LIFE’s TERMS and WTF?

Life is good, most of the time, damn good in fact. Sometimes however, things happen that call that goodness into question; things that make me almost forget that the sun is sure to shine bright again; that it will come back in time with all of its glory, not just for me, but those I love and care for.

Over the past six months, our family has experienced steady doses of irony. Joy and sorrow arrived so disproportionately that polarity was actually tangible. At times, exhilaration and excruciation jumbled together so rapidly there was no time to truly feel or process any of it.

As this year began, we were beyond excited; we would welcome not one, but two daughter-in-laws; A nephew’s marriage out west would be coupled with a siblings trek through Olympia Forest; there were travel plans up north and to California; I would begin graduate school and best of all, our extended family would be together more than once.

It is now October (dear blog I have missed you) and yes, all of these things took place. The weddings in particular were each spectacular in their own right. They were beautiful, blessed and sacred events. Thankfully, in my heart my memories of both are intact and will always be. They are stored away as perfect days and for that, I am truly grateful.

Yet, through all of these events, the amount and level of emotional tugs went so far past my ability to comprehend that in retrospect I can only stand awestruck at the grace of the grooms and their brides throughout. At times, the challenges and grief that life presented to our children and our extended family was so excruciating, there was nothing to do but choose joy and light in the midst.

A bridesmaid died tragically and a fluke accident left an uncle on life support until his passing on wedding’s eve. Another bridesmaid caused a different kind of grief and concern; a guest’s TSA challenge put a damper on things; an elderly relative was rushed to the ER…and on and on it went. I remember trying to carry all of it like a load on my back, not for me but for the kids; I wanted their sacramental days to be perfect and tried to stand ready to take on whatever necessary to shield them. I have come to realize that perfect is relative, not absolute and that the people I love are incredibly resilient.

For months, the challenges kept wanting to pile up, but with faith as a guide all of us, everyone in this amazing extended family absolutely refused to let them overstep bounds to the brides or grooms happiness. Yes, we honored every sad and difficult moment as they came, but we then chose to shelve what could be, while keeping at hand the rest so as to push forward to celebrate and honor two very special couples and all the family members who showed up for them.

Family wedding planning is stressful under the best of circumstances; two in one year makes for double the stress. There are scads of decisions and logistics needing ironing out, budgets to determine, family dynamics stuff and perhaps a tad too much control from one direction whilst not enough from another. On top of these things, the multiple life stressors coming down the pike could have yielded quite different results, because at times there was no way to know exactly what to feel; this even in the midst of feeling excited and happy.

Grief stung like a bee time and again, though each time the only choice was to bravely pull out the stingers and dismiss the pain in order to process what kept inevitably coming around the bend. What keeps coming to mind is, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”

As everything unfolded, and as real and justified tears interspersed with elation, the weddings were spectacular. Of course, a multitude of family photos hit Facebook walls and Snapchat and in unison and connection, relatives sighed with gratitude that the Joy we chose through both instances won out over any grief and the special days were just that – very, very special.

And then, after some weeks, just when we were sure we could now breathe easily, when we just knew that any family stress had to be behind us and we all, along with the newlyweds were headed back on track to happily ever after, another life thing happened.

In the midst of planning travel for the third family wedding this year, my nephew’s out west, something happened making the trip, the plans, and the world stand still. Another nephew, a beloved young man who had recently rocked the dance floor and smiled big in family photos was gone; he died ever so senselessly. So totally were we caught off guard by this loss, that the only choice we had, my family and I, was to brace for this new crash and hope that we could somehow help our little sister put the pieces back together later.

Once again, this year, in the midst of planning for something wonderful, there appeared a very dark shadow. Once again, we would eventually push through to the best of our abilities, because we would, we knew deep in our hearts, actually have no choice. We also know now however, now that the funeral services are over, that we are different on the other side. Life will never be the same, especially for my baby sister and her girls.

The first time I read the words, “Life is difficult,” I thought they were ridiculous; “there was no need to think that way now was there?” Now, I know differently. Sometimes life is hard, very hard and I am not sure whether knowing this is half the battle or not. However, it hit me this year that knowing it is a necessary part of surviving.

An old mentor, Mary Mac, once told me, “in order to be happy you have to accept ’life on life’s terms.’” I had not a clue what “terms” were when she said it, and had no idea what she was talking about, but today I know exactly what she meant. Over many years, terms have presented themselves in the form of challenges and joys as birthdays have come and gone by the wayside. The only thing to do through all of them has been to find a level of acceptance and although it has not always been easy, it has been the only way.

The acceptance part must inevitably find its way; it will, once we decide it must. Sometimes it only comes after true struggle and amidst shattering heartache, but it comes. It comes with a willingness to remember that life is not happening TO me or TO anyone else I love and care about, even though it sometimes feels that way. Instead, life forms as a direct result of what we do with what happens, whatever happens. This is not a simple statement, particularly after a year like this last one for our family. Sometimes life’s events pile so that it seems there is a personal attack from the universe going on; comfort or anything resembling it seems impossible. The key I have learned is even at these times, to seek acceptance and to push through with everything you have to get to it.

This, because it turns out that Life is just that, life, and no matter what, it will go on; it will continue no matter what. It’s not a simple science; even with a substantial amount of spiritual tools amassed, I can still shake to my core when working to accept what feels unacceptable, particularly things dramatically affecting those I love, but I have learned that even then, even amidst the trembles, I have no choice.

This most recent loss, my nephew’s death, was so very painful and utterly senseless and now that some weeks have past and life is trying to get caught up to life, I can only pray that our family, my sister in particular, will find some true peace in our hearts and at least some tiny measure of acceptance as a beginning.

I will never understand the why’s of these last few months and frankly, I don’t have energy left even to try, but within every 24 hour every period, with every walk towards the light there seemed to be something else behind a solution, some challenge behind a joy. Some next circumstance came up so fast that processing any of it felt almost, yet not quite, impossible. Even though the horizon line almost got lost, there it always was again, in the form of a fresh new day.

No, I may never be able to fully process this year. I might not be able beyond that to figure out why, even now, even after all these months of stress mixed with joy mixed with turmoil mixed with awe, why my current “life on life’s terms,” things going on yesterday and today, are carrying yet new challenges to my family in the form of medical issues and injury. However, I will remember to keep these current small things just that, small. The Grace comes in the perspective that compared to what they could be, compared to what they might be, compared to what they have been, these new things are absolutely, positively, no problema.

Although in the midst of our day to days challenges, it is sometimes hard to see, the light is always there behind the shadows, waiting, waiting, waiting to shine. I hope it will shine bright on my family. I hope it beams down on my sister and her girls very, very soon and when it does, I hope they will be able to recognize it. I pray that they, we, will remember always, even after forgetting, to reach up and out to the source of All good things, the One shining that light for us to find.

No, I may never understand many of the “terms” of this past year, but even though I will likely not understand, I still must accept. I must accept and then move out and beyond the explanations, remembering that we will not always know why … but always, always, we are meant to remember How. We are meant to keep looking for the light. We simply have to.

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Relationships and Decisions and Choices

Over the last few days, it seems the theme around me has been relationships. Within conversation, one friend was processing some sadness about her former partner while another, her present one. Both turned to me for advice:  “How do you know when the person you are with is the right one for you?” “How do you know when he’s wrong and the time has come to move on?“How do you stand the feelings while you figure it all out?”

First, let me say that I am by no means an expert on relationships! However, because my peeps and I seek one another out for solution, I was compelled to give the best answer I could in both situations, “It’s not that simple. What I have learned from experience is that you know simply because you decide to and then you work within and towards that decision every day.”

 

My friends’ questions provoked powerful emotions within me, mostly ones of gratitude but also of sorrow and regret. They prompted a hope that once they make their choice they will know that whatever unfolds from that point on, will be right and true and good because that is who they are inside and because they will decide to work at making it so.

All my life, I stood in terror of making decisions. I was afraid to go right and find out later that left had been the way for me. Because of this, I lived always positioned for a move, ready to turn, as if waiting for a tennis shot; poised for either a forehand or back, but never too firmly planted on my feet; just ready, always ready. With this type of stance, it was difficult for any relationship to seed, take root, grow strong and flourish. The garden that was my life was one filled with annuals, never perennials, and I could not understand why flowers were not re-blooming year after year. Instead of planting new ones, knowing that the former’s gift had come and gone, I thought I must have picked the wrong patch of earth. Sure, I watered sometimes, but there was so much more critical work required. There were weeds to pull, soil to turn over and fertilizer to spread. Because I thought once I planted, pretty colors would be forevermore, when things went bare and brown I panicked. I did not understand.

Today, I can only wonder at how it was I believed I should always know, know Who and What and Where and When. How I thought I should be sure and certain in whatever I picked or chose. I wonder how it was that I so naively thought we all were supposed to find our custom designs out there, so easily, so surely. Did I think there were memos to help or sky-written messages from above to guide the way? Did I remain so afraid in my decisions, because I never got those memos, those messages? Was it because I felt abandoned somewhere, by what or whom I am not sure, but forgotten and left to pick my way through life on my own? It is laughable today, but laughable in the most gentle sort of way, to think about how terrified I was of getting it all wrong; the big IT of life; the guy I should be with, the career path to travel, the neighborhood to live in and the bestie to trust.

This morning, I have decided to smile with gentle kindness at all of it, appreciate the similarities between all of us fellow travelers and pass along what I have learned. I have opted to use the feelings stirred up from relationship conversations this week and remember to reach upward towards the blessed prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and its words that will guide me for the future. I choose today to head in the direction before me and to believe that help will come as I go, not in memo form, but in daily dialogue with God and His Angels.

Right here, right now, I choose to be one of the brave and decisive ones as I step out, one of the courageous ones, one unafraid to choose left with both feet on the ground or go right with everything I have inside of me. I commit to a willingness to make today’s choices gracefully and while doing so, believe that whatever they are will be good and true; because no matter what unfolds, the gifts will come in the lessons therein.

The most important choice I will make today will be once again to believe with all my heart, with absolute certainty that there is no right way and no wrong, but ever so perfectly, there is simply the way I will choose.

Breathing and Tears

It feels like I have been holding my breath for the last few months. And just when I thought I could take a deep fresh inhale because the presidential election was finally over, the oxygen seemed to disappear again. Before I could grab even a gasp of air, it was gone, sucked away over discussions about the inauguration and who planned to boycott, over worry that the marches around the country may not stay peaceful and well just all of it … all the muck being stirred up that seemed to have no end. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me suffocation started to seem inevitable when all I wanted was to exhale with relief that all the hateful commercials were finally over.

Yes, I mention the presidential election, thankfully the charade has come to a conclusion, but I am not writing about Hillary or Donald or any of the reasons I have either to applaud or mistrust either one of them. I am not writing about who I voted for and I am especially not writing a ‘my candidate is holier than thou’ tirade, first of all because neither of the choices exactly qualified and secondly because I have learned that none of us humans are without flaw, without mistake.

What this blog post was for when I started it was to begin to work out, by typing, some of the angst I realize I have been carrying for months. It was an attempt to release some of the C so that I can get at the O2 and finally catch my breath.

Why I’ve wondered, do so many choose to remain so defensive still, even when the White House’s new resident has already moved in? Do they really know all the truths involved in what they think they are raging against? Why oh why is there an inability to accept an outcome which was achieved by tallying peoples choices and one candidate coming out on top?  Why can’t we all begin to act with the kind of hope that made our country great in the first place? These are the questions that have been blocking my windpipes. As well as, and this one from the fashionista in me, why was it necessary to give Melania’s outfit choices so much airtime last Friday? Was it too much to say she looked lovely and leave it at that?!

Last night, a Thursday night in late January, a full week after our new President took office, a President I pray will incite desperately needed change in this country, I finally started to breathe again. The deep breath happened unexpectedly while I stood in line at a local TooJays deli waiting for takeout next to an elderly couple doing the same. It occurred during a tender exchange wherein we had opportunity to honor one another and this great country.

The conversation started when we agreed that the chicken soup we both ordered was just like homemade. When the woman commented about the chocolate/vanilla cookies also part of her order, being almost as good as Ebingers bakery in Brooklyn, bonding was inevitable. Ebingers coincidentally was home to my family’s desserts, especially our all time favorite blackout cake and the half moon cookies she was talking about. To  think that this couple knew about this place from my past made for an instant connection.

The old man sported a black and gold “WW II Veteran” cap and when I noticed it, the strangest thing happened, my eyes filled with tears. Caught almost off guard by how moved I was, I quickly wiped them away, “Thank you so much,” I said, “Thank you for your service to our country.” When he answered, his speech was slurred and I found out long after we were handed our packages and both our soups were getting cold that he had recently suffered a stroke.

For some reason, after so many months of exhausting election media frenzy, I needed to stand and talk to this couple. I needed to connect if even for an instant with this man who knew of Ebingers and who had once fought for his country, my country, our country. I needed to feel the moment of gratitude towards him especially now. Especially when so many are picketing and resisting and creating what feels to me like a war at home and especially when I don’t know which conflict on which news program is real and which is bought and paid for.

Maybe I needed this moment to bond with a cane wielding veteran last night because of recently seeing the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” and being emotionally moved by one mans refusal to be violent. Perhaps I needed it because the film’s graphics bluntly depicted what the man next to me may have gone through as a young soldier. Maybe I needed this instant of kindness to help me forget the many other citizens so defensively guarded and unwilling to let go of their fear, even a little and believe that a graceful future just may be possible.

Perhaps I just needed to hear an old man’s spirit when he said, “I voted for this President and I have great hope for our future. I also proudly fought for my country and would do it again in a heartbeat.”.Maybe it’s because In am confused by actors who think they should use acceptance podiums for political statements, especially those I revere. Perhaps it’s because I just wanted a moment where I could be naive again and where I could remember that God is and always has been trying to bless all Americans, young, old and on line getting takeout.

I feel a bit tired and yet, I realize that I can refuse to be tired. I can decide to stay alert and awake and willing. I can not so much fight back as stand steady in the midst of all of it, and smile in peace and love and hope and belief in the future, our future. I can choose not to jump – either in or up and down at all, but instead remain open-hearted in acceptance. I can refuse to watch as the media tries still to sway me on an election and an outcome that have already reached a conclusion, where the winner is already at work.

Back to last night, as we walked out the restaurant door, the friendly veteran said “I just wish people would stop fighting internally; I am sure they would if only they knew what I know , if only they had experienced what I have. If so, they would realize how very lucky they are.” When we got to the parking lot, his wife turned to me, “Thank you so much for saying ‘thank you.’ That means the world to him; he is so proud. We are both so proud of his service to our great country.” As she said it, the tears started again, only this time I allowed them. They trickled down my face as I gently shook hands with this lovely couple and then headed towards my car and home, where my husband and I would be comforted by soup just like our moms used to make way back when…

American Woman…and Yes, I do like Dennis Miller

I remember a time when being a young American Girl allowed me to believe.

I believed in the idea of reverence for Heroes, Olympians, Religions, Movie Stars, Political Parties, Presidents, First Ladies, the Media, Teachers, Police Officers and even just my Elders. In school, we celebrated Washington, Lincoln, King and Columbus with holidays, plays and homework worksheets hot off the Mimeograph machine. We honored them, admiring what they had done well, instead of picking apart that which may not have been so great. Revering not so much the individuals, we placed value on what they represented. We respected authority, our nation, its beginnings and stood willingly awestruck by things so much bigger than the sum of their parts. We placed esteem because we needed to. It gave us something to believe in and it was awesome to believe, instead of standing armed with poison pen to pick apart the legitimacy of those beliefs.

I remember reading a biography on Abraham Lincoln many years after making crafts with cotton and black crepe paper for the class bulletin board and thinking, “Wait, he sometimes failed too? He had flaws? He had haters? Good ole Honest Abe was imperfect, wait, what?” I was so happy not to have known any of Mr. Lincoln’s limitations (or anyone else I revered) when I was young because it gave me time to hope and dream about what America offered to me. I needed to believe in all my heroes, in what each stood for and to this day, I am glad that too much information did not get in the way of those beliefs.

flag

As a little girl, I stood proud with hand on heart when my class pledged allegiance to the American flag. Doing so was not open for discussion and I learned to respect the teacher who held us accountable. Along with my classmates, I recited poems about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria and wondered not only how the earth could possibly be round, how anyone could be brave enough to set sail in order to find out. At least back then, we wondered. I liked imagining what it was like for explorers to set out and find spices and places to call home some new day in a faraway place. It seemed back then, that talking about discovery was much more important than being politically correct about the discoverer.

As for Columbus and his men and the fact that some cities now refuse to celebrate him anymore, I am not saying that all they likely did upon arrival (even if that arrival was by default) in already inhabited land would have been things to revere. I am saying however, that as a young child having a chance to do so, allowed me to believe in the idea of discovery. That belief mattered. Was it really so terrible, those of you who insist on banning Columbus Day, to allow children to believe in a story of “sailing the ocean blue in 1492?” Did it really have to become an ethnic battle cry? Can you not see that the simplicity of the belief back when, served to help some of us dream of exploration of our own some day?    

Regarding trophies and grades, the way it worked was this:  we played games resulting in a winner and loser; some kids got trophies and some did not (I was one of the “did-nots”), but no matter what, we learned about perseverance, disappointment and sportsmanship. We experienced the feeling of victory and yes, the agony of defeat, but within each we were compelled to stand still in emotion. We got A’s when we worked hard and D’s when not so much and we felt joy and disappointment depending. Does that even happen anymore? Does anyone have to feel disappointment? Do our children even have to stop long enough to feel? I read that some colleges cancelled class and allowed students to bring pets to the dorms to help them process unhappiness during this past presidential election. Seriously?? Today, our nation focuses so much on making sure that everyone is comfortable and everybody wins that we seem to have lost sight of the value that discomfort and even losing have in forming our individual dignity and strength. This refusal to stand still in emotions anymore within our schools, our sports, our games, our elections, our country, this avoidance of discomfort in such an enormous way in our society, makes me so very uncomfortable.

Maybe that is why so many potential young discovers these days seek their high from drugs. They set out for the instant gratification, dopamine buzz from a substance instead of the long-term one that comes from setting out and trying and even sometimes failing, from an origin of purpose. Perhaps many of our young Americans today are just going with what they are learning, to cop out and make excuses instead of feeling. Or, maybe they feel blocked from seeking new heights because they are afraid of the judgment fishbowl they will likely have to swim in after they achieve them, the one in which every move, every thought and every comment will be picked apart by society and the media. Perhaps it is because no one is teaching our young people anymore that life is not about being always comfortable or always understood or always right. It is about striving along the way.

I remember the notion that I could safely strive for greatness someday; it gave me something to hold onto back when; I was in awe of athletes, strong, able and excellent competitors and loved watching the Olympics and being proud of another medal for my country. There was a sense of awe, of connection, of belonging to something so much greater, something that I may be able to try to know or find someday. I am glad I was naively unaware of which athlete drank too much or smoked pot or took steroids on their down time.

With our celebrations, our explorers, our Presidents, our heroes, there was a spirit of hope. I loved being a little American girl. I loved not knowing as much as I know now about each one of the individuals that helped me believe in their greatness. I am grateful to understand how flawed I have been myself in getting to any measure of accomplishment achieved in my own life; and am so very thankful to understand that we are each so utterly human. It saddens me that so many refuse to allow others the right to their humanness, with all that being human entails.

Back as a girl in school, although I did not really like all the rules, I understood them. Being accountable helped sure up the foundation under my feet. I loved that a teacher could still give a hug if I scraped my knee. I treasured, yet dreaded the excitement of getting a test back after studying hard for it and when the paper was void of a gold star, I valued the sense of effort from having to work harder next time.

I loved Christmas being Christmas and Hanukkah being Hanukkah and the fact that we did not have to watch out for offending anyone when we wished them Happy or Merry. Thank goodness, the news was not on round the clock and that we were not privy to every sideways sneeze someone famous made. I loved being a little American girl when I was one and I pray for those who are growing up now in this world that seems so afraid of grades and awards and hugs and mistakes.

I realize that today, I get to choose to love being a grown American woman and that is the choice I proudly make, although it is not always easy when I watch what goes on out there in America land. I must choose not to grab hold of the ugliness thrown out as bogus factoid grenades each minute of every day and remember how nice it was not to know what I didn’t’ know when I was little; how awesome it was to still believe in people, in their greatness. Each morning I commit to remind myself that I, that we, are flawed humans striving to do better and that yesterday I was not nearly as far as I am today so maybe you weren’t either. Things I said or did in my past, especially thirty years ago, are laughable because I am no longer that woman who spoke without always meaning what she said and I must ignore the media asking me to judge the latest person up for slaughter this week for what they said during their own back when. I am aware that I have made heartfelt mistakes and stand grateful in the knowledge that if my every quote, deed or action through life had been under a microscope the way our coaches, teachers and politicians’ are, I would likely be very lonely. For I have said, done and even thought things that would not bode well in the public eye or even within my inner circle.

Why are we so afraid? Why are we scared of mistakes made along the road to excellence? Why do we focus so much on ugliness and errors? Why do reporters so willingly tout what is bad instead of what is amazing about a person? Why do we the public pay so much attention? Why are we so terrified to give our children A’s and D’s when they deserve either as grades and why, oh why, don’t we understand that getting a D just may inspire someone to work harder next time for the A? Why do we think that everyone should get a trophy, whether for first place or last? What is happening here? Why are so many so quick to smile at or “Facebook like” things that are unkind and result in others undoing? Why do picketing and rioting get airtime, so very much airtime, when both incite confusion and violence? What happened to grace? Why does everyone have to argue about everything? Why are folks so fearful of healthy competition and why are some so intent on slander?

I wish, I hope, I pray, I dream that there are a few others out there that remember a time when we were naive enough to believe; a time when what we didn’t know allowed us all to grow. A time when you did not have to be afraid of picking plain milk over chocolate in the cafeteria, for fear someone might misunderstand and when you could bring a peanut butter sandwich without having to sit alone at a lunchroom table or even a boardroom one. I wonder if please, please, please we could stop going over the top to make sure everyone’s rights are being valued, because it seems like in doing so, we are getting lost and blowing others rights to kingdom come.

I wish we would start by opening our heart to honoring one another more simply and not taking anyone apart piece by piece to prove they were not or are not worthy of making the difference they tried to make or are still trying to make. Forgive them, those in the past, those in the present and one another for being human and move forward in that humanness so that we can all find love and respect along the way. God Bless all the American girls, boys, men and women who, like me, are grateful for the seekers and the finders, the settlers and the pioneers. God Bless the Indians and the cowboys, the military and the peacemakers, and PLEASE Dear God, help us find some balance. Thank goodness the earth is round so we can’t fall off the end of it, or worse yet jump. Wait, are we sure it is round? Who knows what the next explorers, pioneers and politicians will find out, if only they remain brave enough to set out and try; if only they remain unafraid of failing or being judged long after finding whatever they may find.