Crosswalk Contemplations

I can’t let it go. I don’t know why it bugs me so much – other than the obvious, that I’ve been a tad skittish in crosswalks ever since my beloved father-in-law was killed in one. I keep thinking about the vitriolic tweet from someone I don’t even follow maligning a woman who stopped to stretch in the middle of the crosswalk while the driver waited (impatiently) so she could proceed to her vitally important meeting/conference/class/I’m not exactly sure. I totally get how annoying it would be to pause for the insouciant stretcher, but I keep wondering… what did it cost the tweeter to wait, really? Twelve seconds? Maybe?

I walk nearly every day. I drive just as often, which is not for the faint of heart in Los Angeles. I, too, might be running late, occasionally through no fault of my own.

The other day I was at a four-way-stop, the faithful and defective hunting dog at my side, and a car stopped in each direction. I was lucky. This particular intersection features a narrow curb, a rarity in a town whose streets don’t often include sidewalks, giving me slight protection. I know all four drivers can see me. I know they all have places to go at 8:00am. So do I. As the pedestrian, I even have the right of way. I also have the most to lose if we collide. So I wait.

The suit in the Audi, the Suburban driving carpool, the Honda with the music, the Kia sporting the bumper sticker, all proceed without even acknowledging me. I don’t see how they didn’t see me – I’m up on the curb with the world’s most handsome dog. Nevertheless, I wait. Next up looks to be a teenager, likely on her way to school. She waves me through, and not for the first time this week, I find hope in today’s youth. But really, how long did I wait? Twelve seconds, maybe?

Let’s just say – on the driving side and on the walking side – this confluence of people moving in conflicting directions happens five times each day, it’s only a sum total of sixty seconds, one minute per day dedicated to other people.

I don’t know. Maybe the self-important driver truly doesn’t have a minute to spare in her day. But I doubt it.

What would happen if I made a conscious effort to spread that 12-seconds around every day, five times a day? What would I do with that minute? Say a prayer? Take a breath? Sit still? Does it matter? I’ve certainly wasted 12 seconds in far lesser pursuits – internet shopping, gossiping, biting my fingernails, scrolling through my Twitter feed….

The truth is that I witness far more examples of momentary warmheartedness in my daily walk (and drive) – a nod, a smile, an offer, a kind word – than toxic crazy.

What if I make it a practice to hold on to these interactions with so much passion that the occasional noxious belch is fleeting, while the kindness endures and empowers? The FedEx guy holds the elevator door for the octogenarian attorney who meanders down the hall, the minivan slows in a construction zone, a young child compliments another’s shoes. I am reminded that many of us are moving in concert.

Strangers extending the conscious effort to honor each other, giving and receiving twelve seconds of kindness. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it makes a difference.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And twelve seconds of kindness.

Belated

Just when I think I’m going to catch my breath, another of life’s waves crashes in, reminding me with aplomb that I am not in charge, not even of the little things like birthdays or carpool or dinner. Or big things, like birthdays and carpool and dinner. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. The ancient cat is hungry again, reminding me in a persistent and peevish wail that I have failed – once again – to tend to what matters most. Thank goodness we have each other.

The holidays have been a scene, people. Mostly good. Really good, actually. Lots of time with our practically grown-up children, who are thoughtful and funny and smart. We’re down to one sole surviving teenager living at home, and he is more than willing to share the focus under the parental microscope with his siblings. But I could have done without the three funerals, unexpected visits to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, and distressing news about the health of the people I care about most. When the seasons of life overlap with the holiday season, the cognitive dissonance is real.

I don’t know why I still hold on to the naive faith that the holidays should be immune from the touch of ugliness, hostility, or other trauma, as if the whole season could be suspended for a short time, safe from the full range of life’s offerings, and display only its happiest parts sporting fresh hair cuts and ironed shirts. Like how it looks in everybody’s holiday cards, mine included.

You would have known this if I had managed to get cards out sometime before the Epiphany. But I didn’t.

I have some really compelling excuses, too. Most of them involving licensed emergency responders, the ancient cat and a fire hydrant. Not necessarily in that order.

Let me add, for the record, that I love holiday cards. All the holidays. All the cards. I love sending them and receiving them. I love the formal family photographs and the blurry snapshots, I read every newsletter, poem and sentimental greeting. I rush to the mailbox, thrilled to see the stack of cards bringing good tidings of great joy, whether handwritten or preprinted. I collect them in a rising pile and wait to open them until I have time to sit with my husband and a glass of Pinot Noir. We take our time. Together we share delight in the blessings experienced by our friends and family from all over the place. This year, that moment did not arrive until well after 2018 had expired. Even so, as we opened each envelope, we laughed and smiled and made note of new addresses and bouncing new arrivals and shiny new degrees, and it was all well and good.

Until my husband asked whether we had mailed our cards. It’s a reasonable question. We had even taken a family picture with this intention. But as the ho ho ho turned boo hoo hoo, this particular project seemed to lose ground on the list of priorities. I confess that I had been considering punting on the cards entirely this year. I was ready to put this particular season behind me, eagerly looking forward to the end of the holidays. I was relieved when I prematurely relegated our explosion of Santas and snowmen and angels back to their red and green containers in the garage and kicked that crispy pine to the curb.

Lucky for me, I am married to a man who understands that there is no set expiration date for sending love to friends and family. “So what if the cards arrive after Valentine’s Day? Or even tax day? I don’t care, do you?”

I guess not. But I might feel ever so slightly better if we could maybe just agree that the time for red and green could be extended to include anything in the seasonal vicinity of hearts, clovers, limericks and leprechauns.

It is true that I have been personally cheered by the renegade Christmas card’s arrival in February, camouflaged amidst the catalogs and bills. It’s like finding that lost watch in the dresser drawer after searching everywhere else for weeks. It is also true that I married into extended families who have embraced me as their own, and one of the great things about giant families is that they practice acceptance for a wide swath of humanity and its correlated quirks. Sure, it can be complicated, but I am incredibly blessed. There are too many holiday festivities to count, a few additional hospital visits, more accomplishments to celebrate, many extra miles to drive. If the increase in family hoopla means that the so-called season’s greetings will arrive after St. Patrick’s Day, so be it.

This will sound ridiculous, but one of my favorite parts of the sending ritual is addressing each envelope. Whether I write the address out by hand, or use a printed label, I think about the recipient, acknowledging our relationship and offering a silent blessing. As I put the cards together, I think about how our paths crossed: preschool, college, church, work, kids, family camp, basketball, foosball, and pool halls. They represent a variety of faiths and alma maters. There are new-this-year-but-already-cherished names on the list. Also family members and longtime friends I have never known life without. They live all over the place. Some whose devastating losses and silent struggles I am aware of. Many whose difficult times I will not know about until years from now, if at all. Most of them are people who stuck with us through our own darkest days. Several have achieved success and acclaim and great love. Quite a few of my nearest and dearest, I am sorry to say, hold regrettable political views. Some of my favorites are even Patriots. I know, scandalous. Nearly all of them have celebrated life with us – weddings, birthdays, graduations, bat mitzvahs, new jobs and New Years. I marvel at the extent of my community. Their diversity and tenacity and kindness inspire me.

Sadly, almost every year, I remove a name or two from the list, those who, though dearly loved and greatly missed, can no longer be reached by post. I take an extra moment to hold these dear ones – too many this year – in my heart. To honor the light each has brought to my life, to wish them well. Like my husband, I believe that it is not too late to offer good wishes. And yet, this reminder that we do not know how much time we might have together motivates me to get the much-belated-but-no-less-heartfelt cards on their way.

I make a pot of tea, because the list is long. I even light a candle this year. I will get them done. Even though it will take a bit longer this year, because I am bound to screw up several addresses. And I will pause frequently to feed the ancient cat.

***

Wishing you light and strength. And belated but heartfelt holiday greetings!

Process

I write much the same way as I pack for a long weekend away:

I think about where I’m going for days, weeks, even months in advance. I imagine, flirt with and fanaticize about how wonderful it will be.

I walk the dog, pondering my experience, and return home full of inspiration and motivation, dizzy with excitement and optimism.

I forget every thought in my head, caught up in the daily caffeinated swirl of kids, cat, dog, school, work and home.

I repeat the above practice daily.

I panic, realizing that time is short, and I’ve done NOTHING to prepare. I cannot remember a single thing I need and I cannot settle on where to start.

I wonder if it’s too early to eat lunch.

I throw a bunch of stuff out there, maybe write a list, but more likely just compile a ton of pieces I think might be handy along the way.

I go to the fridge to determine whether my leftover veggie enchiladas are still in the there or if my teenager has already eaten them, leaving me only the empty container. Sometimes, I get lucky.

I check the weather, realize I’ve made a strategic error, and throw eight more essentials on the growing stack.

I rearrange the pile. And frown.

I get overwhelmed and think about doing something else – queuing up a podcast, getting the car washed, calling my mother, shopping for a housewarming gift. I add those items to the list and, once again, attempt to get down to business.

I receive a panicky text message from my teenager who forgot his [fill in the blank: calculator, iPad, team jersey, lunch money, dorm key, and yes, he lives in another state a thousand miles away]. I marvel that boys survive to adulthood. I grab the car keys, vow to finish the project after just this one errand.

Lunch, two loads of laundry, three chapters of a novel and one trip to the grocery store later, I return to the pile of good intentions, waiting patiently for me to sift through it, and I check the clock. Am I really going to tackle this before [fill in the blank: the kids get home, the scheduled conference call, the dog’s vet appointment]?

I make a cup of tea – iced or hot, depending – and I sit. I find the cookies where I hid them from the kids. I wonder if this whole enterprise is all too much trouble and I should cancel my plans. It’s expensive, glitchy, and who will really notice or care? I eat another cookie.

Sigh. I care.

I dash off a few emails. With considerable restraint and a hint of intention, I close all the other open windows on my laptop, but not before sending a quick note to my niece.

Inhale, and dive in. I’m ready to work.

Reset Wifi.

Now, I work.

I look at what I’ve done so far. I realize I’ve got way more stuff here than makes sense. I cannot carry this comfortably, so I dig in and really start thinking about what’s important. Reluctantly, I let a few things go, putting them carefully back in a drawer for another time.

Things are starting to come together, and I’m feeling good until I realize that in the midst of my focus, I totally forgot my own haircut appointment. The one I planned months ago. Missed it completely. Not by minutes, by several hours. I call and beg the salon to take me, because every trip is made better by a fresh haircut. Mercifully, he makes time for me. I feel five pounds lighter without having to give up dark chocolate or red wine.

I return home, but the pile has still not packed itself neatly into my travel bag. I peruse the weekend’s itinerary and get back to the task at hand.

I notice the cat has been eerily quiet… I get up to check that he’s: 1) inside the house, and 2) still breathing. He is. I notice the combination furball-cat-vomit on the carpet but, like a teenager, pretend I didn’t see it, hoping that my husband will take care of it later. He does.

I remember something important I had forgotten. Really important, like the-whole-reason-for-this-trip-in-the-first-place-important. I marvel that I have survived to adulthood.

The wizened cat sits on my handiwork. He looks pleased. Or maybe he has just declared it good enough. Mission accomplished.

With gratitude and surrender, I tuck everything into place and I’m ready to go.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And joy in the journey.

Touchstones

Sometimes it’s like he’s just really far away, on a secret mission in an undisclosed location, beyond cell coverage, without a return ticket. There’s no way to reach him or leave a note. He’s not coming back, and he’s not sending any text messages, not even a single, solitary poopy emoji. And yet, oddly, there’s still a relationship.

My son says, “People don’t get it. To them it seems like forever ago, even if it’s only been six months, and that everything is normal again. They don’t understand that, even after it stops being news for everyone else, you’re still living it every day.” Grief takes its own sweet time.

I return to this place, the cemetery where Sam was buried more than a decade ago. I am here for the funeral of a man I never met, the father of a friend. I show up early, early enough to visit Sam’s plot before the service begins. I do not come here often, sometimes years pass between my visits, but I know exactly where he lies. There’s been a lot of construction around the site in the last ten years, but I have no trouble finding Sam’s spot. I park at the bottom of the hill and climb up. When the boys were little, the slope seemed so much steeper and farther. Now they could ascend the hill in about three steps.

A sacred friend planted a gorgeous pine tree in Sam’s honor on the Lake Arrowhead property where we attended family camp together for many happy summers. The pine was planted on the edge of the lawn where they hold Shabbat services, the Friday sunset observance, ushering divine peace into open hearts on a warm evening breeze.

The so-called little one went to his junior prom over the weekend. When he was trying on his tux at the rental shop, another mom commented, “Your son looks just like you,” which thrilled me but also made me laugh. This is the second time in seventeen years that anyone has told me this child looks like me. The first person to say so retracted her statement about ten seconds after she said it. “Actually…,” she paused. “He looks a lot like Sam.” In fact, more people say he looks like his step-father than say he looks like me. But anyone who knew Sam recognizes the soft brown eyes, the gentle smile, the mischievous glint.

The gravestone is tarnished, worn by rain and sun and time. The inscription reads, “Let it not be death but completeness.” This site is also accessible by a walking path. I chose this spot specifically so that his parents could reach it easily – no hill climb required – but these days his mother is too fragile to spend time here with Sam. His parents’ declining health is a touchstone that reminds us of the depth of the loss. Intellectually, I know that he does not exist in this earthy plot of green, but it holds a strange gravity. The boys have lived longer without their father than they did with him, longer with their step-father than their biological one, and I am humbled to tears by the vastness of love that continues to hold these boys.

The pine tree is only a few years old and a few feet tall. We expect it to thrive. It has been nourished with this blessing: “May it grow tall and strong as a reminder of a good man, husband and father.”

More than a few friends have commented that the boy looks the spitting image of his father in the prom pictures. Not one says he looks like me. I think Sam would say that the boy looks exactly like himself. It’s not so painful anymore, although sometimes I ache with a longing, wishing that Sam could see the young man his son has grown into, both the boy and me looking for a sign of his father’s approval.

I sit at Sam’s side for a few moments. I don’t really need this place to “talk” to him. I pretty much speak my mind whenever, wherever. I offer up a prayer, and while I often simply sit with folded hands to pray, I make the sign of the cross here in the cemetery and imagine Sam’s lopsided smile. He would be thoroughly amused that his Christian wife had arrived entirely too early. I can almost hear him, “Didn’t I teach you anything about standard Jewish time?”

We didn’t go to family camp last summer. Instead, our now family of six decided to take our first international trip. Our traditions have served us well, providing a foundation for our future family adventures together.

In the same way that I didn’t want the boys to avoid their grief and sadness, I didn’t want them to avoid this physical place. It’s impossible, after all, not to bump into these moments. Like a friend, who happens to be at the same restaurant, Sam’s life – and his death – cross our paths, often in ways we aren’t anticipating. The funeral, prom night, summer plans, bring us in touch with the mystery that somehow – even after Sam’s death – we have a relationship, a connection, a sacred communion. Our memories become more blessing than suffering, and we draw strength, warmth, shade and comfort.

These moments bring us back to the intersection where he lost his life, and where we are continuing with ours.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path.

An Approximation of Psalm 23

Good Lord, I have a lot of talented, thoughtful friends. Who could have imagined such abundance?

She goes to the grocery store for me, so I can lie down in the grass and stare at the clouds.

She teaches me to meditate.

She touches my life with humor; I cannot resist the urge to laugh.

One sacred friend sends me notes of encouragement every morning, and every evening, I trust her gentle light to guide me forward.

They do not leave me alone, these princess warriors; they send flowers, text messages and emails; they make cards and phone calls; they go with me to the therapist’s office and the attorney’s.

She takes me out to lunch and patiently lets me cry.

She shows up on my doorstep with Pinot Noir and dark chocolate.

So many provide my family with meals that I need a calendar to keep track of them all; there are not enough days in the month for so many dinners.

She reminds me who I am;

And I cannot help but to share this love myself, to participate in this proliferation of beauty and light.

A Spot of Blue

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So I’ve got this fuzzy blue yarn sticking to my black jacket, and I’ve decided to let it ride. I was having breakfast with my bestie best a few weeks ago, and she was using this particular yarn in a creative project. Some of the blue fuzz stuck to me when she hugged me. She tried to neaten me up and take it off my lapel, but I nabbed it and stuck it back on the front pocket. I like the slightly messy, totally silly, random reminder that somebody who loves me left her mark, kind of like the baby urp badge of honor but without the lingering slightly sour smell.

Blue fuzz. I’m a Sesame Street girl, so I grew up with a fondness for fuzzy blue critters. If Grover does not make you smile and feel like skipping across the room, then I really do not know how to help you.

You don’t have to skip, but I recommend that you do.

Because yes, life is heartbreaking and horrifying. It’s scary and people can be cruel and selfish and entitled, refusing to clean up after themselves or put their grocery carts back. There’s death and illness and all manner of hostility and ignorance and crazy. And there is still goodness and silliness and yoga, smiles and hugs and laughter, dark chocolate covered almonds, champagne and baby giggles and butterflies, and the occasional art project that leaves love all over the map.

Somewhere in the course of today I hugged that blue fuzz onto somebody else. And it’s okay. Because some things are better shared, and blue fuzz is definitely one of those things.

***

Wishing you love and light on your path. And a little spot of blue fuzz.

Sprout

Oh, it is impossibly hard to begin again
when you’ve lost everything.
That tiny little leaf at the tip of the fragile green stem futile
against the whole world.
A giant undertaking,
overwhelming,
breathtaking,
altogether too much for one tiny seed.

And what difference will it make?
Is it even worth the effort?
Who cares?

Progress is slow,
imperceptible,
virtually unrecognizable.
The creative process discouraging.

You do it anyway.
Grow,
little by little,
one cell at a time.
One drop of rain.
One ray of sunshine.
One dark night.
Another. Another. Another.

You can’t help it.
It’s your nature.
It’s who you have been.
It’s who you are meant to be.

You realize
the sunlight, the raindrops, the winds of change and earthy roots
– this entire world –
has been working with you the whole time,
not pressing against you.
Protecting, nurturing, cheering you forward,
pressing you outward,
drawing you up to where
we can admire
your whole beautiful self.

Love & Laundry

Tuesdays are my devoted time to listen to my heart’s longing. What do I need more of in my life? What am I hungry for? Where am I holding tension? Do I need to breathe and stretch? Or go for a long walk? Or take a short nap? What will bring me peace in this moment? What do I want for lunch?

It is not a day to catch up on laundry or correspondence, tempting though that may be. I confess, however, that I can hear the dryer’s gentle rhythm from where I’m sitting, and I’m the only one home. Or at least the only one home with opposable thumbs. Clearly, I have been remiss.

Sometimes I need to remind myself of the preeminent Tuesday rule: “Unless you are, in fact, on fire AND I gave birth to you, it can wait until Wednesday.” This was the standard I implemented shortly after Sam’s suicide and kept as I navigated life as a single mother of two sons, and then continued as a newlywed and mother to four sons, and even now as those baby birds are leaving the nest. It’s a helpful practice because, of course, as life’s demands shift, the mental, physical and emotional reserves I require likewise change.

My Tuesday practice involves more than just filling my incoming stream with positive messages and images, although that’s nice. A real Charlotte Shabbat requires paying attention to my own self: how I am feeling in the moment, noticing where I feel stress, what ideas take my breath away, inspire me or infuriate me. It allows me to see what I’m afraid of and find ways to nurture my courage and strength. I cultivate calm in the swirl of crazy. I feel the fullness of what I’m grateful for and the ache of what I am longing for. I ask a lot of questions. What am I trying to get away from? Or closer to? And how on earth could I fill an entire washing machine – twice – with nothing but white athletic socks?

I take a deep breath and resolve to sit still and embrace the fact that I am a child of the universe, to marvel at the love that supports me on life’s journey. There is something deeply comforting about sitting so quietly that I can feel the reverberations of my own heart’s beating and knowing that that’s enough. All that life requires of me in this moment is to be.

Suddenly, I wonder if there are any fun surprises in whatever the mailman just dropped off. This epiphany occurs just as the cat is coughing up a fur ball on somebody’s sweatshirt, and my thoughts return to laundry. Clearly, I need more practice at my Tuesday practice.

To my great relief, sitting quietly on Tuesdays is not the only path to love and light. The other day I was sorting through old stuff when I came across a folder that a friend had put together for me, a blue folder with a spreadsheet including the names and contact information for friends who volunteered to help me. There’s a column with suggested tasks and errands that I might call upon them for, such as dinner delivery, grocery shopping, childcare, carpool, walking the dog, even household repairs, the many daily ways that families show their love and care. Not surprisingly, many of the names belong to people that I am still close to, friends I’ve had dinner or coffee with already in 2018. There are some I’ve lost contact with, or whose children now attend different schools. No doubt many of the email addresses are no longer valid. But the most astonishing thing about the list, the part that humbles me to the point of tears as I run my fingers gently over the names is that it is three pages long. There are one hundred and nineteen names. More names than there are socks in my dryer. It’s formidable.

Know that it matters when you show up and put your name on the list, whether you think it’s no big deal or you worry that it’s not nearly enough, and particularly on a day when living with teenagers has reduced your sanity and self-confidence to imperceptible levels. You make a difference.

I just wanted to say that out loud.

Bruins and Trojans

“It’s so nice to see you!”

I smile and reply, “It’s nice to see you, too!” That’s the transcript of our entire conversation. The dog and I continue on our run, but the smile and the connection stay with me.

This woman is like me, out walking her hapless dog, and she is also, like most everyone I know, someone to whom life has dished out some big-time-heart-break. Politically, we have – shall we say – divergent views, and I almost wish I didn’t know this about her. It might be easier to offer a smile and a hug. Ignorance is bliss, after all. But does it have to be so hard?

I reach into my UCLA Bruin heart and say hello to a lot of USC Trojans. I send quite a few Christmas cards to Trojan friends, I host several of them at my own table, and I even have one on speed-dial. Trojan-provided scones blessed my family’s breakfast just last week. On one notable January First in recent Rose Bowl history, I personally donned the cardinal and gold (you will have to ask my Trojan bestie for the photos) and encouraged the team. I do believe that Fight On is the greatest college slogan ever. Make no mistake, I am not a fan. It’s just that life is bigger than the teams that play. I reach into my Rice Owl heart and sport a sincere “Sic ‘em!” for my son’s Baylor Bears and even the occasional “Hook ‘em!” for my friend’s daughter at the University of Texas.

Kindness and compassion and beauty are bigger than the teams on the field. They just are.

In a Christmas sermon, the priest says how amazing it is that God came to us in the vulnerable form of a baby to bring His light into the world. Herod was so afraid of being de-throned by the baby king that he killed all the infant boys to secure his own power, and the wise men wisely skipped town so as not to lead Herod to the The King. See how wonderful God is to bring light into the darkness? And all this holy hoohah landed on me completely askew. All I could think was, What about the mothers of all those innocent children? Would she have preferred the dark world so long as her son was spared? I would.

I don’t need a God who justifies the loss of life for His win. We have military generals for that. I don’t think God calculates and plans. I believe in a God whose heart breaks with any child’s death, the shepherd who saves the ninety-nine and the one. I admire the Father who doesn’t keep score and certainly doesn’t divide His own children into camps of winners and losers. I believe we have much work to do to bring that sort of existence to life, but that’s the light I would like to contribute to the world. Regrettably, this means opening my heart to…, well, everyone, even Trojans.

I do not believe in a Divine One who closes his heart to the suffering of a family – or any single person – for the sake of the greater good. Likewise, I don’t think closing my heart is the answer. Closed hearts fester; they become suffocated with bitterness, resentment and fear. Broken hearts heal, open to each other, vulnerable enough to love and to be loved. Yes, there is a time to protect the wounded heart, to stay safely in the cocoon, gathering strength. And then comes the time to open, to connect, to shine. We need more love, not less.

We were at a concert the other night, and the conductor explains, “This piece contains the emotional history of humanity. Music is where we connect with each other beyond language and time, and each one of us – composer, performer and audience – plays an integral role in this holy trinity of music. This,” and he holds up the sheet music, “cannot be erased by the victor.” And all I can think is, Yes, this is the kind of power I can believe in. A Divine Music beyond the confines of time and space and out of the dynamic of winners and losers. A God who wears every single color – or the whole entire rainbow – and who shows up and says, “It’s so nice to see you.”

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And more love.

Her Name is Yvette

Her name is Yvette. My cancer-fighting, morning-walk-smiling friend whom I haven’t seen for weeks now. I worry about her when I don’t see her regularly, which I haven’t now for several weeks, and it takes me a second to register that it is Yvette, because when we cross paths she’s usually on a certain side of the street. Today, she’s on the opposite side of the street from where I expect to find her, and I’m so happy to see her that I dart across the street where she offers a giant hug. She tells me that she has what her doctors call “chronic cancer,” and that her current regimen of chemotherapy keeps it in check but doesn’t cure it. She laughs and nods with her knitted-cap-covered head, “I don’t think my hair will ever grow again,” and abruptly changes course, “but really, I’ve been worried about you!”

Her generosity moves me. Yvette might not know what I am carrying in my heart or on my daily walk, but she knows that in this life, all of us are handed losses. We lose – often more than we win – but the trick is to stay in the game. And if you find a friend along the way, win or lose, it’s a good day. My heart is lifted by her presence, by the knowledge that she is looking out for me, just as I am looking out for her.

***

Next I see Kathy. I don’t really know her either, but what I do know is this: her beautiful black standard poodle is a rescue whose history includes abuse. His previous owners called him Diablo. Whenever we see each other out with our respective dogs, which is about once or twice a week, one of us crosses to the opposite side of the street to give the dog-formerly-known-as-Diablo his space. We wave and smile and keep moving.

But I almost don’t recognize her with the black lab. It’s her son’s dog, she explains. Then she tells me that just a few days prior she had had to euthanize her beloved black poodle. Totally unexpected. Completely heartbreaking. Within a few hours after that she received more news: her daughter-in-law was going into labor, and by morning she had delivered a healthy baby boy. Overwhelming joy. Devastating loss and utter bliss in the space of a few hours. The one has nothing to do with the other; both have everything to do with the human capacity for love.

***

On the final hill, I spot a lucky penny. It is scratched and dented and bent and rough. It has been through the penny wringer. Probably twice. The sorriest looking talisman I’ve seen in a long time. Even so, it makes me smile, reminding me that inspiration comes from the unexpected and unlikely. I pick the penny up and tuck it safely into a pocket.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And friends to keep you going.