As Sylvia prepares for another first, Erma reminds her that all of us are experiencing firsts again. New day. New perspective. Fresh cup of coffee. Even the things that are done ritualistically have a freshness to them.
It’s a perfect day to re-read a favorite and find a little something new in it to feed your spirit and/or cleanse your soul. Soak it in or let it go. It’ll be the last first of its kind.
Sylvia: Why do we say that? We all do. “How are you?” “Fine. You?” “Fine.” “How’s the family?” “Fine.” “Work?” “Fine.” Seriously, what is fine?
Erma: God, you are cranky sometimes, Sylvia. Fine is,well, fine. It’s okay. Fine means the status quo is being maintained. If everything is fine, there’s nothing to worry about, I guess. Why do you ask?
Sylvia: It bothers me. Fine is such an empty response, and I rather believe that nothing is fine. We all hide behind fine because we don’t want others to know how not fine we really are.
Erma: Well, I don’t think we hide behind it. I think we use it because it’s quick, easy, and serves the purpose of providing a response to a question that most people ask merely out of politeness. Think about it. Does the clerk at the checkout at Safeway truly care how my day is going? Does the plumber, who rings my doorbell at 8 a.m. knowing that I have called his answering service in the middle of the night with just the right amount of histrionics to warrant being moved up to his first call of the day, does he truly want to listen to how unfine I really am? No, of course not. Cases-in-point of simple niceties, Sylvia.
Sylvia: That’s just it, Erma. I’m kind of over simple niceties. I don’t want to hear one more. Wait. Let me amend that to say that I despise hearing that reply from someone who is close to me. I will no longer placate those who claim to care for me with a simple fine. And to boot, if I ask you- someone whom I trust, care about, and see fit to spend inordinate amounts of time with on a regular basis, know that my expectation exceeds niceties. Give me all you’ve got- for better or worse. I can take it. Actually, I expect nothing other than the truth, raw and honest, even brutal, given that we are friends, family, on the cusp of, or in the midst of a meaningful relationship.
Erma: Oh my God, okay, enough, I get it. You don’t like fine. You don’t want fine. Nix “fine” and bring on…bring on what?
Sylvia:Bring it on. Whoever you are, whatever you feel, give it to me straight. Our friendship can handle it. The world can handle it.
Erma: And what if the world can’t. What if I can’t?
Sylvia: Then, fuck it. REMEMBER? I told you a while back that most of life can be summed up in a word or two.
Erma: It’s been a decade, right? Since your mom passed?
Sylvia:Yes, ten years in the blink of an eye. She must have been counting the days.
Erma: Yes, she undoubtedly wanted him home with her. They had been apart for too long. They were ready to be reunited and to live the eternity they had promised each other.
Sylvia: I wasn’t ready though. I’m still not. I don’t know how to navigate the rest of the journey. I’ve gone from devastated to lost.
Erma: Time. The only answer. It won’t heal but it will carry you. It will give you the life jacket you need from time to time to endure the waves that will pummel you at the most inconvenient and unexpected moments.
Sylvia: I don’t need a life jacket. I’m not drowning. I told you I feel lost. I’m numb, shivering, in a blinding snowstorm, and I have no idea of what is ahead.
Erma: None of us knows, Syl. That’s where the notion of faith enters. And you are so far from lost– lost suggests that there is something to be found.There is nothing to be found and everything to be felt.
Sylvia: Oh, okay, then I’m right on track.
It’s been a month of Sundays since he passed, figuratively of course. Much longer in reality, and certainly it feels even more like an eternity. I’m not paralyzed or empty or broken. I’m numb.
Every morning I awake hoping that I’ll complete the journey- the journey for which none of us is ever fully prepared- the journey off and away from the path of grief and sadness. Most people describe grief and its effect as wave-like; it ebbs and flows. It washes over you. It brings you under and makes it hard to catch your breath; and as soon as you stand and catch your breath, another wave knocks you down. It’s not a wave, not a ripple or a tsunami. It is more like the breathlessness you experience on a sub-zero day in the middle of January up north. This grief, this numbness, is totally different than any other I’ve ever felt. I can’t fully compare it to anything, not yet, because I know I haven’t lived through it completely. I doubt I ever will. Although if I had to liken this trek and its encumbrances to a relatable situation, I would imagine how one feels at a “Lost & Found” bin or depot. Hopeful yet aware of impending disappointment. Each morning I wake up headed to the lost and found.
The phone rang last night. A message was left. “Your belongings have turned up. We are holding them for you at the ‘Lost & Found‘ window. Come at your earliest convenience.”
So, I awake with a controlled eagerness to pick up what has been left. After all, it is mine. It has been left for me to retrieve. I shower, get dressed, and off I go. On my way to the “Lost & Found” today. Every day for a month of Sundays.
The journey has not taken me away or off the path. I have yet to retrieve what I believed belonged to me. I have yet to find wholeness. Perhaps I never will. Perhaps it is never to be found. But for now, I’ll keep listening to the message each night on the machine. I will keep getting up to see if the depot actually has what belongs to me. What needs to be reclaimed. I will live with the numbness- not in wave-like motion but in a traipse, much like the plodding of wearing full winter armor in heavy, wet snow on a frigid winter’s day. And eventually – I hope anyway- faith will melt the snow away from the path.
I hope I will recognize what it is I lost. If not, I hope I find the strength to delete the message and move forward.
In a world overflowing with self-help books, Sylvia and Erma on occasion opt for support groups where women help women, listen to each other, and allow one another to speak without judgment.
“Hi, I’m Sylvia. I’m fifty-six. And yes, I’m a pauser.”
“Welcome, Sylvia,” they replied eagerly in an almost cult-like unison.
There, I said it. In a room full of peris, mid-mennies, and posts, I came clean. As beads of sweat trickled down the nape of my neck, and a small pool of salinity collected between my breasts (the rust likely to cause the bra’s underwire to give way prematurely), I proclaimed the obvious. And as difficult as the admission was, not one woman raised an eyebrow. After all, the bevy was there for all the same reasons. The commiseration. The camaraderie. And, of course, the seemingly endless supply of donuts which were appropriately labeled energy boosters and mood lifters. All of us- either dreading the onset, in the throes of this midlife rite of passage, or anxiously awaiting the day when hot flashes and night sweats disappeared and libidos returned. Yes, all of us were “pausing” at different ages of our advanced adult lives.
Oddly enough, I was smiling, but not for the reason some might think. I was neither happy to be in the midst of other women equally affected by the pause nor excited to participate in the sharing of menopausal woes. I, with a grin on my face that was likely so broad that my eyes disappeared in the elation, was like the cat that swallowed the canary. I, though profusely perspiring after my introduction, had scanned the crowd and noticed that which set me apart from many. My hair was coiffed. My clothes were stylish. I could string together sentences without losing concentration midstream. And although I knew that I had experienced the southward migration of both bosom and buttocks, I remained fairly unscathed by comparison.
And then as clear as the sparkling glass slider that I ran into at my neighbor’s exceedingly pristine home, it hit me. Smack dab right in the face. I was comparing myself to others. It was an episode of “Mean Girls” on hormone-replacement therapy. I had paused. I was pausing. And in the thirty minutes it took me to get up the courage to make public admission of my current state of womanhood, I realized that I was no longer smiling, admittedly due to recognition of my petty and inappropriate comparisons. I discovered at that very moment that I could and should beam rather than gloat because I was pausing among other wonderfully moody and semi-neurotic women. We were in this together- mind, body, and spirit.
Menopause. It’s to women-of-a-certain-age what Wednesday night poker and senior basketball leagues are to men coping with enlarged prostates and erectile dysfunction.
Nothing like the pause – and doughnuts- to bring women together.
And perhaps the group method, whether formally sanctioned or impromptu at a donut shop or wine bar, #womenhelpingwomen shows all the Sylvias that all of the Ermas are not out there judging. So, let us stop being critical of ourselves and each other, and bask in the pause!
When I was suddenly thrust into what everyone calls menopause (Orchids) earlier than my body planned, I decided someone needed to take charge on so many levels. It was time to not only change the vernacular, but to speak up and say “Hey! This isn’t an old lady’s disease! We aren’t old! We are strong and dammit, we are beautiful and sexy too!~Lisa Jey Davis, Getting Over Your Ovaries
Sylvia: I’ve been sitting here with my coffee waiting for a daydream, but nothing is happening. What are you up to today?
Erma: Not a whole lot. I’m doing what I do best- making lists and micromanaging others’ lives. Sorry. Not funny but perhaps mildly amusing. And what do you mean you can’t have a daydream? Of course, you can.
Sylvia: No, I’m serious. I really can’t. I pour the piping hot coffee, sit at the head of the table, and let the steam wash over me, all the while hoping that the fresh brew will stir something delicious within. And nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a single spark or errant provocative thought. Sadly, Cam and/or anyone else who might scratch the proverbial itch is nowhere to be found.
Erma: Oh, nonsense, Syl. Cam’s there, after all you conjured him up a few times before; and if he’s not, someone else is ready to jump in, stir the pot, and get your juices flowing. You know what you really need though?
Sylvia: I’m almost afraid to ask, but you haven’t steered me wrong yet, so what the hell? What do I need to get my mind moving in the right direction?
Erma: Jelly doughnuts. You need one or two jelly doughnuts to go with that coffee. Trust me. What you need is in the filling!
It’s now a good two months into the new year, and as I have done almost every year for the last six or so, I remain true to my one and only resolution and vow: this year will be different. I, along with Sylvia and Erma, have consumed enough coffee to wake the dead on a slow day. I’ve had it black, sweetened, flavored, and iced. In a mug, a delicate bone-china cup, and an insulated tumbler. I’ve cried over it, had it come out my nose while laughing, and even choked on it. Coffee isn’t everything, but God and the gals can attest that it sustains me most days. However, sadly, it is no longer enough. I need filling. We all do!
I’ve no other choice- well, I do, but I’d rather try options that are less harmful to me body and soul- so, jelly doughnuts it is!
Don’t mistake her absence for darkness. In fact, it may be just what she needed to make her light shine brighter. A reminder to many but mostly to herself of her presence.
“Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me. Of course we will hurt each other. But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence.”
~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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.”
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 naïve. 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.
Erma has been overwhelmed and more than anything else desires time to herself- time to inhale, exhale, and repeat. Sylvia craves space of her own- both mental and physical room. Time and space provide each of them the framework within which they can refuel and remain whole.
Take an hour. Take a day. Take a week. Walk outside. Sit in a café. Treat yourself to a spa day- even if it’s makeshift in the privacy of your own home. Whatever you need to make yourself feel whole, discover what that is and do it. Now!
You cannot be whole without the time and space to feel all that you are feeling!
“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy, it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” ~Henri Nouwen
Long-distance relationships of all kinds are bittersweet. There is a heaviness in the heart with each hello because Sylvia knows that a “see you soon” or “until next time” is inevitable. She is always riding waves of emotion, especially as she hangs up the phone after an amusingly long call about nothing and everything with her bff; exchanges the last late morning text with her sister before they each go about their day; and kisses her dear dad’s cheek after their much-too-short visit. Today, she focuses on the sweet. The only thing bitter will be the convenience store cup of coffee she should not have bought while she was out doing early morning errands.
Always choose sweet!
“Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.” ~Khalil Gibran