Sylvia: Hey there, lady. Usually I’m the one missing calls and scurrying about. What have you been up to?
Erma: A little of this and a little of that. Nothing too distinctive.
Sylvia: Oh, but the sum and total of it all is what? Huge? Voluminous? Overwhelming?
Erma: Not huge, but substantive.
Sylvia and Erma are huge believers in quality over quantity. So, although they love and eagerly anticipate their morning conversations over coffee, they are aware that life often gets in the way. They have come to appreciate all of the little things in their relationship and in other important bonds between family and friends in their lives.
Little things. Gentle gestures. They share them. They look for them. They treasure them.
What small act today will you witness or be a part of that will impact you or another in a wondrous and everlasting way?
“And for a moment she pauses. She thinks back and smiles broadly. The seconds of joy and tenderness that her father shared with her son had the most impact. She sees it every time they see one another now- it’s always in their eyes.”
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
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
Keep me safe. Lovers. Friends. Spouses. Playmates. Parents and children. Anyone and everyone. Anywhere and everywhere.
Sylvia loved the simplicity and easiness of holding Cam’s hand. More telling for her though than the actual act of holding his hand was the idea that he wanted her. Her hand in his. He desired her touch and invited her into the moment and into a new chapter in her own life.
Like Sylvia, I love holding hands. I giggle at the thought of it. There’s a playful energy and a sense of youthfulness about holding hands. Hold my hand when we cross the street. I’ll hold yours during the scary parts. Take my hand in yours, and let’s make a run for it! Keep me safe. Lovers. Friends. Spouses. Playmates. Parents and children. Anyone and everyone. Anywhere and everywhere.
If I had to choose a universal way of communicating care, empathy, love, friendship, and all that makes my soul burgeon with emotion, it would be by holding hands. Whether lightly grasped or firmly gripped, the hands touched by another at any given moment in time speak volumes about the nature of a relationship. And when my hand is held, I’m content. I’m excited. I’m lifted up. I’m alive. I’m unbelievably and almost insanely calmed even in the most dismal, complicated, and trying situations. I’m a veritable smorgasbord of human emotion; and above all, I’m comforted to the extent that I know I’m living deeply in that moment in time with another who feels for me the way I feel for him or her.
I’m a hugger, a kisser, a crier, and overall pretty demonstrative when it comes to displaying emotions– of all kinds; but for me, if you want to know me and see how intensely I care, let me hold your hand. In an instant, you’ll know my strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll also know that the two are undeniably linked.
Strong or weak, it truly does not make a difference. Hand holding represents the best type of paradox- simultaneous vulnerability and security. Sylvia cannot help but reach for Cam’s hand when they walk down the street or sit across from one another at a café. It’s natural and impulsive. The act of holding onto him and onto each other- his fingers wrapped around hers and hers melded so seamlessly with his- is both liberating and covetous. Whether what ensues after their hands meet, serious or carefree, is of little importance because it will be conquered, endured, enjoyed, and even memorialized together. Holding hands screams, “I’ve got you, and we’re in this together.”
Sylvia’s life changes when she holds Cam’s hand. Sylvia’s undergoes an empowering transformation also when Erma, her older, wiser friend and confidante, holds her hand and advises her at the kitchen table. And Sylvia never fully understands the heaviness and importance of holding hands until she gently holds the little hand of her newborn. No matter who, when, or where, Sylvia –and I-know one thing for sure: holding hands with someone you love never ever gets old.
Hold on tight, friends. It’s about to get better. Life, that is.
* Photo credits: (top) K.Peretz, (bottom) The Journals of Sylvia Plath
Apologies. Sylvia and I left you hanging for a bit. She’s on her layover in Charlotte, (a silly pun perhaps, or foreshadowing-either way, worth the wait, and I promise it won’t be long). Here’s what has me pausing at a time when Sylvia should just raise her glass, gulp it down bubbles and all, and let loose with wild abandon. I’m thinking, likely even over thinking (and those who know me well are saying, “Oh shit, not again”) because that’s one of my most prominent attributes or character flaws depending on whether you are female or male, an empathetic girlfriend, a commiserator, a partner-in-crime, or a guy who just wants to get on with “it” already. Sylvia has just rubbed arms with the delicious man from her daydream, and what’s on her mind? What would Erma advise? This is what I am thinking. I am thinking, especially since I’m a slightly worn-in model of a woman who at nearly fifty-three still struggles with body image issues: “Spanx. Should I or shouldn’t I have worn mine today?”
If you’ve been living on this planet and are at all in tune with the fashion trends of the millennium, then you are aware of and fairly well acquainted with this body-shaping, mind-blowing, literal and figurative take-your-breath-away invention created by a woman for women. It’s an undergarment and a magic trick rolled into one. It gives women self- confidence and severe stomach pain simultaneously. It allows you to wear the tightest, most form-fitting of garments without the worry of panty lines, bulges, or overhang. In other words, it creates an optical illusion and gives one the conflicting spandex-induced feeling of being both bridled and free. But hey, you’ll look good. And as every woman of post childbearing years knows, whether or not she’s used her parts to bring others into the world, that little pouch in front, though it’s been earned by mere virtue of being female, often keeps those of us who are vain and consumed with looking our best from wearing what we want. Spanx. It’s to the female body what wine and Prozac are to the menopausal mind.
So, would Sylvia and Erma have considered Spanx? Well, in Sylvia’s case, late 20s early 30s, she probably wouldn’t have needed them. Plus, she was going away for “me” time, remember; she just wanted to get the hell out of the house as quickly as possible. Any woman who has ever tried on a pair of Spanx knows firsthand that you don’t seamlessly step into them. It takes planning and time. You need to prepare yourself emotionally and physically for the event. You can’t just step into Spanx, pull them up to your bra line if you are wearing SuperPower, and head out the door. You will need to cajole your body parts that move, get them to stay in place, wriggle and work them up onto your body one leg at a time, all the while holding your breath to keep your inners in place during the process. Once they are in place, you are golden! Sylvia never would have gone through such torture. She was tortured enough from within. She didn’t need any extra help from Spanx. Sylvia’s angst of that moment, the second she looked into Cam’s eyes and realized what might happen next, would have been about ensuing conversation. Was she interesting enough to make postcoital chitchat?
Erma, on the other hand, would have seriously considered Spanx, if not for the fact that at her age she would have never knowingly risked having her circulation cut off on a flight of that length. Erma loves the look and idea of Spanx, but she is at that stage in life where she just doesn’t give a fuck. She’s been married forever. Her husband knows better than to say one word about any little bit of extra anything that might be appended to her body at this point. An unwanted mole in the wrong place or a hemorrhoid can throw off her mood let alone the seamless look. Erma doesn’t care about panty lines because Erma wants everyone to know that she wears panties and not Depends. Erma’s survived. She’s weathered so many storms that she’s become a beacon – she guides herself into port.
So, hold it in or roll with it? To Spanx or not to Spanx? It depends. Many days at this point in my life, when I’m walking the fine line between being me and becoming me, vacillating between sticking it out and running for the hills, I opt for the Spanx. It holds me in and makes me feel put together. I feel like I have the best body and the best kept secret. (Well, not now, y’all know now why I look so damn good most of the time!) Other days, and I’m gratefully finding them to be more frequently occurring, I say “no” to Spanx. On those days, I pleasantly surprise myself and look at ME- the face and eyes in the mirror- not the body, not the shell. I’m beginning to like what I see. And here’s what I’m learning: if I accept myself for who I am- a little bit Sylvia, a little bit Erma, but 100% me, others will too. And if they don’t, it’ll be their loss because I’m pretty damn fabulous most of time.
So, on special occasions, I’ll wear the Spanx, but no matter what, I’m going to try and roll with it.
When I’m at my wit’s end, there are several things that I do to relieve stress, to create a little distraction, and to stop obsessing about the harsh realities that life seems to be dealing me. So, of course, this got me to thinking about Sylvia and Erma and how each of them might have escaped the trials, troubles, and tedium that accompany women’s daily routines. Neither one of these women was boring, mind you (and I’d like to think I’m fairly interesting and maybe even a fine mélange of fun and unpredictability), but there are always hours throughout the week when every woman- if she’s honest- is bored. Not in a “bored silly” kind of way because that would be manageable. Rather in an “oh my God, if I have to do or say that one more time, I won’t even want to be around myself” kind of way. It’s that kind of irksome monotony that can drive a woman crazy, and I do believe it is a feeling akin mostly to women because we happen to be blessed -or cursed, depending on how irked we are at any particular moment in time-with the maternal, nurturing, less self-absorbed nature. (And before you guys who read this start to vilify me and think that I’m maligning you for being egocentric, I’m not. Egocentrics we can deal with; narcissists, however, are not welcomed.)
Although Sylvia was in her early 30s when she felt that she had no other option than to give in to her torment, I am once again thinking that Erma might have been able to help her. That’s the Pollyanna in me. That’s the nurturer, the caregiver, the unrelenting problem solver. I still can’t bear to imagine the pain Sylvia was in. And for that reason perhaps, and because in my mind, Erma has helped me and so many other wives, mothers, and women-of-a-certain-age, I believe that Erma would have given Sylvia this incredibly wonderful piece of advice: “Sylvia, dear friend, make yourself a very strong, piping hot cup of coffee. Don’t use a flimsy, petite, porcelain cup. Grab a mug, one made of stoneware that actually holds more than a cup and a half and that will keep in the heat. Now, take your coffee, sit at the head of the table, and look into that steaming hot vessel of dark, aromatic liquid. Inhale and be sure to close your eyes. Sylvia, allow yourself a daydream of the best kind.”
What’s the best kind? Hmm. (Wink, wink.)
Sylvia did just as Erma suggested, and lo and behold, that loathsome, annoying feeling of malaise dissipated with each waft of freshly brewed java. The steam wasn’t coming from the coffee any longer. The steam that began to envelop Sylvia was in fact coming from within.
What caught her eye wasn’t his body, though his physique alone would have explained the vapors that even the most refined of women would have felt. He was muscular and sturdy and oozed desire. His biceps were bulging and tattooed tastefully. He looked like the stereotypical bad boy. He was everything that she was not supposed to want. Sylvia, sitting with her eyes shut gently over the hot coffee that was now leaving her skin dewy in an unsettling yet not uncomfortable way, continued to examine him. The body was indeed attractive and rugged, toned and meaty in all the right places. But that wasn’t it. Sylvia could feel herself smiling, her cheeks blushed and glistening likely more from her thoughts than from the beverage in front of her. Her eyes, though still lightly shut, were oddly staring into his. There, before her, was what she had been missing. She saw in those smiling, hazel eyes that which she hadn’t even known she was looking for. She saw strength and kindness. In those piercing, soulful, walnut-colored eyes, she discovered herself. Her fragility. Her weakness. Her femininity.
Sylvia-a-a. Sylvia-a-a. Open your eyes. Snap out of it. The coffee’s gone cold, but don’t worry, you can make a fresh pot any time you like.
For all the Sylvias drowning out there in tragic tedium or simply drifting in monotony, and in honor of all the Ermas who remind us to take time for ourselves, remember that there is no harm in indulging in a bold, strong, steamy cup of coffee now and again.