Sunday, November 25, 2012

Article #8: Black Eye Friday...

I spend a significant part of Thanksgiving Day browsing the Black Friday ads, creating a list, checking it twice, and planning the itinerary as if we were exploring space instead of parking spaces. Three years ago my husband and I bundled up in our winter garbs and set out for the “midnight madness” sales. Having filled our bellies just hours before with a Thanksgiving feast, we were full, warm and feeling confident in our plan to purchase the all new Xbox 360 video gaming system as a Christmas gift for our boys. Walmart was our destination, and when we arrived, we knew we were in for the long haul. Literally thousands of people lined the walkway, circling around the parking lot. The line of people, however, seemed to be moving quickly, as one by one the shoppers entered the “lowest price” empire. Making our way towards the item we were after, my husband and I confirmed our method of “grab and go,”adding an additional plan of destination should we be separated.

Standing among roughly five hundred strangers, we had maneuvered our way to the front of the mountain of Xbox gaming systems. Wrapped tightly in plastic were approximately three-hundred of these highly sought after gifts, and I was determined to get one. I was a mother on a mission! I placed my hand (as did two-hundred other shoppers) on the wrapped pile. Pressed against me was an enormous “Paul Bunyan” of a man complete with a full beard and flannel shirt who flashed me a look of “don’t even think about it.” I was surrounded by crazies, and we all had a common goal: to walk away with treasure. And then it happened. It was like an out-of-body experience. The Walmart employee blew a whistle, and it was like I was being thrown to the wolves. Plastic wrapping was being shredded and thrown everywhere. There was a moment where I was blinded by a scrap of plastic wrap that was drawn to the static in my hair and briefly covered my eyes. But I never let go of that gaming system box. I could feel it under my grip the entire time, but as I began to pull the box towards my body, I felt a tug. Using my lower lip to fiercely blow the plastic away from my face, I stared straight into the eyes of “a woman scorned.” She looked to be older than I and certainly more frail. She was no match for my big boned body. I had this. I pulled the gaming system towards me, and she fiercely pulled on the other end. I furrowed my brow, “Excuse me! I had this first!” Never taking her eyes off me, she was now violently attempting to wrench my prize from my hands as she screamed, “Give it to me!” I was stunned. The decibel of her screech reached ear piercing levels. The force of her tug caused me to stumble a bit, but I never lost my grip. This lady was serious. But so was I. Without letting go, I slid my hand up the box to gain a better hold and I tugged with all my might, causing the woman to lunge forward. Suddenly, I felt incredible pain. My face stung, and the force of the blow caused me to wince, closing my eyes for what seemed like eternity. I felt the box sliding from my grasp, and yet I was too shocked to really care. Slowly opening my eyes, I could feel a warm trickle above my upper lip. Instinctively, I touched my face. Holding my hand in front of me, I blinked several times; blood? I was bleeding. I looked up, and the woman was standing over me. With one last dirty look, she turned and walked away. I just sat there. My head was reeling. I had been punched! As I watched the woman walk away, I noticed that she was not holding the box. Her arms were empty, and she walked away defeated. But I didn’t have the box either. Had a third someone swooped in and stolen my prize? Confused, I began to stand up, looking around for my husband. Why was he not by my side right now, comforting me, offering me the corner of his shirt to wipe my bloody nose? I had been “wounded in action!”

My husband was nowhere to be found. I stood, looking in every direction and then I remembered our plan had we been separated. Trampled and worn, I slowly made my way towards the center of the store. As I looked up, it was as if I heard the angels sing as the light of Heaven was beaming down. There stood my husband, six foot four, bundled in a “mossy oak” Cabelas coat, arms stretched around an Xbox 360 gaming system! My hero had swooped in as I lay on the cold, concrete floor of Walmart Super Center, grabbed the gift, and had run for the touchdown!

Our story and the stories of Black Friday shoppers everywhere, fighting and trampling their way to the holy grails of Christmas gifts, have given Black Friday sales a well-deserved black eye!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Article #7: "Gratitude"

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I have found great delight in the “30 Days of Gratitude” that has consumed the social media outlets. Facebook and Twitter have become platforms of various “thanks,” and even I have joined the masses and followed suit. Each day I post something that I am thankful for: my husband, my children, my salvation, my parents, my job...the list is certainly longer than a mere “30 days.”

This morning as I was posting day ten, I allowed myself to go back to a moment in time, not so long ago, where the true meaning of gratitude and thankfulness was displayed in a way that was most unforgettable.

Two years ago on a Thursday evening, July 29th, my family experienced a greater sorrow than we had ever known. My brother, Cal Fine, passed away very unexpectedly at the age of thirty-one. As if the death of a loved one was not tragic enough, my brother's death happened on the same day that my mother and my father were forced to move from their beloved home of over twenty-six years due to my father's quickly progressing illness. In a way, my mother was already experiencing a "death," having spent the entire summer packing up years of home making and family memories. Just as she began to feel peace and had begun to unpack her new life, she received a phone call that her only son was gone.

My brother left behind two small babies and the love of his life, waiting for him to heal from a terrible disease, but not a disease that people diefrom, so "shock" is an understatement.

I vividly remember the drive home from the VA Hospital in Columbia. It was a late summer evening, and yet it seemed so cold. It was difficult for me to process leaving my brother behind and never seeing him again. I allowed my mind to drift to the move. Just hours earlier friends and family had gathered, moving boxes, organizing dishes, sorting through clothing. There was still so much at the old home that needed to be done. The old home needed to be cleaned, dusted, vacuumed, bathrooms scrubbed; and there were still so many boxes to be brought from the old house to the new. But it was the last thing on any of our minds.

Pulling up to my mother's new home, the darkness of the night enveloped the sky. Cars lined the street outside the new house, and every light within was brightly shining. As I entered the house, my parents’ closest friends, along with my mother's sister and her daughter were seated in the kitchen. Silence was thick within the room, and then I heard my mother's anguished cries. Helplessness. It is the worst feeling in the world, and it consumed every part of me in that moment. All my mother wanted was her son, and I couldn't give him to her. My heart was broken.

After a long night of tossing and turning and pleading with God, the morning finally arrived. The sky was still dark. Clouds covered every inch, and the rain pelted the windows of my room. Tears from the heavens; it seemed so appropriate.

A long, hot, shower seemed to soothe my weary soul, and I drove to my parents’ new home. My father was sitting at the kitchen table, boxes towered high around him, and dishes wrapped in packing paper lined the counter tops. My mother was still sleeping in her bed, temporarily soothed with a sedative that I had asked our family doctor for the night before. I sat at the table with my father; neither of us said a word. We sat for a moment, allowing the quiet to penetrate us, watching the rain, listening to the sounds of the new home.

I heard the door of my parents’ bedroom creak open, and my mother shuffled into the kitchen. Her eyes were swollen, her face pale, her shoulders sagged with a heaviness that no doubt was weighing on her heart too.

"Do you see them?" she whispered..."look out the window."

I turned my eyes to the window that my father and I had been looking out of just moments before, and there they were...

"Who are they?" I asked.

"They are my students!" my mother cried, and my eyes filled with tears once again.

You see, the news of my brother’s death traveled the social network of Facebook the night before, and my mother, who has been a teacher for over forty years, was the topic of many "status updates.” A group of my mother's students, both present and past had rallied together and early that morning, in the cold and stinging rain, they carried boxes from the old house to the new house. With the guidance and help of their parents and close friends of my parents, they dusted and vacuumed the old house. Throughout the morning’s work, they came in one by one with heartfelt hugs to share.

It was an incredible sight. It was an incredible feeling. It was...just incredible.

There has been a great loss and great suffering in my family. But there has been an even greater healing, greater friendships, and greater love and support shown to us than any of us could ever have imagined. The gratitude our family has for the friends and students who came together in our time of need and sorrow is everlasting.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Article #6 "Masked Panties"

I am a drama T.V. junkie. My husband thinks that I am a glutton for punishment. You see, I watch these dramas, and then I become filled with a fear that I will:
A. Be one of forty-eight survivors of a near-fatal plane crash and must learn to fend for myself and fight unusual occurrences on a deserted island.
B. Be forced to become an investigator for marginalized, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena.
C. Be cursed with the ability to listen in on people’s thoughts, only to become open-minded about the integration of vampires among the human race.
I especially love medical dramas, and Grey’s Anatomy is my all-time favorite. That being said, it comes as no surprise that when I was diagnosed with melanoma, I immediately panicked. After all, Izzie Stevens, a ridiculously beautiful doctor on my beloved series was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma and flat-lined on the surgical table!
I ended up fighting my melanoma, and I won. I certainly do not want to pass off my diagnosis and my fight as “no big deal,” but I must admit that it is my sense of humor that seems to empower me in life making trials like this seem a bit easier to cope with. I will share with you an example of the “lighter side” of melanoma.
A girlfriend of mine had bought me a gift certificate to a local tanning salon for three spray tan sessions! What a FABULOUS idea, right? She knows that I feel better about myself when I am tan, and she also knows that having had skin cancer several times and having battled melanoma, I am under strict orders to stay away from tanning beds.
I called the tanning salon to set up my first spray tan session. I was given instructions to shower beforehand, shave away all the unwanted hair, and exfoliate my body. I was to not apply any lotions or sprays. I was to wear old clothing and bring something to pull my hair back away from my face.
I had never been to this particular tanning salon, so all of this was very new to me. I was already feeling a bit uncomfortable about having to stand in the nude while the tanning technician “spray painted” my body, so I felt really uneasy when I walked into the booth and the technician asked me to undress saying, “If you would like to wear panties, you may do so.” Duh, of course I would like to wear panties. I just did not realize she meant my own.
Allow me to explain…
The tanning technician wears a surgical mask while she sprays on the tanning solution; said mask was lying on a chair inside the booth. (Do you see where this is going?)
I began to undress, taking off ALL my clothing and neatly folding it over the chair. I picked up the mask… (Okay, I guess I am going to have to spell this out for you. I thought the mask was the “panties” that the technician was referring to when she said, “If you would like to wear panties you may do so”). So, I put the mask on. “Down there.” And then the tanning technician walked in. It was right about that time that I suddenly realized that the mask was not for me (you should have seen the look on the technician’s face)!
To make a long story short, I excused myself with the pretext of a sudden illness and quickly redressed. I was too humiliated to stay. No spray tan for me. And no offense to my dear friend who gave me the gift certificate, but I totally re-gifted it to another friend. I would not be going to that tanning salon. Ever. Again.
As a side note, it took me a good ten minutes to figure out how in the world to put on that mask. Think about it…the “leg holes” were on the sides. It felt incredibly uncomfortable, and I kept whispering to myself,“Stupid, skinny girls!”
I constantly try to focus on the wise adage that “beauty is only skin deep,” but what I know for sure is that being “tan and terrific” is only temporary – humiliation can last a long, long time.