Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Full Moon 40

"Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We're soaked in distractions. The world didn't have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful." Mary Oliver

Last Saturday, my mother and sister took me out for an early birthday dinner. Driving into Boston in the late afternoon, stuck in traffic, we chatted with ease, jumping around to different topics without worrying about making sense of any of it. I was happy to be together with my family, and they made me feel special by carving out time to remember my birthday. After discussing why we always forget to get in the HOV lane, I asked "Where we were going?" My sister laughed and said, "It's a surprise!"

Moving at a snail's pace, I gazed out the car window and saw myself staring back at me. I haven't been looking forward to turning 40. I'm not in any mood to be contemplative, no mood to think, no mood to feel, needless to say, this blog post has been a challenge. These days I am moving from task to task. I've been playing out the repetitive motions of daily life, filling it up with the details of getting things done. Crossing off lists, and quickly making new ones, which doesn't leave much time for having fun or making social plans. Most days I feel like I'm treading hard to keep my head above water, and other days I feel like I've been hit by a tidal wave. I'm pretty good at hiding my emotions, but not to my immediate family. My mother insists I am doing too much, and I know she is right. As I'm writing this now, I realize that I have been staying busy on purpose. I want the distraction, to tire my mind and my body out so sleep will come. For the last part of this year, change has been so harsh, so finite, and so shocking. My Dad's fast illness, and passing left us all in a state of distress. If I call my sister, she answers by asking, "Is everything okay?" immediately jumping to worst case scenario conclusions. We are both living out of fear. Fear, a word that has different meanings for everyone. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of exile. Fear takes on so many forms, and sneaks into your life and sleep. The news is a constant living nightmare, the world at unrest, injustice, endless and senseless violence is overwhelming. I know I am not alone, darkness is balanced by the light. Mostly, I've been taking care of my health and my body, but my mind is anxious. Any actions that cease my worried mind are welcome, and I do seek them out. Being with my boys is the best, they are filled with so much positive, present, palpable energy I can't help but keep my full attention on them. Exercise and yoga helps, but my husband's calm, confident strength carries me. He helps me to see how the burdens of everyday life can turn into blessings. Recently, my clothes dryer broke, and I've been driving to my Mom's house every couple days to do loads of laundry. At the kitchen table of my childhood, I sit across from my mother. She listens, I listen. She justifies my worries, validates my concerns, renews me with her experiences, and I begin to understand how reaching out to others softens sadness and suffering. Life is precious, fragile, and grief is stifling, confining and energy depleting.  It's these small moments of time and togetherness with my family, that offer the most healing.

"The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It's always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it's a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections."
Tahereh Mafi

Our car turned into the archway of the Boston Harbor Hotel. The warm orange glow of the low setting sun erased from our view. We parked easily, and walked along the wharf.  My Mom and sister moved quickly through the cold winds that blew over the water. I lingered to look at the bright moon that was rising fast. This year my birthday falls on the full moon, and I am trying to maintain my faith in humanity in a world full of uncertainty. Even in my daily life, I seek out the moon as it changes, and observe its phases in a state of wonder. It's a constant I find comfort in, so I made an early birthday wish on the gorgeous supermoon. A wish for peace, love, happiness and hope.

We found the only open door into the hotel, and peered around at the lavish details of dignified nautical interiors, and warmed our hands before checking our coats. Fresh greenery, red poinsettias, and festive ornaments decorated a large Christmas tree in the center of the lobby. People were talking closely in cozy sitting areas as we walked towards the restaurant. As my family confirmed our reservation, I locked eyes with my sister, all at once I knew she had done something. I can get caught up in the details of my life, this dinner with my family was on my calendar. I wasn't prepared for a big social event, and I was pretty sure they knew I didn't like surprises.

The next couple moments played out like a slow motion movie scene. I was truly surprised by old friends and new friends who had taken time out of their busy before Christmas weekend to celebrate me. Tears and pink champagne flowed, personalized pots of tea were steeping, cakes and sandwiches were served, and rose petals decorated the table. My friends and family surrounded me like shining jewels of a treasure I spent my whole life mining for. The friends you choose, and the friends that stay with you, are a reflection of your true self. These women are genuine, caring, salt of the earth angels. Friends that you can visit after a long time has passed and the conversation picks up easily right where it left off. Friends you can call day or night when you need help during tough times, or just to hear a reassuring voice. Friends that save music, books, magazines, and clothes for you because they know what you like to hear, to read, and what your style is. Friends that pop over just to give you a hug because they were in the area. Friends that buy tickets to a concert knowing you would change whatever plans you may have to go. Friends that send two pieces of a chocolate hazelnut torte home with your husband clearly stating they are for you, and you only. These are my people, my tribe, my community of love and support. I am the lucky one. We all enjoyed a late afternoon tea, and I couldn't stop smiling. I knew I would see everyone soon so there were no long goodbyes, but on the way out my sister whispered to me, "You know Dad would be really proud of you and all that you do."

"Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel, energies are contagious."
Rachel Wolchin

Today is my 40th birthday. I feel good, comfortable in my skin. I know who I am, what I want, what I need, and have the courage to pursue my dreams. To not celebrate gratitude, kindness and generosity is a sin. So, I am rejoicing my life, my health, my family, my friends, my work, my passions. 

Every day is a gift, and I welcome a future unknown.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Healing Gardens

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace." May Sarton

The summer, like all seasons, people, and living things has passed. We are heading into the brisk winds, and golden hours of fall which marks another time of change, the constant state of all things. Really every moment brings something new, it's up to us to see it, embrace it, and accept it.

With new seasons comes new blessings of gratitude. I really wanted a garden this year, but last spring brought another plan for me. I am now enjoying the bounty of garden tomatoes, green tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, sweet peas, zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, peppers, and rhubarb. The sweet remembrance of rosemary, the cooling bite of mint, the cleansing quality of sage, the gentle calm of lavender, and the adventure of wild thyme. Honoring the gardens of family and friends, and acknowledging that sometimes leaning on others is necessary. Life is about sharing, receiving, and giving. I feel blessed to have stolen a few moments in the summer sun, and lingered in these beautiful gardens. We truly reaped more than what was sowed. 

Thank you

"Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden." Robert Brault

"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrows." Audrey Hepburn

This post dedicated to all those who have showered us with love, attention, support, and smiles. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Force

"The Force is strong in these two."

"There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will be the same and time is divided into two parts- before this and after this." Lauren Kate

It's been three months of swift change, an April 1st joke that wasn't a joke. My Dad was diagnosed with end stage renal cancer, and he survived for 74 days post diagnosis. As I come away from an intense family experience of taking care of him at home, I feel depleted and saddened by his loss. My mother and sister stepped up to the hospice challenge like professional sports players.  It was what my Dad wanted, to be comfortable, to be home, to be surrounded by those he loved, to have closure with his family.  In a weird way, it was a gift to have these last couple months with him, he was aware of everything, and wise words flowed from him like he was a sage waiting for this moment to share deep and important mysteries learned in one lifetime. To say I loved my Dad completely almost doesn't do our relationship justice. My Dad taught me to be strong, independent, to pursue education fiercely, to be kind, to love, and to be happy. A family man to the core, the best Dad I could ask for, adventures around every corner, music, laughter, joy, and the most amazing Papa to my boys. So, while going through the transitions of change, losing my Dad, my friend, my co-grandparent, I am now faced with my first summer without him.

"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - that is to have succeeded." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

My boys are 7 and 4, their whole lives revolve around family. They know love through the support of family and friends. My husband is a man with quiet, compassionate strength, who stood by me like the magnificent redwoods we traveled to visit on our honeymoon. Over the last 74 days, I drove to my parents house and helped my mother care for my father. All our efforts focused on his comfort, we cleaned, cooked, washed everything, assisted my Dad to shave, shower, and get dressed. The best days were when we could get him outside, he felt the springtime breeze on his face, and he enjoyed special time with my boys. The importance of showing my children the reality, and inevitability of death wasn't something I thought about, but exposing them to a dying man who was their hero didn't faze them. Hugs, kisses and snuggles abounded, and it was exactly what we all needed. Children have a way of staying right in the present moment, and that's where we should be.

"Change is the only constant in life." Heraclitus

My Dad believed in the right to die. Long conversations with his oncologist revealed that if my Dad couldn't live the life he wanted to live, why would he want to prolong an illness that isn't curable? He posed textbook ethical questions to us, and to his doctors. We talked about maintaining dignity, and respect for the human body. He endured 3 weeks of palliative radiation to help alleviate some pain, as the cancer spread to his bones and his spine. My Dad had some serious courage; having the strength to face the inevitable without fear. To seek comfort with quality of life as the goal is what drove his decision to not pursue chemotherapy. I believe my Dad confronted his diagnosis with bravery and honor. Of course there were moments of doubt and fear that crept in, and I rallied my inner reserves to have the most difficult discussions of my life with my Dad. I helped calm his anxiety with deep breathing, and we talked extensively about meditation, finding peace, and letting go. One day we used the imagery of a caterpillar going inside its chrysalis to wait patiently for the metamorphosis to occur.

"Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation." Rumi

When someone you love dies, they still live on in your heart and mind. The memory won't let go, and the ache that sustains never really goes away. Everyday, my younger son asks where Papa is. Why can't we see him anymore? Where did he go?  We talk about Heaven and how it is all around us, in the sky, the sun, the moon, in the earth, the trees, plants and flowers, in the air, and the water. It seems natural to discuss the tangible qualities of our beautiful planet that surround our senses. My older son says Papa is in the wind that rustles through the leaves, the grass that tickles our feet, the warmth of the sun that we feel on our skin, the repetitive sound of the rain, or the constancy of ocean waves rolling in and rolling out. Our church, our sanctuary, is in nature, and we feel it everyday.

My grief is ongoing, I try not to dwell on the loss, but focus on remembering all I have because of my Dad. I think a lot about my Mom, and how she faces her future after 45 years of marriage to one man who is now gone. Smile, live, love, that is what he would want us to do. I gather my strength, my perseverance, my love, and push on.

"Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is." Master Yoda

There are moments of solace and refuge that come in the sweet faces of my boys. Their ability to understand the tragic and complicated events of life continue to impress me. Their faith in what they know is true, consoles my heart. My children are huge 'Star Wars' fans, they believe in the Force. Both boys play out detailed scenes of Han Solo and Chewbacca flying the Millennium Falcon, battling the Empire in their quest of freedom to the galaxy. Yoda, Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi are the Jedi Knights they strive to be. One night in April we were reading our bedtime stories, and 'The Legendary Yoda', was part of the book stack that always seems too big to get through before bed.  In the fictional series 'Star Wars', Yoda was defender of the galaxy, Master of the Force, and the greatest Jedi who has ever lived. He was 900 years old when he passed away.  Below is a summary taken from the book we read that night, written by Catherine Saunders.

The "Force" surrounds all living things. This powerful energy has a light side and a dark side. The light side is used for good; expressed as love, kindness, caring, compassion, empathy, and joy. The dark side is used for evil; expressed as hate, sadness, jealousy, regret, fear, anger, and confusion. Those who live the light side of the "Force" are respected by those who value peace, justice, and freedom, and feared by those who use the dark side of the "Force". When living beings of the light side of the "Force" pass on, the wisdom and knowledge of the "Force" shows that death is simply a part of nature, and not to be feared because death is not the end. They live on through all light users of the "Force" and surround us always. These powers are strong and the spirit becomes one with the "Force".

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Just a Little Green

"Just a little green, like the color when the Spring is born."

Spring feels early this year, my bulbs are pushing through the dirt, they blossomed beautifully, and then were promptly blanketed with a last minute snow fall. I watched the clock switch from 1am to 3am during the Spring Equinox, we celebrated many birthdays, and our St. Patrick's day dinner was followed by an enormous sugar loaded Easter. The month of March is closing out, flying into April.

My life is moving in fast forward. When I am home, the minutes fly by like seconds, my hours feel like minutes. The pull of this chaotic energy has me less engaged, disconnected, floating around on auto pilot. I'm a zombie, going through the motions of breakfast, morning, afternoon, and bedtime routines, school drop off, school pick up and work. My small tasks turn into large tasks, and distraction is ever present. Long to do lists, high expectations, and the daily activities of life's responsibilities are overwhelming. Despite all this, one foot shuffles in front of the other. I stand strong. I persevere.

"Call her green and the winter's cannot fade her."

With my life in the fast lane, I need to slow down. Actually, I want to stop!  I don't want to go to work, I don't want to run another errand, I don't want to do anymore laundry, dishes, or make one more snack. Everyone has something they gravitate towards when life feels like it is spinning out of control. I remember time lingering when I was young, the changes in one day seemed to last forever. A pale pink, and orange sun rising, a leisurely, golden afternoon rolling into my favorite blue hour of the evening. I found time to have fun, and enjoyed the small gifts that life had to offer.  Lounging in a ray of sunshine, hidden away, I would get lost in reading books, lots of books. The first book I read all the way through was "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My Grandmother gave it to me as a gift, she wrote a full inscription on the title page. I was so proud of myself for reading such a long book, all 298 pages of it. The simple descriptions of beauty created a world I longed to jump into. I wanted more. So, I read more, and soon I began to write.

"Might I have a bit of earth?" F.H.B

Words that flow from heart and mind are glorious, putting pen to paper is a way for me to set aside fears, anxiety, worry, and to stay present in my life. Writing offers an opportunity to stop and reflect on everything, I find clarity by giving my feelings and emotions value. I have kept a journal for 29 years now, lots of aggression, frustration, and inspiration have been written down in many different forms of handwriting, and grammatical configurations. When I was 11 years old, my best friend gave me my first journal. I wrote in it everyday. When I look back and re-read some of my old entries, I am immediately transported. It's like a form of time travel in my mind. Current situations are given perspective, as I remember that I've been through tough times, I've made my way through, and now I'm stronger, resilient, less vulnerable.

These days the best gift of all is a journal or a book. Both of which take time to enjoy. Time waits for no one. We are here today. Take it by the reigns, ride it, and make the most of it. I keep a journal with me at all times, you never know when a free moment may randomly pop into your life. I just need a few moments to gather my thoughts, acknowledge them, validate them and let them go. Prioritizing responsibilities, setting aside the things that are not necessary right now, creates more space. When you take your time back, it opens up like a vast plain that wasn't visible before.

A journal is personal, a sacred space to write for yourself, honestly, and non-judgmentally. A blank page filled with the possibility of hopes, dreams, and the things that are cherished deeply and gratefully. For me, writing is like pushing away the cobwebs, or dusting off an old piece of furniture. I clear away mental clutter and regain my energy. Writing about difficult situations, and challenging decisions helps me to not waste time overthinking or over-analyzing things repetitively. I need to write to remind myself that I am on a path that makes me happy and satisfied.  I often write letters to myself titled, "Do not open until 21st birthday", or "Do not open until 40th birthday".

I kept journals for both my boys while I was pregnant, and through their first few years of life. Small moments of the day during their naps, I heard the church bells ring, I heard the birds sing, I truly enjoyed the gifts of those slow, beautiful early days of motherhood. I really didn't want them to end. We were on our own time schedule. While I wrote, I kept thinking how wonderful it would have been to have a journal from my Mother, with details of my likes and dislikes, or experiences and decisions I had made at an early age. When I write for my boys, I include quotes and song lyrics along with my thoughts and observances about them. My goal is to raise kind, compassionate, smart, sensitive boys who turn into men that are able to communicate clearly, form coherent thoughts and execute them gracefully, and ambitiously. With a strong sense of self awareness, and self identity at an early age, I hope they will have more of a chance to find happiness in their work, love, and life as they grow older. With the pulse of the universe pushing us forward, we must pause, take a deep breath, and remember, all we have and all we are is here.

"And the seasons they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive on the carousel of time. We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in the circle game."

Picture caption words by Joni Mitchell