Thursday, September 7, 2017

The First Year is (not) the Hardest

A former employee of my new company came by yesterday to catch up with some of his old friends. The group gathered just outside my cube; I didn't know him, so I said hello, then got back to work.

He perched on my neighbor's desk as the group caught up his life. As he related the story of his mother dying earlier this year, my heart went out to him. He's obviously still in shock, was telling the story of how they've all worked together to help his dad learn how to keep house and pay bills and do all the things his mother used to do for him. He swallowed hard, then said, "they tell me this first year is the hardest".

At that, I closed my eyes to squeeze back the tears. Mom died forty years ago today.  Forty.

I didn't tell him my perspective; I didn't speak up to say I disagreed with 'them'. For his sake, I hope his story will be different than mine. I hope he will allow himself to grieve, and to move on with his life. I hope this first year WILL be the hardest one.

For me, I can barely recall the first year after she died. It was hard, yes, but my life was so upended I didn't feel much of anything except the need to keep a stiff upper lip; to keep a smile on the face the world could see.

It was later when it was hard. Not all-at-once hard the way the first year was, but knock-your-knees-unexpectedly-out-from-under-you hard. I'd be going along just fine, and then something would happen where she should have been there; a day she would have been proud of me, a day she would have given me comfort and advice.

Those were the days when the grief came back in force; unanticipated, unlooked for, unwanted. It dimmed my joy, it magnified my sorrow. Now those, those were the hardest days.

I've learned much about grieving over the years. Grief only eases when you don't stuff it away; when you move the rug and shift the floorboard and let it out of the hole you shoved it into when you weren't allowed to work with it. It doesn't go away tucked into its hiding place. Rather, it grows. I've learned, when it surfaces, to let it out, to air it in the sun. Sunlight heals. My grief only began to fade after I learned to greet it when it had something to say, and walk with it for a piece before once again laying it to rest.

I still miss her, will never know how life shoulda-woulda-coulda been different if I'd not grown up too young. But I've learned to see the silver linings behind the cloud; to acknowledge, and yes, even celebrate, the strengths I have only because she died too young.

All this, yes.

But while I think the hardest days are finally firmly behind me, 40 years later, my heart still breaks just a little when the calendar turns again to the day she died.

Rest in Peace, Mom.
I love you.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

Like everyone else I know, I spent the last week riveted to the the stream of pictures and stories streaming out of Texas in the wake of the hurricane.

I felt - awe, sorrow, horror, gratitude.

The storm escalated so quickly - from a something-in-the-Gulf on Wednesday to it's-a-category-4-hurricane-coming-straight-to-Texas! on Friday night. My mind worked to grasp the sense of a storm system large enough to cover much of the Gulf of Mexico. I listened with dread to the predictions of 40-50 inches of rain. I studied the beauty of the swirling clouds in awe - how can anything so destructive be so majestic?

I empathized with the Houston mayor who asked people not to evacuate - the numbers were hard, but I think he made the right call - homes are safer than cars in a major event like this, and there is no way for five million people to leave town safely under most any circumstance, let alone with the threat of flooding at their heels. One overheated, broken-down car would have endangered thousands of lives.

I tried to imagine myself watching the waters rise up to my home, feeling wrenching tears as I mentally cataloged what I could safely get above the flood in time. Feeling watcher's guilt as I knew that level of flooding is highly unlikely to hit me personally.

I found myself angry at the climate change deniers and those who built in flood plains despite warnings from scientists and engineers. I'm guessing those who did the building were not the same people doing the watching as all they owned was destroyed. Just because you don't want it to be true, just because you ignore the facts, just because you choose to be ignorant; these things don't mean Nature will pay you a bit of attention or alter her implacable step.  You idiots! (speaking to those builders)

I felt hope and gratitude. The Cajun Army rode in to the rescue when official forces weren't able to get there in time. Ordinary people who felt a call to help, and unblinkingly answered the call, risking their property and their lives to rescue people and pets, to deliver supplies.

The storm passed, as storms always do, and I felt inadequate. How can one help? I will send some money to the Houston food back. It will ensure at least one person won't go hungry for a few days. And I know many people are doing the same, but in the face of the massive destruction, can it help?

Yes, it can. Money won't fix the problems, but together, it can help to ease them. Troubles are more easily borne if one's stomach is not screaming for sustenance.

and maybe, just maybe, this will be a wake-up call to the powers that be. It's too late to do what should have been done twelve years ago after Katrina drowned New Orleans, or after Sandy decimated the east coast in 2012.  We can't change the past, but it's not too late to do what we can do today to get ready for the next storm - because it will come.

Climate change is real, and it is here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eclipse

I can't remember ever feeling so simultaneously profoundly disappointed and supremely satisfied.

My inner science geek was SO looking forward to the eclipse. The forecast kept wavering between cloudy and sunny - and when it happened, if you were in the Kansas City area, it was a crapshoot as to whether or not you got to see it between gaps in the clouds.

We were up north a ways - and got to see just a few tantalizing glimpses of the eclipse through the clouds. One of the moments was when the sun's corona looks like a diamond ring - if I had had to pick a one, that would have been it.

I was SO disappointed we weren't able to see more of it.

But.

Because I couldn't see the sun and moon in the sky, I focused on all the other signs of the eclipse around us. I saw a sunset in the south, and the light took on an eerie quality I've never seen before. The bugs and birds went to ground, just like I was told they would. The wind stilled, the temperature dropped, and the sky darkened for the shortest night ever.

If I'd have been able to see the sky, I can promise you my attention would have been totally focused there, and I'd have missed all the other beauty of the moment.

Once again the Universe took it upon itself to remind me to look always for beauty; if I look, I will see it. The beauty I saw was not the beauty I'd sought, but the beauty I saw was still able to capture the wonder of those otherworldly two minutes.

It's hard to let go of dreams, to accept less than an optimal experience.

I did my part. I was watching and waiting and ready. If the Universe didn't deliver on her side, well, at least I was there and ready and open to see whatever there was to see.

What there was there I will long remember.
And who knows, perhaps I'll get another chance.
There's always 2024...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Loud Drumbeats

The drumbeats of war are loud this week.

North Korea.
Venezuela.
Charlottesville, Virginia.

Voices raised in anger and scorn, fear and hate.

I hear them, and their anger is strong and their fear is contagious. I must hunker down, gather and protect my own, and find a place where we will be safe.

But there is no safe place - and I start to panic.

Then, reason returns.

I remember again, the only constant is change. Our days are not guaranteed. The only thing I can control is my reaction to what happens in my world. (Thank you, Viktor Frankl.)

I was reading Ken Follett's Edge of Eternity these past few weeks. I've read historical fiction before - this is the first time I've been old enough, and the period covered recent enough, for me to parallel the events in the book with my life.

I was born the year the Berlin Wall went up. I toddled my way through the tumultuous civil right's movement of the early 60's. The Kennedys were shot; the trajectory of our country changed - and I was learning to read. It struck home in a way it never has before - even in time of war, there are pockets of peace.

I can't control what's happening in the world around me. Heck, I count it a good day if I manage to keep the cats off the counter while I fix dinner.

But I can control my fear and decide not to panic.

Hate is loud, but Love whispers anyways.

It doesn't seem possible Love could ever win, even for a moment, but it does.
Anyways.

I can listen for Love's whispers, add my voice to the quiet, steady chorus when I can, because I can. Anyways.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Changing Rhythms

I'm one of those people who prefers my life to have a steady rhythm.

On this beat, I sleep.
On this beat, I rise.
On this day, I work.
On this day, I play.

These are the people who share the rhythm of my life.

But, wait.

The rhythm has changed.

My baby bird has left the nest again, and I'm learning again how the rhythms of my life sound when I live alone.

The beat changes when I am left to my own devices. The fridge is emptier, the house tidier. I am learning again to be content to come home to the quiet. Learning again to listen to the sound of my heartbeat when there is no counter-rhythm in the house to balance it out.

I go to bed when I am tired, no longer do I wait to make sure everyone is safely home and settled - for I am home, and I am safe and there is no one else to worry about.

I delay getting up in the morning until the last minute. Oh, wait. That rhythm hasn't changed a bit - I've been having to have serious conversations with me to get my rear in gear in the morning since he left home the first time some years ago.

Last weekend was cool, rainy. I spent most of Saturday and all of Sunday by myself. I procrastinated some, napped some, worked some. I marveled to myself at the spectacle of the rain.

Being alone is daunting. A bit scary, a bit freeing.
I'm finding again my own pace.
It takes practice.

I'm out of practice.

This adjustment is not easy. But there is beauty there when I remember to look.

And, I don't have to share the ice cream.
There is that.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

MIddle Age

In 2006, I was still driving my red 1997 Taurus. It had been a great car - invisible, reliable. It was a top-seller for its year; I once pulled into a parking lot, and added my car to a line of five identical red Taurus's. It was the perfect car for a busy mom, able to buckle six people in a pinch, comfortable on the road, plenty of room in the back seat for restless children.

But in January of 2006, it was starting to show its age, and I was restless; looking forward to Joe's graduation later that spring, ready to spread my own wings a little. I'd always wanted a convertible, and while I was diligently doing my research, I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I really wanted a Mustang. Back in the seventies, when I was learning to drive the full-sized Chevrolet van, Mustangs were 'the' car. As I researched and mulled it over, I finally decided that if I bought any other model, I'd still be wondering if I should have bought a Mustang.

Rumor had it Ford had made great strides in the handling of the car on snow and ice, so I moseyed on over to the local dealer one sleety day, and asked if I could test-drive one to see. They reluctantly let me out on the road, after first copying both my driver's license and insurance card, and then spending an inordinate amount of time cautioning me to drive carefully.

I gingerly got behind the wheel, turned into traffic, and instantly fell in love.

Now, I wasn't ready to buy a car just yet; I wanted to wait until I got my tax refund in March, but they had this car on the lot. It had been traded back in with just 3500 miles on it, and they were willing to dicker. I went home to sleep on it, but I knew before I left that I'd be figuring out a way to rob tuition funds to bridge the time until my taxes were done so I'd have money for the down payment.

Sure enough. Three days later I owned my dream car.

Far from invisible, the Mustang is a cop magnet. The bright yellow body can be seen for miles on the freeway, and draws the attention of every cop it passes. It's been good for me - I'm now among the most law-abiding drivers on the road. I have to be - I didn't have to get pulled over more than once to learn that lesson. (He gave me a warning...)

It's been a wonderful car. Mechanically sound, it's needed almost NO work thus far.

Then, last week as I was walking by it in the garage, I picked at a spot of dirt on the rooftop.  Nope, it wasn't dirt, it was a vinyl bubble. A close inspection revealed worn spots pocking the entire top. It looks like a well-worn pair of jeans. You know the type - you carefully choose where you're going to wear them because you know, one day soon, you're going to sit down, then stand up with a new air vent displaying your fine underthings for all the world to see.

I'm not complaining, I figure after eleven years, it's due for something to give way. But it's a little sad to know the car has caught up to me in middle age.

We're not exempt from damage from the elements we're driving through each day. Our paint is dinged, and our bodies have been in the shop a time or two. But the joy of being able to put the top down and look up to see the sky hasn't paled a bit during our time together.

All good things must come to an end - but not yet. I have an appointment in two weeks to get a new top installed. (In the meantime, I'll forego lowering the roof - no need to help those rips along their inevitable paths.)

We've got some miles left in us, me and the Stealth-mobile.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Weekends

The good and the bad news about not working for a while is that weekends lose their luster.

When I'm free to set my own schedule, when I have time to work and shop and clean on whatever day suits my whims, when every day is a sleep-in day, weekends begin to look a lot like weekdays. Mondays lose their sense of "it's time to buckle down to work", Fridays lose their sense of impending freedom. Saturdays are notable mostly as a day to avoid going to the store, since they're twice as busy then as they are during the weekday.

I miss that part, and yet...

There's something to be said about becoming aware again of the precious value of free time. Time to work on the house, time to set my personal world back to order, time to relax and enjoy the sunset - all compressed into just two days of the week.

When my work schedule was self-imposed, I started to forget to take time to relax. Without the structure and rhythm of the work week to force me into a pattern of work and rest, I started to work on all of the days. I have type-A tendencies anyways, and there was always a to-do list (I had a wedding to get ready for, don't 'cha know!). I didn't know when my time off would end, so I forged ahead on my project list on most all of the days.

Not so good.

I worked hard to learn to relax (and stop and breathe). And I forgot to remember the learning.

I guess this is one of those lessons I'm going to have to learn more than once: there's more to life than getting all the items on my to-do list checked off.

Powering through the weekend isn't really an option these days; this working stuff is still leaving me pretty drained. So Saturday comes and I work a bit and rest a bit and then, poof, it's Monday.

But after Monday, comes the rest of the week and then it's Friday, and then, I get two magical days to structure as I see fit.

Time to stop. breathe. relax. Weekends are great!