Thanksgiving in NOLA

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Thanksgiving in NOLA

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I just got back from visiting my daughter in New Orleans for
Thanksgiving. In the wake of the Paris attacks, my usual fear of flying escalated to sheer lunacy, so I drove. It is a three thousand mile round trip, the farthest I have ever driven by myself, and as always, I was impressed with how much space there still is in our country with no people in it.

When I left Denver on Sunday morning, it was perfectly clear, and the light was the peculiar gold of late November. The sun was just coming up and shone straight into my face across the expanse of the plains. People actually pulled over, it was so blinding. Kansas was gorgeous, the fields still brilliant green, the trees faded rust and bronze, the windmills marching like great armies of science fiction beasts across the vast prairie. People everywhere love to hate the drive across Kansas because it is so endless and so empty, but this time it was stunning. I turned south halfway across and went down through Oklahoma and through Dallas, east into Louisiana on a road that was nothing more than a tunnel through the trees.

Much of the highway in Louisiana was built on pylons over water. It was an odd feeling, driving on the water through the great swamps. Everything was still and green and lush, strange, coming from the snowy Rockies and an early winter. It was pretty from the inside of my car, but I found myself awash in anxiety at being in the South-such a foreign land for me, filled with nuances I didn’t understand and couldn’t really identify. It probably is mostly in my head and the result of too many movies and not enough real life, but it was real for me nonetheless.

When I drove out of the woods and onto the water on my final approach to New Orleans, I was enchanted by the moon coming up on the water, the late afternoon light that turned the water from what had been a dank brown into the lightest of blues, and New Orleans hanging seeming suspended on the water, like a floating island off in the distance. It seemed like a city full of light, like Oz, magical.

This feeling lasted until I descended down from the highway into my daughter’s neighborhood, close to the French Quarter on Esplanade, a gracious boulevard awash in lush vegetation, huge old live oaks, and a pervasive sense of decay. There were homeless folks with signs congregating under the highway, the houses looked much the worse for wear, and it all gave me the sense of an old woman sporting too much makeup, and that poorly applied, in an attempt to cover the ravages of age. It didn’t work very well. Coming from clean, mostly new and prosperous Denver, it seemed dirty and dangerous to me. My anxiety increased.

And there she was, coming out her front door, my beautiful Liz, with Arrow, her black German Shepherd, trying to climb over the fence to say hello. It is very difficult to capture the sense of disquiet I felt that this is where she lives now. Her house is old and in disrepair although it once was magnificent-floor to ceiling windows, porches up and down, now chopped into six apartments with a landlord that you just don’t want to call. There is no heat in her house, which is okay for most of the year, but had come as a shock to her a few days earlier when the weather truly began to change. She and her roommate hadn’t noticed that detail when they moved in in May. The light in the entryway doesn’t work and the front door was a spider web of fractured glass. None of the locks seemed secure to me. Her front door seemed like it could be forced with a shoulder, and nothing seemed to stand between my precious baby and this wild city but her dog. Who, thankfully, seems to scare the crap out of most people.

My mommy alarms were all screeching wildly. My stomach was in a knot. I wanted to pack her up immediately and run for the hills. But you don’t get to do that when your child is 26 and trying to make her way. So we spent the evening buying a space heater for her room and one for the bathroom, new flannel sheets and more blankets, and me trying to remain calm and assimilate this new understanding of her life. IMG_4625

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She moved to New Orleans in February to work at an inner city medical clinic for doctor friends of my brother and sister-in-law. A job doing patient care had been promised but the reality was that she was stuck in an operator position answering phones for most of every day, doing referrals, interacting with her computer. She had learned a great deal about how the system works and how to get things done within it, and how to interface with the great snarl of electronic medical records, all of which will give her a leg up in medical school, but she is the most social of animals, and the isolation of working a phone and a computer all day had wilted her. Now she was starting a job “in the industry” as they call it there, working at a restaurant, and, perplexingly, her doctor boss had offered her a one-day-a-week position doing patient care when she gave her notice. Go figure. So she is starting to perk up again, but it has been a lonely and hard ten months.

The next day, she left for work early and I was left to myself for the day. The house was cold and dank outside of her bedroom, which was now reasonably cozy with the heater running. But it was sunny, so finally I ventured outside with Arrow, and walked down Esplanade towards City Park.

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I discovered at this point that what she had told me was true: folks were highly respectful and often frightened of her dog, who is the wiggliest and sweetest of souls, but can look imposing when he is alert and leashed. I started to feel better. Everyone I passed greeted me. Her neighborhood was a mishmash of every kind of person, old and young, black and white, off to work on a bicycle or drinking at ten in the morning. As I moved up Esplanade towards the park, the houses got nicer and more kept-up. I am a little embarrassed to say how much better that made me feel.

Liz says that being in New Orleans reminds her of being in Central America. Everything is older, dirtier, moldier, overrun with vegetation, poorer, more cobbled together. Katrina, of course, took a terrible toll, and although this is one of the less affected parts of the city, there are buildings that remain boarded up and abandoned ten years later. I saw a few with the spray-painted signs on them, a circle with an “X” inside, separating it into four quadrants, with a date in the top quadrant (when the house was searched), the left quadrant with initials denoting the Rescue Team identifier-state police, National Guard, etc., the right quadrant detailing hazards present: rats, NE for no entry, F/W for food and water, EX for exterior surveyed, and the ominous bottom quadrant which recorded the presence or absence of bodies alive or dead. Units from Oregon, California, West Virginia, Texas and elsewhere had all left their marks.IMG_4665.JPG

That afternoon, I visited her favorite coffee shop, the Treme Coffee Shop. This was a really beautiful time of year to visit, with the air being cool and temperate, the day sunny, windows and doors open, no bugs-the coffee shop was light and airy, homey and clean. The latte was excellent and I sat on a leather couch with the warm sun on my shoulders for a couple of hours and started to settle down. I loved the variety of people that came in and out. There is a quality to the people in New Orleans that is striking-you feel like a lot of the people are always wearing a costume, like for fun, not to hide. People are putting themselves out there in all their individuality, no apologies, with a bit of glee. Like this is a place where people come to finally, with a deep sigh of relief, be themselves.

I stopped feeling so afraid. It disturbed me how shaken I felt, how nervous. I have lived in the country for a long time now, in a place that is pretty homogeneous, at least compared to New Orleans. And New Orleans, is, statistically, a very dangerous city. I still wanted to flank my daughter with a phalanx of large bodyguards. Or take her home. Neither option was on offer. So I drank my latte and breathed deeply.

The next couple of days we spent shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner, walking around the French Quarter, eating out, going to the movies, and talking about deep things. There is no surfacey garbage with Liz. She will talk about hard stuff even with me, her mother. We are friends, although our relationship is always informed by our primal connection. Sometimes that is frustrating for me, because questions that one of her contemporaries could easily ask become fraught with difficulty when I ask them, but we talk about that too. I don’t really want to stop being her mother-I just don’t like it when it feels like a liability.

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I awoke in the middle of the night on Wednesday and was flooded with memories of my young adulthood-dicey situations I had put myself in, really bad choices in relationships, the loneliness, the feeling of never fitting in or having a place in the world-the deep alienation that was a result of dysfunction in my family. It was like watching a chronological movie of my life, and an experience I had never had in quite that way before. I realized that what was so hard about Liz in New Orleans was all the stuff from my own life that I was projecting onto her life. My own depression and estrangement, living alone, feeling like I had failed in so many ways-I realize now, as I write this, that I so desperately want to protect Liz, and indeed all my children, from the struggle, and defeats, and heartache and sadness and failures that riddled my own path to maturity. I want to keep them safe not only from the world that is so full of every kind of danger, but from themselves and their own immaturity.

As I laid there in the dark with all those sad and difficult memories parading across my consciousness, a verse came to me-“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1) I have read and heard that verse so many times in the last forty years that it usually just sounds singsong to me, blah blah blah, as ashamed as that makes me to admit. It hasn’t touched me deep down in my reality maybe ever. But now it did. Not in a euphoric Pollyanna way, but in a way where I thought, “Either it’s true or it isn’t, and if it is really really true, I should feel differently inside. I should feel free. I should feel the load no more.” And you know what, I still have to just pretend that it is true, because it still feels like a fairy tale to me. And that is a lot of the reason why I can’t leave my children in the hands of God and trust Him for their growth and safety and story.

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I’m not going to lie-the whole trip was overlaid with a sense of longing to just bring Liz home. I miss her so deeply that I miss her even when I am with her. We made our dinner together and ate it sitting on her front veranda-it can’t just be a porch in New Orleans-and it was so bittersweet I could have cried. I thought of our “normal” family thanksgivings- all of us together cooking and hanging out, laughing, safe and secure and wrapped in the comfort of each other-and here we were, Steve working alone in Alamosa, Sam and Alan eating with friends, Emily and Brad home with each other-and it just felt wrong on some level. And yet. And yet.  I was so glad to be with Liz. People strolled by while we ate, wishing us Happy Thanksgiving, the sun slanted in through the trees in the late afternoon, the Spanish moss on the trees swayed a bit in a freshening breeze. I think there was a parade somewhere because people dressed in all manner of costumes walked and rode by on bikes, headed to the French Quarter. Or maybe they just always dress like that.

Her neighbor, aptly called Rooster-although I think his mother called him Andrew-came over and tried to fix the hall light-it doesn’t work of course, and why would it? and I was struck by his kindness, however laced in alcohol and affectations-and felt more secure about her living there because he will be one of the people that keeps an eye on her. We ate pie and watched a movie and washed dishes. I packed to leave the next morning.

I always wanted to have brave kids because I was so fearful. I always knew Liz would be the one who struck out into the world on adventures, and that thrilled me, and filled me with admiration. The hard part is trusting-in God, to watch over her and to be a wide open space for her, in Liz, to not be foolish, although she certainly will be, just as I was-and maybe even in the world just a little-the people who surround her there, to see her not as a target but as a precious daughter, a jewel, a warrior princess.

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The next morning I left early, before she left for work, and headed back to Colorado. It was warm and steamy that morning, but by evening when I made it to Oklahoma City, it was just at the freezing point and raining hard. The Heartland spent the next couple of days in the grip of an ice storm and I laid around in a hotel room for two nights and a day, waiting it out and thinking about Liz.

I feel better and worse about her situation. It was not as “nice” a house as I thought it would be and I still find that unsettling. But there are people there who know her and care about her, a community. She is a community builder and one is springing up around her. Is she “safe?” Not like I wish her to be, ever, but this is life, not a movie. There is no guarantee of a happy ending, only clinging to God and each other in what is often a dark and lonely place. New Orleans is a place lacking restraints-there is a lot of letting the good times roll, and that isn’t always a beautiful thing. Just last week a Tulane medical student got shot in the stomach rescuing a girl who was getting dragged into a dark alley by her hair-fortunately the perpetrator was caught, the girl was unharmed and the hero will be okay, but those stories don’t always end like that. I can only pray that something like that will not happen to the girl that I love who lives there. She is 1500 miles away and it is a long way. It is another world. I want her to come home. I can’t help that. But there are no leash laws for your kids, are there? Just hope, and prayer, and the bonds of love.

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Forgiveness

tomato picI had a dream last night. In my dream I was wandering around my childhood home, looking in the various rooms and wondering where everyone was. It was one of those long, murky confusing dreams where the house didn’t look exactly like it actually did then, or does now. Maybe I was dreaming more about how I felt about the house than what it actually looked like. I was sitting in a room and suddenly my father walked in.

My father died in 1992. He was only 68. My relationship with him was very very difficult. There was great damage done on many fronts which I have spent most of my life working at healing from. I wasn’t particularly sad when he died. It makes me a bit ashamed to say that because it seems so unnatural. But honestly, I had to distance myself from him to survive. Doing that left me with very little natural feeling for him, beyond the polite interest I would feel in any stranger. God became the Father in my life in a very profound sense. I stopped trying to drink from an empty well and found one that gushed water over every inch of my heart.

But that is not my point. My point is that when I saw him I was really and truly happy to see him. On one level I knew that he is dead but he looked very alive and normal, not like he looked after he became ill with heart disease, but how he looked about ten years before that. I said, “Dad?” with a kind of incredulity. I asked, “What are you doing here?” It will amuse members of my family reading this to know that he answered that he had come back to interfere in the next election. It was not a gushy lovey-dovey reunion, just very matter-of-fact and weird all at the same time.

When I woke, I realized that I wasn’t mad when I saw him, or hurt, or full of grievances and ready to rumble. I just felt glad to see him. I felt the love that I felt for him sometimes. I felt our connection. And for the first time I felt hope about seeing him again, beyond this earthly pale. I understood that I had forgiven him.

I can only liken the feeling to that moment in “The Lord of the Rings” when Galadriel takes the Ring offered by Frodo and speaks her vision of what powers the ring would afford her, were she to appropriate it. A terrifying and horrifying vision, for what would happen to Middle Earth were one of its most trustworthy and good leaders to succumb to the terrible temptation of Absolute Power? Frodo can only hide his head and tremble.

But then it is over and she drops the Ring. Her face is filled with beatific light and she says, “I have passed the test.” She has feared how she would cope with such an offer for a very long time, one imagines. Would the goodness that she had cultivated be enough against such naked lust and greed? It was. And how relieved we all are that it is. How hopeful we are that we would stand as well.

I feel like I had a precious glimpse into the future when I dreamt of my father. That forgiveness, while never easy, is REAL. If you keep releasing, keep blessing, keep giving your hurt to God, something actually HAPPENS that cannot be taken from you. How lovely it will be to see my father again one day and not have any anger towards him.

Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is not saying that what happened to you, or what was done to you, is okay. It is releasing the hurt to God for HIM to judge and deal with as He wishes. When you think of God as being the most just of judges, and right and pure in all that He does, this affords a surprising measure of comfort and relief. It is also true that when you think about the many things YOU have done wrong, ways that you have hurt others, you can hope that God will deal with you with mercy and kindness, not condemnation. And in hoping that you can begin to hope that for the one who has wronged you. It is most often not a quick process and it takes persistence on our part. But really that is all it takes. If you keep doing it, you find your feelings changing in ways you could never imagine. As the burden of unforgiveness lifts off of you, you realize how very heavy a load it was, how exhausting, how sapping. You realize it truly was never yours to bear.

It has taken me years and years to get to this point, and it has involved significant agony of the soul. I will never say forgiving is easy or no big deal. It is the very biggest of deals. But it truly is worth it to be somewhere in the process of forgiving, rather than stuck in a deep rut in the middle of the road with no way to go forward, and no way to go back

forgiveness

Reboot

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This is a really weird and funky picture of my forehead. We have a joke in our family about our large foreheads, which, of course, we always claim are the storefronts of megabrains. If you look closely-well, you don’t even have to look closely, you can see them from several yards away- you will note the presence of multiple lines in my forehead that in this configuration look almost obscene. Trust me, they actually are, because they are the outward manifestations of my inward penchant for worry, anxiety and fear. This picture is a really good representation of how I have felt for just about exactly a year now, and tells you why I have not even been able to settle enough to write a post for a good long while. And by the way, I am definitely better-looking than this picture would suggest.

But worry, anxiety and fear have made me pretty ugly in a lot of ways these past months. I have been depressed. I have withdrawn from my friends, hidden in my house that I almost started to hate because we hadn’t sold it yet, even told myself lies about how I despised where we were living because I wanted to move and be closer to my children and granddaughter. I have believed that this thing that I wanted would never happen and it has made me feel trapped and desperate at times. I have questioned the goodness and love of God towards me on multiple occasions. I have slogged through day after day of these feelings and I have gained weight, stopped exercising, and in general become a slob. Ugh.

Life is always difficult in one way or another. One man’s crisis is another man’s pipe dream. I know so well that my problems will always be First World Problems. And rarified FWPs at that. But my problems are my problems and from inside me they will always loom large and seem insurmountable at times. We have lived through a lot in this past year. I feel older after this year, and more fragile. But really, the fact is that I have merely become more aware of the reality of my situation: I am aging, my sweetheart is aging, life is tenuous and sturdy all at the same time, I am in control of almost nothing, even, it would seem of late, the movement of my hand to my mouth with food in it. We are all going to die. It’s all wonderfully, terrifyingly true.

The upside of this past year is that I feel a lot more loving. In spite of being withdrawn and being a really lousy friend this year (huge apology to all my friends that I have been neglecting-you know who you are) I feel gentler towards the rest of the human race-except those who get in the passing lane and drive five miles below the speed limit- you, I hate. But I do think that there is something about being leveled by life that makes you a lot more tender towards the rest of your fellow humans. We are, after all, every one of us, so inadequate and bitch-slapped by life. And the best we can do is to love each other. Just celebrate the existence of each other. Just find the beauty in each face.

I have been reading a lot about Joni Mitchell lately. She has just released a four-CD compilation of her life’s work and has been getting a lot of press. She was my idol growing up and well into my twenties. Her songs were the soundtrack of my life. She is a masterful musician and artist. She was blond, thin and gorgeous. What’s not to like? But as I read about her and hear her voice in multiple interviews, I have lost my taste for her. She is primarily concerned, and seems to have been for most of her life, in correcting pretty much everyone in the world about who she is and what her “legacy” will be. My overall impression of her is that she has spent her life feeling like she was extraordinary and that her job was to make sure everyone knew that. I see a person who has not been very successful in her relationships and I wonder, in the night, when she is alone with her giant-sized ego, if she feels as awesome as she wants the rest of us to believe she is. It must be very lonely to be her. While I will always admire her writing and her musicianship, I no longer wish I was more like Joni Mitchell. I am sure you are all relieved to hear this. But it really sobers me to look at her life and what she has evolved into after seventy-one years of living for her “art”, which when it comes down to it, means living almost solely on her own terms and for her own gratification. Because of her brilliance, which is undeniable, she feels herself to be a more significant sort of human than the rest, or most of the rest, of us. And she doesn’t even have that big of a forehead! Go figure!

Somehow this is not as much of a digression as it seems. It IS a part of this story. I am so struck by what a long life lived in the pursuit of one’s own very personal goals at the expense of relationship, and love, can look like. And I just really don’t want mine to look like that. I mean, do we even GET to decide what our legacy is? To me, that would seem to be the job of those left behind when we are gone.

But anyway. I guess I did digress. The good news is, our house sold last week and we have a new place to go to that is going to be just great. A very different life is opening up-a townhouse instead of a 160 acre ranch, the suburbs (HA! I swore I would never go back! Wrong again.) instead of the country, close to family instead of far away-the not-quite-down-the-street-but-close-enough-for-jazz grandparents instead of the four hours away grandparents-it is all sounding good. I will write much more about this move and all it entails later. It feels like my life ground to a halt for a year and is now starting up again. But I know that isn’t true. I have been living all this time, and learning things that can only be learned when life is hard and things are not going your way. But that is a story for another day. It is time to go for a walk!

Mindfulness

I have been taking a class on mindfulness meditation for the last few weeks. It meets on Tuesday evenings and we all sit on yoga mats in a small room at the offices of several counselors. Our teacher is a lovely woman who makes meditation CDs for us with her wonderful soothing voice. I am learning something about slowing down my mind, breathing, relaxing, and being in the present moment. I am learning that this is something I am actually capable of doing, which until now I sincerely did not believe was possible.

It is really nice to lie on the floor, close my eyes, and listen to her voice taking me through a guided meditation. I don’t have to go to a beach, or breathe a certain way, or count, or even particularly use my imagination. The point is to notice what is. To just be in the moment. Honestly, you would think that is not a big deal, or hard to do, but for me it is quite a challenge.

It turns out that there are not very many things I do where I am actually present to my life. I am almost always thinking about the past or the future, in a hurry, rehearsing, reviewing, multitasking, or downright trying to avoid the present in any way possible. The short list I have compiled so far of activities when I am present are 1) getting a massage-who wouldn’t want to be present for that?! and 2) riding my horse. When I am on my horse I can just be there, present to him, present to myself, present to the beauty around me.

When I am driving I am almost never just there, in the car, experiencing that. Or walking. Have you ever slowed down enough to notice walking? We did it one night and it was amazing. I always walk to get somewhere and I am always thinking about something else when I am doing it. Eating is a big one. I almost never just eat. It makes me anxious to just sit and eat, to chew slowly, to savor the experience. I have always been kind of proud of my efficiency, my ability to multitask, to whip things together, to work quickly, to get a lot done in a day. Hmmmm.

The fact is, if I am honest with myself, my life does not feel important enough to me that it would be worth being present to. Why would it matter if I ate mindfully, or cooked mindfully or drove mindfully, or walked mindfully? Who cares?

But maybe the better question is, what would my life be like if I DID live mindfully? How would it be different? I know that just the act of writing in my blog has led me to living more mindfully and that has been a good thing for me, and maybe even for some of my readers. When I just zone out and watch TV or let Facebook suck the hours out of my day, there is nothing to say, just discontent, anxiety, boredom and the sense that somewhere else life is happening and I am missing it.

So I am trying this new way of thinking and living. I could spend a long time talking about the ways in which the last few months have been profoundly difficult and unsettling for me. I could. I could go on and on. But instead I would like to enjoy this present moment, in front of a warm fire, with the dogs asleep on the floor beside me, experiencing the pleasure of tapping out word on this keyboard, drinking a hot cup of coffee, and just breathing.

I think this tool, this practice, this way of being, can be a huge help during this time of year we refer to as “the holidays”. If you are anything like me, these couple of months are incredibly stressful and not a lot of fun. I envy those who revel in all the celebration but to me, it often just feels like an unbearable load of expectations that I am sure I cannot fulfill. It all comes from inside me. My family wishes profoundly that I could just relax. I am going to try this year. Somehow I need to get back to what this time of Advent, this time of waiting, is all about. If you have thoughts or suggestions, I would love to hear them. Meanwhile I am going to be sitting here, breathing.

One Perfect Tomato

I have been gone for a month from my ranch and in my absence fall has come, the flowers have faded, the garden is dying, and the fields are turning brown. I turned sixty. My daughter got married. A dear friend’s daughter got married. I went to visit my mother, who has failed so markedly since last I saw her that it was profoundly unsettling. I was “home” in my childhood home with all the attendant memories and ghosts. I am utterly exhausted.

I know I have prattled on ad nauseum about growing older, the significance of life, the passing of time. I wish I could share recipes and cute quotes and have a concrete goose on my front porch that I dress in various holiday-appropriate outfits. (Do they still do that in Ohio? It used to depress the hell out of me.) But that isn’t me. I continually have to wallow in angst about the big questions. And the stock market, the Ebola crisis, the fires destroying the West, our diminishing water, the “fault in our stars”-are all adding to my anxiety these days. How much time do we have left? How much time do I have left?

I just read the book, “The Fault in Our Stars”, by John Green. I know, I am the last person in the United States to get on the bandwagon, but this is a thoughtful, funny, poignant story that rattled my cage in so many ways. Augustus Waters, one of the main characters, is obsessed with living a life of significance and being a hero in his own story. Hazel Grace, the other main character, is convinced that life is basically random and meaningless. So of course they fall in love. I will stop there in case you are one of the three people who has not read this book. I will say that I highly recommend reading the book and not just watching the movie which is very good, but cannot capture the depth of the story or the characters.

I was moved by this big question because it is the background of my days now. I wonder daily if my life matters, if I am doing what I was put here to do, if I am in the flow of my life’s purpose. Most of the time I believe it has a purpose. It is quite remarkable how putting our house on the market and contemplating moving to be closer to our kids has thrown me for a loop. Did it matter that I was HERE? Has my life her for the past 10+ years made any difference to this implacable, resistant place? I hoped to bring good creative effort here and to even change some things, but all I see is that I have BEEN changed, worn down, quieted, even silenced. I have discovered that most people are not really interested in changing. Most people are not really interested in being moved in any way by anything. I know, a little bitter, but there you are. The great wheel of life spins on, and I am a speck of dust adhering to one of its spokes, screaming my heart out for it to change its course just a mite as a result of my effort.

Somehow we are beckoned to enter this great dance, the “Great Mandela”, and we think we can actually choreograph it. But in fact we are whirled into a great dervish that already spins on and on, and then at some point, we fall out of step and are gone. That is what it feels like to me on this incredibly beautiful morning after a night of almost no sleep and too much time to think.

But enough about me. What do YOU think about me?

Last night I made BLTs for dinner using a huge perfectly ripe tomato from our garden. I used the best bacon, perfect Bibb lettuce, superbly toasted bread…you get the idea. It is actually the only tomato I have eaten from my garden this summer. I have been gone for most of the harvest and Janet, my friend who has basically made my garden happen this year, kept busy taking produce to the shelter, to the food bank, so it would not go to waste. But here, when I got back, was this tomato on my counter, ripening to a deep delicious red. It was begging to be featured in a BLT and so it was. We had them for dinner and oohed and aahed as we ate, enjoying every bite.

Countless hours went into planning, planting, weeding, watering, composting, harvesting, and now tearing down that garden. Most of the labor was not mine but I invested in it. What have I gotten? A raft of eggplant, a truckload of greens, green beans galore, a few carrots, a lot of food that was given away, and one perfect tomato.

Was it worth that one perfect tomato? Because you see, that really is the question. Your life will be full of effort that does not seem to lead anywhere. You will try to help people who do not want your help. I have started a hundred ventures and not finished them. Almost nothing I have tried to do has turned out the way I hoped it would. My house isn’t sold, winter is coming and I don’t know which box my winter coats are in. I am haunted by the thought of death and disaster on a daily basis and cannot seem to shake my anxiety, in spite of being one of the 3% of the world’s wealthiest (we ALL are, in the United States), with a family that is all doing well, good health, a happy marriage, and more friends than I can count. Somebody SMACK me!

I suspect that when it is all said and done, as surely it will be on a day I cannot predict, I will find that it was indeed worth that one perfect tomato. And maybe a few other things I am simply unaware of at this point. I am not the one to measure the value of my days. Only others, and God, can see that clearly. Maybe only God. No one else may care all that much. Even Mother Teresa, towards the end of her life, was plagued with despair and a lack of the sense of God’s presence. Maybe it is just the way life is. Maybe that is why most older people are reduced to thinking about their next meal and discussing their aches and pains. The alternative is too haunting. To live in solitude, which we all do, in spite of our best efforts to shield ourselves from that reality, to face the silence of the universe and still believe that someone’s ear is bent to our cries, takes all the courage and resolve of the world’s greatest hero. I wish I could tell that to Augustus Waters. But he probably already knows.

On Marriage and Emily

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DSCN0295 IMG_0052 IMG_0297 IMG_0547 IMG_0662 IMG_0965 IMG_8666 DSCN0347This girl. This smile. This great and tender heart. This one who lived under MY heart for nine months and came out smiling. How does this happen? How does that tiny baby grow from someone whose every facet is familiar to you, to a woman, apart, mysterious, moving away toward her love and her life? How do I describe what she has meant to me? To all of us in our family? How do I let her go?

Well, you just do it, obviously. I have no desire to chain her to my side, to own her, to keep her a child. That would be a tragedy and a sin. Like caging a wild bird and trying to feed it food it was never meant for. She is already flying, calling out with her glorious song, building her own nest and protecting it with all her strength. She knows what is needed.

In two weeks she will marry and start a new life. I know she is ready, I know she has found the best of men, they have found each other, honing in as surely as a compass finds north. It is all very very good. No buts.

I guess I could end it here, couldn’t I? I know they have the tools to make a life together, and a happy one. I know they will ask for help when they need it. I know we will not be shut out of their life, but drawn in, in the most gracious of ways. So I guess I will content myself here with sharing the little I know about making a marriage work.

1.) There will be times when you are filled with anger and bitterness and be so tempted to berate and demean your partner to someone else, or make sarcastic jokes at his/her expense. DON’T DO IT. Honor each other always with your words. You don’t have to be fake to do this. After all, keeping your yap shut is always an option. But when you speak cruel words, even if they feel true at the time, they are out there, never to be retracted, and they poison the air around you. It never helps.

2.) Keep private things private. Be the best of secret keepers.

3.) Be unfailingly civil to each other. Be as polite as you would be to a person wearing a crown. Civility is a lost art in our culture. Familiarity is not an excuse to be rude. On the contrary, one should excel in all times in graciousness of speech. It will save you so much grief, and pave the way for every interaction.

4.) Serve your spouse with all your heart. When you are willing to be the giver you will be given to in return. Creating an atmosphere of generosity in your relationship not only benefits you but is of unmeasurable worth to your children. They will learn to be givers too.

5.) Be each other’s best friend. Make your partner the one who hears things first. Be the safe haven for all of each others’ news, the good, the bad and the ugly. Be the most trustworthy of confidantes. There are many things that wax and wane in marriage. But the friendship that is possible there is of the most glorious kind. It grows and grows as the years go by and becomes the rock on which all else stands.

6.) Don’t ever separate your life into mine and yours. You are one. You are one in ways that you can’t even comprehend. Ways not of your making, mysterious ways, ways of the spirit. That is what you get when you make those vows. And that is what you break when you break them. It is not a diminishing of either of you, but a strengthening and a glory.

7.) Don’t buy into our culture’s cynicism about marriage. I know we have talked about this, but it bears repeating. It is a cynicism borne of disappointment caused by unrealistic expectations. Marriage is MORE, not less than what our culture wants to make it. But the standard that has been raised by the culture has ruined our understanding of that truth. Marriage is not about endless lust, perfect bodies, no problems or issues, a partner that never requires anything of you. It is about the careful tending of another human being and being tended to in return. It involves  planting, watering and fertilizing,weeding, hoeing and harvesting,. Not a continual bowing down at the altar of perfection and completion. When a whole culture embraces a childish and unrealistic idea about what marriage should be, it is doomed to failure and disappointment. Be a farmer. You already are.

8.) Find a community. You need others. Choose people who will hold you up, hold you accountable, and honor your partnership. Your love needs a community to uphold it. I am not sure our marriage would have been as successful as it has been without a community of similarly committed families to show us the way. It made a huge difference. It showed us what was possible. It helped us to never give up.

9.) Laugh. Life is full of humor and absurdity and we, most of all, are not to be taken too seriously. Don’t laugh at the other’s expense. But learn to see the humor in things. It may take a long time. It took us a long time. But laughing together is one of the richest components of our life together.

10.) Ask for help. From God, from each other, from others. It is another lie of our culture that we should be able to do it all on our own. There is so much help available! Ask. Ask. Ask.

“There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.”
Homer

“All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership.”
Ann Landers

“It is a full time job being honest one moment at a time, remembering to love, to honor, to respect. It is a practice, a discipline, worthy of every moment.”
Jasmine Guy

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“But marriage goes in waves. You’ve got to be patient. People bail and give up on their marriages way too early. They just don’t put the work and the effort into it. You’ve got to suck up your ego a lot of times, because that can be a big downfall.”
Anna Benson

“A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day.”
Andre Maurois

Ok, and one funny one!

“I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”
Rita Rudner

I love you, Emily, child of my heart.

 

 

 

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

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I board horses for two of my friends. The newest member of our herd is a beautiful warmblood named Summer. For those of you who don’t know what a warmblood is, it is a very large Thoroughbred cross-tall, lean, fine head, intelligent, graceful-a real storybook horse. Summer had a long and illustrious career as a show horse before my friend bought her. She is 18 years old, which in horse years is approaching later middle age. You would think that not much would phase her at this point in her life, but she has a bogeyman in her life, just like the rest of us. In her case it is cows.

This is bad news on our ranch because not only do we have cows that share the same water trough, although not the same pasture, but there are pastures full of cows up and down the road we like to travel when we go out on a ride. They are a part of daily life for her now, and she is definitely unhappy about it.

The problem is not that she has suffered some trauma involving cows. I am quite sure her show barn lifestyle precluded any exposure to them at all, and therein lies the problem. They smell different, they look different, they move differently, they stare at her, they are curious and come closer to inspect her-you get the idea. Terrifying monsters, for sure. She does not have the perspective that she is separated by fences from any cows that populate her daily existence. She doesn’t realize that they are the most timid of creatures unless their young are threatened. If she were to rush at them, they would surely turn tail and run. None of this is helpful for her.

So we are working on desensitizing her to them. When we ride down the road, we approach until she becomes stressed and then retreat. Sometimes I walk with her to the water trough when they are standing there so that she will have a companion when she drinks. She has the daily experience of seeing them up close across the fence and is coming to realize that they have no interest in eating her up. She is getting used to them.

But it doesn’t mean a thing that her fear is irrational. It is just as real, just as uncomfortable, just as overpowering as if they were mountain lions. She can’t tell the difference. And this makes me think about my own fears and how uncomfortable they are even when I KNOW they are irrational.  I know that cows are not mountain lions. But I am still afraid to go to the water trough and drink.

What am I afraid of? Oh, the usual things: death, loneliness, losing my loved ones, not having enough money, getting old, being sick, being laughed at, ridiculed, despised, rejected. I have a phobic fear of snakes and of flying. I fear failure. I fear success.

The trouble with my fears is that they cause me to shrink my life down to what feels safe to me. And that keeps me from dreaming, trying new things, being adventurous and taking risks. I see that often what makes someone seem old is that they have done this very thing: let life shrink down to what is comfortable-which turns out to be eating, sleeping and watching television-which is nothing more than experiencing life vicariously through the dramas surrounding fictional lives. What keeps people young at heart is to keep trying, keep learning, and keep pushing past the barriers of their comfort zones.

Starting my own business is making me face all my many fears in a way that I never have before. Truly that is the thing that is the most challenging about it. It is also the thing that is the most exciting. I don’t want my fears to build fences around my life and keep me from stretching and moving out from the safety of the barn. I am determined to push past them. Because I know, I really and truly know, that most of them are just cows, not mountain lions. And I know that like Summer, if I keep exposing myself in small doses, my fear will diminish.

I don’t really have anything particularly profound to say about all of this. But I think that most of us have had the experience of seeing our lives contract because we are afraid of something. And it is just a really stinkin’ way to live. I will not get to the end of my life and wish I had been more careful or fearful. I will not be glad on my deathbed that I never did anything that scared me.

The following is from an article that detailed the observations of a nurse who spent part of her career caring for people on their deathbeds. It says, better than I can, what it is I am trying to express:
“For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”

I am tired of fear ruling my life, my dreams, and my water trough. I’m going to drink up and stare those cows in the eye. Who is with me?

The Big One

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Ok, so it is less than a month until I turn 60. 60, 60, 60, 60, 60, 60, 60. No matter how many times I type that it still is totally unreal. How do I wrap myself around this number that has always meant so many, mostly negative, things to me? What is it about being sixty that really bothers me? Is it that many of my readers won’t even bother with this one because it seems so boring or irrelevant or whiny? Is it that truly I believe that one becomes almost invisible to the world as one ages, rather than people being more interested in listening up because I might FINALLY have something to say that could be worth listening to? Is it because I can’t accept the fact that I am no longer young according to anyone’s estimation, even the eighty year olds??

Yes.

The End.

NO, just kidding. This whole aging thing is not for the faint of heart. Even when you are healthy, as I am, and still able to do everything you want to do, which I am. For which I am very very grateful. It is what is going on in my mind that is daunting. All the ideas about what I maybe can’t do, what I should let go, what is unseemly for someone MY AGE-all that stuff about wearing purple aside, everyone knows our culture casts aside those who are older in favor of the young, the new, the hot off the press-and no matter how much I try to find a place where that doesn’t bother me, it does.

So all whining aside, let’s look at this. We all live in the constraints of time, and we all feel its passage acutely at one time or another. Like for instance, yesterday, driving home from being in Denver all weekend, I noticed that our fields which had been deep summery green are suddenly, pretty much overnight, turning gold and fading fast. That creates the most exquisite poignant feeling in my heart. Once again, without warning, the perfect, too brief summer is coming to an end and another winter is waking up and lifting its hoary head to look around, voraciously hungry and mind-bogglingly cold. It will be awhile, granted, and there are many beautiful days between now and then, but still-it’s on its way.

That is exactly what turning sixty feels like. So much good remains, so many beautiful and perfect days, but winter is looming up ahead, and it’s kinda scary. I can see it from here. It isn’t spring anymore. It isn’t early summer, it isn’t even mid-summer. My life is probably, if I am lucky, two-thirds gone. It could be much more gone than that. That sobers me and fills me with some dread. When I am eighty, my oldest grandchild will only be 22. No! I want to be around for so much more of her life than that! And who knows about my youngest.

I know, I know, morbid, depressing, not a happy upbeat Monday morning post. But I want to look this in the eye and experience it to the full, just as I have wanted to do with the rest of my life. In many ways, knowing my time is limited is a good thing. It makes me treasure each day more fully, appreciate my assets of good health, a sound mind, a sense of humor and a deepening perspective in a way that I never have. To not want a day to rush by so I can get to a tomorrow. To just be, to take time, to relish the small things. To not be too busy to notice.

Surely this is the best way to live. I realize in a way that I never have that my small interactions with the people around me are what I really give to the world, my ultimate investment in the planet. This is what gets paid forward, this is the butterfly effect I have on the world. And it is what will still live on when I am gone-not a park with my name on it, not a fund somewhere in some bank, not land or houses or money I leave to my kids-but the memories that they have of what I said, how I lived, what I stood for. These things will change who they are, and I hope and pray it will be for the better.

So many things are falling by the wayside-ambition, fear, jealousy, anger, unforgiveness-how unimportant they all seem. Love, love, love is what matters, it is what I will always be able to do, and to get better at, until my last breath. Not grasping for attention, but paying attention. Not being made much of, but making much of others. Not being encouraged but always being encouraging. Not being center stage, but helping others get to their place there. Not even necessarily having hope, but nurturing hope in others.

Jesus had a lot of very important things to say about this kind of love. He made it really clear that we will find our joy, our hope, our contentment, our peace, and an ultimate sense of our worthiness when we give to others, when we invest in others, when we put others before ourselves. For whatever reason, that has gotten easier for me as I have gotten older. And I expect it will get easier still.

“PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

PIPPIN: Well, that isn’t so bad.

GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.”

Indeed.

 

 

The Crack in Everything

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“There is a crack in everything-that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

Last night I failed to fulfill a commitment I had made to someone I don’t have a lot of history with. I was supposed to be at an event and be part of a group that stood up and talked briefly about who we were and why we had started our Arbonne businesses. I was really excited about doing it. But somehow I got it in my mind that the event started at 7:30 when in fact it began at 7. My daughter went with me to cheer me on, and when we walked in and the meeting was already well in progress, I realized with a sinking nasty feeling in my stomach that I had screwed up.

No one made me feel bad about my mistake-they were gracious to a fault-oh, except this one person-ME. I absolutely devolved into self-flagellation, shame and exquisite emotional pain. WHAT? Yes, absolutely. Our ride home was filled with me finding ways to feel bad about almost every aspect of my life, to the point of saying something that actually made my DAUGHTER feel bad and shamed. And this morning, even after a good night’s sleep and with a great cup of coffee in my hand, I am still squirming.

It IS difficult, when you are new to a relationship, to do something that you feel really doesn’t reflect who you are. It is way more difficult to live with the burden of your own imperfection. Because that is what this is about. And that is what I want to talk about today.

I am reading a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly. I cannot adequately express how great this book is. Brown’s arena is shame research, and who wants to think about shame? But she has done a great thing for the world by being willing to look at this most painful, secret and, well, shameful, emotion. One of her premises is that we spiral down into perfectionism to avoid shame. And what she concludes is that we don’t avoid shame with perfectionism, we cultivate it and ensure that it will rule our lives.

Perfectionism is NOT: striving for excellence, it is NOT self improvement, and it is NOT responding to the inner voice that spurs us on towards creativity, achievement or greatness. It is entirely oriented to the responses, or the feared responses, of others.

Dr. Brown describes it like this: “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feeling of shame, judgment, and blame.”

It focuses on what it can never hope to control or determine-how others perceive us. Therefore it leads to anxiety, depression, addiction, shame, judgment and blame. Because when you can’t control what you are counting on for your sense of well-being, it makes you really miserable. When you are anxious, depressed, ashamed, filled with self-loathing, you lose all effectiveness, all joy, all courage to give it another shot.

Case in point: on the way home last night, and lying in bed, and this morning with the sun rising on a perfect day, I am questioning my abilities, my goals, my dreams. I am wondering if I have any business trying to make a go of this Arbonne endeavor, wondering if the course we have set for the next several years has any validity or is even possible, wondering if I “still have it in me” to accomplish my goals. I am looking for someone to blame. I am still feeling ashamed, even as I know I need to let it go. And I am a little afraid to keep trying. All because I screwed up on the time of a meeting. A little extreme, you might say, but to me it feels perfectly logical. And that is falling into the clutches of perfectionism.

Dr. Brown posits that the way out of the morass of perfectionism is “…the long journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough”.” Sorry if I mangled that punctuation-ARGHHH there I go again, afraid of not being perfect!!!! When you are mired in self-castigation and shame, you tend to think that the way out is to do better, to try harder, to NEVER SCREW UP AGAIN. But in actuality, the way out is to give yourself a break, already, and join the human race, which is populated by imperfect human beings, who for the most part, are doing their best.

This involves three tasks: being kind to yourself, which just means treating yourself with the same compassion and understanding with which you would treat someone you actually love; relaxing into the experience of being a part of humanity, which is stunningly imperfect but manages to bumble along anyway; and practicing mindfulness, so that you can look at the pain your shame has brought you, feel it and acknowledge it, but not let it take you down the rabbit hole into despair, quitting, isolation, depression, and self-loathing.

My additional observation, from long years of this pattern of behavior, is that going that route is a way of forestalling the criticism of others. If I hate myself really well, no one else can do it first. I won’t be ambushed by someone’s displeasure or disappointment because I have beat them to the punch. It is, at its heart, a form of pride: No one can hate me better than I do! And it is grounded in the hope that if I beat myself down, no one else will. It really is a crappy way to live. And it immobilizes, neutralizes and stops me in my tracks.

My friend Janet has a saying: “What if it were just okay?” What if it were okay to be human, to fail, to disappoint others at times, to not be perfect. What if it were okay to be in process, to not know all the answers, to be in the dark. What if it were okay to just be me, the way I am right now, with all my faults and foibles? Because it is, you see. It really is okay. It is what is real. And it isn’t going to change much until we die. But the sun still comes up, the cows still need to be milked, and there is still joy and light and hope if we will let it fill us.

There is a crack in everything. That truth can defeat us, paralyze us, lead us to despair. But it is that very thing that lets the light in to our lives, because it reveals to us our need for grace, for forgiveness, for compassion. It brings us to the point where we can give those great gifts to all the other cracked things around us. And that is a life worth living.

My Mother is Going Away

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My mother is going away. I spoke to her last evening, and she was so happy to hear from me. She asked about the children, and my granddaughter. We shared funny stories and memories. But she didn’t remember that my husband has been sick for the last six months, and I’m not sure she actually remembers that my daughter is marrying in September.

She has dementia, and she knows it, which makes things much easier. We can talk about it, and there are no embarrassing moments where she tries to justify her loss of memory. Of course, I try to tailor my conversational patterns so that I remind her of what I am about to talk about before I actually begin talking about it, saying,” Mom, you remember that Emily is getting married this fall”, and then of course she does and we can go on. She frequently eludes to her “mind going”, and doesn’t seem to be too distressed about it. Her husband helps, with his cheerful patter and constant busy-ness. He cooks, he gardens, he emails, he yells at the TV when his favorite basketball team is losing-it all is very congenial, and they love each other very much.

When she married him, it changed things forever. She became a part of his family in a very real way, and we lost her in a very real way. Her conversation centers around his children and grandchildren now, probably because that is what he talks about so that is what she remembers. They spend more time with his family than with ours. His son refashioned his wood shop into a beautiful apartment for them, and they are delighted with it. They have essentially abandoned the apartment she lived in for those long years of widowhood that is attached to MY brother’s house.

They have known each other for many years, as they were friends when my father and Chuck’s wives were alive. In fact, he has buried three wives who all died from long illnesses. He likes being married. I think she observed his marriages at close range for a long time and they appealed to her. He is an easier man in many ways than my father was. We all are so happy for her, to have a companion and friend again after twenty years of being alone. But we have lost her. And it hurts, as much as we try to not take it personally.

After I got off the phone with her, both of us saying “I love you” and both of us truly happy to have connected, I try to analyze what feels so awful about it all. And this is what I come to: I am not particularly proud of this, but it is what is true.

I am grieving because I will never again be able to hope that I will be important to my mother in a way that matters to me. That part of my life is over. She cannot really focus on me or my family or my accomplishments, the poetry of my life. She is sitting in a small enclosed nest of her own making and she is happy there. I feel a lot like white noise. I want her to be proud of me, of my kids, of what I am doing with my life. But it isn’t even real to her. it is fuzzy and out of focus and will surely remain that way, or more so, until she dies.

I want her to admire me. I want her to feel about me the way I feel about my children-how I continually marvel at what they are becoming and doing. I want her to delight in them the way I do. I want her to want to talk to them, to see them. But somewhere along the line she let that go. In reality, I am not sure she ever felt those things. Which of course is her privilege and her choice. But it created an itch in me that I wanted scratched. And now it will never be.

I don’t think we ever get over that first relationship, the one that continues on some level to matter the most, the one with our parents. Even if we are loved to distraction, there are hurts and disappointments that seem to nag endlessly at our sense of ourselves, our self-esteem, our identity. Our parents tell us who we are and we spend the rest of our lives agreeing or disagreeing, trying to prove them wrong, despairing when we see the truth in their estimations. Even when they think highly of us, we are haunted by that golden calf into endless performance orientation, perfectionism, and a continual sense of falling short. We feel like they are in on the secret-the one that says who we REALLY are, the one that is so shameful at times.

Many things that I have done in my life have been direct attempts to please them, impress them, or fulfill their worst beliefs about me. It feels kind of ridiculous when I am almost sixty, but I think that it is a fact of existence, and if you think it isn’t true of you, guess again. They made you and they formed your life for many years. How can you think that hasn’t affected you irrevocably? And for better or for worse, we do the same to our children. We can only hope that we are close to the truth and can tell it with love and gentleness. Because they are always listening, always measuring, always ready to defend.

All this goes through my mind as I think about my mother, who is fading away in the gentlest possible way. She is not in pain, she still enjoys every day, she is the happiest she has probably ever been. But she is happy without me. I think in a deep sense, this weather change in her life has allowed her to let go of all the ways in which she felt like she failed or fell short. She has found another life, a new one, a peaceful one. And I can’t really blame her for losing herself in it in a haze of pleasant forgetfulness. Lord knows, we had some hard times that I would just as soon forget as well.

But this is what I remember: walking home from school when I was six and in first grade, when I was still new, untouched and innocent, and seeing my mother waiting for me at the back door in a light blue shirtwaist dress and her black hair in a french twist on her head. Her smile is broad and warm. She has on red lipstick and she is very beautiful. She is everything I want, everything I need, and she is waiting just for me.