Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Separate, but Equal






Separate, but Equal

Sometimes I lull myself into believing that I am invincible. I'm of a certain age (don't ask...okay, it's 40 something--NOT) hearty and healthy, and boy can I rock a mean pigeon, side plank or a down dog split. But. Even though I immerse myself in my community, work hard to stay ahead of the curve in my job, and chase after my youth each and every day, who am I kidding, really? Healthy living is a choice, but it's not an answer to all the scaries out there.

One of those scaries, I have to admit, is Alzheimer's disease. Who's not? There was a segment on the news the other day about new studies that can identify early symptoms. Oh my God, I just wanted to cover my ears and my eyes and walk away. But, I didn't. Instead I was drawn like a moth to hear the whole thing. 

The smell test. Did you know they now test people to see how measurably far a jar of peanut butter has to be before its smell can be detected by the patient? (They even hauled out a ruler!) As I sat there and watched, the undeniable scent of my big old golden retriever was wafting itself into my olfactory glands! Thank God! So. We'll check that off dog beats peanut butter any day.

Then there was the celebrity face test, but I'm saying this upfront now, don't ever count on that for me. I have no clue, and never had, I am a paparazzi's nightmare. That kind of staring at other people's lives is just too embarrassing for me. 

But on a somewhat other note, I showed up very apprehensive with a head full of knowledge for my Meniscus surgery the other day. I'd been all over Web MD, asked questions of the PA in my doctor's office, and even canvased people in Starbuck's or anyone I met along the way. 

Me? I have a husband in a wheelchair, a giant dog, and a house I'm taking care of these days. I dug and planted for a week, and I had all kinds of company. I was ahead of the curve, and even though Tom (in the wheelchair) and me on foot would after the procedure look like a train wreck leaving that place, I was not aware that there could be worse.

In walks Willy. Willy was about 80ish, very short and a bit plump and bald with his belt pulled all the way up to his chest. He had on his gray velcro sneakers and two men following him. He, like me, went up to the window. And like me he was asked to show his license and insurance card. That's where the comparison ends.

Willy fumbled through his wallet for what seemed like an awfully long time. The one man, about perhaps five years younger and cranky, his brother, I think said "He doesn't know what the hell he's looking for." The other, younger, well dressed, casual business style jumped right in (a nephew, I think). So here's Willy, who was called Will by the woman (wife to cranky) who came in from the parking lot to save him--he's guided to a seat and told he's number 7 (I'm number 6). Willy and his entourage now stretch to 4.

He pulls out a scratchy paper towel from a men's room somewhere and attempts to wipe his nose. The woman, who was kinder thank God, tells him, "Will, you need a soft tissue to take care of that." Willy/Will/Number 7 sits there and looks at her. He knows he's supposed to respond. But...hmmm. Nothing.

When they call number 6, I hop up, and leave Tom to watch this unfold. I think about Willy, and I forget to worry about me. That is a very good thing.

Next thing I know, I'm waking up in the recovery room, and guess who's next to me? It's Willy of course; and now the doctor comes in and the nurses are making a big fuss over him. They ask him his name and he answers right away. And if he's had what I had, I know the black curtain inside my mind has not totally cleared. But, he pipes right up,"Bill," he says! And I can just hear the delight in his voice.

Bill. If everyone just asked me my name. 

So here we were, Bill and I, numbers 7 and 6 with a hanging sheet dangling between our personal lives. I loved that man for the window he opened, and today, almost a week later, while I'm hobbling around, I'm wondering if #7 is doing any better than me! We may be worlds apart, but we all perk up with a little attention to our humanness and that one single word that we all love to hear, our name. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Little Bit of Heaven


Homeward bound...with my thoughts escaping, where my music's playing, where my love light's waiting silently for me. Paul Simon and all the greats. How they have charmed me all these years in my life.

Summertime is, for me, like a great big hug. A homecoming.  It's a time to come home to me, to my family and to my soul and my life. Pretty big thinking, right? Don't get me wrong. I'm living the life those other ten months too. Bringing, every year, for 180 days a new crop of ten year olds into my life too. But, by the end of those days, there is a point of physical and emotional exhaustion too. The human doing needs to return to human being status. 

Simple things give me that feeling of living that heavenly life, I as a creative, crave. Walking the hilltop fields and staring at the puffy clouds on the edge of the horizon, staring long at the Black-eyed Susans, watching the butterflies dance just above the tips of the meadow grass, and listening to the happy sounds of the birds, chirping and singing, because they know, I'm sure, that tractor on the roadside is going to peel all this away very soon.

Savoring moments, refilling and allowing life to just take me at will. Letting go. All this is what I crave. No schedule to bind me, no must dos (well, therre is the mortgage!), but seriously I wonder sometimes why I get so caught up in the scheduling trap, the routines, when there is so much life to enjoy!

So today, I'm once again slipping on those summer shoes and dancing in the swirl of life's abundance. 
Happy, joyous and free...in every sense of those words!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Small Miracles



I am in love with the small miracle, that moment in time when the curtain parts and the stage is clear and something of non-monumental importance occurs. I often forget the possibility exists. I'm busy. So busy. The ripples in the pond are there, but I've taken myself off on another trip.

The other day, a plump robin sat atop the branches of a small weeping cherry tree in my yard. The cherry tree itself is a miracle. Just a month or so ago, it was topped with a cap of snow! Now, it has an array of tiny pink blossoms dangling off the tips of its branches. And those buds...will be gone in another week. 

But the robin? Well, I pretty much knew what she was up to. She was scoping out her space and trying to figure out where she'd build her nest this year. When I came home yesterday, I startled her. Her nest was built above the light by the walkway. Soon, a couple little heads with huge, gaping beaks will pop out on this scene. Life is a panoramic of miracles.

But today, Tom and I are taking a leap of faith. We'll follow the footsteps of three small children...to whom a huge miracle occurred. The story goes a woman appeared, and water gushed from a rock. The overpowering scent of roses accompanied her appearance, and the children ran home to tell! From there, a church was built. And people flocked there, much like my robin on its tree. People who had never walked, could now set foot on the earth for the very first time, the blind could see. The woman was Mary, and her miracles in Lourdes are very well known. Monumental miracles.

I have experienced miracles such as these in my life. I've had a son born at twent-four weeks, a brother-in-law, diagnosed with leukemia at a young age...a time when no cure was imminent, grow up and share the joys of life with me. 

I've experienced the miracle of death as well. A sister who hadn't moved for weeks, her body beaten by the awful effects that cancer can bring. But even when I thought our communicating was done, she started to rock back and forth and we prayed the rosary one last time. That was our moment. Soon the room filled with an energy that truly was palpable. My heart felt so full, I thought it would burst. And then, she was gone. But I was left with a total knowing, a sense that her life was complete. And because of that I was complete as well...she would be well cared for, I knew.

So life? Is full of miracles! Will Tom walk on a beach and hold my hand once again like he'd done for so many years? I'm not so sure. What I do know is that miracles require prayer and mindfulness! I wish I'd paid a little more attention to those footsteps on the beach...savored that time we had. But now, I know. I watch. I savor. I take one day at a time, and pay close attention, as often as I can. 

Today, I ran into a man walking his dog, Isaac, a large black lab, a favorite friend of my dog Reilly's. He told me Isaac has been diagnosed with cancer, but he has been praying the rosary for him. Amazing. I told him I'm headed for Lourdes. His eyes lit up, he knew exactly what that meant. So...a little holy water from the spring will be coming home for Isaac now. Imagine, what a chance encounter that was! 

Miracles? C'mon...I'm a Mets fan! Of course I definitely believe!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ripples in Stillness


                                                 

When a tree falls in the forest, is it heard...or only happened upon by a wandering onlooker, a seeker, especially tuned to its collapse? Is it felt in the hearts of the forest creatures? Do we feel its violent effects in our hearts out in the world? Where does the rippling of its falling end? When did I stop watching? 

When the awful destruction of December 14th found its way into my life,  I moved forward, storing its reverberations within my deepest memory cells. Not now, I told myself, not now. There was too much ahead of me, I couldn't drop to the floor, crack open and fall apart. I was surrounded by the faces of children, whose innocence, so evident in the previous days in laughter and stories, had now faded to black in the wake of this horrific storm. Sent to a crowded corner, hidden away under a sink, they waited for three hours on that day. We told our stories of bears tromping through the woods, being hunted down to keep us all safe. Kids remembered a lockdown when a bank in town was robbed of a small sum of money. Others were knowing, keeping us safe. We had to allay our fears.

But then, news arrived, and the tree fell hard upon us. Our hearts were shattered and so was that system of innocent thinking we'd all subscribed to...them, because they were young, they'd had no experience with anything of this magnitude, and me, because I was, yes, more life-experienced...but had no capacity for it. I mean, let's face it, I chose Newtown...to raise my family, to live out my career life, to immerse myself in what some call the bucolic, what others call the idyllic, what I think of as a lifestyle of country retreat. The beauty of nature was itself a type of protection. But in that thinking there was something very disturbingly naive. Magical thinking. Could I dare think the sudden and violent fall of a tree such as this would not land in my own back yard, and could not touch me here? 

Hidden away in suburbia, I feasted on the spoils of a quiet, picturesque existence. Stars shone bright in the night sky, birds celebrated the waking of each day. The magnitude of the beauty spoke volumes, erasing any personal tragedy I'd experienced in life, like an Etch-a-sketch, the loss and the depth of feelings attached to it all was somehow suddenly erased. Or so I thought. Grief grows tentacles, it cannot be denied. It ripples in still waters, sometimes unseen, but never forgotten. Age creates opportunity...a chance to revisit, to re-experience the loss. But the heart has to open in order to allow it in. 

I could...go forward, not look back, dare to dream of what's to come. I could deny the fall of the tree, re-envision the future. After all, physically it all looks the same. But then, I look in the mirror, and eyes stare back at me. "Be a soldier," my dad had said...so many years ago. Do soldiers have no feelings? When I was three, my mom died. I remember that hand holding mine. He could not handle my truest feelings, my mommy-lessness. As a child, I had no understanding of it, so I followed his lead. We moved forward, him crying in the night...and me seeing, but not letting him know what I saw. His tree had fallen, his world, the one he'd so carefully created...a new country, a family, a destiny--his dreams of perfection, shattered. Don't cry, don't think about it. Move on. And. So I did. 

And then he died. I was told by my siblings to honor him...move forward, not back. Loss, pile it on, shove it in, pack it away. I moved to Newtown. I started teaching kindergarten. My beautiful sister, one of the strongest advocates of 'block it out', was diagnosed with a cancer that had completely progressed. She cleared her closet, passing on her favorite dresses to me. Her eyes spoke of nostalgia...and in the very end, she allowed a few, just a few, memories to escape. 

Loss is a permanent feature in all our lives. Yesterday a song...the easiest access to the past for me, began to play on Pandora...I Am A Rock, by Simon and Garfunkel played at a time when memories were seeping up, creeping in from below the forest floor. "A rock feels no pain...and an island never cries." Well, by definition, that is what I've been taught. But, as with so many other beliefs I've been taught, I've learned from a very careful group of intimate friends, that perhaps I've been mis-programmed. I am, in reality, not a soldier. I am a seeker. I have the courage and a bit of the wisdom now, that was so sorely lacking before. I know that feeling leads to healing. And so I seek. 

I trek back, writing and journalling, talking through my feelings. I don't linger for so long that I lose sight of where I am now. For there is tremendous beauty in front of me right now at this moment. I fear none of it, because the events of the past are mere bogeymen...they have happened. I am meant to live, and enjoy, and celebrate life. When memories are shut out, a deep darkness coats that forest. When they are brought forward, they allow light and air to come in as well. Love and the chance of it, are in front of me again, and so...hope is too. I wear my green bracelets, my Ben's bells. I have my ribbon, magnetted to the back of my car. So what? I am fearless. I can honor my friend Anne Marie. I can honor my own past and the loss that all this has brought up. 

I can see the light in the forest too. It has a rippling effect too...in fact, my life is dappled in light and dark, just like everyone else's. There is not just one thing, ever. That in itself is naive thinking. Yesterday, I heard another song...ironically, it immediately followed the first; All You Need is Love, by the Beatles, of course. It is the antidote to all. And today, I open the paper to this..."Nostalgia makes us a bit more human." Permission is a powerful thing. By linking back to my past, digging up those reverberations, which are...in truth, still there waiting for me, I can actually be more generous, more kind, more available to others who also feel the same. Grief has tentacles...yes. But the action of grieving, cracking open and feeling the deepest part of the pain, has its rewards. 

This tragedy has reached for those memory cells. I feel them in the deep loss of today. I cannot deny the tree that has fallen, but I can realize the light that dapples this day, and the darkness too, for it will never permanently blacken what lies ahead; it could never block out the rays of the sun. What lies before me has an infinite array of possibilities...both light and dark, but always there is the hope of a baby's laugh, the soft touch of a rose's petal, the fond wrinkled face of a grandma, the sudden smile of the person sitting across from me. That, and the depth of feelings I now choose to employ, sweetens the pot, and allows me to live a very full life with others, not in a void by myself.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Reaching Back





Still and silent
soft and clear,
time lends
a moment,
a tiny crevace.

The heart's
pulse
to process
and see...

A face--
gone,
missing,
taken away.

The mind's eye
waited.
But opportunity
lost.

Chance allowed none of it.

That creamy face,
the infectious laugh
all gone.

Opportunity vanquished;
lesson learned.

Seeing and longing,
in stillness,
living
in appreciation
for what once
was,
and what can
no longer
be.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chasing Rainbows...and Promises too!

Call me naive. Or...better yet, Pollyanna. But, I'm gonna keep on plugging for rainbows, for My Little Pony, for the Easter Bunny and even for good old St. Nick. And I'm even going to go on promoting the Jolly Green Giant and any other fantasy that has the American child at its heart. I've taken the Sandy Hook Promise. I've promised myself, I will welcome all people and their views, into my life. I will not be deterred.

Chasing Rainbows? You bet. And I think the rest of the world should take it up like it's a full-time sport. If you haven't seen our little starry-eyed Newtown singers, you need to! They are the promise of today, tomorrow, next week and all the years to come. They are the answer to all that's transpired in our sweet little town. They will be our future, and their eyes are focused on us.

Sandy Hook School was the place where I cut my first tooth in the teaching field...well, in reality, I did that a few years before in Bridgeport, CT, teaching hearing impaired kids. At that time, there was a horrible assault on a little sandwich place I frequented, a mob killing, they said. When I was in college, there was an armed robbery in a Subway sandwich shop...the gunman came in just as I made my way out. At the time, I blocked that out completely, and just moved on with my life. After all, this was Bridgeport. And everyone knew crime was a factor there. Horrible. I was twentyish, invincible, or so I thought. I put it outside myself and kept it there. That was how I dealt with my fears.

When I moved to Newtown, CT, I was literally chasing a rainbow. At the time, I had two kids, a dog, and a husband, trying hard to make it in his career. I had a third child and, like many, needed to re-enter the workforce to make ends meet. I was lucky enough to be hired in Newtown, and eventually find my way to that cream-puff school, tucked into a little nook in Sandy Hook. I loved every minute of my time there and so did my three kids!

I loved the parents who were also struggling, two breadwinners to make ends meet. We had the Jolly Green Giant Fair, an annual event with quilts and cake walks and a real giant that kids waited to meet much like they'd waited for Santa! Green footprints were painted along the drive, and as the bus pulled in, little eyes widened anticipating the Giant's arrival in Spring. Kids were thriving...there were cub scouts and brownies, sock hops and potlucks. Life was centered around our kids. And so it's been all these years.

After the recent events, the horror that was inflicted upon our little school...and more importantly the little kids and the wonderful adults who served them, the outpouring of love and good wishes, of luminaries and teddy bears, of crayons and chocolate kisses, the letters and cards...and the prayers, hope began to dig its way back into the heart of our community of Newtown. Intentions and ideals have begun to re-emerge. The Newtown Memorial Fund and the Sandy Hook Promise sprang forth to help our town rebuild. Therapy dogs and a torrent of social workers, counselors and school psychologists have populated our schools. And people here have begun to make a choice about how they will remember and honor those who died, and how they will begin to heal and rebuild their lives.

What is happening here is nothing short of a miracle. I'm not kidding. Like never before, the creative genius of a town is jumping on board. People are coming up with visions for that future. They're setting aside their own political beliefs, their need to be heard, their deep-rooted opinions, and they are opening their minds to what will be best for our kids. You see, here in Newtown, we're repainting our rainbows, and we're setting our sights on love. If nothing else happens here, we'll still know...that our kids watched us and saw that our hope could re-emerge and we could love one another in a way that would transcend this brutal mutilation...because even though the unthinkable happened, we will honor them always through our actions, not our words. And now, all we want for our kids is for them to know love, to hope and to regain that ability to feel safe, a day at a time, like never before.

And now? We need to transcend Newtown...and embrace all our children. Saftety is not a privilege, it is their right. We need to begin again all over, chasing rainbows in Chicago, in Bridgeport, in Los Angeles, in Boston and New York and Dallas, Texas too. Childhood is that one place where human joy and hope is born. Let our babies keep their fantasies. All kids everywhere are entitled to their wonder years.

~~In rememberance of my dear friend Anne...whose courage I never doubted for a minute! Not a day goes by...that I don't think of her and of them all, of the parents and the siblings, the neighbors and friends. Love is all I know, and that is how I choose to live my life for them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hanging on Dreams

I am a daydream believer. I busy myself in work-related minutia, but even in the midst of my most ultra-focused days, there are small spaces where my mind takes a small unaccounted for journey. I've always been this way. And thankfully now, I know I'm so not alone. Writers and storytellers, artists of all kinds are just like me. We live half our lives with our heads somewhere in the clouds.

If you tracked my random lapses back to my early classroom years, Mrs. Pastorini and Mrs. O'Grady and all the rest...they all had the same thing to say, 'Lacks focus...a hopeless daydreamer. Hard to keep her on track.' My poor dad always had to listen to that. But no matter what, he always believed in me. He encouraged me with his words and pointed me in the direction of my dreams.

At night, I'd race upstairs, hop into a warm bath and slip into my flannel jammies and wait. Sometimes I'd wait a good half hour lost in my little girl thoughts. My dad and his nighttime stories was what I was waiting for. When the waiting grew long, I'd hop out of bed, kneel up on my low window sill. I'd stare out at the moon and the stars and listen to the crickets below.

I'd think about how when I grew up I would have a little girl, and that little girl would have a horse she could ride every day. I'd think about making her grilled cheese sandwiches and pink lemonade. And I'd think about how some day I'd be a teacher, and I'd stand in front of a class and tell kids all kinds of stories, and how I'd teach them to paint and draw and write letters and words in their books.

And then, my waiting would end...and I'd hear my daddy's uneven footsteps on the stairs. My heart would just about beat outside of my chest. When he got to the landing, he'd say, "Is there a little girl waiting in there?"

I'd scurry under the covers, and bury myself deep underneath. I'd stifle the giggles and keep myself as quiet as a bug. My dad would come in and feel around on top of the covers...and then I'd just burst. There was no way I could keep it all in. He'd sit down on the bed and tell me his stories...of horses and fairies and places far, far away. He'd let me kneel up and feel his starchy collar and sniff his sharp-smelling cologne. I'd pull the pens out of his pocket and click the points in and then out. And when our  time was up and the storytelling was done, he'd tuck me in and pull the covers up under my chin. And I'd look into his eyes and wait. He'd get this little sideways half-serious grin on his face.

"So let me see now...who is the prettiest girl this side of the moon tonight?" My dad's brogue was thick...but hardly noticeable at that time to me.

"Just this side of the moon?" I'd say.
And of course, he'd rub his chin and uncross his leg. He'd shake his head and string me along.

"Well," he'd say, "I guess...I'd have to say the other side of the moon to be fair."

And then I'd play my part, "Well, me, of course!"

He'd wrap his arms around me and pull me in, and say..."Well, we knew that all along."

And then he'd be gone, down the stairs, taking them one at a time, until I couldn't hear him anymore, and I was left in the dark with my dreams...the horses and lemonade and pictures and notebooks filled with letters and words.

And today? There are no horses, but there have been babies and grilled cheese and lemonade. I've been telling my stories and teaching kids to understand the letters and words inside books. I've filled up notebooks upon notebooks with my own words and stories, too. And I've just about finished another manuscript. And I still have so, so many hopes and dreams.

I may not be the prettiest girl this side of the moon for real...my dad, after all, had a very prejudiced eye! But I do love to tell stories just like him. And because his belief in me was so very strong...I've held onto those well-imagined dreams!

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