Trips Around the Sun

Time reveals a lot, it shows us how where we thought we were going and where we end up can be blessedly out of synch, it tells us more about ourselves, and it also uncovers who really matters.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes with who I have chosen to trust, who I have doubted, and how much I’ve given. I wish I could say that it’s been an internal revelation or decision that has set me straight, that somehow I have had the instinct to ferret out the truth from the lies.  Nope. Good old fashioned before and after has done that, with a bit of help from forgotten texts and someone telling the truth.

There are things in my life I would take back—don’t walk out to that car, Amanda.

Don’t say yes to that request, Manda.

Sweet girl, don’t say what you are about to say.

Splinters.

I can’t go back. I can’t change the way things played out and I won’t change who I am. There are people I could track down and confront, there are apology letters that I could write. There are also people I’d like to spit in the face and kick in the shins.

 

 

I won’t spend my days worrying about what was and what isn’t. I won’t rehash another misconception, a group I don’t belong to, or a friendship that fell apart. There was a scene in the movie The Way Way Back when Sam Rockwell’s character sets a teenage boy straight about something cruel his mom’s boyfriend had said to him. It’s along the lines of, “That was never about you, that was about him.”

Somewhere between getting it all right and being completely wrong, there is an expanse where you let go of the people who were never true and you actively hold tight to who and what matters.

For me it is family, the traditional kind and the serendipitous, unpredictable band of kindreds we collect along the way.

A year ago.

From the Lake’s Howls Come Spring

 

 

The first time I heard the lake moan I didn’t know what I was hearing, I imagined a pack of wolves high on the ridge keening. It sounded at once mournful and foreboding. The 9-year-old me pressing hard against 42-year-old me, was all nerves and excitement, “Is it howling?”

“It’s the lake,” Sean said with a smile. “Isn’t that wild?”

“The lake? The lake is making that sound?”

He nodded and held his hand out to me. We walked out on the porch, “Listen.”

I turned my body and tilted my ear toward the lake. The sound started on the far side of the lake as a kind of warble that bled into a groan which went on for a full minute. I looked out thinking that the sounds would come from visible motion, but all was still.

The trees towered, weak moonlight filtered through casting shadows on the frozen surface of the lake. My eyes tried to track the sounds, but the night swallowed the source, leaving the noise to bounce off the mountain. Sean’s hand touched my back and I felt small. We walked back up to the house as the lake continued its song.

Later as I listened through the tiny windows near the floor of our room the sounds made the distance between our bed and the lake expand and contract.

I am there, out on the lake with my face leaning into the wind, the cold so fierce it feels as if it is splitting my skin open. Tears spring from the corners of my eyes. I can feel the uncertainty in my feet, will the ice hold me? Beneath the blanket Sean gave me, with its purple-grey wool like massive braids, I feel safe, tucked far away from the lake, high up on the hill.

Groans and cracks, splinter the quiet inside and out; the sounds become a part of us, another member of our pack. We all listen, welcoming the layers of awakening from the lake. As winter continues to wane the sounds shifted, their pacing changed from long and drawn out to energetic and almost playful. We follow suit, the tightness of winter loosening and our eagerness to reach movement and light bubble up.

We hold a reverence for the seasons and what each holds, but it is time to move as water, toward light and newness, through shallows and deeps, and into the promise that time moves through death and rebirth.

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer for King

I worshipped my grandfather. At first it was the way he looked at me with unabashed delight, later it was for the way his skin creased like a blanket, and whiskers grew, but never hurt my face when he kissed me. Later still it was the careful consideration he gave any topic I asked about—homosexuality, abortion, racism. He listened to me in ways that other adults didn’t. He sent me sermons and passages from scripture, offering religion-based support for my positions or, if not that, then examples of how the Bible did not support the opposing view.

Several times a year I search his name, sometimes with a key word, other times not. I take solace in knowing that so much of his teaching and writing is still relevant today. I miss him less and more each time. Discovering this prayer for Martin Luther King was no different. Today I offer it as so many are remembering great man even as we wonder how we haven’t come farther since he worked so tirelessly and fearlessly.

 

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More than 2000 people walked in the March of Sorrow in memory of King.

 

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Dr. King had preached at Stanford, his last time having been on April 14th, 1967, when he said that black power and riots may be the results of the much-discussed “white backlash” instead of its cause. Riots, he said, are the “language of the unheard.”

Prayer For King

(The following is the prayer offered by B. Davie Napier, dean of the chapel, at the noon memorial service and at the end of the march up University.)

Eternal God, Lord of life and death, to whom black and white are alike, to whom man is man. … we confess that the words of conventional piety escape us now, that we cannot honestly say, except in irony, Thou hast given, take thou away; blessed be thy name. We protest with they servants of old, Jeremiah and Job and Habakkuk, that thou hast engaged us in an unequal contest, and thou, Giver and Taker, hast prevailed. But we protest in thy presence, and in thy hearing, and with such faith as in thy grace thou givest us.

If we are outraged, or cynical or bitter in our loss, or frightened, or in despair, we are nevertheless grateful to thee, the author of life, that Martin Luther King was; that as long as we who admired him, loved him, believed in him, rejoiced in him— as long as we live, he is; and that indeed, in his own faith and that of many of us here, he may yet be, in thee, in thy life, in thy love.

We who are white acknowledge in shame our white apathy, brutality, arrogance, or indifference that makes us all participants in his death. At the same time, we acknowledge thy great goodness in this finished life, magnificently and courageously lived and now without bitterness surrendered. We thank thee for thy servant Martin. We thank thee for thy gift of his life, for all the short time in our years that he gave to all of us his own gifts of counsel and strength and unparalleled compassion. We commend to thy compassion his family and all those bound closely and intimately to him in love. For Martin Luther King, now taken from us all, we give thee thanks.

Daily photo by Roke Whitson A PRAYER — B. Davie Napier prayed the prayer above over a bull-horn at the end of the two-mile march up University Avenue which ended on the lawn in front of the Quad. •Joel Smith, dean of students, (left) was one of several University administrators who met the marchers.

 

*Large passages of this post are republished from The Stanford Daily, Volume 153, Issue 36, April 8th, 1968.

On Losing a Pet & Loving Again

I didn’t know when, or how, but I knew the day would come when the need to fill the hole left by Mae, our amazing kittenThe girls are sensitive and intelligent, often comprehending things in ways that I almost wish that they wouldn’t at their age. Along with the dolls and karate classes, I wish that I could offer some measure of oblivion to pad their all too brief childhoods. Mae’s death blew the doors off the idea of having anything more than a suggestion in the grand scheme of how life goes. I tried to do things in the days and weeks that followed her  abrupt passing to carve out special time to try new things with the girls.

As we passed the year mark of when we brought Mae home, the girls began to make little noises. It began with wistful sighs of, “I wish we hadn’t lost her. I just don’t understand why she had to die.” Sometimes in joyful moments someone would say, “Maybe we could get a kitten, another family member like Mae.” They would drift off, I’m not sure if it was for my response or their own sense that maybe it was too soon.

Then one day it began to get stronger, the cries at bedtime, “I still don’t get it. I went to bed and she was alive, she was fine. Then I was waking up and having to tell her goodbye. Why, mom?”

I said that I didn’t know. They were ravenous for a reason and if not a reason, then details. I told them how she died in my hand as I drove her to the vet. I explained that I hadn’t thought that she would die, that I asked them to say goodbye just in case, which is true. I explained that she knew with utter certainty that she was loved. “I talked to her the whole way to the vet girls. I kept telling her that it would be ok.”

What I can’t tell them is that her face in my hand as she drew her last tiny breath felt like the greatest failure. “It’s ok Mae, it’s ok. I love you. Mama’s gonna fix it,” but I couldn’t. I didn’t. I had to stand in that vet’s office holding the carrier with my lifeless cat. ‘Help me’ I screamed in my head.

Why didn’t I leave sooner? Why wasn’t I panicking earlier? Why won’t anyone help me?

“Honey, I can’t ever understand why she died the way that she did. I miss her every minute of the day, but you know what?” They look at me with eyes the color of heartbreak. “She loved every single minute that she was with us. She loved riding in the carriage, she loved cuddling in the stuffed animals. Oh, and the tuna fish water in the morning, she felt like she was getting a packed lunch too. And now, she is out in the backyard, right near the flowers, between the fort and where you play lacrosse with dad. She can see the house and we can see her from our windows.” That was when I’d crack. I didn’t go into it thinking that I’d love her that much, or that they would love her that much. I thought that the kitten that they talked me into in the parking lot of a Lowes would just be a pet.

I was so very wrong. About three weeks ago they girls began the full court press. All three of them working together, a chorus of, “Mom, can we get a kitten?” followed by writing on their chalk boards, “Please, shooting star, can we get a kitten?” When none of these things seemed to make a difference, they asked me one morning if they had permission to burn letters to Santa. “We just need you to see them first, Mom. And, you know, to watch us with the fire.”

My chest tightened. Wishes for a kitten and a hint of them knowing someone needs to see the letters before they go to Santa. It was too much.

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We tentatively visited a rescue. We met a kitten. Adorable and sweet, surpassing anything we had deemed necessary. She was cute, but inside I felt nothing. I talked with Sean and explained that I wasn’t ready. Deep down I knew, remembering how it was that we came to have Mae, it was their timeline, their pushing that created the opportunity to meet Mae. I tried to consider the kitten, but it felt wrong.

Everyone dropped it, until Sunday on our way to the store Briar said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a kitten?” I made a face and kept walking. When we got to the mall, Sean and Briar set out in search of something we needed for the office. They stumbled upon an adoption center set up near the fountain. They came back with pamphlets and breathless accounts of “so many kittens!”I rolled me eyes.

We were halfway home, Briar was in the back seat crying, the little girls were silent. Sean sat next to me, not moving, but radiating something. I clenched my teeth and felt my nostrils sting as the tears came. Mae. I looked at the passenger seat, where she’d been, but she wasn’t there. She wasn’t coming back, the space she left in our hearts was increasingly demanding to be filled.

Sean watched me. I was silent, stewing. I heard a whimper int he backseat.

“When do they leave?” I asked.

“2,” he said softly. The clock read 1:48. We were at least ten minutes away. It was impossible. I was so frustrated, desperate to heal the hurt in my family, but terrified of opening myself up again. I held my breath as I drove as fast as seemed safe. I didn’t know if I could take it if they were gone, I had no idea what I’d do if they weren’t.

“Whatever’s supposed to happen will,” I murmured to Sean. He and the girls were silent. The kitten was there.

And meant to be.

Which is why tonight, with a strangle tickle in my left ear, I am writing a post about kittens. Yes, kittens. We rescued two siblings, a male and a female. My heart is achy, but open. The girls are over the moon, Beso too.

Meet Pippin and Luna.

 

 

HerStories—Leaving & Losing Friends

IMG_7865I remember a friendship break-up from my childhood. We met in the late 70s when my family moved onto a dead-end street. We were the only girls on the block and became fast friends. We enjoyed a fairly long leash that allowed for hours of playing outside. We did it all, from pretending we were roller-skating gymnasts to racing super balls in the gutters with Star War figurines tied to twig rafts. It was in seventh grade that things began to fall apart—new friends, different interests. I was a late bloomer, though I didn’t know it then. As the era of boys standing in corners and girls fluttering back and forth in front of them descended, I lingered near the black top courts during recess, clinging to the time when we all played together,

We had a fight in eighth grade, though I can’t recall exactly what it was about. I painstakingly wrote the lyrics to Elton John’s Your Song in pencil on notebook paper. I may have even recorded it on cassette from the pop station and labeled the tape something pithy. In any case, she was unmoved by my overture. She was in many ways like a first love, the only person that I really I believed was my best friend.

Over the years I’ve had other friendships, but I’ve never again reached that level of wanting a friendship back. Maybe because through her I realized that friendships aren’t promised to last forever. There have been other friends, women I’ve wished to connect with in the way that so many people talk about, but it’s hollow. I know now that there are things about me that make friendship unlikely and I’m ok with that.

When I was asked to review this book, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends, I wondered if I was qualified. I have online friends, women that I confide in and trust, that I think of when I am hurting, but real friends? Genuine, in-person friends? Not many that fit into the traditional mold (although I have an unexpected friendship realization I’ll be writing about soon.) I decided to sidestep my fear and give it a try, maybe the subject matter would shed light on why friendships can be so hard.

I have to tell you that it was nothing short of revelatory to read the stories in this book. I suppose I’ve had this very juvenile idea that women, normal women, share certain traits that I lack. Then I began reading unflinching stories of lost friendships. I think we all believe, no matter what the unspoken terms of a friendship may be, that we will be protected, that in the moment of conflict our friends will leap to our sides, blind to anything but the need to enforce our alliance. Arnbeya Herndon reveals how it felt to be left undefended. She does so with surprising humor, but you also realize that a heart is breaking. Her story, barely five pages in all, is incredibly powerful. I found myself rooting for her, but also being grateful for the reminder that there are circumstances that reveal character, not always for the better.

The other stories are equally unfettered by happy endings or saccharine editing. I was grateful to ride the emotion and wisdom of stories that owned responsibility, revealed life-long hurt, and acknowledged that relationships are hard work endured by imperfect and lovable people.

After reading it, the soft covers worn and curled by my flipping back and forth from Alexandra Rosa’s story of the friendship that never was and Alison Lee’s story of finding her way back to a friend, and so many other richly unafraid voices, I feel a sense of calm. None of us have it all figured out, though we all share an almost irrepressible hope for connecting and being cherished.

You may not have a specific ex story that comes to mind, but I bet in reading this book you’ll find shades of your own story and maybe, just maybe a mix of forgiveness and hope will take root. The ending feels much more like a beginning, with Katrina Anne Willis saying, “I choose the other side, where love and forgiveness abound. And most importantly, even when someone else might not, I choose me.”

My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friendships is available here. I will be lending my copy to a friend of mine, but I encourage you to buy a copy. I am delighted to say that Jessica Smock, one of the editors of the book, is from Upstate New York.

Because I believe in giving books as gifts, I would also like to give away a copy of the book. Please leave a comment, it can be a relationship story or something else. I will announce Sunday who is the lucky winner.

 

 UPDATED:

 

Sara, Stephanie, and Julie you are winners. Please let me know if you’d like Kindle versions or paperbacks. Janet, I will lend you my copy after Ashley is finished reading it. 🙂

 

Thank you to everyone for your stories, they were amazing to hear.