Mother Protector

I’m still not able to take in the immensity of the relief I feel to have her here in my house, safe and alive. In the darkened bathroom, my twenty-four year old daughter sits in the bathtub filled with hot water. I can see her beautiful golden hair flowing over the edge of the basin. There’s not a bone broken or a scratch on her body. Her spirit is a bit shaken and there are a few bruises. That’s all.

I wonder if I somehow caused that car accident with all that constant worry I have over her. I have worried more about car accidents that anything else in her life. I remember the nights when she first learned to drive, waiting to hear the door open, to know she had arrived home safe. I’m going to stop right now. No more thinking about car accidents. Never.

That car was so demolished, that little green Honda hitting that huge semi. It is amazing she walked away from that. Maybe my meditations of her, surrounding her in a zone off safety, protected her. I really am crazy. Here I am almost killing her off with my worry and now saving her at the very last second. How do children survive their parents anyway?

I can’t help but wonder how I can make her a survivor, no matter what happens. I want to be God or something, being able to save her with my positive thoughts.

But there is nothing left to do.

OK, stop. Just enjoy the fact that she is here and alive.

They never told me this would be so hard.

 

Death

I haven’t checked back with my mother since Dad died. I wonder now and then how she is doing. It’s been over a month now.

Dad was cremated. There was no body at the funeral. The thought of his cremation has flashed though my mind; the big fiery pyre with Dad on top, the tribe crowded around the edges of the fire, as I look close up and see those big bushy eyebrows sizzling up in the flames.

I don’t feel that he is gone though, really gone, not the way my mom would miss his presence. It’s not like we had a close relationship. We didn’t talk on the phone. He didn’t check up on me to see how I was. There were no Sunday dinners I was required to attend. We had a connection though. It was just never stated in a way that I could touch it.

After the funeral we flipped Mom’s mattress for her. She wanted to sleep on Dad’s side of the bed, the side closest to the bathroom. But there was a big hollow in the mattress, worn in from the years he laid on that side of the bed. Her much smaller shape fell into that hollow like into a hammock.

It was that day, after the funeral, when Daryl found her grandfather’s rack of suspenders in the closet. Mom passed them out to the grandchildren, who snatched them up, wanting to grab onto their favorite piece of him. They had each had their many turns, sitting on his lap, leaning into his round belly, grabbing hold of those suspenders. Now they put the suspenders over their dress clothes from the funeral, red Santa suspenders over little girls’ dresses, Harley Davidson suspenders over dress slacks and a crisp white shirt. Little ones running around pulling suspenders like sling shots, their mother’s racing after them to avert the potential damages. After much arguing and fussing, the suspenders got divided between the grandchildren and were carefully tucked away into suitcases to be taken home.

It’s been over a month now. I imagine Mom shuffling through draws and closets, looking for clues about who he was, making mental notes on their life together, her in the silence of his absence.

I haven’t called her yet. I don’t want to hear that silence.

Running With Wolves

I read a story in Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, many years ago. The story spoke about a girl who waited for the right suitor to come along. The girl lived in a small village and suitors came from far and near, but each time they were not the right one, and she let them go. She was looking for the perfect one. She did not try to fix this or that, in the one that was almost just right, she just sent them on their way and waited for the next one. Eventually, after many suitors and much waiting, the perfect one came.

I was so impressed with that story and could not get it out of my mind. I had never sent a suitor packing before, instead I always tried like hell to make it work. I would grasp details of something that I liked in a man, and hang on for dear life. I never imagined that there could be a constant stream of suitors for me to choose from. I never had faith that there would be the perfect one.

Just prior to reading this story, having been married twice, each marriage followed by divorce, having had numerous one night stands and many relationships of varying length, all ending badly, having given up entirely, handing in my library card, saying enough was enough, the good ones are gone, snatched up by women much smarter than I was, I woke up one day realizing that I had not had a date in five years.

It seemed like there were no men out there, even though the statistics showed millions of single and available men in the world. I imagined that all the good ones were completely taken and were now gone, even though there were divorces in the thousands that happened every day. It did not matter because in my experience, the well was dry. You get what you believe and I believed there was no one out there, no one who was perfect for me.

The story of the girl with the stream of suitors bothered me. How could there be such a story. The symbolism in the story was supposed to shed light on some truth after all.  Where did all these men come from? After being bothered for long enough, I checked out the internet and found dating service after dating service of men looking for someone. I looked up the number of single men in my city and in my state. The number was big. I started to let myself believe, letting the door creak open to the thought, with all these available men out there, maybe just maybe, there was one for me. I was a good catch and I was available, so why couldn’t that be the same for those men who were also looking.

Once I opened that door with the expectation that there were available men, the stream of suitors began to line up. Friends introduced me to their single friends. I went on coffee dates. I met men at my church. I met them over the internet. The stream became steady and reliable.

The next issue I faced was not clinging to the ones who were a close, but not perfect fit. I needed to let them go, like the girl in the story, let them go and remain patient for the right one. It was not that I was looking for a perfect human being. I am not a perfect human being. But I was looking for someone who was perfect for me. That’s a far different thing.

There were many false starts along the way to finding my perfect suitor. I thought that this one or that one was Mr. Right but it would become apparent, sooner or later, that it was not to be. There were those who came close and I had to work hard not to clutch, as I had in the past, letting him go on his way, working hard to be patient and not look back. It took everything I had at times to break the pattern of wanting something that was not right for me, remembering that trying to make it work had failed many times in the past. I needed to hold out for the perfect one. I worried often that I was just being overly picky, that what I was after did not exist, and it was hard to keep a steady gaze forward.

It was the overall feeling of the thing I was after. I wanted it to feel easy, like coming home. I wanted it to be fun and full of laughter. I wanted to be understood without having to push at the finer points. Mostly, I wanted to be loved without reservation. I did not want someone who loved me with one eye over his shoulder, looking for someone better, nor did I want someone who would be constantly pointing out small little things that I might improve on. I wanted someone who was absolutely sure that I was as perfect for him, as I was sure he was perfect for me.

So I waited like the girl in the story. I was not always as patient or as clear as the girl in the story, but I did the best that I could to stay the course. In the end it worked. Mark walked into my life one day and never walked out. The moment I saw him, I thought that he was the one, but I did not jump out of my dress and I waited to make sure. When he did not ask me out on the first night we met, I did not lose heart. I knew that if he was the one, it would happen, and I felt certain that it would happen. There was a knowing I had from the first moment, a knowing that had been missing from all those bad first starts. It turned out that he did want to ask me out, believed that he would find my name in the directory, but was unable to. He came back to the discussion group where we first met the very next opportunity that he had, and made certain to ask me then.

Mark was as keen on me as I was on him. There has been nothing difficult about our relationship and our courtship is a highlight in both of our lives.  For the first time in my life I am where I know I should be in a relationship. That is not to say that we have not come up against difficult things. We have had our share. The difference is that we know that together, we can figure things out. We also know that we are committed to being together. We are right for each other. We are perfect together.

I suppose there are those out there that get this straight out the door. They don’t have to go through marriages and divorces and many failed attempts before finding the one. For several reasons I didn’t get it. I don’t beat myself up about that anymore. I like the life that I have had. All the crazy things that I have been through and done, in the name of love, have made me who I am. I know for certain that I appreciate what I have now, in a way I never could have, if I had not gone down this long and winding road.

Longing

I used to long for the perfect man, the man I would recognize immediately as my soul mate, the answer to my loneliness, the man who complimented my finer points and I his. The problem was that I did recognize him. I recognized him everywhere. I even married him; I married him three times.  It was never the same man I recognized “as him”, but always a different face, a different profession, each time a completely different person. I would swoon at his feet. I would act coy. I would put on my smartest face. I would stumble all over myself to be seen, to be noticed, to make him love me. I found them all lovable, amazingly good-looking and kind. Each evening, alone, I thought over their words and the cute way they smiled at me, looking for evidence of their love for me. I would write in my journal: “Steve really is the nicest guy, I really do love that guy; I wonder if Dave will call me tonight, we had the best time last night; Jack just had a controlling mother, he’s got to sort a few things out, he will see that we are perfect together.”  Sometimes it would be years between this one and that one but other times it was only one day from one love to the next. My first marriage lasted less than two years, my second five years.

The truth is that I really was falling in love with the same guy over and over again. The guy I fell in love with was the one that made me work for his affections the same way that my Dad did. I fell in love the final time on the day Dad died, this time to a man who loved me back in the same way I loved him, openly and freely, no reservations. My third marriage is forever.

Slowing Down to Listen

Slowing down to listen

I have spent a lifetime learning to do things faster. Early in life I decided I not only wanted a child, I wanted a career as well. Raising kids while going to college and trying to support the whole venture on my own was a race against time.  I was determined to have it all and to make it work and I found faster and more efficient ways of doing things. I found better and faster ways to manage my time at work and I taught the kids to raise themselves. I managed everything right down to which traffic lane I took to the office. I looked for the fastest lane of traffic at the right time to get to work in the shortest period of time. If I could shave thirty seconds off my time in the morning, it gave me thirty more seconds to sleep. I slept hard so I would be ready again for the race when it picked up the next day. I did manage to have a social life, but I squeezed it in between my more important obligations; during times when I should have been working or when I could have spent more time with the kids. When I was with friends, I worried about the kids. When I was with the kids I worried about school and work. When I was at work I wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else but at work.

Racing became a way of life for me. It kept me from facing the questions that kept coming up.  I knew that I was unhappy with my job but what else could I do? I was raised to understand that work is hard. Life is not easy. Who was I to complain? I did good things for people in my work. I was reasonably good at it.  I had spent years in college learning my profession. I had never really paid for the cost of college. Who was I to just quit? What would I do with my life if I quit? How would I earn my way in the world? I didn’t know how to do anything else. I could not just quit. How could I justify that? Most importantly, who would I be if I quit?  So I continued to race against time. I didn’t want to stop to face those questions. I saw no answers and the less time I had to dwell on it the better.

Retirement was my light at the end of the tunnel. I could justify quitting when I retired. It was like getting into heaven.  If I worked hard now, the payoff would come when I retired. I could relax and enjoy myself then. When I retired I would know what I wanted to do in my spare time. Everything would somehow, mysteriously be better then.

My body did not wait for me to retire. When the diagnosis came back that I had a tumor on my ovary, the race stopped. Time stopped. I stopped. Everything stopped. The shock of it caused me to hear a voice inside me that I had been ignoring or quieting in some way for a long time. I had to stop the race, not just slow it down. I had to stop it entirely. I had to listen. The word “cancer” woke me up from the frantic race I had been running. I started to listen. I listened hard. The first thing I heard loudly and clearly was that I needed to quit my job. I had to start over, cold turkey and figure this thing out. I heard in a way that I had not heard before that these are my last days. Is this the way I wanted to spend my last days? I was going to die. I may beat the cancer and I may live a long life but the number of days I have left was not the point.  These ARE my last days.

It has been two years since my diagnosis. I continue to slow down and to listen. I practice staying out of the race and I search for answers. It is a process and I practice every day. Cancer gave me that. It keeps me on my toes. These are my last days. I ask the same question often: What do I want to do with my life right now? Then I listen for the answer. For now the answer is always the same: “just listen”.

Listening

I sit outside nearly every morning and listen to the birds in my backyard. Even though I have just gotten up and I have not had time to get a whole plateful of things on my mind, it takes some time to tune into the birds. At first I have to remember why I am sitting outside: Oh yes, to listen for the birds. I need to stop the chatter going on in my head and open up for the sounds. Then the sounds start to come in. At first the sounds are blended and there is a blanket of them. I can’t pick out which sound is coming from which direction. So I quiet myself some more and pay closer attention. Then I pick out the most obvious sounds: the doves are all cooing; the quail are cawing. Sometimes a woodpecker will pierce the air with its screech. Then behind those sounds are the tweets of the song birds; the finches, cardinals, flycatchers and sparrows. If I sit outside long enough the song birds sometimes come closer and sing a chorus for me taking front stage over the bass and trombones of the quail and the doves. On some days I am better at listening than on other days. When I am listening well, I can hear the direction the birds are migrating. It seems that on days that I am really there for them, they come to me. A cardinal will perch in the tree in front of me. A hummingbird will come up and hover; each of us looking at the other for a few moments before he jets off across the valley. On days that I am not there, my mind wonders in and out playing with different thoughts. The birds are just background chatter; I can’t distinguish one call from the next.

Sometimes I think we have given much too much emphasis on talking and not enough emphasis on listening. “You need to speak up more in class!” The people who stand out are the talkers. No one notices the listeners. We like a good story teller. A good entertainer knows how to carry on a conversation. We are a society of talkers.

My experience is that often talkers do not listen. They talk. I notice how many people only listen long enough to be able to think of a good response. I wonder if I am also that way. Isn’t that what talking is all about? I say something which triggers you to say something and back and forth we go. My kids are aware when I am not listening to what they are saying. Daryl will say “Are you THERE?” Or if we are on a phone call she will say “Are you doing something ELSE right now?” When I am not present to listen to her, she always calls me on it immediately and I try to bring myself back to what she was saying. My husband teases me about my delayed responses. Sometimes I have something on my mind and I can hear what he is saying to me but I have to conclude whatever is going on in my head first before I can get to what he just said. It’s a bit like coming through a fog. I heard what the distant voice said but it held no meaning until I could repeat it to myself once I have again arrived in the present.

Listening seems to be more about being present for what someone else is saying. I can only hear the birds when I am truly present and I can only hear my husband when I come back to the present. If I am off in my own little world or even if I am off trying to figure out a snappy response, I am not present. To be present always means I have to stop the chatter in my head.

These days I have a craving to be listened to. Maybe that’s why I like to write. I like to be listened to. When I write I listen to myself for the ring of truth. I listen hard to what is real and what is just mind chatter. Then I write down what I think is real and play with a bit to make sure it is real. It turns out to be a very satisfying thing to really be listened to on that level even though I am the only one doing the listening. I crave writing when I haven’t done it for awhile.

I have a women’s group that I attend. The rule is that when someone else is talking no one else says anything. There is no back and forth like there is when having a conversation. There can be a pause when someone is trying to sort through their thoughts and no one bursts in to fill in the silence. Silence is welcomed. At first it can be a bit unnerving to have the floor in front of a bunch of other women and just go on and on with whatever is going on in your mind at the moment. I have seen though, that often a person comes around to fully hearing themselves when there is space just to say what has been going on for them. It’s like what writing does for me. After talking for any length of time, true feelings seem to burst forth and then the discussion with those feelings happens. What is true comes out. I am addicted to going to women’s group and have been attending for over fifteen years now. I think it has spoiled me. I am less satisfied with the back and forth chatter that usually happens between people. I feel cut off before I have even had a moment to really express myself. I don’t feel heard. In fact I feel invisible in those social occasions. The more people around and the lonelier it can feel.

Legacy

The idea of leaving a legacy was brought to my attention the other day and the whole idea of it rubbed me the wrong way.  I don’t like the idea at all and decided I had a few things to say on the topic.  So here goes!

The idea of leaving a legacy, for me, has a sort of pretentious feel to it.  It seems to me that the world assigns the term only to people who have done something extraordinary.  This separates the legacy leavers from the average person and gives more importance to their lives than to others. It feels phony and overly self interested to think about leaving behind a legacy. It’s almost as if I’d be bragging that I expect something better of myself than I expect out of the average person.  So, you wonder what is so bad about that? What is wrong with thinking you will accomplish great things?

I decided early in my life that I was going to escape my small town existence. I was born in Dorchester, Wisconsin, a town of about 500 people. Our house was out in the country and our telephone was on a party line. This meant that anytime I talked on the phone, my Grandmother and two of my Aunts were likely to be listening in from their house down the road. In Dorchester, you are labeled early in life and you are not likely to escape being associated with the family who brought you into the world and whatever happens in your life will follow you on the party line.

I figured college was my ticket out of town. It worked too: I got out. College seemed to change who I was in the world. I felt that having an education made me a different person from the one I was in Dorchester. Well, ultimately, it did and it didn’t. Even with my fancy college degree I still felt all the many doubts I had grown up believing about myself. I still felt less worldly and not as savvy as everyone else I knew. So I decided to fix the problem the only way I knew how. I got a law degree. A law degree would prove to the world that I was smart and capable. But the doubts continued even after I got the law degree. The worst of it was that I still felt just as inadequate after getting that law degree. I still spent my time comparing myself to others and coming up short. I had to face the fact that the story I was telling myself was wrong.

I was striving to prove something to the world that, as it turned out, the world did not care the least about in the first place. I had to change the direction of my story. It took some amount of time and gravitational pull in a whole new direction to finally realize that comparing myself to others is a complete waste of my time.  I changed my focus to working on who I wanted to be in my life and what would be the best for me in each moment. I had to stop wondering or caring what anyone else thought about what I wanted or who I was.

Once I made that shift, life became so much simpler to figure out. I could factor everyone else out of the equation. Several years into this process, I am still new at this different kind of way of looking at life and it is a continual work in progress but it is never disappointing and I never come up short anymore. Now it is just me figuring things out.

But it brings me back to the idea of leaving behind a legacy. Why would I spend any time considering my legacy unless I cared what someone thought of me after I am dead? If I do not want to care what anyone else thinks about what I am doing right now, why would it matter to me what someone thinks of me after I am dead? If caring about what others think of me now is not helping me, then to care about what people think after I am dead seems extremely counterproductive. The whole legacy thing pulls me right back into comparing myself to others. How will I compare after I am dead?

In any case, it seems to me that everyone leaves a legacy whether they want to or not. My dad graduated the eighth grade and worked blue collar jobs his entire life. He was not considered some type of amazing saint. He never learned to meditate. He was not even the best father in the world; in fact he was not at all good at it. He loved greasy cheeseburgers and fries. He was overweight most of his life he smoked cigarettes and drank too much beer on occasion. He had friends and occasionally he made enemies. He was not interested in endearing himself to anyone or sucking up or whatever you want to call it. Having a Ph.D. behind your name neither impressed nor threatened him. But the one thing that made him stand out from the crowd was that he lived an authentic life. He lived his life the way he wanted to live it. He was always honest about who he was and what he was about. It was clear that throughout his life people admired him for that. To me that man left a legacy. I am sure that the thought of leaving behind a legacy was the last thing that was ever on his mind. If it were, he could not have been the person that he was. So if leaving behind a legacy means that what you leave behind is that you lived an authentic life, that I suppose it is something worth considering. But then why have to consider it? Why not just live your life now in the moment the way you want to live it?

I doubt that Einstein or Picasso or Beethoven or Dante and Michelangelo or Mark Twain or you fill in the blank ever thought a hoot about legacy as they were doing what they did best. Instead, they painted, they wrote, they sculpted, they figured and played what was in their hearts now in this moment, today as they were doing it. People are interesting who follow their dreams and find what in life is worth living for.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to do great things, but do those things because it thrills your socks off and not because it will impress someone after you are dead and gone.  When I am dead it is time for others to live their life. It is their time, not mine. I hope to be playing along with them from the afterlife but I would never suggest that they look back. If they want to remember me at all, I hope it is from a place of being right there as if I never left. That’s the place my Dad has for me.

Ruminations

December 2, 2011

I have taken the week off from doing something completely different. My plans each fell through, the cold weather set in and I just wanted to stay in my warm cozy house and curl up with a nice book and a cup of coffee.

I have enjoyed the fun of getting out there and doing something out of my routine. It has caused me to think outside my box and to get out of the house even when it was after dark. It has even cut into my TV watching time but not to the extent that I had hoped. I have discovered that TV has crept into my life in the way cookies can and before I know it I am addicted. I have never been good at going cold turkey. I have quit drinking coffee on more than one occasion by going cold turkey and have always started back with a vengeance worse than before I quit. So if I want to ease up on TV, cookies and coffee I have to do it slowly like getting into a cold swimming pool. When I was a kid I could jump in even though I lived in Wisconsin and the pools were unheated. Now I prefer to go in gently and I scream just a little when I get waist high. I may be waist high right now with new things in my life. There is the new house that we are closing on next week; I am suddenly missing my old house and I have not even moved yet. I know the water will be fine once I get in but right now it is a bit of a shock.

Neither am I one to have stringent criteria in my life; the only rule I have is that there are no rules. So it is not hard to take a week off from doing something completely different. I have liked what has come out of this little experiment. I have especially enjoyed the blog. I think writing about each little new thing I am up to has given it a life of its own that I may not have focused on if I had not written it down for me and the world to see. I am forced to sit with a memory and pull pieces from it that would otherwise get lost in the hectic pace of life. It’s not that my life is hectic these days but I still maintain the habits of a hectic person. I do not savor the moment because I am scurrying on to the next. Writing slows that down.

At this moment I am sitting in a cushy chair at the Starbucks with Van Morrison playing an old tune on the overhead speakers. The sky is one grey cloud covering the view of push ridge out the window. Snow flakes and Peanuts like cartoon skaters decorate the plate glass windows and the chairs are filled with patrons of all ages chatting to each other or reading their newspapers and Kindles or madly typing on computers. This has to be the best spot in the world right now.