Who’s Stewart?

Hi,

There are many stories in here, so forgive the multiple parentheticals – recognizing of course, that really talented writers don’t use them often.  Ah well, I’ve never claimed to be a really talented writer.

Anyway, I was speaking with my builder last week.  A few years ago, her birthday gift from her husband was a girls’ weekend at an exclusive hotel.  These women have been friends for years; there are no secrets.  Well, with an abundance of alcohol there are no secrets.  And they imbibed – a lot.  One of her friends has been happily married for many years.  Great guy – sweet, attentive, doting – the kind of guy everyone else in the group holds up as the example when they’re arguing with their spouses.

After many drinks, her friend acknowledged that as much as she loved him, he wasn’t her ‘Stewart’.  Stewart was the one who got away.  Her college sweetheart – part dog, part romantic fool.  She was besotted, he was hormonal.  But she held out a fantasy, wondering for years, ‘what if’.

To abbreviate the tale, over the years her feelings for her husband have replaced that wonder.  She adores him – even though he wasn’t her ‘Stewart’.

I’ve never had a Stewart.  Perhaps it’s because I married often enough that by the time I hit 30, the prospect of a fantasy romance would have just enervated me.  I was a single mom with two boys under the age of five.  And honestly, being a mom was pretty much the only fantasy I ever really had that I insisted on making a reality (but that’s another story).

So let’s move on.

Have I told you that my sister is flippin’ brilliant?  On so many levels, this woman amazes me constantly (Debbie, I know you are shaking your head, telling me that this is same-sex, birth order bullshit – and even if you’re right, so what?  It is what it is.  Truth for sure – and some residual younger-sister-will-never-be-as-good neurosis for good measure).  She is beautiful, scary smart, talented beyond measure – and she is a writer – the legitimate kind.  In one of her recent stories she wrote “you fall in love with the way someone falls in love with you”.  Brilliant.

And true.

I fell in love with the way Andy fell in love with me.  He made himself fit into my life with such an abundance of heart, romance, delight – he introduced me to his magic and I was ultimately mesmerized.  He is my Stewart, but he isn’t the one who got away.  He’s the one who stayed.

We may fall in love with the vision of love that we see, but we stay in love with the person who orchestrated the imagery.  The person who may not be who we first saw (and are we the person they first saw?), but who’s in it with you.  The person who can be your best friend and some weird extra-terrestrial at the same time and still be cute.  The one who drives you crazy in every conceivable way.  I’m a kite;  Andy is an anchor.  He’s judgmental;  I’m not (but for my expectations of sub-contractors working on our house, but they’re not reading this).  We are opposite sides of the same coin – and that is the kind of love that can’t be fabricated by fantasy.

We fall in love with the way someone falls in love with us.  True enough.  We love the person who knew how to make that happen.  Perhaps I never had a Stewart because I have an Andy.  And even though this has absolutely nothing to do with what I intended to pen today, it is what’s been on my mind all morning.  So, I guess therein is another story.

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Keep Moving

“My, my.  A body does get around.” – William Faulkner

Oh William, you have no idea.

We’ve moved.  We’re in our new house.  It is lovely, really.  True, the microwave doesn’t open, the dishwasher is confused about its purpose, there’s a wine fridge but it too is inoperable, and though I have a double oven, it has to be replaced or repaired.  Did I  mention that our refrigerator legs aren’t locked, so that it creeps along surreptitiously,  advancing with little notice until it kisses the wall?

Of course, as with every new house, there’s a punch list that is lengthy – and I now understand why it is in fact called a ‘punch’ list.

At night, our boxes multiply as if their souls were rabbits.  And each morning, I look around in disbelief that there are so damn many them.  The yard is not seeded, sodded or fenced, so the Sirs and I walk with our heads down – our neighbors must look at the mosh pit that is the front yard and shake their heads with displeasure.  Some of the doors don’t lock properly yet, but what the heck, I can always make someone a cup of coffee.

And yet.

I love that I have landed.  I may not be able to find my way through this morass even with a compass and clear head (I lack both) – but I am home.  A place to create new memories, walls that will hold laughter and baby giggles, words from family and friends, new secrets and old stories that are told and re-told for their lessons and familial value – all will be protected by this structure.  When you cross our threshold, you will know you are welcome.  I think that is what I have missed most about our old home (other than the fact that my kids were still under the roof).  It was ‘home’ to all who entered – shoes were off, people curled up on couches, succumbing to those drooly kind of naps, big Thanksgiving dinners, intimate moments with friends around the kitchen table.

I wish my whole family was local, but I am so, so grateful for those who are here.  I think as you get older, you treasure ‘home’ differently.  It isn’t about acquisitiveness any longer – on the contrary, that which isn’t essential to your heart is purged – it’s about holding on to that which is most important to you.  And reveling in it.  Perhaps therein lies my impatience.  I want to find the pictures of my parents, the cards my sons gave me when they were small.  I want to ‘feel’ my life in what I touch.

Andy keeps telling me to go slow, that this isn’t a marathon – he’s right of course.  I’m driven by a compelling force to snuggle into what I know, before I begin to create something new.  If our fence was up, I’d have one foot in the new and the other in the old.  Barring that,  I’m just going to keep going until I uncover all those priceless treasures that I have missed for almost a year.  And whisper with delight and gratitude, ‘There you are!  Thank you for waiting for me!’.

Ok, time to get started –

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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.

Defining Purpose

Note to you, my friends – this post contains some political opinions which may likely differ from yours.  I respect yours; thank you in advance for respecting mine.

Hi,

The night merged at some point with the morning, although I honestly can’t tell you at what point that happened.  Yet here we are, 5:00 AM – the Sirs walked and fed, the sun preparing for its entrance stage right, and somewhere behind the clouds, the moon is tiredly anticipating some rest.

I’m over-caffeinated, over-tired, and my thoughts are a muddled reflection of both.

I alternated between watching our election returns and watching ‘The Crown’ on Netflix.  Arguably one offset the disbelief that informed the other.  I despair of the choice the US has made.  It isn’t the despair associated with backing the losing candidate – one reaches a point in life where loss is not unfamiliar; rather something that winds its way around the soul, infusing it with a sense of dread, a shortening of breath that mimics a mild panic attack when one tries to determine what is going to happen next.  I am not going to offer you chapter and verse of my concerns and/or fears – they matter little in a forum which precludes dialogue.

My mom told us that following Kristalnacht, my grandfather went to synagogue with the belief that what was needed was more prayer.  Whether his assessment was right or wrong is not for any of us to say.  He lost brothers and sisters in the Holocaust, my mother bore the internal scars of a survivor with a burden on her teen-age shoulders that was unfairly weighted.  Yet, my grandfather, grandmother, mom and uncle made it here along with a few other relatives.  Was it faith that got them here?  Certainly, there were millions who perished who were equally righteous.  Serendipity?  Luck of the draw?  I have no idea.  I do know her reverence for this country, the way her eyes welled when she even mentioned Ellis Island – her belief that her life was to be lived for those who had not.  She was a complicated woman; she was a woman of valor.

Her perception of her purpose for being was fraught with ambivalence.  How the heck can an adolescent assume the responsibility for so many lost lives?  How does an adult fully actuate when she identifies herself with such a legacy?  Somehow it all got distilled into taking care of her family – and that was both a blessing and a burden, I think.

During one of the episodes of ‘The Crown’, the Queen Mum, still mourning the loss of her husband, her home (ok, Buckingham Palace isn’t exactly homey, but still…), reflects that these losses were deepened further by the loss of her purpose as a mother.  Her girls were grown, their paths understandably not reflective of any maternal need.  And so, she wonders what her purpose may be.

Switching back to the election results with tears spilling down my face…I’m identifying way too much.   Here I sit, in a temporary house with and without Andy (he’s still working in VA),  my sons fabulously grown, retired from a career which was defined by taking care of others and anticipating strategies for future success (within my purview).  What is my purpose now?  What is my place in a country in which I am not sure I am a part?  We have done such a powerful job of alienating each other, pouring vitriol as gas on a flame.  We have blamed and shaken fists, self-righteously proclaimed opinions with no regard for debate and conversation.  We have been disrespectful and judgmental, narrowing the width and breadth of love for humankind, replacing it with some weird sense of superiority.

So, before I devolve into Alice when she was carried along by her own river of tears, I demand to know what am I doing here?  What the hell is my purpose?  Here’s my short answer – I’m here to chart a path where I can make a small impact (let me tell you how challenging it is to try and volunteer anywhere – no, better save that for another day), I’m here to show that there is more to this world than self-important excuses and justifications for things that are just not justifiable.  I am here to love my family and small circle of friends to whatever degree they need that love.  I am here to breathe deeply and try to blunt some of the painfully sharp edges that reflect our current narrative.  One smile perhaps at a time, one genuine moment at a time.  I’m here to grow really, really, really old (I pray reverently) and take up my small space with unflinching love.  Even when I don’t see it.  Just means I have to look harder.  So world, I’m coming for you…after I take a nap.

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