Ten

Ten years ago tomorrow, my sister lived her last day. On a late spring morning taxis accelerated and commuters hurried down the street while she was making her way to work. The earth was tilted toward the sun, approaching its solstice beneath golden rays that take their time in leaving.

It was a Thursday. She took no time at all in leaving. It was a moment that forever changed our lives.

Her name was Elizabeth.

Liz2004

She was 28 years old.

Thornton Wilder said the highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.

I don’t feel all that grateful for having lost my sister. In fact I still feel pretty bad about having to live without her. But I am grateful to have had her for a short lifetime rather than not to have had her at all.

I still have so much to say to you.

You were healthy, happy and passionate about creating good in the world. You were opinionated, generous, and funny. You were a newlywed, loved and loving.

You could get really mad.

Do you remember? Tell me what you remember.

We all live in haunted houses, rooms full of memories, coated with layers of dust and longing. Some ghosts move into our hearts. They unpack their suitcases because they’re going to stay awhile.

We watch them settle in.

We might offer them a drink.

The Western world is wildly predisposed toward the concept of “moving on”, a need-to-cure approach that makes you feel like a failure if you don’t get over it and get on with your life after something terrible happens. It’s a dangerous approach to responding to loss. While time has given me the solace and courage I need to bring my sister’s memory to a place where I don’t feel scared or angry – I can consider an idea she once shared, and smile at a story in which she starred in our family history – I can sense those who are unready to listen to my memories.

I know they feel deeply uncomfortable discussing a dead person. Especially one who isn’t supposed to be dead.

Death is such an uncomfortable thing to talk about in our country, despite it being all around us, all the time. Just the other day a colleague shared with me that her brother drowned. Even more recently a close family friend’s wife passed. Both were far too young to leave us.

Most of the time I return to gratitude, remember my sister, and feel lucky to have had her with me for a while. But not a day goes by that I do not wish things had turned out differently.

LP5k_9th_logo

The pain has diminished somewhat over the past decade, but that’s partially because I don’t have as much time to think about her anymore.

Since Liz died, I have smiled, laughed, loved. I have escaped. Run. Meditated. Drank. Slept. I have cried until there were no more tears to cry, and then I cried some more. I’ve met my babies for the very first time and witnessed their first smiles. Where there were none when she was alive, our family today includes four grandchildren. So much has happened.

Since Liz died, elders passed, and among them, our grandfather. The fathers and mothers of my friends are leaving us, one by one, as we age.

Since Liz died, our youngest sister and I have been on our own, forging a new relationship of two when there had always been three. It hasn’t always been easy. We grieve differently. We have different memories of her.

Grief is a deeply layered and intimate experience. The complexity of memories and regret assail me unexpectedly. The profound angst of loss, the helplessness of not being able to “do” anything. The senselessness of her death created a hole that was big enough for me to drown in. I’ve been swimming in it ever since.

A single wish echoes timelessly through my mind.

I want my sister back.

bella

She wasn’t entirely mine, not really. A natural connector, she was allied with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences and actively pursued new opportunities to learn and expand her understanding and knowledge of the world.

But she was mine, my heart screams… still, after all this time. And I want her back.

I stamp my foot, toddler-like, frustrated at life.

In those early months after my sister died, I was angry and sad. It didn’t get better for a long, long time. Not one year. Not two. Though today’s mornings dawn lighter, occasionally I move through my day furiously, feeling incapable of joy.

Because I miss her.

You were grumpy in the morning.

You got really mad once when I accidentally used your toothbrush. I laughed. That didn’t help.

You used to call me when you were was alone in your apartment, your husband still at work, and there was a pause at the end of your day. I was 30 and you were 27, and you had a real job after graduating from law school. I, too, was finally in a position with some meaningful responsibility. I commuted one hour each way by Metro, and I silently read all the Harry Potter books along the way. You, on the other hand, ran, walked, or biked to work, and became friends with shop owners and fellow commuters along the route.

We used to talk a lot about running. We ran together in Virginia, New York, North Carolina. Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Louisiana and Michigan. Washington D.C. Maybe other places that I can’t remember anymore. I used to run a lot more back then.

There is a new song I am learning. It is a quieter song, and a gentle push toward something that once was beautiful… not only my sister’s young life, but my own, before.

Before.

Because everything was different.

Before.

Over the past decade, I’ve remembered her, and how she used to smile. She had such a heartwarming and spectacular smile.

Ten years is a long time to feel and wonder and think about someone you cannot touch, or hear, or see.

My own capacity for resilience was quite weak when she died.

In other words, life was good.

During the past decade, life hasn’t always been good, but when I am grateful, fear disappears. There is less to miss and more to hold close. I am more compassionate and less closed. I am striving toward all those ways in which my sister shone… being kind, open, direct, strong of spirit and body. I am better at some than others. As we begin the next decade without her, I will not deny the sadness that will be a part of my experience moving forward. But I know today that I have space to be and air to breathe in her absence.

Sadness must be holy in its humanity. It emerges unpredictably and feels raw, broken, and mean – even years after a loss.

Healing takes time. Forever, perhaps.

When my boys scratch their knee or bruise an elbow, I always tell them to let it heal.

Let it heal.

Let it heal.

Let it heal.

I miss you. Thank you for being my sister, my heart, my friend.

liz in puerto rico

Advertisements

Holiday lights and haunted houses

A month ago the light was touched with the colors of the season. We counted pumpkins on doorsteps, noting the special ones, unusual colors or sizes, and brought great quantities of candy into our home. The quietly spectacular transformation of green into stains of orange, red and yellow took place before I could appreciate it properly.

One by one, thousands of fallen leaves evaporated into the earth, leaving us with a memory of when they were lush and unseasoned.

Like so many birds, I flew south for a few days last month. During my absence winter came crawling, beckoning at the door. When I got home I dug out gloves and hats in preparation for stinging weather. A rainbow teased itself across the blue only to leave no trace of its existence when I blinked, and suddenly I was gazing upon a dull grey sky.

I blink sometimes, and she is gone again.

When I talk about her with someone who really knew her, it makes it feel real again.

It makes me miss her more, and yet makes me feel like I’m not the only one, and so I am sad and grateful at the same time.

Most of the time these days I’m hardly thinking of my dead sister, though, and the enormous void that was left in our family when she died, and really, for a long time now, my grief  has remained silent. I am happy, and yet my heart is haunted, you see.

So then.

Then something happens, and I am struck, no, torn, torn into a thousand pieces of misunderstanding and hurt and terror mixed with ambivalence and blame and fear, and I fear for my children, for the world in which they are being raised. How on Earth can we protect them?

Yet when I was a child, we lived without sun protection and seat belts. Secondhand smoke was, well, everywhere. I remember tipping full ashtrays into the trash, with no immediate effects. We were routinely allowed to get hurt (or okay, at least put in harm’s way with limited observation especially in the summer time).

My sisters and I made it to adulthood with a few scratches and scars, but nothing serious. Certainly we arrived as newborn adults prepared to live, and live freely and confidently.

This is part of the reason why it’s been so very, very difficult to accept my sister’s death (nine years ago and counting). She was so very much alive.

That, and also that our national and international news is so terrible of late.

I know my sister would be fighting to arbitrate such news today. In her core she was a stubborn negotiator, a protector of human integrity, and a woman who sought to collaborate, agree with or attempt to understand someone despite of or due to their differences.

She was a person who fought back, typically with words but once with a well-placed and most deserved punch to the face. She listened to stories from men and women who were disabled but not downtrodden – she recognized those who needed a hand from time to time were not unworthy of their humanity.

She would fight with me, with us, help me to understand what I can do better.

There’s a lot on my list to do better.

(At least seat belts, smoking and sun protection don’t make the list).

I’ve been doing some yoga lately. I’m not one with the mat or anything, but it makes me feel better.

Yoga makes my wrists hurt, my sister said with a shake of her head, a long time ago.

Some nights I cannot sleep.

There are haunted houses in my dreams, darkened windows, broken glass. The wind scatters leaves across my path; a cat cries before I wake up.

Haunted hearts, empty, shadowed by sadness. Full of memories that can not always be trusted.

I lose you again and again and again.

You move and breathe and smile in our minds, but just like those moving portraits that hang on the walls of Hogwarts, you aren’t really there.

Those whom we we have lost in recent days are real. As usual, I send a silent appeal to my angel sister so that she may greet them in turn, a reflective reception for Michael Brown among them… always, I think, those whose deaths were unexpected deserve a kind and compassionate welcome.

Lights sparkle in our living room tonight, illuminating a tiny Nativity scene organized on the coffee table by our youngest son. He is very taken with the miniature wooden figures, especially the Three Kings and the Baby Jesus. We have been listening to a lot of holiday pop music lately, and not especially focused on theology, but I thought I’d been pretty clear about the meaning of the holiday until he asked me about Michael Jackson’s role in Bethlehem at Christmas.

Perplexed, I asked a few questions, and it turned out that he had confused the Baby Jesus with the renowned rock star.

My explanation of Christmas was puzzling at best, dubious at worst. I attempted to set him straight, and he marched back into the family room to dance to little Michael’s rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

My sister would have celebrated another turn around the sun tomorrow. Surely she’s dancing, wherever she is, and crying, too, at the loss that we invoke while here on Earth, at the sudden force of grief and mourning that we create when another young life is taken senselessly and forever.

In my heart I remember you as you were, Liz, 28 years old, a smile upon your lips to greet a loved one or a stranger, a frown as you observed injustice around you. I am grateful for you, and saddened by your absence. Always, I remain your sister and your friend.

love

 

 

phantom spiders and falling leaves

Our house had been unoccupied for the better part of a year before we moved in. As a result, the land was stirred up and spider homes unearthed themselves into walls instead of trees. We spy tiny spiders in the yard and driveway, beneath the eaves and mailbox, and sometimes, inside.

Inside isn’t good for spiders, and inside spiders sure aren’t good for children who are scared of spiders. Our youngest hasn’t struggled with sleep in a couple years, and during the first month living here he woke once or twice every night crying I’m scared! of the spiders in the closet.

We’ve done all the right things to get the phantom spiders out of his mind. Three night lights fill the room with a gentle glow. He shares his sleep with two elephants, one cow and a shark, but last night he woke up screaming again.

Scared or not, he is often tender and loving, and yet he can turn into a heart-crushingly difficult child in the blink of an eye.

In an effort to direct some of his energy in a positive direction, we signed him up for taekwondo. Master Frenel is soft spoken with a slight accent inspired by French Creole, and his ability to capture and hold the attention of a roomful of four and five year olds for forty minutes is almost miraculous.

taekwondo max

After class he is more relaxed and less combative. He typically sleeps for at least eleven hours straight. He is learning to speak in a whisper, sometimes. He tries to catch the leaves of fall as they gently rain down in the backyard, changing from green to yellow and orange and brown.

The season that makes every leaf a flower is ever welcome.

Some people think Autumn is a sad space, as winter beckons and branches grow bare. But I love it, perhaps more even than the fresh breath of Spring. I like tucking into cooler nights and finding socks again. I like the evening light, even as the days grow shorter and darker. I like pumpkin patches and cider and soccer games and rays of light that stream like lasers through orange and ruby and golden leaves. They settle into a richer earth and drape themselves like a blanket across the land.

When I asked my oldest what he thinks of Fall, he said I think about how the birds will migrate and how mostly we’ll see hawks and how it’s apple season and apples everywhere and Halloween is coming up which I am very excited about and I am very excited about how Christmas gets sooner and sooner when you pass Fall. 

Last weekend I ran in the Memorial 5K event established to remember and honor my sister’s legacy and raise money for an organization (her former employer) that provides free legal services for low-income individuals and families in Brooklyn. It was a picture perfect fall day, breezy and chilly until the sun shone full and we began running.

LP5k_9th_logo

Two dear friends joined me for not only the race but the entire weekend. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, and I mean all of it – the trashy paperback I read on the plane, brief reunion with family friends, hugs and smiles, and an amazing meal with my friends. I would also be remiss to neglect the kind Dominican couple, boisterous Jamaicans and quiet Indian woman on the subway without whose direction I would never have managed to get from the airport to Manhattan by myself.

(and I would never, ever live in this city, not if I was expected to get somewhere on my own).

My sister would be very happy to see what a fine community event this has become. I believe that from her unknowable space in the universe she was shining for us all day, a candle whose light burned out far too soon but whose joy in living and commitment to service endures for all of us who remember her.

Her light shown within the children as they toddled toward the finish line in the kids’ race. It beamed from the speedy runners who finished in 18 minutes and some change. Walkers and joggers and slow and fast runners made their way along the course.

Some ambled. Others dashed. One guy rode a bike.

Light shown within the race volunteers and the park and city staff who keep this part of New York beautiful and accessible. Our mother’s tough spirit was also illuminated, and reminds us that the event represents so much goodness and a very, very hard reason behind the day.

Yesterday was Eleanor Roosevelt’s birthday, so I’ll end this post by borrowing her wise words, and wishing my readers a lovely Fall.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Eleanor Roosevelt

first grade rainbow

A friend of mine made me laugh recently while describing her approach to sharing a potentially objectionable plan with her partner.

Paraphrasing here, she said,

I’m like, listen. There is fantasy, and there is reality. We live in reality, dear. 

And reality makes us do things sometimes that we don’t want to do.

Blogging is a heavily filtered view of reality. I share what I want to share, and I withhold so, so much. It’s a curious way to write. Sometimes I go back and read something I’ve written, and I hardly recognize myself in the words. Other times, I read my words and am grateful to no longer be in that space, yet know it remains within me, unforgotten, unforgiven.

Last night my reality included first grade homework. The task was to write six sentences describing my son’s summer plans. His words were effective. The plans include attending a Portland Timbers soccer camp, a family visit to the East Coast, and camping in southern Oregon.

At some point, however, his mind turned back to school. Casually, he mentioned being almost stapled in the hand. Further questioning revealed that a friend nearly stapled his finger while attempting to fasten together some paper. Nothing indicated that he had actually been stapled, and we agreed it had been a near miss.

The conversation reminded me of when my younger sister once stepped on a staple. I was in the second grade and she was in kindergarten. I don’t remember the incident clearly, but I think it involved her throwing staples down a flight of stairs in a fit of anger. Several minutes later she stomped downstairs and stepped on a staple, sharp side up. There was blood and tears.

And… childhood karma?

I shared the memory with our son, and he wrinkled his forehead. He went to the piano where we keep his aunt’s image framed and present, and brought it to me on the sofa. The photograph of Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla was taken at age 27 during my bridal shower at our family home. She is young and beautiful.

I asked Miles if we looked alike. He studied her image before he spoke.

Um, Mama? No, not really. Well….. yes, you actually have the same eyes.

He continued, but you’re not wearing a bracelet. And she has different eyebrows. Hers go like this (demonstration) and yours go like this (demonstration).

Plus she has long hair. And you have a wig. 

What?! (that was me).

Oh! I mean not a WIG. You have a PONY TAIL. And her hair is long.

Let the difference between a pony tail and  a wig be clear. Not that there’s anything wrong with wigs, but I’m trying to work with what I’ve got here.

He continued, Well, not really, you don’t look alike. Except for your eyes. Oh, and your ears are the same. PLUS you might have the very same big toe.

I swear he said this.

After this illuminating dialog we entered into a faux soccer match between Mexico and Brazil. I’m always Mexico and he’s Brazil or another spectacular team. (I’m not advertising, but these soccer guys are an awesome toy for creative young soccer aficionados).

soccer guys

The 2014 World Cup is imminent. I am excited not only because I’m genuinely interested in watching the matches, but I love that it’s something our family can get into together. We are teaching our children about nationalities and maps and languages and colors. We may choose different sides along the way, but we all experience similar lessons in play, struggle, pain, loss, movement, observation, success and strategy.

Also on the horizon is the anniversary of my sister’s death, and in the days and weeks prior it is no secret that anxiety and fear are my closest friends.

In a few days, Liz will have been dead for nine years.

I still struggle with this menacing truth. It has threatened to destroy what little faith I have for so long.

Haven’t I grieved long enough?

Allowing the grief to move through me last night, watching my son compare my sister’s image to my own, was enough. It was enough in its authenticity. It was enough in its innocence. The experience was enough in its brevity and relaxed sentiment. It wasn’t sad, comparing faces, one in the here and now, one in the past.

It was enough to move within a brief span of time from dreams of summer to howdoyouspellDeschutesRiver to the dangers of staplers to remembering my sister to World Cup fanaticism. It was enough, and I was happy.

Because, as my son pointed out, my sister and I might have the very same big toe,

and that is enough for today.

Ms. Maya Angelou once said,  “Try to be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” 

Last night my oldest was my rainbow.

She also wrote,

When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. 
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. 
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. 
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.’

And so it is in mine.

 

On the run with Joe

This past weekend I had the pleasure (and pain) of running 7.25 miles with a local marathon training group. This was the second time I’d joined the group, and I’m likely to return, if for nothing else than to spend a few hours with one of the pacers, a guy named Joe* who introduced himself as an alcoholic, cocaine addict and three-pack-a-day smoker a few miles into the run.

Three packs. That’s like 60 cigarettes, right? It didn’t appear that we had much in common at first, but I shared back that my parents were smokers and I was very happy when they quit. He told me that he would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep without a couple of smokes.

I remembered how I couldn’t sleep without crying for a while first, not so many years ago.

Joe and his wife met in a drug treatment program. They each have 18 years of sobriety under their belts, and Joe insisted that tobacco was by far the most difficult vice to quit. He is 58 years old.

I quit drinking and drugging at 40, Joe said, matter of factly, as I ran by his side.

What do you say in response to a critical, personal, unexpected and heartfelt truth shared on the run?

My thoughts bubbled to the surface, yet remained unsaid. Thank you for telling me. Thank you for sharing your story. You are so much braver than me. In fact, you are one of the most amazing men I’ve met, even though I just met you twenty minutes ago. And your calves are kickass for a guy pushing 60, by the way.

Silently I wondered, How did you quit? Why did you start? And how fantastic is it that you met the love of your life (so described by Joe) who also is a recovering drug addict and an accomplished distance runner in her 50s? 

Nothing felt right.

Fortunately he just kept on talking and I kept on breathing and didn’t have to say much.

Later I reflected upon the truth that I am now 40 years old. And that Joe and I actually do have a lot in common.

I have not been as careful as I could be about what I consume and how I make decisions that impact my mind and body. I’m not an addict, at least not in the strictest sense. But I do find addictive behavior compelling, and have, for many years. It’s been said that bulimia and alcoholism are two sides of the same coin. Eating disorders are also often related to depression, a condition for which I have never been diagnosed, nor do I believe is something that I live with (fortunately). I did more than dabble in disordered eating, but that was more than fifteen years ago.

Today I almost do not recognize that young woman who was me, age 20, sometimes starving, sometimes stuffed, but you’re never completely able to leave who and how you once were.

Or are you?

I wondered more than once about chemical imbalance when I was unable to shake the sadness in the wake of my sister’s death. And I absolutely use wine and other mind-numbing hobbies (reading trashy novels, scrapbooking,  nail-biting) to shake off sadness sometimes.  I try to use better strategies, too (reading well-crafted, delightful novels, writing, running, long conversations with my incredible friends). But you know, sometimes you gotta do what works for you, and my life includes both good-for-you and less good-for-you coping mechanisms.

I never smoked cigarettes, but I understand their appeal.

Back to the run: this guy was telling me about a 50-miler trail race he finished in ten hours, and he claimed, I could have run ten more hours – it was that great!

He wasn’t bragging; he was happy. It was like running with a live over-sharer on Facebook. Weathered, but not withered, Joe was bright-eyed and unapologetically cheerful as he led us along the waterfront, across streets and beneath an early spring sun in Portland.

He described his first marathon in 2008 and how he started running at age 50. Today he is semi-retired, and he and his wife travel around running together. Over the next six weeks, they will complete three full marathons.

He went on: For years we just took and took and took. Saw how much we could take from others, on and on.

Shakes his head.

Now we just give back a little, just do what we can to make a small difference. My wife leads an annual retreat for recovering addicts. I lead a running group every week, every year. Not gonna stop. There’s a 70-something running community in Portland. I plan to be a part of it.

I can never give back as much as I took, but I can try, he said somewhat ruefully.

Are you kidding me?

He gave me something HUGE on Saturday, so much that I’m still mulling it over today. He gave me his story. His truth. While the part of the story I listened to was mostly the good stuff, he was honest about the fact that for 25 years, his life was tough and he struggled. The astonishing part is that he turned his life around. I don’t know how. I didn’t ask.

I’ll be out of town the next two Saturdays, but Joe told me that he’ll be looking for me at the group run on May 17th.

I’ll be there.

*Joe is not his real name.

runnerfamily

 

 

As my long-time readers are well aware, my sister’s death in the year 2005 paralyzed me in many ways. I was deeply sad, but I was also angry. I was angry that clocks kept ticking, and I resented people who kept being normal. They kept shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. They kept on saying good morning and wearing life is good T-shirts. They kept running, practicing yoga and smiling. They kept getting on planes and working and drinking and sleeping and eating. They did all sorts of things which I, in fact, used to do, too.

How dare they?

It was stunningly difficult to move forward, or on, or through it all, so I didn’t for a awhile. It’s been eight years, and I still find myself deeply grieving her, but I keep shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. I keep doing all sorts of stuff.

I wrote those words about a week ago, but I didn’t hit publish.

I’m not sure why loss was on my mind so much last week. It seems like a lot of people are dying unexpectedly, or earlier than they were intended to. When my sister died I crashed into a grief process that didn’t allow me to check back into life for a long time. Many people reached out bravely and warmly to comfort our family, but all I could think was they don’t understand. They don’t know. They can’t know. Others stumbled over their words, intending to offer condolences but instead made a mess of things. Sometimes the best intended words made me just laugh. The belief that my sister was now in a better place seemed (and seems) to me the most preposterous idea of all… you’d be surprised how often I heard those words, despite the truth that she was 28 years old and more alive than most of us.

You know what they say about good intentions. Well, it turns out that intent is often irrelevant. It flies in the face of truth. This is why people say they didn’t “mean” it when they use a vulgar expression or a shameful term… they don’t “intend” to hurt someone or enrage an entire community. But it happens, all too often.

The unreal thing about grief is that most of us do get through it, pretending to be normal while tending to both those who acknowledge our loss as well as those who ignore it. Practical tasks like eating and bathing may save us from drowning in the “sinking sand” of loss, as my youngest calls quicksand, and if we are lucky we are lifted up both by grace and by a profound strength that we never envisioned having or needing.

Death brings to mind the randomness of humanity, because I don’t think every thing happens for a reason. Depending on the circumstances into which we were born, we may eat, bathe, work, move, rest, want or learn – or do none of these things in a healthy way. Emotionally, too, life’s a bit of a crap shoot. Many of us hail from strong and supportive families, but many of us are also born into a dysfunctional mess, a recipe made up of mixed up relatives + complex life stuff. Add in hormones and aids I like to call mood-makers, and you’re bound to have issues.

[Sidenote: mood-makers may include but are not limited to the following: alcohol, running, sugar, caffeine, drugs, music, silence. I like to practice all of them, some more moderately so than others. What are your mood-makers?]

Last week I read about a woman who died unexpectedly at age 39, leaving behind three young children, her husband and countless friends.

Three days ago I was 39.

Now I am 40.

Rather than dreading another birthday, I am absolutely ready to take on another decade. My 30s were tough. And beautiful. And horrible. I was newly married when my sister was killed. My life, upended, changed for the worse. I didn’t know me anymore. I didn’t know my family – our dynamic of five changed abruptly to four, and we weren’t ready. I cried constantly, shook with fear, and doubted my place in the world.

Running helped. As much as I could get myself out the door, I used to go out for five and six and seven miles, meandering through the neighborhood and occasionally on a trail. If I hadn’t gone outside, I might never have left my room, that first year after my sister died.

[Sidenote: we adopted an energetic eight-week-old Lab puppy three months after her death. He was practically a service dog. Puppies don’t wait for you to feel better before they get a walk. Eight years later, he is a more mellow version of his puppy self and he brings me this incredible joy – his sweet big eyes are full of love and compassion. I highly recommend puppies as a remedy to sadness.]

To celebrate turning 40, I signed up to run 13.1 miles with a close friend. I hadn’t trained adequately, but the race was flat and scenic. Incredibly, it didn’t start raining until ten minutes after I’d finished. Around mile 10 my body was pretty much done, and my phantom broken toe was burning (stupid faux injury that I can’t seem to get rid of), but I kept going. The final mile hurt, and so I lifted my thoughts to those spirits who could help: my sister, my grandfather, my friend Dominguin. I asked them to be my angel wings.

I ran for my sister, silently, because she is gone and yet not gone.

I also ran for the woman who is lying in a hospital bed right now fighting for her life after being hit by an SUV while riding her bike.  She is a family friend, runner and cyclist. She is broken, but she is healing.

I ran for me.

Within us we all have this enormous power to heal.

Slowly and painfully the final mile ticked by, and it was over. I could stop running. A kind volunteer handed me this medal.

angelwings

Angel wings.

I started to cry.

So life goes on. I am 40, and I am ready for another full (and fulfilling) decade, or at least just enjoy today, and I feel good about that. I’ve got much to look forward to, plus an incredible family, a wonderful new job, amazing friends and a home in a beautiful part of the world. I went home after the run to party with my boys. 

birthdaycard

I don’t know exactly where my path will lead over the next ten years (or even tomorrow), but I sure plan to be on the trail.

In gratitude.

trail

it’s my party, i can cry if i want to

A book and a spade

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero was a Roman philosopher and writer who lived about one hundred years before the birth of Christ. I came across his words quite by accident and found they were exactly what I needed today. My boys spent time digging in the empty garden beds this afternoon, turning the soil, unknowingly preparing the beds under a bright sun and beneath a gentle breeze. We are several weeks away from putting anything into the earth, but the faux-spring day gave way to dreams of fragile pea shoots, tiny tomato plants and snips of fragile green stretching toward the sun. 

Our past several garden projects have provided the complement to most summer meals rather than grounded them. Perhaps this year we’ll change that by designing the meals to highlight the fruits and vegetables of our labor. While I’m not a naturally adept gardener, the climate here is magic in its capacity to bring seeds to life with minimal effort. Also, I like this: 

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. 

~ May Sarton

Ms. Sarton was speaking of gardening through grief. 

When Cicero was 61 years old, his daughter died shortly after giving birth to his grandson. He wrote, 

I have lost the one thing that bound me to life.

Later, he claimed to have read everything that Greek philosophers had written about overcoming grief, and decided that his sorrow defeats all consolation.

This man, who lived so long ago, knew what one continues to learn through the journey of grief today – that one doesn’t typically overcome grief; instead our heart is modified so that unwelcome loss is tucked inside its strong and hollow fist of muscle. 

As for a library, our house seems rather bare since we tucked hundreds of books into boxes a few months ago in preparation for our non-move. I’ve recreated two shelves of children’s books in the boys’ room, ordering them by age and interest.. superheroes, Dr. Seuss, fairy tales, sea creatures, and ninja tales. 

This week we’ve been reading Max’s Dragon by Kate Banks and Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. Both are finds from our local library. Our youngest likes reading about a “different Max” and is tickled by the images of the naked child floating dreamlike through a magical kitchen in which great cakes are mixed and baked. We are big fans of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and In the Night Kitchen has quickly become a favorite with its strange words and make believe images. I learned recently that this particular book was ranked 25th on the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.

This makes me like it even more. 

I am never without a book. I read the good stuff and the not so good. It may not be scholarly literature, and it may occasionally qualify as trash, but even trash has a story. I also believe that writing has healing powers. I write here, and on scraps of paper I find at the bottom of my purse. Sometimes I text myself ideas before I fall asleep. Words, mainly, or a simple phrase. I do this to help me remember. Sometime it works but more often I am puzzled by the piece of a mysterious puzzle. I dream, but I struggle to remember my own version of the Night Kitchen… me, wandering nonsensically through time and space, not quite understanding where or why.

So… a library and a garden. I am in continual awe of the variety and richness of Portland gardens. Created in backyards, strips of earth along the side of homes, and in between the house and the road, they are tangles of green and gold, gifting us with their vivid hues of orange and red. Ripe tomatoes hang ruby-like and full, best tasted warm, unwashed, dirt brushed off by expectant fingers.

Right now our beds sit empty, void of life and yet in my children’s focused turning of the soil today there is something of a future there… we will have our garden.

I have my library.

Sometimes there is so much life in my life.

 Image