Depth in gratitude.

 

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“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”-Anais Nin

I would not have recognized the woman that I am in my heart right now ten years ago, and probably barely 5 years ago, and surprisingly as I began to dive deeper into the person that I am, and want to be, it might have been unrecognizable even two years ago. But, I knew after the summer of 2016 that something inside of me was changing. I knew that my heart and my brain were starting to be curious about the depths of life that I might be able to experience, and I was realizing that just maybe…shallow living is what was scaring me most.

So many summers ago, I can remember standing with my feet in the water in Vancouver, British Columbia worrying about slipping and falling, but desperately wanting to touch a purple starfish. I knew that I wanted so desperately to connect to that purple starfish, but I was scared and unsure if I should or could wade out on the rocks to get there. When I finally picked my way out there with prompting from my Lynne, I picked one up, looked at the living, breathing organism in my hand, connected to it’s life breath, and then safely returned it to it’s rock. I felt both scared and proud.

I never really have understood how my own fears have kept me on the surface. I have never really taken huge risks. The few that I have taken, while risky, have felt in some ways safe and calculated. And, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with safe and calculated. But there is a part of it that keeps me from really diving into the depth of living that I know can and does exist. What I also know is when I dove, when I decided that I was going to stop staying on the surface, have become the moments in my life that I am most me.

I spent so many years thinking that I wouldn’t make it on my own, that somehow, without the presence of my mom, I would somehow falter. I am finally believing that just maybe, I was meant to stumble and falter, because it is those breaks and breakdowns that have brought me most fully into my present. I am beginning to believe in myself more fully than I ever have. I am starting to find that my confidence isn’t simply a facade or a well constructed impersonation of someone that oozes that confidence. I am more of the person and the woman that I am today, more fully, and more joyfully than I have ever been.

I realize that for so long, my bravery, my confidence, and my desire to live more fully have been so tempered by the weight I have been carrying on my shoulders, the fear and the stench of dead cells unshed. So, I’m going to work on that. I’m going to work to be my own true love. I’m going to be honest, say no more, say yes more to the things I want to do, give less time to the petty and mundane, have conversations about soul and music, and life, and less about hairstyles and life choices of others…I am going to spend time alone, and seek out the warmth and love of those that bring my soul joy, I am going to run with joy and abandon, and never pass up the chance to feel the sunshine on my belly. I am going to wear a bikini, and drink beer, and giggle at things that are silly. I am going to resist the oppressive government that I didn’t elect, but that I must work hard to unseat. I am going to find other people around me that appreciate life. I am going to watch basketball. I am going to get up early to run, stay up late to read a book, drink some coffee, seek solace and solitude, learn and work on this life. I am going to swim…and swim….deeper into the life that I want, not the life that I am expected to have.

Perhaps your life will keep you on the dry land. Perhaps you will man the shore as I swim off, but that’s okay. And, if along the way, I pass you as we swim, please know that it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, it just means I might need to swim a little deeper to find the true joy in my own life.

“She is a mermaid, but approach her with caution. Her mind swims at depths most would drown in.” – J. Iron Word

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On grief, and love, and gratitude.

On Wednesday night, I had an absolutely terrible restless night. I think that I might have had an hour of sleep, and that in that hour, my sleep was mostly plagued with terrible dreaming about not having the papers I would need Thursday morning for Dwight’s eulogy, or having a mouth filled with oatmeal-like mush and the words being unclear, and of standing in the church where my mom’s body last laid in a hideous borrowed casket, and seeing my Grandpa Don out in the audience….to put it mildly, it just was a horrible night.

But, I also know that there were lots of other people who weren’t getting good rest, people that I love so much, who I knew were going to have to get up, bleary and tired, exhausted to their marrow, and put effort to not show the ravages of grief, and to make it through the day.

It is amazing that at times, I can’t remember what my bank account number is, or where I put my other set of car keys, or what I had for lunch two days ago, but I can remember some things very distinctly. The night my mom died, I laid down in a bed after what seemed like the longest, most difficult day of my life, and I said aloud to my godmother…”I don’t think I can ever sleep again.” I can remember asking her so many questions, questions about how I would ever get to sleep. How would I ever know someone who didn’t know her? How would I survive without her? How I would ever be able to close my eyes, and not see my mom, in the tub where I had found her dead…I had more questions than my brain had answers for.

I guess that in the almost 27 years that have passed since my momma died, I have learned some things about grief. And I came to the realization in the last few days that for as much as I do know, sometimes that knowledge feels useless. I hate the darkness that comes with grief, when you know how the sadness will seep in and invade your brain and heart…but, how do you tell someone who is sitting in that darkness that it will ebb, that there will be moments of sunshine, and that sometimes the need to stay in the darkness…well, that’s okay too?

Yesterday, when I delivered a eulogy for someone who was not mine to hold or claim, but yet so important to people that I love so very much, my heart was breaking at being the person who’s words should matter. I wanted my words to touch the hearts of the people who are so broken and bereft, to assure them that I recognize them in their pain, and that I see in them the very real, very deep grief that is present in their hearts. I wanted to assure them that as the world continues to turn, and you feel so alone, that it is part of the human condition of grief.

I have asked unanswerable questions about loss in my life. I have struggled with feeling like I was somehow unworthy of being loved, I have struggled with wondering why has loss visited my doorstep too many times? But, I have also realized something else…it is only when we truly know love that we know loss and grief, for the pain of grief is so closely embedded with the joy of love.

Grief is the risk we take, the gamble that we make when we give of our love to others. We risk disappointment, and hurt, but bigger than that….we risk becoming intimately familiar with the darkness of grief. So, as I laid in bed early on Thursday, thinking about how could I lend salve to the broken heart of grief, I thought about love.

I believe in love. I believe that with love, you can change the world, that the hurts become less, that the fears become smaller, that the distances shorter…what are we without love? Am I a better person if I save my heart, and risk nothing for fear of being hurt in grief? Am I better if I refuse to open my heart to others, to love with wide open arms, to give of my love, and to feel the warmth of love from others? Am I better without grief if it means that I never love?

I know for me, it is too late. I know grief. She and I are intimately familiar. I know the broken pain of grief late at night, when there is no greater alone, and the grief that comes when you should be happiest, when you wonder if you are the only one who realizes that you are broken, and you feel as if there is nothing that can heal you. But, I am also intimate with the grief that helps to give you compassion, the grief that settles in your bones to remind you that before you lost, you loved.

It is love that I believe in, I believe that love is what makes the difficult days worth it. I believe that love is wrapped up in the arms of people we are meant to hug back, that it is present in the giggle of the child who’s eyes light up when they see us, that it is in the quiet of companionship in your oldest, best friend; it is present in the joy of those around us…love is what fulfills us, and completes us. So, in love, we must resolve ourselves to the simple fact that we will know grief.

And it will be love that will help us to survive.

I am so, so blessed to be loved, and grateful that I have loved so deeply to know grief.

Gratitude for “Commuovere”.

I find myself again at that moment between letting go of summer, and trying to welcome fall. I have always loved summer so much, I am honest with anyone that asks, if I had my way, and someday, I will….I would live in endless summer. I don’t know if it is a combination of sunshine and sundresses, sandals and sipping beer on beaches, but summer is just my thing. And, adventure in the summer is also my thing. So, this summer’s adventures have created a difficulty for me in the adjustment of re-entry.

On August 8th, I woke up just about as south in Kansas as one can be without being in Oklahoma. I knew that when I woke up that morning it was no longer going to be a decision about where I would sleep that night, as it would have to be Billings, Montana. No matter what my heart was saying, my head knew that it was time to turn north and re-enter the atmosphere of responsibility and commitments, work and coaching, life when NOT on hiatus. I am not going to lie, as I drove that 1,065 miles from southern Kansas to southern Montana, I was mostly sad. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be done wandering. I didn’t want to wake up in a familiar place. I didn’t want to be done with my summer walk-about. I was starting to feel that lump in my throat of sad and sorrow.

I know, not everyone has the ability to do what I have done for the past two summers, to simply wander, to adventure, to wake up in strange cities, to meet new people, and to re-connect with dear friends and family across the miles. I am blessed. I wish that I could explain what impels me to wander, but I don’t know what it is. I have thought about it, I have thought about if it is my rootless life that has made me feel less like a tree grounded and more like a feather on the breeze. I have wondered if it is the way my mom used to throw us in the car at strange times, on strange days, to take off on a cross country roadtrip. I have wondered if it lies in my desire to experience things unknown to me, to taste of new things, to see the world around me, to touch and to feel.

I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that this summer, as I headed off for my summer walkabout, I knew a few things to be true, there would be firsts, but there would be homecomings as well.

One first that I knew would come was putting my feet on the ground in Italy. You might say that Italy was a “spur of the moment” decision. Having mentioned once to my friend Lynne that I wanted to go, it really just became a reality in the late spring. The stars and the moon just aligned right (not the eclipse kind of aligned), and within just a few weeks, we had the plan made…Italy.

Our first stop was Parma. Parma filled my whole heart and soul with perhaps the best introduction to the people, the food, the country and the heart of Italy. I wasn’t prepared for the colors in the buildings, the warmth of the faces, the smell of sweet gelato as you wander past the storefront. Parma is this lovely place, surrounded by countryside that is abundant with food grains, grapes, and these hills that roll towards the Italian Apennines. And, Parma is Frank’s home. There is a longer story, that isn’t mine to tell, but Frank has always been a name I have heard for the 17 years that I have known and loved my Lynne and her family. Frank, who’s connections to the Hogue/Collins/Erickson family maintain as time passes, is a complete joy of a human, as is his beautiful wife, Marielena. With Frank in Parma, I experienced so many things that I will never forget…dinner on a farm overlooking a castle on a hill, hiking in the Apennines, gelato sandwiches, and so much more…(even a run one morning that I almost died on…for a “I am not a runner” runner…Frank’s pace about killed me until I bowed out and said I would go my own pace). Leaving Parma felt like a loss. I wasn’t sure if the rest of Italy could match up.

But, it did. In fact, it continued to only get better. As I rode across the beautiful country on trains, and wandered and ran among ruins, and put my toes, and then my bum into the Mediterranean, I just continued to fall in love with Italy. I fell in love with the people, with the skies, with the language, with the fact that sometimes you are lucky enough to find a great German beer as you look at ancient Roman ruins while enjoying the best apertivo imaginable.

I loved getting up in the morning in the hustle and bustle of Sicily, after listening to the city breathe all night, to take a run and watch the sun sparkle off the water of the Mediterranean with Mount Vesuvius in the distance. I loved laying on the beach of the sea, with the warmth of the sun on my belly and even on my breasts as topless is a bother to no one. To feel the sun on my face and shoulders, and to wander…it was all enhanced by the sights, sounds and tastes of Italy.

In Italy, I was powerfully reminded of how small my world view has been, even as I try to educate myself, as I try to remember that the world is huge, and that one thing about humanity unites us…our ability to love. “Ti adoro…Italia”. I adore Italy. I adore that I could explore, could taste, could adventure across your breath, to taste to salt of the sea on my lips, to be immersed in the beauty and the stark reminders of history and culture, and to never, ever feel as if I didn’t belong in your heart.

To say that I am blessed to have a life that is so full of adventure is an understatement. I am so fucking grateful that I have a heart that is unafraid of adventure, I am so thankful that in me there is wanderlust. And that in my heart is the ability to embrace adventure, to seek the moments in life in which I experience that wanderlust that bring me Commuovere. Commuovere, the power to be stirred…to be touched…to be moved to tears.

Italy, you made your mark on my heart, you stirred me, you moved me to tears, you changed my heart, the mark remains. I will be back, thank you for loving me and embracing me with your living soul and spirit.

 

The beauty in letting go.

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I have to be honest…I have never really understood the idea of “letting go”. I think that I was forced too many times to “let it go”, to “let go”, and to “move on”. I can remember the first time that I consciously recall moving away from the place that I felt was my home, and I was devastated.

My parents’ decision felt like it was being forced upon me, that it wasn’t about choice, and that I was powerless. I hated it. I hated that I had no voice and that I had no say in what was to inevitably happen to my life. And, I think that feeling has always stuck with me to a point. When someone else decides that they are going to change the rules, the parameters, or the expectations…it stops being your choice but it does become your reality.

I am an emotional hoarder, I don’t throw away concert stubs, or little notes, or birthday cards…I don’t want to let go of MY emotions associated with the item, the thought, the event, the experience…so, I have difficulty with letting go of real things, like relationships.

I am so lucky. I really, really am. I have been loved so well in my life. I have been loved by my friends, I have been loved by my students, I have been loved and cared for by so many. I was loved powerfully by my momma, with no conditions, even when I least deserved her love.

But, I have also known pain in love, like we all have. Utter despair and disappointment, questions of what I could have or should have done differently, the classic where did I fail? Those are the questions that haunt me in my internal thinking…the questions that have no answer because they tend to be one sided conversations. Conversations that you can’t have with another person because they left, they walked away, or in some cases…you literally lost them to a fate much bigger than choice.

But, as I age, as I “mature”…(I use that very sparingly because just about every juvenile action having to do with DPOTD makes me crack up)…I am realizing that there are things that I have to let go of with people that I love very much.

I realize that choices and decisions made so long ago can and will have impact today. And, I realize that what I have envisioned as my “sunset” with people that I love won’t necessarily paint the same way in their lives.

I can’t love someone “enough” to stay my friend. I can’t work harder, hold on tighter, or think that somehow abandoning my own dreams and wants and wishes will make anything else okay. And, in spite of all the pain or discomfort, I will not give up what makes me the most me to please anyone.

So, it brings me back to the idea of letting go. I am busy telling my seniors on the daily right now…life is going to change no matter if you are ready…and you will be okay. I tell them that the best time of their life is ahead of them, because I sincerely believe that. I tell them that I will love and support them, that they need to remember who and what they are, and not be so afraid.

So, I better take my own advice. I am responsible for my own happiness. I am going to keep my heart open to love. I am going to insist that others’ around me take responsibility for their decisions, and not attempt to make me carry their burden. I am going to take some opportunities for silence and self care. I am going to love myself.

And, in the process…I’m going to hope to find that it is okay to just let go sometimes.

 

To see 26…

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What a fitting morning, as the rain kisses the ground, and the sun hides…grief reflected in the weather. Life is so full of good, and so full of sorrow…I suppose that is how it must be, in order to remind me to not take the good for granted. And, in all reality, to not forget the sorrow, don’t dismiss loss as unimportant, for it, like good, changes us…

How lucky I am to have been loved by her, even with the grief of every day of 26 years, that love is not lessened. I miss you, my mom.

This, for her….not mine, but such a truth in the telling….

“Kathy’s Song”

I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls

And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England, where my heart lies

My mind’s distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you’re asleep
And kiss you when you start your day

And a song I was writing is left undone
I don’t know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can’t believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme

And so you see, I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you

And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I

Someone Saved My Life Tonight…

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It has been a very long time since I had the courage to write anything down. I have been struggling with the world, with the chaos created by humanity, with the struggles of others and my role in any relief or resistance. I have spent nights awakened by an intense sense of panic, feeling like the world is closing in, and that things are just simply not okay. I wish I could say that it is better, that I am better, that I am coming out of it, but I don’t think that is true. I am adjusting, I am realizing that this, like most other things is going to be a process.

It is March. And that is never an easy thing for me. But, there have been several things that I have been thinking about that, rolling around in my brain, that are reminding me about “silver linings”.  In having a conversation with my students about the differences between empathy and sympathy, we talked about the idea behind common experiences, and how common experiences help us to relate to others, that it is those things that we have in common that help us to build empathy in our relationships with others. I have always believed that empathy is such a powerful tool, and that sympathy really serves very little forward purpose.

Earlier this week, my brain was rocked just a little bit…well, to be honest…a lotta bit. I was approached by a student that wanted to have a conversation with me in private. In our conversation, and now in the subsequent conversations that we have had, and I think will continue to have, that student shared with me a very powerful and real part of themselves, and of their own struggles, their own panics, their own journey to true self.

I was humbled that they chose to talk to me, to share with me their feelings and their thoughts. In the process of our initial conversation, my student said to me, “…I think you are an amazing person, and I knew I could talk to you…” Walking away from that conversation on Tuesday, I kept thinking to myself…this student picked me. This student trusts me. I doubt sometimes that I am worthy of that trust. I doubt sometimes that I am strong enough, that I am wise enough, that I can be of good help…but then I thought about empathy.

When you are broken, and you are scared, and you hurt…you build strength, you build resilience, you build courage. I hope that my student sees in me those things, and I hope that I prove to be worthy of their trust, that I use my heart, and my compassion, and my experience to show them that I care, that I love them, that I accept them.

I fully believe that our ability to make connections with other beings is what separates us from our relatives in the animal kingdom. When we connect to others, when we experience empathy and compassion for others, we get the chance to heal ourselves, to share those bits and pieces that once broken, can be etched back together. We are all in some pieces, even those who present to have their shit together….

On Tuesday, as I was standing in Bozeman, listening to Sir Elton John, who always brings me right back to my childhood, to tracing the album art of Yellow Brick Road with my fingertips as my mom danced thru the living room…I paused in the stillness of a space in the crowd, and found that feeling. The feeling of the love of my mother, the safe of that living room floor, the warmth of what it meant to be loved and cherished by her…and as Sir Elton started the first bars of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, I realized that is the why. Sometimes I have to be reminded of what it feels like to be broken and bleeding, sometimes I have to remember that the pain and the loss has had purpose, and that purpose, that silver lining is my empathy, my shared experience…that I can look at the broken and the bleeding, and say, I see you.

We’ve all gone crazy lately…but it is that human crazy that keeps us alive. So today, we fight the fight to find the strength to give love tomorrow….

“When I think of those east end lights, muggy nights
The curtains drawn in the little room downstairs
Prima donna lord you really should have been there
Sitting like a princess perched in her electric chair
And it’s one more beer
And I don’t hear you anymore
We’ve all gone crazy lately
My friends out there rolling round the basement floor
And someone saved my life tonight sugar bear
You almost had your hooks in me, didn’t you dear
You nearly had me roped and tied
Altar-bound, hypnotized
Sweet freedom whispered in my ear
You’re a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, high away, bye bye….”

And so it goes….

“In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes alongI spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense

And every time I’ve held a rose
It seems I only felt the thorns
And so it goes, and so it goes
And so will you soon I suppose

But if my silence made you leave
Then that would be my worst mistake
So I will share this room with you
And you can have this heart to break

And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows

So I would choose to be with you
That’s if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows…”

It was like Billy Joel was telling the story of my broken heart. I know this song is a love song, but there is no way to discount that love comes in all forms, and that this will always be a song that when I hear the first strains of Joel’s broken heart as the piano starts, I will think of my momma. I will think of the completely broken, bleeding heart of the little girl who I still am in many ways, and the death of the person who’s chin I carry, who’s spunk and attitude live in the set of my determination, in the kindness of my heart, in the gold of my green eyes. I am my mother’s daughter. I am a lost daughter of a dead mother, gone too soon. I am both her survivor and a casualty of her battle.
I clearly remember, the night of her death, as I was fighting to sleep, fighting to turn off the images in my very tired brain, that I looked at my godmother, my Bunnie, and said…”what will I tell people when I grow up?”….feeling every bit the small, wounded child. She had no answer for me that night, as her pain was surely as devastating as mine.
And, as I have walked the steps of my life, sometimes forward, sometimes in a circle, and even falteringly backwards at times…I have carried the weight of her loss with me towards a horizon that I didn’t know if I would ever reach.
When you are child, a day seems like an eternity. When you are a woman, a day is a gift. And, I have been gifted with so many days between the child of her death, and the woman that lives because of her. I have always seen on that distant horizon the clouds looming of being 42. I can’t explain that I have in so many ways known this birthday would come, but been so frightened that it wouldn’t. I am days away, on the edge of always living longer here than my momma did. Of always being older than she would ever be. She is frozen in time, at 42…and I will never be younger than her. I will beat her to old age, I will beat her to brittle bones, and frail steps, and crows’ feet…I will outlive her. I will age with the grace that she was never afforded in her death.
I can’t explain it. I can’t explain the gravity of this. But, I will find my new normal. The me that will age, and will outlive her always. I have spent many years knowing that this day would come, and even realizing that I needed it to come, that I needed to care for and about my body in order to reach this day…but it was still in the distance.
It is no longer a distant, looming horizon…when the sun rises and sets on my 42nd birthday, I will be kind, loving, generous, thoughtful, determined, intelligent, belligerent, non-compliant, sassy, head strong, curious, unsettled, accomplished, unfulfilled…I will always be her child, but I will also be the woman that has lived through her, without her.

Monday. Happy Birthday to me.