Parenting, Uncategorized

Looking for Light

There are so many little things that are on my mind, things that December has dredged up. I’ve been thinking about people we miss, ones who have passed, and others we only get to see briefly in person, and the energy they leave behind or change in us. We each release an essence, one that lingers with people we meet and share this life with, which can evoke memories and feelings and jolt us backwards and forwards remembering, hoping, and learning. It can light a fire in us, energize us, deplete us, show us our best selves, or leave us wanting more. It can spotlight our loneliness, too, and remind us how much we need people we can relate to, who see us, and who care. 

I’ve been thinking about people we miss, ones who have passed, and others we only get to see briefly in person, and the energy they leave behind or change in us.

Like so many I was deeply struck by the loss of Twitch, The Ellen Show’s DJ and dancer, and the tribute Executive Producer Andy Lassner wrote has stayed with me. I only watched the show a dozen or so times, but this lovely man sparkled as he moved his body artfully and effortlessly down the aisle all the while flashing that bright smile. You were always left wanting more of this goodness and light. If he always had it, surely we could muster this magic too? We need each other’s light and joy, especially during those times when we can’t find our own. We need dancers, singers, painters and writers, we need those willing to reveal themselves and show us our own. We need to harness the brightness and fill up on this fuel and lighten all our loads. Here are Andy’s words:

“So many people on social media are posting pictures of themselves with Twitch, talking about their close friendships with him, talking about the texts they exchanged with him just last week. Talking about the conversation they once had with him. The thing is – it’s all true. It’s all real. Those who knew him are not trying to make this tragedy about themselves, they are just trying to convey to you who Twitch was. He made everything about you. He made you feel like the most important person in the world. And he did this for everybody. Not just the people he needed or that were “important”. He did it for everybody. It doesn’t sound real. But it is. All of it. He was everyone’s friend. He really did care for every single person who worked at the show and everyone in his life. And the thing is if you met him just once – you felt that feeling. That light. That’s why I think you and I are hurting. Because we all counted on him. He was our flame. Our joy. Our dancer. There was a heavy burden that none of us realized he was carrying. He must have been so tired. But we didn’t know because he never wanted it to be about him. Ever. So now we can either spend all of our time wondering why and how and never being satisfied with the answers we imagine. Or we can focus on being grateful for the gift he gave us by allowing us to take light from his flame. The thing is that light still burns in us. All of us. Let’s try and share that light with the people we love. It’s really all we can do. And that’s enough. It’s more than enough.”

This last week brought Christmas and with it, like it does every year, expectations and effort, excitement, exhaustion, and emotion. Family came together and then broke off into smaller bits, two leaving on a ski trip and two staying behind, my older son Ben and I the ones staying put. He has work to return to and I particularly enjoy the art of homebodying in the days between Christmas and New Year’s, when that sleepy sweet Christmas dust lingers and the tree seems lighter, relieved to reveal the draped skirt underneath it again, and with everything done, it’s more than okay to just go take a nap. I also had ambitious plans for Ben and me–tennis, bowling, a walk into downtown Decatur for drinks and dinner–but the reality is there’s never enough time nor is a 20-something going to dedicate a huge chunk of it to spend with his mom. I try to remember my own self in my 20s and friends, not mom, were naturally top of the list where they should be. I am learning if you quit trying so hard, the moments come, and if you can just stop and notice, you’re likely in one. 

It’s been a good visit with Ben. It left me remembering him, his sweet spirit and our dynamic that I notice best when it’s just us. In my ongoing cleanup attempts, I had set aside some boxes I’d pulled from under his bed, all the stuff you keep from school and sports. He went to work on what turned out to be an interesting exploration of memories, culling the collection down to two boxes, and left a pile to toss. In my closet I found a big box of my mom’s sewing things–colorful spools of thread, her signature strawberry pin cushion, seam rippers and measuring tapes. There was her old coin purse too and inside were the sweetest tags she’d stitched into the many handmade things she sewed. How I miss her infectious enthusiasm, spontaneity, and creativity. Ben got a kick out of all these things, and on this particular visit back home, was fascinated to learn that his paternal great grandmother, too, was a seamstress. Is it nature instead of nurture showing her strengths here? 

It was unscripted time, the best kind where you get things done, are on separate floors and don’t need to talk, but return to one another filled up and ready to share. We talked about his sewing projects, items he’s selling and others he’s planning to create. We examined the bag he made me for Christmas which was just as I’d hoped, warm grey upcycled leather, a central zipper, greco tag inside, and a generous pouch for my wallet and cellphone and keys and maybe a lipstick. It looked like a croissant. I love croissant and I love the bag, especially since it’s lovingly handmade by Ben. We talked about New York and my plans to visit in February when a group of ladies I’ve met online are gathering.

Later that afternoon he went out with a friend, and we decided after he got back, we would go bowling, but he called the bowling alley and they had a long wait and another one wasn’t open, so we were disappointed. I was hoping he’d come home, and we’d have dinner together, one of those great moments I’d tried to orchestrate, but the reality was he was in Duluth with friends and having a ball, so I said, “Just be safe and I’ll see you later.” I lit a fire and lit a candle, and I laid down on the couch and went in and out of sleep, listening to a podcast, giving myself permission to have my own wonderful time. 

While he was gone, I boiled some more water (we’d been on a boil water advisory in our county) and then went into his room to find a tangled mess of Christmas gift cards and comforters and other post-holiday loot you’d expect. I cleared the bed and made it up, filled a new water bottle with boiled water, and got the room to a reasonable state where if you got in late you wouldn’t have this mess on your hands. I also put a space heater in there because he’d said he was cold the night before. Downstairs, the cats were still sleeping, and I looked up at the tree again, something I’ve done multiple times over the course of this month. It’s been a reliable source of beauty and peace since we got it late November, and only now is it starting to drop a few needles. It’s just lovely. Still.

Ben returned and we were up another few hours talking and getting him packed up. We each set our alarm for 5am and then went to sleep. Barely four hours later but right on schedule there was the alarm, and I hit snooze for those delicious extra few minutes I always steal. I could hear Ben’s go off too (he’s right across the hall from my door), and moments later he was in my room standing at the foot of my bed marveling at the kitties who were sprawled out and sleeping. I slid over and opened the covers and he laid down with me. We cuddled together in the warmth trying to stay really still so the cats wouldn’t move. Ben had on the robe I’d bought for Christmas, a beautiful soft plaid one I picked up at the last minute. I presented it as a gift Santa left for whichever boy in the house wanted it, and Ben quickly claimed it. We talked in the dark for a little longer and then the alarm sounded again, and it was time. 

While he packed up his last few items, I went downstairs to toast the biscuits I’d made on Christmas, buttering them and tucking a little honey baked ham in each. I made coffee too. Ben said he’s been drinking Eight O’Clock coffee at home, but he really liked the Pete’s we’ve been having each morning, so I made us a pot of Pete’s, filled some to go mugs, filled our water bottles, and we set out for the airport in the pitch-black dark. I left the tree lights on so we could look at it when we drove past. Ben wanted to drive but he also wanted to eat his biscuits, so we agreed I would. Once at Hartsfield (what we native Atlantans call the airport) I moved into the far-right departures lane, but with such heavy traffic, we had to stop just shy of the canopy. I got out with Ben, gave him a big hug, and he headed inside. 

I made my way back home, a tiny, tired motorist under the enormous dark sky, and kept driving toward the sunrise, east on I-20, then exiting and getting on College Avenue continuing east to Church Street past Scottdale and into a little subdivision where the sun peaked out. I watched it for a few minutes, then turned back around toward home to the still sparkling tree and quiet. I laid down on the couch with the cats and drifted in and out of sleep.

In between little bits of sleep I opened up Delta’s flight tracker to find Ben. You really sleep well when you know where they are, your heart walking outside of you. My younger son, Evan, is with Joe–they’re probably going to start the day soon on the slopes–and Ben has just landed, so everyone’s accounted for. I’m still gonna doze ‘cause I’ve gotten up at 5am the last two mornings, one morning to send off the skiers, and this morning to send off Ben. 

The couch wasn’t comfortable, and I needed a real bed. Ben’s room is the sunniest of all and the only one with an extra heat source in it now, so I slid into his bed and the cats followed me. The sun was so bright, it was hard to sleep, but I managed to rest before getting a shower. Even though you have to boil the water to drink it, you can shower in it, but just need to keep your mouth shut. Life lessons from boil water advisories: just keep your mouth shut. 

Next, I was off to see my former Slovakian tenants who’d invited me for coffee and cookies, Their house is like a bright shiny IKEA catalogue, all their gifts are wrapped with fabric, their floors are bleached, cookies aren’t too sweet but lovingly made from scratch, and the coffee is piping hot. The kids are darling, and I love the warmth in their parents’ bright eyes. Their energy is peaceful and kind, and I brought them some of my homemade granola and eggnog. 

The fumes from Christmas are only slightly still in the air, but the fatigue has set in from going going going, and I’m glad I’ve let myself be still. The house is mine for three more days, and I’m going to bask in the silence. I doubt a TV will go on and there’s no one to talk to, no one to feed, just the silence, me, and the tree. 

2021, loss, Racism, Sadness, Sunshine, uncertainty

Half Staff or Half Full ?

I’m baking cookies, fulfilling two orders I just picked up. My Spotify’s Quiet Songs playlist is rumbling in the background with Paul Simon’s April Come She Will, Dawes’ Nothing is Wrong, and more ahead. 

Sitting at the table between batches and a CNN alert hit my phone with the headlines: Two Officers Wounded at US Capitol Attack, and a little later, Gunman Killed at US Capitol Attack, and now, 1 Officer Killed, 1 Wounded, Attacker Dead at US Capitol. Three mass shootings in less than a month, and now this, another Capitol attack. 

Earlier today I learned my old neighbor’s sweet daughter, all of 21 years, passed away. My kids grew up with her right across the street from our house, swimming in her pool (she was an expert swimmer from early on) and hanging out while the parents drank wine and talked of future neighborhood fun for the kids — pumpkin carving parties, pool parties, parties for no reason at all. A heart attack and two strokes slipped her into a coma and then a few days ago into an untimely death.

It’s a sunny day here, a nice break from all the rain of late, and I’ve been thinking of all the tears shed already this month, already this year, last year and the one before, wondering if you collected them all in a big bucket what a shiny reflection today’s sun would cast. My mind is stuck on the enormous swath of people left behind wrestling with it all, trying to sort it out, slipping into the past remembering, and fast forwarding through the pain of the present in an attempt to carve out some semblance of a future, now with a gaping hole at its center. Wives, parents, sisters and friends, all left behind in this bizarre Covid-spiked world to keep going. But there is hope. There is always hope. We have vaccines way ahead of schedule and I like to imagine grandparents hugging their kids and grandchildren after this long year of isolation. What a pure delight that costs nothing. We all crave these kind of things but some of us don’t seem to find them.

I feel like I am supposed to be learning important nuggets from this set of years. I am supposed to come out the other side that much stronger, wiser, grateful for what I have, but instead I feel sad for it all. The Asian community and the hate they’ve experienced, the families of gun violence who get to relive their pain after yet another mass shooting, and the ongoing trial over George Floyd’s death. I watched witnesses walk up to the stand and after just a few questions, break into full on sobs, flooded back to that moment, the moment when you desperately want to help but you are pushed aside, forced to feel the avoidable horrific struggle spiral beyond control. 2021 was supposed to bring with it an enormous relief.

I am appalled and ashamed of these people behaving badly and disheartened that we still haven’t seemed to learn anything. Where are the gun laws that will protect these innocent people and spare their families so much pain? I don’t see the progress I need to see. Instead I see people laughing at our First Lady who didn’t pronounce “Si se puede” right. I see bullies and social media flexing its muscle for all the wrong reasons. 

The cookies are cooling now, and there is India Arie’s I Am Light swirling through the kitchen. 

I am not the mistakes that I have made, I am not the pieces of the dream I left behind, I am not the color of my eyes, I am not the skin on the outside, I am not my age, I am not my race

My soul inside

I am a star, a piece of it all

I am light

And next, Ruth B’s Slow Fade offers up its own wisdom: 

The light has disappeared the dust has settled here. Was it always like this, cause now it’s always like this?

I’m not sure what the rest of this year has in store, but I am thinking we all have to find some light, harness it, be it.

Be well, find some sun, and if you’re vaccinated, go hug someone who could use it.

Love,

S

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