Things better left unsaid

I had major surgery on Valentine’s Day 2006, and I have seen enough films to “know”  that sometimes when somebody dies, not only are those alive left with the sadness and the loss but all those thoughts of “I wish I had said” …fill in the blank…So the week before my surgery, with the lingering thought that I may die from an anesthesia reaction or whatever else could happen, I wrote letters.  Many letters.  To my daughter, to my parents, to the man I was dating, to my sister, to my Mimom, to the little Sweet-Ti infant grandbaby I’d only just begun to know…I “said” all the things I wanted to say.  I put them all in envelopes and left them that morning on my desk addressed with to whom they were for…just in case.  While it may have been a morbid act, it felt good to do it, while I was writing and also that day as I was being prepped and poked and as I started to count backwards from 10, and to be honest, I only remember saying “10” I felt so peaceful, that if that was to be my last day alive on this earth, there was nothing left unsaid.

I have been filled with mild, and sometimes deep regret since early February for things I have said, and have written, creating drama and upset to someone who deserves neither.  Words when spoken can’t be taken back, and I have said many things  since this winter that were better left unsaid…I’ve been unrealistic about expectations, I’ve been selfish with all the -what I want and what I deserve- types of comments, I’ve been upset over a situation that has nothing to do with me nor does it or should it, affect me directly…and I have tried to “do better” and I have tried to “be better” and I have really tried to force out the thoughts when they enter my brain, it has been a struggle for me, and I am upset with myself and despite my efforts, I keep on behaving badly in this area.  How many times can you say you are sorry before the person no longer believes you mean it?  How many times can you say you will try to do something and then you don’t ever really do it?  It’s a little like The Boy Who Cried Wolf isn’t it??

Last evening I got word from a girlfriend that a mutual friend of ours from high school had died.  I just had drinks with him and some friends earlier this summer and while we had not been “friends” since high school, we had been very good cyber friends these last several years.  I felt sad, that someone as young as we was dead, and that he had so much left to do and to say, and surely so many who cared about him had things to say to him.  I’ve written for years about my Dad, truly the greatest human I will ever know, who often says, “tomorrow you could be run over by a pie wagon” and he lives his life so fully and so completely and with such kindness and goodness that when the pie wagon does come, there will be no regrets in his last breath.  This death of a friend from my teens got me thinking for the last many hours about the life I am living…

I like the Buddhist idea that we get to keep coming back to a physical life, time after time, until we get it right…I also like the Christian idea that we die this physical life but we get to live forever in heaven.  I don’t know that I believe in anything, and I have friends of many faiths and friends of no faith.  I like the idea of a “religion” of kindness.  I’ve joked over the years, yet it is SO true for me, that I love Eddie Vedder’s quote, “there’s only one commandment, don’t be an asshole,”  yet, even though I try to go to bed at night and say my apology to the universe, if I have been an asshole to anybody that day, I find that I’ve been perpetually difficult to the man I most want to be kind to, the man I want to keep sharing my life with, the one who I don’t want to think ill of me…

So I’m thinking about my recently dead friend, and wondering what he might have wished to be different, done differently, what he maybe wishes he had said and what he perhaps wished he had not…I have not been living to my full potential these many months.  I know this much is true.  I have been needlessly unkind and occasionally difficult and said “I’m sorry” too often.  If this is the only life I get I think I had better start behaving better and know as well as understand, that there are many things better left unsaid…I want my last words that I say or that I write to be based in kindness, understanding, compassion, generosity, grace I suppose…I believe perhaps today more than yesterday, that the ONLY things I SHOULD say are the words I would want somebody to remember me by…

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“S” & “M”

It’s funny, in a confusing way, how changing one letter, s or m, can make so much difference in a meaning of emotion…I’ve been journaling, a lot, for the last month…I have been “accused,” I write accused because it’s usually mentioned in a negative way, for most of my adult life, of “thinking too much” but I suppose the alternative is thinking too little, and that can’t possibly be good!!!  & in my “diary” writing I became so aware yesterday morning of how frequently I flip-flop between “sad” and “mad” in my writing and interchange the words as if they are the same meaning…it got me thinking, do they mean the same thing to me?

If for example I was challenged to describe myself in six words or less, neither sad nor mad would be in the list, yet I find when I reread some of the thoughts I’ve put to paper, there is a trend towards both…I don’t like it…I know that *what you think, you become* so I guess I’m concerned that focusing on both of those emotions, as separate sensations or as the same type of discontent, is pushing me to a state of being that I’ve no interest in experiencing on a regular basis…I don’t want to be either.  I don’t like to think that I am.  The words sad and mad don’t produce the same “feelings” inside of me, or I suppose they shouldn’t, so I have to wonder why I exchange them and so often & have, like I do in both my thoughts and my journaling.

19 years ago, the man I was dating pointed out to me that if I only wrote in my journal when I was upset or angry or confused or concerned, that I was creating a “false history.”  That while my feelings may be pure and my words may be true at the time I write them, that by only noting my upset, and not my joys or even things as simple as the kind of weather, it is not an accurate diary.  In the olden days people used diaries as a way to record history…the weather, the farming, the things that went on in the community…they weren’t only filled with angry scribbles when Dorcas was so upset because she found Samuel in the barn with Silas, or Rebecca being angry with Josiah for not helping her with the children.  I knew then and know now that he was right, that to write a real diary has to be a daily or weekly ritual that is filled with facts, not just emotions, otherwise it’s really just an ego stroke for yourself.

I was very sad, or maybe mad, on the first day of summer, for a reason that need not be shared, but it was partly my own fault, great expectations for what was to be,  instead of great gratitude for what was, and I realized while I was feverishly writing, the thoughts and the words just kept coming back to the same idea…like a skipping record…saying the same thing over and over and over, just using different words, and within a few days I thought, “geez! I’m even annoying myself at this point!”  So I stopped the thoughts and stopped the writing and moved on.  Then again on July 21st another meaningful day in my mind, yet another self-fulfilling prophecy or maybe just a delusion, making myself both sad and mad by my own thoughts…what a waste of energy!!!  Truthfully I’d been struggling with these thoughts since the beginning of February, again droning on and on like a broken record in my brain…I don’t like them and I don’t like how they make me feel, and I try, I really do, to stop thinking them…but they just kept creeping back into my brain!!!  Frankly they infuriate me and make me feel weak and make me feel insecure and those are two adjectives I loathe, not just about myself but really about anybody!  So for the last several days I have been thinking about, *what if this were my last week or month or year in this life?  What if tomorrow  I really do get run over by a pie wagon? What if I really do buy the farm or kick the proverbial bucket in August?*  What a wasted many months, or days, or hours, being either sad or mad.

Yesterday, late in the afternoon, no music playing all those hours I worked; just the slapping of the bay on the bulkhead, the squawking of the seagulls, the clanging of sails on the masts and booms of the boats in the lagoon, the laughter of adults having a very fun day a few houses down from where I was working, the splashing of bodies in the water, the roar of jet skis off in the distance…a beautiful sunny day with a pleasant breeze and mild temperature and not very humid at all…back and forth I worked, staining a house, board after board after board…soffit, then fascia, then siding…and I just let my mind wander…the work kind of happens on its own, and when you are doing a job like painting a house your thoughts just sort of flow like stain…and I thought, how about “GL” instead of S or M??  Am I not ultimately mostly “GLAD?”  Am I not thankful for the work I have that allows me to live in my dream house?  Am I not grateful for the good health and well-being of those I care about?  Am I not pleased that last July I met a new boy and my whole world became brighter?  Do I not still feel overwhelmed when I think about the first time he smiled at me?  Do I not feel such happiness when I think about some of our first dates, first kisses, or the first time he told me he loved me?  I don’t need S & M with my ‘ad’…neither suits me nor brings me joy…I’ll take ‘Gl,’ glad for all that I have and all that is good, and put the pen away.

Periodic Table

We all learned about the periodic table of elements in junior high and high school…we know that all matter is made up of elements or combinations of elements…but what if we had a table for what matters?  What if we had a table of the elements for the heart, the soul, what we feel, what we love, what we crave, what we loathe?  Everything we FEEL, everything we DESIRE, everything that makes us weep, or yell, or jump for joy, is also made up of elements isn’t it?

I have not used the periodic table since I was in college.  I’ve explained it to the children I love, and we read about it in their book called “Science Verse” and I do very often refer to water as H2O, and I sometimes call salt “nacal” which makes the kids laugh, but in general the periodic table of the elements  became nothing but a blip in my memory after I was finished with college, however, if we had a Periodic Table for what matters, not only for the elements OF matter, I am quite sure that I, and you, would use it or refer to it, EVERY SINGLE DAY.

A beautiful smile, straight white teeth, creativity, a deep voice, talent, a sexy laugh, affectionate, nice biceps, defined deltoids, athletic ability, smarts, compassion, humor…those are just some of the elements that make the man I love VERY appealing to me.  He thinks I am smart, have a radiant smile, am kind, funny and make him laugh, capable and hard-working, honest &  faithful…those are some of the elements that make him love me.

We all know that when two or more elements are combined it’s called a compound.  We know that Hydrogen, Oxygen, Helium, and Carbon are the most common elements in our world.  BUT if we had a different kind of periodic table, the elements of what matters, I think the most common ones might be LOVE, COMPASSION, UNDERSTANDING, KINDNESS…most of what matters has a base of one or more of these elements doesn’t it??!!

I got straight A’s in college, which included chemistry and biology, so I know I can, if I apply myself, “GET IT.”  There is nothing tricky about science, it’s really just facts and sure, some science is based purely on hypotheticals, but those come from bits and pieces of  facts, science is not subjective, it is pure and simple when you break it down…kind of like life when I think about it…it may seem complicated at times, but really, when you break it all apart into its categories and its basic elements, it simply is what it is, it’s how we organize all those parts that really matters…

I was doing a job yesterday where I had no music, no distractions, just the hum and rattle of my pressure washer for 8 hours…back and forth, board to board, deck to deck…you might think the monotony of the job would be awful, but it isn’t…it’s oddly soothing…it’s like mowing my field or vacuuming to me…so I thought a lot, for a lot of hours yesterday, about feelings I’ve been having since the solstice, questions I’ve asked myself, confusion about some aspects of my life and unquestioning certainty about others…and I was breaking down all of the thoughts into their smallest possible detail…

Part of, or maybe all of, a good present tense-  living a happy life, making a happy home, having a fulfilling job, caring about your friends or your family, ALL include combinations of one or more of these elements.  If any of our personal goals are unmet, if we feel something is missing in our lives, if we feel unchallenged, out of balance, dissatisfied, confused about our life’s purpose, discontent, uncertain, perplexed about what role we are supposed to be playing, in our world in general and or home in particular, any of the thoughts that we all think, some of us more frequently than others, (yes, I am totally comfortable sharing the fact that I suffer from this character flaw of “over thinking” almost everything) all we have to do is recombine some of those basic elements, reconfigure our compounds, and my hypothesis is that the answers or the change will come…now, let the experiments begin…

Coffee and Wine

I love many things- shiny silver bracelets, the color purple, gerber daisies, my family, the sound of children laughing, my fireplace on a cold night, my central air on a humid day…the list could go on endlessly, as I try to find the good and the beautiful in most everything and most every day.  Coffee and Wine are also on my list and I was thinking this morning about why?…and I realize that they both give me a similar peaceful feeling.  Although some people are jolted by the caffeine in coffee, I am not, and have at times been known to drink it all day long and into the night and still sleep soundly.  Some people are lulled into dullness with the alcohol content of wine, but I am not, and find that most my senses are stimulated by it.

I love to read reviews about coffee and wine when I am trying new beans or new grapes and it’s curious to me that the ratings almost always use the word “Balance” in the descriptions.  Is that what we crave?  Is that what we are seeking?  Perhaps, since I see the word used so frequently, I am not alone in my quest for balance in my life, and to be clear, if my beverage is well balanced first thing in the morning and shortly before dinner, well, hey, it’s a start!

Many winters ago, my boyfriend at the time and I began an experiment in roasting our own coffee beans.  We were positively giddy with the UPS delivery of green beans, in small quantities, from many parts of the world.  We used a regular old cast iron skillet and a wooden wok tool, no special gadgets, and the intense flame from an old gas range, and we learned a lot about beans…how they “pop” during the first phase, and double in size, and how they sizzle and become glossy during the second phase, and how long to turn them, how long to air them, the ratio of water to beans after we ground them…we learned that some beans require not only the wall fan but the front door and all the windows opened so as not to be smoked out of the house, we learned that some, despite their delicious flavor when brewed, actually smell like dirty feet.  We had a small notebook where we’d jot down details: the type of bean, where it’s from, how long we roasted, how much we put in the pan, etc., and even though he was a scientist and had a love of data, and I like to write and had a love of being overly verbose, we never could duplicate a roast, regardless of the number of details we noted, ever!

That same winter, with not enough work to stay busy and therefore a lot of down-time, we also started an experiment in rating wine.  I tried, and failed miserably I might add, to remove the labels from each bottle and glue them into a notebook where we then described OUR take on the bottle, and tried very hard not to read the back of the bottle first…could we detect the kind of grape, the region, how was the texture, how deep was the color, was it too sweet or too dry, how did it adhere to the side of the glass, how did it smell, did I like the design of the label, did the aroma fill the room or just our noses as we took the first sip, notes of berry, notes of dirt, notes of chocolate, notes-notes-notes…it’s fun, in a dorky way I suppose, because you really have to dig deep in your brain, or search your thesaurus, for adjectives.

What I learned most that winter was that one, I was surprisingly happy without having television, two, life can be quite good with only music in the house and not background noise of  woeful or depressing news & ridiculous commercials, and three, a great cup of coffee and a great bottle of wine have a shared characteristic that matters to me, BALANCE.   In my life now, much changed, VERY much changed from that winter so many years ago, I find myself seeking balance every day in every way, in myself and how I try to make my way in the world…not letting myself get too angry or too upset, or too worried or too fearful, or perhaps “too” anything.  If I am rude or unkind I try to fix it with apology and affection.  If I lash out or say something I regret, I try to fix it with calming grace.  I really continue to strive, I guess almost daily, to become a better version of me and I joke, but it is in truth, that I am a work in progress, and I was thinking this morning, as I took my first sip of coffee, that happened to be a VERY good cup of coffee, that it was perfectly balanced, and so today, I shall try to be the same…

Feel to Believe

In the late spring of 2005 I took a couple of days off work and drove to North Carolina to paint a bedroom for someone I already loved but had not yet met.  Cotton Candy-ish pink walls and a fresh coat of white paint on the trim in a space that was to be soon occupied by my first grandchild.  The night before I left for my long drive  my neighbor gave me a cd she mixed for my journey….she drew stars and swirls and moons all over it with a marker and titled the mix “Feel to Believe.”  I listened to it several times on my drive south and I listened to it over and over and over the day I painted that room.

When my daughter got married the June before, one of the last things I said to her before she left for North Carolina was, “whatever you do, don’t get pregnant” but that following Halloween, that’s exactly what she did…and while part of me felt sad for her; the loss of freedom, the incredible expense, both financial and emotional, of becoming a parent, I also knew that much like when they decided to get married, they were taking complete responsibility for their decision and truth be told, I was pretty excited with the idea of an infant in my life again.

Only two artists and three songs in the cd mix were even familiar to me…it was all more of a folk genre than anything else, not something I knew but the lyrics to some of the songs became so special to me over those days, as I thought about who this person was going to be, and what she was going to mean to me, that now, these years later,  I can’t  think about that time in my life, the anticipation of her birth, without my brain sort of making a quiet soundtrack in the background of those memories…it must have been the right time for me to hear these songs, because they became so much a part of my excitement of the idea of this baby, this girl child I already loved and could not wait to meet, that when I hear the lyrics of these songs still today, mixed among my “usual” music in my ipod, I can’t help but think of this little girl who fills so much space in my heart…  “you don’t need a preacher to talk to God, I think that whole idea ought to be outlawed, just dance with the children, the kids got it figured out.”  “Go ahead, push your luck, find our how much love the world can hold.”    “You’re never gonna tell me where to fly, you’re never gonna tell me what to sing, and if I end up lost and all alone at least I know I got there on my own two little wings.”    “I won’t forget when Peter Pan came to my house, & took my hand I said I was a boy; I’m glad he didn’t check.  I learned to fly, I learned to fight, I lived a whole life in one night.”  “don’t try to control me don’t try to fix me up, a sacred tantrum is the medicine I need, take me as I am, or leave me alone.”

On the night of July 17th in 2005 I was at a tiki bar not far from my home, listening to my friend Dave make beautiful music, and I got a text message from my Mom that said, “9 lb 5 oz” and that was it.  No details, no information whatsoever, just that…evidently my daughter had given birth.  I was a Nana and my child was a mother and my whole world changed with a text message.

Today I am taking the day off work and taking this brilliant, beautiful, and unique wonder of the world on a date for her 8th birthday.  I call her Sweet-Ti and she calls me Nana and I’m reminded when I spend any time alone with her that she is one of my most favorite people on the planet.  She is love.  I found the cd.  I am going to play it for her in the truck while we are out and about, and I am going to tell her about the day I painted her nursery, and remind her that I loved her before I knew her, and share with her these songs sung by women, for women, about women, and what it means to be a woman, and she will remember this day for the rest of her life…the song dared me to do it, to push my luck, to find out how much love the world can hold…and so I did…

I loved her first

I was at my parent’s house last night for a short while to celebrate my sister’s birthday.  My daughter arrived late, coming directly from work, and as the back door opened, I noticed the magnificently beautiful perfect faces of my granddaughters literally light up as they heard the door knob, and the both cried out joyfully, “Mommy!!!” and jumped off their chairs into her arms…that she had only been away from them since 3:20 that afternoon when she left for work, and it was not yet dark, made me laugh that they greeted her with enthusiasm as if she had been gone for days and I thought to myself, I raised a child into a woman good enough and wonderful enough and kind enough and lovely enough, to be loved, THAT much.

It was a good feeling, that this, THIS human being, this woman who was standing in front of me who sometimes still, as in her teens,  rolls her eyes annoyed at me, who sometimes still mutters under her breath annoyed at me, and who sometimes still sighs exhaustively annoyed at me, is the best thing that I ever did…I loved and nurtured and tried my very hardest to be a good mother in a, for the most part, and certainly for the first several years, bad situation, and despite my youth, inexperience, lack of money and lack of a good or dependable or kind or hardworking partner for the first few years of her life, I guess to be clear, any of her life, she turned out just fine.

I did not do this alone; I moved back into my parent’s house and back into my old bedroom, divorced and uncertain about EVERYTHING before she was much more than two.  My parents and my sister are equally responsible, perhaps even more so, for this beautiful person…I worked full-time and went to college at night and on my days off for years…my family did a lot of babysitting and even after I moved out into a home of my own a couple years later, and I was still working full-time and still going to college at night and on my days off, they were still who I depended on for help.  It does, as Hillary wrote, take a village…

As I stood last night in my parent’s charming kitchen in their charming house I took notice of my sister and my mom and my dad, and thought, these are the people who more often than not bathed my daughter, read to my daughter, and wished her sweet dreams and a good night’s sleep when I was at school, who spent every weekend caring for her and playing with her while I was at work.  They are the people equally responsible for creating the beautiful woman who stood before us.  I looked at my daughter’s husband, who took her away from me when she was only 18 and hit the road to North Carolina with her only weeks after she graduated from high school.  I was in a room full of people who love my daughter.

I am not fond of country music, but it is what my parents love and so mostly what was playing in our home growing up and in their home today.  As I looked at my daughter squeezing her daughters and laughing last night while saying, “Geez, I’ve only been gone three hours!”  I thought, I loved her first…sure it’s a country song, narrated and sung by a father as he watches his daughter get married, and it is, as so many good country songs are, a tear-jerker when you listen to the lyrics, but I was thinking about how good it felt in my heart,  for me, that they have her, who came from me, and that they adore her so much.

It was nothing but a “blip” in time, but I will remember it, particularly in eight or so years when they are telling me how their mother does not understand them, how she does not get them, how she must not love them because she won’t let them do…[ fill in the blank ] The day will come, it always comes when teenage girls are involved…I remember when mine was a teenager and thinking to myself, how can I love this person so much and dislike her so much at the very same time??!!  I know my mother must have felt this when I was going through my hellish years and surely my daughter will feel this in the future…but I will remember last night’s moment, their eyes lighting up even brighter than they usually are and their joyful grins and the squeal of happiness in their voices as they jumped out their seats and into her arms, and I will tell them when they are teenagers, when they complain to me about how awful she is and how she is ruining their lives and, oh I just remember the drama & angst still so well…the door slamming, the I hate yous, the whys, the I wish you were like so and so’s Mom…I will say to them, “I loved her first, and you will, I promise, love her again one day, and believe me, she does understand you, she does get you, and more than anything she does love you.”

Training Wheels

There are many expressions people often use that are really completely true, for example, “it’s like riding a bike,” to mean of course once you learn how to do it, you do not ever forget.  I have no memory of the day I got my training wheels off, but I do remember very clearly the August afternoon I took my daughter’s off when she was 5, and last summer on a hot August day when my granddaughter who had recently turned 7 decided to trust her balance and let me remove hers.  It’s a sensation that one is never supposed to forget…trusting your balance.

Until yesterday morning at 6 a.m. I had not been on a long bike ride since I rented a bike with a friend on Block Island in 1994, and the last time I had ridden a bike at all was in 2003 when I was moving from the west side of town back to the bay side of town and the bike would not fit in the back of my Pathfinder, no matter how I tried to configure the back seats or twist the bike’s wheels.

I got a bike for Christmas from my boyfriend.  It sat in the garage untouched with tags still attached for months.  I was either too lazy to get started, or too scared to fall or just too busy with other things to get on it, but last week my daughter informed me that at least two mornings a week she rides with my sister to the end and back of the trail that we have in town, and then through town, around four schools, and then back home and that they go at least 20 miles and that I should join them.  “TWENTY MILES!!!!” I thought, no way can I do that…but yesterday, I did, plus one 😉

I charged up my air compressor the other day and filled the tires and my seat and handle bar heights were adjusted by the purchaser of this bike and I sucked up my fear of being unable to keep up and yesterday morning met my child and my sister in the middle of the driveway before most of our neighbors were even awake.  It felt good to ride a bike again.  As I watched my sister painlessly pedal ahead of me, I kept hearing her voice, as a 4-year-old, “here I come on my bike, better run before I strike”  it was one of her first poems and she uttered it often in our youth on our bike rides.  It made me remember being a kid and spending all day on our bikes in the summer.  It made me remember the birthday I got THE bike…the one I begged for with the monkey handle bars and banana seat.  As I watched my daughter painlessly pedal beside her I kept thinking of myself, running, for what seemed like hours, behind her on her bike when she was little, holding onto the back of the seat as lightly as possible trying to steady her enough so she could find her own balance, and the sensation of joy when I finally let go, and watched her go…

I kept up with them yesterday better than I expected, and while my thighs burned up Rose Hill, the only high spot in our very flat town, and my knees hurt when I fell, twice, and I almost fell  in soft spots on the trail trying to duck under overgrown branches, I realized that your body remembers, your muscles and your bones and your spirit does not forget the fun of being a little kid and having freedom and getting somewhere on your own by your own power.  I felt sore when I got back home yesterday morning, but I felt excited…that I did it, that I liked it, that despite falling I had a fun time, that the sweat felt good, the muscle burn felt good, that it felt nice to spend some time with my daughter and my sister…You do not grow too old to love the feeling of propelling yourself forward, hoping no bugs fly into your mouth, laughing when you fall down and knowing you have to brush yourself off and get back on, but mostly I realized you never forget that you can trust your own balance and when you find you might be slipping, only you can readjust, nobody can do it for you, and for that memory more than any, I am so glad I joined them…