in the evening watching the sun go down, the moon come up, the stars come out and the lights come on around the valley.

Life is good for us. I hope it is for you, too. But as I explained, the disconnect of the pandemic somehow made me welcome a new family into our home. They hang out in our living room. I think they’re happy. I’m trying hard not to kill them.

Allow me to introduce to you my new family of plants. They sit stacked, one above the other, on several shelves in the corner between two sunny windows.

I’m clueless about botanical names, so I gave them common names that seem to suit them.

Gloria (short for glorious) is a gorgeous white orchid who sits on the top shelf like a queen.

Next is Jessica, with frilly green leaves speckled in pink. She’s named for my daughter-in-law, who gave her to me.

On the third shelf is Celine, a desert princess with tiny white flowers. She reminds me of our years in Las Vegas of all Places.

At the bottom, shoulder to shoulder, like leafy green guards are four big plants of various varieties. I call them “The Boys.”

And interspersed on the shelves are three remarkably real-looking battery operated candles controlled by the click of a remote. A gift from my friend Linda, they light up those plants (and my heart) like Christmas.

I wish you could see them.

I’ve never been a plant person. Over the years, I had my share of violets and such, but they never lasted long. I was always so busy taking care of the people in my life I kept forgetting that plants are living things, too.

They need love and care, or at least, a little water. I hope to do better with Gloria, Jessica, Celine and The Boys.

Once, as a child helping my grandmother tend her garden, I asked her why she did it. Her family was grown. She could buy produce at the market. Why did she keep pulling those weeds?

She laughed and gave me a look. “Keeping things alive,” she said, “keeps me alive, too.”

I didn’t understand it then. But it’s starting to make sense.

“Beauty’s More Than Skin Deep,” April 26, 2022

When was the first time you felt beautiful? Not the kind of beauty you see in a mirror, but the kind you feel when you know that to someone who loves you, you’ll always be a beauty.

Six months after my brother Joe was born, my mother was told he was totally blind and suffered from cerebral palsy, a condition that would impair his walking, but not his will.

I was four years old and had no clue what a gift Joe would be to me. Growing up, he was a thorn in my flesh, making me tell him stories or sing him to sleep. And if his tricycle got stuck in a ditch, as it always did, he’d yell for me to get him out.

Worst of all, he made me tell him what things looked like. I’d try my best to describe, say, the colors of a sunrise. The legs on a rooster. Or the cars on the trains that rattled past our house.

I’d try and try again. But if I didn’t get it exactly as he saw it in his head, he’d say, “That’s not it, Sister. Try again.”

When I was 8, I accidentally broke out my permanent front tooth. A porcelain crown would cost more than my family could afford. So for years, my front tooth was a shiny silver crown.

Some boys at school meant no harm, but took great delight in chanting, “Here comes the Lone Ranger and her silver bullet!”

At first I liked the attention, such as it was. But it got old. One day, Joe heard me crying.

“What’s wrong, Sister?”

“Nothin’!” I said. “Go away!”

He wouldn’t let it go. When he got something in his head, he was like a dog with a bone. So I told him. And he laughed.

“A silver bullet!” he said, clapping. “What a hoot!”

Then I began to bawl and he hushed, took my face in his hands and ran his fingers over my eyes, my nose, my mouth.

“Sister,” he said. “You’re a beauty. Don’t forget it. And if them boys don’t leave you alone, tell ’em your blind baby brother will teach ’em some manners.”

I wish you could’ve seen the looks on those boys’ faces when I told them what Joe had said.

At 18, Joe decided he had learned enough at the school for the blind, got a job running the courthouse snackbar and rented an apartment to live on his own, 30 miles from our mother.

I was happy for him. Mama was not. Then one day she called me up in a hissy fit.

“He got MARRIED!” she said, “to a STRANGER of all things! We’ve got to do SOMETHING!”

“Calm down, Mama,” I said, “I’ll call him.”

“HURRY!” she said.

Joe answered on the first ring. “Hey, Sister, I figured you’d be calling. Yes, I got married. My wife is a real beauty. We’ve only known each other three weeks, and I know Mama’s not happy about it. But even a blind man can fall in love at first sight.”

His bride, Tommie Jean, was also blind. They’d walk hand-in-hand with Joe tapping the way with his cane. Rarely more than an arm’s reach apart, they were always laughing and whispering secrets. Their happiness made everyone who saw it happier, even in due time, our mother.

In the eyes of the world, Tommie Jean was no beauty. She never saw her own face, but she radiated joy in a way that made her shine. She and Joe shared 10 good years before he lost her to cancer. And for him, she will always be a beauty.

When I sit down to do my makeup at a table filled with products that promise to work miracles, I remind myself that miracles can happen. Then I begin. Foundation. Concealer. Eye shadow. Mascara. Lipstick.

Finally, I look in the mirror hoping to see not the face I woke up with, but the one my brother sees when he pictures me. Some days I can almost hear him say, “That’s not it, Sister. Try again.”

But here’s what I learned from his beloved: True beauty can’t be seen in a mirror. It can only be felt in our heart and soul and in the touch of one who loves us.

The best beauty secret is love.

“A Not So Bad Fall,” April 19, 2022

One of my all-time favorite reads is “Growing Up” by Russell Baker, a Pulitzer-Prize winning autobiography in which Baker writes beautifully and often hilariously about life—his and mine and yours. I read it almost 40 years ago and have never forgotten it, especially its opening sentence:

“At the age of eighty my mother had her last bad fall, and after that her mind wandered free through time.”

I first read that line in a bookstore/coffee shop and laughed so hard I snorted coffee out my nose. Falls are no laughing matter. But it made me think of my grandmother, a woman I adored, who ranked her falls in order from “not bad” to “pretty bad” to “hell’s bells.”

At the time, I was too young to appreciate the fear of falling that often comes with age. I’ve since had a few falls of my own, even a couple that might rank as “hell’s bells.” But they weren’t caused by age. I wasn’t old. I was clumsy. Always have been. Always will be.

Recently, my 3-year-old grandson, Jonah, took me on a walk in a field riddled with gopher holes. I was trying to dodge the holes when Jonah reached up to take my hand and said, “Here, Nana, I help you.”

That wasn’t a sign of my age. It was an act of Jonah’s love.

In my worst fall five years ago, I slipped on a wet floor, broke my ankle and injured my back. The ankle healed. The back still hurts. The indignity lingers on.

All of that is to tell you this:

Last week, for the first time in years, I was reminded of that first sentence in “Growing Up.” I’d spent the morning running errands, stopped for lunch at a restaurant and was hurrying out the door to do more errands when something caught my eye.

A little girl, age 3 or 4, almost as cute as Jonah, was going in the restaurant with her mother. As we passed, I waved and she waved back with a big smile.

I wish you could’ve seen her.

I kept walking, looking back over my shoulder at her. And that is when it happened. I didn’t see the crack in the sidewalk. It caught the toe of my boot and sent me sprawling face first onto the pavement.

Talk about embarrassing.

The little girl’s mother rushed over to ask, “Are you all right?”

I lay there a moment thinking. Finally I said, “I’m not sure.”

The little girl stared wide-eyed as if watching her first ever horror movie. I managed to give her a sideways fake smile.

Suddenly two tall men showed up out of nowhere like angels in blue jeans and puffy jackets, offered their assistance and picked me up off the pavement.

I tested my limbs. They seemed to work. My knees were skinned, but no broken bones.

So I thanked everyone for their kindness: The little girl, her mother, the two tall men and God and all his angels. Then we all went our separate ways.

I skipped the errands and drove home to lie down for a bit and let my mind wander free. Was this my last bad fall? Were there bigger falls ahead? Would my sister loan me her walker?

Funny, isn’t it? One minute we’re running errands. Then we’re lying on the pavement needing help from strangers. Or an ambulance. Or a hearse.

Most days, I pray (unless I forget) for happiness, health and safety for my loved ones, myself and the world. I try to pay attention (usually) and stay out of trouble (if I can.) That’s about all I can do. The rest isn’t up to me. If it were, we might all be in “hell’s bells” trouble.

Life lets us choose, day by day, how we want to live: Will we fill our minds with fear of things that may never happen? Or will we fill our hearts with gratitude for what we know to be true?

I took a fall, but survived it, thanks in part to the kindness of strangers. And I lived to be thankful, yes, another day.

It was a good day. Somewhere my grandmother was smiling.

“Randy’s Good Heart,” April 12, 2022

The good thing about a long drive is it gives you time to talk.

My grandson, Randy, is 11, soon to start middle school, that turning point in life when being with friends is a lot more fun than hanging out with Nana.

I’m glad to say he still seems to like being with me and playing video games with Papa Mark.

We try to see Randy and his family as often as we can, but it never feels often enough.

That’s how it is with people you love. No matter how hard you try, there’s seldom enough time to say all you want to say and hear all you need to hear.

I often think of questions I wish I’d asked my parents and grandparents when I had the chance. Unfortunately, the answers to those questions now lie buried with the only people who could answer them.

When Randy and his brother and sister take turns spending a night with us, I like to pick them up so we can talk for half an hour driving to our place.

This weekend it was Randy’s turn. He’s old enough to sit up front in the car, but I made him sit in back because it’s safer. (That’s one of the facts the kids like to cite when we play a game we call “Name the safest thing you can think of and Nana will tell you 50 ways it can kill you.”)

On the drive, we talked for a while about everything and nothing. Then Randy said, “Nana, how do you decide what to be when you grow up?”

I glanced at his face in the rearview mirror. He was serious.

“Well, buddy,” I said, “that’s nothing you need to decide just yet. Do you think about it a lot?”

He nodded. “People in my family all have important jobs they’re proud of. I want to do something I’ll be proud of, too.”

“Like what?” I said.

“I might be a mechanical engineer, but I’m not sure. I think a lot about Grandpa Randy. So many people looked up to him. I want to be like him, but I don’t know if I can.”

My first husband, for whom Randy is named, was a chemical engineer when we met. But he decided he wanted to teach and coach. So that’s what he did for 30 years, until he died of cancer.

Randy never met him, but he’s heard lots about him and he’s seen the gym at Monterey High School that bears his name.

“Actually,” I said, “both you and your dad are a lot like your Grandpa Randy. You both have a good heart, just like he did.”

I told him the story of how his grandpa’s decision to trust his heart and change careers made such a difference in his life. Randy listened, then sat for a while, staring at passing cars.

How do you explain to a child how to follow his heart? How do you define indefinable concepts (like faith or hope or love) if you don’t understand them yourself?

Some things can’t be defined. They can only be felt. I couldn’t explain it. Finally, I said this:

“Just trust me, buddy. I’m old and I know stuff. You have a good heart. It will lead you where you need to go. You’ll be a great person, and do great things, and your family will all be proud of you. Especially me.”

He grinned at me in the rearview mirror.

I wish you could’ve seen him.

Minutes later, we pulled up to the house and he bolted inside to play video games with Papa Mark.

The next day, when it was time for Randy to go home, Papa Mark offered to drive him because I needed to work.

Before they left, I held Randy’s face in my hands and asked him the questions I’ve taught my grandchildren how to answer:

“How much do I love you?”

“All,” he said, laughing.

“And where is your nana when you can’t see her?”

“In my heart,” he said, placing a hand on his chest. We hugged long and hard, then they left.

Life is full of mysteries. I’d love to see what Randy will do in life. For now, I get to listen to his questions, help him look for answers, and bake his favorite peanut butter cookies.

And I hope I will forever have a place in his good heart.

“Living the Dream,” April 5, 2022

Out in the garage, my husband is playing his bass. I’m in the living room working on a column. He thinks I don’t hear him, but I do. Nothing is noisier than somebody trying hard not to make too much noise.

He’s a gifted musician and quite the perfectionist. He often practices for hours playing the same notes over and over.

At times, it’s enough to make me want to run screaming out the driveway, snatching myself bald. Instead, I take my laptop into the bedroom, shut the door and go back to work.

If you’ve ever lived with a musician, you probably know, no matter how much you adore them, the survival of your relationship (and possibly someone’s life) requires a little tolerance. Or insanity. Or both.

I shouldn’t complain. I knew he was a musician when I married him. He was also an editor (and my editor for a while) but I didn’t let that stop me. I’d been a widow for years before we were married, and my youngest child was a drummer.

If you’ve lived with a drummer and survived to talk about it, you might feel a bit invincible.

I am not invincible. Far from it. But I love music and most anyone who plays it reasonably well. Including my husband.

Now he’s playing “Danny Boy.” And it is just as lovely as you and I and all God’s angels could ever hope for it to be.

I wish you could hear him.

Don’t tell him I said that. It’ll only make him practice more.

Today he’s working on a set list for an upcoming real-live gig. It will be the first public appearance he’s played in more than two years, since the pandemic shut down so many of life’s pleasures, like church and school and human interaction.

For me, it shut down speaking engagements, one of the parts of my job I like best. But that, too, is reopening. Lately, I’ve spoken to a few book clubs. And tomorrow, I’ll talk about writing and life and other mysteries to a woman’s club where I first spoke some 30 years ago. I hope they’ll still recognize me.

The difference between my speaking and my husband’s playing music is simple: I don’t practice. I just show up and talk. If I spend time working on what I’ll say, he never has to hear it.
He always knows when I’m working, especially if I work late because it keeps him awake. But he never complains. And I get pretty deep into my work. If the house caught fire, I might not notice, unless he dragged me and my laptop out the door.

I write the way he plays music. We always want to give it our best. If the house ever catches fire when we’re both working, we’ll be in serious trouble.

As a child, I never dreamed of being a writer. I dreamed of singing and playing piano. My family had no money for piano lessons, but I learned to sing by listening to my mother and her sisters sing harmony on the porch.

Writing required no money, except for pencils or paper, and it seemed most anybody could do it, so I took that up, too.

Dreams come true in all sorts of ways, not always as we plan.

I’ve been singing and writing most of my life. I sing mainly to myself and to babies or others who don’t care how I sound. And I write stories for readers who are kind enough to say that my stories are their stories, too.

My husband dreamed of being a musician, but he also dreamed of earning a living. So he worked for a newspaper and played music after work. He’s retired now from his day job and happy to play day and night in our garage. And I am happy to hear him. Except when he plays the same notes over and over.

I try to encourage him to do what he loves, and he does the same for me. That’s what friends do. Especially friends who are married to each other and want to stay that way.

Some might call it a dream come true. I just call it living the dream, one bass note at a time.

“Forever Friends,” March 29, 2022

My husband and I and our friend Linda were in the airport, planning to get dinner (I wanted calamari) before Linda’s flight left Monterey for Las Vegas. On our way into the restaurant we passed an elderly woman leaning on the arm of someone I assumed to be her daughter. Noticing a corsage (orchids?) pinned to the woman’s jacket, I said, “Beautiful flowers!”

And her daughter said, “It’s her birthday today! She’s 102!”

So while my husband and Linda waited to get a table, I got to know the birthday girl.

“It’s your birthday?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, laughing, “and I’m stuffed!”

Her name was Helen, and she didn’t look stuffed. She looked radiant, and not a day over 70.

I wish you could’ve seen her.

“Happy birthday!” I said. Then I added what I always say to loved ones and friends (even friends I’ve just met in the airport) on their birthdays: “I’m so glad you were born!”

“Thanks!” she said, beaming.

Helen and her daughter weren’t traveling. They are locals in an area known for great restaurants. But like many of their neighbors (including my husband and me) they like the food in the airport’s restaurant. Especially the calamari. So they chose it as the spot to celebrate Helen’s 102nd birthday.

We chatted a bit, then went our separate ways. Funny, how we can meet someone in passing and think of them as friends.

Friendship is always a gift, but it takes different forms. Some friends, like Helen and her daughter, come into our lives for only a moment. Others stay for years, in good times and bad, until one day, somehow, we lose touch. But if we’re lucky, we have one friend (or if we’re really lucky, a few) who show up and stick with us forever. Linda is one of my forever friends.

My husband and I were newlyweds years ago when his job changed and we moved 500 miles from family and friends on the Monterey Peninsula in California, to a town my mother called “Las Vegas of All Places.”

I’m a firm believer that home is where you make it. So we made Las Vegas our home. We loved the desert, having a pool and swimming at midnight. We loved the people we met, and especially the visits from our grown kids and others who were guests at our “hotel.”

But in our 12 years in Vegas, my only close friend (aside from my husband and a few checkers at Trader Joe’s) was Linda.

We were introduced by our husbands, who worked together at a newspaper. Thanks to similar backgrounds and senses of humor, Linda and I grew close right away. We could’ve been sisters. In some ways, we are. We would meet once a week or so to talk and laugh about everything and nothing. I called her my “oasis in the desert.”

Then my husband retired and we moved back to California, to be closer to our kids and all the grandkids they were giving us. Linda and I kept in touch with texts and phone calls. But four years passed without our seeing each other. Then last week, she flew to Monterey, for a face-to-face, heart-to-heart, real visit.

My husband left town and let us have the house. So for five days and four nights, Linda and I talked and laughed about everything and nothing and celebrated being forever friends.

Our farewell dinner at the airport was great. Especially the company. And the calamari. Then we walked to the check-in line for her flight, hugged long and hard and said our goodbyes.

Driving home, I thought of something I learned long ago: People leave, but love remains.

I’m not sure when I’ll see Linda again. If not in this life, then on the porch in heaven.

But if we’re blessed, like Helen, to live to 102, I hope we celebrate our forever friendship, along with all our loved ones and friends. Over dinner. At the airport. With calamari.
(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 by email at randallbay@earthlin.net.)

“A Few Good Words,” March 22, 2022

What are your favorite words? What’s the best thing anyone has ever said to you? What’s the best thing you say to others, and maybe need to say to yourself?

Words matter. They make a difference, good or bad, whether spoken or left unsaid.

Think of some words that have changed your life: “Yes.” “No.” “I do.” “I won’t.” “Help me.” I’m sorry.” “I love you.” “Goodbye.”

I recall countless times when saying those words marked a fork in the road that took me in a new direction. Can you recall times like that, too?

For more than 30 years, I’ve been privileged to work as a writer, and I never cease to be amazed by the power of words.

Do you ever read or hear something you wish you had written or said? I do that most every day. I come across words that are so profoundly good I want to keep them forever.

So years ago, I started a computer file I call (drum roll, please) “A Few Good Words.” It’s a hodge-podge collection of dozens of quotes and more than a few poems that I like to think were written just for me.

Whenever I take time to read through that file, as I did this morning, I find myself nodding and smiling. And for a while, my world becomes a better place.

Here are a few of the words in that file that speak to me. I hope they speak to you, too:

– “Esse quam videri.” That’s the official motto, adopted in 1893, of my homestate, North Carolina. It means, “To be, rather than to seem.”

-“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” — Robert Frost, from “The Lesson for Today.”

– “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn.

– “I have mean dogs and they will bite you.” — Kiowa Waters, my great-niece at age 5, warning her California cousins not to mess with her. I’m tempted to post it as a sign in my driveway.

– “The time is always right to do what is right.” — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

-“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”—Mark Twain.

– “I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect.” — writer Billy Wilder, in a nod to the last line of “Some Like It Hot.”

– “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.” — Reba McEntire.

– “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.”—Lazarus Long.

– Whenever I’m invited to speak at an event, I try to heed this wise advice on speaking by national security advisor Anthony Lake: “Think of yourself as the body at an Irish wake. They need you in order to have the party, but no one expects you to say very much.”

– Here are two quotes by Johnny Cash: “Trust gets you killed, love gets you hurt and being real gets you hated.” And “All your life, you will be faced with a choice. You can choose love or hate…I choose love.”

– And two quotes by Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” And “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

– And two quotes from Mother Teresa: “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; forgive them anyway.” And “Peace begins with a smile.”

– Here’s a Bible verse I learned as a child from my granddad, who was, among many things, a Baptist preacher. This verse, like his love, has seen me through a lot of hard times: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33.

– Finally, I don’t know who wrote this, but it’s a strong contender for my epitaph: “Here lies a woman of whom it was said, her sins were many, but her columns were read.”

Words matter. What do you need to hear? What do you need to say? Here’s wishing you and yours a lifetime of good words.

(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 by email at randallbay@earthlink.net.)

“Down to the Roots,” March 15, 2022

What’s the one chore you dread with a passion? The one that you keep putting off for as long as you can until that voice in the back of your head (mine sounds like my mother) says, “You might as well just get it over with, because I am not about to do it for you.”

Actually, I can think of quite a few not-so-simple tasks that fit the “dreaded” category. Some days, life seems full of them.

Tax preparation, for example. Yes, it’s that time of year. Our dining room table is buried in papers that my husband and I will spend hours on, then pay an accountant to figure them out.

Or dental check-ups. I just had my teeth cleaned a few days ago. It was completely painless, but I’m still losing sleep over it.

Or cleaning the oven. Hmm. I must dread that a lot. I can’t remember the last time I did it.

Anyhow. Here’s the ridiculous thing about the chore that I am dreading today: I don’t have to do it. I could pay someone to do it for me (and get better results) or I could just give it up and never bother doing it ever again.

Why on Earth do I keep doing something I don’t need or want to do? You might call it vanity. That’s a fancy word for caring a bit too much about one’s looks. Or as my mother would say, “She thinks the sun comes up every morning just so people can marvel at her face.”

(I’m not sure my mother ever said that. I’m just saying she would have, if she thought of it.)

So what chore am I dreading today? Dyeing my gray hair. I’ve been coloring my roots longer than I can remember and it never gets easier. First, I have to mix up the goop, taking care not to spill it, or I’ll have to clean up the mess, then run to the store to buy more goop.

Next, I have to part my hair in tiny rows, one row at a time, and apply the goop, just so, making sure to cover every square inch or I’ll end up speckled with gray spots like an old mangy dog that we called Speckles.

Then I need to wait a half hour with a plastic cap on my head, hoping I don’t have to answer the door and scare the poor FedEx guy half to death.

Finally, I wash it out, dry it, curl it, and then start counting the days until I do it again.

Yes, I could go to a salon, and will, on occasion, but it’s quicker and cheaper to do it myself. In my defense, I’ll say this: It’s not entirely a matter of vanity.

Years ago, I was driving my 4-year-old and his buddy Eric to preschool when we passed a parked car covered with a tarp.

“Look at that,” I heard Eric say to Josh. “Grown-ups are so dumb. Everybody knows there’s a car under there.”

Dyeing my roots doesn’t fool anybody. Everybody knows there’s gray hair under there. It isn’t just about how others see me. It’s about how I see myself and how it makes me feel.

Two years ago, at the start of the pandemic shutdown, when I wasn’t being seen by anybody but my husband, who probably wouldn’t notice, I decided to go gray. So I did. For two months.

Then one day I looked in the mirror, saw a white stripe down the middle of my head, and said, “I look like a skunk.”

I can’t speak for you. But for me? It’s hard to feel good about myself if I look like a skunk.

So I colored my roots that day, and kept them colored, more or less, ever since. Especially on days like we all have now and then, when for whatever reason, we want to feel our best.

I have friends who’ve gone gray and they look terrific. I don’t plan to color my hair forever. But I will today. I’m having a root canal tomorrow and need all the help I can get.

Root canals definitely fit in the “dreaded” category. I can almost hear my mother saying, “Don’t worry, honey, you’ll be fine. Just try to look your best and lean on the Lord. And remember, a little lipstick never hurts.”