Day in and day out, she tried to raise her son to be independent, kind, and strong. So, how lovely it is when she receives a simple message that reveals that he has become that man– and so much more!
When we recognize that our children become our teachers and purveyors of compassion and genuine goodness, then the world will make meaningful leaps towards being a place where love and kindness are in bloom year-round. ~K. Morgan
Sylvia and Erma are swapping stories over coffee this morning and sharing some of their favorite memories. The longtime friends and stalwart supporters of each other’s dreams agree that they are not living in the past or pining for the future at all. They use the memories and aspirations they have to garner strength and save themselves and each other on the tough days.
************************ “You may grow to love this person but remember they are not yours to keep. Their purpose isn’t to save you but to show you how to save yourself. And once this is fulfilled; the halo lifts and the angel leaves their body as the person exits your life.” ~Lang Leav
Sylvia carries a great deal around with her. On her mind. In her heart. And yes, especially in her purse. “The contents of a woman’s purse, or pocketbook as many of us refer to the bottomless bag of life, are sacred,” Erma declares to her friend. And Sylvia, her mind wandering to the bottom of her bag, quietly pronounces in agreement, “Mine are for sure.”
Since my mother died, I bring her with me in one of my favorite totes–yes, bits and pieces of her with me everywhere I go. Literally. Though much of her bodily remains are tucked away peacefully in a carved rosewood box she now shares with my father, awaiting their intermingling, I do keep some of “her” in one of her old medicine bottles- the ultimately inconsequential labeling has long been removed. After all, it’s been over a decade since she died and since her wish to be cremated was fulfilled. I change pocketbooks frequently too, so the little brown vessel that held one of the life-saving or rather life-prolonging concoctions she required has traveled and withstood the test of time. Those bottles don’t crack easily, but admittedly, that is not the point here.
Last week as I moved Mom from the black-and-camel Michael Kors bucket bag to the bright pink, Kate Spade satchel to the less cumbersome, multi-colored, crossbody Coach, I came to a realization. Well, two, actually. First, I’m a bag lady. Second, and more of an epiphany of sorts: I’m not bringing Mom anywhere. She’s gone from this earth. And yes, even to this day, I get a lump in my throat and a knot in my belly when I say those words out loud. Here is what I’ve been bringing with me on my travels, whether to the grocery store or local “Stomping Ground” or to Brooklyn to visit our favorite young man (there is no doubt in my mind that she would have proudly bestowed upon him that moniker). That little bottle of ashes represents my mother’s greatest gift to me. It’s the constant reminder that (1) life is fleeting; and (2) when we leave this world, everything tangible has little to no real value. Those things with the greatest meaning aren’t things at all. They are people and memories of shared experiences. The sum and total of one’s physical presence on this earth is reduced to ash, dust in the wind. The heart and soul of the person, his or her spiritual presence, lives on in those he or she loved, cared for, or touched in some way while on this earth. The ashes that I carry I’ve come to view as Mom’s ultimate lesson to me. We don’t get second chances. Make this life count.
And as I start this new day, I’m thankful for so much, the very least of which is the tiny, amber-colored, prescription bottle that travels with me. Where will I go today and who will accompany me? I don’t know every detail, but one thing I do know is that I’ll do my best to make moments count, to tell people who matter that I love and respect them, and to keep creating my life. It’s not over until it’s ash. I’ll keep adding to my bonfire.
Sylvia is reminded of one of her favorite passages– and so, she’ll keep going:
Intriguing isn’t it? One day you are the king of your world. And the next day, you stand aside, watching it all burn. Ashes slipping out of your hand, you just stand and stare, your glassy gaze fixed on something no one else could see, no one else could know…
People will talk as people do talk. And they will walk over the ashes. And the ashes will dance in front of you, reminding you every second of what was and what might have been. And you will almost give in.
But my advice is, don’t give in. Because one day, you will decide to turn the corner. Put it all behind you. Just stand strong and still as the great wind comes and takes all the ashes away with with it, leaving fresh air behind. Fresh for you to make a new world, a better world.
My parents were pretty private people, considering my dad had a fairly high-profile presence in our hometown and Mom, by virtue of her marriage to him and her longtime employment at a couple of business mainstays around town, also found it difficult to go incognito. They tried though, especially when it came to showing weakness, vulnerability, or just ordinary flaws. That was clearly an attribute or a shortcoming (not for me to judge) of their generation. They both knew though I’m sure that I needed to find and expose something redeeming in their terrible illnesses and in their stories, so I don’t really care if I’m judged for sharing this intensely special moment. I want you to know that when you wonder why I miss an event or say no to an outing, that this is my reason. Not my excuse. My reason for having set my priorities as I have. You set yours and I set mine. Friends accept and support; they don’t judge.
Well, on this day as I reflect on that which means the most, I’ll leave you with this. When you think there is no hope, no solace, and no good in missing something or someone because it doesn’t change a thing, a moment takes your breath away to show you that there is always hope, comfort, and good especially in the ordinary- in what we take for granted every single day-until we no longer have it at our fingertips and within earshot.
Just when you think a page has been turned in the book- the memory book, that is- life has you go back to revisit what makes your heart full, brings you peace, and gives you the momentary reprieve, reassurance, and validation you need.
I hadn’t heard my name, my given name anyway, cross his lips in many months. And tonight, as he has just begun to turn the corner on a bout with pneumonia and was well enough to have an ice cream sundae, he said it, meant it, and knew me. Really knew me. I felt it with every fiber of my being. I’ve never liked my name that much until this evening.
Listen closely after I ask him if he’s ready.
Don’t call me a wonderful daughter. I don’t need praise. I’m just sharing this with you because every single one of us needs to know that individually we can make a difference and that one brief, fleeting moment can make all the difference in our own lives.
It wasn’t that her passions and appetites were finally coming to life. It wasn’t that she had learned that seizing an opportunity could be life-affirming. While those gifts were validating and restorative to her body and soul, Sylvia’s greatest gift was so much easier to access than any of those realizations. She just had to allow it. She had to allow herself to accept happiness in order to give herself the very thing that she thought she had lost. Herself. She was learning to count on the one who would never leave.
Wednesday wisdom: When you find yourself and believe in yourself, you will find the one person you can always count on.
It has been a day. A day of cleansing. A day of purging. Of reminiscing. Of beginning again. And although so much more can be accomplished when she has Erma’s help, Sylvia appreciates working by herself today. In her solitude, she takes her time and allows herself to bloom in her own way and in her own time. She just might be enough today– for herself anyway.
Just because no one sees you standing on your own and basking in your own glory doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You know, and that’s what matters.
Sylvia never really thought about it until yesterday. After a burst of anger followed by a short period of self-deprecation and sadness, she stops herself dead in her tracks. Neither the vexation nor the momentary lack of self-approval is who she is. They are volatile but thankfully short-lived. She is best who she is when she is standing still in the fresh air. No desire to make herself or anyone else happy.
Boredom, anger, sadness, or fear are not ‘yours,’ not personal. They are conditions of the human mind. They come and go. Nothing that comes and goes is you. ~Eckhart Tolle
“Wide open. Closed. Squinting. Teary. Winking. They say it all, don’t they?” Sylvia asked of her friend rhetorically. Erma, with a quick roll of hers, replied.
At once, the two friends sitting across from each other with masks covering all but their eyes, broke out in laughter. Their friendship was so easy because they knew each other deeply and could read each other’s movements. Words, though never lacking, were rarely needed these days. Their eyes always recounted their stories.
Almost nothing need be said when you have eyes. ~Tarjei Vesaas
Sylvia hasn’t returned calls lately. She hasn’t written all of her thank-you notes for the outpouring of support and sympathy she has received. She’s getting there little by little, but she feels apologies are in order. She doesn’t want anyone to think she’s self-absorbed.
“Are you nuts? Stop apologizing for being human,” scolds Erma. “There is a time and a place to ask for forgiveness. Now is neither the time nor the place, Syl. Swallow the words ‘I’m sorry’ as if they are chocolate today. Trust me, they melt in your mouth like M&Ms when they aren’t called for.”