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Bending Steel

This was an article I wrote while I was single and living in New York in 2011. It is one I still share today when I find someone who needs this encouragement.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Jen Jeffrey

It is no secret; I have started my life over again and I happen to be on Long Island to do it. Not that there was anything terribly wrong with having my children early in life and now being a grandmother. I am quite proud of that first part of my life (it was the other stuff that got in the way). Maybe a rotten apple doesn’t really spoil the whole bunch because even if I made wrong choices, I would not want a do-over. “Do you mean to tell me, that if you could do it all again… you wouldn’t change one thing?” That’s right. I wouldn’t.

Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be The Bionic Woman, Supergirl or some other sort of heroine. I knew I had super strength and that could help save the world somehow. I wasn’t going to bend a steel bar or jump to a tall building (though, I did jump off of a few garages and sheds while playing cops and robbers with my boys), but I knew that I could do things that some had a hard time doing. When a girl in junior high named Vicki beat me up, putting a knot on my head (just to show her friends that she could) I had this magic power to forgive her. While we were in the principal’s office after he left the room for a moment, I offered her a piece of gum (even though we weren’t allowed to have gum – I never said I was a saint). I saw the amazed look on her face and I knew I did something as hard as bending steel.

It is easy for me to find something good in someone. Even if I see their flaws, I don’t discount what good they bring in life. Any hardship I have ever gone through has taught me something. I value life lessons and wisdom as if they were gold. Maybe I appreciate life because I have had a few close calls with death.

Out-running a train at age 14 with Michelle Woods, trying to find adventure on top of a 100-foot trestle could have cost me my life. As we heard the train’s ferocious whistle telling us of our demise we ran along the planks of the train track; one slip could have plummeted us to our death. Not running fast enough would too. As the train’s whistle grew louder and we made it to the other side, we both dove onto the huge dirt hill “in the nick of time” as the train passed by. Okay, our “nick of time” is one degree less dangerous because after diving into the bank and hearing the train pass we realized that it was beneath us on the lower track under the trestle. We sort of laughed, yet it was a laugh with fear still lingering. We knew we were still very lucky to not have fallen as fast as we thought we had to run for our lives.

For someone who has not “seen the world” and has lived close to family most of her life and been somewhat sheltered, I still can be a bit of a dare-devil and I guess I have always been pretty brave. The one thing that can still get me worked into a panic (even over the smallest of things) is fear of the unknown. I don’t think I am afraid of death, though. Years ago, when I had spinal meningitis – it was another “close call.” I have had debilitating migraine headaches before that were very painful and made me sick (one lasted three days and I had to sleep in the bathroom floor because it was the only dark room) but it was still nothing compared to meningitis. That pain went from my head and down my spine, all the way to my tailbone. It started to paralyze me. I could barely walk. I had no idea what was happening to my body, but the pain was the most excruciating pain I had ever felt in my life. Childbirth was not even comparable. I even told the doctor that if he could not make the pain go away I wanted him to give me something to put me to sleep for good. It was just that painful.

After enduring a spinal tap and finding out I had meningitis, I was finally relieved of the unbearable pain after many hours and the doctors and nurses help, even though I was quarantined for three weeks and still felt as though I had been run over by a few 18 wheelers. I later found that people can die from meningitis. I guess that is why I respect life so much and like to see things in a positive way, taking nothing for granted. Not just in my life, but others lives as well.

What do they bring to my journey? What can I bring to theirs? I have had more close calls than what I have mentioned, but it only reminds me that even if some events in my life have been bad, there is always something good that comes from it. I am never sorry or full of regret if I gave to someone and that person isn’t appreciative. I am reminded of the poem by Mother Teresa:

“People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; forgive them anyway.
If you are kind people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; be successful anyway.
If you are honest and frank people may cheat you; be honest anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.”

Living on Long Island and being around people that share different views than I was brought up with interests me. I want to understand how they think and why. In a conversation with a friend this past week, we both talked of our misconceptions of the North and the South. I was told they felt that people in the South were fake and put on the “Southern hospitality” act – not really being genuine. I knew that in my circle of people in Chattanooga the majority of us are sincere. Sure you have people all over the continent that are not sincere (and some are down-right mean), but if we take the time to observe and listen, we will find out why someone feels the way they do even if we don’t agree… even if it’s not “our way” or we don’t understand them. And we may also be surprised to find that what seems so different about a person is only “our perception.”

A few weeks ago, I made Southern Apple-Dumplins for my co-workers. My motive was not to gain favor but because I care about them and I simply wanted to give genuinely. I have to tell you they didn’t know what hit ‘em when they tried the melt in your mouth treat; each person raved and was amazed at how good they were and asked me for the recipe. But I had to educate my New York friends on how to pronounce dumplins. They wanted to put a “G” on the end… and well, that just isn’t done. Not for true Southern apple dumplins! I am not really a fan of apple pie, but these dumplins are sure to please everyone and they are easy to make, affordable to make and they make enough to feed a good size crowd. If any of you want the recipe, just email me and I will send it to you. I just like to make people smile, nothing fake about that.

I sent in my application this weekend to join the Nassau Hiking and Outdoor Club. I hope to meet more people, with different walks of life and hopefully experience a little more adventure than testing out New York’s great restaurants – not that I am complaining. Maybe I should stay away from trains – at least until my grandson Landon comes to visit. Then we will experience our first train ride together! One more month away; (a little later than first planned) I am excited! And I will get to read my granddaughter Kylee the book I wrote for her.

Smile as you go through this week; and if by chance you feel whatever good you do is overlooked by someone or that you just don’t understand a certain person, remember the poem by Mother Teresa …and smile anyway. I heart New York!

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