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?

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“…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.

Garden on a Winter’s Day

It is a particularly dreary first day of February, and I can’t help but think that it is divinity that shapes this day. The rain is coming down in torrents (it started out as snow, but living on the coast, Mother Nature changed her plan); and as the water from the heavens hits the water on the cove, I’m struck by the natural and pure seamlessness of their meeting. The cove, the canal, and the ocean are being fed; they are being replenished and cleansed by the tears from countless angels above. That is how I choose to think of it anyway.

There is comfort in the thought that those who have left us are briefly sharing with us the gifts of peace and rest for which we all yearn while here on earth. It is by design that complete and utter serenity eludes us here. Were we to find it in our everyday lives, the joy and hope we cull and collect from seemingly small but impactful moments of our daily lives (a mother’s first attempt at nursing her newborn, a baby’s first word or step, or a grandfather’s delight in playing peekaboo or hide-and-seek with his grandchild) all of those meaningful “tidbits” would not be the cherished milestones they become. None of them would be so deeply etched in the memory.

So, as I often do these days, I revisit and attempt to be present and mindful of all that I (and we) take for granted. I think of all the times I was able to hold an old man’s hand; the chances I have had to greet and embrace a young man when he disembarks the train; and I even reflect on the few-and-far between luxurious moments when I’ve had my feet in the sand and my head in the clouds.

No greater gift than a new day, but without the love of those who help us to create the moments each day, giving thanks would be a futile and empty act. So, while I’m ever so grateful that the heavens are nourishing the earth, both land and sea as well as its inhabitants today, I’m even more appreciative of those in my life who sustain me, refuel me, help me find hope, and restore my faith in myself and the world around me.

And where will I find gratitude? In the memories of smiles, the feelings of warmth, and the comfort and excitement of my dreams, of course. On this gray winter’s day, I’ll think of all the seeds that have been planted deep within me that only seem to blossom on days when Mother Nature decides to unleash dramatically. How lucky am I on such days to reap even a few morsels of what has been sown in the garden of my soul? Very lucky, indeed.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ~Marcel Proust

Sylvia Knows Heaven on Earth

I don’t believe in heaven. Not as a destination anyway. Well, let me further amend that to say that I don’t believe that “good” people -those who lived life both honestly and vulnerably, with purpose and love in their hearts for themselves and the world around them, those who atoned for their “sins” (you know, […]

Sylvia Knows Heaven on Earth

Gifts of the Season

The transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas (with Hanukkah right in-between this year) should be fairly seamless, incredibly meaningful, and perhaps even bittersweet, especially for those who have become acutely aware of what it means to be blessed and live with intention. The anticipated seamlessness between the holidays has been anything but smooth and unfettered though. The intervening days and weeks have instead been marred with more heartache than ever imagined, as the pandemic and its effects leave some sick, others on death’s door, and still others left in the wake to deal with losses (of life for some, of livelihood for others) of unfathomable proportions, the likes of which can barely be handled in even the sanest and most stable times.

Only through loss, grief, despair, and sorrow though have I learned what it means to experience bounty, joy, and peace. The gifts and acceptance of the latter only come when the three former have been endured with grace. I don’t pretend that I have mastered grace, but I’ve definitely cleared a path to it. The steps toward it offer me mild relief when I stop momentarily to be present and appreciate simple abundance. I have more than my fair share; many of us do.

Gratitude. Forgiveness. Order. Peace. Joy. Purpose. In these last few days, I have asked for both the giving and receiving of each; and in their absence no matter the reason, my plea is for grace.

The gifts of the season? Aren’t they gifts that we should generously offer and graciously accept all year long?

Generosity and grace: the presents in presence.

Predictably Unpredictable

As I jump, well, maybe more of a hop into this week and it’s now Tuesday (so that goes to show how I’ve begun this second week in December, definitely not with a jump or a leap now that I think of it because that would require extra energy and enthusiasm which by any given evening sandwiched between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are nearly tapped out), I am looking in the rearview mirror. I do that sometimes, not because I’m going in reverse but more to retrace a few steps and then gain momentum before I put my life in drive, press the gas pedal to the floor, and gun it. Last week was an unusually long week and this week is turning out to be the same -of stops, starts, planning, dismantling, and rebuilding. Admittedly, in so many ways, the ensuing days since Thanksgiving have left me uncomfortably full. So, needless to say, with the feasts of this next fete or two fast approaching, I am feeling the need to purge and cleanse. Right on cue, Mother Nature provides me with the backdrop I need for reflection. (I can count on her most days to set the tone, and today she didn’t disappoint.) The drops falling from the gray sky this morning were pure, white, and frozen; they were almost welcomed as they forced me to slow down, catch my breath, and recalibrate. Mother Nature today reminds me the world’s innovators and inventors obtain a lot of good material and energy from her. (A day like today must have prompted someone to create the washing machine or refrigerator/freezer as we know them- starting off with a whispered, steady fill or a burst of chilled air respectively, followed by a rapid deluge, and then either quickly or calmly drying out or thawing out depending). For the gift of your time and nourishment of my soul in myriad ways, most importantly that you simply show up to read, listen, and share, I’m grateful. Only one thing has been a constant these last two weeks: unpredictability.

Without hesitation, I admit that not having a daily plan or at least an anchor in my schedule often makes me feel like I’m wandering aimlessly. Then, the most refreshing thing happens and I become grounded again – not in a stalled or motionless manner but rather in a calming and re-focused way. I realize that I have an anchor. All of you. My friends. My connections and reconnections. You are where I begin.

So, on this cold December eve, I sit fireside and vow to start again with you to help me navigate life’s unpredictability and accept it as a good thing. Each new day holds possibility – to make a small change, to start anew or to take a step back. To build, to re-build or to sustain. To ignite, to extinguish or to rekindle. Each day is a series of starts and stops and this week has proven to be just that. The important thing is to get up and start again. And with the help and encouragement of old friends, new friends, faraway friends and friends oh-so-near-and-dear, I’ve concluded that starting can be a goal in and of itself. Simply realizing that yesterday had no end and today’s start means carrying on can be satisfying on a soulful level.

Alas, I’m going out on a limb and asserting that the acceptance of and even welcoming of unpredictability can be an achievement. (It’s my tree that I’m swinging from in my own yard- you go out and find yours or I invite you to swing unpredictably with me.) I’m getting up, stirring it up, and firing myself up because the only thing I know for sure is that yesterday is done, and I- no, WE- made it through.

A week of beginnings. Behind us. In front of us. After all, we can’t stop if we’ve never started. Sharing with you my “days in review” and wishing you well, always in all ways.

The only prediction she’s willing to make

And Still I Give Thanks

Originally posted on “ARE YOU THERE, ERMA? IT’S ME, SYLVIA.”: Sylvia and Erma are spending the day with their respective families – giving thanks for the meal they’ll share, the orderly chaos of the kitchens, and their children who wish to forego the turkey for the pies that have been freshly extracted…

And Still I Give Thanks

Here’s the Thing

“Here’s the thing though, Erma. I’m tired.”

“Sylvia, that is a Wednesday whine not Wednesday wisdom.”

“Here’s the thing though, Erma. I don’t care.”

“Sylvia, that is a lie. Couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“Erma, well it could but okay. Here’s the thing. Really, this is the thing…”

“Sylvia, before you go on, let’s just say that there is no one thing. Not a single, damn thing…ever.”

“Erma, there it is. That is exactly the thing.”

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Here’s the thing about people with good hearts:

They give you excuses when you don’t explain yourself. They accept the apologies you don’t give. They see the best in you. They always lift you up, even if that means putting their own priorities aside. They will never be too “busy” for you. They make time, even when you don’t. And you wonder why they’re the most sensitive people, the most caring people, why they are willing to give so much of themselves with no expectation in return. You wonder why their existence is not so essential to your well-being. It’s because they don’t make you work hard for the attention they give you. They accept the love they think they deserve- and you accepted the love you think you’re entitled to. Don’t take them for granted. Fear the day when a good heart gives up on you. Our skies don’t become grey out of nowhere, our sunshine does not allow the darkness to take over for no reason. A heart does not turn cold unless it’s been treated with coldness for a while.~Najwa Zebian

Living and Lying in State

Routine. Wake up. Make coffee. Tend to dog. Drink coffee. Walk dog. Household chores. Write. Shower. Write. Periodic glimpses of social media. More chores or errands. Etc., etc., etc. Wait, Jeopardy. “This is Jeopardy.” (Oh no, Alex Trebek passed.)

Coffee and conversation with a friend. Lunch with a friend. Walk or ride the bike. Dinner or drinks with a friend. Shopping with a friend. Or maybe all of the aforementioned absolutely solo because you don’t wish to inflict you on anyone else. Read a really good book.

Wake up next to the person you love. Wake up next to a person who makes you feel loved. Wake up and laugh with a person who makes you laugh. Spend the day with someone special who gets you, makes you feel alive, and who makes you laugh, cry, and feel all your feelings without shame, guilt, or a need to apologize. (Okay, this part might be a dream, but it could be true–especially if you ever recognize that you are the person you need to love; you are the person who makes you laugh; you are the person who gives yourself permission to feel all of your feelings.)

Read everything you have written thus far and resist the urge to scrap it.

Do all of the above every God damn day of the week and realize that this is your life, but it doesn’t have to be.

Write about how God damn grateful you are to be here.

Now, think. Are you living or lying in state or in a state?

Sylvia and Erma, where are you today?

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.

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.