Vertigo: Slow Down You Move Too Fast

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My default speed out in the world is FAST. Customers marvel at how quickly I answer their emails and process quotes and orders. Out on the book floor, I’m zippy at the cash register and wrap gifts in a flash. If I perceive a customer is not inclined or able to trot after me, I offer to retrieve what they need while they wait. I walk at a clipped pace through the store and sometimes lose customers who have tried to follow me. I’ll apologize saying I’m a New Yorker and still walk like one.

When things get busy, I may get annoyed by colleagues who don’t seem to know how to move more quickly and cut their conversations short. As if they are tourists from Boise and lumbering down 42nd Street, I want them to step up the pace. But the fact is, some of them are our best salespeople, engaging customers, taking their time as if that person is the only one. They do not rush through their transactions, they make contact.

When I get home after work, I try to slow down. I attempt to recover myself. Not my high functioning, efficient employee, A-type personality, self — rather, the self I aspire to become all the time. I get better practice on the weekends – taking my time, doing my best to pay attention to each moment, to the world around and within me.

Last week, a bout of vertigo required I shift gears. In the wee hours of the morning I turned in bed and felt something in my head become unhinged, a weird little shifting in my ears. The world began to spin from my pillow. By morning this sensation had passed enough so I was able to get up and go to work but I’ve yet to completely shake a slight vertigo. I have had to slow down. Rather than barreling on at my usual breakneck speed, I’ve been moving more consciously, carefully stepping through the day, lest I start the spinning again. I feel as if I’m carefully balancing something inside of me.

And I am: life. I am balancing my life. And what’s the rush? Where do I hope to get to? I am here now and if you are here with me too, for whatever our transaction or pleasure, I will try and be completely present. I have to because otherwise I may spiral off. Don’t worry, I will still answer my emails efficiently, I’ll just walk a little slower through the book stacks. Along the way, I may recommend my favorite reads and learn what yours are. I will remember, as I keep my head steady and avoid jerky movements, that our time together, like the end of the day, will come fast enough without me rushing towards it.

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Another Season

Perhaps it’s these first whispers of autumn: the dying garden, changing leaves, cooler nights, but this last weekend of summer has me pondering the passage of time. Another summer is gone in a finite number of seasons any of us get.

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I’m contemplating aging here, not bemoaning it. Even as I note the passing years, I confess that I feel pretty much like the same person I’ve always been. A wee bit wiser and certainly more content but otherwise, the same gal I was at say – 18?

When I look down at myself from inside of me, I don’t think I even look all that different because I see the same casual hippie wardrobe: jeans, sweatshirts and practical mostly ugly shoes. I’m a little larger, but not by much. Ha! I’m not seeing my mirror-self, I’m looking down at me sitting in this chair. It helps not to spend more than 5 minutes a day in front of a mirror — you can ignore the decades. In the morning, I spend seconds scrawling eyeliner on so I look less like a naked baby mole. While brushing my teeth, hair or washing hands, I may search my face for flaws that might be another squamous or basal spot I’ll need to get sliced off. While dressing, I give myself a quick glance to check my clothes are not too wrinkled and that my buttons are in the right buttonholes. But that’s about it.

So I easily forget that I’m sagging a bit around the jowls and my hair is silvery. I’ve never been particularly vain and am certainly much less now. Perhaps I’d enjoy being more of a looker than I am – but I don’t miss the catcalls from my youth. I don’t mind that I’ve become ‘invisible’ to jerks. To everything, a season after all and that one, perhaps the least interesting, has passed. Most importantly, my bones don’t ache much and I’m healthy. So far so good.

Here’s one of things I cherish most about where I am in my life: how interesting it is to be inside of me. My internal life. How fascinating the inside us humans are with our minds, our hearts, our spirit – what mystery! I love being able to reflect on the whole crazy history of me so far. The 15 year old girl who couldn’t wait to escape home, the traveler, the artist, the searcher, the worker, the reader, the gardener, the friend, lover, the mother. All of my incredible years are here in the present with me, right now and still more story to live.

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On this other side of 50 where I am today, I don’t grieve my lost looks or mistakes (ah), I think mostly about the possibility of not having enough time. I start to feel greedy. There are no guarantees on the time front. Beloved Tetley is getting old in dog years and every day with him feels like a gift. I look at R and feel grateful we got to flash forward from our youthful passion and lost years and found each other again. There are moments when it seems no time has passed at all –  the same only better.  I imagine the life ahead of my sweet daughter and want to be there too.

None of us know how many days we get, do we? Not really. As another season passes, I look a little longer in the mirror and remind myself to savor today, to hope for tomorrow and to love.

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Early Mothering Skills and How I Learned Them: Praise for Italian Nurses

In the corner of the store, an obviously distraught mother sat with her wailing newborn yelling into a phone and awkwardly cradling her screaming baby. She might have been easy to dismiss as a crazy person – unless you were ever a new mother. Then, you’ll recognize those challenging early days.

Premie

Molly was born 7 weeks early so we were not even in the right country – except, in my opinion, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ about Italy. Especially when it comes to babies. Even a scary looking thug is a natural baby expert and likely to coo over yours. The nurses at the hospital sang to our children and encouraged us moms to stay, kiss and cuddle our babies and – to nurse.  I’d just been working with UNICEF in Croatia and knew the importance of mother’s milk and the Italian nurses at Brindisi hospital never suggested any other option to me. They adjusted our babies and breasts as we attempted to nurse. While still in the hospital, we were mostly unsuccessful, our premies unable to adequately suck enough milk from our breasts. Eventually, bottles of our breast milk were brought out and feeling slightly defeated, we bottle-fed. Then we’d return to the hot and steamy mother’s room to pump away, filling bottles for the next session. Fresh mozzarella and pasta dished into big bowls from an enormous pot, sustained us. Not one baby formula sign anywhere. With this support, Molly was an only-breastfed baby.

Giving birth almost 2 months early and ending up in a Neonatology ward in Southern Italy felt an ordeal, but in retrospect I recognize those 3 weeks provided me with skills I needed to take care of my baby. I learned to hold the little mite, how to read her signals and most of all, how to trust myself. With no family or friends and not speaking the language, I relied on my instinct, books and what the Italian nurses taught me during those unexpected weeks in the hospital. I credit them with saving me from becoming a screaming mother in public places like this poor woman in the bookstore.

I approached the new mom and asked if I could help. She told me she couldn’t drive while the baby was crying and the problem was (she thought), the baby’s nose was stuffed. She swabbed at the tiny nostrils and the little thing screamed louder. The mom then reached for a half-full bottle and told me she was also concerned that the baby had not finished it. Even 2 decades later, my mother-muscle-memory kicked into gear. Channeling the loving Italian nurses, I suggested she not worry about trying to force milk down the baby – her infant knows what she needs – besides, the kid was clearly exhausted. I remembered the nurses shifting Molly in my arms so gravity could do the job when she had a stuffed nose. I suggested she hold her 5 week old daughter upright on her shoulder so her head was not tilting backward. She did and the baby quieted, collapsing in sleep.

The Doctors who saved Molly's life.

The Doctors who saved Molly’s life.

I walked away thinking — who is around to help this obviously struggling mom? Doulas, a great support for new mothers, standard in England and many other countries, are expensive here and not a service routinely provided as it should be. Mother and baby are ushered out of the hospital within only a day or so of giving birth. What if there is no supportive family waiting for you? Without the doctors and nurses of Brindisi hospital, I would have been up shit’s creek — obviously how this woman felt. My Italian stinks and the nurses spoke no English, but I recall no language barrier. Their love transcended all and of that, they had plenty. Oh, by the way, our hospital bill for 3 weeks of intensive, loving care? Niente. That’s right, Italy’s healthcare system is socialized and I was charged nothing.

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My Weeds Feed You

sunflower bud

I admit that sometimes I get yard-envy. Yesterday, when I took Tetley on the long route around the neighborhood – the 30 minute vs the 10 minute walk – I did admire the beautifully mulched flower beds, plantings spaced apart, manicured, lush lawns of my neighbors. Some gardens had tasteful garden ornaments, charming benches and looked magazine cover ready. Yikes, I thought, what must they think when passing our little corner plot full of wood piled for the winter, patchy grass and weeds? Luckily, we have a (currently pruned) hedge hiding most of our mess from nosey dog walkers like me.

Sunflowers 1

We can’t blame the weather for our lack of yard maintenance – days have been cool and rain-free – perfect conditions to pull weeds. Nope. Nor can I blame our resident groundhog.  Since I surrendered to him, the big vegetable garden is one less demand. Mint and pokeweed now run wild where I once planted tomatoes, peppers and other delectable treats enjoyed mostly by groundhog. We plan to clear and reclaim that sunny spot from bastard and plant some peach and apple trees but for now, it’s a wild mess. The bees love it.

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Bees are buzzing all over the place. Poor Tetley discovered a hive when exploring a corner of our front porch, dashing off with his tail between his legs. Our noses pressed against the screen door, we watched them swarm around defensively for the next 5 minutes or so. We had no idea they were there until now and we will leave them be, not wanting to add to the world’s bee crisis in any way. I’m sure you’ve heard how bees are disappearing at an alarming rate? And without bees to pollinate the plants we eat, well, we’re screwed.

honey tastes

A few months ago I was lucky enough to join a Red Bee Honey tasting with bee expert and author of the Honey Connoisseur, Marina Marchese in her own charmingly overgrown garden with apiary. We spent a perfect afternoon sampling distinctive, exquisite honey, paired with savory and sweet bites. Not surprisingly, the tasting lingo mirrors that used to describe wines — another nectar we would not have without bees. Marina’s hives are surrounded by invasive weeds the rest of us hack away. My delicious afternoon certainly inspired this year’s laissez-fare attitude to the garden. I have tasted the riches my weeds can produce.

marina

Marina got me hooked on her honey and only buying it from local producers. Last week, Molly and I sought out a jar with honey-comb, harvested close to her college in the hopes of easing her allergies. Though she is not a fan (!?) of the taste, after swallowing a spoonful every morning and chewing the waxy comb, she reports she is suffering much less. Better than Zyrtec!

reading outside

This summer, while many of my neighbors were weeding, and (gasp!) putting chemicals on their lawns, I blissfully read surrounded by weeds, birds and bees. Today, I may mow our patchy lawn and pick a few Sunflowers but that’s about it. If you walk by my messy yard, please don’t judge – the bees love us and you should too.

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If Only…

The beach was almost deserted on this spectacular Saturday morning. The tide more out than in – no lapping waves. Only an occasional gull broke the quiet. I joined a yoga class on the sand, stretching, inhaling the beauty of the spot, savoring the gentle breezes, the coolness of the morning air, the sun’s warmth - life. Focused on breathing, the poses, then resting on my back, sand running through my fingers, I relaxed into a dreamy joy.  And then, I remembered AW’s death. She will never feel a beach breeze again. Every moment since hearing this news on Monday, there’s been a hovering dark cloud on the sunniest of days.

But she was not my daughter.  For me, the pain will ease, the sad fog will lift within weeks, becoming a terrible memory. Not so for her family. How long will it take for them to feel any kind of sustained joy again? My heart breaks for them.

Protecting our children is any healthy parent’s strongest impulse, in some ways, our very reason for being. The cliches: ‘we’re only as happy as our unhappiest child’, ‘they cut, we bleed’ — are all true. The thought of losing a child a worst nightmare. I am afraid to even imagine the pain.

A blogger who writes movingly about depression (here) noted about Robin Williams, “He died at the age of 63 after a lifetime of depression… his age was testament to his tenacity.” This beautiful line comforted me the other day, even 10 years later, thinking my husband made it to 48 with all his anguish – that was something. And, it guts me to think of AW only 25 years for her.

We no longer can be delighted by her goofy, infectious laugh.  Did she not know how we loved her and basked in the warmth of her kindness, her disarmingly clear and beautiful gaze? When we worked together, my impulse was to protect her. Sometimes I found myself warding off the men who might mistake her universal kindness as interest. She seemed so vulnerable.

Suicide strikes a chord for any of us who have experienced loss in this terrible way – like a gong – triggering memories, feelings. But the reverberating toll of this has cut me close, this sweet girl’s death. We were not much more than work friends — but of course all of us felt more so because AW did not do superficial. Even knowing better, I engaged in magical thinking — that I might have been able to do something. If only. Just the week before, I’d almost sent her a text – wanting to introduce her to my friend’s daughter — going so far as pulling up our last texts from more than a year ago – to continue a conversation, make contact again. And then, did not. In my mind she was well settled into a life she’d worked so hard to create for herself. Succeeding. I didn’t know.

Robin William’s death, like other beloved celebrities before him, brings suicide out of the shadows, if only for awhile, and this spotlight is welcome. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention runs walks around the country – Out of the Darkness Walks where the community can come together to comfort each other and raise money for the cause. While we will never end suicide but we must try to save lives – even one. How I wish that it could have been AW’s.

night waves

 

 

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Still in Recovery

bird feeder

Remember winter? My Hydrangea do – and remind me constantly of what a long, bitter one we endured. A few years ago I decided Hydrangea, would be my fool-proof shrub — blues and pink blossoms lasting well into autumn, stunning even as they fade to a papery brown. They are tough, even after shriveling a bit from thirst, reviving beautifully after watering. Every year my bushes produce bowl-sized blooms that are the center piece of the flower bouquets I cut for the mantelpiece – lasting long past when the Gladiolas and Black-eyed Susan are spent. Not this year. Look!

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Not a bloom in sight. No, I didn’t cut them back — I learned the hard way that flowers grow from old wood and am careful not to prune until well into Spring. Just like my sparse showing of Peonies, the Hydrangea blooms are a casualty of last Winter’s heavy snow and frigid temperatures. So much for fool-proof. There is no such thing, is there? We are all destined to be fooled, to sometimes be fools. This is life. My garden, currently neglected, always feels chock-full of metaphors.

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I mourn there are no Hydrangea blues to brighten the overgrown mess… I mean, otherwise lush bounty, of this year’s garden. There are times in life when there is nothing to do but let time pass and hope for better. I’ve done that before – by days, weeks, months, years. Things will improve. So far in my life, I have never lost that hope. And I’ve pushed myself to go beyond enduring, to always find something to sustain, nurture, perhaps inspire me, within the darkness of disappointment, heartbreak and loss.

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Of course at the height of any pain, I just want to get through it, for it to stop. Sometimes numb is all we can hope for. I marvel at this defense system us humans have – the way shock and pain can make everything slow down, launching a sense of not being entirely there, that nothing is real. This was my state of being after my husband’s death when I needed to carry on and take care of my daughter. I turned inward and slowed, moving through the world with a simultaneous heightened sensitivity yet detachment. Slowly, oh so slowly through more than one change of seasons, I allowed myself to actually feel my loss and grief — to feel anything. And now, I no longer take much of anything for granted.

I take the dearth of Hydrangea flowers in stride. After all, my beloved shrubs are alive – they are in a recovery mode I recognize. Next year, perhaps they will bloom. Meanwhile, remembering winter makes me better savor this remarkable summer.

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The Waves and Just Being

first beach

I’ve spent my 2 recent vacations this summer, in a torpor. Nary a dust bunny disappeared, weeds continued unhindered around the garden and I barely wrote a word here or anywhere. I simply read and watched the birds. Of course all the while beating myself up for being unproductive since there is so much that needs doing and I rarely have enough time in my usual day-to-day to do it all.

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R rescued me from this cloud of guilt by sweeping me off to the beach for a few days. What’s there to do but watch and sometimes venture into waves? We spent hours with our toes in the sand, barely speaking a word, only smiling at each other between reading, dozing, people watching and dreaming. Bliss.

beach with people

Although I brought my computer with a vague notion I might wake early and write, I did not. I barely checked my time-sucking phone for tweets and updates I really didn’t need or want. Staring at the sea and the parade of tattoo covered skin (is there anyone left on the planet who doesn’t have ink?) for hours on end was a bit like getting my mental hard-drive cleaned, the constant roar of waves washing away everything. I read and read and read, bathing in the breezes, the waves, the sun. I did something I haven’t done for years: I had a short and very sweet actual vacation.

beach grass and stones

I recently heard a radio interview on On Being with Social Psychologist Ellen Langer about mindfulness. When you have time, listen for some refreshing insight and inspiration. Langer speaks, in this great NY (I think) accent, about cultivating mindfulness in daily life through the simple act of just noticing things. This clicked with me since I seem to have a hard time maintaining a meditation routine for very long. Crazy these requirements I set up for myself of what I think I should be doing to get from A to B in my life. Do you do this? Are we crazy?

day waves

As I ready to return to work tomorrow, the sound of the waves still echo and that is enough.

night waves

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Drink Your Veggies

I think about food and cooking a lot. But with so many incredible foodie bloggers out there, I lack the gumption to pipe-in, even though I’m a pretty good cook. Still, I love eating (of course), reading and talking about food and can’t resist sharing my new favorite kitchen thing with you.

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The Nutribullet. This wonderful gadget now commands prime kitchen counter real estate next to my kettle. Every morning I spend less than 5 minutes throwing a mix of veggies, fruit, nuts and liquid into one of these jars, blend for about 40 seconds and presto, I’ve got an incredible, nutrient rich drink to either down right away or bring to work for a lovely boost later. This morning’s concoction was relatively tame consisting of lettuce, kale, strawberries, banana and some chia seeds (yes, “chia pet” chia seeds) with almond milk.

blended

You can throw virtually anything in without chopping it to bits – just remove big pips and apple seeds. The super-duper version will chew it all right up and comes with a variety of jars for blending that also can be used to store or drink your potion. Also included is somewhat of a cheesy book: Nutribullet – Life Changing Recipes. Interspersed between recipes are testimonials from rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, cancer patients and of course a few about weight loss. At least some of these, along with the smiling geezer pictures, could have been sacrificed for an index – there is none. Wondering if there’s a smoothy for your rutabaga? The only option is to flip through all the recipes and smiling geezers again. For inspiring smoothie recipes that are certainly compatible with the ‘Bullet’, I picked up a copy of Superfood Smoothies by Julie Morris who also has a great website.

Forget the blender and juicer — this is the gadget. No pulp clean up!

greens

These days, I need ways to use the bounty of vegetables in the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) I share with my friend Chris. Collard greens anyone? I’m a white girl from the Bronx who grew up on canned vegetables, so collards are new to me and a bit overwhelming. We eat bacon sparingly (although it is one of the most delicious things on the planet) and most collard recipes seem to call for cooking them in that yummy pork fat. Instead, I’ve been steaming the gigantic leaves, letting them cool and then substituting them for a wrap or tortilla. Lovely for a packed lunch. For me. No one else in the house will go for that. I haven’t Nutribullet-ed them yet — I’ll let you know. Might be just the ticket. And then there’s all the cabbage sitting in the crisper drawer … any ideas? (I already have some fermenting.)

CSAs are a great way to support local farms and get fresh, organic produce. Our’s – Stone Gardens Farm, drops off a box at Chris’s office (this week 2 boxes because there was so much) and we divvy up the goods that evening, preferably while drinking a glass of wine. Lots and lots of greens these past weeks, radishes and more radishes, summer squash, cucumbers – great in a smoothie – with avocado and apple and tumeric – refreshing! From May through October – sometimes even into November, the CSA supplies all my veggie needs allowing me to walk right through the produce section, pausing only to buy avocados.

Now your suggestions for collards and cabbage, please!

PS: I am delighted to report that collards make delicious smoothies. I made mine with banana, strawberries, a slice of lime, a few Lemon Balm leaves from the garden, a couple of ice cubes and used rice milk as my liquid. The collard is not at all overwhelming and I’ve already chewed up a few of my big fronds this way.

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Summer Bliss as a Day Unfolds

I could spend all day watching the bird feeder, clapping greedy squirrels away as needed. The feeder hangs less than a foot from the window where I write. A flurry of Sparrows and Finches catch my eye and I notice the squirrels hanging just beyond the woodpile, waiting for me to back off. Red Wing Blackbirds, Blue Jays, large and small Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves Nuthatches and Chickadees have all flocked for their share of sunflower seeds. None of these birds are particularly extraordinary but I am mesmerized by the constant cheeping drama.

blueberries

Earlier I made my rounds of this quarter-of-an-acre, picking a handful of blueberries to toss over my granola with yogurt, collecting stalks of Lupine flower seeds ready to burst their pods. A sea of blue Lupines once graced the slope beside the drive but between drifting snows and torrential rains, they’ve gotten sparse and migrated downhill, threatening to disappear into the city drain at next rain. I’ll plant these harvested seeds in the autumn up at the top to start again.

A walk around the back of the house reminds me that there’s lots of weeding to do — and I’m talking weedwacking-weeding. Pokeberry and bittersweet have already claimed my abandoned vegetable garden. The bastard groundhog has trampled, (spitefully it seems) the leeks he has no interest in eating. Nor does he like asparagus so the far corner is now an explosion of lacy green foliage from the spears I left behind. Also within the useless fence is my horseradish, mint and rocquette Arugula growing like mad. I came up with what feels like a brilliant idea of clearing this beautifully sunny stretch of earth and planting a mini orchard come fall. We’ll plant a few cherry and apple trees and hope for the best. Can groundhogs climb trees?

veg garden

Besides, the bounty from our CSA already fills my fridge each week — I’m leaving the varmint battles to the pros and content myself with a tinier patch of garden — three tomato plants, some lettuce, arugula and some herbs. Zinnia and sunflowers are also fenced in away from bastard and seem to be fairing well – no beheadings yet.

gardenia

I’m always thrilled when my Gardenia blooms – twice this year — a delight in the winter and now again. If I could only breathe the perfume of this blossom all day, I’d be high. Really. These beauties are intoxicating and evoke the potent, magical summer I spent in Italy with my new baby Molly.

deck with sun tea

I am back to work tomorrow, after a week off. I will miss this sweet unfolding of a day. Watching the birds, fussing in my garden, reading and dozing in the shade. Blissfully being outside where I can pay attention to nature and savor every minute of glorious summer days.

 

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A Rock and a Dive

SAM_08301.jpg There’s a spot about 20 minutes paddle from shore, where the Sound pushes into and out-of the natural harbor between two islands. Depending on the tide, we sometimes get buffeted in a crash of waves. Pulling our paddles in, we gleefully surrender to the splashing. If the tide is low, we yank the boat across the crunch of shell and stones to the other side. We like to pause here and stare alternately at the horizon and into the surf. Sometimes we pick up treasures. On Sunday, this rock caught my eye.

photo-43 Doesn’t it look like it’s part of something much bigger, like a chunk of a cliff or something? I reached down and lifted it away from the round stones surrounding it and said to R, “I wonder if anyone has ever touched this before – and will anyone again?” I held it a moment longer, thinking about time and wondering how it ended up where the waves meet, then let it go torpedoing in slow motion down to the bottom. I waded on, thinking I might swim.

I’m not a big swimmer. Last summer I barely got wet. But the place and moment seemed magical, the water crystal-clear, inviting. Wading up to my torso, I flinched as the water lapped against my belly – so cold. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back to the sky enjoying the warmth of the sun cooled by a breeze. I didn’t really want to get wet – this felt too good. But I imagined myself floating-in rather than just looking at the water and the part of my body already submerged, felt invigorated. I opened my eyes. Looking at the surface of the water, I willed myself to dive in – and didn’t.

Why? I wondered at my reluctance. Why not duck in for a swim? Because I felt comfortable and warm and safe, my hair was dry and I didn’t have a towel. I hesitated because I knew I’d be shocked by the cold. Even though my discomfort would quickly pass into pleasure, I did not move.

Have I become a hobbled by comfort? I wasn’t always this way – I have lived on the edge — traveled alone, moving to other countries, a war zone, marrying an addict. Okay, I didn’t really know I was doing that last one. And perhaps that’s what happened. Maybe I lost trust in my judgement about risk, became hyper-aware of the repercussions of launching willy-nilly into adventures. Perhaps the years of hanging onto the roller coaster of my life took its toll, making me staid. Or is this just an expected symptom of getting older like grey hair and wrinkles? I know, I should, I want to – resist.

My mental chatter grew noisier than the churning of water until I stepped deeper and, feeling like I was being gently pushed, dove beneath the surface. A frozen blanket of silence enveloped me as I pushed myself through the current, finally coming up for air with a gasp. Laying back into the gentle waves, I floated.

The next morning, the stone was atop my computer. R had retrieved it from where I’d dropped it back into the sea. There it was, a reminder of time, of going beneath the surface and something bigger than itself.

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