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’

For Jo – In Her Renaissance

Today is my friend Joanne’s birthday.  It’s a big one to us – sixty is a pretty impressive number, and worthy of celebration.  Since I can’t be with her today, at the very least it is deserving of a post.

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A few years ago, my daughter-in-law set up my Facebook page though I had little expectation that I would ‘meet’ people in such a forum.  Within two hours of being connected, I received a message from Jo.  She had been looking for me for oh, about forty years.  And I felt a surge of gratitude and disbelief that is difficult to explain.  Honestly, I don’t consider myself one of the memorable ones.  But anyway, there was no denying that we were best friends in junior high school, two of the bar mitzvah brides in the neighborhood (a phrase of my mother’s referring to the number of bar mitzvahs we were invited to attend), and typically on the phone when we weren’t in each other’s apartment.  But life happened in between then and now.  We went to different high schools, colleges.  The last time I saw her was when she came to hear me sing at a place called “Catch A Rising Star” in New York.

“While they talked they remembered the years of their youth, and each thought of the other as he had been in another time” (John Edward Williams)

So we have traveled different roads, in different cities, in different vehicles.  And yet our travels paralleled each other.  Our majors were similar, our commitments were similar.  Our twenties were blessed with the arrival of our kids but kicked our asses in every other way. I probably built more walls around me than Jo; she remains far more open and trusting.  I am here for her today as I was for her when I was thirteen.  We have both lost our parents and understand the seismic shift this causes in one’s bearings; one’s place in the world.  She thinks I’m a better person than I am.  I think of her as a magic kite – she soars and dips in colors so vibrant your eyes have to adjust to its brightness.  You see nothing else in the sky.

Jo was going to become a bat mitzvah today, but sometimes life shouts “Plot Change!” and you have to adjust accordingly.  She was going to speak about her journey, what she has integrated into her soul along the way.  She had asked me to say something too – and I would have said the following – “This is a day that celebrates the nexus of all that has come before you and all that still awaits.  I am a better, happier person for your friendship.  The children you have taught and the parents you have guided have been led by an uncompromising, dedicated, singularly outstanding educator.  The formidable and unyielding love for Ben and Jenna is so powerful, it is its own energy force.  Your heart holds more than most can ever hope to experience in a lifetime – and you still have a long way to go.  This world which you have touched with your passion and your elation, with your sorrow and your tears, with your right and  righteous “Made In America” indignation and gentle yearnings for a view of the Gulf Of Mexico – is a better place because of the way you have chosen to grace it.  I would have thanked you for the gift of being able to speak these words.  Yet that said, I’m just as happy to write them to you here.  With love and laughter and wishes for all that you wish for yourself and more – Happy Birthday Jo.

For Andy

Although our anniversary isn’t until the 15th, we’re heading back to the mountains tomorrow to look at some real estate and see if there’s a weekend getaway home in our future.  As you know, the connectivity up there isn’t perfect, so I’m posting this early.

We met because of children, had children of our own and have held onto our own immaturity for more than twenty years.  Tess and Amanda –  two of the most edible four-year olds in the universe became friends, their moms (our sisters) started talking about their siblings and a blind date (did I tell you I swore I would never go on a blind date, marry again, or risk more than required by serial monogamy?).  We met at the harbor in Georgetown (I was waiting inside so I could see him before he could see me – moi?  self protective?).  I walked up to him and say “Hi, it’s me”.  Andy insists he knew right away.  I just knew he was very cute and interviewed me more thoroughly than any candidate I had ever spoken with in my HR career.  Before we were done with drinks, he had gone through his checklist; I was just getting giddy.  I was being interviewed!  And I laughed – a lot.  I still am.

Andy made plans – not just namby-pamby plans – concerts, trips to B&Bs, romantic restaurants.  I was blown away.  His generosity was unequivocal; he took notes the first time I was upset because he wanted to make sure he heard all I was saying.  Honestly?  That did it for me.  No one had ever tried to listen that hard.  Ironically, it’s not his strong point – but a lot is forgiven when you realize that this is the only person in the world who is going to make sense for you.

In twenty-one years you don’t have a tale that just offers giggles.  We’ve had our share of challenges, distances and silences, days of doubt and frustration.  Loss and anger, fear and uncertainty.  My health issues have certainly thrown us for a loop on occasion.  Me with my sneakers;  Andy with his games.  I read and escape in books;  Andy plays pinball and darts.  I was a parent driven by the word ‘yes';  Andy needed reasons to answer in the affirmative.  I’m always early; he’s always late.  We can make each other crazy and we will always have each other’s back.  I have said before that he is the anchor to my kite – my tendency to fly away is far less precarious knowing that he is holding the string while he waits for me to come back to earth – so I will never get stuck somewhere from which I can’t return.

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So after twenty-one years – which have flown in more ways than they have crept, I am beyond grateful and acutely aware of blessings, as corny as that may sound.  I looked at him this morning and thought “my guy” – a thought I have had on more mornings than not.  I’m still having  a pajama party with my best friend – even if we are on different sleep schedules.  We played impromptu charades in the driveway yesterday and ended up in hysterics.  Whatever he maintains he knew  when we first met, I was slower to embrace.  But there is no doubt that we were brought together by familial love and have grown together with a bond that is cherished – both for its fragility and unbreakability.  It’s a wonderful life, and a wonderful love.  I love you Andy…

 

My Friday Lament

I want to be young again, but I really don’t want to re-live all the lousy stuff that occurs in the normal course of growing up.

I want to be old enough to fully accept that ‘legacy’ has nothing to do with what I did for a living, but what I did with my life – and that it mattered.

I want to find my waist again.

I want my waist not to matter as much as the shape of my soul.

I’d like to have no regrets, yet I regret that I think one can’t live without them.

I want to be remembered despite not having any wish or intent to go anywhere which would prompt people to miss me.

I wonder when I’m going to feel like I’m making my mark, yet delight in doing nothing but watching two fawns practice leaping in my backyard.

I miss the sounds and smells and demands and affection of having little boys, though my sons as adults delight me as no other adults can.

The rain is welcome, despite my wish for the sun.

In my head I’m far younger than the mirror suggests.  I find that a little insulting, and adds still more dissonance.

I want to read and read every book, blog, essay that grabs my curiosity and still take time to relish every sentence that I love.

I want to travel more and still cocoon at home.

I want to dare more though I’ve never been known for  being particularly intrepid.

Nobody gets everything in life; yet everything in life is not worth having.

The ebb and flow of extremes.  The push and pull of our hearts and minds.  It’s ok to grapple with this confusion, I tell myself.  It’s that insistent feeling I have that somehow, we’re supposed to ‘know’ by now.  The irritation I feel when I find that when pressed, I really have no clue – and the smile on my face as I realize that I’ll likely never get off this swing, so while I’m on it I’m just going to see how high I can go.

With Love

I was particularly struck by a poem posted by ivonprefontaine.com (Teacher As Transformer) yesterday.  As with most things evocative, we considered Derek Walcott’s words differently – which is why I didn’t reblog his words.

Once again, I am motivated by friends, for whom this will resonate individually.  Yet I hope above all, among the takeaways is a feeling of the tremendous value you have, the wonder that you offer up everyday and the love you deserve – from yourself first and foremost.

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome

and say, sit here.  Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine.  Give bread.  Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit.  Feast on your life.

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I’m really going to try to work on this…I need to.  You need to.  Let’s do it together, ok?  Happy Saturday all.