life lessons


Twenty years ago today, I was in our offices in midtown Manhattan. I hesitate to write about my memories of that day, for my story is unremarkable when compared to those who lived and died, loved and lost. My story is of someone on the periphery – who wandered through the city in a state of horror and disbelief, too stunned to cry.

I remember the smell; this massive cloud of ash and dirt consuming the bluest of skies. People hugging each other as they walked to the bridges that would take them closer to their homes. And those who just wandered, unsure where their feet would take them, each step once so assumed, now tentative and aimless. Sirens and silence, silence and sirens.

A woman’s hysterical efforts to reach her daughter at One World Trade, and the way she collapsed when she finally heard her voice. The plans being put in place for me to travel to each of our offices (each one in a building that was considered high risk for future attacks). Retrospectively it seems bizarre that I flew across the US and Europe – a nod to our need to comfort and console. It was part of our firm’s culture back then. And in each city, the empty streets, the unspoken anxiety, the fear and the personalization of loss too large to really comprehend. My son called me when I was in LA – he enlisted. I stopped breathing until he came home. He came home.

(I remember watching the members of the Senate holding hands and singing on the steps of the Capitol. We are terrific when our foes are outside our borders; we can’t seem to get a collective grip when handling our internal threats. We are so reckless with our hubris – damn).

I didn’t lose anyone I knew on September 11th and all those tragic stories are not mine to tell. So many heroes, so many lives, so many loves – and I still listen with a humble reverence as the bell tolls. And I’m embarrassed that I felt like writing all this down.

Haruki Murakami wrote that “Memories warm you up on the inside. But they also tear you apart.”

life lessons

For You

Hi my friend,

I came across this card the other day and wanted to send it to you…and you…and you..and keep it for myself as well. The inside flap is blank, but on the front of the card, the following is printed without attribution-

“‘Finding yourself’ is not really how it works. You aren’t a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket. You are also not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. ‘Finding yourself’ is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.”


The thought of emotional excavation seems like a Herculean lift. Perhaps you find it easier to avoid the process – totally understandable, if a little lazy. Perhaps you fear what’s at the real core – although I have a feeling that the core is undoubtedly fantastic. Admittedly, we all dig a bit, we all have a hazy picture of who we are, but when we have to let go of the protections we have built, we stop. Far too much of a risk, maybe.

Here’s what I know – none of us are that good, and all of us are perfectly imperfect. None of us have arrived at adulthood without totally pissing some people off, stepping on our tongues unintentionally (and intentionally I guess), wishing for a few do-overs, and making emotional negotiations that may or may not be healthy. We all rationalize what we shouldn’t and overthink what isn’t in our control anyway.

We marvel at birdsong, look breathlessly at Dave’s photos (, weep at the thought of how we have punished the earth, love so hard it can make the heart truly ache and if we’re even slightly self-aware, know that we have been mysteriously blessed with precious people and moments in our lives. We are boastful and insecure; indignant and tentative. And at core, at that hidden core – there’s a lot worthy of a good look and a lot of forgiveness.

Maybe it’s time to unpack a bit, lighten the load and see what’s at the heart of your heart. You will be happily surprised at what you find. Go ahead – you can take the risk. Love, m

life lessons


Hi Dave,

For whatever reason, your post this morning served as a kick in the butt and encouraged me to send up a signal. I’m still here with a site of my own, which I have neglected for months and months – I suppose I ran out of things to say (really, I did)…You have spoken for me and for many many more (DK’s site is a MUST) – and I am grateful. And when you have no words, you have photos that have an amazing vocabulary.

“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” – E.B. White

This has been my mantra and my excuse. My day starts with the best of intentions and quickly devolves into some shapeless passage of time. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a decent day of sorts – it’s just that the emphasis is on the amorphous quality to the passage of time…

Anyway, here’s what I was thinking, my friend…I’ve always been an either/or kinda person. It’s great or it sucks. I am happy or I’m not. The world is beautiful or reflects the most abhorrent, awful neglect imaginable. Let’s just say it makes for an unrealistic set-up of sorts.

When I was in grad school, one of my professors challenged this position, and it remains with me still. He asked me if someone can be both strong and weak; can the world be magnificent and hideous; can we live with perpetual dichotomy. Well, when he put it to me that way…

I am secure and scared; well-intended with a sharp tongue; humbled by the cardinals dancing in our backyard and full of self-deprecation when I forget to recycle. I don’t compost and I use only environmentally friendly ingredients in the garden. I am funny and I cry at Hallmark commercials. I am self-critical and feel the need to pat myself on the back some days.

One need not look far to see horror, to see people behaving in ways that are completely antithetical to saving the planet, saving each other, offering grace. One need not look far to see valor and commitment and tenderness, to hear giggles and music, to articulate appreciation for the heroes in our days. All in the same day, in the same place, at the same time.

So today, you can look over here – for I’m so glad you’re my friend. Full stop. No either/or. Have a good day, me

life lessons

Humble Lesson

Hi my friend,

What’s happening in your world? Are you as amazed as I that an entire day can pass and when I do a mental inventory, I’ve got little to show for the spent hours and minutes? And yet, the days go by – a walk here, a load of laundry there…

…oh, and a little free-floating anxiety for good measure.

Have you heard the fantastic story of the gentleman in the U.K. who celebrated his 100th birthday by walking back and forth in his garden, hoping to get some support for the NHS? As a result he has inspired the public’s emotional and financial enthusiasm – he has become a joyous, endearing icon (he’s got the greatest smile) and over $100M in donations have been made in his name.

What a difference a day can make, huh?

The owner of the studio where I go to do my lame-but-earnest attempt at exercise (when not on lockdown), travels from pillar to post, offering socially distant cardio and dance classes – one of which occurs on my driveway Thursday mornings. Four women, one incredible instructor and some good music. What she provides to those who can’t come to her these days is immeasurable. We laugh, we talk, we breathe, we dance. We are the better for her.

And she does this everyday.

So this is what I was thinking about while I was standing in line at the supermarket (mask, check; acceptable distancing, check). What the hell have I done that even comes close to paying a bit of rent for the gift of being here? I was at my self-flagellating best – I need to do more, be better, think more creatively, come on Mim, if not now…

I check FB, and see a note from a woman who was one of my campers (back in the day, obviously). I made a difference to her. Whatever I did, and Lord knows I can’t remember what – it mattered to her. Fret not, this isn’t a pity post – really. I’m a decent mom, an even better Gigi; I’ve accomplished a lot; impacted some, enraged others, and occasionally even lit a spark. I think I finally figured out this whole marriage thing, after a couple of false starts. I try. All in all, I’m ok. That said, nothing really measures up to the contributions of many – let alone the contributions of doctors, nurses, first responders, etc. On balance, is it enough to be nice…can I really be satisfied with the logic of the butterfly effect? I’m not sure – my hands are empty, no matter how full my heart may be.

This is at worst a lesson in humility – there are people doing extraordinary things to remind us of our better selves. There are people who challenge us to try a bit harder to step outside of our own story. And if that’s the worst, that ain’t bad. At best, this is a love note to Jayne Ritter, who gave me far more this morning, than I might have offered all those years ago.

life lessons

Muscle Memory

Hi my friend,

How are you?  How are your spirits?  Do you feel it as bizarre as  I do to find my days devoid of certain hallmarks that chronicle the passage of time?  I thought today was Thursday, and arguably no 24 hour period is far different from another right now – morning walk, evening walk, FaceTime with my kids and kidlets, reading, cooking, knitting and trying to teach myself how to needle felt (and failing miserably).  As I write, it sounds like I’m doing this sheltering in place pretty damn well – and I am, but for the spectre of my devoted doctor reminding me on a videocall about my high risk status – blah, blah, blah…I hear it, I can’t fully absorb it or I wouldn’t be able to move.

Which brings me to why I’m writing.  When we speak of muscle memory, we typically think of our bodies – using our muscles with regularity so that they know what to do and become better with use.  Good thing too.  Get out there people, if you can – the birds are desperate to be heard.

What about the muscle memory of connection?  We learn how to interact with each other, we develop our communication skills with practice (admittedly some more than others),  we learn to listen and respond (again, some more than others).  When I was in grad school, active listening was a year long course – and frankly, it was exhausting.  That said, it’s a muscle I use and use and use.  And when there’s no one around, I listen to the subtlety of sounds I typically pay no attention to.

How are you doing with the muscle memory of your heart?  Of the thoughts you are giving free rein in your gorgeous head?  Are you exercising your power to choose?  And can you choose hope in the face of so much fear and sorrow?  Can you choose to see some beauty despite this frightening reality that unfolds with increasing despair each hour?  I cop to being a Pollyana, though even I struggle at the moment.  So, I return to muscle memory.   I am pretty limber with hope, I am incredibly flexible when it comes to love – in fact, I wish my physical muscle memory was as toned.

Krista Tippett wrote – “Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a habit that becomes spiritual muscle memory.  It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.”  I hope you are well,  I hope you are exercising your mind and your body.  I hope.


life lessons

Not My Words, Though In My Heart

This echoes throughout my heart…

Incredibly written for us all…❤️

The acclaimed Italian novelist Francesca Melandri, who has been under lockdown in Rome for almost three weeks due to the Covid-19 outbreak, has written a letter to fellow Europeans “from your future”, laying out the range of emotions people are likely to go through over the coming weeks.

I am writing to you from Italy, which means I am writing from your future. We are now where you will be in a few days. The epidemic’s charts show us all entwined in a parallel dance.

We are but a few steps ahead of you in the path of time, just like Wuhan was a few weeks ahead of us. We watch you as you behave just as we did. You hold the same arguments we did until a short time ago, between those who still say “it’s only a flu, why all the fuss?” and those who have already understood.

As we watch you from here, from your future, we know that many of you, as you were told to lock yourselves up into your homes, quoted Orwell, some even Hobbes. But soon you’ll be too busy for that.

First of all, you’ll eat. Not just because it will be one of the few last things that you can still do.

You’ll find dozens of social networking groups with tutorials on how to spend your free time in fruitful ways. You will join them all, then ignore them completely after a few days.

You’ll pull apocalyptic literature out of your bookshelves, but will soon find you don’t really feel like reading any of it.

You’ll eat again. You will not sleep well. You will ask yourselves what is happening to democracy.

You’ll have an unstoppable online social life – on Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom…

You will miss your adult children like you never have before; the realisation that you have no idea when you will ever see them again will hit you like a punch in the chest.

Old resentments and falling-outs will seem irrelevant. You will call people you had sworn never to talk to ever again, so as to ask them: “How are you doing?” Many women will be beaten in their homes.

You will wonder what is happening to all those who can’t stay home because they don’t have one. You will feel vulnerable when going out shopping in the deserted streets, especially if you are a woman. You will ask yourselves if this is how societies collapse. Does it really happen so fast? You’ll block out these thoughts and when you get back home you’ll eat again.

You will put on weight. You’ll look for online fitness training.

You’ll laugh. You’ll laugh a lot. You’ll flaunt a gallows humour you never had before. Even people who’ve always taken everything dead seriously will contemplate the absurdity of life, of the universe and of it all.

You will make appointments in the supermarket queues with your friends and lovers, so as to briefly see them in person, all the while abiding by the social distancing rules.

You will count all the things you do not need.

The true nature of the people around you will be revealed with total clarity. You will have confirmations and surprises.

Literati who had been omnipresent in the news will disappear, their opinions suddenly irrelevant; some will take refuge in rationalisations which will be so totally lacking in empathy that people will stop listening to them. People whom you had overlooked, instead, will turn out to be reassuring, generous, reliable, pragmatic and clairvoyant.

Those who invite you to see all this mess as an opportunity for planetary renewal will help you to put things in a larger perspective. You will also find them terribly annoying: nice, the planet is breathing better because of the halved CO2 emissions, but how will you pay your bills next month?

You will not understand if witnessing the birth of a new world is more a grandiose or a miserable affair.

You will play music from your windows and lawns. When you saw us singing opera from our balconies, you thought “ah, those Italians”. But we know you will sing uplifting songs to each other too. And when you blast I Will Survive from your windows, we’ll watch you and nod just like the people of Wuhan, who sung from their windows in February, nodded while watching us.

Many of you will fall asleep vowing that the very first thing you’ll do as soon as lockdown is over is file for divorce.

Many children will be conceived.

Your children will be schooled online. They’ll be horrible nuisances; they’ll give you joy.

Elderly people will disobey you like rowdy teenagers: you’ll have to fight with them in order to forbid them from going out, to get infected and die.

You will try not to think about the lonely deaths inside the ICU.

You’ll want to cover with rose petals all medical workers’ steps.

You will be told that society is united in a communal effort, that you are all in the same boat. It will be true. This experience will change for good how you perceive yourself as an individual part of a larger whole.

Class, however, will make all the difference. Being locked up in a house with a pretty garden or in an overcrowded housing project will not be the same. Nor is being able to keep on working from home or seeing your job disappear. That boat in which you’ll be sailing in order to defeat the epidemic will not look the same to everyone nor is it actually the same for everyone: it never was.

At some point, you will realise it’s tough. You will be afraid. You will share your fear with your dear ones, or you will keep it to yourselves so as not to burden them with it too.

You will eat again.

We’re in Italy, and this is what we know about your future. But it’s just small-scale fortune-telling. We are very low-key seers.

If we turn our gaze to the more distant future, the future which is unknown both to you and to us too, we can only tell you this: when all of this is over, the world won’t be the same.

©️ Francesca Melandri 2020