Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Feels like rain

Rain, rain, go away... is what we sing, right?

Yes... mostly... especially when I have a houseful of restless kids that I wish I could send outside to do whatever it is kids are supposed to do outside.  But in the last week or so, I've been thinking about the rain a little differently.

It's winter in the Bay Area.  Christmas Day, to be exact.  And it's raining.  Buckets.  Torrents.  Gutter-flooding, mud-shifting, hours of pouring rain.  That's what it does around here, usually from about late November or early December, until sometime in late March or early April.

However, we live in a climate where we get NO rain after the rainy season has ended in the Spring.  We have gorgeous, sunny, movie-perfect weather for weeks upon weeks upon weeks.  The sprinklers kick on every so often, the lawns stay green, and  life proceeds in the way that makes the whole world want to pick up and move to Northern California.

But outside the range of sprinklers, something different takes place.  The ground on the grassy hills gets hard and packed-down, the drought-hardy native plants grow and then wither through their appointed season, with the grasses and wildflowers drying up and ending their life-cycles in a blaze of sunlit gold while the ever-dark-green valley oaks look on.  By October, the hills are achingly beautiful in their sheen of gold against the blue sky that seems to both borrow and reflect the brightness of the sun-baked hills. That's when we enter another season here in paradise: wildfire season.  All those beautiful months of nothing but sunshine have left the landscape gasping for the relief of rain and threatening to burst into flame at the slightest ignition.

Boy, have I felt that way at times...

If I'm perfectly honest, looking back over so many "sunny" pieces I wrote before Andre's death, I have to say that I was living in that artificially-sprinkled dry season, sustained by whatever moisture I could find, working hard at staying "green" on the outside.  If there were people in my inner circle who could see that the "green" in my life was closer to astroturf or green-painted concrete, I never heard about it.

And so we have arrived at the rainy season in my life, and I am having a hard time not letting the mud get all over my soul's carpets.  The rainy season here, when it comes, is at once disruptive, overwhelming, occasionally destructive... and a source of astounding, miraculous transformation.  We watch the sun set on a Cezanne / Provencal landscape and wake up in an Irish travel poster:  from sun-bleached golds, browns, and ochres, to deep, velvety emerald and evergreen, almost overnight.  The rain changes dust-scapes to lush meadows and causes houses to slide off their foundations. It awakens wildflowers and causes traffic crashes.  It ruins outdoor plans and makes me want to pause for a cup of tea in a cozy chair by the window.  

I was living in that desperately dry "lovely weather" season for quite a while, about to go up in flames, it felt like, and now the rains have come in my life. Much of that rain has been disruptive, some in a horrifying way, and some of it in a good way, but disruptive and threatening nonetheless.

So, I'm wondering today, what if, just for a while, I could acknowledge that I'm in the midst of a pouring-down-torrents-that-drench-to-the-bone rainy season in my life, acknowledge that it feels like the house of my spirit might get washed off its foundation any minute, AND look at that rain as a blessing? I am indeed, greening up again.  My life is being watered more deeply now than at any time I can remember.  I can't help but see transformation, even if the rain feels overwhelming.  I can complain about the rain, or I can focus on the transformation and choose to trust that even if my retaining walls get washed away, I'll rebuild when the rain stops.

This new friend of mine, the one who told me that my passionate side is a gift (see my previous post ), has been opening my eyes to a new appreciation of the guitar work of BB King, Buddy Guy, and John Baldry.  This song by John Hiatt (performed by Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt in the youtube clip below) has a title and a decidedly sensual mood that has gotten me to thinking about this concept of rain being a blessing.

(Note to friends: Point me in the direction of stuff that challenges my brain, or touches my heart and you just might end up in my blog.  Whether that's a threat or a promise is up to you, I guess. :-)

Sorry, no ethereal, angelic hymns full of air, light and Holy Infants today.  Today, we're walking on the muddy earth, drawing music from a slightly different source.

Feels Like Rain - John Hiatt (performed by Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt

Feels Like Rain   (lyrics - first verse)

Down here the river meets the sea
And in the sticky heat I feel you open up to me
Love comes out of nowhere baby, just like a hurricane

And it feels like rain
And it feels like rain

(and then the last verse says)

Batten down the hatches baby
Leave your heart out on your sleeve
It looks like were in for stormy weather,
That aint no cause for us to leave
Just lay here in my arms
And let it wash away the pain
Feels like rain
And it feels like rain.

******** Come on in, but take off your shoes and let me lend you some slippers, ok? ******

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gifts -- skip the wrapping paper

A new friend in my life, someone I'm just getting to know, made an observation the other day.  This friend told me that my "passionate" (I would call it "silly, heart-on-the-sleeve lack of restraint") nature is a gift.

Huh.  A gift?  Some part of me, separate from what I can do, separate from what I make, accomplish, produce, serve... is a "gift"?   As silly as it sounds, that felt like news to me, even though I could probably write an entire essay from my head on the topic.  But I'm not talking about intellectual assent these days. If you've been around Presbyterians long enough, you can give a dissertation on grace, on innate worth, complete with footnotes and bibliography, but I'm not writing a paper here.  I'm sharing from my (silly, unrestrained, "passionate") heart.

What  wakes me up in the middle of night, or early in the morning is not my list of things to BE, it's my list of things to DO, particularly in this season, when the Christmas presents that haven't been purchased, (or haven't been wrapped), the cards that haven't been written, the cookies that haven't been made, the flannel pj pants that haven't been sewed, the mittens and scarves that haven't been knit, the pile of papers on the desk that are still un-sorted,  the made-from-scratch dinner that didn't happen, the petition that I didn't sign, the homeless person that I didn't give to... are fairly howling at me.

And then there's the stuff I've done that I should not have: the thoughtless comment, the lost-temper moment, the private thought that should have been kept private, the selfish impulse that should have been checked.  In the confessional prayers in the Anglican "Book of Common Prayer", there's a line that pretty much covers it for me:  "Forgive us for what we have done and for what we have left un-done"  Yup.  I tend to think in pretty existential terms:  I am what I do (or leave un-done).

Yesterday (before I caught wind of the tragedy in Connecticut--that's a subject for another day) I was swirling in my own ridiculously petty sea of guilt and self-condemnation over my un-done stuff and my should-have-left-undone stuff.  So, I poured out my anxious heart (in writing, as has been our long custom) to an old friend, one who has known me more than 25 years.  And in his inimitable style, he took the focus off my "doing" and reminded me that he sees the value of my "being".  He wrote:

You are worthy.
You are loved.
You are perfect, as is, right now.
You need no one else to complete you; you are complete.

You are human.
You are flawed.
You are angry.
You are full of sorrow.

It still amazes me how many times that Grace--un-earned favor, un-earned love--has to bop me over the head with an angel's wing before I can wrap my mind around it.  It's a good thing that I am so surrounded with people (angels) who are so willing to keep reminding me.. they might want to check those edge-feathers for over-use injuries, though...

So, this morning, when my swirling thoughts (and an antsy dog who always seems ready to "do" in the wee hours of the morning) woke me, I decided to use the extra awake time for some "being" time.  I laced up my sneakers and headed out to the ridgetop that has often been my outdoor practice room for singing over the past three years.  As I got to my solitary spot, the sun was just coming over the shoulder of Mount Diablo, setting the frost-covered ridge alight with sparkles.  I stood there, drew a good singer's breath, made a few happy sounds, and realized that I was in the presence of another gift.  I didn't do it, I didn't make it happen, I didn't earn it.  It was just there, as it is there every morning: another invitation to just BE, to breathe, to pray for those I love, to love those I meet.  It's all a gift, and I didn't have to clip the coupon from the Sunday paper, go get it, or make it, or earn it.

At Christmas time, we celebrate that ultimate gift -- The Being of the universe, willing to live for a time, reduced to our human form:  to BE with us-- "Emmanuel", which means "God with us".  Baby Jesus in the manger, the man Jesus living among us for a short time and an eternity with us in Heaven.  Being with us.

And to think that among the people who surround me with their being,  there's someone who thinks that my sappy, overly-expressive way of being is a gift, and someone else who can remind me that I'm worthy and loved, regardless of what I do or fail to do...?  My Christmas stocking is full to overflowing this year.  

And, no thanks, I don't need a gift receipt for that... I have no intention of returning or exchanging it.  I might see if I can re-gift it a few times, though.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Oxen - some thoughts from a few years back that still seem relevant

We're in the midst of trying to "do" Christmas here at last:  setting up Andre's locally-famous front-yard trains, bringing out the ornaments, attempting to make some cookies...  and I've been ambushed by tears and the feeling of simply going limp and numb in the face of the layer-upon-layer of memories, both good and bad, of Christmases past.

I thought I'd share something I wrote for my beloved choir folks, for our mid-rehearsal break, when someone from the choir reads a scripture and shares a thought.  My choir peeps were incredibly tolerant of some of my longer pieces back in those days.  This is from 2006, when I still lived my half-asleep existence: the ever-cheerful housewife, and mother of 4 small kids...  Even so, it feels somehow relevant today, if only for Hardy's touching poem.

(Devotional on "The Oxen" by Thomas Hardy) 

[1] [2] 

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
-Thomas Hardy “The Oxen”

I must confess, this year's Christmas music is not giving me those lovely warm-fuzzy moments, tears springing to my eyes, that the music of other years has done.  But, like other grown-up tastes, The Hodie  ( a choral piece with orchestra, choruses and soloists, by Ralph Vaughan Williams)  is beginning to grow on me in a way that I know I will eventually find very satisfying.  Like I do every year at the choir retreat in October, I read through the texts of our concert work, looking for a lovely verse to quote in my annual Christmas letter. I eventually found one, but it took longer this year than other years.  However, Christmas cards aside, the first time I read through the poetic texts for this work, this poem, The Oxen, was intriguing to me in a non-Hallmark-card kind of way.  So, I did a little light research and found out a few things.  And as I thought about the poem, and what the literary experts tell me about it, and reflect on what I'm feeling this time of year, some things have become a little clearer, and I thought I'd share them. 

This poem, according to some background I read, appeared in The Times of London on December 24th, 1915: a time, which, in some ways was a time similar to our own.  That Christmas, England was involved in the second year of a brutal, grinding war that was supposed to have been finished before Christmas the previous year.  The Industrial Revolution was transforming society.  The prevalence of rationalism, science and consumerism had begun its march toward overtaking faith and tradition.  I'll bet you can hear the echoes of that time here in 2006—science, rationalism, consumerism, a brutal, grinding war what was supposed to be over by now...

Hardy is writing wistfully about a time when he would have believed his elders when they told him about the magic that happens on Christmas eve—the English traditional myth that the animals whose ancestors witnessed Christ's birth would kneel at midnight on Christmas eve.  He's looking backward and longing for the good old days.  According to the author of the critical essay that I read, “the dominant feeling of “The Oxen” is one of wistful regret or poignant loss at the passing of a secure world buttressed by the allied senses of legend, tradition, faith in a presiding deity, and community.” 1

I must confess that even as I am in those “magical” years for my own kids—with their excitement over Christmas, particularly with what Santa Claus might be bringing them, I am finding the Christmas season to be a little “flat” and un-magical this year.  I have NOTHING to complain about:  I have a terrific, healthy family, a roof over my head, all my needs are met, and yet I keep wondering when I'm going to find that “zing”, that sparkling, pine-scented moment when my heart sings because it's Christmas. 

A couple of years ago, there was a commercial for... I'm not sure what, that began with a woman's voice, talking about her fond memories of all the wonderful things her own mother did that made Christmas magical... and then there was the pitch for whatever the product was—cake mixes? Bathroom cleaner?  I don't know... but the spot ended with “and this year, I get to be the mom”, somehow emphasizing that the joy of Christmas would come in being the one to provide the magic.  And while that's true, in a way... it's not the whole truth.  The truth is, once we adults become responsible for “the magic” of Christmas, it can sometimes be a little harder to find the “magic” in our own lives.  I mean, what if that “build your own solar-powered robot” kit that's on back-order right now doesn't arrive by Christmas morning, and what if I can't find time to put together the Gingerbread house whose pieces are in a box on the dining room table.  And what if my kids stage a meltdown on Christmas eve and refuse to go to bed while my husband is in charge and I'm here, singing the 10 o'clock Christmas eve service?   

AND here's where I hope to turn from whining to  rejoicing.  Paul, in 1Corinthians 13:11-13 reminds us that we, as Christians, have something more important than “the magic” to look forward to.  “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 

So then, it seems I have a choice this Christmas season.  I can get caught up in the wistfulness, the longing for the “perfect” Christmas of long ago, I can wish that I saw the oxen kneeling.   I can sigh over the way the world has changed since the “old days”.  I can worry  about being the one to produce the magic for my family, OR, I can turn my mind to the real miracle of Christmas, Christ's incarnation and his promised return.   This might be the year when I, “put childish ways behind me” and look forward to a sparkling moment when I “shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (v.12).   Can there really be anything more heart-satisfying than to know God fully and be fully known?  So, for now, if there's anyone else out there like me, feeling a little tired of  trying to capture the “magic” of Christmas, perhaps this is the year when we can claim a kind of grown-up consolation in the words of a familiar scripture.  (I'll read it again, slowly, so you can let it sink in, maybe in a new way)

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  This Christmas, I pray that you will sense, above all else, God's great love, shown in his willingness to come and live among us and that THAT  miracle will be what sustains you through this season when we work so hard to find that magic that Thomas Hardy looked for, “in the lonely barton by yonder coomb our childhood used to know”.   

1.Allingham, Philip V., “Image, Allusion, Voice, Dialect, and Irony in Thomas Hardy's 'The Oxen' and the Poem's Original Publication Context”, www.victorianweb.org/authors/hardy/poems/pva141.html


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On angels' wings

Sing, choirs of angels!  Sing in exaltation!  Sing all ye citizens of heav'n above....

It seems that no matter what else is happening for me as the calendar rolls around to December, there's a moment when my heart knows it's Christmas.

It has nothing to do with decorating trees, or seeing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on tv, or getting started with the cookie baking, or even a specific day or date.  It happens when my fellow church-choir sopranos and I "uncork it" (as a tenor friend used to call it)  on the third verse of "O Come All Ye Faithful" with that glorious, soaring David Willcocks descant. At that moment, when I draw that deliciously low breath I'll need to get through the phrase, I feel like I'm drawing that breath from the ground under my feet. I'm rooted and grounded in the fellowship of people I love, firmly tethered to the love of God. And because I'm that securely tethered, I am, paradoxically, free to soar above whatever else has come before and whatever else will follow.

(If you have no idea what a "descant" is, or what this particular one is, click this link, then skip to time marker 2:17 in the video. O Come All Ye Faithful - David Willcocks arr. Kings College   and listen to those little choirboy sopranos "uncork it".  It's actually more outrageously fun when it's sung by women with a bit more heft to their voices, but you get the basic idea.) 

This year, as the kids and I drove home from a place without malls, gaudy yard decorations, or a "hurry up Christmas" Thanksgiving celebration, I was unprepared for what the onslaught of "The Holiday Season" would feel like this year. (In the spirit of "do you hear what I hear?", I think I hear, floating back from you all a chorus of... "DUH !!!")  Yes, it's only been five months since my husband's suicide, and yes, the economic reality connected to that is a little daunting, but (oops! Make that "and"-- see my previous post, "getting off my 'but' ")   I'd been feeling optimistic that I'd be able to help my kids sail through this season with just a little extra effort.

And therein lies the rub: a little extra effort.  Let's be real here: if you're a Mom, Christmas is already the Feast of the Thousand-Item To-Do List in a good year: cleaning, baking, decorating, party planning, the cards (or, in my case, The Letter), shopping for the gifts, making the gifts (Ok, that usually starts by late August or mid-September for me), church events, school events (please bake 6 dozen exactly symmetrical gingerbread men)... and for each of those things, there are a million details that must be juggled.  So, this year, I was thinking that a "little extra effort" might be possible??  (Yes, everybody feel free to sing along:  "DUH" !!!)

I've been shaking my head in denial when I run through the to-do list in my head and the paralysis begins to set in. I've been feeling so guilty that I just can't seem to gather up the energy to "make the magic happen" this year, for my kids' sake, for my friends' sake.

And then on Sunday night, there I was, in my silly sparkly Christmas sweater, wearing a green felt Christmas tree on my head, in the company of probably 200 other singers, from age 4 to mid 70's, getting ready to walk in the processional to the choir loft.  John began the introduction on the organ, we began the first verse, sang the second verse, and by the time we got to "sing, choirs of angels..." I realized that's just where I was, in the company of angels, young and old who are with me every year, filling that sacred space with song.  These are some of the same angels who have been carrying me through the days and nights since July 13th, when my life turned upside down and I temporarily lost my capacity for flight.  I realized that I was taking part in one ritual of Christmas that had remained untouched by Andre's death.  Andre had never really been part of this particular Christmas tradition, preferring instead the quiet of an empty house while the kids and I sang in our respective choirs.

And so, this year, as I sat in the choir loft, or stood to sing, joy washed over me in waves as I realized that I was in a part of Christmas that was not haunted by memories.  Nor would it require my lists, my planning, my chasing after the details.  All I had to do was be present in each moment.  And there were so many moments when my heart was almost too full.  This year, watching and listening as our Cherub Choir (age 4 and 5) sang, I silently added my prayer to the verse that they sang:  (I have a "thing" for the inner verses of well-known carols... anybody else?)

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven, to live with Thee there.

And for that moment, and many others that followed that evening, that's just what God was doing.

(No, this isn't this year's photo or this year's tree. It will have to do, though.  )

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Getting off my 'but'

My butt ended my radio career.

No, really.  I once got fired from my gig as a morning dj with an obscure (read: run your antenna through your toaster and out the window to hear it) FM Christian station, in the late '80's,

for saying the word  'butt', as in:

"It's 7:05, get your butt outta bed !"

and by lunchtime, I was no longer a morning on-air personality at KNLE-FM -- "The Light of the Hill Country" in Round Rock, Texas.

But I digress...

I've been thinking about "but", in terms of the either/or way of talking.  Consider these two statements and how they feel:

"It's a really difficult time you're going through, but God is with you."

"It's a really difficult time you're going through, and God is with you."  

Is it just me, or does the second one feel different, less trite, less "always look on the bright side of life.. dee doot dee do, de doot dee doot dee doot dee doot do..." ?  (Feel free to whistle along, if you've seen Monty Python's "Life of Brian")

Or how about these two:

"I love you, but you're driving me crazy!!!"

"I love you and you're driving me crazy!!!" 

There's a kind of negating one thing in favor of another that sneaks into those "but" statements, as if the two conditions can't exist together, as if it can't be a really difficult time AND have God present,  or as if it's not possible to love someone who is, at the same time, driving you crazy.

In a previous entry Math Homework and Brown Bag Lunch , I talked about taking a hard look at "the numbers", the cold, hard financial and chronological facts (that's money and age, to the rest of us), and deciding that it was time to live beyond the numbers, to trust that life was more complex and more hopeful than the numbers could ever show me.  And, interestingly, several people who responded to that post saw it as primarily a post about how bad my financial picture was.

I'm wondering if this response comes from a habit of choosing one side or the other of a two-part picture:  either the finances are really bad OR I'm ok.  But what I meant to emphasize in that piece was more like an "AND" statement:  The finances are challenging, particularly in the immediate short term, AND, we will be ok.  (For those folks who want to know the plan: I will be investing some of the life insurance money in myself; going back to school for 2 years to get an MA in Counseling Psychology, and that "investment" will pay off in a soul-satisfying career that will use my gifts and earn a decent living.  The rest will be invested in ways that help provide for my retirement.  No, I will never be rich, AND we won't starve, either. )

Our culture certainly has emphasized binary thinking: Liberal or Conservative, With Us or Against Us, Edward or (what's that Werewolf-character's name?) , Chunky or Smooth, Coke or Pepsi... We've gotten so polarized that we often conflate "the other side" of an argument with "the wrong side" of an argument and those who old opposing viewpoints are assumed to be evil.  After all, if your side is "good" then anything different is "bad", right?

As I look back over the past 18 years, trying to understand my late husband through the lens of his death,  I am realizing the degree to which that the win/lose, either / or way of looking at the world can be a trap, and when you're trapped by that kind of thinking, there are very few options.  For Andre, life was a battle; you either win or die.  For him, sadly, Jesus' message of "whoever loses his life will gain it" made no sense at all.  The mystery of Christ's incarnation: fully God AND fully man, Savior of the world AND helpless babe sleeping in a cow's dinner dish,  was simply impossible to even contemplate.  I wonder, if he had been able to unlock that part of his mind that was stuck in either/or thinking, would he have been able to quiet his inner demons?  Would he have been able to see the world as a less threatening place, to see his kids not as either angels nor devils, but as kids? Would he have been able to see that admitting he needed help was not defeat?

As the kids and I work on healing from Andre's death, it occurs to me that we won't heal by sitting on our 'but's. We're going to have to become conscious of and consciously change the way we think and talk about reality.

"I don't understand why God let this happen, but I trust that there is a plan."  will not be as helpful as a statement that puts an "and" in place of the "but".

I don't understand why God let this happen AND I trust that there is a plan.

(AND, sometimes I'm so mad at God,  I could spit.)

Perhaps this part of the journey will be about walking with my arms full: holding in tension the scary and the hopeful, the horrific and the cathartic, the sweet and the sad.

I hope I don't stumble and land on my butt.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Math Homework and Brown Bag Lunch

If my life these days could be reduced to series of equations, I think this would be one:

4K + 1A+ lots of messy stuff  = -1A   

(when K= kids and A=adult )

In other words: four kids, one adult, and all the stuff we are working on around here, results in one adult that is definitely "negative": i.e., not enough, especially by the end of the day.

Here's another one that has been paralyzing me this week (I was never any good at math anyway, and I'm not even sure I can express it as algebra):

Previous monthly income = x
Previous monthly expenses = y

x/6 - (y-$2000) = still not enough to live on

See?  I told you I couldn't do the algebra right...  But I think you get the idea.  And when you increase the complexity of the equation by the number of years I've been out of the full-time workforce (14), and the income I used to make in that profession  = almost 0, (teaching English as a Second Language--something that is most often volunteer work), the picture doesn't look much better.

Andre was a great admirer of German engineering and loved to joke that his German heritage made him no good at relationships, but great at things mechanical:  "Vee do it by zee numbers, baby", he would chuckle, in his terrible fake-German accent..  It's not much of a stretch to understand part of why life was complicated around here, when Andre could only really understand things "by zee numbers".  He would talk about understanding life only in a binary sense: things were "zero" or "one", on or off, black or white, right or wrong, win or lose.  The notion of talking through a conflict, working toward "yes" for both parties, was alien to him.  So was dieting (a slow, steady process of choices, compromises, incremental progress)  or training for a 5K race, (again, incremental progress, with compromises along the way for age, injuries, weather...) or raising children (definitely a "fuzzy logic" process, combined with a lot of two steps forward/one step back)

or getting mental health help.

It just wasn't a clear "fix".

 Another of Andre's only half-joking mantras was "If at first you don't succeed, try a bigger hammer."  It's clear,  isn't it?  Zero or One, on or off, it's either in the numbers or it's impossible.  Interestingly, Andre always resisted any attempt to establish budgets or spending plans in our house.  It was as if some part of him knew that if he saw what his hobbies and impulsive purchases cost, and compared it to what the numbers should have been, he would have had to admit that it "wasn't in the numbers" and he would have had to stop. His horrible death was also a binary thought process: if  life wasn't going to stay the same and be fine, then it was going to be too horrible to continue and had to end.

Yesterday, I sat down with the most numbers I could gather, in order to have a skilled financial planner help me figure out what to do with our family finances.

When I got to my car an hour later, I had to phone a friend who is particularly gifted in calming me down before I could stop sobbing enough to be able to drive home.  I was simply overwhelmed by the sense of impossibility that those numbers presented, in the hands of a professional money person.  And it wasn't just the money.  It was my age (48), the number of kids I have (4), the number of years I will be parenting  (until I'm 60 at least), and THEN you add in the money numbers. I walked out of that office feeling like I had done my entire life wrong, at least according to the numbers: married too late in life, had too many kids*, stayed out of the work force too long... oh, and I married an unstable, tortured guy who decided to kill himself... and this is where I've landed.   (*not that I regret a single one of my "too many kids" ,except when I'm sorting socks... Oy, there's a math problem: 4 kids X zillions of socks = laundry hell)

But my friend (just as I had hoped he would) pointed out that God doesn't do things by the numbers.  He reminded me that we are in touch with a reality that is way, way beyond the numbers.  (Don't I have the most amazing people carrying me along on this journey?)

As I've been scrambling for spiritual keys to let me out of this prison of numbers, I've been thinking about a Bible story of a situation that was way, way beyond the numbers: the story of Jesus feeding the five-thousand.  Jesus and his disciples had been teaching all day to a huge crowd, way out in the boonies somewhere, and it's getting to that time of day when people are hungry, but there are no 1st-century taco-trucks pulling up to feed this crowd. The only food available is one boy's brown-bag lunch: five loaves (think pita bread) and two fish. The scriptural account says that the disciples told Jesus that there was a problem that they just couldn't solve, it wasn't in the numbers -- a hungry crowd, and not enough food.  Jesus told his disciples to start passing the lunch around, and to gather up the leftovers after everyone had had their fill!  (Leftovers? Really?  from a quick dash-through-Trader-Joe's lunch, shared among 5,000 men and who knows how many women and kids?)  And those 5,000 men, and however many more women and kids, ate their fill, and filled up twelve baskets of leftovers.

It was SO not in the numbers, isn't it? And yet, there were people that day who saw how it worked out, and seeing it changed their lives.

Today, I had a really tender time of talking and praying with my new pastor, a time he had set up to get up to speed on the Hedrick family mess (my words, not his), and find out how he could be ministering to us.  As we talked, he picked up on something I kept mentioning: my lack of emotional and physical "reserves", my "not being the parent I should be for my kids", not having the band-width to handle much of the job of life these days. At the end of our talk, he prayed for me and he asked God to help me to stop reaching down deep inside myself for strength to continue, but to reach OUT to the strength that only God can give, the strength that we read, "is made perfect in weakness".

It's really not in the numbers, is it? Here's the passage that my pastor was referring to, it's in Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church:

 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  (2 Corinthians 12:9 )

What if I could accept that I have NO power to change whatever illogical turns my life has already taken, and I can't create a plan that is totally by the numbers, that is guaranteed to make up for those unfortunate turns?  And what if, in choosing to accept the numbers, but not be bound by them, I could live the kind of life that looked like HOPE instead of just foolishness?

Want a bite of my pita bread?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dithering in the intersection

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," writes the poet Frost,

"And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; ..."

After last week's cleaning, purging, and re-arranging of physical spaces around here, this week, I'm doing some re-purposing of mind and heart spaces and I'm standing at a crossroads of thought.

The road-split I'm struggling with is how much of my story can be told, how much here? How much can be told to people outside of the small need-to-know zone?  I wrestle with a sense that I'd like to quit living the two-level existence that my kids and I have struggled to maintain for so long,  a life consisting of actual events and the "official version" for public consumption.   But would it cause people even more grief, more sense of being robbed of Andre, if I drop the mask of the saintly widow, grieving simply for her nearly-perfect husband and their nearly-perfect marriage?

And so I might have to break another trail in this mapless, autumnal wood.  Perhaps there is a way to tell my truth without causing others too much pain.  So, if you'd like to pause here and click the "close" button, I will think no less of you.  In fact, I'll never know.

This week, as I live in my re-claimed spaces, Andre's sad presence seems to stalk me.  And as I fight with waves of guilt, anger, and sorrow, a wise woman in my life has suggested that I choose a Biblical story, and meditate on it, choosing one that will remind me of the healing, restoring love of God.  So, I've chosen the woman with the 12-year-bleeding, the one who is healed by Jesus, when she touches the fringes of his clothes.  It's in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5, verses 21-34 and the story also appears in the accounts by both Luke and Matthew.  Jesus is on his way to heal the daughter of someone really important, and as he passes through the crowd, a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years reaches out and touches the edge of his garment, and is healed.  Jesus stops the whole procession, scans the crowd and asks who has touched him, which leads the woman to step forward and tell what has happened, and how she has been healed.

That woman, with her life leaking out, drop by drop from inside a hidden wound, is me.

 In ancient middle-eastern culture, she was living on the fringes of society because her wound made her ritually unclean, unable to be part of the day to day relationships in her village, isolated. In being careful to keep my inner "bleeding" hidden for so long, I've been able to live closer to the center of society, but I've felt like a fraud for most of it.

Andre came into our 18-year marriage with behaviors that should have been a hint at the kind of pain that was fraying his soul, but at first, he seemed mostly stable, and his kindness, his eagerness to please, and his need to keep me close at all times felt very much like love.  As the years went by, and his behavior became more worrisome, more controlling, I got more and more proficient at keeping the ignition sources away from the volatile fumes of Andre's anger, and I became more and more alone.  When the kids entered the stage where their normal naughtiness was no longer "cute", I spent more and more time protecting them from inappropriate punishment while trying to teach them to behave appropriately.

It was, of course, impossible.

I was neither able to either completely protect them nor create a consistently firm but loving discipline structure around them.  Drip, drip, drip... loneliness... drip, drip, drip, ..failure... and I pushed myself to work harder, to seek out more challenges to hide from myself the fact that my life was draining away in protecting and hiding the woundedness of my husband.  I was a homeschooling, home-birthing, hands-on, homemade-everything, meal-plans-and-shopping-lists housewife...drip, drip, drip...and I was only dimly aware that anything was really wrong.  We looked pretty ok on the outside--more than ok, is what people tell me.

A little over three years ago, I came to another diverging of the road, without planning to.  I  had gotten pretty good at all the hardcore housewife stuff and feeling like there was a pretty stout patch on the leaky parts of our lives.  I was feeling like the kids and Andre would be ok if I went away for a weekend to work on my singing, to see if there was anything left of my non-mom, non-wife self that was worth resurrecting.  In the kind of soul-opening work of re-discovering my singer-self, a touch of Jesus' hem, if you will, I accidentally stopped the whole procession.  I finally had a clear glimpse of how much of my life had been bled away already, and I could not go back to ignoring it.  When I came home, I needed more and more time to walk, to pray, to sing, to pile on more challenges: lose 50 pounds, make myself some new clothes, learn and perform a major solo in a concert. Meanwhile, the "dripping" had become a flow, tears leaked out with every deep singer's breath, and I worked harder than ever. And so it continued through the months, and even after the news of the life-threatening diagnosis of my dearest friend, my lifeline through all those years of trying to keep myself glued together.  Faced with the potential loss of my friend, I just couldn't keep moving fast enough to outrun the pain.   I could no longer hide from myself and my husband (and people around me who noticed a change) the fact that I was bleeding away inside, losing my "juice".

Over the past three years, with less and less success, I continued to try to keep a lid on Andre's explosive anger, heartbreaking paranoia, and wildly fluctuating moods, while I tried to keep myself and my kids moving forward in the paths that I had chosen for us, trying again to ignore how bled-out I was becoming. But by early July of this year, I was nearly bled white.  I was exhausted.  Something had to change and I told Andre so.  I had no idea at the time how fragile he was and that the path of his intense pain would split into the one that leads to healing and the one that leads to violent death that night.

And as I think about how the story ends for the woman who has healed when she reached out and touched Jesus, I wonder if, perhaps the path of pain, the one that appears to split into such different roads, actually merges back into the path of healing.  Andre's pain is over.  He is healed in heaven.  My life is no longer leaking steadily out of me in the same way that it was.  I'm still healing, as are my kids.  But we will no longer live on the edges of our "village", unclean, isolated.

Every Sunday, after the prayer of confession, we hear :
 "Friends, believe the good news.  
In Jesus Christ we are forgiven, and are being made whole."

Yes.  I think that's true.  Thanks for hearing my confession.  I think the truth might be setting me free.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Ghost Busting

Grasping frantically into dark places, breathing hard, flat on my back in the middle of the day, covered in a sheen of sweat, conscious that, at any minute, we'd need to finish this so I could clean myself up and go pick up the kids at school, I said it,

"Oh, screw you, you crazy sonofabitch.  Your opinions don't matter anymore."

Of course, I didn't get an answer, at least not an audible one.  Yes, I talk to a ghost these days, but it seems like I'm in a more lengthy and tense conversation lately, as I work through yet another round of trying to re-claim this house.  The good sign, I guess, is that I didn't get an audible answer.  Another good sign, as I lay there, with my head in an impossible position, under the school desk, and blindly worked my hands into position to finish snipping the snares of zip-ties and industrial-strength, double-sided tape,  the absurdity of it all hit me and I giggled.  I worked for a bit longer, unscrewing the bolted-in armor of wires, power-supplies and brackets that Andre had used in his 100-year-installations in the former schoolroom... and then, still sweaty and dusty,  I posted a naughty-sounding update on Facebook about all the "fun" I was having, flat on my back on the schoolroom floor.

(And you thought that opening paragraph was leading someplace else, admit it. )

But it hasn't been much "fun" at all.  Not that it hasn't been good, I guess. It seems like a breath of fresh air for me and for the kids to see the dark, cluttered room full of computers and schoolbooks transformed into a wide-open table-space for crafts and sewing:  boxes of paints, clay, colored pencils, paper, fabric, popsicle sticks, glue guns... all stacked neatly on shelves that used to hold workbooks and assigned reading.  The incessant hum of three e-waste-dump frankensteined computers has been replaced with the sound of a ticking clock and the odd mixture of Steven Curtis Chapman, Brooklyn Tabernacle, and Asleep at the Wheel that my Pandora station plays on the single computer left in the space.

As I work toward re-claiming this house from years of dysfunctional energy, and the chaos of the last three months (yes, it will be three months tomorrow), I find myself ever more vividly confronting Andre's ghost: not a Hollywood-style, corporeal ghost, or something neon-green and misty to call the rheumy-eyed, dangly-earring-wearing spirit communicators about:  just an unhappy presence, an echo of being told that I'm doing it wrong, a complaining, condemning, guilt-producing presence.  And so I've been talking back, sometimes kindly, "sorry, sweetie.  You're dead now and you can't control this anymore", and sometimes with a bit more bite: "Screw you.  You don't live here anymore and you can't have it your way."

My "corner" in the master bedroom, the place that had been my sacred space for writing, and my productive place for work, has been moved downstairs to a corner of the family room in which I can enjoy the morning sunshine, and participate in the life of the family in the evenings.  I could no longer stand to spend my editing time (my paid work) and my writing time (my heart's work) in that now-defiled corner of the master bedroom, sitting just inches from where Andre's life spilled out of him, into the carpet and the floorboards.  No amount of expert crime-scene clean-up and heartfelt volunteer interior re-decorating has been able to clear away the sad energy of that spot.

Having lost my own father when I was 13, and having watched my mother begin her journey of widowhood at age 48 (yes, feel free to cue the Twilight Zone music at the eerie parallel between her life and mine), I thought I was pretty savvy to what this turn in the path might look like.

Um... nope.

If my father's ghost hovered in our house back then, I'm SURE that my mother did not use the kind of language that I use in my ghost-busting.  I'm sure he was welcomed for as long as Mom needed him to stay, and that he floated off as she was able to let him do so.

I have a feeling that I will be needing every tool I can find to help usher-out my tortured late husband and deal with (and help my kids deal with) his complex legacy.

Re-arranging and de-cluttering my house is a start.  The slower work is doing that same process in my heart and soul.

Like the signs say at the mall,when one store closes and a new one is coming in:
Please excuse our mess.  We are in the process of renovation. 

Something I've been thinking about in Romans 8, starting in verse 18:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Getting lost on the way home

One hundred, seventy-eight miles after I tiptoed out to my car at 6:45 a.m, my GPS remained firmly convinced that I still had not left the driveway of number 3 Half Mile Road.  Instead, it kept insisting that I turn left on Mansfield Avenue, while steadily increasing the estimated arrival time to my destination.  No amount of turning it off, re-booting, re-entering the destination address, and (the all-purpose technical fix) tapping on it, could change its stubborn electronic mind.  It simply could not guide me where I wanted to go.

So, that early Sunday morning, I had to rely on memory, instinct, and the pull of "home", as I simply drove north on the Merritt Parkway,  missed an exit in a moment of doubting my directional instinct, doubled back, and continued driving, until I was hunting for parking at my destination, only slightly late for the 10:00 service, but still in time for what I had driven 3 hours to experience.  Somehow that "follow your nose" (or "follow your heart") sense had gotten me where I was going, in time to hear a brand-new piece of choral music, written by a dear friend, and performed for the very first time that morning. No, it wasn't "home" in the sense of "the place where I live" or even "the place where I grew up", but home, in the sense that in that place, my heart is at rest, safe. The older I get, the less the geography of home has to do with geography on a map, and the more it has to do with the presence of love: the inexplicable love of God and of those who have decided (equally inexplicably) to love me.

Throughout my recent trip to the East coast, it seemed like my GPS kept failing to give me adequate directions about where to go because it couldn't accept the fact of where it was (like when it failed to recognize the Whitestone Bridge on the way to Brooklyn, or the above story about remaining stuck in a driveway in Darien, CT).  Without that clear acceptance of where I was, I couldn't rely on it to tell me what came next.  In those moments, I had to trust local folks for directions (including politely asking some saggy-trousered gangsta type standing under the elevated train in the Bronx how to find Rosedale Avenue, or having an animated conversation with a busy mom in Whole Foods in Winchester), and listen to that voice that was guiding me "homeward" for that day.

Those of you who know me in real life know where I'm going with this: yup, it's a metaphor for my life these days.  I am on a journey toward a new life, and there are some places that I think I want to go (like possibly back to school, briefly), and some dreams I have, and I have very little in terms of a reliable set of directions on exactly how to get there.  The best I can do is accept where I am, and keep moving, occasionally asking the locals (my tribe of friends and generous churchfolk who keep making themselves available) for help and information, and listening close for that voice that draws me homeward.

The piece of brand-new music that I heard that Sunday morning was an original choral setting of the George Matheson hymn, "O love that will not let me go".  In case you haven't got that hymn text memorized, here are the three verses that my friend chose to set, so you can carry it around in your head, like I've been carrying it around in mine.

O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.

O joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And find the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be. 

O cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee.

I lay in dust life's glory dead, 
And from the ground there blossoms red, Life that shall endless be.

Lately, caring people often will tell me to "hang on" through this season of grieving and re-claiming my life, but by the end of some days (and at the beginning of others) I find I've run out of strength in my grip.

It's helpful to think there is a Love that will not let me go.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Getting up after the fall

In my previous post, I shared a picture of my 22-year-old self with a boyfriend, at "The Great Waltz" in Austin, TX in the Spring of 1987.  And lately, I've been thinking about that dance again, and something that happened that night.

Here's the photo, in case you don't want to back-track.  This was taken at the beginning of the evening, before The Fall. That evening was full of the dizziness of a new romance and that might be why, during a particularly giddy waltz, Scott's foot caught in the hem of my dress, and I felt my feet go out from under me.  The next thing I knew, I was on my back on the floor, with Scott on top of me, utterly mortified.  Getting up, I felt an odd breeze at my back that hadn't been there before.  But after Scott and I had apologized to each other, and assured the other couples watching that we were ok, we continued dancing.  Nothing was going to stop us from dancing every dance together, except for the one or two dances on my card with someone else's signature on them.  (Yes, this was an "authentic" evening--dance cards and all.)  But there was this matter of the "breeze" at my back.

Yup, my dress had ripped, at the zipper seam down the middle of my back.  There was no way to pin it back together that night.

I was devastated that my regal gown was ripped and ruined, but I was even more devastated at the thought of missing the rest of the dances that evening.  I don't quite remember how it happened, but I do know that I ended up with someone's lacy shawl draped across my back and over my shoulders, and we danced until the ball was over.  A fairly happy ending to that fairy tale of an evening.
But lately, I've been working on getting back up after another fall, this one much more serious, and repairing the gaping rip in my life.

Many of you, my "in real life" friends, know that this summer, on July 13, my husband, Andre, suddenly and unexpectedly took his own life.  He had struggled most of his life, and certainly all of our marriage, with mental illness.  He had refused to seek help, and no matter how hard we worked on perfecting our steps together, his demons won.

Our dance together has ended, but I am trusting that somehow, the music will go on.  I even have a hope for much farther down the dance-card, that I will dance again.

But for now, as the kids and I work on clearing the emotional and financial chaos left by Andre's death, I am reflecting on all the people who stepped up to pick me up from the floor and offer me something to help cover the rip.

There were friends who came right away and helped me deal with the first responders, wash the blood off my hands and feet, make a plan for telling my kids.  Friends who came and kept vigil in my house that night, comforting my nervous dog and starting the process of notifying others who could help.  Someone took me and my kids to her house that night, put us in clean, cozy beds, prayed the rosary aloud to help me sleep, and fed my kids Pop-tarts and silly breakfast cereal in the morning.

My church's youth staff arrived within an hour to be with my kids that night and stayed well into the wee hours of the morning, and then returned by mid-day the next day to  take them out for frisbee-throwing, walks, and slurpees, and to let them cry as needed.  One brave staffer even braved the jungle of my son's room to help dig out some items that needed to disappear for a while.

Friends arrived to do my dishes, wash the laundry, put away Andre's things, and fill the fridge with groceries.  One friend set up a website to schedule meals brought in, while another friend set up another website to notify our larger community and collect memorial donations. A team of fearless women (with strong backs and wonderful humor) helped me reclaim the master bedroom by moving all the furniture, re-arranging the pictures on the walls, sprinkling holy water and prayers, with a generous dose of sitting and listening to me cry.

And that was just in the first two days !

After that, people (well, they might be people, but I'm pretty sure they are angels):

  • made funeral arrangements, notified people near and far, and protected me from the kinds of people who might not understand my boundaries.
  • got in touch with my husband's employer, helped me fill out forms, and helped me figure out the immediate financial picture.
  • cried with me, prayed with me, made sure I ate occasionally and stayed in my house at night so that I would not be alone if I woke in the night with a need to talk.
  • took my kids to Six Flags, to the movies, to Waterworld, and to the mall for appropriate funeral clothes.
Over the next two weeks, there were dear generous ones who prayed outside my house at night, who brought meals, flowers, and fresh fruit, 
and dear practical ones who froze the un-eaten fruit, and the un-touched meals, who fielded questions from neighbors, watered my roses, and cut my lawn.  

Some of my oldest and dearest friends came from across the country to clean-out my husband's closet, to glue me back together each time I fell apart, and to offer their glorious musical gifts at my husband's memorial service.   My local friends drew my long-distance friends into the embrace of our community and made me feel like I was wrapped in a quilt of love that stretches from coast to coast.  

Recovering after this fall has required something larger and more substantial than a lacy shawl.  That "quilt" of love and support from friends far and near seems to be keeping the worst of the cold breeze out for now.  

I am so grateful to all my angels who seem intent on making sure that the music will go on, and for all their help as I learn totally new steps. I've always loved the verse in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah: "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord, "plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."   My angels seem determined to hold God to that promise.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Late-Bloomers' Prom

May 28, 1994
"Life's a dance, you learn as you go.  Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.  Don't worry 'bout what you don't know.  Life's a dance you learn as you go."  Which Nashville philosopher/poet penned those lines, perhaps over watery coffee at the Waffle House, I don't know.  (I guess I could look it up.)

It's prom season around here.  My friends who are more "normal" than I am on the timeline of life have been posting their kids' prom pictures: the hunt for just the right dress, the shy smiles and fumbling with corsages, the beauty-pageant line-ups of pastels, brights, black, and sparkles, the guys with all their variations on tuxes, from ultra-cool casual to sweetly stiff and formal. My favorite shots are the laughing shots--the ones where somebody kicks up a gown to reveal Toms or sneakers, the bunny-ears, the tongues sticking out.  Those are the kids, who, I suspect, have caught the idea that this is a DANCE, a celebration.

Although I survived the junior-high rite of passage in my hometown, Phil Jones Dancing School, along with the rest of the 7th and 8th graders, to be ready for those formal high school dances, maybe a cotillion or two, and The Prom, I never actually went to anything other than the totally informal, flail-and-jump-around-in-jeans affairs in the school gym or the church youth room.  I was, for some reason, not a girl to be asked to the bigger dances.  Maybe the fact that I was 5'10" by seventh grade had something to do with it.  Or maybe it was my less-than-perfect figure, my acne, my general awkwardness... whatever.

Or maybe it was just one more gift of being a late-bloomer.

Instead, my "prom", my celebration, if you will, began well after those years, in my 20's, when I found myself free to discover how much fun it was to "dance like nobody's watching."  Most of the time, I was right.  Nobody was watching.
Much to my kids' amusement now, I guess somebody, somebody with a camera , was watching from time to time. This was an evidently hilarious two-step with a good-natured friend at the Broken Spoke  in Austin, TX 
Do you remember that moment in "The Sound of Music" when Fraulein Maria  is dancing an Austrian folk-dance with the Captain?  They look at each other through the "window" of their arms and something happens...the camera focus turns all blurry,  cue the violins.   My first serious boyfriend and I (yes, I was 22--a late-bloomer, remember?) had our own Maria/Captain moment in a community folk-dance class, learning that very same dance.  We weren't yet a couple at that class, but shortly after our "looking through the window" moment, he got over his "bachelor-to-the-rapture" shyness and asked me to be his date for "The Great Waltz" -- a quirky tradition at UT Austin: an evening of Strauss waltzes and polkas, played by a live orchestra. Fortunately, someone had a camera that night.  That emerald-green taffeta gown with the huge, full skirt and crinoline was a look that just had to be preserved for posterity, along with the pile of big hair sprigged with baby's breath, and the wrist corsage.  (What?  It was the 80's...in Texas, for goodness sake.) 
Can't you just feel the sparks between these two ?
No, the romance didn't last, but the memory of that elegant dancing evening did.  Some pretty fun things happen when you're dancing.

 And then there's this sequence, taken by one of my fellow ESL teachers, as students from Iran, Paraguay, and Japan insisted that we line-dance, in our soaking wet clothes, fresh from a water-fight in the river, while waiting for our barbecue at the school picnic.  The woven-straw crown really completes the ripped jeans and soggy tee-shirt look, doesn't it? (Chicken/egg question here:  is it my fashion sense that contributed to my social retardation, or is it the other way 'round?  )
"Start on your right foot..."
Once we got going with the dance that afternoon, even as the rain started pouring down, a bunch of people joined us.  That happens a lot.  You surrender to the music and let yourself be moved along, not caring who's watching, and suddenly, you're not alone. And that seems to be my experience with dancing through life.

I danced my way through my 20's and at the end of that decade I married a brilliant, cute guy I met in a country-western dance bar, a mathematician/physicist/astronomer whose pick-up line was "Can you dance?"  (Notice that it was not "will you dance?"  My now-husband, Andre, was giving me an instant peek into his precision-oriented personality.) Our first dance as husband and wife, not quite a year later, was a fast two-step with all kinds of twirls and fancy footwork: a fitting start to our adventure as husband and wife, an adventure that marks its 18th year next Monday. 

Have you ever noticed that when you put on music and move (running with your iPod, cleaning the kitchen with the radio on, or those hilarious Zumba classes), you just don't get tired until you're completely, utterly spent?  And even then, you can somehow keep moving, right?  As I train for my 13.1 mile run  across the city of San Francisco this July, I'm compiling my playlists for the iPod, and it's a strange mix: U2, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, and The Chieftains, Twang-Twang-Shocka-Boom and Beyonce, Paul Simon, the choir of ChristChurch Nashville, Black-Eyed Peas and a rock version of "Scotland the Brave".  Oh, and there's 2 versions of the Cotton-Eyed Joe, a jig titled "The Wind that Shakes the Barley",  along with Gloria Estefan's "Conga".  Perhaps I should warn anybody who might come to watch me run the race this summer, if you happen to catch me when Asleep at the Wheel starts up "Boogie Back to Texas", you just might find yourself pulled into the 98-step combination that makes up the Sweetheart Schottische.  

"Don't worry about what you don't know.  Life's a dance you learn as you go." 

 Don't stop until you're completely, utterly spent...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Aging backwards, or what if I'm already so nutty that it's impossible to tell when senility begins to set in?

In my previous post, "Dare, Double Dare", I told you a story about about a girl who hated PE class enough to tell her PE coach that she refused to run the 600 yard "Presidential Fitness Test".  It was among my examples of my stubbornly daring nature.  But now I'm wondering if risking a scolding for not running is really all that daring.  Well, Coach Masiuk, wherever you are, I hope you will read this and have a really good laugh.  Not only do I LIKE running now, I'm actually training to run my first-ever half-marathon.  For those of you who are NOT  PE class superstars, that's 13.1 MILES, which is (getting out my calculator ) 23,056 yards.  Um. I wonder if that's cosmic penance for balking at the 600 yards at the age of 10, with some kind of cosmic interest added, given that I'm 47 now... oh, crap... too much math, another subject that used to inspire fear and loathing, and now inspires a kind of awe and fascination. 
To support my craziness, and to honor my life-changing, lifelong friend, Brett, make a donation to the American Brain Tumor Association Team Breakthrough at my ABTA fundraising website

Which brings me to my question:  as we age, is it normal to start knocking at the doors I slammed in youth and to keep finding that what's behind them is actually pretty cool?  What about this "older and wiser" stuff?  I think I'm going backwards, and I'm loving it.   I'm getting older and more of a sky-blue, wide-eyed optimist than I've ever been. It doesn't mean that I'm suddenly one of those super-achievers who gets it all "right".  Just ask any recipient of one of my "artistic" quilts (that means it has goofs in it) , or my  East-Coast friends and relatives who got some of my beginner-knitter neck-warmers with all kinds of "design elements" (that's code for goofs) for Christmas.   I am unlikely to be one of the first to cross the finish line in the San Francisco Half Marathon (2nd half), but I WILL finish.  ( Somebody might have to bring along a Hefty Lawn and Leaf bag and a gurney to haul my dilapidated carcass onto the BART and back home, but I WILL finish.  ) 

If you read "Dare, Double Dare", then you know that I challenged myself to enter a contest to sing the National Anthem at the baseball stadium where the San Francisco Giants play.  Um... I came in 5th.  OK, so that's not first, but it's in the top 10.  And that essay contest for Real Simple Magazine?  Well, let's just say that I am free to submit my essay elsewhere.   But I wrote it.  I gleefully poured my heart into it.  I shared it with some friends.  I did it, freely, with love and optimism.   And I might be way off here, but I'm beginning to think that I might be onto something: if I'm free to fail without being devastated, and if I'm throwing myself into projects ("dares") that I love, then any achievement that gets measured along the way is just, well, wonderful, but it's not the pre-requisite for feeling like a winner.   I'm a winner when I keep living, learning, failing, and trying again, chuckling at myself.   

I read "The Once and Future King" a long time ago, and have watched the movie,"Camelot" more times than I should admit.  The line that sticks with me is what Merlin said to young Wot (later called King Arthur)  "The best thing for being sad is to learn something".   Merlin had it right.  The best thing for being sad is to learn something.  And middle-age brings PLENTY to be sad about... um, gravity, can we talk?  Or those moments when we have to acknowledge that our kids really aren't going to be Rhodes Scholars or Olympic medalists or Van Cliburn Competition winners... (and if yours are, well... why are you reading my blog? You've got places to be right now.)   Relationships that change and maybe end, physical decline...And then there's the basic fact that my journey on earth is probably about half-done.  Yikes.  That's a lot to be sad about.  And if I take my eyes off my own tiny life and look around, there's so much greed, injustice (even within my beloved church), abuse,exploitation... Let's not go there today.  

So, I guess, for me, that means I'd better keep going with the learning-something path.  In the past couple of weeks, I've been sidelined from running by a small stress fracture (check the boxes marked "gravity", "physical decline") in my heel.  I'm wearing a "boot" for about 4 more weeks, but I need to keep training for my half-marathon.  

So that has booted me into the brand-new (for me) world of cross-training--another great adventure in "who knew this was so cool!?"  I'm water-running  (put down your coffee before you watch how funny this looks)

And I'm bike-riding.  No, seriously.  I have pedaled 49 miles this week, and I just bought myself a bike that actually fits my big-ol long legs.  And I am learning, learning, learning things: like "bike shorts with padding that protects one's hoo-hah is truly a necessity and not a luxury" and "don't try to shift gears on the steepest part of the hill".  I've discovered that my part of the East Bay is just riddled with paved bike paths that connect me to all kinds of destinations.  (If it weren't for the rain predicted for this afternoon, I'd be riding my bike to my dentist appointment. )

Oh,and I'm studying barefoot running, as explained in Christopher McDougall's  book, Born to Run .  I've even joined the "100 Up Challenge" to see if I can overhaul my faulty running technique by marching slowly in place, in my bare feet.   Sorry, no snarf-inducing video on that one yet, but stay tuned. (That's either a promise or a threat,depending on how you feel about watching a well-upholstered middle-aged woman march in place.)

Meanwhile, I'm just about $1200 short of my fundraising goal for my run.  I want to raise $3500 for the American Brain Tumor Association, to fund brain-tumor-fighting research and treatment, in honor of my very dear friend (living beautifully and courageously with brain cancer), the friend who helped me kick-off my middle-aged renaissance in 2009 by helping me re-learn to sing.

I was sad.  My friend taught me something new.   It worked!

Who knew?!