We Begin Again

Mom

The so-called little one. I can hear the anguish in his voice a thousand miles away through the one word text message. It’s a terrible thing to lose a hero, especially when they’re so young. Or we are. Or ever, really.

Whether that hero is an icon or a parent, a son or a daughter. We ground our hopes in their vitality and curiosity and tenacity, and through them find our own. But what to do when they are gone?

Kobe died in a helicopter crash.

We feel the loss keenly, the way it reverberates on the heartstrings of our own losses.

Kobe was 41; my husband was 41 when he died.

He died on January 26th; my dear father-in-law died on the same date a few years ago.

His daughter, too; it’s impossibly sad.

I think about a blue-sky day, not long ago. I was out walking my dog when I saw my neighbor walking their dog. A neighbor, and also a friend. Our families have coordinated carpool, celebrated graduations and bar mitzvahs, shared meals and concert tickets.

I cross the street to greet him, and he looks gaunt and pale, almost gray. My stomach clenches, prepared – not prepared, braced – for imminent bad news. I can almost hear the words “I have cancer” before he says them, but what he says is unimaginable. “My son is dead,” and suddenly I understand that this is not a dad with a terminal illness, it is a father in grief, in shock. There are not enough words for this kind of pain. His son was traveling abroad; he was supposed to return home to begin his junior year in college. Catastrophe is not how the story was supposed to go.

There is no way to make sense of this. I have so many questions I do not ask. It won’t make any difference; no answer will bring the boy back.

I have no words. There are no words. Only palpable pain and silence.

I do not want to offer the platitudes I myself had been served. But I probably offer up different ones. Maybe not. I can only hope.

I give him a hug.

“I have no words,” I say.

“There are no words,” he says. And we look at each other for a long moment, until his dog wags her tail and puts her paws up for attention. He smiles wanly, and says “What is there left to do but walk the dog?”

Indeed. There is nothing to say or do, only that I am glad that he told me himself. There is something about the communal breaking of hearts that softens the suffering, if only slightly. And the walking of dogs.

Almost immediately I think of an overcast day a few months earlier, when I met up with a friend whose teenaged son had fallen to his death in a crazy, tragic accident. As I held her she sobbed and said, “How can people walk their dogs?”

Indeed. Normalcy has no place in a world that has been tilted off its axis by so great a loss.

Take care of yourselves, Tuesday people. Walk the dog. Or not.

Inhale, exhale, repeat.

Notice where it hurts.

Shoot baskets until your arms ache.

Shout, cry or talk. Or don’t.

Write. Write a song. Or a poem. Or gibberish. It all counts.

Pray. Or not. Tell God to take Her own flying leap.

Sit and stare vacantly at silent green stems for however long it takes the daffodils to open.

Feed yourself with something good and spicy or sweet and life sustaining. Or both. You are here. You are loved.

Today begins again the healing process. I leash up the dog, who is an enthusiastic partner for the journey, and we spend an hour moving along in companionable silence. We stop to smell the paperwhites, now open, that we’ve been watching for a week. As we are nearing home, I see a woman up ahead on the road. I’ve only seen her once before — two miles ago when our paths met for a short stretch. She smiles broadly as we cross paths again. “Still going!” she says.

I smile in return, “Yes, we are!”

Yes we are. Still going. 

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. You’re still going.

***

Sometimes people ask me what I’m reading these days. Here you go:

Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, by Tembi Locke (If possible, and especially if you aren’t fluent in Italian, I recommend listening to the audio version, read by the author herself.)

 

Imagine

“Just as long as I’m in this world, I’ll be a light of this world.”

~ Joan Osborne

 

We have the opportunity – again, today – to bring this world closer in line with our imagination of how it could be. As we envision a place of equal opportunity, fairness in abundance, and vibrant integrity, we draw those ideals closer to our lived experience.

It is not easy. These dreams do not take root without our participation.

Yesterday I heard an audio clip from a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. His voice rises and falls with passion and clarity, the telltale static in the background betrays the age of the recording. He speaks of freedom from bondage and discrimination and injustice. He encourages us to “keep on keeping on in order to gain freedom.” He urges persistence and consistency in the pursuit of equality and justice and peace.

The reverend’s voice is not the only one I hear speaking with conviction and purpose. Behind me in the pew sits a child, maybe eight or nine years old, reading along and out loud the printed excerpt of Dr. King’s speech. The young voice is cheerful and confident, an emerging reader describing the world as it could be, a place inhabited by people of purpose and character and led by principled leadership. This little voice is not shushed, and is not discouraged by the sluggishness of progress. As I sit listening, this duet fills me with hope: the voice of experience in synchrony with the voice of optimism. We are already the beloved community, and also, we must create a community where each of us feels our belovedness.

We have work to do.

We start by imagining a more just and peaceful world, and then we take steps – little ones, persistent ones, splashy ones – to bring that world to light.

***

Wishing you light and strength on the path toward your dreams. And the freedom to dream out loud.

Thoughts for the New Year

“Yearly reminder: there is no resolution that, if kept, will make you more worthy of love. You, as your actual self and not as some made up ideal, is already worthy.”

~ Nadia Bolz-Weber

 

My actual self, sniffling and sneezing at the moment, is exceedingly grateful that the desiccated tree sits out on the curb and the Christmas CD’s are tucked away in their cases. Or at least stuffed in a drawer. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the holidays, the scent of pine and cedar, of freshly baked bread and ginger and cinnamon, cheerful lights, hugs from cousins we don’t see nearly often enough. Those seasonal treats do fill me with a confidence in the goodness of life and the steadiness of love, which I really appreciate when the holiday blues hit home.

I love finding the perfect gift. It’s my greatest joy. Even better than the thrill of receiving the perfect gift. Although I love that, too.

But sometimes it feels like I’m holding my breath from the time I queue up the Pandora holiday channel until the day I unplug the tree. Finally, the exhale.

Now I can get back to work. And boy do I have work to do. That’s the good news and the bad news.

Today, I am sequestering myself in a little corner of the house, by a window so I can stare into the treetops from whence inspiration might float down to me, a renegade leaf on a breeze. Wrapped in a blanket with a freshly steeped pot of tea and my favorite writing pen. Plus a box of tissues. Strangely, the defective hunting dog is not at my feet. He is miffed that we are not out walking into this morning, and he is consoling himself by crawling back under the covers with the so-called little one, who is home from college for winter break. It’s a dog’s life.

There is a tension between living in the space where we feel our worthiness – right now, just as we are, loved completely, whole – and moving along, taking the next steps, looking forward. What exactly are we looking for if we are already whole? Why move at all? Where might it be possible to to go in order to add to wholeness? Can we live in the pause? Stillness and movement simultaneously in the moment.

The seed already contains the flower, and all that jazz, but it is true that when I stop to feel the fullness of the moment – a complete breath, a grateful heart, a beautiful soul – then grace carries me into the next moment, woefully broken as it may be. When I allow myself to pause, to feel the sadness and fear, the disappointment in songs unsung, this, too, might be exactly the weight required for the next sacred moment. I won’t know until I get there.

I guess I am just trying to encourage you to take your complete and beautiful if ever-so-slightly-glitchy self into the day, with patience and kindness but also with purpose. I’ll do the same.

So, in the spirit honoring the seed in each of us, I offer you this poem:

In Lieu of Flowers by Shawna Lemay

A few years ago I read a friend’s father’s obituary on Facebook. His father had requested in lieu of flowers, please take a friend or loved one out for lunch.

Although I love flowers very much, I won’t see them when I’m gone. So in lieu of flowers:  Buy a book of poetry written by someone still alive, sit outside with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, and read it out loud, by yourself or to someone, or silently.
Spend some time with a single flower. A rose maybe. Smell it, touch the petals.
Really look at it.
Drink a nice bottle of wine with someone you love.
Or, Champagne. And think of what John Maynard Keynes said, “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.” Or what Dom Perignon said when he first tasted the stuff: “Come quickly! I am tasting stars!”
Take out a paint set and lay down some colours.
Watch birds. Common sparrows are fine. Pigeons, too. Geese are nice. Robins.
In lieu of flowers, walk in the trees and watch the light fall into it. Eat an apple, a really nice big one. I hope it’s crisp.
Have a long soak in the bathtub with candles, maybe some rose petals.
Sit on the front stoop and watch the clouds. Have a dish of strawberry ice cream in my name.
If it’s winter, have a cup of hot chocolate outside for me. If it’s summer, a big glass of ice water.
If it’s autumn, collect some leaves and press them in a book you love. I’d like that.
Sit and look out a window and write down what you see. Write some other things down.
In lieu of flowers,
I would wish for you to flower.
I would wish for you to blossom, to open, to be beautiful.

***

Wishing you light and strength as you blossom into this New Year.

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.

Intentional

Alas, I can really only do one thing at a time – and sometimes not even that.

I despise the fact that I cannot accomplish every single thing that I want to do, check off all the items on my to-do list, answer every piece of correspondence, listen to each and every podcast in my queue, read all the novels stacked by my bedside and downloaded on my Kindle, and sort through the ever-growing mounds of keepsakes and god-knows-what-else accumulating in my garage. I resent that I have to pick and choose. I cannot tolerate letting others – and myself – down, but disappointment seems to be the direction I’m heading. I keep running up against the limits of time, endurance, focus, and those boundaries do not yield. I love the decisive, emphatic “yes”! I am not the biggest fan of the word “no,” but I suspect that this very small word might be my greatest advocate at the moment. “No” might hold the key to my sanity, and perhaps I should befriend it.

I feel like I have learned this lesson before. But I seem to have forgotten it somewhere. Evidently, it’s time to learn again.

I am confident that I am not the only one whose inner Wonder Woman struggles with this issue from time to time, fighting the urge to surrender. I wonder whether this resistance is serving my best interests or simply feeding my ego with a nutrition-poor diet of caffeine and dark-chocolate-covered-almonds.

I love caffeine and dark-chocolate-covered-almonds.

After Sam’s death, I was left to juggle all the life-logistics-parenting balls by myself. There were so many to keep in the air: paying the mortgage, showing up on time or at all, washing my hair, feeding the dog, all in addition to the paramount goal of nurturing the health, well-being and grief of my sons and me. The big one was eight years old, and the little one was six. We were devastated. Chores along the lines of getting my car washed never even entered the juggling ring. It was all we could do to get out of bed in the mornings. It didn’t occur to me to write a book. I could not even keep a journal. I could barely answer emails, and when I did, it was during a bout of insomnia, the time stamp on my note betraying my disinclination for sleep. I remember a friend asking me, How do you keep all the balls in the air? The answer, of course, is that I didn’t. On a good day, I got to choose which ones fell to the ground and bounced into the gutter. On a really good day, I tossed a ball to a friend. I focused on the most important things – healing, breathing, moving forward one baby step after another.

We have come so far. It will be ten years in October.

We have cried and laughed and read the entire Harry Potter series multiple times. We have run and prayed and cursed, usually in the same breath. I’ve baked scores of chocolate chip cookies for dozens of teams, groups and guilds. I’ve eaten a truckload of dark-chocolate covered almonds. The boys – not surprisingly – have eaten pretty much everything within arm’s reach. They have become young men. Now I am the little one.

Shortly after Sam’s suicide, a friend of mine who had lost his own father to suicide when he was a similar age to my sons, offered these words: “You will be amazed at what you and your boys will do.” I was encouraged; his was the voice of experience. He and his brother, along with their mother, had traversed this very path – or one similarly formidable – and they had moved forward in their lives with intelligence, joy and a weirdly dark sense of humor. All qualities I admire. He is a smart man and a reliable friend. He was also right. I am amazed. And grateful.

As I start to see the empty-nest phase ahead in my not-so-distant distance, I feel a pressing need to be intentional about my yeses and my nos. To think about why I do what I do. I drop everything whenever any of my four sons needs an assist, but they all seem to be alarmingly self-sufficient these days, so I am thinking about my empty-next phase.

I started writing the blog SushiTuesdays to bring light to others, to share what has helped me, to be a voice for hope for those who struggle with loss, faith and blending families. I write out loud because I think it’s the most effective way to take the stigma out of suicide and mental illness, and because it creates a community. Selfishly, I write to remind myself how far we have all come. I’m so proud of all my boys I can hardly stand it. I write because I think it helps to know that there are others in the same leaky boat. I write because I like to, even though it’s hard, even though I have a ton of shitty first drafts that never see daylight, even though it takes forever – maybe longer – to wrestle those slippery thoughts to the page.

I have shared bits and pieces of my healing journey through presentations, speaking engagements, coffee with friends and on this blog. I am often urged to “write the book.” Those who have been with me from the beginning know that I started the blog sushituesdays.com as a manageable step toward writing “the book.” It has, however, become increasingly clear that the book goal will be more demanding than I had anticipated. So, as the kids are heading back to school, I, too, am turning toward the manuscript more intentionally. It terrifies me to say this out loud. If I push “publish” on this post, it will be no small miracle. But it’s time. From the beginning, I have believed that the blog would help me achieve the goal of writing the book. The weekly discipline, the readers who have found inspiration in my sharing, the positive feedback and encouragement, have all increased my desire to complete the project and my confidence that the book will find an audience. All of which is to say, please forgive me if (when!) I miss my weekly posting goal here on SushiTuesdays.

I’m excited and intimidated.

I’ll be here. We will run into each other online and around town, at the market (after all, I have one teenager still stalking the refrigerator with his irrepressible appetite and his equally ravenous friends). I’ll see you in our favorite local Mexican restaurant and on the trails with my defective hunting dog. I will continue to sprinkle love and light in this space, but it might be on random days of the week. Just saying.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And caffeine and dark-chocolate-covered-almonds.

Family Time

I’m holding on to summer for just a few more days, notwithstanding the compelling evidence that it’s going, going, gone – the college bound bags, packed and tripping distance from the front door, the carton of fresh, bright highlighters and newly-sharpened pencils, the neat stack of textbooks on the dining room table. We are rested and inspired and pretty much ready to embark on the next adventure. And by “we” I mean, not me.

Our oldest son starts law school today, which constitutes clear and convincing evidence that I have been derelict in my maternal duties to talk him out of it. Thing #2 starts his senior year in college today, which seems to indicate that I may have blinked, but that he definitely hasn’t. The so-called little one starts his junior year of high school today, which must be an administrative glitch, because just about three yesterdays ago, he was not much bigger than an overstuffed burrito. I have already snapped (but not posted, as requested) the obligatory first day of school picture. and I’m trying not to think about the fact that he’s the last man standing on our porch now that all his brothers are off to college and beyond. It doesn’t seem possible that next year will be his last first-day-of-school-photograph-by-the-front-door, even though he’s well over six feet tall, because, like a recalcitrant toddler, today he is carrying his shoes in his hands instead of wearing them on his feet. It appears that my son, like me, steps reluctantly into the school year and scheduled life.

We’ve had a full summer, capped by two weeks of travel together with all four of our sons, an extraordinary achievement of organizational prowess and sheer blind luck. In a way, our trip already feels as ephemeral as a pleasant dream; we’ve tossed the luggage tags and boarding passes, posted a few photos and plunged headlong into the next phase, the boys speeding off in four different directions. On the other hand, the sturdiness of our shared experience will hold us for a long time. We thoroughly enjoyed our family togetherness, the planes, trains and even one trifling car-related mishap hardly worth mentioning but that dad will likely hear about for the rest of his days. We explored castles and cathedrals and quiet chapels, toured old cities and initiated a new friendship, spent long evenings featuring Bananagrams and brothers, all punctuated with laughter, local ales and champagne.

I feel the need to point out that we started out as a blended family, but now we are simply a family. The fact that two of our boys have the same exact name occasionally creates some confusion, which my husband and I feel the need to explain. The kids chalk it up to maternal brain damage and keep moving.

If you were counting sons, you might have noticed that I neglected to mention Thing #3. He is flying under the radar, hoping that I haven’t remembered that he finished his summer internship but has another week before heading across the country to his freshman orientation. The truth is that it is not getting any easier to let these kids take that step into college to create their own lives, even though it’s everything he has worked for (and we have encouraged). I’m bracing myself for my mommy meltdown. It has happened twice before already, so I know it’s coming. It might happen when I check the weather in the Midwest, or visit the Patagonia website, scrolling through various styles of sweaters and jackets, wondering which one best keeps the boy warm and dry. It could happen when he tells me about his roommate assignment. Or when I book the one-way plane ticket from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. It might be when I pay the fall term tuition. My husband and I are doling out last minute lectures and advice faster than the boy himself can drive to In ‘n Out for just one more double-double before leaving California. In any case, I have already warned the so-called baby that I am going to cling to his ankles like nobody’s business.

But what if I’m not meltdown-bound? Maybe I’m actually ready this time around? Third time’s a charm? It is entirely possible that I am exemplary at sticking my head in the sand, or that I’m feeling confident because the boy is still in bed at noon, in a bed under my own roof with my own dog at his feet, and not far away in a dorm room with a roommate I cannot threaten or bribe into kindness. It is altogether likely that upon the actual college drop-off, my husband and I will – for the third time running – retreat quickly to the nearest chapel, followed by a lengthy visit to the closest bar.

I guess I won’t know until it happens, so I will just trust that he and I are both ready for the approaching season. All I can do is enjoy where I am.

I take advantage of summer’s light, and I take a leisurely afternoon stroll with the dog, followed by a glass of sauvignon blanc on the porch. I have a book nearby, which I think about reading but don’t actually open. Instead, the dog and I simply watch the sunlight shifting on the mountains, thinking our butterfly thoughts, until it starts to feel too chilly outside, at which point our thoughts turn toward dinner, and we head inside for warmth and rest.

***

Wishing you light and strength on summer’s path. And gentle transitions.

 

The Telemarketer’s Regret …and Mine

You might think that 10 years after her death, Debbie no longer gets phone calls. But she does.

We still have a telephone line at the house. I’m not entirely sure why. The only time we use the number is when we call our local pizza joint for delivery. They have our address and usual order saved under the home phone number. We hardly ever answer when the home phone rings, we only have one telephone with a cord plugged into an actual jack, we rarely remember to check the voicemail and when we do, most of the messages are a combination of clicks and static. Any family or friends trying to reach us will call the office or our cell phones. It seems like the last few times I bothered answering the phone, the “voice” on the other end was recorded or on delay, so I hung up.

I answered the phone again the other day. I’m not entirely sure why. I might not have been in the best, kindest, calmest, most level-headed frame of mind, having just scrolled through a variety of inflammatory political Facebook rants. I took a deep breath and committed my first subversive act of the morning: I got out of bed. And then I blew it. I happened to be right next to the house phone when it rang, so I picked it up. The voice on the other end asked to speak with Deborah.

I did not subject the unsuspecting telemarketer to my own partisan and incendiary thoughts du jour, although she might have preferred that conversation. Instead I said, “I am so sorry. Deborah died in 2007.” Those words might not appear terribly acerbic sitting there in black and white on the page, but they were delivered with some bite. I said two-thousand-seven so slowly and emphatically that year remained suspended in the ensuing silence, like a tangible speech bubble hanging in the air between us. There was a long pause. And then a click. She didn’t call back.

I usually deliver the news of Deborah’s death to the unwitting representative on the other end of the line with a little more gentleness, and the caller often apologizes and promises to update their records. It’s likely that I am giving this brief interaction too much thought, but I don’t feel good about it. The fact of the matter is that you never know what somebody else has going on, and I don’t know a single detail about the woman other than that she called my house. She doesn’t know that I feel protective of my husband and kids, even if I am justifiably annoyed at the outdated record-keeping. Life has its way of forcing strangers to bump into each other, and these exchanges do ripple around the world. I like to think how we interact makes a difference and that I could initiate a happy little wave. In light of the fact that I still receive both mail and phone calls for Debbie, it would be reasonable for me to expect that I will continue to get correspondence pretty much from here on out.

My mother reports that when she gets such calls for my father, she tells them he’s out at sea. Maybe I’ll try that next time.

I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received recently from friends who are facing significant crises: being widowed or divorced, the death of a child, the illness of a parent, or the illness of a child and the death of a parent, a career change, a move, crippling fear, the questioning of faith, lack of direction, an empty nest, a sense of powerlessness. These crossroads are not inconsequential. Maybe it’s the perimenopausal plague. But these issues of life and death, these questions of whether we are spending our time doing the things that are most important in the time we have left seems to be pressing on several of the hearts of women I count among my closest friends. I’m a lot better at fielding these calls.

One friend in particular is struggling to find her way, and I do my best to encourage her. She feels like an overqualified underachiever, a sentiment I am altogether too familiar with. There is a temptation to look at my life and to wonder whether I’ve really accomplished anything. I’m not sure how, precisely, one would measure the value and the impact of a life. We just have to show up and do our best. As Anne Lamott says, we get our work done, one inadequate sentence at a time.

The prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” is as much about living in the moment as it is about grace. The phrase could just as easily read, “Give us this day our daily work,” because having purpose and meaning is essential. Or “Give us this day our daily invitation,” because sometimes we need a little guidance. Or “Give us this day our daily hug,” because every day requires moments of love, encouragement and gratitude. Ten years from now I might look back and see my efforts taking a defined shape, but for today I need only accomplish this day’s task.

It’s not exactly glamorous.

I’m sitting at the dining room table with my cup of tea and my laptop, and my fantasy of working while the boys do their homework in my general vicinity remains unrealized. I left the office early to pick up one child from school, and the cup of tea he asked for is quickly becoming tepid on the kitchen counter. He sat down for a minute and fell sound asleep. The life of a teenage student athlete. I’m contemplating drinking his tea. Or giving up on my project altogether and doing something even more pointless, like matching athletic socks. The high school senior is awake and has surrounded himself with all the tools of engagement – his iPad, binder, mechanical pencil and a textbook. But then I hear a burst of laughter from the next room, and I suspect that he is not, in fact, working on his economics assignment.

I remind myself that it’s not my job to do all the work. I only have to do mine.

The next call comes on my cell phone from a number I recognize. A familiar and much-loved voice says, “Hey! Guess what?” I cannot help but smile. The boy and I have come a long way. Ten years ago, we were strangers. Today we are family. Together, one day, one conversation, one invitation at a time, we have created our own mother-son relationship. Which is a beautiful thing in this world. And no small accomplishment.

I’ve done some things well and failed at others. I am a work in progress, but the telephone will undoubtedly ring again, and I will get another chance to create a kinder, gentler ripple.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And telephone calls that make you smile.

Signposts

(Or, How to Read Rejection Letters)

 

We did it!

And by “we” I mean, he. The boy did all the work, making the grades, preparing for the tests, writing the essays, navigating the Common App, asking teachers for recommendation letters, and submitting the applications. My role in this process has been limited to Chief Financial Officer. I handed over my credit card for the application fees and (mostly) kept my fretting to myself. It’s not my first time at the rodeo, you know.

Of course, each child is different, and his process has likewise been unique to him. The boy really wanted to know what his options were (that’s my kid!), so he chose not to put all his eggs in an early decision basket but to cast a wide net and see what he draws forth. He has thought about schools from his home in California, across several Midwestern states and including a school or two on the east coast. Plus one in Texas, just for shits and giggles, as they say. He has a confidence about his having a place and seems perfectly content to spend the next three months just enjoying his senior year in high school without obsessing over where exactly his post-graduation steps will take place. He has submitted his final application, completing this part of the whole process, and he is delighted now to do nothing. I’m not sure whose child he could be.

Now the thing to do is to wait for envelopes big and small, email notifications and updated portals. Here’s the challenge: waiting is nothing at all like doing. The kid seems to be fine with it, but it’s making me a little crazy. Or to be fair, crazier than usual.

It is his journey, however, so my role is to sit quietly, which I do, and here’s my epiphany: acceptance and rejection letters are only signposts pointing toward the next step. They are not a judgment on performance or character, they are not a prediction of future success, they should not form the basis for self-worth. Especially parental self-worth. They are simply red or green arrows for today. Oh, this is much easier said before those puny, pathetic letters arrive, lurking in the mailbox like a noxious cloud, released into an unsuspecting hand. But if it is possible to settle into the knowledge – even before the applications are sent toward a committee of admissions personnel – that each one of us has a place already reserved in the human journey, then we can sit confidently and await the next set of directions.

Sometimes – when that small envelope arrives unexpectedly, dashing dreams the way only two dismissive sentences can do – the only answer is chocolate. Don’t bother trying to find a substitute. There are simply not enough French fries in the world to overcome the deficit. Chocolate is the only way. Personally, I go for a simple, solid dark variety, although occasionally a rich chocolate cake is the ticket. And then, with a little antioxidant lift, you can read the single page missive and think of it simply as a road sign. It might say Yield, or Do Not Enter, possibly Detour. Maybe it’s a full Stop. It’s likely too soon to tell. Or maybe, it’s a green light in a direction you didn’t anticipate going, on a road you might never have traveled otherwise, but that you actually enjoy. You never know. Those letters – big and small – are simply possibilities. They are what you decide to make of them. It’s still up to you.

The boy doesn’t seem to need my advice. He is at ease finding his own path. Which is as it should be. As I look ahead to another high school graduation, perhaps I am not wondering so much about what the boy’s next step will be, but about mine. I have traveled together with him for eighteen years, and I suspect my own steps will falter without him far more than his do without me.

But I take comfort in my own advice. As the boy progresses forward in his young life, I, too, will find more than one little green arrow pointing me toward new possibilities.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your forward path. And extra chocolate, just in case.

Day One

I’m embracing New Year’s more enthusiastically than usual, and not only because 2016 featured several stunning disappointments, but that might have statistical significance. We ended the year by gathering our little family together, and my heart is full.

I resolve to spend the first day of the year sitting in front of the fire that my husband started until I finish reading the book in my lap. Granted, it’s a quick read – 150 small pages, big print, little words – but still. I’m not going to wait for a nasty virus to put me down. I’m going to put my tail in this chair and let the Christmas decorations linger in the living room beyond their expiration date. I’m going to choose stillness.

I’m not especially gifted at stillness. The hum of the washing machine and the dryer betray the fact that I must have gotten up at some point to switch out the laundry. When the washing machine stops the next time, however, I do not budge from my spot in front of the fire. I read for a few more minutes, I gaze at the flames, I watch the cat curled up contentedly in his own chair. Then I finish the book. And when I’m done, I sit a little longer.

I practice more intentional stillness. I’ve been cooking nonstop since Thanksgiving, and while I’ve got the ingredients for a lovely dinner tonight, the kids all have other plans, so I decide not to prepare any of it. Well, that’s not entirely true. I make my husband’s favorite part, the apple pie, and whip up actual whipping cream, and we eat that for dinner together on this hearth.

And then I stare at the blank white pages of my 2017 calendar – not electronic pages, actual paper pages that I can write on with the ink pen in my hand. I love the promise of a new calendar. I stare at those white pages with my heart wide open and dream. I’ve got plans for one graduation in May and one July wedding, but as for the rest of the year…? I wonder what this next trip around the sun will bring. For today, I sit still and soak up the energy and possibility of a new day.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your New Year’s path. And peace.

Intention

Morning’s sun rises, undeterred and formidable.
A warm smile
A gentle hug
A kindness
A moment of calm
A creative thought
A grateful heart
A compassionate shoulder
In song
In word
In a steaming mug or a chilled glass
In a full breath,
The first miraculous, squalling breath of a newborn.

The essential mandate:
Let there be light,
And there was.

Find it.
Hold on.

The pinpoint seems a small comfort,
Powerless
Insignificant
In the face of extraordinary darkness,
But that little light means everything.