Inevitable

It will not be avoided, Christmas. It’s coming. It’s practically almost here. We are racing through December and heading quickly to the 25th. I’m inching my way through. I thought maybe I could get through the season without waxing eloquent on the season (which might be the case nonetheless), but then I was felled by a nasty bug. Some might say it was my annual bout with the Bah-Humbug, but it sure looked like a virulent stomach flu.

There comes that moment, when in the midst of the queasiness and misery, the only thing to do is to lie perfectly still, inhaling and exhaling slowly. It is dark and lonely, my feet are cold and my forehead is hot. I don’t even have the stomach for my morning coffee, and the caffeine headache alone might do me in. I adore curling up in bed with a novel, but this is decidedly not that. I cannot focus on a single printed word without inducing fresh waves of nausea. The closed book remains disappointingly just beyond my reach. The hours pass slowly, and I breathe.

Eventually, inevitably, there comes that moment when gratitude rears its impish head. It might look like a phone call from one of my sons, reporting a recent success or asking for guidance. It might be the gift of an audio-book from my dearest friend. It might be the silly dog’s ridiculously hopeful wag. Gratitude sneaks in with a smile and just half a mug of steaming hot chicken broth. I take it all in. I look out the window, and I am smitten by the beauty of twilight, the black outlines of the palms and the pines against the last bit of bright blue background before the sky goes dark. It gets me every time.

If Advent is about waiting, then maybe that’s what I’m doing. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. I think about Mary and her journey toward Bethlehem. At what point during the process – while riding ponderous miles astride a donkey, while settling into the stinky stall with the pigs snuffling and the hay poking into her back, while catching her breath in between contractions – did Mary reflect upon her Yes, turn to Joseph and wail, What the hell was I thinking? Or maybe that’s just me. But I think it’s okay to acknowledge that the Christmas experience is not all goodness and light. Yes, there is much goodness. Yes, there is extraordinary light. But there is also a fair (or unfair) amount of darkness and pain along the way. Ignoring my Christmas angst seems only to exacerbate it. For me, it is easier to embrace the radiance and joy when I acknowledge the yucky parts. And then, when the light and love arrive, it is breathtaking.

I can barely remember the first Christmas after Sam’s suicide. I could not tolerate the idea of having our traditional celebrations without him, so we did something different. Tim can barely remember their first Christmas just two weeks after Debbie’s death, but he thinks he tried to keep things consistent for the boys. There is no right or wrong answer to this challenge. There will be tears. There will be laughter. There will be gifts and treats and long, fretful sighs. It’s all part of the package.

I was scheduled to speak at an evening of remembrance hosted by a local bereavement group this week, but the flu bug got the best of me. I was terribly disappointed to miss. I was looking forward to the event, a special evening honoring our human capacity to feel love and loss and hope in all of its complications and mess and loveliness. I had presented at this event previously, but last year I had thought about canceling about a hundred times, because I didn’t know how beautiful and healing the evening would be. I was delighted to be asked back, and I was prepared to be insightful, inspirational and funny. We were going to laugh (because I’m hilarious), and we might cry (because life is hard, and I’m a sensitive girl). Plus, I was going to wear a cute outfit. I love cute outfits.

I was going to talk about finding light in this sometimes dark, heavy world. The kind of light that comes from inside ourselves, the light we remember when we sit quietly and wait for morning’s sunrise. That internal light we realize we still have when the sun continues to rise every day – in that comforting and infuriating way that the sun does. I was going to talk about the light that our friends and family shine on us in all their myriad ways with the warmth of a summer day, bearing casseroles and baked goods and greeting cards. The friends who urge us forward through the miles, sometimes literally, and the friends who rally to our sides when we need to sit. The many – some friends, and some strangers – who shine light in our direction with their prayers, their encouragement, their songs and their stories. And I was going to talk about the light that still shines from our loved ones, even the ones we have lost. Like the stars that shine in the darkest night’s sky, drawing our attention upward, the light from the lives of our loved ones still shines.

Personally, I was looking forward to remembering both my father and my father-in-law at the gathering. It has been a difficult year for my little family, and we are feeling the loss especially during this holiday season. And yet. And yet, their light still shines in our lives.

These days our December gauntlet looks like this: Debbie’s birthday (she would have been 50 this year), her deathaversary (9 years), her stage-4-cancer-diagnosis day (the moment that changed everything), her favorite holiday (Santa Central). She is much in our thoughts and hearts. Our Christmas celebrations looks like this: Christmas Eve with my side of the family, Christmas morning with my husband and our children, Christmas breakfast with Debbie’s parents, dinner with Tim’s side of the family, and – thank God Sam’s parents are Jewish – one night of Hannukah. We exchange stories and gifts. We might cry. We certainly laugh. We eat.

The Bah-Humbug might have taken me out for a week, but it will not deprive me of the light of this season. I went for a run this morning with the silly dog, and it was such a joy to get out and move. I have the wherewithal to eat cookies again. I love Christmas cookies. Cookies don’t fix anything, but they mean everything. Especially from that dear friend who wants to mend your broken heart with chocolate and pecans, or oatmeal and dried cranberries, or cinnamon and sugar. There is no wrong answer when it comes to cookies.

I even baked Tim’s favorite Christmas cookies, and we hid them from the kids, Scrooge-style. Our newest favorite holiday tradition.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your holiday path. And joy!

A Moment’s Hesitation

I like Christmas. Really, I do. But I’m not feeling it. Not yet.

This approach is pretty much my process with life in general. But also with newborn babies, even the One in the manger. I’m one of those women who spent the first trimester of her pregnancies – and, in fact, the better part of the second trimester – hopelessly nauseated. As thrilled as I was for the baby to arrive, it was hard to feel excitement from my vantage point on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. There were some maternity clothes that I could not tolerate wearing the second time around, because I had thrown up in them so often the first time that the mere sight of those clothes made me nauseated and green.

I love being a mother, but I do not love the experience of pregnancy. I don’t think I need to feel guilty about this. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person – or even a bad mother. Transformation is hard. Things that never challenged me before I was pregnant became difficult, excruciating, frustrating. I never had trouble catching a full breath before I was expecting. I never experienced insomnia before I was pregnant. Never suffered from indigestion. Never had sciatica. No weird numbness, bone-crushing exhaustion or obvious brain damage. I reached the point in each of my pregnancies where I thought, “This body simply cannot handle the two of us. One of us has to go, and it’s you, baby.” But even in the midst of it all the physical discomfort, anxiety and impressive weight gain, I started to get excited. A new life is a miracle. It’s breathtaking. It’s full of hope and joy and love. The truly crazy part is that, notwithstanding all my quacking and moaning, I wanted to participate in the process another time.

There’s a reason that the angel’s first words to Mary are “Fear not.” Because the range of fear running from garden-variety anxiety to abject terror is an entirely reasonable human response to the whole situation. If we really knew what transformation would require, would we still agree? If we really knew, we would be foolish not to be afraid. It’s overwhelming. Mary’s “Yes” always amazes me. Granted, it is easier to say yes when you’re 13 and haven’t yet been assaulted by life’s many disappointments. But still. My initial response is almost always “No” (even when I was a young girl, and especially now that I’m not). Which eventually turns to “Well, maybe.” Until it finally becomes and “Ok, fine!”

Yes, already.

I don’t think this makes me a bad person – or even a bad Christian. I adore carols and Christmas tunes. Nothing makes me happier than finding the perfect gift. But I don’t love the hoopla and the tinsel and the lists. The whole holiday rigmarole makes me feel tense and overwhelmed and impoverished. I prefer the silent reverence. I love the tender, quietly inspired moments, preferably with a book and a niece in my lap. The whiff of her baby breath still hints of heaven, and as I hold her, I imagine the light that she alone brings into the world. Then I feel the spirit of the season. I love a table full of my own children, and I love drawing additional chairs to the table to include more. Their laughter fills me with joy. I love an evening decorating our tree, carefully unwrapping each of my mother’s hand-crafted needlepointed ornaments. There might be just a splash of whiskey in my glass of eggnog. Another festive family tradition.

I love Christmas. Really, I do. But I am mindful that there are those for whom this holiday season will be achingly lonely. That disappointment, fear and depression combine like a dense fog to chill and dissipate the light. There are families whose losses cast a palpable shadow on traditions that will never quite be the same again. Including my own family. And so I pause.

I do not jump headlong into this season with child-like exuberance. Instead, I keep the Thanksgiving pumpkins and chrysanthemums on the front porch for just a few more days. And then I start with stillness, and I wait for light. I approach hesitantly, hoping, expecting, and yes, trusting that the light is on its way. I ease gently into this season of imagination, wonder and hope.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your holiday path. And moments of stillness.

Frog Days

Somewhere there is a picture of my boy’s small, soft hands holding the tiny frog he caught at the edge of a pond. “Take a picture, Mommy,” the enraptured boy said, “so we can show Daddy.” I dutifully snapped the photo on my phone, since I didn’t have my camera with us. The boys and I had gone on an afternoon hike in the local mountains with the dog. Daddy had stayed home to take a nap. At least, that’s what he said he would do.

We navigated the path to a small waterfall, home to a number of very little frogs and a convenient destination for our afternoon journey. The boys and the dog had short legs and a limited endurance for hiking back then. I wish I could find the photograph, but I didn’t print it out. I’m not sure that I ever even transferred it to a computer or a flash drive. That day was so long ago, the picture might now only exist in my memory.

Daddy never did see the frog. By the time we returned from the hike, his car was missing, and a police car sat parked in front of our home instead, lights flashing silently, waiting for our arrival in order to deliver the news of his suicide. During the time we were hiking, Daddy had been rushed to the local trauma center and pronounced dead. When I picture my boy’s young, tender hands reaching toward me, gently holding the brown spotted frog, I imagine also an ambulance driver’s hands on the wheel, rushing to the emergency room with my husband on board, the nurses’ urgent hands moving efficiently through their life-saving efforts, and later, the doctor’s hands with nothing left for her to do but sign the paperwork, then the technician’s strong hands carefully transferring the broken body to the hospital morgue. None of this appears in the frog photograph, of course, but the two scenes are inextricably mixed in my mind so that I cannot think about one without the other.

I used to be more organized about taking photographs and putting together scrapbooks, but after Sam’s death it just seemed a futile attempt to hold on to a life that would ultimately slip through my hands. For a while it took a concentrated effort even to take a picture. Gradually, I began to snap a few. At first, I relied mostly on the official school photographers and the generosity of other parents who forwarded pictures of my children. Over the years, I have gotten better at capturing these moments on camera myself, but I have also developed more capacity to appreciate the precious moment in time, without the need to document each and every event. I know my memory will fade and forget; even so, I just let the present overtake me.

My son once drew a picture of the day his father died. On one side of the landscape page was a gorgeous fall day, blue sky, green grass, bright sun, cheerful flowers and a frog. He drew a line down the center of the page and scribbled black over the other half the page. What strikes me about that drawing is that the one side does not negate the other; he did not scribble black over top of the landscape. Both the beauty and the darkness exist side by side.

I can’t find that picture either, no doubt a casualty of both the chaotic state of my garage and the whirlwind pace of a life full of kids and cat and dog. I do hope I find it. But for now, I keep it in a special place in my heart, a reminder that our bleakest days do not eliminate the light in our lives. We hold the full range, including unimaginably dark and painful days alongside gorgeous fall afternoons, full of song and puppies and other miracles. Breathtaking moments like a brown, spotted frog in the chubby hands of a little boy. Moments that carry us through the dark days, with the promise and warmth of sunshine.

***

Wishing you light & strength on your healing path. And the promise of sunshine.

Quintessential

I was so disappointed the last time I saw my dad. Not in him, but I had hoped that the flowers I had brought over just a few days earlier would last the week. Instead, the crystal vase on the nightstand next to his bed in the nursing facility was empty, the wilted flowers having been discarded, and the vase itself wiped clean.

My parents had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. We weren’t allowed to release dad from the convalescent home, not even for such a significant event, due to certain, labyrinthine insurance coverage rules. Instead, my mother and my sister and I brought the celebration to my father, an elegant luncheon in the gardens. It was an intimate affair including only our immediate family, but with careful attention to detail, table linens, flowers, my mother’s favorite ganache cake, and a few bottles of my father’s favorite drink, a sparkly and benign apple cider.

The flowers were particularly beautiful, mostly white with a few gold accents in honor of the day. The tightly packed roses, hydrangeas, dahlias and peonies brimmed over the top of the square vase. I had mentioned to the florist that it was a special occasion, and he assured me he would carefully select the flowers. I ordered two floral arrangements so that each of my parents would have one. After the luncheon, one of my sons wrapped one vase with a towel and nestled it inside a banker’s box, so it wouldn’t topple and bruise the petals or spill water in my mom’s car on her way home. Another of my sons brought my dad’s arrangement to his room.

My father was pleased with the flowers. His grandparents were florists, and he grew up working in the family’s shop, overtime on all the major holidays. He had an eye both for the quality of the flowers themselves and for the overall presentation. When he was courting my mother, he made her corsages himself. Every time I plop cut flowers straight into a vase, he carefully removes each one, cuts the stem to a specific length and artfully rearranges the display. I was delighted that the anniversary flowers met with his approval, and doubly disappointed when later they didn’t meet with mine. I had arrived, expecting the arrangement to bring cheer, but the clear vase now held only a few brittle lemon leaves that had been spray-painted gold. The sight of the empty vase left me a little blue.

I didn’t say anything to dad about the missing flowers. We had other crucial ground to cover in our conversation – the grandchildren and their summer activities, politics, religion, the space program, the timing of his return home. He was his usual joyful, exuberant self.

“Oh Charlotte!” he exclaimed. He remembered something he wanted to tell me, “All of the nurses have thoroughly enjoyed the flowers you brought!” He was radiant.

I cocked my head quizzically, thinking about the absent flowers. He explained, “Every time a nurse came in to take care of me, I offered her a flower from the arrangement and a piece of chocolate from the box of See’s your sister brought.” The missing flowers suddenly made perfect sense. Nothing would have brought my father more joy than to share those beautiful flowers, one by one, with every person who walked through his door. It was exactly how he lived his whole life.

I had every intention of bringing him more flowers the following week, this time prepared for him to give away each individual daisy or sunflower, but I didn’t get the chance. He was gone too soon.

In his characteristic way, he left me with a gift, a story. It is the story of a man who spent his life giving, a story of love, selflessness, joy and hope. My favorite kind of story.

And so, I share. Because after all, I am my father’s daughter.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And stories of love and joy.

Sacred Steps

There are so many things I love about running, not the least of which is that anyone who has known me for longer than a decade will believe that the real Charlotte has been abducted by aliens based on the appearance of the words “love” and “run” together in one sentence. I did not willingly run until I was 40 and then only because I needed to do something with all the mad that was torqueing me after Sam’s suicide. Running turned out to be an effective method to pound away a lot of anger. It was, for me, my own version of the fast and the furious.

Nearly nine years later, I am still running. I’m far from furious (and I never was fast), so there must be another hook. It’s the companionship of my defective hunting dog. It’s the joy of being outside, the connection to nature and fresh air. It’s the simplicity: I don’t need a court reservation, a bicycle pump or a team, just a good pair of shoes. It’s definitely a sense of accomplishment, and it’s an excellent excuse to go shopping for running clothes, which is cheaper and more fun than therapy.

But mostly, I run for the metaphors.

Every step counts.

I’ve put in a lot of distance since I took up this awful sport. I’m physically stronger, more emotionally balanced, and I have a drawer full of running tights and tanks. Running is hard. So is grief. But there’s an alchemy in the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. Running away doesn’t solve problems but running as a means of facing into the pain of loss is empowering. The steps need not be quick; a plodding, methodical gait just as surely brings me closer to healing as a blistering pace. In fact, the slow, deliberate steps are themselves the very evidence healing, because they demonstrate that I am not stuck. Inertia is not holding me back. I shift my energy from hurt and anger toward peace. Movement is success.

And there’s more good news. As my physicist father says, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. So off I go.

It’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.

Every time I lace up my shoes, leash up the dog and head out the door is a victory. It doesn’t matter whether I go around the block or the Rose Bowl, how fast I run, or how long I spend on the trail. Life has a way of dishing out stops and stalls in myriad forms – injuries, inclement weather, doubt, fear, family issues and stray white dogs. There are a million reasons not to go, but when I do, I feel better for the effort.

Getting back on the trail again is not necessarily easy, but it is an option. Not unlike dragging myself out of bed in those early days of suffocating grief. A running habit is a practice in resilience. I rarely regret making the choice to get out and run, because it means that I have not been defeated, not today.

It’s about the journey, not the destination.

I never believed it possible to find enjoyment in the process of running. Honestly, do runners appear to enjoy the process? After many miles under my belt, I can say with a straight face that I have become an enthusiastic, if untalented, runner. Getting out and moving is joy incarnate. It’s a meditative time, a space for reflection and place to stretch. Maybe I’ve just become serotonin and endorphin addict. Maybe I’ll reward myself with a new pair of running shoes. There are worse things.

There are also the vistas and wildlife. I live in the foothills above Los Angeles, and I never tire of the way the morning light falls on the mountain terrain. The sunrise brings possibility. An early run is a great way to connect with the energy of a new day.

For the most part, our local wildlife consists of deer, song birds, harmless lizards and small rodents. I have, however, seen more coyotes than I care to count and had a few unfortunate encounters with leashless dogs. Mercifully, I have only seen our local bobcat safely through the kitchen window or posted on FaceBook. Not counting the suit in the Audi, the least civilized animals I engage on my run are my own native jealousy, resentment and endless chatter, and those beasts get quiet and calm in the course of a long run.

Life is a series of ups and downs.

True enough. There are no flat routes around here, unless you’re inclined to run around the high school track ad nauseum. Which I’m not. I’d rather sport neon orange and head for the hills. Which is to say, I’d rather fall in love and run the risk of loss and heartache.

Life’s road trip brings incredible joy and great sorrow, torrential rain and sunny days. Some miles are faster, some slower. Some hills are steep and slippery, some a long, gradual climb. You can call them opportunities, challenges or butt-kickers. Which makes it all the more satisfying when I stand at the top, inhale and smile. It’s not without its hazards, notably the shiny, black Audi careening past at breakneck speed, but I’m not bitter.

It gets easier.

It doesn’t, actually. The first mile always hurts. Every single run. But the second mile is easier than the first. Usually. Sometimes it’s worse. Runs can go that way.

It will get easier and it will also get harder, but somewhere along the road I get stronger. In any event, my story has not ended yet. My favorite variation of the It will get better/All will be well/Don’t give up encouraging theme is “Hang on little tomato.” The image of a little red tomato holding persistently to a green leafy vine, waiting for the clear blue afternoon amuses me no end. I can almost smell the sunshine on the vine from my childhood vegetable garden. The sunny someday is a hopeful path. True, I enjoy the days when the running is easier, but I keep running even though the course is challenging. I am hanging on.

We are all connected.

Years ago, I started running with a group of intrepid ladies who hit the trails together in the early hours of the day. With kids and work and other of life’s interventions, our schedules rarely align these days, but even when I go by myself, I don’t feel alone. It is nearly impossible to get out into the day without running into somebody I know in my stomping grounds. My community of runners is omnipresent, including friends, strangers and bloggers. We run down dreams and renegade children. We wave at each other and our rescued canines. Even if we don’t know each other’s names, we are companions on the journey.

I often have fortuitous meetings with people I know along my path. An impromptu conversation with a neighbor, a smile and a wave at a generous friend on her way to drop off kids, sometimes my dear husband Tim on his way. He stops to give me a kiss, and I am blessed beyond measure. More often than not, I return home from a run filled with gratitude and surrender. Sometimes even forgiveness.

Keep breathing.

Breathing is key to the whole process. My life mantra applies equally well to a run: “Inhale, exhale. Repeat as necessary.” Running as meditation is my favorite form of the sport. Sometimes I think when I run, which proves to be a great source of inspiration. Sometimes I reach that place where I stop thinking altogether and the mind escapes its hamster wheel. These moments when stillness and movement connect might be the most beautiful experience of all. In this space, I am rhythm and motion and power. I just am.

I wasn’t motivated to hit the pavement in order to gain fitness, achieve a personal goal, raise awareness or find community, although running has provided all of those. I was yearning for peace of mind, which, much to my surprise, I found on a run. The journey continues, and every step toward wholeness is sacred. That is why I still run.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And sacred steps.

Options

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

~ Maya Angelou

 

Some people are offended by joy. This is not my problem.

I believe that healing is always a choice, and that joy is a possibility. It’s not necessarily easy or simple. It does not always arrive quickly. Healing is not a one time, check-the-box and you’re done kind of a thing. It’s a daily choice.

The choices might seem small or significant, whether to go for a walk or crawl back into bed, whether to sell Sam’s car or keep his name. How long to wear black, whether to wear mascara, or whether to wear the necklace Sam gave me on a recent anniversary.

To be honest, I didn’t anticipate finding quite so much joy. I was just hoping to make it through a day without wasting perfectly good mascara. For weeks, maybe months (I can’t remember), I stopped wearing make-up altogether. The day I chose to apply mascara was a public display of hope. My friend Susan (the one who later introduced me to Tim) remembers the day clearly and with fondness. I think that was the day that she breathed a sigh, trusting that I would be okay.

Those little, daily choices start to add up to something meaningful.

It helps to choose role models carefully. I didn’t want to be that bitter crabapple who never recovered after her husband’s suicide. We all know an old grouch – like Oscar, but without the charm, or the trash can. I was running an errand this afternoon and ran into a former colleague whom I hadn’t seen in years. We chatted for a minute, and when I told her things were going well, she simply paused and said, “I hate you.” Seriously. Apparently, she liked me a lot better in the days when I had given up on mascara completely. At least Oscar has friends and a sense of humor. And when he loses his sense of humor, his friends put his lid on him.

I can choose to be defined by what has happened, or I can choose to define my life for myself. I do not intend to minimize the tragedy. It is hideous and real. I do not mean to ignore the past or pretend it didn’t happen. On the contrary, I look at what has happened. I stand with my mouth gaping open at the horror of it, because people are suffering. But I choose to believe that the tragedy is not the end of the story.

Genuine healing usually means letting go of the way things used to be and opening the door to something new. I chose to embrace a new life, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It helps that my preternatural fear of inertia is greater than my fear of change and the unknown.

Sam and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary two months before he died, and he surprised me with a pretty diamond heart necklace. He chose the little heart specifically because its asymmetrical design appealed to him. I loved it. But a week or so later, he confided that he was concerned about our budget. It was sweet that he had bought the necklace, wanting something special to commemorate our anniversary, even though finances were tight. In the course of our conversations, we made a couple decisions, including that I would go back to work part-time and he would return the necklace. I thought I was being practical and helpful, but later I wondered whether he felt this resolution as a rejection or his own failure.

I found the heart necklace in a drawer a few weeks after Sam’s death, still in its black velvet box along with the original receipt. I was sick to my stomach. He had never returned it. Seeing the necklace in its jewelry box made me realize how difficult this task must have been for him. I felt confident that we would have many more anniversaries to celebrate, but maybe he suspected we wouldn’t. I didn’t have the heart to return the gift. But I felt too much sorrow and regret to wear it.

I mentioned my dilemma to a friend, and she offered to take the necklace back to the jeweler. The shop owner was very kind, and he remembered Sam. He was surprised and dismayed to learn of Sam’s death. He offered to give a store credit, but not a refund. I put the necklace back in the drawer, where it remained for several more months.

In the meantime, I thought about other decisions, such as what color nail polish I should choose for my pedicure and whether to sell the house.

My friend suggested that if I wasn’t going to wear the heart necklace I should donate it to the school auction. But that option didn’t really feel like a good fit. I wondered – with uncharacteristic superstition – whether the heaviness and shame might follow the necklace. Back into the drawer it went.

I thought about the little diamond heart necklace from time to time. I might look at it occasionally, but it filled me with sadness and remorse. I didn’t know what to do.

I continued to make choices. I went back to work part-time. I started drinking coffee. And Pinot Noir. I decided to join the extended family for Thanksgiving dinner and to avoid any New Year’s celebrations. With the help of a few close friends, I planned my own 40th birthday party. I started running. Not every step represented progress, but there were enough to create some momentum, bringing me toward a new life.

But I never wore the necklace. It wasn’t that I didn’t wear anything that Sam had given me. I continued to wear my wedding ring for a while. Even now, I wear the watch Sam gave me, as well as a favorite pair of earrings. Just not the necklace. Not exactly.

A year and a half after Sam’s death, one of my dearest friends asked me to be her daughter’s godmother. I was honored, of course, but I wasn’t Episcopalian and I was only recently on speaking terms with God again. It didn’t seem to me that I was necessarily the ideal choice for spiritual guidance, but my friend insisted. I suspect she saw something about my relationship with God that I didn’t really notice until she called my attention to it. I had not actually stopped talking to God, but I certainly didn’t have anything nice to say. And I definitely wasn’t listening. But God waited me out, in Her annoyingly patient manner, while I threw my temper tantrum. So that later, I found my friend’s request drawing me closer into a relationship, not only with her daughter, but also with Jesus. I began to think about being baptized.

This time I went to the jeweler myself, wondering if the shop owner would remember Sam. He did. He also remembered the heart necklace. I told him I was thinking about replacing the heart with a cross. Almost immediately, I noticed a small, diamond cross, one that the jeweler had designed himself (as he had also designed the heart). I felt a flutter of joy – in part because it is very pretty, and in part due to the slightly heretical thought that my late Jewish husband had just given me a cross.

I wear it all the time.

Healing is always an option. There is so much good news in this perspective. The door to healing is always unlocked, I just had to decide to open it. I did not, however, have to fling the door open wide. I started by inching it open. Just a sliver. Enough to let a little light through. Little decisions. Small choices, that led up to the more significant ones and into a new life.

As it turns out, Joy is on the other side of that door, looking for me.

***

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

Ho Ho Ho!

In one of the quirks that is our blended family, we have two sons with the same first name, “Michael.” Both boys go by the same nickname “Mikey.” We have tried over the years – without success – to assign a different nickname to one of the Mikeys, or to apply Michael to one and Mikey to the other, but they’re both Michael when they’re in trouble. Mikey 1 and Mikey 2 didn’t fly. Neither did Big Mikey and Little Mikey, which is probably just as well since now the “little” one is taller than the “big” one, and Little Big Mikey and Big Little Mikey is no help whatsoever. “His” and “hers” have become “ours,” and both boys remain resolutely Mikey.

After five years, the Michaels don’t even explain this oddity when introducing themselves: “Hello, I’m Mikey, and this is my brother Mikey.” In fact, they seem to delight in the confused looks that ensue.

Team Michael has discovered that there are certain advantages to this arrangement as well. When I call “Hey Mikey, could you please take out the trash?” they both ignore me. “Who me? I thought you meant my brother.”

You’d think a woman with four sons would never have to take out the garbage again, but you’d be wrong.

This morning, Mikey has an appointment with the optometrist, and I know it’s Mikey because when the assistant called to verify his appointment, she said it was for the younger one. I have barely enough time to get him to the doctor after my sacred Tuesday yoga class, provided that he is ready, so I wake him up before I leave. Twice, actually.

Predictably, he is sound asleep when I walk back in the door, yoga mat still tucked under my arm. Twenty minutes later, however, he is showered, dressed and hungry, but standing politely in the optometrist’s office, disheveled hair and glasses slightly askew. The receptionist looks bewildered.

It was bound to happen someday. I had brought the wrong Mikey to the doctor.

I look up at my son, and he looks at me. I smile, “You’re not Mikey!” and we burst into laughter. Sometimes life is just laugh-out-loud-ridiculous funny. Then I call Mikey to let him know that he is five minutes late to his optometrist appointment, and Mikey and I go to the grocery store for a few last minute Christmas items. Which, believe me, at this time of year is significantly less funny than the doctor’s office. And which is why I’m actually grateful for the morning’s Mikey mishap. It gives me something to chuckle about as we navigate the scene.

Life is too short not to laugh at my own silliness. If that’s the biggest mistake I make today, then I’m in good shape.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a reason to laugh out loud.

A Holiday Gift

I just need ten minutes of quiet. No voicemails or voices in my head. No ringing or pinging. No to-do lists, address lists, grocery lists or Christmas shopping lists. No kitchen appliances whooshing, humming or spinning. No screen of any kind. No teenage ‘tude. No color-coded calendar. No dog crawling into my lap, no cat sitting on my keyboard glaring at me reproachfully. No bills, emails or correspondence insisting on a response. No mother guilt weighing on my heart for all the things I haven’t done. Not even the Country Christmas internet radio soundtrack in the background. Just a few minutes of none of it.

The dryer stops, and the ensuing silence which often signals me to rouse and repeat the cycle, instead invites me to sit still.

It might be now. The kids are at school taking exams, the dog has been walked, one college boy is home but off to meet a friend for lunch. This moment might not arrive again today. Or this week. But it is here right now.

Just for 10 minutes, I promise. I set my meditation pillow outside on the porch in a patch of sunshine, away from all the noise-makers and hungry deadlines. I wrap myself in a blanket and close my eyes. There is a gentle breeze, and I realize I’m holding my breath. Exhale. I sit and listen, and settle. I catch my breath again and listen to my heart. Just sit. I push the words and lists away. I pull my eyelids back down and my shoulders away from my ears. Inhale. Grounded, supported, secure. I sway slightly to my heart’s beat. I notice the sound of freeway traffic and let them go. Right now, in this moment, my list contains only one item. Be still. Inhale, exhale. No words, no lists, no thoughts. Just this moment. Warm, steady, calm. Yes, like this.

And there in the stillness, I find her. Bubbling up in the silence. Unburdened, laughing, twirling in her favorite dress. Simply because she can. Because that’s pretty much who she is. Joy.

Exactly what I needed.

I have a cherished photo of my family, taken when I was about two almost three. My parents are holding my baby sister between them, beaming proudly at their little daughter, my mother’s hair a classic 1960’s flip, and my father sporting a moustache. I am equally delighted, perched securely on my father’s shoulders, smiling at the peeled orange in my hand. My sister and I still giggle about the fact that I was more entranced by the piece of fruit than by the baby. I suspect that California naval was offered as incentive to keep me still enough to snap the picture. Up on my father’s shoulders I am captive long enough to capture the moment on film. There are other photos from that day, and I am running and twirling in many of them, my shoes a blur of movement. Happy feet. Joy.

And now, my feet are beginning to tingle with numbness. I might have been sitting for a few more than 10 minutes. I inhale, smile and open my eyes. I want to hold on to this sense of joy in the midst of the Christmas chaos, even though I know I will likely lose it. I trust that I will find her again.

I return to the lists, demands and laundry, dryer humming with jeans and t-shirts, a rhythmic tap of the zippers sliding across the drum. Next, the coffee pot, gurgling and hissing, because those 57 unread emails are not going to answer themselves. I set a snowman mug and a Christmas spice cookie on a red, green and gold plaid cocktail napkin, and roll up my sleeves. I swing my inner little girl up to my shoulders and feel her presence, solid but not heavy, wiggling her happy feet, sticky orange juice fingers tugging playfully at my hair, and the two of us get to work.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your holiday path. And 10 minutes to yourself.