Walking into work the other morning, just as the sun paints the sky, twittering stops me. Sparrows are tucked in among the dense branches of a small tree along the entry, protected as much as a bare tree can protect against an icy cold January night. They sing. In the midst of harshness, they sing. Co-workers stride past me, intent on the beckoning warmth of the building, bundled against the weather, their ears stoppered to the cheery twittering on this glorious morning. I am grateful for these tiny birds, who, in the midst of cold, dark winter, remind me to carry summer in my heart.
On Friday, we went to bed watching the snow fall as Winter Storm Jonas arrived for a 24-hour visit. He took his leave on Saturday afternoon, after adding nearly a foot of extra insulation for Mother Earth’s wintry sojourn.
Later that afternoon as I cooked lasagna, Charlie shoveled two tire tracks down the gravel drive. Not so much because we were stir crazy but because he knew it would help speed up the work of Sunday’s predicted sunshine (and we could then drive off the hill, of course).
Hard work, that. So imagine my surprise when I glanced out the window to see not only Charlie but a young man — a neighbor from the next street — shoveling together. Michael had seen Charlie shoveling and came up to help. In fact, he’d been helping other neighbors at the corner shovel out when he noticed Charlie laboring on our hill.
Kindness is such a marvelous thing, and I am grateful for this young man, who moved here about the same time we did. He bent his back to help a stranger — cheerfully, purposefully, and for no other reason than because he was happy to do so. Oh, there is kindness in this place; I know it. I saw it in his face, and I recognized it in his actions.
Chicago O’Hare Airport is busy. I’m waiting patiently for my flight, happily absorbed in my book and relaxing after three interactive days studying resiliency. It will prove fortuitous.
I glance up as a group of weary travelers begins to trickle into the gate area, obviously at the far, far end of an awfully long day. I glean from snippets of conversation that they are returning from an extended visit in The Netherlands. Chicago appears to be the last leg of their trip to wherever home may be, and I suspect home’s looking like an awesome place to be right about now.
Three members land in seats across from me – an older woman, quiet and reserved, with a doughy, fairly effeminate man whose manner and tone come across as demanding, loud, and petulant. A younger woman with him is crabby, complaining to the world about being searched. Twice.
About five minutes later, two younger family members roll up in their custom-made wheelchairs, followed a scant minute later by a rangy woman with long, blonde hair, two huge duffle bags slung over her shoulders and exhaustion painted across her face. She scans the area for a seat and slams one bag down on the floor next to me. The other joins it with a unceremonious thud. She looks up as a quiet but tightly coiled man with shaggy steel gray hair arrives, pushing a wheelchair bearing an older gentleman with cane and tremor.
Her companions safely there, the blonde has obviously had enough. She strides over to the doughy man in a way that sets my fight or flight response tingling. I can only imagine what her target feels.
“Why didn’t you wait for us,” she says sharply … and loudly. Very loudly. “We’ve been lugging these bags and shepherding three people through everything! Why didn’t you stay to help?”
Her equally rangy companion, having carefully seated his elderly charge, turns to the younger, crabby woman. “You bitch! You are so self-centered, thinking only of yourself.” She doesn’t look up, but the doughy man slings his own arrow, “Don’t you call her a bitch!”
The seating area electrifies and stills, yet no one dares acknowledge the exchange. The airline attendant’s paperwork obviously demands his rapt attention, and I’m not sure he’s even breathing as he pretends to work. I cringe, waiting for fists. But the tempest isn’t destined to strengthen today, apparently. For seconds that seem like hours, the couple war within themselves, then turn back to the forgotten duffles.
There are always multiple sides to a story, and it’s especially hard to figure it out when you’re sitting there looking in through a window. But I’m struck by how much pain now hangs in the air. Oh, the pain we cause others when we aren’t mindful!
From my window perch, it appears that the doughy man and his companion were obviously not mindful when they left their father and the other sibling to take care of everything, caught up in their own drama. And the rangy couple was certainly not mindful when they arrived in a maelstrom of anger, unable to stop their darts. The older family members and their wheelchair-bound grandchildren (or children) were surely not mindful when they chose to stay silent, and I wonder if they feel responsible for the storm. As a result, they all suffer – as do those of us sharing this space; we can’t help but sustain some collateral damage.
For the moment, my book lies forgotten on my lap. I muse about this burgeoning awareness. We so often inflict anger, frustration, and pent-up emotions not only on others but on ourselves, although that’s merely a choice we make; we don’t have to do that.
My heart aches for this entire family. It must be a monumental task, shepherding three people who require immense help through check-in, through security, through customs, from one plane to another, to the gate, and finally, hopefully, home. Frustration has quite obviously dogged this family’s journey.
What’s left? The patriarch and matriarch, whose voices still and whose gaze goes anywhere but at another human. The doughy man’s companion, who stalks two rows away and sulks. The blonde daughter – I’ve decided she’s a daughter – and her partner who sink down to the floor with so much held inside. The young man and woman bound to wheelchairs stare out the window in silence. What a sad way to end a trip.
Here I sit, fresh from a session on resiliency, and I wonder what might help them weather this moment, to cultivate self-awareness and mindfulness.
Here I sit, ready to go off on another jaunt in a few short weeks to learn about calling the circle and returning to the wisdom and mindfulness of indigenous people; to learn how to shepherd a different way, by reaching out and engaging, encouraging deep listening, facilitating conversation and strengthening relationship.
Here I sit, hoping to discover the fine art of fostering listening without judgment and rancor, without anger – or maybe with anger but not without compassion to temper it.
Here I sit, wishing I could help them speak, and listen, and find common ground and make collaborative choices with heart and depth and meaning.
I watch as the group sits alone in its pain: most poignant to me is the couple sitting on the floor, apparently preferring its hardness to the hardness of relationship in this moment.
I let a few minutes pass, then lean over to the blonde woman and offer her my chair.
“No,” she says. “I just need the distance. I need to chill.”
I nod. “I get that,” I say. Glancing up, I notice the attendant watching. We share a smile, and I return to my book on Circles.
Later, as I am walking off the plane, I pass them and catch the blonde woman’s eye. She smiles slightly and nods. I’d like to think that time, and the opportunity to decompress, and perhaps, just perhaps, a gesture of kindness and understanding from a stranger, might have helped that family circle begin to repair itself. And I am grateful for that possibility.
I bought some really cool shoelaces yesterday. Actually, I bought four pairs – three neon sets for the younger members of my family and one fairly sedate, if Mardis Gras can be considered sedate, for myself.
These laces are very special. They’re made to honor the life of Charles Austin Kreinik, a young man from my hometown who took his life this past year at age 28. As the packaging for C.A.K.S. (Charles Austin Kreinik Shoelaces) says:
“In the end, Charles was affected by physical pain, alcoholism, and depression, but in brighter days he was a gifted person of quirky humor and generous spirit.”
I did not know Charles, but I do know his parents, Doug and Myla Kreinik. Doug graduated from high school with my sister; I met Myla serving on the Artsbridge Board. My heart aches for them as it would for any parent, child, sibling, spouse or friend who suffers such a loss. In a perfect world, no one should feel as if suicide is the answer, and no one should have to deal with suicide, for it is a long road back through grief, and it’s a different path for everyone.
But ours is not a perfect world, nor is that what this blog is really about. It’s about what Doug and Myla have done with their grief, fresh as it is. When I stopped by to get my laces, Doug told me how this project developed.
I. Love. This. Story.
In the face of everything, it’s about hope and the future, living, and lighting the way. I’d like to share that story with you.
Doug operates Kreinik Manufacturing, a small business known worldwide for its exquisite metallic thread. If you are a needle worker, you’ve run across at least one pattern (more likely hundreds), calling for one shade or another.
Many long mornings after his son’s death, Doug awoke with a lingering dream in his mind and on his heart. In this dream his son had said to him, “Shoelaces, Dad.” Not too long after that wisp in his subconscious, a friend was helping gather and straighten up some of Charles’ things. Out slipped some shoelaces.
Ah, once is curious, but twice is quantum flirt territory. It made Doug think of a dusty shoelace-making machine at his factory, one that had waited patiently for 30 years to be of use. As Doug says, he didn’t know how to use it and hadn’t taken the time to really learn it. But then here was his son saying, “Shoelaces, Dad,” followed shortly by shoelaces dropping serendipitously out of his son’s belongings.
Some things simply won’t be ignored. So with the glimmer of an idea, Myla and Doug went to work, figuring out the intricacies of making shoelaces with their glorious metallic thread. Today, they’ve produced Designer Shoelaces for a Cause – from multi-colored to neon-bright to customized colorways. The Kreiniks are launching this project because, while suicide may have dimmed their son’s light, they want others to keep their lights shining brightly.
Profits from C.A.K.S. (Charles Austin Kreinik Shoelaces) will fund suicide prevention, addiction counseling, and grief support programs. As the Kreiniks say,
“Lace up your shoes, put one foot in front of the other, and keep on going—or dancing! Your purchase helps others, supports grieving families, and makes the world a little brighter.”
I am grateful, today, not so much for my new sparkly laces, but because I walked away humbled and yet so uplifted by how these two parents are slowly, surely transforming their grief into purposeful action. I have no doubt those glittery, glowing laces will keep Charles Austin’s light shining in the world as a ray of hope for others who may also be struggling. What a tribute.
If you are interested in supporting their causes – and I hope you are – or even just interested in really cool shoelaces, I encourage you to check them out. For just $10, they will be available at http://www.kreinik.com/. You can also find the company on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kreinik.Manufacturing.Company. Expect to see packages of C.A.K.S. in select local stores (Parkersburg, WV) very soon.
Of course, if you just can’t wait (they will make nice gifts for your holiday of choice), here’s Kreinik’s contact information:
Kreinik Mfg. Co.
P.O. Box 1966,
Parkersburg, WV 26102
So, I had much in common with my dad: my mouth, my brown eyes, my dark hair that whitened early … but what I recall the most is how neither one of us liked to wear shoes. First thing off in the evening after work? Shoes. Maybe we liked the feel of earth beneath our feet, that connection with a living force. I don’t know. He was (usually) good about picking up his shoes. Me? Not so much. Every once in while I’d be suddenly bereft of shoes and have to make my way to the basement. There, I would find them all, scattered among the dirty clothes in the big wooden laundry bin where they’d come to rest after a quick trip down the laundry chute.
Today, what I’m sure of is that old habits die hard. I generally have to search the entire house for shoes, and more often than not, they can be found in the computer room, the first space you encounter when arriving via the garage. Sometimes, you can find ALL of my shoes there, plus a few in the living room and, yes, the less popular ones in the closet. Maybe.
I’m also pretty sure that my husband Charlie is a smart-ass. Because I woke up today, stumbled out to the computer room to check the weather, flipped on the light, and there, leading the way to my desk, were my shoes, well some of them, anyway. The ones that were living in the computer room.
They led the way like sentinels — like guardrails or berms. I laughed out loud for a long while, all alone in the early morning. And you wonder why I love this man? That’s why. Grateful.