Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Florence Finnegan

Florence Finnegan

Her name was Florence Finnegan.   Her mother was a nurse, passionate about her calling, who wanted to name her daughter after her idol, Florence Nightingale. All of the bedtime stories Florence heard growing up were about the brave nurse.  And she was expected to demonstrate the same traits.  Florence was never given a nickname.  "Florence Nightingale didn't use a nickname"  her mother scolded whenever Florence asked to be called something else, usually Mary.  Florence knew this was not true, she knew Florence Nightingale was known as the Lady with the Lamp, but she didn't mention this to her mother because her mother hated know- it-alls.   So she was just Florence. Not Flo or Florry. 

Florence Finnegan was chubby, freckled, redheaded, and cursed with a farsightedness that required thick glasses that magnified her mud brown eyes enormously.  She was not active or social, preferring to spend her time curled up on her bed, alone in her room with a book and her ginger cat, Spot.   Florence Finnegan 's red hair wasn't the pretty red like Anne of Green Gables.  It was carrot red and wiry curly.   Her mother kept it plaited tightly to keep it under control.   She stayed out of the sun as much as possible to avoid more freckles than she actually had or worse, a bright red sunburn that would clash with her hair.   Florence Finnegan was eight years old and in Grade Three..

You would think that someone like Florence would be the object of bullying for all sorts of reasons.  Her shyness, her weight, her hair colour, her freckles, even her name.   But Florence was invisible. She had a force field around her that seemed to repel the bullies.   A deep seated self possession, a strength that even at such a young age protected Florence by sending out a message that she would not be messed with.  She had never had to prove herself to anyone.   Because no one really noticed her.   Hard as that is to believe.   She was quiet and preferred her own company.  It didn't bother her to be this way although sometimes she really longed to be liked.
Sometimes she wished she was like Kathy Hawkins.  Florence was in love with Kathy Hawkins as was just about every other kid in her class.  Kathy had long silky blond hair, clear ivory skin and sparkling blue eyes.  She was everything Florence was not.   Florence sometimes longed to be a person like that.  She would imagine, alone at night in her bed, that if she died she would come back as Kathy Hawkins.   It was silly she knew, as Kathy was already Kathy, not a lost soul waiting for a dead Florence to inhabit her body.   At any rate, Florence never made her feelings known to Kathy.  She was not the type of girl to curry favour from other people.   Unlike her classmates,   Florence didn't clamour for Kathy's attention at recess, bringing her flowers, offering her key positions in games.  Florence preferred to worship her from afar.   Her invisibility made  it possible to be near Kathy  without being noticed by her.

When I say Florence was invisible, obviously I am speaking metaphorically.   She was visible of course.  But people never thought of Florence.    Valentine's were few in her little construction paper heart.  She got Valentine's from classmates who's mothers insisted their children send one to everyone in the class. Her name took too long to write and didn't fit on Valentine's cards and birthday invitations.   Because she was silent and self sufficient she didn't draw attention to herself.   If Florence was in school in this day and age she might have been singled out as 'exceptional'  or she might have drawn the attention of her teacher because she was too quiet and withdrawn.   But back in those days, the quiet and meek flew under the radar.

 Florence's life changed the day the teacher announced that the class would be forming a choir and would be performing at a music festival later in the year.   Every child in the class would be required to be in this choir.  Florence's heart leaped into her chest.   A choir!   Florence loved to sing.  She sang every chance she got...when she was alone.   Her mother had heard her once and told Florence not to show off.  She was to be humble and modest.   It was not right to be proud of her gifts.  It was not right for her to be going around  singing all the time.  So she kept it quiet.    But now, the teacher said they all had to sing.   Surely her mother wouldn't mind her singing with a bunch of others.   She decided to keep it to herself for as long as she could just in case her mother found a reason to have her removed from the choir.

The class was put into two sections.   Soprano and Alto.  All the high voices were sopranos and the low voices were altos.   That was all the harmony the grade three classes  were capable of.     Florence watched as the teacher tested each student to see where they would fit.   Typically, at their age, most of the children would be sopranos, but there were a few altos, mostly boys.   Everyone had been chosen and placed when the teacher noticed Florence standing there. 

"Florence!  Come over here and let me hear you...."   she said, distractedly arranging herself on the piano bench.

Florence walked slowly over.  The rest of the class was talking amongst themselves and acting unruly they way children will when the teacher is occupied. 
The teacher played the scale and  Florence sang along.   As the teacher played each note Florence's courage grew and she began to sing with more confidence.  The teacher stopped playing and looked at Florence as if seeing her for the first time.   Her classmates had grown quiet as Florence sang the notes of the scale, and then the next scale, and the next showing a range unheard of in a child so young.

"Florence, you are lucky enough to have a choice of soprano or alto.  Which would you like to sing?"  the teacher asked .

Florence was not used to being asked anything.   No one had ever asked her preference for anything.  She was at a loss.   And then she looked at Kathy Hawkins sitting there in the soprano section.
"I would like to be a soprano"  she said quietly.   And she went over and stood beside Kathy who moved over to make room.

They began to sing the first song they would be learning.   As the group sang  in the cacophonous way of young children, one voice stood out.    One voice sang the melody in a voice clear and sweet.   She knew the song, she loved the song, she owned the song in her heart.  

"Florence Finnegan! " the teacher exclaimed   "You sing like a Nightingale!!"
Florence did not know what to do with this information.  Florence the Nightingale??   Even at eight  years old Florence could appreciate the irony of her situation. 
From that day forward her classmates seemed to notice her a bit more.   They seemed puzzled at first.  Where had this child come from?   How could such a beautiful sound come from....well, from Florence?  But it did.   Florence didn't become popular by any means.  It wasn't something she wanted and she didn't encourage the attentions of her classmates and teachers.   But for those moments when Florence sang,  she imagined that she could be a Kathy, or a Susan, or a Karen.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Elaine's Escapade

Elaine's Escapade

Elaine drove in to the parking lot of the restaurant and her heart started beating a little faster.   She had no idea what the evening ahead would be like, but she was excited.   She had only known Brenda for a short time and their contact so far had been by email or online chat.  And it had been positive, much to her surprise.   No stranger to online dating, Elaine's expectations had been fairly low.   So far, Brenda had seemed to be different from anyone she had talked to in the past.  She wanted to let herself hope, but in spite of the excitement at meeting her, Elaine's reservations were high.   Too many times she had been bitterly disappointed, and a few times even downright terrified with her online dating experiences.

As Elaine neared the restaurant she saw a woman standing alone outside the building.  Brenda had said she would be waiting outside as she didn't like going in to restaurants alone.   That must be her, Elaine thought.   There wasn't time to get a good look at her, but Elaine was relieved to see that she looked like her profile picture.  That was a good sign.   As she looked for a parking spot she recalled one woman she met on line who admitted to being a "woman of size" but assured Elaine she was healthy and mobile.  Her profile picture had shown a beautiful full figured blue eyed blond.  When they met in person however, it was clear that the picture had been at least 10 years old and the woman was at least 100 lbs heavier than she was at that time. 

Elaine found a parking spot, took a deep breath and got out of the car.   This was it.  Time to see if two weeks of exciting emails and the forging of a definite connection were in fact reality or the lead up to yet another disappointment.   Without thinking , Elaine bent down and picked up a discarded coffee cup that was lying on the ground behind her car.   Elaine hated litter and picked it up whenever she could.  But now she realized that she was about to meet Brenda and she was carrying garbage!!! What an idiot she was!  Doing what she does best in any awkward situation Elaine used humour to alleviate the tension.  As she approached the woman standing there she made some flip comment about being her dream date showing up carrying garbage.   Brenda didn't laugh.  In fact, as they hugged each other hello, Elaine noted that Brenda looked like she was about to throw up.  Elaine's nervousness, previously at an acceptable level given the situation, ramped up in to high gear.   This could be awkward.

They went inside and Elaine stole quick glances at Brenda as they made small talk while  waiting in line to order. She was happy to notice that Brenda seemed to be doing the same thing. She was very cute.  Lovely eyes, a shy smile.  And just the right height!  The hug had been nice. 

The coffee shop was known for its decadent waffles.  Elaine, who was a hard core sugar addict, had been looking forward all day to the Chunky Monkey;  an evil concoction of two scoops of ice cream, chocolate syrup and bananas  on top of one of the best waffles Elaine had ever tasted.  She had skipped lunch in order to alleviate some of the guilt.  

"What are you having?"  she asked Brenda

"I'm going to order a cappucino" she said.

" Are you going to eat anything?"  asked Elaine

"I'm feeling really nauseous, I don't think I can eat anything."  Brenda blushed and gave a small laugh.  "I'm really nervous."

Elaine's heart sank.  She couldn't eat???  That meant Elaine would not be having that delectable waffle after all.   While outwardly she seemed calm and outgoing, inside she had her own anxieties, one of which was not being able to eat in front of anyone she didn't know well, unless they were also eating.  So she ordered a cup of tea and shrugged off her disappointment, telling herself she didn't need the calories anyway.

They found a table near the window and sat down.   Finally she was able to get a good look at Brenda and she definitely liked what she saw.   It was really hard to tell if Brenda felt the same.   She had told Elaine that she was a really shy and quiet person and didn't talk much.    But in her emails she had come across as funny, and chatty and very open.   So, Elaine had figured she was like most of the people she knew who said they were quiet introverts when in reality you couldn't get a word in edgewise with them.  But Brenda was true to her word.   She was quiet.   And reserved.  And Elaine knew she was trying not to run to the bathroom to be sick.   But Elaine liked her vibe.  She felt comfortable with Brenda and wished there was some way she could make her feel comfortable.  

Elaine had a brainstorm when she remembered seeing a set of questions on Facebook that were supposed to help you get to know people.  She grabbed her phone and looked them up.  

"So there are 36 questions here that are supposed to bring us closer by answering them.  Do you want to  try some?"

"Sure! "  Brenda said, looking a bit relieved at being off the hook for small talk.

And there began a totally enjoyable evening of sharing and laughing and getting to know each other better.   Elaine realized Brenda had a wonderful sense of humour and sweetness about her she had not seen in other women she had dated.   Brenda was genuine and honest.   They sat in the coffee shop for hours.  Brenda even managed to eat a croissant and Elaine was happy with a muffin, all thoughts of the Chunky Monkey gone from her mind in the happiness of the evening.

The evening was getting late when they reluctantly decided it was time to go.  They walked out to the parking lot and hugged again.  A longer hug this time.  But no kiss, even though Elaine wanted to, it didn't seem the right time.   This was not a relationship she wanted to rush.   This was not a woman she wanted to hurry in to her bed.   Elaine felt that this was someone worth getting to know, and she wanted this to be different from every other relationship she had ever had. Even if it never became anything more than friendship, Elaine felt her life would be richer for it.  She got in to her car that night feeling happy and she couldn't wait to get home and see if there was an email from her new friend Brenda. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Dianna's Dream Come True

Dianna's Dream Come True

Dianna woke up and looked at the clock.  She still had three more hours she could sleep but she was too excited.   Deciding that getting up was better than tossing and turning she headed downstairs and made a cup of coffee and sat down at her computer.   Today was going to be a great day...she hoped.  It was the day a long held dream was about to come true.

Dianna had always been quiet and thoughtful.  But she also had vision and passion guided by a firm belief that the world would be a better place if people were just kinder to one another.   She had practiced "paying it forward" all of her adult life.   Random acts of kindness, whether to strangers or to people she knew, whether anonymously or in person, she enjoyed doing for others.   Paying for the order of the person in line behind her at the drive thru, handing out McDonald's or Tim Horton's gift cards to homeless people she saw on the streets.  Once she even handed out gift cards to the men collecting garbage on her street.   It filled her soul to see the joy her actions brought and she always encouraged people to do the same for someone else.   

As she got older Dianna found that she wanted to spread the word about Random Acts of Kindness to people on a larger scale, but she wasn't sure how to go about it.  Painfully shy, with a chronic and acute social phobia, she knew that she would never be able to get up in front of people and talk about her experiences.   She had written a book and talked about it there, but the book wasn't well distributed and only a few friends had read it.

The opportunity to enlighten others came to her in an unexpected way.   She had attended the First Unitarian Church a few times with her new girlfriend, Anna.   Last November Anna was taking part in the Fall Festival  and would be performing a musical number.   Dianna planned to attend.   Anna told her there would a be large auction and she brought home the catalogue of all the things that would auctioned that night.  Some of it was silent auction, but there was also a live auction.   One item in particular caused Dianna's heart to leap in to her throat.   A sermon was available for purchase at the auction. The winner would be allowed to have the minister write and deliver a sermon on a topic of their choice.   Dianna's mind raced with the possibilities.  What better way to get her vision out there and inspire others than by having it read from the pulpit!   She decided that she absolutely had to win this sermon!

On the night of the Festival Dianna was beside herself with excitement.   While she enjoyed the performances, she couldn't stop thinking about the live auction and whether or not she would actually win the sermon.   She had it all planned out.  She knew exactly what she wanted that sermon to be about and how she wanted it organized.   Setting herself a rather high limit for bidding, she was ready to win.  Finally the time came and she bid...higher and higher and higher.   Eventually it was down to just one person and herself.  She was getting even more anxious as the bidding came closer to her limit.  She couldn't lose this!  It was a chance of a lifetime. 
"Do I hear $500?"  the auctioneer shouted.  Dianna raised her hand.
"....$550...?"    her opponent raised his hand.
Her limit was $600! She was going to lose!  Diana felt the tears welling up.  She couldn't go past her limit....and yet...
"Do I hear $600.00"  Dianna's hand shot into the air along with her hopes and dreams.    She held her breath and looked at the man who was bidding against her.   Time seemed to stand still.....
"Going once.....going  twice....."   Dianna's heart was beating so loudly she could hardly hear the auctioneer.   Please, please, please...she thought.
"SOLD!!  For $600.00
She had won!!   There were no words to describe how she felt at that moment
And that is how she ended up sitting in her chair at 530 a.m. on a Sunday in April. Today was the day the sermon would be read.   And Anna, who was still sleeping peacefully upstairs, was going to be leading the service.   Anna had agreed to read something that she, Dianna had written.  
Finally the time came to leave for church.  They picked up their friend Liz on the way.  Anna managed to get her own anxiety under control  enough to help Dianna not dissolve into a puddle of anxiety.   She and Liz joked and gabbed all the way to church in an effort to distract her.   It didn't really help, but she loved Anna for trying.

As people filed in to the church Dianna began to despair that not many people were in attendance.  But Dianna reassured her that Unitarians were notoriously late and that they would all come in when the bell rang.   She tried to relax and focus on the service. 

The whole service from start to finish was wonderful.  The minister did an excellent job in creating a message of hope and kindness that Dianna felt she had written herself.  In fact she had quoted some passages from Dianna's own book.   It was finally out there, her vision of people paying it forward and carrying out random acts of kindness, was about to be realized.    The congregation was challenged to do three random acts of kindness.   Even the children were encouraged to do the same.  The minister gave them each a loonie and a toonie.  The loonie was to keep for themselves and the toonie was to use to do something nice for someone else...someone that was not a family member.  
After the service, many people came up to Dianna and thanked her for suggesting such an excellent topic, and it seemed as though people were quite receptive to the challenge that was put down for them.   It made Dianna feel wonderful. 

After church Dianna, Anna and Liz went out for brunch.   Dianna was feeling totally exhilarated and also profoundly relieved that it was over and had been received well.  She looked forward to the service in May when people would be asked to share the random acts they had carried out.