Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Prayer

Blessed Father, thank you for those who have hurt me in my life. Thank you for those who have withheld their love, who have neglected me, who have turned the other way. Thank you for those who have thrown unkind words my direction, who have thought less of me, put me down, called me names. Thank you for those who have touched me in places I should not have been touched at times I should not have been touched there. Thank you, Father, for those who told me I could not accomplish that which I knew I needed to accomplish. Thank you for those who, even today, tell me that I am all wrong. It is through those who have hurt me and those who continue to hurt me that I have learned love, that I have learned compassion and tolerance and kindness. It is through those who have hurt me that I have become stronger, that I have become me.

It is through tears that I learned to smile. It is through a hand withheld that I learned the importance of a hand held out. From those who put me down, I learned the need for building up. It is hard to stand tall when one is made to feel like falling. It is hard to feel worthy when one is told, through words or action, that one is not. But I did not live this for myself. It was important to smile, to stand tall, to feel worthy. There was work to do. There were lessons to learn. There are those who need my smile, my hand. There are those who need my help because I know, I know how much they need it. I know what they are feeling, I know where they have been, and I know the difference that love and compassion and a lift up can make to a life in need.

Father in Heaven, I ask that you watch over those who have hurt me. I wish them well in dealing with the pain in their own lives. They have struggles that I do not. They have issues I never will. Give them strength. Bring them peace. I have not lived their lives. I have not walked in their shoes. I cannot feel their sorrow, cannot share in their grief, their anger, their fear.

I am blessed like that, and I ask that you give me opportunity each day to use what I have been given. I ask that you help me take the lessons I have lived and use them, then, for the good of others, for those who may be suffering, for those who are crying out for the sort of help I have to offer. Help me take the love, the compassion and throw it out into the world in order to lift others, to move them, to show them possibility, to help them believe. Help me take the tolerance, the kindness, the love and shine back to others how beautiful they are, how worthy. Let me be a light in a place of darkness. Use me to do your work.

Blessed Father, thank you for those who have hurt me in my life. Thank you for those who have withheld their love, who have neglected me, who have turned the other way. Thank you for those who have thrown unkind words my direction, who have thought less of me, put me down, called me names. Thank you for those who continue to do so still. It is from them that I have learned. It is from them that I have learned compassion, peace, and love. It is from them that I have learned that we are one, and that that one is you. It is from them that I have become the woman I see when I shine that mirror back at me.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chasing Butterflies

So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

~Mitch Albom

If I woke tomorrow and could never again share my thoughts with you, could never again share my ideas, my opinions, my desires and dreams, if I woke tomorrow and could never again express in one form or another what is in my head and what is in my heart, I honestly would not see the point of living. This might sound extreme, but hear me out. I play this game. I play this game to keep my life in order. I play this game so that I manage to live that life according to me and not according to others. I ask myself, “If I were to wake tomorrow and could never again,” and then I fill in the blank, “would life be worth living?”

If the answer is yes, I don’t much see the point in spending big time on that issue. Whatever word was in that blank is not worth my headache, my stress, my health. I’ll give it bits and pieces of my time, sure, but it will have to sit and wait its turn and settle for whatever leftovers I toss it.

If the answer to the question is no, then that word gets moved to the top of the list. That word gets much of my time whether anyone else feels it deserved, warranted, worthy, and whether paid or for kicks.

It goes something like this. If I were to wake tomorrow and could never again express my thoughts, either through speaking or writing, if I could never again spend time with my family, teach and lead, move, motivate, encourage, inspire, if I were to wake tomorrow and could never again put my feet in the sand and my face to the sun, hit the open road and explore new places, new people, new sights, if I were to wake tomorrow and could never again be the passionate creature I am, I honestly don’t believe life would be worth living. And, so I craft my life very carefully in order to have time to teach and write and love and laugh. I lavish hours on my family and friends. I travel. I enjoy the sunshine every chance I get. I walk barefoot on sandy beaches, listen to the waves as they hit the shore.

I no longer feel compelled to cross off what everyone else puts on my to-do list. As a new mother I often felt the need to over perform, to cook and clean and schedule play dates, to chair this committee and organize that class party, to bake forty-eight Martha Stewart worthy cupcakes for the school fair, and to save a little energy at the end of the day for those things that husbands and wives do at the end of the day. Sometimes I felt life was easier when I let others make my decisions. Sometimes it was a matter of “I don’t really know what I want, so I’ll look to others to tell me. I’ll let someone else make that decision for me.” Sometimes it was a matter of wanting to be perfect, wanting to impress, not wanting to screw it all up.

I am not afraid anymore. I am not afraid to say who I am and who I am not. I am not afraid to be me. I am a person with fire in the belly. I say what burns in my heart. I do what I am moved to do. I say and do sometimes, in fact, before I think I should say or do. I am a sensual being. I am moved by the taste of a beautiful meal, by the feel of warm sunshine on my bare shoulders, by the smell of fresh cut grass, fields of spring blossoms, and the sound of chirping birds. I am moved by love, by love of any kind. I like you, and I want you to like me. If you don’t, then that is your business, and I will go about my way. I am not interested in expending the energy needed to convince you otherwise. I buy a drink from every lemonade stand I pass. I talk to children I don’t know.

I don’t care much for cleaning or committees or conservative dress. I can’t bake cupcakes for shit. I’m a little flighty and somewhat of a ditz, and I think laptop toting, tailored skirt wearing, nine-to-five sort of jobs are what happen when you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. I like fun and frills and freedom. I smile a lot. I like the feel of a summer breeze through my hair as I pen a few words on the front porch, bare feet up, iced tea in hand. I die in windowless offices on gorgeous days.

So tell me how to do and how to be if you feel you must, but I will warn you now that it’s of no use. The sun is out, the breeze is nice, and I’m busy picking daisies and chasing butterflies.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Thank You, of Sorts

I have a friend I may never see again. It was something I said. Or did. Both really. This is beside the point. What matters is that if, indeed, we never again talk or visit, I feel in my head that I still have much for which to be thankful and am in need of penning a few words. Aside from the humor, the stimulating conversation, the encouragement, and support, he brought three things to my life that now I can’t imagine being without. Number one, he brought my writing to where it is. Number two, he helped me to open up my past and stare it down. And, number three, he led me down an intuitive path I may not have explored had he not crossed my way.

Prior to meeting this friend I was shooting out bullet points and tips, recipes and reviews on a regular basis. I could add the words “staff writer” and “my work has appeared in” to every byline I earned. The words were pouring onto page faster than I could keep up. I shared tips on parenting your teenage vegetarian, tricks to cooking with tofu, nuts, and legumes, and the benefits of buying local. I walked the reader through directions on making Holiday Granola, Banana Split Muffins, Three Bean Chili, and Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup. It was safe. It was easy. It was boring.

The more I wrote in this safe, boring, regimented voice, the more I heard another sassy, creative voice just begging its turn to play. I started a blog, a free and fun and frilly blog. I wrote on the light, the shallow, the fluff. I spoke of my ass, my bra, my wrinkles, my birthdays, my skivvies of this sort or the other. I flitted across the page in boas and pearls sprinkling loads of pixie dust and having just a grand and glorious time.

Then I wrote a couple essays on my past.

This friend of mine whipped me into shape. He whipped me into shape fast. I had a story to tell and an obligation to tell it. Anybody could write that other crap, he said. Only I could write THIS. Let’s just say that ruler to knuckles would have been preferred to the sort of “encouragement” I endured with him as teacher.

But it was through my writing that I was able to face down my past. Gift number two. The funny thing about putting words to page is that when I write of a place I have to go there. I have to go there with my head, with my heart, with my soul. I have to feel it. I am not typically a feeling person. I live my life somewhat detached, removed a bit. I would have continued writing, sure, but not to the depth that I do now. Without this friend, I would never have opened my soul as I did to expose the raw and naked stories, to let the reader in as guest when I myself was not even allowed. I would have written, sure, but I would still be flinging glitter and sparkles.

I got to a point in my life where even I believed the image I had created. Even I bought into the picture of the suburban soccer mom, the college instructor, the community volunteer in the cute little cardigan and J. Jill flips. I created this life of travel and giving and education and plenty. I created the lattes and laughter and lighthearted living. What was behind me was behind me. It happened, yes, but I was over it. I was good.

Except that I wasn’t.

As I wrote essay after essay, I realized that poverty is not something that one ever gets over. Poverty is in the heart and the soul and the mind like a parasite, like a parasite that dies only when you do. As I wrote, I cried. I sobbed. I hated people. I hated my parents for birthing me into the situation. I hated those who don’t understand, those who say just get a job, only you can’t get a job because you’re a kid, and you can’t make your parents get a job, and you’re hungry and you’re tired and you’re stressed and all you really want is to be like the other kids, to be normal, to have regular clothes and regular houses and regular cars and food, you really just want food, you want food and heat, you’re cold and you’re hungry. I hated people as I wrote. I cried, and I hated people. I hated my friend for encouraging me to go there with my words. You should know that I don’t hate people. I am not the hating sort. But as I wrote, I was angry, and I hated people.

Through my writing, though, I came to terms with my past and came to see it as the gift it is. There was much good in that bad. There was much laughter and smiling and life lessons learned. Through it, I gained a sense of understanding and compassion and a desire to help. I came to see that we are all one, that I am where I am because of those who provided opportunity and that, in turn, I can provide similar opportunity.

As for the intuitive path my friend led me down, you know by now that I have metaphysical leanings. You know that I ride the line between science and not. You know that I am not certain I fully believe but that I read and approach with an open mind. As far as the specifics, let’s just let that be. Not every thought is for the reader’s eye. And that may, in fact, just bring us back round to that first paragraph. So if, indeed, I never see this friend again, I am thankful for what he contributed to my life. I am the writer I am because of the irritating soul he is. And I mean that only in a good way.

But the bigger question is this, should I wake tomorrow and never see YOU again, never talk to YOU again, never laugh with YOU again, how would YOUR essay read?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Get Me Some Religion

I have always been a fan of the phrase “come-to-Jesus moment.” For me times like these are what I consider real church. I didn’t always think this. As a little girl I believed that church happened in my Mary Janes and yarn-tied braids. I believed that church was ladies in lacquered beehive hairdos, white heels, and polyester dresses, a smack of red lipstick and some honeysuckle perfume. I believed that church was the choir in their awe-inspiring robes, giant hymnals poised gingerly in outstretched hands, mouths forever in the shape a giant O. Church was the smell of the wooden pews, a stick of Juicy Fruit from my grandpa's left breast pocket, and the bellowing voice of the preacher as he MOVED the congregation. Church was Sunday supper at Grandma’s house afterwards, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, butter beans and sweet tea. Church was a building with people and lessons and stories, a place to go, a place to be.

As I grew older I learned that church happened also in the real world and not just on Sundays. Church was in the charred, smoke filled furniture of my aunt’s that my parents stored in our tiny extra bedroom, the furniture that was left from the fire that took the house that as a single mother she shared with her five children. Church was in the walk with friends down to Miss Gardner’s penny candy store, permission from my mother to buy whatever I liked and coins enough to do it, leaving that store with a brown paper bag stuffed with Double Bubble, jaw breakers, and an ample supply of pride. Church was in the teacher who called me doctor when I wasn’t, the teacher who believed when not too many did, the teacher who made sure that opportunities that mattered happened and that I was well aware I should take them, the teacher who showed me, in the end, not just how to teach, but how to be a teacher. Church was also in those come-to-Jesus moments in my life.

I am a freshman in college taking in the springtime as a wonderful breeze fills my dorm room. Lion posters, my sorority’s mascot, line my walls and the sound of ABBA floats from the stereo. I am in my happy place. I am content, at peace, and feeling the rush that comes from semester’s near end. I get a call. I should go now to console my fraternal little sis. I should go right now. I should get to her room as fast as I can. There has been an accident.

I am listening, but I am not hearing.

Some of us are dating guys from the soccer team. My “little” is seeing one of the Canadian players. There are a few. It is very cosmopolitan in our tiny southern Indiana town. I have never known a Canadian. He is a nice guy, and funny. We hang out and talk and laugh. I think the two of them are a great match, and I thoroughly enjoy his company. He teaches me about using both sides of the paper when I write. Americans are wasteful, he says. He doesn’t like this. I don’t care. I continue with my wasteful ways. It irritates him to no end. I sort of have fun with that. He also teaches me the term ménage a trois. It is a tough lesson, and I am just not getting it. I am somewhat embarrassed, but so, so curious. Not that we do it, but he definitely adds a point of interest to my vocabulary, and I always make sure to be around when he is teaching new words. We have some good times.

But now I am on the phone being told that I should go, being told that I should put the phone down and go. There was an accident. There was a tournament, a weekend thing, out of town, just a weekend thing. He wasn’t driving. The driver is okay. The car crossed the line. Dead at the scene. Dead at the scene. He won't be back.

Come to Jesus. People die. They don’t get to choose when. You can see someone one day, be hanging out in a dorm room discussing the concept of a threesome, laughing and blushing, and the next day you will never talk to him again. You will never see him, never laugh with him, never talk to him again. Just like that.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

When to Say When

Really just talking to myself here. Thinking out loud.........

While I have had a somewhat difficult life, my path itself has not been difficult, not at all. You may find this confusing. You know by now that I have overcome some mighty obstacles. You know that I have experienced the likes of hunger and poverty. You know that I have lived in sketchy homes and moved more than any child should ever be asked to move. You know that even my college career was fraught with one brick wall after another, that I went to three different universities, sat out two different terms, worked full-time, went to school full-time, paid for much of my education out of my own pocket. This is old news. You know this. What you don’t know is that despite the seeming hardship, my life has actually been fairly easy.

I have almost always gotten what I want. I am dogged, determined, persistent, and persevering. I decide what it is that I desire, and then I go get it. This plan pretty much always works. I have never been a fan of the phrase, “Failure is not an option.” Failure is exactly why I have gotten to the point I am. I am not a quitter. I am a try-er. It is by trying and failing that I not only learn HOW to get what I want, but what it is exactly that I DO want. I worked day care four days once. I tried. I tried, and I did not fail. I learned. I learned that while I love working with children, I do not particularly care if they eat or nap or play or go potty. What I do care is that they believe in themselves, that they believe in the possibilities in their lives, and that they believe that given the talents and the gifts, they are capable of achieving that which they set out to achieve. I might not have known this had I not tried the day care position and failed so miserably. That failure is what led me to pursue positions, both paid and volunteer, which nurture the mind as opposed to the body.

Failure is a tool. It is a tool that shows me what does not work so that I can better aim my efforts at what does.

Only now I am experiencing a failure that I am not quite certain how to handle. I have sent out my queries. I am pursuing agents. I am putting my writing in front of those who have the power to see my words to print. I am working at becoming an author. I have done this before. I have done this many times before. I have done this before and have failed and have quit. I am not getting what it is that I want. My question now is this, at what point do I say, “Enough already. Enough. I am a writer, yes, but maybe I am not an author.”? At what point do I ask myself if indeed I truly want this, if, in fact, the talent and the gift are there, if I am chasing that for which perhaps I am not especially suited. At what point do I say that maybe this is a lesson in where to better throw my efforts? At what point do I take those efforts and use them in the service of something that truly matters, something that DOES work, something I DO want, something at which I DO have the talent and the gift? At what point do I throw in the towel and recognize this as the lesson it may be?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Small is Big

I write a lot on death. I write a lot on death and on life and on everything in between. I write on not waiting until sixty or seventy to travel or paint or to spend time with the grandkids or to start that little business you’ve always wanted to start when really you want to do those things right now. I write a lot on the big things in life, on love and tolerance and purpose and passion. I write a lot on the big, the enormous, the grandiose. Today, I write on the small.

Because life really is about the small.

I always think of Seurat. Out of nothing but dots he could create the most insanely gorgeous paintings of entire afternoons. He could take dots, tiny dots, tiny pieces of color and bring them all together to put into one’s head images of picnics and dogs barking, boats sailing on sparkling clear waters and finely dressed ladies with bustles and parasols. I look at these dots and a sense of calm and peace and serenity washes over me. I am there. I am in that afternoon. And I love it.

Do you love the dots of your life?

If today were your last day would you be doing what you are doing now? While we tend to think of life as a whole, as the big picture, as the sunny afternoon in the park, really it is nothing but the dots we are throwing each day. It is nothing but the dots that make up that afternoon. It is about nothing but placing onto that canvas one beautiful dot after another. What makes your heart sing? Again, I am talking about the small here. What makes your heart sing?

I bought a pair of flip flops this morning. Summer is calling me. I am feeling the joy of long walks on the beach, treks through meadows of spring flowers and butterflies, and the feel of the warm sun on my bare shoulders. I have missed my good friend, Summer. It has been a long Michigan winter. It has been a long winter of scarves and gloves and too much snow. It has been a long winter of scraping ice off frozen windshields and stocking up on NyQuil Cold and Flu. It has been a long winter of hiding my skin in boots and jeans and dorky black sweaters. It has been a long winter, and summer is calling me. So I bought a pair of flip flops. They are gold with a bit of glitter and sparklies. They make my heart sing.

I had a great conversation with a good friend. She also is a writer, but really she says she is a fairy princess because, as she explains, when you tell someone you are a writer they smile and nod and say all wonderful things, but in their heads they believe you have been sprinkled with a bit too much of that fairy dust and should maybe come back down to earth, that many people write, yes, but that no one REAL is a Writer, no one EVER knows someone who has REALLY written a book and ACTUALLY had it published, and in all honesty, neither do you. You know as many fairy princesses, in fact, as you know writers. But, hey, you’ve got a book, AND you’ve got a crown and so you will be whoever the heck you want to be and to hell with everybody else. She makes me laugh, this friend of mine. She makes me laugh until I snort and tear up and spit my tea through my teeth.

I bought a book for a colleague. I think it will bring her joy. She doesn’t know she is getting it. I will surprise her with it this afternoon. But don’t tell. I want it to be a secret.

I spent some time in a sunny window putting words to page, sharing my thoughts with you. I am never certain why I feel the need to do this, but I cannot stop. I have tried. I have scolded myself in the past for believing that I am a writer and have thrown my words away. I have ripped them to pieces, hurled them to the ground, crushed a heel into them, spit on them, and then tossed them into the bin. When I get some sense back into my head, I pick the words out very carefully and with only two fingers, brush off the eggshells and coffee grounds, and proceed to philosophize again. Then I assure myself that while I may, indeed, be a writer no one cares much what it is that I have to say, that I write, yes, but for naught, always for naught. I have learned to ignore that part of myself. My heart says write and so, dammit, I will write.

It is noon. I have placed quite a lot of dots to the painting of my life today. They are beautiful. They make me smile. They bring peace and joy and serenity to my soul. They are the small, yes, but really they are the big. They are the big because, in the end, they are my Seurat.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Heart of the Matter

(awesome design by Maggie Ortlieb......*like* her page, Heart Struck, on Facebook....she's doing wonderful things for children in need)

I am not very good at listening. Or, rather, I am not very good at doing what is expected of me. I am not very good at following directions, going with the crowd, doing something because it is the way it has always been done. I am not very good at blending in, not making waves, not causing a stir. I speak my mind, think for myself, and cut my own path every chance I get. I piss a good many people off. I don’t much care about that. Ultimately, and I know this will be a shocker for some of you, ultimately I don’t live my life to please you.

Not to sound bitter, but sort of I am, I have taken some flack lately for many of my words. They are too depressing, too shallow, too much about me, not enough about him or about her. I am filling in with things that aren’t there, shouldn’t be there, couldn’t be there, were never there. I am revealing too much, revealing too little. Here is a secret, my friend. You are always free to not read me. If I am depressing you, showing you too much, showing you not enough, if I am using language the likes of which you do not approve, by all means, feel free to find another blog. My essays are MY essays.

I have always been a believer in following my heart. This has not always been easy. My head is bossy and thinks it knows what is best for me. At times I have tried to shush it and show it its proper place. It shrugs its shoulders and gets that whiny face and says, “Oh, GAWD! She’s listening to Heart again. Get ready world. Here we go.” Inevitably the listening to Heart part is followed by someone in my general vicinity becoming confused or offended.

My mother made me take a typing class in high school just in case my dreams of becoming a doctor did not see fruition. At least, she advised, I would always have a secretarial position on which to fall back. While I know she had my best intentions in mind, I was in no way interested in taking notes for ANYONE. Ever. I am not the note taking kind. I know this about myself. Refer back to the first paragraph. She was in no way thrilled with my headstrong determination to never sit behind a typewriter pounding keys. (Let’s ignore the irony here and proceed with point.)

As a new college freshman, biology major, and the first in my family to pursue education past high school, I headed out that door with a pre-med focus and a fierce determined will. I was a smart girl who was motivated to move my life in a positive direction. Little did I know the field of psychology would sneak in when least expected. Little did I know I would absolutely fall in love with it. What I could not see with chemistry, what did not seem complete with biology, all came together with the more holistic approach of psychology. What could I do but change my major and follow my heart? I made the call. My parents were shocked. Pre-med to psychology? Wow. I was totally unaware that psychology was nothing but fluff and hooey. Needless to say, the phone call did not go well.

I could not even parent the way others suggested. Put that baby down. You should get him out of your bed. How long do you intend to nurse? You know, he could be interested in the breast forever. I’m sure he will, I said, but it won’t be mine. I carried my babies in front packs and slings. They slept in my bed until they moved themselves out. We rarely used a sitter. I gave birth at home. I nursed three until they were two and one until she was four. Yes. I was one of THOSE freaks.

My head is smart. It listens to research and fact and opinion. It applauds the pros and considers the cons. My head is smart, yes, but my heart gives final answer. I know that ultimately I am the only one who has to live with the decisions I make. Well. To clarify, ultimately I and those who come into contact with those who have been on the receiving end of my decisions are the ones who have to live with the decisions I make, which technically could be quite a huge number when you factor in that whole ripple effect, but let’s just boil it down. Ultimately I am the only one who has to be okay with all those ripples I am sending out. My head has learned that if it does what makes my heart sing, then all will be good.

So, right now, what makes my heart sing is to write as I please. I have learned to leave the bullet points and tips and recipes and reviews to another. I can do those, yes, but they do not bring me the joy that does pouring out what is in my heart. Neither does penning pressed and starched researched crap for crusty old academics. So, I will write as I please and speak as I want. I will flit across the page from one rambling thought to another. I will do it because doing so breathes into my life good vibes and groovy feelings, causes my soul to begin swaying its hips, and makes my heart sing, just sing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Secret

I’ll tell you something if you promise not to share. I am very selective with what I write. I know it seems that I lay it all out on the page, but I don’t show you the entire story. I don’t show you even half of what I have. You don’t have the full picture ever. I shine the light on the parts I choose because those are the parts that help me make my point, the parts I am most comfortable sharing, the parts I am able to bring out into the open without fear of feeling too incredibly exposed. But there ARE stories in those other parts, there are a lot of stories in those other parts.

Whenever I look at my first grade picture, I am sad and grateful all at the same time. I had just gotten out of the hospital after a two-week stay. You know this story. I have written on it. I had just turned six. It was that summer before my first grade year, and the five-day virus was not a virus after all. It was something called peritonitis, something that is serious and often fatal, especially when a child is not brought to the doctor in time because there is no money and no insurance. The second opinion doctor told my mother that had she waited even one or two more days, well, I would not be writing this.

But, like I said, you know this story. The story you don’t know is of the little girl in the bed next to me in that hospital room. When I look at my first grade picture, I hate it. It is not me. It is not the happy, free-spirited, smiling me. But I am glad to have it. The little girl in the bed next to me may not have a first grade picture. I don’t know. She was eleven months, maybe twelve. She came in to the emergency room with her parents. There had been a car accident. Her parents were in other rooms struggling for their own lives. Did they leave the hospital? Did they leave alive? I don’t know. What I do know is that the staff asked my mother if this little girl could come into my room so she would have someone with her, someone to nurture and care for her. My mother was with me round the clock. She never left. She also was with this child who lay with her entire tiny leg in a cast, who lay with never a visitor, family, or anyone familiar to comfort her and soothe her cries. The two who could have provided that love and care the most were very possibly no longer living. Was this little girl as lucky as I was to leave the hospital with the gift of life? I don’t know. She was still there after my mother and I packed our bags and went back home. She was still there. Alone.

You’ve read my take on soul mates. You know that I believe we have different types of soul mates, companion, karmic, and twin. You know that my understanding is that companion souls are familiar and comfortable and many and that karmic souls are those with whom we have leftover issues from past lifetimes, those from whom we are here to learn a lesson. You know also that I believe there is only one twin soul, that the twin is us in different form, that we have lived strikingly parallel lives, often choosing the same profession, the same passions, similar vacations, life partners, or spiritual ideologies. You know that from my understanding the twin is not someone we find by seeking and searching, but someone who comes to us as we begin to follow our true life paths, as we grow in mind and spirit and as we begin to reach past our own lives and give to those of others. The twin is someone with whom we are here to work for the good of humanity. It is not about us, it is about the world in its interconnectedness. It is not a love thing as many believe, but a partnership for the greater good. You know all this. I have written this before. What you don’t know is that IF such a concept exists (I am still on the metaphysical fence on this one), IF such a concept exists, I believe I have met my twin. In a way.

Through my essays you know that I am outspoken and chatty and that I live for an audience. You know that I am upbeat and positive and at home on a stage. What you don’t know is that sometimes I feel alone. Sometimes I feel so very alone. I feel alone because, as leader of the group, I am always in the front, always at point. I am never WITHIN that group. I am never a part of that group. I am surrounded by many, yes, and that makes me happy, but I am alone and that makes me sad. I see that I am alone, however, for a reason, and so I tolerate. The aloneness is a necessary part of moving the group. It is my job. It is my reason for existing. And so as I move others, I too move forward. Alone and lonely.

I’ll tell you something else if you promise not to share. I profess to write for YOU, to motivate, to move, to encourage, inspire. And I do. Mostly, though, I write because I can’t stop the words from coming out. I write because I am afraid and because I am curious and because I am overjoyed beyond belief. I write because I have stories in my head that force themselves onto paper. I write because it is therapy without having to cry in front of another. I write because it is my way of working out the issues in my world, my way of hearing my own thoughts, my way of understanding what it is that I believe. I write because I can’t make myself stop. I have tried. So while my head believes that I write for you, that my intent is to move you forward in your life, my heart knows that I write because it is who I am and what I do. My heart knows that I write for me, not for you.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

That Damn Cancer!

I am not much a fan of learning lessons the hard way, but it seems the manner in which I’ve acquired some of my most useful knowledge of this world. I am usually the kicking and screaming sort. I will learn the lesson, dammit, but you will have to drag me into it. I much prefer books and exams and lectures and stories. I much prefer someone sharing a lesson. Life through osmosis. I much prefer witnessing lessons on the news or in the papers or in any public place in general.

Right now, for example, in this neighborhood bookstore I am learning that if you talk that loudly on your phone in a public place everyone will know your business, not that I care to know how much that phone plan will cost you, and not that this information helps me to move forward in my life, but still, now I know. I am also learning in these close quarters on a crowded Sunday afternoon that it is always a good idea to leave home smelling your best and dressing as if you won’t be retiring to bed in the next few minutes. Now, too, thank you to a nice corner table, I know what the owner of my health food store does on her day off. But none of this really is what I would call useful life knowledge. It’s good to know, but I could probably get through life without it. Except for the smelling good part.

No, my most useful life knowledge has beaten me over the head, tied me up, and shouted, “LOOK!! There is a lesson here, darn it and you are going to learn it.” I am like the two year old. I shake my head, stomp my feet, and yell, “No! You can’t make me!!” Still, life is a tough teacher and has a will all her own. I have learned compassion through ridicule, giving through lack, and life through death. I could have gone my whole life without witnessing some of the things I’ve witnessed, but then it wouldn’t have been half the life it is.

It is Thanksgiving. Or close to it. My husband is out of town, not to return for a few days. My six year old and three year old are upstairs sleeping. I am nursing my four-week-old, enjoying a bit of down time. The phone rings. It is my dad. He has something to tell me but is hesitant. He doesn’t want me to bear the news alone. Of course, now, I WILL bear it. One doesn’t announce the need to share bad news without sharing it. I make him tell me. He has a tumor. A tumor on his brain. The doctors say it is inoperable, but that radiation and chemotherapy may help.

A brain tumor? Understand that this is a man who quit smoking cold turkey five years ago. He is a muscle of a man whose body has never seen an inch of fat. He never gets sick. Never. He is the specimen of health. He laughs and jokes and chats up anybody who passes ten feet in front of his face. He, also, I should share, is fifty-two.

And now in my recliner in the dimly lit living room, quietly nursing my newborn, I learn that this man who fathered me, who helped bring me into this world, will soon be leaving it. I cry. A lot. Alone.

The tumor takes up half the right side of his brain. After seven weeks of radiation it has overcome the entire right side. Inoperable. I grow to hate that word. I watch as my dad goes from an active, energetic, looking on the bright side, amiable sort to one who develops a paunch, lashes out, loses hope, and ultimately gives up. A friend tells me in the beginning of her brother, how the cancer went quick after the diagnosis, how I might not think it now, but quick is better, I will be glad for quick. Did she just say that? Has she no feeling?

I am a good four-hour drive from home. I never know. I never know when to leave. I never know when to jump in the car and go. With no family in the area, leaving requires much scheduling, much arranging and rearranging, much preparation and planning on very short notice. And still, I am changing diapers, reading stories, getting one on the bus, the other to preschool, and seeing to bath time and bed. My husband helps, but he is mostly out of town. Three months go by.

I get the call.

The kids are in bed. My husband and I throw them in the car, pajamas and all. Pack: diapers, onesies, clothes for three kids, books, some books, that will be good, keep them busy, how long will we be?, clothes for myself, homework?, calendar, grab the calendar, will need to notify, notify who?, not sure yet, just grab the calendar. How long will we be? Oh, my God. My dad is dying. Now.

My sisters and my mom are in the living room of my parents’ home where my mom has brought in a hospital bed to allow my dad to finish out his last days. He has slipped into a coma at this point in the cancer. It is dark. The rooms are dimly lit, and we are speaking in hushed tones. It is, I don’t know, one or two in the morning, three maybe. My mom calls a friend who is a nurse. The friend has told her to call no matter the time. The friend comes. She stands with us by the bed. She tells us to say our goodbyes, that it is time. She tells us to say our goodbyes and to give him permission, permission to go, to tell him that we love him and that it is okay, that he can go. The gurgling breath, the drooling, the warm body that soon will be cold. We say our goodbyes, and the transition comes. Breathing one minute. Not breathing the next. He pees himself. He is dead. I have just watched my father die. I have just watched someone I love make the transition from life to death. I reach out to touch him, the lifeless skin, devoid of warmth, devoid of soul, not my father, not anyone. I watch as the men come and put him into the body bag. I watch as he is zipped into the bag and carried out.

I didn’t want this lesson, but I have learned to embrace it. It has been eighteen years now, and I have come to learn that watching someone die is the greatest blessing, the greatest gift. When you have seen someone you love make that transition, when you have heard breath stop, when you have been witness to the slipping from this world to the next, you have no doubt what is important in your life, you have no question what matters and what doesn’t, and you feel no shame in saying or doing or being as you see fit. I didn’t want the lesson, but I am glad for it. I am glad for it because now I live my life. I live my life because I know that someday, someday not of my choosing, someone will watch ME as I make that transition, that transition from this world to the next.