Friday, May 30, 2014

The Time I Stopped Soccer Practice

I'm a smart, well-traveled career woman with a master's degree and three published works on the market. Unfortunately, I'm also fairly awkward. Please enjoy this series chronicling some of the awkward things I've done and the lessons I've learned along the way.

These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 6: The Time I Stopped Soccer Practice

A few weeks ago, I had Friday night soccer duty with my two nephews. I drove them across town to the sprawl of fields surrounding the soccer club, lugged my beach chair and my book out to the sidelines, and settled in for a comfortable evening of swatting mosquitoes with the rest of the soccer moms. 

Truth be told, I did less reading than I planned, and a lot more laughing. If you've ever watched junior youth league soccer, then you know why.  

  • At one point, one of the little boys attempted what may have been a poorly-executed bicycle kick. He missed the ball entirely, hollering, "SON of a NUT!" Meanwhile, behind him, my nephew turned a crooked line of cartwheels.
  • A boy on the next field yelled, "COACH! WHEN ARE WE GONNA PLAY SHARPS AND MINNOWS?" approximately 80,000 times on a continual loop.
  • A bird pooped while flying over the field. It was Very Exciting. "I SAW THE POOP COME OUT! IT LOOKED LIKE A BUNCH OF LITTLE STRINGS! IT ALMOST LANDED ON YOUR HEAD, CARLOS!!!!"
And so forth. 

After an hour and a half, we switched fields for my other nephew's practice. Since both boys practiced with both teams (bless their coaches' hearts!), I let them run on ahead together to the next field while I gathered up my chair, keys, phone, and book before working my leisurely way over.

When I arrived at the second practice field, however, I couldn't see my younger nephew! Meanwhile, instead of practicing with a team, my older nephew seemed to have fallen in with a group of rag tag boys. They stood in a messy cluster, kicking a soccer ball around haphazardly. 

I caught my older nephew's eye and motioned for him to leave the cluster and come over to me so that I could ask if he knew where my younger nephew had gone. Instead of immediately obeying, however, he only shot me an uncomfortable look and continued kicking the ball with his friends.

I called his name.

He waved and shook his head.

This was not to be had. 

I dropped my chair and book and stomped toward the middle of the cluster. One of the older boys, seemingly ignoring my presence, kicked the ball toward my nephew. I hadn't spent more than a dozen years working with middle and high school kids for nothing. I knew just what to do. I reached out a foot and stopped the ball, trapping it under the sole of my foot. 

I pinned my nephew to the turf with my eyes.

"Where is your brother?" 

"He's in the bathroom," he answered, swiping his forearms across his face to clear the sweat.

"And why didn't you answer me when I called you?" I demanded.

He blinked at me. "Because we're practicing." He gestured toward the older boy, who was staring at me as if I had horns spouting out of my forehead. I came to the slow realization that he wasn't just a little bit older than the other boys. He was a lot older. 

It then dawned on me that he might be their coach. And that they might be practicing. And that I had stomped into the middle of their little scrimmage and derailed everything. 

"Ohhhh," I said slowly, lifting my foot off the ball and giving it a tap to send it rolling. "Well, okay. Good. Fine. Alrighty, then." 

Continuing to blather, I backed slowly off the field, hoping that with any luck there might be an open manhole directly behind me. 

There are two problems working in tandem here. The first is that I obviously have no sense of judging people's ages, and the second is that I really do need to pay closer attention to what's going on around me. 

Perhaps if I can grow in those two areas, I will be saved future humiliation and will make life a little less chaotic for those forced to interact with me. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

From Shadow into Sun at Last

  We're longing now 
to reach that day
when these dark hours 
have passed.
We'll lift our faces then
and move
from shadow 
into sun at last.


Pfc Marc A. Delgado
Cpl Ian T. Zook
Pfc Christopher Smith

Friday, May 23, 2014

What Do Single People Think about at Weddings?

Here's something that you may not know about me: I love weddings.

I love the decorations and the spectacle and the food and the dancing. I love looking to see whether or not the dad cries, and I love watching the groom's face when the bride appears. I love nervous brides and giggling grooms and confused grandparents and squirmy children. I love sound equipment malfunctions and cheesy music and string quartets and doing the Electric Slide at the reception. I love the antics of the bridal party and the contented exhaustion of the parents when the whole thing's over. 

As much as I've always loved weddings though, I have a feeling that I'm going to love them even more now that I've read Timothy Keller's book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions. One of his points produced such a brain wave that I had to stop reading for a few minutes in order to process and let it sink in. 

In discussing Jesus' miracle at the wedding in Cana of Gallilee, Keller poses this question: "What do single people think about at weddings?"

I couldn't help chuckling when I read that question.

What do single people think about at weddings? 

The possibilities are endless:

  • I guess mom was right: there really is somebody for everybody. 
  • Why does that creepy man keep staring at me? (Oh, wait, is he actually staring at me, or do his eyes just point that way??)
  • Thank you, bride, for choosing bridesmaid dresses that we can "totally wear again."
  • The groom is dreamy. I wish I'd met him first.
  • Has nobody seriously noticed that the flower girl has wet her pants?
  • Someone should have told the mother of the bride that her dress makes her look like a marshmallow Peep!
  • My feet hurt. These shoes were a terrible idea.
  • Oh, that groomsman's really cute--ahhh, a wedding band. Dang it. 
  • I'm jealous. Why can she find someone and I can't?
  • I'm not jealous. I'd rather stay single forever than settle for someone like that.
  • I hope that someday I will be as beautiful as the bride is today. 
  • I wonder what my wedding will be like.
  • I wonder if I will ever even have a wedding.

It's on these last two points that Keller focuses. It's only natural, he says, that at weddings, single people ponder the possibilities of their own future weddings. This is not an idle hypothesis on Keller's part. The reason he raises the question is to lead us to this: what did Jesus think about when he was at weddings? 

Perhaps while at the wedding in Cana, Jesus looked beyond the struggles of his earthly ministry and contemplated his future union with his own beloved--the bride of Christ, cleansed and redeemed and adorned and anointed, glorified and prepared to be united with him. 

In short, perhaps he thought about me.

When I logged on to the wedding site The Knot recently to send in my first R.S.V.P. for the summer wedding season, I took a minute to wonder what the service would be like and how the bride would look and whether or not the groom would accidentally lock his knees and faint. Because of Keller's book, however, those weren't my only thoughts. I also thought about Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.

Who knows if I will ever get married. I certainly have no idea. But this I do know: one day I will stand before Christ, cleansed and redeemed and glorified. I will be his forever and ever. Although in a sense I already am his, I know that my ultimate union with Christ is still to come. There is coming a day when no more sin or frailty or misunderstanding on my part will create distance between us. 

No more dimmed glass. We will finally be face to face.

The next time I'm at a wedding, I'm going to think about that.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Time the Doctor Hated Me

I'm a smart, well-traveled career woman with a master's degree and three published works on the market. Unfortunately, I'm also fairly awkward. Please enjoy this series chronicling some of the awkward things I've done and the lessons I've learned along the way.

These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 5: The Time the Doctor Hated Me

A few years ago when my sister Bethany broke her nose while swimming with her horse in the ocean (yes, you read that correctly), I was the first person she called.

"Cahn you get mby inchurance card amd bring id do dhe hosbital?" she slurred into the phone through the double-barrel fountains blood gushing from her nostrils. 

"What's wrong?" I asked, more than a little worried. After all, she'd recently informed me that she'd only gotten insurance on the off chance of a potentially debilitating riding accident.  ("Just in case I ever fall into a palmetto head and have to get my brain reattached," had been her exact words.)

"Ah broke mah dose," she informed me. 

I grabbed her insurance card, hopped in my car, and met her in the emergency room of the local hospital. We perched on a gurney in a florescent-lit hall, both of us shivering. Salt water still dribbled from Bethany's swimwear onto the floor as blood bubbled from the the split on the bridge of her nose (which was pretty much pointed sideways at that point). Both of us had books along, of course, so we sat side-by-side, backs to the wall, feet dangling over the edge of the gurney while we waited. 

I couldn't look away from the blood continually beading up on the bridge of Bethany's nose. "You need to wipe it," I would prompt her. "It's about to start trickling!"

"Stahp loogkingk ahd mbe ," she would say.

In this productive manner, we passed our time until being moved behind a curtained partition. A nurse  laid Bethany back and prepped her for stitches.

And then the doctor arrived. He was well past middle age, with a grizzled explosion of white hair sticking out from his head in indignant little spikes. I thought he looked like great fun -- like a funky Albert Einstein -- and decided to start cracking some jokes for his benefit.

That's when I learned that I had completely misread the room.

NURSE: *lays round paper circle over Bethany's face*
DOCTOR: *prepares to stitch*
RUTH: What's that - a toilet seat cover?
DOCTOR: (humorless) No.
RUTH: Well, it looks a bit... incommodious. 
BETHANY: *chuckle*
DOCTOR: *cold stare*
RUTH: *side eyes*
(silence and stitching)
DOCTOR: So, you keep horses?
BETHANY: Just the one.
DOCTOR: Where do you keep it?
RUTH: (trying new tactic) She keeps it in the closet at our apartment.
DOCTOR: (pauses mid-stitch) What?
RUTH: It's a tight squeeze, but what can you do?
BETHANY: She's kidding. I keep her at [x] Stables.
(silence and stitching)
RUTH: (having decided on a last ditch effort) You know what I was thinking...?
RUTH: I was thinking that maybe instead of sewing her nose up, you could maybe install something helpful.
DOCTOR: Install something.
RUTH: Yes. Like a little pocket.
DOCTOR: A pocket.
RUTH: ...with a zipper... 
DOCTOR: *cold stare*
RUTH: ...for keeping really tiny things in...
NURSE: *slackjawed*
RUTH: maybe some small change... (trails off)
BETHANY: *chuckling*
DOCTOR: (coldly) Excuse me, but who are you?
RUTH: I'm the sister.
DOCTOR: *gives "you're dead to me" look*
RUTH: *side eyes*
NURSE: *shuts mouth*
RUTH: *zips lips and throws away the key*

The doctor neither looked at me nor spoke again until the procedure ended. Meanwhile I sat meekly in the corner, feeling foolish and embarrassed but at the same time trying not to laugh at his righteous indignation.

Granted, this happened nearly ten years ago. Since then, both the sophistication of my jokes and my ability to read a room have come a long way.

Well, they've come a little way.


I think.

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea why I sometimes behave like this. Something just comes over me, and I decide that I must do everything in my power to make that person crack or die in the attempt. (Although generally the only thing that dies along the way is my dignity.)

The truth is that I'm trying to learn to heed the advice of my good friend Jodee, who has said: "Maybe you should try not acting like yourself until after people have gotten to know you."  Sage advice from someone who's put up with more than her fair share of ridiculousness from me. 

If we've met in person, chances are high that you've witnessed an instance in which my attempt to elicit a laugh has proven a big swing and a miss. If that's the case, then thank you for being my friend and laughing along anyway. 

Whether you're laughing with me or at me isn't really the issue.

As long as you're laughing, I'm okay with it either way.


Friday, May 16, 2014

The Time I Dropped My Flask

I'm a smart, well-traveled career woman with a master's degree and three published works on the market. Unfortunately, I'm also fairly awkward. Please enjoy this series chronicling some of the awkward things I've done and the lessons I've learned along the way.

These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 4: The Time I Dropped My Flask

A few years ago while on a trip, I decided to buy a hip flask.

To this day, I'm not sure what possessed me. I don't drink hard liquor and had no real need for a flask, but I saw it and I wanted it, and I convinced myself that if I bought it, I could fill it with mouthwash and keep it in my purse, thereby justifying the purchase.

So I bought the flask, brought it home, filled it with mouthwash, and promptly lost it.

Several years passed during which I gave exactly zero thought to my missing flask. Then I decided to make some big life decisions which involved a job change and a new apartment. Almost immediately after my sister/roommate and I decided not to renew the lease on the apartment we shared, I fell and broke my ankle, suffered a life implosion, and therefore required lots of help during the resultant move. 

One day during the absolute armpit of the move -- a day that we had set aside for hauling out big furniture to make way for the final, frantic cleaning -- my sister and then-roommate put me in charge of recruiting volunteers to help. Since I was out of commission due to my ankle and she only had a narrow window of time during which she could borrow a trailer and haul the goods across town, we knew we couldn't do it on our own.

So I did what I do best: I delegated. I called up the associate pastor of our church and asked him to round up some likely lads who were willing to put in some hard labor in return for a couple of bucks. He cheerfully agreed and turned up with some strapping young men, one of whom was a student from the school where I was teaching at the time.  

They set to work hauling dusty bookcases, mismatched dining room furniture, and our brokedown love seat out to the trailer. Meanwhile, the the skies opened up, dumping a warm Florida rain over everything. While everyone dashed frantically about trying not to slip on wet tile, I hobbled around on my crutches, trying (and mostly failing) to be helpful without getting in the way.

When the time came for my bedroom furniture to be moved, I hovered nearby, uselessly backseat driving every step in the process. "Move the night stand away from the wall first before you try to pick up the bed frame," I ordered my student helpfully, as if he were not smart enough to think of this for himself. He obliged. As he moved the nightstand, something clattered to the floor and rolled toward the center of the room. Oh, horrors.

The flask!

It wobbled back and forth a few times before coming to rest at the feet of my associate pastor. He and my student stared down at the flask for a moment, then looked up at me, eyes rounded and eyebrows skimming their respective hairlines. 

I stared back, momentarily panicked. 

Clearly something needed to be said. 

But what?

-Oh, there it is! I've been looking for that! (breezy laugh)




-What is THAT?


-Oh, THAT? That's nothing. I just keep MOUTHWASH in it. 


In the end, I settled for an awkward laugh and the story about buying the flask on a trip and filling it with mouthwash and about how I'd forgotten I even owned it, but even to my ears, the story sounded thin and defensive. 

I offered to let them smell the flask, but they both declined. 

My associate pastor, who is always gracious, has never mentioned the incident. 

And as for my former student... who knows what he thought... or whom he told about the day he went to help his teacher move and learned that she kept a hip flask hidden between her bed and her nightstand. 

I'm slowly learning that when I stumble upon situations that put others in awkward positions, perhaps I should learn to take a step back, remember some of these awkward things I've done, and cut everybody else a little slack. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Time I Saw the Singer in the Crosswalk

These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 3: The Time I Saw the Singer in the Crosswalk 

A few years ago on one of my many trips to Chicago, some friends and I caught a performance of Eric Whitacre's Paradise Lost Opera at the downtown Auditorium Theatre. One of the singers impressed me especially: a buff young tenor with soulful eyes and a remarkable vocal range. 

An hour or so after the performance, it just so happened that as we were wandering the city near the theater district, I spotted this singer a block away, walking towards us, his long grey coat flapping dramatically in the wind. 

My heart stuttered. 

Our paths converged, our steps falling into sync as we approached one another. We locked eyes. The stars aligned. I saw the timeline of my life stretched out in both directions, every incident along the way drawing me toward this one moment. Everything went into slow motion. (Music may have even begun to play, although it’s hard to remember now. It’s all a blur.) 

We stopped at a crosswalk: he on one side, and I on the other.

I gulped deep quantities of cold air, trying to draw enough breath to alert the rest of my party of my sudden conundrum: how to let this singer know just how impressed I had been with his performance without gushing, fawning, annoying him, scaring him, or otherwise slowing him down?

Be cool, I told myself. He's just looking straight ahead, and you just happen to be standing straight across from him on the crosswalk. It doesn't mean anything.

The "walk" signal turned from red to green.

Just walk forward, smile at him, and say, "Good job." You can do this.

By heart stalled. What was I thinking? I couldn't actually talk to him

My feet slowed. We locked eyes again.

Say it, I told myself. Say it now.

Don't you dare say anything, I answered back in a panic. Just smile and nod at him, and he'll understand.

My brain suffered a complete synaptic collapse. I stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, making intense eye contact while grinning like the Cheshire cat. Not surprisingly, the young singer broke eye contact, looked resolutely down at the sidewalk, and quick-stepped around me, leaving me standing in the street, grinning like a lunatic.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the crosswalk, the rest of my party waited for me, wondering if I'd just had some sort of aneurysm. 

That's when I learned the truth about myself: I'm incapable of being cool in the presence of greatness. No matter what I may believe in my heart about celebrities -- that they're people just like us and that I'd never be dazzled by them if I were to meet them in person -- the sad reality is that I'm incapable of handling myself in their presence. Unfortunately, this truth has been borne out on many occasions. Any time I've met a well-known person or someone whose work I've admired, instead of impressing them with my blithe coolness, I've instead panicked and acted like a fruitcake. 

Sadly, the harder I'm trying to be normal, the more likely I am to lose it completely. The people don't even need to be famous, per se, to send me around the bend. They just have to be people I admire. Upon meeting people who have intimidated me, instead of acting cool, I have babbled about drug use, rubbed backs, told confusing and impenetrable jokes, asked inappropriate questions, and on one surprising occasion I even threw some money at someone. (Horrors!)

Sometimes I think there's just no hope.

The good news is that on some of these occasions, I've had the chance to meet these people again and redeem myself. The bad news is that in many cases, I have not. 

Which means that somewhere out there, there's a Broadway star having recurring nightmares about a grinning, swirly-eyed fan blocking his way on the crosswalk. 

C'est la vie.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Just a Little Advice for the Ladies

Best Stay Single: 
An Ironic Love Song Based on Literary Spoilers

Sir Percy’s vows to Margurite 
Were based on a deception.
Darcy and Elizabeth
Embodied misconception.
While Rochester wooed gentle Jane,
He hid a wife upstairs.
If these be paragons of love,
Then, ladies, say your prayers.

Poor loving Desdomona 
Was strangled by her mate.
Petruchio retained the right to
Boss and roughhouse Kate.
When Juliet wed Romeo,
It ended in her death.
If these be paragons of love,
Then, girls, don't hold your breath.

Alex/Angel (take your pick!)
Ruined Tess’s life.
Claudio shamed Hero 
‘Stead of taking her to wife.
Benedick and Beatrice
Let love and hate comingle. 
If these be paragons of love, 
Then, ladies, best stay single.

©2014 Ruth Buchanan

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Time I Got Swamped by a Wave

I'm a smart, well-traveled career woman with a master's degree and three published works on the market. Unfortunately, I'm also fairly awkward. Please enjoy this series chronicling some of the awkward things I've done and the lessons I've learned along the way.

These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 2: The Time I Got Swamped by a Wave

A few years ago, a friend of mine and her family came down from the Midwest for a visit. As with most times that out-of-town guests come to enjoy the sun, Florida decided to be coy. Despite the day being overcast, we pretended that Florida was cooperating and moved forward with our plans to spend the day frolicking at the beach.

And I do mean frolicking

We attempted some ill-timed jump photos, built sand fortifications, turned cartwheels, chased seagulls, and generally made spectacles of ourselves. Midway through the afternoon, an old lady actually approached my friend to commend us for our eye-catching display of frivolity, saying, "It's so nice to see young people enjoying the beach for once!" She wasn't talking about the children we'd brought along. 

Eventually we decided to wade out into the surf and do some actual swimming. Not being from the coast and having learned to swim in swimming pools, my friends obviously needed to be educated about the nature of the ocean. Considering myself the expert of the group, I turned my back to the waves to address everyone. 

"You have to be really careful and keep track of the waves while you're wading out," I announced, "because if you don't pay attention, you could get hit by a wave unexpectedly, and you could wind up--" 

And that's when I got swamped by a huge wave. 

I was knocked off my feet, tumbled in the surf, and came up spitting sand. 

Of course, the irony of getting swamped by a wave while explaining how not to get swamped by a wave was lost on no one. I'm actually surprised my entire party didn't drown due to laughing so hard.

My sister, who was along for the day, has never let me forget this embarrassing moment of accidental pompousness. Nor should she. The memory serves as a good reminder that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. 

An embarrassing, dig-broken-shells-out-of-your-bathing-suit, salt-encrusted fall. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Time I Sat in Cheese

I'm a smart, well-traveled career woman with a master's degree and three published works on the market. Unfortunately, I'm also fairly awkward. Today begins a new series chronicling some of the awkward things I've done and the lessons I've learned along the way.

Please enjoy.

These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 1: The Time I Sat in Cheese

Once while on one of my summer road trips, I met up with some former students for dinner. For the venue, we'd chosen Hodads, a grub burger joint in Ocean Beach, California. While crammed together shoulder-to-shoulder in a dimly-lit booth, we swapped stories about school and growing up and life, discussing their classmates and what everybody's been doing since their graduation. 

I couldn't help but admire the grown-up sort of people that these two had become. I had seen them through middle school dramas, taken their pictures at high school formals, had kept track of their college and military pursuits, and had been suitably shocked when the two of them had gotten married  to each other (were they not still babies?!). Now I had to grapple with seeing them as my peers in the adult world. 

In all, it was an enjoyable evening, complete with tasty food and lively conversation. Once we'd finished our burgers, we decided to walk down the beach and the nearby pier. The night was too beautiful to draw to a close so soon. 

We talked and laughed as the sun set and the salt breeze whipped our hair around our heads. 

Partway through our walk, one of them cleared her throat and said, "Um, Miss Buchanan, I think you have something..." She trailed off while gesturing suggestively toward my hindquarters. Never a good sign! In a classically stupid move born of panic, I twisted my upper body around, turning in an awkward half circle in my attempt to view the troublesome area.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear... but a slice of cheese. Stuck to my butt. Plastered in all its bright orange glory to the back of my long black skirt. Worse yet, when I reached to pull the cheese off, I found that it had dried into a sort of crusty cement, requiring real effort and attention to remove. 

While I'd been strolling down the pier with my head thrown back, laughing and carrying on, I'd been doing so with a slice of cheese plastered to my glutes. 


The point here is neither that Hodads needs to bus their tables with a bit more attention to detail nor that I obviously need to be more careful about where I sit. 

The point is that we all have blind spots, and that when you're the person who sat in the cheese, you're generally the last one to know. Maybe we should consider this fact the next time we're tempted to think a little too highly of ourselves.

Because at some point, we all sit in the cheese.