Shake it Off

My mind swarms with memories. It hasn’t always been that way. My blog will consist of snippets of my life~some as recent as the here and now, long ago, and even maybe snippets of what’s yet to be. And we all have a story.

In the past I dreaded HAVING to write~especially in college~paper after paper and research after research (combined with children and a full-time job)….you know what I’m talking about. Those were the official years I became a coffee addict. Suddenly it seemed I stopped putting thoughts to pen~and pen to paper. There are many reasons why it stopped~and wonderful reasons why it re-started. What have you stopped doing? And the big questions is…..WHY have you stopped it? Recently, I wrote an essay about a dog bite. The reality is that the bite was just one of a zillion little things that have improved my pain tolerance. What have you “tolerated” to live a peaceful life? What tried to take a chunk of you and failed? Faith with Flannel will not tolerate bullying. It’s a space that welcomes imperfect people and stories (no perfect people allowed)…..and a whole lot of flannel.

K.L. Hale

An Essay…

Recently, a dog bit me.  For dog’s sake, I’m 49 years old and have never experienced the immediate pang of fanglike teeth piercing my seal.   It felt like a crunch through muscle, taking me to my knees.  There was a definite scream; indescribable, yet oddly laced with laughing.   Even with saliva dripping in the wound and stinging something awful, my heart went out to the dog.  All I could do was stare at him and its owner.   And smile. 

It wasn’t a near-death experience.  I’ve had some of those.  This was a bite-the direct result of approaching something I knew could be dangerous.  There was awareness on my radar of the powering protection he commanded over his owner.  Admiring him from a distance was part of my daily routine in life at the campground in which I lived.   Yet, days prior to the bite, he approached me with a sincerity of subtleness and curiosity.  At one time he stood no less than one foot from me just begging me to pet him (indulge me on this).

Allow me to flashback to circa 1970’s.  A young girl who dreamed of life on the prairie like Laura Ingalls Wilder.   The closest thing to living in dirt, and the most enjoyable, was spending several days a week at a softball field.   We didn’t traverse the 20 miles to the “big city” from our small rural town in Southwest Missouri in a wagon.  Nope, we didn’t even have a station wagon.  Dad and Mom, myself, my wombmate (twin sister), and my older sister would all cram in the 4-door car.   It’s a wonder we showed up alive anywhere traveling the way we did in the “olden days”.  Dangerously packed in like sardines, I could still escape to the prairie, the open wild world, and the dreams of traveling the planet.  All I had to do was just tilt my neck ever so slightly to peer out of the window and focus on the sky.   Despite any negative situation around me, I could always put myself in a happy situation.  Watching my Dad was like watching a celebrity.  My Mom, ever so beautiful, was every celebrity’s wife.  We’d cheer our men on to victory with all the family of ballplayers that gathered in this dirty sanctuary on hot summer nights.  Little did I know that I would be packing my own sons one day into a car to experience this same summer tradition. 

 Dad could field, hit, and run like no one else on the planet.  Had I been a world traveler, I might have run across a cheetah that could’ve outran my Dad.  Maybe.  And he, undoubtedly, would have injuries.  Like any athlete, he would ice it, wrap it, medicate it, and always would say to us, “shake it off”.  Ok, got it.  Dad was an educator and coach.  These are words he used well before I came into being.  I’m sure they shaped him as a child too.  Momma could shake things off too.  Whatever came her way.   If these two could “shake it off”, why couldn’t I? Obviously, I had to have some “shake it off” genes in me, right?   Playing left field as a teenager a ball bounced up and hit me in the head; yep, the words, “shake it off” spoken by Dad, still echo in my ears and heart.  Remember this part of getting hit on the head.  It won’t be the last time in my life.

It was 1992 and I had never stood with so many graduates.  Just four years prior, I said good-bye to a group of us that had grown up together in our small town.  Some would go on to “big towns” and for some, the wagons stayed close.  This seemed the beginning of my true journey.  The speaker said, “look around the gym and find who supported you through these years of school”.  Surprisingly, I found my family fast through this huge crowd.  There was my Dad.  And he was holding my baby boy in the air.  Next to him was my husband, my Mom, and my in-law’s.  Beginning a teaching career with a newborn had not been part of my plan.  Never-the-less, it was perfect to me. 

Throughout the next several years attending college was second nature.  It was expected.  As was being a good mother, wife, and teacher.  And right after Christmas, 1994, another son was born.  Another tiny being to fulfill my perfect life.  He was perfect too.   It would appear I was living the dream-a career, family, all-brick ranch-style home, and yes, even a mini-van at one time.   And then, I got “bit”.  Not from a dog, but from my own stupidity (it really has some teeth on it).  The “perfect” life collapsed around me like an unbalanced Jenga tower.  I would look up and this time, hear perfectly, “SHAKE IT OFF”.  It was a loud thunderous voice.  One I knew that wasn’t just from my Dad; but my heavenly Papa.  I knew he was there.  He had been there for me since 1978.  That was the year I walked down the aisle at my church.  And the year my own Grandfather dipped me back into the water and out again.  In avoiding the “hell fire and brimstone” this man preached about my entire life, I was saved.  But it didn’t stop me from experiencing bites (and sometimes biting back).  

Without much hesitation, I had to rebuild my tower.  Some of the pieces stayed the same, some different (places, people, events-typical “nouns”).  During my re-build, I walked down the college aisle again.  My sons were older, and teaching had led to a career as a Principal.  Ballgames, kids, and activities all filled my calendar and heart.   It was 1999 and the beginning of the 3rd millennium was just around the corner.   Even if we all burned up if the Earth supposedly met its doom, it seemed I had the “upper hand” in my life.  And this time, I was certain, my tower would be strong and steady.  Yet, I never stopped dreaming.  It wasn’t that I believed my life was not good.  Or that I wasn’t content.  For some reason, I was born a visionary.  My mind and spirit constantly vacationed to places unexplored.    It wasn’t like I wanted to become a sole nomad or not include family.  And I didn’t stop approaching risks.   Especially since the world might possibly be nearing the end!  Sadly, within two years, it did seem the world stopped when two large towers fell.  And its impact effected millions of humans. Some called it “the day the world stopped turning.”  Humanity suffered.  And I was just one in a million who experienced another bad bite of life.  “Life is too short” seemed to be the mantra of those years.  As a young Principal, my decisions molded hundreds of kids; not just my own.  It was in this world of young people my soul truly found joy.  Life seemed to coast quickly for 5 years.  Oblivious to the malnourishment of love I received from yet another man, I soaked in the joy of motherhood and the amazing world of young dreamers and teachers.    

And then came 2006 and I took another hit on the head.  Motorcycles didn’t scare me.  Things don’t scare me easily.  It was an accident.  One that would have a lasting impact.  I remember that day at the hospital hearing, “shake it off”.   It seemed I healed the best I could; or at least, what I thought could be immediately “triaged” and band- “aided”.  And wouldn’t you know it, I got bit again.   

Only part of my Jenga tower of life fell this time when this relationship crumbled.   Being alone again was my choice.  Grace surrounded me.  Perhaps I had the upper hand of my life? My confidence and ability to tread the rough waters of daily existence seemed to be high.  Financially, I had been bitten.  Relationships seemed to have taken some skin off.  I’d shake it off and keep going.  Surely, these “bites” of life would force me to keep a safe distance from things that could harm me.  And besides, other walks down the aisle at college had fulfilled my career goal.  I had my sons, my Heavenly Papa, and my dreams to comfort me.  And dogs.  I always had dogs.  The non-biting kind.

Cautiously I approached another possible relationship.  During these seven years I witnessed the growth of my tremendous sons (and moved multiple times).  Even when my youngest moved to his Dad’s and my oldest went away for college, I would hear the words, “shake it off”.  My bite wounds could be soothed with the “salve” of daily meditation, prayer, travel, and my own laughter.  Perhaps my experiences could’ve taken my soul, my grit, and my mere existence to a place of “no return”.    That was not going to happen to me.   Witnessing my sons forge ahead on their paths in life truly gave me peace.  Admittedly, it was sad too.   “Shake it off”, I’d tell myself.   They’re exactly what I had hoped and prayed-independent and trustworthy men.   The United States Air Force beckoned them.  And life and love has come to them in extraordinary ways.  And in places I once dreamed to be.  How fitting. 

It was the end of 2014 and things seemed fuzzy at times.  There was a time I went into a store and couldn’t remember why I was there.  Or even what I might purchase.  Weird.  Upon finding some chiropractic care many months before, I was finally addressing some of the physical issues that had been lying dormant since my hit on the head in 2006.  My neck was a mess.  My head a mess. My memory a mess.  My brain had always helped me in so many situations!  Even when my heart led me the wrong path.  What in the devil’s name was wrong with my brain?   Why couldn’t I remember things?  Why did I have a hard time walking at times?  “Do not let another doctor touch your neck”, was spoken by the E.R. doctor.  Months of scans and tests occurred.  The hospital bills piled up and I could sense the one thing constant, my life in school, beginning to become more challenging.  This time, it hurt the hardest.   The good-bye “bite” of my career hurt. “Shake it off”.   I had been cautious to love during these years, yet I gave in-and love left when my memory seemed to.

With my head shaking, I still allowed myself one more “shot” at believing in a lasting relationship.  You may find this hard to believe (insert eye roll here), but I got bit again in 2018.     Humor me on this, but I believe my brain was not functioning.   But man makes mistakes.   I had “owned” up to my own and regretfully, thought this was the right move.   During this period lovely people graced my life.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the times I experienced.   But loneliness set it.   Why was I more alone with another human than by myself?   I “shook it off” and turned my wagon toward home.    It was not the Westward Journey I had dreamed about my entire life.  Some wheels fell off in the ruts and I didn’t land a gold mine either.  But I experienced a journey, none-the-less. 

 It’s 2019 and Dad is 77; Momma is 73.  In the last 5 years, Dad has overcome an aneurysm, two cancers, heart issues, and a multitude of other “deadly” bites.  Momma too.  They’re aging.  My sons are grown, and I have two amazing daughters-in-law’s, a beautiful new grandbaby, and one on the way.  Having them so far away from me most definitely “bites” at times.  I’m ok with that.   My skin is tougher, I heal faster, and the “teeth” don’t sink too deep now.

I’m on a new journey.  In the last year I went from living life as simple as possible in an RV to moving in a “sticks and brick home” once more.   When I left my tiny Southwest Missouri town 31 years ago, I never dreamed my wagon would circle back to someone, a true love, that would finally be “home” for me.  Of course, I also have a tiny non-biting rescue companion too.

 I smile as I think about the years of working, motherhood, traveling, and all the “bites” of life that have tried to put me in a corner of safety and complacency.   Yet, I’m not going to stop approaching the unknown.   Perhaps I’ve arrived at the best part of my life.  Middle-aged used to sound so old to me.  I’ve loved life “in the middle” on most things.  And now, my experiences have taken me to the center stage of a truly abundant and gracious existence.   

I got bit by a dog recently-a real bite from a real animal. And I laugh as I tell myself, “shake it off”.