Dear Universe

I’d write this to Santa, but being way over the age of majority and Jewish, it would seem remarkably disingenuous to do so.  Instead, I’m sending this to the universe, because based on my calculations, it’s large enough to handle a few requests from me.

Hi Universe,

How’s it going where you are?  Hopefully well, and you’re approaching the holidays with both anticipation and delight.  I hope you get all that you ask for and realize that you already have all that you want.  I’m not a big one for lists – I’ve been blessed too many times over to look at a gifted life and seek more.

And yet.

There are some things I desperately want this year.  You see, we’ll be welcoming our first grandchild into the world in February, and while I spend a ridiculous amount of time wondering what our relationship will be like, I’m spending more time perseverating about the world she will be joining.  And there’s some work we really need to do.

-  This year I want the world to work on forgiveness.  If we’ve done something wrong – to the world or to an individual – let’s own it, apologize, forgive and learn the lesson.  I feel emotionally assaulted everyday – whether it is the horrific senselessness of murder and ill-defined parameters of justice; too many homeless for my extra coats to warm; so much vitriol and judgment and too little shared compassion and faith.  Anonymous haters spitting venom in virtual environments where pain is the currency and absence of accountability is assured.  Can we have a body politic that agrees that a good foundation is one predicated upon us not hurting each other and/or this fragile earth we are only borrowing for a short while?  Can we eliminate the ‘yeah, but…’ and replace it with ‘maybe we can’?

-  This year I want families and friends to recognize that we can be extensions of our best selves to those we love the most and reflect a better self to those who we may never see again.  I want memories to be filled with limitless possibilities that we inspire with the merest of actions, the most innocent of exchanges, a smile.

-  I don’t want any more children to be hungry, or cold, or denied the feeling of being held in love and safety.

-  I want gratitude to be as contagious as kvetching and just as colorful.

-  I want the world’s religions to remember that the shared predicate is love.  I’m no scholar, but I’m no fool either.  If there is no love as a foundation, what is there to believe?

-  This year, I want this whole growing up thing to be a little easier.  I thought I’d at least know what I don’t know instead of finding the list increasing and expanding each day…Universe, I ask that we give ourselves the gift of the better part of who we are.  Chicken soup for the world, I guess.

“It’s funny:  I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools:  the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience.  But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendship, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’  And mostly; against all odds, they do.”  — Annie LaMott

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.

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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From The Top Of The World

“Well, there is narcissism in all of us, of course.  I mean we are the protagonists of our own lives, so naturally it feels like we’re at the wheel.  But we’re not at the wheel.  That just happens to be where the window is located” — Jean Marie Korelitz

I’ve been up at the mountain house since Sunday.  It’s good to be back, though the first few days without any connectivity to the outside world was a little daunting.  No phone service, no Internet.  I thought that would be fine – and it was, except when the night encroached and I was reminded that I am a very little, inconsequential person in the great big scheme of things – and the mountains are a fairly imposing backdrop from which to consider this.  What serendipity has brought me to this place in time.  And yeah, there were occasionally shout-outs imploring the universe to keep me safe.  So far, so good.

On some level it appalls me that silence can be unrequited, when it is so necessary and valuable.  I’ve been struggling a lot of late with the outline of this next story line in my life (made even more difficult by the fact that I have yet to figure out what I want to be when I grow up).  Itchy, out-of-sync, closing off more parts of me to see if I could get to the essence of what I want.  The reality is I need this silence right now (though it is good to be able to converse with you again).  With all the noise going on in my head, something had to force me to be still.

I have not arrived at any great conclusions, though I feel like I’m on the cusp of…something.  And I’m feeling a bit less anxious about not being able to touch it.  When you can’t avoid yourself, you have to figure out a way through the mild panic and self-deriding thoughts that circle around as a cyclone.  Stepping outside myself to look inside and provide the reassurance that it’s ok.  Let life carry me – for that is what it’s going to do anyway.   What hubris to think that because I want answers now that I’m supposed to have them.  They’re en route – like the spring.

I marvel that the buds on the trees, the flowers, etc are so insistent on blooming regardless of the temperature.  They’re straining to burst forth, determined to honor their rightful time in the sun.  A part of me wants them to be a bit more self-protective and wait until the temperature proves more accommodating.  Another part of me is cheering them on, encouraging them to claim their rightful place.  They’re going to bloom, in their time and on their schedule.  I am learning a lot from them.  The hide-and-seek exercise that transitions us from one season to the next, and the incoming season is always ‘it’.  And always wins.  So with this thought, I toy with a new season in my soul.

It’s all good.  Learning to give myself a break, give myself permission to stare at the clouds, read a book in one sitting, make some tea and just savor.  Savor my husband, my children (when they allow me), the cocoon I am ensconced in on top of this very large and imposing mountain.  Make music in the silence and write a verse that has yet to be sung.

 

Juggling Reality

I’m not the most graceful person – never have been.  I can trip over nothing, miss the lip of my coffee cup, bump into a wall – and that’s just walking from one end of the kitchen to the other.  Would that these were marketable skills.  What I typically balance well though are the variable weights of the thought bubbles in my head.  Have you ever stopped to consider how many disconnected thoughts jump around your mind in a five-minute period?  Some complete, others rejected.  Some stubbornly intractable, others as ephemeral as a breeze.  So we go through our days.

Perhaps it’s the disparate qualities of these thoughts that make them manageable.  When life events collide, and the thoughts are connected despite the qualities that make them each unique – well, that’s another story…that’s the stuff of which headaches are made.  Juggling – it’s not for the faint of heart.

Over the last few days, much has happened that is disparate yet similar.  Andy turned sixty.  My aunt passed away.  Our well temporarily ran out of water – literally.

Sixty is an impressive number.  A bit frightening even though the alternative is far scarier.  And this generation of ours is making sixty look damn good.  My daughter-in-law added a perspective I hadn’t considered – a birthday just makes you one day older than the day before.  Well that just means that Andy is 59 plus a few days.  And he wears it well.  But when he looked at me yesterday and simply said “I’m sixty years old”, I felt the weight of those words.  He is surprised naturally – how did we get here?  I’m still wondering whether or not he’s going to ask me to go steady.

We also had just come home from the funeral service for my aunt.  I hesitate to write too much about her, for as much as I loved her, there are four cousins of mine and six grandchildren who are the rightful authors of her story.  She was a vibrant, social, politically passionate spitfire with a great smile.  I remember lots of family moments at her house.  Her husband and my dad (they were brothers) singing “The Bluebird Of Happiness” before collapsing in tears of laughter.  Laughter.  That’s it.  I remember laughter.  I choose to remember laughter.  And how loving they were to my children.  Her last years were stolen by Alzheimer’s – an unforgiving thief.

And she was the last of my parents’ cohort group.  The last of my aunts and uncles.  It suggests that my sister, cousins and I are now next in this ineffable path.  I find that a difficult thought to hold onto for very long; I want to drop it, so I can pick it up when I’m ready – and yet it feels like it’s covered in Velcro.  I’m not ready for all the ramifications of being a grown-up.  My hunch is none of us are.  I am in love with life and I am angry that it has to end as we know it.  My head aches.  My heart aches.  And the sun rose this morning as it always does.

The well feels a bit dry as you can probably tell.  The well guys were here already this morning and needed to swap out a part, advising us to keep the power off for a couple of hours to give the well a chance to refill.  It seems like good advice.  Sometimes you just have to power down and give it all over.  Cry a bit.  Accept that there are questions without answers or at least fight them with less vehemence.  Let the sun hurt your eyes as it warms your skin.  It’s okay.

RadiatingBlossom.wordpress.com posted a poem yesterday which has stayed in my bones.  It seems a far better closing thought than anything I could offer.

The Thing Is –  Ellen Bass

To love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

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