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.

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.

We Who Live

“Suicide survivor” is such a dumb term, but I haven’t thought of a better one yet. “Suicide survivor” sounds to me like someone who tried (and failed) to complete a suicide, but that’s not what it means. The term suicide-attempt survivor applies to the scenario of someone who survives his or her own attempted suicide. By contrast, I am a suicide survivor, meaning that I have survived my husband’s suicide.

I’m not sure one ever reaches a point where she has “survived” her husband’s suicide. Done. Check. Finished. Love doesn’t work that way. Loss doesn’t work that way. It’s not over. It evolves with me. I will not get over it. I incorporate it. I integrate it. I still – yes, ten years after the fact – talk about Sam and his suicide. I learn to live with it, but it’s not that I simply subsist in a state of melancholy. I find meaning and love and joy. I live my life with passion and integrity and gratitude and laughter and intention and momentum and a full home and an even fuller heart. None of which cancels out Sam’s death. None of which precludes the sporadic incidence of crippling fear and heart-stopping anxiety. Loss and love and joy exist together. A big, beautiful mess of a life. That’s what it’s like.

Let me be clear on the issue of being widowed: All the ways to widow suck. There is no better or worse here. There is only bad. Period.

I still receive mail and even the occasional phone call for Sam, usually telemarketers, but also our local frozen yogurt joint letting Sam know that his favorite peanut butter fudge will be featured this week. Some days this irritates me; some days it amuses me; some days it reduces me to tears. His photographs are in albums, in frames on the piano and displayed prominently on the family room wall. His handwriting appears on a random post-it note, an old anniversary card and inside the front cover of a book. I introduce Sam’s cousins as mine, not only because it is easier than explaining the relationship, but after all we’ve been through together, I’ve simply commandeered them as my own. “Cousin,” for the record, is a word that I love. There’s no confusion about cousins. Everybody knows that a “cousin” might be a blood relative or might be that person (regardless of relation) who shows up at all the critical moments with a glass of champagne or a hug or both. The one who knows exactly what to say or when to sit silently. The one you count on. Now I even call Sam’s mother and father mine, because they have been parenting me for twenty-seven years. Some days this annoys me; some days it makes me laugh; some days their constant love humbles me to the point of tears.

I think about Sam every day – in phrases I hear that he would have said or that he would have found amusing, in restaurants he enjoyed, in experiences we shared, when I happen into a classmate of ours at lunch on Lake Avenue, in moments I wish he could see for himself, especially when I look into the eyes of his sons, or watch them graduate, or laugh at the hilarious things they say, or hold them tight when they crash and when life has disappointed them again. His children are suicide survivors, too.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But then it was.

Somehow this man I had known and loved for seventeen years lost his way. Somehow he left me, his children, his mind and a note behind on that clear, fall Saturday afternoon, in an effort to end whatever emotional and physical pain he had been enduring. It was impossible to believe, but somehow it was true. The psychologists call this step in the process “radical acceptance,” meaning that you don’t have to condone the event, but you do have to accept it, which sounds abundantly reasonable and straightforward in theory. In practice, my first thoughts every morning for months were, This is not my life. This cannot be my life. This was not supposed to be my life.

I did not want Sam’s suicide to define our lives, but like the lightening bolt scar on Harry Potter’s forehead, Sam’s suicide has marked us in significant, permanent ways. Suicide is a complicated death; the ensuing recovery is likewise marked with an array of feelings, stigma and setbacks. In the balance somewhere between the crushing punches of abandonment, betrayal and death and the light-filled promises of presence, love and joy, we press our way forward. We aren’t done yet. We carry Sam’s legacy with us – his laughter, his intelligence, his warmth, as well as his fears, his flaws, his death. We carry him in his wholeness, as a husband, son and father, as a competent professional and as a man who struggled with crippling back pain and depression. We continue to heal. We persevere, we laugh, we thrive. We are a family who lives with joy and disappointment, and laughter and tears; we remember, we pray, we hope.

If “suicide survivor” means that Sam’s suicide didn’t kill me, then I guess the term is accurate, but I bristle at the limits set within the words themselves. I don’t want to be identified by the ways in which I’ve suffered (or the ways he did). It is true that his suicide was unimaginably hard to recover from, but “suicide survivor” puts too much emphasis on my widowhood and not enough opportunity for my post-widow-life. I do not want to be merely a survivor, I want to thrive. I want to be a warrior princess, an emissary for hope. I want to be named after an ancient goddess. I want a superpower and a cute outfit, but “Wonder Widow” gives an altogether wrong impression. I do not mean to understate the gravity of Sam’s death. I do not want to imply that his death was somehow a gift. His life was the gift. Life and death are intertwined, of course, but suicide is unbearably confusing. If Sam had somehow accidentally fallen off the parking structure, or perhaps suffered a fatal heart attack from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect while he was picking up trash at the park after the kid’s soccer game, or died in a fatal car accident en route downtown to volunteer to feed the homeless, we might have experienced less shame, but the loss would still have been unfathomably painful. Somehow he thought we could live without him, and I resented his confidence. Somehow, we did, and I drew strength from his faith in us. That he could leave us both infuriated and comforted was one of the conundrums we have learned to live with.

“Suicide survivor” does not begin to speak to the full range of my experience. Then again, neither does the more familiar word “widow.”

When Pandora came to earth as a mortal, she was given a jar, but she was not told its contents. When she opened the lid, as any self-respecting, curious, intelligent woman would do, a tumult of evils – death, pain, selfishness, neglect, illiteracy, perimenopause, exclusivity, narcissism, cancer, gossip, fear, poverty, pride, insanity – quickly flies out to afflict mankind, each wielding its own unique brand of ugly, but a single blessing remains in the jar: hope. Her name is Elpis.

Too bad “Princess Elpis” sounds like a total drip.

Hope seems so small a power against everything evil, her small, pale, yellow self sitting humbly at the bottom of the jar, too slow to fly off with all the nasties on their worldwide adventures, her gossamer wings still folded neatly at her sides. She speaks softly but confidently, I’m here. I’m with you. I will not leave your side.

She seems a singularly unremarkable force against so formidable a foe.

When Sam completed his death, he unleashed all manner of horribles. Doubt, shame, shock, blame, fear, abandonment, suffering, sorrow, listlessness, confusion, loss, guilt, rage, regret, isolation, swirled around me and my sons and our extended family and friends with a fervor that left us breathless. Hope seemed fanciful and ineffectual in the face of so much pain, a total myth. And yet… she was relentless with her loving presence.

Despite the overwhelming darkness, light did shine.

Friends showed up on my doorstep with tears in their eyes and gallons of ice cream in their hands. Telephone calls, note cards, emails all arrived with messages of love, love for me, love for my children, love for Sam. Even on my darkest days, I had something to be grateful for. I had two reasons to get up and going every morning. I survived. I was determined that my sons would go on to have lives filled with love and joy and faith, but this would require that I likewise continue to build a life with more love and more joy and more faith. I moved from breath to breath. Within the terrifying silence, I began to hear a soft heartbeat and a voice I recognized: I am here. I am strong. This is my life.

If you had told me ten years ago that Sam would end his life on a clear blue October afternoon, leaving me and our two young sons, I would have told you that you should really stop smoking whatever you were smoking. If you had continued predicting my future, insisting that I would later fall in love with a handsome widower and open my heart to his two teenage sons, that we would get married, blend together a family with our four sons, two cats and a dog, and add an “ours” puppy to the mix, I would have told you that you should really share whatever you were smoking.

That was never going to happen. But then it did.

Finding my way after Sam’s suicide was not something I ever anticipated having to do. It was harder than I could have imagined, but my life is also more blessed and meaningful than I could have dared to dream. I am not merely surviving; I am living a full and beautiful life.

There is, I should note, one aspect of the term “suicide survivor” that appeals to me. There is a whole community of beloved souls who call themselves suicide survivors: parents, children, spouses, siblings, friends and partners who have lost a loved one in this terrible way and who continue to find light in their lives. The loss might have introduced us to each other, but it is the love that unites us, a shared faith that death cannot extinguish the light of those we love, a mutual hope another’s suicide will not overshadow our own lives. This community embodies the untold possibilities for those who continue to live whole-heartedly.

I haven’t yet come up with a better term than “suicide survivor”, but when I do, you’ll be the first to know. In the meantime, I will say this: I am a suicide survivor.

***

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

Three Important Lessons

For surviving a trip to the DMV, and maybe for Life

Lesson Number 1. Things take time. Nothing moves quickly at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Not lines, not people, and especially not cars. We almost arrived on time for our 1:45 appointment, not that anybody was checking, armed with the child’s passport, his birth certificate, and his father’s death certificate, which it turns out we don’t need, even though all the instructions warn that both parents’ signatures are required for the permit. It’s a bit unnerving to carry Sam’s death certificate around, but it doesn’t take our breath away like it used to. The boy doesn’t’ want to see it, which is fine by me, I’ve stared at it long enough for all of us.

We’ve also got the certification from the drivers’ education school, a printed confirmation of our appointment time, and my physical checkbook, which I had to make a special trip for, because who carries her checkbook with her anymore? In the DMV time warp, however, they do not accept credit cards. We do get the so-called red carpet treatment because we have an appointment, which means that we wait our turn on the dingy red carpet inside the air-conditioned building. For this, we are most grateful, because the other line goes out the door and around the building, almost the length of a block. Even so, we’ve been at the DMV for over an hour.

All of humanity is here, which is part of what my husband and I love about living in Los Angeles. We have everybody – all ages, cultures, genders and orientations, every color, bodies in various shapes decorated by pearls and tattoos – each of us united through stretching the limits of our patience in the labyrinth of the DMV. I hear snippets of conversations in English, Spanish, Chinese and what I’m pretty sure is Armenian. There’s a woman with her teeny tiny baby in a stroller, and I can only imagine the urgency of the matter that brought her to the DMV with her newborn and her aging mother in tow. I’m dying to tell her that she’s not going to believe that before she knows it she will be sitting next to her child, who then will be taller than she is, getting ready to take his permit exam, but I don’t, because I don’t want to be that crazy old lady at the DMV who tells you that before you know it you will be sitting next to your child, who will then be taller than you are, getting ready to take his permit exam. But I am thinking it.

There’s a man who looks to be in his 60’s, accompanied by a woman who could be his daughter. She is reading the application for renewing a driver’s license to him and noting his responses on the form. I wonder why he is not reading it himself. I don’t think he’s blind, because otherwise he wouldn’t qualify for a license at all, and I remember that my own father was here 8 months ago, cataracts and all, memorizing the eye charts so he could renew his own license. He had given up driving, but he wasn’t ready to give up his actual license. The man is telling his daughter “Yes, I’m a citizen. Yes, I’m a veteran. And No, I don’t want to register to vote. I served in the military for fourteen years, I’ve been a citizen for my entire life, and I have never once voted in any election.” Again, I say nothing. But believe me, I am thinking it.

My first-born child was several weeks old by the time I realized that my driver’s license had expired on my birthday while I was up all night nursing a newborn. In my sleep-deprived and somewhat brain-damaged state, I had completely neglected to complete the paperwork required to renew my license. I had neglected a lot of things, but not the baby. For many years, the photograph on my driver’s license showed the straps of the Baby Bjorn carrier (but not the marsupial himself who was sleeping contentedly within). I’m confident, thinking back now, that some lady was sitting with her teenager on the cusp of driving himself, watching me with some nostalgia.

The baby’s mother hands her child to the woman I presume is grandma, who looks at me and smiles. Two blinks later, her child has a child. And so it goes. Time moves slowly at the DMV, but if you are paying attention to the snapshot, you will see life zipping by.

Lesson Number 2. They change the rules while you’re not looking. The first representative we talk to informs us that they added proof of residency requirements in July. Nowhere, mind you, is this information published in a medium that might be available to the general permit-seeking public. In fact, the sole evidence of the changes seems to be found on a worn photocopy they keep behind the counter, the upshot of which is that I need to provide two more pieces of documentation demonstrating both my last name and our home address. For the record, a DMV issued driver’s license does not count.

Under normal circumstances, it might not be a huge hairy deal, but I did not change my last name when I married Tim. One of the challenges of a blending family is the matter of the name change. It was easy enough to change my name the first time I got married; I was 24, with a short credit history and a shorter resumé. I wanted to share the same surname as my husband and my future children, so the traditional decision was straightforward. But after I was widowed and remarried, everything was more complicated. I chose to keep my already-changed-once name, which happens to be the same as two of the children. On the other hand, having a different name than my now husband can often create confusion and a frustrating absence of supporting evidentiary instruments. These are the times I despair of ever having all my affairs in order before I get hit by the proverbial bus, as my children might never forgive the former trusts and estates attorney the mess she left in her wake. Another reminder to look both ways and proceed cautiously.

I imagine the traffic building at this hour between this governmental office and my files, and I do not believe I could get there and back with the additional documentation in time for my son to begin his written test by the 4:30 deadline. We call for help. Mercifully, the child has this amazing stepfather who’s willing to bring the appropriate documentation to us; he scares up a Form 1099 showing about $16.00 worth of interest for the year, a Member Fees statement from the State Bar of CA, so I guess that JD is worth something after all, and a health insurance bill. We are given the green light, which means that we are sitting again, now waiting for our number to be called.

Of course, this whole scenario strikes me as amusing in its predictability. The boy, however, does not find this experience humorous. I text my nearest and dearest: “We’ve been at the DMV for over an hour, and the boy has learned: 1. Nothing moves quickly here and 2. They changed the rules in July.” The boy does not find my commentary even remotely entertaining. “Mom,” he lectures me, “Think about how boring this is for us. Now think about how boring it’s going to be for her to read about this.” Which makes me laugh even more. They can change the rules, but they can’t take my sense of humor.

Lesson Number 3: Objects in mirror appear worse than they actually are. I provide the documentation and pay the fee, the boy gets photographed and fingerprinted, and then he goes to the exam room to take the written test. Meanwhile, I sit. As I look around at the many faces navigating the system, I imagine the hundreds of stories contained in this one room, the many hours people spend waiting for loved ones and the results of exams. I think that about the fact that this is another milestone that Sam has missed, I think about how lucky I was to take one of Debbie’s sons to the DMV for his behind-the-wheel exam, and I think about how amazing it is that Tim is present for the so-called baby. Eventually, I am woken from my reverie by the presence of a handsome young man hovering silently above me.

His face bears an unusually glum expression, and my stomach sinks. He was so confident that he would pass the written exam, but instead it looks like we’ll have to come back to spend another afternoon in the bureaucratic maze. I hesitate to respond, trying to read the disappointment in his eyes. His chocolate brown eyes start to twinkle, and he grins at my fallen expression. “I passed.” He shows me the paperwork, authorizing him to get behind the wheel, and then his smile fades, as he turns to the last page, the one with the driver’s photograph. “Mom! What is with this picture? Does the DMV try to make you look ugly? Seriously, do I look this bad to you?!” Luckily for him, none of his brothers are within earshot of that question. I inform him that it’s the DMV equivalent of a snapchat filter, making everybody look uniformly ridiculous, but without any fun.

It’s not as bad as it seems. In another stroke of blind luck, he will have the opportunity take a replacement photo in about fifteen years, maybe about the time he has his first child.

***

Today, the so-called little one has his first behind-the-wheel instruction, and as he pulls decisively away, I realize he is about three blinks from his driver’s license, the SAT exam and the prom. Four blinks from taking his own kid to the DMV for a driver’s permit. Panicky, I turn toward the defective hunting dog for comfort. He is always happy to see me, and he never speaks. Not one sarcastic word. Most importantly, he will never leave me to go away to kindergarten or to college, and he will never drive off, leaving me standing at the curb, thinking two things: 1. We do not have enough crunchy snacks in this house to last for the entire two-hour driving lesson, and 2. I wonder whether it might not be the worst time to get another puppy.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And extra dark-chocolate-covered-pretzels.

 

 

 

 

It’s Like This

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My computer is under the cat somewhere, but the furry tyrant is not in the mood to negotiate. He’s hungry. He’s loud. He’s lost any measure of patience he might once have had. He could not care less about bills or emails or deadlines. He especially does not care about the dog. He could maybe tolerate one of the children, as long as he had their undivided attention, but they – in an act of premeditated and unadulterated selfishness – have left for school. The second best option to the lap is the warm laptop. He will not be deterred. And he will not be ignored.

So I turn my attention to the crabby kitty, and that is how today will go. On days like this, I do my best to surrender, to dredge up a modicum of patience and kindness, to experience a sense of accomplishment in some place other than my go-to to-do list, to trust, to find a flow within the unanticipated course, to be attentive to what joys the unexpected path might bring, to honor the intrusive feline moment.

***

Wishing you light and strength, even on days like this.

Friend-Like Strangers

I was thinking about her on my walk the other day, this woman whose name I do not know but whose path I cross from time to time on our mutual walks. I did see her in the grocery store once, but she didn’t seem to recognize me out of context, wearing lipstick and without my defective hunting dog at my side. It’s funny to call her a stranger when I see her regularly, but I don’t really know much about her, other than what the scarf covering her head seems to betray about her health. Several months back, I was happy to see her without the scarf, her thick, dark hair growing back. As usual, we were heading toward each other along a certain stretch of road but in opposite directions, and when we caught each other’s eyes, I couldn’t help but grin and say, “It’s good to see you looking so healthy!” She returned the smile, but then her eyes grew downcast, and she confided that she was fighting again.

I didn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know me. I don’t know her. Even so, I pressed my hands over my heart and told her that I would hold her in my prayers.

I didn’t see her again for months. The other day, as I was running along the stretch where I most often see her, I began to fear that perhaps I might not see her again.

I saw her the very next day. She was wearing her scarf again, but she was outside and on the move. I was with my most faithful running partner (second-most faithful if you count the dog), and I was so delighted to see her that I stopped to hello and chat for just a few seconds. I wish I had asked her her name, but I was too embarrassed. I’m not entirely sure why. There is a real comfort in knowing each other by name, and yet we can bless each other even in anonymity.

Never have I felt more humbled than one evening shortly following Sam’s death – before the “official” meal schedules had been coordinated – when a woman whose name I did not know stood on my front porch with dinner for my sons and me. I recognized her face; our children attended the same elementary school, but hers and mine were all in different grades and classes. She knew how hard it is to get dinner on the table under the best of circumstances, juggling work, sports, and volunteer schedules. She didn’t know much about me, other than that I had been suddenly widowed, and she showed up and offered her own family’s favorite comfort food. Grace personified.

I am resolved to ask my friend-like stranger her name when next I see her, and I hope I see her soon. But there is something about praying for a stranger that draws me into the very heart of prayer. I don’t know her history, the time she insulted her sister-in-law or embarrassed a colleague or broke a promise. I don’t know what she’s afraid of, why she consulted with her physician this week, or her therapist, or her lawyer. I don’t know how her mother abused her, or who her favorite author is, or who she voted for. Which movies make her laugh. I don’t know whether she hurls epithets at her ex-husband, or her kids, or at Jesus, or whether she reads picture books to her young nieces – or to struggling readers in an impoverished school district – every opportunity she gets, or all of the above, and none of that matters. I am not burdened by her offensive habits, and I am not influenced by her status. All I know for sure is that we are on this treacherous and beautiful road together. None of the details get in the way. My judgment stands clear of my intentions. I wrap her in my heart and lift her toward the divine.

On Sunday, I saw another woman whose name and story I do not know. I see her in church, and like my other friendly stranger, I hadn’t seen her in a while. She usually sits alone, often in the pew behind me and my puppy pack of boys. I do not know the nature of her personal struggles, but I pray for peace in our hearts. I turn to introduce myself, but she has left before the final blessing, before I could ask her name.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And the prayers of strangers.

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.