On Both Sides Of The Road

I’m sitting on a green lawn amid leafy trees, while on the road behind me, cars drive through a busy intersection and a shopping mall bustles with mid-day shoppers. Occasionally, a horn blasts in the distance informing some unfortunate driver that he or she has pushed another driver’s patience to the limit.

In front of me, a solid series of stone buildings stand in testimony to an idea and an ideal that most people can hardly comprehend. The dedication of one’s life to an unseen God.

Here stands a convent in the midst of a big city. An American flag flutters in the breeze. A statue of Mary hovers several feet above the ground in a wall niche. Crosses pierce the blue sky at the top of two buildings.

Since this convent caters to the needs of the elderly, several old women have been wheeled to cars in the parking lot. Family members (or friends) have taken loved ones out for the day to whatever adventure.

I sit here with my computer on a grassy lawn as flying insects pursue their destiny, occasionally bumping into my arm or landing on my keys, annoying me…perhaps being annoyed by me. I don’t know. Though I sincerely hope not. Considering the fact that I just squashed one…

Nature in all forms seems to flourish amid the grassy lawn and the leafy trees: insects, birds, squirrels, trees, flowers, and humans of all ages and descriptions. The contrast of old world and new world, a supernatural reality inside and a natural reality outside hardly escapes my notice.

Crossing the road from a mall to a convent seems unlikely. But apparently, it’s very doable. As I listen to the chirping of birds, I can see the boughs of trees where they nest. Each bird sings a particular song for its breed and builds a specific nest for its kind. They do not choose their songs or their nests. They are driven by an invisible force to sing…to nest…to live and eventually to die in a cycle that has been rotating since the dawn of creation.

But the woman in the convent chose to live here. They could have become doctors or builders, teachers, or songwriters. They could have lived in a big house in the city or a straw hut on an island. They could’ve joined The Peace Corps or taken up computer hacking as their chosen careers.

We all have certain paths before our feet…well worn roads rutted with the footsteps of our parents, grandparents, and humdrum life experiences. But we set our path by what we decide to see and what we choose to ignore. What we respond to and what we jerk away from.

As a young woman, I visited with nuns many times, and I served as a teacher with sisters in a convent in Chicago. So the world of religious life is not foreign to me. It is simply not mine. I never felt called to that life. I can’t say why any more than the birds can explain why a certain twig attracts their eye…or why worms seem yummy but chocolate leaves them cold.

Our life path may seem a mystery, but there is more to our choices than grandmother’s alcoholic tendencies, Mom’s DNA, dad’s offer to take up the family business, the car accident that makes us wonder why we aren’t all dead yet, or a hundred other realities. They inform us…but they aren’t all that form us.

In a little while, I’ll make the drive back through Missouri into Illinois, and if all goes well, arrive home safe and sound. My dogs will greet me. They might even lift their heads in acknowledgment of my existence. A couple cats will blink in my direction…at least one will demand a rubdown. Kids will say hi and ask how things went or when’s dinner…

In time, the sun will set on a day where I celebrated Mass with women and girls who see possibilities that nature cannot speak about but they witness in a way few humans dare. A day of trucks and cars, kids and animals, natural and supernatural realities.

The Holy Spirit goes where it will. It forms and informs us. Love is like that. So is joy.

But while a bird cannot choose its song, we can choose our joy. Circumstances may limit our universe, but we can choose what we focus on, what we respond to, and how we act.

Perhaps we want a twig, but we have only clay. We can choose to make something good from that clay. It may not look like any house we’ve ever seen before, but it can make a life, one with an outside and an inside. We can sing and build and live on both sides of the road.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter  https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Random Connections

So I took a seat in a family restaurant with a friend, and the waitress stepped up. She just happened to be one of the most beautiful women I had ever laid eyes on. It wasn’t just her face…it was her expressive nature. Can a person radiate beauty?

Apparently.

After the waitress made her introductions, gave us a rundown of the specials, and offered us a few moments to think our choices over, my friend gave me his perspective, “God, she’s beautiful.”

I couldn’t have agreed more. When she returned, he asked her to tell us about herself.

Ironically, her name turned out to be Gabby. With composed enthusiasm, she told us about her degree in International Studies, her Salvadorian mother and American father, (or was it the other way around?) growing up in Texas, her life in Canada, and a planned trip to…” She was a bubbling fountain of information and good cheer.

Dinner was delicious and time with my friend was a pure gift. Gabby performed her job with grace and pleasant charm. After dinner, I left figuring that the encounter with the waitress was one of those rare occurrences in life, which makes life a little sweeter. I don’t often connect with strangers like that.

But maybe I can.

Later, when we stopped for ice cream, the young man behind the counter turned out to be a salesman par excellence. With comic humor, he offered us every size but the small…the one we had chosen. When we stuck to our choices, despite his multitudinous offers, he took defeat with boyish goodwill. I was charmed.

Turns out that sincere interest and engaging in conversation have the power to turn strangers into acquaintances at lightning speed.

Back home at the Wal-Mart where I shop, new lines of self-scanners have outstripped the number of checkout clerks. My first concern was that people would lose their jobs to automation. A sad plight when one considers how hard it is to keep a steady job these days. Well, any day. But after my weekend encounters and remembering the various personalities I have chanced to meet—however briefly—in checkout lanes, museums, hospitals, hotels, and a host of other places, I wonder if we aren’t losing something intangibly valuable to the altar of efficiency and good business sense.

Is it really a good idea to replace human beings with machines? Sometimes—absolutely. I’d rather risk a gadget to a high-risk situation than a body and soul.

But as Gabby plainly showed me—human personality feeds me in ways that mere food, no matter how well prepared, can’t.

Machines have replaced people and for centuries. Progress and all that. There is undoubtedly a better job for the checkout clerks in some other position…I hope and pray.

But my unease doesn’t stem from economic stability or even happy worker status. My unease radiates from the realization that it is all too easy to become isolated in this world. Random encounters with strangers in our work-a-day life are like the yeast in bread dough. We either rise to the human experience…or fall flat.

When we engage, meet eyes, smile, and dare to care even the slightest bit about the humanity all around us…we change the world. We change ourselves. Gabby’s beauty caught my attention, but it was her personality that held it. The ice-cream man wasn’t all-star handsome, but he charmed me in his own unique way.

The world is full of wonders…and wonderful people. Personally, I need my random connections if for no other reason than to discover that truth once again.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

For the First Time in Months

Standing outside the huge garage door, Madge fumbled with her keys and then handed them over to the serviceman.

Without a word, he took them and nodded.

Buttoning her coat against a bitter late winter wind, Madge forced a grin. “Sorry, I’m so clumsy. I was out at the zoo, showing the school kids the monkeys—kind of a funny how they play off each other—but dang my hands get so cold, I could probably freeze water, like one of those superhuman types on TV.”

The service guy grinned and started away. “Well, if you want to sign for the order inside, we can get things moving so you don’t have to wait too long.” He stopped by her car, frowned at the tires, circled around and shook his head. He opened the service door and stood aside.

Nervous anxiety rippled through Madge’s body as she traipsed inside. She tossed her bulky purse onto the high counter. She glanced at the nameplate with Rick written in bold letters, next to a family photo with a pretty wife and two adorable kids.

Rick punched numbers into a calculator.

Marge swallowed back her fear. “So before you get too far, you want to tell me what I’m looking at? I mean, it’s just the oil change, right?”

Rick looked up, an appraising expression on his face. “Truth is, your two front tires are as bald as any I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised you made it through the winter on those things. Your steering wheel has more tread on it.”

Madge’s courage fell to the cement floor. “Well, I’ve been hoping they would make it to June. I only have to drive into the city twice a week, so I figured—”

The horrified look on Rick’s face forced her to grip her courage with both hands. She swallowed hard. “You’re right. It’s not safe. For me or anyone. Okay, I’ll get new ones. Can you get something a little better than what I have now? These only lasted a couple years..”

With obvious relief, Rick nodded and started tapping the calculator again. “We’ll take you up a step and with the oil change we’re looking at…”

Marge knew he was looking at a number larger than anything she had in her checking account. Or would likely have in the near future. When he was done with the detailed costs, tax, she sucked in a fresh breath and pulled her bag forward. “Do you mind if I call my bank? I’ll transfer what I have from savings…and then” —she squinted as if the light hurt her eyes— “maybe you’d let me make monthly payments on the rest? I’m good for it. It’ll just take three…four months tops. My job…well…it’s not one of those high paying ones.”

Rick nodded. “That’s fine. I’ll have to order these now, and when they come in, we can get everything done at once. Will that work?”

Pulling her phone from her purse, Madge exhaled. “Yep. I’ll call the bank now and pay you what I can and then—”

A man behind Marge cleared his throat.

With a frown, Rick peered over Madge’s head.

Marge started for the door. “I’ll go outside. I can’t get any reception in here anyway.” The wind had died down, and Marge soaked in the noonday sunshine. Her heart pounded as she pressed the phone to her ear. A tap on the shoulder turned her attention.

Rick stood before her, a strange expression on his face. “Hey, don’t worry about it. Just go home, and I’ll call you when I have everything set. Okay?”

A fresh blast of frigid air careened through her thin coat. She peered at the service door. “You sure?”

“Yeah. No problem. I’ve got some things to take care of right now, but I’ll call you about arranging the balance and payment.”

As Marge gave Rick her phone number, she wondered if she had accomplished anything. She marched to her car, her keys biting into her grip.

~~~

Once at home, Marge made herself a hot cup of tea and settled on the sofa with her checkbook and a pad of paper. She had to rethink her options. She sighed and took a tentative sip. Lipton’s best wasn’t nearly so good without sugar, but hey, it was better than just hot water.

Her phone rang. Dragging her purse by the long strap, she yanked it closer and sifted through myriad objects. Once she had her phone in hand, she tapped it on. “Yeah?”

“Marge?”

Marge waited. Oh boy… Exhaustion seeped through her body.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to bother you…and I suppose I acted a little odd when you left. But, you see, the guy in line behind you told me that he overheard our conversation, and he offered to pay for your tires if we ate the cost of labor and the tax.”

Marge froze. She wondered how long she could go without breathing. When conscious thought returned, she blinked and stared at her worn black bag slumped on the floor. “Who? Did what?”

“The gentleman behind you…well, he heard about your situation, and when you went outside, he offered to pay for your tires… but he didn’t want you to know it was him. He said he doesn’t know you or anything. Just his good deed for the day sort of thing. So that’s why I told you to go home.”

A lump swelled in Marge tears, burning behind her eyes. “I never…I mean…I can’t believe…”

“We told him okay; it’s a deal. So I ordered your tires, and you can bring your car on Friday at noon. We’ll have everything done by 3:00. That’ll work for you?”

“But I’d really like to thank him…whoever he is. And you too, of course. I can’t believe…”

“Don’t worry about it. Just bring your car on Friday, and everything will be taken care of. Free of charge. Sometimes life is good, you know.”

Marge swiped the tear from her cheek. “People are good, Rick.”

As she dropped her phone back into her purse, Marge realized that not only weren’t her hands cold, but her whole body felt warm for the first time in months.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Go Get ‘Em, Girl!

So, okay…I decided I’d had enough of the broken plastic tiles in the basement, and I was going to fix the problem once and for all. Go get ‘em girl!

I strode into the flooring store ready to pick out a solution and get on with my life.

I entered said store and was immediately overwhelmed by the glorious selections hanging from wall to wall. I never realized I had been floor-deprived before, but I suddenly felt like I had entered a new dimension. One where floors stay politely underfoot and don’t slide backward as you go out the door. Or fall to pieces if one dares to sweep out the corners.

A nice gentleman strode up and asked me a simple question, which quickly made me realize that I not only was I floor deficient; I also have an uncanny ability to become an instant idiot. Recipe? Just ask a question and wait.

“So what are you looking for?”

Seemed like a straightforward query, but my one-word answer “flooring” didn’t take us anywhere. I finally clued into his pointed stare and responded with “for a hallway and a bathroom,” regaining a semblance of composure.

Which I lost again within seconds.

“So what are the dimensions?”

He might as well have asked the circumference of the moon. I had realized approximately a nanosecond before he spoke—not only what he was going to ask—but that I had not a centimeter’s clue as to the answer.

My I-might-as-well-fake-it response, “Well, about from here to the door and about yay-wide” only brought a completely composed expression from the salesman. Though I do suspect that behind the mask, he was wondering why he hadn’t retired the day before.

Ladies, I feel I owe you a collective apology. Not only do I never knock out the bad guys like in every Marvel movie ever, but my retorts to clear questions are lame, and when face to face with the average salesman/repairman, I usually leave the impression that I don’t know which end of a hammer pounds a nail.

Why is that?

It’s not that I don’t have any savvy role models in my life. I know plenty of intelligent, quick-witted women who can make conversation sparkle like champagne. But put me in a room with more than one other person—or a repair guy—and I might as well have been born in the Neolithic age.

Good Heavens! I’ve raised eight kids and lived to tell about it. My whole life is one escapade after another. But my adventures are not the big screen kind. And that may be part of my problem. Being a woman in the modern age appears to require a level of heroism unmatched in human history. And frankly, I don’t know how the gorgeous, snappy-talking, totally composed, strong-as-titanium women presented to the world through big and little screens actually feel, but I wonder if the load gets a bit heavy sometimes.

I’m hardly advocating floor-dimension-ignorance when shopping for tiles, but I imagine that the sales guy wasn’t nearly as scandalized by my imperfections as I was. I’ll still tackle my list of home improvement projects, and hopefully, remember to bring any significant information into the process, but I won’t bother to go into it with a kick-a attitude.

Too exhausting.

I will measure the floor, though.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Brave Smile

I met a brave smile yesterday, and my faith in humanity flickered back to life. I had recently met with a painful disappointment, and I believed that a piece of my heart was broken beyond repair.

But I discovered that even a broken heart responds to a brave smile.

At the time, I was sitting between two young women I hardly knew, making light conversation with a few heavy topics thrown in for variety. The woman on my left was as innocent as the dawn of creation, but the one on my right smiled through sad eyes. Perhaps I read more in than was there…perhaps I saw myself reflected in her gaze. But that was what amazed me. I dared to care.

As I drove home from Mass tonight, a storm flickered in the northern sky. There isn’t usually lightning this time of the year, but the weather has been oddly mixed up. Probably just matching humanity’s mood swings. From the CD player, a violin rose and fell in wild cadences and on the horizon clouds loomed like mountains. I drove through the black night with rustling trees swaying and dried corn stalks swirling from the barren fields like remnants of ghosts.

At Mass Father had mentioned that life expectancy in the US has dropped the last few years, partially because of “diseases of despair”—addictions and suicide. This reality struck me as especially terrible in a generation with more technological and medical advancements and greater wealth, education, and entertainment opportunities than ever before. I guess the old saying is true: You can’t buy happiness…or even a ray of hope. Later as the priest held up the Host, I more clearly understood the reality of perfect God coming as food to a starving and imperfect human race.

And loving us anyway.

I rarely know the deep grief of those around me, but I still find it comforting to remember a young woman with sad eyes smiled at me.

The wind blows, rattling the windows as the threatening storm arrives, bringing freezing temperatures. Soon, the kids and I will watch part four of a series on John Quincy Adams, and I’ll be reminded once again that humanity has faced mighty trials both personal and societal yet lived to tell the tale…despite our hurts and broken hearts.

Despair is not the only option to pain, grief, and fear. Courage and endurance are still possible. No doubt, you, too, have known your share of grief. Just a quick scroll through any social media platform or the news of the day is enough to make a person want to crawl under a rock. Forever.

But a brave smile offered me encouragement and solace when I needed it. I doubt she’ll ever know. But you and I know.

A brave smile can enkindle a spark of hope in a world that needs it badly. Even if your heart is breaking…smile anyway.

Dare to care.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00