Due North

Due North

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I’m wondering how humans are made, the mechanics of it. Or maybe I’m wondering how I’m made, and if it’s more different or alike than other humans. It’s hard to tell. Emotionally I mean. Do we all arrive with the same basic equipment? If so, does this hold true globally? Or is our apparatus set to reflect geographic conditions, cultural standards? How much of what I experience inside is similar to what you experience? I’m actually wondering particularly about happiness. Joy, or the absence there of. Of course, I get it that those in tragic or difficult circumstances aren’t feeling joyful, but is their meter still running quietly beneath the despair, ticking away in a dormant state? I have to believe that we each have a mechanism, the programming and possibility of joy. I mean, I just have to start there, don’t I?

 

I remember moments of joy as a kid, and have memories of fun, but most of my childhood feels like the longest gray dawn imaginable, taking YEARS for the sun to finally show its late ass face. But shortly after leaving home it did, and I remember being shocked at how deeply joyous I could feel, once the meter started running on the reg again. It was the most pleasant of surprises, and for the most part, through all of the ups and downs of the following decades, that motor has not failed me. Which is not at all to say that I’m always happy. I’m not an idiot.

 

A few significant things have been taking place in my life over the past six months, some of them movements that I’ve been waiting years to see. It has rearranged some of the furniture in my mind, done some deep internal housecleaning that needed to happen, and I feel healthier than I have in many years. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. It’s been a blast, I gotta say. I’ve also got to honestly say that in this past week something occurred that left me reeling for a few days. Probably more accurate to say reoccurred, as addiction has been a lifelong companion to me, having never had a time in my life where I wasn’t connected to an addict and the impact of his/her behaviors. And of course I have my own issues, though not with substance abuse. Anyway, long story short, the dance began this week again, seemingly out of nowhere, as is often the case. Though not really. (I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, so for those that know me and might be wondering, my family is ok, please don’t worry. No drugs were taken in the making of this story:). As you might expect, emotional issues were deeply involved, and I found myself once again at the bottom of the pit, struggling to find the rope and begin the long climb back to the top. To find, once again, my own sense of peace, while not losing touch with those whom I love and care for. Even writing these words… it’s funny. It’s a well-worn path in my life, but still a bit of a jungle; you gotta get that machete out each time and start chopping your way back to civilization. For me, it’s a fight to get back to my joy. Joy has become the light waiting in the dark for me, the home base.

 

Even on the worst night of my life, I remember lying in bed for hours, trying to make sense of the inconceivable horrors of the day. And feeling the smallest ticking deep within as I wondered how we would go on living. I imagine it to be like the way a compass needle trembles and jumps toward the north. Beating ever so slightly beneath the shock and pain was the tiniest needle… pointing toward joy. It wasn’t showing the way, but it was reminding me that the possibility still existed, somewhere. I guess that’s where hope lies, right? In that tiny beating needle…. In our belief that Joy is always at least a future possibility, even in the darkest hour it shines from the distance.

 

So in the shock of this week’s development, I lost sight of that needle momentarily. There were a few days, or parts of days, where I couldn’t get past my feelings. But slowly I began to be aware of the ticking…the trembling of the compass point beneath my emotions. Pointing the way toward strength, toward recovery. Maybe it’s true that our feelings are connected in some way to the compass? Even as I tried to help my friend find his way back from the jungle, we talked a lot about feelings. Understanding them, recognizing them and growing in our understanding of their mechanical origins and directions. Knowing ourselves, and how we work internally. Becoming master of our own ships, stepping up to take the wheel and steer the course ourselves rather than letting the tides and the moon decide where we go. For me, the better I understand myself the easier it is to find my way in the dark. It’s a tricky process; I’m a little nervous even typing those words. Am I inviting the fates to come at me now?

 

A happier part of my journey this past half year came through a call I began to sense through various books I was reading, about giving back to my community. It took a while for me to find the right spot but I guess about 6 weeks ago I found a place of service in my community that feels so very right to me. The director of this group is a very inspiring woman who, after years of service, had been stricken with a rare syndrome that causes paralysis, among other horrible symptoms. Shortly after I began serving it was announced that she was climbing the local lighthouse to celebrate her recovery, a year after she had been stricken. I went to the lighthouse simply to cheer her on. Believe me when I tell you that that was my ONLY intention, as my fear of heights is lifelong, well known, and a source of humor for many that know me. (You know who you are:). But a wonderful new friend happened to be there as well, even holding pairs of gloves for any new climbers. She asked me a few times about joining in, but each time I insisted my fear was too great. Long story short, when I saw Malea begin her climb, the ridiculousness of my position finally kicked in. This woman had been PARALYZED, and she was beginning the slow eight story climb. Come on, Kevan. How much of a baby ARE you?! … The funny part was that a local newscaster was taping the whole thing, so that when we finally arrived at the top and walked out onto the little landing that encircles the top, the whole thing was captured on film, even appearing on the evening news that night. I was very happy to celebrate Malea’s recovery of course, but I was also having my own private moment of joy, feeling so much gratitude for the beauty and release on that landing. It made perfect sense to me that my freedom would come as the culmination of a series of seemingly random events: my obedience to the call to serve, the inspiring kindness of one woman who dreamed of feeding the hungry in her community, and a beautiful new friend who was thoughtful enough to bring gloves and encouragement for whoever showed up. This to me is Joy at work. My needle was trembling off the charts that day and as I watched that newscast, I rejoiced at ALL that was going on on that red metal landing.

 

I continue to climb that lighthouse tower several times a week now. Part of it is for exercise; it’s a great workout and I’ve joined in with a merry band of “conquerors” who enjoy the climb regularly. I’m grateful for the exercise and even more for the friendships. But just like that afternoon climb celebrating Malea’s recovery, I’m having my own separate joy experience at the top of that tower. I rest my back against the warm wall of the tower, away from the railing mind you, and look out at the greenery, the shining intercoastal, and the little community I’ve grown to love SO much. And I just let it all sink into my spirit. The great beauty, the deep gratitude that wells up in me each and every time, and the almost primal JOY that resonates through each nerve ending as I stand, amazed, up there in that breeze. I wish I could bottle this sensation, feed it to the hurting, those who might be discouraged… as I was earlier this week. In the absence of that elixir, I can only say… look for the needle. Its tremble might be weak, it may appear to be moving from a great distance. But I have to believe it’s there. I really do think it’s built into our wiring. Look due north, for that tiny tremble.

 

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Let It Flow

Let It Flow

Remember the Brad Pitt movie about Benjamin Button, the guy who aged backwards? He was born an old man and aged in reverse, vanishing as a baby. I’m feeling a bit Button-ish in my aging process, and it’s so exhilarating I can’t sleep tonight… sitting in my living room typing this at 4 AM because my brain won’t stop running, setting off celebratory firecrackers when it’s supposed to be sleeping. Going over and over the revelations of these past few months, trying to take it all in. Maybe simply because it IS 4 in the morning, I’m feeling very big picture about it all. Very “what’s it all about, Alfie,” if you know what I mean. So if you don’t enjoy random stream of consciousness imagery and longwinded wanderings, you may wanna save yourselves and move on to the next post right now. Check out what your neighbor had for breakfast or see the latest pet memes.

 

Like many females, I’ve always been driven by relationships. Sometimes this has been healthy for me, sometimes not so much. For the most part, I’ve been very, very fortunate, far more than I deserve. A few months ago I drove up to jerzey to support dear friends in a sad time.  It’s funny how that works. When tragedies hit our instincts cause us to come together, to sit in rooms together and just BE. We weep, we tell stories, we eat, we drink, and ultimately we laugh. It’s kind of beautiful, and those moments are probably our first feeble steps toward healing. The human condition is both bizarre and wonderful, and extreme situations highlight that powerfully. Anyway, that week in jerzey touched me deeply, for many reasons. I felt deep affection for the amazing friends who opened their home to us without question, and I experienced profound reconnection with the old friends who came together to provide support for one another. A very intense time, and I drove back wondering how it was possible that I had moved a thousand miles away from people who meant so much to me, with whom I shared a lifetime of stories.

 

And then I arrived in my beloved floridee, and was warmly engulfed by the sweet, sweet folks whom I’ve been lucky enough to find friendship with here. No, we didn’t grow up together and our stories don’t go back years. None of them ever met my Zack, and sometimes that feels like a gap. But don’t think for a moment that we haven’t grown together. In fact, I feel like I’ve been rigorously schooled here. Creating a new story in a new town is an adventure I highly recommend, and I’m thrilled my kids are experiencing it too, even though some are far from me. I wouldn’t want to see them miss the opportunity to stretch themselves, to have to learn about themselves, and recreate fulfilling friendships. I stumbled many times in the process, especially since some of it has taken place in the worst few years of my life, in a time when I presented a Kevan who was, well, not completely there. Not my best work. As I moved into my eventual recovery I sometimes wanted to wear a sandwich board proclaiming publicly, “That wasn’t really ME,” a disclaimer of sorts for some of my craziest behavior in those dark times.

 

But the thing is, that WAS me. A broken me, a grief-stricken distortion of me, but still. What I’ve learned is that real friends extend grace that covers those behaviors, and I also have learned to offer grace to those who seemed put off by them, because we’re ALL just trying to do the best we can. This was a HUGE lesson for me, and I’m only learning it now at this advanced age. The Benjamin Button effect. In my doddering years I’m finally waking up to grace, what a concept. I am such a black/white personality, and over the years I think I put terrible expectations on relationships. I regret that now, but am learning to forgive even myself. Maya Angelou said it perfectly: forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it. We’re all just walking each other home, right? I’ve got nothing but love now for every one who shared the path with me, nothing but straight up gratitude.

 

I’m back to myself now, but I still falter in relationships at times. Do something thoughtless, forget something important, revert to my innate selfishness. Again, the human condition. It’s okay though, I’m not sweating it so much anymore, or your missteps either. I want to do better and I will. I’ll continue to learn and grow, it’s never too late. I’ve got my eyes trained on all the good stuff, and man, there’s plenty of it. We swim in a river of goodness, and the current never stops. Just in the past few days, beautiful amazing things have happened. Maybe they do all the time, but I just paid more attention this past week? I’ve hung out with dear, fun friends who made me laugh (my favorite!), and we spoke to each other of things truthful, encouraging, and creative. I’ve had opportunity to give back to my community, something that I learned at the feet of creative givers, and my life has been greatly enriched by it. I’ve even managed to accidentally (right) beat back a lifelong fear of mine, all because an awesome new friend just “happened to be” standing at a place when I went to encourage someone else. I’m telling ya, the river is FLOWING, yall!

 

Why am I finally taking in some wisdom at such an advanced age? Wouldn’t it have been prudent to figure out these things earlier? In a word, yes. I dunno, maybe I saw something shiny and got distracted…. Maybe I was busy learning other things…. Maybe I was not learning at all, but was simply surviving other challenges. Could be any of the above. But I am learning to savor these times of growth, I’m appreciating these hard won lessons as they come in. Like Benjamin, I’m moving into a youthful exuberance, with a side of confusion and wonder. It’s all good, though. I’m in the river, baby! No place I’d rather be.

The Beauty of Bread Crumbs

The Beauty of Bread Crumbs

I can’t think of many things more essential to me than friends. And in this stage of my life, I’m referring to girlfriends. Which is odd, because I spent many of my adult years undervaluing their importance. I thought I enjoyed men friends more. They like to be silly, be outdoors, and most have little interest in gossip or shopping; they just felt like a better fit with me. Oh, how wrong I was, and my repentance is sincere and bone deep.

 

When I moved to Floridee about nine years ago and started my new life here, it took a while to really build meaningful relationships. As artists, we worked at home and left our community most weekends to take to the road for art shows. Made some fun friends on the road, a few who have become deeply significant to us, but most often they are people from all over and we see them in short weekend spurts, when our paths come together on the art show circuit. Making friends here at home would take a while longer.

 

And it’s funny how I first met Julie. I was invited by an older couple whom I adored to come to their home one night with a few others to see about being a part of their small group, a weekly gathering, back in my oh so distant church days. We told them we were spending the summer in Jerzey, and were in fact leaving the next day for about 5 months. It’s what we did the first few years down here, we still went back to our house in Jerz to do shows and visit family for the summer. But Vito said no worries, no commitments, just come see what it’s about. Out of nothing but sheer respect and politeness we agreed to attend, expecting to merely meet a few new people and be on our way.

 

Got to their house, saying my hellos, when I heard loud laughter coming in the door. LOUD laughter, and there is no better way to get my attention. My first Julie sighting, and I had no idea what kind of blessing was coming into my life. I was distracted, we all were, by the schedules Vito handed us, listing our upcoming times to host…. in the small group that we had no idea we were joining. However, I’m a big believer in following the path of cookie crumbs the Universe sets out before me. We liked Vito so much, we just thought we’d go along with it.

 

Fast forward to next fall, we return to St Augustine and take our place in the schedule. Turns out to be a good thing, as we enjoyed these new people and started meeting weekly, 8 of us. All of it part of my schooling from the Universe; it’s been a good thing for me to start over, to be less insistent on my own way. Earlier I would not have allowed myself to get embroiled in any regular hang with people until I made sure it was a good flow (for ME, it goes without saying. Yes, I was a jerk in that way, and others, I’m sure). I liked things the way I liked them. But Vito’s ways were Vito’s ways all the way, and I learned from that surrender.

 

I quickly came to enjoy so many things about Julie. I thought I was queen of letting it all hang out, but the crown was mine no longer. I didn’t even realize what a gift her straightforwardness was at that time, because it took me a few years to really find my way through the southern culture. Bless my heart. Her truthfulness was a care package from home, in a land where it is sometimes considered impolite to tell the truth. I would come to rely on Julie’s honesty again and again, and for a while, in my craziest sad days, she was like a compass to me, pointing the way to safety… to truth. Being real has always been the safe zone for me; I’m not great at reading subtle signals, at playing the games of manners, especially with females, ironically. But Julie was as real as they come; I never had to wonder where I stood with her.

 

The Universe was SO behind that involuntary gathering. A year after we started meeting one couple split up, completely shocking us all. This is what I’m saying. We met with them weekly, supposedly sharing our hearts and lives with one another, and to us it seemed to stop on a dime. Of course it didn’t, but this is the thing about southern culture. It’s sometimes hard to know what’s really happening, for me anyway. I’ve since been in another group and experienced this phenomenon for a second time. Believe me, folks, if my marriage falls apart, it shall be no secret or shock to anyone lol. Probably somewhere between my oversharing and their locked lips lies a healthy balance. And when Julie’s marriage struggled she trusted us to know it and be a part of working with them and for them to help, if possible. Sadly, it wasn’t possible, and my friend who had become so dear to me was hurting, openly. It was hard to leave her that spring when we headed to Jersey, and I had no idea that we too were heading for the worst hurting of our lives. Within five days of arriving our hearts were also broken.

 

My phone rang many times that summer, calls and texts from friends offering support. But I could never bring myself to respond, I just didn’t have it in me. The only calls I took were Julie’s. When your heart is broken there is a rest in sitting with another broken-hearted person; perhaps that’s the power of support groups. We were each other’s support group, and we made it through, carried by the kindnesses of many and of each other.

 

One of my favorite things about Julie is her capacity for dreaming. The first night I got back we drove down to the Hammock area, sat by the inlet and watched the sun set with a bucket of clams and a bottle of wine or two. She had lost her beautiful home by the water and yet she told me that night that one day she’d have a home in the woods, on the water again. After enough wine, we actually drove around and walked some of the nearby properties, out on their decks and lawns, imagining what Jul’s future home might look like. She had a passion for farm markets too, and shared with me her vision to start a local market to serve both the community and local farmers. Over the next few years I can’t say that I saw much forward movement in either of those dreams but that never discouraged Julie. She talked of those things as if they already were, and in her mind it was done.  She never stopped believing, in herself or her dreams, and that was huge for me to watch. Like me, she is an extremist. Her personality, her vision, her belief in herself… they are rock solid. I felt for a while that I was almost translucent, wispy enough psychically to blow away in a strong breeze, and being around Julie did much to ground me. She is confident without being obnoxious about it, she is sure of who she is, and I had begun to really wonder in my lostness…The Universe knows what it’s doing when it puts out those bread crumbs, it is best to pay attention. Julie was a touchstone for me, and I hope I served a similar purpose for her.

 

I don’t want to embarrass her by going on and on, but suffice it to say that Julie has been running the Salt Air Farmer’s Market near Marineland for almost 5 years, and since the fall she and her friend and business partner Sloan have been directing the Wednesday Pier Market as well. She’s also bought herself a beautiful home in the woods, right on a spring that leads to Lake George. Dreamer Extraordinaire, she knows how to make things happen. Painful losses and sorrows can hurt us for sure, but they can also strengthen us if we allow them room to do so. I have been lucky in my life, far more lucky than I deserve or ever hoped to be. I know this because of gifts like Julie, and I know that you have similar stories in your own life. Wouldn’t it be great if we recognized and acknowledged them while we have the chance? Thank you, Universe, for unwanted small groups and surprise friendships. May they ever continue.

 

 

 

 

School Daze

School Daze

So here’s a Lovely and Unexpected Gift that has found its way to me. A little over a year ago I wanted to give myself a birthday treat. I’d been wanting to learn some mixed media techniques for the longest time, and those YouTube tutorials refuse to stay in my dainty little head. I did however keep seeing popups about Flow Art Studio in Jax Beach, offering some great classes, and when one mentioned a free art journaling class on the very day of my birth, it was clearly a sign of favor and I was all in. It meant a two hour drive but it seemed too right to ignore.

 

I kind of enjoy going to new places where I’ll know no one, and since it was a free event I wasn’t sure what to expect. Certainly nothing as delightful as what I found. I met a warm friendly group of about a half dozen women, who welcomed me eagerly, slapped a folder in my hand to contain that day’s and all future projects (again all free!), and settled in to get to know me. We painted, glued and played for a few hours, all the while sharing skills and ideas, and my initial impression was that I could learn quite a bit there if I were to keep attending. Well, yesssssss, but…. not the things I thought I was going for, only everything else in the cosmos.

 

You see, I had been wanting for the longest time to see some changes in myself. I gave myself space to grieve and grow, but let’s face it, I wasn’t crazy about all the places my journey had taken me. Grief can be, by its very nature, a bit self-consuming. And there’s nothing wrong with that; any and all parts of that process are, well, whatever they are. It is its own journey; no rules, no parameters, a bit of a perverse funhouse: all warped mirrors and little fun. It just goes where it goes, or that was my experience anyway. I was coming out of it with no self-condemnation, but that didn’t mean I wanted to stay in that condition either. Self absorption is exactly what I wanted to lose.

 

So while I debate over whether or not I’m willing to drive two hours each week to learn mixed media techniques, the Universe has a happy little chuckle at my silliness, and sets me up to get to know women who excel in giving… in serving… in global caring, seeing beyond themselves, in being amazing humans. In short, being the complete opposite of self-absorbed. And just to personalize it to the nth degree, one of them had also lost a son. All of them, in fact, were well acquainted with sorrow and struggle. Yes, dear readers, you can hear the Universe cackling now, can’t you?

 

There is much, so much, I don’t understand about how things work, but I do believe that the sincere desire for growth stimulates the process. Years ago I came up with a title for a short story I wanted to write called “Gentle by Thursday,” because I caught myself wondering if I could become a gentler, kinder person for some event happening that Thursday. The idiocy of my thinking seemed like the seeds of a funny story, and I never forgot that title. Because it is in our nature to want to change by this time next week; in other words, quickly and painlessly. If only. There goes that mad cackle again.

 

But on some level the Universe does recognize the sustained yearning of our hearts for growth… and sends us to Jacksonville for art classes. My group eventually settled out to include three or four fantastic women, sisters of the soul and so much more. My teacher guides. Robin actually runs the studio and a more generous, giving person I do not know. But Mother Teresa she is not; she’s way too much fun and quick to laugh. Not that the Mother was not; I just haven’t heard of her jokester side. Robin’s is front and center, just the way I like it. As an artist she is fine with sharing her skills and secret methods, and that alone makes her stand out in the crowd. Some artists can be the teensiest bit paranoid and overly protective….shhhh. She is brave enough to walk into the studio some weeks with no plan and just the slimmest idea of a direction, that never fails to inspire and take us all somewhere new. Her bravery extends to her business side as well, and it would have to, wouldn’t it? Giving free classes to whomever shows up, supplying all materials, just because she wants to provide people an entry into the creative world. She also offers a wide variety of paid classes, check out Flow Studio, now in Neptune Beach. If you’re lucky enough to hang out with her, be prepared to laugh while learning. She has become dear to my heart, and for obvious reasons she is known as Comet Girl.

 

Teri was probably the one I felt the most instant connection with, which is kinda funny because each week that we worked side by side, my work was always an explosion of overwrought colliding colors while Teri’s was… an ordered, well thought out triumph of calm, soothing beauty. Always significant, always speaking to me. I began to take note of our processes, our differences… and eventually our similar conclusions. We always talked as we worked and I noticed that Teri’s stories were often about serving… caring for pets at the shelters, doing early morning turtle duty during egg-laying season on the beaches… her passion for caring for the planet. She wasn’t sharing them to impress; she didn’t need to. Teri was just talking about her days, her priorities, how she chose to spend the days she’s been given. I just happened to be sitting next to her while it poured out of her. And I knew pretty quickly that her perspective was fresh and new, to me. The kindness just flowed. I’d been wanting to splash in that river for a loooooong time.

 

Jen always had her baby with her, and I think when I first met them he was maybe 6 months old, mostly sleeping in his little seat. I was just getting back to where I could be with kids again without it hurting too much, and Jen and James were the perfect reentry. I right away picked up a vibe from her that we had similar stories. I’m always drawn to those who have traveled the rougher roads; they are my people. Jen was only with us for maybe another 9 months before she moved to TN but before she left we had connected on a deep level, I think maybe because she also was looking to grow and move forward. We all were but those of us who first go backwards for a while have a deep appreciation for every step, and I loved that about her. I so love celebrating life with those drinking deeply at its cistern.

 

And Christy, well, Christy was the capper. Listening to Christy was when I first realized I was being schooled. She talked often of her work at the Mayo Clinic and another area hospital, of the hours she spent developing occupational and art therapy programs, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Some of the other women mentioned joining her and helping her serve the patients there, and I was impressed by their willingness to volunteer their time. No, I wasn’t impressed; I was more blown away. They talked about it often enough that it began to dawn on me that we were talking about regular, weekly time. It probably says something about me that it took me months to realize that Christy herself was volunteering all of this time. Hours spent developing the programs, and then tweaking them to fit the needs of each hospital and its patients, and then faithfully offering them each week to patients and hospital staff. She is not retired. She is a middle-aged, beautiful newlywed in fact, who has a story that I can’t wait to hear more of. For she, and Robin, and Teri, and Jen, is teaching me by osmosis how to live… how to give… how to wake up to generosity as a life style. I’m from jerzey; that does not come naturally to me. No offense, jerz.

 

Oddly, today is Robin’s birthday and 4 of us will gather to celebrate the wonders of this beautiful sister, who has assembled a thirsty group of artists, seemingly to learn about paint and color and creating art. It’s never that simple, is it? Her kindness and open heart has birthed so much more. We’ve kinda come full circle, birthday to birthday, and that seems like more than a coincidence to me. I am being righteously schooled, joyously recognizing the gift of transformation from the Universe. My sisters would say the same, I’m guessing. And you too…. it’s probably happening to you too, if you’re hungry enough. Happy birthday to us all, right? Would love to hear your school tales too, if you’d like to share. Funny, that school bell has a cackling sound to it….

 

 

Entertaining Angels

Entertaining Angels

So here’s the thing. I’ve been getting signs from the Universe lately about writing. Regularly. Usually when I write and share my thoughts it’s because things have been building up in my head and I need release. I feel relief when I get it all on the outside. But this feels a bit different; this feels more like, well… I don’t need to label it, right? Just do it. When the Universe is sending me personal signals that feel significant I try to go with it.

 

What would I write about? It’s been coming to me for days but tonight I just woke up at 4 with the answer fully formed and flowing in mid-thought. You. I want to write about the amazing people in my life. I am the luckiest girl in the world for a few reasons but one of the more outstanding ones is that my life is lavishly drenched with people that move me, inspire me, teach me, entertain me, and encourage me. And I’ve shared before that people have fascinated me from an early age. As a child I would get in trouble for staring at people, my mouth hanging open in wonder, just watching them interact and be so interestingly….human. It’s probably weird that I was doing it as late as junior high but there you have it. I just can’t get over the way we all think and behave and are made. But I do tend to overthink everything, I am relentlessly curious. A friend just spent last weekend with us and as the poor thing tried to watch a movie with me while enduring all of my questions/comments/thoughts, she finally turned to me and said with a baleful look, “You don’t just watch a movie, do you?” (Well, we may have been the teensiest bit stoned). My reply was, “Sandy, I don’t JUST do anything.” I’m horribly all in if I’m in at all; and this is why at 4 AM I had to get on the computer and begin typing just now.  Like I said, you gotta go with it when it’s happening.

 

A lovely woman who I’ve been getting to know and care for in the past year said a fascinating thing to me the other day. She is a Giver of the highest order, always flowing from a place of kindness and generosity from what I can tell. And she told me that she had recently bought herself the gift of a ceramic pasta set that she had been wanting for about 25 years. She laughed then and said, “I don’t know why I’ve had that in my head for so long but I have and the time was just right this week so I did it.” I got it immediately, and years ago made a similar statement about a spice rack, weirdly. But I also found it intriguing and knew there was a story in there, a story that may or may not have involved pasta. We all have them, and that is what makes life so rich, so endlessly captivating. I love people. All kinds, all ages, all backgrounds. I am deeply curious about our stories, and how we all fit together. So I’d like to write about those….

 

Of course, being female, when I woke up at 4 with this idea, this desire, pouring out of my spirit, I right away thought of reasons not to do it. Things that could be wrong with it. Why do we do that? Like, who do you think you are, that anyone would read this; you’re such an egomaniac. Yes, I am the Queen of Overthinking, but just go with it. Well, maybe no one, and that is fine. I’d still get to put into words my delight in the gifts of the people around me.

What could be so wrong with that? Well, for one thing, maybe people don’t WANT you to write about them, you need to consider that. Like your friend Maryann that you wrote about last week. You didn’t even ASK her before you outted her very personal story all over Facebook. What a jerk…. Well, I did run it by her close friend to get her thoughts on it, but I didn’t want to put Maryann in an awkward position on top of everything else….I wanted to give her and her sons honor, in my own weird way. And I had to get that stuff outta my head, that grief and pain. Writing kinda saved me in my own process…. Even though when I look back and read some of it I find my own tendency toward oversharing and gut wrenching spillage kind of embarrassing now. Well Kevan, this idea of yours could upgrade your embarrassment quota to whole new levels. Yep, I guess it could…. But the thing is, I think I’m ok with that. If I’m true to myself. Being human is kinda embarrassing if you think about it. Us running around being all….crazed with feelings and thoughts and dreams and needs…. Oh, those damn needs. But embracing and sharing and outing those things brings relief, to me anyway.  To many females, especially. So maybe I could write these things and not name the person? Oh, but I really want to, to give them props and honor and mad, mad love. So what, Kevan. It’s not all about you… much as you think it is.  Oh stop. Just stop. Get off my back, will you. Let me be me!

 

Okay then. Go ahead with your bad self. Write about your beautiful friends in all of their mad glory. Do your thing. Maybe just use their initial, instead of their full name. What do you think, readers? Initials or first names? Oh, and one final thought if I may, and this one is, well, honest and real: I am NOT looking for compliments here. Yes, I’m encouraged and flattered by all your kind words about my writing, of course. But that’s not necessarily what’s best for me. Flattery just causes me problems with my ego and I don’t need any more of that. I’d really prefer to pay respect to you, and maybe inch us all toward looking around our own lives and seeing the gifts of each other. Maybe pay it forward by us giving props to one another, privately or publicly. I know I’m not the only one blessed by entertaining angels in her life, aware or otherwise.

Maryann

Maryann

I first met her when I moved to a new town, got involved with a new community. Her son was hospitalized as a raging fever revealed the absence of a spleen, a situation ultimately fatal. Maryann’s first son, Sean, gone at nine months.

The next few years were a blur of babies, as we each had three boys, matching in ages and to a degree, temperament. It was an unexpected development for me, as was our deep involvement in the spiritual community that had opened their hearts widely to us. I never expected to marry, let alone have babies, or go to church or PTA or any of the other activities that quickly filled our hearts and our calendars. But we had already run the games out on our own terms and years on the streets and in addiction made this alternative reality pretty attractive. Very shiny. We were all in.

Feeling such a stranger in a strange land made my friendship with Maryann all the more meaningful to me. In one week I turned thirty, moved to a new town, quit my longtime job and had my first child. It was like being catapulted to an alternative universe, and I’m sure I left scratch marks on the walls, kicking and screaming my way in. Motherhood was an unexpected mystery to me and much of it unfolded through Maryann: nursing, diapers, surviving without sleep….being alone with babies and toddlers for days… A drastic change of course, but our friendship eased me in. With her I could always vent, question, dream…..wonder about so much. My love language is laughter and we did much of it, always talking about things that were real. Keeping things hidden wasn’t our style, and I don’t know if I’d have made it through those years as freely as I did without her.

I went on to have one more baby, a girl, and we both raised our kids in a bubble that seemed to promise a certain future. It took me a while to recognize it but there was much misunderstanding in our expectations. Speaking for myself, I thought if I tried to raise my kids in an affectionate home of love and laughter they’d embrace our values and morality. Simplistic, I know now, but it was the dream that we lived in and lived for. Those early years were some of my happiest; Maryann’s happiness was tempered by the loss of Sean, of course. The loss of a child doesn’t preclude happiness. It does change it, but many of us who have traversed the path of deepest grief reach a new revelation of how to live, and for some it does include joy, or a different version of it. I expected to raise and deliver happy, healthy, helpful citizens to the world.

I often wonder about the various factors that may have played a role in the alternative version of our dreams that ultimately played out. In my family’s story we struggled with addiction issues always; addiction has always been present in my life in one form or another. But that’s not at all the whole story; some of our kids were drawn into the lifestyle, others were completely disinterested. And it is the same in my family of origin. Cruelly random, seemingly. Life isn’t a simple morality tale in black and white. Human complexities plus culture plus circumstances plus….well, you get the idea. Aim in a direction that feels right and hope for the best.

It was my turn next; we lost Zack five and a half years ago. Talk about random; he had a seizure and asphyxiated on his vomit, sleeping on his back. Interestingly, our house was just opened after all the post Sandy repairs, so no furniture yet. Zack’s mattress lay on the new carpet, he hadn’t had time yet to get a bed frame. If he had would his girlfriend have heard the bed shaking and woken him? I say it again: no simple answers. But Maryann and her family were in my house for days, just showing support with their presence.

Three years later, Mare’s turn again when she lost her oldest remaining son David. Absolutely heartbreaking, and she wasn’t even my only close friend to lose more than one. And my heart ached from far away.

I’m driving back to Florida now after yet another cruel surprise for my dear friend. When her third son, beautiful Danny, was taken we drove up to sit beside them. It’s all you can do. After the service a bunch of us took them out, and as I looked at the long table of old friends I realized none of us had been spared. Not all had children who died but all knew the horrendous pain of watching their kids blow up their own lives. And in no small measures. Maybe it’s why we were all gathered, unconsciously. Our dreams have been severely challenged. We’ve had to re-examine our hopes, our own hearts, in the toughest ways. But we still had love, and there was much laughter at the table that night.

I love so many of the 12 step tag lines. Keep it simple, stupid. One day at a time. So much wisdom in these simple yet revolutionary concepts. Our dreams of a beautiful future for us and our children…they’ve been radically transfigured. We’ve had to surrender the idea of simple equations and explanations. We’ve had to learn to never compare; the entryway to endless pain and frustration. We’ve had to redefine happiness…family….future. For the worst reasons. But still….one of my sweet friends at the table that night told me today she’s found friends to be her new understanding of family. I’m so glad she’s able to grasp that silver lining. I’m so grateful that 36 years ago I became friendly with the funny girl who lived across the street. She knew sorrow deeply but she never forgot how to laugh. She never quit living…hoping…expecting goodness. I’m still standing with you, Mare. Counting it an honor of the highest order. 💛

Saddle Up

Saddle Up

Today I will be attending the memorial service of a friend recently lost, a lovely man who played a significant role in our experience of settling into St Augustine, of it feeling like home.  Vito and his equally wonderful wife, Jane, were two of the first friends we made, and that was some serious good fortune right there. A very focused man, Vito’s actions were driven by his huge heart, and the story of how our friendship deepened is kind of a funny one, revealing much about both him and us. He approached us several months after we first met, and told us that he was forming a small group to do some spiritual journeying together. He thought we might have an interest and invited us to come over and hear more about his plans, even though we were leaving for a whole summer in Jerzey just a few days later. More out of respect and affection than anything else, we stopped by that night, along with two other couples.

 

Vito met us at the door with his usual warm hug, and handed us a schedule, committing all four couples to the next six months of bi-weekly hosting and meeting, with our Jerzey time factored in and accounted for. I think the other guests were as surprised as we were. That story could have ended badly, right? But the beauty of it, and of Vito actually, was in its sense of flow. It was hard to miss the humor in it, but we all just as strongly felt the “rightness” of the plan. Something good was happening here, and when the River is flowing right, the only wise thing to do is jump in and start swimming.

 

I’m so glad we did. Two of those eight remain among my closest friends here. It will be my honor to go tonight and celebrate a man who loved chasing the River as much as I do. He spent time in his last months making specific, thoughtful plans for his last service; as I said, a man of great focus. He wanted his friends to enjoy good food, good wine, and some bocce ball. Not a bad sendoff, and I appreciate a well-planned exit.

 

If you know me well, and even if you don’t, oddly, you may have heard me speak of my plans for my own final service. They’ve been in place for probably close to 20 years now, and I mention them whenever the topic comes up because, pushy to the end, I feel so strongly about the feeling I want to communicate one last time to those I love most. Some of the specifics are…. odd. There’s some audience-participation, some physical acting out, and without giving away too much, I will caution you not to wear heels to the service. I know there will be disbelief and/or reluctance, but I figure if I tell enough of you, someone is gonna force the issue, represent for me in my first absence. C’mon, y’all, trust me one last time. It’ll be fun.

 

It came to me when I fell for this song years ago, a song that seemed to encapsulate my own energy and passion for life like no other. For me, there was only one appropriate response to this song. If you know the song and my plans, can I get an amen?! I haven’t been to a ton of memorial services but I know that as much as we want a “celebration,” it’s hard to really get to that emotion on that day. Have no fear, friends, I’ve got it covered. Obnoxious even from the grave. Geez.

 

I listened to the song about a year ago, for the first time in many years, and was kinda horrified to hear how dated it was. It now sounds pretty “pop,” not my style at all.  Some of the lyrics no longer fit as well; my journey has gone off the beaten path since then. I panicked a bit, and wondered if I’d have to actually change my plan, after bugging people about it for years…. Could I really let this song represent me? Can I really go out on a pop song??…. You laugh, but to someone who loves and needs music as much as I do, this is no small thing.

 

Interestingly, the artist is also a parent who lost a child, in a particularly horrible way. Life can take your breath away with its cruelty sometimes. He’s well known, and many people watched him survive, and go on, changed but unbent. “Struck down, but not destroyed.” That’s the thing: life comes at ya sometimes. But this song he wrote that means so much to me… it’s about the adventure we’re all on even as we travel down those rougher roads. Adventure is one of my favorite words. I wish I had the super power that could enable me to implant passion and joy into people who are struggling…or maybe are just missing those things.

 

I think I’m gonna stick with the plan. It just fits too well, with me, with my hopes for you in my absence. Yep, presumptuous to the bitter end. If my peeps come through, and you find yourself at my service doing…unusual things….remember how much healing there is in laughter. Remember the power of unexpected goodness in times of pain and loss. Remember how much fun it is to do crazy things, just for the joy. Let the river flow, y’all, in all of its crazy beauty.