Saddle Up & Ride

“Lately I have been going to bed feeling much closer to my goal, but today, I see and feel that I’m in the same place I have been. That light at the end of the tunnel even seems a little dimmer,” Sylvia laments.

Erma, not the optimist but the realist today, hears something in her friend’s voice that she hasn’t heard in a while – despair. It is a slippery slope that she has seen her friend travel down more than once, so fortunately she knows that it is temporary. She also is well aware though that Sylvia needs a jolt to snap out of the looming funk fast.

Thinking back on some of their past antics, Erma recounts the story of the penny pony that has only recently become a favorite memory for both of them. She tells the story attempting to conjure up the image and the feelings that Sylvia experienced that summer afternoon. “It was totally impromptu, remember? We were walking the mall, complaining about how grumpy and miserable society had become. And then, there she appeared, Sandy, the penny pony, strategically placed near the restrooms on the way to the exit.”

A Penny Well-Spent

“That was funny. Silly and immature, but fun. Do you remember the passersby with their eye-rolling and judgmental comments?”

“Oh yes, but what I remember most is the pure joy in your eyes. The completely carefree look of freedom as Sandy rocked back and forth for those all-too-quick twenty seconds. Awesome.”

“Too short. Fleeting. And look, that ride didn’t take me anywhere,” Sylvia said dampening Erma’s mood.

Erma, sadly annoyed by her friend’s complaining, decides it is time for the stir, the jolt, the wake-up. “Syl, stop. Take a roll of pennies and go to the mall. Lose yourself in a trashy novel. Make brownies and eat the entire batch. Pour yourself a cuppa and have a daydream. For God’s sake, those won’t get you anywhere in life either, but they will hold your place in line – and you might even have a little fun and find a little happy. I know you will.”

Sylvia, lifts herself from the chair, and rides into the very next moment with a smile and a little more hope, enough to finish today’s ride.

***********************

There is no straight way to a destination. So enjoy the ride even when you get lost.

~Debasish Mridha


Ever Faithful

The last two decades, Sylvia has risen each day knowing there is work to do – in life, for others, and for and on herself. Lots of work! On extraordinarily tough days, Erma commends her. “See, you didn’t give up. You put one foot in front of the other, and you made it through.”

“Did I really though?” Sylvia wonders. “Am I optimistic about the future? Do I remain hopeful? Am I keeping that hope ‘perched in the soul’ as Emily contends?”

“Optimism and hope are different, my friend. Each day they look different because no two days are ever the same,” Erma tells her matter-of-factly.

And after another swallow of the coffee that has been growing cold in front of her, Sylvia considers her trusted confidante’s statement. “Yes, I do believe you are right, Erma. I guess what really keeps me going is faith; that’s the difference,” Sylvia determines.


Erma, feeling proud once again that she has successfully imparted some of her hard-earned wisdom, sums it all up as she finishes her last cup of morning brew. “Yes, indeed, Syl. Faith makes all the difference. Faith in yourself, faith in the world – you need that in order to feel either optimistic or hopeful. You need faith, in fact, to feel both.”

***********************

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favourable or hopeful view.” Hope is the “expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation.”
(source:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/201702/whats-the-difference-between-optimism-and-hope)

Thank God, She Floats

It’s strangely refreshing that life is cyclical — the seasons, some moments, and indeed so many raw emotions often repeat. Sylvia hit play today, and what was in the machine could have taken her breath away, but instead it revived her and gave her the buoy she needed to stay afloat long enough to catch her breath and keep going.

The universe is at work; and curiously when an old friend calls unexpectedly or Sylvia comes across a photograph of herself smiling and thriving, she reminds herself that she has successfully weathered a storm or two. She may not have a lifeline immediately at hand all of the time, but thankfully she is learning to save herself most days. And when Sylvia is at a loss or not quite sure which line to grab, she has learned that it is perfectly acceptable to float a bit. Oh, and worst case scenario which is far from frightening and is always reassuring is knowing that Erma and others in her “tribe” will throw a line should she need one.

Simple Abundance

Say these three words aloud: apple, table, penny. Now, remember them. Simple task. Meaningful? Meaningless? Well regardless, we take for granted that we will always be able to perform the seemingly easy; but when all is said and done, those uncomplicated words and ordinary, mundane acts are nowhere near as impactful as watching him react to music of yesteryear or to the retelling of one of the countless stories he shared with me, stories that I am now charged with and honored to share with my loved ones and others on similar journeys. For me and for him, remembering that he was a member of the state championship relay team at Teachers College and being able to play back and recount that race and those feelings of glory were so much more important than the three plain and undecorated words that he could not remember ten seconds after they were uttered. That story of the past brought laughter and smiles to a room full of medical professionals who entered it both seriously and mission-oriented yet who left perkier and even more committed than they ever imagined they could be.

So, when we are feeling sorry for ourselves— admittedly, I do this more than anyone should or has the right to— let’s stop and get a grip. Hold on to the big, bubbly moments and memories from which we draw the strength to start all over again. That is our mission really, isn’t it?

*********************

“…We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
(~Benjamin Button, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

Do you see it? Hope is rising and ablaze early on a Monday morning.

Wait and Hope

The only one you are competing with is yourself. You’ll win the race. Slow and steady every time.

Sylvia: Love. Loss. Grief. I know time yields all and heals all, but how much time? When will I find my way again?

Erma: There’s no rush, Sylvia. Everything happens in its own time. Wait. Be patient.

Sylvia: Okay, but what do I do in the meantime?

Erma: Hope.


“All human wisdom is summed up in two words – wait and hope.” ~Alexandre Dumas


Lost & Found

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.  

Perspective

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

Hope on Her Birthday

Sylvia: Happy birthday, my dear! Older and wiser!

Erma: I don’t know about wiser, but I’m hopeful!

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.

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.