895 Miles


Today as I was jostled awake and placed into my chair, I was thinking of my children. I’ve been so blessed with each child God gifted to me.

I drank my coffee and looked out my kitchen window at the many bird feeders and birdhouses. This is a treat in every season. The feeders are low thanks to a squirrel who has decided to live on the Alley compound. I know my Ben will fill them for me. He also keeps my flowers watered by the window in the living room so I can see the hummingbirds zip in to feed every day. He has chosen to be my primary caregiver. A part of me hates this because he is putting his life on hold to care for me. He reassures me that he is okay and wants to be my person. We live one day at a time and this time with him has been so fruitful. I thank God for it. He makes living in a chair not just bearable but sunny.

Then I thought of my oldest Ian. He just started a new career and got married. I say little prayers for him throughout the day. He has chosen a tough career, but he assures me it is one he enjoys. I can’t believe he is just a year away from being thirty years old. My sons have become men overnight. They each love our family fiercely. They each bring joy to our lives. I’m so blessed for the love they give us.

Oh my youngest was a gift from above, too. I hate that my body started to betray me while she was so young. I couldn’t be the field trip chaperone mom. I couldn’t fix her hair because my hands and arms atrophied first. I feel she was cheated of the physically strong mother her brothers had. We made the best of the situation. Now, she’s on the cusp of her senior year in high school. As I thought of her this morning, I smiled. She’s on a summer adventure in New York City. She studying her two of her favorites: theatre and journalism. She’s staying in the heart of Manhattan at the Fordham University Lincoln Center. Each day I check my messages and there’s a new adventure. “Mom, guess what?” Me excitedly, “WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” Abbey replies, “Just saw Sarah Jessica Parker getting on the subway. No big deal.” Me “NO WAY!” Then she tells me, “Yup, going in the subway by Central Park near the Brownstone neighborhood.” She’s 895 miles from me, but our hearts are always together. I know she will fly far from me but nothing not even ALS can separate our hearts. She will carry us along. It is sad that our season of parenting is coming to a close. The dynamics will change, but that’s life. When I think of my children, I am so humbled that God chose me to be their mother. I’m grateful for each moment and memory. It’s been my greatest adventure.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Mom Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“My children are the reason I laugh, smile and want to get up every morning”
Gena Lee Nolin

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Fredrick Douglass

“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”
Billy Graham

Joy, Joy, Joy

Joy, Joy, Joy

In my mind I’m thinking of joy. I’ve been experiencing a lot of joy as of late. Joy in the warm spring days. Joy because my garden fairy niece is milling around in my yard. Joy of spending time with my precious niece and great-nephew. Joy with the chances I’m given to be useful. Joy in my abundant friendships. And especially, joy in my children.

About three months ago, my oldest child came into my bedroom while I was doing my daily reading, praying, and reflecting. He said, “Momma, will you pray for me to get this job I’ve applied for with Canadian National Railroad? I really want it. This is my dream job.” I told him I would get right on it. I then thanked God because this was a huge leap for him.

I knew this was a dream job indeed. He has always loved trains. When my sister kept him as a toddler while I worked and went back to school, she would take him daily to watch the train come by her house. Then of course we collected everything “Thomas the Train” from train tables to video tapes. In elementary school, he would draw trains with his friend Grant. Of course, now he collects model trains. My sisters still today call him their “Engine, Engine number 9.” I was so grateful he had discovered a vocation and opportunity. Watching your child struggle is so painful.

When it became evident that Ken and I were going to be fighting and struggling to stay on this side of heaven to see our children into adulthood because of our health situations coupled with losing a child, their older brother, at 26 years of age and an estranged older sister, they became bitter. All of the years we attended church and lived our faith dissolved for them. They were so angry with God. Many times they would ask me, “How can you love a God that took Nick and allowed you and Dad to be terminally sick?” I would tell them this is my cross to bear. Your father and I know that there is more than this life on earth. So Ken and I fight to be here despite end-stage emphysema and ALS. God and prayer has helped sustain us. This bitterness has been lingering for several years and my boys refused to enter our church because they wanted no part of a God who let their brother die and parents have emphysema and ALS. I can hear them asking, “Why won’t your God get you out of that chair? Where’s your miracle?”

My oldest has been desperately floundering for the last two years. He had given up his teaching career. He was searching and trying to find a vocation. Nothing was going his way. So for these last two years he has done odd jobs from climbing under trailers fixing broken sewer pipes to climbing on top of houses patching roofs. He’s come home bruised, cut, and covered in filth from head to toe never complaining. Always searching. At supper each night we hold hands while I pray aloud for each of their futures and give thanks for our blessings whether they want to hear it or not. We endure always.

I marvel at the gifts of my children. I know now I have been given miracles through them. Ken and I both have. You see, we are still here because of the deep love they have for us. That is a direct gift from the God that they don’t understand. He is always for this little Alley Clan even as I roll in my chair and Ken drags his oxygen tanks to work each day. Yes, we struggle but never in vain for he sends us little miracles through family and friends every day. So when Ian came and asked me for prayer a few months ago, I began to cry and pray thanksgiving.

Ian went to Illinois to an all day interview for the railroad on a wing and lots of prayers this past February. He started sliding in the pew beside us on Sunday mornings at church. That first appearance my youngest told me, “Mom I started crying when I saw Ian’s car in the parking lot at church.” He helped me and the youth group Palm Sunday with the Easter Egg Hunt and pancake breakfast. The past few Sundays he has been playing guitar again in the choir loft. Yesterday, I wept tears of joy as I heard his guitar improvising with the hymns. This Saturday, he leaves to go to school in Chicago, Illinois to start his seven week school training for his dream job. My God does give miracles. I will not cease to pray for my children’s futures, but I’ve given a big thank you to my “Sky Daddy” for answered prayers. I’ve got joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Joyful Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.”
Menachem Begin

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”
Richard Bach

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
Buddha

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”
Tecumseh

“Where’s your Sky Daddy Sal?”
Ian & Ben Alley

Opportunity

 

In my mind, I’m thinking of how 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It makes me ponder if we are any better for it today? What would MLKJ think of our country? Watching a PBS presentation at home with my kids the other night, I shuddered. Watching the blatant displays of hate, it made my stomach hurt. When I taught as a white educator, this was a tough but fruitful unit for all of my students. We realize the fight for a better world was for all. We all bleed red. We are a family of humans. We all deserve love and respect. We all want to finish this life as best we can. Humans are not geared toward solidarity existence. We all have gifts to share. We all are capable of building up one another. We all have a purpose.

I always asked, “What did MLKJ fight for: blacks, the poor, or equality? This was a tough question. As we viewed historical footage, my students recognized that among the vast marches there were blacks and whites marching side by side. All colors were martyred for the cause. Doing what is right in any situation is always the tougher path. It’s not for the weak of heart. Dying for something honorable takes sterner stuff indeed.

I ask again, “What was the Civil Rights Movement all about?” I’m just a mere educator but this is my take on it. It was for opportunity not hand-outs. It was to be able to compete in the race of life not with a head start but with a chance to compete. The only problem is who are the score keepers? This is where opportunities become muddled. This is age old regardless of ethnicity. Your birth comes with limitations whether rich or poor, nurtured or neglected, educated parents or not and in your life race you have many hurdles to leap in order to compete well. Opportunity. It’s crucial to being able to compete. Will you seize your opportunities?

At some point every April 4th, I revisit the “I have a Dream” speech. I am always stirred within my soul to “Dream” of a world where love and service trump hate and selfishness. I will embrace all in my path. I will take the opportunity to be the best version of myself. Be a peace maker. You have only to accept the opportunities given to you each day.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Opportunity Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Authenticity is everything! You have to wake up every day and look in the mirror, and you want to be proud of the person who’s looking back at you. And you can only do that if you’re being honest with yourself and being a person of high character. You have an opportunity every single day to write that story of your life.”
Aaron Rodgers

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”
Mike Singletary

“I hope everyone that is reading this is having a really good day. And if you are not, just know that in every new minute that passes you have an opportunity to change that.”
Gillian Anderson

 

In the Pursuit of Happiness

In Pursuit of Happiness

In my mind today, I’m pondering happiness. Last Sunday I asked each of my students if they were happy. All but one said yes. Great! So, I asked them, “What makes you happy?” That was tough for them. What about you? Are you happy? If you answer yes, why? What drives your happiness? See. It’s very hard to articulate. It makes you feel like you’re back in Philosophy 101, right? Help me Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates!

Remember the famous line, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?” Good old Thomas Jefferson borrowed it from John Locke, another philosopher. We all need to pursue happiness in this life, but how? Wealth? Popularity? Achievements?

My students and I are desperately seeking happiness, not Susan. I’m showing my age! I asked my students to try to mindfully do the right thing in each moment of each day during Lent. How do you feel when you choose to be kind to someone who is struggling? How does it feel when you help someone in class or at work? What about when you ask someone about their sick family member and then truly listen? When you let someone go before you in a long line does it make you feel warm and fuzzy when you see the gratitude on their faces? Or if someone is being harassed and you stand up for them do you feel better about the situation? I bet you know the answer. B-I-N-G-O! You are finding the illusive happiness.

Look what I found by another philosopher, “Mencius, a student of Confucius who lived 372-289 BC, believed that people were innately good and that society‚Äôs influence was to blame for bad moral character.” So if we mindfully choose to do the right and honorable thing in our life situations then those actions create goodness in our societies. Goodness is the seed of happiness. Good moral behavior is the cornerstone of good character. Some days I’m like Virginia asking not is there a Santa Claus but where are our good morals? Are they becoming myths as well?

My oldest brother told me recently he was happy. My brother is one of those men born into the world with burdens. He was cursed with uncanny good looks, an amazing personality, intellect, artistic and musically ability, and sadly the gene of addiction. He has struggled his entire 62 earthly years and recently gave in for good to his addictions. He told me he was happy. He was going to unabashedly indulge those passions of chasing a dragon with abandon. I’m sitting here in my wheelchair struggling to survive listening to him throw his life away seeking euphoria through his addictions. My heart literally breaks because he doesn’t know “happiness.” Happiness cannot be found in a bottle, pill, needle, or inhaled. Those euphoric times are temporal, fleeting, and extrinsic. He can’t see “the forest for the trees” and the tree is sitting in front of him in a wheelchair. This tree can’t drive anymore, can’t wipe my own arse, wears diapers, has to be dressed, fed, and put to bed. This tree is so happy with each breath because Sal the Happy Gal knows happiness is intrinsic. It is built of good morals. It is selfless. It has character. It chooses good when maybe bad would benefit my bank account or materialism. That’s happiness. I pray he finds it. That’s the deal kids. It can’t be given; it has to be reckoned within ones soul. I’m so very blessed. There’s nothing like ALS or cancer that jolts you and shakes you to your core. Those terminal diseases are amazing philosophers. They give such clarity in such a chaotic world.

I ask again, “Are you happy?” It’s never too late to pursue happiness. We all have the right. It’s not guaranteed. Let’s begin by building character within ourselves. Choose happiness.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Happy Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”
Kevyn Aucoin

“Every day is a new day, and you’ll never be able to find happiness if you don’t move on.”
Carrie Underwood

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
Albert Schweitzer

“The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.”
Henry Ward Beecher

 

Obstacles

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Obstacles

 

 


In my mind today, I’m thinking of obstacles. I’ve had lots of obstacles lately but haven’t we all? I’ve been desperately wanting to write, but life has gotten in the way. I’ve had to deal with my youngest having Influenza Type B, DSCC fundraiser, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, book club, and Vanderbilt doctor appointments. Whew! Obstacles.

Finally, I’m here to write and it’s Lent. I was thinking maybe God wants me to give up writing for Lent? Nah. My back row students need this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving instruction. We have discussed prayer and we are going to do more of it for certain, right back row? I saw that paper wad flying back there. Let’s begin.

Fasting is not only about food. It can be giving up a habit or desire. Lots of us are so immersed in the digital realm from television to social media. I observe when I’m out and about the multitude of humans attached to electronic devices. Back row quit grumbling, we are not giving up our electronics. Hey, I’m guilty, too. Let me make a point here. I want you to fast from the future for Lent. Yes, the future. I’m talking about living in the moment, second by second, minute by minute. I know things have to be planned like doctor appointments, but starting NOW make a conscious decision to choose good in each moment. You, my students, are given thousands of choices every day. Focus on each moment and make the best, honorable, wisest decision that you can. Here are some examples: cheat on a test or not, exercise or play on your phone, say something cruel or keep your mouth shut, eat junk food or choose something healthy, and argue or agree to disagree. We are bombarded with choices each second so focus on your choices in each moment. That’s it and yes that’s an assignment. We miss many moments or chances to do good, build character, and foster our happiness not being in our moments. Yes, that’s a fact Jack!

After a wonderful outing Friday, sitting with my flu infested daughter Saturday and Sunday, doctor appointment Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and book club last night, I’m Sal the Rolling Stone Gal. I’m pushing onward. I’m trying to be in the moments. Sitting at mass Wednesday waiting on my ashes, I saw so many opportunities for doing good. I urged the non-Catholic who sits with an elderly parishioner to go get her ashes. I was able to give words of love to a beautiful friend who just lost her husband. I grabbed and held the hand of a friend with Parkinson’s and whispered “God Bless You.” I prayed for a sweet cousin who just got diagnosed with the C word. I shared a sandwich and conversation with parishioners who gathered for fellowship in the parish hall after mass. So thinking, reading, and writing helped me reflect. Am I Sal the Teacher Gal practicing what I’m preaching? I’m trying really, really hard and I hope you do, too. Life is so very fleeting. You only have your moments to act. Regardless of the obstacles in your life, make the most of your moments.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Live in the Moments Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Buddha

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
Omar Khayyam

“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.”
Richard Bach

“Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.”
Jim Morrison