Deep Courage and Pink High Heels

I keep them handy as a reminder.

I keep them handy as a reminder.

Through most of my Life, no one in my world heard me. If you think I’m exaggerating, let me reiterate: NOT ONE HUMAN BEING. Hence my fondness for animals, but that’s another story…

Mostly, what they heard wasn’t what I was saying or doing. They were too busy trying to fix me to hear me (translate that as trying to make me into copies of them) and I hadn’t yet realized that most of what was “wrong” with me was the “wrongness” of trying to please them, which often resulted in caring more about the welfare of others than I did about my own.

On the surface, that doesn’t sound SO awful, does it? I mean, it’s good to be concerned about others, right? Throngs of children are taught this, either directly or indirectly.

Here’s the rest of that dynamic, though. In worrying about everybody else’s needs and in trying to keep them happy (translate that as trying to keep them from getting mad, especially at me, when things went wonky), I had no energy left to learn how to take responsibility for my own welfare. But I was super good at tending to theirs. All that made me look to them as if I knew stuff I didn’t know, so they’d lean heavily on me for support, and then I’d feel put upon and unappreciated. I heard them but I didn’t get heard. So I’d keep trying to get what I needed by being there for others.

It’s exhausting to write it down and it’s exhausting to read it.

Living it was NOT living.

I felt like a little girl masquerading as a grownup, sure that behind the facade of work and family life, my ruse would be found out when I tripped wearing pink high heels that were too big for me.

And of course, none of what I was trying to do was even possible, but it was what I’d been conditioned to do within my family, and I kept doing it until the cycle almost did me in.

Then I got help.

It’s satisfying now when another person hears me and doesn’t offer unsolicited suggestions for how I could be better. It co-creates a space for creativity when another person allows me to simply have my feelings and not act as if there’s inherent danger to feeling.

Yet, there are still those lonely moments when NO ONE hears me, when they can’t shut up, when they feel a need to encourage me. I still hate it when they try to fix me.

It’s lonely when all I need is a witness to where I am.

These moments call for deep courage, the kind of courage that’s a rich pink and vibrant and pointed—like those high heels I keep on the shelf as a reminder of where I’ve come from. Courage hears my own voice and trusts it, even when it whispers, “I don’t know.” Courage speaks the hidden into the light, even when no one else can see it.

They don’t know it, but deep inside myself, I’m beating their voices into silence with those pink heels.  I keep them handy.

~~~jmw

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“You don’t waste good.” ~~~ Leroy Jethro Gibbs

A spark of connection!A few weeks ago I was enjoying a break from incessant rain and blustery winds with my favorite Sonic Happy Hour treat. The half price drinks from two until four were apparently irresistible to a lot of people because the place was hopping when I pulled in and ordered my green tea with raspberry. When a slice of sun appeared, I let the windows down on my truck and dug out my phone, settling back to enjoy a chat with a friend, along with my tea.
For thirty minutes or so, the mild sun and the conversation warmed me up, body and soul. Life was good.
Then I tried to crank the truck.
Rrrrr…rrrrr…rrrr. Nothing to be heard but the pitiful groan of a drained battery.
I’d just done one of those exasperating things that I do when I’m distracted: it’s an old truck and, without realizing it, I’d turned the key too far and left it on.
There I sat.
I eased the driver’s door open and edged out because it seemed like the thing to do. Standing in front of the truck cab, I was about to tell an approaching server about my predicament, but, before I had a chance to speak, the young woman parked next to me on the driver’s side leaned her head out the window and asked if I needed help. I’d hardly started to tell her what I’d done, when two young men parked on my passenger side emerged from their car tugging a set of jumper cables from the back floorboard.
Three kind souls, who might or might not have still been in their teens, quickly decided that the cables would reach the battery in the girl’s car with ease. Before I could say that I had my own jumper cables, her hood was popped, the cables were connected, and I was behind the wheel, cranking the truck. It jumped right off and I was good to go.
Three young people, who’d never seen me before, stepped up with no prompting and offered me help when I was obviously frazzled. They brushed my thanks aside and, if they thought I needed supervision to drive, they were too considerate to let me see them roll their eyes. All three were polite and smiling and I was grateful for it.
They did good.
On the popular CBS program NCIS, the character Leroy Jethro Gibbs has a set of guidelines to which viewers have gradually been introduced over the course of twelve seasons. His team knows what he expects of himself, and of them, by the list referred to simply as Gibbs’s Rules.
It took eight seasons before there was a reference to Gibbs’s Rule #5: You don’t waste good.
There is a lot of good in this town and county, though we are affected by the problems that are plaguing many communities. Violence is startling and we’ve had recent violence that has jolted many of us into facing a reality that we’d been hoping wasn’t real.
As we face unwelcome truth, we who love this community are called upon to not waste good. Wherever we find good, whatever it looks like, we fritter it away it if we fail to nurture it. “Good” that isn’t recognized is an opportunity vanished, treasure squandered.
Rule#5, as practiced by Leroy Jethro Gibbs, applies to relationships. You don’t waste good when you see potential in another human being; you come up with ways to support it. Gibbs knows the power of paying attention to a deeper story that’s often unspoken.
The good in Alcorn County is created, at heart, by individuals connecting with each other. Whatever good we have, it starts with those core relationships, beginning with one person being touched by the life of another person, and it builds from there. These ever-changing relational pairs create the foundation for community. One on one.
I have no brilliant original ideas for how we go about not wasting the good that lives in Alcorn County. What I offer is a simple reminder that counseling clients find helpful: whatever is working, do more of that.
Whatever is good, do more of that.
We cannot drag others, kicking and screaming, out of the darkness of addiction, violence, and abuse. Neither should we be in denial about the impact of that darkness.
What we can do is fully live our own lives, with a passionate determination to actively seek out good and nurture it wherever we find it. We can make eye contact with the young man working the drive thru window and wish him a good day. We can sympathize with the young mom wrestling two little ones through the checkout line instead of sighing with aggravation behind her. We can go sit beside the person no one’s noticing. We can seek out the child that no one is hearing or the elder whose stories are falling on deaf ears.
Perhaps most importantly, we can keep our mouths shut and our ears open and hear with the heart the experiences of those with whom we’d like to think we have little in common.
One on one, or three on one— if they’re kind strangers with jumper cables— we can value our connections with others, and build on them, even the fleeting ones.
You don’t waste good.

Alcorn County resident Jaylene Whitehurst is an artist and Licensed Professional Counselor. She may be reached at 662-286-5433 or jaylene@heartworkccl.com. She contributes to Crossroads Magazine and the Daily Corinthian.

Family Beyond Family

Bad lighting and all, a text to a friend: family beyond family

Bad lighting and all, a text image to a friend: family beyond family

On my desk, in the “good stuff” stack, is a torn-out magazine page about how having diverse friendships enriches our lives. It’s got quirky illustrations and lays out the author’s ideas about connections that we each need. This article was, appropriately and unsurprisingly, tucked into a stash of items given to me a couple of years ago by my friend Margaret, who is exactly the kind of friend who keeps a “Jaylene” box in her closet. A couple of times a year, usually around my birthday and Christmas, I’m the recipient of a box of goodies that she knows I’ll enjoy.
This past Christmas it contained a charming framed card, jewelry making items, fabric with a fanciful bird print, markers and brushes, plus a separate box holding a story she’d written for my grandchild (a treasure, for sure) along with a throw pillow that looked as if it had been designed especially to illustrate the tale.
Margaret pays attention.
As do others.
Lois, who knows my love of making new baubles from broken odds and ends, thrills me occasionally with a jar of buttons and beads. Possibility in a jar! She’s also the friend who, twenty years ago, compiled poems I’d written into a book she decorated for me in the emerald green that I love. It’s a treasure still.
Glenda and I share a love of all things “housey.” I walk from room to room with the striking ceramic bowl she sent me for Christmas, looking for an ideal spot where I’ll enjoy it and be reminded of my friend. Last summer, when I was particularly pleased with my arrangement of colored glassware in the kitchen cabinets, Glenda was the person to whom I texted a photo. Yes, I did. A picture of nothing but glasses in a cabinet. She’s the one who won’t shake her head and make the cuckoo sign that this image tickles me silly, while I don’t even want to think about whether I might be a little over-the-top about goblets and tumblers.
Donna, the high school friend with whom I reconnected a decade ago, surprised me last fall with a package of iris rhizomes, sent from a plant nursery in Texas, after my comments about the brilliant golden and orangey irises she’d posted on Facebook. We hold between us the lightness of a picture of flowers, but we also hold the other’s story from our teen years in ways that can’t be explained: the holding is a precious and inexplicable fact.
On a shelf in my studio are several hefty candle jars, each one empty of everything except a spent wick in a quarter inch of wax and a lingering aroma, given to me at one time and then another by Brenda, the friend who, more than once, has prayed for me all day long. These candles are what remain of times when we couldn’t manage a visit with each other, but when Brenda would sit beside the light of our friendship, and lift me up in peace. When we were finally face to face, she’d put the used up candle in my hands to remind me that I am loved.
Without the thoughtful conversations about music, art, poetry, and relationships that occur with Jim, Tim, Susan, Derrick, Phillip, Lee Ann, and Charlotte, my life would be less full. The generosity with which they each share their knowledge and interests creates a constantly changing texture that I can’t construct on my own.
Only a couple of my hodgepodge of friends are related to me by blood. Mostly these are the broader family I have, the family I choose and who choose me.
The family beyond family.
These are the people who, in ones or twos or half a dozen, simply show up and prop me up.
That’s the difference an adequate social system makes in our well-being; it is the framework that, in a real way, supports us and shapes who we are. We are healthier emotionally and physically when we have those in our lives who know us and who allow us to know them, who show up in the doldrums of life, as well as in our tragedies and comedies.
We need companions who can meet us where we are, even when we’re not exactly sure ourselves where that is.
At one time or another, we’re each going to need a safe place to bring sorrows and disappointments. When I’m on rock bottom, I don’t need someone who’s going to shame me or give me unsolicited advice about how to get up. No, what I need first is someone who can simply meet me where I am and sit beside me, someone who won’t try to distract me from my reality.
Friends who have the ability to sit beside us when we hurt, friends who don’t try to fix the irreparable, are priceless. Simply by their presence, they keep us from pain-driven isolation, which exacerbates depression, anxiety, addiction, and weakened immune systems, among other conditions. These people are, literally, lifelines.
As much as I need friends who can hang with me during tough times, I also need friends who will rejoice with me. These are kind souls who are neither threatened by what others achieve nor envious of what others have. Friends who are genuinely happy and celebrate with me, who have my best interests at heart and show it, are keepers. Without friends, celebration is like a party with leaky balloons.
I need friends who are similar to me in age and interests and friends who aren’t.
Friends who are older than I am are informal mentors. They may not be doing it with intent, but they are modeling for me how to grow into the next stages of my own life, by their regrets as well as by their successes. Older friends are gifts of experience we offer ourselves without having to live through it firsthand.
Younger friends nudge me along. Being connected to younger people engages me. I learn as much from them as they do from me. But it’s a two way relationship, as all of these are. Having younger friends can keep us on our toes: we are modeling for them and our behavior is a pattern we are likely to see them repeat. Tread gently.
If my friends were clones of me, I’d never grow. I’d never have to be uncomfortable in the face of disagreements or have my ways of viewing the world tested. I’d also be bored to tears. We need friends who are different enough from us to make us question our assumptions: people who come from dissimilar backgrounds, cultures, or belief systems. Their presence is an opportunity to engage our critical thinking skills and expand the ways in which we connect as human beings.
We need friends who have the wisdom to step in and stand between us and the world—and the timing to know when to act.
The messages have been powerful for many of us that we should be able to arise above every circumstance. Well, I’m not always that person. Few of us are. There have been times when I needed friends to circle the wagons around me as a buffer until I could get back up.
And, on rare occasions, we may need the courageous friend who will step in and hope to save us from ourselves.
This just might be the most judicious friend any of us can have; this is the one who will risk losing a friendship rather than do nothing and watch us lose ourselves. Yes, this friend will take me by the shoulders, look me straight in the eye, and shake me to good sense with “What in the world are you thinking, woman?”
Finally, as I’ve been reminded by Barb (one of my farther-along-the-road-friends), we need folks in our lives who are simply fun. I have a disparate crew who protect me, inform me, challenge me, and are happy and sad with me, but that crew wouldn’t be complete without those engaging folks who enliven my world by their very presence. Light-hearted friends balance the intensity of life with humor and good grace. Yes, ma’am, Barb. I was listening.
The gifts that surround me, buttons and beads, books and bowls, are tender reminders of these relationships that prop me up: my stability in a crazy world.
My family beyond family.
Bless ‘em everyone.

Alcorn County resident Jaylene Whitehurst is an artist and professional counselor. She may be reached at 662-286-5433 or jaylene@heartworkccl.com. She contributes to Crossroads Magazine and the Daily Corinthian.