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

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’

Stuck In The Mud

That feeling of spinning your wheels, your body rocking with the car thinking it’s going to help in your efforts to dislodge it.  Wishing someone would come along to give you a push, yet recognizing that you haven’t seen another car for miles.

The karma truck is stuck in the mud.  I think it’s ok though – either I’m on the verge of getting back on the road or I’m making peace with the fact that sometimes you just have to put the damn thing in park.

Why so stuck?  Who knows really.  A friend of mine was describing this blog to his wife and said I write about ‘all this touchy-feely stuff’.  I explained how my initial motivation was to print out a year’s worth of posts and give them to my sons. Ok – it’s been a year and a half – now what?  My intent is not to hand them a tome.  I will never curate with the best of them, nor will I write with the best of them.  My sister told me that writers have discipline – I’m sure she’s right – she’s a truly outstanding writer.  I don’t think of myself as a writer – I feel like I’m more of a gusher, spewing forth foam and fluff and occasionally a stream of water that catches the light.  So you can see why I’m a little mired.  What is this blog to be now?  I’m trying to figure that out.  Filter out all the nonsense and distill my thoughts down to the most basic.  What do I want this to be?

“I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe, over the last twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.  Help.  Thanks.  Wow.” — Anne Lamott. The woman is onto something.  [If you have never treated yourself to a book by Anne Lamott, please give yourself that gift].  Getting to the fundamentals.  Every morning when I’m out with the Sirs, there is a silent exchange between me and the stars.  First I whisper my gratitude, for to neglect to recognize what I have been given is folly and hubris and stupid.  The list is long.  Then I quietly marvel – how can you not marvel at a sky wallpapered with stars?  Or the words “I love you”?  Puppy licks (even from an especially mischievous one).  The intensity of the yellows and the oranges that inform the landscape on the mountain?  And finally, I say “Please”.  And I cry.  Every time I consider the request, I cry.  I feel a little like Holly Hunter‘s character in “Broadcast News“.  My therapeutic cry.

Am I sad?  No.  By the time I get to ‘please’, I’m overwhelmed.

And so we come full circle…I am more than shmaltz and less than Dostoevsky.  I am sitting in ‘park’ despite an urge to rock this baby out of the muck.  I’m old enough to know that we all have moments like these and young enough to feel impatient and itchy.  It feels good to write this to you.  It’s been too long.

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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Making Up For Lost Time

I’m not exactly sure how one does that – make up for lost time.  Perhaps one begins by recognizing that future moments must be met with arms wide open and an abandon that we typically temper with reason.  While I was away I received two blogger awards which I wanted to acknowledge in a separate post, because both of these women are so remarkable that their stories deserve more mention than I could provide in yesterday’s posts.

I received the One Lovely Blogger Award from the remarkable woman who writes the blog workthedream.com.  danLrene is a woman with remarkable spirit and humor – despite or maybe because of – significant physical challenges that she refuses to use as definitions for who she is.  She realized her dream of living in the mountains and her journey often left me shaking my head with wonder and respect.  On her post is a quote which typifies her beliefs – ‘dare to dream of a greater thing than you can imagine’.  With bright red leg brace, portable oxygen unit and a heart that probably is larger than the mountain range itself, she moves forward with spirit and generosity.  I am humbled that she would find the time to read my blog, let alone accord me with such an acknowledgement.

The Illuminating Blogger Award was graciously given to me by Dr. Sherry Showalter who pens a blog titled keepinitreal.com.  Dr. Sherry is a spiritual wonder woman.  With a PhD and L.C.S.W, she has devoted her life to providing caregiving and advocacy for patients and families coping with loss, death and bereavement.  Serendipitously, I won her book “Healing Heartaches” in a random drawing – though I wonder now whether it was truly happenstance.  Her blog is a free form, stream of conscious shout-out to life and her loving exuberance demands that you smile – she will not settle for less.  The post she wrote in which she acknowledged my blog, was really more about a young man who is no longer receiving treatment for his terminal illness. I was riveted and sad and thankful that he has the power of Dr. Sherry with him.   He is a remarkable spirit and I wept for his impending journey and his family who are facing this reality with him.  Her compassion and passion envelop each word and each request that we hold this child in our thoughts.  Interestingly, this post was more formally written than usual – and appropriately so.  I think of him each morning and send up a little prayer.   Dr. Sherry is part Native American spiritual healer, part good ol’ girl from southern Virginia (and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways) and all live-affirming energy.

I know there are rules to these awards, but somehow inconsequential factoids about me seem to dilute the stories of both of these women.  This post is for them –  remarkable women who have entered my life through their words, spirit and wonder.  And I am very, very grateful to them both.