A Letter to the Kids

by Christie on August 25, 2014

Today is the first day of school here. I wrote and read this letter to Jackson yesterday, but really it’s a letter for the kids, for ALL the kids.

Dear Jackson,

Tomorrow is the first day of school. Second grade – WOW! I know you aren’t happy about going back to school. You would rather be playing baseball or soccer shoot-out with the neighbor kids. You would rather be sorting your football or baseball cards. You would rather be swimming at the pool and jumping off the diving board for what has to be the one thousandth time. You would rather be watching movies or playing video games with superheroes and secret tunnels and magical worlds. You would rather be looking for bugs or cool rocks under the back porch. You would rather be riding your bike, eating popsicles, jumping in the lake with your cousins, or just about anything else that you’ve done this summer.

But, alas, time marches on. Summer is over and school starts again tomorrow. I am beyond thrilled – it makes my heart smile, really – to know that you have had one of those magical childhood summers, but now it is time to move on, time to go back to school.

But before we do, while we still have this one last day of summer left, I want to tell you a few secrets. Important secrets. Secrets that you can never, ever forget.

The first secret is that superheroes aren’t just in your storybooks and movies and video games. Did you know that? Did you know that superheroes are everywhere? That they are walking down the street and going to Target and driving in their cars just like you and me? And you, my friend, are super-duper-lucky because you get to be with a superhero almost every day. Your teacher is a real live Superhero, wearing a cape of patience and carrying a bag of magic disguised as lessons about math and science and reading and how to be a kind and caring person.

A superhero isn’t the one fighting the bad guys and capturing special coins. A superhero is anyone who makes a difference in someone else’s life, anyone who makes the world a better place. That’s your teacher, all of your teachers. So be kind and listen well to them. Help her do her Very Important Work. Try hard and be respectful. Because these are the things that give superheroes extra special powers. And if you do that, if you help give your teachers extra special powers, then you are a superhero too.

The second secret is that when things get hard – and they most certainly will – almost everything can become just a little easier to handle with a few good, long, deep breaths. You are a kind boy and an energetic boy and a friendly boy. You are also a sensitive boy. You and me are more alike that way than you know. We cry easily, wear our hearts on our sleeves, are a bit prone to dramatics. If you don’t believe me, just ask LaLa and Pa; they’ll tell you I was like that as a child. Ask Cashton’s mom; she’ll tell you I was like that in college. Ask Daddy; he’ll tell you I am still like that.

So believe me, I know that you will feel things deeply and that sometimes things will seem like more than you can handle. There will be times when things will seem SO HARD. A tough math problem. Someone might hurt your feelings. Your might mess up and hurt someone else’s feelings. You might want to shrink and hide. You might feel scared and alone. But stay calm, take a few deep breaths, and remember that you’re never really alone. Your dad and I are always with you. Always. You have our hearts and hopes and dreams and unbending support with you always. It might be disguised as a fleck of dirt or a piece of laundry link in your back pocket, but it’s there. Always. So when things seem really hard and you’re hurting and scared and feel a little like you’re on an island by yourself, just take your deep breaths, know that you aren’t alone, and listen to your heart. Always listen to your heart. You’ll figure out what to do.

And the third secret, well, that might be the most important one so listen well. Here it is… you know that magic that you felt this summer? That magic that you don’t want to end? Well, it isn’t really going anywhere because – and here’s the secret – the magic is right here, in you. YOU ARE THE MAGIC. What is it that your dad and I always tell you? Be the best Jackie you can be. You don’t have to be the best Jimmy or Johnny or Sally that you can be. You just have to be the best YOU that you can be. That’s not always an easy thing to do, but if you take your deep breaths and listen to your heart and find that linty piece of my heart in your back pocket, I know that you can do it. Because when you reach in and listen, when you work hard and are brave and are kind, when you are the best YOU that you can be, you grab a handful of that magic and you sprinkle it all around. You give others the power to find and sprinkle their own magic.

And that right there is really what it’s all about. Not the math facts and the reading levels (though those things are important), and it’s certainly not about the test scores (though those things can be useful in some ways, I suppose). What it’s really all about – what school and life, for that matter, is about – is the learning and the growing and the SPREADING OF MAGIC.

So don’t fret, second grade is going to be GREAT! You will learn new things and meet new people, including more than a few superheroes. Be kind. Be a good listener and a good friend. BE A MAGIC-SPREADER.

And then, come home and tell me all about it. Because believe me, not a minute of the day goes by when I’m not thinking of you, missing you, loving you.



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The Only Thing We Can Do

by Christie on August 19, 2014

Photo Credit: 123RF Stock Photo

Photo Credit: 123RF Stock Photo

The news reached me, like most people, last Monday evening. Almost instantly the country was awash with stories, news reports, articles, celebrity tributes, talking heads offering their two cents about depression and suicide and addiction.

I let the information sink in and settle down. I tried to imagine the pain that he must have been feeling in those finally minutes and hours and days, tried to imagine the pain that his family must be feeling now. But mostly, I just felt sad and confused and scared.

Aside from his family and close friends, the reaction among the rest of the world seems to be largely the same. We mutter a few “so sad’s” and “unbelievable’s.” We shake our head in disbelief. We say a few silent prayers for Mr. Williams and his family. Some of us might think about people we know, people we love, people we have loved who are or were similarly suffering and struggling. We ask the unanswerable questions. How could someone who seems to be living a charmed life be so unhappy? We wonder at the incomprehensibility and tragedy of it all. We mourn vicariously, posting tenderhearted condolences to Facebook and Twitter. We re-watch the old movies and recite our favorite quotes. We consider the need for better mental health care services. We talk about depression and addiction and what it might feel like to lose all hope.

We offer theories and speculation and conjecture because, of course, we couldn’t really know what it’s like. He was different. His situation was different. This doesn’t really affect us. Or does it?

And then, eventually, we move on. The shock of the news softens a bit. The media shifts to the next big story. Our attention is called to the latest calamity in our own life – a leaking bathroom sink, a tight work deadline, a sick child.

Yet, still, it’s there.

The pain. The realness. The closeness of it all.

I can sit here my little house in suburban Illinois, after muttering the typical I can’t believe it’s and so sad’s, and convince myself that this tragedy (or the next one or the next one) has nothing to do with me, that as heart-breaking as the death of a celebrity in California (or the plumes of smoke billowing in Ferguson) is, it doesn’t impact my life, it doesn’t really touch my world.

But, of course, this is a cold and blatant lie. It is a lie that I tell myself in order to put a barrier between my soft center and the hard realness of it all. A way of taking myself out of the eye of the storm and diffusing the heaviness a little bit. A way of pretending that these kinds of tragedies only happen out there, in those other worlds, to other people.

Of course, part of it is a coping mechanism. It is far easier to wrap ourselves in a warm blanket of this-isn’t-happening-to-me-ness because sometimes the cruel reality is just too much to bear. We’ve got enough of our own problems to deal with; we just can’t take on any more.

But these problems – however otherworldly they might seem – are not someone else’s problems; they are our own, they are happening to all of us.

And, really, who among us hasn’t seen the spindly, gripping tentacles of depression? Who among us hasn’t felt the heat from the consuming fire of addiction? Whether within ourselves or someone we love?

I know I have. I have felt the pinch of those twisting tentacles. And I have felt the heat of that blazing fire. I have seen the scars and bruises that those tentacles have left on the afflicted and their loved ones. And I have seen the charred remains that those flames can leave behind.

Sure, we can shake our heads in disbelief, pondering the absurdity of a seemingly on-top-of-the-world celebrity taking his own life. We can silently (and maybe even a little smugly?) pray for those others who suffer. We can ask “why?” until we are blue in the face – Why didn’t he ask for help? Why didn’t he reach out? Why didn’t he do this? Why did he do that? Why? Why? Why? – but the answer will always be a strong and empty I DON’T KNOW. We can talk about what his life was and what his legacy might be, as abstractly as possible, allowing ourselves to bask in his celebrity just enough while maintaining a safe enough distance from the pain and utter realness of it all.

Tragedies tend to have way of clarifying what we know and confusing what we don’t know, and this seems to be no exception. Because for all of the I don’t know’s that Robin Williams’ death has left me with, it has solidified this one universal truth, this one collective mandate: Take care of each other.

I don’t know why some people get sick and why some people don’t. I don’t know why some people get the help that they need and why some people don’t. I don’t know why some people recover and some people don’t and why some people are spared the tentacles or the fire in the first place. I don’t know why terrible nasty shit (sorry, mom) happens and why some people seem to be dealt more of it than others.

But what I do know – and what I continue to believe with every fiber of my being – is that we’re all in this together, that the only way to get through it is to take care of each other. When it’s easy, when it’s hard, when we aren’t even really sure how to take care of each other.

What happens to one of us, happens to all of us. There is no out there. No other world. No other people. There is only right here. Only this world. Only us, together.

Regardless of your political, religious, or social affiliations, it all comes back to this simple obligation: Take care of each other.

Call me naïve or overly optimistic, but I think we have a moral, ethical, and spiritual duty to take care of each other. To reach out to the most vulnerable among us, to those we know are struggling or those we think might be struggling or those who could possibly be struggling. To offer help instead of waiting for someone to ask for it. To give and forgive more than we think we should. To be there for each other. To show up. Again and again and again.

Because in this wild and crazy world – where sometimes it feels like we’re hanging on by a thread and nothing seems to make sense – that’s the only option we’ve got.

Taking care of each other is, after all, sometimes the only thing that we can do.


Blog Hopping

August 9, 2014

I was invited by Angie McMonigal – my partner-in-crime for the Photo Inspiration Challenge – to join a blog hop project that introduces writers, photographers, bloggers, and other creatives around the Internet world. As part of the project I was asked to answer a few questions and then introduce some of my favorite writers. So […]

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A Big and Wide Perspective

July 31, 2014

I have been doing this Photo Inspiration Challenge with Angie McMonigal Photography for more than two years now, and if there is one thing that our collaboration has reinforced week after week (aside from the fact that Angie is an amazing photographer, of course), it is the fact that there are many different ways to […]

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Big Questions and Grains of Sand

July 23, 2014

“It is our nature not only to see that the world is beautiful but to stand in the dark, under the stars, or at noon, in the rainfall of light, frenzied, wringing our hands, half-mad, saying over and over: what does it mean, that the world is beautiful— what does it mean?” – Excerpt from Gravel by Mary Oliver Earlier […]

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That Other Place

July 8, 2014

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” — Frederick Buechner Sometimes I imagine that there is a place where things are clean and new. A place with straight lines, clear answers, and predictability; a place that sparkles and shines. A place where well-manicured people move with ease and confidence, […]

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And Then It Happened

July 2, 2014

I had this vision of how it would happen. It would start with a phone call – or maybe an email – at a time when I least expected it. I would take in the news with a mixture of disbelief and detachment, slowly absorbing what it might mean. I would immediately call my husband, […]

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That Moment

June 25, 2014

Within each day, there is a moment. Some days, it is so hidden that I have to squint to find it. Other days, it is so fleeting that it seems to be over almost before it began. But it is there. Every day, there is that moment. That moment when I catch my boys laughing […]

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Some Days

June 12, 2014

“Human kindness is overflowing and I think it’s going to rain today.” Lyrics by Randy Newman Some days seem too big, too long, too hard. It seems impossible to wade through the muck. The treadmill of nonsense just doesn’t seem to slow down. Meetings, bad news, conference calls, more bad news. Some days seem too […]

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I Believe in Pink

June 6, 2014

 “I believe in pink.” ― Audrey Hepburn I, too, believe in pink. I also believe in the long, warm days of summer. I believe in children with grass-stained knees and dirty fingernails and twinkly-eyed grins. I believe in mixing play-doh colors and hosting impromptu parties. I believe in chair dancing and singing to loud music […]

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