R.E.S.P.E.C.T

R.E.S.P.E.C.T

What does it really mean to me? What does it really mean to any of us?

What does it mean to respect another human being? What does it mean to be respected? It’s a word people believe that they want, but rarely know how to explain.

When asked what it meant to be respected, I was given many replies and responses.

Respect is when other people’s thoughts and opinions have merit. Respect is shown by including others, rather than excluding them. Being respected means not demeaning another. It means souls are mutually admired and care is evident. Respect happens when one is consistent with action, value and word. Respect is honor. Respect prefers another. Respect is acceptance without expectation. This is not to say there is complete agreement on everything, but rather an acceptance of another’s soul as it is and not what we want it to become.

I have always respected my Grandparents. We grew up at their house and their knowledge has always surpassed mine. An odd thing happened this year, however. Dementia and aging became an evident factor. They started making choices that were not healthy or safe for them. They stopped wearing teeth and refused to make proper eating choices. I found myself slowly loosing respect for the six foot four strong, tall, red headed bearded man I called my Grandfather. I watched him pull away from my Grandmother’s incessant repetitive questions from shear exhaustion. I watched him recede further into his man cave and further away from us. Through these events, I found myself once again loosing that proverbial respect. What was happening to the man who always made me feel safe? What was happening to the woman who would call me in the middle of the night because she just had a feeling I needed her in that moment? I still loved them, but my love was changing form.

I had to learn to meet them in this new place- to embrace this as the new normal. What it came down to was simple. That no matter what, I still loved my grandparents. And if I still loved them, I still respected them. I just had to learn to respect them in this new foreign place we now seemed to find ourselves in. I had to let go of my prior beliefs of who they were and learn to accept them now without expectation. I had to resign myself to attempt to understand who they had become, not who I wanted them to be based upon my previous experiences of who they used to be.

My respect for my Mother grew exponentially as I watched her heed to their every beck and call, frustrated as well by their choices. But, she never handled them with anything less than pure, authentic love. She consistently included my Grandmother in her day-to-day life, even if she couldn’t remember it and asked the exact same questions in the exact same tone of voice seven minutes later, seventy nine times a day. She loved them. She was learning to respect the new normal as well.

Nothing can prepare a person for the aging process. No one can prepare a person for the horrors of dementia. Due to all the special circumstances that came  with this September’s arrival, I can honestly say that that this has quite possibly been two of the the hardest weeks of my life.  I  wanted to mentally remove myseld from the whole situation, goingkng through the motions without actually feeling the unimaginable pain of accepting the fact that these people who were my rock now need me to be there’s. But, that is a part of respecting them too, being who they needed with authentic generosity, regardless of my own selfish desires.

I’ve come to the conclusion that respect is love. And love is respect. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to understand how to separate them as two separate entities, but upon farther inspection, I believe them to be one in the same. As I begin to embark on the journey into my thirties, I am honored to take the lessons they have taught me and use them in my own life and in my own relationship. When I say, “I respect you” I believe I am indeed saying, “I love you enough to meet you where you are at.”

“And the seasons they go round and round. Painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on a carousel of time. We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came. And go round and round in the circle game.” – Joni Mitchell

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The Old Wooden Door

She spent the last year wandering and driving rather aimlessly around the backcountry dirt roads of the little town she landed in. She made all kinds of new friends; some mean, some nice, some helpful, and some not so much. She spent her days meandering about, meeting new people and rediscovering who she was. She didn’t really have a purpose or a plan. After moving across the world for a fresh start, she failed to see the purpose in putting down any sort of roots. She was simply living fully in each moment.

One day, her very favorite new friend asked her to accompany her to her favorite place. She loved Favorite Friend and had no reservations about following her. She chased her running into the sunflower fields and through this old wooden antique door that didn’t seem to be attached to anything but a weeping willow tree on the river’s edge. On the other side of the door was a little wooden cabin covered in twinkle lights. It had a blinking blue sign that read “this way to life changing coffee.” She loved coffee and could stand for her life to be changed a bit. She could hear music and see dancing through the icy windows. Snow covered the trees and glistened under the lamppost lights. How is it that I’m not cold right now? She wondered to herself, taking careful note of her lack of coat and mittens.  And how was it 70 degrees before we walked through the wooden door? How did the seasons change so quickly? Afraid of over analyzing the situation, she accepted this as her new reality.

“What kind of strange place is this?” she asked Favorite Friend, her eyes ablaze with a perplexed sense of excitement.

“Why don’t we go inside and you can find out for yourself,” Favorite Friend answered with giddy sarcasm.

And with that, they ventured inside. A barefoot man in a straw hat was playing sing -a-longs in the corner and everyone in the little cabin in the woods was singing along. One man in an apron that reiterated the life changing coffee idea started dancing to a Beatles tune about the sunshine. She and Favorite Friend sat at the corner table, sipping their lattes, grinning and watching the hootenanny. After hours of fun and frivolity, it was time to return home, but Favorite Friend promised they’d return the next day.

On her journey back to the wooden door and to the cabin in the woods that next evening, she passed a lady dressed in green, wearing a pointy hat that was cocked sideways to the left. She noticed the lady was crying in the community garden green house, so she ventured over and asked what the matter was. The mysterious lady told her how much she treasured all of the flowers and how much she loved and cared for each one. The lady went on to explain that as of lately, if she ever came into contact with water, she would melt. She was so sad because her flowers were going to die without water and she had no way to change this fact.

She said to the Lady in Green, “Would you mind if I took care of your flowers this afternoon? I promise that they’ll be fine and so will you. And in return, would you consider coming with me to this magical place I recently discovered? They say their coffee changes lives! Maybe it would help with your conundrum.” And with that, the Lady in Green agreed.

After the flowers were watered, and the Lady in Green was dressed for the sojourn, she grabbed her hand and they took off running as fast as they could, gasping for air, as they barged through the heavy wooden door, wide-eyed and looking around. There it was, just as magical as ever and Favorite Friend was waiting for her to go inside.

“I. Found. Us,” she said panting, attempting to fill her lungs with air as though she just finished a marathon, “a new friend! She needs some life changing tonight!”

That night, the barefoot man in the straw hat was replaced by this strange new activity. People were contorting themselves into strange positions on mats. Calm soothing music clung to the air like a humid summer evening in the Midwest after a storm. They joined the group and found herself breathing in the peace filled moments, following the teacher’s words and instructions. She didn’t know who this person was, but her energy was contagious. At the end of all the bending, they just laid there, eyes closed. She didn’t understand it, but she was never one to break rules or not follow instructions. “You all deserve to take up space,” the teacher said to the group. She didn’t know it then, but those words had changed her. And they had also changed the Lady in Green. By learning that it is perfectly acceptable to take up space and do more than just exist, she found herself willing to invest some of her precious energy into the Lady in Green.

She asked the Lady in Green if she could have a job in the garden working watering all of the town’s flowers and the Lady in green excitedly agreed. She met all kinds of new friends and even found herself putting down a few of those roots she was so deathly afraid of. But as soon as night fell and her job was done, she’d run back to the wooden door, get a cup of coffee in her favorite yellow mug and join in whatever activity was waiting for her at the little cabin in the woods.

Almost a year later, this one particular night felt different to her. She didn’t know why. She had to work a little late, but as always, as soon as she was done, she ran as fast as she could to the wooden door. But tonight, she couldn’t find the door.

Did I go the wrong way? She frantically ran about looking for the door, but it was gone. She sat there, defeated. She didn’t know what she was to do. She found the weeping willow tree and the river as they offered her some sort of safety, and sat in the ominous fog and waited for morning to come. The sun rose, she went to work, and came back secretly hoping that the door would be there and that the last night was all some sort of strange dream. But alas, the door was still gone.

She sat there night after night wishing the door to come back, but it never did. That wooden door, the weeping willow tree and the cabin in the woods were the only things that made sense to her now and without them she was lost. Her life had been changed, as promised, after all. But one night, she glanced over to her right beside the tree where the door used to be and noticed her yellow coffee mug was there.

“So it hadn’t all been a dream?” She asked out loud to no one in particular. “But where did the wooden door go? And how is it that I somehow left a part of my heart on the other side of that door?” She resigned herself to the fact that she was going to have to leave part of her heart behind. It would have to stay behind the door with those amazing people that she had met there like Favorite Friend, Barefoot Music Man, The Green Lady, and the Woman who taught her its ok to take up space.

She picked up her chipped, cracked coffee mug, took one last look at where the door once stood, so strong, simple and sturdy- and gracefully walked away.

But then she saw someone out of the corner of her eye. A tall bearded man in green rain boots was leaning comfortably against the willow tree with a cup of coffee in a mug that looked strangely like the one she was holding. He took off his ball cap and nodded in her direction. It was almost as though he was waiting for her. They started a conversation sitting on the river bank that ended up lasting all night and into the next morning. She started returning to visit him as often as she used to visit the cabin in the woods. Day by day, little by little, their young, guarded hearts began to fall in love.

One night, months later, they were having a picnic on the riverbank. Taking bite of her sandwhich, she asked the Man in the Rain Boots if he had ever seen the wooden door or the little coffee cabin in the woods.

“My sweet, beautiful girl. The wooden door? You didn’t make it up. I spent a great deal of my own life behind it years ago. The safety you felt inside the cabin in the woods? It was real. The people you met were each there to teach you something. That wooden door was for a season and the world behind it gave you the courage to live your own life. But I promise you this, even though those people are gone, one day, when you least expect it, you’ll see the wooden door again. It may be a different color or a different shape. It may be attached to a different tree, but walk through it, because it means you’re life needs changing again. We must never grow stagnant. ”

She felt her eyes well up and the dam that been holding back her tears shattered. “I’m. Just. So. Sorry,” she gasped between sobs. “I have not cried in. Over. A. Tear.”

She couldn’t catch her breath. Her whole body trembled uncontrollably. She felt so small. And so out of control. Collecting herself momentarily, she whispered, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can’s stop crying. I. Feel. Crazy.”

“It’s okay, my darling. I’m right here,” he said, holding her close to him.

She clung to him with every ounce of strength she possessed. He made her feel safe. She pleaded with him, “Will you please keep out all the sadness? Please?”

Looking her directly in the eye, he said, “No, I will not do that. You need to feel this. All of this.”

“I think somewhere along the way, I forgot how to feel,” she whispered, brushing tears from her eyes.

Cradling her face in his strong, massive hands, he said with the utmost confidence, “I don’t think this is crazy at all. In fact, I think it feels like freedom.”

And with that, she allowed herself to feel. Years of plastered on smiles and fake positive attitudes fell away from her like caked on mud falls off of rain boots after they dry. She was free. She felt safe. “Sometimes,” he said to her, “the most beautiful people are beautifully broken. And in their transparency, the light is able to shine brilliantly through the cracks.”

Their rendevous went on for months. Their walls were slowly falling down with each adventure that awaited them every night by the willow tree that stood beside the river. She had always felt at peace near the water. Even running through the sprinkler as a child or diving into the deep end in the public pool in her hometown brought her pure, authentic joy. Whether the water was violently splashing on the rocks by the ocean, covering all it touched with a salt-water mist or gently lapping the lakeside, she had always felt so small, yet so empowered near the water. And wholly at peace. Lately, she found herself on the river more often than not. She was drawn to the crashing water on the side of the boat as it sped through the water. She was drawn to the vastness of it all.

“Hey beautiful girl. Ready to go?” he said with a beaming smile as he bent down to kiss her, interrupting her wandering thoughts.

All of her fears and sadness faded away in that simple moment. As she held the rope attached to the boat near the shore, excitement ran through her veins just as rapid as the current that rushed and hastened over her yellow boots. That’s what happened on the river. That’s what happened when she was with him. Doubts faded away as quickly as the current that passed by. The sunset was intoxicating. It may have been the wine, but the colors of the sky and smells of the trees were pure and genuine magic. Magic that rivaled that of the cabin in the woods. The harmonies swirled around their heads, blending into the tangerine sky. “Find me in the river,” they sang. “I’m waiting here.” And there they waited, drunk on each other’s presence.

After the boat ride, they ran. They ran together as quickly as their legs could carry them. They ran face first into the sunset, down the boardwalk that ran parallel to the river next to the weeping willow tree. They sat on the dock humming silly love songs, his arm around her shoulders. Their gaze shifted between each other and the water under their feet. In that moment, everything was beautiful. That night, they were happy and uninhibited. That night, they were free. She never saw any of her friends from the cabin in the woods again, but she never forgot the impact they had on her little corner of the world or how they shaped her identity.

She never saw the cabin in the woods again either, but she did find another wooden door attached to an Alder Wood tree. She found it while hiking with the Man in the Rain Boots one sunny fall afternoon. He held it wide open for her, said “after you, my dear” and they walked through it together to embrace what awaited them on the other side.