A Heart Full of February

jw2Fellow Travelers,

My personal February project is wearing hearts every day. Yesterday I decided that’d be fun.
It’s already becoming more than fun. The jewelry I wear acts as a talisman for what’s meaningful to me and being constantly reminded of my heart, your heart, the heart of the matter, the heart of the world, is connecting me with more.

I need reminders that LIFE is ever so much more than I have the power to understand or see and that, if I am to live at peace and, one day, leave my body at peace, I must remember that:

I might be wrong.
I don’t know much. Much of what I thought I knew has turned out to be tunnel vision.
I can’t change anyone else. It’s not my job to do that.
Shaming others destroys their spirit — and mine.
Listening, being a witness to another, changes the speaker and the listener.
And
A heart-broken open won’t kill me.
A hardened heart will.

Let’s all go in love, just today.

It began with a Buster Brown Sock Box

Friends 2015There was a box that reappeared under the Christmas tree every year at the house where I grew up, and it happened for as long as I lived there. It took two or three years when I was a tot to notice the annual reappearance of The Buster Brown Sock Box, but eventually it became obvious that Santa Claus was decades ahead of the recycling movement.
It was a yearly curiosity, the question of who’d have a gift in that long-lived box. Because of its size and its original use, it usually held practical items, like the predictable socks for my brother or me, or new gloves to wear to church. The worn ones that were getting a bit snug in the fingers could now be relegated to school wear. New hunting socks for my dad fit the box perfectly, the gray woolen kind with red toes and a wide band of red around the top of the cuff. A book, stuffed in tight with tissue paper, was my preferred present, if the gift tag had my name on it.
Whatever was in the box brought a smile to someone in the family. As long as it wasn’t the dreaded underwear!
Santa shopped locally, like my mother, because I often recognized familiar labels on our gifts. That was one little detail I tried not to think about; it didn’t quite fit the North Pole scenario, but Christmas didn’t seem like a good time for me to get caught up in pesky details.
Santa reused more than The Buster Brown Sock Box; he recycled bows and wrapping paper and he’d probably have reused tape if he’d been able to make it stick. It wouldn’t be unusual for him to deliver gifts wrapped in paper creased with memories from years past and bedecked with ribbons that looked vaguely familiar, as if I’d met them—oh, say—about a year before.
Yes, indeed, feel free to insert a winking emoticon here.
The annual appearance of The Buster Brown Sock Box became an element of my story, a single memory that brushes aside the cobwebs of the past and teases vague recollections into the light. Dusting off my memories of Christmas in Corinth in the late ‘50s through the ‘60s and early ‘70s, I find that my musings are as sturdy as that sock box. Simple and tenacious.
Our annual visit to Toyland, upstairs over the old Mitchell’s department store at the corner of Fillmore and Wick, was the official beginning of the Santa season for me. It always began on a crisp Saturday morning, soon after Thanksgiving, when Daddy would nonchalantly saunter through the house, accompanied by the slight sizzle of the gas heaters. Almost to himself, he’d say, “I was thinking I might go to Toyland. Anybody want to go with me?”
Want to go? Out of my way. I was already pulling on my coat. Younger brother was on his own.
Around the perimeter of the second story wonderland were magical painted images of fairy tale characters. Ole King Cole was of particular fascination to me because I’d seen Nat “King” Cole singing on TV and this robe-and-crown-wearing cartoon character bore no resemblance to the crooner. Still, the similarity of names baffled me and I concluded that they must be relatives.
And there was Humpty Dumpty, in all his ovate glory, depicted teetering on a brick wall. He remained teetering, year after year, observed by walls full of his fairy tale friends. Below the painted characters, cellophane-wrapped dolls lined up on shelves, in bridal dresses and fancy outfits, while beneath them were displays of Tonka trucks, games, baby doll buggies, toy dishes, pedal cars, doll houses, and more— enough delight to leave me speechless at the abundance.
When I peer into that memory, it sparkles with such intensity that the details blur like the reflection of big colored Christmas bulbs dancing on silvery tinsel.
If I’m not mistaken, it was also in the vicinity of the old Mitchell’s store that my dad and I went to the Christmas parade, just the two of us. I can be forgiven if I mistake the exact location, because I was little, really little. Probably three years old, bundled up in my red wool coat, I clearly remember Daddy hoisting me onto his shoulders so I could see the splendor of the majorettes, tassels swinging on their white boots. The band stopped in front of us, as if on request, and I could feel the music vibrate inside my ribcage, the brass instruments gleaming below the street lights and the bass drum throbbing. The breath of the majorettes was suspended in the night air, like the memory now suspended in my mind, and I worried that their legs were cold under their short skirts.
Fast forward to school impressions. A couple of weeks ago, as I drove west on Linden Street, I turned onto Wenasoga Road and stopped to pay my respects to what remains of the auditorium of West Corinth Elementary School, the façade now crumbling as deconstruction continues on what is, to me, hallowed ground. As I write this, enough of the auditorium still stands for me to see the stage where yearly Christmas programs played out. Today the roof sags open. Overcast shadows spill across the space but it isn’t today that I see. I see the space circa 1960-66.
The stage once jutted out to either side, creating a narrow ledge in front of the flanking brick walls, where I stood and recited my memorized paragraph about Christmas in England in the sixth grade program. I wore a long dress my mother made, red with a lacy stand-up Elizabethan collar that she based on illustrations in our treasured World Book Encyclopedia. From a neighbor, she borrowed a couple of skirt hoops and situated one high and one low in a petticoat, so the silhouette of my costume was true to the era. That skirt took up the entire depth of the ledge. Yikes! I clearly recall holding my breath as I navigated my way back onto more spacious footing.
Through the gaping front wall, the crumbling hallway gives way to a tangible picture in my mind. One more time, I feel the excitement of party day and early dismissal, a child finally set free for Christmas vacation. My first grade classroom is now rubble, but I still have the dainty china boot that Mrs. Jewel Goforth, principal and teacher, gave each of her girl students for Christmas. For six years, Christmas parties played out for me down that hallway, with the anxiety about whether my teacher would like her gift, or— in the case of sixth grade— whether Mr. Victor Miller would like his handkerchiefs, because I noticed that, like my daddy, he always had one in his back pocket.
My mother was a full-time homemaker so she was usually one of the moms who brought treats for the parties and stayed to tidy up stray wrapping paper and crumbs, while the teacher helped students clear out for the holidays. I liked how it felt to help with the tasks and the slightly surreal experience of being in a school building as it emptied itself of the bustle of children and settled into the quiet of its own Christmas vacation.
The thing about growing up and growing older in the same town is that the past and present overlap at every street corner and along every sidewalk. At the corner of Wick and Fillmore, at Linden Street and Wenasoga Road. Along Waldron, Cruise, Taylor, Foote.
The store fronts in this familiar downtown, changed from my youth and continuing to change, have the stories of my distant and recent memories etched into them. The streets that I’ve driven for decades take me past images that I still see clearly, though many are only in my mind’s eye now.
Consistently, the traditions of stepping into the magical lure of Toyland, of childhood Christmas programs and parties and parades, of The Buster Brown Sock Box, anchored my Christmas experience. And, of course, there are more stories for another day, recollections that resurfaced simply because I unwrapped these few.
We all have them. Personal, potent, poignant.
One reminiscence leads to another. We can’t help it; that’s how we are wired. Stories long to be given voice and they long to be given ear. They make us human.
Somewhere a little girl would like to ask about what it was like back “in the olden days” and she very much wants us to stop what we’re doing and listen to her telling her story, too. A little boy wants the company of an adult who will slow down and hear him share his Christmas wishes, an adult who will admit that he, too, still has dreams.
Whether we are four years old or ninety-four, our narratives are the most substantial gifts we give each other. Once given, they can’t be lost, stolen, or misplaced.
They become not “my” story but “our” stories.
May we value our collective stories as the precious gifts they are, sharing thoughtfully and receiving gracefully.

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

This post appeared as a column in the Daily Corinthian newspaper, December 15, 2015.

In the Season of Darkening Days

In the Season of Darkening Days
With softness flickering
And shadows cast
In the stillness of drawn blinds,
What hidden part of your storyFlickering
Would come to Light
If you knew that
Mercy would hold
With tenderness
Every part of your Life
The secrets and the open chapters
The awkward lines
The false intelligence
The courage that cost you the unspeakable
The sideways truth you live with
To protect the innocent
The rationalizations that are almost reasons
But not quite
The right you did
But not for good
?

If you knew that
Mercy
Would hold every word
Every period and question mark
And dash
Of your story
With the same gentle attention

What would you lay in her hands?

 

jmwhitehurst

“I’m here. I’m listening.” That’s enough.

Dear Hearts,

If you reply with “Yes, but…” or “But, at least…” when a friend brings a slice of her precious Life to you, you’re not listening.

No. No, you’re not.

You may be trying to help, which you’re also not, by the way. You may be uncomfortable with where your friend is and so you offer distraction. You may have been taught (directly or indirectly) that it’s your job to remind others of what YOU see as their reality or to encourage them or to relieve their roiling emotions—as if you could even be that powerful. As if there’s something wrong with their feelings. As if there is something wrong with them.

Notice. All of that is about YOU. Good ole well-meaning YOU, with the desire to help so hard-wired into your system that you spring into action like a rescue dog after a drowning soul, before you even realize what you’re doing. Good ole well-meaning YOU, who wonders why the eyes of your friends glaze over when what you’ve said was meant to be nothing but helpful. Good ole well-meaning YOU, who wonders why people sometimes pull back from you when they’re hurting.

It might not be their hurt that’s distancing them. It just might be YOUR inability to let them hurt and simply be present as a witness to their wounds.

What looks like a breaking down to you may well be your friend breaking open.

I can get away with all this finger-pointing “YOU” language because I am YOU, too. Thanks to the hard work I have done over the long haul in psychotherapy and study and making of art, my role of being too helpful is manageable, compared to what it was decades ago, and still the doggone thing pops up. And Dear Hearts, I’ve been at this for decades.

It’s a stubborn role and it doesn’t go down easily.

I know that role of trying so hard to help, pointing out what seemed obvious to me, that I cut people off.

I couldn’t hear the groaning of the hearts of others, so deeply uncomfortable was I with the groaning of my own heart.

If I take the risk and allow myself to shut up and lean into the pain of another person and listen, heart to heart, I am going to hear my own honest emotions, along with those of the other, and I won’t be able to deny any of it.

It’ll be out in the open and I’ll have to decide what to do with it. Oh, mercy. I’ll have to take responsibility for managing those emotions and some of them will feel like a tsunami headed straight for me!

I can’t tell you how to do that responsibility thing with your emotions. Your path is yours and it won’t look like mine, nor should it.

The one thing that’s worth passing along is that it took actively wanting to respond differently to others, and I very much did want that. I longed for relationships that were at least lake-deep, instead of the puddle-deep things I’d had.

As I set my heart on having relationships of depth, the healing path with kindred hearts and opportunities opened before me. No farther than I could see in the moment, but it was there and it was enough.

It has led me to ocean-deep relationships, where saying, “I’m here. I’m listening,” is more than enough and it all started with actively wanting more and recognizing that “Yes, but…” was a cut-off to honest connection with others.

Broken Open

 

~~~jaylenewhitehurst

The Ragged Phoenix

Do not tell me what you believe.

Circle of LightDo not tell me about what you believe.
Show me what you’ve experienced
And if you can let go of what you thought you knew
Without beating up yourself or others.
Can you can untether your doctrines and creeds
And risk bloody knees and scraped knuckles
When you see the Light flickering between the trees
Across the distance?
Are you ready to
Strike out in the dim twilight,
Knowing that solid night lies ahead
Under a new moon?
Will you stay with the darkness long enough to emerge into the Light
And meet me there?
~~~jaylene whitehurst

“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.

The Way Out

Cosmic RoadDear Ones,
Are you paying for someone else’s Life dilemma with your own precious dreams?
It is their bill. You can give up every dream you have and it still will not be enough to bail them out. It is their work to do. You are not loving them by taking their work away from them. You are only giving yourself the illusion of relief, but it’s a relief that won’t last. It’ll dig a deeper debt, generation upon generation.
Get on with your Life. Invest in your deepest passion. Pour your energy into what is meaningful to you.
Do it not to show them how it’s done (though that might happen) but in trust that what you offer to the world matters to others, too. Someone else out there connects with what you bring to a hurting world.
Who knows? As you follow the path of your dreams, you might accidentally show someone else the way out, too.
Walk with Light,
~~~jmw