I’d Like to Walk (More)

tet

In this car-dependent community where I live, walking is something I do with intention. I walk my dog Tetley before and after work. More ambitiously I walk with my friend Chris. We walk fast and far and sometimes with weights – for the fresh air and exercise. Where I live, like most American communities, walking is not a viable way to take care of daily business. I miss that.

I did not own a car until I moved to Connecticut in my 30s. I lived in Kyoto, Japan; New York City; Zagreb, Croatia; even Cincinnati, Ohio (I lived in the city) and never owned a car because I didn’t need one. Stores, markets to buy food – were in every neighborhood. And public transportation was accessible and good. Or, I rode a bicycle with a basket big enough to fill with groceries. I knew the fastest, scenic, safest routes to work.  I became familiar with the patterns of light, cracks on sidewalks, faces and sometimes the names of shopkeepers, my neighbors. All of my senses were attuned to my place in the world. In Kyoto, the sound of ancient weaving machines heaving away down the narrow streets of my neighborhood, were my cues I was nearing the old wooden house where I lived, as did the splashing of water from the tofu shop on the corner. When I moved farther north in the city, I smelled the fermenting kimchee from the Korean community on the next street, the scent of the pine forests up the hill and felt the wind, the first snow.

thumbnail.aspx

In Zagreb, I befriended neighbors and shopkeepers passed daily on my walk to catch the tram to work. After Molly was born, I walked with her pram to the market where I piled fresh produce and maybe something from the butcher in the rack beneath her.  In Cincinnati I lived at the edge of a ghetto surrounded by empty buildings, accepted by the few residents in that mostly abandoned neighborhood, as one of the weird artists that lived in the building that used to be a school. I only felt nervous when I had to leave at 4:30 in the morning to pick up a waitress shift at the hotel downtown – I’d throw my ten speed onto my shoulder and pedal furiously through the empty streets – the dark morning terrifying and thrilling me.

42nd

And New York – well, everyone knows New York – half the fun of being there is just walking, walking, walking. Most days I happily joined the river of pedestrians rushing down Broadway, dodging around the slowpokes, when I remembered to have change handy in my pocket, giving to the usual gauntlet of panhandlers. Sometimes I’d choose West End Avenue – a wider, emptier expanse of only apartment buildings with no shops – a short reprieve from the masses before cutting over to join the flow at 96th Street where we descended to the subway.

But here, an hour outside of New York City, I’ve never even boarded the bus. The grocery store is at least a mile away so not practical to walk to unless I’m just buying milk. Work is 5 miles and my job requires a car for visits to schools and companies.

Except for the hurried morning Tetley walks  – so short they hardly qualify – me following him at a snails pace as he sniffs and pees, sniffs and pees, barks at long-gone creatures from the night before. I have to get to work so we barely make it down the street before I have to tug him to hurry along and take care of business. Still, I get a glimpse of the day, a sense of the seasons.

body vibe

Recently, I walked a different route to pick up my car. Not a pretty street, but one I drive down often. And in walking it, I noticed new things. This company’s name intrigued me – its a wholesale distributor of body jewelry – so if you’re in the market for nipple rings, check them out.

American communities do not encourage pedestrian life. In fact, walking can be deadly. Sidewalks are intermittent — even along busy thoroughfares like the Boston Post Road. I’ve seen families pushing baby carriages along a busy stretch between strip malls, hugging the curb while traffic barrels past. Throw in the frozen snow banks of winter and a texting teen…

According to the CDC: “In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and another 76,000 pedestrians were injured. This averages to one crash-related pedestrian death every 2 hours, and a pedestrian injury every 7 minutes. Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip.”

This doesn’t exactly make you want to break out your walking shoes, now does it?

I miss the easy exercise of being a functional walker but even more, I miss the intimate connections to the world around me only possible beyond the boundaries of my home, my car. I devour the blogs of madcap adventurers biking around the world, shlogging through all weather, up mountains, through cities, camping by rivers, part of it all – meeting up with hospitable citizens who share their food and drink because who doesn’t love a traveler – someone pedaling, walking, wanting to know about your place in the world? And in doing so, in getting out of a car, slowing down and being in a place, we make it a little bit, our own.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to drive around in the warmth or the cool of my car, my music playing. But so much of life is missed when you travel 30+ miles an hour.

What about where you live?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Relief in Recognition – War

People who have lived through war are often reluctant to talk about their experiences – it’s like you are speaking another language – one that most people don’t understand nor care to learn. So when someone shares even a smidgeon of common experience or gives you a speck of recognition, the feeling is relief. We don’t really want to be alone.

About a year ago after an event at the store, I heard a young woman behind me say she was from Croatia. I turned and asked, from where exactly? She responded, you probably don’t know the place: Knin. I said, I do – I lived there. Knin is often described as dreary, sitting over the last rocky mountain range before reaching the stunning Dalmatian coast. In 1991, the Krajina Serbs declared it the capital of their self-proclaimed country. From June until December 1992 I was based there with the UN Peacekeeping mission in former Yugoslavia – UNPROFOR.

knin rail river and empty roads

I didn’t always feel comfortable on those dusty streets – strangely dark with soldiers looking out from the shadows of the perpetually open bars. But gradually, I made friends – mostly with women. Relationships were usually limited, because of language barriers, to smiles and shared Turkish coffee cooked over propane or wood stoves because more often than not, there was no gas nor electricity.

A few months older than Molly, the girl in the bookstore had been an infant when the shit hit the fan. I left Croatia around the time she was born, on my own maternity leave – earlier than expected because the slow simmering conflict of four years, was escalating. Shells were being lobbed between the two sides. The Croatians were done waiting and were taking back control of what had been UN ‘protected’ but Serb controlled areas. In August, I was across the Adriatic in Italy with Molly in my arms as I watched the news – the roads out of Krajina to Serbia packed with cars and horse drawn carts for carrying hay loaded with suitcases, refrigerators, whatever they could carry. I searched the faces for my former landlord, my neighbors and local colleagues.

view from Knin window

The girl told me her mother would know about that time and worked nearby at a hair salon not more than a mile from here.

It took me a year, but last week I called the salon and asked for an appointment with the woman from Croatia. An attractive, fashionably dressed woman greeted me with a warm hug. She said, “It’s been awhile! How have you been?” I told her we had never met. “But you look so familiar. I know your face.” Well, I said, that’s interesting… and then I told her how I knew her tiny, troubled town twenty years ago. Her eyes filled and so did mine. She grabbed me and insisted on introducing me to her colleagues, “Look! She lived in my town!” They smiled politely. “Come, I have to tell my boss.” A short man sat going over a paper with another stylist – he looked up as she said, “You have to meet this lady! She lived in Knin!” “Was there water and electricity?” he asked, thinking he was making a joke. “Only sometimes,” I answered. He went back to his work.

Sitting in front of a mirror for the next 40 minutes as she combed and snipped, we disappeared into another time and place. I wanted to hear her story and I knew what questions to ask. I know something of the roads she traveled.

window view

She told me they were a ‘mixed’ family meaning she was Catholic (Croatian) and her husband, Orthodox (Serb). She remained in Knin with her husband and the Serbs instead of leaving for the beautiful Croatian town on the coast where she was from. She didn’t mention this as being unusual but I know, it was. The family fled Krajina that August with only some clothes packed beside their babies in a Yugo. They crawled along on the road full of refugees, driving to Serbia. She’d had a good gig cutting the hair of UN soldiers from Kenya and the UN police from all over the world, and saved her money – enabling them to rent a little house in Serbia rather than be put in refugee hotels. Her husband was called up by the army and he said, “To fight for what? I’ve already lost everything.” So they threw him in detention. After a few years, they made it to the States as refugees and landed in a large, very depressed city in Connecticut. From there, they rebuilt their lives.

She nursed her baby during the 10 hour trek out of Krajina or she said, her daughter might not have survived since there was nothing else. Across the Adriatic in Italy, I nursed my girl and watched the news.

“You don’t seem bitter or angry. How is that?” I asked.  She shrugged and said, “I was young. If this happened now, I’d have a heart attack.” But I think it’s more than youth this ability she and others have to not be swallowed by sorrow. Of course, she knows she is luckier than too many from those years – her family alive and well – her beautiful daughters all thriving. But it’s more than that – this woman of warmth, life and humor seems determined to always choose love. And she also has a skill. While we were talking she’d stop and say, “You should put some color in you hair!”

We were both moved – and perhaps me more than her. She told me she Skypes regularly with her family there and couldn’t wait to tell them about me. And of course she is with her husband – they made that long journey together. But I have no one to speak with about this time – it’s too complicated to explain and frankly, no one is really interested. I was glad to remember and share this stretch of history with this vibrant woman. The stuff of our lives, the joys, the sadness — we long to have it recognized by someone else, don’t you think?

Like any war, there were many villains and so much evil there. But there were also families, nursing mothers and little children wanting nothing more than to live there lives.

I am glad to have connected with this kin spirit of shared roads, a mother who moved beyond her loss and obstacles to live a life of joy.

Posted in Grief and Healing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Where’d My Mojo Go?

SAM_0694

Where’s it gone? Where’s my fire? Waiting around for a lightning bolt of inspiration is not the answer, so this morning I sit rubbing my mental sticks together hoping for at least a spark, maybe enough to ignite a long-burning flame. I know what it takes – I’ve done it. For years I had disciplined practices for yoga, for writing, meditation. Had. I have no idea what happened. It’s been awhile and have no excuses, no good reason.

I churned out a complete manuscript while Molly was still living at home. I made her breakfast, her lunch and took her to school each morning just after 7. I did all this and still managed to write – as if in a trance, for an hour. I did that. I marvel now. Now, I go to work at 8 – giving me almost another hour and my daughter’s away at college so time is all mine. Plus, I have my own little room to write in. There’s no reason I couldn’t get in a few yoga stretches and a page or two.

Instead, I sleep a little later and when I do get up, I dawdle away my precious daybreak reading other people’s blogs or worse, scrolling through Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. Really. I admit this shamefully. Instead of doing what I know makes me feel centered and purposeful and healthy – writing, yoga, meditating – I aimlessly fritter away my time with mental junk food.

SAM_0394.jpg

Why is it so hard for me to get back into that magic zone? I know I’ll be happier, so why don’t I just do it? I have piles of books to inspire and guide me. In the dark moments before falling asleep at night and rising in the morning, I sometimes mentally write a post, start an essay, another book – and poof! – by the time I get back here to this chair, it’s gone. I know the trick about scribbling notes. Trust me, I have plenty of scribbles. But I’ve still got to put my ass in the seat and lay down the words, take my spot on the mat and stretch out my achy hips. And I’ll feel better.

SAM_0114

It takes regularly sitting, breathing, focus, writing, breathing. Writing becomes like a meditation only my fingers move. And don’t, don’t move away from this screen, this lovely clear, empty, distraction free space. No emails, no news – that’s the end. That’s what sucks away the morning, leaving me no richer, providing no sustenance.

It’s discipline – practice. Life feels much better when I have a practice in place. I carry the focus, the story, the posture with me throughout the day — a rich, quiet center that feels like the true me. I move through the day carrying whatever story I’m telling, with a sense of my body moving, standing tall, stretching, breathing, being in the world — not just within the parameters of my working hours, ringing sales at the cash register or staring at computer screens to answer emails — but a rich interior life I get to carry with me. The life that doesn’t pay my mortgage but sustains me just as much.

SAM_0777

That’s what I want back – that sense of who I really am in the world. That’s why I write, stretch, sit, breathe – a way of being that gives me joy. It has to do with seeing more than what is apparent – that which is only visible if you pay attention both inwardly and out. When I have a practice in place, I feel an incredible awareness of time and space with every breath. How delicious breathing becomes!

I know this — so why have I slipped? Why is it so hard for me to get back in the groove? Now it’s colder and darker in the mornings – even more of a challenge to crawl out from between the sheets. But that’s just another excuse. I have no good answer for losing myself like this.

I feel like I’ve come clean here, confessing to you – and it feels good. Having spent many years reaping the benefits of the AlAnon rooms, I know the power of ‘admitting’ and I suspect, I’m not alone. Any one else with ‘mojo’ problems out there?

Posted in Seasonal Musings | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Conjuring Mothballs

umbrella

I prefer ushering summer in, more than I do out.  Packing away shorts, and cotton shirts is a melancholy activity – unlike the joy of pulling all these garments out after a long winter. It seems I wore only half of my summer dresses this cooler-than-usual summer, and now I am folding them up for another year.  From the basement, I haul up the heavier load of winter clothing – darker tones and heavier weaves.

I learned this ritual of switching my wardrobe, from my mother. I remember the smell of mothballs permeating our apartment as she pulled out our stored clothing from the massive suitcases wedged into the top of the coat-closet. I laugh thinking about oh! my dread of my older sister’s hand-me-downs and how now, she and I relish each other’s rejects.

I survey each piece of clothing: to keep or not. This is a good time to purge the barely worn frock with the velvet bits. And certainly the linen pants I’ve been hanging onto with the illusion my waist line will ever be that size again. Times up on that one! I pile my has-beens on the bed, trying to embrace advice from the anti-hoarder experts — something like if you haven’t worn it X amount of time in the last season, it’s time to let it go.

Although I took a good load to Goodwill today, it should really have been bigger. I still cannot part with my faded cotton bathrobe – now ripping in places. It would be a good rag, or if I were crafty, maybe I could turn pieces into a quilt. But I’m not, so it gets packed away so next year, I can find it again and remember when my husband brought it to me, then lovely crisp and too-expensive, the day after I landed in the hospital on a sweltering June in Italy when I delivered Molly 2 months early. That was 19 years ago and I still can’t part with this now tattered robe.

There’s also a very pretty dress, although not really me, that I wore to N’s memorial service.  He’d bought it for me one day for no reason I knew of, about a year earlier. I’d barely worn it even then, because it’s a little too dressy and not the nicest fabric – but I can’t get rid of it. I like to think of him shopping for me, looking for something that I might like, that would suit me. He liked to shop and had expensive taste he indulged, even when he had no money and that was most of our marriage. But, I imagine him lovingly thinking about me — not trying to make up to me or distract me from maybe being coked up.

Anyway, I focused on him that day at the Unitarian Church – remembering him and his life and death on another day in June. It was the first day since his suicide a month earlier, that I was able to move past my fury and shock and begin to think of him with love and to mourn him.

The hoarders would have me get rid of it perhaps, because all summer this dress has hung in my closet unworn. But instead, I’ve packed it away for another year.

The closet and drawers are emptier. I’ve yet to unpack any sweaters, the wooly socks, the corduroy pants. Not yet. It’s still warm enough and for now, I enjoy the space that lies between.

snow tree

Posted in Grief and Healing, Seasonal Musings | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Vertigo: Slow Down You Move Too Fast

images

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.

Posted in Seasonal Musings | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

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.

SAM_0430

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.

tet glasses

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.

Posted in Seasonal Musings | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

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.

mint

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.

Posted in Seasonal Musings | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

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

 

 

Posted in Grief and Healing | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

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!

photo-49

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.

SAM_0921

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.

SAM_0750

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.

Posted in Grief and Healing, Seasonal Musings | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments