Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Falling Away

I love autumn. I love the way it bobbles back and forth between the sweet, hot, brightness of summer and the bitter, cold, darkness of winter. It is a time to watch the flowers fade and let the leaves fall away.

In the beginning of the season, much like relationships, the suspense of not knowing what will happen next, or what I want to have happen next, is exciting and titillating. The richness of the colors can seem like a blob of un-thinned oil paint on a palate; too thick and dense to fully absorb. No, this time of year, the colors can’t rightly be called colors. The intensity, the fiery and fully saturated hues, are nature’s way of keeping me guessing, anticipating the changes in my future before I settle in for a little rest and reflection. Its nature’s way of reminding me that there will be opportunities in my life that I can choose to seize, or let pass.

Fall is a metaphor for life and love. We have to be willing to let some things go; let them fall away from our cradling limbs. As parents, we instinctively know this will happen as our children get older. We know there will be a time when we will be challenged to loosen our grip on their tender stems. They may float off in a direction we did not anticipate. They may land in a place we think is too risky, or unsafe, like the leaf that is carried away in a rapidly rushing river. We have no way of knowing what adventures are around the bend, or that the shore they are tossed upon may be exactly where they need to be; an undiscovered terrain – ripe with the opportunities for both peril and potential.

But we also have to loosen our grip on things besides our children. Things like, oh, unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. We gain nothing by tightly closing our fist around the faded images of our expected life story, and we risk clinging too long to that which previously sustained us, and yet now, no longer lights us up. If we keep hanging on, as the full flush of life is wicked away bit by bit; the images fade and curl up into tighter, less resilient forms we no longer recognize.

Yes, nature knows that in order to bear fruit year after year, the flora must yield and give way, and the hips, all kinds of hips, store energy and begin to plump in preparation for next year’s bloom. Fall leads into the winter for a reason. It’s a necessary hiatus for plants as well as people; a time to reflect and refine our path. For relationships, it’s a time to settle in and get comfortable with each other. This is the time where you learn if you can abide each other in a season of ease.

Besides, who wants to bloom and fruit all year long? It’s too much work! If I’m forced to produce and fruit continually, I can assure you that some of what I bring to bear on the world and my loved ones will not be my full, ripe and juicy best. Bitterness is born of too much, well, too much of anything, including unwieldy and unrelenting growth.

So I am preparing for a season of reflection by opening up. The aspects of my life that have already served their purpose are free to fall away and make room for my new dreams, goals, loves and lessons. I have to open my hand in order to grasp what is in front of me – a hand can only hold so much. I can only seize today if I am willing to let go of yesterday.

I’ll be back later. Right now I’m busy falling away.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Walking a Way

There are times in your life when you are required to walk a certain path – whether you want to or not. The way has been chosen. It doesn’t matter if you think you are walking toward something or someone, or away. The path is lying there before you and you just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking until the path comes to its inevitable conclusion.

It might be only a warm up, leading the way to another path that is clearly the one you know you are meant to walk, or it may be a detour taking you on a journey you are not at all prepared for and resisting with each step. Maybe you’re walking a route out of curiosity and a sense of adventure only – just because? Nope – the path doesn’t much care about the reasons; it just sits before you, expecting you to walk along.

Most of the time, the path is well-worn and safe, and you can keep your eyes on the horizon. You are safe – knowing that many have strolled this way before you, and made their way through with minimal effort. The kind of walk where you know the sights along the way, and all of a sudden you stop short and wonder how you got to a particular landmark so quickly? Walking along unconsciously, on autopilot; a great many of our days are walked in this way.

But there are times when you have to keep your head down as you walk – scanning the terrain under your feet to avoid major hazards that could cause you to stumble. On the lookout for the type of inconspicuous little hazards that, if you only gazed sleepily ahead to the end of your trail, would surely trip you up and knock you down. And on these walks, you might be called upon to find your way up, over or around a major roadblock, or to forge a new path altogether.

October is breast cancer awareness month. Many women are walking the breast cancer path – some to survive, and others to find a cure.

In November I will be walking the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk in San Diego benefiting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. Many others will be walking with me – for 60 miles over three days, and many have already walked, in other 3-Day events in other cities this year. I am choosing to walk this path, and raise funds for breast cancer research, because there are way too many women who didn’t get to choose. Their bumpy and rocky path was laid out before them, and they are walking it with dignity, grace, strength and absolute fearlessness.

Yep, there are many paths. Some we choose and others are chosen for us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


The Go-Go's had it right – time to get away. Go, go now! The word vacation comes from the Latin word “vacare” – to be void, free from, idle, unoccupied – empty. To vacate means to leave, as in “I’m outta here”. A vacancy is an opening; a space to be filled. Prior to August, there is a “no vacancy” sign flashing in my mind.

August is prime time to empty. Empty heads, hearts, souls, shoes, closets, shelves, boxes, homes, gardens, fields, cities and finally gas tanks. The air is hot and heavy and the days begin to fade earlier and earlier as each one passes. Then it happens, one night there is just a hint of coolness in the air, and that is the warning shot across the bow. If we don’t set aside the time to empty ourselves soon, we’ll be screwed by September. Full up at the beginning of the year. And yes, September is the true beginning of the year – not January.

January may be cause for celebrations and resolutions, but September doesn’t party. September is a get off your butt, get it in gear, let’s get down and dirty back to business kind of month. Mothers love September – at least the first couple of weeks. After that, September turns to us and says, “Okay girls – ready to rock?” and we have to be ready; ready to be stuffed full. Yes, by the end of September, mothers are full of it.

So, we need time to make room, lots and lots of room; the room to breathe deep, long, breathy breaths. The kind where you inhale, and then inhale a bit more to the point of slight disomfort, and then exhale with a long sigh of contentment, not exasperation. The exhale is the important part – you can’t breathe in if you don’t breathe out.

Which is why August is so important – it’s our exhale. August – the word itself means to inspire awe, or admiration. Exhale, sigh, and let the world take your breath away. It will return, I promise. August is underway and I’m vacating from the inside out. September is hot on my heels, and in a couple of weeks, the filling begins.

I will need the space.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stocking the Pantry

Sometimes you take a look at the same old stuff on the shelf in your cupboard and decide you are no longer interested in your tried and true staples. Nothing there gives rise to your soul, or sparks the gleam in your eye like it used to. Oh sure, they’ve been serviceable for quite a long time – like a daily bowl of grits, or gruel – depending on your perspective. They have a long shelf-life and have sustained you during the leaner times in your emotional and spiritual life. However, everything has an expiration date.

So you look at that shelf and think it might be wise to shop a couple of aisles over, or maybe even try another market altogether. It is time to stock your shelf with a few exotic pleasures, or bring back into service something you haven’t tasted for a very long time and think mmm…mmm, boy does that look good. You know it is time to get a little something special, just so you can dip into it for the first time or double-dip after an overly long absence.

Since you’re in the experimental mindset, you take a look at your fridge. As you are tossing out those unidentified leftovers, you search way back in the ole’ icebox – for what exactly you aren’t sure - but you remember, way back, that you had something stashed in there for a rainy day, or just any day when you needed, well, something else.

We women are amazing creatures. Home is where the heart is, and the rhythm of a household is tuned to the heartbeat of the woman standing at the hearth. Sometimes it beats loud and strong, other times it beats soft and long, sometimes it flutters and other times it stutters. We girls have a multitude of needs, and as we grow into women, we still have a multitude of needs, only now we know how to meet them. We understand the value of a little bit of something surprising stashed away on the shelf just for us. We know that no one else will ever reach all the way back in the fridge, so what we put there is safe, just waiting for us to take it off ice and serve it up to ourselves when the time is right.

As you enjoy your surprisingly full plate, you might decide that, while it’s nice to try new things, you like the comfort of the familiar best. Or you might discover that you have changed, and can no longer limit yourself to the everyday. The new, or in some cases, rediscovered, has brought much needed complexity and flavor to your life. You bask in rich new layers of sensation you simply can’t and won’t ignore. You can’t put it away now – you have tasted too much. You can’t let it rest on the same serviceable shelf with your old staples either – it deserves a bit more care – a special shelf maybe, perhaps under lock and key?

There is nothing quite like the evocative sensation of a little bit of variety and heat to unleash the fullness of life. You know what I’m sayin’ ladies?

I think you do.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Maybe - Permission or Possibility?

Maybe is a tough word. It means different things depending on who asks and who answers. Kids always seem to take maybe as a positive sign – they thrive on the possibility of maybe turning into yes. After all, if the answer is definitely no, that’s what they would hear. So, maybe is a slip and a slide away from yes.

Things get more complicated as we age. When parents say maybe, it means “I’m still mulling it over because I really have no idea what to do”, while their children are off and running to the starting gate as if it’s a done deal. As adults, we have made many decisions, some good; some bad; some we’re still evaluating. We know that maybe gives us time to weigh our options and make the perfect decision.

Perfect. There’s a word that thrives on maybe-making. Maybe can turn into a life-long habit of not choosing anything, and waiting for permission to live our life. Once a direction is chosen, if it’s not perfect, we question our ability to choose wisely and fall back on a lifetime of maybes for protection. Eventually, someone will make a decision that we might have to live with. If it turns out to be a dud, well, it’s not our fault – we didn’t make it. We’re still in the middle of maybe-lake, floating on our raft, tentatively waiting for a strong wind, and avoiding both blame and any muddy shore.

When we get maybe as an answer, we aren’t asking the right question – even if we are asking ourselves. Maybe is a sign we need to refine and focus the inquiry, but we don’t. Instead, we sit back, get comfortable and wait for permission from the universe to get on with it – whatever “it” is. Even when it’s evident that “it” is the thing that will make our dreams come true, we sit, wait and ponder the possibilities, thereby denying ourselves permission, because what if “it” turns out not to be what we imagined? Does it mean the thing we’ve dreamed and schemed about is a mistake? We don’t like mistakes; they are messy, so we float and keep our feet safely on the raft – clean and dry – and useless.

If we don’t move, we can’t make a mistake now can we? We’ll just patiently wait for the universe to give us a sign; some tangible or intangible inkling that will permit us to take a step in the right direction.

Guess what? The universe doesn’t hand out permission slips. It’s more of a “you snooze, you lose” energy that sustains the spin in the cosmic circle. If you’re waiting too far away, you’ll be cast further from the rotation, sucked in by black holes – like attracts like.

It’s time to launch right into the vortex. Take advantage of the momentum created by the slightest action. Sometimes there is no right direction – as a circle rotates, right becomes left, and then right again. So think like a kid and jump headlong into life’s possibilities – hear “yes”. Or, if that feels too devil may care for your tastes – take my mother’s advice: “Shit, or get off of the pot”. Apologies to those with more refined sensibilities, but she has a point. It’s about movement people – it’s all about movement.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Open Faced

My mother had a stroke this year, and it has been a rollercoaster ride for the whole family. One that has brought us closer together because, well, frankly we are seeing a whole hell of a lot more of each other than we did previously as we went about our busy lives. Somehow our lives were full to capacity and we only had time for occasional family gatherings. Now, we’ve made space – for mom – and for each other, and even though we are all still living our lives, there is an opening, where we slow down to sit, talk, care for, and laugh with mom and each other and it shows on our faces.

Recently, as the sheer weight of surviving this ordeal has lifted from my mother’s shoulders, and she has begun the earnest task of rehabilitation, the floodgates of emotion have opened up. The kindnesses of friends, relatives and the nursing home staff and residents cause my mom to cry. She cries as she looks around and notices the struggles of the other residents and their families. She cries when she makes progress, and she cries when any of us show up – which we are trying not to take personally. And, because in my family, one can not get away with crying for long, something must be done to cause laughter, or at the very least, swearing.

The other day was a good day. Mom was working hard in physical therapy and making great strides, literal strides with her walker, which in a surreal role-reversal, had me snapping photo after photo of her walking achievements.

So, things were good and it showed on our faces. As I headed for the door to leave, a man in front of me tried, unsuccessfully, to key in the door code several times. Normally, I’m not a patient woman, but I’ve learned a lot about patience in the last few months, and about being softer and more open, especially in this place. So, I helped him enter the code, smiled and said nothing. He must’ve recognized an opening when he saw it, not just of the door, but of another soul with more in common at that moment than we had differences. After all, if you are entering or leaving that door – you know something about each other. He turned around as we stepped outside and began to tell me about his son; his 21 year old son, who’s been in care facilities for a while due to a variety of physical, cognitive and emotional issues. Some of what he told me should’ve made me sad. As a parent, it was heart-breaking to think about my child in a similar circumstance.

However, the conversation was anything but sad. His eyes danced as he talked about his son. He was tremendously proud of the intensely unique and amazing person he was lucky enough to parent. He talked about his son’s intuitiveness, his openness to the world and those in it; his inability to say and do expected things, which has caused some embarrassment at times (singing “baby got back” while in line behind a bountiful woman at the grocery store); and yet how liberating it is to be with someone who has no regard for social conventions. I stood there for over fifteen minutes, realized I might be late to pick up my healthy, happy child, but I did not head toward my car. I stood; intimately close, to this man who needed to tell someone about his life – not just about his child, but his life as it has come to be. I’m sure those who passed us thought we were close friends, or family. It felt like we might be. While he talked, I sensed in one brief second that my face felt soft. I was not looking tired, agitated, hurried or otherwise occupied. I was open – open-faced. Interestingly enough, there was no need for me to tell my story, and he did not ask. I was quite content to hear him, to be whoever he needed me to be at that moment, to listen to him. Then, when he was done, we simply started to part, walked toward our cars and drove off. I don’t know if I will see him again, but I won’t forget his face, nor will I forget to keep my face open.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Squeeze Box

On Saint Patrick’s Day, an accordion player roamed the halls of the nursing home where my mother is temporarily ensconced. As the accordion music swelled in the hallway, tears welled in my mom’s eyes and she began to cry. When I asked her why – she wasn’t sure, but she said she always loved the accordion. I had no idea. She was equally surprised. But, now, while she’s fighting one of the hardest battles of her life, she needed this sound – this feeling.

The evocative nature of the accordion squeezed emotions out of her she had packed away for years as she lived her busy life. Like the accordion, each chamber of our life gets filled, one after another. In order to get the air out of the original chamber, to hear that first note, the last one filled has to be emptied.

It’s akin to unpacking a set of Russian nesting dolls. Our lives become a series of boxes within boxes. We keep the whole set on a shelf, and don’t consider opening the biggest box, or breaking apart the largest doll. We may not ever have the need to get to the heart of the matter – the innermost box – the smallest doll. So, they sit, on high shelves, temporarily out of reach and gathering dust.

Occasionally we glance at them, clean them up, but still do not open them – even after decades. Yet, we are too afraid to toss them out because we know they contain things we still want, wish we hadn’t packed away and perhaps even ache for daily; but we can’t fit into our life at the moment. To make room for them, we’d have to box up something else. So the boxes stay on the shelf.

The truth is - we know if we start unpacking, working our way to the smallest box, it contains the one thing, or love, or dream that has the power to unravel us. It is the thing we’ve made as small as possible, so that it fits in the box within the boxes; precisely so it remains safely stashed.

Then, one day, we get squeezed – hard, and we suddenly know we never should’ve put those boxes so far out of reach. And we move toward the shelf, reach up, open up and begin the unraveling.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pick-Up Sticks

Sometimes you’re walking along and the lid comes off your container of pick-up sticks. You trip and helplessly watch as all your dreams fall out of the container and scatter in a mixed up heap in front of you. It is a game yes, but this time no one else is going to play along with you to pick them up – it’s all up to you because they are your sticks and you dropped them. The people who care about you will carefully step over them, but will still leave them for you to clean up. The folks who could give a rat’s ass about you and your dreams will saunter through your pile without a second thought – kicking a few to the curb as they go on their way.

You have to pick them up, and you want them all. How can you carefully retrieve them one by one without causing an avalanche? Decisions need to be made – do you lift the easiest ones first – guaranteeing some life points – you know – the “life would be satisfactory with these dreams achieved” sticks? Or do you take a bit more time and figure out a strategy to dive deep in the pile for the big ticket item – the 10 point stick and walk away from the rest of the pile?

Which sticks are okay to let fall off the pile without attempting to save them? A bottle of wine helps at this point, maybe two. Having a couple of good friends to help you analyze the mess in front of you isn’t a bad idea either. Will you be happier with a lot of little dreams, or do you really, really want the one big one at all costs? Do you pick slowly and surely, smaller dreams, moving them out of the way gently and patiently to uncover the big one. Maybe it’s easier that way – to let yourself get accustomed to the smaller goodies in life before you realize you deserve the big ones.

No matter what, something is going to slide. Sometimes the sticks in the pile you are facing are the dreams of your loved ones, which become your dreams too in a second-hand way. I don’t think we can live on second-hand dreams. You wouldn’t want that for your loved ones, so why is it good enough for you? Second-hand dreams are not interesting to anyone. You need to protect those sticks yes, but mostly you need to get them back to the pile of the person they belong to, so they can pick them up on their own.

The truth of the matter is that you are really wondering how in the hell you lost the damn lid in the first place! And why are you carrying the precarious package through the obstacle course of life that is littered with the stuff no one else picks up? Really, there are times you’d like to hurl the sticks out a window or at the nearest wall and just turn and walk away and not think about it at all. Occasionally you can think of other places you’d like to shove the sticks so they never see the light of day. To just live life in the middling place and numb the effects of the highs and lows of dreams achieved and lost. It seems like this would make life easy breezy and steady. And it would if the lost sticks didn’t have a way of turning up when you move the big furniture of your life around – they roll out from under the oddest places when you least expect it – like loose change, or moldy crumbs.

At times you may be forced to reevaluate your pile of sticks. Is it ever a good idea to throw some back in the pile? Or, do you just keep trying to collect more no matter what the point value? Maybe you don’t like the way the pile is sitting there mocking you, so it’s time to give the whole thing a little mix – swing your hips – dance on through to the other side and see if the view is different looking back at it over your shoulder.

Or, keep on dancing and don't look back. Maybe you'll find a barrel of monkeys next.