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I’ve been M.I.A. for about a month now. Big things and big changes have been sweeping through my life, and most of what I’ve been writing has been in my journal (home for all the news that’s not fit to print).
One of the big things I’ve been dealing with is this:
At about five in the morning on December 21st, my dad collapsed (a couple of times), and they took him to the emergency room. After about seven hours of running every conceivable test that you can run on a body, they finally pinpointed what was causing the trouble – he had 80% blockage in his ‘widow-maker’ artery (runs along the front of the heart – and isn’t it nice that it’s named that & that the doctors and nurses actually call it that in front of you? Neat. Thanks. We weren’t scared enough) and 60-70% blockage in one of the arteries that runs alongside his heart.
He went from feeling fine and fit the day before, to facing open heart surgery the next morning. My dad is a 57 year old non-smoking, non-drinking, daily bran-eating, daily walker with a physique that could be featured in medical texts as ideal for the male of the species.
He also has a family history of high cholesterol that is unaffected by diet or exercise (as in, didn’t matter how many bran muffins my dad snarfed down, or how many miles he walked, he was going to have to deal with this anyway). His father died of a major heart attack at age 65, again somewhat unexpectedly – a fact which was forefront in all of our minds during this.
So, we were all thrown for the proverbial loop. And it called all sorts of things into question, made each of us face and deal with things that we’d been burying or looking away from. And I’m grateful.
I played the ‘what-if’ game about it all (I am the uncontested champion of this game), and no matter how I ran the scenarios through in my head, they did not turn out nearly as prettily as reality did. And so, I couldn’t be anything other than grateful. Grateful that it all happened, and grateful that it all went precisely the way that it did.
In the intervening weeks, dad’s done a lot of healing physically. I’d been more worried about his mental/emotional healing – when you discover the body’s ability to betray, you end up feeling whammied, and I was worried about how he’d handle the whammy. I shouldn’t have worried – I should have just trusted. Dad’s coping well – and he has a lot of time for introspection, since he’s in enforced low-activity for at least six weeks following the surgery.
I went over there this week to help them denude the house of all the Christmas hoopla, since pop can’t lift more than 5 to 10 pounds. And dad turns to me and says, “You still plan on taking me grocery shopping today?” And I, of course, said, “Absolutely!” when I was really thinking, “Hunh? Didn’t remember that…but okey dokey.”
I was probably the best one to bring – I let him have his way and do things his way…until he shouldn’t. I’m not shy about calling people out, and we all know it. So, I was the perfect policeman. We had a great talk the whole way there, and the whole time we were shopping.
And on the way home, the talk turned to how he was dealing with his recovery, and some of the things that were starting to glimmer in the murk for him. I mentioned that Dave (my brother) was probably having the hardest time with all of this. And dad, in typical understated fashion, said, “Well, he probably thought I was dying in his arms, so I suppose he would be.”
And I told him that wasn’t the reason. It was because when Dave was young, he hungered for my father’s attention (which for a variety of reasons, wasn’t available), and then when Dave got older, my dad hungered for more connection with his son…and now Dave is mulling all of it over, and wanting to deepen their relationship. But they’re both the stoic and stubborn products of our Austrian ancestry (which seems to cancel out the Irish in the worst possible ways…), and they don’t reach out well. So, I dropped my pebble into that still pond, and trusted that the ripples would wreak whatever changes to the shoreline that they were meant to – or not – and I let it go.
And then I turned to him and told him that I’d had a hard time with all of this, too, but not for the same reasons. I said that I just wasn’t ready to lose my father yet – I was greedy and wanted many more years together. He smiled. And I said that I felt like he and I were square, that we’d done all the reconnecting and that we had a good relationship, and that I didn’t have regrets – only the greedy desire for more of it. I asked him if he felt the same, and he smiled and said, “Yeah Carolyn, we’re good.”
I know how lucky I am to be able to have that conversation with my dad, and to know deeply that it’s true. I also know that I made my own luck there. I reached out to him in my typically tactless and blunt fashion when I was done being an angsty teen and told him I didn’t like the vibe we had and that I wanted more…and what I wanted it to look like. And then we built it.
In the course of our grocery shopping conversation/excursion, I told him that I regretted nothing about my life. It didn’t strike me until right now, that he’d looked at me kind of oddly, and said, “Really?” with the kind of incredulity that implies sincere and invested interest in the answer. No, dad, I regret nothing. Because all of it brought me here, made me who I am now in this moment. Even the worst stuff shaped me (and I’ve gone through some muddy and bloody trenches in my short life) – and is, perhaps, what I ended up being most grateful for since it affected the deepest and most lasting change.
I know he’s on his own road to reconciling his regrets and healing relationships. I know I can’t do it for him, and I wouldn’t if I could. All I can do is let him see me, and the way I’ve chosen to deal with life as a teacher, and rejoice that he still has the opportunity to choose to engage in it…or choose to let it fall away again.
It may appear that I am lackadaisical about all of this – I assure you I’m not. It’s more a matter of having put out the blaze, and looking at the smoldering foundation, and knowing that there’s both time and opportunity for the owner to build anew. And being grateful for it.
If the only prayer you said in your life was Thank You, that would suffice. (Meister Eckhart)
I, like most people, tend to give notice to all the P.I.T.A. (Pain In The A$$) parts of life without even thinking about it. They’re there, and they prompt an emotional response, which – like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I droolingly provide.
I’ve been retraining myself to make it less ‘work,’ and more instinctive to recognize the moments of grace or kindness or joy in my life when they happen. To give them the same or better billing that the P.I.T.A. moments get. So far, it’s working.
Those P.I.T.A. moments are always going to be there. They’re a constant. To be human is to suffer, and that’s just life. But to be human is to also experience extraordinary moments of joy or clarity or beauty or love.
This was originally going to be a post thanking the myriad folks who’ve done me a solid somehow over the course of my life. And I started to make the list. But what I noticed was that the things I remembered best, and wanted to thank them for were all the intangibles, all the small things. Sure, I’m grateful for all the things that people have done for me or given to my physically, but more, it’s the acts of kindness, the small gestures, the smiles, the laughter, that have stayed with me.
I am grateful today for everything that has ever happened. I am grateful today for all that’s been said (and not said), for all that was done (and not done). It has brought me to the very place I stand today, and it’s a good place to be.
Wishing all of you the kind of peace that comes from liking where you are, and knowing that everything that happened was meant to get you there.
I’ve just got to divulge something here. Something I fail to understand.
I live with the King of Condiments.
When we moved, my brother looked in the fridge after we’d unpacked everything, hoping for a small smackerel of something, anything – and found…an ‘empty’ fridge. He exclaimed, “Where are all the bags of stuff I carried up that had to ‘go in the fridge right away’? I’m starving!” I directed his despondent gaze to the ‘frigerator door – and the array of sauces and syrups and jars and bottles and shakers tucked into the shelves. Yes, all five bags of ‘food’ went on the door shelves – the ones reserved solely for Condiments.
I don’t understand this incessant need that Jeremy has to decorate his food and doctor it up with a bunch of sauces and mustards and stuff. Maybe it’s ‘cause my folks are of German descent – a heritage that does not lend itself to savory and succulent cuisine. Maybe I’m culinarily unimaginative.
What I do know is that it is maddening to hear the rattle-rattle of a knife pinging around the sides of yet another nearly-empty mayonnaise jar, when it feels like I just bought some. And the inevitable cry that accompanies this discovery: “Babe! We’re out of mayo!” *sigh* Again?
I love that he loves food. I love that he enjoys and savors the experience of making food and devouring food. It’s novel.
I just don’t understand this whole conspicuous consumption of condiments gig that he’s got rollin’ here. From the rate that these jars go dry, his sandwiches should look like soup – that, or he’s eating far more sandwiches than I envision one single human being could manage.
It’s a mystery. And one I may not ever understand. In the meantime, I need to go add ‘mayo’ to my mental shopping list. Again.
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
Separation, W. S. Merwin
I am watching someone go through a hard time. Except, I have always been watching this someone go through a hard time. She is the best architect of her own downfall, time and again. What do I do with that, when I love her?
I watch, and I stand back, and when advice rushes up my throat and bites at the back of my teeth, begging for expulsion, I swallow it bitterly down again. Because advice does not help. Guidance does not heal. Suggestions do not bridge the crevasse opening at our feet.
So I stay silent, and I hear her story. Again, and again, and again. The facts of the story change, and the faces in it come and go, shift, depart, return. But the story? That stays the same.
And I am finally coming to a place where I can honor the fact that it is her story. That if I can only love her, and let her have her story, I will find peace with all of it.
I am finally coming to a place where I can accept that my advice is really like unasked-for editing of a story that she is comfortable living. I need to let her have her mixed metaphors and incorrect tenses, because this is her story and she its author.
I am finally coming to a place where I can recognize and act on the knowledge that the choice to read that story with her is mine. I do not have to pick up the phone and hear the next chapter and verse of a plot which never thickens, and characters who behave in ways I predicted on page two. I can let the phone go unanswered, and preserve my peace when it suits me.
I do not have to allow her thread to be the color I paint my emotions with, my reactions with, my mindset with. Her presence, for so long, has dictated climate, and I finally know how to move out of that weather pattern kindly and compassionately.
I am finally able to see the thread stringing boldly through her own story, and though I don’t care for the color or the pattern she’s choosing, I can just let it be hers. I pick up my own needle, choose my own thread and color my days in way that I prefer.
My mistake was always in believing that we wanted the same color thread. My mistake was in believing that it was natural that she would want to sew me into her heart and her life in the way that I delighted to sew her into mine. My mistake was in thinking that we wanted the same story, that we longed for the same thread to color our lives, that we looked out upon the world and saw the same things.
We don’t, and we won’t. And I am finally able to cut the thread that bound me up so tightly in what she wove, and be at peace with it. I can finally know that I can love the beauty of the one who weaves, even if what she’s weaving is discordant with what I choose to create.
And when, inevitably, I find myself snagged up and tangled up in the old habit of matching my stitching to hers, I am going to pull out this blog and read it again and remind myself of what I know is true.
Today is Veteran’s Day – a day to honor and remember the sacrifices that men and women have made in the name of defending our country. There has always been a part of me that has issues with war and the need for a military at all – the idealistic part of me. I am a pacifist at heart, and the idea of war as a necessity of our current way of life is a complete and total affront to all of my sensibilities.
When it comes right down to it though, sensibilities aside, I am grateful beyond belief that other people have been and are willing to put their lives on the line for an ideal that they wholeheartedly believe in – our freedom to continue our way of life.
And all of those ideals are lovely things, but the reality of war, and what it must be like to know with a visceral and genuine certainty that it is within your job description to kill others when necessary – and if necessary, lay down your life for those ideals – really is beyond the limits of my ability to empathize or imagine. I simply cannot do it – it surpasses the scope of my experience.
We live such sheltered lives here in the United States. They keep blabbling all over the news about how this is the Age of Austerity and the Great Recession, but I think that the magnitude of the attention paid to our economic woes (while woeful) is all out of proportion. Have we really become so soft and coddled in this society that having to go without cable television is now considered a major infringement upon our ability to enjoy and lead full lives? That is sad.
Austerity is having your sugar rationed. Austerity is having to go without tires for cars and for bicycles. Austerity is having ration coupons and victory gardens. Austerity is to truly go without – and not by choice or preference.
Yes, there are those in the country at this moment who are sunk deep in the mire of an austere existence – I read the news, I hear all about the evictions and job losses and foreclosures. I’m aware. They are experiencing deprivation and loss. They are experiencing austere living conditions – presumably.
On the other hand, the great majority of us have gone on with our lives, without the Great Recession causing much more than a blip on our screens. (I’m sure, at this point, many of you are wondering why a post about Veteran’s Day seems to be more about our economy…I’ll get there, just stick with me). We cannot comprehend austerity, because it has not entered our lives in a real way.
On days like Veteran’s Day, I cannot help but pan the camera lens a bit wider, and take in all of the things surrounding the need to even have Veterans in a world-wide way. I think about the people in Darfur today. But for our Veterans (and several other salient factors), we might truly know the kind of horrors and the “austere” living conditions that have been visited upon the people of that region.
Without our Veterans, we might be subject to the kinds of injustices and the restrictions of civil liberties that so many of the Chinese are suffering today. Without our Veterans, each one of us may be far more conversant with the realities of an austere existence.
I may not agree with it when we persist in sticking our militial finger into pies all over the globe (when are we going to ever start asking whether or not we should, rather than if we could???), but I value the sacrifices of those in our armed forces – and the sacrifices of their families. Think, for a moment, about the reality of leaving your family members behind to go off to far-flung places, knowing that you may never meet again in this life…hard to think about, isn’t it? Think about what it’s like to stand there and watch someone you love walk away from you, on their way to stand on the line for an ideal, knowing that this may be the last time you ever see their face. Tough stuff.
Tougher still than this seminal moment, is the everyday – every morning, and every night, spent wondering where and how they are. Wondering if they are okay, if they’ll be okay tomorrow. Those are the kinds of things that I think about on Veterans’ Day.
I think about both of my grandfathers – who, along with my grandmothers, truly survived ages of austerity. One day this past summer, I got together to art journal with Martina and Dani, and Martina had brought along a Life magazine from the early forties. I paged through it with wonder – I love vintage stuff, mostly because it’s like peering through a window to glimpse what life might have been like for those I know and love. This particular war-time issue had an entire three-page section devoted to the different rationing programs in place, and the reasons for them.
The people did this joyfully – they went without to serve the greater good of the country. I simply cannot imagine any of us lining up, smiling, to decrease our own creature comforts in the name of the greater good. But that’s what they did – my grandmothers at home, while my grandfathers fought.
Days like this exist to do more than give us a reason to fly the flag and wax poetic about the ideals of freedom and struggle and sacrifice. I ask you, take out your dictionaries and look up a few terms – struggle, sacrifice, austerity. Sound like what you’re experiencing? Probably not – and that’s okay, as long as you take this as your opportunity to put yourself in the place of those who are on everyday familiarity with those terms.
Don’t just think about the Veterans today. Think about their widows, their orphans. Think about their parents, their siblings. Think about what kind of courage it takes to stand before danger for the sake of so many you will never even meet. Think about what true austerity is. Think about it tomorrow, and the next day. Think about it next week. Don’t just save it for November 11th.
That said, I thank the Veterans for their service to this country – and by extension, their service on my behalf. I thank all who have ever served – including my grandfathers. My father’s father, Michael Joseph Gaar, served in the Army during World War II. He was color blind in such a way that he could pick out the camouflage of the enemy troops, so he did reconnaissance and scouting. Dangerous stuff. All three of his brothers served as well: John Gaar, Jr., Joseph Gaar, and Leo Gaar.
My mother’s father, John Bertram Hicks, served in the Navy aboard the USS John Hood. He lied about his age to get into the service a year early – I guess it was a bit easier to do things like that back then. They were both lucky – they served their time and lived long lives and raised families once their service was complete.
My Uncle Ed served during the Korean War. My cousin Tony is in the Marines serving right now and my friend’s husband JT is in the Army Reserves, and they’ve each done a handful of tours over in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thank you, all of you. May you be blessed. As for the rest of us? I pray that we adopt a little bit of empathy, a little humility, and find a way to adjust our skewed perspectives.
These are little scraps of magic & when you paste them together you get a memory of something fine & strong, she said. Sometimes it takes till you’re 40 to see it though. (Brian Andreas, Storypeople)
This is Abby, my niece. She’s three. She’s enamored of glue. She reaches into my bag every single time I see her and grabs out the gluestick I keep in there, and begs me to do ‘arts and crafts’ with her, because one time when she was over, she asked what all the stuff on the table was for, and her Auntie (me) told her that’s where she did her arts and crafts. You never know what little tidbits will stick there, forever, in their minds.
On the day this picture was taken, I relented. I dressed her up in one of my dad’s old shirts as her artist’s smock, and let her hold the gluestick. I papered the table. I pulled out all the supplies. And I turned around to see her gazing with adoration and amazement at this glorious thing in her hands…the fabled gluestick. The look on her face is one that I need to remember – that look of childlike wonder and excitement.
I want to have that look on my face when I pull out the art supplies and get to “work.” Maybe I should stop calling it work, and start calling it play, instead. I want to have that look on my face each time I do a Numerology Chart for a client, or meet with a new group for Reiki Share, or gather a new class for Reiki Training. I want to have that look on my face when I show up to do what I do.
In my heart, that’s how I feel about it – so, I should let it shine outward. Let it permeate who I am, and what I show up with every day.
I want to cultivate that wonder. I want to feel the magic when I hold the tools in my hands and set to work.
She tapped her finger & nothing happened & she thought she had lost her magic, but it had only changed & it took her awhile to figure it out. (Brian Andreas, Storypeople)
Once upon a time, I was a high school English teacher, and in that life, there was something that I sought out eagerly each day, attempted to create, and leapt upon like a tigress when it appeared – the teachable moment. That happy circumstance when I had attention, interest, engagement, and most importantly, opportunity.
The funny thing is, that when you’re a teacher down to your bones, from the moment of your birth, the way that I am, finding the teachable moment is actually a kind of sixth sense – one that (to the dismay, and eye-rolls, of many of my associates), I can identify and take advantage of no matter the circumstance. I kind of can’t help it – I see the perfect moment to provide illumination, and I take it. I’m a teacher – and I can no more let the opportunity pass by, than I could stop being who I am.
Today I went to my folks’ house to do laundry and hang out with my three-year-old niece, Abby. She’s both the best and most important ‘student’ I’ve ever had, and the best and most important ‘teacher’ I’ve ever had.
We had a great time today – she loves her Auntie, and we have all sorts of adventures together when I’m there. She has an incredibly rich inner world, which she’s pleased as punch to draw me (and anyone else who’s handy) into.
Today, we had one of those unexpected teachable moments. I was in the laundry room folding a load, and she grabbed what she calls her ‘Jesus book’ – a children’s book of Bible stories – and her duckie, and planted herself next to the washer. I sank down onto the floor next to her, and asked her if she’d like me to tell her the stories in her book.
With the dryer humming in the background, and the washer swishing away behind us, we went through the entire book – a rare thing with that three-year-old attention span. I didn’t read what was on the pages, but told her the stories from memory. I pointed out all the major players, and gave her the gist of each tale in a few sentences.
The last story in the book was the one about Jesus and the little children – the one where the man tries to shag off the kids who’ve gathered around Jesus, and Jesus stops him and tells him to let the children stay. Abby was really tuned in, and I could just feel all of the tumblers working in her quick little mind.
She’s had a kind of rough time of things for being only three – nothing horrid, but not a whole lot of stability. I told her that she could talk to Jesus anytime she wanted to, and He would always listen to her, always. I asked her if she wanted me to show her how – she nodded and then got to her feet to stand in front of me. I held my hands in prayer in front of my heart, and I started, “Dear Jesus, I had a hard time today…” She mirrored my every movement, repeated each word, on her own.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19: 14)
I am her godmother. Once upon a time, when my sister was pregnant, she debated whether, with my unconventional spirituality, I would be a suitable godmother for her child. That was like a dagger in my heart – and I’ve had a hard time healing it. No matter my own personal spirituality, I told her, that God-forbid, if something happened to her, I would do everything in my power to do all that I thought she would have done, and more.
So, I became Abby’s godmother – a role I take seriously, despite my distance from the faith I was raised with. No matter how far away I get from Catholicism, it’s never gone – it’s just become a part of the broad and deep pool of spiritual knowing and experience I’ve built for myself. Every child needs spiritual teachers, no matter what tradition.
Today, I taught my niece to pray. I told her that she did have someone to take all her troubles to – that when she has a hard day, and things feel crummy, she had someone to talk to in every moment. Someone who, though they may not answer back, would hear everything that she told them. She seemed to really take it in. She paused. She was quiet and thoughtful.
Today, I was more grateful for my innate teacher habits than I’ve ever been – today, I had a golden moment with my niece, my goddaughter. Today, I was able to act as her spiritual teacher, the role I was given when she was born, and one I cherish the opportunity to fulfill.
It was especially poignant, because they will be moving in a few weeks, and I know she’s not terribly pleased about it. It will be her third move in as many years. I wanted her to have somewhere to go with all that she will feel about it.
I totally realize that she’s three, and that there’s a whole lot more to prayer than what I was able to tell her today, but this was an important moment. It was the first of many to come.
I know that this post is kind of ‘a day late and a dollar short,’ but I spent a good portion of my weekend with my mom and dad, which is the point of Mother’s and Father’s Day, anyhow.
My relationship with my father is intensely complicated…and it’s unbelievably simple. I love him, and he loves me. No matter how we’ve changed, or fought, or frozen each other out over the years, I had him and he had me, and we were lucky enough to have a relationship.
When everything goes completely off kilter in my world, and up is down, and right is left, all I have to do is go and hug him, and things even out, straighten out. I know it’s an illusion – he can’t slay all of my dragons (that’s my job) – but there’s something about his hugs that make all the bad things fade into the background, and that make me remember that I can do this (whatever it is).
My dad’s a ‘still waters run deep’ kind of a guy. He doesn’t spend words like they’re free – and you’re better off dropping an idea or a question in his lap and then coming back in a few days to see what he’s come to, instead of demanding answers on the spot. He’s the kind of man who has to chew on a thing for a while before he decides how it tastes.
You know you’re in his inner circle when he acts the goof and the clown in front of you. I get some of my playful and pranksterish tactics from having watched him. Every year, our family would sit down to watch The Wizard of Oz together on our ancient television. And every year, he’d wait until the three of us kids were completely enraptured and absorbed, waiting to see what would happen to Dorothy, waiting to see if, this time, the witch would triumph….and then, he’d scream at the top of his lungs, scaring the bejesus out of all of us! And, we’d go and cluster around him, seeking safety. Dirty rat (said in the most affectionate manner possible).
I get my work ethic from both of my parents, but mostly from Dad. He works so hard – too hard. And he’s spent more vacations painting our house or fixing something than any man should. (Thanks).
I spent a different kind of time with him. We used to walk around the yard and ‘visit’ each of the trees, each of the gardens, and I’d ask him questions. It was quiet time – meditative, but I know he’d balk at that term. He’s philosophical, but he’d deny that, too.
When I chose to go out on my own, and become a Reiki Master Teacher and go into business with Dani, he didn’t understand exactly what I did, or why I’d want to do it. And, being a father, he worried (worries) about me. Despite that, he’s proud of me, and believes that I can do whatever I put my mind to.
Thanks, Dad, for being there.
Thanks for having my back, even though you don’t understand why or what I’m doing half the time.
Thanks for every talk in the basement, watching you plane out a new piece of furniture.
Thanks for singing along with the radio – I could hear it come up through the air vent into my room, and I will never forget the sound of it. It comforted me in ways you cannot imagine.
Thanks for going along with (most of) my grand schemes, even though you wondered why I’d want to bother – and especially thanks, since most of them involved some labor on your part.
Thanks for shellacking all of the odd things I bring to you. I know that it’s a lot more work and effort than you make it out to be.
Thanks for being a brave enough guy to ask your daughters what kind of tampons we wanted from the store, and going to get them.
Thanks for thinking that no guy would ever really be good enough for me.
Thanks for all the late night chats. Thanks for always taking my calls.
Thanks for fixing my car before I even knew it was busted. Thanks for coming to the rescue when it busted before any of us knew it needed fixing.
Thank you for all the things that you are: from the persnickety to the playful, from the silly to the serene.
Thank you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!
There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. (John Gregory Brown, Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, 1994)
Each year, I struggle to meet both of my father’s rules for gift giving:
Rule #1: Don’t spend any money.
Rule #2: Don’t spend any time.
Each year, in one way or another, I fail to meet those criteria. Except this year. This year, I made my father a keepsake art book — and told him that the money I’d spent I would’ve spent anyway, and that the time I spent was such a joy, it shouldn’t count. His birthday is today.
Happy birthday Dad!