What Legacy Looks Like

Sylvia: Hey there, lady. Usually I’m the one missing calls and scurrying about. What have you been up to?

Erma: A little of this and a little of that. Nothing too distinctive.

Sylvia: Oh, but the sum and total of it all is what? Huge? Voluminous? Overwhelming?

Erma: Not huge, but substantive.

Sylvia and Erma are huge believers in quality over quantity. So, although they love and eagerly anticipate their morning conversations over coffee, they are aware that life often gets in the way. They have come to appreciate all of the little things in their relationship and in other important bonds between family and friends in their lives.

Little things. Gentle gestures. They share them. They look for them. They treasure them.

What small act today will you witness or be a part of that will impact you or another in a wondrous and everlasting way?

“And for a moment she pauses. She thinks back and smiles broadly. The seconds of joy and tenderness that her father shared with her son had the most impact. She sees it every time they see one another now- it’s always in their eyes.”

Hope on Her Birthday

Sylvia: Happy birthday, my dear! Older and wiser!

Erma: I don’t know about wiser, but I’m hopeful!

I don’t know what time she was born. I guess I could dig out her birth certificate and find out easily enough. To me, my mother was born the day I came into the world. Obviously, she had a life “b.k.”(before Kay), but I didn’t know her then. All I know of that woman who became my mother, both the little girl who wore braids and gingham and the young, blond-haired teen who played the drums before it was cool for a girl to play the drums, has been conveyed to me through others’ recollections, her own accounts as she would share an anecdote from her past with the slightly veiled purpose of teaching a lesson, and the photos that I have. And what connects all of the snapshots, real and those that I’ve taken in my mind’s eye which remain guarded like priceless treasure, is her eyes. It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul; thus, it follows and must be that my mother, b.k. and always, was and remains one of the most beautiful, trusting, and trusted souls God could have offered this world.

Most of us, not all, love our mothers and have been loved by our mothers. I’ve been accused of worshipping mine. (In fact, my mother often reminded me, especially as she neared her last days, that she was indeed human, flawed like the rest of us, so she too should be allowed to make mistakes.) She would often say that the one bad rap that mothers had to endure was that they were held to a higher standard than everyone else on the planet! Now that I’m a mother, I admittedly understand this so much better. I digress though. I did worship my mother, something she never demanded or expected, but it happened nonetheless. How did it happen? Ah, that’s the question. The trusting and trusted eyes!

My mother had xray vision, vision that led her to know exactly what another human needed. To many and certainly to her family, this special sense- some call it a sixth sense while others deem it intuition- was who she was and how she lived her life at the very core. And while she may have regretted not doing all the things she had hoped to do before she died, I do believe she lived a purposeful life and her legacy is an honorable one. Her legacy? Her gift? She left it to everyone who had the honor and pleasure of looking into her eyes. My mother made those who crossed her path feel important, no matter their lot in life. She gave others hope. She found and saw something redeeming in everyone. She wasn’t oblivious to the harshness or evils of the world. She wasn’t na├»ve. She wasn’t optimistic. Mom was hopeful. I do believe there is a big difference between optimism and hope, and I think her trusting and trusted eyes became reflective of that difference.

I’m babbling a bit because as we all know the totality of a life cannot be put adequately into words. Indeed, my mother’s life cannot. Her legacy can though. Hope. She believed in me. She believed in her grandson. And if you had the good fortune of meeting her, befriending her, working for or with her, she believed in you. That belief – those trusting and trusted eyes- keep me hopeful. I don’t believe that life is perfect and I’m far from thinking everything will turn out well in the end. However, I am hopeful.

On her birthday, I’m going to trust her and her legacy. I’ll go to celebrate her life with my dad today, and in that gift alone, I’m offered hope.

Thanks, Mom. And I’ve come to realize that you never wanted to be worshipped; you wanted to be loved. You were. You are. You always will be.

All the Thoughts She Never Had

Erma: Well, here it is another new year. You know what that means, Sylvia, right? Everyone and her mother will ask you about your resolutions. So, what’s going to be your stock response?

Sylvia: My reply? I can tell you what my answer won’t be. I’m not going to vow to lose weight. This is the year I learn to accept that pounds may or may not come off, but that the number on the scale won’t define me. And you know why I’m certain of that, Erma? Because after resolving to lose weight the last two years in order to become the size four that I haven’t been since 1992, I finally lost those pesky ten pounds. I threw out the damn scale!

Erma: Okay, so that’s one non-answer. Anything else you are committing to do or to change?

Sylvia: I’m determined to accept my plight or rather my future as a never-thinker.

Erma: Your what? You mean an over-thinker. Yes, that’s a good goal. Stop that.

Sylvia: No, not over-thinking, Erma. I said I’m going to embrace my never-thinking.

Erma: Okay Sylvia, hold on for a second. I’m grabbing a fresh mug for this. It’s bound to be good.

Have you ever thought about all the things you have never really thought about and then realized that those are the issues, the woes, and maybe even the little slices of joy that you’ve been hiding away or hiding from? Sylvia’s been doing just that this last week, perhaps even the last month, as she reflects on the last year- life, love, and loss of all kinds. And, of course, glimpses into the last year have done exactly what she never imagined they would do; they have led her to recognize that it is not her overthinking that burdens her mind, body, and spirit. It is all of the thoughts and events that she never fathomed would hit her, happen to her, and become a part of her being that are bringing her–hell, maybe even catapulting her-fiercely into the new year. Highlighting the past year for Erma pulls Sylvia to places in life she never thought she’d visit!

Still perplexed? “I never thought that would happen [to me].” You know that expression most certainly. Everyone says it at some point, at many times, in his or her life. The truth is though that as we all try mightily, knowingly or subconsciously, to convince ourselves of what will never happen, all of it almost always happens. So, on this new day and the first day of this brand-spanking-new- year, Sylvia reminds me to think about all that I have survived, big and small, heartwarming and heartbreaking, all that I never thought about until I had to think about it.

She never thought she’d be able to live without her best friend, her mother, another year, yet here she is. Nine Christmases later and she’s doing it. She’s getting up each day and learning to laugh and hope again.

She never thought he’d be here another year. It’s a mixed blessing and one that torments her every single day. He’s leaving her and this world slowly, but she’s accepting it, albeit just as slowly, that it is out of her control.

She never thought she’d be able to find joy or a bit of a silver lining to his illness, but she is. She’s trying. The light in his eyes, the smile that still remains that only he can give to this world- those are the silver.

She never thought that she would be at a crossroads at this time in her life. After all, women over fifty should be settled, comfortable in their own skin, and feel accomplished, if not professionally then most certainly personally. And yet she’s none of those and all of those, and she’s surviving it. In fact, there are even days when she appreciates her ability to change her mind and risk throwing others’ lives out-of-whack for a change. (Yes, she never thought she’d relish breaking a few rules, unwritten and self- imposed ones, but she’s doing it and accepting that sometimes self- preservation is most important.)

She never thought that she’d be a part of a dysfunctional family and be okay with it. She’s learned that we are all born into families, but we don’t have to choose to stay. We owe it to ourselves and to the world to be the very best versions of ourselves. When people make us dislike who we are simply by being in their presence, it’s time to change surroundings, live our truth, and find a tribe that loves and supports us– no matter what!

She never thought that she’d see home as a feeling rather than a place. She has old and new friends who “follow” her, check in with her, and who welcome her with loving, nonjudgmental arms and minds. When she is in their company- physically, mentally, and spiritually- she is home.

She never thought she’d look forward to time by herself, to herself, where she’d be happy with her own company and nothing more. It’s a process, but it’s happening.

And she never thought, not in a million years, that she could love another human being more each day. That’s just plain crazy! She has learned though that the feeling of a growing love comes from watching those she loves live their truth, and it comes from within when we learn to live our own truth. Her truth is: she is flawed and fabulous. She makes mistakes and is learning to forgive herself. “Life in full bloom” she sees in her own child and hears in his voice as he finds his place in the world. She never thought that he would be her teacher and that the greatest lesson he would impart would be that she too deserved happiness and unconditional love.

She never thought she’d make it through this past year, but she did!

Erma: Wow. I’m exhausted by all of that thinking.

Sylvia: Oh, it’s not all that bad. It’s only tiring when you overthink it.

Keep going, friends. 2019 is sure to be a year of unexpected and unforeseen happenings and feelings. Let’s just call it life.

With wishes for love, peace, laughter and hope,

Sylvia & Erma

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 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!

Erma to the Rescue

Today the full sun isn’t drawing any lines. Sylvia’s feeling everything at once. Erma’s just arrived to help provide the guide lines. Guide lines not guidelines.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. ~Erma Bombeck

#breathe

Sylvia Learns the Sweetness of Infinity

Sylvia: Erma, nothing lasts forever, right?  
Erma: Oh, there’s something that lasts longer than forever, Sylvia. Look into the eyes of a child- your child-that love, that hope, that sweetness, that lasts long past forever, my friend. 

I was often judged- and not always favorably- when I invited my parents to live with us in California after Mom’s diagnosis. Occasionally some would wonder aloud what effect having a terminally ill person in my home would have on an impressionable and growing young boy. Those who knew our relationships- the closeness that was much more than mother and daughter and the unconditional connection of love between grandmother and grandson- were extremely supportive. And perhaps if we had disclosed what we knew was happening with my father, others would have been more understanding and less critical, but that element was not mine to share at the time. The reality is though that none of what others think or thought at the time has any value.  The value of how my mother chose to live her remaining years and the final outcome of our decision to help her with her battle, however and wherever she wanted, is seen here.  

The boy who sat on Nana’s bed after he came home from school and shared his day with her (and likely shared more secrets than I’ll ever know) became this young man.  He lives freely as his own person; he welcomes the world’s differences and the adventures that come along with them; he engages those around him with his bright eyes, contagious smile and compassionate heart.  I am blessed, and God knows, that I learn far more from him than from any other about letting go and living.  He has bad days and pushes through.  He has self-made predicaments and doesn’t let them defeat him.  I am so proud to be his mother and I sure hope that we are friends.  I still have much to teach him, but deep down I know what my mother probably knew all along– our children are OUR greatest teachers.

Through him and my mother, I know infinity.

“Only in the eyes of love you can find infinity.”~Sorin Cerin, Wisdom Collection: The Book of Wisdom

photo credit: csamuel&afortin

(The above post is an excerpt from the author’s upcoming book.)