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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What’s Love Got To Do With It? A lot

I want to thank Bill who writes the blog drbillwooten.com  for posting a quote this morning which has been echoing in my head -

“In the life of each of us…there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness.  Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside wakes.” — C.E. Jung

Let me qualify this, before you leap to the notion that I’m advocating a narcissistic approach to life, centered totally on yourself with no consideration given to anyone or anything else.  Back it up my friend – let’s slow down and just take a little stroll, ok?  There is little risk that any of those who read this are on the cusp of world domination, figuratively speaking (if for some reason you are on the literal cusp of world domination,  I think it’s best I don’t know – just remember to please be kind when you assume global power).

I worry about my friends and family the way my Sirs can worry a bone.  Archie can spend hours considering a new bone from every angle, holding it tightly in his paws, refusing to consider a walk outside or a diversion of any kind.  I get it.  And so today I’m writing to all of you who have been on my mind – I love you, but I also need to get some sleep.

You are so incredibly worthy and deserving of all the happiness that you seek.  And you’re going to find it.  I wish I could tell you that it’s located on aisle six of the supermarket, next to the shaving cream.  On sale with no coupon needed.  The good news is that the cost isn’t prohibitive. The less-than-good-news is that it’s where we seldom choose to look.  Step inside yourself for a minute.  What do you see?  My hunch is that you see a lot of what you don’t want to look at.  So, we shut that door and look outside.  And our lives become “if..then” statements. ‘If this person loves me, then I will be happy.’  ‘If I could just get her to do ‘x’, then all would be good’.  ‘If I get this promotion, then I’ll be set’.  And – what if none of that happens?  We push that away.  Don’t want to think about it, because we’ve already set the level of expectation.

But where do you come into play?  If you spoke to yourself as you would your best friend, looked in the mirror through the eyes of one who loves and cherishes you, gave yourself permission to love yourself with the same passionate devotion with which you approach others – what would you do today?  How would you take care of you?  Would you let someone you love waste one moment of his/her time on sorrow that is avoidable?  Would you ever let someone you adore, cede control of his/her sense of self to anyone?  You wouldn’t of course – that’s what makes you such a fantastic friend.  Perhaps to everyone except yourself.

I’ve gotten myself so lost at times that it’s taken me years to get back to someone I recognize.  It happens.  And finding that I detoured and went so far off course that I couldn’t even figure out my true location is not a foreign exercise to me.  I’m still learning to give myself a break, nurture the little kid in me, still the voices in my head that continue to insist that they know what I should be doing, when arguably they no longer really know me at all.  I look in the mirror and some days I can’t stand what I see.  And I have a very strong able-bodied imp that jumps up and down every time I try to give myself an ‘atta girl’.

But – and it’s a big but – I know if I listen for too long, I will go down a path I would rather not travel.  I want to love this life enough to feel joy with who I am – choosing to sit here at the round table, with the sun on my back, jazz playing softly in the background, writing to you.  I choose to travel inside every once in a while to see how I’m treating myself, and to remember that I’m more ok than I probably think I am.  And more importantly, I can’t dismiss my own neurotic idiosyncracies by focusing on everyone and everything except them.  They’re as much a part of me as any wonderful qualities I may possess.  So be it.  I’ve gotta expend a little emotional energy on me.  That’s what my best friend would tell me.

My best friend would remind me that in her eyes, I’m wonderful and worthy and important. A best friend would not let me put the onus of my happiness on anyone’s shoulders and would urge me to get happy with me first.  Because a friend loves like that.  Can you be your own best friend for a little while?  Take that tentative walk inside and find all the wonder that is there and try to make peace with what is not – and still love you like crazy?

That is my wish for today – that you see yourself as I do.  That you embrace your magical, wonderful, generous, funny, lovable, silly, serious, slightly nutty, ridiculously talented self as I would if you were here.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

I had lunch today with a woman who was a camper of mine 35+ years ago (yeah, makes my mouth drop open too).   She ‘found’ me on Facebook,  which had a small cascading effect of other people who remembered me from my days as a camp counselor.  The exchange of memories is arguably a topic in and of itself  –  how some remember so acutely, while others remember through a murkier lens.  But to go there, is to digress dramatically from where I think I want to go (and anyone who reads this blog knows that I have a flair for tangential thought – oh look!  A chicken!)

I recognized her immediately – she is no longer a little girl, yet the features of the little girl I thoroughly loved for multiple summers remain the same.  Love.  I loved these girls for eight weeks every summer for years – from the time I was 15 through my freshman year in college (sophomore?  – I’m one of those murky lens people).   These summers informed so much of my personal and professional narrative – the good and the less-than-good.

Summer camps sell dreams for kids – and perhaps even more so for their parents.  Eight weeks out of the city, sylvan settings (outside of the bunks that is – ‘pristine’ is not the adjective that comes to mind while girls throw wet towels on the floor rushing to get enough hair dryer time before short circuiting the system) instant camaraderie, songs, playful athletic competition, instruction in gazillion sports, kids walking arm in arm in that “Laverne & Shirley” way.  To a large extent, it’s all accurate.  What isn’t mentioned is that each child – boy or girl – is entering this fantasy land already toting some of the emotional luggage they are going to carry for the rest of their lives.  And that makes the experience remarkably unique for each person as well as remarkably similar.

I was not popular with people my age.  Don’t misunderstand – I was well-known, I was ‘ok’, but I was never going to be cool enough to hang with the people in my peer group.  My saving graces included singing, being really committed to the kids and not pushing the social limits of a system I didn’t fully understand.  I’d sneak cigarettes behind the bunks with one girl, keep the secrets of a lot of people and outwardly accept that I was available at the behest of anyone who needed to talk.  As much as I loved those kids, I remember feeling pretty lonely most of the time and looked forward to being “On Duty” at night, for that way I didn’t have to go up to the canteen and realize that while people were in various stages of hooking up, I’d have no one to talk to.

There’s the backdrop – metaphorically great weather but for when the rains of adolescence pounded my skin.  And here’s the gift of the epilogue – I sat with one of my ‘campers’ who is now a peer.  I could have talked with her for hours.  She is an amazing human being, with a full and colorful life, enormous talent and an adored partner.  And her memories of me were of how much I cared, the perception she and others share that I was ‘there’ for those kids and that my presence was genuine.  She never saw my bungling and awkwardness – how could she?  Though I was convinced everyone saw my clumsy efforts at inclusion, she viewed me  through the filter of her little girl vulnerabilities and insecurities – and she felt love.  I have said before that we don’t see ourselves as others do.  What a gift it is when others see you with far kinder eyes than you could ever imagine yourself.  I think that is the beauty of ‘old love’ – it doesn’t try to impress, it doesn’t hyperventilate at the mention of a name.  Old love graces you with an air-brushed portrait of your best self.  It is comfortable with who you are, because it is so sure of who you were – and the distinction between the two are not as stark as you think.  I love L for giving me that today.  Old love – I think I’ll take it.

I Am SO Hating Hallmark

Each year I swear this  isn’t going to happen…as the days tick down I steel myself.   At this point my emotional armor is ostensibly secure and unyielding.  I am prepared for battle and I will emerge victorious.  Hallmark – you’re going down.

And I see the commercial where all these ‘moms’ (in quotes for I don’t really know if they are moms) look into the camera and implore their kids to ‘just’ – “just tell me you’re proud of me”, “just tell me I’m doing this right”, “just tell me you love me”, “just tell me I matter to you”…and I dissolve into a weeping fool.  My steely protection melts, my waterproof mascara fails miserably (note to cosmetic companies – I would be a good tester for your waterproof eye makeup) and as I gulp, I curse the fact that yet again they got me.  Dammit.

I’m great in a crisis – if you need someone stoic, calm and focused, call me.  Give me a love story, a happy ending – no matter how predictable, expressions of affection and/or appreciation and I’m an embarrassment.  Although I realize this dates me,  I cried during the last five minutes of “The Trouble With Angels” when Hayley Mills decided to become a nun.  Let’s not even talk about “The Parent Trap”, “Dumbo”…

The Trouble with Angels (film)

The Trouble with Angels (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are other commercials airing here that press my emotional buttons too,  but Hallmark represents all of those advertisers that are thriving by making saps like me cry.  Shame on you.  I’m a mom – I don’t think you’re supposed to reduce me to tears and have me feel stupid for doing so simultaneously.  I don’t begrudge any holiday – prepackaged or otherwise – which encourages people to acknowledge their love for one another.  I’ve really been blessed with the relationships I have with my sons – and we have always been generously affectionate and articulate about our feelings for each other.  I’m completely crazy about them,  proud of the men they are, enthralled by their stories and thankful that they still want to share them with me.  I love the women they have chosen to share their journeys and relish the time I have with them too.

And if I’m going to cry thinking about Mother’s Day, that’s what I’d like to cry about.  This indescribable love that grabs me by the throat, the sensory memories I have of my babies after bath time, their giggles before their voices changed and their dirty jokes after their voices changed, their delight when they eclipsed me in height,  little hands hugging my neck, singing to them at night and sloppy kisses that would leave my cheeks smudged and wet…

There are thousands upon thousands of moments in a lifetime that I would rather cry over and a Hallmark commercial isn’t one of them.  Yet I have not figured out a way to steel myself from the trite advertisements for love, which in and of themselves somehow minimize what is in my heart.  So until we get past Sunday, I think I’ll leave the tv off, avoid the card store and just look forward to seeing the kids over the weekend.

The Complaint Department

For those of you unfamiliar with the verb ‘kvetching’, I think it’s best defined as bitching in whine.  Though it’s a Yiddish word, it’s derivative is really irrelevant for we all do it.  I would suggest that it’s yet another aspect of the human experience, but I honestly think other species kvetch too.  Yesterday a flock of Canadian geese were heading who-knows-where, and clearly there were quite a few issues being addressed en route.  They sounded pretty much like this:

“Who died and put Louie in charge?  Didn’t we all agree I was going to take the lead this time?”

“I am SO tired and not in the mood for a field trip right now.”

“Why do always have to wait for Marge?  We could have been there and back by now.  She flies like a turtle creeps.” (you never know, geese may watch the Animal Planet too)

“Why are we going this way?  The traffic is terrible..”

“I hate flying in a vee.  Does anyone else hate flying in a vee?”

And so on.  They’re loud, sound very irritated and undoubtedly have a  few young ones in the group repeatedly asking “are we there yet?”

Kvetching is a side benefit of people sharing their day-to-day lives.  On your way to work you know that once you arrive, there will be others who will moan that they don’t want to be there either, understand your need for a second cup of coffee, appreciate how much work is on your plate (though arguably, if a lot of work is on your plate you really shouldn’t have that much time to kvetch about it), shake their heads when you mention the idiotic comment your boss made, etc.  People at my old firm used to complain about the absence of fresh fruit on doughnut day (we had bagels and doughnuts every Friday morning), even though no one was required to eat anything at all and the food was free.  Later, when fresh fruit was provided, the group kvetch reverted to the quality of the bagels.  Group sigh…

Parent groups, coffee room confabs, team meetings – kvetching goes on everywhere.  It crosses gender, age, ethnicity – and as I mentioned above – maybe species too.  On some levels, complaining is cathartic for one can get an irritant out in the open and be met with empathy and agreement.  That said, sometimes you do meet the person who responds to your comment about a ‘lousy headache’ with “You think you have a headache?  I’ve got a migraine”.  This is the kind of person who has to trump your kvetch with a kvetch squared.  These people defeat the purpose of a good whine.  For the most part though, a little whine and sympathy feels good.

A word of caution – all of this requires perspective and some semblance of self-control, for such conversations can easily derail and become dangerous to one’s spirit.  Where is the line?  At the place where kvetches turn chronic, complaints turn into gossip and vitriol replaces feelings of mild irritation.  Gossip is toxic and serves no purpose but to inject distrust and ensure the participants that they too will be the unpleasant topic of conversation sometime in the karmic future.  Gossip is conjecture that is offered as fact.  Where kvetching can be benign, gossip is malignant.  Ironically, it’s so easy to stop – requiring the simple phrase “I don’t want to hear it”.  A bit naive on my part I realize, for curiousity usually interferes with our desire to take the higher ground.  Sometimes though, I think we have to just reinforce our boundaries and despite the lure of a sensational story, stick to a kinder authority.

When one of my dearest friends was alive, she used to call  me  and when necessary, preface our conversation with “Hi sweets, this is a kvetch call”.   And I would listen to her gripe of the moment, share the indignation du jour and she in turn provided me with the same forum.  The most cherished element of the memory though is how we laughed when we were done.  You have to hold on to a bit of humor when you feel a good kvetch coming on, for in the incomprehensible hugeness of the universe, there are bigger injustices than stale bagels.