Mornings With Joanne

The weather was accommodating while Joanne was here – it rained without interruption.  As a result, we spent Tuesday inside – no distractions (but for the Sirs, who are very capable of disrupting anything for attention), no interruptions.  Although Jo and I see each other once or twice a year, we began our conversation wherever we left it last.  Given that this thread was picked up after forty-plus years of silence, it’s nothing short of amazing.

I can spot her anywhere – it’s her smile or her eyes moving from one point to another scouring the area around her to ensure its familiarity.  Or perhaps it is the intimate awareness that comes from understanding another soul so well that it can call you silently.  Alan said she has a ‘beautiful spirit’, a description that she wears far better than her too-loose jeans.

This year has been a test for which no one really prepared.  Hurricane Sandy hit her neighborhood almost as hard as it hit her husband’s business.  The intricacies of bureaucracies responsible for remediation challenged nerves already too frayed.  Rebuilding is expensive, exacting payment from one’s wallet and one’s sense of well-being.  She and Ben are well on their way, though anxiety chooses to linger and makes sure that its presence is never forgotten.  Jo reminds me of a kite – always has.  She flies and dips with the rhythm of the wind, making glorious loops and circles, dipping down precipitously and grandly, only to catch a gust of air to lift her up with easy gracefulness.  There is something about the sun and the breeze and Jo in flight – it’s a visual that never fails to delight.

Yet life teaches you that sometimes you have to be grounded.  You have to move forward in the far less appealing, plebian way of placing one weighted shoe in front of the next.  There is the need to be present when present is the very last thing one wants to be.  The relentless reminder that we are needed on this walking path.  There is no flight, no game of tag with the wind.  It is perhaps harder for those who revel in the movement of the air, those who are defined by their limitless potential for love, ideology, hope and a dash of resistant innocence.  I can see the little girl within, arms folded defiantly, her chin raised and her bangs almost shaking with the affront of being grounded.  And because I love her, I want for her to always feel the indescribable freedom of dancing in the air.  And because I love her, I suggest that there is beauty to be found on the footpath.

And just as she alit on Monday, she was off again on Wednesday morning to warmer climes.  But as is Joanne’s way, she left the essence of that spirit here.  Sitting in the kitchen on this early Saturday morning, drinking some coffee and regaling me with her tales from the sky…

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Sometimes The Lesson Isn’t Yours

One of my friends is anticipating the publication of her book, “The Poor Man’s Feast”.  I don’t have an advance copy, but I have advanced knowledge of the author – I’ve known her since she was one of my campers (the fact that we are now peers seems generationally impossible – and yet…).  If you ever need additional delight in your day, check out her blog of the same name.

Lissie’s book is an autobiographical account of her life with family, friends and food.  They are inextricably connected and her stories both amuse and intrigue; her recipes (some of which I have tried) are drool-worthy.  You would think that she would be reveling in the excitement of this achievement.  Certainly those of us who love her are celebrating her success with choruses of encouragement and congratulations.  And yet, Lissie has worries that are not hers to own.

Yesterday she wrote me about some recent familial experiences which have prompted anxiety about the anticipated reaction of some of her relatives to her book.  Although names have been changed and she has the talent to allow her voice to ring with sincerity and love, she is fretting about some of the less-than-kind comments that have come her way lately from some members of her tribe.  I think my response to her was incomplete, despite my efforts to be supportive.

Another friend of mine is trying to find her sea legs after being upended by the tragic impact of Hurricane Sandy.  The family business was seriously damaged, requiring too much negotiation through the bureaucratic nightmare that governmental agencies and insurance companies seem to require.  Perhaps perseverance is a an unwritten rule prior to receiving relief – they winnow out the weak who give up with resignation and despair.  Not Jo – give her a cause and she will rally passionately.  Which is all well and good unless your heart feels like it’s being cracked in the process.  And though the plant is officially up and running, the residual emotional exhaustion is a toll no one should have to pay.  You’d think high premiums and ridiculous deductibles would be enough, wouldn’t you?

And another friend who is self-employed, ponders daily about what she should be doing or could be doing to bring in more business.  How to effect a paradigm shift in companies who are holding onto stasis as a dog might covet a bone.  As she expends hour upon hour considering alternative and creative ways of changing mind-sets, she ends up questioning herself and works hard to avoid the temptation of an abyss of self-doubt.

What do these situations all have in common (other than my incredible love and respect for these women)?  The search for meaning.  The gnawing, relentless question of how to contort one’s self to fit into a current reality.  But what if these aren’t questions for us?  Perhaps these aren’t our lessons to learn, rather the lessons for those around us.  What if this is a lesson for Lissie’s family – to learn (or not) the ways we love and accept and delight in another’s gifts?  For others to learn the adverse impact that a non-stop revolving door has on customers who have placed their trust in your promised services?  And a company to learn that nothing from nothing really does leave nothing, and in order to thrive you have to change that which is obsolete and ineffective?

Sounds simple, but on a very fundamental level, I think it’s hard to grasp.  We choose to think that every lesson is for our edification.  And though I believe that we do ourselves a great injustice when we miss those instructive moments, I think we do ourselves an equally profound disservice by thinking that each life lesson is somehow karmically presented for us.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; sometimes an ‘a ha’ moment is designed for someone else and we are just bit players in their story.

Perhaps I write this because I so want my friends to be happy.  Because I think each of these women is so phenomenal and loving and talented and smart that nothing but joy should govern their days.  Maybe though it is a message for us all – the sacrilege of stating that not all of the universe’s intent is for our benefit.  And in those moments, when we accept with humility that it is about others, we can offer the greatest example of what we have already learned – to love.

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Over-thinking And Missing The Point

See High Above – Marlena Morling

You step outside

into the early morning

in autumn –

 

And at the exact same instant

a scrap of paper

floats over –

 

High in the blue

blustery library

of the air –

 

You look up

and you see it rushing

and lifting

 

even higher

into the transparent layers

of the sky –

 

And at once,

you know

it is a message –

 

A message

that there is no message.

The scrap of paper

 

is just a scrap of paper!

It is weightless

and free

 

The world is just

the world –

And you are exactly

 

who you are –

Also floating now

high inside

 

The invisible

balloon of

another moment.

What if we could just let it go?  Give ourselves the grace of not second-guessing, seeking the ever-deeper answer, reflecting on our belly buttons until we can no longer remember why we got so engrossed in the first place (hint – there’s nothing going on worthy of self scrutiny of your navel)?  What if we took the worry du moment and greeted it, acknowledged it for what it is and then remember that whether or not we hold it, its resolution will come?  How would our day unfold if we wrote our sorrows on bits of paper and cast them into the wind – for whether we clutch them with tight fist or hold them loosely or let them go – the only thing that will change is the cramp in our fingers?

I hold onto things for too, too long.  I carry them with me as if they are some unique treasure that must be coddled and cared for, when realistically they have little long term value.  The typical takeaway for me is that I shouldn’t have wasted so much emotional energy.  ‘Lesson learned for next time’, I tell myself.  And this little voice in my ear laughs and wonders who I’m kidding.  The truth is, that which should be held onto for that extra moment longer are often the things we miss as we’re moving on – a hug that transmits love, a conversation with a friend who just needs you to be one, a tumbler of Grand Marnier in front of a fire (or hot chocolate with marshmallows – and you have to get to the marshmallows at the perfect in-between-time when they’ve melted but are still formed).

Why is it that every time – every time I look up at the sky and ask “Please?” and say “Thank you” (which I do often enough in a day that I probably am developing a reputation in the neighborhood as the lady with the dogs who walks around talking to the sky), I am lighter?  And if we know that our most peaceful moments come when we let go, do we insist that each time we don’t, we’re justified for doing so?   I swear to you I have some thoughts on this – and I know you do too.  In the interest of perpetuating my adapted version of National Listening Day, I’d rather hear why you hold on so tight, when we could instead release such encumbrances?  What do you think?  Anyone feel like letting go of the string?

A Shocking Admission

I suppose it’s time that I tell you a long-held secret about me.  It will certainly surprise you;  perhaps you will feel that I have duped you for these past seven months.  I’m truly sorry, but it was something I needed to do.  Now that I am coming forward with this admission, I can only hope you’ll understand.

I am a super hero.

If I could lower my head in shame for having withheld this from you for so long, I would – but then I couldn’t see the screen and would make too many typing errors.  By day, I am a completely unassuming woman, hardly distinguishable from any other woman of a certain age.  In this persona my height serves me well,  for often I can go practically unseen (unless of course someone trips over me).  The Sirs rest comfortably – the house is filled with that mellow glow associated with abundant calm.  I walk gently through life – thankful, secure and full of granola.

As the sun begins its descent in the western sky, my synapses begin to fire with a fervency that is hard to control and my breathing accelerates.  I feel my heart pumping with the  intensity that Olive Oyl used to have when she would see Popeye (yes, I’m dating myself – but work with me).  My thoughts begin to race as if they were competing in a track and field event.  Yes, it is time.  As the moon rises, I become

 I use the nighttime to obsess and worry issues and potential issues to death.  If there are no problems to be slain with my powerful concern, I will create some.  After all, I consider it my duty to keep my little circle of friends and family safe from disconcerting  ‘what ifs’ and ‘could bes’.  I leap from one outcome to the next, determining options and exit strategies, potential routes to happiness and/or obstacles to success.  Have a terrible boss?  I’ll worry that one for you.  Are you feeling flu-ish?  Don’t fret – I’ll jump to pneumonia and back with the expectation that by the time I return you will be feeling much better.  Kids plucking your very last nerve?  Fear not, I can go from worst case diagnoses to kids just being irritating,  before you can say “Mimi, put the DSM-IV down”.  As you can imagine, these midnight meanderings are exhausting.  I am probably the only person who is happy that Daylight Savings Time is over, because the sun rises earlier – shortening my super hero work schedule.   Now you know why I post so early in the morning – it’s my way of capping off another fretful night of slaying imaginary scenarios and plotting the capture of one too many unpleasant outcomes.

As the sun comes up I return to my leggings and sweatshirt, take the Sirs out to commiserate with a tree or two and look up at the sky.  And I become the person you have come to know.  The person who literally thanks God everyday for the gift of the morning.  The person who can’t yet meditate but can take up a small, easy space in this world and delight in doing so.  The one who believes that miracles happen all the time if you keep your eyes open, so why the heck am I worrying anyway?  At the end of the day, we are all contradictions in terms – super hero and every-man/woman;  Broadway star and bathroom lounge lizard; successful professional and frightened sham;  Big Kahuna and one who wipes out before even reaching the wave.

“To be alive, to be able to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings – it’s all a miracle.  I have adopted the technique of living life from miracle to miracle.” — Arthur Rubenstein