For Jo – In Her Renaissance

Today is my friend Joanne’s birthday.  It’s a big one to us – sixty is a pretty impressive number, and worthy of celebration.  Since I can’t be with her today, at the very least it is deserving of a post.

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A few years ago, my daughter-in-law set up my Facebook page though I had little expectation that I would ‘meet’ people in such a forum.  Within two hours of being connected, I received a message from Jo.  She had been looking for me for oh, about forty years.  And I felt a surge of gratitude and disbelief that is difficult to explain.  Honestly, I don’t consider myself one of the memorable ones.  But anyway, there was no denying that we were best friends in junior high school, two of the bar mitzvah brides in the neighborhood (a phrase of my mother’s referring to the number of bar mitzvahs we were invited to attend), and typically on the phone when we weren’t in each other’s apartment.  But life happened in between then and now.  We went to different high schools, colleges.  The last time I saw her was when she came to hear me sing at a place called “Catch A Rising Star” in New York.

“While they talked they remembered the years of their youth, and each thought of the other as he had been in another time” (John Edward Williams)

So we have traveled different roads, in different cities, in different vehicles.  And yet our travels paralleled each other.  Our majors were similar, our commitments were similar.  Our twenties were blessed with the arrival of our kids but kicked our asses in every other way. I probably built more walls around me than Jo; she remains far more open and trusting.  I am here for her today as I was for her when I was thirteen.  We have both lost our parents and understand the seismic shift this causes in one’s bearings; one’s place in the world.  She thinks I’m a better person than I am.  I think of her as a magic kite – she soars and dips in colors so vibrant your eyes have to adjust to its brightness.  You see nothing else in the sky.

Jo was going to become a bat mitzvah today, but sometimes life shouts “Plot Change!” and you have to adjust accordingly.  She was going to speak about her journey, what she has integrated into her soul along the way.  She had asked me to say something too – and I would have said the following – “This is a day that celebrates the nexus of all that has come before you and all that still awaits.  I am a better, happier person for your friendship.  The children you have taught and the parents you have guided have been led by an uncompromising, dedicated, singularly outstanding educator.  The formidable and unyielding love for Ben and Jenna is so powerful, it is its own energy force.  Your heart holds more than most can ever hope to experience in a lifetime – and you still have a long way to go.  This world which you have touched with your passion and your elation, with your sorrow and your tears, with your right and  righteous “Made In America” indignation and gentle yearnings for a view of the Gulf Of Mexico – is a better place because of the way you have chosen to grace it.  I would have thanked you for the gift of being able to speak these words.  Yet that said, I’m just as happy to write them to you here.  With love and laughter and wishes for all that you wish for yourself and more – Happy Birthday Jo.

It’s All About The Plot

“Become major…Live like a hero.  That’s what the classics teach us.  Be a main character.  Otherwise what is life for?” — J.M. Coetzee

I’ve been thinking a lot about transitions lately.  My friends who are encountering detours and re-routes that they hadn’t anticipated.  Bumps that feel like moguls on one of the Olympic ski runs.  The kinds of change that can leave your posture skewed and your jaw clenched to the point of pain.  Jo told me that she thought transitions were easier when we were younger.  Perhaps.  Perhaps we just weren’t aware of what part of our story we were in the middle of – innocence is a wonderful thing.  But when you get a bit older, when the time comes that you realize that this is in fact the story line in which you are the focal character, perspective changes a bit.  We spend so much of our life planning our next chapters – even when they don’t turn out the way we thought they would.

As a child, I remember feeling that I just couldn’t wait for life to start – I couldn’t wait to be able to ride with the experienced riders; couldn’t wait to be double digits.  As a newly-minted teen, I couldn’t wait until I could wear Yardley’s cake eyeliner.  Then I couldn’t wait until I was legal.  Anticipation in my twenties – to be a mom, be seen as an adult (and be forgiven for transgressions that were a result of not knowing what I was doing as an adult), have my own home.  The thirties brought confirmation that though I no longer had the excuse of being a novice grown-up, I had fertile years to dig into this life I was creating without boundaries or barriers.  Perhaps in my forties it began to wear a little thin, but not so much so that my mind was reluctant to keep moving ahead, anticipating next steps with energy and spirit.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that looking forward no longer held the same thrill.  And despite the gratitude (which accompanies most things for me), there lingers questions about legacy and lasting impressions, an awareness that looking forward diminishes the present and quite frankly, too much future-thinking just makes me anxious.  I can write a chapter, but I’m not prepared for the story to end.

And perhaps that is why these transitions get so damn tricky.  Our emotional muscles aren’t as supple; we have seen enough to hesitate – able now to determine the degree of difficulty associated with our next move.

There is a certain grace in such awareness though.  To be able to be engaged with life and observe it simultaneously.  Moving thoughtfully enough that you don’t miss a cardinal on a snow filled branch or the sound the wind makes right before it blows through your hair.  Arriving at a point where you know what matters more often than not, and staying that course.  Transitions may not get easier as we get older, the choices may change in scope and size, but we are each, still the author.  And I for one, think my story is damn good.

A Gentle Goodbye To 2013

We had all the kids at home yesterday, and the house was resonant with laughter and teasing, generous gift-giving and a love I can only reference as palpable.  My heart beats more deeply, echoing in my chest, snippets of serious conversation that stay in the forefront of my thoughts as I process and hold them as gently as feathers.  “You really are my only mom” (a figurative comment that was so full of history and stories and trust and love that I will never ever forget its intent); “Remember when Grammy would give us shit for playing ball in the playroom and I asked her why it was called a playroom then?”  “I used to think it was so ridiculous that you would treat me like a child when I was over; of course now I realize it was because I was a child”.  Lessons in wine tasting, a book titled “The Story Of A Lifetime” which offers prompts and questions to facilitate the telling of one’s tale in a way that may be at least salient if not interesting.  Laughter that included some good snorts, bad fart jokes and hugs good-bye for which I am never fully prepared.

And so it is as one year ends and another waits in the wings.  I guess I’m not fully prepared.  Certainly for some of the people I love, it has been a challenging year with losses that re-shape the heart.  For most though, it has been relatively gentle.  Our lives are intact, marriages seem happy though not without their requisite effort, young adults are realizing that the operative word has changed from ‘young’ to ‘adult’.  We’re still close and I am forgiven my maternal neuroses that at least can be shared among three.  I consciously tried to be kinder, cared less about judging and more about accepting, placed the notion of acquisitiveness somewhere down on the list where it belongs.  I learned this year, perhaps more than the one before, how deeply I can be touched by the candor and stories of people I have come to know in this little universe.  I have been gobsmacked when I received comments insisting that I have inspired, or tickled, or pleased, or echoed a thought that had been unspoken in someone else’s thoughts.  I’ve been brought to tears and moments of spontaneous delight by David and Bill, Russ and Andrea, Bonnie and Liz, LouAnn and TIna and Ivon, Kizzy, Rhonda.  Of course there are more and I do not intentionally omit anyone – you are in this circle with me and I believe you know it.  People who comment with thoughtfulness and generosity and love.  My friendships have been enhanced and allowed to flourish (for Lori wouldn’t have it any other way).

We found a house to hide in and stand outside of in that mystic fog of the morning when the world demands stillness.  Memories have begun to be made, new places to claim as one’s own.  And we got Bogey – our juvenile delinquent puppy, who should be wearing a leather jacket with a skull and crossbones instead of his snappy little tartan plaid.  Except of course when he’s just so laughably adorable that he is forgiven everything.

I will turn 60 this coming year, a number of some sobriety.  I know that at this point I’d be aged-out of employment in many cases (if I was looking), considered truly senior in the eyes of people with younger eyes and minds.  And yet, I’m so far from done, I don’t swallow too hard at the number.  There is abundant time to try and do better, be kinder, live in moments that should not be ignored, celebrate that which others often miss.  Read more, give more, dance in the driveway and maybe even get up and sing.  Who knows?  There is so much yet to be.  Thank you for sharing this part of the trip with me.  And Happy Happy New Year.

So Much Still To Learn

My in-laws left today after a few days visit with us here in VA.  Our time together was relaxed and laugh-filled, much conversation and time to enjoy each other’s company.  And I sit here reflecting on what I learned while they were here.

Pop is 87 and his beloved is six years his junior.  They met when she was 16 years old.  He was an ex-GI, recently graduated from NYU.  She was a beautiful girl with a very protective father.  When Pop’s friend first told him about her, he told him to give her a nickel and tell her to call him when she was older.  Love finds its way – they married three years later.

The number of times they say “I love you” in a day exceeds the number of digits on my body (even if I include my eyes, ears, nose, etc – and yes, I know they’re not digits).  We downloaded a bunch of songs on Pop’s new iPad (Louis Prima is a kick; Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong) – and he told me about a theater in the Bronx where he would go to and pay fifty cents to hear these masters perform.  I suggested that now they had music to dance to – he told me they already do.  I think they will keep dancing whether or not the iPad is charged.With the Kindle app, he’s got the ordering process down and has some reading to get him started.  And yet please don’t think that I was the teacher while they were here.  There’s a reason why the family calls him “The Coach”.

Their life together is changing.  Age does that.  Memory doesn’t serve my mother-in-law in the way we all wish it would.  There are new challenges, frustrations, adjustments that the most flexible among us would be hard-pressed to adopt.  And they are taking life one moment at a time – and laughing along the way.  Their laughter is intimate; it’s an inside joke that none of us need to get.  It is tender to watch;  an element of the character of deep love.  There are no classes offered on grace, so you only get to learn it by seeing it.  These days were a lesson in grace.  And the enormous power of love that can thrive for over sixty years.

“To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the art of living.” — Henri Amiel

I’m not rushing time, it has a speed of its own which is already too fast for my liking.  I am however, appreciative of the wisdom that comes with time, savoring the lessons one can learn from those who are cherishing every moment.  Thank you both – this is for you..

The Returning Conqueror

Today the Prince returns – victorious from his infamous weeklong battle against the baseball diamond.  But for a mild muscle pull here and an inexplicable ache there, he emerges unscathed with the loving attention of the locker room trainers still warming his skin.  His feats will soon become the stuff of legend – his remarkable batting and fielding stats, his control of the lands around second base.  There is no need for a moat when the Prince is there to protect the kingdom of baseball.

With a visit to see his parents before camp started, it’s been ten days since I’ve seen the Prince – and it’s time for him to come home.  I need no proof that I enjoy my own company, no test to see whether or not I can manage.  Been there, done that – and it was fine thank you very much.  But in order for this house to feel at peace, it needs the Prince.  This is where he belongs – whether he’s zoning out playing some game on his iPad or napping on the couch.  He needs to be here so I can make him laugh so hard he snorts.  So he can dance with me in the kitchen.  So he can reach the top of the garage door, because it’s stuck.  Because I miss hearing, “Hi doll girl” in the way that only the Prince can say it.  I will not go so far to say that I miss hearing his a cappella “King Of The Road” (but thinking about it makes me smile).

And I want him to go back next year if that’s what he wants to do.  This annual flight of fantasy gives him feelings of delighted anticipation, and the reality has yet to be less than all he imagined.  So go ahead Andy, sign up for 2014 – you are well on your way to being a legend in your own time.