How I learned the real meaning of generosity

My friend Tyler is faithful Lutheran. He became my friend out of a Christian act of kindness in March 1991 and we have remained so despite the different paths our lives of taken. He is married to his sweetheart, Sarah. They have two daughters.

Tyler and I differ on a great many things, but we both believe in moderation, grace, and kindness. His grace toward me has been an especially great gift during my recent struggles with health, school, money, and so on.

Tyler happened to text me on a particularly stressful day a few weeks back. My unemployment had run out and there was a problem with my student loans at the university — one that could have prevented me from registering for student teaching and potentially derailed the long plan to finish my transition from journalist to teacher.

Tyler agreed that was stressful.

He offered to come by for a chat.

I asked if he was in Des Moines. He works here, but he lives in Ames.

No, he said. He was at home. But it’s not that far of a drive.

The time was late evening after dark. He was willing to drive 45 minutes to comfort his friend and, after a time, drive back. That’s 90 minutes on the road for an act of kindness.

As most longtime readers know, I suffer the affliction of depression and anxiety. Sometimes I see only shadows on sunny days. I feel trapped with no way out.

Then I am reminded of people like Tyler, whom God sends to me in the darkest moments and says, “You’ll be OK. You will survive.”

Tyler is a blessing of 31 years.

But he is not the only one.

There are always Parents 2.0, whose love is the kind of strong that you can lean your back against it and know it won’t fall no matter how hard the winds of change blow.

There is my friend Sara, who helped me reorganize all three of my closets to accommodate my bad knees. In the front closet alone, I can do something quite spectacular because of her work: Hang up my coat. She made two visits to my home and made my closets so organized that I am afraid to take something out for fear I will mess it up.

There’s my friend Don, a retired vice president from Drake University. Sometimes I call him just to hear the undiluted enthusiasm for living in his voice. We chatted for about 45 minutes one recent day. By the end of the talk, I felt like Lazarus. Don’s belief in people, their resilience, and their potential to do good is unwavering.

He helps me believe in me, and that is no small feat.

There is my friend Mimi, with whom I have dinner once a week. I often call her when I’m despondent. She offers that motherly shoulder for my burdens. I always feel lighter after a chat with Mimi. Most of the time, we talk about the state of the world, her three sons, or her late husband Steve, a mentor and friend to me and a loving husband to her.

Then there are the 199 people who made 248 donations, first to help pay for my knee surgery in August, and again to help me cover expenses now that unemployment has run out.

(You can still donate if you’re so inclined. Visit this link or any of the links below this column.)

I know some of the names: family, friends, readers, classmates, acquaintances, and so on.

But most of the names are strangers. Many are anonymous.

When I think about these acts of generosity, I tear up.

What have I done to deserve this kindness?

Lord knows, I’ve lived a flawed and sometimes foolhardy life. I don’t deserve this kindness.

But that kind of thinking disrespects the faith those people have placed in me.

They’re pushing me to keep moving forward, to finish school, and become the teacher I promised I would be.

What did I do to deserve their faith?

Nothing.

Yet.

My job now is to live up to the promise that they see. I have work to do. I don’t wish to become a good teacher. I want to be a great one.

I want to take every experience I’ve endured since I lost my job at the local newspaper — unemployment, struggles with government benefits, financial instability, physical health challenges, poor insurance, and many more — and turn them into empathy for what students and their family face.

I will find a way to help students learn, be the light that Don is in my life, to go the extra mile the way Tyler does, be the ear they need like Mimi, or the helper that Sara is.

The message of this charity is not about what I deserve.

These are the examples of the kind of person I want to be in my new career and in the next part of my life.

That makes it a little easier to swing my swollen legs over the side of the bed, rub them down with lidocaine, pull on compression socks and strap on two knee braces before I take a first step in the morning.

Because I need to keep moving forward, not just for me, but for all those who’ve put their faith in me.

I promise all of you: I am humbled. I am honored.

And, most of all, I am motivated.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

I’m not a dad, but I make dad noises

Morning begins with curse words. I slide myself to the edge of the bed. I draw circles around both knees with prescription lidocaine gel. I rub it into both knees until the skin is warm.

Next, the girding begins.

I pull on compression socks up to the knees.

I strap on a brace on the left knee, still recovering from surgery to remove two bits of torn meniscus last month.

I pull on a compression sleeve on the right knee, which just has the usual amount of arthritic pain.

Then I stand.

I am not a dad, but I make dad noises.

I’m uncertain at first, timid.

Sometimes the tendons in the left knee are so tight I can’t get full extension.

Sometimes I wobble and sit back down.

Eventually, I find enough support to walk to the bathroom.

I take small, mincing steps. There are no bold strides in these legs now.

I worry there never will be again.

I am in physical therapy.

I do exercises to loosen and strengthen the atrophied legs.

The cartilage tear in the left knee came in late June, but it only exacerbated the degenerative arthritis condition in both knees.

I can’t remember the last time I took a step with confidence.

I am obese.

That gives others cart blanche to judge me, to tell me what’s wrong, to offer their unsolicited solutions, or simply to scold.

I could explain that obesity is one of many symptoms of trauma. I work on it actively with my doctor and behavioral therapist.

But why bother?

Being fat is a sin in country where millions of people are fat. I have arthritis. I must deserve it.

It’s like going to the funeral of someone who died of cancer and asking, “Did she smoke?” If so, is the grief any less?

I wrote about my downtrodden mood a while back. A reader wrote in to say she didn’t contribute to my surgery fund to hear me say “I can’t.” Or it was something to that affect. I deleted the comment.

I never promised anyone who donated to my surgery that I wouldn’t struggle, that I wouldn’t have bad days, and that I wouldn’t write about them.

I only promised I would get their surgery and do my very best to become a good teacher in whatever community hires me. If the expression of pain and sadness is a disappointment, I apologize for nothing.

These paragraphs are always raw emotion.

If the message was meant to be a “ha, ha” poke, a lame attempt at inspiration, or some other uplifting note encased in sardonic wool, it hit me exactly the wrong way at precisely the wrong time.

The fact is I hurt.

I hurt a lot.

And it’s not just the knees.

I’m humbled by using a walker. I shouldn’t be. There’s no shame in using tools you need to get where you need to go. Where I need to go is class so I can finish my degree and become a teacher.

I struggle with my obesity.

I hate it. I hate that I didn’t recognize the connection between my psychology and my eating habits years earlier when it would have been easier to build new schema to negotiate the world.

The thing that frustrates me most often about obesity is the idea that people think it’s tough love when they tell me how fat I am.

Do they think I did not notice? Or perhaps they thought I was proud of my body that barely works and hurts all the time.

I don’t know.

All I ask of people is that they respect each other’s dignity. If I want to talk about my health, I will. I’ll reach out. I’ll confide. It’s my call.

I’ve got a doctor. I’ve got a therapist. If I am not progressing at a rate that satisfies others, well, how do you think I feel?

There are not magic solutions.

I get it. Some people try a diet and, boom, they lose a bunch of weight and they feel great. They want to pass it on.

A couple of things: No solution is universal. If it was, pharmaceutical and other medical companies would have bought up the rights to these programs decades ago and they’d be prescribed by doctors.

I tried a program recommended by friends. I gained weight. I dumped it and went back to what I was doing: cutting calories, eating better foods.

Secondly, these programs are often expensive. I’m living off unemployment and that ends this week. After that, who knows what I’ll do. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be signing up for an expensive commercial diet plan.

If this reads a little angry, it should. I am angry.

I’m angry with myself.

When struggling, the tendency is to look back and see every mistake we made and blame ourselves for not recognizing the dangers, not planning better, not having a back-up plan, and so on.

I know that’s fruitless. I do it anyway. I’m good at beating up myself.

I’m angry with others, too.

I share here. This is public. People can comment. Almost everyone is positive. But every now and then you get a sock to the jaw from someone you know — and even someone you don’t know — and it really stings.

I try to avoid assuming bad intentions. I learned this from my friend Ross Peterson, the radio host and relator.

I choose to believe these things are said to be inspirational or out of love. They’re just expressed imperfectly. That I understand. I’ve worked with letters most of my life and I still struggle to express myself precisely the way I want.

Here is what I want people to know:

I’m dealing with a lot of shit right now.

I’m taking some classes that aren’t easy for me.

I’m recovering from knee surgery.

My arthritis hurts bad.

When unemployment runs out, if I don’t get approved for an extension through the federal government, I must appeal to an administrative law judge. That’s a lot of stress.

But despite all the stuff I’m dealing with, I am trying to be better.

I don’t want to just be an adequate or good teacher. I want to be a great one. I want to be the teacher that students look forward to seeing each day. More than that, I want to be the teacher students learn stuff they can use from.

I’m actively working on my physical and mental health. I’m in physical therapy. I’m in behavioral therapy.

I may complain. I may groan. I may cry out. I may make dad noises.

But I promise all of you I’m doing the best I can.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

I finally understand why people talk about the weather

I believe writer’s block is an affectation suffered only by published authors obsessed with outdoing the positive notices from their successful novel.

So, I’m definitely not going to blame my lack of stacked paragraphs on this blog to writer’s block.

I’d say it’s more a case of topic block.

The worst sin a columnist can make, if one could call these missives columns, is to be boring.

My present mindset is everything that’s thinking about is boring.

Does anybody really want to read about me fumbling through a Shakespeare class at age 46?

Hell, I don’t want to read Shakespeare at any age let alone read about someone reading Shakespeare.

Maybe I could write my umpteenth update on my recovery from knee surgery.

Oh, what a tale. My arthritic knees hurt. All. The. Damn. Time.

I use a walker to go longer distances and a cane for shorter ones.

It feels like someone replaced my knees with two balloons filled with shards of glass and aluminum filings. I land just wrong and the things explode sending pain throughout my legs like grenade shrapnel.

My gait resembles a kid who got the off the merry-go-round after getting the rotation up to about 250 rpm — wobbly with a chance of falling.

That doesn’t make for fun reading.

Where’s the uplifting message about resilience there?

Oh, here’s a spot of uplift: I started physical therapy last week. That hurts like hell, too. I leave so tired and weak I think I’m going to have to call an Uber to drive me from the clinic door to my car.

That’s not page-turning stuff there.

I could write about how my unemployment expires this month. I should qualify for a federal extension that would keep me with some income coming in until I finish school.

But, of course, there is a hassle.

To get approved for this program you must deal with the federal government filtered through the state government, which is like saying to get to the cold beer at the back of the fridge, you must first punch through a wasp nest and then a bee nest with your face.

So, no, I don’t think I’ll write about that.

There’s always the topic of my morbid obesity.

People like to bring that up. I know that comes from a place of concern. They don’t want their friend/loved one to die — or suffer.

I get that.

I also understand my arthritis is exacerbated by my obesity.

But I don’t want to talk about it.

Know this: I’m trying. I tried a program recommended by one of my friends. I gained weight and lost money. I stopped. Now I’m just trying to cut calories.

And as many paragraphs I’ve stacked here on the topic of obesity and my diet, I really, truly, hand to higher power of your choice, don’t want to fucking talk about it.

I need no reminders of how fat I am.

I have the one mirror in the bathroom. I use the walker to get across campus.

I know.

We could talk about the weather. Wednesday was a nice day. It was the first day of fall.

I knew this because three different stories on my Google homepage alerted me to that Wednesday was the autumnal equinox.

Google rained virtual leaves across its homepage, which was almost as ridiculous as this CNN headline: “Fall: The season of cozy, delicious wisdom-inducing rediscovery.”

I’m not clicking on that link. I’m not linking to that story.

But I may change my home page to Bing. Or DuckDuckGo, which is a real thing.

To be fair, the beginning of fall is a quaint, mostly useless fact, one that I’ve noted many times before.

I wrote a lot of weather stories for the local newspaper.

Readers ate them up. I never understood it.

Sometimes it’s hot. Sometimes it’s cold. Sometimes it’s sunny. Sometimes it rains or snows.

Whatever it the forecast, you’re still going to have to live your life — especially in the age of Zoom meetings, work-from-home, and the virtual classroom.

I guess that’s my story of resilience.

Things aren’t going so hot right now.

So what?

The best any of us can do is get up tomorrow and try again.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.