Everyone Gets The Chance To Be Strong

Published in The Ferndale Record, January 26, 2011

Recently someone referred to me as “strong.”

Strong, hmm. Let’s see. Could I lift a Buick off of a toddler? Can I bench press 350 pounds? I possess a fair amount of physical strength, but that’s not the kind she meant and I knew it.

Her comment rattled me a bit because I don’t think of myself that way. Most of the time I don’t feel strong at all. Lately, I resemble an emotional mush akin to Cream of Wheat, subscribing to the Homer Simpson school of thought that if I just hide under a pile of coats, everything will somehow turn out all right.

When someone makes it through challenging, shattering times, others think they’re strong. If that’s true, then everyone is stronger than they suspect they are—usually proven in the furnace of scorching personal circumstance. We often don’t see it in ourselves, but onlookers do.

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is exhibiting unimaginable strength in the days since her shooting.  My neighbor in her 90s shows strength just waking up and facing every day when maybe it would be easier not to.

Jacqueline Kennedy was the symbol of strength for a nation in November of 1963, and a friend of mine who just lost a child says out loud how much it hurts and then slowly pushes through the pain.

We all want to be that person, the one that makes it, the hero that beats the odds and takes names. But triumph over the perceived adversity isn’t what creates strength. It’s the way we respond to whatever it is we’re experiencing. It’s in the day to day, the moving forward, the keeping on.

For some, faith in a higher power is the impetus, for others it’s dogged determination, or the fiery rebellion that comes from being told something is impossible.

Maybe the most excellent wish of our hearts, though, is not the opportunity to crow in confidence, and look good at the finish line, but simply survive the ordeal, and if we’re lucky, learn what was meant to be learned and use that mortar to piece together more bricks of character, integrity, and usefulness to someone else.

For every story cited about strength and determination, there are thousands more never heard. That’s the resilience and beauty of humanity.

Often, those with evil motives seem strong, too. But false heart is what we see, and personal gain is the ultimate goal. Their supposed strength is shown for what it really is and they end up in hiding, exile, or worse.

Most of us will face the chance to be stronger than we ever thought we could. It probably won’t come wrapped like we imagined, and it will push us to the limits of our capability, and then some.

But in the end we are in good company. We don’t need to share a spotlight because we are all in it. If we’ve ever drawn breath, we’ve had to endure something that makes us stronger and usually, we end up smarter and more compassionate than we were to begin with.

And that’s not all bad.

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Office Supplies And Me: A Love Story

Published in The Ferndale Record, January 12, 2011

I don’t know exactly how it started, but I suspect it was because of my mother.

She wrote constantly—postcards, single-spaced multi-page missives on pure white, stock bond paper churning out of her old Remington typewriter, sometimes short, hand written notes, and daily dispatches in her diary. She was either at a keyboard or had a pen in her hand, and I wanted to do that, too.

But I coveted her stash of pens and pencils, the caddy on her desk with silver paperclips, and even one compartment filled with quarters—but that’s another column.

My pen snobbery began in high school when almost everyone else used BICs. I preferred the Lindy Stick Pen, dark blue, capped. Always a capped pen—no click varieties, thank you very much. Virtually everything I wrote in ink was with a Lindy. It was something about the feel, the height, and the smooth delivery of ballpoint to paper. Lindy had it all—back then.

My current long time favorite is the Queen Mother of pens: the Pentel R.S.V.P., medium point, either blue or black. They are, in heft, durability and reliability, unrivaled.

Last week I visited Griggs in downtown Bellingham for the first time in a couple of decades. It’s smaller now, not the main attraction on Holly Street it used to be, but the flavor of all things office related is still there.

I went in to buy a legal form, but stayed for everything else. Even the tax forms stacked neatly on an end cap appealed to me. The shelves of pens stopped me dead.

There they were—Pilot, Pentel, Paper Mate, Sharpie, BIC, gel pens, sparkly pens, calligraphy pens, in every color imaginable and then some. I was smitten, but chose only three favorites, got what I went for, and left the store. Good thing I had somewhere else to be or I might still be there.

Colored paper clips and push pins, file folders in neon hues, reams of lined notebook paper, walls of three-ring binders, cloth, plastic, or leather covered notebooks and journals, planners, address books, rainbow pads of construction paper, plastic report covers, staplers, spiral notebooks, composition books, yellow number two pencils, shiny pencils with superheroes, hearts, or stripes, Post-it notes in assorted sizes and colors, index cards, poster paper, rubber cement—all of them grouped together in one aisle or one store makes me a little heady.

Like when you’re craving carbohydrates and you walk into a bakery, or how The Bachelorette must feel when she first sees all of her hunky contestants—so many choices, so much territory to cover, so little time.

One of my favorite parts of managing an office workplace was opening the boxes that arrived from Staples or Office Max. Even though it wasn’t mine and I hadn’t paid for it, I got the first glimpse, the first whiff, the first chance to handle and adore the pencil sharpener, the boxes of pens, the twelve-count stacks of yellow legal pads packaged in plastic. And someone was paying me to do it.

For some, a new year means getting things organized—something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. This gives me a valid excuse to dream about and maybe even buy office supplies.

And yes, there will be fondling and sighing involved.