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

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.

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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When There Are No Answers

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all” — Emily Dickinson

Some days need to be subdued.  In the silence you can hear your thoughts – jumbled though they may be, scatological and spontaneous, making sense maybe, perhaps not.  Maybe it’s the mind’s way of trying to integrate contradictory stimuli.

Is it the phases of the moon or just the stages of life that bring four of my cherished friends to the ragged edge of loss this weekend?  Remarkable people who have never met, marking anniversaries of loss, experiencing the passing of a beloved family member, and/or finding themselves staring straight into the sea of frightening inevitability which we deny for as long as we can?  And why does life’s corollary have to be so untenable?  I have no idea.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven; I have a hard time conceiving of hell.  I think I’m very faithful, for I believe in many things that I can’t see – and for me, it is the simplest way to embrace something as indescribably huge as faith.  And love.  And hope.  I know that when we have to let go, we never really do.  One of my friends was relating the conversation she and her brother had with their dad, telling him that they were okay, that they would be okay…My sister and I had similar discussions with our parents when they were arguably between two worlds.  And yesterday I thought to myself that sometimes the idea of leaving is untenable because we don’t want to leave our children with no barrier against mortality.  The thought that they have to assume a different and arguably scarier position when we are no longer physically here.  The mere thought is anathema to me.  Life – that is all that we want our loved ones to embrace.  How dissonant to suggest that our abdication requires their assumption of a new place in line?  Perhaps one of the greatest acts of love is hanging in there if one can, with the invisible, powerful hope that we are still protecting those we love beyond measure.

I believe that some souls come into our life for a brief time, and leave indelible imprints on our hearts, our approach to each day, etc.  Some remind us that we are loved, when we doubt it; others nurture us when we have forgotten how to do this for ourselves; defiantly protect us when we are emotionally over-exposed.  Are they angels?  Their miraculous arrival and elusive departure suggest they could be.  Is there a better way to define a lifeline when it is provided and holds you together with unshakeable confidence and purpose?

I know the canned answer is that the experience of sorrow somehow makes the moments of joy all the lovelier.  Loss underscores our appreciation of that which we have.  It sounds good enough to become a cliché, though like most trite comments, it doesn’t necessarily resonate in the heart.  Hope however, has wings.  Hope that forever is a place, that love remembered is a blessing and love extended is a gift.  I wish it didn’t have to hurt so damn much.  I wish that tears weren’t necessary.  The daffodil shoots are stubbornly insisting on breaking through the frozen ground – indifferent to the reality that greets them when they appear.  They persist – with faith.  They will flourish in the spring – with hope.

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Why Ask Why?

“Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point.  French.  Pascal.  The heart has its reasons , whereof reason knows nothing.” — Madeline L’Engle

When my sons were little, ‘why’ was their favorite question.  You all know the exercise – the repeated inquiry that dissects a question into the most inane and discreet detail; the exchange that lasts longer than one’s patience and ultimately resolves itself once the child loses interest in the game.

But age hasn’t tempered this query for me.  I ask ‘why’ all the time – just not necessarily a loud (I say enough things a loud to perpetuate worry in those who hear me).  Why do I know there’s wind despite my inability to see it?  Why do I persist in my efforts to understand the puzzle of human behavior?  And, with all that persistence, why can’t I at least figure out my own?  Why do we establish expectations that are constructed as a house of cards?  The only difference is that I have now discovered the answer.

Because.

These aren’t the questions for which there are more concrete answers.  Reason doesn’t dictate the posing of such questions.  Facts don’t satisfactorily assuage either, for these are just the surface results of queries that are too complicated to form in any sensible way.

Why does the heart want what it wants?

Because.

Because within the human condition is faith.  Faith explains that which we believe to be true that we can’t see or explain.  But we know.  We know that there is such a thing as love whether or not our personal histories have experienced it, for our hearts ache for it sight unseen.  We know that there are miraculous moments in a day – from the subtle connections that make you feel like someone just read your mind to the complicated ties that allow friends to ‘just know’ when something is up.  The brilliance of a cardinal’s color on a leafless tree.  Why did that one star begin to twinkle more brightly just as I was thinking of someone who is no longer here?  Why?  Why does the sunrise evoke promise and the sunset occasionally resemble the saddest colors in the world?  Why was I lucky enough to learn that some of the most simple days are the happiest?  Why do some people snort when they giggle?  (Ok, I threw that one in there just to see if you were still with me).

Because.

And one of the nice things about being older is that you bring all the ages you have already been with you.  So you know that ‘because’ can suffice.  That there is a place for complex debate and study and philosophizing and a place for simple acceptance on faith.  So today I accept the awesomeness of being here without further scrutiny.  It just is.  And if you are wondering why that in and of itself is ok with me?  Because.  Have a great day all.

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