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Humanity on a Train

NYC bound we happened to sit behind a young man traveling alone. An older man took the seat next to him, and I smiled as the young man got up to help this stranger lift his bag into the overhead compartment. 

As we headed toward the city these two talked and talked. I wasn’t paying any attention to what they were saying until I heard the young man say, “Well, what if I told you that I am gay?” The older man said, “Then I would pray for you.” And the the young man said, “Well I would pray for you, too.”

And the discussion continued. And for the next hour I listened to this young man calmly and intelligently object to this older man’s bigoted, homophobic and misogynistic views. I mean, this guy was UNREAL. From claiming AIDS was created by God to punish homosexuals, to claiming women are going against their innate design by working outside the home—therefore ruining society and causing themselves and their children great psychological harm.

He said that children of divorce have no one to model love for them and therefore become SAVAGES.

(I have to admit, at that I literally laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it.)

There were moments when I wanted to slam my feet against the back of this awful man’s chair. But this young man—he remained calm. They both did, actually. Never was a voice raised between them. Never did I feel that I needed to leap to his aid, either.

“That’s simply untrue,” the young man said repeatedly, and he would argue eloquently against each point. Respectfully.

It was clear to me that this polite and intelligent young man was NOT going to change this older man’s opinion about a damn thing. I’m sure he knew that too. And he could have chosen not to engage. He could have shot the conversation down after the man obviously said something derogatory about gay people. Or he could have reacted in an angry, or sarcastic way.

I can’t say anyone would have blamed him for that. I wouldn’t have.

But…I am so glad that he didn’t.

Because behind him sat my daughter. A child of divorce. The daughter of a single, working mother. The daughter of a trans and bisexual father.

And she was listening.

Ultimately the young man said, “Well, I am not a gay man. I am straight and catholic, actually. However, within the last hour you’ve managed to insult nearly everyone I love. I think we’re done here. I’ll pray for you.”

And I looked over and winked at the incredibly loving little savage in the seat beside me, grateful we were witnesses to this exchange, however ugly one man’s opinions were. Because it showed my daughter that resistance does not always have to be loud, aggressive or hostile. It can simply be a soft spoken young man on a train, respectfully and intelligently defending humanity on a Thursday afternoon.

train shot

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Telling Our Stories

The other day I wrote about facing life’s challenges – the ones that shake our foundation. Among the examples I gave from my own life were my father’s death, my mother’s cancer battle, and my ex-husband coming out as transgender. I was careful to explain that I did not equate one’s changing gender identity with death nor with cancer, but that I do consider it a foundation rattler. After I sent what I wrote out into the world, I worried. I worried about having acknowledged that this transition of his is hard for me.

Why?

Because it is so much harder for him. Because it isn’t my story. Because I want to show my unwavering support of him. He is so brave – after having lived four decades as a male, to have the courage to express who he really is. I am not the courageous one, he is. The other day I read that the suicide rate among transgender teens and adults is 40%. Let that sink in. My mother had a better prognosis with stage 3 breast cancer. I burst into tears when I read that statistic. It makes me cry again sharing it with you.

There are layers of reasons why the suicide rate is so high amongst this population, and of course at the root of it is people would rather die than to have to live in a body that feels wrong. They feel trapped, either because they fear not being accepted, or they have already experienced not being accepted, for who they are. They are trapped in the wrong body, and they don’t see any other way out.

I have always been supportive of LGBTQ rights, but I have to tell you I had never met anyone who was transgender. That was, of course, until I realized I had been married for ten years and was raising two children with a person who is exactly that.

Introduction by fire, anyone?

Soon after I discovered that my ex-husband is actually a woman, I went on Amazon (as one does in these situations) and looked for some help in the form of a book. What I found was, ‘Trans Bodies, Trans Selves”.  One click and I would hold the answers to all of my burning questions right in my hot little hands.

It arrived weighting about ten pounds and looking like a college text book. I leafed through it – medical and legal advice, very graphic diagrams – this book was not going to help me. It might be a great reference guide down the road, but for me, a newbie, it was overwhelming. I knew I wouldn’t get my head around this situation with anatomy and law. I needed to get to the heart of it. So I read stories – real, from the heart, stories written by real people who have lived through this. For me, reading “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Boylan was so helpful. It is the story of a boy who always knew he was different, but didn’t want to be (of course) so he hid his true self. He grew into a man who fell in love with a woman and had two children. He became the Head of the English department at a prestigious college in Maine. Then, he came to a point where he felt he had no choice but to risk everything to be who he was. To be Jenny.

I realized in thinking about all of this that it is so important that these stories get told.  It is so incredibly important that transgender people tell their own stories. It is stories from the heart that bring us together and help us to understand each other.

They make situations that seem so alien to us relatable.

It is for this very reason I think it is also important that their loved ones tell their stories too. We need to tell our own stories. I believe there are people out there who need to hear what I have to say.  Someone needs to hear me say that this is hard. Someone needs to hear me say that this is confusing. Someone needs to hear me say that it is scary. They need to hear me say that sometimes I resent it being hard and confusing and scary. They need to hear me say that it is okay if their foundation has been shaken.

And frankly, I need to say it.

This doesn’t mean that we are not 100% supportive of our trans loved ones. This doesn’t mean we are being dramatic or making it all about us. These are our lives too, and therefore it is also about us. It is about all of us. It is about how we will greet this foundation shaker together.

It starts with us telling our stories bravely, just like our loved ones have.

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I am Not the Buddha

The following quote by poet Tyler Knott Gregson came up on my Facebook memories this week…

“To begin again, sometimes you have to take life down to the studs, knock down all the walls, and pull out the insulation that kept you from the world. You must get dirty and feel the ache in the muscles you used to pull the house down around you. You must stare wide eyed and grinning at the mess you have made, seeing through the rubble to the clean floor that will emerge when the work is through.

Now, now is the time to destroy the foundations of fear and apprehension, the walls of waiting and wishing; now is the time to begin again. Laugh at the piles of the past you stand in, knee deep and smiling.”

I so loved it at the time I posted it. Reading it again brought me back to that moment in time. It was two and a half years after I had split with my husband and moved out of our home. I had – we had – torn it all down. It was not working. We were not happy, though we had tried and tried. I had already gone through the grieving, much of it while we were still together. I was, at that point in time, ready “to laugh at the piles of the past in which I stood, knee deep and smiling.”

The date was February 2016.

About a month later, my ex-husband (and the father of my two girls) came out as transgender. Nine months after that, my beloved father died suddenly. Nine months after that, my mother was diagnosed with BRCA and stage 3 cancer.

Let me be clear – I am not comparing my ex being trans with death nor with cancer, but I list it here because…well because when the person with whom you were in a relationship for twelve years reveals this kind of secret – when you realize you didn’t know, percieve, understand…have an inkling of something so fundamental about your spouse as his gender – it has the power to shake one’s foundation. As is, for my girls and me, navigating the outward changes of our loved one. When you think about it – what is more fundamentally true to a child, than that Dad is a man? (Or to a woman, that an ex-Husband is a man, for that matter?) Love is love…and what is revealed within that can still be a wall rattler; a soul shaker.

Once again I found myself standing in the rubble that was once my life. However, THIS time – I hadn’t asked for it. I had not held the sledgehammer in my own two hands and swung wildly, hungry to tear it all down. I had simply woken up one day to find a big hole in the roof, and then I watched helplessly as the foundation cracked, and the walls buckled, and everything seemed to crumble all around me.

The question I find myself asking is – Is it possible to approach the rubble we’ve willfully created in the same way that we greet the rubble we did not? The rubble we never asked for? The rubble we never saw coming?

The Buddhist answer would be yes – simply greet what is. Embrace it.
I can assure you, I am not the Buddha.

As I have stood in the piles of the past, I have grieved. Heavily. I have cut myself on the jagged pieces of the past as I tried to fix what was there. I have tripped and fallen as I tried to hold up the pieces that were still hanging on by a few desperate nails. When you never wanted the destruction, it is hard to accept the fact that nothing can be put back exactly as it was, in its imperfect perfection.

Whether the rubble was intended or not, Gregson was right about looking THROUGH it all, “to the clean floor that will emerge.”

Because it will. It is there, beneath it all. It is always there. Whether we brought on the demolition ourselves, or we helplessly watched as everything fell apart. Either way, we must rebuild.

We have no choice, as we stand there in the rubble, but to get to work cleaning up the mess and to begin again…and again, and again.

Such is life – learning to push up our sleeves and do the work…

The work we asked for, and the work we didn’t.

I still may not be able to greet both with a smile – to greet them equally with gratitude as bits of the house that once sheltered me cling to my hair and dust my eyelashes – but I do understand that it’s the building and rebuilding of my house that will teach me the most about myself.

Above all I must remind myself that I am not the house.
Its destruction never has to equal mine.

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#329 Death at a Wedding

“What if, when there is a wedding, there is also a funeral?” my twelve year old daughter says to me from the backseat on the way to school this morning.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“What if when a person gets married, there is also a funeral…to bury the person they were. Because when they get married, they become a new person. A different person. Like…before she was Miss Leafstone…or whatever. That person will die and she will become a new person – Mrs. Whatever. 

So…when you get married, there’s a wedding…and a funeral.” 

Did I mention this was on the way to school? I had not had nearly enough coffee.

Sure, perhaps she was simply talking semantics – Miss changes to Mrs, with likely a new last name, too. Therefore, she becomes a different person.

Perhaps she was not being literal, you say. Perhaps this child of divorce has not come to equate marriage with death.

Perhaps.

Except…this child of mine…I have never met someone paradoxically so dreamy and so awake.  WHO KNOWS what she meant.

So what does one say to a twelve year old (at 8am, during a five minute car ride) about marriage as it relates to death?

“Hopefully when you get married you will still feel like YOU,” I said.

It was admittedly trite, but no matter. She had already lost interest in the topic. Her question was rhetorical. She does this to me often. She knocks the wind out of me with her words, and then moves swiftly on…leaving my head spinning with what was to her a fleeting – even whimsical – thought.

I pondered it all the way to work.

Now, I am self-aware enough to understand that my own experience with being married casts this funeral-wedding scenario in a particularly ominous light.

Right there at the wedding…she ceases to be.

The She she was, is gone.

I can understand that those of you who are happily married, or who are looking forward to becoming happily married, might even look upon this metaphor as beautiful and poetic…perhaps even envisioning a sort of two headed phoenix flying up from the ashes of your former selves. If so, I am so very happy for you, truly.

But…

So many of us – women and men alike – lose ourselves within marriages. To a certain extent that’s what is supposed to happen, right? (Looking back I’d even say I was eager to become lost in my marriage.)

“I” becomes “we”.

We no longer make decisions for ourselves alone. The consequences of our actions, for better or for worse (as they say), are felt in tandem. Our lives become intricately interwoven.

Whether a marriage is healthy or not, we do change. We should, at the very least, grow. Hopefully, we find someone who makes us strive to be the best version of ourselves.

The shadow side is, sometimes we change in ways we never wanted. Or worse, we move beyond change and completely lose ourselves. We as individuals cease to be. Which can become a problem if and when we realize that the marriage is not going to last.

If we are no longer We, and I am no longer I

Who is this person? 

Back to the funeral at a wedding thought…

If we (metaphorically) die when we get married, what happens when we divorce?

Are we resurrected? 

Morbidity aside, it makes me laugh a bit to think about digging myself up – the me in the white dress. I would be quite surprised by the trajectory of my marriage….of my life. If I woke her up and informed her of all that has transpired since the wedding –  the last five years especially – she might ask where the shovel is…

Put me back in!

That girl was NOT READY.

No, thankfully…in this metaphorical scenario…I don’t believe we are resurrected. At least, not as our former selves. No, my dears…we are so much more. We have grown so much. We can handle what we thought we never could – or what we never imagined we’d have to.  We’ve struggled to put one heavy foot in front of the other, and now we look back and see that we have walked for miles and miles.

Perhaps all of life’s obstacles and tragedies are about dying little deaths; about letting go of who we were and meeting new versions of ourselves.

If we’re lucky, each iteration of us is a wiser, more compassionate one…

One who knows how strong she really is.

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#328 Thin Skin (& a Nod to Katie)

Here we are, rounding the corner on two years since we lost my father.  It’s funny, my family – we keep trying to remember bits of last Christmas.

It’s foggy.

One of the few things I remember is that Karen wore an elf suit to Christmas dinner (bless her heart), because she said everyone needed some Christmas spirit.

(It is impossible not to love that woman.)

The first set of holidays after you lose someone, from what I gather, is always the most difficult. (I mean…duh). Last year, as far as Christmas went, we just wanted to get through it.

Quick and dirty.

For while we were all still grieving my dad, and the first holiday without him (not to mention the anniversary of his passing), my mother was in the full throes of chemotherapy.

Good times.

Alexis called it, “A Very Cancer Christmas”.

Whatever, you guys. Sometimes if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. I guess we’ve done our fair share of both.

So here we are, approaching Christmas #2 sans “Papa”. I won’t hold you in suspense…it isn’t any easier. Not really.

I should tell you, things for me have been good…so good. The girls (now 9 and 12) are great. My mother is healthy. Work feels fulfilling. I feel healthy, having lost the 15 pounds of grief-weight I gained last year. After having rented for the five years since my divorce, I recently bought my first house. That feels amazing, and the girls and I are so in love with the new house.  It could not be more perfectly us.

We have so much for which to be grateful…and we are. I am. So grateful.

Still…

For the past few weeks, I have felt on the edge. I am so quick to well up with sadness…over a song, or a memory. I miss him. I have also been feeling the grief of others – those who have lost loved ones this year, so heavily.

I carry it all with me.

I thought to myself earlier today, it’s as if I have a thinner skin now. It’s as if at any moment, my thin skin threatens to spill my very essence all over the floor…revealing the most raw and unapologetic parts of me.

My skin is barely containing me.

The good news is…the thin skin keeps all of the good stuff right at the surface too. The joy and the gratitude, those are aching to burst forth as well.

I am feeling everything with intensity. Every emotion courses through me, filling me up until it has nowhere to go but to leak from my eyes.

This evening I found myself sitting by a fire in my beautiful new house, reading a book, and enjoying a glass of wine. My two most favorite little ladies sat beside me – one drawing, one reading. I suddenly felt overwhelmed. This is too good, I thought to myself.

This is a perfect moment. How did I get so lucky?

Lately, I have been having dreams about a young mother who lost her battle with ovarian cancer just a few weeks ago. I did not know her well…hardly at all, really. When I first met her, she had just begun her battle with stage 4 cancer. She was already terminal. Yet she seemed more full of life than most.

She glowed.

It’s the kind of perversely glaring contrast that sticks with you.

Honestly, I can’t make much sense of the dreams…but I feel as though I am seeing her, repeatedly, for a reason. If I had to guess, I’d say she has come to remind me. To remind me that it is okay to feel it all.

To feel BIG and to love BIG…

Even, or especially, when I am feeling so much that my skin can barely contain me.

Because I am here.

I have the privilege of being here,

In my thin skin,

Feeling it all.

beth at home

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Day 327/365 “The Air a Library”

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father.

Sometimes these thoughts wrap me in a blanket of melancholy. Other times they bring on a smile or even an audible laugh.

The stupidest things remind me of him – like my daughter asking me if I ever saw “Bedtime for Bonzo” (she was reading about Ronald Reagan). I never did see it, I told her, but Papa used to say that all the time as he corralled me up to bed…“Bedtime for Bonzo!” 

I don’t recall whether that expression was met with a giggle or a groan…but I remember him saying it…I can hear him saying it…with a grin.

Last weekend we got together for a family dinner at my mother’s house. All together there were eight adults, nine children and two dogs. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was outside. The children and dogs were running around in the late afternoon sun. As we sat there in one of my father’s favorite places – the terrace, under the wisteria vines – I just had a feeling that we were all thinking about dad.

Sometimes when this happens, I’ll bring a voice to it – I’ll say, “I really miss him.” 

Other times I feel it’s better to just sit with that sensation – that he is in the air all around us. We don’t have to say it out loud. It just is. 

I have the hardest time explaining how it feels sometimes – the sensation of missing someone so much, yet simultaneously feeling as though he is everywhere, permeating everything…especially in that house, on that terrace. 

I know those of you who have lost a loved one know what I mean…

They never really cease to be…HERE.

dad and me miskiania

I just finished a book yesterday…one of those books you are sad to finish. Below is an excerpt that I have read over and over and over…because it explains so perfectly this sensation of which I speak….

“Torrents of text messages, tides of cell conversations, of television programs, of email, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings, arcing between transmitters and metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from lampposts with cellular transmitters in them, commercials for Carrefore and Evian, and prebaked toaster pastries flashing into space and back to earth again. I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail, and appointment reminders and market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel these paths? That [they] might harry the sky in flocks like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.” – excerpt from All The Light We Cannot See

I asked one of my girls to read the above passage to me as I typed it out for you. When we were finished I asked her if she understood what it meant. She said no, so I explained it to her…

If we are constantly surrounded by words and information and messages of love that we cannot see…can’t we also believe that the souls and the words of the dead may also be swirling around us, all the time?

I could tell she found the idea of it a bit unsettling…that the souls of the dead are flying and flowing all around us.

I can understand that, especially if you imagine some of the less pleasant souls making their rounds, but…

To me, because of my father, it feels like love…everywhere…

“If you listen closely enough…”

“They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.”

…the air a library…

Just…poetry.

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Day 326 Radical Empathy

I’m sorry.

Such a powerful phrase…except lately, in relation to my children, hearing it has been making me feel…

Panic.

Let me backtrack.

I believe in the power of a heartfelt apology. It can be healing both for the person receiving it and for the person offering it.

It can also be hollow…we all know that.

At the preschool where I work, we never force the children to apologize. We model a compassionate response. We model sincerity and empathy, but we don’t force the children to say something they aren’t feeling. We are of the opinion that this does not bring forth authentic caring. Sometimes it can even teach children that they can do whatever they want, as long as they offer that magic phrase….even if the words are called out over their shoulder as they run off to greener pastures.

If a child hurts another child, the teacher will say (in the presence of the “doer”) –

“I am so sorry you got hurt. How can we help?”

Sometimes just acknowledging the hurt makes a child brighten. Other times the teacher may have the child who did the hurting go retrieve an ice pack or a band-aid for their friend. The child may even spontaneously offer a hug.

We find this approach to be much more effective in teaching true compassion. Eventually, children learn to say they are sorry on their own…and they mean it.

I employ this technique in my own home, too.

I have found that when given the time to cool down, my girls come around to apologizing on their own. I am also cognizant of offering my own apologies when warranted. Sometimes I eff up, you guys. (I know, it’s shocking). I want my girls to see that I know I am not infallible. I apologize for using an unnecessarily harsh tone, or for saying something insensitive, or for forgetting something important…and I mean it.

I want them to know that there is no shame in an authentic apology. In fact, it can be an act of bravery, humility, and integrity.

img_6190Back to where I’ve been triggered as of late.

One of my children has been a bit more…moody lately. {Sweetheart, if you’re ever reading this, please know that I totally get it. No judgement.}

She has been a bit surly, and not always for a particular reason, except…adolescence. She has been holding onto hurts longer, and taking out anger she is feeling toward one person or event, on the world as a whole…or at least “the world” that is our home. Sometimes she has no idea why she’s mad/sad (she has literally said – I don’t know why I feel this way right now).

Sometimes, she is radiant…but other times…when she gets stuck in this place…well, it’s like a dark cloud settles over the house.

For an empathetic person, this cloud is hard to be under. It can be intense. Her sister becomes heavily weighed upon by these sister-storms. What happens then is, she says,

“I’m sorry.”

What’s wrong with that, you may ask.

It is this…

She takes responsibility for her sister’s feelings. She blames herself, even though she doesn’t know why. Even though she didn’t do anything wrong, she feels responsible.

Therein lies the trigger. 

Hearing her apologize for someone else’s feelings, mood, behavior, demeanor…

Making it her fault. 

Hearing my daughter do this is KILLING. ME.

It’s a special kind of hell seeing your children adopt behaviors of yours which make you feel ashamed.

I know for me this blame-taking via I’m sorry is something I have struggled with my whole life, especially during the unhappy years of my marriage. I recognize it now as part extreme sensitivity to negative emotions, and part (Ahem…a BIG part) insecurity… 

 

I am NOT ENOUGH to keep this from happening.

Wait – is that insecurity, or is it…ARROGANCE?

As the kids say, “Oh, SNAP.”

(They probably don’t say that anymore, but whatever.)

Why is it so hard for us to allow others to sit in their own…stuff? Why do we internalize other people’s feelings? Why do we make it a reflection on us…on our possible shortcomings as sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, friends, lovers…humans?

So the next time it happened – this blame-taking via I’m sorry on the part of my daughter – I asked her,

Why are you sorry?”

 

“I don’t know,” she said, “I just feel bad that she seems really mad and I don’t know why. I feel like I must have done something wrong.”

Mmmhmmm.

What is equally fascinating to me is that this unfounded apologizing makes her sister – the one “in the mood” – so irritated. She yells,“You don’t even know what you are apologizing for!”

Isn’t that interesting? She isn’t even looking for someone to blame.

Let me be clear. I want my children to be compassionate. I like that my daughter notices when her sister is having a bad day/hour/moment. The question is, how can I teach her to be empathetic without taking responsibility for her sister’s feelings?

I think it would be perfectly sincere for her to say she’s sorry that her sister is hurting. Like the preschool teacher who is sorry a child got hurt (even though it wasn’t the teacher’s fault). After all, not being to blame doesn’t make her less capable of compassion about the pain. She could also ask, just in case…whether she has done something to upset her sister…but also be prepared to accept NO for an answer.

Whoa – to have empathy without making it about us. 

Radical, I tell you.

Radical empathy.

 

 

 

 

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Day 325/365 Let There Be Color

This weekend we celebrated my mother’s birthday. I told her I’ve never been happier to celebrate someone’s birthday…and that’s the truth.

img_5428

While still mourning my father, the idea that my mother might not survive breast cancer this year was a very real and visceral fear for all of us.  Coming around to her birthday – cancer free – was truly something to celebrate. 

I got to thinking this morning about something I read once, somewhere…it was something to the effect of…

What would you do differently if you knew you were dying? Well, guess what…YOU ARE.

We are ALL dying. 

Not to be grim [smirk].

The truth is, we are all inching toward death, every day. Of course, some of us have a lot longer to go than others. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily have as much to do with age as we’d like to think.

Sure, we can take precautions; be smart. We can eat healthy, exercise, manage our stress, try our best not to run with scissors…but beyond that we don’t have much control over our ultimate fate.

So…live every moment as if it’s your last!

Hmm.

I am not going to say that.

I have had enough hard knocks over the past couple of years to understand how unrealistic that is…and I am not going to shame myself for my emotions. Sometimes we get hit hard, and we reel from it. If I have a day when I just want to crawl back under the covers and hide…and that is even remotely possible to do that day…I am going to go for it. I am not going to force myself to savor the day because it may be my last.

True contentment and joy are not forced. They are arrived at with grace.

Grace for ourselves, and for everyone else…even, or especially, the people who challenge us.

Grace is not always an easy place to land.

Sometimes it means processing our reactions – not stuffing them down under the guise of perpetually enjoying the moment!

Sometimes, we need time…space…perspective.

So…if we can’t possibly enjoy every moment, yet we are aware that the number of moments we are granted is never truly known…where does that leave us?

I think it leaves us in a place where we have to learn to appreciate the full experience of our humanity. We can allow ourselves to experience ALL of what it means to be human,  and get to a place where there is no shame in it.

No shame in feeling angry, sad, jealous, afraid –

And then…

Learning to release it...because we can’t stay there.

An image comes to me of an abstract painting. Can you imagine a piece of art that could convey all of the emotion of your life –

No identifiable images – JUST COLORS.

How would it look?

Would you want the painting of your life to be monochromatic?

Not me.

I’d want it all to be there – messy and spilling out over the entire canvas – the light, the dark, the passion, the fear, the joy...

I imagine if you look closely, analytically, you could see the detail of each emotion, both the subtle and the dramatic shifts in hue.  The colors would weave toward and away from each other…often overlapping…one spilling into the next.

Then, if you were to stand back from it…when you take in the piece as a whole…

You would truly see it.

The whole me;

My whole life.

You would see all of the messy layers aren’t random. In fact, they come together to evoke one very palpable and permeating emotion –

LOVE.

Let there be color.

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Day 324/365 A Warm Pocket

It has been happening bit by bit…this change… 

My soon to be twelve-year-old daughter has one tentative foot into her adolescence, and one foot still carefully positioned in the land of childhood. Her dirty converse high tops straddle them both, not entirely belonging in either…existing in the in-between.

The metaphor I so readily conjure is that of a butterfly…

The green and gold chrysalis that has housed her – protected her – has now become translucent, allowing a first look inside at the transformed being that is to come. This beautiful creature must soon emerge, becoming more and more constrained within the space that has kept her safe and warm.

She is nearly ready to stretch her wings.

Part of me dreads the impending disconnection between us; my inevitable decline in importance in her world. At the same time I await with great anticipation the young woman she will become.

Who is this butterfly meant to be? 

Will she stop and rest for a moment before taking flight? Will she stay close?

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Photo by Monica Rodgers

Recently I had the opportunity to chaperone a field trip with her fifth grade class. She told me it would be nice if I came, but it would also be fine if I didn’t.

(One foot in, one foot out).

We didn’t have to leave for a couple of hours to where we’d meet her class, so we ventured to the beach to let the beast (that is, our labrador retriever) romp.  I smiled as I watched her run with the same look of wild abandon as the dog, freed from the constraints of his leash. She flew..head back, wild hair…entirely unaffected by the presence of other beach goers. Thinking of my own insanely insecure adolescent years, I wondered if she’ll stay this way.

I hoped so.

Once worn out, she sidled up beside me. It was a beautiful, but crisp, late spring morning; I had my hands tucked into my jacket pockets for warmth. As we walked she slipped her hand…still so small…into my pocket, intertwining her fingers with mine.

We walked that way for a while, the two of us sharing a warm pocket.

Soon it was time for the field trip. It was the first one I had been on in a couple of years, and I marveled at them all – this group of children – all so different, yet so connected. They are at that awkward age where most of the girls tower over the boys. They moved like a giggly, beautifully awkward amoeba.

As we meandered along, I kept my distance like a good mom who-was-allowed-to-come-but-it’s-okay-if-she-didn’t. I watched as my daughter flitted along with her friends, free and happy. At one point I was surprised to find her walking along beside me.

(I presume, just by habit) she slid her hand into mine. Squeezing it, I looked down at her and smiled. Suddenly self-conscious, she offered a quick grin and let go, running ahead to join her friends.

As she should.

I will always have a warm pocket…when she needs one.

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Day 323/365 Totally Doable

Lately I have been feeling really happy…

Sunshine-y, even.

I have been in a make-sure-you-tell-people-you-love-them (and not because you’re afraid they’re gonna die but just because you love them) kind of mood. A random-acts-of-kindness kind of mood.

A mood of expansion, a gesture of openness….a heart open wide to life and love, and their infinite possibilities.

I think it all started when we were in Florida. I experienced a shift.

We were nearing the end of the trip (that time when everyone begins to dread leaving paradise and coming home) and I had this revelation…

“Home” for me is a pretty amazing place.

In the most literal sense, we live in a beautiful town in coastal New England. I have settled into a home that feels like a sanctuary to me, but…home is more than a town, or a house.

Home is my beautiful family.

Home is my passionate work community.

Home is my incredible friendships.

Home is also within me.  I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin. 

Home is…truly a gift. I am beyond blessed.

I see that. I feel that.

Going “back to reality” isn’t so bad. In fact, reality is…at the moment, pretty damn good. 

Throughout all of the challenges I have had over the past two years, somewhere inside of me (sometimes way, way inside of me) I did always know that the darkness wouldn’t last forever.

Life is a pendulum after all, and things are always bound to swing the other way sooner or later.

Which is what worries me now…in my sunshine-y place.

{Ha…will she ever relax, you wonder? Um…nope.}

Now that my pendulum has swung toward happiness, I can’t help this niggling feeling (or knowing) that the upswing can’t last forever, either. It goes both ways, for better and for worse. That’s how it works, you guys.

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I went on a field trip with Beau‘s class this week. We went to the zoo. Throughout the trip I somewhat compulsively counted heads like a good chaperone…making sure everyone was safe and accounted for at any given moment.

One, two, three, four…WAIT, WE’RE MISSING ONE! Oh, nope – there she is. ALL GOOD!

That’s the best way I can think to describe this niggling.

I feel like there’s a little piece of my brain that is always actively “counting heads.” Everyone I love can’t possibly be safe and accounted for…so I count…

One, two, three, four…

Really? ALL GOOD? Can it be? Better count again, just to make sure. 

Look, I don’t know if I will ever stop counting heads. Experiencing major upheaval and loss will do that to a person. I’m okay with it.

What I am learning to do is to enjoy the sunshine just the same.

Right now, right here –

I’m home…and everyone is accounted for. That’s more than enough.

“DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!” may never be my mantra.

But this

Is TOTALLY DOABLE.

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Day 322/365 This Wild and Precious Life

As many of you know, my family has been taking the same spring trip together for over twenty years.

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If you have been an avid reader of this blog, you may have, in a sense, taken the trip with us last year. Coming just five months after my father’s death, it was hard. I tearfully joked that I felt we should have purchased an extra seat on the plane, for the grief we carried with us surely was too big to fit in the overhead compartment.

I shied away from family photos that year. It was as if I didn’t want to remember it. Not as if, actually. I didn’t. I just wanted to get through it, because he would want us to keep going there…and to keep toasting to him with each sunset.

Fast forward a year, and for months prior to the trip there was an unspoken worry –

Will Mom be well enough to go? Would we go without her?

Could we?

She would insist. It would be awful.

As the trip approached, we learned not only would she be able to come, but she would also be completely done with treatments. We were elated. I was on a high for about a week…until suddenly the pain of not having my dad there resurfaced for me.  In talking to my mom, the same thing had happened to her.

Elation…then, grief.

Perhaps, she said, we never had enough time to grieve him. Suddenly we were thrown into dealing with The Big C. Our grieving was interrupted. Now that that storm has passed, the grief returns…not yet through with us.

I found this thought incredibly frustrating. I know I’ll mourn my dad forever, but I so desperately wanted to feel light again. Life has been so heavy.

I wanted to stand on the beach with my toes in the warm sand, and to fully feel the sun on my face…literally and metaphorically.

Off we went to Boca Grande…

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In the end, aside from a few tearful moments, the predominant feelings I had throughout the trip were those of gratitude and joy.

Dad wasn’t there – but Mom was…and she had fought like hell to be there.

There we were – my big, beautiful family, in the most beautiful place.

There’s something I’ve noticed about the beach at Boca Grande. Every year it is the same familiar place, but there is always something slightly different about it, too. All of the storms throughout the year, and even the day to day currents and tides…they alter the landscape.

They expose new things, they erode coastline, they create sand bars.

Things never stay the same, and yet, it is always beautiful.

It is always Boca. 

In our lives we have day to day currents and tides that ever so slowly and subtly alter us. Sometimes there are big storms that ravage us, and we must rebuild. Sometimes the devastation is so vast, we aren’t sure where to begin…but we do.

We always do.

Life creates and exposes, erodes and rebuilds.

What remains, through it all, is fundamentally beautiful –

It is Life…or as Mary Oliver wrote…”your wild and precious life.”

And she asks…

What do you plan to do with it?

 

 

 

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Day 321/365 Her Lens

I have told the story before about how, after my father’s death, I became more keenly aware of a lack of photos of my mother. The reason being, she is an avid and talented photographer, thus is always behind the lens.

When I mentioned this to my mother, she said, “When I die, I will leave behind photos of all of the people, places and things that I loved…as they were through my eyes. Isn’t that better than a bunch of selfies?”

I was so struck by that, as was my daughter, Beau, who heard my mother say it. She still brings it up now and then…remember when Nana said…

My mother’s photography is how she expresses her love of the world…of her world…to all of us.

It is her. 

Nine months after her husband’s death, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I cannot speak for her, because it begs a question I have been afraid to ask, but…

If my partner…the man I had loved for fifty-five years had just left this Earth, I think I may have wanted to die, too. If the doctors told me that if I did nothing, I would soon be with him…I may have curled up and quietly said, “As it should be; take me too.”

My mother didn’t do that.

She chose to fight for her life…and I know in my heart that she did it just as much for us as she did for herself…perhaps for us even a bit more.  

I was there with her every step, but I can never truly know how awful it was for her – still freshly grieving while enduring a heavy course of chemotherapy, followed by major surgery.

I marveled constantly at her strength, and I was frequently overwhelmed by gratitude for all she was willing to endure.

She fought. She struggled.

She did not pick up her camera for eight months. She did not share her view of the world. I think it was just too dark a place.

In late April she was given a clean bill of health. She was (is) considered cancer free.

Florida bound for our annual family trip, she brought her camera.

Once again, she was ready to show us the world through her lens.