Before The Sun Rises

Hi Deb,

You have helped me through these last few weeks more than you know.  And my gratitude is inestimable.  Thank you for understanding that new chapters are exciting and daunting, bold and frightening, hopeful and rife with doubt.  That I swing between these extremes from one minute to the next, like the proverbial cradle in a treetop.  A precarious position from which to observe one’s days, let me tell you.  Have I snuggled in yet?  Hardly.  Right now I feel like I’m invisible in my own life.  My son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter know me, her family has welcomed me warmly.  And that’s all I know.

And that’s all who know me.  Well, my neighbor Mike – who has graciously welcomed the Sirs, despite Archie’s early morning sun salutations that arguably could wake the neighborhood.  Poor guy, he spent his life with acreage separating him from the rest of the world, so he and Bogey could greet the day with unbridled enthusiasm and only risk the ire of some late-rising birds.  He really doesn’t understand why I’m telling him to ‘shhhh’ at 5:00AM.  I’d like to know that someone knows I’m here, but not necessarily because my dogs insist on it.

Because of my geographical challenges, Andy keeps encouraging me to purposefully get lost each day and find my way back to home base.  Funny guy – his rationalization for my GPS not being updated, I guess.  I’m lost already – and I’m sitting at the kitchen table!  Oh, and did I tell you how I took out my side view mirror as I backed out of the new garage?  Yup – thought I saw a snake (it was an extension cord).  And you wonder about my hesitation to just go?  I’m intrepid in my imagination – it’s safer.

Ah well…life transitions.  I’ve never been good with them as you know, though I’m damn lucky that they happen despite my reluctance.  Just when you feel like you’ve got one aspect of your life down, fate yells “Plot twist!”.  Children grow before you’re ready to let them go; newlyweds get used to each other and morph into something familiar, but different from that frenetic excitement; our inside age begins to disconnect from our outside appearance; life laps at the shore as we’re standing on the boardwalk wondering what the hell just happened while we were looking for the concession stand.  I keep looking at everyone else and wondering why I’m not getting my feet wet.

The truth is this is the perfect time to wade in – because no one knows me, because I am not really visible.  I can try anything I want and it will make no difference one way or the other.  But for the fact that I tried.  And that’s what I’m slowly starting to understand.  I spend so much time fretting over what I did or didn’t do, wondering if I’ve pissed someone off, what I could do to make a situation better – it’s kinda exhausting honestly.  And I don’t have any power other than to try to be a decent human being.  To love wholeheartedly and let go when asked, try and be a little nicer to myself as I haltingly begin to walk to the shore.

And so I circle back to you – and your loving reminder that I’m not untethered, that I belong even if I’m not sure at this point where I am.  Your refusal to let me deflect the conversation away from me (and we both know I’m pretty good at that).  Maybe it’s just knowing that you remind me I’m ok, that you’re my sister,  and when one is loved, precise coordinates aren’t necessary.

Sex And The Single Bird

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I lay no claim to being an ornithologist – but I’m telling you, spring is most definitely in the air in the bird kingdom.  You should see and hear what’s going on in the trees around our house.  It’s a veritable conclave for coming together (so to speak).

Apparently cardinals are monogamous, but the guys still go through a very touching courtship routine each season.  They ask their prospective baby-mamas out for a date.  I gather this tryst is always about food – no ice-skating or movies involved.  But if the meal is good and the guy is cute, he can seal the deal if he sings well.  Personally, I have heard some very impressive trilling lately.  And my hunch is that he’s got to bring something more than a McDonald’s Happy Meal if he’s hoping for a long-term relationship.  It’s good to be discerning I think – regardless of your species.  And I think it’s good for the kids to see their parents being nice to each other.

Now, the male robins show up a few weeks ahead of the girls, to scope out neighborhoods, do a little house-hunting, and sing threateningly to establish property rights (I guess this is analogous to going to a closing on one’s house).  Far be it for me to let them know that what they perceive as threatening sounds pretty damn glorious to me.  When the ladies arrive, things move into a mode similar to “The Dating Game” (yes, this dates me significantly).  The female has her choice, gets to ask a lot of questions (do you believe that parenting responsibilities should be shared; would you describe yourself as a romantic; if you were a human, what kind of human would you be, etc) and once she chooses her mate they head off for a brief honeymoon at some undisclosed location up the street.

We have a lot of different birds around here – I’m just mentioning these two types because they’re the least intimidating.  And because this topic could get a little tedious.  Let’s just say that turkey vultures courting other turkey vultures is nightmare-worthy and so frightening to Bogey that he barked at the sky for twenty minutes after witnessing their efforts at seduction.  There’s just nothing romantic to be said about turkey vultures.  Unless of course you’re a turkey vulture.

So as the buds begin to wink suggestively, promising more beauty yet to come, there’s even more salacious activity going on within their branches.  Listen up, it’s the music of love.

 

Considering A Legacy

Soulgatherings.wordpress.com provides a daily quote that invariably touches me.  Sometimes it is the words themselves, other times it is a thought that adheres to my brain and requires my attention for hours at a time.  Either way, it’s all good.  Yesterday’s poem by Carol Adrienne is fresh in my mind –

“Our purpose, I believe

is not a thing, place, title or even a talent.

Our purpose is to be.

Our purpose is how we live life,

not what role we live.

Our purpose is found in each moment

as we make choices to be who we really are.”

I had the privilege of circling in Fran’s orbit for twenty-two years.  She was my brother-in-law’s mom – no true familial connection that I can trace, yet a connection that I felt deeply.  She passed away last week, quietly, without pain, turning her slumber into what I hope is a new chapter in a story none of us fully understand.  Her son is choosing to remember with happiness and grace, the amazing woman he loved so deeply.  Denial?  Perhaps.  I’m not judging, for it would be hubris to suggest how one grieves.  That said, I think he’s on to something.  It resonates when thinking about what Fran would want.

What was remarkable about Fran was her insistence that she was not at all remarkable.  She raised two children, worked side by side with her husband and loved unconditionally.  Her life may not have been perfect, but it was perfect in her eyes.  Her son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, niece – all human, all subject to the qualities that define our humanity (the good and the less-than-ideal) – could not be more marvelous, gifted, loving, generous.  She would not brook any complaints, whines, dissatisfactions – her purpose was to live with love.  Period.  Fran didn’t try to change your point of view to hers; she changed your mind because you would look at her face and see a sense of peace that few reflect so consistently.  And so you’d wonder what she had figured out that completely eluded you.  And you’d want to spend more time with her – if only to bask in the reflected light that she saw in everyone.  I can’t imagine how it must have felt to ever disappoint her and she would never tell you.  Fran left it up to you to figure it out.  How one human being treats another; how we show our love to those we ostensibly hold the closest.  She taught you by showing you, there were no words or reprimands or chilly shoulders.  She lived her love.

And though it’s been a while since Fran was at Thanksgiving, she will be remembered next Thursday with wine glasses raised and full hearts.  For to have known Fran was to be given a chance to see someone live her life with the highest purpose; to be loved by Fran was to have your heart opened to the incredible power of simple goodness.  Safe journey Fran and thank you for those many mornings all those years ago, when we watched the sunrise as your family slept, and wondered aloud at the fantastic serendipity that brought us to those two chairs by the sea.

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Why Is Patience So Important?

“If you want to know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.” — Hal Borland

It seems that in the fall, I spend a great deal of time feeling tremendous respect for trees.  More than the richness of their colors and the dignity with which they prepare for their fallow season, I feel humbled by their grace.  The manner in which they bend when the wind demands their attention;  the stately pride with which they accept that time will effect its plan.

A good friend of mine has been on a fantastic roll lately.  Meeting new people, finding that her voice has more range and depth than she imagined (reminds me of Katy Perry‘s song “Roar”).  Her life – her new life has reflected  her enthusiasm, zest and openness to the thrill of possibility.  I’ve shared in this delight of course, just as I am here today when the rhythm slows, the endorphins need replenishment and the bubbles are now on simmer.  Nothing is wrong, yet what happened to the effervescence?  The days of delight?

Jo wonders about her ‘next whatever’, feeling that its elusiveness is akin to a burr under a horse’s saddle.  Itchy and unsettled, we spend many an email considering the what ifs, could bes, and shoulds – and we end up back at the reality that life is going to unfold whether we are patient or not.

Patience.  The art of being still.  Of understanding that there are fallow periods, which require only that we gain strength and sustenance and an understanding of who we are becoming.  There’s something a little unsettling about it I think.  It took me two years to undo the pleasurable and neurotic remnants of working in biglaw.  To finally realize that the primary takeaway – the only takeaway – is that I made a difference, perhaps to a few people over the span of decades.  I choose to hold onto some cherished memories.   I didn’t leave the firm with grace in my heart – a story for another day perhaps.  I struggled to understand that my next whatever would be as serendipitous as the one I had just experienced.  I still do (struggle that is) – just not as much.

I write a lot about duality; it’s so much a part of our human construct.  Yet in the fall I look to the trees.  They are indomitable and unfazed, welcoming both bird and squirrel, a child’s foot nestled between its trunk and branch.  Silently knowing that regardless of preference or wish, hope or daydream, the most important element it brings to the fall is its presence.  Its being.   Time I think to take a moment  under the trees, sway under the harvest moon and just watch life and love unfold.

To Honor A Memory

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If my mom were here to celebrate her birthday, she would be eighty-six years old today.  It seems a bit surreal to think that she has been gone for eight years.  In our eulogies, both my sister and I acknowledged that she was a complicated woman, and arguably a complicated mom.  That was said and is written,  within a far broader context of how deeply she loved us and how much we loved her.   Not a day goes by…

I spoke to my parents everyday.  And when work kept me from my 9AM call, my assistant would call her to tell her I would call later.   It was a simple thing to do;  it made her feel good.  Honestly,  I remember sometimes it felt like a requirement instead of a joy.  She knew I spoke with my dad everyday until he no longer could (often acknowledged with the half-serious comment “you always loved your father better”) and I knew that if I ever curtailed those calls she would be deeply hurt.  Ironically, I still look at the clock at 9AM and feel the incompleteness that comes with a conversation that no longer occurs.

Why do I write something about mom on her birthday?  Because I want her memory to remain as alive to my children as it is to me.  Because I want those who know me to know that she was a remarkable, vibrant, artistic, beautiful woman.  Because some passages take a very long time to find one’s way through, and it’s possible that some  never really end.  Because my beloved niece still wears her grandmother’s gold whistle around her neck.  And because when my sister laughs so hard she ‘strips her gears’ (as my dad used to say), it evokes a delight in my heart that reaches far back to another place and time.  Dad and Deb laughing so hard they’d eventually start to hiccup and mom’s laugh bringing her to tears as she would hug her stomach with a delicious pain.   I was good for a laugh.  Don’t get me wrong – I was also good at causing my share of frustration too.

I re-printed her obituary from the New York Times last year and I will do so again this year.  Perhaps wherever she is, she will know how much she is missed,  how much she is loved and how today each falling leaf seems to echo her name.

“….Dee was the loving mother of daughters Deborah…and Mimi… .  She was the proud grandmother of Matthew…, Aaron…, Tess…, Seth…, Spencer… and Paul…, and generous mother-in-law of Roger … and Andy… .  She was the devoted wife and indispensable partner of the late Jack W. Jerome.  Dee was born and spent her early childhood in Vienna, making her one of that shrinking cohort who experienced and survived the monstrous storm of Nazi violence.  Her father and mother, Michael and Miriam Intrator, took the family out of Austria shortly after the Anschluss, making their way first to Belgium and then through occupied France.  The family made its way to Portugal, where on August 16, 1941, they found passage among the 765 other refugees on the Spanish freighter Navemar – one of the last voyages of escapees from Europe.  Dee’s children and grandchildren bear in their hearts eternal, existential gratitude for her family’s valor and persistence.  Her intelligence, humor and immense energy were a gift to us all.  Our family is particularly gladdened that Dee lived long enough to know of the safe return earlier this month of her eldest grandson Matthew, from Iraq, where for the past year he has served in harm’s way the country that gave his grandmother safe haven.”

My dad died shortly before Matt left for Iraq.  Mom waited for all of her grandchildren to be home and safe.  I refer to that time as the year I didn’t breathe, for all I knew was that I drew breath when I knew Matt was breathing – and we weren’t in touch enough for me to know with certainty that he was ok.  There are some things I’m just not prepared to write about – my heart censors my fingers.  As it should be.  The point is not to return to that time, but to remember that today’s mom’s birthday.  And she would have been feted and celebrated.  As it should be.  So for mom – your birthday is etched in my heart.  I miss you.