Losing Fear and Choosing the Right Side, by T. S. Evans

T.S. Evans

Packing … furiously. It seemed as though He was standing behind me waiting to pull away my luggage again. I had learned to look over my shoulder. He taught me well, and I was his best student. “I have to concentrate,” I repeated to myself. I had spent years honing the skill of fear. Fight or flight…I chose flight; now I choose both. Making it to the airport was crucial. Is He behind me?

Oftentimes I could not breathe…concentrate…live. Who had I become? There has to be a calm, creative woman somewhere in the mess of me that He had sculpted. This newly found breath, away from His suffocation, had awakened something that was originally me. Before Him, I knew who I was. I had lost myself in a marriage. “Could I ever get it right?” I thought.

Two months ago, my phone rang. It was an illuminating sound. The ring tone transformed from a startling sound to a light I could see in a tunnel of darkness. I was asked to interview for a job. Someone actually believed I could be a stewardess on a private yacht? His instincts and negative thoughts still echoing, I fought the learned fear of accepting the job. Breathe…I took my leap of faith. My mind began to spin. The restraining order against Him had been in place for a year. That never stopped Him. Old feelings of actually getting away without being captured again came to mind. What would He do?

“He follows me around without fail. He knows. He knows who I call. He knows what I do. What if He is right? He convinced me to be weak. I don’t feel strong. He is controlling. He is wrong. He is controlling, but not if I say no. What the hell am I thinking? I earned this job. I deserve a new beginning. I no longer will give him control. This opportunity is going to change my life.” I picked up my cell phone, dialed Captain Morgan’s number, and accepted the job. I was scared out of my mind by my daring choice.

“Breathe again,” I tell myself. Looking around, I absorbed a different view of my life. The Ft. Lauderdale sunshine and salty breeze were intoxicating.

“Ahoy, Miss Evans! Welcome aboard the Trilogy,” Captain Morgan said.

I could hear the sea gulls caw in the distance. My surroundings were amazingly new and unforgettably different. I crossed the threshold into what would be my home and source of employment for the next fourteen days. I was filled with nervous energy as I prepared for my first table service. A stewardess was required to be invisible. Perhaps that is why I was hired. I had already learned to remain in the shadows from Him. I rounded the table refilling water glasses and returned to the galley. The task of wine service was staring me straight in the face. After struggling to pierce the dry cork of a $300 bottle of wine with the tip of the corkscrew, I let out a sigh of relief. Thankful I accomplished this task away from judging eyes, I approached the guests. Trilogy was a private yacht. A great deal of money had been spent for this home away from home. The experience the owners wanted needed to approach perfection. My original anxiety of failure returned. Again, my thoughts left me, and I went back to the role of the obedient wife. “Snap back to reality,” I told myself. I approached the dining table. Everyone was engaged in a political conversation. I was invisible. “Thank God,” I thought. As I rounded the table, the “head man” put up his hand slightly. He was signaling everyone to stop the conversation. All eyes were on me.

He spoke. “Are you left handed?” he asked me with interest.

I was filled with thoughts. I anticipated acceptance and praise. Simpering, I immediately blurted out how I was born left handed but had to learn to write with my right hand because it was proper. I smiled the whole time, proud that intelligent, dynamic people found me interesting again.

After my explosion of acknowledgement, he spoke again, “I was just wondering, because you keep returning my glass to the left side of the place setting.”

Absorbing the uncomfortable silence, I disappeared from the guests’ table, my confidence deflated. I reverted back to the invisible world of self- doubt He had created for me.

When I returned to my quarters, I cried tears of embarrassment. I had tried and I had failed. Sleep and tears took the rest of the night. I awoke and prepared for the guests’ departure. I donned my uniform again with a cloud of disappointment slowing my every move. All staff convened on the docks to see the guests off. As an unspoken gesture often made by patrons, the head man approached me, thanked me, and handed me an envelope. This tall gentleman smiled kindly and walked away with his family. Back in the sanctity of my room, I opened the envelope. Inside was a card and it read, ‘To the best novice. Keep learning. It will always be hard. It will always be worth it.’

All too soon, my journey was over. After collecting my belongings, pocketing my handsome paycheck, and saying my goodbyes, I headed to the Hollywood International Airport. I returned to Charleston slightly stronger as a result of my determination to keep trying. I noticed my reflection at the airport. My gait had a familiar pride and distinction that was almost forgotten.” I did it!” I told myself repeatedly as I journeyed home. I remembered I had asked my neighbor to collect my mail in my absence. I stopped by and picked it up. Shuffling through it I noticed a letter from my lawyer. I sat down on my front porch with my favorite beer, took a sip, and paused before setting the bottle down on my side table. Looking at the table I envisioned a dinner setting, and as homage to my experience, I placed the bottle gently on the right. A smile came across my face as I recalled the last two weeks. I opened the letter from my lawyer and smiled, as I relaxed into my comfortable renewed self. My long anticipated divorce was finally granted. The fight was over and my new life had begun.


First Steps to Survival: Sharing and Laughter, by Maren O. Mitchell

Sharing and Laughter
from Beat Chronic Pain, An Insider’s Guide

by Maren O. Mitchell

Many well-trained and caring people worked for months to save my life and health, and to retrain my body. In all that work and caring there was only one sentence, spoken by one person, seemingly casually, that gave me a clue to my future fight back to living. During the last day of my stay in rehabilitation, I wheeled to the adjoining hospital wing to say goodbye to my neurosurgeon, Dr. Robert H. Wilkins, and his wife, Gloria, who worked with him. With consistent, kind honesty, Gloria had repeatedly helped me by phone in arrangements for my tests, admission, and surgery. Quietly, she said to me: “Don’t expect the world to be the same.” Because I trusted her integrity, I took note, even though at that time I did not understand her meaning. Although simply stated, this gentle advice proved to be profoundly wise. I was and am changed. How I relate to the world, and how the world relates to me, has changed.

From first diagnosis, to surgery, to rehabilitation, to follow-up, no information was offered to me on what to expect from or how to live with constant and permanent pain. The closest professional attempts were two brief, unexpected visits from a young psychiatrist to my room on the rehabilitation ward. In spite of her tired, monotone voice, and her lifeless conversation, her purpose seemed to be to evaluate me for possible depression.

Up to that point I hadn’t had time for any depression. I had been very busy eating and sleeping as much as I could, discovering what my body could no longer do, and trying to find other ways to make my body work.

After chatting casually with the psychiatrist for several minutes, I told her that I was disappointed and concerned that there were no programs available for learning to deal with pain, or for readjusting to an intimate relationship after acquiring a new and stressed body. Why were there no programs? For a moment it seemed that I was conversing with Dr. Sigmund Freud in drag, as she answered my question with a solemnly-rendered question: “Do you have pain during sex?” Hello? I was in rehabilitation following major life-changing surgery; when and how would I have been in a setting to have sex? Did this doctor read the medical history of her patients? Sex or no sex, I was always in pain.

Realizing, I think, the suddenness and oddity of her response to my question, she proceeded to say that “readjustment” films were available for paralytics, that she also was concerned about the lack of information on pain, and that she was working toward obtaining information for patients. In thinking about the psychiatrist after she left, it appeared to me that she herself had needed cheering up! As startling and enlightening as that visit was, the humanity of it gave me a chuckle. This ineffective “counseling” was all that was offered to me during six weeks of rehabilitation in this large and well-respected teaching hospital.

The most useful lesson I have absorbed through all the years since surgery began on the tenth day after surgery. My first day on the rehabilitation ward, with tremendous effort and concentration, another patient maneuvered her wheelchair down the hall to me as I sat in my wheelchair in the doorway of my room. She smiled and introduced herself as Peggy. There was a funny blue turban on her head. Her face and body were lopsided and she was awkward in speech and motion.

My immediate reaction was negative. Who was this person to be so familiar with me? I had come through surgery looking and behaving relatively normal, although I felt intensely abnormal. Within a few days I realized who I was to her. I was a new patient, and like her, my former life was over. I was in physical, emotional, and social pain, away from family and friends, most likely on potent drugs, frightened in new surroundings, and uncertain about beginning work on my recovery. But, following her daily thoughtful example, I began to use one of the basic tools needed for surviving my multiple pains—removing my mind from my pain, and reducing my pain and anxiety, by helping to reduce the pains of others.

I came to see, as days passed, why the variety of patients, amputees, victims of stroke, diseases, and accidents, were comfortable with each other, joking and sharing information. We seemed happier and more alive than most of the staff. No, it was not narcotics. It was fear—fear replaced by humor, by thoughtfulness, by clearer perspectives on what to keep in our lives that we cared about, and what to drop as unimportant. We began to live with discrimination, time well-spent. If I wanted to wheel to the washer and dryer with a lap full of my dirty clothes, I planned ahead. I asked if the machines were available. I carried only the amount I could manage, and only when I was rested. I began to learn to fine tune, to balance decisions and actions. On a moment- to-moment basis we learned to deal with the bad and savor the good.

Some weeks into my rehabilitation program as an inpatient, a nurse told me she was concerned that I laughed too much, and that I shouldn’t because my situation was….. SERIOUS. I mentioned this to a young patient who had been married recently. He was a paraplegic as the result of a car wreck. Laughing, he told me how he also had been cautioned by the hospital staff about too much laughter. Even his wife was puzzled by his light-heartedness. We knew we had to laugh. So much of life had become absurd and unimportant. We shared a good laugh over the stern advice. Now, daily I seek doses of laughter: radio, books, films, conversations, watching our cats and other animals, recalling funny times, and conversations.

Several years later, after describing this patient camaraderie to a friend, she responded: “Oh, yes, it’s that misery loves company.” No. Usually that’s the last thing someone in misery wants, the misery of someone else. Those who have suffered and are suffering severe stress can empathize. The misery is not what’s openly and naturally shared. What is recognized and shared is the alchemy of fear changing into primal courage, expressed as humor, creativity, love, or just plain hard work.

This transformation was new to some of us on the ward, but it is not unique. It is a universal potential utilized to different degrees by all humans. Living in the present, we let go of time, of our yesterdays. The work required by us to slowly relearn what before we had been able to do with speed and ease…..walk, stand, turn over in bed, eat, go to the bathroom, sit up, write, read, bathe, speak, dress, do math…..left no room for anticipation of the next day, the next week. The prospects of our futures could be unbearable, so we sanely, healthily, chose minute by minute, to put all of our living into the present.

Pain, both physical and emotional, removes boundaries between people. Undercurrent racial strain occasionally could be felt and observed between caregivers, and between caregivers and patients. In patient-to-patient relationships racial strain had disappeared completely. I related without judgment toward all my fellow patients. I cared about them. A sample of a possible heaven, we all cared about each other—regardless of race, age, sex or unknown religious choice, economic, or “social” status.

(from Beat Chronic Pain, An Insider’s Guide, Chapter 2, available on Amazon or at http://www.lineofsightpress.com. ISBN: 9780985311902)

To Help or Hinder, by Faith Davis

By Faith Davis

“Your life will be changed forever,” is what I have always heard about making a trip to a third world country. After traveling to Haiti on a short term mission trip last summer, however, I wonder whose life was actually changed, and whether the overall impact was positive or negative.

When my husband and I decided to go on a trip to Haiti with a small mission team from our church, I tried to mentally prepare myself for this “life-changing” event. We did the car wash and yard sale to raise funds, and made our own substantial donations to cover the cost of tickets and mission fees. We had an idea of what Haiti would be like from talking to friends that had been there and seeing their photos, and by watching the presentations of other groups who had been on similar trips. We filled out all the papers and applications. It seemed like a major accomplishment just getting there, but I was still waiting for that life-changing moment.

Our team was scheduled to arrive at the end of July. Haiti was hot, with few modern amenities, such as air conditioning, and clean cold water was only available for the privileged few. After our team made it through airport customs in Port Au Prince, we packed up in a small, old bus to ride for over an hour on the hard seats over the rough and bumpy road to the mission house. We spent the week at the mission house, located in a small village nestled at the base of a tall mountain.

During the days, we were up at dawn for breakfast and morning devotions on the side of the mountain before starting our work. We toured the village and mission grounds, taking the expected pictures with the kids from the community, who would yell out to us, “Blanc! Photo!” We took photos of the dilapidated shacks of tarps and tin where entire families lived, viewed the long line of mothers and sick children waiting for hours to be seen at the small “clinic” at the mission, and saw the mission’s efforts to employ local villagers in making their own blocks and building projects. In the following days, our team painted a good portion of the interior of a large mission school building, spent a couple of hours feeding the kids in a nearby community, and climbed for miles up the steep mountain behind the mission house to visit some very sick people in a small, mountaintop village. Another day we visited orphanages in nearby areas, telling Bible stories to the children and playing with them.

Each evening, a couple of the village ladies were paid to come to the mission and cook authentic Haitian food for the team, and a few of the local kids were allowed to come in and try to sell their woven bracelets and crafts to the members of our group. Then we spent the rest of each night playing board games and hanging out together in the mission house before taking cold showers to cool off before bed. We did everything one would expect to do on a short term mission, but at the end of the trip, I was still searching for that elusive moment that was supposed to change everything.

As months have passed since our trip, I have thought at length about our experience in Haiti, and the subsequent results. I have a renewed sense of appreciation for our American culture, and a slightly deeper sense of guilt for the comparative luxuries we take for granted, but these views did not seem like such a huge change for me. I had already been aware of some of the poverty differences, and had a deep appreciation for the relationships and possessions in my life, though ultimately it seemed like a very selfish “American” way of looking at the trip. As Mark Wm. Radecke, associate professor of religion and chaplain at Susquehanna University, states:

We take interest in them (the culture) only insofar as they can help us achieve something else—which, too often, is feeling good about ourselves and what we’re doing. With our culture’s values as part of our baggage, we treat the mission trip as a thing to be consumed for our entertainment, edification, and enjoyment. (22)

This is further illustrated by Andrew Root’s concept of tourists versus vagabonds, and doing versus being. He defines everyone as either tourists or vagabonds, with the tourists being those who have freedom to move about as they please. The vagabonds also move about, but they are driven by necessity and restricted by circumstance. Root says, “When our mission trips are about doing something, then like good tourists we are free to move on and eventually forget them (the vagabonds), for we have done our part and now it is time to move on to another experience” (318). Perhaps this is why I did not feel drastically changed. In my search for that moment that was supposed to change my life, I lost sight of what my true goal should have been, which was an unselfish desire to be helpful rather than just doing something.

Whether or not one has pure motives or becomes sidetracked by personal baggage, it seems that even a well intentioned, unselfish desire to be helpful does not always translate well in reality. The evidence of this reality is clear, as Haiti and other third world countries are still dependent upon so much foreign aid. In The Plague of Good Intentions, Thomas Epley researched the effects of foreign aid on third world countries. While he was referring to specific African countries, the concepts he discussed are applicable to many other locations as well. In one instance, Epley spoke about the seemingly unselfish actions, saying that “…injecting any aid, development, commerce, or other cultural implants, has a good chance of failure, with the ramifications of that failure surprising the well intentioned outsider” (105). Epley, a successful turn-around CEO, compared foreign aid to business models in that, if one is to achieve long-term change, one must be aware of the cultural and societal issues that would hinder the desired results, and be willing to work within that framework to achieve those results (19). The goal should be to spend more time “being” as opposed to “doing.” As Epley states, “Historically, more economically successful nations, whether wanting to exploit or help, have controlled and impacted nations, peoples, and cultures they did not understand, and—worse—for which they had minimal respect. These societies were always viewed as inferior” (21). Often, short term mission efforts are perfect examples of well-intentioned outsiders showing up to do a few days of improvements for what they consider a pitiable culture. Short term “doing” without taking the time to understand these cultures creates more problems than it solves. In another article on short term mission training, Karla Ann Koll concurs that “the material aid and economic resources brought by short term mission groups to local churches and communities are deepening and broadening dependency” (93).

In addition to not increasing self-sufficiency in these cultures, short term mission travel in itself could be considered an unnecessary extravagance in many cases. As mission trip leader and Doctor of Ministry, Kim Lamberty, mentions in one item on her list of improvements for short term mission trips, “The host community has the skills to build its own houses or church buildings. It only lacks the resources. The money spent sending a short term mission group to do the work would be better spent supporting the locals in doing the work themselves” (74). Providing resources such as blocks, timber, and roofing, and requiring the community to put forth effort to fulfill the necessary labor, could be a more beneficial use of funds.

As any parent could attest, doing or providing every want and need for one’s child, without any requirements from the child, usually creates a spoiled brat. These free handouts often nourish a sense of entitlement and increase a child’s ability to manipulate the system or other individuals to continue to get what he or she wants without having to put forth any personal effort. Despite efforts to the contrary, many in the particular village we visited have become this way. While we were on our trip, the long term missionary at the mission where we were staying told us that the Haitians have a saying to the effect of “don’t worry, if it needs doing, the Americans will do it.” After we returned and were discussing the trip with our fellow team members, we learned of an interaction between a member of our team and one of our Haitian friends. Our Haitian friend told of the general reaction in the village when word reaches them of a new team on their way into the community. She described to our team member how the villagers will remove articles of clothing, put away things they’ve gotten from previous mission teams, and plaster their children in dirt, in order to generate sympathy and ensure more handouts; essentially manipulating the system. Despite efforts to discourage handouts and promote self help, the well-meaning presence of foreigners has created a welfare monster that is present in many places.

Because of the seeming negative impact and lack of meaningful assistance, I wonder if short term missions are actually profitable in any way outside of disaster relief. Perhaps there are more efficient uses of mission funds than sending many short term mission teams. When a bone is broken, it typically requires a cast for healing, not a band-aid, and in many ways, short term mission teams seem at best little more than band-aids. The band-aid effect might be remedied, or at least reduced, by carefully choosing trips that would be best aided by short term help, instead of locations which require long term consistency, larger time commitments, and major reform in order to be repaired.

As summer approaches and our team prepares for this year’s short term mission, my goal is to have more than just good intentions. My hope is that this year’s trip, wherever we may go, will be profitable for both giver and receiver. This hope is most likely to be realized through making an effort to build relationships rather than simply doing a job or giving a handout and moving on.

Epley, Thomas. The Plague Of Good Intentions. United States: Xlibris, 2008. Print.

Koll, Karla Ann. “Taking Wolves Among Lambs: Some Thoughts On Training For Short-Term Mission Facilitation.” International Bulletin Of Missionary Research 34.2 (2010): 93-96. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

Lamberty, Kim. “A Tool Kit For Short-Term Mission.” New Theology Review 22.4 (2009): 73-76. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.
Alternate Link: http://newtheologyreview.org/index.php/ntr/article/view/116/173

Radecke, Mark Wm. “Misguided Missions.” Christian Century 127.10 (2010): 22. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

Root, Andrew. “The Youth Ministry Mission Trip As Global Tourism: Are We OK With This?.” Dialog: A Journal Of Theology 47.4 (2008): 314-319. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

Plastic Flowers, Melting Sun, by Aryan Bollinger

By Aryan Bollinger

A tree is a worthy metaphor for family, for heritage. A tree starts with a seed that needs nourishment; a tree grows, and a tree can die. Some folks even trace their family’s history with a tree; many branches form aunts, uncles, and that annoying cousin who seems powerless to pass gas quietly. A tree forms from the sacrifice of others. If an adult maple did not give up a tiny seed, whole generations of saplings would never grow; some straight, some bent; some with branches to hold tire swings, others to make the paper on which I have written these words. To cultivate heritage, one must sacrifice, protect, and use. In the short story “Everyday Use,” the American author Alice Walker explores the authenticity of heritage and how being an African American in the 20th century has affected her characters’ definition of usefulness and their prioritization of pride. Our heritage is what we make of it; there are many options as to how we use it, but Walker’s characters—for the most part—learn where true heritage is found, and what can be done with a few blankets and a butter churn.

The only character in “Everyday Use” who seems to see clearly is the one whose eyes have been damaged: Maggie. Sight is a vital theme throughout Walker’s story and, ironically, the fire that burned down Maggie’s house “ten, twelve years” ago, and caused her “eyes [to be] stretched open, blazed open by the flames reflected in them,” also instilled her with a more practical view of the world. The older daughter of this family, Dee, was standing safely outside the house during the fire, watching as her mother carried Maggie out. Dee’s involvement in the house fire is assumed because the mother of the two young women—also the narrator of the story—mentions “[Dee] had hated the house [so] much.” Maggie fears Dee through most of “Everyday Use,” so it is possible that Maggie knew her sister was the arsonist.

If we accept that Dee was involved with the blaze, we can learn a number of things about her character. Dee feels a need to control and manipulate; she enjoys seeing others hurt by her actions, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. The narrator refers to Dee’s intelligence and says that when Dee would read to them, Dee “pressed [them] to her with the serious way she read, [then] shoved [them] away at just the moment, like dimwits, [they] seemed about to understand.”

Maggie can plainly see her sister’s superior nature, and it agitates her. When Dee and a companion arrive at the house for a visit, Maggie makes a sucking noise: “uhnnnh…like when you see a snake just in front of your foot on the road.” Snakes have been used since Biblical times to represent a manipulative, dangerous character, and only Maggie can clearly see these traits in her sister.

Natural instinct aside, Maggie shows us that she appreciates her forebears by commenting on the butter dasher. When the question is raised as to who constructed it, she says, “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash…His name was Henry, but they called him Stash.” Maggie’s knowledge of family history seems to go unnoticed by her mother, but Dee remarks on her sister’s recall by saying, “Maggie’s brain is like an elephant’s.” Elephants are classically known to have a strong memory, but the bestial comparison is evident, even stretching to the mother’s way of looking at, and thinking of, Maggie. The narrator compares her daughter’s walk to a “lame animal, a dog run over… [sidling] up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him.” No one takes Maggie seriously and she is used to it. “[That is] Maggie’s portion. This [is] the way she [knows] God to work.”

Another facility that Maggie alone seems to grasp—at least in the beginning—is an authentic sense of heritage. Dee is clueless, but the narrator, blinded as she is by Dee’s panache, loses sight of how grounded and resourceful Maggie is. It is not until later when Dee bemoans her sister’s future use of the family’s quilts in a practical manner, that Maggie’s mother says, “Maggie knows how to quilt.” This means that Maggie has absorbed her heritage in a natural way and is capable of using her heritage to assist the family, thus continuing and reinforcing their culture. Maggie may wear her grandmother’s quilts to nothing, but she can create her own future with her own hands.

Dee discovers the quilts inside a trunk in her mother’s bedroom. She assumes ownership of them instantly, even though she had refused when her mother offered her the quilts “when she went away to college.” These old quilts were hand-stitched by Dee’s grandmother—also named Dee—following the Civil War. A small piece of “faded blue” fabric is present in one of the quilts, and is “from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War.” The Union affiliation is interesting because the story takes place in Georgia; Ezra had joined the Union Army to fight against the oppression of his family, fought to preserve his family’s heritage, long before Dee was born. Dee had refused the quilts because they were “old-fashioned, out of style,” and, in saying so, makes it clear that her idea of heritage is not only superficial, but relative to passing trends as well.

When asked about her intentions for the abducted quilts, Dee answers, “Hang them”—as in, put them on display. Before civil rights had any function in American society, African-Americans were hanged for no other reason than having a different skin color. This simple sentence speaks the most about Dee’s character because Dee is doing the same thing to her own culture, albeit in a more figurative sense. She wants to hang her heritage on display, to prove a point to others and, to a lesser degree, herself. Dee wants others to think she feels strongly about her remote past without having to work to understand or experience what truly makes her Dee. Because of her cultural blindness, Dee considers her home life a direct result of White America’s malice toward her race, while her sister, Maggie, accepts her family and immerses herself in her culture. By wanting to hang her family’s quilts, Dee is essentially stopping her heritage cold and destroying the knowledge and craftsmanship of her past, thereby enforcing the very thing she is fighting against: using a fragile façade of cultural awareness as an excuse for death.

Dee’s ignorance spreads further than to just “artistic” homemade tapestries. Upon arrival at her mother and sister’s home, Dee shows her eccentricities in her typical, flamboyant style alongside a newcomer. The narrator expresses that “it is hard to see [Dee and her male companion] clearly through the strong sun,” and that Dee is wearing a “dress so loud it hurt [her mother’s] eyes. There are yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of the sun.” The dress Dee chooses to wear when meeting her family shows how important image is to her. It is her flashy character that her mother has always been in awe of; her mother shows a kind of confused respect, but only because she does not understand Dee. The narrator knows Dee has faults, but because of the “sun” (the aura of false supremacy, of false perfection), she is blind to them, making it hard for Dee’s mother to see her superficiality clearly. This “brightness” plays a large role in how Dee manages to manipulate her mother because after being initially stunned by Dee’s appearance, her mother thinks, “I like it.”

When Dee greets her mother in the front yard, she says, “Wa-su-zo-Tean-o,” and her beau says, “Asalamalakim.” These languages—Lugandan and Arabic, respectfully—were commonplace during the sixties as many African-Americans became self-determinists. These individuals put aside American culture, which had been vindictive towards them, in favor of African culture. Because Islam was a popular religion in Africa at that time, many self-determinists adopted Arabic phrases to emphasize their commitment to their cause. Ironically, Islam had only become popular in Africa during the 20th century; few African-Americans could have traced Islamic influence past their most recent relatives. Therefore, some self-determinists did not entirely understand their culture but simply fell into a fashionable trend. In contrast, Dee’s sister, Maggie, has put forth the effort to realize that her heritage is right where she is, not in a distant country. Dee’s confusion of the African Aesthetic (the practical use of beautiful tools) with the European Aesthetic (using beautiful things strictly as ornaments) shows her not only putting America aside, but also putting her family in a clichéd, condescending nook.

Dee and her companion talk to the narrator and Maggie although the youngest sister is an unwilling participant. “Maggie attempts to make a dash for the house…but [the mother stays] her with [her] hand. ‘Come back here,’ [the mother says].” As the newly arrived couple walks up to greet mother and daughter, the narrator starts to stand, but Dee says, “Don’t get up.” Due to Dee’s manipulative nature, this statement/command sums up how she feels about her mother and sister nicely. Maggie shows all the old fear and envy she has always had for Dee while the quartet makes conversation in the front yard. Her mother likely shares Maggie’s envy while Dee and her companion send “eye signals over her head.” It is obvious to the reader that the two self-determinists think of Maggie and her mother as simpletons, not without merit, but certainly without maturity or thoughtfulness.

The man who arrived with Dee calls himself Hakim-a-barber (that name being a shortened version). The narrator wonders if Hakim is a barber, but he has “hair to his navel,” so she figures he is probably not. Instead, she associates Hakim’s greeting with a similar one used by “those beef-cattle peoples down the road.” Hakim displays his lack of real cultural concern by assuring the narrator that he “accept[s] some of their doctrines, but farming and raising cattle is not [his] style.” The reader can see that while Hakim is more than willing to adopt a different culture’s principles, he is far from willing to adopt the same culture’s hard-working lifestyle; the way through which true heritage is formed and conveyed from one generation to the next.

As “Everyday Use” reaches its conclusion, Maggie’s mother has an epiphany. She has seen Maggie grow into the clumsy, skittish child she is today without ever looking further, and the reality of who the young woman has become shocks her. Years before, when the mother was sure that Dee would never bring her friends over to the three-room house, Maggie questioned, “Mama, when did Dee ever have any friends?” Such wit was ignored by her mother at the time, but as the narrator tells Dee that Maggie can make her own quilts—“It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her,” knows that Maggie has “scarred hands,” and realizes that Maggie is a funny, talented, and sincere young woman, she does something she “had never done before: hugged Maggie.” If the narrator has never embraced her daughter before her moment of clarity, the envy and shame Maggie feels is not completely Dee’s fault. The mother has styled herself as “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands.” Such rigid practicality is useful on a farm, but perhaps not so useful as a loving parent. In that moment, however, the narrator realizes she has something she thought was lost: a daughter of whom she can be proud.

Dee is a character who hardly wants an authentic heritage to call her own. Dee does not want the massive oak that symbolizes a strong family. No, that would take up too much space alongside her African memorabilia. What Dee wants—what she has—is an artificial shrubbery that resides, dust-covered, in the corner of her mind. The plastic bush is not alive, it will never grow, but that is just what some folks want: something to put aside and look upon with a self-satisfied smile, never having to worry about the bush becoming too large to understand or to manipulate. The story “Everyday Use” is a story about the good (but false) intentions and the pretty (but plastic) trees that stand everywhere. More importantly, though, it is a story about sacrifice, clarity, and growth. In other words, it is about using what we are given every day.

“Tribute to Doc,” by Melissa Hager

Melissa Hager

Entering death with open eyes amps up the peaceful transition accorded me. One minute I am tethered to gadgets, tubes poking out of every part of my body, constantly assaulted by beeps and whirs in my too-sensitive ears. The next, I stare at whiteness, but clearly see it, as well as the faces of many who have come before me.

On March 3, 1923, a boy was born deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He was named Arthel Lane Watson. Within one year of Arthel’s life, his family discovered he had been blinded from an eye infection. This did not bring pity from his family. He was expected to work and make do with the lot God had given him.

They wait with smiles, at different stages of their lives. Could it be Heaven is where you live forever at the age you were at your best on Earth?

The first song Arthel played was The Carter Family’s “When The Roses Bloom In Dixieland.” At 13 years old, he chopped down a tree on the family farm for his father in order to purchase his first guitar. It was a $12 Stella.

I marvel at the fact I can know who these serene folks are since I’ve never seen them. Blindness has been with me since before I was a year old. Heaven is obviously all it’s cracked up to be. It’s that place where you will “know.”

Brain synapses, not being used for sight, translated to lightning fast fingers and an impeccable ear for music. The nickname “Doc” was bestowed upon him on a radio show. He eventually earned an honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music and received the National Medal of Arts.

The hospital’s machinery that attempted to keep me alive was no match against the driving beats of a standup bass, a mandolin, a banjo, and my old guitar. Lord, how I missed playing for the last little bit of my life.

Doc Watson, who won seven Grammys and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, influenced and worked with many major folk and bluegrass musicians. When asked about his illustrious career, he would humbly say he cheated with his capo. Doc went home to be with his Lord, May 29, 2012, one month to the day after his last performance at Merlefest. The annual music festival was created in 1988 to honor his deceased son, Merle.

But I can see Heaven is going to suit me just fine. Chet, Lester, Earl, and my boy, Merle (who looks all of 9 years old), wait in a group, instruments in hand. It’s time for this picker to fly.

The Obnoxious Expert, by Hope Brown

Hope Brown

Most people would deny being a know-it-all, but the truth is that few are exempt from the occasional fall to this weakness. Knowledge is not the weakness. Individuals can know a lot of information, perhaps even close to all the knowledge of some topics, but being an expert in one or many fields does not make people know-it-alls. Know-it-alls are obnoxious experts, people who arrogantly assume they know all about a topic, whether or not they actually do, remain inconsiderate and unyielding to other possibilities, and flaunt their knowledge at the expense of others’ feelings. Such people are often difficult to connect with, cannot be taught, and are usually accompanied by a condescending attitude. Average individuals rarely want to listen to or socialize with these types of people, even when they may be right in their views and opinions, simply because of their patronizing mannerisms. Part of being human is being fallible. The inability to recognize this imperfection hinders individuals’ capabilities for learning, and can be destructive in relationships for various reasons. With this in mind, people should make every effort to be open to all viewpoints, even those with which they disagree because tolerance is a much more sophisticated way of thinking than narrow-minded intolerance.

When thinking of a narrow-minded individual, most think of particular people in their lives. Knowing my husband’s step-father, John, might demonstrate to others how having closed opinions to many ideas outside of their own is a terrible way to live a life. Recently, when the mother of my mother-in-law died, John felt that he knew exactly how the funeral arrangements should be handled. Not only that, but he also felt that he had the right to say that my mother-in-law would not be contributing any funds to help pay for expenses because the funeral was not handled as he said it should be. John may have had some valid arguments, but his delivery was flawed, and created unnecessary friction in an already difficult circumstance. Sadly, this is just one illustration of John’s narrow-minded temperament. My mother-in-law and John used to attend church with us several years ago, and when John disagreed with issues that happened in the church, they left. When my husband Chad and I refused to attend the “Church of John,” we received verbal abuse in a meeting at their kitchen table where we were labeled willfully disrespectful as they attempted to “straighten us out.” Since then, they have attended several churches for short periods of time, usually until someone does not believe John’s way. Now they get dressed for church in their living room on Sunday mornings; total attendance is two, and there is no one to disagree with them. Even as far back as eighteen years ago when John first became Chad’s step-father, John would assert that he was the one who “raised” Chad although Chad was already out on his own by the time his mother married John. John may not have meant his claim to sound arrogant, but that was the message conveyed. This, of course, alienated Chad, and he has never been able to view John as anyone more significant in his life than his mother’s second husband. Naturally, John has been deeply offended by this snub, and is unable to understand why this slight has occurred.

This failure to understand the feelings of others demonstrates a flaw in the character of the individuals who choose to remain close-minded; it is nearly impossible to gain appreciation for any topic if people think they already have all the answers. This argument does not mean there are no experts because certainly some have been trained or have years of experience in various situations. However, people have a greater chance of learning new ideas if they remain open to the possibility that no matter how much training they have there is always more to know about a subject. Teachers are perfect examples of this refined way of thinking in action. If instructors already knew all the answers, there would be no need for annual training days to update them on any new information and teaching styles, and continuing education would be ultimately useless. Without continuing their education, educators would learn very little, even though there are always new ideas about instructional techniques, use of technology, how people learn, and of course every subject area imaginable. Having additional training requirements does not mean that teachers know nothing about helping children learn; it simply means they have the potential to obtain greater knowledge. All people have this potential if they are simply receptive to the possibilities of open-mindedness.

Open-minded consideration of controversial ideas is not indicative of a lack of opinions or being easily swayed from the beliefs that make individuals who they are. Sophisticated thinkers, such as Wayne Riggs, an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department of the University of Oklahoma, contend that thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints indicates a willingness to seriously consider all sides (177). Most would agree that this consideration of all sides does not imply an absence of convictions, but rather that those individuals’ opinions are accompanied by the awareness of their own fallibility, and an ability to handle disagreements with maturity and respect for others. Riggs also references Jonathan Adler in his article “Open-Mindedness,” both saying in essence that being human makes it highly possible that some of our core beliefs and opinions could be incorrect. Careful evaluation of opposing views could be a way to eliminate, decrease, or diminish the impact of false beliefs that individuals possess (Riggs 181). On the other hand, opinions and views that have a solid foundation will remain stable under careful inspection, and can even be strengthened by open-mindedness. In either case, mature individuals should have the humility to recognize when they are wrong and change their views accordingly, or maintain their opinions with dignity and respect for the feelings of others when their positions are revealed to be correct. As a child through early adulthood, I attended a church that taught the use of make-up and jewelry would doom the offender to eternal punishment. For years, I took the claim at face value and followed the “rules,” even affirming these beliefs to others if asked. When I matured enough to realize that “because they said so” is a terrible foundation for beliefs with eternal significance, and began to dig a little deeper into that assertion, I discovered it was not make-up, jewelry, or any other surface-level issues, that should be emphasized. Had I been close-minded and refused to closely inspect any view other than my own, I would still be blindly supporting a belief that may not have been entirely accurate. Instead, I was able to change my position on the matter and understand that the focus should be placed on weightier matters such as integrity, attitude, moderation, kindness, and other similar virtues.

These weightier matters that should be highlighted are negatively affected if people are unable to be mature and considerate when analyzing the views and opinions of others. Often, when individuals refuse to recognize the value of any point of view other than their own, they become harsh and judgmental instead of loving and courteous; this wreaks havoc in relationships. For example, had John treated Chad as an adult with equal respect instead of harping on him as one would treat a child, a bond of mutual appreciation might have formed, creating a more peaceful relationship throughout their following years as members of an extended family.

When John or anyone else behaves in this manner, it is easy to reciprocate by labeling them as narrow-minded and judging these people for their know-it-all attitude. However, this reaction is equally problematic because many individuals are eager to gleefully point out the narrow-mindedness of others while often forgetting their own areas of closed thinking. Sometimes being judgmental is as simple as rationalizing “what I was taught is better than the ideas of others.” When my daughter brings home math sheets and shows me how her teacher has instructed her to find the answers, the thought that “my way is better” often crosses my mind. Although my daughter’s teacher is well-trained and experienced in these new and improved methods of learning, it would be easy to throw out those new ideas because the old way has always worked for me. However, when objectively considering all angles, I often find that the new way is better, and I learn a new way to do math, as when my daughter showed me some multiplication tricks they learned in her class this year.

Knowing one way to do the math does not mean it is the only correct way, and this concept can be applied in each of these scenarios. John’s idea for the funeral of his mother-in-law might have worked, but it was not the only solution that could work. Had he handled that possibility with consideration for others’ opinions, the tensions and hard feelings may have been avoided, and they could have potentially found a compromise that would have been an even better resolution. I have friends in church circles who still hold to the eternal significance of many superficial issues. Even though I now believe that moderation instead of avoidance is the key to those superficial issues, I have found that handling our differences with as much respect and humility as possible has greatly assisted in maintaining positive relationships with these friends. In all instances, openness to other possibilities has provided opportunities to learn more than could have ever been discovered by clinging tenaciously to personal thoughts and ideas. These benefits coupled with a positive attitude are a winning combination, and all human beings should endeavor to be sophisticated thinkers the next time they find themselves becoming or associating with an obnoxious expert.

Riggs, Wayne. “Open-Mindedness.” Metaphilosophy 41.1/2 (2010): 172-188. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. .

“He’s Always There,” by Sue Bloch

Sue Bloch

My glasses banged into the top of my nose as I fell flat on my face. The rough concrete stones crunched into my knees, and warm blood trickled out of my nose.

“Are you OK?” a male voice asked. “That was some fall.”

I couldn’t believe my ears – his voice was so familiar. These seven years after my beloved husband John passed away, he still follows me around. He has a special knack of appearing unexpectedly, especially in fragrant places.

I tried to answer and couldn’t speak. There was no air in my lungs. I wondered how many bones I’d broken falling onto the concrete path in the Japanese Garden in Seattle. And if I’d be able to get on the plane a few days later to return to India, where I was working? Painfully I rolled over onto one side.

Someone was stroking my hair. I hoped it was John.

“Mom, what did you do?” my daughter, Shelley asked. “Let me help you sit up.”

She gently lifted the glasses off my face. I was aware that my mind was in a state of semi-oblivion.

“The lenses are all scratched. Can you see at all?” Shelley entreated when I didn’t answer.

My eyes were wide open like a somnambulist. The pale, anxious faces of my two granddaughters slowly came into focus. Seven-year-old Danielle’s troubled eyes gazed into mine. Her younger sister Lia’s large blue eyes were wet with tears. I felt bad that I’d scared them. How could I tell them that I thought I’d seen their late Grandpa, sitting there on the bench – the very man who was now leaning over me?

I was conscious that my thinking was completely irrational, yet even the stranger’s voice shared John’s deep richness when he spoke. Such was the effect of my illusion.

“Can we help you to sit up?” the stranger interrupted my reverie.

“Just give me a few minutes,” I said lifting my head, as I got my breath back. “I’m winded but I think I’ll be OK.”

Slowly I stood up, leaning on Shelley’s arm with my left elbow and the stranger’s arm on my right. I couldn’t quite believe how gently he was touching my painful wrist. A wave of dizziness engulfed me as my heart thumped away. I was in a kind of waking chimera. Yet I let myself dream on to see where it would take me. My imagination carried me into a wild hypothesis.

“He’s back… he’s back…he’s back,” my internal voice repeated. I felt so bewildered. My stomach churned as bile oozed into my mouth.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I chastised myself, “John died over a year ago!”

My granddaughters, normally chattering and giggling, were quiet, so I guessed I looked a bit blue and bloody. My knees throbbed and my palms burnt where the skin had scraped off.

I pondered how much longer I was going to keep projecting my grief onto strangers. And why did I keep seeing John in so many places? As my head cleared, I became aware that Shelley was talking to me.

“Mom, it’s good that you can walk, so you haven’t broken anything,” she said hugging me. “Here, hold on to me.”

Befuddled I staggered forward and then slumped onto the nearest bench. My head still felt heavy from the effects of my fall and the extraordinary fantasy, which I couldn’t banish from my mind.

“I can’t believe I’m so clumsy,” I said holding a tissue under my nose to soak up the blood. “I guess I just missed that step. “

I was so insincere. What I really wanted to say was that I’d thought the stranger was my dead husband. I didn’t want to disclose the fact that I still clung to the hope that he’d come back to me. How excited I’d been to see him. The loss was excruciating as my aching chest closed up. Was this the agony John had experienced as the asbestos fibers had nibbled away at the lining of his lungs? It was as if my unrestrained metaphysical pain was embedding itself into my bruised body. I smiled weakly.

“I’m glad you’re OK,” the man said letting go of my arm as he eased his large, warm hand off my wrist.

He was tall, and the corners of his mouth curled up gently. His brown eyes were full of concern. I stared down at his shoes. The very same tan moccasins with tassels that John used to wear. In fact he was so very much like John. But the cold reality was that it was a stranger, and John was not there. My throat burnt as I swallowed my despair.

“Thank you for helping. I’m so sorry to have disturbed you,” I added, wishing he could stay a bit longer.

He nodded and walked back to the bench where he’d been sitting, and casually hung his arm over the shoulder of the woman he’d left there when he’d rushed to help me.

That couple had no clue that they’d been the cause of my fall. When I’d walked along the path on that chilly spring day, the scene of this loving middle-aged couple sitting on the bench had overcome me. They looked so much like John and me. The fragrant pines and spring blooms had brought back so many sensuous memories – of walks in gardens and forests, and generous kisses enveloped with the bouquet of pungent wild mushrooms and rhododendrons. I’d even felt John’s broad hands touching the skin under my sweater. The vision was so real, so much so that I’d not noticed the stair and stumbled flat onto my face. It was as though his presence threw me down on the concrete path. How much longer would I keep getting so upset?

As I shuffled to the car, I started to laugh. A silly nervous giggle, trying to disguise the pain of my folly. The harsh fact was that it was three months after the first anniversary of John’s death, and I was still struggling to believe he was gone for good. The joyous fragrance of spring evaporated. Purple and pink blooms faded away. The garden seemed stark and bare.

“What happened to you? “ Shelley asked softly as she eased me onto the front seat of the car. She looked at me strangely. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

I wished I could tell her I had. My imagination, kindled by the sweet breath of spring, had tugged me into an emotional turmoil. My mind had raced down a nonsensical fantasy. Normally a rational, logical person, I was scared that I might be “losing it.” I’d also always tried to shield my kids from pain – theirs and mine, and I found it hard to open up to her then. Bemoaning my fate was not going to help anyone, and I didn’t want to further upset the girls. To assure her, my granddaughters and myself, I kissed them and pronounced that I was going to be fine. Yet I worried how I would ever convince myself that John would never be back.

Later, at her home, Shelley pampered me with painkillers, arnica and ice. As I sank into the pillows, loamy, evocative spring smells returned uninvited, clinging to lining of my nostrils. Distraught, I fell asleep listening to young bluebell stems crunching under my back as John nuzzled into my neck. Tears welled around my puffy eyes as reality chased away those precious memories.

The following morning I woke to find Shelley sitting on my bed holding out a cup of tea.

“Thought this might do you good,” she smiled. “How are you feeling now?

I sat up to take a sip.

“My ankle still looks blue,“ I replied pushing my leg out from under the duvet. “But the swelling seems to have gone down. I guess a sound sleep along with your amazing treatment has done me good. What does my face look like?” I continued gently touching my nose.

“Well, you’re no picture painting,” Shelley laughed. “Do you feel OK to get up? The girls are dying to show you how well they jump rope.”

I gingerly eased myself out of bed, and couldn’t help but worry as to why I floated so tenaciously between acknowledging that John was still somewhere close to me, and accepting the reality of his death. I closed my eyes, and saw myself scattering his ashes on a blustery March afternoon on a hilltop near Bolton in England, where he’d grown up. The sticky flakes blew back into my face and clung onto my moist lips as I threw his soul up into the cloudy sky.

I could taste his salty, charred body all over again. I needed to remember that final ceremony. Fantasy needed to be banished if I were to begin moving forward, even if it was only one step at a time.

After breakfast, the floor vibrated with life as I swung the rope for my energetic granddaughters to jump over. There was so much vitality and laughter around me. It was up to me to invite that energy back inside my body.

“Here, let me have a go,” I laughed, as they squealed with delight.

I could still jump on one leg, and my healthy ankle joined in the fun. No one was more surprised than I was.

“You know Mom, you’ve been doing so well since John passed on,” Shelley said hugging me. “But please try to be more careful.”

“Thanks for always being there for me,“ I replied tearfully.

I realized that the loss of John had penetrated my very being far more savagely than I was prepared to recognize. Perhaps moving to India instead of sitting night after night in the mute living room of our London home, hadn’t given me the time to grieve. Yet, what was once our warm, cuddly sofa had far too much space for me on my own. I just couldn’t sit there day after day missing John, wondering if he would ever be back.

Only last summer I took Danielle, now eleven, on a hike up to Twin Falls, near Seattle.

“Lets go down to the river,” she shouted, as she hopped from log to log.
I’d sensed John there with me amongst the aromatic firs, and forgot to concentrate on my footing. I heard the sound of my muscle tearing as I tripped over a boulder and again twisted my ankle. Danielle came rushing back up to me.

“Gran, are you OK or would you like to go back?” she asked concerned.

“I think I’ll be fine in a few minutes,” I responded tentatively, angry with myself that I’d been so careless, and upset that my loss was still, at times, so painful. The powerful memories of my time together with John still barged into my heart uninvited.

Danielle smiled broadly, when she heard my reply. Her braces reflected the sunlight squeezing in between the trees.

Her small hand pulled me up to standing and I wiped the mud off my jeans. My ankle bore my weight with some discomfort. I could still walk, albeit slowly, so at least it wasn’t broken.

“How come you always seem to keep falling?” Danielle asked as we carried on up the path.

How could I tell her that I still see her Grandpa in so many places, and still fall flat in so many ways? Yet she so often seemed to be there to help me up. I’d reconciled myself to the fact that I was strong enough to pick myself up when the going was tough. But I also acknowledged that I needed help and support around me to do that. Lively grandchildren and a loving family were a key ingredient in the journey back to life.

Coming to terms with the loss of my beloved husband has been complicated by a steadfast belief that John would return. I haven’t stopped looking for auspicious signs that might lead me back to him. Strangely, that has helped me enjoy John even though he’s gone. I’m now able to share things with him that I know he’d relish. During a vacation to France I had the audacity to invite him to our special tearoom in Paris, and ordered his favorite patisserie – a ‘napoleon’ cake consisting of puff pastry interlaid with a rich custard filling. With each bite, I could feel him licking his lips with joy. Somehow he’s always with me.