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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Kid Got to Me

I met a girl, 17 and lean—her feet pointing inward, causing knees to bump foreheads as she spoke of her future plans—describing dreams as distant as the milky spills of new galaxies, pale against the pitch black uncertainty of the universe.

I found myself bowing to her naiveté, discovering a bit of my younger self in her newly set eyes. To be so eager and unafraid, like a rocket launching for the first time, piercing the conditioned “you cant’s", and the "don’t you dares” rocking life like a bubble-wrapped renegade from mom and dad’s front porch.

When she told me that she wanted to write books I knew that she had suffered. Only the scarred would dare to write, to make sense of, or at least to look at, the entrails of life. I wanted to pry, to find out why this perfect little prom princess would want to write books. What had happened to make her look inwardly, away from the rockets and the blistering pink of youth? But of course I’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps she’ll be a literary star, or pen cookbooks featuring a thousand ways to use cranberries. I don’t know.

I only know that the kid got to me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Run Like Hell!

Humans can be porcupinish in nature. You get too close and their adrenaline kicks in, triggering a panicky spray of barbed quills, homing in on your most vulnerable places, usually the face and eyes.

And why would one place their face so close to a human? Because of love and friendship of course. Because someone has to take the risk, step in deep, show their soul, and because one is willing to believe the best, for the conflict exists only within the mind of the porcupine, who cautiously welcomes you in, keeping the quills slicked-back, until you request some authenticity in return, which is perceived as a massive threat, thus triggering the impulsive attack.

And there it is lying on top. It’s always on top. The oily stain of “that should teach you”. But it rarely does, for the heart is both predatory and pollyanna, risking all for the hunt and the soul softening hug of answered friendship.

Sometimes I want to hide from people, and at other times I want to spray them with some of my own quills, but mostly I just want to love them.

How do you hug a porcupine? Bravely and wholeheartedly, expecting nothing in return, while being prepared to run like hell.

Love bears the scars of trying.

Leah Griffith

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I Left a Hot Pot of Coffee for This?

It's early, and eerie, and I’m getting goose flesh as my morning walk leads me into some really dense fog. I have to push myself across the threshold of hesitation, for who knows what lurks in this heavy haze? And to think, I left a hot pot of coffee for this.

Each day is a gamble, but most days, I’m bright blue with optimism—the sky is mine, as is the sun and the moon. But on foggy mornings, when my faithful witnesses have vanished, and the familiar markers of life have morphed into storybook giants, angry she-bears, and spiky plants with mean points waiting to poke out my eyes, how do I motivate myself to keep moving? Do I continue on only because walking backwards is impossible?

I’m amazed at the amount of faith I have in the moment—this flash of now that calls itself life and holds everything with such casual tension, often disarming me by droning on and on like a monotone math teacher, and then shifting my world with sudden brilliance like so many stars kaleidoscoping from heaven.

I move forward, trusting that the odds are indeed allies.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cupid Must Think I'm Stupid!

Valentine’s schmalentine’s, who gives a crap? Is this day just for daters and maters or for the general population? I’ve been married 35 years and I’ve yet to get a valentine gift. Of course I’m not the type to make a fuss. I like to silently seethe.

Actually, I come from Worcester County, which happens to be the home of the first Valentine. I think I should be demanding preferential Valentine treatment. And I would, if I thought it would do any good.

In grade school we used to exchange cute little cartoon Valentines. Do they still do that or is it considered sexual harassment? I used to be in love with a kid named Stephen Sweet, and man was he sweet! Of course he loved Phyllis what’s her name, and not me. But each year I would savor the fleeting intimacy between Stephen and I as he placed a tiny white envelope on my desk….” I was always hoping for this:

But I got this instead:

So you see, my Valentine expectations were lowered long ago, and since then I've learned to lower them even more still.

I no longer hope for roses, perfume, romantic dinners, and expensive chocolates, but make due with, yard trimmings, deoderant, Marie Calendar’s in-home menu, and thanks to my new cardiac diet, red Jello.

I’ve come to believe that Cupid has a nasty side, sparking inappropriate relationships for hundreds of years, getting our sappy little hopes up, only to have love blow up in our faces or go as flat as a couch potato’s ass.

Cupid doesn’t mention that love has stinky feet, hogs the blankets, burps louder than a marching band, and thinks that a night out is putting on a clean shirt and eating dinner in front of the TV.

So, I finally get it. If this girl wants a memorable Valentine’s Day she’s got to create it for herself. No more waiting for hubby to sweep me off my feet (or to sweep the front porch for that matter). I’m taking this holiday into my own capable hands!

Ha! Cupid must think I’m stupid!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Soft Surrender

I was taking my usual walk
when I noticed a fallen leaf on the grassy path ahead.
I couldn't help but feel a pinch of pity
wondering if this leaf knew that it was dying.

I paused
waiting for the rise and fall
a faint pulse
but the leaf remained motionless
staring into the dappled underbelly of a former life.

Could it see the flitting birds above
whose cares blended well with green?

And what of the greedy squirrels
dropping acorns as they ran
the soft thuds of a midwinter snack
was it jealous of them?

I remained still
pondering this gentle slip of gold
wishing it would somehow rage against the inevitable
maybe catch a swift breeze
ride it higher than blue.

While wondering about all these things
I respectfully snapped a photo.

Upon viewing the simple image...

I realized
that I knew this leaf very well.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014, Come as You Are.

I thought the year 2012 would kill me, but I made it through, entering 2013 with steady eyes and heightened expectations—silly silly girl. Turns out 2013 had its own plans for Leah, taking the opportunity to teach me some real stunners. I’m not talking cliché quips, or token phrases, but cut out my heart and run over it truths.

The greatest lessons I learned were that I create my own suffering by resisting “what is”, because neither life, nor loved ones, are required to behave the way that I expect them to, and that by trying to change them into something they are not, I am in essence rejecting them.

I’ve learned that without acceptance it is impossible to offer unconditional love, leaving me with nothing left to give but the tawdry offerings of love’s counterfeit—the affections of my demanding and judgmental ego.

It was time for me to drop the belief that I was separate from everything and that in order to live a happy life; I had to protect, promote, and preserve “me”. This belief only perpetuated my self-induced sufferings.

These are epic lessons—ones I’ve yet to master, but I will (for the most part;) do my best to practice them each moment that I’m alive.

Thank you 2013. You were relentless in your lessons, but I know that I needed a good ass whooping to help me get unstuck. I am seriously grateful that you loved me enough to teach me…now get the hell out of here!

2014, I humbly invite you to come as you are.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Last Minute Tree

Art by: Leah Griffith

Last Minute Tree
By: Leah Griffith

I was about eleven when Alberta Hazard, took me along to help her buy a Christmas tree. It was the night before Christmas, pretty late to be buying a tree, but I was excited to go. This would be my first time breaking away from the nest and seeing how other people did Christmas—discovering that our family wasn’t the center of the holiday universe.

Although only eleven, I was Alberta and Rob’s babysitter, and a good one at that. I was old for my age, having no choice but to grow up quickly because of a complicated home life.

The Hazard’s had five kids back in the day when that was considered an average sized litter. They weren’t your conventional family. They had a fully stocked bar that took up their entire dining room and they kept a vicious Doberman named, Ranger, chained up in the kitchen. The children were well behaved, but who wouldn’t be with parents as stern as Alberta and Rob. They were whiskey serious—you could smell it each time they spoke.

Behind the bar Rob kept a leather strap hanging in full sight. The kids said it looked like a long black tongue waiting to give them a licking. It did. I felt bad for the Hazard kids. Their parents were mean, their dog was mean, and they spent most of their little lives on full alert—like deer sensing danger, tiptoeing around, trying not to piss off Rob, Alberta, or the dog.

When Alberta and Rob would leave for the evening, I’d spoil the kids, giving them “horsey” rides, sharing my snacks, and letting them choose which TV shows we watched. They loved the fun, and I felt like a mini god exercising my power of good over evil. That’s why I was excited to be able to have some say in what kind of Christmas tree they had. Their last year’s tree had been a boney disappointment.

Alberta wasn’t a big talker so we walked in silence, leaving me to watch the snow fall and wonder how something so delicate could make such hard crunching noises under my boots.

The guy selling trees was bundled up against wind, standing under a streetlight chewing on a cigar. Alberta spoke first, “Where do you keep the cheap trees?” Her words sounded crude, absent of holiday manners. Mr. Cigar was just as bad, not bothering to answer, but simply nodding his head, directing us to a dark corner where skinny pines roped in twine, were stacked on top of one another, looking more like a pile of hostages than Christmas trees.

I could imagine the flat line of disappointment in the kid’s eyes if we brought home one of those trees. Lord knows I was pretty familiar with that “let down” feeling myself, praying every night that my perverted stepfather would disappear from my life, only to find him at the breakfast table each morning fresh-faced and ready to rule the roost. I piped up, forcing out my words in big steamy breaths, “These trees are pathetic, Alberta. You guys need a pretty tree to go with that nice house of yours.”

There house was nice—on the outside, but on the inside it was as stark as a cell. Alberta wandered over to a “pretty” tree and lifted a branch, meeting it with her nose and sniffing as one sniffs a rose. I held my breath, afraid of breaking the spell. Dropping the bough, she hollered over her shoulder, “What’s this one cost?”

Alberta wasn’t a girly girl, she wore her hair pulled into a tight ponytail, carried a wallet like a dude, and had one eye that traveled, so you were never certain what she was looking at. She jingled the change in her jeans pocket, waiting for an answer.

“Oh that there’s a Blue Spruce, came all the way from Colorado. That one will cost you twelve bucks.”

“Twelve bucks for a tree on Christmas Eve? You’ll be burning them by morning. I’ll give you six.”

The man shuffled over to Alberta, and lit his already smoldering cigar, sucking and puffing, creating such a cloud that his head disappeared altogether.

“I’ll give it to you for eight, but that doesn’t include rope or me helping you tie it to your car.”

Alberta flipped open her wallet and lifted a perfect tenner out, handing it over to Mr. Cigar Face. He snagged the bill and quickly added it to an ample roll of green, handing her back two ones. “You might want to get your husband over here to help you…” But before he could finish his sentence, Alberta had already lifted the tree and was heading out, with me running behind.

It sure was a beauty, with thick fragrant branches, smelling like every kind of holiday happiness a kid could imagine. I took the light end while Alberta held onto the thickest part of the trunk. We made pretty good progress trudging through the snow along Main Street, passing store after store, their windows burning with holiday temptations, until Alberta’s good eye fixed itself on a neon sign, advertising that Archie’s Tavern was open for business on Christmas Eve.

The tree train stopped abruptly with an announcement from Alberta; “We’ll hoist the tree up here in this doorway, and go get a quick night cap. It will be our little secret.” And then she winked at me, sealing my fate as her co-conspirator.

The floor creaked as Alberta led the way through a section of small tables. Heads turned and nodded as she found us seats at the end of the bar. I felt as though I had entered a secret society where serious drinkers, perched like a sullen flock, drowned their troubles in booze. I had to fight the urge to spin on my barstool.

Alberta sipped her whiskey, half listening, as a guy sitting on her other side slur-whispered into her ear. I drank my Coke, glad to be on the end where no one could sit next to me.

A black haired lady in a red sequin dress was busy plunking nickels into the jukebox. Her rump shook to the music like a shimmery lure, drawing a skinny guy from the crowd who pulled her into a slow dance. I strained to focus my eyes, trying to see her face, imagining pretty, but instead finding the face of an old hag fit for handing out poison apples. My stomach twisted as my mind tried to adjust to what it was seeing, and I wondered if she knew what she looked like to everyone else, or if she even cared…if anyone cared. This was a different Christmas.

We made it back to Alberta’s by eight, leaving us plenty of time to decorate. Rob was passed out on the sofa, the kids were in bed, and the only creature stirring was Ranger, licking his bowl clean in the kitchen.

Wilson Pickett’s voice scratched over the hi-fi as we strung lights, and tossed tinsel. We worked like frenzied elves on deadline. Finally finished, Alberta plugged in the tree and shut off the lamp. I had to catch my breath because of the beauty of it—the icy shimmer of Christmas reflected off the tinsel—dancing over everything, including Rob’s sleeping face, transforming their harsh living room in sugar plum softness.

We rushed outside in our stocking feet to catch a glimpse of the tree through the window. It was Rockwellian perfect, fit for a holiday postcard. Alberta smiled at the warm vision she had created, and whispered, "Let's go wake up the kids."

I remember Alberta loading her arms with the three youngest, while I tugged at droopy limbs and whispered, “Come see”. We half-circled the tree, the children’s eyes wide, their voices hushed with wonder.

I could sense the spirit of Christmas standing there with us—the joy, the togetherness, and even though it was temporary, and things would surely go back to normal, Christmas was visiting the Hazard family, waking up little hearts to the message of divine love, and the magic of hope, and change.

The Hazard’s left their tree up until January 22nd that year. Alberta begrudgingly agreed to take it down because Rob said it was a fire hazard. The next two years they had beautiful trees decorated well before Christmas Eve, after that they moved away and I lost track of them.

I like to imagine that the Hazard children grew up and created memorable Christmases for their own families, and that my childlike input on that snowy, tree-buying Christmas Eve, was enough to make a difference for generations of Hazards to come.

It’s always the little things isn’t it?

ELR wishes all our friends a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, and a most Happy New Year.

May the blessings we wish for be the blessings we give.



As a Christmas special, my novel, Cosette’s Tribe, will remain on sale for just 99¢ on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.