Sylvia: Erma, it’s been awhile. Come on over. I’m in the mood to whip something up in the kitchen and could use some company.
Erma: Do you need me to pick up any ingredients on my way over? Cake mix? Slice’n Bake cookie dough? Take-Out?
Sylvia: Oh no, none of that, Erma. It’s all about starting from scratch this time…and no substitutions.
Erma: Good girl, now you’re catching on.
Sylvia hung up the phone and hurriedly moved across the kitchen to get the coffee going. After all, that was the beverage of choice for these two ladies when they were about to engage in deep conversation to offset otherwise mundane midday activities. As Sylvia reached into the cupboard to grab the canister of French roast, she hesitated. Without over thinking, she closed the cupboard door and instead picked up her pace ever so slightly as she ventured to the wine rack in the corner of the dining room and selected a red blend, one befitting their friendship, their past conversations, and the time of day: Dreaming Tree Crush. Yes, by all means, yes. This is exactly what Sylvia and Erma would need to analyze life’s recent events and to contemplate the future with just the right amount of wisdom and whimsy. They could only benefit by a a bit of the grape to get them through the cooking portion of the afternoon, lest they forget the actual motivation for their impromptu get-together.
Sylvia, bottle and corkscrew in hand, returned to the kitchen to retrieve the stemless wine glasses she had yet to use, and this occasion seemed more than perfect for them if she and Erma were going to be multi-tasking. Rustling around counter-tops covered with everything from flour to eggs to spices, and an opened bottle of red of course, called for stemless, much like coffee with her friend necessitated the over-sized, earthenware mugs. Clad in her black yoga pants and a vintage college sweatshirt, Sylvia threw on an apron and used the wine key to uncork the bottle and pour herself a couple of sips (a taste-test, let’s say). At the very instant the crimson potion touched her lips, Sylvia realized something that for some reason had never occurred to her until that moment- when you want something, you want it. And no matter what anyone tells you, including all of the well-intentioned admonitions you are offered, there is never an adequate substitute for something your palate wants, your stomach craves, or your heart desires. No substitutions. Your decisions, big and small, much like a choice between coffee and wine, are made either painstakingly or swiftly, for better or worse. In either case, once a commitment has been made, anything and everything else just won’t do. It’s not simply coffee or wine, ice cream or chocolate. It’s more, much more. It’s the difference between surviving and living. It’s the difference between living life and loving the life you live.
Sylvia poured herself a few more swallows (yes, sticking with the red) and sat down with the recipe box her mother had passed down to her. Yep. Going to definitely make something from scratch. “I’ve got all of the ingredients right here in front of me.”
As Sylvia waited for Erma and thumbed through recipes, she kept revisiting the revelation that those first tastes of Dreaming Tree brought to light. She herself had long been trying to satisfy her cravings with everything except that which appealed to her most. And the exchanges were indeed ridiculous! In fact, in retrospect, the substitutions she had made to appease herself were neither sufficient nor satisfying in the least. For a few minutes, she thought about what she had done especially in recent months and even about life choices she had made as recently as yesterday. Sylvia, taking another sip and this time letting it rest on her tongue, came to an unsettling realization: the things, the experiences, and the people that she sought to replace, whether for a brief moment in time or for the rest of eternity, could not be switched out. And as many times as she had tried to rebuild herself, strengthen her resolve to live a happier life, and to allow herself to love, she concluded that somehow her dreams had been crushed. Her hopes and desires weren’t extinguished by anything or anyone; they hadn’t even become a blend of her wants and the desires and needs of the important others who comprised her tribe. Looking into the bottom of the stemless wine tumbler, she finally comprehended the main source of her discontent. She had settled. She was still settling. Sylvia’s dreams, hopes, desires, cravings, and wants had always been substituted for something other than that which she truly yearned for. She never wanted to be the peacemaker. She never wanted to be the people-pleaser. She never wanted to be an angst-ridden fifty-something who looked lovely on the outside but who was dying on the inside. Sylvia realized that she had replaced all that she wanted with everything to make those around her like her, admire her, love her, and respect her. And while her soul was being whittled away each time she conceded or retreated, she met disappointment head-on because there was no replacement for what she wanted. Sylvia. Sylvia wanted to love and be loved on her terms. So, while her tribe had been content with her fulfilling their needs and helping them realize their dreams, she had failed to demand or ask of them the one thing that she had wanted from them. She yearned for them to know her and treat her with the respect that she had shown them. She had accepted less, much less. But no more. No substitutions.
The door bell rang, and as she opened the door widely to welcome her trusted friend and confidante, Sylvia smiled and declared, “I’m ready to start from scratch. Come on in.”
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.)
“Can being happy be this easy? Must I live outside of the life I’ve chosen in order to find myself again?”
It had been weeks since Sylvia returned from her life-changing adventure. And although there had been intervening holidays and requisite social engagements that such holidays demand, on a daily basis Sylvia replayed many of the luscious moments of the time she had enjoyed with Cam. Everything had been firsts with him- again and again- and yet there existed a natural and very familiar rhythm to their connection, a rhythm that seldom if ever one experiences after a chance meeting. She recalled that each time they touched and kissed in those seventy-two hours of unbridled passion and spontaneity, she was born again, not merely refreshed but seriously reinvented. With each kiss, caress, embrace, and thrust, Sylvia became the woman she had been longing to be. She evolved from weary wife and caregiver- a woman stunted by her own inability to choose her happiness above everyone else’s-to confident and carefree enchantress, the woman she had always imagined and deep down knew was lying just beneath the surface.
That first week at home after Charlotte, and despite the many unanswered phone calls from Erma that needed to be returned, Sylvia kept everything to herself. She had mentally packaged up her time with Cam, carefully and covetously. Erma’s messages never begged for details and Sylvia never offered any. In fact, like many close friends, the two did not require a play-by-play of events or an exchange of minutia. They just knew when the other was in trouble; out of sorts; in need of love, time or space; or at peace. After a week at home which demanded the simultaneous departure from cloud nine and re-entry into the tedium of everyday living, Sylvia called her friend and invited her over for conversation which at that given point in time was code for coffee and confession. Erma accepted the invitation without hesitation because she knew better than anyone that, although Sylvia needed that steamy daydream to become a reality in order to survive, she would also be ruminating on it to the point of destroying it and the happiness it had provided her. When Sylvia called, Erma was prepared. She was not going to let Sylvia lie in a pool of self-loathing, and she wasn’t going to let Sylvia forget that she was both deserving of happiness and worthy of love.
Erma: Why is it so hard for you to let yourself be happy?
Sylvia: Is that what this is, Erma? So, this is what happy feels like?
Erma’s friendly yet pointed interrogation gnawed at Sylvia every day since that afternoon when the two finally carved out time to catch up on life. Sylvia knew that she needed to respond to Erma’s question, if not at the moment it was posed then certainly at some point-even if only in her mind and for herself. Sylvia attempted to answer it. Many times. Quickly. As a matter of pure fact. Such a silly question and certainly one that warranted an immediate response. Is it hard to allow myself to be happy? Yet each time that Sylvia revisited the question- at the kitchen sink while washing the breakfast dishes, at the dining table while sitting with drafts of stories that needed desperately to be assembled like jigsaw puzzles, or in the bath after the children had gone to bed, where she could hear her own thoughts and visit her hopes and dreams for the first time all day-she could not find the one word that both she and Erma knew should satisfy the question. No. Not at all. It’s not hard to be happy. But after repeated stops and starts in producing that one little word, Sylvia startled herself. It was a Thursday evening and as she began to add more hot water to the bath that she had let become lukewarm, actually cool to the touch, she heard herself say out loud, “Yes. Quite. It’s difficult to be happy.”
Since her unplanned rendezvous with Cam, her admission that happiness while supposedly within reach still seemed ever elusive, and subsequent chats with Erma, Sylvia had been writing. A great deal. About nothing. About everything. The sheer pleasure she felt after being left physically and emotionally satiated had oddly created a bit of mental chaos for her. She hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything completely since Cam; for each time she set out to perform even the most mundane task, her mind wandered. She was transported to the wine bar where the fingertip dance began, to the bedroom where every part of her body was explored, and to the airport where their departing kiss did not mean goodbye but rather “this is just the beginning.” So much time had passed since she had allowed herself to succumb to both yearning and contentment, letting them engulf her completely and unconsciously, that now that Sylvia had accepted her delightful transgression and even disclosed it to her closest friend, she didn’t want to return to normal. Ever. She had been happily paralyzed by her newfound sense of self and sensuality. And in these last weeks while digesting every morsel of deliciousness and attempting to comprehend the meaning of every word, thought, and action she shared with the man who had come to life from a daydream and who had awakened her like only a rich, intensely caffeinated roast could, she kept reaching the same conclusions about their meeting. Satisfying, positive, lingering and naughty, surprisingly atypical of the woman she and certainly others thought she was and was expected to be. Each assessment led her to ask the same questions, those which were absolutely rhetorical but necessary nonetheless: “Can being happy be this easy? Must I live outside of the life I’ve chosen in order to find myself again?” This time and every single time thereafter, the reply came more quickly, more confidently, and more unapologetically. Yes. Yes, it can. Happiness can be this easy. If I allow it.
Sylvia: Erma, come on over. I’ve unwrapped the best gift ever for the new year.
Erma: On my way. Put the coffee on.
So, the gift that Sylvia received? It wasn’t that her dreams were coming true. It wasn’t that her passions and appetites had come to life with Cam. It wasn’t that she had learned that seizing an opportunity can be life-affirming. While those gifts were all recently validated and had been 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. Simply the best she could ever hope for.
Sylvia and Erma are spending the day with their respective families – giving thanks for the meal they’ll share, the orderly chaos of the kitchen, and their children who wish to forego the turkey for the pies that have been freshly extracted from the oven. And without a doubt, as these women sit down with their broods, however big or small, they take at least a second if not a hundred to give thanks for each other and their bond of friendship. And as I prepare the Thanksgiving feast, I’m thinking about how we all count our blessings on this day- love, health, family, friendship, peace, freedom, etc. but too often forget the little things, all of the tidbits that create the essence of our daily lives.
For dinner even when it’s out of a box or take-out. For the compliment whether it is “I like your shoes” or “You’re gorgeous inside and out.” For holding open the door even if it’s only because you are waiting for the person who is walking behind me to come through it. For the flowers picked from the garden even if they are losing their petals. For the birthday gift even if it’s the wrong size. For letting me know you left on time. For letting me know you arrived safely. For kissing me for no reason or any reason. For holding my hand. For the out-of-the blue phone call just to check in. For the good morning text. For morning coffee. For evening wine. And of course, for pulling that pesky little thread on occasion, the one that I knew was there but was too afraid to pull on my own.
Gratitude or semblances of it come easily when the offering is tangible, tactile, and visible. However, think about how much of life is intangible, untouchable, and invisible. A staggering amount of life- most of it in fact! Life depends on what is felt and shared. Yet for some reason and I tend to think it is due to self-absorption and our overwhelming inattention to the present (unless it impacts us greatly and immediately), gratitude is something we save for special occasions. We save gratitude- true, heart-filling, and profound thanks- for those times when we are reflecting on special days. So, here’s an idea: Practice gratitude. Don’t save it! It does not need to be coveted and handed out stingily. Opportunities for giving thanks, showing thanks, and feeling blessed are around us each day throughout the day.
For chipped teeth and the dentist. Pimples and ProActiv. Minor cuts and Bandaids. Perspiration and deodorant. Crying babies and pacifiers. Missed appointments and calendars. Painful labor and a baby’s first breath.
Small dilemmas and colossal joys and sorrows often find simple answers and deliver lovely outcomes. For each and every, give thanks. They are all individually and collectively reasons to be grateful. They are everywhere. They are bountiful!
Whether short and sweet or long and laborious, days replete with moments that become memories to mark time.
For my days, I give thanks.
Whether quick-footed and charted or leisurely and meandering, walks made up of deliberate steps filled with hope.
For walks, alone or with company, I give thanks.
Whether fictitious and colorful or authentic and serious, words that arouse the spirit and nourish the mind that comprise the tales of a life well-lived.
For words written and spoken, and above all else the feelings that the words evoke, I give thanks.
Whether new and blossoming or matured and steadfast, friends who fill the days; create the memories; walk the path together; and write and share their words and stories.
For you and for us, I give thanks.
None of it is certain. And still I give thanks.
Sylvia, Erma, and I extend to you our gratitude and wishes for joyful abundance of all kinds. Happy Thanksgiving!
Anyone who has ever snagged a favorite sweater knows the literal and figurative unraveling that occurs if the displaced thread or piece of yarn is pulled and not cut. Sylvia pulled the thread though, and the unraveling began. And guess what? As she pulled, she felt amazingly relieved and almost giddy with excitement. She never once had the desire to reach for scissors and stop the energetic dismantling of what she had long known as comfort.
Sylvia pulls the thread and feels free. On those rare occasions when I pull the thread, it feels like I’m losing control and shedding pieces of myself, the self that I’ve grown accustomed to that is. So too often now, I get the urge to pull the thread, and then a wave of fear sets in. It’s the fear that I’ll completely unravel and be unable to put myself back together or make a new and better version of myself- one who doesn’t require validation, one who doesn’t fear she’ll become unlovable as the unraveling occurs.
Hell, the reality is that I should be yanking every thread in sight. After all, like Sylvia, I’m bright and beautiful, and unlike Sylvia, I have Erma – actually, Ermas everywhere- who will kick my ass and help keep the pieces in one place until I decide what to do with them. And then, foolishly or out of fear, I pull out the sweater again; and like the good girl I’ve become, I follow all the written and unwritten rules and endure the looks, judgmental stares, reactions of disbelief and shame. And when I stop to see to whom those critical eyes belong, who owns those tsk-tsks, the shame-on-you looks, and the stern you’re-better-than-this gazes, I see clearly. Aha, there. Right there. She’s looking back at me in the mirror every morning and night and in every window I pass throughout the day.
It’s painfully exhausting to be the keeper and mender of the sweater while wearing it! The girl who has always done the sensible thing, the right thing. However, there’s an obvious and growing problem now: the sweater is torn, tattered, and wearing thin in places. I can’t get rid of it; after all, who just throws things away, especially things which have been comfort, protection, and safe haven when needed? I’m not a girl without heart. One might say and many have, I have too much heart. I’m attached. I love weaving and connecting – memories to people and places, places to people and events, and memorabilia to just about everything. In the midst of that everything though, I also can’t bear to watch someone else’s sweater fall apart- anyone’s I love and care about. So, I tend to others in various ways. Erma in her infinite wisdom would say, “Dear, you concentrate on others because it’s easier than having to face and clean up your own shit.” (Sylvia and I can always count on Erma for a dose of no-nonsense when it’s needed most. Thank God.) And Erma is right, damn it.
I do so many things- the creating, the assembling, the mending, the darning-all of those things for everyone else. I do all of those things because if I pull the string, I’m risking a mess – one I’ve created no less-and I just don’t need one more mess. Mess is,well, just so unattractive! So, to my chagrin and Erma’s dismay on many occasions, I reach for scissors to cut the thread or pull it back through the other side so no one can see the imperfection. You see, I’ve got myself trained to hide the flaws- don’t show fear. Swallow what anyone dishes out. You’ll be happy if others are happy. But guess what? That’s not the case. I still know that the “sweater” has flaws, many of them now in fact. It’s still sufficient in that it covers me and keeps me somewhat protected, but admittedly, I do feel, see, and know exactly where it’s wearing. The pulls and imperfections – the worry, the fear, and the sadness- perhaps are even becoming too great to hide.
The voice in my head, the women and people in my life, the Ermas (and by the way, a few of the most important Ermas in my life are great men) – they all seem so much more put together than I am- they all know I’m unraveling. They say pull the string fully. They assure me that they won’t leave me in a heap on the floor. They’ll get down on the floor with me until I can figure out what to do, what to make, and who I want to be!
Here’s what Sylvia has taught me about pulling the thread though. Her lesson is rich, spontaneous, and unedited. Sometimes, you’ve just got to yank the l’il fucker. If it leaves a hole, there remain several options: live with it; patch it; get rid of it. Those that love you, those who truly care and want you to be happy will live with your remnants and your tangled threads while you figure it out.
Oh, how I want to be Sylvia on some days, and I assure myself I can be. I’ll pull the thread, Erma, don’t worry. Honestly, don’t worry. I’ll unravel… it may be quick, it may be slow. One things for certain though-and despite my fears I know this to be true-it’s going to be damn colorful!
Oh my! Sweaters, yarn, thread, unraveling…but first, please just indulge me and allow me to enjoy another steaming cup of coffee.
Photo credits: (above) wildharedaily.wordpress.com(bottom) kayymorgan