Monday, April 12, 2010

Springing to action

As soon as my neighbor opens his front door and walks out to his truck, he'll see my surprise: Flowers. Gerbera daisies, to be exact. A dozen of them, with more to come, planted in the bed that divides our respective driveways.

Longer ago than I care to admit, Alex gave me money to buy -- something! anything! to fill that sunny space. It's a perfectly nice strip of dirt that would look perfectly nicer with some sort of color. Meanwhile, he doctored the soil, did some digging, plus installed a sprinkler system down the middle of the bed. (He's a former engineer and can do that sort of thing).

Since then, we've met periodically meet as we've gotten out of our cars. I've renewed my promise to plant; he says no rush. A few days ago, he offered me more money.

"No no," I said. "I haven't even started to spend what you already gave me."

Alex put his wallet back in his pocket. "When you need some, you let me know."

On this oh-so-beautiful spring day, happily remembering where I had put his money, I pulled it out and went to Home Depot. I walked around and around the garden area and decided on the daisies. I didn't buy too many; I know from being slightly familiar with myself all these years that buying many more would not be a good idea. They would A. Overwhelm me and B. End up dying in their plastic cocoons instead of thriving in dirt.

I smiled as lugged the plants from my car, felt almost giddy while planting them. I put the pots in the recycle bag in the garage, then went back out front. I am sitting on the porch now, awaiting and excited about Alex's reaction to my promise fulfilled.

True, those dozen red and yellow daisies I planted take up barely one-eighth of the strip of dirt between Alex's and my driveway. But I'm still pretty tickled. After all, we do what we can to bring color, to bring beauty, to bring flowers into our lives. Sometimes it happens all at once, but more often, I suspect, it happens as it did for me today: One leaf, one petal, one satisfying scoop of dirt at a time.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Running on

One year ago April 7, I was laid off from The Dallas Morning News. It wasn't a bad day; it was beautiful and sunny and a lot of people hugged me and I cried a little but really not much at all. A friend carried my boxes to my car; another met me for lunch. I ran that night and woke up the next morning and life went on.

A month or so later, I started working at Run On, the running store where I had shopped for years. It was one of the best things I have ever done. I have learned so much -- including (if I may boast a bit here) what a primo socks salesperson I am. For someone who had never sold anything other than Girl Scout cookies (and those not particularly well) it was a huge kick.

I have also worked with some of the finest people imaginable. People who -- even on my days of feeling like the village idiot -- have made me believe I belonged there. More than half of them (including the manager and assistant manager) are young enough to be my children. Still, something about each endeared them to me, and I hope I know them forever.

I also met (mostly) wonderful customers  -- walkers, runners and neither-of-the-aboves. Everyone who walks through those double doors has a reason, a story behind their need for shoes on that particular day. I loved finding out the whys; looking for a connection with even the most stand-offish or shy.

I liked talking to the new runners, convincing them (or at least trying mightily) that they CAN do this; that running is at its essence as simple and complicated as life's journey: Putting one foot in front of the other.

And in so doing, of course, no matter who the customers, helping them find the most comfortable pair of shoes they have ever worn in their entire lives.

My son has loved me working there. He runs track, and his coach is a fave of our store. Plus Charlie likes hearing my stories: About the people who are way too particular about their shoe size, and the few who really do have stinky feet. About the man who tried on eight pairs of shoes before buying...nothing. About the woman who runs to raise money for blood diseases, because her son died of one and her husband is struggling to survive his own. About the girl who ties her shoes so tightly that her mother needs a screwdriver to loosen the laces.

Run On became an important part of both our lives. Then, a month or so ago, my former editor at the DMN called. We met for coffee and she offered me my job back. I start on April 19. And though I am extremely excited about writing for a living again, the thought of leaving Run On was tougher than some people might understand.

Working there was serendipitous, a godsend, an alignment of the stars -- one whose purpose only those really close to me can fathom. It was more than a paycheck. It was a place; it was people. And I expect I'm going to refer to the store as "we" for quite awhile. As in "This summer we're going to start selling the Vibram (barefoot-running) shoes."

Truth to tell, I hope I don't catch myself when I do.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Taking our chances

Judy, a beloved college cohort, emailed me today. She wanted to let me know that Alisa, one of our newspaper-staff friends from our Baylor days, had died.

Alisa was an editor at the Shreveport Times, and an ardent animal rescuer. She'd undergone routine back surgery, and all had gone as planned. But then she developed a blood clot in her lungs, and she died. Just like that.

I have reread Judy's email probably seven times since then. Eight, counting just now.

True, I hadn't seen Alisa in decades. Periodically she'd send me a note about something I'd written, and for a few days afterward, we'd share back-and-forth newspaper chitchat and catch up on people we both knew. I can't remember the last time we corresponded, which in some way I think contributes to my feeling beyond sad, beyond shocked.

As I write this, I'm sitting on my front porch. The sky is the color of vinegar-smelling dye, into which dozens and dozens of hard-boiled eggs are now being dipped. They'll be hidden tonight, and discovered under couch cushions and upside-down flower pots on Easter morning.

Even at dusk, I can still see the marigolds and periwinkles I planted today, having grown impatient with seeds that just take too long for my spring-hungry mind. The world is Oz, an outpouring of color I'm especially aware because of this part of Judy's note:

"Alisa loved spring, and her funeral was on a perfect spring day.  She is buried up in Texarkana, under a tree, next to her beloved dad."

Just as I finished reading Judy's note for the first time, my best friend called. After I read it to her, I said what we all know, but which we take so for granted.

"Oh, Sister. Life is just so precious."

At work last week, we were talking about a first grader who had choked to death at her school. That tragedy led to a conversation about life's unpredictability, and how sometimes stuff just happens for which there are no answers. One friend told about a jogger she'd read about who was hit and killed by (this is true) a plane.

So does news like that make us stop running or driving or having much-needed surgeries or falling in love because we MIGHT get hurt? It could...but it doesn't. After all, we humans are a strong and plucky lot. Sure, life is inherently a risk. But we take our chances; what choice do we have?

Click here to read what I wrote about this -- almost four years ago to the day -- after a trip to a writers' conference in Hartford, Conn.

And rest in peace, sweet Alisa.