Mrs. Nimmo

Each of us has that one teacher who showed us the valuable difference between just going to school and loving education itself.
Who taught us excellence over mediocrity, passion over passivity and the fine art of learning how to learn for ourselves instead of regurgitating yet another someone’s thoughts and beliefs.
Who soothed our painful rejections at the hands of bullies, listened to our deepest revelations after hours, and was in every front row of every event to cheer us on to victory.
Who after our school days were over and life learning was just beginning, kept touch with invitations to their own family dinners like you always belonged and insisted you call them by their first name as awkward as it seemed.
Much older now with faded memories and eternities in view, by pure serendipity they come back into your life once again, and again you’re the student thankful for so many differences she made in your life that she will never fully understand but for which she is fully responsible.
And now the most sincere words I can muster are thank you, Mrs. Nimmo. 

Anyone, everyone.

Some days forever change your perspective.

“You got a card,” said the receptionist on her rounds about the office, tossing a small pink envelope with no return address on my desk at lunchtime. Busy working through the hour on a difficult project, I could have easily lost it amid the mounds of scattered papers I call my desk.

By the time I was finished, I’d added another wave of my debris to the stacks but the little pink corner peeked out among the mess as if it had climbed itself to the top not to go unnoticed. I grabbed it with my left and gulped a sip of cold coffee with my right.

Nobody sends me cards at work. A pink one at that.

It being just a few days ‘til Valentine’s Day, I sniffed it for perfume but it smelled just like a card, so I tossed it back and went to lunch.

The day had been merciless at our little non-profit that helps people stay housed, fed and plugged in to utilities at critical times of their lives when nobody else cares. Much of my morning had been spent on such cases but I returned from lunch with a salad and what I thought might be some better ideas how to help these people. A dozen more urgent memos had made their way onto my desk during the 20 minutes away but the corner of that same pink envelope had again risen like a phoenix as if were begging to be opened. I notice things like that. My desk may be a fire hazard but I keep snapshots of it in my mind for times like this and I knew that card wasn’t buried where I had left it just minutes earlier.

No return address, I opened it.

“I just want to thank you for all you do for me. Seems we never find the time to say it enough but thank you, I will always remember this day.”

That was it. No salutation. No signature. No return address. Nothing.

Easing back in my chair puzzled as a forensic investigator, I was attempting to recognize the penmanship or some other telltale mark that might reveal the sender’s identity, when it hit me. So many names, cases and contacts I have made over the years. I suppose it could have come from any one of them, or all of them for that matter. I let my mind sort through the register of memories and in doing so, I smiled, realizing the absolute brilliance of this one anonymous pink envelope author.

He or she wasn’t satisfied with just paying it forward as so many get noticed doing these days. Buying someone’s coffee or meal, pitching in a buck when someone comes up short at the checkout, all are wonderful displays of a caring humanity, but the power held in this tiny, pink, anonymous card trumped them all.

Its anonymity had the power to change the world, or at least one person’s perspective of it.

For the remainder of the day, while doing my work, I imagined names and faces of possible senders and individual reasons for their thankfulness. It could have been pretty much any one of them. By 6pm when I walked out of my office for home, the entire experience had changed me.

The cluelessness of that lunchtime mystery had put a smile on my face that remained all afternoon.

That brilliant anonymous author of the pink envelope never meant their identity to be known.

They meant to be Anyone or Everyone.

I tucked the pink card from Anyone in the corner of my bulletin board, turned out my light, and said goodbye to the staff in what had become a lovely ending to a difficult week.

I began my weekend with a smile and a stop at the store to pick up postage and a few blank little pink cards of my own.

Rest in peace, John.

John died on Monday.

Rather, he was found Monday having died of natural causes at 83 alone on the floor of his studio apartment some time the prior week.

He wasn’t a great man, just an average one, but always so thankful to have a visitor. However ten months without had proved long enough to bring him to his knees and then to the floor for the last time.

He was a praying man and quite poor. He ate one meal a day and slept most of the other time. He remained indoors prohibited from seeing neighbors for fear of catching a virus he was convinced would kill him.

Ten months he was safe but at such a high cost, and there will be no funeral or memorial at which I can thank him for being my friend and where I too was perhaps his only one.

But I know he’s not alone.

There are thousands more just like him who will also pass quietly and without notice until finally found one day by a friend, the irony being that a friend is what John needed all along.

using is losing.

I lost a friend last night who’d been missing for many years. He was stabbed at the hands of another addict promising to make him feel better. Killed by a tiny bubble of nothing that punctured and invaded his tormented heart, ending all hope he would ever be found. I will both miss him and forever wonder at the price he paid for his peace.

the right thing.

There are probably just as many stories about someone doing the right thing and winning as there are about someone doing the right thing yet losing. Both stories are inspiring not for their outcomes but for their decisions to deliberately do what is right, regardless the outcome. When we do the right things, their ensuing outcomes diminish in importance to the moral of the story. The doing of the right thing is itself, the inspiration. Outcomes are too often overrated mostly by those who don’t live by faith, destining them to learn nothing about still being joyful among unknown endings.#DoTheRightThingRegardless

loneliness.

By the end of this virus, the volume of stories, studies and literature on the loneliness epidemic will be up 1000% or more, and lead us no closer to a solution.

Loneliness isn’t due to this virus. Loneliness was an epidemic long before Wuhan. Trying to make meaningful connections with others in this metropolis of gated communities, crime, hate, mistrust and self absorption has been a wildfire spreading rapidly through society for the past 50 years. The pandemic just added new fears and new rules to punctuate a plague-already rampant before the pandemic-with a huge exclamation point.

So now suddenly a rush of researchers and armchair psychologists are reporting on what the consequences of a year of isolation without physical affection might mean to us in both the short and long term as if it were some new phenomenon.

Lonely people are among us everywhere from generations of abandoned elderly to street kids turned prostitute just to survive. But as ailments go, loneliness doesn’t often become of particular interest until it’s a thread woven into your own personal story. Befriended, familied, and connected folks with vital relationships have little incentive to comprehend what they haven’t experienced. And lonely people often keep to themselves making it an awkward, uncomfortable mission for those who might actually have the desire to intervene. It’s no fun being lonely and trying to help can be depressing when possible at all. We all feel lonely at times but most can muster self-soothing thoughts and actions to overcome the difficult but temporary condition. Loneliness however, is a pervasive pattern of acquiescence to a long term existence with no one in arm’s length. Huge difference.

Here in a nation equipped to treat almost any illness, little time or resources go to help this hidden, silent cohort who wouldn’t even know who to complain to if they spoke up about their plight. Finding them is easy, it’s connecting with them that takes persistent effort. Their condition is so severe, at the start of treatment they find it hard to interpret your kindness and visibility as genuine. For too long, they’ve grown accustomed to isolation but your consistency can erode that belief. We are all our brothers’ keepers called to visit the darker places with the light of hope and compassion too many can’t ignite for themselves.

Meanwhile, let the writers write their analyses in their journals
while the altruist writes in person directly on hearts of the afflicted.

Unintended consequences.

Distance makes the heart grow.

No, nothing’s missing there. Not a word.

I just spent 3 days in Facebook jail for unknowingly violating one of Zuck’s arbitrary new rules. It made no sense whatsoever except that it afford me time for what became some valuable moments of serendipity.

It only took a brief distance from my social media addiction to realize its toxicity to some already neglected things in my life that actually mean so much more but have received so much less of my attention these past few years.

I’m not getting any younger, and evaluating where I want to spend my remaining 10-20 years…and on what…well, I realized social media is far, far down on the list of options.

My constant stream of jokes and puns may invoke your occasional chuckle but they won’t matter to you or anyone else in the long haul when there are so many more ways to show how I want to be remembered or on whom I might leave better, more important impressions after I’m gone.

Three days distance has made my heart grow and my appetite for storytelling insatiable. It’s what I enjoy most, even more than humor.

To that end, I won’t be so dramatic as to delete my accounts or make anymore statements against social media’s new rules, but you’ll be finding a lot fewer posts from me, and with my attention on more felevant and eternal topics of our human condition, hopefully a lot more stories to make you think, feel and ponder while on the toilet. All jokes aside—literally—I think my short stories will make some lasting impressions.

You’ll find 250+ older shorts and every new story posted on my website at LifeMeansSoMuch.com

After all, it really does.

#LifeMeansSoMuch

#storytelling

#HaveIGotAStoryForYou

Front of the line.

When did I move to the front of the line?

Not so long ago I was playing softball, riding bikes and buying far more wedding gifts than sympathy arrangements. Then both parents died within a couple years of one another suddenly leaving me holding the eldest branch of my family tree, unprepared and at more of my own doctor visits than walks in the park.

I started being more careful climbing ladders and began taking fewer risks and chances with the advancing march of mortality. It all came more clearly into view and way sooner than expected. And I wasn’t alone. Coffee conversation with peers and friends became more talk of empty nests, punctuated by pill counts and nagging pains like nomads that shift and move with the weather or for no reason at all. When did I move to the front of the line where the old people used to stand? You can’t even take a number here anymore. I suppose they just call when the luck runs out and yours is up.

Normal.

He never planned it this way.

He’d served his country four years and three tours and had expected a little more in return. But it’s a windy winter morning and if he’s gonna get anything remotely fresh today, he needs to arrive early. Dozens like him will be traveling in cars but he lost his a couple winters back to a “payday” loan joint in exchange for a month of keeping his heat on. He laughs at the irony. He hasn’t had an actual payday in over 20 years. At 81 now, he moves more slowly. Partly due to the cold. Partly to the wage of aging. Slipping on the tattered gloves and coat he’d received last year at the passing of his older friend, he heads out the door into the biting wind for the long walk he makes twice weekly. He gets $20 in coupons to the farmer’s market from the charity down the street. It’s his only shot at a bag of fresh produce to complement the $16 in food stamps and the assortment of cans of whatever the church food pantry has on the shelves that day. Over time he’s learned there’s a better than even chance for hamburger on Tuesdays. When I first met John, I was naïve to his plight and asked if it was difficult being old. “No, it’s difficult being hungry.” For an entire generation of people just like him who’d once dreamed of a retirement of travel or at the very least, a front porch, this is normal. It’s how they wake up and what they take to bed at night. This is the entirety of every lonely day. The fortunate ones like John, still muster an occasional smile through it all and reminisce about their blessed lives if you give them an audience.

Normal.What’s yours?