Life Lesson at Mystic Market

July 12, 2017. I walked into Mystic Market on the verge of a pity party. I was headed to Ender’s Island in an effort to get centered and pray for inner peace. In the meantime, I needed a sandwich. You can’t feel sorry for yourself properly on an empty stomach.

The woman at the register ahead of me was taking a long time to pay and I felt justifiably irritated. Other than that, I barely noticed her. I needed to hurry up and get on with my self-induced despair.

I overheard the cashier say: “You can talk to me anytime. I’m a good listener.” I almost harrumphed. Several thoughts crossed my mind as to what this woman’s issue could be. Marital? Work? Whatever…. She moved on. Good. Now it was my turn.

I paid for my food and as the cashier handed me the change she said: “That woman lost her two sons to overdoses”.

This was not one of the scenarios I envisioned. Not by a long shot.

The trigger had been a young man eating lunch at a nearby table. Frozen, the woman stared. It was a visual punch to the gut; the resemblance to the son who died in 2008 was remarkable. The woman’s sense of loss profound and it happened in an instant.

Hers was not self-induced despair. It was real and deep and endless. Why she shared her story with the cashier I can only guess. Mostly, I think, it is because she had to. So stunned, she couldn’t keep it in. The cashier had the sense and compassion to listen.

The story brought tears to my eyes for the woman I had hardly noticed not five minutes earlier. I was ashamed.IMG_1615

I left the market and drove slowly to the sacred space I thought I had so desperately needed. While I sat at the edge of Long Island Sound, instead of prayers for myself, I held this stranger, this grieving mother of two lost souls, in my prayers. I dedicated those quiet moments to this woman who was leading an ordinary life when the extraordinary happened — when drugs began to take the light and peace from her life one son at a time.

And I knew my prayers would never be enough.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

To Lucy: A Love Letter

Dear Lucy,

I love you.

I love your eager, expectant eyes; the ever increasing gray on your muzzle; the sleekness of your body and the richness of your black, shiny coat.  I love watching you sleep. Sometimes, the very tip of your tongue escapes your doggie lips and I often think you might bite it off if startled awake.

I love that you remain my “cuddle-bug”, curling up with me at a moment’s notice.

You are crazy but crazy is no longer a constant.  At eight, you tire more easily and are more prone to lying next to me on your pillow as I work than nudging my hands off the keyboard, urging me to go out and play.

I love you, Lucy.

I love you even though almost everyone else ignores you.  I love you even though no one asks to take you for a walk like they do your sisters. You are like the child that remains when teams are being chosen.  It breaks my heart but I can’t tell if it breaks yours.

IMG_1379
Thanksgiving 2016.  Remnants of a stick on Lucy’s tongue.  She is unfazed.

Sometimes I see sadness in your eyes.  Sometimes you hang your head. It just makes me love you more.

I love you as you battle the lake to find your stick instead of gliding effortlessly through the water like Lola.  I love knowing the sound of your shuffle as you move through the house, your partially paralyzed leg dragging along behind you.  It reminds me how strong you are.  Your zest for life.  Your patience and persistence.

I love that you have forgiven me for every unkind word I have said to you in frustration. That you look at me with love and affection every single day.  Your loyalty.  Your devotion.

And in the end, it doesn’t matter if no one else loves you like your “dad” and I.  It just matters that we do.

 

 

 

 

My Best Friend’s Birthday

June 30, 2016

Dianne and nanBirthdays get you thinking.

Today is my best friend’s birthday. For the next month and a day we will be the same age and while this is no different than any other year, this year seems to have more significance for me—even if it doesn’t for her.  Maybe it is because in a month and a day my clicks on the odometer will have reached a mini-milestone? Or maybe it is because I’ve come to understand that we really don’t have all the time in the world to be in each other’s lives?  Maybe it is both? All I know is that I wanted to create a montage of pictures with just the two of us and I couldn’t.  I don’t have any. I have pictures of oceans, trees, skylines, and people I have long since forgotten. I have pictures of dogs, houses, drapery, furniture,  and china.  I have pictures of her wedding and my wedding.  I have pictures of her children and her husband.  How is it  I have only three pictures of us?  It can’t be possible!  Dianne is my best friend!

It got me thinking.

Dianne and I met when I was in 8th grade and she was in 7th. We went to the same high school but we probably didn’t have three conversations in three years.  Who knows why and what does it matter?

In college, happenstance brought us together.  We had one of those reconnecting conversations that leaves you joyful with the promise of rekindled friendship but almost never amounts to a cup of coffee.  This one did.  She and I made good on our promise and because of her, I met my husband.

Over the course of the next 30-something years we have woven the fabric of a friendship that has traveled across parking lots and state lines.  It is a friendship nurtured during late night trips to the Giant Eagle on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls and through endless furniture stores in North Carolina in search of the perfect china closet;  a china closet I will never be able to get rid of without Dianne’s consent because she has so much invested in it. (She let me charge it on her credit card!) We’ve shared joys, sorrows, fears, anger, births, deaths, and angel card readings.  And  most of those things we have shared from a distance– with phone calls that have gone on for hours only to discover the next morning there were still things left unsaid.

I have come to the conclusion that the reason Dianne’s birthday means so much is because she means so much.  My life wouldn’t be what it is today without her and my tomorrows would never be  quite as rich.

Maybe we don’t have pictures together because we didn’t have cell phones with cameras?   Maybe it is because we never lived close by except for one fun year?  Could be.  But really, I think it is because we didn’t need them.  The best part of our friendship, I carry in my head and my heart.  I hear her wisdom — and sometimes her father’s wisdom — echoing through my toughest times.  She is my touchstone and no photograph can capture that.

 

 

Eulogy for My Mother

 

Delivered February 2006-St Edward Church- Youngstown, OHthumb_Mom Seated_1024

The difficulty in writing a eulogy isn’t that you can’t think of anything to say, it is that there is so much to say.  How do you synthesize a life into three minutes?  There are hundreds of facts about a person, and in this case my mother, that make them who they were.

For instance, my mother loved shoes and loved to have matching handbags.  From the time I was a little girl, I loved to admire her shoes and pretend they were mine.  I loved for her to get dressed-up on Sundays and come to this very church were I would sit in the pew and play with her purse, or run my hand up and down the soft fur of her coat.  I loved how her shoes always matched her outfits.  That is another fact about my mother: she loved nice outfits.  As I looked through pictures of her in her twenties, thirties and even into her eighties, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother knew how to put together a great outfit.  I loved that about her.

She liked gadgets and cookbooks.  She loved to dance with my father.  When he died, I don’t believe she ever really danced again.

Another fact about my mom is that she protected me from a big, mean dog on Lauderdale that stood between me and my safe return home from school.  I can still remember seeing my mother walking up the hill to get me just as I crossed Kensington and into the path of the big, mean dog.  I had never felt more joy in my five year old heart than at that moment.  I remember running to her and hugging her.  I can’t tell you how she fended off the dog.  I just know she did.

I could give you many more anecdotes and factoids of my mother’s life but would they really sum up the essence of what she and my father built together and left behind?  Not really.  And how can you measure what has been left behind and how solidly something has been built?  I only recently discovered this but it was something my parents knew all along.

My parents’ legacy is: three children who respect and love each other, who are kind and spiritual in his or her own way.  Their legacy is two grandchildren that are equally kind, respectful and spiritual.  Their legacy is a son and daughter who took care of their mother on what turned out to be her deathbed.  Their care allowed our mother to have dignity in death.  My parents’ legacy is a son who woke up every two hours during our mother’s final night on earth to turn her and make her comfortable.  A daughter and a granddaughter who held her hand and comforted her for two days as she faded away.  A grandson who led the rosary by her bedside.  Sons-in-law that kept vigil as well.  These are the things that define a person’s life.

The fact that I can stand before you now and say that I am the luckiest woman in the world to have the sister and brother I have, speaks to my parents’ success.  That I can say, I am the luckiest woman in the world to have the nephew and niece I have, speaks to my parents’ success.

These are the things that are important.  These are the things that stand the test of time.  These are the things that define a successful life.  And all these things are the definition of love.  In the end, love is all that matters. And this is what I discovered for a fact Monday morning at 12:15.

*Author’s Note:  The text is unedited and presented as originally written and delivered.

 

 

 

 

My Garmin Ate My Brain

Recalculating Image

I used to be great with directions.  It was my strong suit.  I could go somewhere once and tell you exactly how to get there again, turn by turn.  I used to map city streets in my head and be able to give you alternate directions with ease.  It was a gift I came by naturally–passed down from my father.

My skills were frequently put to the test in 1989 as I wended my way through Western Pennsylvania–namely Pittsburgh.  I was 27 and a  higher eduction textbook rep, a position that was  most often held by older men who were  aptly referred to as “travelers”.   Map in hand, universities  and community colleges highlighted in yellow; I relied on instinct and signage to find my way.  Of course in Pittsburgh, the signage was rare and often you just knew to bear to the right at the cemetery and take a hard left at the fire hall.

What I quickly figured out is, all roads go around hills.  If you drove long enough and kept bearing to the right (or the left) you would wind up back where you started.  I kind of liked that about Pittsburgh and I really liked that I figured it out.

As my territory changed, my exploration and expertise expanded so that I became skilled in traversing the likes of Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit.  But now, besides my wits and maps I had MAPQUEST.   Life was indeed good.

By the time we moved to Connecticut, Garmin was the rage but I held the device in disregard.  GPS was for amateurs.  That is, until I drove to Boston.  Not surprisingly, it is dangerous to look at a map and navigate the Big Dig.  A couple of close calls and I was ordering up the newest, best, state of the art Garmin.  POST HASTE.

While a navigation system has kept me out of harms way, it has also robbed me of my ability to remember how to get anywhere unassisted.  (Of course I exaggerate — but not by much.)  I can’t remember names of roads or route numbers.  I can’t remember landmarks.  I will even believe the voice of Garmin over my own eyes.  Case in point, I was driving on I-95 in Providence.  I could SEE the exit I sought. It was on the LEFT but the Garmin told me it was on the right.  I went to the right and, you guessed it, missed my exit.    Psychologists have a name for this.  I know because I asked… but I can’t remember.

It turns out that all those years ago, as I flexed my map reading muscle, I was also stimulating my hippocampus to develop ever larger and more complex neural pathways in my brain that assisted me with spatial orientation.  One study suggests that reliance on GPS may negate these gains and instead contribute to Alzheimers,at worst, and cognition impairment at best.  Since I can’t find the actual study to read for myself and can’t find peer reviewed journal articles to support what I’ve read in the popular press, I can only say how it makes me feel and that is: less than.  I feel a little less confident, a little less powerful, and a lot less self-reliant.  None of which is good.

Am I going to give up using my navigation system entirely?  No.  What I am going to do is rely on myself and my maps more often and regain my sense of adventure.  I will follow roads just to see where they take me and connect the dots as I go.  I will revel in the serendipity of it all, reclaiming my gift of knowing where I am and getting  anywhere I want to go.  I will figure it out.  The power  and freedom of highway systems everywhere will once again be mine.

 

Bibliography

Maxwell, Rebecca. 2013. Spatial Orientation and the Brain: The Effects of Map Reading and Navigationhttps://www.gislounge.com/spatial-orientation-and-the-brain-the-effects-of-map-reading-and-navigation/.

Who can remember the others?

 

It’s All in a Smile

St Ed's 2nd Grade
Mrs. Ryan’s Second Grade Class and one of the few photos of me without a smile; third row from the bottom, last girl on the right in the red, scoop neck jumper.

Mrs. Ryan was a large, stinky, liver-spotted, woman in orthopedic shoes—and she was my second grade teacher.  It was a nightmare.

It was 19…well–I’m not going to say but it was a long time ago , when teachers knew best and classroom humiliation was de rigueur.

Our first run-in was week one.  I worked ahead in my math book.  She wrote a note to my parents.  No more working ahead.

Phonics lesson.  My best friend was struggling with the word T-U-B-E.  I said it for her in an effort to be helpful.  That’s what friends do.  Mrs. Ryan was not of the same opinion.  To the corner I went sobbing tears of embarrassment.  Hot. Flushed. Overcome with a sense of separateness and profound helplessness.  There I stood, staring out the fire exit door with my back to the class — a skinny little girl, alone, hyperventilating and powerless to escape.

St. Edward’s Church.  Our class is seated for confession.  Some kids are talking.  I was too afraid to talk and fool around.  What was I going to say in the confessional?  What would the priest say to me?  The knot in my stomach grew.  The talking continued.  This was going to be trouble.  I turned to see where Mrs. Ryan was and naturally, she was staring directly at ME. WE were not in trouble,  I was in trouble.  After confessing my non-sins, I found myself stunned and standing in the corner.  Sobbing. Hyperventilating. Powerless.

Things must have gotten marginally better.  I don’t remember. Apparently, I let let bygones be bygones because two years later Margaret Herberger and I paid a friendly visit to Mrs. Ryan.  She politely inquired how we were progressing with our studies and wondered how we were adapting to the new reading program.  I proudly announced that I was in the advanced reading group.  Margaret announced she was not.  Pride does indeed goeth before the fall because in that moment Mrs. Ryan delivered her final blow.  “You’re in the advanced reading program?  How can that be?”  Incredulity oozed from her liver spots. It seems, to Mrs. Ryan’s way of thinking, Margaret should have been in the advanced group and I should have been in a remedial class.  Margaret and I said our goodbyes and walked away, my spirit broken, my joy diminished.

I’m not a little girl any more and Mrs. Ryan is, in all likelihood, dead.  She is not someone I think of often or spend much time on in any way.  She is a memory that came out of the blue and, just as unexpectedly, made me weep for the younger me that was starting to be torn down, worn down, and, yes, abused. I think it is a sin to destroy someone’s spirit, especially a child’s.  I wonder if she ever confessed it?  It’s not for me to judge and yet, I do.

I thought of myriad ways to turn this around and tell you how this experience made me stronger but I realized that I don’t feel like it.  I’d like to tell you that it was because of her that I graduated Summa Cum Laude from college but that would be a lie. She had nothing to do with it. Mrs. Ryan stunk both figuratively and literally and no matter how I spin it, demoralizing a child is never right. If I am honest with myself, I wish she had to feel the same pain and abject hopelessness she caused. I want to hold that little girl, save her from that classroom corner,  and spirit her away through the fire escape door.  I want her to be safe.  I want to tell her that there will never be another picture in which she cannot smile, but that, too, would not be true.  There will be other pictures with haunted eyes and frozen lips.  There will be more accomplishments diminished, successes unrecognized.  Her spirit will be broken.  And each and every time, she will have to learn to save herself.

 

 

 

One Dog’s Joy

Lucy is a fighter.  But I remember when she didn’t have to fight.  She ran like the wind to catch Frisbees.  People would stop to take movies as she streaked along Vilano Beach, oblivious to anyone or anything but the flight of a seemingly insignificant plastic disk arcing across the sky.  She would leap and change course and catch every single one of them.

I wish I had those movies.

Lola Lucy Jack and Frisbee 2010
(Left to Right) Lola, Lucy, and Jack – Vilano Beach, FL 2010.

Lucy will get arthritis in her hips and most likely, it has already begun.  She has to swing her rump in an unnatural way so she doesn’t drag her paw and rub it raw.   Early on, it would bleed and one of her nails is permanently stunted.  Now I only need to clip 7 nails every few weeks but Lucy is fine with it.

It’s been three years since her stroke (FCE**) and she has adapted well.  She is happy.  Often, I am not.  She probably doesn’t remember life before the stroke– maybe only in her dreams — but because I do, my heart breaks for all that has been taken away.  Yet,  I remind myself, much has been given.

I see the spirit of the fighter that always burned inside.  A dog who loves being a dog.  A dog that finds joy in running through any woods, anywhere, any time with a stick in her mouth; digging holes to nowhere when she gets tired of running.  She simply digs for the joy of digging.

Not long ago, I attended a retreat with the theme: KNOW GREATER JOY.  Humans, it seems, need to be reminded of this.  Lucy comes by it naturally.  She knows she has been given one more day to chase her Frisbees and carry her sticks; to dig her holes; to cuddle with her humans and scavenge every morsel of food whether inside or outside her bowl.  She knows the joy of hope and dreams fulfilled.  She believes we will get in the car and go for a ride.  She believes we will take her to the woods and let her swim in the river.  She believes we’ll throw toys for her to retrieve.  “Today is the day,” I imagine her thinking.  And she is right.  Everyday IS the day.  We can’t help but make her dreams come true.

Yes.  Lucy knows joy — and through her — we do too.

** “Fact Sheet on Prescription Help.” 2007.Clinical Neurology News 3 (4): 27. doi:10.1016/S1553-3212(07)70142-5. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1553321207701425.