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 Scraping Skies

Do you see that? Yes, that right there? I’m a part of that. Just an ever-so-small but necessary part of this microcosm. I say necessary because today I’m sitting at a table looking out on this daunting yet somehow comforting urban landscape and feeling that I belong.

Lately as I’ve been sharing with Erma before I can share with anyone else, I have felt like I’ve been playing Jenga; but today, this afternoon to be exact, as I furiously click away at the keyboard just rambling (I like to think of it as collecting thoughts) and trying to make chicken soup from chicken shit, I realized that I am not playing Jenga at all. I am a piece, THE piece, in the game. I’m that corner block, the one on the 39th floor, the one that has windows from top to bottom that always gets light. I’m the block that gets so much light that it can make the room uncomfortably warm on occasion. That same block also provides the only heat source at times. I’m also that single puzzle piece that when missing prohibits you from completing the game but only because you have no choice. That misplaced piece almost always requires the game to come to an end, an anti-climax of sort forever making the feelings of completion, fulfillment, and what some might consider victory elusive until that piece can be substituted, replicated, or replaced.

Erma: Sylvia, I have absolutely no idea where you are going with this. Are you saying that life would be incomplete without you? Are you saying that you are an integral part of life as we know it? What the hell are you saying?

Sylvia: Let me see if I can explain it better. I’ll pour us each a cup because this might take a bit.

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I don’t pretend that I am so relevant that life could not or would not go on without me; that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. The corner piece of the building does not hold up the rest; and obviously, it’s not a part of the foundation. It rests upon and garners its strength from all of its surround. Here’s what that block/piece represents though – it’s how I’m beginning to see myself. I’ve learned that while everyone does not particularly enjoy its presence (especially when it is unbearably warm in the summer sun, even with the air conditioning running steadily), there are many who count on it. Just being there to fill in. Well, guess what? I’m not replaceable or even an interim filler. I’m not an extraneous puzzle piece! I’m the biggest piece– in my game. So, if you make it to the 39th floor, and you can stand the bright light and the warmth, even when it is a scorcher of a day, participate in the game because here’s what I, Sylvia, and every Erma has learned over time: the 39th floor has the most magnificent and bold views. And once you have reached the 39th, there really is no need to go any farther. That corner room is the most welcoming, the brightest, the warmest, and the only piece in that game of Jenga capable, strong, and perfect enough for the place it occupies.

Be the irreplaceable piece in your game. Sylvia’s scraping skies, and she’s going to come out on top. If you want the view and can stand the fluctuating temperatures, join her. If not, the elevator going down is right there waiting for you.

Keep It Simple

Sylvia deliberates, ponders, ruminates, and reflects. Today, Erma has reminded her that life doesn’t always have to be difficult.

 

#findingmyway #becomingme #overthinking #overfiftyandfine #lifeliveit #yourlifeyourchoice #keepitsimple

The Most Important Person in Your Life

A sunny Saturday on the cove provides the perfect back-drop for old friends sharing bold coffee, laughter, and of course, a requisite dose of wisdom.

Erma: How was your week?

Sylvia: Same old. Been trying not to over think things. I hate that I take so much of what others say to heart.

Erma: Example, please?

Sylvia: Well, when I’m told to get over myself is the instance that comes to mind. It’s a strange concept for others to tell us how we should or should not be feeling and reacting to the relationships we are a part of, don’t you think?

Erma: I’ve always found it somewhat dismissive, even hurtful, when someone tells me it’s not about me -when the very way she or he is acting and interacting with me affects no one more than it does me. The subject matter may not be about me directly, but the very fact that I’m being used as a sounding board or a confidante (and looked to as a friend) engages me in his or her drama du jour.

Sylvia: You hit the nail on the head. How can a relationship in which I am involved- either as an integral player or as one on the periphery- not be about me? How can it not concern me? How the other person feels about the situation-at-hand may not be about me, but how I feel about him or her in that situation is definitely about me. I own that. That shit is mine.

Erma: Absolutely, Sylvia. Above all else, remember that the most important person in all of your relationships is YOU.

Both Erma and Sylvia agree on a couple of things. First, you are completely encouraged and definitely allowed to be the center of your own universe, just not of the entire universe! Second, most conversations of this ilk might be best served with wine. Just a thought.

To “B” or Not to “B”

Sylvia’s been thinking about this for far too long – since summer actually. And now that the frigid temperatures have arrived along with the ice on the cove, she’s daring to dream again, especially of a warm-weather B&B. As she sits at the kitchen table with a mug of her favorite blend, a startling rap on the kitchen window brings her back to reality…

Erma: Pondering your existence again, Sylvia?

Sylvia: Oh God, no, Erma. Nothing existential about this at all.

Erma: Well, I was out front ringing the bell, but when you didn’t answer, I had a strong feeling you might be cooking something up in the kitchen. Now I realize that you were absolutely cooking something up. That coffee must be piping hot because you appear more than a a bit dewy, my friend. Dare I ask what’s on your mind?

Sylvia: Nothing. Well, that’s not true. I was just thinking about the prospect of a clean slate in a tropical locale. Promise me, Erma, no eye-rolling when I tell you what has me bemused today.

Erma: You know me, I can’t promise that, but now I’m really intrigued. Do tell, Sylvia, do tell. I’ll grab myself a mug and pour a cup.

When Sylvia met Cam little did she know that whether or not she was wearing her Spanx would be the least of her aesthetic worries. The concern that popped to the forefront quickly went from how the unbridled parts would look once they were set free of the constricting undergarment to the actual landscaping of the nether regions. Cosmopolitan, aka “Cosmo”, had long ago provided an in-depth foray into waxing and its stimulating benefits, but now Sylvia who hadn’t seen the tree through the forest in years -decades even- was curious. She thought seriously, “What would it be like to get rid of the thicket? And, if I don’t like what I see, will he?

Well, after a mentally and physically grueling appointment with her aesthetician (never mind what anyone tells you – yes, it’s painful and unpleasant, perhaps akin to how much it would smart if you were to catch the hair on your head in a Dyson vacuum cleaner; and I’m hazarding a guess and thinking for guys who haven’t manscaped in a while or ever, the pain might parallel getting kicked in the nuts with cleats), Sylvia sheepishly looks in the mirror that is handed to her. “Look, Sylvia. Prettiest pussy ever.”

Really, Sylvia? Can anything be left to the imagination at all? “To B or not to B” takes on a whole new meaning when one is staring at parts that have not been pampered and primed let alone examined by her owner in nearly three decades. Bush. Bikini. Brazilian. Bare. So, the obvious question begging to be asked (and answered) is, “Why now, Sylvia?” Much like when you deliberated over holding it in or rolling with it when faced with the Spanx dilemma, you need not agonize over something so incredibly personal. Your vagina. Your choice.

Erma, what I need to tell you and share with the other Ermas and Sylvias out there is that the process is progress. Learning to love myself, both the inner core and the outer shell, is a full-time job; and it is and should be a labor of love. There is no better time than now! It’s taken me fifty-plus years to accept myself and even give myself credit for a few things. I’ve been putting me off for a very long time. No one’s fault mind you, but now that I’ve become increasingly aware of what doesn’t bring me happiness, what doesn’t feel good, and what I don’t like, I’m all about discovering – perhaps even uncovering – that which puts a smile on my face, a spring in my step, and the ohs in “Oh, my; oh, yeah; and oh, God.”

Erma:  Who would have imagined what a woman can learn about herself from a waxing?

Sylvia: That’s just the point, Erma. You never know what you are missing until you open yourself up to new things. And by new, I just mean that everything old can feel new again. And it does. 

The benefits of waxing are so much more than not having to worry about stubble or the errant strands playing peekaboo from your bathing suit or sexy lingerie bottoms. Less is so much more in this case. Life-changing, in fact. Little did Sylvia know that the eradication of what some refer to as “vintage vag” would lead to a new lease on life. Seriously. All of you Ermas, you know a great deal and can teach us much, but trust your Sylvias when they say that if you withstand those thirty minutes of pain on the aesthetician’s table, you’ll unveil uncharted territory which just may lead to some of the greatest and most satisfying discoveries of your life.  If you’re happy visiting the same places, then that’s okay as long as you are happy; but if you are looking to be transported, you should seriously consider Option Bs.

Not that it should be the deciding factor when you decide “to B or not to B” but at the very least consider the following. Lovers and partners think that we make the decision “to b or not to b” taking into account two primary considerations: first, we may want to appreciate our natural beauty how God intended it; and second, we want to look good to ourselves and to them. Perhaps both are true. Indeed, Sylvia wanted to look good and feel good for herself and for Cam. When Sylvia met Cam, she was on the precipice of change. She was exhausted. In every way imaginable. In every way that a fifty-year old woman is when she has back-burnered herself to make everyone else’s life easier and their dreams come true. The choice to explore with Cam was uncharacteristic and unexpected; the decision to get rid of any barriers to pleasure of any kind, however, was necessary.

I have heard from a Saturday-night-filled pub of couples in the world that the difference between the Bs is much like the difference in selections on a menu. Is it appetizer or main course? Chicken or Steak? Palate cleanser in between courses or is it the bread basket that will stay on the table and be grazed upon throughout the meal?  I really don’t know. Neither did Sylvia.  Sylvia decided it wasn’t about providing a veritable smorgasbord for Cam (although his enthusiastic taste in the offerings only proved to her benefit); it was about discovering what fulfilled her and satisfied her appetite. It was about experiencing something new and exciting. Discovering what she liked instead of eliminating what she disliked. Just as some guys are only interested in the food and being full after the meal, some women – I’m venturing to say most- savor the total dining experience. For Sylvia, her choice “to B” provided her the clean slate that allowed her to enjoy, from her head to her toes, a destination that had eluded her for a very long time. It never occurred to Sylvia that the barrier to her happiness, to her finding herself, to her discovering what transported her from exhausted and people-pleasing to spontaneously sensual and satisfied would be her willingness to try something new. Sylvia’s decision “to B” was liberating and exhilarating. Inner core and outer shell, she was beginning to love it all!

Erma (pouring out the remaining coffee in her mug): Sylvia, and just think, you’ve only gotten to the Bs in the alphabet! 

 

No Substitutions

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 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.)