53 Minutes

Tuesdays are my day for me, a dedicated time to tend to my own heart. I started this practice as a newly-widow because I knew intuitively that if I set aside time to be present to myself, I would be able to be present to my sons in their grief. I continue the practice – though not as religiously – because I still find that I meet the demands of my family more effectively if I have nurtured my own heart first. This will undoubtedly prove essential as I gear up to teach yet another teenage boy to drive.

Sometimes, my “day” only lasts a few precious hours, or even just 10 sacred minutes, but in general, I keep my Tuesdays clear of JD’s, CPA’s, BFD’s and related BS. This consecrated time gives me the wherewithal to deal with the shtuff that the other days dish out. My so-called Charlotte Shabbat is not about ignoring the challenging, crappy parts. On the contrary, it is taking time to integrate both the woundedness and vibrance so that I can navigate life’s storms with a modicum of intention, strength and grace. And so, I make my weekly reservation: a table for one.

When I named the blog Sushi Tuesdays, I didn’t notice a certain four-letter word in the middle until it was too late to change. My kids, not surprisingly, embraced this turn of events wholeheartedly. In fact, they have long referred to my blog as “The Su-shit.” Only recently did I realize that when I pull up the Sushi Tuesdays site on my phone, the web address actually shows as: “sushit…s.com.” I guess it’s official then.

Looking at the dark shadows, the hard truths, the painful reality is key to healing and progress. But it’s critical not to get stuck in the noxious stew. There’s a difference between acknowledging the suffering and marinating in it. You could ignore the unpleasant business entirely, but you won’t make any significant progress. You might instead choose to replay that last dreadful birthday dinner for the next 28 years, but then you will remain firmly stuck in the past. In order to heal, you have to keep moving forward, which is painstaking work, usually slow and occasionally disagreeable. Being open to heal also means being willing to change, which can be exquisitely painful when it requires giving up resentment and self-righteousness. There is no magic healing potion, but the resulting sunshine and light are spectacular.

I have a particular fondness for the simple elegance of children’s literature. There’s a short chapter in The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) featuring a “salesclerk” who sells pills to quench thirst. “They save so much time,” the salesclerk said. “Experts have calculated that you can save fifty-three minutes a week.” Fifty-three minutes no longer wasted drinking water. Fifty-three minutes to invest in some other opportunity for self-fulfillment. Fifty-three minutes, which is about as long as a good therapy session. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I function best with a balance between motion and stillness. I need time set aside simply to be, to soak up approval, acceptance and love, whether by means of therapy, prayer, meditation or coffee with a friend. And then I need to move – a walk, a run, a stretch, a hike. I start to wonder whether fifty-three minutes well-spent might be the magic pill.

But I’m still practicing. I sit down for a moment of quiet on my meditation pillow, and my prayer bursts out like this: “Okay, Jesus. Here I am. Inspire me. You’ve got 5 minutes. Go.”

To show Him I mean business, I set the timer.

Jesus doesn’t say much, and I enjoy the silence. Surrounded, as I generally am, by kids, electronics, cat, and dog, silence is a scarce commodity. I settle in and find a sense of calm and stability. I sit, I breathe, I soften.

The timer goes off, and I stay sitting, immersed in a sense of belonging and unconditional love. Finally, Jesus seems to have something to say: “Don’t you have someplace to go? And lots of somethings to do?” I don’t flinch. I’m not yet ready to go. I sit another minute.

Then another message: “Okay, Charlotte, that’s all the time you get. Let’s go.” Pause. “I’ll go with you.” Sometimes I invite Jesus into my sacred space, and sometimes He invites Himself. But that’s what I needed to hear, the promise of presence. Now I’m ready to go.

I am not afraid that the bad stuff Life throws around is going to outweigh, outlive, or outmaneuver the good stuff. I am not afraid to call it by name. This must be why I’m so amused by the serendipitous “shit” in the middle of my SushiTuesdays. There are times when acknowledging the hard stuff, calling it out, takes away its momentum, its mystery, its sway. Then it’s easier to move on. I’m not afraid of a few choice words. Sometimes commandeering such a word takes the wind of out its sails. I recall, for example, the evening that my then 7-year old stood at the back door, following a rock-smashing grief session, and demanded, “Mommy, what’s for fucking dinner?”

I briefly considered delivering a lecture on the use of expletives or the appropriate respect one should have for his mother. For a fraction of a second, I thought I might laugh out loud, because he was so stinking adorable. But he wasn’t trying to be funny. He was furious, he was suffering, he was heartbroken. Plus, he was hungry. So in what turned out to be one of my more inspired mothering moments, I told him what was for dinner, “fucking mac and cheese.” Which is to say, “I hear your pain. I’m with you, baby. Let’s eat.”

Life tends to feel a lot better after some snacks and a nap.

And then we’re ready to go.


Wishing you light & strength on your healing path. And 53 minutes for yourself.

iPhone Irony

My ______________ (fill-in-the blank, husband/child/friend) seems depressed. What should I do?

This question terrifies me. Obviously, I wasn’t able to save Sam. It baffles me how many times in the last eight years people have asked me for advice on this issue, because every time there’s a part of me that thinks, Why would you ask me? Don’t you realize I failed? Ask a professional!

By putting the question out there, however, they are already a step ahead of where I was in the process. I didn’t know the depths in which Sam was struggling. I saw the clues in retrospect, of course. Loss of appetite, insomnia, job stress. All pointing toward depression. But a cursory internet search will also yield that the opposite signs of increased appetite, exhaustion and inability to focus may signify depression. Or pregnancy. If you had asked me before his death whether Sam would have been more likely to commit suicide or to become pregnant, I would have chosen the pregnant option. I wouldn’t have even hesitated.

There’s a lot of misinformation, stigma and confusion surrounding the suicide scenario. It’s not as straightforward as an “easy” way out. It’s not necessarily manipulative or vindictive. How much is attributable to mental illness and how much is a matter of individual responsibility remains a valid question. It is unspeakably ugly.

If Sam had had a diagnosed anything – cancer, heart disease, mental illness – we would have rallied to his side. We would have wanted to do something to empower him in the face of suffering. Instead, he struggled alone. Picking up the phone must not be easy when you’ve convinced yourself that the ones you love most in the world are better off without you.

Sam was not what you might call a computer wizard. He was rarely interested in keeping on the cutting edge of technology. He relied on his computer-savvy cousin for technical expertise, who during law school was, conveniently, also his roommate. Convenient for Sam, that is, when he ran into a technological glitch while preparing for a moot court competition at 3:00am, but not exactly endearing for his cousin.

But in the summer of 2007 Sam was enchanted by the new iPhone. The very first release. It’s already hard to imagine our world before smart phones, not quite 9 years since the iPhone initially came out. In fact, when Sam purchased that first iPhone, he didn’t use it as a phone; the iPhone was a cheaper, more powerful alternative to a small laptop. He kept his cell phone for making actual calls, and he used the iPhone to access the internet, research stock information and send emails.

After Sam’s death, I had three cell phones (mine, his and the iPhone), which in 2016 doesn’t seem like overkill, but was at the time. Eight-year olds didn’t have their own cell phones and tablets in 2007. We still primarily used our home phone. It seems logical now, but at the time I had to decide which cell phone to keep, and the iPhone was extravagant and expensive. In the process of consolidating the phones, I noticed that Sam did not have a single contact saved on his iPhone. He had a grand total of ten contacts saved in his cell phone: “1Charlotte”, his mother, his assistant, a friend and two cousins. Also, the Apple Store, Baja Fresh, California Pizza Kitchen and Supercuts. Of those contacts, only six were people, four family members, one friend.

His whole world seemed condensed and small in that moment. He must have felt so alone. It made me sad that so few of us comprised his entire universe.

It’s a lot of pressure to be the one he should have called but didn’t. Should he have asked for help? Definitely. Should I have paid closer attention? Probably. It has been easier to forgive him. It has been harder to forgive myself.

Did he truly not realize how many people cared? I could have readily named 30 more. The exotic, stoic girl at the dry-cleaner with the thick black eyeliner burst into tears talking about Sam, years after his death. A little kindness touches people more significantly than we realize. I do not know how he could have marginalized himself. I do not understand how he became so disconnected from his faith – in himself, in life, in others. I can only caution my children (and everybody else) to ask for help before they reach that point, if – God forbid – they ever find themselves drawn toward that dark, dark place.

Any one of us on his contact list would have helped. Even the person answering the phone at the Apple Store (live people answered the phone back then) could have looked up the telephone number for a suicide hotline (still answered live).

One of his favorite clients routinely called Sam himself – not exclusively for financial advice – but for reassurance. She struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, and he often counseled and encouraged her.

But when he was the one suffering, he didn’t reach out. He didn’t call. He didn’t ask.

He entered that dark tunnel where he somehow genuinely believed that we would be better off without him. He took his own life and left us with a paradox: Either we would founder and fall apart and fail, because we couldn’t survive without him, thus proving him wrong; or, we would find a way to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and build new dreams, demonstrating that we did not need him and therefore proving him right. It is crazy-making logic at its worst.

We choose to believe that we honor Sam’s life best by living our own with integrity, love, joy and hope. We live with the paradox.

So, if you want to know how to pick up the pieces after the unthinkable has happened, I do know a thing or two about that. It starts with a single day, a time devoted to healing and radical self-care. A sacred space designated for intentional breathing, contemplation and snacks. It starts with Tuesday.


Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And Tuesday’s peace.


Our days have been full to burst, as my grandfather used to say, with family, work, church, school, the usual suspects – and all good (mostly good, anyway) – but there’s just so many of them. The color-coded calendar is working overtime, as is our Mr. Coffee, by which I mean the actual pot and not my darling husband, although he, too, is putting in some long hours, starting early by bringing coffee to his sleepy wife. I find myself squeezing in projects between appointments, in the name of productivity, trading writing time for the sake of volunteer demands and devoting precious little time to my self.

Years ago, shortly after Sam’s death, I claimed Tuesday as my day just for me, which as a practical matter was not the whole of the day, but from about 9:00am – 2:00pm, the few, valuable hours that both kids were in school simultaneously. I protected this time from external demands, appointments and certain professionals with letters following their names. I strictly avoided forms, the DMV and anyone related to health insurance. I rarely scheduled coffee, or lunch, or even a walk with a friend on Tuesdays, because I needed the time free from restraints. It was the one day I put myself at the top of my own priority list, subject only to critical needs of the children.

Over time I’ve begun to share my day more liberally. I’m healthy and happy, as are my husband and all our children, and I’ve let my guard down. It starts with the plumber who can only fit my sewage leak issue into his Tuesday schedule, and by the end of the day I’m still standing and mostly sane, so I loosen my protective grip on the day. Maybe I don’t need to devote the time to my own health as I once did. I begin to use the time for some extra work or one more project, a meeting or a conference call. I still get to yoga most Tuesdays, but during the final meditation, I find the wheels beginning to spin and I’m already planning breakfast and a wardrobe change.

I think I need to reclaim my Tuesday.

My inner perfectionist control freak bristles at this idea. She thinks I need to do more, accomplish something tangible, and make some measurable progress, but I suspect what I really need right now is to do less. Not just because it’s an incredibly beautiful, cool (finally!) day out there, but I confess that particular detail may have factored into my epiphany. Not just because some friends lost their child to suicide last week, although that might have played a role. More because I noticed I was holding my breath this morning, and that’s not a good sign. And there’s this lingering low-grade headache, which could be attributed to allergies or the change in the weather, but I suspect it’s something different.

I’m going to stop and breathe and be for a while.

I’m going to send a text message to a friend just to say I love you and feel incredibly grateful to have such a friend. I’m going to read something life-affirming and uplifting – a story, a poem, or just a verse – something that doesn’t contain the words “compliance,” “code” or “deadline.” I’m going to be patient with myself.

I need a moment to pray, to trust in a God who does not disinherit Her children. I need to listen to Natalie Merchant’s Life Is Sweet on repeat, to cry and smile and inhale. And then I will take the dog for a long walk, which is the most healing practice I know.

I am going to sit still and listen to my heart beat for as long as it takes to feel my whole body pulse in rhythm with my soul. I will stay put until I reach the place where I feel in my lungs the simple truth that Life is breathing me.

I’m going to put on my favorite jeans, my favorite boots and a favorite sweater (fall weather – my favorite!), and that will pretty much be my achievement for the day.

My therapist calls this self-care. Some call it procrastination, a waste of time, inefficiency. I’m going to call it my Charlotte-Shabbat and preserve this day to come home to myself. Somehow I sense that that’s also what today needs from me.

Tomorrow, I will tackle errands, to-do lists and projects. I might even work up the wherewithal to talk to a lawyer I’ve been meaning to call, but not today. It’s Tuesday, and I need some sacred time.


Wishing you light and strength on your daily path. And time for your sacred self.

Monday Is So Not Tuesday

Let us begin again…

So Monday has become a crazy confluence of work, home and family predicaments. Many of which are anxiety-inducing, so much so that I’m contemplating calling my doctor for Xanax. My prescription ran out years ago, and I cannot even find an expired little orange something around here. I’ve already looked.

My “cup runnething over” in real life today looks more like “my toilet running over” in the literal and metaphorical sense. A business colleague is reneging on a deal in a calculated, venemous and hostile way; a certain special someone has been particularly unpleasant in relation to his own relocation; I am up to my elbows in a project that I really like, but I feel as though I’m juggling about 17 flaming torches and I’m anxious not to burn any structures down in the process. My dammit doll is getting a serious workout; unfortunately, I am not. Meanwhile, I’m carrying all the standard-issue maternal anxiety related to children in various stages of dependence and independence. All those things happening separately might even be tolerable, it’s just that all of everything is happening at the same time, and it’s making me crazy. My head is spinning with details and my chair is swirling with activity.

As if on cue, my college student calls. He is up to his own eyeballs in alligators and asks for help proofreading a paper. Of course, I say yes. Nothing is more important to me, not because I love writing (although I do), but because I love him. I’m in the middle of spreadsheets and proposals and emails, and I stop all of it to review his work. It is, in fact, my highest priority of the day. In about the time it takes me to take a deep breath, he sends me a text message: “You’re the best.”

In that moment all the noise fades to the background, because I love my son and he loves me, and we have a relationship, flawed and beautiful and real. And it’s just wow.

The other stuff will work its way through, and some of it may well be toxic and disagreeable, but I will hold to this one little light to carry me through today.

And Oh! I remember something else. On the top of my list of tasks for today is to mail graduation announcements for another of my sons. Two lights.

And just like that, with one little interruption and a burst of gratitude, one light has become two, and the day is looking better. Just bright enough to make it through until Tuesday.


Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And one little interruption.


I think I’ve mentioned before that I totally get where Jonah was coming from. Or going to. Or not going to, to be specific. I connect with his reluctance to tackle a job he doesn’t especially want. Or to work with people he doesn’t particularly like. Or maybe Jonah is loathe to go there because he doesn’t like who he becomes (self-righteous, angry, vindictive) in that hostile, foreign place, and the only way through the situation requires humility, creativity, flexibility and a willingness to change – not just the Ninevites – but himself, which is infinitely less fun. And super stinking hot.

I’m sitting on a hard, cold bench in a wide, noisy hallway downtown, and I’m really, really trying to pray that I will be exactly where God needs me, but I don’t want to be here. It’s my sacred Tuesday, and I want to be curled up in a cozy chair, wearing jeans and a favorite sweater, with a hot cup of tea at my side and a new book (or two) in my lap, the dogs at my feet. I would enjoy a little rain outside, especially if it’s not my day to drive carpool. I would settle for tennis shoes and running gear, even if the morning’s tasks require picking up the puppy prizes, paying bills and answering emails.

Neither of these scenarios, however, appears to be where God wants me today.

I’ve been summoned for jury duty. In the criminal courthouse. On a domestic ugliness charge. There will be testimony from a dentist. It’s not going to be pretty. I’m honestly, truly trying to bloom where I’m planted, and to be attentive, optimistic, and whole-hearted, but I’m already sick to my stomach. The judge then informs us that the defendant will be representing himself, which, of course, he is entitled to do. Apparently his experience having been convicted of two prior felonies has provided him with the confidence to act as his own counsel. My intellect and my instinct are wrestling, each struggling to be the first through the closest exit.

I do believe in due process, but it’s never convenient. I’ve appeared more than a few times and even served on a couple juries, and when the system works, it’s enormously satisfying. It restores my faith in our countrymen. When the system fails, it makes me think we should seriously consider a system of professional jurors, because the defendant’s peers are wholly unqualified to tell the time (evidenced by their consistent tardiness), let alone make a rational judgment on the matter of guilt.

It is not always easy for me to surrender to where I’m supposed to be. Sometimes I don’t want to bring the best version of myself to the table. I want to bring the sloppy, grouchy version so she will be excused early and sent home to read her book, and let everybody else sort out the mess. But I know what a bad day looks like, and it’s not jury duty. Not even on a Tuesday.

Surrendering was an entirely different matter as a newly-widow. I don’t believe in a God who plans every single detail of our lives. I bristle at the words “God’s plan.” After Sam’s suicide, well-meaning, faithful people often uttered their belief in life and God’s plan, but I got stuck on that phrase, God’s plan. God planned this? I have more than a few thoughts on God’s so-called plan. Honestly. I am not in charge, but maybe I should be. I can think of hundreds of better plans than pushing a kind and caring husband and father off the top of a four-story structure. This is His divine commission for Sam? For me?

No, thank you.

I don’t believe in a God who plans tragedy, but I do believe in a God who is present with us in the muddle. I believe in the One who holds us firmly and safely while we wage our internal struggle to come to terms with the gap between what we wish was and what in fact is. I trust the God who loves each one of us for who we are – our flawed, reluctant, beautiful selves. I pray to the God who gently catches the man who, in his pain and illness and despair, commits a terribly tragic act, leaving his wife and two little boys abandoned, confused and devastated. And I have come to know the God who scoops up those little boys and their mother and holds their broken hearts together in the palm of His hand.

Jury service should be comparatively easy.

Two blocks from the criminal courthouse is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. I have been there a couple times, and each time I am arrested by the stunning tapestries displayed along the walls of the sanctuary. Saints, regular old people and young people, line the walls, all of them radiant and focused. Each person an original. A reminder of the saints living among us, and the living saints we are, not because of our perfection, but by virtue of our participation.

When the judge releases us for lunch, I dash up the hill to the cathedral, hoping to catch the daily 12:10 mass and a sense of peace and clarity. The priest is young, with a heavy accent, and it is clear that, while English is his second (or third or fourth, more likely) language, he has invested a lot of time preparing for this service. The Gospel reading covers one of the many times that Jesus disagreed with the lawyers on a point of law. The priest’s homily was about four sentences long, with the simple message that lovingkindness is more important than legalism, which thoroughly amuses me because you can see the courthouse steps from the cathedral steps. But the most profound truth the priest uttered was at the very beginning of the service, when he smiled and opened his arms wide, in a gesture of greeting and inclusion. He said: “Welcome to this holy mess.”


It is a mess. God may not have planned every sordid detail ahead of time, He might not control all the particulars, but He is here with us in the mix, and we need all hands on deck. Like all the individual saints lined up on the tapestries, heading in the same direction, united in purpose, each wearing a unique style of shoe. We need each other’s differences, perspectives and skills. We will not see eye to eye on every issue. Probably not on most issues. But when you look at the eyes of the saints on the tapestries, their eyes are not on each other. All eyes are forward, looking toward Jesus. Looking toward the light.

I can do that.

I take my most authentic self to the place where I am. Today, that’s a criminal courtroom downtown. I bring a smile, an open mind, attentive ears and a book. Because chances are good that my patience will be tried in this holy mess.


Wishing you light and strength on today’s path. Welcome to this holy mess.

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.

No Contest

I was in traffic court a Tuesday or two ago. A serious violation of my sacred Tuesday rule. Because I live in Los Angeles, parking was so scarce that I was afraid I would get a parking ticket while defending myself against the garbage traffic ticket. Nightmare.

So I sit reading my book on a hard, squeaky bench and wait for the courtroom to open, feeling resentful and just a little persecuted. One by one, my fellow civilians arrive, then a few attorneys, and a little later a collection of officers, each prepared to present his perspective on our failings as drivers. The uniforms are armed and intimidating, with beautiful posture. One huge guy sports a flak jacket. I’m feeling very small. Partly I’m offended by this whole situation because I am that girl who defends police officers. I remind my children to do what the uniform says, because those men and women put their lives on the line every time they get dressed. Truly, I am grateful. But that’s also why I’m annoyed, because I don’t think that this particular suburban housewife is a marked threat to humanity, and don’t they have something better to do than pick on me? Not to mention that I myself am a Nag First Class to my sons about all manner of safe driving habits, and frankly I’m more than a little embarrassed.

Eventually, the bailiff comes out, directs the uniforms into the courtroom and ushers the rest of us into the hallway for an orientation. His message is clear: “You may have your day in court if you wish, but you will almost certainly lose.” Innocent until proven guilty does not apply in this venue. If “your officer” (as if I want to have anything to do with that guy) fails to appear, it is your lucky day, and your case will be dismissed. Obviously it’s not my lucky day, because I’m here on a Tuesday. Oh, and my officer is here too. The bailiff urges everybody to plead “no contest” and take the traffic school option if it’s offered, because if you go to trial and lose (which, he reminds us, is the likely result), traffic school is no longer an option. One woman — so desperately wanting to be heard — presents her case in the hallway, pulling out photographs of the intersection in question. The bailiff remains unswayed.

He ushers us into the courtroom. I choose a seat in the back. And while the clerk begins speaking, I hear the voice of a pastor from a recent sermon: “Do you really want what you deserve?”

The readings that week included the parable of the vineyard, a story of an estate owner who goes to the marketplace early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Those workers negotiate a fair wage with the estate owner, and off they go. Hi ho! Hi ho! As the day goes on, the vintner returns to the marketplace to recruit more workers — at 9:00am, noon, early afternoon and even late afternoon — and at the end of the day the workers line up to collect their wages. The vintner starts with the latecomers, and he pays them a full day’s wage. The early birds start to get really excited about this, until they realize that the owner is paying each and every worker a full day’s wage, which now doesn’t seem fair at all.

In a world full of injustices, this description of the kingdom of heaven is not entirely comforting, especially for those of us who are really trying to do the right thing. We get up early, work hard all day, and then the lazybones and lollygaggers end up with the same pay? It’s just not fair.

I think most people prefer to think of themselves as the hard workers who negotiated a fair wage and then got down to business. I do. But what if I am more appropriately associated with the slackers who spent the morning sleeping off a hangover? Or took a long lunch? Or spent an hour shopping on the internet? If I am completely honest about it, have I put in the entire day’s work, giving my best effort from sunrise to sundown? Really?

And the people who come late to the party? There may be more to their story than a malfunctioning alarm clock. Maybe one is a convicted felon without a high school diploma but with two children to feed who cannot find gainful employment anywhere until she finally stumbles upon this crazy vintner who doesn’t check her credentials. Or maybe it’s a gay man who, afraid of rejection — again — resists going to the marketplace until he is so hungry that the risk of rejection is less painful than the nagging hunger pangs. Or an addict who, exhausted and suffering, is willing to work in an attempt to find purpose and relief — even if only for an hour. Because it is a place to start. Or maybe it’s just a regular Joe who tries and falls short and makes the occasional mistake, because that’s what people do.

God’s justice isn’t justice at all. It’s grace.

Shortly after the clerk begins his roll call, a well-heeled gentleman walks in confidently. It appears that he has heard the bailiff’s orientation speech a time or two, as well as the judge’s frequently-repeated guilty verdict. He’s not an officer or an attorney. He’s an experienced visitor to this particular department. The traffic ticket muse sits in the back row, echoing the opinion that everyone should take traffic school if possible. He even advises the woman next to me that she should raise her hand and tell the clerk she has changed her mind. Only one chooses traffic school. It’s an interesting aspect of human nature that we so desperately want to tell our stories — and be heard by a judge and treated fairly — that most everybody risked a guilty verdict (earning a “point” on his record) instead of spending a day in traffic school (avoiding the “point”).

Not a single person in this courtroom wants what he deserves. That’s why we’re all here to object, to be heard, to plead our cases. It reminds me of Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, when he says of his fellow convicted criminals, “I’m the only guilty person in the whole place.” I look around me and smile. I may not like to think so, but these are my people.

In my thirty years of driving I’ve only been pulled over twice, and this was the first time I’d actually been issued a citation. The other time I was driving 29 in a 25 (honestly) en route between the elementary school and the grocery store in order to purchase quarters for the book fair. With the kids’ lunch hour approaching, they would soon be inundating the book fair, and we needed change. We had a certain officer in town with a reputation for being completely inflexible. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t pulled over at some point by “Officer Jones” during his tenure in town. He was even mentioned by name in the Driver’s Education course at the high school, so the fact that Officer Jones let me continue on my way without issuing a ticket was no small miracle. That was my lucky day.

The clerk calls my name. He informs me that traffic school is not an option because whatever the officer thinks he saw (which I still disagree with) was not so bad as to warrant a “point” on my driving record. If I plea “no contest,” I pay the fee and then go free. Or I could spend the morning waiting to argue about it and then lose. Nothing against the traffic court judge — I never even set eyes on the guy — but I’m glad he’s not going to judge me because I don’t think I would have enjoyed the process or the outcome.

As much as I’d like to think that I’ve been a perfect driver for 30 years, there is undoubtedly something in my driving history that I should have been ticketed for. And so, no, I don’t want what I deserve. I’m not going to argue about my innocence or my culpability. Instead, I’m going to move on with my day and let my officer do the same. I’ve been fretting about the unfairness of this particular citation for three months, and now I’m going to let the whole thing go.

The traffic court guru in the back row nods his approval.

The court clerk issues my ticket to freedom, out of the courtroom and on to salvage my morning by walking the dog. Along my route, I think some more about that parable of the vineyard. I’m grateful that God doesn’t employ a point system. How blessed is that worker who, from the moment he wakes in the morning, feels a sense of purpose and place. Who has the health and capacity to work a full day. Who feels confident enough to negotiate with his boss for a fair wage. It is a gift he loses sight of when he focuses on the wages other workers receive.

Given the choice between justice and grace, I choose grace.


Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a little grace.

Tuesday Rules

I figured out early as a newly-widow that if I was going to drive this train, I would need some time exclusively for myself. It happened that my favorite yoga class was on Tuesday, and my therapist had time for me the same day, so Tuesdays became my “Charlotte Shabbat.” My initial Tuesday rule was this: “Unless you are, in fact, on fire AND I gave birth to you, it can wait until Wednesday.”

This standard worked well for me in the initial stages of my grieving process. I used Tuesdays for my own restoration. I did not pay bills or talk to lawyers or do laundry. Tuesdays came to represent my own indulgent, selfish and healing tendencies: yoga, therapy (sometimes retail therapy), and a table for one. I didn’t make lunch plans with anybody else. I would take myself wherever I felt like going at whatever time I was hungry. I was the only one in my family who liked sushi, so that often became my lunch of choice. Hence, Sushi Tuesdays.

I happen to enjoy the table for one. As much as I delight in the chaos and clutter that accompany kids and cats and dogs, I am also remarkably content with quiet time, meditation, yoga, going to the movies alone or eating out by myself. I usually bring a book. Sometimes I read it. I thoroughly enjoy lunch with girlfriends, but I don’t necessarily feel sorry for the person eating at a table by herself because, personally, I cherish that time too.

When Tim and I got married, I revised my Tuesday rule, because at that point I would, in fact, put aside whatever I was doing when my stepsons called. The rule at the boys’ high school, like most schools attempting to nurture responsible young adults, is that mom is not supposed to “save” the kid by delivering forgotten homework assignments or calculators or projects. But between you and me, when my freshman step-son called me for any reason at all, I dropped everything. Even if I missed yoga. Even if it meant that I would violate the school standard. Even if he was calling me a name that rhymes with stitch. Which, by the way, did not refer to my sense of humor. At least he was calling me something, which is better than not calling me at all. It was a place for our relationship to start.

He also happens to like sushi.

When he and I first began our own relationship, we found success in doing things that he hadn’t done with his mother, like baking, skiing and eating sushi. The first year Tim and I were married, we had four kids in two different schools, but ever since the boys have been in at least three schools. This year it’s four. I fear we will never have spring break together again. There are not a lot of advantages to this structure, but one perk has been those “early release” days when I get to take just one of my boys out to lunch. On whichever day of the week that happens to fall.

The kids are amused by the unintended “shit” in the middle of my SushiTuesdays. I think they like the excuse to swear in front of me. Last week my boy called to see if I wanted to go out to lunch for “Su-shit-Friday.” Even if I’ve already eaten lunch, I say yes, because honestly when your 18-year-old son (step or otherwise) asks you to lunch, what else is a girl to do? Even if he’s just hoping that you’ll pick up the tab.

Sushi for two has become our specialty.

Things have changed. Four years ago I was constantly near tears because I was afraid this child would never go away to college and that he would torture me with his teenage ‘tude in perpetuity. This year — his last in high school — I have spent in tears because he is good and ready to go. He has also, in recent months, started calling me “Ma.”

Meanwhile, some things stay the same. When this boy was a freshman and I picked him up from high school, he threw his backpack in to the trunk every afternoon, plopped into the car and exclaimed, “OMG, Charlotte, the teacher is CRAZY!” Which began our refrain, Did you do your homework? What exactly were the instructions? Can I buy you another purple pen? She might be crazy, but she’s still in charge.

As a senior, following his very last final exam (and before our sushi lunch), he bursts into the house, drops his backpack in the kitchen, and exclaims, “OMG, Charlotte, the teacher is CRAZY!” These are the times when my husband and I marvel at the fact that I didn’t, in fact, give birth to this boy. I’m the drama queen, and he’s the drama king.

My son heads off to the great state of Texas for college in less than a month. I am really going to miss the daily-ness of him, his exclamations and our conversations. I am not going to miss his crap lying all over the floor. (Okay, I might. But just a little.) And I am really looking forward to his phone calls, “Hey Ma — Texans are CRAZY!”

So now all my children are teenagers or in college (or both), and my relationship with each one is a priority as well as a challenge. As a result, my Tuesday rule looks more like this: Unless you are in fact on fire and either 1) I gave birth to you, 2) I married you, or 3) I married your father, then it can wait until Wednesday, or at least until after yoga, and possibly after therapy; provided, however, that if you are not quite on fire but you are one of the aforementioned individuals and you have the opportunity and inclination to spend time with me or to talk with me (long distance or in person), then I will drop everything to be with you and answer your call.

Which is altogether too complicated.

Instead, I will say simply that some rules are meant to be broken. Thank goodness.


Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a reason to share your Tuesday time.


Tuesdays are my Charlotte Shabbat. I go to yoga and therapy and maybe take myself out to lunch. I don’t pay bills on Tuesdays or take calls from accountants or attorneys (unless, however, the aforementioned attorney is a fellow alum, member of my book club, or coaches my kid’s basketball team with my husband, in which case I will happily talk to her or him any day of the week). I read, I putter, I take long walks with the dog. Dentist appointments are not on the list of Tuesday-approved-activities. As if I really needed to say that out loud.

Except for the fact that it is Tuesday, and I just got back from an emergency dental appointment to fix a cracked crown. Make no mistake, I’m grateful the dentist fit me into the schedule. I did, however, miss my sacred pilates/yoga class this morning, and I’m feeling a bit put out.

Let me also clarify that I love my dentist and the entire staff of his office, and I’m not just saying that because I sent my regular hygienist the link to my new blog. They are kind, competent, funny, and I would much rather see any one of them at the grocery store or the park. I even ran into one of them in Milwaukee, where we had both flown to visit our college kids. She’s the office manager and probably the only one of the staff who hasn’t personally cleaned my teeth, but honestly I would trust her to. That’s how great they all are. I just don’t want to be in that chair, in part because I can’t talk with the mouth mirror and explorer and suction thingy all in my mouth like too many straws, smudging my lipstick and making a drooley mess.

I’m a girl who actually likes having her teeth cleaned, but even so I make those appointments on Mondays. I know one other person in the world who likes having her teeth cleaned, and it’s my mother. Clearly we share a genetic defect.

Another defect my mother and I have in common is that I’m congenitally missing four teeth, the details of which I will spare you, but the upshot of which is twelve crowns and four implants. Not a single cavity, for the record, but I have financed two college educations worth of oral surgery, orthodontia and dental work. Unfortunately, those college educations were not for any of my sons.

So Sushi Tuesdays has been in a work-in-process for a while, and it wasn’t until after launching and about 450 views that a friend points out to me that – while she loves the name – there is a certain one of Uncle Jose’s Colorful Words right in the middle of sushituesdays! I had no idea… OH SH#T!

Or maybe, she continues, it was intentional?

Actually, that’s pretty funny. Makes me wish I had seen it first.

The boys think it’s hysterical. So do I, until I remember that I’ve also forwarded the link to a good number of Dominican nuns.

I guess some days are like that. Even Tuesdays.

I love taking the dogs for a walk on trash days. Simple things, I know, but it’s so great not having to carry that stink bomb around with me on my run. It’s not the smell that gets me nearly so much as the temperature. One of our friends refuses to get a dog because he doesn’t want to ruin his walk by having to carry around a steaming pile. He makes a good point. Believe me, I am no big fan of the “puppy prize,” but it sort of goes along with the puppy. And a conveniently located trashcan along my route makes me just a little happier than I already was for getting out with the dog.

One of the gifts of time is perspective. I used to refer to myself as the “luckiest unlucky girl” ever, but now I think of myself as just plain lucky.

I do what I can. I run. I eat well (mostly). I brush. I floss (really!). But certain details are simply out of my control. I have this girlfriend I like to work out with, and she kicks my trash around the track. Some people are genuinely annoyed by the mud stains and grass clippings that cover them by the end of the workout. But not us. Our standing line is: “I know what a bad day looks like, and it’s not this.”

Running around the track with my girlfriend in the rain is not even on the bad day radar screen. Turning 40? Nope. Not even a bummer. Choosing the favorite tie for Sam to wear to his own funeral? That’s a bad day. Shopping for suits for my sons to wear to their father’s funeral? Bad. Going to the police station to gather my husband’s personal items and the coroner’s office to pick up the autopsy report? That counts. The day Sam would have turned 42 if he had lived that long? Yep. Six weeks over the summer with no washing machine and four sons? Maybe. But not in the top 10.

It’s got to be a doozy to make my top twenty. And yet… there is a blessing to be retrieved, even on those dark, dark days. It is the confidence that comes from having survived those bad days, especially the ones in the top five. It is the ability to say to my sons, “You made it through that. You can do anything.”

I wish I could say that the “shit” in the middle Sushi Tuesdays was intentional, but once again, I am reminded that I’m not perfect, and I’m not in charge of every detail. It’s probably better that way. I’ll just have to try not to step in it. Again.

I know what a bad day looks like, and it’s not going to the dentist on my Tuesday. That having been said, my followup crown appointment will not conflict with my Tuesday yoga next week.

Wishing you light and strength. And serendipity!