Sunrise and Solitude

We are camping just off the beach, about 1100 miles from home. The husband has a cold, and is being a good sport about it, but needs all of the rest that he can get. My other companion for the week is a teenager whose natural tendency is to sleep until noon. He received the majority of his Christmas gifts early, so there was nothing driving him to awaken before dawn with me.

I began waking early in the morning when the children were still young. That hour between 5 and 6 am was often the only time that I had to myself. While I love to be around people, I also love my quiet time – time to reflect, read, write, or just sit quietly and perhaps scratch the dog’s ears.

I woke today around 6 am and made a cup of coffee, pulled on my hoodie and stuck my feet in a pair of flip flops and padded off in the darkness to the beach. Sunrise was “scheduled” for 7:10 a.m. When I made it to the water’s edge, there was another 40 minutes to wait. Although daylight had not yet arrived, a hint of rose-colored light brightened the night sky. The ocean glowed. The sand sparkled. Seagulls and sandpipers pecked away at specks washed in on the waves.

I thought that I was there all alone, but as the sky brightened, I saw us, the dozen or so people who were there to greet Christmas morning before it was truly morning. There we stood, each alone, but all together, watching the sky from the wet sand.

A man in a Santa hat walked along the water getting some exercise. We wished each other Merry Christmas resumed our silence. The water began lapping at my toes, and I moved back a few steps. I encountered my artwork engraved on the sand from the morning before. I found the short stick I had stowed in the rocks. I moved a few paces and scratched some words into the sand. In a moment the water rose up and washed them away completely, as if they had never been there in the first place.

I sometimes wonder what will happen to all of my words when I am gone. The blogs, posts and half-finished novels fill volumes of paper and unknown number is bits and bytes in cyberspace. They say that once something is on the web, it’s there forever. That doesn’t, however, necessarily mean that anyone will ever read it.

A heavy layer of clouds sat just at the horizon. The sun would not be peeking out just above the sea on this morning like the ball of fire that had appeared at precisely 7:09 am yesterday.

Eventually, we solitary sunrise observers were joined by couples and families. We were all there to welcome another day. I sang quietly to myself, “silent night, holy night,” believing that the waves and the gulls would mask my voice, but I heard a voice join mine, and then another. We sang our carol, and the clouds turned pink. It almost looked as if there were a city skyline just at the place where the ledge of cloud met the water.

We stood in silence then, watching as the light rose and the sky turned blue. Pink clouds streaked across the sky. Eventually the ball of fire emerged from its cloud blanket. My coffee was gone. My companions were leaving, one by one and two by two. We had witnessed the dawning of Christmas Day there on the beach, mostly alone and mostly in relative silence. I turned and made my way back “home,” where the menfolk were still sleeping.

I’d received my gift from my little family early, so there were no packages for me to unwrap. Instead, I watched as a brand new day was born. As they say, “every day is a gift – that’s why we call it the ‘present'”.

Joyous Christmas to each of you,and for those whose holiday has been dimmed by loss, may you find comfort with those who love you.

Always,

Be

Good tidings of comfort (and joy)

Happy Christmas Eve from the beach. The husband, the man child and I decided to make the 1100 mile trek from Vermilion, Ohio to Cocoa Beach Florida for Christmas for the second year in a row. For them, it was merely a chance to catch some sunshine and play in the sand. For me, it was personal. I had an important visit to make.

Last year, the loss of my mother was very fresh. I spent more time in tears than enjoying the sunshine. I couldn’t bear to allow myself a peek of happiness. It just didn’t seem right. I got up before the sun every morning and sipped my coffee and watched the waves lap at the sand and wept.

I walked the beach and picked up seashells – but only the broken ones. I told myself that they were more interesting, but I think there was a part of me that believed at that moment that I didn’t deserve the perfect beautiful ones.

On our last morning at the beach, I found a spot just above the high tide line. I sat in the sand and imagined my mom beside me there, sitting in a low sand chair in her homemade red bathing dress with the white jacket with a beach blanket pulled up over her legs and her feet buried in the sand. I don’t think she was ever here at Cocoa Beach in her life, but I imagined her here in death – sitting in her chair and watching the waves, the gulls – the children with pails and shovels. Contented smile on her face. I went back at sunrise day after day and talked to her here on the the beach. I said all of the things that I couldn’t say in the last weeks of her illness when the very sight of me, for reasons I will never know, would make her angry. The angry old woman was gone, and Mom was back, sitting there beside me.

On our last morning, I had to say goodbye. I drew a heart in the sand and burned the location into my memory so that I could find it again, and there I set up her chair, in my mind, for the last time. She wanted the chair close enough to the water that the waves would wash over her feet sometimes. As I turned to walk back to our campsite, I saw her give me a little wave. “Go have fun,” she called. “I’ll be right here waiting. I’ll be just fine.” As I made my way up the stairs over the dunes, the hot tears spilled down my cheeks.

It’s been a year, today, since I left Mom’s memory there on the beach. I’ve pictured here there in the sun many times over the past year. The memory of that imaginary scene has given me great comfort. When it came time to plan this year’s vacation, I knew that I must return.

We arrived Saturday evening after dark. I woke up the following morning, planning to watch the sun came up, but I burrowed deeper into the covers instead. When I finally made it down to Mom’s spot later that morning, there was a family there, catching tiny crabs in the rocks. I didn’t talk to Mom. Instead I joined the hunt for tiny crabs, and then I walked along the beach and picked up the most beautiful sea shells I could find. Some were broken, but mostly they were intact – whole and beautiful – a far cry from my ‘haul” last year.

This morning I finally made it to the beach before the sun rose. It was magical. I ran 4 miles. I ran along the tide line. A wake surprised me and got my shoes soaking wet and I didn’t even care. I was having a wonderful time. I kept running in my squishy shoes, singing along to my music and telling every passerby “Good morning,” or “Merry Christmas.”

My favorite song came on my playlist and I danced a little. I made it back to “Mom’s spot.” I took a reed that I found in the rocks and drew a picture in the sand and took a photograph. I told myself that my year of grieving was over. I sat in “our” spot, ready to talk to Mom and tell her that I was okay and then, like the wave that had soaked my running shoes, a rogue wave of grief hit me. It was the knock you on your butt, throat-punch kind of grief that hits out of nowhere and it left me a little breathless for a moment. I sat on the big rock and just let the tears flow. I felt a tingling on my right hand, and I heard my mom tell me, “I told you I would be just fine.” I smiled through hot tears.

Just as the wave that soaked my running shoes receded back into the sea, the rogue wave of emotion slipped away. It ebbed and flowed as I sat there, listening to Mom. She told me, “I’m still Mary Christmas, and now Franny Claus is here too,” referencing nicknames that she and her sister, who just joined her in Heaven last month used during the holidays.

I know that Mom’s not on the beach in her chair anymore. This next year I imagine that I will think of her trying to roller skate on streets of gold and fishing in a beautiful lake in Heaven’s version of the Swiss Alps that she always wanted to visit and never had the chance.

I made my way back to the campground where husband and man child were waking up. Husband saw me and asked if I was okay. The answer was “I’m fine. I’m happy sad.” He knew what I meant.”

When I drew “Joy” in the sand, I set an intention to live more joyfully. I had no way to know that seconds later I would be weeping. I read somewhere that grief is a gift. In order to grieve, we must first have loved. Oh, how I loved.

Although I’ve cried intermittently since that episode this morning, my heart is not sad. I’m smiling through the tears. I got the distinct feeling that when I go back to the beach tomorrow, it’s going to be just me and the seagulls and the other “morning people.” I don’t have to drive 1100 miles next Christmas to talk to my mom.

To my friends who are hurting this Christmas, “you are not alone.” Honor your loved ones in the way that gives you the most comfort. There’s no right way to grieve or wrong way to grieve. Grief has no timeline.

I’m still intending to live the next year joyfully. Joy and grief can co-exist. They play together quite nicely. I still love Christmas at the beach. Maybe by next year, I’ll learn to do a cartwheel in the sand.

12/5/2018 – A Christmas Card from Home by Way of Heaven

This morning began with a series of text messages.  Texting is not my preferred mode of communication, and I don’t use it often, so when a series of “dings” occurred in rapid succession, it was a sure sign that something was amiss.  Indeed, My Aunt Fran went to heaven this morning.

I sent a short message of condolence to my cousin and read the same from other cousins as they came across my screen.  I brewed a cup of coffee and sat in the quiet living room, not quite sure how to feel.

I grew up with many loving aunts and uncles, but Aunt Fran was a favorite. She taught Sunday School and Children’s Church.  She had a room in her basement full of little toys that she would give out as rewards for good behavior. For many years, she regularly cut my hair while I sat on a chair in her basement and she even allowed us to roller skate on the concrete floor.  Sometimes Fran would “kidnap” me for a day. Friendly’s Ice Cream Parlor was a short walk from her home, and we would go together and she would buy me a sundae that was so big that I couldn’t finish it.  Aunt Fran bought me my very first tea set, long gone now, but I remember it well.

Aunt Fran was a talented story teller.  Whether the story was from the Bible or from her youth, Fran had a rare talent for making even the ordinary exciting.  I particularly remember her re-telling of the story of David and Goliath.  She played each role, picking up smooth stones and putting them into a pouch for her imaginary slingshot, and then carefully fitting each one into the pouch to slay the giant.  A day with Aunt Fran was magical.

Mom and Fran were constant companions during the years that they shared at the Apostolic Christian Rest Home in Mansfield.  Each had her own small apartment just across the street the other.  Fran couldn’t see, and Mom had a hard time walking.  Mom was Fran’s eyes, and Fran was Mom’s legs.  They were a good team.  They complemented each other; they needed each other.  Even when Mom’s illness had progressed to the point where she could no longer truly care for herself, she wouldn’t leave Fran.

When cooking a big meal became too much for Mom several years ago, I began cooking Christmas dinner and transporting it to Mansfield, where we would serve up a feast in Mom’s small apartment.  We always invited Aunt Fran, and she always came down the hall, usually bearing gifts, which were often treasures from her own apartment that she no longer used for herself.  I use one such gift – a cast iron skillet – daily, and the lamp made of pink Himalayan salt glows in my study.

In the final year or so that Mom and Fran spent together, Fran’s hearing was failing, and her mind wasn’t working as before.  Last Fall, I was staying a few days with Mom prior to bringing her home with me because Mom had grown too weak to get herself in and out of bed.  She became very sick the night before we were to leave for my home, and I had to call an ambulance.  I called Fran’s apartment, too, but there was no answer.  Although I asked other family to let Fran know what had happened, she was convinced that I had stolen Mom away in the middle of the night without even letting them say goodbye.  No amount of persuasion by myself or others involved could ever convince Fran that I had, in fact, wanted her to know what was happening and even had tried to reach her.  As far as I know, Fran never forgave me.  I had never known Fran to be angry, but angry she was.  That night, I not only knew I was going to lose Mom, I lost my Franny, too.

Forgiveness is a lesson that took me more than 50 years to understand.  I’m doing much better with it, but I still struggle with forgiveness regularly.  It’s easier to understand it than to master it.

I struggle often to let go of the hurt that I cause myself with other people’s words and deeds so that I can just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they apologize or even feel bad for their “wrongdoing.”

I struggle to forgive myself for the times that I fail – whether it’s the dumb thing I did in second grade, or one of the times that I failed so completely that people I love won’t forgive me even though I’ve apologized.  I struggle to let go of that pain, too, and just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they return that love or even acknowledge my existence.

When I am having those particular struggles -the ones where I struggle to forgive myself – I slip into a mindset where nothing I do is good enough.  I don’t write because “who else would ever want to see it.”  I don’t post pictures of my knitting or of my teacups because “people will just think I’m looking for attention.”  I don’t play the piano because I’m rusty and I make a lot of mistakes, and I struggle to get on the treadmill because I’m slower than I was in 2016.  Forgiveness is the key to happiness, if you ask me, because letting go of pain frees up so much energy to just enjoy life and to just enjoy living.

This morning I forgave Fran for being angry with me, and I forgave myself for not foreseeing that my failure to reach her myself would cause hurt so deep that it would destroy a 50-year bond.  I allowed myself to weep, and to imagine Fran and Mom, reunited.  I believe that Fran, moments after her death, was restored to perfect health with perfect hearing and a sharp mind, and that she understood perfectly when Mom told her that I had, in fact, tried to phone her.

I made it to the office this morning a little late, but pretty much on time.  All day, my memories have kept spilling out my eyes and down my cheeks.  I’m not one given to loud crying generally, but my eyes have grown very leaky since I reached “a particular age.” It’s one of many reasons why I don’t bother with makeup.

When I arrived at the office, my mail was piled on my desk.  On the top of the pile was an envelope with a handwritten address.  A bright red cardinal appeared on the postage stamp in the upper right corner – a lone pop of color on a black and white document.  It’s said that the sighting of a cardinal is a message from a loved one in Heaven.  I saw a post to that effect on Facebook yesterday, so it must be true!

I looked at the return address and saw Dalton, Ohio 44618.  Home!  No matter how long I am in Vermilion, which I love, my heart screams “home” when I think of Wayne County.  In the envelope was a beautiful letter from a beautiful lady who has always been special.  We haven’t seen or talked in more than 30 years, but today, just when I needed a lift, her letter landed on my desk on a morning when I was down, not only because my aunt died, but because the stubborn needle on the scale just won’t budge no matter how strictly I diet or how many miles I run right now.

She shared some of her memories of my parents which I had forgotten about, but which flooded back.  She told me how much she’s enjoyed reading the little blog posts that I share.    She talked about my writing about struggles and transparency and told me that I make a difference.  She put a smile on my face.

I keep coming back to that cardinal on the stamp, and the idea of a message from a loved one in Heaven. The letter left Dalton, Ohio, a mere 50 or so miles away, on November 28th and arrived here on December 4, a day when I wasn’t in the office.  I didn’t personally receive the letter until I got to my desk on December 5- six days after the letter left “home.”.  The pony express would have been faster!  That dear lady closed her letter with “God’s grace and blessing on [my] journey.”  In God’s perfect time, a letter landed on my desk at least 4 days late, carrying with it a message of love and hope and friendship.  I feel like it also carried with it a message of forgiveness from Fran, and perhaps a “hi, I miss you,” from Mom, stuck to the letter with the glue on the cardinal stamp.

My friend from back home had no idea what I would be struggling with on THIS day on the day that she mailed the pretty Christmas card with the beautiful letter inside.  She simply listened to the call she felt to reconnect.  In doing so, she made a difference.  In this day of instant messages and texts and emails, it is such a thrill to open a card or letter and read a message meant just for *ME*.  Had she emailed, instead, I never would have received the message with the red cardinal at just the moment that I needed it.

It is possible to smile through tears.  I know, because I’m doing it right now.

Love,

Be

Common Ground vs Middle Ground

Common Ground and Middle Ground aren’t the same. Common Ground is the set of things that we share. We’re humans, we’re parents, we love coffee, or we love dogs. Finding common ground is a strategy used for team building and conflict resolution. It is a form of connection that builds bridges.

Middle Ground is compromise. If your land is on the north bank of the river and my land is on the south bank of the river meeting in the middle of the river is somewhere between your camp and my camp.

Nobody has to win or lose to find common ground. We may share the common ground of loving dogs but be on different sides of a political issue. Nobody loses a thing to find common ground.

Middle ground involves loss. If you stay on the south bank and I stay on the north bank of the river, we have not moved to middle ground. If we both wade out into the river, we both leave our camps.

Middle ground is not always right. Sometimes it’s downright dangerous. Sometimes, if we wade into the river to meet half way, we’ll both drown.

Finding common ground is rarely wrong.If we’re going to heal the divide in this country, it starts by finding common ground – finding out where we are alike and where we agree. After we’ve found common ground, we may have issues where we can find middle ground. There may be issues where we will never find middle ground, because there is only right and wrong.

five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.  That’s one year.  I buried my mom a year ago today – right about now.  I have known a lot of loss and pain in my life.  I’ve lost pregnancies, been divorced, buried a husband and my father.  I’ve been through plenty of tough times.  I thought I had a pretty good handle on grief.

I had the bright idea to start blogging my journey through grief on a day by day basis – I thought that I could somehow write a primer that might help others through coming to terms with the loss of their parent.  I was so arrogant as to sit down and write out a timeline of topics that I would write about – the lessons that I would teach myself about grief on my timetable.  I can laugh at the audacity now.

I didn’t write all of those blogs.  I didn’t write many of them.  I found the list not so long ago and threw it away.

When you are grieving, sometimes the minutes creep by so slowly that you think morning will never arrive.  Sometimes you open your eyes and realize it’s Friday and you haven’t finished the Monday to-do list.

The only way out is through.  I made it through five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.   I made it through a year.   I’ll make it through the next one, too, and the one after that.  Such powerful lessons of love I have learned.

I didn’t write those blogs, but I filled journal after journal.  One day, perhaps soon, I’ll read them through.  Perhaps there will be something of value to share. Perhaps they’ll make good kindling for next summer’s campfires.  Only time will tell.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, for me at least, has been  a time to process the changes.  I’ve let go of so many ideas that no longer served me.  When something irritates or annoys me, I ask myself if it would matter in a year.  If not, I do my best to let it go and use my energy for something more productive than worry.

I’m back to singing silly songs at inappropriate times (but not in court).  My smile isn’t a mask hiding sadness or depression – it’s real these days.  I no longer have to stalk joy like it’s a rare animal in a dark jungle.  Joy sits on my shoulder and sings again.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes – measure in love.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died
It’s time now to sing out
Tho’ the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love
Remember the love
Remember the love
Measure in love
Measure, measure your life in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
Songwriters: Jonathan D. Larson
Seasons of Love lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

947 lives

I sat down to write a blog about something that happened yesterday.  I clicked on a different URL than I usual, and it took me to the “reader” side instead of the “writer” side of the portal.  There, I was invited to join 947 people who follow this little blog.  947.  That’s nearly 1,000.  It’s a pretty big number.

I know that some of those “follows” are people hoping that I will “follow” them back – and they’ve never read a word.  Other people may read a post when I link to it on Facebook or LinkedIn or twitter, but not “follow.”

I don’t know what I may have written that has helped someone else.  How would the world change if each of us could reach 947 people and give them some love, some hope or simply make them feel as if whatever emotion they are experiencing is normal – that they will get through it.

Some of these 947 people have reached this page because I tried and failed to run a half marathon at Walt Disney World (the FIRST time) and they, too, wanted to know what happened if the balloon ladies pass you (click here to find out).  That post has by far the most views.

Speaking of views, as of the writing of this little article, my posts have been viewsd 6,456 times.  It’s not a big, big number, but that number is larger than the number of people who I have interacted with in real life since 2014, when I found the courage to begin writing on the internet.

I’m reminded of the first time that I ran the 10K race at the Cleveland Rite-Aid marathon weekend.  As I crossed the finish line, a woman asked my name and said, “you’re the woman who lost all that weight, aren’t you?”  The connection I shared with her at that moment were more special than the shiny medal I received for finishing.

Another time, I wrote about finding painted rocks at the beach, and how happy they made me, and the woman who let them in secret saw me running and became my friend.

My third grade teacher has read my words and continued to make me feel as loved and supported as she did 43 years ago.

Years ago, I had a small circle of friend online with whom I shared poetry.  My profile said, “I am an artist.  I paint pictures with words.”

When I logged onto this site, I was given 947 gifts in an instant.

Write on.

love,

~Be~

 

 

What is Success, Anyway?

I had the great pleasure of meeting some wonderful people on a recent trip to Colorado.  One of them felt like a “new old friend” – one of those people who for no readily-apparent reason I just instantly like and can talk with easily, as if meeting with an old friend.

Like me, she’s had setbacks, including painful injuries.  while admittedly, I don’t know all that much about her, but she is smart, pretty, and has accomplished a lot in her trips around the sun.  She told me, quietly, that she doesn’t think she’s successful.  I asked her, “what does it mean to be successful?

She told me that she’d have to think about it.   It told her that I would, too.

Dictionary.com lists three definitions for the word “success.”

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors.

I don’t really feel that any of those definitions defines what I look at when I attempt to define “success” as it applies to me or to those who I encounter in daily life.

If I accomplish one set of goals, I may have achieved success, but am I still “successful” if I simply stop there?  Are the possession of wealth, position and honors a good measure of success, really?

Is my success as a lawyer determined by my financial gain or by the number of people whose lives I touch?  Is my success as a measured by keeping my children alive to adulthood, or must they thrive on their own in an adult world?

I didn’t feel very successful as a young adult.  I don’t know what my personal measure of success was at 28, but I do recall that I was nervous about meeting my biological grandparents because I was divorced, a single parent and overweight.  I didn’t consider that the fact that  I was employed, working hard and buying my own home may have looked like success to my grandparents.

As a 33-year-old undergraduate student, I tutored a young man in math.  I was not a top math student, but my scores were higher than his, so I learned how to solve the problems and then I taught him to solve them, too.  We both passed the class.  That was definitely a success.

My personal framework for success is evolving.  At one time, I would have deemed myself a success having received a college degree.  When I attained that goal, I was proud for a moment, but I still didn’t feel successful.    Now that I have a BA and  JD and my own law practice, I feel successful when I win an argument and I don’t feel successful when I compare my paycheck to that of a colleague working for a big firm.

Since my conversation a month ago with my new, old friend, I have put some thought into answering the question of, “what is success?”

I’ve trained for two half-marathons.  In both cases, I logged hundreds of miles in training.  I did not finish my first attempt.  I did finish my second attempt.  Was I a failure the first time and a success the second time?  If “success” is measured by completing a race, then that is the case.  Although I felt momentarily defeated when I was “swept” from the course on that first attempt, I was proud of having successfully completed a training program, losing a bunch of weight, and gaining a lot of self-confidence.  I overcame a lot of obstacles in order to chalk up that failure.  Overall, that experience, and the fire it lit under me to finish the next time was definitely a contributing factor to my later “success.”

Speaking of that weight – I still have a sizeable amount to release.  am I a success for having lost over 100 lbs and keeping most of it off, or must I reach that elusive “goal weight” to be a success in the health arena?  Do my A1C, resting heart rate and blood pressure measurements contribute to success?

I’m very much a success story in some arenas.  In other areas, I’m a desperate failure.  I choose not to focus on those because I can only fix one or two things at a time.

One person who reads my musings may call me a “thought leader.”  Another recently told me I was full of Bull***t.  Guess which one I listened to (and then look back at the space between my blog posts in recent months…)

For today, I will define “success” as living a life consistent with my values.  That’s a higher bar than one would think some days.

What is “success”?  Do you feel successful?  What will it take for you to feel like a success?  Leave em a comment.  Let’s have a conversation.