Friday, November 16, 2012



Beautiful imperfect lives


My friend P. and I have decided to change our lives.

We were sitting on a bench at the downtown market drinking generous pours of Sonoma County wine during the “6 for $10” tasting event. Sip by sip, we were feeling a little less terrified and overwhelmed by all the crap life has thrown our way lately. But we were still indignant about it. In other words, it pissed us off. We both agreed that we strongly preferred things to go smoothly for once. Especially we would really, really appreciate it if someone could put a stop to all the death crap. Like, if we could go a year or longer without losing anyone (including four-legged creatures) to that sonofabitch with the black hoodie, that would be freakin’ awesome, we said to each other, toasting with Tempranillo (me) and Sauvignon Blanc (P.). Over the course of the last year and a half, our families have had to face murders, suicides, heart attacks, old age, and dead kittens. It really sucked.

That was the big crap.

Then there was the little crap: unemployment, sucky employment, precarious employment, employment that will make your hair turn greyer with every passing minute, employment that will jolt you awake with panic attacks in the middle of the night.

Also, teenagers.

Good god, teenagers! Obnoxious, arrogant, self-centered, complaining, entitled bitches and jerks living under our roofs, making us wish we could disappear to another planet in a far away galaxy. And yet at the same time we were suffering constant agonizing fear over their safety and well-being, because for inexplicable (probably purely biological) reasons we loved these morons more than life itself. Teenagers were the bane of our existence, yet we could not live without them.

So we had another pour of local wine and lamented our fate. In between laments, we satisfied our darker urges by pointing out other wine-tasting revelers’ fashion mistakes, such as the guy wearing plaid shorts and crocks with socks, or the lady with the gigantic breasts squished flat by a tube top.

Right before we moved on to tasting the dessert wines, we made the decision that we needed to change our lives.

This was our plan:

  1. Nobody dies.
  2. We win the lottery.
  3. Following from 2., we no longer need to put up with stressful and low paying jobs that don’t show us any appreciation.
  4. Following from 3., we will then have ample time to engage in all those creative, meaningful and world-changing activities that we have been putting off for so long, such as:
    1. Cleaning the garage
    2. Eliminating world hunger
    3. Writing the Great American Novel
    4. Losing 20 pounds

  1. Following from 4., our children (especially the teenagers) will see the light and turn into fully self-actualized, mature and caring individuals who follow their dreams and take out the trash without being asked.

Elated, we rinsed out our glasses after the final taste of the night and stepped out of the secluded little universe of the functioning alcoholics into the good-natured chaos of the downtown market. We skipped the Henna Tattoos and carefully avoided the snake exhibit before we parted ways, my friend P. to the bookstore to pick up her wandering teenager, me to the farm stands to pick up a flat of organic strawberries (which would not fit on my bike so my friend graciously drove them home for me in her Prius. We were so environmentally correct it was sickening!).

Meandering home on my aqua-and-silver Schwinn, through the darkening, tree-lined streets of my neighborhood, I was filled with a sweet and tender sense of peace and gratitude. Maybe it was the dessert wine.

Who knew if my friend P. and I were really going to change our lives. Maybe we were. Maybe we weren’t. Maybe we had absolutely no idea. And maybe we were just going to continue on, for another day, if we were lucky, with our beautiful, imperfect lives.

And then maybe one more. If we were lucky.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter

Here is a poem I wrote on Easter weekend. I am not a Christian but somehow the Easter holiday speaks to me and moves me very deeply. On Easter Sunday, my daughter and I rode our bikes out to Spring Lake Park Children's Memorial Grove to find that Katie's memorial stone had finally arrived. We sat with Katie's stone for a long time, my daughter decorating it with tiny yellow flowers, both of us studying the surrounding stones that honored other children who had died. There were children of all ages. A stone remembering all the children that had died in Hurricane Katrina. A stone for the little boy who recently was killed by a hit and run driver. Stones for babies; there was one for our dear friends' stillborn son. Stones for toddlers. Stones for teenagers. My daughter spotted a stone that said "beloved father and husband" and wondered: "I thought this was for children?" I told her this: "Everybody is somebody's child!" 

So Easter is about resurrection, rebirth, renewal. The Pagan bunnies and eggs celebrating boisterous spring procreation, nature kicking into gear again after the dead of winter; and the Christian promise of Rising Up from the depth of despair and loss.

Here is my poem:

Rising
From dust and darkness
a mouthful of rubble
breathing splinters of light

Falling
Through the thorns
a thicket of birds
gathering upon your eyelids

Rising again
birds cascading
into a sky
the color of paper
and quicksilver

Mouth open
breathing liquid clouds
in small, heavy drops
translucent
like the blood of angels


Later on Easter Sunday we listened to Patty Smith's "Easter" ( a must!) and then had an Easter egg hunt in our backyard with our beloved extended family. Our kids ate chocolate bunnies and played basketball until little Gracie fell down one too many times and it was time to go home. The air was mild and fragrant even after dark. Our children ran and laughed and cried and fell asleep. Spring had arrived.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Corey

I walked up to the water's edge
I wrote your name in the sand with a driftwood stick
And drew a heart around it
And watched
As the next wave washed over you
And smoothed the scars
My hand had left in the soft sand.

It was as if you'd never been there.

But then I could see
The faint outline of a heart
underneath the earth's silky skin.

They say the ocean of time
Heals all wounds
eventually.

Yet they will always be there
Underneath the surface.

As the surf washes over you
Again and again
I can feel a tender new layer of skin
Growing around the ragged edges
Of my broken heart.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude, revisited.

It is Thanksgiving again. Everybody is talking about gratitude. It's on the front page of the local paper - heartwarming stories about people who have suffered to overcome terrible obstacles - cancer, hunger, heart surgery -  and are now expressing their gratitude for having made it through, for the support and love they received, for the new chance at life they've been given, for waking up every morning and seeing the sunshine. A bank is thanking their loyal customers with a full page ad (good idea these days, banks!). In the obituaries, family members left behind are posting a note of gratitude and remembrance for a loved one long gone: thank you for the memories and the good times we shared. Another newspaper article extolls the health benefits of a grateful attitude: being thankful lowers your blood pressure, elevates your mood, decreases anxiety and even makes for a better night's sleep.So you better count your blessings or you'll only have yourself to blame if you get sick! We thank each other on Facebook in our status updates (like, like!) and when we sit down at the dinner table before digging into the turkey. We are bathing in an ocean of gratitude, it seems. So I can't help but ask myself: what does gratitude mean to me? I am not a religious person, but the first thing that comes to mind is: to me, gratitude is prayer. It is a practice. It is a way of life. I am grateful to be able to feel gratitude. But what if you are in so much pain that gratitude seems impossible? What if you are so numb that you are physically incapable of feeling anything at all? Yes, intellectually you know the things that you should be thankful for, and maybe there is even a part of you that knows that somewhere deep inside you actually are thankful for these things. But you can't go there. The pain is too raw, too all encompassing. I think of my dear friends who lost their daughter this year. Being a mother myself, it scares me to even begin to imagine what they are feeling. Can they feel any gratitude at all right now? And what about all the well-meaning people that point out what they should be feeling grateful for, in an attempt to ease the pain, to find the light at the end of the tunnel, to make it better somehow? Do you then end up not only not feeling grateful, but feeling guilty for not feeling grateful? If gratitude is prayer, so are tears. And so is laughter.We honor the ones we love and lost by crying, wailing, laughing, and continuing to love, love, love our hearts out. Maybe that is gratitude, too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

And even more September 11 thoughts

III.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 resonates so much with me is that this year, we experienced something akin to our own personal 9/11 in our family. A close friend, my best friend's beautiful, vivacious 25 year old niece, was brutally murdered, alongside with her fiance and four other members of his family. Her name was Katie.
   On September 11, 2001, I remember experiencing a very vivid sensation of a rip, a tear in the fabric of humanity. Maybe it was that instant and tremendous loss of human life, all in the same small spot on earth, just a few square miles of lower Manhattan, all within a couple of hours. Maybe it was the sheer violence of the act that obliterated so many lives so completely, until literally there was nothing left but ashes and dust. Maybe it was the presence of pure evil that once and for all negated any possible sense of safety in the world. Whatever it was, I knew that the world would never be the same.
   This January, when Katie was murdered, the fabric of our little world tore. Since then, we have been spending every day of our lives trying to sew it back together, but we all know that it will never be the same. Our needle and thread is the love that we feel for each other, and for her, and the overwhelming sense of community we share, and our blind and stubborn faith in life and the goodness of humanity, even in the face of pure evil. Just like on 9/11/2001, it was pure evil that ripped out a beautiful young life, and five others who did nothing to deserve this. And we were left behind, having to explain to our children, or at least help them cope, because there really is no explanation. And our children are faced with the gut-wrenching realization that this world is not safe, life is not fair, and terrible things happen to good people for no reason.
   And so we stumble on, with sore and aching hearts and frayed nerves, a little more broken, a little more fragile, a little more sad than we already were, but still holding on to hope, and faith, and the love in our hearts. All of our hidden neuroses are now just this much closer to the surface; jumping at every siren we hear, praying silently every time we say good-bye; the never-ending worry about something bad happening to the ones we love is so much more real now, because something horribly bad really did happen to someone we love. The thin ribbon of anxiety that curls through every day is tying our hearts into tight little knots, even more frequently than before. And the sudden sadness that washes over us when we least expect it, triggered by a song, or a smile, or a butterfly, or the way the sunlight is reflected in my daughter's hair.
 There are always more tears to cry; no matter how hard we try, our tear ducts won't run dry, because they draw from the deep and solemn well of our memories. It is what keeps us alive, keeps us human - the suffering, anxious, angry, neurotic, joyful, silly, loving creatures that we are.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More September 11 thoughts

II.
On the 10th anniversary of September 11th, I was restless all day. I was determined to do something to commemorate the gravity of this date. Especially something that involved my 12 year old daughter, who had no actual memories of the event, and even though she had learned about it over the years, never had seen any news coverage, or fully grasped the magnitude of what happened that day. So I finally decided that we would bring flowers to our local fire department, in honor of the first responders. But first, every day life had to be attended to. I made trips to Target and the grocery store, did laundry, the usual Sunday stuff. My daughter was dragging her feet with finishing her homework, and I began to get irritated with her. I wanted to do this special thing, and I wanted to do it as a family, damnit, and we all were supposed to be in a sacred and solemn mood. Instead, we were all mad at each other, yelling, huffing, me threatening to "just go by myself", then more yelling and huffing in the car, as we finally pulled up to the fire station, which was of course closed, and left a bouquet of yellow roses and a card. There, we did it! Grouchy, stubborn, pouty, but we did it. Later on, back home, we all apologized to each other. I explained why this little gesture had been so important to me. We lit candles at our family altar that is filled with pictures of loved ones lost, and an eclectic collection of Christian, Buddhist and Pagan imagery. My little voodoo altar. Then we watched footage of 9/11/2001. We talked to our daughter about what  was happening, what it meant to us personally, and as a country. We talked about where we were that day, and what we were thinking and feeling. Our daughter listened and watched very intently. She asked questions, made comments. She is a very thoughtful and sensitive young person, mature beyond her years, who has been through some traumatic loss herself this year. Her soul could relate. We hugged and squeezed each other extra tight that night before going to bed. Then I stayed up and compulsively watched 9/11 images on you tube. There is a whole collection of images of people falling or jumping from the buildings, and entire discussion groups dedicated to the question whether they were falling or jumping. I felt guilty and voyeuristic looking at those photos, and at the same time I was compelled to watch them over and over again. I found an eery abstract beauty in some of the pictures; it might have had something to do with the sheer impossibility of what I was seeing, leading my mind to view it as art, as fiction. Far away bodies in flight, like birds, in small flocks of twos and threes, rarely alone. Graceful, as if dancing. One of the most unbelievable and haunting images was the famous image entitled "Falling Man", the figure of a man falling upside down, in a perfect ballet pirouette stance. He reminded me of the picture on one of the Tarot Cards. I have to look up that card and see what it means. I think of the Falling Man and his family, his friends. I think of everyone who died that day, and everyone who was left behind. My heart breaks, over and over again. I want it to break. I don't want to forget.

September 11 thoughts

I.
Last weekend, my mother and I went to the San Francisco Opera to see "Heart Of A Soldier", an opera by Christopher Theofanidis based on the life of Rick Rescorla, head of security at Morgan Stanley, who rescued over 2,700 people on September 11, 2001, by evacuating them from the WTC South Tower, ignoring Port Authority directions to remain at their desks. Returning to search for more survivors, he was killed when the building collapsed. As I was sitting in my ornate but uncomfortable seat in the beautiful picturesque opera house, watching the story unfold, I thought about how deeply strange it was that I and all of the members of the audience have memories of this historical event that we are now seeing reenacted; we all were witnesses of sorts, because it happened in our life time, just 10 years ago. Isn't opera supposed to be about ancient myths, glorious battles and tragic love stories from many centuries ago? Can someone really write an opera about something this contemporary, raw, immediate? My answer is yes. Creating art is a culture's way of coping. Just as some of us use art in our personal lives to express what cannot otherwise be expressed, to come to grips with what is beyond grasp, a culture's artists hold this space for all of us, so we can partake. As the haunting, stylized, stark images filled the stage, respectfully created through simple black and white light effects - thousands of falling pieces of paper, an opaque curtain slowly drawing down as the towers are leveled - we watched with tears in our eyes, our souls aching with the collective memories of this unfathomable horror and suffering. Yet we were left with a sense of hope and belief in the goodness of mankind, in the face of pure evil the story of a true hero. Yes, the stuff that great opera is made of. And so the opera serves to remind us of what truly matters in life. Love, death, pain, kindness, community. A fitting tribute.