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’

On The Occasion Of Master Bogart’s 1st Birthday

Well, the Boge-meister turned a year old this week.  We’ve been looking forward to this day for about ten months now, confident that with each passing month, Bogey would mature a little, learn a bit more and begin to show signs of the amazing young guy he is destined to be.  By his first birthday we were sure he would be knighted as the third “Sir” of the Round Table.

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Let’s just say some puppies advance more quickly than others.

His Aunt Lori calls him ‘her little nugget’ – her love for him is one of his redeeming qualities.    The truth is that there are nuggets rolling around in Bogey’s brain, like the numbered orbs in a power ball machine.  Very few thoughts translate into a logical sequence of actions with this little guy.  Jo has offered to put together a behavior management program for him.  I’m thinking of taking her up on it.

He occasionally knows his name, although this is a variable occurrence unless treats are involved.

We think he hears voices.

None of them are ours.

There is something under the bed (the carpet) that inspires low growls and threats.  The ripple created by the pool filter is reason enough to howl menacingly into the darkness (from behind my legs – one mustn’t take unnecessary risks after all).  He debates with golems in his sleep; the golems win.

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He has finally potty-trained us – as long as Andy remembers the 9:00PM walk.  Should he forget, all bets are off.

I will say that Bogey is highly verbal, engaging in various conversations with real and/or imagined characters whether awake or asleep.  He has learned that if he whines incessantly (and it really is a whine), the Sirs will forego any toy with which they are playing, and let him have it, so that they may enjoy a little peace.  He may be a little short of brain cells, but he knows how to manipulate a crowd.

He is ridiculously cute – despite his apparent lack of smarts.  And he adores Andy.  In truth, wherever Andy goes, Bogey is right there.  Andy is besotted and looks at Bogey adoringly while often commenting, “he’s going to be a terrific dog when he grows up a bit”.  Um…ok sweetie, whatever you say.

When we drive up to the mountains, Master Bogey sits up front with Andy.  I sit in the back with the Sirs.  Never looking out the side window, or sticking his little head out to catch a breeze, he sits straight and looks at the road ahead, focused on…well, nothing probably.  Occasionally he checks in with those of us in coach, sniffing with a certain snobbery I don’t find all that becoming.

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Earlier this week, we sang “Happy Birthday” to our baby dog, and as he began jumping up and down, I felt this urge to break into “You’ve Got To Fight For The Right To Party”.  He is definitely a party dude.  I’ve always been a James Taylor kinda girl.  Sigh…

And yet, as I write this he’s asleep on my foot.  He leaps and pounces with a complete lack of grace.  He loves everyone he meets – arguably more than they may want to be loved.  Teddy cleans Bogey’s face with affection and Bogey in turn licks Archie’s face diligently.  They’re a pack.  They’re my fur-guys.  And I guess we were due for a little crazy.

with one of our grand-dogs Henry...

with one of our grand-dogs Henry…

Pick A Card, Any Card…

I always wonder how magicians do it.  Being quite naive and slow to track a sleight of hand, I’m one of those excellent candidates that others shake their heads at, wondering how I could have missed it.  I miss it every time.  So when in the audience, I never volunteer.  I’m too easy.  Andy figures out all of these tricks – it’s part of that male mystique of his that requires the provision of an acceptable answer.

Lately I feel like I’m the one trying to figure out the scheme.  And as usual, I’m not exactly blinding anyone with my brilliance.  Rather, I’m letting each moment happen and have surrendered to the limits of my intellect.

In the past few weeks, there has been a health scare with my son (he’s totally fine – but if you think I could string two coherent words together at the time, you’d be giving me way too much credit).  I stayed awake – certain that if my vigilance failed for a moment, something awful might happen.  I’m not sure I was breathing, yet I must have been, ’cause I’m writing to you now.  As soon as I heard he was ok I saw myself as a puddle on the floor.  No longer with any form or substantive thought.  It doesn’t matter whether or not he understood my reaction for it wasn’t/isn’t about me – he’s the child (even though he’s an adult), I’m the mom.

One of my sons completed his MBA.  This is his second Master’s degree – both completed while working full-time at one of the most unforgiving consulting companies when it comes to time and billing (let me take that back – all professional service firms are unforgiving when it comes to time and billing).  Yes, I whooped when they called his name (but at his request, I didn’t yell “Go baby!”).  These men o’ mine are no longer men o’ mine – they are husbands first.  And I wanted my mama lion role back (with no disrespect to either one of my lovely daughters-in-law), mourned the loss of the role I know well.  Chuffing at the opening of my lair…

Andy’s parents are moving to CA to be closer to their daughter and her family.  The weather will be kinder. the opportunities greater for my father-in-law to golf, my mother-in-law to get involved in some activities.  Andy’s up there helping them get organized until he makes it home today.  We’ll go back up together on Wednesday.  I’ve been here before; there’s nothing about it that’s easy.

My cherished friend going through the ebbs and flows of possible transitions – not knowing from one moment to the next whether she’s going-along-to-get-along or passionately caring about the life choices ahead.

So I wake each day with a hint of worry attached to my coffee cup.  My shoulders a bit more bent.  Roles change all the time, relationships morph because that’s what relationships do.  The earth always moving beneath our feet and relying on our sense of balance to remain upright.

And yet…I am acutely aware that everything is ok.  I caught two blue jays yakking it up yesterday afternoon (wow are they loud).  The early morning stars shone with such clarity I wept at their beauty.  I gratefully accept the morning’s invitation.  Somewhere inside I am as full and fortunate as any one person can be.

I am going to take a page from some of my fellow bloggers and take a bit of a hiatus.  It’s not good-bye of course, just some time to fiddle with the idea of blogging, maybe change the paint on the karma truck, rotate the tires, shift gears so to speak.  It’s time – we’ve been on this road together for a long time and rather than lose the company, I’d prefer to pull over and park this baby for awhile.  Get outside, renew, re-think, restore.

And maybe, just maybe when I get back, I’ll be able to tell you just how the magicians do it.  See you soon.  Much love…m

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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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Amulets, Talismans And Charms, Oh My

So I decided it was time to clean out my closet.  This in and of itself is hardly post-worthy.  It was a matter of necessity – I couldn’t walk inside.  I started with the five drawers that are in there – not that this made the path any clearer, rather it was a manageable place from which all other organization could start.  I am nothing if not optimistic.

My top drawer is for underwear.  My own unsubstantiated belief is that most people put their underwear in the first drawer.  Call me crazy, but assuming one has a reasonable level of hygiene, clean underwear is the kind of staple one relies upon regularly, ergo its premier location.  The point is – I go into that drawer a lot.  I know what’s in there – despite the lack of symmetry and color coded rows.  There was a lot to discard – when articles of clothing have lost so much elasticity that they become caricatures of themselves, they need to go.  I will also cop to keeping some jewelry in there (which I will now move if you’re thinking of breaking into my house).  The point which bears repeating – I don’t expect breathless moments that make no sense to present themselves as a result of scrutinizing the contents of my underwear drawer.

To abbreviate this little tale – once the contents were emptied, two things remained that I swear to you I had never seen before.  A sealed envelope from the funeral home that handled the arrangements for my mom and the eulogy I had written.  The words I wrote for my dad were buried with him; I didn’t really want anyone to have those words but him.  I had chosen to keep my mom’s – not sure why.  What I did know was that over the years, I had misplaced it, and had torn apart my ‘spaces’ looking for it.  Could I have put it in the drawer and just never seen it?  Possibly – but the words are written in purple ink – they show up against a white backdrop and would be just about impossible not to see.  In a silence that engulfed my head like a wave, I read it.  I remembered every detail of those days.  In the sealed envelope?  My mother’s wedding ring and the little gold earrings she wore daily. Mommy’s wedding ring.  My sister has dad’s, I had mom’s.  Why did I not see this before?  That I would have it in my possession and not have held it? If I close my eyes, I can see it on her hand.  I can almost feel her skin.  Why did I find this now?

I have no doubt that there are many logical explanations for this, yet I can counter each one of them with a strong conviction that I have been to the bottom of my underwear drawer many many times before, and these things were not there.  Lori reminds me that there are some things that just can’t be explained, and I believe that to be true.  Is this one of those events?  Perhaps.  It begs questions like why now?  What’s the message?  Am I missing something that I should be seeing in these moments of mine?  Is it just the universe’s way of reminding me that there is no talisman that one must hold that is more powerful than love?  Maybe it was just mom giving me a ‘atta girl’ for finally cleaning out my closet.

“Love is the vital essence that pervades and permeates, from the center to the circumference, the graduating circles of all thought and action.  Love is the talisman of human heal and woe — the open sesame to every soul.” –  Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Her wedding ring is now on a chain on which I have a charm from my sister.  I hold them both in my hand until they’re so warmed that their essence travels through my skin, traveling to a space in my heart that is kept for those I miss – guarded and protected by walls I have tried to make impregnable. There is no surprise that my mom would find the one entrance – she was always persistent.

As the sky reluctantly lightens and the air holds this peculiar pre-snow quiet that forces you to listen, two birds alight on a leafless branch.  They are not going to break the spell with chatter and idle conversation.  We hold our respective places until I’m too cold to stay outside and the Sirs are no longer inclined to patiently wait for me to come inside.  I whisper “Hi” and “Thank you”.  I wonder about all I don’t understand and under my breath I add “Please”.   Please let there be so much that defies explanation; let me graced with so much time that I can continue to be amazed.