Compulsory Cocooning

Well, Bogey navigated us to the mountains yesterday, and despite his insistence on looking behind or beside us, we made it.

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And now comes the snow, with no estimates even suggested for those of us at ‘higher elevations’.  Clearly this ain’t no gamblin’ town.

It’s a cozy Thanksgiving this year – one beloved son and daughter-in-law, Andy, four Sirs (one grand-dog included at the Round Table) and yours truly.  One cherished son in Toronto; the other adored one, with his in-laws.  My sister is up in NY; Andy’s family in CA.  I’ve never prepared Thanksgiving for four.  And since I’m not sure how successful I will be at re-calculating measurements, there will be plenty of leftovers.  It feels a little strange – and yet it’s ok – for everyone is where they want/need to be.  And they’re fine.  Let’s move on.

Something about the silence that accompanies snow forces one to pause and listen.  It is right to pay attention at times like these.  When the world continually reminds us why we’re angry, impotent, righteously indignant and not righteous enough, the snow blinds me to all of this vitriol.  It provides a day of muted noise –  a compulsory moment to feel something other than head-shaking disillusion.

Gratitude and giving thanks – it’s as white and clean and pure as snow falling.  Despite some chronic pain stuff (yawn), which has compromised aspects of my life lately, I am choosing this moment of grace.  To be thankful.  Thankful for family and friends who are generous with their love and laughter; meager with their criticisms and callousness.  Thankful that I’m going to be a grandma in February and hopeful that I may be a vital part of this little girl’s life.  Thankful for new friends who expand my view of the road ahead, and old friends who have rejoined my travels and have myopic vision that forgives much of history.  Thankful for giggles that cause stomach aches, tears that cleanse and puppy kisses.  Thankful for books that transport and bring me home again.    Thankful for music that accompanies all my moments.  Thankful for featherbeds and drool-y naps.  Thankful for t-shirts warm from the dryer.  Thankful for those spaces in between – when my breathing slows and I bow my head.  ‘Please.  Wow. Thanks.’ – to paraphrase Annie Lamott.  That is the prayer; the alpha and the omega.  We are blessed.  We love and we are loved.  We have limitless capacity for a limited time.  Gotta get your grateful on.  And I do.  Before I get to the chestnuts that will be roasting and sweet potatoes baking and turkey brining…before the smells begin to infuse the house with hints of tomorrow’s yumminess.  Get to that place where the greatest tradition is observed – where you go to whisper ‘thank you’.

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Where’ve You Been?

“Bo Diddley Bo Diddley have you heard

My pretty baby said she was a bird.

Bo Diddley Bo Diddley where you been

Round the world, gonna go again” — (Elias McDaniel, songwriter)

I’ve been away a long time – or at least it feels like a long time.  Not sure whether I’m really back.  Blogger fatigue?  Not really.  More the sense that if I had nothing interesting to say, better to stay mum.  When I consult, I often say that if you put your bucket down a well for water and you get a bountiful supply, you’ll keep putting your bucket down that well.  If you put a bucket down a well and draw up dirt, how often are you going to return to that well?  Felt like a lot of dirt to me.  So I’ve been out dousing…

Serendipity, the universe, a smack upside the head – call it what you will.  I received a comment from a woman named Karen in response to my last blog.  I’m sharing it with you in part (you could check it out yourself, but it’s important to this little story to quote from it here).

“Dear Mimi,

I just found your blog and it could not have been better timed.  I find your writing to be so lyrical and admire your authenticity…I want you to know that you have made an impact on my life at a time when I needed inspiration and the strength to move forward; I lost my husband 18 most ago; we both had cancer at the same time.  8 weeks after his death I was diagnosed with a second cancer and went through 9 months of grueling treatment, alone, without my Beloved…[L]ife has a way of being arbitrary in how we learn the real lessons, yes?  Our life together was like a beautiful song – starting with an anthem of the wonder of finding one another, then verse after verse over 45 years playing out the excitement of creating a family, the expansiveness of gratitude for all our hearts could hold that spilled so lavishly onto us and those we held dear, and then even over the period of shock and awe, our determination to live in the ‘now’. to savor the tastes, the touches, the fragrances and sights of ordinary days.  Your writing has restored my soul, my heart, my mind and my body once again hear that beautiful song – the one we created together that chapter and verse comforts and sustains me, and the belief once again that though we ay not always cling to it, that the Universe is on our side, that it is Love that is always the answer to aching hearts.  Thank you Mimi, thank you.”

I was left humbled, silenced by such gratitude for something I didn’t realize I had done.  That Karen shared this with me – to give me such a generous gift.  I affected a life.  I. affected. a. life.  Is there a greater contribution one can offer – especially without any knowledge of doing so?  I am still awed.  I am still shaking my head and I am still so touched that my words helped this beautiful woman.  This beautiful woman who was willing to share her personal thoughts with me.

Flash forward to dinner with someone I used to know in high school and college.  Ok, we dated – but that was a lifetime ago and after forty years, it counts far more as someone who used to know you before you learned a lot about pretense and guile and the only games you could play were the most sophomoric ones.  Anyway, he mentioned a memory – I was 17 or so, and apparently was upset about something.  He asked me if he had done something to make me mad, was it about him, etc.  My response?  “You know, sometimes it’s not all about you.”

And here I’ve sat – with these two disparate, yet powerful moments in my hands.  I am heartened to know I still run true to form.  That I am still focused more on others than on myself.  It isn’t selfless believe me – it’s just where my comfort lies.

But do you realize that you change lives with your writing?  Those whom I follow devotedly, affect my day, my thoughts, expanding vistas and shrinking others that have been over-planted and tended.  You have changed my life.  And if we can do this with and for each other, are we not answering one of the highest of human purposes?  You matter.  You have made a difference.  You touch with tentative but determined intention.   How incredible is that?  We are here.  And when we hurt or thrill, when we cry or giggle – when we least expect it – we are gifted.

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.

Passing By A Window

Have you ever had one of those moments when you pass by a window and catch a glimpse of your reflection without recognizing yourself – albeit briefly? Please nod your head affirmatively, or I’m going to seriously wonder if my crazy level just escalated.

Is there any greater dissonance than not recognizing who you are? Who you have become? Accepting that none of us perceive ourselves as we are perceived by others, at least our self-perception should align with what we see. And I have to admit, that there are moments when they just don’t line up.

When my head insists that I can rock an outfit which a) I clearly can’t and b) is arguably no longer in style; when I sit in meetings where people moan about millenials and I wonder why they’ve skipped two generations in the dialogue (including my own – hello???); when I dance around my house (full disclosure – only the dogs witness this activity) and find myself hoping the next song is a slow one.

The moments when I realize that my children are now men. Awesome men. No longer in need of that overpowering, all encompassing love that arrived in utero. In my head I am still able to carry them on my hips, pudgy fingers around my neck, little boy sweat and kisses that smacked. And always sensing that if I hold on too hard they will have to wrest themselves from me painfully. I tried to keep my grasp loose-ish. Do they even have these reflections in their mirrors? Perhaps somewhere. Certainly not something they consider when defining themselves at this point in their lives. Nor should they. It isn’t time.

Am I the woman in the little black dress meeting Andy for the first time 23 years ago this week? That curiosity and humor and hint of possibility filling the Georgetown harbor with something unrecognizable yet familiar? I could probably fit into the dress (there was some lycra involved I’m sure), but would I recognize the woman? Sometimes, perhaps…when we dance in the kitchen to a song of Andy’s creation (don’t ask).

So many passages that define this reflection, so many exhilarating moments and sad lessons, an awful lot of pain and kindnesses of indescribable magnitude. To look in the mirror and see that I’m still evolving, the image isn’t static even though there’s something to be said for thinking one is frozen in time. The reflection is the reality – no longer eligible for the ingenue roles, juggling mom, menopausal manic, or driven senior executive. Now? Good question.

The reflection is still blurry, morphing into something gentler, arguably a little easier on the image staring back. Perhaps a little less intrepid and sensing something that haunts my thoughts in ways that are unfamiliar – the limits of time maybe?

The eyes though – the eyes I recognize – they crinkle from laughter, they well too easily, they look to the sky with such gratitude. Sometimes I don’t recognize the face in toto – I just recognize the heart. And sometimes that’s enough.
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Barely Breathing

It was her signature.  Such a simple, innocuous thing.  Her name, in her inimitable penmanship – which I always thought was wonderful for its illegibility and graceful European quality.

The government of Austria had requested documentation pertaining to her death.  I made copies from the material sent to me from the lawyer who navigated my sister and I through the maze of trusts and estates.  Walking upstairs to retrieve the documents from the printer tray, what was I thinking?  Probably how not to trip on twelve paws racing between and around one’s legs.

I had to look at the copies to make sure they were complete.  Death certificate, medical reasons which belied the possibility that she had just begun to feel lost in her days without my dad and it depleted her too quickly.  More legal documents; a last will and testament.  And her name, in her hand.

Suddenly, there wasn’t enough air in the house, in the world for me to breathe.  Andy looked at me and all I could do was show him the papers in my hand before my gasping turned into a sob that came from a place in me – a waiting room for sobs I think.  Deep, primal.  Nine years already?  And still.  Her name, in her hand.  I lost my footing; I wasn’t ready.  I will never be ready.

My friend doesn’t believe that there is something after this life.  I believe it, but don’t really know what it is I’m believing.  In an interview on NPR, Mary Roach rhetorically asks, who is better off?  The believer or the non-believer?  We agreed, that one with faith – in all that one can’t see – is arguably better off.  But there was little doubt that sometimes pain can take your breath away regardless of your position.

“It’s so curious:  one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief.  But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer…and everything collapses.” — Colette

I drove to the post office with one hand on the envelope, rubbing the spot where I thought her signature might be.  The postmaster commented about the address “Headin’ to Vienna, Austria, right?  And here we are in Vienna, Virginia – funny, huh?”  I think I smiled.  I wanted to tell him that he was holding my mom’s name.  In her hand.  And that it was briefly in mine.

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