friendship, life lessons, love, mindfulness

Dear Universe

I’d write this to Santa, but being way over the age of majority and Jewish, it would seem remarkably disingenuous to do so.  Instead, I’m sending this to the universe, because based on my calculations, it’s large enough to handle a few requests from me.

Hi Universe,

How’s it going where you are?  Hopefully well, and you’re approaching the holidays with both anticipation and delight.  I hope you get all that you ask for and realize that you already have all that you want.  I’m not a big one for lists – I’ve been blessed too many times over to look at a gifted life and seek more.

And yet.

There are some things I desperately want this year.  You see, we’ll be welcoming our first grandchild into the world in February, and while I spend a ridiculous amount of time wondering what our relationship will be like, I’m spending more time perseverating about the world she will be joining.  And there’s some work we really need to do.

–  This year I want the world to work on forgiveness.  If we’ve done something wrong – to the world or to an individual – let’s own it, apologize, forgive and learn the lesson.  I feel emotionally assaulted everyday – whether it is the horrific senselessness of murder and ill-defined parameters of justice; too many homeless for my extra coats to warm; so much vitriol and judgment and too little shared compassion and faith.  Anonymous haters spitting venom in virtual environments where pain is the currency and absence of accountability is assured.  Can we have a body politic that agrees that a good foundation is one predicated upon us not hurting each other and/or this fragile earth we are only borrowing for a short while?  Can we eliminate the ‘yeah, but…’ and replace it with ‘maybe we can’?

–  This year I want families and friends to recognize that we can be extensions of our best selves to those we love the most and reflect a better self to those who we may never see again.  I want memories to be filled with limitless possibilities that we inspire with the merest of actions, the most innocent of exchanges, a smile.

–  I don’t want any more children to be hungry, or cold, or denied the feeling of being held in love and safety.

–  I want gratitude to be as contagious as kvetching and just as colorful.

–  I want the world’s religions to remember that the shared predicate is love.  I’m no scholar, but I’m no fool either.  If there is no love as a foundation, what is there to believe?

–  This year, I want this whole growing up thing to be a little easier.  I thought I’d at least know what I don’t know instead of finding the list increasing and expanding each day…Universe, I ask that we give ourselves the gift of the better part of who we are.  Chicken soup for the world, I guess.

“It’s funny:  I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools:  the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience.  But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendship, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’  And mostly; against all odds, they do.”  — Annie LaMott

inspiration, life lessons, mindfulness

When All Else Fails

I can’t believe I’ve written nothing for a couple of weeks – yet there has been so much going on that I can’t quite get a grip on my reaction to it all.  Horrific events around the world, virulent illnesses, the passing of iconic talents, thirteen years gone by since 9/11.  I was in NY that day – and yet to write of that day seems disingenuous.  How the air stank as a disgustingly grey cloud forged uptown.  Shock and disbelief trumped any sense of reality.  Yet, I am here; my family is fine; I didn’t have that much innocence left for the thievery that occurred that day.

And still, this all seems like too much stimuli – I am too pained to be numb and too numb to reveal or touch the pain evinced in my heart.  For reasons unknown to me, I can’t rise above this ache and feel stymied by my limitations with the English language.  Somehow it feels like there’s no recovery period, no chance to re-group, cry the needed tears or resume breathing rhythmically.

This morning broke a bit differently though.  The air is clear, the sky so blue it seems almost as if in a cartoon.  The weariness of the leaves hinted at the promise of colors so vibrant, that the landscape waits with impatience.  And I felt myself inhale for the first time perhaps in weeks.  I drove with all the windows down, letting the breeze in and maybe suffusing the air around me with something fresher and kinder.  Hope, hope – in the moment, for tomorrow, for the moments unseen.  And finally, I bowed my head and cried.

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Listening to NPR, this was playing …and I sat in the parking lot and was lifted.  I hope.  And I hope you do too.

friendship, inspiration, life lessons, mindfulness

Advice On Aging? You Can Keep It.

I have nothing against “More” magazine – in fact, I read it and applaud its mission to publish a magazine specifically designed for women who have traded their concerns about thigh-gap for hot flashes.  However, on the cover this month (in the largest font possible) is the phrase “Secrets To Aging Gracefully” and in smaller print “from real women like you”.

Please.

Let me tell you what the secrets are – exercise, eat healthy foods (eat vegan – or not), color your hair – or not, use injectables – or not, live in the country or in the city, moisturize and be happy in your skin.

Thank you very much “More” magazine.  I had no idea.

There’s something ironic about using the adverb ‘gracefully’ when one has joints that crack, a back that is willing to debate the merits of good posture, and an ever-increasing awareness that you will never be carded again.  “Ha”, I say.  “Ha.  Ha.  Ha.”

There is nothing graceful about aging.  There is grace in aging.  And there’s a rockin’ big difference between the two.

I spent a good part of yesterday at a local hospital receiving an I.V. infusion (for osteoporosis – I share this only because I don’t want you to think darker thoughts).  This will be an annual trip; it’s nothing compared to some other unpleasant medical moments I’ve had and none of them come close to the challenges others face every single day.  I may feel a little off today and I know that tomorrow will be far better.  This doesn’t even qualify as a roll in the barrel -it’s a jostle.

The infusion center is where people go to receive their chemo treatments.  On either side of me and all around me were patients watching hope as it slowly dripped into their ports.

To my left was a 67-year-old man who cheerfully told me about the hardy qualities of the liver, much of his having been removed a year ago; the 70-something woman on my right was laughing at the nurses who had to come and adjust her Taxol drip every two minutes.  These two knew each other so they just pulled me into their conversation.  They talked about their children, books, the cupcake shop in Georgetown.  Significant others and good movies.  Oncologists and naps when it rains.  Joking with the nurses and occasionally closing their eyes as the minutes dragged.  Just as I thought we were going to take a break, one of them piped up with a thought.  I kissed them both when I left.  The nurse and I hugged.  Don’t know why – it was right though.

This post isn’t about cancer.  It’s about moving forward in and with life, holding delight and intent in one hand and awareness in the other.  It’s about fighting for your life like a street brawler while handling it as a newborn child.  There’s nothing graceful about it – it’s scary and messy and fraught and unfair and arbitrary and clumsy.  It’s also magnificent and wise and proud and freeing and luscious.  Aging with grace?  It’s those moments in between the extremes when you smile and weep and whisper ‘thank you so, so much’.

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anxiety, friendship, inspiration, life lessons, love, mindfulness, parenting

When There Are No Answers

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all” — Emily Dickinson

Some days need to be subdued.  In the silence you can hear your thoughts – jumbled though they may be, scatological and spontaneous, making sense maybe, perhaps not.  Maybe it’s the mind’s way of trying to integrate contradictory stimuli.

Is it the phases of the moon or just the stages of life that bring four of my cherished friends to the ragged edge of loss this weekend?  Remarkable people who have never met, marking anniversaries of loss, experiencing the passing of a beloved family member, and/or finding themselves staring straight into the sea of frightening inevitability which we deny for as long as we can?  And why does life’s corollary have to be so untenable?  I have no idea.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven; I have a hard time conceiving of hell.  I think I’m very faithful, for I believe in many things that I can’t see – and for me, it is the simplest way to embrace something as indescribably huge as faith.  And love.  And hope.  I know that when we have to let go, we never really do.  One of my friends was relating the conversation she and her brother had with their dad, telling him that they were okay, that they would be okay…My sister and I had similar discussions with our parents when they were arguably between two worlds.  And yesterday I thought to myself that sometimes the idea of leaving is untenable because we don’t want to leave our children with no barrier against mortality.  The thought that they have to assume a different and arguably scarier position when we are no longer physically here.  The mere thought is anathema to me.  Life – that is all that we want our loved ones to embrace.  How dissonant to suggest that our abdication requires their assumption of a new place in line?  Perhaps one of the greatest acts of love is hanging in there if one can, with the invisible, powerful hope that we are still protecting those we love beyond measure.

I believe that some souls come into our life for a brief time, and leave indelible imprints on our hearts, our approach to each day, etc.  Some remind us that we are loved, when we doubt it; others nurture us when we have forgotten how to do this for ourselves; defiantly protect us when we are emotionally over-exposed.  Are they angels?  Their miraculous arrival and elusive departure suggest they could be.  Is there a better way to define a lifeline when it is provided and holds you together with unshakeable confidence and purpose?

I know the canned answer is that the experience of sorrow somehow makes the moments of joy all the lovelier.  Loss underscores our appreciation of that which we have.  It sounds good enough to become a cliché, though like most trite comments, it doesn’t necessarily resonate in the heart.  Hope however, has wings.  Hope that forever is a place, that love remembered is a blessing and love extended is a gift.  I wish it didn’t have to hurt so damn much.  I wish that tears weren’t necessary.  The daffodil shoots are stubbornly insisting on breaking through the frozen ground – indifferent to the reality that greets them when they appear.  They persist – with faith.  They will flourish in the spring – with hope.

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anxiety, friendship, humor, inspiration, life lessons, mindfulness

Why Ask Why?

“Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point.  French.  Pascal.  The heart has its reasons , whereof reason knows nothing.” — Madeline L’Engle

When my sons were little, ‘why’ was their favorite question.  You all know the exercise – the repeated inquiry that dissects a question into the most inane and discreet detail; the exchange that lasts longer than one’s patience and ultimately resolves itself once the child loses interest in the game.

But age hasn’t tempered this query for me.  I ask ‘why’ all the time – just not necessarily a loud (I say enough things a loud to perpetuate worry in those who hear me).  Why do I know there’s wind despite my inability to see it?  Why do I persist in my efforts to understand the puzzle of human behavior?  And, with all that persistence, why can’t I at least figure out my own?  Why do we establish expectations that are constructed as a house of cards?  The only difference is that I have now discovered the answer.

Because.

These aren’t the questions for which there are more concrete answers.  Reason doesn’t dictate the posing of such questions.  Facts don’t satisfactorily assuage either, for these are just the surface results of queries that are too complicated to form in any sensible way.

Why does the heart want what it wants?

Because.

Because within the human condition is faith.  Faith explains that which we believe to be true that we can’t see or explain.  But we know.  We know that there is such a thing as love whether or not our personal histories have experienced it, for our hearts ache for it sight unseen.  We know that there are miraculous moments in a day – from the subtle connections that make you feel like someone just read your mind to the complicated ties that allow friends to ‘just know’ when something is up.  The brilliance of a cardinal’s color on a leafless tree.  Why did that one star begin to twinkle more brightly just as I was thinking of someone who is no longer here?  Why?  Why does the sunrise evoke promise and the sunset occasionally resemble the saddest colors in the world?  Why was I lucky enough to learn that some of the most simple days are the happiest?  Why do some people snort when they giggle?  (Ok, I threw that one in there just to see if you were still with me).

Because.

And one of the nice things about being older is that you bring all the ages you have already been with you.  So you know that ‘because’ can suffice.  That there is a place for complex debate and study and philosophizing and a place for simple acceptance on faith.  So today I accept the awesomeness of being here without further scrutiny.  It just is.  And if you are wondering why that in and of itself is ok with me?  Because.  Have a great day all.

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anxiety, friendship, life lessons, love, mindfulness, parenting

When The Heart Just Hurts

“Life will break you.  Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning.  You have to love.  You have to feel.  It is the reason you are here on earth.  You are here to risk your heart.  You are here to be swallowed up.  And when it happens that you are broken or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit under an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps wasting their sweetness.  Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”   — Louise Erdrich

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I  had different plans for this post – we attended my daughter-in-law’s graduation yesterday, the day before was a banner day at the barn.  I can’t get there right now.  My heart returns to the unfathomable shock of yesterday’s disaster in Newtown.  I can’t turn away for to do so would diminish the feeling of being inconsolable.  I pray that these families tasted abundant sweetness and that they are enveloped in love and support.  My tears drip on the keyboard – I can’t write about the loss of life itself…one can plan I suppose, though arguably it is better to hope.

anxiety, life lessons, love, mindfulness

Hedging My Bets

“Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational – but how much does it cost you to knock on wood?”  — Judith Viorst

You know by now that I believe that our outlook on life is largely dependent upon what we choose to see.  If we are suspicious by nature, we will find much to be wary about;  if driven by the need to find fault – there’s more than enough out there to satisfy the need; the shallow heart will find no grace, etc.  The converse is also true – if you find this world an intriguing place to be, I promise you moments upon moments of wonder.  And, if you have a tendency to stare life in the face with a smile – there is much to find that will amuse and delight.  Yes, yes I know – once again I am being simplistic, for I am not writing about the horrors that cannot be avoided, the wars that continue without surcease (or even purpose at times), the frightening twists of fate that defy explanation.  So bear with me here, and let’s go back to the original premise, ok?

I spent yesterday afternoon in a hospital waiting room – Andy had to have his knee scoped and a ligament tear repaired.  First and foremost, he’s fine.  He was in the operating room for under thirty minutes, recovery for an hour or so and when I saw him in recovery, he was sucking down Diet Pepsi like it was nectar and tearing open saltines and graham crackers as if they were haute cuisine.  His eyes were bright, his thoughts a little muddled and his awareness of the crumbs falling down onto his blankets as he inhaled whatever the nurses gave him, definitely compromised.  In other words – my boy was back.  And I whispered “thank you”.

But this is about the micro-society known as ‘the waiting room’.  Fascinating place.  Just to caveat this – this is the waiting room for same-day surgeries – everyone gets to go home at the end of the day.  In the back of the room, there was a family of eight – they brought enough food with them to feed a third world country and the smells were overwhelming.  An abundance of mayonnaise, ham and cheese and popcorn really smells. First they thanked God for their food, then conversation began to flow which resembled a meeting of people with ADD or no real interest in engaging each other in conversation..

“When is Buddy gonna stop visiting with her?  I want to go back before they take her”

“Did you hear about Renee’s son?  I don’t want to say anything but he is t-r-o-u-b-l-e.  What?  Oh, believe me I can tell – even before they’re walkin’ I can tell.”

“Sugar, hit me with some of that Pepsi will you?”

“I heard that John was seen messin’ with that girl who just started workin’ at his job.  No, I didn’t see them, but I’ve heard.”

“Anyone seen Buddy?”

You get the picture.  When Buddy came back, he advised that their loved one had gone to the operating room, which did prompt ten seconds of silence (thank you Buddy).  Disjointed talking resumed.  As soon as the doctor came to tell them that all had gone well, there was a chorus of perfectly timed “Thank You Jesus, Mary and Joseph” and a short prayer recited by all giving thanks for everything going well.  Honestly, I was surprised they could say anything in unison – let alone the same thing in unison.

The woman sitting next to me was waiting for her husband to have knee replacement surgery.  She told me all about her own knee injury from years ago, her daughter and son-in-law, (they separated for awhile but now they’re back together, “knock on wood”) and what a crotchety patient her spouse was going to be (“I can say that now that I know he’s going to be just fine,” she said).  The gentleman to my right was on the phone talking about some horrid surgery he had had on his shoulder, with details so graphic I had to get up and get some water.  And I couldn’t help but overhear, “Don’t say that man, no jinxes, ok?”

Miscellaneous information – the volunteers who keep families apprised of patients’ statuses are women over the age of ninety-five.  Very sweet, all three wearing wigs that in one way or another need some adjustment (I swear, one woman had lost her forehead under that hair), all six freckled hands ended each conversation with a pat on the back, the shoulder, etc.  Well, all conversations when they weren’t talking amongst themselves about going to see The King And I at WolfTrap this Friday, their seats, favorite songs, what to wear.  But how can you begrudge anyone that senior who is volunteering their time, when it’s the one item in their pantry in the most limited supply?

I could go on – the waiting room was full.  I learned about procedures, siblings, a teenager who broke his wrist during pre-season football practice (his mom insisting it was because he wasn’t wearing his St. Christopher medal, his dad disagreeing and blaming it on his son being out with his friends the night before practice – we are always looking for explanations aren’t we – even when it’s an accident).  Adult identical twin sisters wearing the exact same outfits – ‘for luck’.

By the time I saw Andy, I was more than ready to leave this hive with its cacophony of buzzes.  But I’m no different – just quieter.  I whispered my prayer to the morning sky, making sure I could spot a star before any words came from my lips.  Last week, when another member of our family was in the hospital, I paced and negotiated and kept looking for signs to assure me all was well.  My friend Suz says that when she sees a dragonfly, she thinks it’s a sign from her dad.  Suz, I’ve seen an abundance of dragonflies lately.  One even stopped and hovered in front of me for a few seconds.  I did say “Hi Sam” – even though he and I never met.  The other morning, with no wind tickling the trees and the sun not yet awake, one tree began to sway with determination –  demanding that I notice.  One of my angels?  A message from the universe that it knew I was there?  I prefer those notions over any explicable scientific phenomena.  Why there are more butterflies hanging around than usual or why the twin fawns rest in our backyard with no intention of fleeing even when they hear the Sirs and I on the deck.

Superstitions?  My mother saying “tu tu tu” (or something pretty close to that) every time someone would say anything that needed to be protected from a negative result,  wishing someone well and hearing them say “from your mouth to God’s ear”…There’s a negative connotation to superstition; a more understandable and accepted perspective when one attributes such actions to faith or tradition.  At the end of the day, we’re hedging our bets when faced with a situation that could end either way.  We’re putting our money on faith and hope.  And we’re betting it all.

friendship, humor, inspiration, life lessons, love, mindfulness

Post This

I did!  I have post-it’ed messages in lots of fun places today…This one was put on the napkin holder at Uno’s…

 

 

The Post-It notes had one of three messages – “You’re Terrific”, “Smile” or “Have A Wonderful Day”… I started at the gym, surreptitiously placing notes on the handle of an exercise bike, on the mirror in the locker room and on the windshields of two cars in the parking lot.  Honestly?  I felt both tremendously silly (and I do silly very well) and sneaky (I don’t do that as well) .  Onto a quick meeting, where I left one Post-It on the panel of the receptionist’s desk and again on a windshield.  At Starbucks I put one on the cash register (there was no one behind me in line – the place was empty for a change), left one on the sugar/cream counter and in the ladies’ room…Boldly I strode into the supermarket, where some unsuspecting soul will find a message on a package of chicken breasts, a yogurt container and the cover of a “Newsweek”.  And yes, another parking lot, another car…

Talk about stepping outside one’s comfort zone!  I haven’t passed hidden notes since junior high.  The best part of course is not knowing who the recipients are and recognizing that some will crumple them up and throw them away.  But maybe, someone will see it and smile, or laugh or shake his/her head while looking around to see if anyone remotely culpable is standing around.  Maybe it will make someone feel good on a really bad day, or maybe it will make no difference at all.  The best kindness is that which is extended with no expectation of anything in return, and given my stealthiness I am confident that I will remain unconnected to this crime of good fun.  My thanks to Christine for the inspiration behind this atypical day.  How fun it was to step outside myself  for a little while.  How intrepid and bold of me!!  And if it provided a small giggle for someone today, then all the better.

Perhaps as the karma truck keeps rolling along on its path, it will stop to pay the kindness forward.  Not to me, but to those I love – my sons and their wives, my son and his girlfriend.  Maybe the truck will make a pit stop in their respective driveways, and give them the blessings and peace and joy that they so richly deserve.  Perhaps it will stop near the homeless person who plays his sax on a corner in DC, or swing by someone who is bowed under the strain of getting through the day.  And that my friends, would be more than I could ask for – just because I ‘love-bombed’ a few unsuspecting souls today.