Tuesday Light

I was going to take the day off. No real reason, just several lame excuses.

Then a friend asked me to be sure to post this week because her Tuesday gets off-kilter if I don’t. Truth be told, I feel the same.

So I tried. I started a half a dozen different starts. And deleted them all.

Then the septic pump broke.

Again.

I thought maybe that would be a good enough excuse.

But still.

I start again. This time with some constructive avoidance: I read a few paragraphs from a book I occasionally find inspiring, and there was a story about some dude – he’s like a chef on a cruise ship – and he’s made this gorgeous meal for everyone on board, about four thousand people, and no more than three minutes later his entire staff starts complaining that they’re hungry and there’s nothing to eat, except for one boring loaf of bread. And the chef-dude is completely flummoxed. The pastry chef is whining that the maître-D forgot to bring the appetizers, and everyone is yelling and bickering like children in the back of a station wagon with no air conditioning. And the chef-dude says, Seriously?

The entire staff stares back at him blankly, as if he’s speaking to them in Greek. And he says, Don’t you people get it? We are all in the same leaky boat.

But they don’t get it. So the chef-dude exhales a huge longsuffering sigh, and he picks up the one, woefully inadequate loaf of bread, and he says, Whatever you do with love and gratitude blesses everybody. And that’s enough. Even more than enough.

And then he goes back to his day job.

So now I’m thinking about how gratitude and love never get stale. I start writing down a few of the things I’m grateful for in my life – friends who motivate me and family and children and my silly dog and a pretty day – and while in the process I think of a few more – my favorite Tuesday yoga class and dark chocolate and and Pinot Noir and a sense of humor about my septic situation and a life partner who will spend Valentine’s evening together with me at parent teacher conferences featuring eleven accomplished and generous individuals who care about my kids. And I smile. And then I laugh out loud. Because there’s a lot of joy in this leaky boat.

***

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

Breathe

I wear a silver bracelet every day. It started off perfectly round, smooth and shiny. After nearly nine years, it remains mostly round, bent and tarnished, but still intact. I take it off my wrist and set it on the desk in order to describe it, and it no longer lies flush against the surface, misshapen by years of daily use, but you might not notice that when it’s on my wrist. It’s a simple design, about 3/8” wide and 1/16” thick, stamped with seven letters in a plain font, all capitals, to form the word: BREATHE.

My friend Jen gave me the bracelet on Christmas Eve the year that my husband committed suicide. His death so stunned me – all of us, really – that it was all I could do to breathe in those early days of grief. Often I held my breath, not realizing that I was doing so. I lost my appetite and 25 pounds in three months. I couldn’t sleep, lying awake, flanked by my young children in the queen-sized bed, comforted by the sound of their rhythmic breathing in the dark. I lived by the mantra, “Inhale. Exhale. Repeat as necessary.” Even now, in times of stress, I will touch the bracelet and take a long inhale.

I took my first meditation class when the boys were little, before their father died. It strikes me as odd to take a class to learn a basic bodily function. Silence and stillness do not come naturally to me, and I had never really given much thought to breathing. I didn’t suffer from asthma or chronic bronchitis as a child, even though I grew up in Los Angeles at a time when we children were routinely instructed to spend our recess time indoors and not to run around. I was perfectly content to curl up with a book in my free time, but my lungs still ached at the end of each day with a deep inhale, so thick was the air with pollution. We didn’t give it much thought, though, that’s just how it was.

I think that children often think that whatever they experience is normal. It’s probably more accurate to say that they don’t think about it, and as a result they might not question it. At least that’s how it was for me. I thought it was normal for breathing to hurt by the end of the day, and it never occurred to me that other students could see the chalkboard at the front of the classroom. I was a shy, quiet, well-behaved elementary school girl with freckles and pony tails. My third grade teacher placed me at the back of the classroom, because she needed the seats in front for several rowdy students, up close where she could keep an eye on them.

One evening the teacher called my mother to inform her that “Charlotte was cheating. She was looking at her neighbor’s paper.” My mother, in her usual kind and unflustered manner, thanked the teacher very much for calling, hung up the phone and looked at my father. “Charlotte is not cheating. She’s too smart. She knows it’s wrong. It must be something else.”

Within the week, she had me at the optometrist’s office. As it turns out, I couldn’t see much past the length of my own arm, the perfect distance to read a book. Or my friend’s paper. I wasn’t intending to cheat. In fact, I didn’t even realize I was cheating. It never occurred to me that anybody else could see as far as the chalk board on the other side of the classroom. I just didn’t know.

I will never forget the car ride home wearing my new glasses. I could read street signs and billboards and see stoplights. I had no idea. Before that night, my world was a haze of indiscriminate colors. With clear vision, the streaks came into focus. The blurs suddenly had meaning. I was seeing this world for the first time.

Both contact lenses and meditation are staples in my life now. I’ve also added reading glasses to the mix, an occupational hazard, according to my optometrist, of approaching the age of 50. It’s a price I’m willing to pay, because I appreciate long distance vision for driving and watching my sons play sports or music or whatever they like to do, and books remain a passion.

This morning, I listened to a guided meditation, the theme of which was creativity. “The world, your world,” the gentle voice reminds me, “is constantly changing. There is newness and creativity in every breath.” When I open my eyes, I am struck by the realization that the world is a different one than the one I closed my eyes to just minutes earlier. Inspiration is simply a breath away. Breathe.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And inspiration.

Deathaversary VII

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself

the means of inspiration and survival.”

~ Winston Churchill

It’s Sunday afternoon, almost dinner time, and we have finally finished cleaning up from our family brunch. Tim and I are exhausted. The house is quiet, dishwasher humming. The boys are settling in with homework (homework seeming the lesser evil than laundry), the dogs are down for a nap (like overtired toddlers after an afternoon with grandma), the cats are contentedly crunching, and I’m curling up with a cup of tea and a book. I’m having a hard time concentrating, however, because tomorrow marks the seventh year since Sam’s suicide.

Our brunch included all eight of the boys’ grandparents: Sam’s parents, my parents, Tim’s parents and his first wife’s parents. Add our nuclear family of six, and that’s a lot of bagels. To be fair, two of our boys are away at college, but my sister and brother-in-law volunteered to bring strawberries to our grandparent gathering, and I certainly wasn’t going to decline their offer.

We don’t have a table big enough for everybody to sit comfortably, but we do have nice weather and patio furniture and the kind of family who is willing to scooch up a chair, eat in his own lap, risk spilling on her neighbor’s lap and laugh out loud. We share stories, coffee and the better part of the day. The logistics are rarely simple in our family gatherings, but I am grateful. My house and my heart are full. So is the dishwasher.

On her way out, Sam’s mother pulls me aside. Although she speaks more comfortably in Spanish, she addresses me in English, as a courtesy. She tells me that she is so proud of all four of my sons, and (like the self-respecting jewish mother-in-law that she is) she also frets over each one of them. She is going to go to the cemetery tomorrow, and she is going to tell “Sammy” how well his sons are doing and that his wife has created a beautiful little family. She tells me that she knows Sammy will be happy and very proud.

And I know he will be. And while Sam’s approval is gratifying, it is his mother’s approval that moves me to tears. I have a friend who refers to her daughter-in-law as her daughter-in-love. My mother-in-law has similarly treated me as her own. Years ago, as she was walking with me on one side and her own daughter on the other, she laughed and said “I have two daughters — one blonde and one brunette.”

She shuffles toward her car with her cane in her left hand and my arm in the right. She explains to me that she does her physical therapy exercises consistently, and I know this to be true. In fact, she even turns on music and “dances” her exercises across the length of her apartment. She’s in her 80’s. My father-in-law shakes his head and smiles. He has been smitten with her for nearly 60 years, and it’s easy to see why.

I cannot imagine what she has suffered in the loss of her son. And yet, she makes it a practice to dance across her living room every day. It is very hard to understand how her son lost his way, but I believe with all my heart that he is, indeed, proud not only of his wife and children but also of his mother. It is no coincidence that, despite the heartbreak and challenges that life has brought, her children and grandchildren find their way with joy and tenacity.

She dances every single day.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And inspiration.