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.

Feeling Whole

Erma has been overwhelmed and more than anything else desires time to herself- time to inhale, exhale, and repeat. Sylvia craves space of her own- both mental and physical room. Time and space provide each of them the framework within which they can refuel and remain whole.

Take an hour. Take a day. Take a week. Walk outside. Sit in a café. Treat yourself to a spa day- even if it’s makeshift in the privacy of your own home. Whatever you need to make yourself feel whole, discover what that is and do it. Now!

You cannot be whole without the time and space to feel all that you are feeling!

“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy, it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” ~Henri Nouwen

Just Enough Sugar

Long-distance relationships of all kinds are bittersweet. There is a heaviness in the heart with each hello because Sylvia knows that a “see you soon” or “until next time” is inevitable. She is always riding waves of emotion, especially as she hangs up the phone after an amusingly long call about nothing and everything with her bff; exchanges the last late morning text with her sister before they each go about their day; and kisses her dear dad’s cheek after their much-too-short visit. Today, she focuses on the sweet. The only thing bitter will be the convenience store cup of coffee she should not have bought while she was out doing early morning errands.

Always choose sweet!

“Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.” ~Khalil Gibran

Mapping Her Story

After weeks, months, and years of caring for others near and far, Sylvia feels more ragged and worn than ever. Luckily and almost intuitively, Erma senses her friend’s need for an ego-boosting, confidence-inspiring, pep talk. So, on this Sunday evening over old-fashioneds because Erma finds the libation tried and true, she shares with Sylvia the secret to embracing the ever-changing topography of the female body and face.

Erma: You see these lines across my face, Syl?

Sylvia: I only see a beautiful, mature woman who has navigated life with grace and aplomb.

Erma: Okay, but seriously, look at me. I’m going to tell you now the key to aging gracefully because you need to be less critical of yourself.

Sylvia: Oh good because I have new wrinkles and lines every single day. I’m thoroughly intrigued and hanging on your every word now.

Erma: Hold the mirror. Look at those creases, that pucker, and even that furrow. Look closely and deeply.

Sylvia: As deeply as that “11” between my eyes?

Erma: Deeper. Now, close your eyes. Can’t you just see your story? Those lines tell your story. You’ve lived. You’re surviving, and you have more story to write.

Sylvia: How do you know, Erma?

Erma: You have some smooth skin left. It’s not over until you’re wearing a complete map!

All the Thoughts She Never Had

Erma: Well, here it is another new year. You know what that means, Sylvia, right? Everyone and her mother will ask you about your resolutions. So, what’s going to be your stock response?

Sylvia: My reply? I can tell you what my answer won’t be. I’m not going to vow to lose weight. This is the year I learn to accept that pounds may or may not come off, but that the number on the scale won’t define me. And you know why I’m certain of that, Erma? Because after resolving to lose weight the last two years in order to become the size four that I haven’t been since 1992, I finally lost those pesky ten pounds. I threw out the damn scale!

Erma: Okay, so that’s one non-answer. Anything else you are committing to do or to change?

Sylvia: I’m determined to accept my plight or rather my future as a never-thinker.

Erma: Your what? You mean an over-thinker. Yes, that’s a good goal. Stop that.

Sylvia: No, not over-thinking, Erma. I said I’m going to embrace my never-thinking.

Erma: Okay Sylvia, hold on for a second. I’m grabbing a fresh mug for this. It’s bound to be good.

Have you ever thought about all the things you have never really thought about and then realized that those are the issues, the woes, and maybe even the little slices of joy that you’ve been hiding away or hiding from? Sylvia’s been doing just that this last week, perhaps even the last month, as she reflects on the last year- life, love, and loss of all kinds. And, of course, glimpses into the last year have done exactly what she never imagined they would do; they have led her to recognize that it is not her overthinking that burdens her mind, body, and spirit. It is all of the thoughts and events that she never fathomed would hit her, happen to her, and become a part of her being that are bringing her–hell, maybe even catapulting her-fiercely into the new year. Highlighting the past year for Erma pulls Sylvia to places in life she never thought she’d visit!

Still perplexed? “I never thought that would happen [to me].” You know that expression most certainly. Everyone says it at some point, at many times, in his or her life. The truth is though that as we all try mightily, knowingly or subconsciously, to convince ourselves of what will never happen, all of it almost always happens. So, on this new day and the first day of this brand-spanking-new- year, Sylvia reminds me to think about all that I have survived, big and small, heartwarming and heartbreaking, all that I never thought about until I had to think about it.

She never thought she’d be able to live without her best friend, her mother, another year, yet here she is. Nine Christmases later and she’s doing it. She’s getting up each day and learning to laugh and hope again.

She never thought he’d be here another year. It’s a mixed blessing and one that torments her every single day. He’s leaving her and this world slowly, but she’s accepting it, albeit just as slowly, that it is out of her control.

She never thought she’d be able to find joy or a bit of a silver lining to his illness, but she is. She’s trying. The light in his eyes, the smile that still remains that only he can give to this world- those are the silver.

She never thought that she would be at a crossroads at this time in her life. After all, women over fifty should be settled, comfortable in their own skin, and feel accomplished, if not professionally then most certainly personally. And yet she’s none of those and all of those, and she’s surviving it. In fact, there are even days when she appreciates her ability to change her mind and risk throwing others’ lives out-of-whack for a change. (Yes, she never thought she’d relish breaking a few rules, unwritten and self- imposed ones, but she’s doing it and accepting that sometimes self- preservation is most important.)

She never thought that she’d be a part of a dysfunctional family and be okay with it. She’s learned that we are all born into families, but we don’t have to choose to stay. We owe it to ourselves and to the world to be the very best versions of ourselves. When people make us dislike who we are simply by being in their presence, it’s time to change surroundings, live our truth, and find a tribe that loves and supports us– no matter what!

She never thought that she’d see home as a feeling rather than a place. She has old and new friends who “follow” her, check in with her, and who welcome her with loving, nonjudgmental arms and minds. When she is in their company- physically, mentally, and spiritually- she is home.

She never thought she’d look forward to time by herself, to herself, where she’d be happy with her own company and nothing more. It’s a process, but it’s happening.

And she never thought, not in a million years, that she could love another human being more each day. That’s just plain crazy! She has learned though that the feeling of a growing love comes from watching those she loves live their truth, and it comes from within when we learn to live our own truth. Her truth is: she is flawed and fabulous. She makes mistakes and is learning to forgive herself. “Life in full bloom” she sees in her own child and hears in his voice as he finds his place in the world. She never thought that he would be her teacher and that the greatest lesson he would impart would be that she too deserved happiness and unconditional love.

She never thought she’d make it through this past year, but she did!

Erma: Wow. I’m exhausted by all of that thinking.

Sylvia: Oh, it’s not all that bad. It’s only tiring when you overthink it.

Keep going, friends. 2019 is sure to be a year of unexpected and unforeseen happenings and feelings. Let’s just call it life.

With wishes for love, peace, laughter and hope,

Sylvia & Erma

Sylvia’s Showing Up

Sylvia: Here we are again, Erma. In the homestretch.

Erma: Ha. You just wait. One day you’ll be looking back just as I am right now and wondering how you survived so many Christmases.

Sylvia: I have no illusions. I’ve watched you, and you’ve always come through with flying colors. Honestly, how have you managed?

Erma: I remember that all of the feelings – the wonder and joy, the sadness and stress- they won’t last. So, in the midst of it all, just show up, Sylvia. Soak it all in.

The most honest thing you can do to demonstrate love is simply to show up! Be present.

The month of December has never been a favorite of Sylvia’s, not since adulthood kicked in anyway. She recalls it also being an incredibly stressful month for her mom, her Erma, who worked her ass off to give her four little gremlins the most amazing Christmases. From decking the halls to writing out hundreds of holiday cards (a task which was the first to fall off the Christmas to-do list as the the years brought with them less time, arthritic and overworked hands, and more grandchildren) to baking the classic spritzes and cherry-walnut coffee cake, Erma did it all, year after year after year.

Looking back, Sylvia realizes her father worked too, of course, to make the holidays happen, but he never participated in any of the holiday preparation which Sylvia now sees as the real magic. If Erma, her mom, was the Christmas magician, then certainly Dad was the sidekick assistant who knew Mom’s routine and didn’t dare mess with it. As Sylvia looks back now, the memory of the side glances her parents exchanged as she and her siblings opened their gifts illuminates as brightly as the lights on the freshly decorated tree on a dark winter’s night. While her father’s look queried, “We bought that too?” Erma’s silent reply made only with her hazy baby blues (glazed over after all because she was the one up all night wrapping) rebuked matter-of-factly, “Yes, that too, dear. Smile, damn it. It’s Christmas. We want them to be happy, don’t we?” At that point, the side glances stopped because Dad knew the battle had been lost. Debt was inevitable. But when all was said and done, he and Mom had “worked together” to create the magic of Christmas. And to that I say, ” Not bad at all, folks, for the couple with the cards proverbially stacked against them – the always smiling, Jewish track star originally from Chelsea and the blonde, incredibly smart, Catholic girl from the project in New Britain.

How did they prevail? They held on tight! They showed up for one another. Don’t get me wrong. They had their ups-and-downs, their sad and angry moments. In the end though, at the close of each day, they were present- for each other and for their family in every way that mattered and made a difference.

So, as Sylvia stays with her father several nights this week until he falls asleep, she thinks about the gifts she has yet to wrap, yet to purchase, yet to give or receive. She’s going materially minimalist this year. Purposely. She has to. It’s time. She needs to declutter mind, body, and spirit. Oh, she’s purchased more than a few small items, enough to make the stockings bulge and be too heavy to hang. Big items though have yet to make their way through the lines at the stores, as Sylvia is just not feeling like suffering through the drama of commercial chaos at its best. Yes, it’s Christmas, but she is scaling back. Intentionally. Did you catch that- those two words? PURPOSE and INTENTION.

Sylvia and Erma intend to hold on tight. They propose you do the same. There’s purpose in an arm around the shoulder, a peck on the cheek, a phone call, a hand held across the table. The purpose- the goal? Presence.

I’m here. For you. For them. This year though I’m here for me. It’s a beginning. It’s something. It’s quite possibly everything.

Expressions of affection, like putting your arm around someone’s shoulder, holding hands, or giving a kiss good night, involve the principle of honesty.
~ John Bytheway

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.