Saturday, May 30, 2015

Too Many Words

This morning the serendipity of one became my own serendipity. In the most unambiguous way, a happy occurrence of events took place. I saw something that shut me up (which seriously hardly ever happens) and made me realize that language and words get in the way of so many of life greatest and most meaningful events.

We usually think that talking is the means to understanding and that talking is the way to resolution or greatest depth of communication. But consider the following:

  • When saying hello to someone you've missed, it's the hug that conveys the most. 
  • When saying goodbye to someone you love, it's the hug. 
  • When walking next to someone in a moment of anxiety, it's the hand holding that brings comfort.
  • A baby knows nothing of language but understands the comfort and love being communicated in the cradling and the touch. 

I think it's why we love things like Instagram, Vine, even the nefarious Snapchat. We say the most to each other in moments devoid of words and language. This strikes me deeply, since words and language seem to be my gift. What I feel best at is something so trivial; it will never measure up to what I can say with a look, or a touch. 

My serendipitous moment came to me this way:

(Thanks, Carrie, for sharing what meant something to you and meant so much to me.)

They say nothing. But you and I both know after seeing this that they communicated something so profound to us. We know more than they could have ever explained with feeble words. At the end, he is unsure that she knows, and so he uses words but I don't think he needed to. We don't know what he says but we do. His words are entirely unnecessary insurance.

If I have one wish for you today, it's that you will think of your language when you are saying nothing. I wish that you will take a moment and reflect on what you really want when it comes to the people you love - friends or family. Because what I would want most, if I could have anything at all from the one I miss in my very core, is a hug.

The rest would be details.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The gifts of grief

Every year, as the anniversary of my mother's death approaches I start getting dopey and mopey. Decisions are impossible (even decisions like, "what's for dinner") and I don't want to talk very much. I want to smoke ten thousand packs of cigarettes...even though in my usual life I'm a non-smoker.

It will have been eleven years in May since my mom died and what I know is the following.

Losing your mom is a natural part of life. It's not a supreme tragedy when you compare your grief to the family who has lost a child, or any other loss, really....but what I also know is that comparing grief is worthless. Quality and quantity have no business in grief. What you feel is what you feel and it doesn't matter why. I know this.

Some people take a really long time to process grief and some people move through it quickly. Neither one is correct or better or worse. Losing someone or something close to you becomes part of the fabric that makes your life and whether you see the thread every day or not is personal for you. Sometimes I stare at the thread and I feel like it might strangle me, other times I keep it at the periphery. How much time I spend with it is deeply intimate to me alone and it's okay to honor whatever time I spend or don't spend with it. This holds true for all life experiences: the good, the bad and the ugly. How we process our lives is our decision alone.

Everything that happens to us as we amble along this path leaves its mark on us. People we meet, places we see, people we lose and the minutia of our days inform who we become and who we grow into being. Seeds are planted all along the way and when they're ready they sprout. Grieving my mother has taught me so much about myself.

She was my very best friend in a way that still honored her place as my mother. She was my confidante, my role model (sometimes in how not to be, but mostly in how TO be) and she never disapproved of me in a way that made me feel unworthy. In all ways, she lifted me up and inspired me to be the best version of me that I could be. And so her absence is remarkably hard.

But her presence, if I'm willing to see it, is miraculous. It doesn't mater if her presence is because I make it so in my head, or because I choose to see things that aren't there, or because she's really an ethereal guide speaking from the Great Beyond. I see and feel her influence in myriad ways. And it helps me grieve her little by little as I grow and change as a person.

For me, the grieving will never stop, because I am never the same person from month to month and year to year. As I become a different me, I grieve her physical absence anew. But I also know that if I am open to honoring what she left me: notes, cards, friends who hold memories, and memories of my own, then she will help me and guide me along my road.

It's been eleven years. In the blink of an eye.

Photo Credit: [ henning ] via Compfight cc

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Memory Lane

Tonight I was looking through a box of "old things" with my sons. Mr. Ten delights in going through the piles and boxes and bags of things I keep like a good archivist does (read: like one with a moderate hoarding issue does). Whatever. I like to keep things.

Keeping things makes me feel grounded in my own history. I've never been able to get rid of items just because a year passed without using them, or because I didn't actively appreciate them. Sometimes things live in boxes under beds or tucked away in corners of the attic or basement for quite a long time before they resurface, and when they do it's like clouds parting! Tonight in the midst of cold and snow, the clouds parted and we found a box of my old writing - as far back AS THE NINETIES!!!!

"Mama, how old were you then?? Is that from a typewriter??"

The nineties, you guys.

We read a few things I wrote my senior year in high school, for a local newspaper and the very first thing I looked at was an article about a cyclist visiting our fair Village. When they asked me to read it aloud, I got four sentences in and had to stop because all four sentences began with the word "His"....

My dear sons,
Please don't ever have four sentences in an opening paragraph of writing begin with the exact same pronoun.

It got a few laughs, I admit it. Not as many laughs as the paper I wrote in college for a class called, "The Sociology of Baseball" however. This one stole the show.

In the first, Mr. Thirteen thinks it wildly hilarious that I took a class in college called, "The Sociology of Baseball." He will learn the beauty of the elective course in due time. I let him have his laughter. In the second, what got us all really going were the remarks of the instructor. I remember this class as being one where I figured I could get an easy A, raise my GPA and maybe grab a date or two. Win, win, win.

All of that happened and I have a paper where the poor old coot teaching the class waxed poetic over my abysmal writing. If memory serves, the class was filled with guys on various sports teams who ALSO needed an easy A and my best guess is that a paper written by someone about to graduate with a degree in English Literature was an especial treat. Well, in fact, it was an "excellent paper - smooth, elegant style with a transcendent air." I was awarded twenty out of ten possible points. My sons were impressed.

Tonight's little jaunt into the ancient ages of the nineties have left these boys with the distinct impression that I was supposed to make something of myself. And Mr. Ten asked me, "So....Mama, HAVE you made something of yourself?"

Oh dude. Probably not. But it's your bedtime now and the Duke game is starting, and I have to finish the application for the mortgage refinance and probably fold some of your clean laundry....I don't know what I've made of myself and maybe it's not for me to know.

Perhaps someone else's memory lane will tease out my worth someday. For now, let's be happy to brush our teeth and snuggle into our cozy beds. We can make more of ourselves tomorrow and the tomorrows to come.

 Photo Credit: lovestruck. via Compfight cc

Saturday, December 6, 2014

That's Really Something

I have children. It's December. I'm not religious but I take part in the gift giving that comes with the month. Here are a few gifts that I think are really.....something. I won't place any judgement on them. I leave that to you!

A cleaning trolley. Because every parent wants to clean up the toys made to look like the child was cleaning. Please don't buy it here

Temporary tattoos are for chumps. Real love lasts forever...or is at least designed so it can be changed later.

Nothing says "I support your disgusting habit" quite like a coughing, screaming lungs ashtray. Full disclosure - I kind of want this

From the introduction: "A large penis is really surplus to requirements." It's a feel-good book for everyone, really. 

Yes, it's a shoulder bag made from a whole toad skin. It appears to open from the ass-end. That's where I like to keep MY chapsticks....I guess? 

That's five. You know how I like odd. Happy December. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is that all there is?

A long time ago my mom told me that she found herself asking this question all the time, in a state of perpetual discontent. It's a line from a Peggy Lee song, released in 1969. Seriously, if anyone was asking, "Is that all there is?" in 1969 then we stand nary a chance in 2014....age of restriction, political correctness and consuming tolerance.

This is absolutely 100% correct.

Of course we have incredible freedoms these days, should we desire to avail ourselves of them, and we don't have to conform to every single social or cultural constraint every single day. This past weekend saw Thanksgiving in the United States. It's a holiday that can be fraught with historical reflection if we want to be honest about what the Puritans did when they came here, or it can be a day of gluttonous appetite, or it can be a day of consumerism run amok. I guess, for some, it can be an ordinary day - if you're a toll taker, gas station operator, retail employee, healthcare or law enforcement worker..... For me, it was the day of family togetherness and I had a few days off work afterwards. So I've had some time to think.

A few times I've found myself thinking, "Is this all there is?" Sometimes it makes me laugh because it's a tongue-in-cheek homage to my dearly departed mom. Other times it makes me wish Big Pharma would pull right up to my front door and deliver a fistful of time-released all-day happiness in capsule form. More often than not it smacks me into looking to my man Buddha...because if that fat, golden boy addresses anything, it's being happy right where you are. 

An incredibly gentle and wise leader in the world has suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. His name is Thich Nhat Hanh and he is a really remarkable teacher if you want to know how to be present in every moment. In today's update on his health, after suffering what is presumably an aneurysm, his attendants report:
Thay continues to rest peacefully with the ticking clock on his pillow, and we sense that he is relying on his deep awareness of breathing, rooted in Store Consciousness, to guide his healing process. Even the doctors have been surprised at the consistent level of oxygen in his blood. Thay is truly is the best breather in the world, inspiring us to deepen our full awareness of the breath. Thay continues to remind us that each day we are alive is a miracle, and that simply to breathe is a gift.

How can I ask, "Is this all there is?" What a stupid question. Of course this is all there is! THIS is living! THIS is's messy and sad and wonderful and perfect and heartbreaking and defeating and uplifting. It's all of it all the time. And all I need for entrance to this incredible show is breath! I should be so bold as to ask if there is more.

Not just around holidays, but everyday, it's kind of important that we stop, remember to breathe, remember that our breath is our life and that this life really IS all there is. I forget ALL THE TIME. I forget probably 20,000 times a day. But I also remember 20,000 times a day. I remembered today when I caught up with an article in The New Yorker from November 26, 2014. In it, Leslie Jamison interviews Charles D’Ambrosio, and what he said that brought me back to my breath and back to my gratitude for daily living in all of it's messiness (and my inane desire to tell you all about it) was this:

What might seem “confessional” from the outside is just an arrangement of facts, the facts of my life, no different, to me, than admitting that I’m right handed. When I’m putting words on paper, the self is more like a perspective, an angle of vision, a complicating factor, a questioning presence. If things are going really well, I forget myself completely, which is a relief, and in a way the forgetting, that loss of self, is a fairly good gauge of how involved I am in the work. I use the “I,” of course, and that slender pronoun offers an intimate register of feelings, thoughts, tones, but I’m so focussed on getting things right that even that “I” becomes impersonal.
The personal isn’t by definition false, nor is confession, but in writing both have to meet this other demand, the demands of language. As a Catholic, I go to regular confession, and to date I’ve spent about nine million dollars on therapy, so I know what goes on in those spaces—and what goes on when I’m writing is very different. That dual allegiance, to the truth of the thing and to the truth of writing, inevitably takes you away from the merely heartfelt, it seems to me. In a way, writing maps a path out of the self. Instead of sobbing, you write sentences.
Thanks Charles.....because now I'm breathing again. And this is all there is.