“Surprises in Work and in Life,” July 16, 2019

When asked what I do for a living, I’m tempted to say, “I’m an entertainer. I stand half naked in public, baring my soul and juggling live chickens.”

It isn’t far from the truth. But instead, I say, “I’m a columnist. I write about life and whatever comes along.” It’s an odd way to earn a living, but I’ve done it for so long it seems almost normal. And it’s full of surprises.

For example:

1. I’m surprised I never run out of things to write about. I remember my first column, almost 30 years ago. I didn’t want to do it, but my editor insisted. So I wrote about how my grandmother and my blind baby brother taught me to see the world. I promised readers that in future columns I’d take a look at whatever came along and write about what I saw.

It didn’t seem very interesting, even to me. But people called the paper to say they liked it. So I thought, “OK, I can do this.”

Then I realized I’d have to do it again. And again. What on Earth would I write about?

“Make a list,” said my editor, “of every column idea you can think of. Then, if you’re ever stumped, you can write about something on the list.”

So I listed 100 ideas for columns and put the list in a drawer. And I have never needed to take it out. Why? I try to stay alive and pay attention. If you do that, things will keep coming along.

Some of those things might break your heart. But in writing, as in life, you don’t get to choose what comes along. You just take it as comes and give it your best.

2. I’m surprised to see how much we’re alike. There is surely no shortage of things we disagree on: Politics, religion, social injustice, what to teach, what to eat, what to wear. But to understand our differences, and to agree to disagree, I believe we first need to understand all that we share in common.

So I write about the things I care most about; my hopes and dreams for my children and grandchildren and for you and yours; things that make me thankful and glad to be alive.

The surprise is hearing day after day from readers around the country who say they care about those things, too.

When I visit places that carry my column, I meet hundreds of strangers who treat me as if I’m long lost kin. It’s like a family reunion without the fist fights.

Our differences make us interesting. But the things we care most about make us one.

3. Maybe the best surprise in my work and my life is getting to see, time and again, the amazing human capacity for kindness.

Soon after I began doing the column, my first husband was diagnosed with colon cancer and told he had six months to live. With the strength of his will, the grace of God and an awful lot of treatment, he turned six months into four good years.

I never planned to write about cancer. Or death. Or being a widow. Or watching my kids lose their dad. But I wrote about those things and more. Then I heard from countless readers who said they were sorry for our sorrows; that they had faced sorrows, too; they were praying for us; and their children were praying for our children.

The kindness of strangers — along with that of family and friends — kept me afloat. It changed me profoundly. I’m sure it changed them, too.

That’s what kindness does. It’s a gift to the giver, as well as to the receiver. It heals us and makes us strong. It persuades a broken heart to go on beating.

Life is a small boat and the world can be a troubled sea. But we keep each other afloat with loving kindness. And tender mercies. And a lot of laughter.

Be kind. Stay alive. Pay attention. Juggle chickens. You’ll be surprised at the things that will keep coming along.

“Let There Be Light,” July 9, 2019

Children are born to bring light into the world. They bring other things, too –worry and fear and hopes and dreams and total exhaustion.

But mostly, they bring light.

I was reminded of that recently by my grandson. But I learned it from my brother. My mother was always busy. She worked hard to put food on our table. I knew having a baby would give her less time for me.

So when she brought him home from the hospital and plopped him in my lap, I said, “Can’t you give him back?”

“No,” she said, “he’s staying.”

That’s when it happened. I poked his belly and he grabbed my finger and refused to let go. He was little, but he was strong — so strong it made me laugh. And suddenly the room filled with light. I don’t mean it seemed to do that. I mean, for me, my brother made the world a brighter, better place.

Is that hard to believe? Look around you. The world is ablaze with people who shine. You just might be one of them.

Months later, we learned my brother was blind. Doctors said he would never see. But they didn’t know Joe. All the things that he would never see with his eyes, he saw clearly with his heart and his soul. He made me see them, too. He still does.

When my children were born, I knew the moment I held them that they were a gift sent to shine light in my life. More than anyone — even more than my brother — they each in their own ways have brightened my days and taught me things I needed to know.

Sometimes those were things I never hoped to learn: How to put someone else’s needs and wants before my own; how to forego sleep, food, friends and personal hygiene for more days than I care to admit; how to hold a screaming toddler for a dozen stitches in the ER, and not fall apart until we got home and he was sound asleep.

They taught me patience and perserverance and humility and how to pray long and hard, like I had never prayed before.

But mostly they lit up my life.

They still do — they and the people they’ve married and the grandchildren they’ve given me. They light me up like Christmas.

That is what children, young and old, are meant to do. No matter how we know them — by birth or adoption or teaching or coaching or just being a good neighbor who doesn’t yell if their baseball smashes your begonias — children shine light in the lives of all who care for them. Some of them keep shining forever, even when they’re old.

My 7-year-0ld grandson, Henry, is a very old soul.

“Nana,” he said recently, “want to see my stick dance? I made it up myself.”

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s see it.”

“First, I take a stick,” he said, “and I throw it up in the air.”

He grabbed a stick, flung it high and danced around to catch it. When he missed, I bit my lip to keep from laughing.

Three times he tossed it. Three times he missed. On the fourth try he caught it and beamed.

“Did you see that?” he said.

“Yep!” I said. “You caught it!”

“But did you see what it did?” he asked. “Watch me again.”

I watched him two more times. But all I saw was a little boy making his nana stifle a laugh.

Finally, he explained. “It’s a special stick,” he said. “When I throw it in the sky, it brings light down to the world.”

A hummingbird darted by and zig-zagged around his head.

“I don’t know about that stick, Henry,” I said, “but I think you’re pretty special.”

He gave me a hug.

“I think that’s why I’m here, Nana, to bring light into the world.”

I looked in his brown eyes. He was serious. I nodded.

“You surely bring light to my world,” I said. “Throw it again.”

So he did.

“My New Hairdresser,” July 2, 2019

Let me introduce you to my new hairdresser, Eleanor Rose.

I call her “El.”   She calls me “Nana.”

El is new to the hairdressing profession, but what she lacks in experience, she makes up for with style and flair and a major, take-charge personality.

“Turn your head this way,” she orders. So I turn to the right.

“No!” she shouts, snapping my chin to the left. “This way!”

It’s her way or the highway. I just say, “Yes, ma’am” and do as I’m told.

El is my granddaughter. She is 4 years old, going on “ready to rule the world.” Hazel green eyes. Honey brown hair. A smile that lights me up like Christmas.

I wish you could see her.

We’re taking turns doing each other’s hair. I took the first turn. While El was entranced in a “My Little Pony” video, I brushed the tangles from her waist-length curls, taking care not to yank on the snarls. Then I pulled it back from her face, gathered it up in a ponytail and fastened it with a pink elastic band. Perfection.

When the video ended, El snapped back to attention. 

“My turn!” she said, snatching the hairbrush from my hand.   She climbed up on the sofa and stood by my shoulder, studying the top of my head.

“Nana,” she said, wrinkling her nose, “your hair is hard!”

“It’s just hairspray,” I said. “It keeps my bangs out of my eyes.”

“But, Nana,” she said, looking as if she’d just discovered I had a really bad case of head lice, “it makes your hair hard!”

Wielding the hair brush like a machete, she brushed away the hairspray, leaving a few wisps of what had once been my bangs. 

“That’s better,” she said. “Now you need a haircut.”

I gave her a look.

“El?” I said. “No scissors, OK? We’re just pretending, right?”

“Right,” she said. “I’ll use these.” She held up two fingers, snapping them together, her own personal pair of pretend hair cutting shears.   Then she pretended to lop off every last inch of my not-pretend shoulder-length hair.

It felt surprisingly good. At some point, I began to nod off while El kept whacking away. Half asleep, I drifted back to a place and time when I was El’s age, playing hairdresser to my grandmother and my mother and any of my aunts who showed up for Sunday dinner.

They’d sit on the porch in summer or by the stove in winter, gossiping and arguing about everything and nothing, while I worked my magic from chair to chair with a hairbrush and high hopes of transforming them all into beauty queens.

My mother and my aunts were picky. No matter how great a job I did, they always had to redo it.

Not my grandmother. I could make her look like a cat that had just been flea-dipped and she’d smile and give me a dime.

Not everyone found her easy to please. But I did. And it made me want to give her my best.

My reverie ended with a whack on my head from a hairbrush.

“Sit up, Nana,” El said. “I want to curl the back of your hair.”

“You’re curling my hair?”

“Yes!” she said, “and you’re going to love it!” 

Her curling technique involved twisting clumps of my hair into coils and tying them in knots. It was not exactly the kind of look I was hoping for, but I decided to let her finish. 

After a few more twists and coils and knots, she grabbed my hand and dragged me to the bathroom mirror.

“Do you like it?” El asked.

I stood for a moment, staring at the mirror. I looked like a cat that had just been flea-dipped. 

“Yes,” I said, “I, uh, love it.”

She laughed and took my hand. “No, Nana, you look crazy! Come on, I’ll fix it.”

So she uncoiled the knots and brushed out the twists and kissed the top of my head.

She gave me her best.

And I gave her a dollar. 

Maybe next time, I’ll let her dye my roots.

“My Favorite Talking Tree,” June 25, 2019

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time listening to a tree. You might blame it on age. Or insanity. But I’ve always felt a kinship with Nature that is as real and as binding as anything I feel for flesh and blood.

Maybe you do, too. Maybe we are all born with a hunger to feel sun on our face and wind in our hair and dirt beneath our toes.

It’s not that we love Nature more than we love people. But we believe we’re all in this boat together, all of Creation. We’re all part of the family of God.

Sometimes I like to be with people. And sometimes I like to be alone. But once in a while, I just like to hang out with a tree.

In the Carolinas, where I grew up, there were more trees than people. Or so it seemed to me. Mountains grew thick with evergreens and were speckled with hardwoods that turned red and gold in fall. Valleys were quilted with acres of orchards that bloomed in spring to fill the air with a hailstorm of petals and a heavenly fragrance of apples and peaches and pears.

As a child, two trees were my favorites. The first was a tall hemlock that stood watch over my grandparents’ farm. Its long branches reached to the ground to form a giant umbrella under which I could hide for hours, sheltered from any storm.

My other favorite was an apple tree that grew in a cow pasture beside a railroad track next to the house where I lived with my mother, my stepfather and two brothers. It was a small house, noisy, and at times, unbearable.

Climbing that tree was like going on vacation. Not exactly Disneyland, but close. I’d perch on a branch, swaying in the wind, tossing apples at cows and waiting for a train. When the engine roared by, I’d pump my arm and the engineer would blow the whistle just for me.

But mostly what I did in those trees was just be still and listen. To the sigh of wind. The rustle of branches. The song of birds. The rumble of thunder. And, yes, the mooing of cows.

Trees like to talk. If we give them a chance, they’ll tell us things we need to know: That the world is a wondrous place waiting to be discovered and enjoyed; that there is shelter in every storm; that everything on the Earth is part of God’s family; and most of all, we are loved.

I learned those things from many sources — family and friends and life. But in some ways, I learned them by being still and listening to a tree.

My next favorite tree was a beckoning oak that wrapped its branches around the house where I raised my children. I helped the kids climb it when they were small and have since done the same for their kids. I loved that tree, and listened to it closely for almost 50 years.

Months ago, as I sat in an upstairs bedroom rubbing Flexall on my knees, I could swear I heard the oak whisper, “It’s time for you to move on.”

For one sobering moment, I thought it meant that I was dying. Imagine my relief to realize it only meant that my knees were tired of the stairs.

So we sold that house and moved to a one-level place in a nearby valley. It was hard to leave the old place and the oak. I’m hoping the new owners and their children (and maybe their grandkids someday) will love it and listen to it just as we did.

My new favorite tree is a flowering plum that welcomed us with a profusion of blooms the day we moved in. It’s a lot younger than my other favorite trees, but it likes to talk. I listen closely as the wind rattles its limbs and rustles its leaves.

It tells me things I need to remember, things I taught my children and hope to teach my grandchildren: That the world is a wondrous place waiting to be discovered and enjoyed; that there is shelter in every storm; that everything on the Earth is part of God’s family; and most of all, we are loved.

Listen. Can you hear it?

“Old (and Older) Friends,” June 18, 2019

I’m watching them across the table, two beautiful young women, deep in conversation. I wish you could see them.

Michelle and Joanna have been friends since they were born. They live miles apart now, but keep in touch with emails and texts and phone calls and occasional posts on Facebook.

When Michelle comes “home” to visit her family, she and Joanna try to meet for lunch, just the two of them. They always have a lot of “catching up” to do, and it’s easier to do alone, with no interruptions.

But this time they invited their mothers to join them. And not just because they’re hoping we’ll pick up the check.

Myra and I were friends before the girls were born. We met in church. She was a veteran mom with two young children, soon to have her third. I was a rookie, pregnant with my first.

I had a lot to learn. And Myra was born to teach. One day, I mentioned that a house on our block was for sale. Imagine my surprise when she and her husband bought that house and moved in across the street.

For the next 30 years, we were not just friends, but neighbors. The kind of neighbor who lets you borrow a cup of sugar knowing you won’t pay it back. Who brings you snickerdoodles at Christmas and a casserole when you’re sick. Who lets your kids run wild with her kids, or piles them in her station wagon and takes them to the park. Who can talk with you for hours in a circus of toddlers about hopes and dreams and faith and fears and how to stretch a pound of hamburger to feed a family of five plus four unexpected guests.

Michelle is Myra’s fourth child. Joanna is my second. They were born less than a year apart and grew up together more like sisters than friends.

In some ways, Myra and I grew up together, too, sharing recipes and children and life. Over the years, our lives took different directions. I worked for a newspaper. Myra taught school. The kids all grew up and moved on with their lives.

When I lost my husband to cancer, Myra wrapped me in her arms and made me promise to call her if I needed anything, or just wanted to talk.

In the long months that followed, it helped somehow just to look out my window and see the light in her kitchen.

Years later, when I remarried and moved to Nevada, Myra and I relied on our daughters to keep us posted on each other’s news.

Last year, after my husband retired, we left Nevada and moved back to the old house. And the next day, Myra and her husband welcomed us home with a plate of snickerdoodles.

Have you ever noticed how quickly a year can pass? Myra and I had been meaning to get together to “catch up.” But a year went by and it didn’t happen. So our daughters invited us out to lunch.

Now here we sit, talking and laughing and eating, the four of us, sharing news of our families and remembering old times.

I told them my favorite Myra story. It goes like this:

We were camping, Myra and I and our seven kids. We had put the kids to bed in a tent and stayed up late talking, when a raccoon big enough to play in the NFL climbed on the picnic table and started eating our snacks. Myra gave me a look as if to say, “Watch this.” Then she banged on the table with a stick. And the raccoon gave her a look, as if to say, “Seriously?” Then he bared his teeth and hissed in her face. And she dove into the tent.

We all laughed at that story, as we often have before. Then the girls went back to talking, just the two of them. And Myra and I picked up where we’d left off.

Our daughters can talk the chicken off the bone.

I wonder where they learned to do that?

“Father’s Day,” June 11, 2019

(NOTE: I’m taking off this week. The following replacement column is from June, 2017. _ Sharon)

My dad left this world long ago but my memories of him shine clear and bright and true.

I think of him often. I picture him fishing. Smokin’ and jokin.’ Telling stories. Making me laugh. In every memory, his laugh is the same old chuckle. His eyes are as blue as the lakes he loved to fish. And the thought of him lights me up like the little girl who lay awake at night waiting for him to come home from the mill.

When I was a child, I felt sure the sun rose and set in my daddy’s eyes. My mother did not share that feeling. Maybe she did the night they ran off to get married. She was 15, he was 25. They divorced when I was 2.

I lived with my mother, but often spent weekends and holidays with my dad on his parents’ farm in the mountains of North Carolina. Most of the year, we were 40 miles apart. Yet he remained an everpresent and reassuring light in my life.

That is love. You don’t need to be together to feel it, to know it’s true. Love doesn’t end when loved ones are apart. It stays with one and follows the other over space and time and even over death, never letting go.

My dad wasn’t perfect. Neither am I. If you think you are, you might want to think again. Dad was stubborn. Hard-headed. Opinionated. And after years of changing shifts at the mill, he had a tendency to fall asleep at inconvenient times — in church or in conversations or occasionally at the wheel. He never wrecked, but came close. I’d yell, “Daddy! If you kill us, Mama will be mad!”

Then he’d quit snoring and start singing, “Hey, Good-Lookin’, whatcha got cookin’?” like he wasn’t really asleep.

He taught me to ride a horse, milk a cow, drive a car and speak my mind. He tried to teach me to fish, but saw that it was hopeless. He’d give me a dollar and say, “Don’t spend it all in one place.” He never forgot my birthday. And he sent me notes in a secret code: “Hope 2 c u b4 !” (“Hope to see you before long!”)

I remember seeing a scar on his back that he said he got from a Nazi bullet in WWII. “Mama told you not to go,” I said. “Why did you enlist?” “I loved your mama,” he said, “but I loved my country, too.”

My mother was often the talk of her mother and sisters, but my dad never spoke ill of her. I loved him a lot for that.

He bought one suit and wore it three times: To my graduations from high school and college; and to walk me down the aisle.

In his late 50s, he suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. I remember visiting him the VA hospital. It was the only time I ever saw him cry. Doctors said he’d never leave the hospital, but they didn’t know him as well I did. He worked hard learning to speak and walk again. Seven years later, when he was finally released with a bad limp, slurred speech and a paralyzed arm — he flew to California, to get to know his grandchildren.

The last time I saw him was on his porch in North Carolina. We had a good visit. He seemed happy. I fought back tears, said “I love you,” and drove away.

In the next few years, we spoke often by phone, but he never told me he was ill. I learned that fact from the note he left the night he took his life. He said that he had cancer, and wasn’t up for another fight. He’d had his fill of hospitals.

That memory is one I’d rather forget. But we don’t choose our memories. They choose us.

His final moment is a hard one to picture. But it’s only one of the many pieces of a beautiful puzzle that I cherish.

On Father’s Day, and every day, I remember my dad. He loved fishing. Smokin’ and jokin’. Telling stories. Making me laugh. He loved my mother. He loved his country. He loved my children. He loved me.

And he always will.

He was my father. I am his daughter. And some fine day, I “hope 2 c him again b4 _.”

“Graduation,” June 4, 2019

Every spring, as graduation season draws near, I polish up my speech and wait to be asked to share a few words of wisdom.

Sometimes it’s a long wait. I’ve spoken at quite a few high school commencements, but was never asked to speak at my kids’ ceremonies. It wasn’t that they feared I’d embarrass them. They were used to that. Maybe they just didn’t want to sit in the hot sun in a black cap and gown listening to the same old advice they’d been ignoring for years.

My high school graduation was a long time ago. Never mind how long. I don’t recall any of the speeches, not even the one I gave. People said they liked it because it was short.

I’m sure it included some sort of advice. We love to give it, and it’s cheaper than buying a gift. But what could it have been? Wisdom comes with age. At 18, my life had just begun, and I was dumb as a box of rocks.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot of the things that my grandparents and parents tried to teach me, but I had to learn them on my own.

My best teachers were my children. I earned a master’s degree in motherhood, and I’m now working on a Nana PhD.

Some years ago, in a commencement speech that I also summarized in a column, I offered the following advice that I’d collected from family and friends and readers and life:

1.When you meet people, smile, shake hands and ask about their mother, and they might say nice things about you at your funeral.

2. If you’re going to tell a lie, tell one people will believe. That way you’ll only be known as a liar and not a lying fool.

3. Take care of living things; feed your animals, tend your garden, be kind to children, old people and everyone between.

4. Never pretend to be what you aren’t or to know what you don’t know. People forgive ignorance but they never forget a phony.

5. Practice what you preach, or don’t preach at all. It’s better to be a heathen than a hypocrite.

6. Don’t dip snuff around people who make you laugh.

7. Never be rude. If you slip, apologize. Always say please, thank you and I love you. And never forget to count your blessings, especially if it’s hard to remember what they are.

8. Avoid altercations in the heat of anger. Bear in mind, in some states, “the fool needed killing” is not a justifiable defense.

9. If you have to swallow a frog, don’t look at it too long before you put it in your mouth; and if you have to swallow two frogs, go for the big one first.

10. Never say anything behind someone’s back that you won’t say face to face. They’re sure to hear of it, unless they’re dead. And never speak ill of the dead, unless they’ve got it coming.

11. Don’t start doing anything you don’t want to keep doing forever. And don’t bother to finish what shouldn’t have been started in the first place.

12. Never try to teach a snake not to bite; it’s a waste of time and you’ll end up getting bit.

13. Seek first to understand and last to be understood. Ask excellent questions and listen closely to the answers.

14. Show up, be on time, be prepared and follow through. Let your wealth be the gold that others see clearly in your words and your heart and your deeds.

15. Finally, lead an interesting life. You have your dad’s eyes and your mom’s smile, but your life is all your own. Do what you want. Follow your heart. Call your nana every Sunday.

That’s my graduation speech. I always end it in the same way I’ll end this column by saying this:

If you think the world is in such a mess that you can’t change it, think again. This is your time to shine. It goes fast. Don’t waste it. Make yourself proud. Shine like the sun and the moon and all the stars in heaven above.

Old folks say,”What’s this world coming to?” Tell them not to worry. It’s coming to you.

Thank you for listening. Yes, this is your gift.

“A Boy and a Bench,” May 28, 2019

There he sat, dangling his feet, my favorite grandson (they are all my favorites) on my favorite bench, taking his own sweet time to put on his shoes.

Wiley had just spent the night at our house. He had chased lizards with Papa Mark. Read books with me. And eaten more French toast than any 6-year-old ought to be able to hold. It was time to go, but he didn’t want to leave yet. He missed his mom and dad and big brother and even his bossy kid sister. Actually, he missed her a lot.

But there were more lizards to chase. More books to read. More time to enjoy having us entirely to himself. And half a bag of cookies out in the kitchen.

When I said it was time to go, he didn’t argue. He’s good that way. But as he sat on the bench and began to pull on his shoes, his smile faded and the room grew dim. Suddenly he looked at me and smiled once again.

“Are you happy my mom brought this back to you?” he said, patting the bench. It’s an old bench and a long story.

Some 30 years ago, a friend who was moving away said she wanted to give me a special gift: An antique wooden bench she had inherited from her family.

I loved that bench. I’d often admired it in her living room. It had a graceful curved back and hand turned spindles, one of which was missing, and it definitely showed its age. But somehow, just looking at it made me feel at home.

My friend was moving miles away to a smaller house with no room for it. I was stunned by her kindness. I told her I’d keep it until she wanted it back. No, she said, it was a gift, not a loan. Besides, she said, it looked like it felt at home with me.

We both cried. Over the years we lost touch, but I still think of her and pray for her, especially when I polish that bench.

It sat for two decades by the staircase in my living room. I hid the broken spindle with a pillow that was embroidered, “Home Sweet Home.”

Meanwhile, my life kept changing. I lost my husband to cancer. My children grew up and made me proud. When I remarried and moved from the coast to the desert, the bench went, too. It seemed a bit out of place in the desert, but for 12 years, it helped me feel at home.

Last year, when we moved back into the old house on the coast, I put the bench back by the stairs. As I stood there admiring it, I laughed. We’d been through a lot together, that old bench and I. Maybe we were both stronger than we looked?

Two months ago, my husband and I moved again, downsizing to a smaller house with great views and no stairs. I had to get rid of more stuff than I kept. Including the bench. I offered it to my kids. No one had room. So my daughter-in-law agreed to sell it for me. I told myself we’d give the money to some good cause.

Letting go is always hard, but it frees our hands and opens our hearts to embrace the gifts life is waiting to give us.

On Mother’s day, soon after we moved in, my son and his wife and their three children brought me a gift. My daughter-in-law had noticed a bare spot in our new home where the bench would fit and look great. So instead of selling it, she had someone carve and replace a perfectly matched spindle and repair a crack in one of the legs.

When she and my son carried it into our dining room, Wiley and his brother and sister beamed with pride. And I cried.

That’s why Wiley asked me today, “Are you happy my mom brought this back to you?”

“Yes,” I said. “It made me so happy! Your mom is such a kind and thoughtful person.”

“I know,” he said, pulling on a shoe. “I love her so much.”

And, for a moment, I thought I saw that old bench smile.

“Writing in the Dark,” May 21, 2019

What do you do if the power goes off? Me? I don’t do much.

My husband was working, playing his bass in a band at a party for people we didn’t know. I stayed home to write a column. But first I washed my hair. Clean hair helps me think. So I washed and dried and de-frizzed it with a flat iron hot enough to split an atom. Why does hair always look better if it knows you’re not going out?

When I sat down to start writing, I realized it was 6 p.m., time for Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference Finals with the Portland Trailblazers, a team I admire, and the Golden State Warriors, the team I love.

My husband, also a diehard Warrior fan, sets games to record if he won’t be home. Did he remember to record it? To check, I turned on the TV and tried changing channels.

Here’s a confession. I barely know how to work our TV. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I seldom watch it without my husband, and if he’s home, the remote is glued to his hand. But surely I could set it to record the game. How hard could it be?

So I started fiddling with the remote, switching channels back and forth and getting nowhere.

Then a funny thing happened. Everything quit. The TV. The remote. The Wi-Fi. Even the lamp. What did I do wrong?

Wait. The lamp? I tried some other lights. Nothing worked. Hah! The power was off! I was so relieved to think I didn’t break the TV I did a little victory dance. But why did the power shut off while I was fooling with the remote? Did I maybe, like, overload a circuit?

We had recently moved to a new place. I could barely find the bathroom, let alone the circuit breaker thingamajig. Even if I found it, could I fix it without risking electrocution or setting my hair on fire?

It was getting dark. Raining hard. My cell phone was nearly dead. The nearest neighbor wasn’t near. And we didn’t have a land line because my husband had insisted we’d never need it.

So I called him on my nearly dead phone. To my surprise, he answered. The band was on a break. I heard laughter. Folks were having a good time.

“Our power’s out,” I said, “and my phone is almost dead and I thought you ought to know in case you want to call me.”

He didn’t want to call. He just wanted to play his bass. No surprise there. I knew he was a musician when I married him.

He told me he’d gotten a text from the power company saying our power would be off until 10 p.m., about the time he’d get home. His big concern was if the TV was recording the game. He was also concerned for me, of course. He’d have said so, no doubt, if my phone hadn’t died.

Suddenly, my survival instinct kicked in. I found candles, but no matches. A big sweater and fuzzy socks. And a flashlight that worked, hallelujah, so I could maybe find the bathroom.

What would I eat? We had half a loaf of banana bread. And a stick of butter. I wouldn’t starve.

And what exactly would I do for four hours in the dark? I looked at my laptop. The battery was charged, good to go. So I decided to write this column. But first, I took a few moments to sit alone in a dark house, listening to rain and watching a neon sunset light up the clouds.

I thought about my sister, who lost power for five days in a blizzard and didn’t miss heat as much as she missed her TV.

And about my brother, who is blind and has lived his life in the dark, bearing every burden by turning his face to the light.

Somehow I didn’t feel alone any more. And I began to write.

Our power finally came back on. My husband got home early. The TV recorded the game and we watched it. The Warriors won. My hair was clean. And the column was almost finished.

When life seems hard, it helps to count our blessings, knowing it could always be harder, and that for some, it’s never easy.

“An Unlikely Reminder,” May 14, 2019

Someone sent me an email about a gas station in South Africa, where the owner posts daily “inspirational” quotes on a chalkboard in plain view of customers and passing drivers.

The email included some of the quotes, such as:

_ “It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd that’s going in the wrong direction.”

_ “When you forgive, you heal. When you let go, you grow.”

_ “I am a woman. What’s your superpower?”

_ “If you had to choose between drinking wine every day and being skinny, what would you choose? Red or white?”

_ “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

Most of the quotes were thought provoking, even the funny ones. OK, especially the funny ones. But one quote was, for me, an entirely new thought: “Be who you needed when you were young.”

What does that mean? Is it suggesting we should be the kind of person we needed when we were young — for ourselves? Or that we should do it for our children and grandchildren and other young people we meet?

Maybe we should do it for all of us, young and old alike?

Here’s another question. Do you think it’s possible that the kind of person we needed when we were young is also the kind of person we’re meant to be?

Perhaps you’re wondering, with all the problems in the world, why would I choose to give so much thought to a quote from a gas station chalkboard?

I wonder that, too. But it’s not really a choice. Sometimes when my train of thought leaves the station, I just have to jump on board and see where it takes me. I’ve been riding this train for days, thinking about a person I needed when I was young.

My mother worked shifts at a mill, had four children, eight sisters, a demanding mother and little time for friends. But one day when I was 12, I came home from school and found her on the porch sipping sweet iced tea with the prettiest lady I had ever seen.

“Hello, child!” said the woman, cupping my face in her hands as my mother introduced us. I was hopelessly smitten.

Her name was May, a perfect name for someone as lovely and warm as the finest day of spring. Short dark hair, curled just so. Red lipstick. Brown eyes that lit up like fireworks when she smiled. And she smiled a lot, it seemed, especially at me.

She was my mother’s friend, but she became what I needed: A role model, a confidante and a grownup friend whose wise counsel I could always trust.

In the next few years, I spent as much time as I possibly could with May, sometimes overnight at her home, talking, laughing, crying, whatever, just being together. I told her everything, all the things I feared, all the things I hoped for and especially all the things I didn’t know.

I watched her the way a cat watches a butterfly. How she listened and encouraged and never spoke ill of anyone, even if they had it coming. How she was always compassionate and kind, not just to me, but to everyone, even strangers.

She was a woman of faith and grace and integrity, with a quick wit and a grand sense of humor.

I wanted to be just like her.

After I left home for college, May moved away and I never heard from her again. Years later, when I tried to reconnect, I was shocked to learn that she had died. I had been so sure that she would live forever. I don’t know if I told her how much she meant to me. I hope so.

How many souls do you think leave this world never knowing what they meant to someone?

Sometimes the best reminders come from unlikely places. Thanks to a quote from a gas station chalkboard, I thought of my friend May, someone I needed when I was young and still hope to be just like.

We don’t always mirror people we admire. But remembering them reminds us to keep trying.