Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

25 Mar

Do you know what I discovered about my life this week? I am one unlucky sorry-ass woman. I just barely got over a sinus infection, and the minute my husband stepped out the door to go on a business trip, I got an intestinal flu bug, and it kicked my behind from one end of my house to the other. I have chills, I ache all over, my stomach cramps at the slightest smell of food, I can’t stray more than two feet from a bathroom, and I’m spewing out of both ends.  I am truly undone.

Flu Bug Dolighan dot com

Cartoon by Tim Dolighan

I was writhing on the couch moaning in three octaves: “WHY ME, OH LORD; WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” when the phone rang and it turned out to be my youngest daughter (29).

BABY-GIRL: Hi Mom. How’s my favorite mother? I noticed that you hadn’t published your blog this week so I am checking up on you.

MISERABLE ME: Your only mother is ready to send up a shout-out to Jesus and let him know I’m ready to exit stage left—that’s how miserable I feel. I had to send a neighbor to get me stopper-upper meds, and I’m so weak I can barely cook for myself—let alone think of a blog topic. Of all the adages I’ve given you over the years under the title, “A Mother’s Parting Wisdom to Her Children,” did I ever tell you that when you have the flu you should never, ever trust a fart? Maybe I could write a blog on that tomorrow.

BABY-GIRL:   No, you have never told me that saying—and I don’t want to hear it now. And NO, you cannot write a blog on “never trust a fart.” You’ve written way too many posts on bodily functions or sex. Need I remind you that my colleagues read your blog, and it is mortifying when I get an email that says they’re reading about you farting in your doctor’s face after a colonoscopy while they’re drinking their morning coffee?

MISERABLE ME: Hey now—that was written in the spirit of public service. I’ve gotten a lot of requests to have that post sent to people who are undergoing a colonoscopy for the first time so that it doesn’t frighten them. Sheesh! Everybody’s a critic.

Flu Season Olle Johansson Sweden

Used by Permission: “Flu Season” by Olle Johansson, Sweden

BABY-GIRL: I don’t care, Mother; think of something else north of your navel. I’ve been reading some poetry lately. How about a post centered on the CLEAN poetic line: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost. It’s from J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Fellowship of the Ring:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

BABY-GIRL: Does that line conjure up anything inspiring that you can write about even with the flu?

MISERABLE ME: Yeah, now that you mention it. I facilitated a storytelling hour and book signing for my book Monsters’ Throwdown last week at the largest women’s homeless shelter in D.C. It was packed—standing room only. Now that I think about it, the women who attended were amazing. Life had dealt them all a tough blow, but I could see in most of their eyes that they were not down for the count. They were broken, but they had the great hope of being renewed because of the helping hand that had been extended to them—they were wanderers, but they weren’t completely lost. That’s why they keep showing up at the Village for the counseling, the educational classes, and the community support.

BABY-GIRL: I read somewhere recently that President Reagan once said that, “The homeless are homeless because they want to be homeless.” Did you sense that at your storytelling hour?

Homeless in America

Photo courtesy of

MISERABLE ME: Ronald Reagan was a insensitive pig! Much to my chagrin, I voted for him and I will never forgive myself for that because he did more to mushroom homelessness in the inner city than any other force in recent years with his goddamn trickle-down economics that made the rich richer and the poor only poorer. If there is a Hell, Reagan is wandering around it on cold, barren streets as a homeless person for at least a quarter of eternity without a blanket and with constant diarrhea.

BABY-GIRL: Now that’s an interesting topic. What did you learn from these “wandering women”?

N Street Village 007

Author Book Signing for Monsters’ Throwdown at N Street Village’s homeless outreach

MISERABLE ME: I learned that but by the grace of God go I. I was homeless several times in my life before the age of 21, but it never lasted long. I was rescued which is what my book is about. Someone discovered that I was broken and could be renewed. I learned that many of the homeless have jobs (more than one) that they go to, but they still can’t afford housing. I learned that you can come from the best of families, with the best education, and all it takes is a few missteps and before you know it, you’re out on the street—whether from a bad relationship, an abusive husband, a medical issue, or a layoff. I learned that in Washington, DC, 55% of the homeless women that N Street Village services (they are the largest women’s homeless services in DC), are over 50 years old. I met one woman who was an amputee due to diabetes, and yet she is homeless. The homeless women I met suffer from emotional, sexual, and physical trauma, while some are crippled by mental health issues and addictive behaviors. All I could do was cling to them after all was said and done. As I looked into their eyes, I could see the beauty of who they were created to be. I understood what Jesus meant when he said: “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” If I do a thousand more book signings, I doubt that any of them will be as rewarding or as profound as the one at the women’s homeless shelter.

BABY-GIRL: I’m so proud of you, Mom. I’m sure the ladies loved your time together. Just imagine yourself in their place with what you’ve been going through the last few days—flu symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and chills BUT going through that while sleeping on the street in the snow with no proper meds or sanitation. Makes your situation pretty tolerable, huh, La Mama?

MISERABLE ME: Yes, Ms. Smart-ass, it does! Anyway, I’ll write that post tomorrow. In the meantime, let me snuggle up in front of the fireplace and sip my hot toddy while I read 50 Shades of Grey. Your father and I could use some tips to spice up our sex life, although I hear this book is about bondage with handcuffs and all. I’m afraid if Dad and I try this handcuff thingie, I’ll fall asleep before anything exciting can actually happen.


Homeless Neighbor

I am discovering that it is so easy to get caught up in my pathetic little life and forget that homelessness is everywhere and ever-expanding due to issues that we can primarily control as a society. It is also so easy to become comfortable and forget from whence I came. All of us who claim to have a heart and especially those of us who claim to believe in a kind and generous God must do everything in our power to eradicate homelessness in our midst. Ronald Reagan was just plain wrong, and that Ayn Rand spirit he left behind permeates our politics and our national psyche. Being homeless could happen to any of us. But by the grace of God go us all!

N Street Village 010

Author Storytelling Hour at N Street Village/check out Author’s website for more details

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”—Mother Teresa

“There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.”—Jan Schakowsky

“Seven out of 10 Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless.”—Pras Michel

“All of us who covered the Reagans agreed that President Reagan was personable and charming, but I’m not so certain he was nice. It’s hard for me to think of anyone as ‘nice’ when I hear him say ‘The homeless are homeless because they want to be homeless.”—Helen Thomas


Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Uncategorized


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18 responses to “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

  1. aFrankAngle

    March 26, 2014 at 6:21 am

    Cheers to your efforts at the shelter! Hope the bug has worked its way out of your residence, and thanks for stopping by during my absence!

    • etomczyk

      March 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Frank. Finally, back up on my feet again. Yikes, that was a nasty bug! While I was down for the count, I did catch up on your posts and saw that your move had been successful. That’s wonderful! WW and I are planning one in the next couple of years, and I shudder at the thought of stripping down a house with years of “stuff” and moving into a new location. So glad to see that it can be done without losing one’s sanity. Thanks so much for stopping by during this time of your life. That means a lot. Ciao!

  2. Let's CUT the Crap!

    March 26, 2014 at 8:28 am

    You have spark even when you’ve been pulled through the proverbial keyhole backwards. Keep up the good fight. Hope next week is lots better.

    • etomczyk

      March 30, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Thanks Tess. Feeling a lot better. Actually writing the story on the homeless put my temporary struggle into perspective very quickly. All the best.

  3. Valentine Logar

    March 26, 2014 at 8:46 am

    TMI, why do all our children hate the idea we might still be interesting and interested?

    You are so right my friend, we have battled the ever rising tide especially for women since Reagan and it seems it continues to grow. It is for us to reach out, to demand change, to seek better solutions.

    I loved this. I loved the picture of you.

    • etomczyk

      March 30, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Hi Val. I love tormenting my children about sex in the 60s. Wait until WW and I are in our 80s; I plan to be down-right scandalous with what I say in my blog. Ha!

      I just recently watched an HBO documentary by Maria Shriver about the millions of women who are living paycheck to paycheck (with kids) and are one car breakdown, one health episode, or one emergency issue away from being homeless, and it broke my heart. We’ve got to start taking care of our own before we collapse from within. All the best.

  4. Dorothy Longo

    March 26, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Very poignant commentary Eleanor, and what a remarkable experience for you and for THEM! You are in a unique position to have firsthand experience with some of what our homeless brothers and sisters are enduring. What HOPE you certainly provided. Your experience also upholds my belief that there are two kinds of experiences: win-win, and lose-lose. There is really no such thing as a win-lose experience if one looks at all the levels involved – material, psychological, spiritual, etc.

    Much love, Dottie

    P.S. I think you could make absolutely ANYTHING funny ! 🙂

    • etomczyk

      March 30, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Dottie. Welcome aboard. So glad you stopped by. The reading at N Street Village was definitely an outstanding event–one I will never forget. I definitely came away feeling like “but for the grace of God go I,” but even that isn’t an appropriate assessment because there were women who had ended up homeless who believe in the same God as I do. It was definitely a moving experience, and they were so open and gracious.

      So glad you appreciated the humor. I had to walk a thin line between the humor of having the flu and the tragedy of homelessness. Glad to hear that it worked.

  5. talesfromthemotherland

    March 26, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    “First world problems” is a great phrase, except that it negates that fact that there are plenty of folks who do in fact have problems in the first world. Having worked as Social Worker, these stories never leave me. I never look at a homeless person, without wondering what was the path that go them there… what a meaningful reading that must have been! Way to go E! As for our kids telling us what we can and can’t write… well, feh!

    • etomczyk

      March 26, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      Dawn: I had no idea you once worked as a Social Worker. Social Workers were a constant part of my life, but back in the day, they were not as engaged as they should have been. I found that most of the ones who entered my life did more harm than good. Some of the more egregious ones, I wish I could go back and find them and do a “Pretty Woman” scene on them because they never looked into my eyes and saw my potential. Oh well. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!

      • talesfromthemotherland

        March 26, 2014 at 8:35 pm

        Eek… not sure that reflects well on me! I can tell you that I still remember the eyes and faces of so many kids I worked with and I hope I let each of them know that there was hope out there, and that they had the potential to be and do whatever they set their minds on. Some of the kids I worked with were so broken, and had SO much shit piled on them… but I always hoped that knowing that even one person believed in them, would help them hold on and dig out.

      • etomczyk

        March 27, 2014 at 12:07 am

        Dawn: I’m sure you were great. The system in the 50s in Cleveland was barely two steps right of the Dickens era. The social workers of the time were entrenched in the prejudices and condemnations of the day. In my book there is a scene where a social worker is demanding that I quit school at 16 as a ward of the court and get a job, indicating that it was the best I could do for my life even though I was a straight A student and would eventually graduate 4th in my class of 347. Her prejudice that Negroes were not smart informed her counseling. It took my principal, the school head clerk, the guidance counselor, and my German voice teacher to come up against my social worker to let me finish high school (and go on to college). Can you imagine if she had won?

      • talesfromthemotherland

        March 27, 2014 at 11:18 am

        You are a strong woman, Eleanor… a strong spirit. I haven’t gotten to read the book yet, but look forward to it. I love your sharp sense of right and wrong, and your honest voice. Thankfully, you were not gonna be held back. I believe other woman and young black girls– who are still fed that message, will find strength and inspiration in your story. xo

  6. imagesbytdashfield

    March 29, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Never trust a fart when you have the flu? ROFL Dh said “Under what circumstances should you trust a fart anyway? What do you two have some kind of agreement?” The man is gloriously twisted. Great post by the way. And I had a high school teacher (black by the way) who said I’d never amount to much more than having lots of babies. Funny thing, only had two kids and graduated 8th in high school and later a Masters degree.

    • etomczyk

      March 30, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      TD: DH and I definitely think alike. Good man. Ha!

      Isn’t it amazing how careless words by a teacher can really run roughshod over our lives? But kudos to you that your intelligence was not going to be kept down by someone who you were probably smarter than by miles by the time you reached her age. Living well is the best revenge!

  7. Hudson Howl

    April 1, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Not sure how to express what am feeling about this. Proud of you comes to mind foremost, though am probably extrapolating more privilege from our quasi on-line friendship then I should. Nonetheless, I am proud that you took your story home, not in the literal sense, rather more of a figurative gesture to do some good for those whom have been isolated, disenfranchised and forgotten and to those working to help. Am sure those whom gathered in that room that day found in you what I do: SHELTER.

    J. R. R. Tolkien’s, ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’, is something I learned long ago. For most of us, yes myself included, it is not that we become ‘lost’, we just get misplaced, some of us longer than others, An anyone unable to see how fragile life can be, is in all likelihood completely loss. The art of living for all us, is just as it is for those cling to ‘sobriety’ -to be lived one step at time.

    Now then, what kind of person would snuggle up to read 50 Shades while suffering from a ‘both ends’ (yuk) flu? A falsehood for comedic effect? 50 Shades? -funny none the less, truth or not.

    • etomczyk

      April 2, 2014 at 1:03 am

      Thanks Hudson. It was an extraordinary experience–one I won’t soon forget. And you are so right that the art of living for all of us. . .is to be lived one step at a time.

      Reading the 50 Shades of Gray was definitely a falsehood for comedic effect. My daughter (who thinks the only time her parents have ever had sex was in the procreation of our children) was reading me the riot act about what I should and should not write about, and I just couldn’t resist terrorizing her! 🙂 I have not, nor would I ever read that book–not because of the weird sexuality, but because it is so poorly written. My life is way too short, and there are way too many really good books yet to read. Take care.


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