Monday, November 30, 2015

Gratitude and Grace

Thanksgiving came and went.

I had a touch of bronchitis and no time to plan.

We moved the holiday from our usual festive ranch venue to the sameness of home.

All three of the bathrooms in my house were/are still under construction - usable, but not at all lovely.

Three nieces were missing from the all-gathered family table, which left me wanting a little bit more.

A couple of missing mothers - one gone now for two Thanksgivings, one simply choosing to stay home, away from the chaos of 16 grown-ups and a baby clamoring over food and games and a sink full of dirty dishes all the livelong day - underscored a distracted longing inside me.

Whatever it was we had going on - I wanted more.

So as the dust settled late yesterday, I was reluctant to begin thumbing through photos. I knew there weren't many there. We didn't pose the cousins, didn't stage the Norman Rockwell look-alike table shot, didn't try to create the perfect backdrop for a family Christmas card picture...

Emotionally flat. That's what it was. I didn't think I wanted to see the evidence.

But. Ahhhh.
There was this...

Snapped the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

I have known and loved these two grown women (middle and far right) for more than a quarter of a century. They are real life goddesses to me - keepers of my secrets, my hopes, my questions, and my big smart-ass answers. I feel known in their company.

We sneaked away to celebrate a birthday, but left one another with our lives as women, wives, mothers, sisters, daughters...and grandmothers (Tess pictured here...missing are Max and Kathryn)...beautifully unpacked, shaken out, and refolded for storage in our hearts.

We are not youngsters, but we enjoy sitting together in that spot alongside life's road that realizes age is a number and it's okay to still feel like a girl and act a little silly. We are wise and soulful and genuine human beings who know our biggest job now is to slow down and stand steady so new generations - like little Tess's - can climb onto our shoulders for a view of the World of Possibilities.

We are friends who enjoy good coffee, pecans on the ground, sunsets, the sound of rain, the music of Sam Baker, a fat slice of pie, and books that move our spirits.

We existed together for almost three days in a bubble of Gratitude.
We emerged from the bubble bathed in Grace.

Who says Thanksgiving has to fall on the 4th Thursday in November?
Mine came on the 3rd Saturday...

Best Thanksgiving ever.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Enjoy the Ride

I'm a card carrying, Lifetime Member of the PTA.
I'm the church lady who's called to make a pot of soup when someone has a life crisis.
I'm that person you see in the grocery store who gets out of the express line when she realizes she has 16 items instead of 15.
I haven't changed my hair style or color since I was 20.
I wear clear nail polish and colorless lip gloss and the same 1/2" silver hoop earrings every dang day.
I drive the speed limit, park between lines, lock the doors at night, and look both ways - at least twice - before I cross the street.
I'm a Gramma, for pity's sake. (Line simply added so I could toss in a pic of this 13-month old cutie...)!
Precious Tess. (Don't miss the almost faded-into-the-upholstery pigtails!)
There is absolutely nothing about me that screams ADVENTURE. Nothing.

Except the guy I married.

He flies experimental aircraft, loves a speedy boat, a sporty car, and a silver rocket that he straddles every day to conquer the boredom of a long commute to work. He calls the rocket Stella. She's a big ol' Honda motorcycle. And, oh man, the hubs loves his Stella Time. I suppose his enthusiasm for riding (or maybe because I'm a little jealous of Stella...I mean, couldn't he have named the thing Steve?), nudged me to spend a year+ trying to get over my unadulterated terror of a ride-along. I was determined to share this fun, and to prove (mostly to myself) that I was not too old to try something a little crazy.

So I proposed a trip...gave myself a deadline.


Last weekend was my hour to shine.  The days I'd said I'd be ready for arrived: A Friday - Monday ride up and down a 300-mile stretch of the beautiful California coastline between Mendocino and Carmel...

On this pretty beast:

We rented her from Eagle Rider in San Francisco and named her Big Red.

Sitting behind this handsome one:

Confession: I worried that even if I didn't freak totally out in the first half hour, I'd get deliriously tired of riding after one or two full days of braiding the hair, pulling on the helmet, zipping up the jacket, tucking in the scarf, bracing against the wind, and holding all screeching-danger commentary inside my head (as opposed to broadcasting it through the helmet headsets-not cool).

Surprise: I discovered you really cannot get tired of the scent in the air, the wind in your face, the pace of the ride, or this wild view of the world whizzing by (only a biker, they say, knows why a dog sticks his head out a car window)...

The roads...

The Pacific...

The Redwoods...

The sunsets...

The pumpkins (and the flowers growing in the field behind)...

The waves...

The sky... far as the eye can see...

I am not going to lie. There were a couple of hours I didn't enjoy...hours during which I felt like any move I made would result in our instant death. During those miles (rainy roads/high winds) my view was a lot more like this:

And the looping, inside-my-head commentary went something like this:pleasegodpleasegod.

But all hail and honor to the pilot of our rocketship who planned a beautiful ride, equipped us with everything we needed for safety and fun, drove very carefully around every curve, made sure our stops each day were 5-star luxury, and encouraged - without pushing - the budding of a little adventure inside me.

Heck. I feel like I earned bragging rights with my old lady friends just by being able to say I threw my leg over the back of that thing five or six times a day without embarrassing myself.

Beyond that is this: Never is a word best reserved for sentences with things like eat liver tacked onto the end. If it's the possibility of a shared adventure with someone you love, keep a maybe on the table, at least.

And that advice is from the least adventuresome person you know.

Life is short. Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

From the Dark Side

There is a very flimsy curtain that hangs on the line between darkness and light, sadness and joy, devastation and elation. It flaps, ever teasing, in the breeze of our awareness – sending chills through our bones and flooding our senses with fear whenever we become cognizant of the gentle wind moving that  gauzy fabric behind us. When it happens - unless we are clinically depressed - I believe we inch a little closer to the light for comfort. We count our blessings, cook our favorite meals, hug our friends, and throw little parties – even if only in our minds. We do our best to forget there is that other place…

This week, I have been sitting on the dark side of the curtain. The deep, dark side – far from the moving air and the eye-squinting glare of happiness.  A dear, dear friend lost a child. In a terrible accident.  Just four miles from the driveway that would have taken him to the warm embrace of home and parents and an ever-present hum of safety. This was a child who pushed the limits, ran with life’s bulls, challenged his parent’s authority…but he always came home to that place that held him, protected him, and nurtured him.

Until Monday.

 I want to be profound and encouraging with my heart-broken soul mate of a friend, but about all I can say is, “Shit.”  Because, damnit, this is not supposed to happen. Children are not supposed to die before their parents. It is unnatural, and arguably the cruelest tragedy that exists on the long list of Horrible Things We Hope Never Happen.  The job of sitting and watching hours of agonizing grief as it bobs along on waves of other people’s kindnesses, laugh-inducing memories, and an entire community’s aching is exhausting. Especially from my personal zone of utter helplessness.

Who really needs to hear “Shit!” all the livelong day?

Remarkably, this is not my first rodeo of helplessness. I now have four – four – close friends who have buried their children. You could imagine I might grow confident in stepping from stone to stone in the early hours of navigating such grief. But I haven’t. The memory of my friends’ voices on the phone – the shock and resolution in their pronouncements – shake me to the core of anything remotely affiliated with strength: Wade is dead. Bobby died this morning. Margaret is gone. Tom was killed. These are words mothers should never have to say. And I suppose the truth is, I just can’t shake my anger over the fact that they do have to say them. That they did.


Still I must report the most amazing discovery from the Deep Six of Darkness this week…

My friend continues to stand up. Just like the ones who have already been here and done it. She walks. She talks. She wails and weeps. She laughs and hugs. She and her husband and daughter stay surprisingly present in their days as each one painfully unfolds with whatever sadness or joy a given minute brings. It is the very embodiment of Grace, and it is a privilege to sit with them as they embrace something more than a mono-syllabic, gut-twisted response to the dark side. Seeing is believing. It is happening before my very eyes. They are moving in tiny, unsteady ways toward the side of brightness and hope and life. I have no easy way to explain how or why that happens. In spite of the terror that surely clings to them as they feel the wall along the hallway of darkness – my friends are moving toward the light.

Clearly I am not given to religious hyperbole or church-speak at times like these (shit?!).  That kind of language rings hollow with me and seems to trivialize everything I hold Holy and Sacred. Still, I cannot shake a treasured line from my friend Anita – my wisest mentor and guide – long gone from this planet. She often stopped to ponder the unknowable with this brilliant insight:

“The name of that is God.”

Seriously...what else could it be? my struggling friends, who keep showing me how to lean into the Big Mystery when life blows us to the dark side…today I say, "Shit. You are strong. So strong." 
And thank you. 
And peace. 

Tom's mother, Kathy

Bobby's mother, Terri

Margaret's mother, Carol

Wade's mother, Darlene

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Food for No Thought

This photo was on the front page of my newspaper this morning:

It looked like a pleasant enough event, I thought. Must have been a very special day for someone. That guy in the middle - the one with all the hands trying to touch his hand as he cuts into the cake - it must have been his special day. Oh they were all so happy. They were having cake. It was a party. Hooray! Why can't the newspaper have a happy photo like this on the front page every day?  I wondered that for a second.

And then I zoomed in on the danged cake:

The 2005 Marriage Act - in case you're wondering what kind of glorious legislation gets its own birthday party (6 months early) at the Texas State Capitol with elected representatives of our government as guests of honor - is Texas' official DO NOT CROSS line on the subject of same-sex marriage. Or, in the words you might hear in some of the towns where the legislators pictured above come from:  "We're agin' it."

Ha! you silly cake eaters. I guess you heard what happened last week just around the corner from your party venue? Yeah - this:

These would be the very newly wed  Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend - a couple for 30 years, the last 8 of which were spent trying to get married in their home state. Last Thursday, a state district judge decided Ms. Goodfriend's perilous health was reason enough to side-step the constitutional ban on gay marriage (currently being challenged in federal court). He instructed the Travis County clerk not to rely on "the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage as a basis for not issuing a marriage license." And that - my friends - was a lovely front page photo last Friday morning.

But this Christian cake eating bunch? No thank you. I don't care if it is Faith and Family Day. It's a pathetic show of public ignorance and a disgrace - once again - to anyone at the Texas Capitol who conducts him/herself in a professional manner.  Disagree if you must, but make a photo op out of cutting a cake like it's your grandparents' 75th wedding anniversary? Seriously?

I look forward to hearing what Jon Stewart has to say about you.

And if an icing-rose-trimmed, pink and white cake is all you've got, people, I have to say I can't wait for the photo of the pie in your face(s) that is coming when the last of the 13 states that still ban gay marriage are told the party is over by the US Supreme Court.

Until then - please take your pea-brained, backwards-thinking, mean-hearted parties - if you must have them - to the back room where photographers can't see you acting like fools.

Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK and Me

Well. Let's start here. 

It's March 7, 1965 - aka Bloody Sunday. The day free citizens of the United States of America who were exercising their constitutional rights to free speech by embarking on a peaceful 50-mile march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama were beaten and tear-gassed and trampled by white law-keepers on horses before they ever made it out of town.  All the marchers were after was an opportunity to register to vote - a right guaranteed to every American. Even the dark-skinned ones of African heritage.

I was an 11-year old 6th grader living in the civilized South of Nashville, Tennessee in 1965. The only black people I knew were women who came to our house to iron clothes, make beds, and babysit. I can't tell you why I don't have a memory of this day because I let my mother leave this earth seven months ago without ever asking her... "How did I not know?" "Why did I not care?"

I don't remember anyone in my 1-8 grade elementary school talking about Selma. In contrast to the day almost five years before when JFK had been assassinated on the streets of Dallas - I do not remember adults taking a moment to cry in the corner of the room.  How can that be?

This was not talked about in my house. Not this, not the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, not even Martin Luther King - until his assassination in 1968.  I had heard the name, but was not sure - at the age of 15 - why the name should matter.

That is the truth.

Today, as I watched history re-told via the movie Selma**, I cried and wondered, as I have so many times, why didn't my parents talk about this? How could they see and know what was happening to people just 250 miles from our front door and not pack up their four daughters and head to Selma when Martin Luther King passionately implored Americans who cared about freedom to "Come to Selma!"...?

Honestly. I am questioning my DNA...
As well as our amazing human ability to turn away from opportunities to stand up and be counted.

So, in honor of Martin Luther King, today I have asked myself what moments in history my own children - now 28 and 31 - will hold me liable for for sweeping under the rug.  Honestly, I can't even bear to attempt the list, but I intend to ask them: What do you wish your parents had stood for?

And I am making myself a promise to listen carefully to the voices of the world.

I do not want to miss an opportunity to "Come to Selma!" ever again.


**Cannot even imagine how Ava DuVernay (director) and David Oyelowo (actor) missed Academy Award nominations. See the movie.