When All Else Fails

I can’t believe I’ve written nothing for a couple of weeks – yet there has been so much going on that I can’t quite get a grip on my reaction to it all.  Horrific events around the world, virulent illnesses, the passing of iconic talents, thirteen years gone by since 9/11.  I was in NY that day – and yet to write of that day seems disingenuous.  How the air stank as a disgustingly grey cloud forged uptown.  Shock and disbelief trumped any sense of reality.  Yet, I am here; my family is fine; I didn’t have that much innocence left for the thievery that occurred that day.

And still, this all seems like too much stimuli – I am too pained to be numb and too numb to reveal or touch the pain evinced in my heart.  For reasons unknown to me, I can’t rise above this ache and feel stymied by my limitations with the English language.  Somehow it feels like there’s no recovery period, no chance to re-group, cry the needed tears or resume breathing rhythmically.

This morning broke a bit differently though.  The air is clear, the sky so blue it seems almost as if in a cartoon.  The weariness of the leaves hinted at the promise of colors so vibrant, that the landscape waits with impatience.  And I felt myself inhale for the first time perhaps in weeks.  I drove with all the windows down, letting the breeze in and maybe suffusing the air around me with something fresher and kinder.  Hope, hope – in the moment, for tomorrow, for the moments unseen.  And finally, I bowed my head and cried.

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Listening to NPR, this was playing …and I sat in the parking lot and was lifted.  I hope.  And I hope you do too.

Ever Present; Usually Hidden

My parents were a great-looking couple.  More than their physical appearances – they looked vital, engaging life with much the same grace and rhythm with which they danced.  Something remarkable happened when they entered a room – they flirted and laughed and played and delighted those around them.  They did it differently, for in many respects they had completely individual life constructs and approaches.

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And today marks the eleventh year since my dad has been gone.  Eleven attenuated, inexorable years.  Eleven years that have passed before I took another breath.  To say I miss him is a cliché; to diminish that fact would be a lie.  He was my touchstone, the person I sought out when I needed to talk ‘work’ or topics which I held most private.  He brought me up short without hesitation and he delighted in my successes.  He was the most loving role model for my sons when they were little.  If they have integrated any of his values, curiosity, warmth, etc, they are the better men for it.

We listened to John Philip Sousa marches when we went into work together.  He would try to excite me about the book he was reading – whether it was about the life of a cell or the biography of some vague historical figure.  He read the New York Times on the subway, folding the paper in that efficient way that commuters did that allowed them to hold on to an overhead strap simultaneously.  And he would occasionally look over and laugh as he saw me nose-to-armpit with another commuter.  We would always drive in the next day.

The words I spoke at his funeral were buried with him.  Somehow I felt that they really didn’t matter to anyone except him.  And with him gone, there were some thoughts that I would never utter again.  And yet, I speak to him in some way or another every day.

This morning Bill Wooten @ drbillwooten.com posted a poem (re-printed below) that felt like it was meant for today and for me – as if my dad and I were walking down 82nd Street in Jackson Heights, heading for Shelley’s bakery.  As if he were still reminding me to look past that which disillusions me and find the aspect that brings a greater calm.  He is always here though he has been gone for so very long.  He is the lump in my throat.  He is the secret in my heart.  He is the presence I seek in the subtle gestures in each day.

The Invitation

“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.

I want to know what you ache for, and

if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.

I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,

for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.

I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow,

if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or

have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,

without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own,

if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you

to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be

careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you’re telling me is true.

I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself;

if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.

I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every

day, and if you can source your life from God’s presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,

and still stand on the edge of a lake

and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.

I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair,

weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you are, how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.

I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself,

and truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”  — Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from the book ‘The Invitation’

Suddenly Sixty

So here I sit, on the eve of celebrating my 20th anniversary of being 40 – or as most people would say – turning 60.  6-0.  S-i-x-t-y.

- Hello, how are you?

- Fine thanks, I’m 60.

How the hell did I get here already?  Even my sister acknowledges that it’s a big number.  She also assures me I’ll get over it.  I’m sure she’s right, even if I can’t fully articulate what it is I’ve got.  I understand that the alternative is untenable – so untenable in fact, that perhaps that’s my issue.  I’ve lost my sense of infallibility.  I’ve exited that period of my life (which lasted a very long time) where it feels that everything goes on forever – and I’m a part of that everything.  Tom Stoppard writes that one should “[l]ook at every exit as being an entrance somewhere else”.  Sounds right – I am just a little uncertain about opening that door.

Of course, if we’re fortunate and healthy and inexplicably blessed, we all enter phase after phase.  And no beginning is without its challenges; it takes an effort to move from childhood to adolescence, adolescence to young adulthood, young adulthood to middle age, and so on.  It’s that ‘so on’ part…

I still dance with an abandon that embarrasses my children.  I still cry at romantic comedies, clap for Tinkerbell and keep my playlists relatively current.  I was never known for being a night owl, so there’s been no concession there.  Perhaps it takes a bit longer to heal if I’m unwell, but I have much more confidence that I know how to take care of myself.  I don’t do ‘mom’ jeans.  I’m still in search of the perfect lipstick, blush and the eye cream that really does wonders.

Perhaps that’s it – I still believe in wonders.  In fact I think I notice them more than ever before.  Wonder in the breath of the wind, the intangible, unbreakable connections that tie me to those I love.  Wonder at how much more meaning my days have now that they have fewer requirements to dilute the attention I might give to the sun on my face.  And while I marvel, I also realize how tightly I am holding onto this life.  How much I love the moments as well as the spaces in between, when I breathe in the absolute sweetness of being a part of it all.

I guess I’m going to charge right into sixty, because that’s the door that is open to me.  “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer” (Zora Neale Hurston).  Whatever this year turns out to be, I know it will hold its own wonders.  And I’ll be clinging just as tightly as I always have.

July 4th On The 7th

I know I’m a few days off – we had friends with us over the weekend, and I have yet to figure out how to secret myself away to write, while trying to maximize time with our guests. Sure, I could get up earlier still – but that’s when I catch up on reading your posts!

A weekend of weather so perfect that remaining inside would have been an insult to Mother Nature. The wind whispered its secrets through the trees, the sun stood front and center, daring a cloud to engage in a game of hide-and-seek. The clouds knew better than to try.

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We decided to watch the fireworks from a mountain overlook. Not exactly a novel idea – chairs were set up and ‘reserved’ before 9:00AM. Nonetheless, we had great seats. I brought my new (and first) camera – it’s point and shoot (because that’s pretty much the breadth of my talent). The pictures I took of the fireworks themselves are truly terrible, but I promised someone I would post at least one. Somehow the time between ‘point’ and ‘shoot’ is where I failed miserably.

I know...

I know…

My words won’t do them justice either. Our elevation was such that we were almost eye-to-eye with the fireworks. The whistle, the booms and cracks echoed in the air as thousands of stars exploded, raining down with sizzle and shine. Multi-colored or bright white mattered little; we were sitting in the sky watching magic happen all around us.

And it’s that ‘all around us’ that’s circling my thoughts this morning. To our right a group of young people were drinking a lot and talking too loud about tawdry topics that had Suz and I giggling – a lot. Behind us, people who were definitely AARP members (of greater seniority than yours truly) wore red, white and blue wigs and hats, neon necklaces and delight that a child couldn’t parallel. Children – yes, all over the place. Jumping, yelling, falling over each other and everyone else. Dads and moms, golf scores, shout-outs to kids; lovers young and old. Somehow it felt like we all huddled closer, as the temperature dropped and the winds made their presence felt. People in shorts, wrapped in blankets, waiting for wonder.

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And there was the greater wonder for me. People who didn’t know each other, acting as if they did. Friendship exchanged without names or judgment or pretense. Nothing mattered except being there for a shared purpose and an air of collective anticipation. That’s the 4th of July. The stars on the ground – recognizing that at the end of the day, we can share moments of tremendous delight and pride, decency despite differences that ultimately are not elevated to a level of such importance that they dwarf the heights of people enjoying being a part of something bigger than dissent. Lucky for you, I didn’t even try to take a picture of that.

Advice On Aging? You Can Keep It.

I have nothing against “More” magazine – in fact, I read it and applaud its mission to publish a magazine specifically designed for women who have traded their concerns about thigh-gap for hot flashes.  However, on the cover this month (in the largest font possible) is the phrase “Secrets To Aging Gracefully” and in smaller print “from real women like you”.

Please.

Let me tell you what the secrets are – exercise, eat healthy foods (eat vegan – or not), color your hair – or not, use injectables – or not, live in the country or in the city, moisturize and be happy in your skin.

Thank you very much “More” magazine.  I had no idea.

There’s something ironic about using the adverb ‘gracefully’ when one has joints that crack, a back that is willing to debate the merits of good posture, and an ever-increasing awareness that you will never be carded again.  “Ha”, I say.  “Ha.  Ha.  Ha.”

There is nothing graceful about aging.  There is grace in aging.  And there’s a rockin’ big difference between the two.

I spent a good part of yesterday at a local hospital receiving an I.V. infusion (for osteoporosis – I share this only because I don’t want you to think darker thoughts).  This will be an annual trip; it’s nothing compared to some other unpleasant medical moments I’ve had and none of them come close to the challenges others face every single day.  I may feel a little off today and I know that tomorrow will be far better.  This doesn’t even qualify as a roll in the barrel -it’s a jostle.

The infusion center is where people go to receive their chemo treatments.  On either side of me and all around me were patients watching hope as it slowly dripped into their ports.

To my left was a 67-year-old man who cheerfully told me about the hardy qualities of the liver, much of his having been removed a year ago; the 70-something woman on my right was laughing at the nurses who had to come and adjust her Taxol drip every two minutes.  These two knew each other so they just pulled me into their conversation.  They talked about their children, books, the cupcake shop in Georgetown.  Significant others and good movies.  Oncologists and naps when it rains.  Joking with the nurses and occasionally closing their eyes as the minutes dragged.  Just as I thought we were going to take a break, one of them piped up with a thought.  I kissed them both when I left.  The nurse and I hugged.  Don’t know why – it was right though.

This post isn’t about cancer.  It’s about moving forward in and with life, holding delight and intent in one hand and awareness in the other.  It’s about fighting for your life like a street brawler while handling it as a newborn child.  There’s nothing graceful about it – it’s scary and messy and fraught and unfair and arbitrary and clumsy.  It’s also magnificent and wise and proud and freeing and luscious.  Aging with grace?  It’s those moments in between the extremes when you smile and weep and whisper ‘thank you so, so much’.

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