Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fixing Henry

Sunday afternoons are a personal time for me, a time of pondering and reflection. I often take walks or go for drives, and on one recent occasion, I happened upon this vehicle. A powerful gravitation pulled my eyes to the words shouted from its tarnished tail. My car seemed to migrate off the road by itself, where I sat staring at those words:

Fix Me!

Those were the words of my heart. 

How many times had everything inside of me shouted those words! They appeared to have burned through the decay in a desperate plea to be heard before it was too late, before the ever-creeping blanket of rust could swallow the carriage whole.

I thought of a time when my younger brother arrived home on a Saturday, downcast, because his friend, Henry, had purposely excluded him. It was not the first time this had occurred, and my ten-year-old sense of justice simply could not brook any more unpunished bad behavior. I was going to "fix" things.

Hastily, I transformed my bunk bed into a prison cell, then proceeded to lure young Henry to the prepared location — employing every disreputable method of deception my decade of experience could procure, including fibs and even a touch of physical force. My dad had an ancient set of handcuffs, which I used to secure him to one of the posts, where I left him to rot for what seemed a whole day, but was really an afternoon. I fed him bread and water — as they did in the movies — and at the end of his sentence, lectured him long and hard about his crimes.
Photo credit: mikecogh / / CC BY-SA

As Henry left, his dejection was evident, and even though I felt he deserved it, my victory was quelled by a befuddling sense of wrong-doing. He was too young to comprehend what I was trying to accomplish. I was just a mean girl who locked him up for something he didn't understand. I did my best to revive his spirits, but he just stared at me with these vacant, troubled eyes, and I knew that Henry understood with absolute clarity that I had intentionally hurt him.

My fixing hadn't gone well.

The old adage teaches us that people don't always remember what we said or did, but they always remember how we made them feel.

Just a few days ago — and many years later — as I was on my way home home, I noticed a young man sitting on a park bench. His head was in his hands and the very position of his bodily stance advertised a forlorn state.

My inner-radar detected a clear distress signal, and one that couldn't be ignored or justified by the flippant excuses of a rushed society. Once again, of its own accord, my car seemed to pull itself over, and I sat watching, unsure... after all, what was I to do? I had no words to fix him.

Experience had taught me the value of listening to myself, and sooner than expected, I was out of the car and approaching the bench, where I casually sat down... and did nothing. I just sat there. After a few minutes, the solution suddenly came to me. I felt compelled to pat this young man on the back, which I did — gently, but surely.

The young man looked up, surprised by my presence. His eyes reflected deep wounds. He looked at me the same way I had at the words on that car. After what seemed an age, he gave a subtle nod, lifted a hand, and offered it to me, and in a shaky voice — rife with emotion — told me his name... Henry. I shook his hand, and responded in kind, after which, we both got up and left. And that was that. Nothing more was needed.

Though we were strangers, we spoke the common language of human understanding. All he needed to know was that someone, somewhere, saw him — really saw him, and in a small measure, shared his grief, whatever it may have been. Sometimes, the genuine concern of our hearts shines through and does all of the talking for us — thank goodness!

In life, the fixing of other people is not a true option, and is, in itself, a sort of evil. It takes away from the agency of others to choose how they will act and live, and denies the growth of character. The first Henry had no choice in his imprisonment, and the second had to choose to accept my proffered solace. A brave decision. Though we cannot fix each other, we can offer the occasional tune-up by uplifting and refraining from harsh words, by seeing the good when the bad is so readily evident, and by the pouring-out of silent pep talks as each of us embark upon the great task of overhauling our souls.

A quote from another Henry:

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. ~ Henry James

May we strive to be kind.


*The names of the people in this post, though identical in real life, were changed for reasons of privacy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Joey's Skipping Stones

There is a beach in West Cork near Ownahincha known as the Long Strand. It's a deadly beach, famous for sneak waves caused by the quick, deep descent of its shifty sands. Surfers love this beach, as do I — not so much for the surfing, which I was never very good at, but for the cobbles spit from the frothy churn of those steely blue waters.

One morning as I bumbled along the beach, the water was barely visible through a dense shroud of fog. I happened upon something singular and unexpected: a perfectly shaped skipping stone.

The fog made it special, like I was in a private room, especially reserved for this hallowed bestowal — the ultimate gift wrapping.

I picked it up and rubbed its smooth, flat surface between my fingers and thought of my older brother. We were riding bikes through the sweet smelling vineyards of Megier and came across a river where we stopped to cool off. I had never skipped a stone in my life until my older brother taught me that day. It was a memorable occasion, a time-honored passage of rites, and it was special. Little did I know that just a few days prior, he and my sister — whose favorite movie is Amelie — had an Amelie day, scootering around Paris, where they too skipped stones... c'etais la saison, Je s'pose.

That morning the beach was foggy and the waters choppy, not exactly ideal conditions for skipping stones, so I tucked the rock safely into my pocket and continued along my way. A few moments later, I happened upon another one. It was just as flawless as the first; I couldn't possibly leave it behind... and an idea struck — subtle and enlivening. A gentle clinking reached my ears as the second stone landed in my pocket. I continued along my path, alert and searching, and every so often the sea-smoked room would gift me with another stone.

I came across this another day at the same beach.
Soon my pockets clanked as I moved, a human-powered wind chime, laden with enough ballast to ensure my drowning should a sneak wave attack; but it was a risk worth taking, for I had gathered stones sufficient to compile a most splendid gift.

Upon returning to my beautiful, rented cottage near the Galley Head Lighthouse, I rinsed them up and set them out to dry on the stone-flagged patio while I searched for the perfect container. I found it in a bag that once housed a fancy chocolate Easter egg. After the morning fog burned off and the roads were safe to use again, I peddled ten miles into town and purchased a silver paint pen, which I used to carefully inscribe the title of my gift: Joey's Skipping Stones.

It was perfect and filled me with a deep sense of pleasure. Those significant stones were hand-entrusted from the sands of a most beloved Irish beach to the palm-studded shores of Southern California.

A few weeks later I got a text from my brother citing that he loved his gift, but wasn't sure if he should keep them, skip them, or chuck them at the neighbors dog that forever barked in the morning. What an excellent response!

It wasn't long before my nephew was born. I made certain to gather another bag of stones for him, so that someday my brother can teach his son the important lesson of skipping stones. A gift of generations. Perhaps someday when my nephew is on his own, facing tough life decisions, he will recall the much-needed advice imparted to him while skipping stones with his dad. If so, my life on this planet, will indeed, have been worthwhile.

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. ~ Emily Dickinson

Until Next Time,

Eliott McKay

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dancing with the Daffodils

Photo credit: aussiegall / / CC BY

In the summertime, the Irish roads are lined with wild, yellow blossoms, king-sized daffodils to amaze the very tastebuds of delight. Those lovely masses trailed along the clover-splotched tarmac and became more beautiful with every curve in the road. I marveled at them wherever I went, and one evening, after returning home from the local library — yes, I had a library card in Ireland — my arms were loaded with books. I tossed them onto the sofa and declared: "I'm rich!"

In a response to this bold declaration and my endless fascination over those wondrous, bright blooms, this poem was given to me:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

An Easter Valentine

A couple of days ago, while driving, I happened up this sign: Seren-dip-ity, it said. A small thrill warmed through me, and ever sensitive to the power of positive suggestion, I was now on the look out for serendipitous events.

Today, being Easter, I went to the graveyard to visit a friend who died in a car crash while I was still in high school. I had never had an opportunity to visit his grave before and it took me well over an hour to locate the spot, but I was grateful I took the time. I kind of thought he might have known I was there.

Later in the evening, the fine weather once again seduced me out of doors; I fancied a stroll. Across the street from my house sits a school. I went over to plod along the track, which is situated on high ground to afford a nice view of the mountains.

Upon approaching the track, something in the sky caught my attention. A bright red balloon — a Valentine's balloon — bobbling along at a leisurely pace. Curious to see what it would do, I walked toward it just as the balloon floundered and then stagnated in the air. Before long I was standing immediately beneath it, and I watched in amazement as the balloon descended gently before my eyes. My hand calmly lifted and clasped the tail, as if merely choosing a lollipop from the sweets aisle.

This was a Valentine gift like no other, because it came from the heavens, and what better day to receive it than Easter Sunday? I thought of the dove descending upon our Lord near Jordan and my heart flooded with joy.

These are the moments that make life magical. As I pottered around the track, enjoying the sunset, the balloon trailing behind me, the smile in my chest expanded wider with each step. On my way home, I passed by the swing set and figured, Hey - why not? I liked the sound the balloon made as it flapped back and forth with the motions. I even took it for a quick zip down the slide before heading home.

My older brother once taught me an all-important lesson about leaving things in a better condition than they were found, so I gathered up some bits of trash along the way and came across yet another amazing find: a Laffy Taffy wrapper. Hidden treasure was everywhere! I just love those silly little jokes, and this one happened to suit the occasion.

Question: What flies and helps people?

"Balloons from Heaven!" was my immediate thought.

That, of course, was not the answer on the wrapper, which turned out to be: "A Helidoctor."

Whether this special balloon was gifted to me from the heavens (which it obviously was), was a Valentine gift from my friend on the other side (which I like to think), or a sprinkling of serendipity from the heli-doctor (which I kind of doubted), it matters not. What matters is the ridiculous amount of pleasure I've received while writing this blog and watching that wondrous balloon dance merrily across my bed.

Happy Valentines from a girl who believes in Easter miracles.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Messages Under the Desk

In high school, an old boyfriend of mine used to tape notes to the bottom side of my desk for me to find in sixth-hour Physics class. I loved it. It was the pinnacle of my day, and because of it, I developed an ambrosial affinity for secret messages... and somehow, miraculously, managed to pass Physics.

I recently went for a nature drive up by this mountain lake. Although it was frozen over, the weather was fine, and brought out more visitors than I would have expected. Wishing to be alone, I wandered down a path cordoned off to vehicles.

Some small way down the path, I came across a camping area, complete with picnic tables, restrooms and a dumpster. I also encountered a sleeping bag — one that appeared to have been hastily abandoned. Mushroom stubs littered the area, and upon closer examination, it appeared they had been picked from the roots of a tree. Someone had to have been pretty desperate to scavenge for those.

In my car, I always keep a 72 hour kit. It's pretty bare bones, but I figured even a few small items would be an improvement over those awful mushrooms. As I booked it back up the hill, the wind grew brisk. My ears began to ache from the cold and many of the fair-weather sightseers were driven away. I dug through my trunk and located the kit and found four ancient granola bars, an eighteen-hour candle, a small box of matches, some cough drops and a pair of earplugs... just in case the sleeping bag's owner also suffered from earaches.

I drew a heart on a piece of cardboard and stuffed all of the contents into the baggie with the granola bars and made my way back down the hill, where I carefully folded the package into the sleeping bag. I wished I had better to give.

A few days later, I decided to go back and check on things. This time I toted a lunch bag with sandwiches aplenty — plus a bit more; but I could see from a distance that the sleeping bag was gone. My heart kind of sank for a minute until I spotted something else: the baggie.

I raced closer to make sure. It sat in the same exact spot as I had left it — minus the sleeping bag. A hole had been ripped in the bottom and the granola bars and ear plugs were gone. The candle had also been used, but only just. It had probably been too windy to stay lit. But the most important thing left behind was the heart I had drawn. It seemed to have been placed just so, as if to serve as a reminder — a beacon of sorts — in returning what wasn't needed to the rightful owner.

An occlusion formed in my throat. It felt like a message under the desk.

For many years now, I have lived with a broken heart — the kind that doesn't mend. I might always be alone, but I'm grateful for the lessons that have taught me to empathize with those of an isolated status. I'm also grateful for the lessons that have taught me to find companionship and solace in a remnant of a note I once wrote for someone else.

I may or may not have helped someone, who may or may not have found value in it, and may or may not have left it behind for me on purpose... but I like to think they did, and I find joy in believing so. That's the trick of life: choosing joy.

There are many notes under the table for all of us if we will but take the time to see them. It could be a quick text from a friend or a "thank you" from the grocery store clerk, or it could be as big as a peace-offering from a loved one. Don't let them pass you by. Heed the call. Find the messages. Be generous with your optimism. And always, always find the good in others.

All Best Until Next Time,

Spreading Joy Writing Books

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Archbishop's Cope

My mother used to sit on the edge of my bed at night and ask this question:

“What's my wish for you?”
The answer was a little bit different for each of my siblings, but the gist was the same: to identify the people who loved us. Most of our answers included the following: Mom, Dad, Grandma, all eight siblings, the kitty, various cousins, the Dukes of Hazard big wheels, and even God.

I love that my mother took the time for each of us to rattle off the names of the people who loved us… one kid at a time. Bedtime was special for that reason, or rather it was my time to be special. The results had the effect of a warm cloak that instilled security and well-being, and made for adults who reflect upon people individually.

My wish in life is to be a blessing to the people around me, although, it often backfires in an aux-de-contraire type of way. Maybe that is how love works, the more we give the more we get. 

One of my favorite books — aside from the obvious classics, Calvin & Hobbes and Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow — is Les Misérables. Not because it's popular right now, but because it's deeply reflective on the moral integrity of the soul, and I find great value in those reflections.

I can’t help but think of M. Myriel’s words — AKA: The Bishop — who, after traveling on a mountain road for two days to visit a small parish, found the people too poor to provide him with a basic surplice in which he could perform his pastoral duties. Word soon spread and the next morning a fancy chest appeared in the village. It contained a rich robe, embroidered and delicate — an archbishop's cope — a much grander vestige than the humble priest had ever envisioned. It had been stolen from a cathedral months before and delivered during the night by thieves — the same thieves who had ensured the good bishop's peaceful passage over the mountain. Overcome with gratitude, the beloved priest uttered these words:

Photo credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography / / CC BY
“To him who is contented with a cure’s surplice, God sends an archbishop’s cope.”

Such heartfelt gratitude! There are a lot of people in my life who qualify as archbishop’s copes. Friends, neighbors, and even strangers with a smile. Blessings seem to abound everywhere when we choose to see them. I think my mother’s wish for me has been granted a thousand times over — or at least four or five, which is just as good. 

Along my journey in life, I hope to answer another mother's wish, the way others have done for mine... archbishop style. Please join me in this great endeavor.

Eliott McKay
Spreading Joy Writing Books

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Crank Call

A few weeks after hanging up my sign, I received an interesting phone call.

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will recall that I found five dollars in the street and did a small experiment to see how much good I could accomplish with it. You can read more about that here.

I am happy to report that I have found the owner of the lost funds!

Surprisingly, I only received one phone call about it. I had expected to receive at least a few false claims, and perhaps that might have been the case if my sign had advertised fifty dollars, as opposed to five... but that's an experiment for another day, and a much greater pessimist than myself. :)

I was sitting at at my desk, wrangling with the right descriptors for my new character when the phone rang — a number I didn't recognize. I sat up, alert, at the possibility of a candidate, and flipped through the  mental files in my brain for the list of questions I had organized to help ascertain the true ownership of the funds in question.

My list comprised of these four questions, in progressive order:

1) Was your five dollars: a) a stack of ones; b) a roll of dimes; or c) a five dollar bill?

2) What was the condition of the bill: old? new? flat? crispy? wadded up? folded in half? starched? torn? stained with Cool-aid? scribbled upon?

3) Whereabouts did you lose the money?

4)  When did you lose it?

I was all geared to question my caller when:

"Did you order a pizza?"
This unexpected confabulation was followed by loud laughter from several people before the call was cut off.

I sat dazed for a second then realized that I had just been crank called! The last time that occurred, I was barely a teenager and the boys across the street were trying to lure me into a trap involving a tub of mud and a high-powered hose.

I had just expelled a lively chuckle when my phone rang again — the same number. I clicked the button and waited, but this time I got a "Hello?" quickly followed by, "Ok, guys, that's enough!"

The crank callers continued to snicker in the background.

How could I NOT have expected some super-great cranks with a sign like that? It totally made my day!

Photo credit: This file is lacking author information. / / Public Domain Mark 1.0
But this caller was serious, so I got down to the business of asking my questions, which he answered easily, with nothing to cast aspersions on the legitimacy of his claim. He lost the bill somewhere on his walk between the bus station and his girlfriend's house, which was right along the path. I asked my caller to tell me something interesting about himself, a hobby or something unique, and his reply was that there was nothing to make him special.

His friends razzed him over the comment, so I didn't press him further, but took down his mailing address so I could post his lost-and-found funds. I made sure to write him an encouraging note, having observed several nice qualities about him during our short conversation. He was of a sober mind, considerate, and embarrassed by his friends' behavior in crank calling me before he could make a serious inquiry. I liked this young man and felt he had a great future before him.

I have yet to meet a person on this good earth in whom I did not discern something particularly special.  Perhaps it's a talent of mine, developed from an early determination in life to leave behind a rather rotten side to me. It's my belief that hidden qualities are only hidden because people rarely pay attention to anything beyond the five inches of space immediately before their noses. I would wager that if we all took the time to observe, we would find, more often than not, that we were in the presence of greatness.

It occurs to me as I write this blog, that if someone would take the trouble to call over so small a sum as five dollars, they must be in real need of it... I think I'll send him ten.

Thanks for tuning in,

Eliott McKay
Spreading Joy Writing Books

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Obliging Rose Bush

I have an uncle who died of cancer. Within weeks of his diagnosis, the horrible disease ravaged his body, and my aunt was left alone. My uncle didn't believe in life after death and after their two children died in a car accident, years before, they never visited the gravesite again — but they had a plan: the whole family would to be buried together and in this way, would be together forever, which was comforting. However, when the time arrived, the paperwork could not be located and the nearing plots had already been sold. As a result, my uncle was buried elsewhere — in a grassless, dirt-filled graveyard, embellished with various cacti. The whole thing carried a bitter sting, and needless to say, was distressing to my aunt and her family.

So I came up with a plan, and this is how it went:

Dear Aunt [Sally]:

Today, I made something special to take to the graveyard.

A capsule with your family pictures and a special, secret message.

Then I went to just the right place...

Where I dug a stealthy hole...

And hoped not to get caught.

I took some of the hallowed ground
for you to plant in your garden.
(I love your garden)

 ...and left something in its place.

Then I filled in the edges with dirt and grass clippings.

And "borrowed" a flower from the cemetery 
rose bushes to cover my tracks.

 I kept some of the displaced soil for you to put with my uncle.
As far as I can figure, if you're buried in the same soil, 
you're buried in the same place.

Then I stood back and admired my handiwork...
and thought of you all.

Nearby, I found another grave of interest: that of my maternal grandfather's (we think).
My mother has been without family roots most of her life, so I dug up some of his 
grass and sent her some "roots" to plant in her yard.

I may have borrowed another flower from 
those lovely, obliging rose bushes.

After my visit to this sanctified place, I packaged up the grass and dirt — stuffed with plastic ice cubes to keep it cool — along with pictures of my doings. I am told that the grass was planted in the respective yards, and the precious soil was placed appropriately. I am further informed that the grass spread quickly through my aunt's garden and was soon transplanted to my uncle's grave — which in my cousin's head is the most thriving, grassy mound in the driest necropolis ever to be found — but in reality, upon recent inspection, is a small patch of beautiful green which I hear my cousin waters regularly. I like to imagine him sloshing along with his watering can, whistling a happy tune.

 **Oh, happiness!**

What wonderful feedback to receive after all of these months.

Thank you for reading.

All Best,


P.S. My aunt leaned over and whispered in my ear that someday I would have to tell her the secret message. Perhaps someday...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Five-Dollar Debacle

A few weeks ago, while driving, I caught sight of something in the road, and ever the curious girl, I slowed down to investigate. This is what I found. I searched around to see if anyone obvious might may have dropped the bill, but the road was empty and the weather was starting to turn. I knew the fragile denomination would soon be lost to the snow plows, so I rescued it in the hopes of reuniting it with its owner.

As I continued to drive, my thoughts kept drifting back to the note, sitting in the lower dash of my car — separated and special. I wondered what good could be accomplished in the world with so small amount as five dollars, and the more I pondered, the more I realized I needed advice from a person much wiser than myself.

My four and six-year-old nephews imparted their counsel with enthusiasm: "Give it to someone else!" and "Buy stuff!" My sister, who is pregnant and craving sweets, added, "I'd buy cookies."

Photo credit: Debarshi Ray / / CC BY-SA
Cookies! It was obvious... in my small, yet meaningful world, cookies always equal love, as do CUPCAKES ... and I'm all about spreading the love. Five dollars, however, was not much to go around when divided by seven billion people. My brain crackled and sizzled — an occurrence which my siblings will tell you is rare — and by morning, a solution had sprouted in my stewing, calculating head: cookies were not meant to be divided, they were meant to be shared, and that is a monumental difference, as the sharing itself multiplies the joy-producing effect. It was my job to somehow multiply the joy produced by those five dollars.

Now, I've always been a bit of a letter writer. It is my opinion that getting a hand-written letter in the mail is the equivalent of receiving a telegram in the nineteen-fifties — and stamps definitely fell within my budget range. So, I sat down and wrote some letters, plus a few more that could be hand delivered.

Some examples of my care-laden communications included the following:

Encouraging a nephew in the military who is nervous about getting deployed; an overdue thank you note to an elderly gent who has shared his wisdom with me on more than one occasion; a letter to someone of whom I needed to ask forgiveness; a message detailing the special qualities in a friend who was down on herself; a quick thank you note through the bank shoot to the teller who always smiles at me (as I was driving away, of course!)... and so forth.

After all that letter writing, there was still one thing left to be done:

Just think of all the friends I'll make with a sign like that! I'm the luckiest girl in the world! 

Why am I always surprised to find that I'm the one who is blessed? Please join me in my clumsy, near debacle-ish efforts to make the world a slightly better place.

Until Next Time,

Eliott McKay

To find out how this story ends, click here: The Crank Call.

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