Of Paradoxes and Pop

Hi,

So here’s what’s been rolling around in this very addled head of mine…My neighbor Gary is an avid gardener.  So much so, that we have never spoken about anything else.  He came to the door a few weeks back to tell me that our grass was being over-watered and that I should adjust the scheduling of the sprinkler system.  Ok, done.  The other day he flagged down my car to advise me that my grass wasn’t getting enough water (I’m abbreviating the conversation to keep this thing going).

Everything needs water – but not too much.  Every meal should be savored – but not so much that you get heartburn.  My cyber pal David (davidkanigan.com), is pondering the extremes of emotional bungee jumping, as I extol the state of balance.  But highs are awesome – it’s the lows that suck.  It’s all a paradox (sidebar – Annie LaMott’s Ted talk on her 12 rules of life and writing – enjoy it).  I got it – and to a ridiculous degree, it’s all a cliché.  Until of course, you get to some lessons I’ve learned from my father-in-law.

Sid calls me his favorite daughter-in-law, and he in turn is my favorite father-in-law.  Of course, we are also each others’ only person in that category, so for me, it’s an easy win.  He’s 92, one of the greatest generation, the head of Andy’s clan and he wears that mantle handsomely.  He recognizes the magnificence of my sons’ as fathers – and tells them.  He literally beams at the mention of his grandkids.  He’s vibrant and engaged and has become the official greeter to his community.  Going up to strangers, introducing himself, inviting people with an outstretched hand and an easy smile.  He’d win “Most Popular” if they had such awards for adults.

Pop has an easy walk, this kind of strolling gait that is unhurried yet purposeful.  He broke his foot a few weeks back, which only slightly inconvenienced his ability to dance at his granddaughter’s wedding.  His two granddaughters wheeled him onto the dance floor, he was handed the mike to sing along with Louis Prima and no one eclipsed him from that point forward.

And yes, now that his boot is off, he’s got golf to return to, bridge of course…you get my drift.  Pop’s unassuming and humble, he’s warm and truly finds no fault with anyone in his ever-widening circle.  He reaches out – with no hesitation.  If you surmise that I love him, you’re right.   I think he finds self-absorption boring – too much is happening for the over-examination of one’s self, or the pursuit of that kind of attention from others.

My parents were too young when they passed away.  I’ve written about them extensively and will not do so now.  What I will say is that neither was able to show me how to grapple with getting older.  I’m grateful for Pop’s lessons, because other than learning how to  play bridge, I try to play this life as he does.

Pop was married to my mother-in-law for well over 60 years.  And he still called her the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’.  We all were deeply worried about him – would he be able to get past the grief, heal enough to make a life for himself, etc.  And here’s the paradox that Pop taught me, the only one that doesn’t make me crazy.

You don’t get past grief (I knew that part);  you don’t get over love and you still live.  One can argue that it is a religious requirement to do so (it is in Judaism) – which is a pretty high imperative;  so is doing it for the spirit within that begs to sing.  Love and grief co-exist.  One doesn’t cancel out the other.  Losing someone you adore doesn’t give you permission to exempt yourself from life’s dance.  They are not different sides of the same coin – they are the same side of the coin.  There is no better moment to thank my father-in-law than today, there is no better reason than his patient coaching and his love.  What can you say to someone who asks the world to be his guest?  Thank you for the invitation, Pop – I gratefully accept and I love you.

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Heartbeats

The year is coming to a close…and I struggle to write of joyous moments and rhythmic episodes of delight.  I know they were there – as I often say, in those spaces in between.  They were in the moments with Sophie’s head on my shoulder or singing (so to speak) on our walks; listening to Sienna imitate all the animal noises she knows and feeling the tenderness of her cheek; watching my sons as adoring fathers…the incredible kindness and love of friends near and far; the excitement of a new home (which with a little luck and prayer we will get into next week); sunsets that took my breath and sunrises that gave it back…

Yes…undeniably there have been moments, magical, wondrous moments.

And yet, this has also been a particularly strange and disorienting year.  Certainly being in temporary living quarters, without Andy more often than not, has been particularly upending.   Somehow as we get older it seems we lose more people – or perhaps age makes us more sensitive to these departures.  And in every corner of the world, there is pain – palpable, horrid, unrelenting pain – that one can’t ignore.  The faces of children – hungry, broken, scared; real-time nightmares from which one cannot look away.  I spend a lot of time seeking comfort, for it all hurts so damn much.

And I don’t get it, I swear I don’t…I don’t get hate, vitriol, bias, ignorance…I don’t get power grabs considered more valuable than the heartbeats of our children – anywhere in the world.  What are we doing?   Kleenex stock must be doing really well, for I’m certainly using my share.

And yet…yet, I hope.  I hope that you all receive all that you wish for and wish for all that you have.  I wish that the orbit of the earth, spins just slightly askew, so that we can stop perhaps, rewind and try again to create something enduring and universally  reflective of the beauty of the heart.  I hope…for all of us..

“Hope

Smiles from the threshold of the year to come

Whispering, ‘it will be happier’ –  Alfred Tennyson

 

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Joe Biden and me

Back in the day when biglaw was  my professional home, I was a road warrior.  United Airlines loved me – I still have one of those ‘million miler’ logos on my membership card.  And I was a global services member which elevated my travel still further.  It was heady, I admit.  I share this only to put the story in context.  Why would I be in first class flying from Frankfurt to the US?  Why would someone with a carnation in his lapel come on board to welcome me into my seat and thank me for traveling with United?  I’m tellin’ ya – crazy..

Our flight was delayed for reasons that were not made quite clear.  Unclear that is, until Joe Biden, John Kerry and Chuck Hegel came on board.  They had been in Afghanistan and there was a problem with their plane.  So they were flying United.  And here I am, in seat 1A, one of only two people who had been pre-boarded trying to look  as bemused and nonchalant as possible.  John Kerry walks by, nods at me and sits behind me in 2A.  He immediately gets on his cell phone and calls…Ted Kennedy who was in Texas campaigning for Obama.  In a toneless and enthusiastic voice, he sang ‘Happy Birthday’, joked a bit and said his good-byes.  I thought that was so touching, and was debating the appropriateness of turning around and saying something; Kerry put his sleep mask on and remained stationery and inert throughout  boarding, take-off, etc…

Chuck Hegel recognized me, but couldn’t place the face.  Andy and I had seen him and his wife a few times at the movies.  He took his seat, took out reading material, and after take off, engaged a bit with the gentleman next to him.

Not Joe – Joe sat in his seat to eat, but beyond that was up and talking with everyone.  He was carrying a copy of the magazine ‘Country Home’ and told me that Jill told him he’d be in trouble if he didn’t come home with an opinion about some proposed redecorating project.  He laughed, he kibbitzed, so comfortable in his skin, so untouched by the mantle that he wore.  It was the most intimate and delightful flight of my hundreds.  Thanks to Joe.

When we landed at Dulles, we met again at baggage claim and he asked his Secret Service guys to grab my bag too.  As we walked out, my husband and son were there, Matt’s eyes wider than usual.  Joe asked if I wanted a Starbucks, and I declined.  I wanted to get home.  And so did he.  It was a courtesy.  Of course, Matt couldn’t believe I turned down the offer.  In retrospect, neither do I.

Yes there were times too, when Joe and I were on the same train heading to or from Union Station in his days as a Senator.  He knew everyone in his ‘usual’ car, every ticket collector, their families, their stories.  You could feel his affinity for others – and you just wanted to be around the guy.

Why write of this now?  Yesterday’s emotional tribute to him at the Capitol affected me.  To hear bipartisan, emotional appreciation for someone – for anything – was a moment’s balm during these unnerving times.  Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that it would be because of Joe.

And know what?  It doesn’t even feel presumptuous calling him by his first name.

C.S. Lewis said, “For what we see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing:  it also depends on what sort of person you are.”  Hey Joe, thank you for the time I got to stand with you.  Best.flight.ever.

Compulsory Cocooning

Well, Bogey navigated us to the mountains yesterday, and despite his insistence on looking behind or beside us, we made it.

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And now comes the snow, with no estimates even suggested for those of us at ‘higher elevations’.  Clearly this ain’t no gamblin’ town.

It’s a cozy Thanksgiving this year – one beloved son and daughter-in-law, Andy, four Sirs (one grand-dog included at the Round Table) and yours truly.  One cherished son in Toronto; the other adored one, with his in-laws.  My sister is up in NY; Andy’s family in CA.  I’ve never prepared Thanksgiving for four.  And since I’m not sure how successful I will be at re-calculating measurements, there will be plenty of leftovers.  It feels a little strange – and yet it’s ok – for everyone is where they want/need to be.  And they’re fine.  Let’s move on.

Something about the silence that accompanies snow forces one to pause and listen.  It is right to pay attention at times like these.  When the world continually reminds us why we’re angry, impotent, righteously indignant and not righteous enough, the snow blinds me to all of this vitriol.  It provides a day of muted noise –  a compulsory moment to feel something other than head-shaking disillusion.

Gratitude and giving thanks – it’s as white and clean and pure as snow falling.  Despite some chronic pain stuff (yawn), which has compromised aspects of my life lately, I am choosing this moment of grace.  To be thankful.  Thankful for family and friends who are generous with their love and laughter; meager with their criticisms and callousness.  Thankful that I’m going to be a grandma in February and hopeful that I may be a vital part of this little girl’s life.  Thankful for new friends who expand my view of the road ahead, and old friends who have rejoined my travels and have myopic vision that forgives much of history.  Thankful for giggles that cause stomach aches, tears that cleanse and puppy kisses.  Thankful for books that transport and bring me home again.    Thankful for music that accompanies all my moments.  Thankful for featherbeds and drool-y naps.  Thankful for t-shirts warm from the dryer.  Thankful for those spaces in between – when my breathing slows and I bow my head.  ‘Please.  Wow. Thanks.’ – to paraphrase Annie Lamott.  That is the prayer; the alpha and the omega.  We are blessed.  We love and we are loved.  We have limitless capacity for a limited time.  Gotta get your grateful on.  And I do.  Before I get to the chestnuts that will be roasting and sweet potatoes baking and turkey brining…before the smells begin to infuse the house with hints of tomorrow’s yumminess.  Get to that place where the greatest tradition is observed – where you go to whisper ‘thank you’.

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Where’ve You Been?

“Bo Diddley Bo Diddley have you heard

My pretty baby said she was a bird.

Bo Diddley Bo Diddley where you been

Round the world, gonna go again” — (Elias McDaniel, songwriter)

I’ve been away a long time – or at least it feels like a long time.  Not sure whether I’m really back.  Blogger fatigue?  Not really.  More the sense that if I had nothing interesting to say, better to stay mum.  When I consult, I often say that if you put your bucket down a well for water and you get a bountiful supply, you’ll keep putting your bucket down that well.  If you put a bucket down a well and draw up dirt, how often are you going to return to that well?  Felt like a lot of dirt to me.  So I’ve been out dousing…

Serendipity, the universe, a smack upside the head – call it what you will.  I received a comment from a woman named Karen in response to my last blog.  I’m sharing it with you in part (you could check it out yourself, but it’s important to this little story to quote from it here).

“Dear Mimi,

I just found your blog and it could not have been better timed.  I find your writing to be so lyrical and admire your authenticity…I want you to know that you have made an impact on my life at a time when I needed inspiration and the strength to move forward; I lost my husband 18 most ago; we both had cancer at the same time.  8 weeks after his death I was diagnosed with a second cancer and went through 9 months of grueling treatment, alone, without my Beloved…[L]ife has a way of being arbitrary in how we learn the real lessons, yes?  Our life together was like a beautiful song – starting with an anthem of the wonder of finding one another, then verse after verse over 45 years playing out the excitement of creating a family, the expansiveness of gratitude for all our hearts could hold that spilled so lavishly onto us and those we held dear, and then even over the period of shock and awe, our determination to live in the ‘now’. to savor the tastes, the touches, the fragrances and sights of ordinary days.  Your writing has restored my soul, my heart, my mind and my body once again hear that beautiful song – the one we created together that chapter and verse comforts and sustains me, and the belief once again that though we ay not always cling to it, that the Universe is on our side, that it is Love that is always the answer to aching hearts.  Thank you Mimi, thank you.”

I was left humbled, silenced by such gratitude for something I didn’t realize I had done.  That Karen shared this with me – to give me such a generous gift.  I affected a life.  I. affected. a. life.  Is there a greater contribution one can offer – especially without any knowledge of doing so?  I am still awed.  I am still shaking my head and I am still so touched that my words helped this beautiful woman.  This beautiful woman who was willing to share her personal thoughts with me.

Flash forward to dinner with someone I used to know in high school and college.  Ok, we dated – but that was a lifetime ago and after forty years, it counts far more as someone who used to know you before you learned a lot about pretense and guile and the only games you could play were the most sophomoric ones.  Anyway, he mentioned a memory – I was 17 or so, and apparently was upset about something.  He asked me if he had done something to make me mad, was it about him, etc.  My response?  “You know, sometimes it’s not all about you.”

And here I’ve sat – with these two disparate, yet powerful moments in my hands.  I am heartened to know I still run true to form.  That I am still focused more on others than on myself.  It isn’t selfless believe me – it’s just where my comfort lies.

But do you realize that you change lives with your writing?  Those whom I follow devotedly, affect my day, my thoughts, expanding vistas and shrinking others that have been over-planted and tended.  You have changed my life.  And if we can do this with and for each other, are we not answering one of the highest of human purposes?  You matter.  You have made a difference.  You touch with tentative but determined intention.   How incredible is that?  We are here.  And when we hurt or thrill, when we cry or giggle – when we least expect it – we are gifted.