Mimi Takes The Proust Questionnaire
Ah yes…I would only have done this for Dave…
Mimi Takes The Proust Questionnaire
Ah yes…I would only have done this for Dave…
That’s the crib in our sitting room upstairs. It’s ready and waiting for our first grandchild who is due later this week (of course it’s up to her to decide when she’s ready). Pretty exciting stuff. Other than the arrival of one’s own children, there are few other heart-in-your-mouth moments in life. And I could wax pseudo-poetic on the magnificence of pearly toes and downy ears, that indescribable smell on the back of a baby’s neck, the sensation of little breaths against one’s cheek.
What they don’t tell you is that part of you re-awakens..the part that looks at your child-who-is-now-a-man and remembers how he would cling to you like a little monkey – arms and legs tightly wound around you so that there was no need to hold on to him for he was secure against your body (though you held him just the same). They don’t tell you that as he anticipates his daughter’s arrival or marvels at his wife’s equanimity and calm or imagines the awesome child that they are going to have, you are left alone with a sense of mild imbalance. For you can’t pull him onto your lap and remind him that you have been there – you had the experience of awesome children. Somehow there aren’t words that you can say any longer with the same forgiveness extended – that you’re a mushy, soppy mom who still is completely in love with her kids/men. And I am watching my son prepare to be a parent.
They don’t tell you that there is something surreal about it all. How this cycle, as reliable as night following day, moves in a rhythm of its own design. How you wish and wonder, hope and dream, fret and agonize, invest a love that defies description into years that you feel will be forever (certainly some phases that seemed endless too). I mentioned this to my sister – ‘when did this happen, Deb? How did we get here?’ She told me that when I was pregnant, my mother said something similar – though she never mentioned it to me. Undoubtedly I was far too wrapped up in the experience of becoming a mom to give much thought to her becoming a grandmother. To think of her children having children. I wish she was here – if only for me to tell her that I get it.
If there is any dissonance, its feeling so much love that I feel as if the heart can’t hold it all (for some of it must be held back or there’d be no dealing with me – as it is I can be insufferable). That love? Oh yes, baby girl it awaits you from so many corners of your life. But there is a certain love – that love that happens between a parent and a child. The one you hold onto forever while still letting go – that’s in there too. And that is the legacy of love you will inherit when you arrive.
“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents can do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children” — Alex Haley…I promise you stardust.
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.
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.
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
My parents were a great-looking couple. More than their physical appearances – they looked vital, engaging life with much the same grace and rhythm with which they danced. Something remarkable happened when they entered a room – they flirted and laughed and played and delighted those around them. They did it differently, for in many respects they had completely individual life constructs and approaches.
And today marks the eleventh year since my dad has been gone. Eleven attenuated, inexorable years. Eleven years that have passed before I took another breath. To say I miss him is a cliché; to diminish that fact would be a lie. He was my touchstone, the person I sought out when I needed to talk ‘work’ or topics which I held most private. He brought me up short without hesitation and he delighted in my successes. He was the most loving role model for my sons when they were little. If they have integrated any of his values, curiosity, warmth, etc, they are the better men for it.
We listened to John Philip Sousa marches when we went into work together. He would try to excite me about the book he was reading – whether it was about the life of a cell or the biography of some vague historical figure. He read the New York Times on the subway, folding the paper in that efficient way that commuters did that allowed them to hold on to an overhead strap simultaneously. And he would occasionally look over and laugh as he saw me nose-to-armpit with another commuter. We would always drive in the next day.
The words I spoke at his funeral were buried with him. Somehow I felt that they really didn’t matter to anyone except him. And with him gone, there were some thoughts that I would never utter again. And yet, I speak to him in some way or another every day.
This morning Bill Wooten @ drbillwooten.com posted a poem (re-printed below) that felt like it was meant for today and for me – as if my dad and I were walking down 82nd Street in Jackson Heights, heading for Shelley’s bakery. As if he were still reminding me to look past that which disillusions me and find the aspect that brings a greater calm. He is always here though he has been gone for so very long. He is the lump in my throat. He is the secret in my heart. He is the presence I seek in the subtle gestures in each day.
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for, and
if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or
have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,
without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be
careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you’re telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself;
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every
day, and if you can source your life from God’s presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,
and still stand on the edge of a lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair,
weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you are, how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself,
and truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.” — Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from the book ‘The Invitation’
So here I sit, on the eve of celebrating my 20th anniversary of being 40 – or as most people would say – turning 60. 6-0. S-i-x-t-y.
– Hello, how are you?
– Fine thanks, I’m 60.
How the hell did I get here already? Even my sister acknowledges that it’s a big number. She also assures me I’ll get over it. I’m sure she’s right, even if I can’t fully articulate what it is I’ve got. I understand that the alternative is untenable – so untenable in fact, that perhaps that’s my issue. I’ve lost my sense of infallibility. I’ve exited that period of my life (which lasted a very long time) where it feels that everything goes on forever – and I’m a part of that everything. Tom Stoppard writes that one should “[l]ook at every exit as being an entrance somewhere else”. Sounds right – I am just a little uncertain about opening that door.
Of course, if we’re fortunate and healthy and inexplicably blessed, we all enter phase after phase. And no beginning is without its challenges; it takes an effort to move from childhood to adolescence, adolescence to young adulthood, young adulthood to middle age, and so on. It’s that ‘so on’ part…
I still dance with an abandon that embarrasses my children. I still cry at romantic comedies, clap for Tinkerbell and keep my playlists relatively current. I was never known for being a night owl, so there’s been no concession there. Perhaps it takes a bit longer to heal if I’m unwell, but I have much more confidence that I know how to take care of myself. I don’t do ‘mom’ jeans. I’m still in search of the perfect lipstick, blush and the eye cream that really does wonders.
Perhaps that’s it – I still believe in wonders. In fact I think I notice them more than ever before. Wonder in the breath of the wind, the intangible, unbreakable connections that tie me to those I love. Wonder at how much more meaning my days have now that they have fewer requirements to dilute the attention I might give to the sun on my face. And while I marvel, I also realize how tightly I am holding onto this life. How much I love the moments as well as the spaces in between, when I breathe in the absolute sweetness of being a part of it all.
I guess I’m going to charge right into sixty, because that’s the door that is open to me. “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer” (Zora Neale Hurston). Whatever this year turns out to be, I know it will hold its own wonders. And I’ll be clinging just as tightly as I always have.
I know I’m a few days off – we had friends with us over the weekend, and I have yet to figure out how to secret myself away to write, while trying to maximize time with our guests. Sure, I could get up earlier still – but that’s when I catch up on reading your posts!
A weekend of weather so perfect that remaining inside would have been an insult to Mother Nature. The wind whispered its secrets through the trees, the sun stood front and center, daring a cloud to engage in a game of hide-and-seek. The clouds knew better than to try.
We decided to watch the fireworks from a mountain overlook. Not exactly a novel idea – chairs were set up and ‘reserved’ before 9:00AM. Nonetheless, we had great seats. I brought my new (and first) camera – it’s point and shoot (because that’s pretty much the breadth of my talent). The pictures I took of the fireworks themselves are truly terrible, but I promised someone I would post at least one. Somehow the time between ‘point’ and ‘shoot’ is where I failed miserably.
My words won’t do them justice either. Our elevation was such that we were almost eye-to-eye with the fireworks. The whistle, the booms and cracks echoed in the air as thousands of stars exploded, raining down with sizzle and shine. Multi-colored or bright white mattered little; we were sitting in the sky watching magic happen all around us.
And it’s that ‘all around us’ that’s circling my thoughts this morning. To our right a group of young people were drinking a lot and talking too loud about tawdry topics that had Suz and I giggling – a lot. Behind us, people who were definitely AARP members (of greater seniority than yours truly) wore red, white and blue wigs and hats, neon necklaces and delight that a child couldn’t parallel. Children – yes, all over the place. Jumping, yelling, falling over each other and everyone else. Dads and moms, golf scores, shout-outs to kids; lovers young and old. Somehow it felt like we all huddled closer, as the temperature dropped and the winds made their presence felt. People in shorts, wrapped in blankets, waiting for wonder.
And there was the greater wonder for me. People who didn’t know each other, acting as if they did. Friendship exchanged without names or judgment or pretense. Nothing mattered except being there for a shared purpose and an air of collective anticipation. That’s the 4th of July. The stars on the ground – recognizing that at the end of the day, we can share moments of tremendous delight and pride, decency despite differences that ultimately are not elevated to a level of such importance that they dwarf the heights of people enjoying being a part of something bigger than dissent. Lucky for you, I didn’t even try to take a picture of that.
You think I’m kidding? One of those Mimi-epiphanies yesterday as I was driving home from the mountains. I watched the fog descend from the tops of the trees, resting its covers on top of the valley. I was going to drive home under that blanket, so to speak. Windshield wipers would flap intermittently without rhyme or reason. Headlights would appear from nowhere; the air swollen and impenetrable. I already felt a sinus headache coming on.
Better to get it over with and drive. Packed up the Sirs, found NPR on a station I didn’t recognize and off we went. We tip-toed down the mountain, acutely aware that every sharp turn is not yet second-hand, we gently rolled through small towns. Respectfully and quietly. You’d never know we were there.
Once on the highways, the sun began to challenge the density of the air. We were good to go. And I realized that fog is really given a bad rap.
When in fog, one can only focus on what is in front of you. There’s no looking for the next curve, anticipating the alternatives that a clear vista provides. Your primary requirement is to get from point A to point B. That’s it. There’s not too much to consider, your eyes don’t look around with wonder and mild confusion at all that is in front of and around you. No sense looking in your rear-view mirror very often either, for you can’t see anything back there. True, you can pull over and just succumb to the opaqueness – most keep going. And get through.
It isn’t the clarity at the end of the journey that I celebrate though. It’s the process of moving in the mist. Recognizing that in all that murkiness is the greatest focus one may ever have. Nothing else teases for your attention, no one can distract you from your purpose. And it is in those moments of uncompromising concentration, priorities get distilled to the most fundamental. What matters is only what is before you. The eye candy, plans for later, the expanded vista of possibility are irrelevant. Just focus and feel the strength of getting through. There’s something to be said for that.
It’s good to be back – though I was never really gone. I tinkered a bit under the hood of the karma truck, checked all its levels and kicked the tires. And since I know absolutely nothing about cars, I’m assuming we’re good to go..
Live and Learn (davidkanigan.com) gave me a figurative kick in the butt the other day with a post containing this cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes.
I get it – there are some who feel it could always be better. Life is acknowledged first and provided with a caveat after (‘everything’s ok – but…’). But. Dangerous word I think, and one I consciously seek to avoid in my thoughts and actions. Of course things could be better, but how flippin’ self-indulgent to diminish the reality that in and of itself it’s pretty damn good. This morning I listened to the unscripted conversation between the trees as the wind traveled through their leaves, watching how one would nod, and another shake its leafy head. I am sitting outside as I write to you, looking for bears from my safe perch (haven’t seen any yet) and laughing to myself as I wonder just what I’d do if in fact I really did encounter one. The Sirs and I have been exploring the road, the foliage, the wildflowers, before returning to our aerie for a nap (them) and a bunch of books (me).
Is it perfect? Of course not. I can provide you with an impressive list of things that are not okay. I’m just not sure why I would want to do that. There are people who spend an enormous amount of time considering what wrongs have been visited upon them by others, listing shortcomings and offenses with righteous indignation. I’ve started to re-frame the thought – what kind of person am I to others? Am I bringing a little bit to the table that is more about others than it is about me? I’m trying. Because if I intend to live a good life – and I am and I do – it’s less about the injustices or pain that I have known – and far far more about the good stuff that happens every time I step outside myself.
Thanks for waiting for me to get the truck in gear – we’re heading to points north, south, east and west – though which way first, I have no idea. There’s no GPS in this thing. Have a great day – see you soon.
Everyone I know insists that they want to hear the truth. I’m not sure everyone I know is being completely honest about this. In fact, I think that most people prefer to hear selective truths. I’ll go so far as to suggest that we all filter certain realities just so we can wrap our heads around their implications.
– I believe that my bathroom scale is digitally confused and vindictive – swinging wildly between two weights – one I can live with, the other requiring that I eschew food for the next year.
– I believe we’re all a little neurotic.
– I believe that I’m really not getting shorter, rather the units of measurement have changed since I was a young girl and no one told me.
– I believe that the answers to global warming, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and world peace are moment’s away from being discovered. And by this I mean, short moments.
– I believe in miracles. It all depends on your definition of ‘miracles’.
– I believe that continuing to nest even after your kids have grown, married and established homes of their own, is absolutely fine.
– I believe it’s still ok to keep a pair of sneakers in the garage even though I’ve been married for decades and adore my husband.
– And I absolutely believe it’s ok to cry at Hallmark commercials.
On a more serious note, my reality includes the belief that every dog has its day – and I’m not talking about canines here. Somewhere along the way, people who intentionally demean or devalue others will be subject to a painful lesson or two. Whether they get anything out of it or not, is something else entirely. Given that this reality developed early in my professional career (perhaps as a way of dealing with a perverted boss who routinely made sexual overtures, comments, etc), I encourage leaders to read this as a cautionary reminder. If you surround yourself with people who tell you only what you want to hear, and not what you should hear, and agree to follow directives that are questionable and potentially ill-conceived, you will become a person that even you would not want to follow. If you can’t effectively develop your people, you’re not a leader. And of course when the day comes when you realize that people are following you because they are paid a lot of money to do it, you will understand that core values have flown the coop, along with respect, loyalty and collaboration. Yes, I’m still passionate about this. I’ve been in too many conversations with too many people lately who are feeling the effects of uninspired oversight.
I realize I just broke one of my unwritten rules – not to write about leadership or management anymore. My apologies. I guess I believe that reality can be adjusted every once in a while to accommodate that which is scratching at your heart.
And at the end of the day, I believe that there are very few pure truths – though admittedly there are some. What I feel when enveloped in a hug, the way I can make Andy laugh until his stomach hurts, the way the ‘I love you’s’ from my kids can grab me by the throat. The tender velvet of a horse’s nose, the reality that gravity and I are really no longer friends, the magnificence of a cardinal posing in a fir tree.
Regardless of what you choose to accept or deny, I do believe that ultimately life has a way of working itself out. I may not be around to see it, I may not participate in the moment – but believe me – today I choose to accept the reality that everything is going to be just fine.
Before I head off for the last of the current Thursday training classes, I wanted to send you a “Happy Thursday” and a thought for the day…Personally? I’ve met my share of people who I wished would go climb the nearest tree – but it wasn’t because of their mental acuity. Excel in your realm; at the least have a good day.