Weightless

close up photo of brown feather on sand

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Like so many people, my mind is working overtime trying to absorb the rapid changes we’re facing as COVID-19 continues to spread at a rate that frightens me. What started as a problem elsewhere (China) has suddenly dramatically changed many lives globally at a speed that incurs emotional whiplash.

About 10 days ago, I was digging into airline change policies in order to deal with the spring break trip we are no longer taking, before I knew for sure we wouldn’t go, but already feeling in my gut this was big. And I came across references to the impact the 2001 9/11 attacks had on the airline industry (which wasn’t profitable again until 2006), and suddenly I was flashing back to that time. That time when the world, at least for Americans, was suddenly upended and I felt that same whiplash. I sat transfixed and crying in front of the TV for three or four days, trying to absorb it, traumatized by the photos and videos and stories, but unable to look away. I went to work, then as a massage therapist for a convention hotel, and worked on stranded guests who couldn’t get flights home. One gentlemen told me two of his clients had been on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.  The world suddenly felt simultaneously too big and too small, and impossibly vulnerable.

And in the days and weeks that followed, my ex and I answered the phone again and again to calls canceling all of the work we had booked  – we were both self-employed then and dependent on the San Diego convention industry, and suddenly no one was flying and there would be no work for us. And we had some reserves, but they were not plentiful, and I wondered, feeling selfish to think of it when others were dealing with unfathomable trauma and loss, how we would possibly survive it, how we would continue to have a house and to eat.

Somehow we did. I’m good at being frugal, and I picked up some bar-tending shifts (nobody stopped drinking then), and he found some small construction projects, and then a big group of Quickstar folks (Amway) kept their November conference date once planes were flying again and kept me busy  for 3 weeks doing 30+ massages a week and tipping me heavily, and then it was the holiday season and there were holiday parties to work, and things were lean but we made it, and life began to right itself again.

But it wasn’t the same as it had been before. A “new normal” emerged, one in which we felt so much more vulnerable, knowing that the rug could be pulled out from under us so easily, where we could be attacked on our own soil and not see it coming.

Over the past week as, I’ve continued recalling all of this,d I’ve had this distinct feeling that we are amidst another life defining and changing time. I felt this before the numbers started climbing so dramatically – I’ve been watching the numbers on the Johns Hopkins site since Friday, March 13, again both traumatized and transfixed. On Friday morning, the death toll was just over 5000, and as of this writing, this morning, Wednesday, March 19, the number is 8241. It was 7905 when I went to bed last night.

I’m listening to our governor’s new conferences and feeling the waves of rapid changes wash over me as schools and businesses close and people are told to stay distant and stay home as much as possible. I’m watching many people work as hard as possible to comply while others are crowding beaches and bars and pie shops (pi day!?) in ignorance or denial.

5 or so years ago I left an employer I’d been with for almost 7 years for a new position that turned out to be a really good move for me. But I was leaving something familiar and in some ways comfortable, even though I knew I had outgrown it. And at the time, I described the feeling as weightless.  An un-tethered feeling of floating between the familiar and the unknown. But that time I chose the change.

This current period of intense change is not of anyone’s choosing, I think it’s human nature for us to look for constants, for the people and circumstances we feel we can count on that feel solid and secure.  The nature of life is consistent change, but it’s not often that it happens so quickly and dramatically for so many of us all at once.  And we’re all searching in our own, weightless way now, to find some solid ground, in whatever ways we can.

I saw this as I went grocery shopping last Thursday. I left work a little early, feeling behind the 8-ball with getting food and supplies. I was already hearing of shortages throughout the week, but hadn’t had time to do any shopping until then.  And I got to Wegmans and it was controlled chaos. More crowded than the day before Thanksgiving and many shelves nearly bare. I needed basics, my regular items were low, let alone any extra. I was able to get most of what I wanted and didn’t try to stock up much (no toilet paper), and as I made my way through I saw the same stunned, determined looks on everyone’s faces.  The need to just get things to feel prepared, the need to hold onto that feeling, that feeling of, at least I can be prepared for I don’t know what.

I saw this again yesterday when I went back for some fresh items, but this time people seemed calmer and more weary. And kinder.  The shelves are largely empty, there’s no toilet paper, no peanut butter, almost no meat. My little one was hungry and melting down as we made our way through (our schedules are off kilter, like everything), and a college student stopped to tell her everything would be okay. We know that no one really knows this, but the message was sweet and clear, “I see you, I’m scared too. We’re all in this together.”  We received kind glances from almost everyone we passed. No one looked at my cranky child with impatience that day, everyone seemed to get that we’re all at loose ends.  Instead we’re looking for some solidity in each other’s eyes.

These are the times when heroes rise (and some villains too) I’m seeing such goodness, in so many people. The ugliness too, the hoarding of necessities to resell at a profit, etc. But the goodness is real.  I see people reaching out make sure our neighbors are fed, that they have necessities if they can’t get them themselves. I see people reaching out to those that might be the most lonely to at least connect through phone or text. I see some politicians really rising to the occasion and taking steps to minimize the impact on the vulnerable as much as possible, and doing so with decency and humanity. I see employers scrambling to make sure their employees are safe, and wherever possible, can still work. I see fear and panic, but I also see a lot of people rising up and showing up.

I  don’t know for sure where we’re headed from here, but I do know that things will be different when we come out the other side of this. I hope that the one big thing many of us can take from this is the solid realization that we Are in this together, we really are connected, whether we would rather acknowledge it or not. The choices I make today can literally have life or death consequences tomorrow for the people around me. This is always true, but we don’t usually have such a concrete example.

I believe we’re in a collective experience of weightless now, as our familiar routines and situations and comforts are yanked from us and we’re left to craft our own parachutes on the way down. And as with 9/11, life will be different when this is over. My hope is that it can be better. We are all being forced to slow and, and we have the opportunity to evaluate what’s working and what’s not. We will all endure losses through this, some will be more painful and more tangible than others. My hope is that, through this, we will emerge with more capacity to see and hold each other, and lift each other up. I hope we will have more desire and willingness to do this for everyone, whether we know them or not. I hope this crisis plants more seeds of love and compassion for humanity than anything else. I hope the stability and constancy we find is in our trust and faith in one another.  We need that, and I believe we have the capacity for it.

 

From Frodo to Gandalf…

The last 7 or so years of my life have been full of turmoil. The loss of my mother, and subsequently  the demise of my marriage sent me reeling through a storm I never imagined navigating, couldn’t possibly have imagined, having no context for much of what I was going to experience.

And as I’ve finally been coming out of this lengthy storm,  rather than feeling joy and relief, I’ve found myself bottoming out in way I didn’t anticipate. I’m exhausted, I cry A lot.  I have thoughts of wanting to give up, though not of Really giving up. Or somehow just giving in, to what, I don’t even know. But mostly, I’m just not sure how to move forward.  How does one do normal, when normal has left you by the wayside and continued on?

I have had so much support through all of this, therapy, many friends and family members who have shown up repeatedly to help me through this. Love, in it’s many and varied forms, carried me through.  I am not alone. And yet this particular journey has been intensely lonely. I am not unique, but I also haven’t come across a multitude of people who have left a mentally ill spouse, who know what it’s like to become the target of someone’s delusions, and have them fixate on you as the source of all of their problems.  And to keep coming at you with all of their crazy, again, and again. And undermine the hard work you are doing to create stability for your children. So while I’m at the phase in life where many I know have been or are divorcing, not so many can relate to my particular circumstances.

And so I turn back to the lessons, the stories really, from my youth. I am lately more and more aware that my core values came not just from the parenting I received, but also from the literature I was immersed in, all through my growing up.

I was home-schooled and  I spent many a content hour on my own devouring books. The richest of my memories of that time however, were from when my mom would read to my brother and I. I’m pretty sure this happened in all seasons, but what I remember best is cuddling up on chilly (for southern California) mornings, still in pajamas, with my mom and brother, drinking large pots of herbal tea and listening to her read to us. The characters became part of our lives for that time; we laughed with them, sweated with them, rejoiced with them, mourned with them. This exposure instilled in me a deep love of words and language, and an appreciation for their power. And because many of the stories we read were epic, heroic tales, the morals and values I hold as truths came from these.

Mom’s selections were mostly fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, CS Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Ursula Le Guin were some favorites. I have never been much interested in Science Fiction (Le Guin being a crossover exception), much preferring to be immersed in the classic battles of good vs evil. Harry Potter came along later and my younger siblings got to experience these with her.

In my younger years, though my actual trials were few, I related most to the hero characters, to Frodo, and Harry and the Pevensie children and their counterparts.  The heroes don’t know what they’re getting into. They are generally thrust into something they haven’t chosen, and, because they are heroes, they manage to deal with it, taking their hits, oft-times bemoaning their fates, but rising to the challenges just the same. And being forever altered by the trials they live through. I’m not sure this did much to prepare me for life’s true challenges, but it did give me a deep sense of goodness and of who I wanted to be, in my own tale.

Recently, I have become more fascinated by the sages in these stories. Gandalf, Dallben, Dumbledore, Merriman Lyon. The wise ones, the mentors draw me in. Maybe this relates to my own aging, or my own search for wisdom and grounded-ness. But what I am loving most about these wise men (I wish there were more wise women in these stories), is that they not only rise to the occasion, they know what they are getting into, and they show up any way. They have lived enough to understand that sacrifice and loss are as essential to the fabric of life as love and gain, and they go forth, into the fray, willingly, knowingly.

I did Not enter this recent phase of my life willingly. When my life took the unexpected turn it did, I would have run screaming in the other direction if I could have. I would never have chosen this path, but I have survived it. Like Frodo, I wish this had never come to me. But it has.

As the dust finally begins to settle, I am left with the questions, how does one learn to live normally again, peacefully again, after so much turbulence?  After ending a marriage. After ending contact between children and their father due to unchecked, untreated mental illness. After trying to deflect incessant accusations of every ugly thing imaginable, and some unimaginable. After so much hope followed again and again by heartbreak. How does one begin again to just live?

It feels arrogant or dramatic to liken myself to say, Frodo, who’s journey helped save civilization, or to Taran, who, from humble origins, became high king. My journey was simply about my children and myself, about conjuring strength and stability out of chaos. After all of this heartbreak, I am left to mostly be just mom, and maybe something more.

Going back to these stories (did you know that Tolkien and Alexander used the same Welsh legends for inspiration?), when the adventures end, the heroes are rewarded with a journey to a restful place. To the Summer Country, or Valinor, to peace and immortality.  Frodo and Bilbo, Gandalf and Gwydion, all went off to rest when all was said and done. Taran was given the gift of immortality, but chose to stay. Taran looked around at the beautiful people he knew and loved, and felt called to stay with them and rebuild a life for them all.  And thus took another step toward maturity.

So while rest sounds infinitely attractive right now, I guess I get to be Taran. To hang on, and stay.  And start to breathe again, and work with what comes next.  I don’t know how to do that really, but a happily ever after of peace and immortality aren’t exactly on the table at the moment, and anyway, seem rather hollow without those I love alongside me. Maybe the goal is really alchemy. Maybe part of maturity is morphing from hero to sage. From the one who says please no, and dances as hard as possible to keep the bad things from happening, into the one who recognizes that sometimes bad things do just happen, despite our best efforts to the contrary.  And still says yes, here I am.

In the middle of a recent round of crazy, I said, shakily to a friend, that I’d like to become impervious to it, to any attacks.  She responded, wisely, that this sounded like enlightenment. And yes, we’re all reaching for that. But the journey along the way is much more the point. So, onward with the journey. Onward with shaking and doing it anyway, onward with accepting that life sometimes really really sucks, onward, knowing more losses are coming, onward amidst so much goodness too. Onward with living and loving bigger anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Children are Not Your Children

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On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I first read this when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, and I cried for the sheer beauty of these words. Truthfully, I cry nearly every time I read this. I have more than once thought that this would be a beautiful graduation reading, but I could not be the one to read it – I can’t get through it without my throat closing with tears.

I approached motherhood with a lot of intention – my children were not accidental, I called them forth with everything in me – I wanted them. Foolishly, arrogantly,(and I have since laughed at myself over this with a few good friends), I was sure I was going to get it all right. I was going to learn from my parents’ and others’ mistakes I’d observed, and know what to do and do it, better, just right. I was blindsided by the realities of raising actual real live people. They didn’t respond and behave they way they were supposed to, and I failed. Failed and  was humbled and learned and have to keep learning that life really doesn’t follow the best laid plans (there’s a reason why this is a such a well known saying) most of the time.. And it has been a worthwhile failing and humbling that continues to stretch me well beyond my comfort zone all of the time.

When I first realized, or maybe it’s more accurate to say over the many moments where I began to recognize that I was going to be raising these girls as a solo mother, my focus narrowed. I was slammed hard by some of my personal failings and poor choices, and realized that from that time forward, I was going to do everything in my power to create the strongest, stablest base I could for these girls to leap from.

I think the reason I love these words so much, is that for me they give focus and meaning to this very intense process of raising small humans into someday adults. It is exhausting and trying at times, and sometimes feels incredibly thankless. It is so very easy to get caught in the minutiae of everyday life that I forget what it’s all about. But when I read this, it brings me back to center. I come back to the bigger picture of parenting, which my mom used to say, quoting Haim Ginott, is to raise strong, humane people. So when I read this poem, I remember.

I remember that although we are on this journey together, it isn’t all about me. That although I sometimes I have the urge to cling, parenting is about so much letting go, so they can be who they are meant to be, outside the shadow I cast.

I remember that talk is cheap and actions are everything, and frankly, I talk too much a lot of the time, and they would rather have me just show up and be with them, and show them by example how best to live, whatever that means in the moment. This is a Tall order, because what one person knows all of that? But ultimately it means being present and being as decent and strong and humble and honest as I can be, so they can learn that too.

I remember, in moments, what it was like to be 7 and 14, and I attempt to merge these feelings with some of what I hope is the wisdom of my nearly 5 decades and come up with something that makes sense in how I relate to them. Sometimes this even works.

I remember that there were many things my parents taught me that I pushed against, and some which I left behind, only to come back around to as life experiences and maturity have led me back to the importance of some of their lessons. The really important stuff they gave me stuck, the stuff of how to treat others and how to treat the world around me, and how to eat well, and how to be open minded and open hearted, stuck, it worked. So as they grow and push against me, I remember that some of this is the normal part of becoming one’s own self, and that, hopefully, the important stuff is already in there, and will solidify when it’s time.

I remember what my mother said, what so many have said, about putting your own oxygen mask on first. And sometimes, I remember to do this. But especially lately, I’m getting that doing this for myself is a gift to them both because I’m a fresher, more inspired mom when I care for myself, and, if I do this for myself, they get to learn the importance of doing it for themselves also, before they have children, if they chose to do so. This is a work in process, for sure, but a worthy one.

I remember, on my best days, how rich this journey is, how quickly it goes, and how much I want to savor it. And on my not so best days, well, eventually I remember this again and come back to it.  I look at their fresh faces, smell their hair (when I can still get away with it), and breath it the simple goodness of loving them.

 

 

 

 

 

Cocooning

 

nature macro butterfly larva

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Not long ago, I was on a wintery walk with my beautiful friend S – S is the kind of friend I can have deep conversations with, without effort. They just happen with us, I think because we resonate mutually at this level. I love this about our friendship.

We were discussing our teenagers, and specifically the apparent need for them to spend a lot of time holed up in their rooms, away from family members. S, I think, referred to this as spending time in a cocoon. Which, when I thought more on this, makes so much sense. Teenagers, are working on pulling away from their families, of differentiating and developing their own sense of selves, more and more independent from those of us who gave them life. We see them through our own lenses, but they need to develop a vision of self that is their own. They emerge, eventually, as something, someone different. Hopefully, ready to fly, but, at least in my case, I want my butterflies to know they have a  place with me to come back and touch down and rest now and then, if needed.

I made the comment, at one point during the conversation, that I wish I’d been less sheltered, and had the opportunity to explore life a bit more, while still in the warm cocoon of my parent’s home.  I’m honestly not sure whether this would have changed much for me, but it was an interesting thought. And as a parent, I’m doing my best to walk the line between giving her the cocoon space (she’s in her room on her own as I write this), and pulling her back out a bit to engage in our family and in the life we still largely share, and throw in my two cents here and there, hopefully in a way she can hear, but sometimes not.

All of this made me think more about the concept of the cocoon, or cocooning, if you will, and that there have been a number of times in my life when I could have really used this, the ability to pull in completely for a bit in times of intense transition, and with any luck, emerge transformed and more whole.

Early motherhood comes to mind – I can think of few times more raw and tender for me than this. This time when my body was completely altered, and exhausted from bringing forth life. And then trying to know what to do with this person I created, some of it coming as pure instinct, and some of it feeling completely foreign and unknown. There is this perception, still I think, that we’re just supposed to know what to do as parents, we just become them. But wow, did I Not feel that way after my first was born. I had a lot of support with this early on, and didn’t work right after she was born, which I’m really grateful for. But so many don’t have this option.

After a loss  – I think we need this so much after a loss, or maybe just after any major transition. After my mother died, and again, when my marriage disintegrated, I wanted so much to be able to stay home alone for a week or so and curl into myself, and weep for all that was no more, and all I had to become, like it or not.

Nests – I think when my “nest”empties, I will want this again. I feel it already a little, this shifting in my very being, with this first girl of mine, who is stretching and spreading and needing me so much less – we talk frankly about this lately – I will need to become something new when my intense work of mothering is done. I have some inkling of who I may become, but it’s really more of a soft lump of clay right now, and when a little definition begins to emerge, the wind shifts and smooths it back over. Not time yet.

Given that the opportunity to completely withdraw for a bit hasn’t manifested in my life, I’m thinking now that following my teenagers example might actually be smarter and more realistic. So today, instead of jumping into that endless to do list, I dozed on the sofa with our Ginger (kitty) and listened to the kids in the background and felt some things unwind and reform, into what I’m not yet sure, but I am sure it was right.

Back of the House

red and brown floral stair carpet

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you’ve ever worked in the hospitality industry, the term Back of the House means something to you. To those not in the know, Back of the House refers to the behind the scenes areas where all of the magic happens. The kitchens and prep areas where beautiful food is prepared, where dishes are washed, where serving items and decor are stored and made ready to use, to create the magic of an event or dining experience.

When I was in my late 20s and early 30s, I worked as a banquet server. I started off at a very middle of the road conference hotel, and later was encouraged by co-workers to apply at some better places. One holiday season, I was hired by the Hotel Del Coronado, a lovely seaside Victorian resort hotel, famed as the location of several well known Marilyn Monroe movies, and which hosted many elegant events.

The hotel was under restoration at the time (during our orientation, it was stressed that we were to phrase this accurately to guests as a restoration rather than renovation, the distinction being significant, apparently, to the marketing of the hotel).

The hotel boasted some very lovely event spaces and ballrooms – the Crown Room is known for having hosted prominent political dignitaries. All of the areas guest could access were lovely and elegant, some being, as it were, restored to previous splendor.

The back of the house….not so much. I was initially shocked at how shabby the back of the house areas were. Old, faded, chipped paint, cracked tiles. None of the facade we shared with our guests translated to the behind the scenes work spaces. Functional, for the most part, they were. Attractive, they were not.  If you’ve ever lived or spent time in an older house, you’ll know what I mean when I say that even layers of fresh paint in some areas couldn’t cover up years of grime and wear and bumps and scars. The true history of the space was readily apparent in those walls and corners.

This makes me think of the facade many of us present to the world, and how imperfect our personal back of the house areas can be. But in many ways, this is where all the work happens and where the real magic comes from, where the real gold is mined.

Somehow,  in my growing up, I made the determination that my flaws were bigger, or worse, than those of the average person. Why else did everyone else seem to have it so together, while I felt so awkward, inelegant and clueless about the things so many seemed to know about? I was and am an intense overthinker – how could I possibly stack up and have something worthy to offer, compared to so many people who just act and move forward with ease?

Not long ago, someone I had recently met remarked upon what they considered my poise. I laughed aloud (still laughing at this,really). Can I really have outgrown that utterly awkward ugly-duckling self I have identified with for so long? And then someone I consider accomplished, elegant, and inspiring, let me have a peep into their “back of the house” and whoa! Come to find out, in many ways, so similar to mine. At this point, at the ripe old age of my current ripe old age, that shouldn’t be surprising to me, but it was, and it made me think about my perception of myself, and think that maybe it’s time to rethink it once again. Maybe we all should.

More than anything, what I’ve started to recognize how important it is to show up and just live, warts and all. There’s so much to do – we have so much to give, and so little time, really. Self-acceptance is an interesting journey – I myself have made some massively foolish life choices, with my head in the sand and guided more by my heart than said head. But here I am “poised” and ready for the next chapter. Join me?

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PS –  A scene from my current, actual house. Ahem.

6+ Years….

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Monday was the 6th anniversary of my mother’s passing. There is a surrealness for me still,  to writing these words.

I did not forget what day it was, but it passed swiftly as all of my days do lately, in a flurry of taking care of business – these days, of wrapping up summer and getting ready to send two not-quite-so-little-anymore girls off to school once more. It passed in wrapping up other long over due details of my life, in a tired haze, but the day was not lost on me. I would like to have had some moments to sit quietly and reflect on all of this, but instead, in my usual multi-tasking way, I ruminated on where I am with this, while trying to do so many other things, all without much focus.

I reflected last year (read it here) on how tough this still is for me, how much is still sucks. And truth be told, it still does, it still sucks. I still miss her, speaking of her loss still chokes me up, and I still wish it were different.

But a few months after writing that piece last year, I decided I needed to get a little more intentional about healing from this loss, and come to some deeper acceptance that this is the turn her life, and subsequently mine, and all of those who loved her, has taken. It was time for the deep mourning to soften. Time to embrace life for what it is, at least as much as mourn what it isn’t.

The biggest piece I’ve come to accept is that the missing doesn’t really get any easier, and maybe it shouldn’t. I will always miss her, she gave me life, and she loved me fiercely in the best way she knew how. In her own beautiful, messy, flawed, uniquely Stephanie way, she loved me, and who wouldn’t miss that?

She gave me many gifts, as well as some significant challenges, and in some ways even those are gifts, for they’ve forced me to stretch beyond what I knew, what I was raised with, and question what I wish to carry forth, and what would be best left behind. This is, like so much of life, and ongoing process, but that is also as it should be.

The greatest gift she gave me was her fierce love, which I hope I am doing an adequate job of translating to my own children. I love them with everything in me, and I try not to be too overbearing with this, and definitely fail sometimes at this, but I hope when and if they reflect back on their childhoods with me, they’ll remember and feel the strength of that love.

She gave me a deep sense of responsibility toward others, I can remember vividly, her telling me when I was quite small, that I should think about how others felt too – I think this was mostly in the context of her trying to navigate the sibling issues between myself and my little brother, but it left a deep impression on me, and I still think that way all of the time.

She was never one to accept the status quo as necessarily right, and from that I learned to examine and question everything around me, including my own motives. In a nutshell, she taught me critical thinking. This both keeps me up at night and probably makes me a better person.

She always strove for self-improvement, and I also took this very much to heart. These days, I’m striving to not think so much of improvement, and more of just resting where I’m at for a few moments. If I could speak to her today, I’d love to tell her that I can see how far she came, and that it was enough.

She taught me also a sense of responsibility toward the world around me, and especially the natural world. I don’t have the same level zeal she had for doing right by this planet we live on, but it all really matters to me, and informs my actions and choices still.

But most of all, as I already mentioned, she taught me love. My little one says snuggling is my superpower, so I think mom and I both got something right there.

Stagnation

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(photo note: this is not a great example of stagnation, but I killed my phone with ocean water early on in this trip, so this is the best I could do).

I have not been writing. Or rather, I have been trying, starting a lot of topics, and stopping and not finishing. I love to write. I feel it is my “thing”, my creative outlet, and yet I feel unable to do it lately. I have ideas, but I can’t get them to form into something cohesive that I want to complete and present.

Is this writer’s block? I don’t consider myself a writer so much as someone who enjoys writing, so I haven’t ever really thought of writer’s block as something that would apply to me. But I have been wanting to write and failing at it recently, when most times the words pour out of me, so perhaps this is writer’s block.

And if something is blocking me, it begs the question of what is the block?

Which brings me to the title of this post – Stagnation.

stag·na·tion
staɡˈnāSH(ə)n/
noun
the state of not flowing or moving.
“blocked drains resulting in water stagnation”
  • lack of activity, growth, or development.
    “a period of economic stagnation”

I have definitely felt stagnant lately, waiting for a big change, and now, suddenly, it’s here.

I am divorced. This is big. This is not something I’d ever have thought I’d want. But it was time, and I have been ready for awhile, and now it’s a fact. And I can move forward in ways I have been unable to for a long time, despite the fact that the partnership ended years ago.

But I still feel stagnate. I thought I would feel this large weight lifted, and movement  would become suddenly easy. In some ways, I do feel lighter. But if I use the analogy of blocked water here, it’s as if a large boulder was removed, but there is still a lot of debris in the stream, so it’s not flowing freely, there are barriers still to remove, and therefore lots of murky areas that will need to be flushed out before it all runs clear.

Which brings me to today, coming home from vacationing in beautiful Maine, having left, for the most part, my large anti-stagnation to-do list behind for a week, I find myself really resistant to picking it all back up again. There is so much necessary to be done, and I will do it. But I really don’t wanna – there’s a whole lot of don’t wanna coming home with me. I don’t know how one gets past this much don’t wanna, except to push on through, which I used to be good at, but feel I am losing my aptitude for.  I don’t wanna push. I want to stop, smell the flowers and the summer air, and my daughter’s sweet heads and sit with family and friends and not do all of the many things on my list.

So there you have it. My stagnation. Maybe just putting it out there will help – I don’t know. Maybe making a goal oriented list will give me a stronger feeling that what’s on the other side of this is worth pushing for and pushing through. Maybe, more than anything, I’m just really tired of pushing through. Maybe there’s another way that I haven’t found. Maybe through this process I will find that mythical other way.

I didn’t really want to write this, I’d much rather write of cheerful things, but this was easy to write, so I imagine there’s something to it for me. Something about authenticity and moving through the murk to get to what’s on the other side. I’d just really rather be on the side, thank you very much.

Reaching for the light…

When my oldest daughter was about 4, she began, in the winter, to come and find me, and pull me into the beams of light that came through the windows. These could be rare, we can go weeks without much direct sunlight in winter here, and she knew that I missed sun, and so appreciated it when it peaked through. I was, and still am, immensely touched by the sweetness in this gesture.

I still feel this way – I long for the light on darker days, and it soothes me when the light finally breaks through. Today was such a day – mostly cloudy, rainy.  I got outside and into the garden anyway, and enjoyed it.

But at the end of day, while washing dishes, I chanced to glance through the window, and caught this beam of light – just a patch, but so brilliant, as the sun was readying to set, that it felt like a bit of fire, and warmth.

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I have been reflecting this weekend on the light and darkness in my life, and the feeling that I have been caught up in darkness for too long, lately. For years now, in truth. The loss of my mother, and then my marriage, and the intense, gut-wrenching, many-layered fallout associated with that, which is ongoing. And I have descended, and come back and descended once again. And I have learned so much. I am older, I am wiser, I am stronger, I am more capable, I am more compassionate, I am a heck of a lot more tired. I am truly better in many ways, I see this. This is real, this is life. And I’d like to be more joyful.

It has been necessary for me to look at all of this loss, and much of what led up to it, to own it, to accept it, to live it. Dark and light exist in opposition to each other because this is necessary for balance. Because we can’t know one without the other.

But through all of this there have been rays of light in so many forms. I have seen them, been grateful for them, but maybe haven’t been able to fully absorb them, wandering as I have been in the dark. So many precious sunlit moments- faces of my children, my family, my friends, who have been here with me through all of this. Who have stood there with me, steadfast through this storm, who have reached out to me in some of the sweetest ways. Some chance encounters with beautiful strangers – who have touched me, us, in small ways that feel like sunbeams.

I have been looking long enough at the darkness for now. It will still be there, and I will still see it, but in the background for a time. Now is the time to reach for the light, and see where that takes me next.

 

Extraordinary – Ordinary

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My life is filled with ordinary life stuff. Like many people, I work full time, I have children full time, I do more in a week than I generally want to, and sleep way too little. I’m not proud of this, I just haven’t mastered the art of doing it differently. Maybe someday.

We are tired this week – things have been I suppose a bit busier than usual, and there’s this last (I hope) big wave of winter before spring arrives finally. We’re all cranky. The cats are underfoot and snarling at each other (mostly the big one at the baby one) because who wants to be inside anymore, and outside is still cold, damp, icy and unappealing.

And my teen, who is largely pretty solid these days, has  been melting a bit.  My ability to cope well with this at the end of the day varies widely depending on how rested and solid I’m feeling – not much these days.

But somehow, in that tired, too late and we should all be in bed already mid-week moment, I was able to pull it out. And we all ended up in her room, me telling stories of my youth (she knows most of them already, the little one hasn’t heard them all yet), and in particular, the one where my cousins and my brother and I were playing funeral, because we had a record of dreary ballet music that worked so well for this. And my brother, the “deceased” fell asleep face down on the bed (why was he face down?) and we thought he really died and scared the daylights out of my mom and aunt, innocent to our antics and having coffee in the kitchen.

And the little one laughed so hard that she shook, and the big one smiled and asked for stories about the things that sucked for me when I was her age. Because puberty and being a teenager really sucks sometimes, when everything is changing, and you begin to lose the stuff of childhood, but haven’t gained adulthood yet. I remember this so well. She is so much braver, tougher, and more confident than I was at that age, that I can easily forget that this time can be hard on her. That was a very lost and lonely time for me, and I can’t think of much of anything from then I’d repeat. So it’s good to remember where she is now, even when she seems strong.

And last night, she voluntarily came into the kitchen and we made dinner together, something she hasn’t done without serious prodding in ages.  And we laughed and talked about what is important in her world these days.

My life is ordinary, but filled with these beautiful rich, ordinary moments. Moments I’m likely to forget, as time goes by.  But moments I know are absolutely precious and to me, extraordinary.

Degrees of Separation – How close is close enough?

In this week+ after the horrendous shooting at at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland , FL, I have been pondering what the hell does someone like me do or say about something like this?

I vote. I vote for gun control and the candidates who support it. I make some calls (not enough). My children participate in the lockdown drills that are now mandatory 4 times per school year in our district. I talk to my daughters about them, about why we do them. About what to do if this comes to their school. I talk to them about kindness and about speaking out. None of this is enough.

And I stare at this messy pile of boots and shoes in my entry.  The one that exasperates me, that I’m constantly reminding them to pick up and put in the bins. And I think about the parents who have lost their children in these preventable ways, and how many of them have messy boot piles, and dirty laundry piles, and all the stuff of living with and raising children.  And they will pick these up one last time and never get to do it again, or maybe want to leave it there forever, because they never get to do it again. And my heart breaks for these parents, the siblings, all the people who lost their loved one in these preventable ways.

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Also, I remember.

I remember sitting with my good friends in the days just after the Sandy Hook elementary massacre in December 2012. Sitting with them, still dazed from the loss of my mother a few months earlier, as they prepared to go do the impossible, travel to Newtown to comfort their friends, who lost a child that day. I remember talking with them afterward, I remember the palpable devastation that clung to them when they returned. I’m sure they have not forgotten.

The details of this belong to the family who lost their child, to my friends who lived it with them , this not my story to tell, except for the impact on me. I remember thinking, oh my God. I’ve met the mother of this child, when she visited with her older son, when all of our oldest children were toddlers. I sat on my friend’s living room floor and had tea and watched our children play. I remember thinking, how does this woman, this mother who lost her child in this unthinkable, preventable way, get up in the morning? How does she eat, shower, care for her other child? How does she remember to breathe or even want to? How does she do any of these things even now, when it’s still freaking happening? This is three degrees of separation from me. Not me, not my child, not my friend’s child, but the child of their friends, someone I’ve met. This is close, this is way too freaking close, this is close enough.

I’ve been sitting back, watching the reactions this week on Facebook as much as I can bear (which isn’t much these days), and engaging minimally. I’ve read and shared some good articles and opinions, I’ve been moved by the students who survived this and now refuse to be complacent. I’ve been watching with stunned fascination at some of the commentary by a few friends and acquaintances that range from suggesting that we arm veterans and teachers in schools to some completely whacked out conspiracy theories to scorning the Tide-Pod eating teens who want to challenge the 2nd amendment. And I wonder why, at 46, these types of reactions still shock me, and whether there’s anything to be said here.

This is a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly.  Is it worth my breath to engage when I see something like this? And if I don’t, am I complicit, and aren’t I just preaching to the choir? And let’s be honest, I’m mostly surrounded by my choir, and I’m good with that. If I’m frank, what I need to admit is that I don’t trust myself to respond here. In situations like this, my frustration and anger surface and I know that my sharpness and judgment don’t build bridges or solve anything. I saw a friend of mine respond gently and beautifully to something completely asinine just yesterday, and it humbled me. I have something to learn there. I’m watching and trying to learn so I can be a more effective part of the conversation.

The current rhetoric is that we have to come together somehow, to talk it out, to find common ground, and I don’t disagree with this.  But I think we have enough common ground to enact change. Current polls show that more Americans than not favor stronger gun control laws. As for those who don’t, well I don’t want to try sway you. You have to find your own way here, through whatever is binding you to the problem, rather than being part of the solution. Some of you are doing this on your own. I will say just this. I hope this never comes close to you.  I’m going to do what I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’m going to do my best to help push us all forward and leave you behind if you won’t come along.

When I first see all of this, I lose heart, and I’ve been stuck there  for awhile. I look at the ugly corruption in our political system, well exemplified by the fool at the top, and down through the ranks. And I lose heart. I vote and it feels like a waste. And I lose heart. I listen to fools with no apparent wisdom in them sound off. And I lose heart.

So now I want to preach to the choir, and maybe mostly to myself, and say now is the time To Find Heart, To Take Heart. To Not Back Down. To stop saying what I do doesn’t help, and just keep showing up in any way, large or small, until we make this better.

When I slow down a bit, and breathe, I see it. Change is on the wind, I can smell it like I can smell a hint of spring in the air when I step outside today.  The world is shifting and unlike many, I have faith in this generation that is coming of age now. They are different than we were, they’re supposed to be, they are shaped by evolving challenges and circumstances, and they are responding. Change is inevitable, integral to life. Someday, we will look back on this as we do on so many shameful parts of our history where we waited too long to demand change, and say this too is part of our shameful past, and but no longer our present. And it may well not be completely solved, we are still addressing the flaws, but we’re heading in the right direction. And I will not take in the words of fools who say there’s nothing to be done, that common sense regulation won’t help. I am not that fool.

If you need a little motivation To Find Heart, some good reads….

Fuck You, I Like Guns, from Anastasia Bernoulli. Smart, on point opinion on why we need to ban assault rifles, from someone, who, unlike me, understands weapons and their appeal. I appreciate this educated perspective – given the opportunity, I’d love to buy her a cup of coffee, or a beer, or both.

The AR-15 is Different, from Heather Sher, radiologist who read the scans of the Parkland victims, on how these injuries differ from those inflicted by handguns and, again, why we should ban them.

Dan Rather’s moving Facebook post in support of those working for this change. I grew up on Dan Rather, and I’m grateful still for his voice today, for shedding some light when all can feel so dark.

And, if you’re overwhelmed and not sure what to do, check out Jennifer Hoffman’s American’s of Conscience site where you can sign up for a weekly email of actionable items.

Be well friends, and Find Heart, Take Heart.