Picture The Holidays - Day 28
The first thing I said when I saw the promotional poster for the book pictured above was "Bokeh!" "Bo-what?" my boyfriend said as if I were speaking Japanese.
Well, actually I was.
As my photographer friends know, the term bokeh comes from the Japanese word that means "blur" and boy do we love to take advantage of the sparkling lights this time of year and create this effect.
He and I were on our way to hear author, River Jordan (a pen name, which is now her legal name), speak about her recently released memoir, Praying for Strangers.
I chose this book for today's prompt because it truly is all about how much a change in perspective can make a huge difference - not only in our own lives, but the lives of those we touch in our every day encounters.
My initial interest in going to hear her speak was peaked by the email that was sent out promoting her appearance:
As 2009 approached, New Year's resolutions were the last thing on River Jordan's mind. Her sons were both about to go off to war-one to Iraq and the other to Afghanistan-and she was planning a family reunion to see them off. All River could do was pray for her sons' safety and hope to maintain her strength, until she unexpectedly came upon the perfect New Year's resolution-one that focused on others instead of herself. She would pray for a complete stranger every single day of the year.
Being the mother of two boys who have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan (thankfully not at the same time), I knew immediately that whatever resolution came from her experience was born from a place as much like my own situation as anyone I can imagine. I knew I had to hear what she had to say, even though it meant missing my beloved CBS Sunday Morning.
Our commonalities didn't end there, We both are writers (although she certainly has earned the right to call herself that more than I), southern, introverted, share alove of the mystical, and a spirituality that is deeply personal and not something easily discussed with others.
Perhaps the biggest difference between us as writers (besides her success and my lack thereof), is that she says she never intended to write a spiritual memoir and I have had a spiritual memoir pulling at me for some time.
Reading through her book, I resonated not only with her pain and worry over her sons but laughed along with her description of her all out manic mission to create one last perfect Christmas with the family before "the boys" went off to war.
I, too, drove family and friends alike to the brink of madness trying to manufacture the ideal holiday the first Christmas after my youngest graduated from Marine Corps bootcamp. Like Jordan, I wondered if this would be the last time we'd all be together as a family.
As insane as I was, I still don't think I deserved the nickname "Little Hitler," which I'm still trying to live down.
However, I can't deny that my mission consumed pretty much every day and night from Thanksgiving weekend all the way up to Christmas. I had my house completely torn apart and put back together. New floors were installed in just about every room - carpet in the bedroom, laminate in the living areas, and tile in the kitchen which my dad had been recruited to handle. I hired help to install crown molding, and my boyfriend (and whoever else I could grab) was put to work on trim and baseboards. I even scraped popcorn off the guest bedroom ceiling, repainted, and redecorated.
Up into the wee hours of Christmas eve, I was still painting trim and walls along with cooking massive amounts of food for an open house to which I had invited no less than 50 people. If it weren't for the kids, the Christmas tree wouldn't have even been decorated and it wasn't until the very last minute.
Part of all this craziness was probably a subconscious desire make up for the fact that I'd never been able to afford to fix up the house while the kids were at home, and even if I could have I probably wouldn't have done much. There is a reason why my kids grew up thinking their middle names were "this is why we can't have nice things."
I never felt like I gave them an idyllic Christmas and I felt really bad about it.
When all was said and done, the open house was lots of fun and I was pleased with how everything came together. But, as soon as the last guest left and it was "family" time, I was splayed out on my new laminate floor unable to move, with a huge mess to clean up, and everyone else was pretty exhausted as well.
So, was it idyllic? No. Did it really matter to the boys what I had put myself and everyone else through to make it happen? Probably not. I'm betting they would have enjoyed pizza and beer on our old crappy carpet just as much. When asked later what their favorite Christmas memory was, one of my sons replied "opening presents in our underwear when we were kids."
Well, at least I got new floors.
And truly, that whole exercise was not about my kids anyway. I'm ashamed to admit it was about me. My guilt. My perfectionism. My worry. My idea of what they needed. Hopefully, they and everyone else will forgive me.
After Jordan overcame her bout of temporary insanity, she realized that the best way out of her worry and pain was to focus on something besides herself. Thus, the New Year's resolution to pray for a complete stranger every day. It worked for her and had far reaching effects in her life, the lives of those she prayed for, and now those who read the story and consider how they may apply the same principle in their own stressful or difficult situation.
You have to admit, it's a pretty awesome resolution.
Another author, even more famous, made an impression on me this month as well. My son, Adam, who is currently serving in Afghanistan is a huge Dean Koontz fan. His squad formed a Dean Koontz book club on their last deployment and picked it right back up when they returned to Afghanistan this past summer. Whenever I asked him what he would like for me to send in his care packages, he always asked for more Dean Koontz (it's a good thing he is such a prolific writer). He decided to write Koontz a fan letter, and got this email in reply:
Adam,He was so excited. In his words he thought it was "pretty friggin' cool." I do, too. Naturally, my first question was, "mind if I blog about it?" He replied, "blog away."
Of the hundreds of thousands of letters I've received from readers over the years, yours is one of the most memorable. I can't thank you enough for it. I have shared it with my wife, who I know will be equally moved by it. You have brightened my day as much as my books could ever have brightened yours.
I am ready to send out by priority mail a box of paperback books--which I do for every overseas-deployed serviceman who writes to me --but I hesitate because of your warning that you might be home before any letter of mine could reach you. As an alternative, if you can give me a stateside address, I would find it a pleasure and an honor to get you started on that hardcover collection you mentioned.
Thank you for your service to our great country. May God bless you and keep you from all harm--and please send me that address.
Sincerely, Dean Koontz
Again, the lesson here was perspective. I remembered and found the link to a CBS Sunday Morning episode featuring Koontz that I had seen some time ago. Koontz, grew up poor, much poorer than my my son did. At least we had indoor plumbing, which Koontz did not. In the interview, he tells the story of the many trips he made to pick up his violent alcoholic father from whatever bar he was passed out in, and then says, "I was not an unhappy kid." He is a pretty "friggin' cool" guy, and I remember being impressed by him when I first saw this:
So, I suppose my guilt and fear that my sons were somehow deprived or scarred from what I couldn't give them in their childhoods is misplaced. They were never cold, hungry or alone. They had everything they needed and were surrounded by loving family. So many children don't have nearly that much.
Perhaps it is the fact that they didn't have perfect everything that made them better able to put up with the hardships and challenges that they have faced while training and serving our country.
And who knows, maybe one of them will be as rich as Koontz one day and be able to put me in a really nice nursing home when I'm old.
So, the moral of the story is that we surely can always find joy even in the most difficult of circumstances and use our experiences for something much more useful than our wallowing in our own self-pity. We could write a book that touches the lives of others, but we can also start smaller than that. We can pray a prayer for a stranger, read a book to a child who needs a nurturing adult to care for them, or write a letter to someone who has impacted our lives and brighten their day.
Never underestimate the difference that might make in someone's future and yours as well.