Open Email to my Dad: my post-2016 election twitch

I sent an email to my dad this morning.

It was my first post-2016 election twitch. It started like this:

I’m truly sad today, but not totally surprised.

I’m not surprised about the election results. We are a nation of speech and spin and bumper stickers. We’re not so great at listening or taking the time to dig deep into a story. But we are a we.

I went on to write:

You asked that I not talk politics with you because you want to protect our beautiful relationship. I will continue to respect that request except to make these requests.

I’m writing to request avoiding politics in conversation be something that works both ways and all around the room as we approach the family gatherings. I have been bullied at your table before over politics by family members, and I have to confess I feel a bit of dread about Thanksgiving.

After I sent the message, I felt a little bad about including the bully bit. It’s true, but it wasn’t his fault. Dad was only there for one, maybe two, instances, and in no way did he condone the behavior. The twitch probably had its way with me because . . . well, it’s been a tough year on just about every level that “tough” could hit a nerve and prompt a twitch.

The thing is, during the eight years when we finally had a president I voted for and loved, I didn’t gloat, I didn’t belittle, and I certainly didn’t bully the ones who didn’t vote for and love him. If I’m honest (as my son often says), that meant we mostly didn’t talk about politics in my extended family.

The email continues:

I have one additional request or maybe not a request, but a reminder: As you gather in like-minded groups to congratulate each other, please do it for the right reasons. If the conversation turns to belittling “those dems” and “those liberals,” remember that your daughter and three of your grandchildren are thoughtful, civic-minded dems and liberals. Over the years, I often reminded anyone belittling conservatives and right-wing politics that members of that group are not by default bigots or hateful, and that I know, love, and respect many conservative, right wing people.

Yeah. Not completely sure how well I thought this out. It sounded more accusatory than I intended. Which is one of the oceans of reasons we shouldn’t send emails or letters mid emotional direst or post-political twitch. Not only can the recipient hang on to them indefinitely, you might not feel the need to express that very same thought the next day.

As I confessed, the email to my dad was my first post-election twitch. I think perhaps I included this sentiment because I feel betrayed, not necessarily by dad but in general, since I make it a practice to avoid gratuitous bashing of the other side. I wasn’t done there, though.

My request/reminder continued with this final note:

I expect there will be mountains of hateful comments from both sides as we move forward. As a liberal, I expect to find myself in many conversations condemning the conservative Christians, who have lost a lot of credibility in the “values” arena because “their” candidate this election did not line up with their claimed family, social, or religious values. During those conversations, I will not thoughtlessly belittle your group, but rather I will do my best to lift the conversation to a higher, loving level. I will be the voice reminding others of the dangers of lumping half a nation in a group and condemning them. I will be the mind that explores reasons why we found ourselves in an election where most voters were voting against someone. I will do my best to listen with empathy to all sides. I hope you will do the same.

I have issues with mindlessly categorizing groups of people in general. But mostly I have issues with my email to my dad. This last paragraph was totally about control. What was I thinking? I don’t have control over what others say, think, or do. This last part hit low: I was guilting my dad (trying to at least) into a behavior I wanted. What’s more, I was explaining (bragging?) about how I behave. This is behavior that I should set as a goal and an example for myself, not as a shaming look-at-me or be-like-me message.

So this is my apology post to my dad.


Dear Dad,

I twitched and hit send. I’m sorry I didn’t twitch and delete for many reasons. First of all, you have always had my back. Second, I’m grown and can defend myself. Finally, I know you already treasure good people on the “other side.” You didn’t need me to remind you.

This year one of my favorite quotes has found voice at my church on several occasions. As we approach the season of family gatherings, I find this quote —now more than ever— pertinent, necessary, and comforting:

2016 election ballou quote

I hope you know that our disagreements have always been in love. You paraphrased me in your note to me, and I’ll quote myself back:

I love you big. Only big.


Love, not fear, will get us through.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2016

Open Letter to a Lost Friend: Cancer Sucks

This is one in a series of letters to a lost friend. You can also read about Mona and Sandy.

Dear Dela,

We had so many good days together. May 26, 2010, wasn’t one of them.

  • I was out when you called.
  • I didn’t hear my cell when you tried it.
  • I didn’t have a car that day.
  • You were already at ER when I returned your call.
  • Did I already mention? I didn’t have a car that day.

Every bit of alignment was off. I’m not sure that a swimmingly perfect alignment would have made a difference. Your body was weary of battling that monster. I couldn’t have saved you. But I could have been there. My absence still pains me.

Dave dropped you off! We told you all along (I feel the same now), we don’t like Dave.

You were alone in the ER. I was home without a car. But I had a phone, so I scolded damn Dave, and, desperate for a ride, I called a friend. She happened to be at the hospital!

“I can check on her, let you know how she’s doing.”

Leukemia is a sneaky monster. Your complexion, your posture, your gate, they never betrayed your illness. Your cheeks always rosy, your smile always quick. Damn leukemia.

“She was a little groggy, but she seems okay. She kept asking me if she could get me something!”

You were always the gracious hostess, Dela. Even in your last hours. I relaxed. This was good.

A midnight call: “I’m on her emergency list but I’m out of town.” Cracking in her voice. “They say she’s not going to make it. Can you go?”

My partner, home by then, hoisted me off to the ER. Running. “How can this be happening?” Long, wide, confusing white corridors. “Damn Dave!” Panic. Fear. “How does anyone get to the right place!?”

But I found you. Leukemia was no longer hiding its ugly face. Those paddles couldn’t save you, but in the effort, they had beaten you to bloody bruises. Your head was cushioned in blood-soaked hospital towels.

The doctor’s pointed question: “She’ll probably crash again. Should we keep doing this?”

Everything you feared. Everything you didn’t want. How could I respond, “Yes! Beat the bloody hell out of her again!”?

I thought perhaps you’d linger a bit longer.

“I’ll go home to get a few things and come back, sit with her until her brother arrives.”

What the hell “things” did I need? Stupid! The misalignment of thought and circumstance persisted.

In my driveway, I was poised to run into the house to grab this and that thing when the doctor called.

Dela's dragonfly

I found myself surrounded by dragonflies in my garden the day you died. Coincidentally, my daughter named her purple car Adelaide, and the day she traded her in, this guy was perched on her antenna. Were you reaching out?

You slipped away around 2 am on the 27th of one of my favorite months.

I take comfort in this: While I was still at the hospital, trying to decide where it was safe to touch you without causing pain, I found one of your hands under the bloody towels. I breathed in the story you had told me about your father, who, during his last days, seemed to fret over cemeteries with no vacancies. You told him, “It’s OK day, Dad. They have a place for you.” He passed that day. I exhaled: “It’s OK to let go. I love you. You are a mess, but you lived life beautifully.”

I spoke at your memorial service. When it was over, one friend said half-jokingly, “That was beautiful. I want you to speak at mine.” Her comment reminded me: Say it now. Let your friend know now why she or he is special to you.

Since May 27, 2010, more friends have become entangled in the cancer web. Most have found their way out. We try to understand how to be good friends to them. We tell their stories responsibly. I’m telling yours again. Next month, it will be six years. We still don’t like Dave. We still love you. This (A Beautiful Mess) was my tribute to you.

A Beautiful Mess

This is the story about me and Dela. Dela was beautiful. I’m a mess. End of story.

Actually, the “mess” is the elephant in the room and I like to kick sedentary elephants around whenever I get a chance. I often end up with a sore foot, sometimes a new perspective, but I always learn something in the process. So, for just a minute or two, I hope you’ll bear with me as I give this elephant —the mess— a kick.

Dela was a beautiful person, a beautiful friend. She was a mess of interesting things and interests. She had countless circles of friends. And for every friend in every circle, there’s a different story of Dela, a different bright moment of joy he or she remembers. I’ve been getting messages from friends of Dela, some of whom haven’t seen her for as many as 30 years. They want to tell their story of Dela. She had an untidy network of friends. She traveled through that mess of a network with grace and touched and lifted up many.

So . . . what is a “mess,” anyway? Sometimes it’s a tangle. Sometimes it’s an untidy clutter. Sometimes it’s just the noise or the pace or the plans. What is a beautiful mess? It doesn’t have to be a bad or ugly thing. It just is.

Dela was a beautiful mess, and if we focus on her home for a moment, we can get a glimpse of the breadth and depth of her mess, her life, her circles of friends, her fields of adventure.

  • A china cabinet full of dainty teapot and tea cup sets.
  • An armoire full of exquisite French linens.
  • A small kitchen bursting at the seams where she prepared ratatouille, homemade biscotti, and Tanqueray and tonics with lots and lots of lime . . . all of this on small counters crowded with fancy dishes and gadgets that didn’t quite fit in the cupboards.
  • A beautifully resurfaced wooden floor, strewn with newspapers, often turned to the sports page for baseball scores and stats.
  • Boxes and piles of amazing paper: textured, colored, handcrafted . . . all kinds of paper.
  • Shoes. Lots of shoes.
  • The dining table loaded with a flat of Ponchatoula strawberries in the winter or sweet Washington Parish watermelons in the summer.
  • Shelves and shelves and shelves of books.
  • A maze of beauty products to fight off signs of passing time.
  • and so much more . . .

Many of us close to Dela occasionally fussed at her about the different piles of mess in her life, sometimes we’d even try to tidy things up for her. But there was beauty, openness, acceptance, and love in her chaos. The mess, really, was reverence for the moment. There was presence when she was present.

Now . . . I miss her mess. But mostly, I miss her graceful way of living through, above, and in spite of any mess.

I’ve had messes in my life. On occasion, she sat down in the middle of a mess with me. She was better than I was. She never judged my mess or me for it. Dela simply brought joy into the place where we sat. She brightened the moment with her humor and acceptance. She lifted our thoughts and our emotions above the mess, whether it was physical, emotional, or spiritual.

I will treasure those moments.

When one of the biggest messes any of us might fear or dread fell into her life, Dela was, quite simply, amazing. That mess, leukemia, was a pesky, annoying mess. And although this cancerous cantankerous disease followed her around EVERYwhere she went for better than ten years, most people didn’t know it. Dela did not live IN the mess.

Dela chose to live through it, above it, and in spite of it, up until the very end. Where many of us might cringe and hole up, whine and take pity on ourselves, Dela continued to laugh, to live in the light of the moment, and to bring joy to any place she was present.dela-cancer-sucks-2

I am humbled by her grace and elegance as she endured the fears disease inspires, as she sat through hours of treatments and tests, as she thumbed through endless waiting room magazines, hospital bills, and insurance papers. I am grateful she chose, for those ten diseased years, to live her life, to laugh with her friends, and to lift us up even as she was being swallowed by a monster. I am honored to have been one of her friends, and I hope that I can be half as brave, half as beautiful, and half as elegant standing in the messes of my life. Mostly, I hope I told her often enough, when she was present and brightly alive, what a beautiful mess she was and how much I loved her.

Copyright © Pennie Nichols, 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Open letter to a lost friend: Adrift

This is one in a series of open letters to lost friends.

Dear Mona Z,

I remember our last visit. Sitting on your patio with newborns in our laps and toddler girls playing in the yard, we laughed, exchanged mommy stories, daycare plans, and anticipations for our families. The afternoon was pleasant, yet on that day I understood that our friendship had reached its natural end. friends2

When our chat turned to houses, you explained that your in-laws had recently purchased a home in the most exclusive neighborhood. My lack of awe galvanized your campaign to impress upon me the import of that move. Honestly, I was unaware of the status of that neighborhood then, and now, even in the knowing, my dearth in reaction would remain. The undulations were already tugging at our interests. One slipping over the ebb, the other rolling with the flow.

You nudged the conversation to the furniture you had recently purchased and the updates you had made to your nearly new home. I felt happy for you and a little amazed. I quietly reflected on the futon that my husband and I still sat on every evening, in a home full of hand-me-downs and holdovers from college. You had visited our home briefly just before we moved the furniture in, exclaiming as you opened doors and peeked around jambs: “Oh. They didn’t paint the closets.” They hadn’t. Eight-months pregnant and still working, I wasn’t gonna. Even knowing the merits of freshly painted walls, the tenor of my tastes never drew me into a closet, not even my own, to inspect the paint.

friends3We were adrift.

As you described and recommended your maid, I floated further away, aware already that house cleaning would always plummet off my priority list in favor of other endeavors. I drifted back as you explained: “. . . except the toilets. I prefer to clean the toilets my way.” Even now, when I clean toilets, I remember and wonder, “Am I doing it right?”

As we talked about our children, the undercurrent drew me beyond the breaking waves of our conversation. Children in our sails, our courses would diverge absolutely. Soccer vs. dance, music vs. football, volleyball vs. cheerleading. In the blink of a childhood, we would be oceans apart. Our girls played happily that day. Even though they grew up less than ten miles away from each other and later graduated from the same university, that was their last play date. Washed away by their moms, with their moms?, on eddies away from the circle.

The end was natural and necessary.

We were incidental friends, drawn together by the men we dated in college. Riding the wave of their friendship, we camped on beaches and in cabins, skied on Lake Maurepas, danced into the morning at discos. When that wave melted into the shore, I moved on, but you stayed and married your college sweetheart. We chuckled about him that afternoon on the patio, how he had run out in his drawers that morning to rush the garbage cans to the street for pick up.

I had been back for almost a year, and we had clumsily picked up our friendship, scheduling play dates and lunches. Many friendships rise up with the grace of “it’s like we were never apart.” Ours didn’t. I resisted the end because you had been a good friend. You had given me one of those perfect moments that even now I remember.

The moment came an hour or two before dawn when we were riding the college wave. The guys were still outside drinking and playing cards. We were crashing, yawning comments about the day. Then you said it. Clearly. Honestly.

“You should leave him, you know.”

For a moment I thought you were in my head. How did you know?

“He’s going nowhere.”

The gnawing nowhere of my relationship with him. You spoke what I felt but needed to hear. I had been afraid to break the circle because I knew it would break many.

As simply and to the point as you had been about cleaning toilets, “He’s not right for you.”

Despite the haze from the wave of alcohol that had washed us to that moment, despite the darkness of that hour and the oceans of years between us now, that moment is still crystal, bright in my mind.friends4

The ex-boyfriend had come up from time to time in our conversations, perhaps even on our last patio day. He wasn’t an awful guy. Just not the right guy. You had helped me embrace that.

Some friends are forever. Some aren’t. I don’t dwell on the many layers of friendships, intersecting circles of friends, or levels and types of friends. I do splash around a bit to understand the gifts of the people in my life, past and present. Even for lost friends, not all is lost. I may have to dive into the cool depths to find the treasure, the shiny little something we shared. I always find it.

We said good-bye that afternoon, made promises we couldn’t keep. Internet, social media, and obituaries have kept me marginally informed. Your daughter is a beautiful young medical professional and your handsome son is pursuing a degree in film. Your dreams with your college sweetheart withered in the tedium of day-to-day. I hope the dissolution was not too painful. I hope you’re happy.

I don’t miss you, Mona. Even twenty-three years ago, I knew the friendship wasn’t sustainable. I do, however, remember you fondly. Odd little memories, the clean toilet, the “neat” burger (no condiments, no vegetables for you, just meat on a bun), the straight smile with the tiniest of curls on each end, and the honest truth. I hope your friends appreciate your frankness and know how to bring a tiny curl to your smile. You were a good friend to me. I still love you for that.

Pennie

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.