First Things First

As Sylvia prepares for another first, Erma reminds her that all of us are experiencing firsts again. New day. New perspective. Fresh cup of coffee. Even the things that are done ritualistically have a freshness to them.

It’s a perfect day to re-read a favorite and find a little something new in it to feed your spirit and/or cleanse your soul. Soak it in or let it go. It’ll be the last first of its kind.

https://overfiftyandfine.com/2018/08/05/the-best-and-worst-of-firsts/

Saturday Simplicity

Fine. Really. No worries. K?

Fine. Just fine.

Sylvia: Why do we say that? We all do. “How are you?” “Fine. You?” “Fine.” “How’s the family?” “Fine.” “Work?” “Fine.” Seriously, what is fine?

Erma: God, you are cranky sometimes, Sylvia. Fine is,well, fine. It’s okay. Fine means the status quo is being maintained. If everything is fine, there’s nothing to worry about, I guess. Why do you ask?

Sylvia: It bothers me. Fine is such an empty response, and I rather believe that nothing is fine. We all hide behind fine because we don’t want others to know how not fine we really are.

Erma: Well, I don’t think we hide behind it. I think we use it because it’s quick, easy, and serves the purpose of providing a response to a question that most people ask merely out of politeness. Think about it. Does the clerk at the checkout at Safeway truly care how my day is going? Does the plumber, who rings my doorbell at 8 a.m. knowing that I have called his answering service in the middle of the night with just the right amount of histrionics to warrant being moved up to his first call of the day, does he truly want to listen to how unfine I really am? No, of course not. Cases-in-point of simple niceties, Sylvia.

Sylvia: That’s just it, Erma. I’m kind of over simple niceties. I don’t want to hear one more. Wait. Let me amend that to say that I despise hearing that reply from someone who is close to me. I will no longer placate those who claim to care for me with a simple fine. And to boot, if I ask you- someone whom I trust, care about, and see fit to spend inordinate amounts of time with on a regular basis, know that my expectation exceeds niceties. Give me all you’ve got- for better or worse. I can take it. Actually, I expect nothing other than the truth, raw and honest, even brutal, given that we are friends, family, on the cusp of, or in the midst of a meaningful relationship.

Erma: Oh my God, okay, enough, I get it. You don’t like fine. You don’t want fine. Nix “fine” and bring on…bring on what?

Sylvia: Bring it on. Whoever you are, whatever you feel, give it to me straight. Our friendship can handle it. The world can handle it.

Erma: And what if the world can’t. What if I can’t?

Sylvia: Then, fuck it. REMEMBER? I told you a while back that most of life can be summed up in a word or two.

Strong Women

Sylvia: Erma, I’m always so damn emotional.

Erma: You are emotional because you feel deeply. All strong women do!

“A strong woman is one who feels deeply and loves fiercely. Her tears flow as abundantly as her laughter…”
(Native American saying)

#strong #empowered #bffs

Sylvia’s Measurements

I know. I know. Most of you are probably thinking that because we are a month into summer, Sylvia and Erma are preparing to rant about swimwear, body image expectations, and disappointments in both. Nope. Not at all. While Erma has accepted that the hourglass form she once coveted has erupted into collagenless dunes, so much so that she avoids the mirror for anything other than lipstick application, Sylvia is only mildly disappointed in her glow this year. Though a little less than satisfied with the topography that this past year has mapped onto her flesh given the angst and havoc being wreaked globally (let alone her corner of the world), Sylvia is not sizing herself up like that. At all. She’s measuring life in memories and moments– not inches or centimeters. Sylvia finds herself missing little things, simple tidbits that she thought would be a part of her life but that she hasn’t experienced at all yet. She also laments huge unfathomable and immeasurable losses this year. A tape measure, a scale, a barometer? No, none of those will suffice, even superficially.

Erma: How can you miss something you’ve never known, Sylvia? Why do you torture yourself with wanting the unknown? Remember, the grass isn’t always greener.

Sylvia: Don’t you know by now that I can’t give up. I won’t give up. It’s not a matter of the grass being greener. It’s not even that I want morsels of life that are out-of-reach. What I’m missing are pieces of life that I eagerly anticipated, those which I thought I’d have to look back on by now. I don’t miss memories of times or places I have visited. I miss those memories that I thought I would have made by now- that I should have made by now.

Erma: See, that’s the problem. You set a schedule, a timeline for your happiness-years ago- never factoring in life changes.

Sylvia: That’s just plain silly. Of course, I anticipated changes. I knew I’d graduate. I knew I’d work. I knew I’d become a mother and a wife and a million other things. I factored change into the life equation as a variable.

Erma: Ah, there it is. That was the mistake. Well, maybe not a mistake but surely a misguided assumption. Change isn’t a variable at all. Change is a constant. Everything else is a variable!

Sylvia: Working. Motherhood. Marriage. Relationships. They have consistently made up my days. They most certainly have felt like constants- cores of my being.

Erma: I fear you’ve really missed out on how to assess your decades or even if those years need to be examined, quantified, and qualified, my friend. I never thought you quite so naïve.

Sylvia: I don’t think it is naivete at all. I simply never factored in death – the demise of relationships and final goodbyes of those I loved deepest. I say “simply” but it’s anything and everything but simple.


Those moments and memories that Sylvia feels she’s missed out on? They are not inconsequential, but what she has learned and continues to navigate is they aren’t everything. She has made choices, set priorities, and picked her figs from the tree as they have been dangled or dropped before her. Perhaps what Sylvia feels she has missed in life is not lacking at all. She has time, not to regret or reshape memories but to make more. She is finally realizing that life is not one tree with many branches; life comprises many trees from many different orchards.

Erma: Stop trying to measure. Inches. Centimeters. Pounds. Barrels. Bushels. Baskets. So many ways to quantify everything. And I’d rather believe that life is not made to be measured at all, not by what we have or what we don’t have. Life is meant to be savored- in totality- after all or most of the fruit has fallen or been picked from the tree. You’ve eaten the plump and juicy, tasted the bruised and rotten parts, and made a whole lot of juice.

Stop measuring. Squeeze out the juice. Press on.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

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

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

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.

432-park-avenue-new-york-skyscraper-building-a020716-aw153

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.

Sunday Morning Coffee

Sometimes coffee is just coffee, but coffee delivered to a perfectly-appointed hotel room is a decadent indulgence that Erma always enjoyed on her girls’ getaways. So, this sunny Sunday morning, before Sylvia heads back home to weather another storm in life- just a little teacup tempest not full-blown furor-she’s treating herself to a deep, dark, steaming roast. In bed. It’s the jump start she needs.

For those of you acquainted with Sylvia and The Best Cup of Coffee Sylvia Ever Had, the coffee is steaming not steamy at this hour. But hey, the day is young. Enjoy, friends.

_____________________________
Making coffee has become the great compromise of the decade. It’s the only thing “real” men do that doesn’t seem to threaten their masculinity. To women, it’s on the same domestic entry level as putting the spring back into the toilet-tissue holder or taking a chicken out of the freezer to thaw.
— Erma Bombeck