Life is hard.

As the 2015 fall semester was kicking off for area schools, I made a quick stop at Walmart, not thinking of how many shoppers would be there stocking up on school items. The parking lot was busy but since I was already parked, I stayed. Maybe the store wasn’t as hectic as the parking lot.
Who was I kidding?
If the lot was hectic, the interior was chaos. School supply lists fluttered in the air, whirled by the spinning wheels of shopping carts driven by harried parents, as the doors closed and opened and closed again behind me. I was followed through the doors on the right side of the storefront by moms and dads on a mission and children on a wild tear.
There was a gap in the frenzied aisle across the front of the store and I turned toward the left, on a mission of my own. I hadn’t found any other local store that had my preferred coffee flavoring and I was on empty. It was only desperation that had me in the middle of this commotion.
Coming toward me, as the gap closed back in, was a young dad, rail thin in the clothes of a manual laborer, his uniform no longer clean and crisp by day’s end. Trailing behind him were three clones of him, except for their size. Stair step brothers, each obviously elementary aged, falling all over themselves, pushed a cart behind him, the middle one wrestling the others for control. The youngest wore a hand-me-down shirt, two sizes too big, that rippled around him, full of his energy. The tallest of the boys called out, “Daddy! Hey! Wait up!”
In that instant, as they clattered past me, I could feel the weight on the shoulders of that young father. I wondered how many things his children needed that would have to wait for next payday, or the next, and if there was a mom, maybe at work or maybe at home with a baby sister.
Life is hard and it is harder on some of God’s children than others.
The reasons are many, but that’s not what this column is about.
This column is a simple reminder that the family scene that passed me in Walmart that night first broke my heart, and then filled it overflowing, in no more than thirty seconds. We are participants together in this same Big Life, and if we can’t help others—for whatever reasons—let’s not add to the hurt.
Let’s not look down on or shame the strugglers. It only adds to their burden. And it’s not the whole story.
No, it is far from the whole story.
Let me tell you something else. Those three stair step youngsters were laughing and the tender affection in the eyes of that weary father, as he looked over his shoulder at his progeny, was transparent. In spite of his fatigue and drooped shoulders, his eyes sparkled.
That, my friends, is more than I can say for some of the more prosperous families I met, pushing full shopping carts that they would pay for with fuller bank accounts than the young dad, while they were distractedly checking their phones and reining in their own rambunctious children. From their dazed expressions, I imagined that they, too, had their own burdens.
Life is hard but, when the children are laughing, the burdens are lighter.
We are easing up to the end of this school year now, but I often think of that that August experience. Most every time I enter Walmart, I remember that energetic gaggle of stair step boys and their father.
And I still smile.
—————————————————-
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.

What not to post…

The following is a column, slightly revised, that appeared recently in the Daily Corinthian newspaper.


I don’t know which disturbs me more, that some Facebook users make posts without realizing what they are revealing or that they are aware of what they are revealing and simply don’t care. Either way, it’s often embarrassing and occasionally alarming to be a witness to the drama that results when we fail to manage our social media presence.
At first glance, Facebook looks like a place to connect with others, but, time after time, it’s revealed as one more place where we find out what kind of boundaries the people who call themselves friends actually have. Too often, it’s evident that everyone who wears the label “friend” isn’t one.
Join me for a foray into the juggernaut of chatter that calls itself Facebook. Let’s take a quick look at possible consequences of online comments.
Most of us are nice folks and don’t automatically think that our friends or our “friends of friends” aren’t as nice as we are. The reality, however, is that nefarious types search Facebook for information about vacation schedules. Oh, yes, all those lovely vacation photos are a giveaway for times when a house is unattended. Even if there is a house sitter, the idea that no one’s home can make the house and the sitter vulnerable to a break in. It’s not as much fun, but it’s safer to show restraint and post those pictures upon returning home. Ask close friends privately not to refer to your absence online and refrain from it yourself.
Employers (current and potential) will check your online presence. This is reality, so assume it will happen. It may seem harmless to post a picture of yourself out with friends, but remember that photos don’t go away. Any image that you post, or are tagged in, which gives the slightest suggestion of inebriation or lack of judgment can be more potent than any resume’. Does that scare you? It should. One photo can follow you and be the persistent visual reference that you never wanted.
A cursory scan of social media reveals that many folks are shockingly careless about work related posts. Never post complaints about a boss or that you’re not satisfied with a job, or you may find yourself leaving that job sooner than you planned. Take for granted that your comments will be seen by your boss and co-workers, because they probably will.
Also work-related is the habit of some Facebook users to post about what they are doing on the job, during work hours, that isn’t work-related. If you’re reading a novel or writing your term paper or planning the week’s menu, keep it to yourself. You might slide by for a while, but a pattern of posts about doing not working at work will eventually get you noticed by your employer and it won’t be for that A you got on the paper.
Be mindful of name-calling or using derogatory epithets, whether serious or joking. Comments made in jest don’t always come across as humorous in print and what’s said can’t be unsaid. Using insulting labels for others can make you look immature and inarticulate. Users are particularly vulnerable when they post comments that are dependent on tone of voice or expression to be understood. Emoticons are not always effective for conveying context. If you aren’t okay with your comment being taken literally, whether you mean it that way or not, rethink it.
One boundary that is crossed continually on Facebook is posting sensitive details about the private lives of friends and family.
Don’t. Just don’t. It’s not worth the drama.
Many users would never intentionally over-share and have no desire to cause hurt. Indeed, most of the over-sharing I see comes from a genuine desire to help, but wanting to help doesn’t necessarily mean we are helping.
Consider the young woman who is diagnosed with a critical illness and is struggling to come to terms with the news. She’s not ready to talk about it and has only shared the diagnosis with a couple of family members. One of those family members tells a cousin, who immediately goes online, posting the devastating news where it is seen by hundreds—no, thousands—of people.
The cousin means well, but because she didn’t clear it with the young woman first, she took the young woman’s power away from her. The distribution of her deeply personal information is her business.
In fact, if she never wants it made public, that is the young woman’s business. Not everything is up for public grabs but a lot of users have lost sight of that.
There’s the young man who, in a fit of desperation, posts details about his breakup with the woman he thought he’d marry. There’s the mother who posts about her child’s horrible divorce and how badly his boss treats him and his financial problems. There’s the father of the soccer player who posts a tirade about his child’s coach. Can you see where these examples are going? They are true examples, by the way. It doesn’t take any imagination to know that more drama ensued, and not only for the ones who made the original post.
The ripple effect of a single post is unstoppable.
Requests for prayers abound on Facebook. Because of its reach, many users are drawn to it as fast way to ask for support in trying times. If you post your own request about your personal situation, that’s your prerogative, but remember, if you are posting about another person’s situation, to clear it with them first, and to share no more than you are given the okay to share.
Thinking it’s okay doesn’t give any of us the right to share another person’s story without their permission.
Social media offers us wonderful ways to stay in touch with those we care about and to connect with groups that share common interests. There are art, counseling, and other inspiring pages that I have no intention of giving up, along with the on-going connections I have with former classmates and people in the community. The benefits are rich and real, and so is the potential harm.
Perhaps these summary guidelines can help us monitor our communication styles and minimize our vulnerability :
• For me, this first item is the Granddaddy of All Guidelines. Remember that, while you can delete a post or picture on your own page, what you delete may have already been caught on a screen capture, where it will live longer than a cat with nine lives. When that happens, you have lost any control of the image and it can go viral. That picture can be shared and re-posted and take on a life of its own. You may regret what you posted, you may apologize, you may post retractions, but that image is out of control and can go to an audience that won’t see your mea culpa. Scary? You bet. If you wouldn’t want what you’re about to post to be on CNN tonight, don’t hit that enter key.
• Be sure that what you post doesn’t compromise your safety or the safety of anyone else. No sharing of schedules or daily routines, no revealing vacation times, no letting others know your children’s schedules.
• Speaking of the children, consider all the possibilities before sharing names, birthdates, pictures, and activities. I know, I know, it’s hard because we love to share about these precious young’uns. It’s natural to want to share what we delight in, but there are unsavory folks who troll, looking for identifying information about children. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a predator could easily assemble the entire makeup of a family, right down to the family pet and home address and family schedules, simply from online sharing.
• Be cautious sharing work-related information. If you do, keep it light and general. No complaining, no revealing sensitive or confidential information, no criticizing boss or co-workers.
• If you’re not okay with you post being taken literally, don’t post it. Someone will take it literally. Count on it.
• If there’s anyone in the whole world that you wouldn’t want to see your post, don’t post it. Your mom, your preacher, your boss, the head of the company, your ex-boyfriend, your worst enemy, your best friend?
• If it involves another person’s personal information, get their clearly stated permission before sharing, even if it’s the well-meaning request for prayers or support.
If we stay alert and monitor how we share our stories on social media, we can enjoy connecting with others. We might even save heartache and certainly save face.


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.

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

True Abundance

Making TracksTrue abundance isn’t a substance that can be banked; there is nothing of “grabbing and snatching and stashing” that relates to Life’s wealth.

Nope, real abundance is experiential; it is fully experiencing one’s own Life, however it happens to unfold. It is active. It is born of allowing ourselves to stay with what is showing up: the expansive moments and the tight emotional spaces that are claustrophobic, the exhilaration and the sorrow, the generous and the miserly gestures, the tension and the release.

Abundance is waking up with the realization that an intention has become tangible with substance as solid as the mountain that has finally been tunneled through. It’s knowing that a decision has arrived under its own steam, driven by forces we can’t touch but can sense in ourselves and others, decisions not determined on the game board of LIFE with only winners or losers.

Abundance is hearing the train leaving the station and getting on board with a ticket stamped “Trust the process.”

Let’s ride.

~~~jaylenewhitehurst

“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

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

They watched her

we knowThey watched her
Once again abandon her Life
The one she’d patiently cobbled together

Using the best parts of her fragmented dreams—
The mosaic that sparkled with a vitality that a straight road and a smooth pavement
Could never have mapped for her.

She abandoned the Life she’d consecrated to making beauty from shards
One more time

Desperate

Hoping for the consideration of a family
Who could not value her
Who would not grieve her
Even if she died.

They watched her relentless silent plea to be known by those who didn’t know themselves

Shrivel her into the unrecognizable
A dry shell of the woman she’d once allowed herself to be a
nd they grieved her

While she screamed inside herself
Not aware that she was dying.

~~~Jaylene Whitehurst

My heart is broken open with a recent intense awareness (more intense than usual) of how many of us dear human beings are giving up our own precious lives, because we’ve been taught that we must have the approval or attention or understanding of our families in order to fully live.
I will not tell you that this is easy, this creating a life that those around us likely never will understand.
I also will not tell you that it’s impossible. We do it when we make connection with those who can connect to our longings and when we release the grasping for those who can’t.

And I’ll never tell you that it’s not worth it.

~~~jmw

 

 

 

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

It might as well have been fairy dust…

I can feel the breeze lifting the leaves and feel the sun as I hop out of the car and head for the front door.

I can feel the breeze lifting the leaves and feel the sun as I hop out of the car and head for the front door.

I rarely pass the corner of Fillmore and Cruise Streets in my hometown of Corinth, Mississippi, that I don’t picture my mother looking out the front passenger window of our ’57 Chevy, shaking her head at the site of where Rubel’s Department Store once stood. From my backseat spot, I heard her sigh, time after time, “Tore down Rubel’s for a Kent’s Dollar Store. A KENT’S Dollar Store!”
My memories of Rubel’s have decades less duration than hers. If I was ever inside the store, I don’t clearly remember. The vague imagery I have of its interior is more likely cobbled together from what I heard over the years than from what I actually saw. My clearest memory is of the exterior: a massive red brick structure that rose skyward and loomed right outside my car window, as we passed on the way to church three times a week. Its presence pressed hard toward Fillmore Street, but my relationship with it was mainly born of the connection my parents had to it.
They grieved when it was gone. A part of their identity and a way of framing their community left when a pale brick building, hunkering close to the ground, claimed the same spot.
Before I had the words to express what I was aware of, I knew on a level below the surface that my family’s connection to the architecture of this town was about more than buildings. Their stories were built within edifices that might be left standing only in their memories, but those structures remained as significant as when they were mortar and brick, board and nail.
This brings me, by a circuitous path through time and town, to the Corinth Library. Pulling into the familiar parking lot, I remind myself, more than I want to admit, of my mother and Rubel’s.
The current Corinth Library was built in 1969. Here’s the spot where I feel a kinship with my parents, aware that I too have experienced changes in this town, for in spite of its construction year, my mind persists in calling a forty-six year old structure The New Library, and I allow my mind to have its way.
Before there was The New Library, with its expansive clerestory windows and its sturdy tables and chairs with the pale wooden legs and laminate surfaces that have served users dependably and with its balcony that has intrigued decades of children as only a balcony can, there was another library with single windows and oak furnishings and a stairway leading to another mysterious upper floor, off-limits to the likes of elementary-aged me.
Before there was The New Library, where I spent hours as a high school junior contracting for an “A” in Mrs. Mildred Myers’s American History class, where I did all research that couldn’t be accomplished at home with the treasured beige and green set of World Book Encyclopedias, there was another library with shelves upon shelves of knowledge and adventure, riches to be explored upon presentation of nothing but a magical card and a signature.
Before there was The New Library, where I, as a young woman, browsed glossy periodicals I couldn’t afford to buy and checked out art books before the Internet made every facet of art accessible with a couple of clicks and where I first saw the work of local painters hanging in the auditorium, there was another library with a sunny room to the right of the entrance, its white shelves full of children’s books illustrated with bright colors and extraordinary characters that leapt from over-sized pages like paintings in motion.
Before there was The New Library, where brick and soaring glass create an airy space that shifts with the seasons drifting across the sky, where boots and sandals sound the same — muffled by industrial carpeting — there was another library where wooden floors welcomed me into a cool hush smelling of leather and paper and ink, the dusty scent of accumulation a comforting relief from the heat of summer.
Before there was The New Library there was what will always be, to me, The Real Library.
When summers stretched beyond imagination and school holidays loitered instead of speeding past, my mother could comfortably drop me off at Sterling’s or Kuhn’s to wander the aisles, with my pocketed allowance money, while she made her Thursday round of errands in town.
Or I could ask to go to the library.
A crisp white building, with starched angles and two stories, it sported dark shutters aside the simple double hung windows and a welcoming portico that had once been part of a wraparound porch, long gone. When it wasn’t making rounds, the Bookmobile would be parked alongside the building. During the school year, it occasionally came to West Corinth School, leaving me mesmerized by the idea of a library on wheels. I was pretty sure that to drive the bookmobile would be the best job in the world.
The sparkle of sunlight danced through the leaves of trees that lined the gravel drive and parking lot on the south side of the building, especially in summer when, when the most pressing hurry was to look through as many books as I could before Mother’s errands brought her back around to pick me up. I don’t believe there was ever a time I approached the front door that I didn’t feel a nervous stir of anticipation: I was about to step into a hallowed space that opened onto the world of imagination.
I trust my impressions of that space more than I do precise memories; it was the sensations that arose in my pliable younger self that remain firm, to this day.
The entrance, with its checkout desk presided over by Augusta Richardson, received ambient light from The Children’s Room, jutting streetward on the right of the entry. Henrietta Byrd was on duty too, but Mrs. Augusta, as if she knew the random times I’d be dropped off, was as ever present as a sentinel (and with a similar bearing), guarding that sunlit room to the right.
Oh, The Children’s Room! I can still see the glitter of dust motes on the slanted rays of early afternoon light. It might as well have been fairy dust.
If only Mrs. Augusta would cease with her suggestions and let me browse in peace, the magical spell wouldn’t be broken. Shhhhhh… I so wanted to do the unthinkable and shush the librarian! But I tried to be a good girl and, frankly, I was rather terrified of displeasing the woman so, more than once, I left with books of her choosing instead of mine. Second graders in 1962 didn’t easily disagree with grownups who were tall and authoritative.
Stepping up to the checkout desk to present my selections to Mrs. Augusta, I imagined what it would be like to approach the throne of God and be found wanting. Did God have a cocked eyebrow like Mrs. Augusta? Hmmm… I felt slight courage and great trepidation every time I pressed on with Tales of King Arthur and the like, instead of the stories about rosy-cheeked children she kept steering me toward.
But finally there was that time when I was older, probably in fifth grade —and I still have no clue how this happened — that I checked out a John Steinbeck book and read strange grown-up words that I didn’t understand about life far outside The Children’s Room. Far outside The Young Adult literature I frequented now. The look on Mrs. Augusta’s face when I returned the adult narrative left her mouth agape. Speechless.
I had finally silenced the librarian.
Played out in The Real Library by an unsuspecting but well-meaning antagonist and the child that I was, I still look back on that as one of the most satisfying episodes of my life.
The New Library has gone through its own changes over time. I miss the wooden card catalog, its former space now filled with shelving for new arrivals, and its purpose fulfilled by keyboards and screens on a kiosk where I never have to stoop down to tug out a bottom drawer. There’s more shelving than there used to be, more books. Computers take up spaces where books once lined walls and tables stood. The expanse of clerestory windows has blinds now, relief against the intensity of sunlight that has, more than once, stabbed me in the eye.
Mrs. Augusta, who quieted patrons early on in the The New Library as well as in The Real Library, has been followed by a succession of keepers of the books, who oversee technology, periodicals, and DVDs, as well as a selection of books in audio.
My mother’s grief about Rubel’s Department Store certainly didn’t hold her back from frequenting Kent’s Dollar Store. I clearly remember shopping there with her, listening to the conversations of adults interacting with each other, shaping my own memories of childhood. The woman did love a good buy, wherever it came from.
I miss The Real Library that lives in my memory, yet I strongly value The New Library, a significant community resource that keeps changing with the times. With its meeting spaces, public computers, and ongoing exhibits in the auditorium, it has offered services to the Corinth area for forty-six years that the tall white structure couldn’t.
Like my mother, I feel the past and the present colliding within me as I go about my errands in this town. The people and the places that defined and shaped who I was as a child — gone now for years— still cast a long shadow across my life.

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.