Finding light

The chair scooped her towards the desk just as her eyes fell upon the dusty wooden mannequin hand.  For longer than she realized, it had sat unnoticed, barely peeking from behind the edge of her computer.  It was virtually forgotten.  But today, as her eyes alit on the barely visible fingertips, she remembered the hours she had spent sketching it again and again, working to bring each sketch to life.  She remembered fighting with proportions and depth, shading and line.  Like the hand of a gracious usher, these sudden memories led her away from the stack of bills waiting for her attention.

As though triggered by muscle memory, she reached into the shallow drawer beside her, retrieved her sketchpad, and quickly leafed past sketches she had long stopped remembering.  Their presence almost surprised her, as though to her mind these quiet creations would have magically faded invisible from sitting for so long without an audience. Lifting a pencil from the cup and an eraser from the drawer, her art teacher’s words echoed, “Loosen your grip. Let the pencil float a little lighter in your hand.”

Lean, graceful fingers quickly began to emerge on the page.  Her eyes somehow focused both on the growing lines and the images dancing in the spaces between her and the sketch book. Her breathing slowed. The space between her breaths stretched longer just as if she were diving deeper and deeper beneath the ocean, activating her own mammalian diving reflex. She floated somewhere outside the hum of her daily routine in a stasis, warmed by the bright sunlight pouring in from her office window. She knew this light was what she had been missing.

In this golden glow, every dark corner, every dust bunny, every pile of priorities and procrastination felt more manageable, perhaps even more beautiful. As she softly worked the gum eraser in her left hand, she felt the light spill throughout her home, spreading itself like a golden dust on every surface, hovering in the air, waiting to fill her lungs with each breath like an inoculation to the blindness of the tunnel.

Week after week, she has pushed through day after exhausting day.  It has been so long since these hard times began.  She has been in this darkness for so long that she cannot fumble her way back to the days before this trouble.  This lonely tunnel feels so long there is no way to know whether the exit is a mile or a meter away.

But in this moment, with the featherweight of the pencil in her hand, she finds an unexpected brightening in the path.  Perhaps racing blindly to an end unknown is not, in fact, the solution. Perhaps the solution is right here, creating a light of her own.

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Resting for Greatness

Each new year brings with it many reflective thoughts and emotions.  Even beyond the boundaries of the high-pressure twenty-four hours, it seems that no one can escape the forced reflection the end of another calendar year implies.

What progress have I made in life this year?  

Have I done enough?

Am I good enough?

How can I be better?  

How can I make this next year even more, even bigger, even better? 

From parties to resolutions, no one is immune to January 1st.  Like a beautiful new notebook and its perfectly blank pages, the first of any first carries with it the weight of expectations.  Make this one great.

Two thousand eighteen opened to find me quietly humming along with an optimism aimed towards my family and career.  I was enjoying a newfound freedom after reevalutating time commitments to allow for more time with my daughters and husband, more weekends unbound by obligations, and more nights at home in my kitchen.

In the first week of 2018’s summer, just as that optimism was at its peak, I was blindsided by force.  My high hopes were derailed by sudden injury.  I found myself debilitated for weeks and months, cancelling plans and retreating to a dark bedroom for long days of bedrest.  I was transformed from a woman who spent her days and nights taking barre, pilates, and yoga class after class, to a woman who gripped rails and held hands to walk down stairs while the world whirled and spun.  There were days when simply holding my head up was too much.  Rest was the only thing to do.  Even the thought of taking my family to a simple hotel getaway for a long weekend brought with it anxiety and fear of pain.

For an active, independent, working mother, this forced lifestyle change came with emotional fallout.  Like a little girl watching my school bus speed away from the stop, I’ve often felt alone.  Disappointment is prevalent in the growing distance between myself and my former peers, and disappointment in oneself, even if it is out of your control, is the worst kind.

All along, my doctors and family have reminded me to be forgiving towards myself.  Be patient.  Yet recently, my disappointment grew more towards disgust, so I dusted off my determination and pushed the my own boundaries.   The pain of the stretch has been unnerving.

As with many, this week I’ve passively read my share of new year articles, intentions inspirations, and annual reflections.  I have benignly watched television clips and stories on living the “new year, new me” lifestyle.  I’ve acknowledged their whispers in my ear to think & search, stretch & reach, perhaps even hope & dream a little.  But with each of these little urges rang the echo of pain and fear.  How can I gracefully move beyond this hardest hurdle?  How can I hope for more than just healing?

Emily Ley’s words of intention for her own 2019 spoke to me.

“Rest is the foundation for meaningful days.”  

I’ve had six months of rest.  Two thousand eighteen, an eleven master year, brought me not to a place of accomplishment and achievement, but of rest. I was knocked down and forced to allow myself to rest.  I needed a good, long soak in rest, allowing it to penetrate through my muscles and bones and fill the crevices in my soul.

In the final days of 2018, my disappointment finally began to recede, and I could finally focus on the redeeming qualities of such rest.  At once, I viewed it not as a failing or weakness, but as an allowance.  I can at last see it not as an overwhelming gap, but as a placeholder for the work of the universe.

Two thousand nineteen is a mountain I will climb.  Its horizon is not free from clouds or rocky crags, but I am well rested for the journey.

I’d be sad without you.

Create.
Blank document.

“Breathe,” she whispered.

Dishes clanked in the sink, and the water ran for too long. Jane imagined the mountain of dish soap bubbles piling high over the top of the sink, threatening to overflow onto the floor any minute. But in that moment, she drew a line and momentarily ignored her mother’s burden to make room for something else.

It had been years since she had written even a word. Weeks, packed so full from Monday to Sunday they threatened to burst, had flown by on the wings of months and seasons. Each day had seemed like a marathon, each week like a lifetime, but the colorful, sticker-clad pages of her LifePlanner stacked up behind her faster than she could ever have appreciated. Until those milestone moments — awards ceremonies, school picture days, school dances, Christmases and birthdays — when she looked backward and saw how much time had passed.  Her eyes could focus at once on how grown up her babies had become.

There is no way, it seems, for a mother to set aside the needs and wants of her children and family, even in the days of their increasing independence, to attend to her own dreams and wants. Each time she toys with the idea of picking up a pen or her camera, another crisis. Every time she considers a little time to read or explore ideas, plans change and she finds herself carpooling or shuffling meal plans.

Jason Mraz sang in the background:

Here’s to the fact that I’d be sad without you

I want you to have it all

“I want you to have it all,” she thought, not entirely sure if she was thinking of her children or herself.  She knew in her heart though, it likely could never be both.

 

World Cancer Day

Today, I’m thinking about my mother-in-law, just as I have every day for months.

But, I’m not just thinking about my mother-in-law as she is struggling through the last, grueling phase of cancer.  I’m also thinking about my very best friend in all the world, keeping her sights set on her children’s futures as she fights leukemia.  I’m also thinking about my colleague, much younger than I, as she wages a head-to-head battle with osteosarcoma.  And, I’m thinking about friends, coworkers, family members from all parts of my life who have swallowed this terrifying diagnosis, “winning” and “losing” their private wars.

I’m also thinking about my father-in-law, whose life for months now has been devoted to the unimaginable task of caring for his wife, partner, best friend around the clock as she slowly slips away.  I’m thinking about my husband and his siblings, who are silently saying good-bye to the woman who kissed their boo-boos and pulled them in close beside her when they had bad dreams in the night.  I’m thinking about my own daughters, whose ears lean in to listen more carefully for clues as they overhear whispered conversations about their grandmother.

I’m thinking about my friends who have watched their own loved ones endure painful sores, unbearable nausea, and grueling treatments.  My friends who have themselves struggled with the unmatched mental and physical fatigue of juggling medications and dosages, building wheelchair ramps, and coordinating countless doctor appointments, CTs & PET scans.  I’m thinking about my friends who have relied on the kindness of Hospice workers to patiently and lovingly guide them through a “natural” part of life that we will forever struggle to understand.

Then, I think about myself.  My husband.  My parents.  My brothers and sisters-in-law.  My daughters.  My nieces and nephews.  And I think, this cannot continue.

We must make changes.

In my eyes, the only solution lies in prevention, and it starts small.  We cannot be caught by surprise.  Readers, for World Cancer Day, what are you doing to prevent cancer in your own inner circle?  What small step can you take today to reduce your own risks?  How can we protect our children from their own cancer stories?

Let’s start today.

last nights

The last night of summer is always bittersweet. 

I’m filled with a mess of emotions, so much so that my chest seems swollen.  The sadness of losing the freedom & ease of summer days with my two favorite girls.  The excitement of seeing friends & work family each day again.  The eagerness for the comfort of the familiar rhythm of “real” life routines.  The thrill of the return of daily challenges & creativity.  Apprehension at the memory of the stressful, fatiguing weekly workload.  And the amazing, heartwarming joy I feel every year as I fall in love with a new batch of 40+ babies. 

Summer’s return will come sooner than we think.  On that last night, we’ll look back over the year & see how time has flown. Our babies will be taller, smarter, and a just a little bit less our “babies” than before.  For a while, I will wish I could rewind and go back, praying for just a little more time.  Knowing that’s not possible, I’ll remind myself to love the moment I’m in.  

And so tonight, on this last night, I remind myself to be grateful for this night.  Love this feeling.  Celebrate this mess of teary-eyed smiles, nostalgic laughter, and school girl anticipation.  

This — these nights, these feelings — is the stuff life is made of, and it’s beautiful.

 

le deuxième jour de gratitude

Just over a month into my summer, I realize I’ve grown disconnected from my practice of gratitude.  Straying from my routines ultimately means straying from more than just that.  On the thirty-sixth anniversary of my birth, I find myself listening to favorite songs in the air of a cool summer night, enjoying the company of a thousand crickets.

As my eyes close, this iron table disappears, and the outdoor chair beneath me transforms to the familiar wicker rocking chair of my classroom.  Seated before me is a ring of eager, young faces.  “Gratitude Friday!” they remind me.  Submitting to their excited pleas, we commence the turn-taking.  I beam with joy as my students celebrate our weekly tradition, squirming on their feet as they wait for their turn, giggling with each of their friends’ personal thanksgivings.  

At last it is my turn.  Taking a moment to listen to my heart, I find so many things for which I am grateful.  

Tonight?  My backyard.  Music.  Crickets.

But there’s so much more.  

I woke up today.  And, God willing, I will rise again tomorrow.

Quiet moments alone in cool weather.

The rain that grows my grass and makes my flowers giggle and smile.

Old friends who remember who you were, way back when, and help you remember yourself, too.

Love, of all kinds.

Looking into the faces of my babies and seeing myself.

Hopes and dreams for the future, without which our lives would have no direction.

Bridges and breezes and beautiful, wide-open spans of water.

Stories, real and imagined.

Cardinals, climbing in my tomato plants and reminding me that miracles are real.

Afternoon drives with no destination.

Smiling with strangers.

Laughing with people you love.  

 

The smallness of my life within the hugeness of this universe.  

This moment.  Right now.

Aujourd’hui, je suis reconnaissant. 

 

ma noce

I’ll never forget that red light.  

I sat next to my maid of honor in my teal Ford Escort, laughing about the Teeny Beanie Baby in the McDonald’s Happy Meal.  There was really nothing too funny about that little ladybug filled with tiny plastic “beans”.  In my head, I felt the eyes of all the passengers and drivers sitting in the lanes around us, peeping into the windows at the young bride driving down the road in her veil, and I couldn’t help but laugh.  “What a sight I must be.”

Much of that night is lost to me forever, wrapped up a blur of faces, emotions and a lovely, antique white French bustle.  Only a handful of moments from that day have stained my mind like spilled red wine.

(null)
July 1, 2000 — my père et moi

Walking arm-in-arm with my Daddy. Popping up onto my toes for our first kiss as man and wife. Standing alone with my groom, after it was all said and done, and feeling — for just an instant — like we’d just met again for the first time. First dances, hugs from favorite relatives, a stream of toasts, and smiling till my face hurt.

In the honeymoon suite, bird seed rained down as I hunted and picked for all the hidden pins, my deep brown hair spilling below my shoulders. Even in those moments, the memory of the night we’d lived was fuzzy. How was it possible that it had only been one day since the rehearsal?

Now, thirteen years later, my memories of that day have hardly changed, though our lives certainly have.  When you’re just a few weeks shy of twenty-three, it’s all so vague.  “Marriage” seems entirely abstract, despite the fact that you’ve witnessed marriages succeed, and marriages fail, all around you for your entire life.  At thirty-six though, marriage is more real than the wedding day.  Mortgages, jobs, laundry, grocery shopping, health and family.  It is the air we breathe each day, from the moment we wake to the moment we wake again.  

The wedding?  It’s all so vague, with only pictures to prove it ever really was at all.  

Mais, il m’aime encore, et je l’aime un peu plus fort.