Could You Tell Me Where I Am….?

Happy Memorial Day to everyone!! Hope you have had a great holiday weekend, making memories with family and friends! This week’s story revolves around something that I do quite a bit…travel…Due to the nature of my business, travel is a very necessary “evil.” Early in my career I worked for a large nursing home corporation. I would usually leave home each Monday morning, and return late Thursday evening, or sometimes, on Fridays. By Tuesdays of most weeks, I had already been to three different states. Once I started my own business, the travel became even more intense, for I have very specific dates, times, and locations that have to be met. For example, one week I left Jackson, MS and flew to Boston, MA…made a presentation and flew on to New York City, NY…made a presentation and flew on to Green Bay, WI…for yet another presentation…ALL in three days! (Course, I have never made that mistake again…almost killed me…) So…here’s the story.

As a “road warrior,” it was always a habit of mine to stay in the same hotel when I would visit a particular city on a regular basis. The hotel staff and I would get to know each other, and we would build relationships. It felt a little like “home” when I would go to these hotels again and again… and that is extremely comforting when you are on the road as much as I am. On this particular occasion, I had gotten in really late (thanks to many delayed and missed flights) and had to check into a different hotel than my “usual” one. It had been a difficult, hard week, and I was tired…so to say that I slept the “sleep of the dead” would have been a mild understatement. 

The next morning I woke up to the alarm, stretched, tried to pry my eyes open, and looked around the room. And at that moment, I realized that I did not know where I was! In my head, I tried to go back over the week and figure out where I had been, and where I was supposed to be on this very day. No luck! I did not recognize the hotel room at all, and was beginning to get a little concerned. I got up out of bed, looked out the window, to see if there were any familiar landmarks…again…nothing!! So, being the intelligent person that I am, I thought, find the phone book…that will tell you where you are. There was NO phone book! I started to panic because I really could not figure out where I was. My brain kicked in again, and instructed me to find the Gideon’s Bible – for you know there is ALWAYS a Gideon’s Bible in your hotel room…and it will have the donating agency and city on one of the front pages. I quickly opened the nightstand drawer to open said Bible, and there was not one!!

By this time, I was not hyperventilating, but close to it! I realized that the only recourse I had was to call the front desk and ask them the dreaded question. So, I pulled myself together, called the front desk and said the following…”Good morning! This is Cat Selman. I have not taken any medication, I am not drunk, and I don’t have any illness that would affect my thought process, but I have an important question to ask you.” The staff on the other end of the line took a deep breath and said, “OK….what is the question?” I said, “Could you please tell me where I am?” The staff person laughed and said, “Holiday Inn – Holiday City.” I said, “Very good! Now, could you just please tell me what city that would be in?” By this time, the staff person is trying very hard to contain her uncontrollable laughter…laugh, laugh….”Memphis” laugh, laugh….”TN.” I said, “Thank you very kindly!” and hung up with as much dignity as I could at the moment. I’m sure my conversation ended up on one of those hotel “you won’t believe this” collections that was told over and over again. Never the less, I had found out where I was, so I was “good to go.”

If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, looks like a duck, believe you me, it is not always a duck!!! I am sure the hotel staff person was quite certain that I had really “put one on” the night before, and either I was still very drunk, disoriented, or simply could not remember anything from the night before. All of her conclusions, based on the facts that she was presented with, would have been incorrect. We all jump to conclusions so quickly, even when we think we have all of the “facts.” And, some times, we DO come to the wrong conclusion or assumption. I’m not going to “jump” anymore! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

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So When Do You Leave….?

I LOVE elephants!! Do you know why? Well, the first reason is that my best friend has collected elephants (not the real ones, of course…) all of her life, and I have grown to love them and have learned an awful lot about them as a result. Elephants are such a loving family unit…and “the Aunts” are heavily involved in helping and assisting with the development, growth, and care of all the new babies that are born into their family unit. You see, I REALLY like that part, because I AM an “Aunt” – many times over! In fact, I am a GREAT Aunt (literally and figuratively….)! All of my nieces and nephews have never thought of me as an adult…most of them view me as a “toy” to play with…and I would have it no other way! There is something in my heart that just jumps and explodes when I see the delight in their eyes when they finally land on me. It is truly intoxicating!

Whether you like Hillary Clinton, or you don’t, is NOT important to me; however, I strongly believe one of her philosophies…that it DOES take a village to raise a child. It takes the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, church leaders/Sunday School teachers, school teachers, neighbors, friends, and community – that IS a village, by the way. At least, that’s the way it was when I was growing up. We felt “safe” because “someone” was always watching out for us, and teaching us life lessons. As an Aunt, I have taken the responsibilities of that “job” very seriously. I have tried to “broaden my nieces’ and nephews’ horizons” – to let them know there was more in the world than they saw in their own, small town…to let them know that, especially in people, “different” did not mean “wrong,” but just different…that there was nobody better than who they were, or who they could be…that they could be and do anything they wanted in life if they worked for it…that faith in God was what you believed, trusted, lived and relied upon…and that life should be worth living – doing what you enjoyed. Most importantly, each one knows that there is never anything they could do in life that would affect the tremendous love I have for them. It is truly unconditional! They know they could tell me anything, do anything, and my love would never waver…that I am ALWAYS only a phone call away. So now that you have all of the background, let’s get to this week’s story…

My baby brother and his wife tried for many years to have a child. My sister-in-law (and I use that word so you know who I am talking about, but in our family, she is indeed my sister, period) had a battle with cancer early in their marriage. She had to have heavy doses of radiation and chemotherapy. As a result, she was told that the treatments had left her sterile. So, the journey began to adopt a little one into the family. This journey went on for many, many years…Resulting in heartbreak, after heartbreak! Each new opportunity for adoption failed. All of our hearts were sad. Then one day, they got a message from a personal friend (they were all officers in the Salvation Army at this time). He reported that a church family’s young daughter had become pregnant, out of wedlock, and they were placing the baby up for adoption. There was only one catch…the family wanted each couple, who wanted that precious baby, to write a letter explaining why they wanted a child, and how they would raise the child. Out of all the families submitting letters, my brother and his wife were chosen!! We were thrilled!!! The time came for the young lady to give birth, and she had a little girl, my Elizabeth! We got her when she was two days old, and from that moment, I was mesmerized. I cannot understand people who say that could not love a child as much, who is not of “their blood.” We know NO difference!! She is ours!!! In fact, both my brother and I will forget and say, well…you got your allergies from us…her nose is an exact replica of my brother’s…but it would NOT make any difference if it weren’t . (And, by the way, it ended up that the Drs. were wrong…a little boy was born a few years after Elizabeth arrived…., and yes, we love him to death also…even though he is not adopted…He will also have a post about him later on…)

She and I have had a special relationship from day one. When she was really little, she could not say my name, so I became “Aunt Tat.” There was no greater pleasure for me than when she would crawl up in my lap, place those little chubby arms around my neck, and say, “I wuv you, Aunt Tat!” On this particular day, I was down visiting with my folks, and we were all sitting out in the sunroom. Of course, Elizabeth was sitting in my lap, and I was loving every minute of it. As we were sitting there, she snuggled in a little closer to me, and very quietly said, “I know where you are taking me this summer.” Surprised, I said, “Well, tell me, where am I taking you?” She looked at me with those beautiful, blue eyes, smiling from ear to ear, and said, “Disneyworld!” I quickly looked over her head to my Mother, who was shaking with laughter, and she mouthed, “When are you leaving?” I chuckled, and said, “As soon as I can clear my schedule…” And yes, we did go to Disneyworld (which will be a later blog article) that summer, and had a wonderful time…just us girls…She has now become a Mom herself, and has given me two more opportunities to be an aunt. Her birthday is this coming week, and I could not be prouder of her, or love her any more than I do today.

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Those of you who ARE those special Aunts…remember the impact that you can have on a child’s life…and will continue to have as they grow. Help those mothers who are finding it a little difficult to do it all by themselves. Be an elephant!!! That’s what I will be doing…Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

It Will Never Be The Same Again…

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As many of you know, my Mother passed away in February – that means that this weekend holds a holiday that I have never experienced without my Mother. So, here’s the story for this week…

Two weeks ago I had to go grocery shopping. We were just about to head to the checkout, when I remembered that I needed just one more item. I rushed back to the area where I thought the item could be found, and turned down an aisle to get there a little faster. As soon as I started walking a few feet into the aisle, I realized that I had made a mistake. I had unknowingly turned down the greeting card aisle, and plastered everywhere were Mother’s Day cards. In an instant my eyes were filling with tears as I realized that this year I would not be buying a Mother’s Day card, nor would I be making the trip to spend the weekend with her in celebration. I left the aisle as quickly as I possibly could, and tried not to think about what I had just seen, and what it meant for me.

I will be honest…I have struggled with this loss, just as I struggled with her disease process. I have the skills, expertise and ability to train healthcare professionals in these areas, but I have been rather inept in helping myself. I have a very dear friend, who has watched this struggle of mine. She finally asked me, “Cat, just what are you thinking and feeling? What are you hoping for? What are you looking for?” And I tried to verbalize…I said, “I don’t feel Mother’s presence. In my mind, I just assumed, because we were so close, that when she died…I would feel her presence ‘with me’ constantly. That has not happened, and I don’t know what to do.” As soon as I expressed those thoughts, she said, “Cat, she is with you every day…she is in your heart…she is in your mind…she is living inside you.” And now comes the best part…she said, “All you have to do to ‘feel her’ is continue being the person that she wanted you to be.” And just like that, I felt a peace that I had not felt since Mama’s death. You see, I realized that this is something I could do! I can be the person she raised and was proud of…I can emulate the character, integrity and Christ-like traits that she taught by living example. You see, I simply do NOT know how else to be, but who I am…who she made…and who she loved.  I AM my Mother’s child!

For those of you whose mothers are still living…MAKE the time and effort to visit with them, make memories with them, enjoy them, just “be” with them…for one day, they absolutely will be gone from your life…and it will never be the same again. For those of you whose mothers are no longer living, do what I am doing…let’s live the lives that our Mamas taught us to live…strong in faith, compassion, loyalty and love…and ALWAYS doing for others. BE the person that “Mama” would have you be. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

What Do You Mean….You “Can’t Find It”???

Well, it’s a new month…May! That means I have been writing this blog for four months already. Hard to believe! I started this blog in hopes that it would help me deal with the overwhelming sadness I felt over my Mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s and resulting death. Writing the weekly stories has helped me more than I can say, and I hope that all my visitors and followers have received some sense of solace, comfort, or inspiration, as well as a laugh or two…Since May is pretty much known as the “graduation” month, this week’s story will have to address that particular topic. So, we begin…

I graduated from high school in 1970. Now before you get out your calculator to figure out my age, I need to let you know that I was a child prodigy and five years old at the time…It was a time of social unrest and “upheaval” in our little town (as the media played it up to be). 1970 was the first year of mandated integration, and both the “white” and “black” high schools had been merged that year. The graduating class of 1970 was so large that it was moved from the usual venue of our high school auditorium to that of the football stadium. (Just as an aside, I would like to comment that on the first day of school that year, they had called in the National Guard, Highway Patrol Troopers, and various other “police” organizations, to make certain that we students would be “orderly” on that historic event – the “joining,” if you will, of two diverse high schools. I think we surprised the nation in that there were NO horrible events like some other cities and states, not in the South, such as riots and bus burnings. We simply went to school that day, and each day thereafter. I just wanted that down for the record….)

While growing up, my parents never put any pressure on me to be an “A” student. They had instilled such a desire in me for success, that I applied more pressure on myself than they ever did. As luck would have it, I had a “natural” ability to learn, so studying was never too difficult for me. Bringing home a “B” was very rare, and when that did happen, I was more upset than my folks.

Upon graduation, if a student had attained a certain grade point average for the entire four years of high school, they were given a designation of graduating “With Distinction.” The student did not know if they had attained that accomplishment until the night of graduation, when their name was called to receive the diploma. Although my Mother had NEVER said a word about this, I knew, deep in my heart, that she wanted to hear my name, graduating “With Distinction.” I was so nervous that night! We had practiced earlier in the day at the football stadium. We would approach the stage, row by row, and as they called our name, we would walk across, place one hand over the other to shake the Board of Education President’s hand, while receiving our diploma with the other hand…pause…look at the camera for the official photograph, and walk off the stage.

I was almost hyperventilating as I stepped closer and closer to the stage. I was praying the whole time, “Please, Dear God, I don’t think I have really asked for a lot in my life, but could you please let me graduate “with distinction?” I made it up the stairs, knowing that my name would be next. And then I heard…”Catherine Rebecca Selman, With Distinction!” I almost exploded with joy, so proud that this was something I had given to my parents. I hastily walked across the stage, where the Board of Education President stood. I shook his hand, and reached for my diploma…therein was the problem. They could NOT find my diploma! I stood there for the longest time with my hand out, waiting patiently for anyone to put that coveted document in my hand. I finally put my hand down by my side, kept the biggest smile on my face, and under my breath asked, “Do you want me to just walk on to the other side until you find it?” By this time, ALL of the officials of the Board of Education were frantically searching for my diploma. The President said, “No, just wait right here. We WILL find it!” The stadium was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. You could just feel the pity pouring out from everyone in the audience. I’m standing there and realize that at any moment, I am about to burst into maniacal laughter, thinking, “if this just doesn’t take the cake…here I have worked so hard to graduate with distinction, and they cannot even find me a diploma!” The absurdity of the situation was just about to get the best of me, and I could no longer abide the audiences’ pity and concern. So realizing that I was about to “lose it,” I turned to my class, lifted my hands in a questioning manner, and shrugged my shoulders…as if to say, “what’s a girl to do?” When I did that, the entire audience burst into the laughter that was bubbling up inside me. We all had a good laugh!

As we were laughing, and still watching the Board feverishly search for my diploma, the young lady who had received her diploma before me, came back over and gave them “her” diploma…which turned out to actually be mine. They had given her my diploma by mistake. She was so upset and crying…and I was thinking, “why are you crying?…at least you GOT a diploma…it was mine, but at least you got one…” They finally awarded me the “lost” diploma, I shook hands again, smiled for the photographer, and got a standing ovation…Later, so many people told me that “if it had to happen to anyone, we’re glad it was you!” I had no idea how many times I would hear that, and similar statements, throughout the rest of my life. 

I actually teach individuals how to develop “humor skills.” The first skill is the “ability to see the absurdity of your situation.” My philosophy is that there is not much that you can’t recover from if you possess the appropriate life skills…and humor is definitely one of those skills. So my advice to all graduates this month, is to see the humor in life, the absurdity of your situations, and know that you can, and will persevere and succeed. The choices are all up to you…you can control the direction of your life. I am no longer that “child prodigy,” but I continue to practice those life skills that have served me so well. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…