friends · Globe · intentional happiness · Past life

Miss Mayo

Have you ever donated blood? Until yesterday, I hadn’t. My only previous attempt was in the late ’80s, at a blood drive at my high school, when I was told my veins were too small. I’ve always assumed that there was no reason to try again, but yesterday I had three reasons to check that assumption:

  1. My mom, herself a regular blood donor, recently needed a blood transfusion following one of her chemo treatments.
  2. A new friend I met for coffee over the weekend, who was en route to donating platelets, shared with me a stunning story about a beloved member of her extended family surving a mass shooting thanks to donated blood.
  3. I’m actively looking for ways to find or (even better) manifest joyful things in my world that lead me away from hopelessness and into gratitude.

When I walked into the Red Cross donation center, I explained to the receptionist, a volunteer, that I had a 5:40 p.m. appointment. She looked on the day’s schedule but found my appointment time was blank–no name written there. “That’s OK,” she said, “I’ll write you in.”

I have an Italian surname that trips up most Americans, but as I enuncinated each letter after saying it, her pen was already moving one step ahead of me.

“I know how to spell that one,” she said. “I used to teach in a little town called Globe, and I had a student–“

I gasped and pointed a finger at her.

“Mayorano!” I said.

Her eyes lit up as it dawned on both of us that this was my fifth-grade teacher, whom I have not seen in nearly 40 years. She jumped up from her chair as I ran around to her side of the reception desk to hug her.

“Miss Mayo” used to teach math and didn’t suffer fools lightly. I don’t think I ever got caught in her crosshairs back in those days, but my memory is that she was not particularly warm, maybe even a little mean. She didn’t look much different yesterday except that her jet-black hair that used to hang down to her rump was now shoulder length and pulled back in a ponytail. “You’ve barely changed!” I said.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

We talked for a long time before I was taken back for admission, and her warmth washed away my nervousness. Then she came and held my hand while the young tech successfully fed a needle into my little Fisher-Price vein, her company keeping my mind off the blood flowing down through the tube. (He kept calling me Mary, which is my mom’s name, even after I’d confirmed several times that my name is Jenny. I didn’t realize why until I got home last night, when I saw that Miss Mayorano had inadvertently scrawled my mom’s name on my name badge when asking how my parents are.)

After I finished my blood donation, Ms. Mayo and I sat together in the post-donation fuel-up area, where Red Cross keeps the snacks and juice. We laughed as I recalled how she always had in her bottom desk drawer all manner of candies, which only the best-performing students were (sparingly) invited to shop. We exchanged stories about our paths in life and where others we both know have ended up, including my old junior high gym teacher, who remains one of her closest friends and whom she texted on the spot to tell about our chance meeting. We then commiserated about the heartache of divorce and making new friends at our age. She told me about her travels and work and how she spends her days now, and I told her about mine. I did the math in my head when she casually mentioned her age, and realized she was only 21 or 22 years old when she was my teacher: a baby!

On our way out, “Miss Mayo” slipped a scrap of paper into my hand. It had her name and phone number scrawled on it in familiar handwriting that I remember from a chalkboard in 1983.

“I’ve been really struggling with work and life and just feeling not quite myself these days,” I told her. “So, I’ve been doing an overhaul of sorts and being very intentional about finding something that makes me happy each day. I thought today it would be donating blood, but as it turns out, it was you. You’re my happy moment.”

There have been many days after days lately when my well has been empty, and I feel like I have nothing left to give after I clock out. It all goes into my job, which regularly spills over into weekends and evenings, into every conversation, and away from the things that matter most in life, like my relationships, caring for my soul, and being alive to the bigger world around me. What a terribly unfulfilling habit this has become over time, leaving me with a sense of having to scrape together bits and parts from what’s left inside me in order to show up for my life! Now happily, happily, I am rediscovering that not all giving from the well drains it. Some fills it up.

To donate blood, visit Red Cross Blood Services.

happiness · intentional happiness · motherhood · neighbors · sons

Fewer wrinkles

I’ll be the first to admit: America’s post-pandemic economy and post-pandemic societal norms are slowly robbing me of the will to live. Everything costs too much. Everyone’s tired of each other’s shit. People honk their horns and flip birds at each other over the slightest perceived transgression. (I confess I almost daily want to ramrod someone with my own vehicle.) Boundaries are subjective and unclear and therefore disrespected and overruled on a near-daily basis. Nothing is sacred, and yet somehow everything is sacred, and how dare you not know the difference. Microagressions abound, and you don’t even have to mean to hurt someone to be taken to the mat and given a dressing down best reserved for people who wipe boogers on things. Your bedroom is your office, the workday has faux bookends, and cc fields on emails are where wars are waged. It’s very confusing. Oh, and everything’s made in China and will stop working the second you brush your arm against it. Perhaps most concerning of all: Some lady on social media with a wad of gum wedged in her molars seems hellbent on selling me crotch deodorant. (Hi, Lume! I’m accepting free samples!)

But I know this to be true: Whatever we humans train our attention on will appear larger than it is. People who rescue dogs are forever stumbling across strays. People who collect heart-shaped rocks find them every time they look down on a hike. If you love owls or pink sunrises, model trains or vintage cars, big noses or small ears–whatever floats your boat–I guarantee that you see these all over the place and far more often than other people do. By that same reasoning, when you look for wrinkles, you find them. This blog is about seeking more pink sunrises and fewer wrinkles. On that note…

My son finished up junior high this week, and the school parent-teacher organization sold custom graduation yard signs as a way to raise funds while honoring the occasion. I bought one and placed it in the front yard. It just says, “Congratulations, Beckett! Class of 2023 [School Name] Junior High School!” Nothing fancy.

Mind you, in our new neighborhood, people communicate only through the same three barking dogs that wake us all up in unison each day. They don’t actually know each other or seem particularly interested in changing that. So I had no delusions anyone other than my son was going to read or care about the sign. But then an envelope showed up the day after I posted the sign. It was wedged in our front door, and this was what was inside:

How sweet was this? How thoughtful and kind? How generous? It made such a big impact on all of us and was a very bright spot in a seemingly endless string of stressors in our lives. In response, my husband picked up a nice card in the grocery store. My son wrote inside, “It’s good to know that there are people like you in the world.” I walked with him to the address listed in the card–several streets away from us, as it turned out–and we knocked on the door, hoping to meet these neighbors in person. They weren’t home, so we left the card in their own front door and walked home together holding hands, him chattering away in his cracking voice about one day traveling to Norway, plans to audition for jazz band, how exclamation points are announced in some African languages, the reason he doesn’t want a cell phone, and a zillion other things that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard had we not set out on that walk to meet the nice strangers. Through one single act of kindness, they created such joy!

If you are having a seemingly endless string of stressors or wanting to ramrod strangers with your car, I highly recommend giving yourself a homework assignment to notice something good each day. Fewer wrinkles, more sunrises. It’s contagious, and it helps.

blended families · divorce · friends · husbands · intentional happiness · marriage

Prickly Pear Guestbook

“I am twice married but not a bigamist.”

For the past couple of years, I’ve been trying on different ways to say that my children’s dad and I are divorced and that I’ve since remarried but say it in a way that lays clear there’s no villain in the narrative. I don’t like saying “second marriage” or “second husband,” partly because it makes my spouse–someone I have known for 30 of my 50 years on this planet–seem like a comfortable caftan I’ve resorted to wearing after spilling something on my favorite dress. Or is a functional donut spare tire that will do the trick. Or he’s the Michael Gambon of Dumbledores, an insult in my book.

It’s also that I do not wish to portray myself as a bag of leftovers, a treat consumed at a late hour by someone who wasn’t at the main event but finally got the munchies. Even if it’s the kind of leftovers cradled inside shiny foil squeezed and bent to look like a swan, I would prefer a nicer impression. I don’t know why I care. Branding? Vanity? Neurosis? Protectionism?

Anyway, I got married for the second time a little over two years ago, which was about eight months after we’d intended, thanks to COVID-19. We were tired of waiting for health departments to decide when we should tie the knot but didn’t want anyone to croak in the name of our nuptials. Once vaccines debuted, we gathered up our immediate family and a very tiny group of our close friends, and we tied the knot in an old adobe chapel in an historic part of town. I live in Tucson, and unlike many others here, I don’t think it’s the most beautiful place you’ll ever see, but I do really love me some pretty prickly pears, saguaros, and desert blooms. And I’m an Arizona girl, born and bred. That’s what gave me the idea for this unusual guestbook that, unlike most wedding guestbooks, isn’t tucked away in a drawer somewhere.

The guestbook is comprised not of signatures but of the thumbprints of each of our guests. My mom sketched out the start of the prickly pear plant in light pencil. Then I left a little inkpad out next to the paper at the entrance to the chapel along with instructions for people to add their thumbprints to the sketch. My mom later went in and used watercolor pencils to shade them a bit and turn the cluster into this beautiful little piece of art that now graces our foyer. It is matted and displayed inside a double-window picture frame that also includes a group photo with all of our guests, and it still gives me JOY.

Not pictured: One giant thumbprint nowhere near the plant, presumably left by one of the handful of men in attendance, but we were easily able to cover that up during matting and framing. I won’t name names here, because I really love my father-in-law to pieces