What Happens When You See Humanity Instead of Skin Color: A Very True Story

Over a year ago, on a weekend trip to Vegas, two black women sat across the indoor fire pit from me and my two friends. At the time, my two friends and I were hardly life-long buddies. We’d met just that year at our daughter’s gymnastics class.  We were stay-at-home moms in need of a break from the daily chore of childcare and house cleaning. One of these friends was Filipino, and the other, white, just like me.

It was our last night in Vegas. We decided to go to a dive called Fireside Lounge in the back of a 24 hour restaurant called The Peppermill. It was across the street from our cheesy, deep-disounted hotel, Circus Circus. We decided we’d just sit and talk for a while, then decide what to do. Here we were, privileged, suburban, stay-at-home moms, exhausted from the previous late nights and debauchery, now lamenting our return to reality the next day. The conversation turned more serious. We talked about our marriages, our unhappiness, our dreams for something better. We had a few drinks.

As the alcohol and the generous portion of nachos lifted us out of our worries, I decided I was going to talk to those two other women across this unusual fire pit centerpiece of gas flames surrounded by iridescent, blue bubbling water.

fire pit Vegas II

One woman had glasses and shoulder-length, black, curly hair. She was wearing a black t-shirt with a colored photograph of another black woman emblazoned across the front. There were birth and death dates. The other woman had long, impossibly bright, red hair pulled back into a chignon. Her top was a tight, black midriff. Her jeans were mint green and painted onto her curvy body. She had long, painted fingernails. Her makeup was beautifully done, her large, dangling earrings grazed her shoulders, and her fake eyelashes touched her eyebrows. She sat with her legs crossed tight holding a giant, frozen drink with a tiny umbrella and two long straws.

I approached them for a reason, but the reason’s not important now. Basically, I wanted some advice about what to do on our last night in Vegas.

As I started to get up my two friends pulled me back. Told me no. “We don’t know them,” they said. I don’t care, I said. Because by this time I was a little tipsy, and when I get tipsy, I get friendly, and fearless, and I wasn’t going to let the fact that I didn’t know these two ladies deter me from a mission.

I sat down close to the woman with glasses. I explained to her that we were a few moms from out-of-town and I needed to ask a question. At first she looked at me like I was insane, then her eyes brightened and she said, “Girl, you asked the right black woman the wrong question.” We laughed ourselves silly. Then we spent ten minutes asking each other the basics; names, hometown, reason for being in Sin City.

The woman with glasses was Shelby. She’s a mom of three, two boys, one girl, two in college. When I asked the other woman with the bright red hair her name I didn’t quite hear it. She said “Dana” but what I was expecting was something more exotic and ethnic, like Donnella, or LaDanya. I repeated one of these versions asking again. She leaned back a little and gave me the biggest side eye and yelled, “Dana… A, B, C, D… DANA!”

I immediately recognized my assumption and began laughing hysterically. We all did. It became the running joke for the evening.

Ten minutes later the five of us were headed out to the parking lot to Dana’s large SUV. On the way, my friend elbowed me. “What have you gotten us into!? This is crazy!”

Trust me, I said. I didn’t know if they could trust me. But I felt like everything was going to be okay. I felt like I needed to let go in this moment, and go with the plan. Sure, we didn’t know these two women for more than 10 minutes, but sometimes you never know what amazing things are in store if you can’t trust yourself and let go of your doubt and fear.

Dana and Shelby sat in front and me and my two friends sat in back, me in the middle. And when the five of us women got in the car, five semi-strangers, one Asian, two black, and two white — something amazing happened. After five minute more of chatting and laughing, talking about men and other hilarious things, we were just five women sitting in a car in a parking lot. We ended up walking back to the lounge arm in arm, tripping over ourselves laughing and having to take breaks to squat and breathe.

Back inside the Fireside Lounge, around this water and flames fire pit, the laughter continued. We got more comfortable. I learned Dana had a son and was a cosmetologist. I asked about her hair. I asked if it was real and she said, “Don’t act like you can’t see my roots!” And I said, “Well NOW I can!” We laughed and bumped shoulders.

We talked about our kids. We got out our phones and showed our pictures. There was as much pride in Dana’s face when she talked about her star football-playing son, as I had in mine when I told her of my baby boy. We congratulated each other on being good moms.

They told us why they were there. They lived in Vegas and came there to commemorate the anniversary of the death of their good friend, Talisha, who died of breast cancer the previous year. Shelby’s shirt held her image. Fireside Lounge was her favorite place. And now it was sacred.

Over the next few hours the five of us caused quite a scene. We were raucous and loud. At one point I laughed so hard I had to get up and walk away because I thought I was going to hyperventalate. One of my friends kept saying we should be quiet, that people were staring, but I was having none of that nonsense. There was a vibe in the air, and I was going to ride it all the way to the end.

At some point an older, white woman with short, white hair came up to us. She said she couldn’t help noticing how much fun we were having and she said she would LOVE to join us. We waved her into our little circle but she declined because she said she was with her husband and “we’d eat him alive.”

We laughed so hard we cried. We made fun of each other some more.

A few moments later a young, black woman came up. She said the same thing. We waved her to come join us but she was with her mama and she had to take her home.

Toward the end of our night Shelby and Dana got into a heated discussion over which was better, fire or water. They debated the qualities of these two elements. Shelby said water is what makes things grow. Dana said fire is what keeps us warm, cooks our food. Shelby said we wouldn’t have food if it wasn’t for water.

In an instant, that conversation crystalized everything that happened that night. I interrupted them, “NO, NO, NO! It’s both. We need both to make this beautiful.” And then we laughed and hugged and became Facebook friends.

Then one of those roaming, Vegas photographers came by to take our picture. Dana primped and pulled forward her red bangs. I fluffed my hair. We all straightened up, adjusted our shirts and asked the other if we had something in our teeth. We held up our drinks — except Shelby because she didn’t have one — she held up the nuts. We laughed some more. We scooched together.

Fire Pit Vegas

I don’t know about the others, but I entered that night heavy, full of self-pity and worry about my future.  I walked away light as air, dancing on laughter, and love, and feeling a part of a whole. I see Dana and Shelby now on my Facebook feed. They are unique in my list of friends and yet, to me, they are the symbol of this amazing night in Vegas. They remind me of what happens when you’re not afraid to be human, and more importantly, not afraid to see another person’s humanity.

Magic happens when you let down your guard, let go, and stop holding on so tight to the belief that one way is better than the other; when you finally accept that you need both elements, ALL the elements to make something beautiful; a favorite, sacred, magical place.  You need fire, AND water. You need black AND white, AND every color in between. It’s not either/ or… it’s AND/ BOTH.

This picture hangs on my mirror in my bedroom. Each time I tell this story and pull out this picture, I say that the orb on Dana’s glass was Talisha. She was the missing third. She brought us there so we could laugh at ourselves, see how silly our assumptions about each other can be, and remind us that if we can get past our fears and prejudices… there’s a lot of love in the world. Enough to lift us all up and ride it to the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a Feather: My Life’s Lesson Right Now

The last “big” purchase I made on our joint credit card, before we went our separate ways, was a black, thigh-length, down-filled, winter coat. Although it was January, it was already on sale, and I bought it from fancy-schmancy Nordstrom for $150.

I needed a new coat. The one I had been wearing for a couple of years was from Costco. It was white and had gotten dingy. One of the pockets was ripped and every time I put my hand inside, I felt the inner-lining. The zipper was starting to go too.

I splurged on my new coat and I loved it. It was light-weight, but warm, and could even smoosh up into a small ball inside a built-in pouch for travelling… or clubbing, whichever.

All through the rest of last winter, in some of my darkest  moments of separating from my husband, this black coat was my cloak; my warm, full-coverage hiding place with deep pockets and a high collar. But there was one tiny issue. Every now and again, while driving or sitting in writing class and staring off into the ether, a tiny feather would float past my face.

Sometime in February, my 2-year-old son crawled on top of the counter and knocked off a glass ornament which shattered into a million pieces.  This ornament was filled with soft, speckled, brown feathers. It was symbolic to me. Every time I saw it, it reminded me of a phrase -- a saying which encapsulates how I want to live in this world: “Like a feather on the breath of God.”

Like a feather on the breath of God, Hildegard Bingen

So all throughout the cold, dark winter I kept seeing feathers float past me at random moments for one of these two reasons. And wouldn’t you know, as soon as summer came, and the coat was packed, the doors flung open, my daughter started a “feather collection” from ones she’d find in the yard or on walks. Now, whenever she finds a feather she puts it in a yellow bucket for safe keeping. My son finds feathers too. He holds them up to his big sister and says, “Brookie, I found another feather for your collection.”

This morning, as I sat on my front porch and drank my coffee, I talked with my children about love. I don’t remember how the conversation began, but I remember telling my daughter how very loved she was by everyone — me, her daddy, her grandparents, her brother.  And she asked, “And God?” And I said, yes, especially God. He loves you most of all. Then she turns to me, in her infinite 5-year-old wisdom, and says, “Why isn’t God a she?”

Touche, darling, touche.

So I said, “OF COURSE God’s a SHE!”  I told her God is a he and a she, but if she wanted to call God “she,” then I would too. Done. Henceforth in our house God shall now be a “she.”

Just then my son looks above my head and yells… “Look Mommy, it’s a feather coming down!” And sure enough, right behind me, there it came floating — as light as could be.

My daughter jumped up the steps behind me and caught it in mid-air. “A bird must have just flown by and dropped it!” So excited to have seen a feather falling from the sky.

So I said, “Yes, and she was beautiful, and must love us so much she wanted us to have one of her feathers.”

I was thinking that feather was from God. And that it was a sign, like all the other feathers over the past seven months. And suddenly that moment became one of those moments. Moments when you stop, and pay close attention to everything around you, take in every detail, memorize every sense, and then lock it away in your memory bank to unfurl on cold, winter days.

And so I looked at my babies, really looked at them. I studied them like I would a fine painting in the Louvre. Their lightened, summer hair falling everywhere; the way my daughter constantly sweeps her’s out of her face with her right hand; their smooth, soft, tanned cheek bones; a new, tiny freckle on my daughter’s nose and all 20 of those tiny dirt-filled fingernails. Those smiles, oh, those little teeth hurt me so deep. It all made me want to cry. And so I did. And I told my sweet little girl that I was so happy I was going to cry. Then she put her hands over my eyes and said in the most cheerful voice something I said to her on a rough night a few days back when she was feeling sad, “Let those eyes cry. Let the tears come, Mama. You’ll feel better when you do.” She is a special one, this girl.

I’m going through the toughest trial of my life thus far, and yet, I am being reminded all the time that it won’t last forever. The pain will rise and flow and fall and rise again on a burst of unseen air, and then it will disappear into the atmosphere again. It will move through time and space as unpredictable as the wind, and yet, if I can stay soft and light, I will not fall, and I will not break.

This is not at all what I want to do most of the time. What I want to do is go all Mama Bear, claws out, teeth bared. What I want to do is yell at God for how utterly ridiculous and unfair this life can be, and ask how HOW! could anyone behave this way?!?

But God knows all this already, and she is telling me what I must do in spite of what I want to do. She whispers to me softly, like breath, that this too shall pass. She’s telling me that the sooner I learn to trust and let go, to float and fall and rise again… the better off we’ll all be.

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The Most Important Thing of All

20140703_144701One day last week I watched casually as my 5-year-old daughter held a thimble-sized sticker in her hand the shape of a triangle. Her eyes squinting and her mouth opened slightly, I could see she was immersed in concentration. She was trying to apply this tiny sticker to Chelsea’s Clubhouse, a new toy we purchased that day. I watched silently as time and again her small hands couldn’t quite arrange the sticker exactly where it needed to go — on a yellow plastic piece the shape of a flag with an indentation the same shape as the sticker. She stuck it on and pulled it off a few times. The last time she pulled it off, it ripped, and she let out a frustrated grunt. Uuurrrgh.

“Do you want some help, sweetie?” I offer, already knowing what she’s going to say.

“I can’t get this on right. I want it to be perfect.” She looks at me out of the corner of her eye because now she knows what I’m going to say. “Don’t tell me that nothing can be perfect Mama, ’cause it can!”

I smile because I appreciate the strength of our bond, that we can read each other’s thoughts.

“Honey, there’s no such thing as perfect.” I say, like I always say when my perfectionist first-born wants to get something just right; her arrangement of stuffed animals, her drawings of rainbows, or her worksheets of practiced letters and numbers. She wants it all to be perfect.

“Perfect isn’t what’s important anyway. Tell me honey, what’s The Most Important Thing?”

She lets out a sigh because I have asked her this question since she learned how to speak and she knows the answer without having to think.

“Trying.” She says like a bored teenager.

I smile. “That’s right baby. Trying is THE Most Important Thing. As long as you try, that’s all that matters.”

I’m divorcing her father. It’s not going well. My soon-to-be ex was a professional contrarian in our marriage. He defended this habit of contradiction as “enjoying debate” or, “I just don’t see it the way you do.” Sure, he was bound not to see things the same way sometimes, but ALL the time? I swear if I said I thought the air was chilly, for him, it was balmy. If I said the dinner was excellent, he’d say the steak was horribly dry and the service atrocious. If I said I wanted to go to the beach, he’d make a case for a hike in the mountains.

If this tendency was strong in marriage, you can imagine how much fervor it has gained during divorce.

In spite of my best laid plans, life has not turned out the way I’d imagined. I suspect this is true for a great many of us. I did try though… to make it perfect. I went to school, got good grades. I went on to get great jobs and promotions. I got married at the average age of 27 to someone who looked great on paper. We saved money, bought a house. I stayed healthy, had 2 children, 2 years a part, before the age of 35… a boy and a girl. Everything was unfolding as planned… until it didn’t.

Until life happened on life’s terms and I was thrown into a turbine of impossible choices such as: Option A. catastrophe, or Option B. oblivion.

No. No ma’am. There is no such thing as perfect. 

Today, my daughter tells me, hands on hips and a look of smug satisfaction, “Guess what? Daddy says you’re wrong. He says there IS such a thing as perfect. And he says that it’s ME. I’m perfect.”

Oh lord.

I get down to her level. My mind spins off into a million directions trying to hide my frustration and think of how to explain this so she understands.

“Honey. No one is perfect. Not me, not you, not your daddy, not your brother, or grandma or grandpa. There’s not a single one of us who is perfect.” I have her attention now. I take her hands. “But, and this is an important part, we are all just fine the way we are.”

She stares at me. “But daddy says… “

“I know what daddy says but listen to what I’m telling you right now, sweetie. No one is perfect, but we are all just FINE the way we are. Repeat that for me, please.”

She repeats it not looking at my eyes, her attention already diverted to other things. I bite my lip and wonder if she understands but I know if I press further I will lose her completely. I know this subject of perfection will come up again, and I will repeat this mantra again until it is committed to her memory, just like The Most Important Thing.

She goes about onto another project and I say a silent prayer; it is for understanding, faith, forgiveness and strength.

When her father came to pick her up this afternoon I had to carry my son out to the car because he had just woken up from his nap. As I’m strapping him into his car seat my daughter says, “Daddy, tell mommy there IS such a thing as perfect?”

He lets out a quick laugh from his gut that sounds like “ha” with your mouth closed. Of course he says nothing to this request because he won’t even look at me let alone speak to me. I hear her repeat this plea as I shut the car door. “Tell her!”

“I love you, have fun!” I shout as they pull from the drive.

And as I walk back into my empty home I say another silent prayer; for understanding, faith, forgiveness and strength.

Because I am not perfect, and all I can do is…  try. It is The Most Important Thing of All.

 

 

Learning to Breathe Again: On Being a Divorcee Cliche

I’ve been studying writing and literary fiction at the University of Washington for the last two years. I’ve learned oodles about the craft of writing and story telling and I love it so. It makes my brain hurt and my heart soar and my soul sigh in sweet relief. One of the first things I learned about is the dreaded hallmark of bad writing… the cliché. Never, ever, EVER use clichés. Clichés are lazy; a sign of immaturity and lack of creativity and originality on the author’s part. Clichés are the death of good writing!

But right now, my WHOLE LIFE is a cliché.

henna tattoo feather

Don’t worry Mom, it’s henna.

Mid…okay LATE… thirties female, newly divorced with two small kids seeks red wine for comfort. Also, lurks on dating websites, dives head-long into yoga, buys vibrators off infomercials and contemplates getting tattooed. Up next, attempts her best impression of Mrs. Robinson.

See. Cliché.

Going through a divorce (my kind of contentious divorce, anyway) is a trauma. It’s a grenade exploding in the middle of your life. There is a shell-shocked aftermath. A time when your ears ring so loudly you cannot hear the world; all its messages lost in translation. The air is so heavy and thick with acrid, poisonous smoke that you choke, then panic for fear of asphyxiating. You spend weeks, months even in this state trying to find one safe place to take one clean breath. Just one. If you can breathe, maybe you’ll live.

Then, after the imminent danger has passed, you begin the cleanup process. You sweep up the cracked and blackened picture frames of smiling faces from a bygone time. It knocks the wind out of you instantly. You clean out closets stuffed with mementos from “before” and your hands shake with anger and fear. One day you get a wild hair to organize the detritus in a corner of the garage and you find some dusty snorkel gear. That snorkel gear puts you right back into the blast on a rolling tide of emotions so violent you have to sit down right there on the garage floor to steady yourself. Breathe, just breathe.

And all of this happens below the surface. In the murky depths so filled with pain and sorrow you’re too afraid to take anyone down there with you. You leave the world and its people up on the surface along with the easiness of your anger and sarcasm because at least up there, up there there’s air. Like trauma, divorce carries with it a kind of PTSD. In this deep, dark, personal space, a space as intimate as your previous marriage, is where you, and you alone reside. Just trying to breathe.

After the blast, and in the early phases of post divorce, this empty, airless place and it’s shrapnel are always somewhere on the edges of your life; in back of junk drawers, at Costco in the frozen aisle, at the beach in the summer, in the curve of your son’s face after a growth spurt… in your daughter’s toes. When you see these things, it steals your breath again and again leaving the taste of smoke in your mouth. And then you must remind yourself again to breathe. Just breathe.

I’m six months post blast, and I’m learning over and over again how to just breathe. I’m still cleaning up the pieces, still getting the wind knocked out of me. But as I grow stronger I’m also taking the frayed threads of my new reality and spinning them into something brighter. More beautiful. Something full of sunlight and the smell of lilacs and daydreams that make me giddy with possibility. It’s not easy though. It’s actually very, very hard work. In fact, I get tired a lot. I lose my creativity and inspiration and that’s when I turn to my overwrought clichés.

The other night, at 1am, wine glass in hand I sat on my back porch and sang sad songs alone, to no one. Actually, not to no one because my neighbor heard me, and called me out the next day. “I heard you last night, singing.” I didn’t know what to say. For a brief second I was mortified. I was busted being this predictable cliché of a sad, lonely woman. But then I realized that I didn’t care.

Because nothing in my world is easy right now. There’s not one damn thing that’s simple, including breathing, and while the whole world is being hard I’m going to take the path of least resistance. I’m going to be an immature, simple, mindless cliché, and I’m going to embrace that shit like the spare pillow on the empty side of my king-sized bed. Because while I’m floundering around in the dark, murky waters of divorce PTSD, I might as well have a nice glass of red, an expensive vibrator and a playlist of Sam Smith to keep me company.

Keep your windows closed neighbors… I have a feeling it’s going to be a long summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Maya Angelou Knew That We All Aspire to Learn

What Maya KnewSaturday is Dr. Maya Angelou’s memorial at Wake Forest University. I will take time out of my day to honor this woman for the wisdom she so generously passed on to me, and the world. What a bold, courageous woman she was; writer, poet, actor, singer, songwriter, director, editor, professor, ambassador for equality… a model for anyone wanting to live an inspired life. This woman knew a great many things about life. Things we all aspire to know which is why we listened so intently.

Oh sweet, wise Maya. Whenever I’ve been in one of life’s valleys I find it hard to use my own words to express what I’m experiencing. Too mired in the bog of my own circumstance, unable to get any true perspective, I seek comfort in the wise words of others to carry me through to higher ground. Many of Maya’s simple phrases held me up through these difficult times.

“When you know better, you do better.”

This one helped me break up hard blocks of guilt that kept me chained down to all the times I failed. It helped me forgive myself for all the ignorant and arrogant self-righteousness; the unbending stubborness, all those actions and words spoken out of fear, and all the times I hurt others out of a selfish need to self-preserve.

“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.”

This is a big reason I write. I know some things now after 36 years, and I want to pass them on. In spite of hard times, this life has been good to me. I want to give something back to it; do more good than harm. I’ve heard Maya say that when something bad happens we must say thank you. “Thank you God because I know you have something better in store for me. Thank you.”  I write so I can say thank you over and over again.

“When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

I’m still learning this one, Maya. I know it by heart, and I remind myself often, but I’m still learning.

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

Being brave is hard. So hard. You have to be brave to be kind, to forgive, to love, to stand up for what is right. I remind myself of this every time I want to lie down and let life happen to me instead of make life happen for me. Being brave… it is the most important thing.

Maya’s only son said his mother possessed an “unshakeable faith”. She believed “the hand of God was in everything” — in words, actions, thoughts, and intentions. She wouldn’t even let profane words be spoken in her home. One time, a party guest across the room told an offensive joke. Before he was finished, Maya made her way over to him and promptly escorting him out the door. “Not in my space,” she said. She believed words had a kind of tangible power, and if you let the negative ones into your space, they will infected you like poison. This is why I rarely press publish without having, and understanding, the intention behind my words. And making sure that intention is good.

I’m positive this woman had a direct line to God. I’m sure He spoke through her to remind all of us, of universal truths. Truths we all know inside our hearts, and yet need people like Maya to remind us of. Her words held the weight of truth and transcended time.

After all these years of listening to her words, I find it ironic and hopeful that her last immortal tweet reminds us to listen to ourselves. To get quiet, and really hear our own voices. Because Maya knew what so many of us are still learning… that in that stillness of our hearts is the only space you get a direct line to God.

 

Maya Angelou last immortal tweet

 

(photo credit: Oprah Winfrey Network, Dr. Maya Angelou’s Master Class)

This Single Mothers Mother’s Day

She learned about Mother’s Day at her preschool. Every year the teachers spend days making special projects for us Mommies. They splatter paint canvases on “Jackson Pollack Day” which they wrap in hand painted dish towels and tie with a bow. The kids fill out ad lib style questionnaires about their mommies and paint pictures of flowers.  Then we have a special “tea” where the kids sing songs and serve us punch and cake. With all this preparation my daughter began talking about Mother’s Day two weeks in advance.

I’m going through a contentious divorce. I filed in January and it was my decision. Since then, I can count on half a hand how many times I’ve had a civil conversation with my ex. At this point, he won’t even allow me to approach his car to help strap my children in their car seats. My 2-year-old son has started mimicking his father’s angry tone and yells, “Mommy get away from Daddy’s car” whenever he pulls into the drive. It breaks my heart more than my ex ever could.

Last week, when my ex came to pick up the children, the first thing my daughter asked him was if he would take her to the store to buy me a Mother’s Day present. I cringed. I knew he wouldn’t. I knew her request would fall on deaf– no, angry, vengeful, cold-hearted ears.

I would have had someone else take her to buy a present but there is no one. I live 1200 miles away from all my family and most of my friends. I moved to this city to be near my ex’s family; a family that also refuses to speak to me because they choose to believe the only side of the story they know. I suppose believing anything else is too painful.

First, I tried like heck to convince my daughter that I didn’t need a store-bought gift, but when that girl gets an idea, there is no derailing it. (I wonder where she gets that from?) Then I sent my ex an email about my daughter’s request because he refuses to speak to me in person. I pleaded with him to please help her buy a gift. I told him I would reimburse him for whatever it costs –just please help her buy one. I told him we shouldn’t set the precedent that honoring our parents is an unworthy cause. But most importantly, I didn’t want my daughter to show up on Mother’s Day empty-handed. That’s a horrible feeling, to stand in front of someone you love without a thing to offer.

But she did. Because hell would have to freeze over TWICE before my ex would even look in my general direction with a feeling other than contempt and malice for “gravely ruining his life.”

I knew being a single mother would be full of moments like these. Moments when your hands are tied, your back’s against the wall, and all you can do is hope that it is enough to just open your arms and say, “honey, I love you, YOU are all the gift I’ll ever need.” Moments when your heart would shatter into a million pieces for things you cannot fix. Maybe that’s ALL of motherhood though.

For better, and often worse, I’m a relentless self-improver. Every failure, every trial, every obstacle put in my way is an opportunity for personal growth; a way to find deeper meaning; learn something new about me or the world I live in. I have become ruthless at removing negativity from my space — be it someone else’s or my own.

But what happens when you’re out of options? What happens when the only path forward is not littered with lessons in self-improvement, but appears to be only one of endurance? To put your head down and simply endure.

I have only one answer to these unfixable problems and unendurable endurances. It is the answer that calls out to me each time I fall down the rabbit hole of self-improvement. It is the answer that whispers much too softly when I’ve run out of questions to ask. It is the only thing worth a damn to me anymore.

And it is love.

Love what is happening to me as though I’d chosen it for myself. Love the shit out of whatever pile of shit I’m standing in, and trust that it’s happening for a greater reason than I can know right now. Love thy neighbor, thy enemy, and everything in between. And love myself enough to collapse into the embrace that says, “honey, I love you, YOU are all the gift I’ll ever need.” Because someone believes that about me too. And it’s so true.

So come Father’s Day, I will help my children buy a present for their dad; a man who “hates” me. I will buy him a gift so that my children won’t have to show up at his door empty-handed. I’ll even tie it with a bow and zero malice. And I won’t even ask to be reimbursed because there are many things in this world more valueable than money. mother's day

And this is one of them.  

Home, Love, Freedom and Driving Down Back Roads

That road. The one that winds and dips and turns through the trees and comes to a weird, Y-shaped intersection. The one we used to drive down after school in our hand-me-down cars listening to The Cranberries with the windows down. I love that road.

And then there’s this other road. The one I walked along side every day on my way home from elementary school picking dandelions through the cracks and making them into jewelry when I was still young enough to think dandelions were flowers and stepping on cracks was the cause of bad luck.

But oh man, this road. The one with a memory every mile. I played t-ball where that Sonic is; I practiced driving my friend’s stick shift in that lot; I went to school there and there and sang in that church, and in college, I waited tables at that restaurant. And over there, well that’s where I sat up all night with a boy for the first time.

I made my mother check me out of school the day I turned 16 to get my license. I could not, would not wait one. more. day. When we got to the DMV on my 16th birthday it was closed. I threw a gigantic toddleresque tantrum and I made my mom drive to another DMV that was open or I refused to go back to school. (Thanks Mom, and FYI daughter, I will not be doing that for you. Harsh, I know.) But I remember my desperation that day. It felt like my chest was caving in sitting outside those locked doors. I wanted, no NEEDED that piece of paper or I thought I might explode. That paper meant I could go and do and be on my own. That paper was my ticket to freedom and freedom was my drug of choice back then. At 36, I’m as addicted as ever.

That same yearning for freedom is why I left my hometown and all those familiar roads 12 years ago. I wanted out so bad it ached in my bones. It was that same desperation; feeling confined by all those stupid, easy roads and their territorial views of the wide open plains dotted with water towers. I outgrew those roads in my 20s and hurt for new ones – bigger ones. Freeways. Express ways. Roads with new views — mountains and oceans and tall, tall things. That’s what I wanted and so I grabbed my ticket and went to find them. But that ticket came at a very steep price. Over the years I shed huge chunks of me out there alongside those highways and byways. Some good stuff, some bad, maybe all of it was necessary. Who knows, right?

And now here I am visiting my hometown again, newly divorced, two kids, approaching 40 on a speed train with a ticket to nowhere…  and I’m driving these old roads again. These roads – like permanent time capsules hold years of memories and emotions that take me back with every turn to that wild-eyed girl with the big dreams and the naïve belief that everything would always work out just fiiiine. And also that lost girl aching for freedom and running away from home to find it.

A good friend of mine has a good man. A real good man. He’s more than 10 years her junior but an old soul. He’s now the father of their new baby girl; a baby she never expected at 37, but now can’t imagine life without—because that’s how it works, right – life happens the way it’s going to happen and then it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. They’ll probably get married someday and it will be the real, long-lasting thing. Well his dad died last week. His wife of 35 years said to him before passing, “we didn’t have enough time together.”  I can’t stop thinking about that. What is that kind of love?

home love freedomI took a moment the other day to drive down a two-lane back road out in the wide open country behind my parent’s house. The wind whipped my hair and I turned the radio way up. I thought about time, and decisions, what “home” really means and another thing I’ve never known… that long-lasting love.  It occurred to me that perhaps the reason I’ve never known it, or felt truly at “home” is because neither ever held a candle to my passion for freedom. I’ve always had to choose between the three.

What I’m coming to understand is that I need all of it. Freedom, home, love… I need it all or I know, I’ll get lost… again.

I’m not a selfish person. I’m a mother of two small children and I learned the deeper meaning of sacrifice the day my first child was conceived. I know what it means to give up everything for someone else, but there’s a difference between giving of yourself for the betterment of the whole, and giving up ON yourself all together. The former I do daily, the latter I will never do.

A week ago, before I came back to my hometown I drove down another back road near my current “home” in the Pacific Northwest. The wind whipped my hair and the radio was way up. There were mountains and an ocean and tall, tall things. Beautiful couldn’t accurately describe that day. I leaned back in my seat with my sunglasses on and my hand out the window riding the wind. I can’t remember a moment in recent times when I felt so free AND at home. It was very close to heaven on earth.

And so now these two back roads, one flat and dotted with water towers, the other winding through mountains and next to oceans are taking me backward and forward at the same time, helping me figure out this new woman who’s now in the driver’s seat of her life. The one that wants it all… or nothing.

But I guess this is how life is, right? It happens the way it’s going to happen, and then it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. And maybe all that shedding and getting lost… it’s all necessary. And maybe, just maybe things will still work out just fiiiine.

Riding the Waves of Loneliness

I read somewhere that we are all addicts to whatever releases a hit of dopamine to our brains.

Food and sex are big dopamine triggers because evolutionarily speaking, we need to eat and procreate. We are engineered to derive pleasure from these things. Everyone has heard of Pavlov and his dogs. The psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, conditioned his dogs to produce a salivary response to the ringing of a bell because every time Pavlov rang that bell, the dogs got fed.

We are no different, really. Our bodies respond to triggers which we know will give us a high — a hit, a feeling of satisfaction. It can be anything really; alcohol, nicotine, scratcher tickets, Pinterest, the little blue light that blinks on your phone alerting you to a message. All hits of dopamine. All stimulating our brain’s pleasure centers.

Personally, at least recently, I’d take a dirty martini over a donut any day and that little blue light has my full attention. I crave communication and connection with the world and that little blue light, and accompanying buzz, is my bell. Ding! Ding!

So we are pleasure seekers. We always have been, always will be, and I don’t think our problems result from wanting to get “high.” Where we fall off the tracks into addiction and bad decisions is when we can’t handle what always comes right after the crest of the wave… and that is the crash onto shore. And make no mistake, the higher the high… the lower the low.

I’ve had some incredible highs lately. From exciting accomplishments at work; to whole weekends with long-time friends; to the positive attention of putting myself out there in the world without fear or guilt overshadowing me; all have produced incredible pleasurable feelings. I got a second chance to live the life of my dreams and I’ve been surfing that wave all the way to shore! But with these new peaks has come some soul-rocking valleys. Deep undertows that have me gasping for air while scanning the horizon for my next wave.

In this new life, where my sea legs are still shaky and new, everyday is a constant battle against riding the wave of highness and figuring out how to survive the lowness. I wish this was an exaggeration.

But I’m not going to feel bad for wanting to get high on life. I’m human, and this is natural. What I’m struggling with is staying present with the lows. What has me tied to my phone and my nightly cocktail is the fear of the power of the undertow and my ability to hold my breath long enough to survive it… even though I know I will.

In today’s technological age, this ability to stave off the undertow is so easy while staying present for the white-hot loneliness is increasingly difficult. It is the long forgotten art of delayed satisfaction. In this modern world all I need to do is reach for my phone to get another hit, and the temptation is, at times, overwhelming. This is when I make my biggest mistakes. It’s when I say something, or do something I may regret later when calmer waters prevail.

This is what loneliness is teaching me today. That when it comes rolling in like a low tide, and it always will, that I must sit down, stay put, resist the urge run for shore or head-long into the next wave. That I must let the water circle around my ankles, slowly rise to my neck and take a deep breath…  because it will run its course, and there’s nothing worth drowning for.

beneath the waves

Image Credit: Sarah Lee/ CATERS NEWS

 

 

 

The Loneliness of Post Divorce

I’m adrift right now, and I know it. It’s been almost three months since I filed for divorce and the loneliness has begun to wrap around me like a wet, dense fog.

During the day, I have no shortage of things to do. I have two small children who live with me most of the time. I have a job. I go to night school. I potty train my youngest, do the grocery shopping and mow the lawn. If an uncomfortable feeling creeps in during the daylight hours, I get busy.

It’s mostly at night when it comes. When my daily work is done and I’m settled into my couch or bed; that’s when I feel the thick haze descend. So I pick up my phone, pour a glass of wine, return to my computer; anything to stop what I know is my current reality and immediate future. Alone.

I’m an independent person. I like solitude. I like to be alone with my thoughts. Maybe I like it more than most, but no one likes it exclusively. We all need personal, often times physical connections. I’m in a place right now where I’m all over the map as to how much connection I want or need. I keep drawing it to me, and then pushing it away afraid of the fire and heat it brings. If I’m being honest, I don’t trust myself to handle it well.

For a month I’ve been riding this rollercoaster of surplus and deprivation of connections.  My emergence from the pain of my divorce began on a business trip to Vegas (of all places), and it was there my eyes were opened toward the future and all the possibility it holds. Since then, I’ve been reaching for that same feeling. I brush up against it every now and again. The constant, hopeful reminder that we’re on the edge of spring helps a great deal. The bright yellow daffodils blooming in my yard make me smile, and when I see them, I feel the rush of possibility all over again.

Duality of LifeThese daffodils were transplanted from my grandmother’s garden three years ago. My grandmother passed away four years ago, and after she died, my mom and I dug up some bulbs to plant as yearly, living keepsakes. They sprouted green shoots for two years, but no flowers. I was beginning to wonder if they would ever show their happy faces. But this year, they finally did.

Today, I sat down in front of those daffodils. I admired their daintiness and beauty but I also felt the sadness of loss. I sat in quiet reflection on those sweet, little flower faces and I let the loneliness fill me to tears. It felt good to embrace this duality of life.

There is no regret. There is no wanting things to be different or going back. I’m here, and I’m okay with being here. But here holds a lot of unanswered questions; a lot of fear of the unknown, a lot of solitude, and sometimes, even scary heat.

Over a month I’ve realized that if companionship is something I want, I could have it, and it wouldn’t even take that much effort. But right now, I feel like this loneliness has lessons I need to learn. Lessons I need to lean into and embrace even though I can’t see two feet in front of my face. I need to learn to trust that even when I’m surrounded by fog, the landscape is still there. The potential for daffodils still exist.

These miniature flowers took their sweet time showing their shining faces, and I think I need to, too. These keepsakes from my wise and loving grandmother sat dormant for two years; gathering roots, growing slowly under the surface before they decided it was the right time to bloom, and now… I will too.

I will gather my roots. I will sit below the surface, fighting back the fear of the cold season to come, and I will bloom when the time is right.

Because hope springs eternal.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

If You Say You’re NOT Broken, You’re a Liar.

“I have no issues.” The boy says.

“What do you mean? You have no issues? Everyone has issues.” I say.

“Nope. Not me. I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. Nothing gets me down. I always stay positive.” He says.

“Yes, but something bad had to happen in your life at some point. Something that broke your heart?” I ask.

“Why would anyone want to think about those things. I prefer not to dwell.” The boy says annoyed.

“I don’t think it’s ‘dwelling,’ I’m just trying to understand you. We all have things that caused us pain. Things that taught us… “

“Maybe you’re just a negative person? All you seem to want to do is talk about negative things. Maybe you’re the one with a problem?” The boy says a bit too angrily.

I had this conversation once, many years ago. I was young, and at the time, ashamed of my own brokenness. With the desperation of someone on the verge of losing it all I wanted to run from those things that made me human. That which made me me. I wanted to put the past in the past and be nothing but positive, too. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. 

Back then I was too naive, too ignorant, too scared and ashamed to realize that all I’d been through, was really a gift. I didn’t understand that my brokenness was my strength. I didn’t know the simple truth which is: if you say you’re not broken, you’re a liar. Or worse, you’re in denial. And denial always manifests in ugly, ugly ways because no one can run from their brokenness.

We’re all broken. We’re supposed to be. Life is a series of breaks to your soul. Over and over and over again like ocean waves this life, and its heart breaks, break us. Because that’s how it is, and that’s how it will always be; birth, growth, death, rebirth. The more we fight this reality, this cycle of life and living, the more we suffer.

So I ask — why hide our brokenness behind fancy curtains, shiny things, and disingenuous status updates? What’s the point? Just SAY IT. 

The poet Rumi wrote, “Suffering is a gift, a hidden mercy.” I believe that. You, nor I, nor our next door neighbor cannot NOT suffer. But where’s the mercy? How are we to find the mercy in all this suffering? Because when you’re truly suffering, all you can think about is sweet, merciful relief.

So where is it? Where’s the mercy hiding, Rumi!? My answer… I don’t think you can find it. I think mercy finds you.

But first, you must submit to the randomness, the chaos, the complete insanity of it all. You accept that you have no control; that your will is not the will that will be done. When you do, mercy finds your sweet, beautiful, broken soul. And when it does, it lifts you up, out of the dirt, brushes you off, shines a light on your path, and keeps you walking.

Back then, back when I was a girl running from my own brokenness I tried like mad to cultivate a talent for controlling my environment; always attempting to decipher the randomness, minimize the chaos, and make sane the insane parts of me. Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work. 

Rumi also writes, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” So without the brokenness, there is no light. And what would we be without light?

So to feel the light, to let sweet mercy wash over you, you have to let go. Let go of the way you thought life would be. Let go of the plans you so carefully made for yourself, your children, your future. Because when you loosen the white-knuckle grip on life… you might just find the sweet relief you’ve been praying for all along.

So all I want now, all I have ever wanted, but never knew I needed, is beautifully broken people in my life. I don’t care what you’ve accomplished. I don’t care that you make a million dollars a day, or drive an Audi or own two Breitlings and can bench press an elephant.

Show me your flaws, your scars. Show me your wounds, your perfect imperfections. Show me where the light shines through and I’ll stand there with you; sunglassed admiring the view. No judgement.

Over the last three years I have received a lot of messages from you about how much my writing has affected your lives in positive ways. How much it has helped you heal and feel less alone. If you haven’t sent me a message before, and you feel inclined to now, please do so. Show me your scars. Leave a comment here or send me a message through Facebook or email if you’d prefer to remain private. Speak your truth. Own it. I will not judge you. I will think you’re brave and beautiful and I will be a mirror to reflect your amazing glow.show me the places where the light shines through