The Best and Worst of Firsts

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Out on the deck and under the umbrella, before the real heat of this August day, Sylvia wondered. Would it be more of the same? Coffee, household chores, lists. Or would she experience something new today? Perhaps a first of the best kind? As she gazed out into the woods behind the house, her curiosity wasn’t piqued by the panoramic view of the landscape that had recently changed in her life. From the quiet, seamless lines of blue where sky meets water on the cove to the lush drapes of greenery that fortressed her now, the change marked a beginning and an end. Or an end and a beginning. And that is where she stopped. The order of things had her baffled momentarily, yet with the very next sip from the sweaty tumbler of iced water, she was struck by a concept that she had never really thought about until that very second. Beginnings and endings are always, always, always firsts.

Sylvia: Firsts are daunting, anxiety-ridden, and paralyzing, Erma.

Erma: Firsts are exciting, hopeful, and motivating, my friend. Just think. When something unpleasant ends, it’s the last of it. That leaves you open and eager for the next step, a new lease, a new beginning.

Sylvia: I get that, but it also signifies the end of an era, a final point in the history of a relationship or process. That’s sad, wouldn’t you agree?

Erma: Sylvia, stop. Not every morsel of life needs to be qualified as happy or sad. It’s not that simple–or in your case, that complicated. Some times, most times in fact, firsts and lasts just happen. It’s not until you look back and you are in the thick or thin of another life experience that you can even begin to really define the impact of a beginning or an end.

Sylvia: Okay, for once I’m going to sit back with my mouth shut and let you explain. At this very second, every first of my life is flashing before my eyes and as I see each of them again, I’m becoming more and more distraught. Trapped somewhere between nostalgia and progress.

Erma: Jesus, Sylvia, it’s now afternoon, and we’re just beginning. No pun intended. I’m going to grab something out of your wine fridge. So, clear your mind, and don’t think until I get back. Seriously. Do not think at all. Do not deliberate, contemplate, and above all, do not ruminate. I’m going to share with you the best and worst of firsts over a nicely chilled Pinot Gris today. You’ll see. You can’t catalog the moments of your life as happy or sad, or as beginnings or endings for that matter. You can only define each moment as a first, for better or worse.

Firsts are when and where life takes place. All of it. Every moment. Some actions and events seem repetitive, and indeed they are! That does not mean that they aren’t different though. Two moments in time are never identical. Erma learned this powerful tidbit over the last seven-plus decades, and that fact alone imparted credibility to her words, even as she explained how brushing her teeth each morning had become firsts for her. She illustrated how she had gone from grinning ear-to-ear as she brushed her pearly whites each day of her teens and twenties to watching a reflection of a waning smile as she lost enamel and gained wine and coffee stains in her forties and fifties. And now, as she thought about those decades of brushing, Erma introduced more examples of firsts. Caps, crowns, root canals, veneers, and partials. “See, Sylvia. There are no instant replays or do-overs. Each brushing is and was a first. Each day is a first.” All of this seemed obvious and a bit comical as Erma so often tried to weave a lesson with just a dash of whimsy. It should have been clear, but it wasn’t to Sylvia. Until she and Erma mulled it over and hashed it out, Sylvia hadn’t considered that firsts represent both the best and worst of life.

Through smiles and intermingled tears of joy and sorrow (none of which either woman could attribute to the rich, sweet, golden elixir or to the fact that they had consumed the entire bottle of it as they indulged in one of their ordinary chats), Sylvia sat looking out on the verdant scenery she now called home. She reflected on those singular firsts which transported her from joyful and full of hope and pride one minute to melancholy and brimming with fear and guilt the next. First friend. First sleepover. First move. First date. First kiss. First one to travel abroad. First “D” and “F”. First one to graduate from college. All her firsts. She paused, took a breath in, and then exhaled. She began again. His first breath. His first tooth. His first word. His first step. His first tumble. His first day of school. His first heartbreak. His first paying job. His first apartment. She beamed for a split second. She hesitated, looked out to the woods beyond the fence, and started again. The first time she heard the word cancer. The first night without her. The first morning they woke up to her empty room. The first time he left the water running. The first time he forgot she had passed. The first time he couldn’t remember her name. The first time he needed to be fed. The first time he looked at her and somehow spoke more clearly than ever with his eyes because the words were no longer there. All firsts. Each and every one was the very last first of its kind. The best and worst of firsts, indeed.

Sylvia (sighing) : I get it now, Erma. It’s how you look at it and what you learn from it.

Erma: That’s right. You’ve got it, my dear. Love it or hate it? That’s not the point. Appreciate it all. Every first is your last first of that kind, with that person, in that place, at that moment. Beginning or ending.

Sylvia’s Choosing

Sylvia: I’m saving some this time. Not the whole thing but the best part. The strongest part. The piece that will sustain me the next go-round.

Erma: I’ve told you time and again, Sylvia, that you wear your heart on your sleeve. You give away too much of yourself, so I’m thrilled to hear you are beginning to see the light. But I’m curious. What finally made you realize that you need to put yourself first, care for you– save something for yourself?

Sylvia: There was no sudden epiphany, Erma. Like everything as you frequently remind me, it’s been a process.

Although the more serious wreckage from winter has vanished, some remnants of the chaos remain. Towering trees uprooted by the last storm have finally disappeared. They’ve gone off to become firewood and kindling for the unexpected brisk summer evenings by the shore or mulch for the endless beds of hydrangea adorning most waterfront homes on the Cape. Light caramel-colored beaches that were nearly erased by rising waters and fierce battering are coming back to life as the tides recreate them. Mother Nature left more than a mark; she drew on her canvas with exactly those fixtures we thought were otherwise permanent. My, oh my, how misled we were! The not-so-old, abstract mural that was painted immediately following those winter storms has faded and is being replaced by a glorious new canvas erupting in greenery and color. In bloom, each day seems to leave the painting en plein air with additional brushstrokes of life. And with the burgeoning of Mother Nature’s new art, Sylvia contemplates a new canvas of her own.

Sylvia, reclined briefly and covered with the lap blanket that Erma gifted to her ages ago (it helps her think), has been caught between seasons. Although winter is long gone, spring has departed, and summer is at full throttle in shoreline vacation spots, Sylvia remains less than animated, not by the actual seasons and weather but by the emotional ones- caught between dormancy and vibrancy, lull and surge, complacency and action. The time between the dead of winter and the dog days of summer – not the weather, not the onset of warmer days, not the bluer skies or the sprouting blossoms- the intervening days have left Sylvia unsettled. Until now.

Erma: So Sylvia, tell me. Why the sudden change in disposition? I’m elated, of course, to witness this obvious upswing in mood, but I’d love to know what pulled you out of the doldrums. I feel as if these last few months I’ve been a spectator at the New York, New York roller coaster waiting for my friend to gain her footing and catch her breath after enduring the climbs and plunges of the rickety mainstay high above the Vegas strip. To a friend who knows how much those rides scare you, it’s been painful and uncomfortable to watch.

Sylvia: Wow, I’ve been that bad, Erma? Jesus, I’m so sorry. And somehow you have managed to put up with me. And as you are so often without even realizing, you’ve been instrumental in pulling me from the wreckage I’ve felt trapped in. You saw it as a roller coaster, Erma. Honestly, that might have been more fun. I guess if I had to equate how I’ve been feeling to a carnival ride though, it wouldn’t have been a roller coaster. A Ferris wheel more likely. Not my ride of choice but definitely the ride I’ve been on. The Ferris wheel when it stops at the top to be exact. Trouble is though I’ve been riding it with people who think it’s fun to rock it even though I repeatedly tell them to stop. Even though I have clearly told them that although the ride scares me to death, I’m willing to go because I trust them. Those sharing my gondola seem to almost delight in my fear and angst, and if not delight, then they simply don’t respect my feelings. Either way, it’s disrespect and I can’t tolerate it. I shouldn’t. And I know now, Erma. I know.

Erma: What’s that? What do you know?

Sylvia: I can avoid someone rocking my car if I ride alone. I don’t want to ride alone mind you, but I will if it means saving myself. I will if it helps me believe in myself again. Riding with people who create and feed my fears is just wrong. Going through life with people who can only feel strong by making me feel weak, inadequate, unloved, and less, that’s not living. That’s existing. That’s dying a slow, painful death. So, I’m getting off the ride and leaving the carnival. I don’t want to pay for rides that only others enjoy. And what I have decided is that I won’t return to any more shows, fairs, festivals, or spectacles with people who don’t respect me or how I feel. I’ll wait to share another carnival with someone who respects me, loves me, and wants to see me enjoying myself. So, for now, I’m choosing. I’m choosing me. I will sit in the middle, ride to the left, stand on the right- by myself- if that’s what it takes to free myself. While it scares me to death, the thought of being in the middle of the gondola with no one on either side to see me through to the end of the ride, I’d rather like the chance to control my own fear and save myself if need be. Fuck it. Maybe I’ll even choose to stay on the ground. At least for now.

Erma: Oh, and Sylvia, remember. You aren’t alone. Ever. I’m always up for the merry-go-round. That’s close to the ground, my friend.

“Choose to Remember”

Erma’s left to go about her day after coffee and conversation with her best friend. She leaves Sylvia to contemplate the day and so much more.

As we finally come into summer weather, I think often of my family, extended and adopted, as well as my many friends- both near and far- who will be celebrating big milestones with and for their loved ones and the country with great fanfare and zest. My heart becomes instantly full. And then, just as quickly, I grow agitated and even a bit sad and disgusted.

I thought about this long and hard before I decided to share these thoughts, and then I remembered, that each of you has the option to either read and reflect or skim and skedaddle. So, I’m sharing because -to me- this is the stuff that we are meant to share, so that we can help each other through the rough spots. And one day each of us has or will have a couple, several, or many very rough spots. That is inevitable.

When my mother became ill in 2007 and she and Dad came to live with me and my family in California, everything changed. Family dynamics. Relationships. Life in general. My mom fought her battle miles away from many, but still she felt connected to the world. She was still a citizen. Still a mother. A nana. A friend. A sister. An aunt. She received calls, cards, visits, emails, etc. That ability to communicate is so often, too often, taken for granted these days because perhaps it requires so little forethought to text or communicate via technology. (Communication though does require thought– for now anyway.)

When one is fighting for life, it is an internal war of massive proportions. Your loved ones try to empathize and offer support and help to fight the daily skirmishes. The war though, the one that will inevitably be lost, which is really not a defeat but a matter-of-fact in life, is a solitary one. Death. Mom fought with all her might. People admired her strength, her guts, her spirit, and her grace. And indeed, my mom was strong, gutsy, spirited, and graceful. My mother was also a fairly private person who had a very public illness. An illness which everyone- EVERYONE- is touched by and despises.

Here’s where my thoughts, sadness, and disgust come into play. Woe is not I. Woe is WE. We fail in so many ways.

My father as you all know battles another dreaded disease- Alzheimer’s. He’s in the late stages now. He, unlike my mother, was a very public person, yet he has been saddled with a very closeted disease. It is we as a society comprised of supposedly loving families and friends who fail. It’s not that people don’t care. It’s not that awareness isn’t growing. I think it’s this simple and this heart- wrenching. The man that people knew is closeted. While he is locked away in his own mind, it is the key that everyone throws away that makes me sick to my stomach. He can no longer walk the streets. He can no longer go to the coffee shop and shoot the breeze with his buddies or those about town. He can no longer enjoy a meal in his family’s presence. Whereas my mother had the choice as to whether or not she would continue to do those things, my father does not. And therein is where my sadness and disgust emerge.

Alzheimer’s does steal from the person who is afflicted, but my sadness isn’t for my father or for myself. I am saddened by and for the many who don’t see him, or their own friends and loved ones with the illness. Dad is not dead. “Life is for the living” I hear time and again. Guess what? The smiling man who looks fabulous in yellow is very much alive. His pleasures are few, but if you could see how he still enjoys a jelly donut, holding a hand, or someone who smiles at him in passing, you’d know he’s very much here. He’s not the same man at a glance, but he’s the same man. And for the record, I am not a wonderful daughter. I’m just a daughter, a human being, who is doing the best she can. I’m the girl who still sees the light and laughter in the man who taught her to step outside of herself and give back to the community and world at large.

So, during this ensuing week of remembrance, post Memorial Day, remember that the sorrow you feel and condolences you offer to the caregiver while appreciated are not warranted and do not make the caregiver necessarily feel better. I am caring for someone who is still alive. Very much alive. It is a slow process of dying, but the end is not here. In my mind and in the eyes of a power greater than any of us, my father and others who live with this disease are still human, still feel, and still contribute. They are teaching us to value life. I and others who have Alzheimer’s in their faces each day would much rather you see, really see, that our person- our father, husband, brother, uncle, and friend is still there. Is still here. Send a card. Make a visit. It may be hard for you, but trust me, the small battle of getting through the day would be so much easier for the Alzheimer’s patient if he or she was not totally forgotten and closeted. Being locked in his or her own mind is bad enough. And I guarantee that if what you are looking for is a moment to stop and appreciate what you have and to get outside of yourself, Alzheimer’s is the wake-up call.

Remember. Remember. Right now you have that extreme luxury.

Wishing all of us peace, joy, and the power of remembering what it means to live and love fully and with intention and purpose.

So many things come to light when Sylvia sits out in the sunshine on the cove.

Keep It Moving

It’s 10 a.m. Sylvia is contemplating the day, doing laundry, writing, and pouring another cup -multi-tasking as most women do- when Erma phones.

Erma: Good morning, Sylvia. What are you up to today?

Sylvia: Nothing exciting, Erma, but the day is young, so there’s plenty of hope. I am wondering though if life will always be like this. Full. Of nothing and everything.

Erma: Here’s how I see it, Sylvia. As long as it’s full of anything, you are moving. Moving is key. Motion is living. Of course, each decade brings with it a new definition of motion, but let’s not get into that. Semantics aside, at my age- any age, really- moving simply means you aren’t dead, so that’s a real plus! In that alone, there’s hope.

Sylvia: I’m grabbing another cup, my friend, so prepare to give me your overview of moving through the decades.

Erma: Here goes

At twenty, we live with anticipation and energy and the goals (for most of us) are to make tomorrow come faster, to have fun today, and to remove ourselves from what we looked like yesterday. We are chameleons in fact. Changing and moving at the speed of light but too often without direction.

At thirty, we live with hope that tomorrow will be easier; today we will get ahead a bit or at least stay afloat, and we hold out hope that our mistakes from yesterday will not be repeated. Alas, we repeat many of them, but that’s okay because we are charting our own course- or at least we think so.

At forty, we live with anxiety and fear that tomorrow we will find that we do not have enough of anything- time, money, love, or patience. Today we went through the motions and have little recall of what actually transpired. We long for the lack of both the accountability and the responsibility we had in our youth. Yesterday was not so bad.

At fifty, we live with intent and purpose. Tomorrow is getting close. Too close. It promises nothing, so we must accomplish all that has to be done without delay. And somehow, because we have either become more efficient in or less critical of how we perform our tasks, we will also manage to carve out a little bit of time for ourselves, even if it’s only a second to reflect, breathe, write, or have a bit of conscious “me” time. Yesterday, though we intended to do just that, time slipped away and we cannot get it back. Today though, today, for sure, we convince ourselves.

And here’s where Sylvia and Erma stop to welcome their many wise and witty friends of a certain maturity to add their two cents to the decades, which undoubtedly has greater value than anything they could pretend to know or even imagine.

This we know as it has been said time and again: tomorrow is not guaranteed and yesterday is done. Here and now is all we have! Have an amazing day or at the very least a day lived as best you can with intention, purpose, and some self-care.

We are putting another pot on because we have so much more to figure out and so much more life to live.

Cheers with coffee. Gotta keep moving.

The Best Diet Ever

How ironic that one tiny, fleeting moment can fill the heart, and that the resulting fullness renders one nearly weightless!
Savoring moments like velvety spoonfuls of an ice-cream sundae, Sylvia and Erma discover the key to successful dieting.

Being happy. Zero calories.

Erma: Sylvia, you can’t measure the immeasurable.

Sylvia: Thank goodness, Erma. That explains why I’m at my lightest when I’m at my happiest.

Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.
~Zelda Fitzgerald

Watch “THE BLOG GOES LIVE ” on YouTube

Erma has had a voice; Sylvia’s finding hers. Together, these two are hell bent on helping others find theirs. Sharing “aha” moments. Snapping each other out of funks. Whatever it takes to get one another over the next hurdle, through the next day, and onto the next best part of life.

Everyone needs someone, so grab your mug (or a glass) and pull up a chair for a look and a listen.

The week is off to an interesting start!

Sylvia’s Basket

Hopes. Dreams. Wishes. Love. Joy. Trust. Respect. And so much more. You must keep filling your basket which of course requires energy.

Erma constantly reminds Sylvia to take good care of herself first- something Erma learned the hard way but she eventually learned!

The gals’ suggestion for today and definitely for the weekend: Do something just for you!