In a moment of frivolity Erika and I had a beauty contest at the Airbnb. I conceded with the first picture! I’m the latter half of Beauty And The Beast. Fine with me…
In a moment of frivolity Erika and I had a beauty contest at the Airbnb. I conceded with the first picture! I’m the latter half of Beauty And The Beast. Fine with me…
Noun: A word that describes the feeling that something is about to go miraculously well or so terribly wrong that it might scar you forever.
You can’t step away from the moment, nor would you want to.
Whatever happens, you know it is inevitable, necessary, and life-changing.
You’ll either be fulfilled or left vacantly discontented.
There are words that approximate the feeling, but none capture the personal essence of that infinite certainty that what is about to happen will be a liquid miracle or massive catastrophe. A liquid miracle is one that seeps into everything in your life and finds its way into everything about you: love, an epiphany, the motivation to suddenly just “do” the thing that you couldn’t do before.
The risk of love, the birth of a child, surgery, or the moment when all your reasoning collapses and your course of action becomes a decision rendered as involuntary action and certainty. It is a surrender to the idea that you don’t have control of the outcome.
You’ll be changed forever.
You want it and fear it.
Because our language is entirely invented and arbitrary, I have as much ability to create new words as anyone. Words are what we say they are, just as love and happiness are. I’ve always been fascinated by words and language – and especially the absence of any controlling factor to create and use them. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows made me realize just how ridiculous our defense of grammar and etymology is. I will put a link in the comments to a TED talk by the creator of that fascinating idea.
PS If you find yourself in a crux moment, one in which life will either reward or bash you for having the audacity, please remember that you might as well fall or jump into the opportunity. Ask.
“Life is exactly like wanting to go for a ride and jumping on a bicycle with square wheels.” – X
Every stone is a story. Of love, loss, regret, lessons, and acceptance.
I put one down, a singular stone, yesterday.
I placed it on a stem I bit off with my teeth.
Looking closely at the picture, you’ll see it handing in the branches. I took the picture when Erika and I walked the trail yesterday. Our walk went by the place that inspired my “¿” story from last Sunday. Pictures don’t capture how eerily overcast and beautifully the morning was. It was a stolen moment of warmth, falling leaves, and intimacy as our feet moved us along the path.
Fifteen years I carried that weight. I broke the watch purposefully all those years ago. A memento.
It’s on the trail now, maybe forever, maybe for a day.
It’s behind me now. Just as everything really is. I forgot I still had it. As I have with so many mementos lately, I wanted to release it and take back the power it once contained.
Everyone’s wounded in their own way. It’s easy to forget that because we feel like we have to conceal the hurt.
Because optimism is a consequence of love, the stone I left behind yesterday left my fingers easily. Erika stood behind me on the trail, watching me clumsily find my way closer to the abandoned trucks decomposing in the brush. After I walked back to the trail to meet her there and continue our lovely walk, I was happy.
Stones aren’t meant to be carried. They are meant to be measured, appreciated, and then left behind. If I had to carry all my accumulated stones, walking would be impossible, as unlikely as finding happiness if I were focused on my missteps.
Don’t forget your stones. Just don’t carry them.
Every stone in your pocket, in your heart, or in your head reduces your ability to siphon the good from whatever awaits you today.
PS I hadn’t heard the song “Stones” by Barbarossa until yesterday. I didn’t watch “HIMYM” like so many other people did. It got in my head to remind myself that every morning I get to decide whether to carry the stones or hurl them into the air – and away, where they belong.
Everything seems to boil down to memory.
The moments flicker past with ridiculous haste.
I remember standing outside, outrageously melancholic and glad to still be around to witness.
But ask me if I remember seeing it and feeling it?
I woke up with it in my heart this morning.
I’m grateful that deserving it or not plays no part in my world.
I’m not planning on dying. I penciled it in for 2034.
I’m planning on living.
It makes some people skittish when they observe a loved one or friend “suddenly” giving things away. Don’t be alarmed unless you turn your head as you read this and see someone wearing a unitard behind you. Unitards are universally recognized as sinister, much like the side-eye you get when you’ve annoyed someone just a tad past their irritation point.
I’ve never given away as deeply as this time. That’s true.
From ‘the nail’ to the hand-written Ecclesiastes, a Xmas ornament from my dad’s death, Grandma’s thimble, Grandma’s sewing box, a few special coffee cups, a lot of my artwork (I use the word liberally there), all but basically three of my books, and a slew of other things that had immense sentimental value. There were several practical things that were also beautiful that I rehomed and surprised people with.
The unique nail I attempted to send to my sister still hasn’t surfaced. It may never materialize. It’s easy to feel upset about it, given that it was my most special possession. To remind myself, I think about all the people in the world every day who lose everything – or the people most valuable to them. A nail is insignificant in comparison to such loss and absence. Erika gave me a really old unique nail from her house in Pennsylvania, a weird nail whose story is unknown. There’s a comfort in that, too. It sparks my imagination. That nail has borne witness to many decades, been held by strange fingers, and somehow found its way to me.
When I was mailing my Grandma’s old sewing box, it struck me that my nephew’s daughter is the great-great-granddaughter of Grandma Nellie. That boggles my mind, even though I have a decade+ of ancestry and genealogy experience.
My last remaining aunt isn’t doing well. She took over the mantle of matriarch many years ago, whether she wanted it or not. I love imagining that when she was about five, that she knew a couple of people still living who were born around 1837. All those intervening people had lives, homes, families, and keepsakes. Almost all of them have vanished through the waves of all those decades. No one alive really has living memories of them any longer. They are footnotes, pictures (if we’re lucky), and placeholders in our family trees.
One of the only ways I can appreciate this life is to share the things I hold most precious with other people. I wish I had millions of dollars to share. Some might pay off their houses, some might buy a new car, and some might even take that long-awaited trip to Poland. I hope my nephew appreciates my grandma’s sewing box. That box spans literal generations. I like to think I was just the custodian for it. Each time I took it out to sew, I couldn’t help but think of my Grandma patiently teaching me to thread a needle and do a stitch. Or of Grandpa telling her to stop harping on me about using a thimble. He was a tough man and knew I’d learn very quickly after a few sharp sticks with Grandma’s needles.
I know I’m different from most people. In many ways, I’m envious of people who have a treasure trove of things from their childhood. Birthday cards, letters, pictures, keepsakes, boxes and boxes of things they both love and dread. There is joy in looking through those things, no matter how nostalgic they might make you. People forget that I do very much appreciate the difference between having things for no reason and having them to revisit old moments and people. That some people still have those things has led to me reviving memories of my life that I didn’t recall. Sometimes, they opened new doors into my memories. I hope everyone with such a trove lets them breathe and takes them out from time to time.
Recently, Erika had to leave a mountain of her youth in her old house in Pennsylvania. A lot of it was taken from her without her consent during one of her cleanup trips. The people involved deserve some bad karma. One of the delights that emerged from it? The new owners of her childhood home have been sending her boxes and boxes of surprises left behind. They don’t have to do that. I’m sure they are fascinated by the range of things they’ve found. It’s been quite the treat to watch Erika opening boxes without knowing the depth and breadth of the things being returned to her. All could have been lost forever. Thanks to a good soul, she’s getting them back in waves and increments. It’s a bit of great karma to hopefully wash away the residue of the bad karma from before.
In my case, due to tornados, domestic violence, and burned-down houses, there was no way for me to have much from my childhood. Would I prefer to have a closet of such things? Yes! I don’t want anyone reading this to think differently. Almost all the pictures I have come from people sharing theirs. Just the privilege of sorting and reliving such things would be a cathartic experience for me. I’m a little jealous of everyone who has such an opportunity.
I love wild, colorful things. Not necessarily to possess them. It would be easy for me to fill my apartment with such things. To the rafters. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by beauty? The cliché response to this is that we are all surrounded by such beauty, both outside in the world around us, and inside the people we include in our intimate circles.
It’s still weird to me to be poor but yet still feel rich and lucky most of the time.
I’m still breathing, after all.
Take a moment and ensure that no unitard-wearing weirdo is in the room with you. Then, pause to think about whether all the things you own make you happy. If they do, you’re way ahead of the game. Likewise, if something you own and love would enrich someone else’s life, consider giving it away.
It’s all going somewhere.
The picture is of two of my aunts. Because of the resolution, I couldn’t enhance it or color it as it deserved.
PS Since I can’t write a post like this without repeating my favorite mantra: if you have pictures of friends and loved ones, share them while you’re breathing. Pictures are the best thing in the world, comparable even to the sensation you get when you feel happy and satisfied.
Every once in a while I erase the whiteboard in the kitchen and write the first thing that comes to mind. Today’s is a simple set of statements, but ones very hard to reconcile in the scheme of life. We often find ourselves looking back, thinking about the heydays and moments we were at the point we thought as best. With regrets, what~ifs, despondency. Hoping we may one day find those moments again.
What we need to take away from those minutes though is that the past is the past, and whether we think things were somehow better before we need to see the now with a fresh set of eyes and appreciation. There are lovely things, amazing seconds, right here and now.
We all have a “gilded” age full of sparkle and shine, it will always not be now. But if you can’t appreciate all the beauty of the day just now happening because of it… that is doing this one a disservice. There is so much to be grateful for right this moment, focusing on the past only causes you to gloss over it.
What is Is….”
In this day of phones, digital cameras & easy(easier) photography the world is full of portraits & life-changing memories artfully posed, beautiful for sure yet simpler to catch. Engagements, births, holidays, moments in time long ago not as spontaneous if caught on film.
Back in my childhood photos of the ilk were less common unless you sat in a photographer’s studio- not as accessible to the working folk. You snapped a pic, waiting for the roll of film to be finished, brought it in to be developed, and usually, you got an envelope full of crossed eyes, blurry shots, laughable seconds. Few and far between were photos remarkable.
While we were not the kind to sit in a studio for a portrait, have on the walls framed photos of our time vacationing or spending a holiday, this one moment in time my father took of me is as artfully placed to be one.
Summer, on my front porch, resplendent in my bathing suit ready for running through the sprinklers. That, as I recall, was quite a looked forward to part of any sun-shiny moment then. Playing with my Rubik’s Cube- must’ve been 1980 or so.
I don’t remember much of this day, but I do remember (hindsight, mind you- as a kid I couldn’t register this) my dad got this sort of inspired look on his face and asked me to sit on the steps, against the column of the porch, and try to solve it. So I did. And he took this picture.
No digital cameras, no immediate pics to edit. Just a simple photograph on a camera with film he had to wait to develop to see if it turned out.
I think of this as my “portrait” to this day. It was a good moment. I’m thankful for that second in time captured. I think it still resembles me, captures the person I am inside. Sometimes the spontaneous becomes immutable…
Only the person experiencing the feelings of loss at a person’s passing knows to what depth those feelings reach. Tendrils of connection are often invisible, incomprehensible, and unknowable. It’s important that we abandon the false expectation that we understand the loss someone else is processing.
There are no small deaths.
Even with my best arsenal of words and passion, I sometimes struggle to describe the nuances of another person and their importance accurately. That’s the best-case scenario even when I’m communicating with someone who shares a great deal of humanity. It’s a fool’s errand with those who lack a common understanding.
When a person commits suicide, it’s human to question all your choices, as well as your attention to the person who has left us. Even without the shadow of self-harm, we tend to experience a depth of introspection when we lose someone.
Whether it’s fair or not, suicide strikes us an accusation. We have to give space to those who need more time to find first gear again. Implying that the loss isn’t a reason to grieve is an unacceptable reaction.
Because of the invisibility of many of these connections, one of the most traitorous acts you can do is to doubt or question whether the relationship was real when another person is suffering from the unexpected rupture and loss. “Did you know him or her very well?” or “Were you ‘friend’ friends?” both serve to undermine and accentuate the pain of the other human being you’re inadvertently demeaning.
“Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot” is one of my favorite clichés precisely because it reminds me that I’m not privy to all the information contained in a situation or between people. I’ve committed the error of assuming I know. Worse, I’ve judged people based on what I perceive as only imagined depth. Because I’m human and stupid at times, I fear that I’ll do it again.
A typical example of callousness is when someone says, “It was only a dog” in reaction to someone’s disabling sorrow at losing a pet. Such shallow and meaningless comments only serve to highlight the accuser’s fractured self. We should feel compassion for them, as they’ve been deprived of a pleasure in life that they’ll never understand. It was indeed ‘only’ a dog. The greater truth is that a human being had a deep love for that dog. You’re not demeaning the dog; instead, you’re demeaning another human being’s choices and authentic feelings. From the right perspective, such an attitude is monstrous.
Likewise, when people are involved, the callous person can’t know the person they doubt shared a bond with you. The connection isn’t measurable. We can’t see the swell of your heart or the yearning you wish upon the Earth to have this person inhabit your space again. Grief makes even the best of people uncomfortable. As you learn with age, it also unhinges people who have no foundation to come to terms with the helpless sorrow they see from other people.
Perhaps the person who passed once took a moment and literally reached out to let you know that you were seen, measured, and appreciated. Whether you were indeed at your rock bottom, their outstretched hand and openness pulled you out of the abyss. These moments create a bond that’s difficult to inventory – and treasured forever. Because these moments are often private and held close, those left behind are often the only witness to their measure.
As people die, it’s important to remember that grief is terrible, personal, and unknowable. Each time we’re the one experiencing the loss, if we are lucky, we suddenly remember the lesson of connection.
Time, with its caress and embrace, imperceptibly diminishes our pain, even as it prepares us for the next dark surprise.
*…written for someone struggling with friends who don’t understand the loss…
When I was 15 I had a very emotional time. I was horribly sad. Enough so that I asked my parents to commit me. What I was going through seemed so insurmountable I could not fathom working through it. My parents did not ignore my plea. And for a month I was institutionalized.
It was almost like a twisted resort of sorts… I had a private room but a shared bathroom, I didn’t mind that. My days were scheduled for me. When meals occurred, when activities happened, etc.
When you arrived you were stripped of all boons. No music or pleasantries you were used to. This was before cellphones or internet. My makeup was taken away. One could break the mirror in a compact or the the glass a nail polish bottle was made of and use it as a weapon or device to cause pain. The bathroom mirror was a sheet of metal to allow us a way to see ourselves and ready for the day without being dangerous.
Walkmans were big then. Cassettes. We didn’t have cd’s at this point. They were a privilege. So any kid who checked in lost theirs until they earned it back. You did well you raised a level and got privileges.
For some odd reason…. they did not find mine when checking my luggage. They took everything else but… my Walkman was still there with one cassette in it.
What did I do when seeing so? I stood on my bed and lifted the ceiling tile. Put it above me. Every single night while I was there I would elevate, push my fingers and lift that tile. Pull that Walkman out and listen to Crosby Stills & Nash. I have no idea how they didn’t catch me but I am so thankful they didn’t.
This song, it played so much it has become a trigger for the memory.
I’m aware now, as an adult, that the world is a painful place even when usually comforting. Sadness… it is nothing more than an emotion we feel every day.
Nonetheless this song I wear close to my sleeve due to the memory shared.
The following is a social media post by one of the best personal essay writers I’ve encountered. This one was written without any idea it would be retransmitted elsewhere. I can only imagine how vivid the words would be if she didn’t write casually. The pictures are ones I made to help her see humor in her struggle to stop smoking.
I’ve been a smoker the majority of my life. I grew up in an era of it being perfectly acceptable. I can remember being 11 or 12 and walking to the rinky-dink gas station across Old York Rd and buying a pack for about a dollar. Smoking on the porch of the lunch commons at my high school. I actually remember smoking on an airplane!!!
My father was diagnosed with stage IIIB lung cancer in 1999 or 2000. I was living in Memphis at the time and probably smoked about 2 or 3 packs a day. This was when you could smoke just about everywhere still without stigma. I didn’t know what IIIB meant, had to look it up on the interweb I had on my Sega Dreamcast (ha!). Then I really got it, like a cinderblock to the face.
My dad asked me to quit and it was a no brainer. I stopped that very day. Was there ever a better reason? NO. I also chose to end my relationship at the time and haul ass home to care for him while he was sick. I spent the next 6 or so months by his side until he passed. And after stayed smoke-free for a good long time. Years.
One day I saw an old friend I hadn’t had the pleasure of hanging with for a long time. He smoked. I threw an ashtray on my table and said, “I’ll have one with you for old time’s sake.” Stupidest idea ever. It started me smoking again for another 15 years. I tried many times to quit. It never took.
I always said, “How will I find a better reason than the first time when my dad was told he was going to die and asked me to quit?” And anytime I tried to quit it seemed impossible. Nothing was enough to make it stick more than one day.
I hated smoking but loved it. I rationalized that it was one of the few vices I had that gave me momentary peace and comfort, but what a line of bullshit that was to simply give me an out to not try. I thought about quitting again all the time. No day was ever right, no reason ever great enough.
I was at the tail end of a work week. Got a fabulous new job a month or so before. Told myself when THAT happened it was my sign to quit but even then I couldn’t. Not a big enough reason to my psyche I guess lol.
Anyway, I was running low on smokes and had this crazy idea to just not buy any more when they ran out. I was already contemplating heading to the convenience store to get another pack when I realized it was Mother’s Day. Thought to myself, “let’s give mom a gift she will really appreciate and stop.” I’ll admit I wasn’t 100% sold but figured I would give it a try.
And shortly after was about out the door to replenish after weakening when I saw what the date was on my watch. It hit like a prize fighter’s knockout punch. It was also my late father’s birthday. Wow. What a crazy coincidence… or was it? I kept looking for a big enough reason to stop again and never could, but it was Mother’s Day and my dad’s birthday all at once. Could the stars align any better to tell me it was the day without being as tragic as the first time? No.
It has been 4 months. 4 months after 15 years of smoking since the 1st quit. 30+ years of smoking total. I haven’t caved once and while at times walking by someone smoking smells delicious (while also repulsive) I have no desire aside from Pavlovian urges brought on by ingrained routines.
It was so hard to quit for so long. And then a day presented itself. That’s really all it takes. Finding the day or reason that flips the switch. When that occurs it becomes the easiest thing imaginable.
If you want to smoke I don’t judge you. It was a vice I loved for a long time. As I said there was an age where it was par for the course. I hope for the people I know who still do and want to stop that they keep their eyes open for the perfect day, and I really want it to be bittersweet like my most recent, rather than tragic and traumatic like the first.