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 Choosing

Sylvia: I’m saving some this time. Not the whole thing but the best part. The strongest part. The piece that will sustain me the next go-round.

Erma: I’ve told you time and again, Sylvia, that you wear your heart on your sleeve. You give away too much of yourself, so I’m thrilled to hear you are beginning to see the light. But I’m curious. What finally made you realize that you need to put yourself first, care for you– save something for yourself?

Sylvia: There was no sudden epiphany, Erma. Like everything as you frequently remind me, it’s been a process.

Although the more serious wreckage from winter has vanished, some remnants of the chaos remain. Towering trees uprooted by the last storm have finally disappeared. They’ve gone off to become firewood and kindling for the unexpected brisk summer evenings by the shore or mulch for the endless beds of hydrangea adorning most waterfront homes on the Cape. Light caramel-colored beaches that were nearly erased by rising waters and fierce battering are coming back to life as the tides recreate them. Mother Nature left more than a mark; she drew on her canvas with exactly those fixtures we thought were otherwise permanent. My, oh my, how misled we were! The not-so-old, abstract mural that was painted immediately following those winter storms has faded and is being replaced by a glorious new canvas erupting in greenery and color. In bloom, each day seems to leave the painting en plein air with additional brushstrokes of life. And with the burgeoning of Mother Nature’s new art, Sylvia contemplates a new canvas of her own.

Sylvia, reclined briefly and covered with the lap blanket that Erma gifted to her ages ago (it helps her think), has been caught between seasons. Although winter is long gone, spring has departed, and summer is at full throttle in shoreline vacation spots, Sylvia remains less than animated, not by the actual seasons and weather but by the emotional ones- caught between dormancy and vibrancy, lull and surge, complacency and action. The time between the dead of winter and the dog days of summer – not the weather, not the onset of warmer days, not the bluer skies or the sprouting blossoms- the intervening days have left Sylvia unsettled. Until now.

Erma: So Sylvia, tell me. Why the sudden change in disposition? I’m elated, of course, to witness this obvious upswing in mood, but I’d love to know what pulled you out of the doldrums. I feel as if these last few months I’ve been a spectator at the New York, New York roller coaster waiting for my friend to gain her footing and catch her breath after enduring the climbs and plunges of the rickety mainstay high above the Vegas strip. To a friend who knows how much those rides scare you, it’s been painful and uncomfortable to watch.

Sylvia: Wow, I’ve been that bad, Erma? Jesus, I’m so sorry. And somehow you have managed to put up with me. And as you are so often without even realizing, you’ve been instrumental in pulling me from the wreckage I’ve felt trapped in. You saw it as a roller coaster, Erma. Honestly, that might have been more fun. I guess if I had to equate how I’ve been feeling to a carnival ride though, it wouldn’t have been a roller coaster. A Ferris wheel more likely. Not my ride of choice but definitely the ride I’ve been on. The Ferris wheel when it stops at the top to be exact. Trouble is though I’ve been riding it with people who think it’s fun to rock it even though I repeatedly tell them to stop. Even though I have clearly told them that although the ride scares me to death, I’m willing to go because I trust them. Those sharing my gondola seem to almost delight in my fear and angst, and if not delight, then they simply don’t respect my feelings. Either way, it’s disrespect and I can’t tolerate it. I shouldn’t. And I know now, Erma. I know.

Erma: What’s that? What do you know?

Sylvia: I can avoid someone rocking my car if I ride alone. I don’t want to ride alone mind you, but I will if it means saving myself. I will if it helps me believe in myself again. Riding with people who create and feed my fears is just wrong. Going through life with people who can only feel strong by making me feel weak, inadequate, unloved, and less, that’s not living. That’s existing. That’s dying a slow, painful death. So, I’m getting off the ride and leaving the carnival. I don’t want to pay for rides that only others enjoy. And what I have decided is that I won’t return to any more shows, fairs, festivals, or spectacles with people who don’t respect me or how I feel. I’ll wait to share another carnival with someone who respects me, loves me, and wants to see me enjoying myself. So, for now, I’m choosing. I’m choosing me. I will sit in the middle, ride to the left, stand on the right- by myself- if that’s what it takes to free myself. While it scares me to death, the thought of being in the middle of the gondola with no one on either side to see me through to the end of the ride, I’d rather like the chance to control my own fear and save myself if need be. Fuck it. Maybe I’ll even choose to stay on the ground. At least for now.

Erma: Oh, and Sylvia, remember. You aren’t alone. Ever. I’m always up for the merry-go-round. That’s close to the ground, my friend.

Keep It Moving

It’s 10 a.m. Sylvia is contemplating the day, doing laundry, writing, and pouring another cup -multi-tasking as most women do- when Erma phones.

Erma: Good morning, Sylvia. What are you up to today?

Sylvia: Nothing exciting, Erma, but the day is young, so there’s plenty of hope. I am wondering though if life will always be like this. Full. Of nothing and everything.

Erma: Here’s how I see it, Sylvia. As long as it’s full of anything, you are moving. Moving is key. Motion is living. Of course, each decade brings with it a new definition of motion, but let’s not get into that. Semantics aside, at my age- any age, really- moving simply means you aren’t dead, so that’s a real plus! In that alone, there’s hope.

Sylvia: I’m grabbing another cup, my friend, so prepare to give me your overview of moving through the decades.

Erma: Here goes

At twenty, we live with anticipation and energy and the goals (for most of us) are to make tomorrow come faster, to have fun today, and to remove ourselves from what we looked like yesterday. We are chameleons in fact. Changing and moving at the speed of light but too often without direction.

At thirty, we live with hope that tomorrow will be easier; today we will get ahead a bit or at least stay afloat, and we hold out hope that our mistakes from yesterday will not be repeated. Alas, we repeat many of them, but that’s okay because we are charting our own course- or at least we think so.

At forty, we live with anxiety and fear that tomorrow we will find that we do not have enough of anything- time, money, love, or patience. Today we went through the motions and have little recall of what actually transpired. We long for the lack of both the accountability and the responsibility we had in our youth. Yesterday was not so bad.

At fifty, we live with intent and purpose. Tomorrow is getting close. Too close. It promises nothing, so we must accomplish all that has to be done without delay. And somehow, because we have either become more efficient in or less critical of how we perform our tasks, we will also manage to carve out a little bit of time for ourselves, even if it’s only a second to reflect, breathe, write, or have a bit of conscious “me” time. Yesterday, though we intended to do just that, time slipped away and we cannot get it back. Today though, today, for sure, we convince ourselves.

And here’s where Sylvia and Erma stop to welcome their many wise and witty friends of a certain maturity to add their two cents to the decades, which undoubtedly has greater value than anything they could pretend to know or even imagine.

This we know as it has been said time and again: tomorrow is not guaranteed and yesterday is done. Here and now is all we have! Have an amazing day or at the very least a day lived as best you can with intention, purpose, and some self-care.

We are putting another pot on because we have so much more to figure out and so much more life to live.

Cheers with coffee. Gotta keep moving.

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!

Today Erma’s Delivering

Ever have a time when you can’t shake a word, a melody, or feeling? You just cannot get whatever it is out of your mind? It happens to Erma more often than she’d like and usually when she should be concentrating on something or someone else. The word that has been stuck in her craw both last night and as she starts this new day is “delivery” (happy to say that it’s no longer gnawing at her since she decided to share her annoyance with Sylvia for a change) — yes, delivery. Indeed.

Of course, dealing with the impediment of having this word caught in my mind’s eye has been more than a tad annoying, but like the storms we’ve weathered recently, its presence no longer hinders and the reason for its resonance has become clear. Just as the storm arrives fiercely and then leaves quietly so that we may know what calm truly means, the word delivery keeps coming to the forefront of my mind so that I can find direction and purpose. The reminder succinctly: I need to deliver.

Delivery to most people means the act of dropping off something or making a deposit. It suggests a completed action. For me, it encompasses so much more. It means starting something, creating, producing, and feeling. Life is all about the delivery! How one delivers an idea, a gift, a speech, and even a baby reveals intention.

I’ve been thinking, writing, and editing a great deal (to some extent ad nauseum which is both necessary and painfully characteristic of most writers at various times), and doing all three because I firmly believe in the power of delivery. Delivery demonstrates intention– one can deliver with sincerity, with humor, with love, with hope, and with gratitude. On the flip side, one can also deliver with fear, with sarcasm, with disdain, with disgust, and with flagrant disregard. The difference is intention. And people -our connections, our friendships, and our daily audience- create intention. I’ll share with you that my audience motivates me and creates intent and purpose, both surprisingly and knowingly. I’m responsible for the delivery, but each of you reminds me that simply being and doing will get me through the day but will not necessarily make the most of my day. Each of you -my family; my friends (my Sylvias and Ermas) near and far; my father; and often my son (that young man especially inspires me)- every single one of you makes me think more deliberately about how I live and deliver both me and my message to the world.

What’s the message today?

On this Friday, Good Friday for many and at sundown tonight the beginning of Passover for others, I’m finally able to get past this sticking point and carry myself from pause to purpose. Hoping that your weekend delivers you from any troubles that may be weighing on you and brings you to a place of peace and purpose– wherever you need to be at the moment.

Mark this one delivered with love from Erma.

Created Worthy

You do not need to become worthy. You were born worthy! Be perfectly imperfect as was the plan all along.

Sylvia and Erma are each doing their own thing this Saturday morning. One thing’s for sure though- they’ll catch up with each other later and remind one another with a little push from Viola that each [of them] is exactly as God/the universe intended. Meanwhile, Sylvia’s sharing a favorite of hers (author unknown).

The story goes:

When God created Woman, he was working late on the sixth day.

An Angel came by and asked, “Why spend so much time on her?”

The Lord answered, “Have you seen all the specifications I have to meet to shape her?

She must function on all kinds of situations.

She must be able to embrace several kids at the same time, have a hug that can heal anything from a bruised knee to a broken heart.

She must do all this with only two hands.

She cures herself when sick and can work 18 hours a day.”

The Angel was impressed. “Just two hands? Impossible! And this is the standard model?”

The Angel came closer and touched the woman. “But you have made her so soft, Lord.”

“She is soft,” said the Lord, “but I have made her strong. You can’t imagine what she can endure and overcome.”

“Can she think?” the Angel asked.

The Lord answered, “Not only can she think, she can reason and negotiate.:

The Angel touched her cheeks. “Lord, it seems this creation is leaking! You have put too many burdens on her.”

“She is not leaking. It is a tear,” the Lord corrected the Angel.

“What’s it for?” asked the Angel.

The Lord said, “Tears are her way of expressing her grief, her doubts, her love, her loneliness, her suffering and her pride.”

This made a big impression on the Angel. “Lord, you are a genius. You thought of everything. A woman is indeed marvelous.”

The Lord said, “Indeed she is. She has strength that amazes a man. She can handle trouble and carry heavy burdens. She holds happiness, love and opinions.”

She smiles when she feels like screaming. She sings when she feels like crying, cries when happy and laughs when afraid. She fights for what she believes in.

Her love is unconditional. Her heart is broken when a next-of-kin or a friend dies but she finds strength to get on with life.

The Angel asked, “So she is a perfect being?”

The Lord replied, “No. She has just one drawback.
SHE OFTEN FORGETS WHAT SHE IS WORTH.”

—Author unknown

(Picture/painting credit: S.Chakamian)