“Can being happy be this easy? Must I live outside of the life I’ve chosen in order to find myself again?”The Best Gift Sylvia Ever Received
I don’t believe in heaven. Not as a destination anyway. Well, let me further amend that to say that I don’t believe that “good” people -those who lived life both honestly and vulnerably, with purpose and love in their hearts for themselves and the world around them, those who atoned for their “sins” (you know, […]Sylvia Knows Heaven on Earth
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…And Still I Give Thanks
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?
Sylvia and Erma, where are you today?
Erma: Start thinking big. Think outside of the box.
Sylvia: I’m tired of moves and change and being ordinary. I don’t need genius, but above-average would be just fine. Perfect, even, for now.
Erma: Some of it is necessary, the moves and the changes. The last part though, well, that you can fix. You are so far from ordinary– and certainly above-average.
Sylvia: God, I hope so!
Erma: You are extraordinary, Syl. You just need to remember that extraordinary lives outside of the box!
The ordinary think inside of the box, the extraordinary think outside of the box, but genius thinks inside, outside, below and above the box.
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. He never 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 we learn 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.
She never really liked the beach, not during the summer anyway. Despite having grown up in a quaint, New England seaside village, she didn’t care for the mess of it, the lugging of paraphernalia that would end up either sand-laden or salt-water soaked, and on most visits to the beach, both; and she absolutely never relished the idea of baking in the sun, clad in an uncomfortable and unforgiving swimsuit while under the seemingly critical eyes of passersby. But now for some reason, for many reasons that rest deep within her in fact, she finds solace on the shore, dreams in the clouds, and love- yes, love- of nature, herself, and the stories she can only conjure as she lies on her stomach on the comfortably worn-in cotton throw that has seen its day at home but is only just beginning to gain new purpose and life from her recent sojourns to the ocean.
Sylvia, half asleep in the late afternoon August sun and being lulled by the gentle rhythm of lapping waves upon the shore, smiles as she feels his fingertips on the small of her back. She stirs slightly but not in a way evident to him. She doesn’t really want him to know that he has awakened her, aroused something inside of her that for the moment she wants to keep for herself. He’ll know soon enough.
She inhales fully. Holds her breath. Perhaps he won’t notice the goosebumps that she feels on the back of her neck and the tops of her thighs. He touches her again, this time with a full, gentle yet purposeful, open hand. He slides his hand from the small of her back, over her backside, and between her legs. With a long, slow exhale, she quivers. Although her eyes remain closed and her head in the clouds, she is transported and he knows it. And with the next gentle crash of waves upon the shore, his hands still at home on her inner thighs, he leans over her, brushes the hair off the back of her neck, and exacts the most intoxicating mixture of nibbling and sucking of the sun-kissed nape he has been craving.
The vastness of the beach and the ocean; the strength and rhythm of the waves; the intensity of the afternoon sun; all of it at once encapsulates the lovers. The moment his lips touch the back of her neck, all of her surroundings disappear. Sylvia is nowhere, and she does not long to be anywhere else. The gentleman and gentle man of equal age and intellect, whose eyes saw a vacancy that yearned to be filled years ago, reads her mind and body, as easily and excitedly as she has read her copy of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice each long summer since it was first introduced to her three decades ago. Time and place are of little consequence at that moment. His touch, his lips, and every fiber of her being are in sync. And with the next wave, Sylvia is on her back and he, at her unspoken but most deliberate urging, has come to rest atop her, intertwined and superbly fitted in all the right places. Sylvia, arms outstretched, happily surrenders. With his body almost rooted in hers and while his toes grow more deeply implanted in the sand, he sees under him a woman who completely adores and welcomes the accompanying mess from this day at the beach.
“Sylvia, Sylvia. Wake up. You’ve been daydreaming again. Come down from the clouds- at least for today.”
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.