connection, Encouragement, Family, Grace, Health, Midlife

These Are Days

Each morning, I go down the hall and descend the 22 stairs. Another hall, then the dining room and kitchen. I turn the overhead light on, light over the sink on, and then the stove light. Check. Check. Check. Fill tea kettle and begin boiling water for coffee. A pilot flipping switches, warming up the engines.

IMG_3249The morning’s hamster wheel turns again – making breakfast, lunch (ok, you shamers, I’m up early and have the time, so I make the lunch), feed the pets and the whirl of the morning is over. Everyone is gone and it’s me again, dishes emptied and ready for reloading. Dog walk ahead, rental house tenant details, car emissions – will the old car pass? I’m busy and bored, gas and brake pressed together. My brakes are on and I can’t convince my foot to let go so I can roll. Don’t want to hit something, but I’m afraid I’ve already hit a wall. They say fear is excitement with the brakes on.

GRACE

PO: The post office in the town next to mine gets it. Three stations, three big hearts, all lifting you up. It’s an old timey brick building. No Saturday hours. Old ideals inside. A place that makes us each better. They know me, ask about my kids, take my trash even – used up stamp sheets, sticky backs of priority mail labels. They’d probably take your wad of chewed gum if you asked. Shipping can get complicated, and these folks always suggest the best timing and pricing. And when the lady postmaster sneezes, we collectively reply in hushed, loving church tones, “Bless you.”

IMG_3786Dry cleanerThis place and their clay tile roof building has been around forever. The guys inside, several of them brothers, know your name and use it. If they’re busy or you are, you can pay later when you return next. They have a sign by the register to discourage cell phone use that is handwritten and refreshingly kind and polite. We’re all better inside there on any day, busy holidays, heat of summer, etc. Inside, there’s a kind word. A smile.

Mechanic: You’re understandably frustrated the car is stalling, failing you. You’ve got better things to do and need a car to do them with. This place is tiny but full of understanding faces. The chairs are ripped, but you sit down and stay a while, laughing over automotive frustrations, talking of friends you share and the places you’re from and have travelled. The stress melts because people listen. You listen. If only for a moment, the car costs, the Uber you need to get home and the things you left undone can simply wait.

Pizza: Your local pizzeria is authentic pizza hand crafted by good people. Everything on the menu is a homerun. The staff is familiar and there’s a positive vibe buzzing inside. It employed your son years ago when he was in high school, and its owner supports the local schools, even coming in early once to make dozens of pizzas for your other son’s soccer team. Who does that? Pizza’s goodness on multiple levels.

zinniasThese simple errands bring life lessons. They rip open an ordinary day and inject it with a spirit that shines through you. Something about crossing that threshold, and you’re inside a safe space, a place where you go back to being your best self, stripped of competition, callousness, impatience. Here you have time to engage, spread a little warmth. Simple exchanges find you paying it forward as you head back out into the world, imbued with your best you that you want to share. You drive home in traffic with terrible drivers, the fuel light comes on and your phone has one bar. It’s okay for a while, but these bits, these little nuisances inevitably return, chipping away at your joy and take you back where you were before. You can always return to these places to refuel, but hopefully you’ll learn one day how to fill yourself up.

FAMILY

A rare recent Father’s Day had us eating brunch in Inman Park in Atlanta, three generations together, grandpa, father and grandson, sitting across from one another, countless memories between them, their own childhoods and those of their children, and then flying to New York to see our other son. Two boys, two cities, one dad who adores them both. My sons, my two hearts walking around, surprise me, invite me to wrestle with my own discomfort, and teach me about boundaries, trust and faith. To fly six states away for just a couple of days is to trust that love will seep in, do its thing and wash a familiar comfort over you, over all of us. The promise of that conversation over dinner, familiar smile and renewed connection is priceless.

HEALTH

frogYoga: “Visualize your jaw unclenching,” she instructed. So much for relaxing, that visual instead sent me to nightguards, root canals and crowns, decades of dental costs. I can’t help it, I’m English, I got the bad teeth. That morning, I drove the half hour to the Y where I unrolled my mat to practice before my favorite yoga teacher who it turns out wasn’t there that day. Instead, this broad-shouldered brown-haired girl led the class. I shouldn’t have been all judge-y, arms crossed and missing my teacher, as this instructor was kind and helpful, moving around the room correcting folks who got it wrong, me initially and later, me again. She wore a white t-shirt with graphics on it, maybe from Lake Burton or a sorority or a charity run, and Pullman brown yoga pants she could have lifted off a UPS truck. I’ll bet she can maneuver a ski boat with panache, settle into a slip at Hall’s Boathouse on Lake Rabun, and clean her own catch right there on the dock. She’s probably equally comfortable at the symphony, speaks several languages and knows the best BBQ joints, I’ll bet preferring North Carolina vinegary ones. She surprised me with her great music, too, starting with a lively song I recognized but couldn’t place, then moved into Adele 21, and REM, and even Sade’s By Your Side, that sexy song Richard and Samantha danced to in the Sex in the City pool scene. She must be hooked on that show, too.

She didn’t have that syrupy sweet voice you get sometimes, those instructors who are trying to relax you, so much so they almost put you in a trance, as if they’ve warmed your bottle and turned down your crib sheet. She did close the blinds in our room, darkening the space for her newborns down for their nap, but used a matter of fact adult tone which worked. It let us realize we are nurturing ourselves, not the YMCA doing all the heavy lifting. She’s creating the space, the framework, the movements, but it is up to us to find our own kind and gentle voice for ourselves.

c&t
The Captain and Tennille

Physical Therapy: Lie on your left side,” she instructed. Uh oh, here we go again, time to dry needle the hip. Like putting your finger in a socket or having your teeth drilled, dry needling literally gets on your nerves, sending jarring reverberations up and down your body, sorting out the spots that most need it. Waiting for her to begin, I focused on the bright exercise balls in the distance, zoning out to Toni Tennille’s voice, “I will, I will, I will, ahh-ahhh-I’ll be there to share for-e-ver,” one of many 70s gems piped into the place. I pictured her bowl cut, bangs and hair curled under in uniform Plasti-Coil precision, a curvy cascade matching her large round eyes and mouth. Was it a curling iron or hot rollers that gave her that look? In spite of their sweet glances and lyrics, love couldn’t keep The Captain and Tennille together, and after nearly 40 years, they divorced. Sadly, just this past year, the Captain, Daryl Dragon, died, Tennille by his side. Thank God my physical therapist can’t see into my monkey mind, because surely she’d fail to understand this detailed tangent, but one song, one note, can send you places.

I have far to go so that my weak hip and collapsed foot arch don’t bench me, wrecking my ability to run pain free. I’ll have to do the homework, draping myself over an exercise ball, sucking in my gut and pressing my feet behind me, working my glutes and resolve to get strong again. That ball which I ordered last week still sits in our playroom waiting for me as I scrub the colander, slick with spaghetti residue.

crete dress
Leaving the Lyle Lovett concert on my birthday, headed home for that second dessert

My recent birthday carb loading – dinner and dessert, then dessert again (Alon’s midnight cake afterwards at home) – lasted several days. That pasta I made yesterday, filled with my favorite things – shrimp, red pepper, onion, garlic, spinach, tomatoes, corn, all doused in a lemony garlic wine goodness — has left me sluggish. Despite loving the hefty portion I inhaled, I’m reminded what my gyn advised, “Carbs are not your friend.”

HUMILITY

Not sure why I’m so restless or what’s happened exactly, but likely it’s a classic case of smack dab in the middle aged-ness. I used to believe I’d beat the odds of getting that mid-life middle, that I wouldn’t hobble when I got out of bed in the morning, and that my skin tone would stay even, and not spotty like my grandmother’s. Mostly, I assumed I’d wise up, find work that would fill me up, harnessing my energy, creativity and enthusiasm. I’m realizing I’m still at that same fork in the road obsessed with getting my direction right. Or is it left?

And then I turn on the sobering news of late and I feel completely self-absorbed, shallow and in need of a mindset makeover. I’m still alive, aren’t I? It’s just that I hardly recognize myself some days, here at home with my ordinary puttering rhythm, going on almost two years now. There’s that feeling I haven’t done much yet – I’ve barely scratched the surface — and I’m sending myself regular reminders that I’m supposed to be farther along, yet other reminders that I ought to sit with this a bit, right here in this moment. I guess the instruction is take off the brakes and give yourself a break.

A sunflower I planted about to bloom

ENCOURAGEMENT

Finally, there are these three: brilliant writers and thinkers and strugglers, each chipping away like all of us are, who’ve shared their personal, yet universal insights, a few favorites I’m sharing, too:

The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it… I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away. –Anne Lamott

We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.”Brene Brown

“The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.”Elizabeth Gilbert

These are days

These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since
I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow in you, in you

These are days you’ll remember
When May is rushing over you with desire
To be part of the miracles you see in every hour
You’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you

These are days

These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It’s true
You’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you

Source: LyricFind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

connection, hope, loss

Seabirds, Sadness & Sunshine

gannet on beach
Walking on the beach recently, I saw a beautiful, unusually large seabird. He wasn’t flying overhead in search of dinner or migrating with his flock. He wasn’t flying at all actually. He was on the sand, sitting, feet tucked under him, staring out at the ocean like the other beachgoers scattered along the water’s edge. We approached slowly and saw he was nervous, barely flapping his wings, and we could tell he knew he wasn’t going anywhere. The tide was coming in and he just stared as if lost in thought. I have to assume seabirds think.

We worried about him but after all the wing flapping gave him space and walked further down the beach to lunch. A few hours later, we returned to find the scene mostly unchanged except the tide moving in and our bird now drifting out. I went to him again, talking quietly, and after a few attempts he let me stroke his white feathered back. The tide kept on with its work and I rolled up my pant legs to begin my own. His long beak meant no harm as he turned his head to look back, feeling my hands cupping underneath him. The tide continued and so did I with two more rounds of gently carrying him further up the beach to dry sand, trying to outpace the tide. We knew we couldn’t just leave him to drown, and thankfully call after call finally turned up a rescue who said they were on their way.

We sat with him for an interminable hour wondering when help would come, scanning the beach for someone resembling this bird’s hero. Eventually she walked toward us, an older woman with long dark grey streaked hair and tanned outstretched hands, loving and worn, ready to help. She told us our bird was a gannet and thought the strong northeast winds had tired him out and kept him from migrating. Before she took him, I talked to him again, stroking his back, endless layers of stacked white feathers, soft as rose petals. He turned to look at me as if he knew, knew I loved him, knew I was rooting for him, knew I had his back.

 

The rescue assured me they’d update us on his progress and texted the next day to say they tube fed him right away and he had enjoyed a fish before bed. Our boy, however, didn’t make it. She told me I did the right thing and could tell right away he was weak. She said they usually give a struggle and a loud “aakk, aakk, aakk” and try to bite. Our bird had only sat quietly looking ahead.

Structures and bodies weaken and give out and we are left behind remembering how things were and imagining how they will be. My friend’s adored pup died recently, and I see my own rapidly aging before me. A family friend is divorcing, and I remember his wedding and the bridesmaid’s dress I wore. A dear girlfriend has suffered unimaginable loss with her husband’s abrupt passing. Even Paris once again is hurting, this time it’s her centuries old Notre Dame who is forever changed, but who will rise again. As I write this, millions of dollars have already been raised to rebuild her.

footprints

With every event, every loss, every tear, you can see love emerging and growing. As if there’s a rheostat and the dial has unlimited clockwise turns, unlimited brightness if you should want or need it. Nearby friends and those far away appear and gather and support each other, people connect as they lean in to help, and we remind each other that we are here for one another, here where we’ve been all along.

It’s not just the bird. When things happen, as they do in droves sometimes, I can’t turn off my impulse to dive in headfirst into the vast sadness, to rescue, repair or reverse whatever has gone so terribly wrong, and I’m disheartened and still surprised to find how little control I actually have. There is no pretty bow you can tie around pain or loss. You go through it and, if you’re fortunate to be surrounded by love and support, you come out the other side stronger. Nor is there a recipe for supporting someone in pain. Showing up and listening are probably the first two ingredients.

There is a time to be born, and a time to die. And in the pain, through the tears there is sunshine. Sometimes the shadows are thick and the shade feels cold, but the cycle keeps on, the sun shining, the rain falling. I think back to our bird, our sweet gannet, and remember there was something we could do. We could sit with him, reassure him, protect and hold him, feed him what he needs, make the smartest choices we could and release him. I’d like to think he’s flying overhead high up in heaven reunited with his group. I think they all are.

The point is I guess, the reason we are here together, is… love each other, love each other hard. Sit still in the moment, stroke your dog’s head, rub your partner’s shoulders, enjoy some good food in your belly before bed. We can’t know how much time there is, but we can look around and do something now. Instead of adding insult to injury, maybe the sadness that seeps in after a loss is a reminder of the love? A reminder you are still here. Wherever you are right now, with the people around you and the people you remember, you have made and still are making a difference. To love and be loved: that’s a whole lot.

gannet 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Who’s Behind You?

anneFor as long as I can remember, I’ve followed behind Anne; she’s been my guide, and I’ve always learned something from her outlook and opinion. I still do. Growing up, she was sensitive yet cool, never too tucked, too preppy, too anything. She just flowed – her long lean body and soft voice carried her in a way I liked, which was so different from my own. I may have arrived two years after her, but from the start, she was behind me, my sister and built-in friend.

She helped me in high school, giving my outfits the once over. We’d stand in front of my long mirror and she’d go to work so I could appear less matchy matchy and more put together, without looking like I’d tried. She lifted my tightly tucked-in shirt so it billowed slightly over my hips, pulled my jeans down some from my waist, and suggested I lose the grosgrain headband, and let my hair fall, framing my face. I trusted her in these “what not to wear” sessions, and afterward, left the house more confident. I think she rather enjoyed having me as her project, too.

Years earlier, I remember us standing at the base of the stairs in our house, two little girls with baby dolls on our hips waiting for an elevator at the pretend “Woody Club.” We were always good at improvising and could take the other’s lead, wherever our imaginations took us. The Club’s proprietor, Susan Woody, must have smirked to herself, seeing us lapping up the accommodations since she, unlike her “guests”, filled her day paying bills and folding laundry before heading out in her Bermuda shorts to water and weed. I always assumed that one day Anne and I would live in the same city and raise our kids together, but thanks to photos, phone and email, in some ways we kind of did.

Growing up, we had goldfish that never seemed to live very long. I don’t know why we didn’t add a pump and filter to their bowls, but no one else did, either. Where were our parents during these life and death decisions? The fish invariably died, and we held funerals in our woods. Anne would arrive for the service wearing a stole around her neck, impressively ecclesiastical, and somehow found a prayer book to bring along. We’d have a moment of silence, say a prayer and then something nice about the fish before laying it to rest on a cotton square in a cardboard Rich’s jewelry box. I guess we never dug deep enough because usually after a few days, the fish was gone, risen perhaps like Jesus, cotton strewn at the tomb. It was always a horrifying discovery, but because we both lived it, it was easier.

At night I often sneaked into Anne’s room and into her bed, a double white spool bed with exposed squeaky box springs. It was springy, cozy and familiar, far different than my own twin bed where I felt alone and far away from the family. My mom always said I should sleep in my own room, but I knew what I needed, and that was to be close to Anne, so I usually tiptoed to hers.

Anne and I loved cooking and we made all kinds of things but mostly we made tollhouse cookies, crepes and hand-cut French fries. We let our mom sample the successes, and the failures went straight in the trash. One time we cooked our parents a multi-course dinner — shrimp bisque, cube steak and I don’t remember what for a vegetable and dessert. Shrimp bisque is tricky, or at least that was our experience. We earned Girl Scout badges for our efforts, and for their part, our parents learned patience, waiting hours between courses, smiling politely sipping their bourbon. Even though the meal was a flop, Anne and I still compare recipes, new foods and a shared fascination with cooking.

I’ve never had to explain our family to Anne; she’s lived it all, including wearing those matching outfits we often were dressed in. Like my brother and me, she also died of embarrassment when our friends were over and Lad, our aging, flatulent German Shepherd, released huge silent stinky clouds into the room. At family picnics, I remember shielding her from the dreaded egg-laden potato salad, and even though she liked hoarding boxes of Girl Scout cookies in her desk, she’d usually let me have my own sleeve of Thin Mints. It’s been a shared back and forth, giving and getting.

I’ve been thinking about Anne lately since we spent Spring break together at the beach. I don’t remember us ever having a whole week together as adults, and I don’t think planning our parents’ funerals should count. Our beach week unfolded slowly, doing nothing and talking about everything. We drank wine over stories, laughs and the most remote memories, and cooked constantly and fed people. Our dynamic has refreshingly little push and pull, and is simply comfortable and easy, with wine refills, jokes and continued wonder at how we’ve remembered the things we have.

On the last day, we rode the kids’ bikes, which had seats set super high, and fortunately for 5’10” Anne, she pedaled comfortably for a change. Following behind her, I took this photo of her, 56, ever the young girl, cropped shirt billowing in the breeze, curls trailing down her back. We darted in and out of streets with no agenda, riding beside each another when we wanted to talk and single file when we didn’t. It was like we no longer lived 700 miles away from the other, and were just two sisters out riding bikes, like before.

Anne’s a Gemini full of decisions, sometimes unable to decide, but she’s steady, graceful and always there for me, her chatty loving Leo sister. She wears the moonstone ring I gave her on her middle finger and a pearl necklace we saw and bought together, both birthstones for her June 8 birthday. She’s a constant, my lighthouse, my insides. I trust her and no matter what, she listens and loves me, not in spite of who I am but because of it. There’s a difference.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a sister or someone they can call their person, and maybe it’s because I’m looking for them, but for years, I’ve seen folks who are ready and willing to step up. It’s the grocery store worker who grabs a cart when he notices that my arms are too full, or the hands-on work colleague who selflessly offered to watch our toddlers so my husband and I could get away. It’s the friend who emails job postings to nudge me along, or the person who always texts right back, invites me over, holds the door, gives a hand, a compliment or a ride when I least expect it (and most need it). It’s whoever lifts you up, be it stranger or friend, who notices and connects with you. We all need a reminder that we matter and a place alongside people that feels like home, somewhere we belong. So, look around and find them. Chances are, they’re looking too.