gratitude-a-thon day 2063: the writing connection

 

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Lately, I have been reading books more for the writing than for the story. When I shop on Kindle, with it’s “get a sample” option, I don’t have to commit to buying, until I’ve done some reading, which really helps me to find stuff I don’t just think I’ll like, but actually like. (I am notorious for buying a book and then just hating it and having to fight with myself about reading it when I don’t want to).

Recently I read a wildly emotional book which normally, I wouldn’t have wanted to read because of the topic, but the writing, the writing was so absolutely gorgeous, a pack of rabid wolves couldn’t have kept me away.

The book is called Once More we Saw Stars: a Memoir by Jayson Greene. And bloody hell, its apt and beautiful writing and awe-inspiring gut wrenching story telling is stunning. Greene tells the true and horrific story of his two-year-old girl getting hit on the head with a piece of a New York city building (a total freak accident), while in her grandma’s arms. I’m not ruining it to tell you that she dies. You find that out pretty quickly. And it hurts, but what is extraordinary about this book is not only the way the parents move through this horrific loss, but the telling of the story, the candid, raw and apt way he describes the aftermath, the pain and the path he and his wife take to carry on.

Why, you might wonder, wouldn’t I find a book that was just as well written, but more, well, upbeat? Good question! And I wondered it myself. With all of the exceptional books out there, the zillions of choices, why read about something so painful?

I’m visiting my son in California right now and I’ve had some time to think about this. And here’s what I’ve come up with. It’s the humanity factor.

When people share their worst moments, the kind of pain that forces one to question everything about living, they’re getting to the heart of the human condition. And we can all relate to the searing darkness that can exist amidst the bright blue skies of that complexity. I think this is what connects us, this examination of the broad range of experiences, of the investigation into what we can endure, because in the telling, we connect.

My son is 24, with his first grown-up house and job. There is a beauty in seeing this for me, but it is also tinged with a wistfulness over his no longer being a kid anymore, that the days of his childhood are gone. When I tell you this, you can maybe relate to it from your experience, and it is here that we create a connection to one another, to the greater humanity we all share. The more we share, the more we share.

So, while I haven’t had something as horrible as Jayson Greene had happen to me, his bringing me into the tent of his experience, his grief, he brings me closer to everyone and everything. This is what good writing does. It brings us closer, and gratitude for that.

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 2042: the good stuff

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My daughter took a bus home Sunday night at 9:15 pm from the middle of an area of Hartford that is sketchy at best, missing four classes because a boy she grew up with overdosed on opioids and she couldn’t stop crying. A freezing cold vigil and a funeral and girls gathered in our den trying to make sense of it ensued. There’s no town that’s immune from this kind of horror, anymore. I have not been able to stop thinking of this boy’s family. Of the kind of Thanksgiving it would be for them this year, and for that matter, every year going forward. Their boy will always be missing. Time will lessen the profound sadness, but it will never go away, like the sun popping up every morning, or the waves perpetually kissing the shore.

Yesterday I was with my family for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. I felt a deep gratitude to have all of us healthy and doing well. Life seems precarious these days. In the last two months, there have been some horrible losses in my vicinity. Which doesn’t include the bigger picture of watching California experience the largest fire in the state’s history and all that comes with and several senseless mass shootings (a common and seemingly acceptable occurrence by our government), and more insane and ugly things coming out of our president’s mouth on the daily.

It has become more and more clear to me that perseverating on any good that comes your way is essential to maintaining a sense of balance in the face of all the difficult. Be on high alert for the good stuff. There’s plenty of it. Begin with all that leftover turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes for starters (did someone say mashed potatoes).

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gratitude-a-thon day 2034: temporary

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Everything is temporary. You don’t think so. Everything seems like it’s solidly yours, and that it’s like wedding vows—-forever and always. Sometimes to the extent that it’s boring, even.

Guess what. It’s impermanent. All of it. It can all be gone in the time it takes Trump to compose one of his idiot tweets.

When someone dies, who should not be going anywhere, but to work or the movies, or his son’s little league game, or dinner with his wife, it becomes quite clear that all we think we hold is really not able to be held.

It’s an event like this. a premature death, that makes you begin to understand that life is like antique lace, exquisite, but ready to tear into an unrecognizable and useless fragment of what was once perfect. Things do not last. Nothing follows the rules we’ve created in our organized heads of life’s chronology. Don’t be fooled or lulled into complacency about your existence not having an expiration date, like a carton of milk. It does. It’s just not printed on our foreheads.

Is there something essential to be learned from this? If you realize there’s no guarantee that tomorrow is waiting in the wings, would you spend your day differently, having more fun, for instance?  Does indoctrinating yourself to believe that we don’t know when our lives will end, help us to stay in the impossible to stay in moment that everybody’s always trying to step into? Is this a curse, or the gift?

Does it really matter that I just painted my house, or does it matter more because of the immense pleasure I’ve gotten from the soothing new colors I’m living in? Should I stop worrying about the inconsequential, and just remember that I could be given a six-month window in which I could permanently stop breathing? And all of it, all of my worries and backup worries would become utterly and totally useless forcing me to wonder why I spent so much time thinking about such ridiculous and useless shit to start with.

The longer you live, the better you understand how this life works and all the ways that it’s unfair and sad and beautiful, too. But make no mistake, life is temporary. Treat it like that. And be grateful for what it is you have today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

gratitude-a-thin day 511: a sliver of light in the dark

 

06ef988ba4ceb019af5b803ce21fd211When you lose someone, in the moment there is just pain. Searing, penetrating, all-encompassing pain. We cry more tears than we think we have. We can think of nothing but what is gone. Somehow we plod through the quicksand of grief. Eventually, at some point, which seems a little different for everyone, we realize the kindnesses afforded us when our pain was too big to hold alone. We see that old friends come forward to keep us afloat, and people you never knew show up, honoring what’s been lost in unusually life affirming ways. Suddenly one day, we see that deep inside the loss there are some gains. Not that the loss is a happy thing, but that even in all the pain, a happy thing can also exist.

I have made the loveliest connection because of a loss. I still wish the loss was a silly dream, but I am so grateful for the pretty little flower that grew out of this wreckage.

gratitude-a-thon day 420: what’s left

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I keep trying to forget that a friend of mine died almost two weeks ago. I keep trying to push it out of my mind, move it over, find a big field to put it, where it isn’t so IN MY FACE. Because when I think about her, when I think about her being gone, I get an overwhelming bunch of feelings that seem like they could just take over the ship.

It’s funny how you can have a genuine connection with someone that you don’t see that much. But Katie was so electrifyingly dynamic that her impact on me was Empire State Building huge. I keep thinking of that smile, dentists everywhere would envy, and that passionate conviction she toted around like an extra limb, and that they are no longer in play, and how damn sad that is. For those who knew her, and those who didn’t.

I’m listening hard to what she left behind.

 

gratitude-a-thon day 414: a heartbreaking work of incredible genius

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She was staggeringly beautiful and brilliant. Her talents defied right brain/left brain categorization. I was mesmerized by her presence. It was colorful, and graceful, and bawdy and big, filled with a contagious energy. Her heart was ten times the size of the moon, and her love for her son was huge and deep and desperate. She had a particular brand of magic that always left me thinking, out of breath, happier. There wasn’t anything about her you could call ordinary. Her engagement with life was deep and meaningful and soulful and silly. She ripped into it like you’d bite a sandwich after you hadn’t eaten in three days. She hungered to help the world, add her mark to improve the parts that were broken. She was a singer/songwriter, a nurse practitioner, a volunteer, a model, a daughter, sister, wife, mom and friend. She told me she wanted to be me when she got older. I told her she must really aim higher! She was only 32. And this weekend she died. I am grateful to you Katie McQuaid Toig, for allowing me in. Your departure seems a sin against mankind. The sky was the most delicate color of pink last night, and in a moment it was dark. I feel quite certain that was you. Telling us you’d arrived in a happy place. The tragedy of your loss has pulled a black veil over my heart. But I will remember that sky, when I remember you.

gratitude-a-thon day 348: fuck you, cancer

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A handsome, young Peter in the navy. He was really cute.

My heart feels like a bowling ball this morning. It’s overcast out there and cool, but ugly. It will likely rain, and that’s good, because that’s how I feel. My cousin Peter passed away in his sleep last night. I saw him only three weeks ago, when he traveled up to the Cape to spend some time with family. We knew he was very sick, and none of us could quite stand the fact that he, at a healthy, vibrant 74 had been hit with lung cancer to begin with. He was still working, ironically as a hospice nurse, when he was diagnosed. it seemed cruel and silly for the roles to turn on him. And yet, they had.

Peter had so much sweetness. He was always good to me, from the earliest times. I remember when he was in the navy, he went to Rome. And he brought me back a plate with a Christmas tree on it. I loved that plate like it was a limb. I used it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I still can’t quite believe that he lugged a breakable item home for me, his littlest cousin, all the way from Italy. It has always seemed to me improbably adorable.

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Nancy and Peter, married almost five decades.

Talk about a good marriage. Peter had one of the best marriages, if not the best marriage, of anybody I have ever met. Married for 49 years, his wife Nancy is beautiful, smart, and patient. To have a conversation with her is to feel heard. To listen to her southern accent is to be calmed. An only child, son, cousin, friend, and dad to an awesome brood of three, a grandfather to nine, he relished family connection.

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The only good thing about Uncle Louie’s funeral is that I got to spend some good time with Peter. It would be the last time I would see him healthy.
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Riley knows good people. He took to Peter instantly.
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Happy to have this photo with Jake and Peter.

And so as I sit here and cry, I will think of Peter joining my mom and my Uncle Louie at the all-you-can-eat pasta bar in the sky. It’s the only way I can make this loss ok.

gratitude-a-thon day 54: change

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Ok, maybe life doesn’t quite demand you to go from Al Pacino to Audrey Hepburn, but ALMOST.

So, my sister moved to Miami a month ago. Stratight down the coast, and away from me. We’ll find out where my boy will be next September, in a little less than a month but, all indications lead to him being in California, Colorado, or Wisconsin, not a hop-in-the-car to visit, not a one of those places. And the month after September, more commonly called, October, my trainer and close friend will be moving to California, clear across the whole country. THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

We are talking about a major amount of loss. Of course, we’re not talking about a loved one dying, LIKE MY HARD DRIVE, but we are talking about people I am exceptionally close to, leaving my geographical location, and well, my everyday life. This is a lot of change. This is a one,two,THREE punch in the nose. This sucks.

But one thing I’ve learned so far, life is all about change. It’s all about the constant morphing from being one self to being another self. I had my first kid at 35. I had worked before that. I had been in advertising at agencies, full time and freelance. It was difficult to adjust to being a mother of a baby, after being someone who worked out there in the world for so long. (NOT THAT IT WASN’T AMAZING, BUT YOU KNOW, IT WAS DIFFERENT.) And then, another baby came. And suddenly, there were two. And I was the mother of a toddler and a baby and full-on into the whole  family thing. And it was AMAZING. SO AMAZING. And I was blown away by the enormity and AWESOMEOSITY of all of it, but It was also foreign, and frightening. And sometimes I would look into the mirror and wonder who I was and where the other person I used to be had gone. And then one day, you wake up and realize that you’re the mom of toddlers. And you’re new identity fits just fine. And you’ve made the transition. But before you know it, those toddlers are pre-teens, and boom, it takes you a while to re-adjust to who you are AGAIN. You give away the cribs and the strollers, and nobody stops you on the street anymore to tell you how adorable your babies are. But you manage to move on, somehow. And then in a lightening bolt flash, they are teenagers. And high school comes, and the mothering you do is far less physical, and much more mental. And BAM, you’re putting on a different identity AGAIN. And this one starts to be about who you will be when they are gone. BECAUSE THEY ARE GETTING READY TO GO. And guess what? You’ve been preparing them for this since they came out of your Vajayjay! This is what you’ve been doing all those years, BUT IT’S SO HARD, YOU CAN BARELY FACE IT. And you just want to lay in bed with a million covers over your head because you wonder what it will be like without them. FOR God’s sake, YOU JUST GOT USED TO BEING A MOTHER!

And this is how it is. You’re constantly being asked to change. And if you can’t do it, you will be left behind. Life will pass you by like a marching band. You will be sitting in a pool of pity and shunned like a high school outcast. Because this is what life is, people. It’s about how well you can accept change and go with the fucking flow. That’s the deal. Can you wear it? Can you flaunt it? It’s not about whether you want it, it’s about making yourself fit into it. Because we don’t always have choice in who we must become.

But here’s the thing, we can do it with grace and wonder. We can be the best  versions of ourselves along the way. And that’s all we can ask of ourselves. To be our best versions and accept our new roles everyday AND SEE WHAT THEY MIGHT TEACH US, WHAT THEY MIGHT OFFER US. That’s my aim. To see how all these situations that terrify me and make me want to lay in the road and wait for a car, can somehow be part of, and enhance my new self. The exhausted self that is always being asked to change.

I’m booking a flight to Miami right now.