The transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas (with Hanukkah right in-between this year) should be fairly seamless, incredibly meaningful, and perhaps even bittersweet, especially for those who have become acutely aware of what it means to be blessed and live with intention. The anticipated seamlessness between the holidays has been anything but smooth and unfettered though. The intervening days and weeks have instead been marred with more heartache than ever imagined, as the pandemic and its effects leave some sick, others on death’s door, and still others left in the wake to deal with losses (of life for some, of livelihood for others) of unfathomable proportions, the likes of which can barely be handled in even the sanest and most stable times.
Only through loss, grief, despair, and sorrow though have I learned what it means to experience bounty, joy, and peace. The gifts and acceptance of the latter only come when the three former have been endured with grace. I don’t pretend that I have mastered grace, but I’ve definitely cleared a path to it. The steps toward it offer me mild relief when I stop momentarily to be present and appreciate simple abundance. I have more than my fair share; many of us do.
Gratitude. Forgiveness. Order. Peace. Joy. Purpose. In these last few days, I have asked for both the giving and receiving of each; and in their absence no matter the reason, my plea is for grace.
The gifts of the season? Aren’t they gifts that we should generously offer and graciously accept all year long?
As I jump, well, maybe more of a hop into this week and it’s now Tuesday (so that goes to show how I’ve begun this second week in December, definitely not with a jump or a leap now that I think of it because that would require extra energy and enthusiasm which by any given evening sandwiched between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are nearly tapped out), I am looking in the rearview mirror. I do that sometimes, not because I’m going in reverse but more to retrace a few steps and then gain momentum before I put my life in drive, press the gas pedal to the floor, and gun it. Last week was an unusually long week and this week is turning out to be the same -of stops, starts, planning, dismantling, and rebuilding. Admittedly, in so many ways, the ensuing days since Thanksgiving have left me uncomfortably full. So, needless to say, with the feasts of this next fete or two fast approaching, I am feeling the need to purge and cleanse. Right on cue, Mother Nature provides me with the backdrop I need for reflection. (I can count on her most days to set the tone, and today she didn’t disappoint.) The drops falling from the gray sky this morning were pure, white, and frozen; they were almost welcomed as they forced me to slow down, catch my breath, and recalibrate. Mother Nature today reminds me the world’s innovators and inventors obtain a lot of good material and energy from her. (A day like today must have prompted someone to create the washing machine or refrigerator/freezer as we know them- starting off with a whispered, steady fill or a burst of chilled air respectively, followed by a rapid deluge, and then either quickly or calmly drying out or thawing out depending). For the gift of your time and nourishment of my soul in myriad ways, most importantly that you simply show up to read, listen, and share, I’m grateful. Only one thing has been a constant these last two weeks: unpredictability.
Without hesitation, I admit that not having a daily plan or at least an anchor in my schedule often makes me feel like I’m wandering aimlessly. Then, the most refreshing thing happens and I become grounded again – not in a stalled or motionless manner but rather in a calming and re-focused way. I realize that I have an anchor. All of you. My friends. My connections and reconnections. You are where I begin.
So, on this cold December eve, I sit fireside and vow to start again with you to help me navigate life’s unpredictability and accept it as a good thing. Each new day holds possibility – to make a small change, to start anew or to take a step back. To build, to re-build or to sustain. To ignite, to extinguish or to rekindle. Each day is a series of starts and stops and this week has proven to be just that. The important thing is to get up and start again. And with the help and encouragement of old friends, new friends, faraway friends and friends oh-so-near-and-dear, I’ve concluded that starting can be a goal in and of itself. Simply realizing that yesterday had no end and today’s start means carrying on can be satisfying on a soulful level.
Alas, I’m going out on a limb and asserting that the acceptance of and even welcoming of unpredictability can be an achievement. (It’s my tree that I’m swinging from in my own yard- you go out and find yours or I invite you to swing unpredictably with me.) I’m getting up, stirring it up, and firing myself up because the only thing I know for sure is that yesterday is done, and I- no, WE- made it through.
A week of beginnings. Behind us. In front of us. After all, we can’t stop if we’ve never started. Sharing with you my “days in review” and wishing you well, always in all ways.
Originally posted on “ARE YOU THERE, ERMA? IT’S ME, SYLVIA.”:
Sylvia and Erma are spending the day with their respective families – giving thanks for the meal they’ll share, the orderly chaos of the kitchens, and their children who wish to forego the turkey for the pies that have been freshly extracted…
“Sylvia, that is a Wednesday whine not Wednesday wisdom.”
“Here’s the thing though, Erma. I don’t care.”
“Sylvia, that is a lie. Couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“Erma, well it could but okay. Here’s the thing. Really, this is the thing…”
“Sylvia, before you go on, let’s just say that there is no one thing. Not a single, damn thing…ever.”
“Erma, there it is. That is exactly the thing.”
Here’s the thing about people with good hearts:
They give you excuses when you don’t explain yourself. They accept the apologies you don’t give. They see the best in you. They always lift you up, even if that means putting their own priorities aside. They will never be too “busy” for you. They make time, even when you don’t. And you wonder why they’re the most sensitive people, the most caring people, why they are willing to give so much of themselves with no expectation in return. You wonder why their existence is not so essential to your well-being. It’s because they don’t make you work hard for the attention they give you. They accept the love they think they deserve- and you accepted the love you think you’re entitled to. Don’t take them for granted. Fear the day when a good heart gives up on you. Our skies don’t become grey out of nowhere, our sunshine does not allow the darkness to take over for no reason. A heart does not turn cold unless it’s been treated with coldness for a while.~Najwa Zebian
Routine. Wake up. Make coffee. Tend to dog. Drink coffee. Walk dog. Household chores. Write. Shower. Write. Periodic glimpses of social media. More chores or errands. Etc., etc., etc. Wait, Jeopardy. “This is Jeopardy.” (Oh no, Alex Trebek passed.)
Coffee and conversation with a friend. Lunch with a friend. Walk or ride the bike. Dinner or drinks with a friend. Shopping with a friend. Or maybe all of the aforementioned absolutely solo because you don’t wish to inflict you on anyone else. Read a really good book.
Wake up next to the person you love. Wake up next to a person who makes you feel loved. Wake up and laugh with a person who makes you laugh. Spend the day with someone special who gets you, makes you feel alive, and who makes you laugh, cry, and feel all your feelings without shame, guilt, or a need to apologize. (Okay, this part might be a dream, but it could be true–especially if you ever recognize that you are the person you need to love; you are the person who makes you laugh; you are the person who gives yourself permission to feel all of your feelings.)
Read everything you have written thus far and resist the urge to scrap it.
Do all of the above every God damn day of the week and realize that this is your life, but it doesn’t have to be.
Write about how God damn grateful you are to be here.
Now, think. Are you living or lying in state or in a state?
Who knew that the sixth time something happens it still has the capacity to take one’s breath away, to give pause, to cut to the core? If the first is a surprise and the third is old hat, then certainly the sixth time should be tedious and uneventful. Not the case. At all. The passing of her father’s sixth roommate in not quite four and a half years shook Sylvia. One would think that she would have grown accustomed to death, that it would have become easier to handle and accept, especially in light of the daily visits to the nursing home. Not true. Not for her anyway.
Out of respect and privacy, I’ll refer to the dear man who left this world at around midnight, late Friday/early Saturday last week, as Mr. H. He was frail, ailing, aging, and I’m hoping he was at peace. I’d like to think he left on his own terms and had made peace with himself and anyone and anything else that gnawed at him in this life, but who knows, right? I only know what I know and what I saw.
Mr. H had been at the skilled nursing residence for some time; it was his home for better or worse. He and his older brother had made the skilled nursing facility their mutual residence in their later years, living and rooming there together as each dealt with his own infirmities. They had each other and that was a lot. Maybe that was everything. I think it just may have been! When his brother died, Mr. H moved upstairs into my father’s room. In my mind, once people share space for an extended period of time whether under the best or worst of circumstances, it makes them family–automatic family because (1) you are living together and not necessarily by choice; and (2) you’ll be privy (whether you want to or not) to all of the intimate and likely not-so-pretty details of the other’s life- family dysfunction and bodily functions. Let’s face it, folks. Once you’ve shared space, passed gas, and dressed and undressed in front of another day in and day out, you are no longer strangers. Again, for better or worse. So, Mr. H became family. Although he and my father never engaged in conversation, I do think that each found quiet comfort knowing that there was life, another being, just a few feet away.
Here is why six is so tough though. I came to know one through five through their visitors, their friends and families. Whether frequently or sporadically, each was visited at some point by someone who cared. I had the honor of seeing each man engage in life at various moments and experience joy, even if only for a few minutes at a time; when a daughter or son dropped by on the way to or from work; or when a wife was able to find the physical and mental fortitude and/or transportation to make the trek. The little chunks of time shared with a loved one made all the difference. The “brothers” whom my father came to know in his own way, they were allowed to be who they had been all their lives, authentically and intrinsically themselves because of their relationships and loves, rather than who they had become as a result of the injustice and weaknesses of their illnesses. Six, Mr. H, was different. Henever had a visitor. He hadn’t had one since at least six months before the pandemic. Think about that. Not one person. No one in this world felt the need or desire to visit Mr. H. Did he really have no one?
I could write forever ad nauseum about this, but I won’t. Frankly, it’s upsetting; and those to whom I’m trying to make a point are those who failed my father and will likely fail others who hang on to a love that cannot be reciprocated or offered unconditionally. I don’t know. I’m not their judge, but I do recognize a hubris, a lack of accountability, and a seeming nonchalance about their role in a loved one’s final days. Mr. H at some point in his life engaged with the world. Perhaps he was mean, a recluse or curmudgeon. Again, I don’t know. However, don’t we as human beings owe one another something – a morsel of decency and a little tenderness, especially in the end? Just as we all came into the world being anticipated and welcomed, wouldn’t it be lovely to leave the world or to help someone leave the world knowing that it’s not all bad? He or she mattered. If all another teaches us in the course of his, her (or their) life is how not to live and what we don’t want, then they have done this world and likely all of humanity a huge service. They have made your life, my life, more meaningful.
Six was hard. Mr. H, I hope you know that you made a difference. You were family. I will not forget you. May you rest in peace. Say hello to your brother and brothers, my father among them now.
Sometimes, almost always these days, Sylvia hastens to remind herself that we only learn how to live by watching how others are treated or mistreated, especially as they approach death. How to say hello comes naturally and easily. How welearn to say goodbye? Not so easy. How will you say goodbye?
Erma: Live a little life today, Syl. Remember yesterday- all of the yesterdays- but learn from them, muster strength from them, glean hope from them, and corral courage and confidence from them. I learned this from a very wise woman- my mother- in her final stages of life.
Sylvia: Well, right now you caught me. I’m sitting here for a moment making my mental list of things to do today, and at the very top (after “have two strong cups of coffee and a daydream” perhaps) is move– move forward with a bit of abandon; move forward with intent and purpose; and move forward knowing that those you love know you love them. Yep, Erma, I’ll live a little life today– or maybe quite a lot.
******************* Now, go ahead and make your move.
Erma: We lift each other up, Syl. That’s what we do. We save each other!
Your angel, my angel, and our angels are out there. They are the lady at Dunkin Donuts who knows you get two jellies each day and who periodically throws in an old-fashioned because she sees you’re having a rough morning; the neighbor upon whom you can rely in an instant to pack up her kids, your son and father to follow you in her car as you transport your ailing mother in an ambulance to the hospital an hour away; the friend who takes care of your crazy dog because she knows you are crazy for your dog, and she genuinely wants you to have those three days of respite you have needed forever; the woman who phones you or texts you each morning to remind you of how wonderful you are because you have forgotten- she does it under the guise of a conversation over coffee, but you both know.
Angels are everywhere.
They, our earth angels, may not have wings, but they all have something in common. They recognize need, and without being prompted, they willingly, lovingly, and compassionately perform an act that brings comfort and peace to you even if only for a moment. For a split second, a minute, an hour, a day or a week, they breathe life into us.
Your angel is there…I promise. And if he/she is not, it’s because you are likely someone else’s angel at the moment. Lift your wings and fly.
Last night she closed her eyes to the sound of teeming rain and claps of thunder. She awoke to a deafening silence amidst a gray background. So that was it. Another day ended and another in the works.
“See, Sylvia, it all keeps moving along,” Erma reassures her friend.
“Indeed. I never said the loss was all or nothing. It’s been all and everything,” professes Sylvia.
When you experience loss, people say you’ll move through the 5 stages of grief…. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance …..What they don’t tell you is that you’ll cycle through them all every day. ~Ranata Suzuki