Past, Present, Future

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Tonight the first real snowfall of the season has begun.  It is a quiet entry; no wind nor rain-just the  hush of  a blanket coating the gray and brown earth. The rush and rumble of the Christmas holiday is winding down a bit, although my finance’ and I still have one more visit to make before  New Year’s day.

I love this time of year if only for the fact that it breaks the routine of daily work and other obligations. And even if you have to work, it never feels like a Monday or Friday and if it does, it probably is a Wednesday! My small house usually feels smaller if only for the tree in the living and study area. Add presents and family and we are squeezed; we are having trouble at times locating our gloves and hats! But I would not trade it for the world. The bedrooms are filled with sleeping people and their gear, my oldest has taken up residence on the pull- out couch in the basement and his girlfriend is camping on the living room couch when she visits.

I am especially mindful this Christmas. So many of the events and activities seem to be  a blend of holidays past, the present and what has yet  to come.  When the boys were young, I always felt the rush of Christmas; it was an exhausting process of gift buying and wrapping, purchasing and preparing the five course meal and entertaining family. I definitely  felt like a one woman show. Now, of course, my sons are older and I am no longer obligated to pull out all the stops for the day. In fact, Christmas has more of a community feel to it.  There was much conversation between the boys, their girlfriends and myself regarding gifts and plans for getting together with one another.  I knew that this year would be different from the  last simply because of the fact that they are in relationships. Making it all work would be a challenge and it certainly hit a glitch or two. Lesson learned by my youngest: you can’t make everyone happy!

If it wasn’t for the  significant change in our life years ago, I really do believe that we would not be experiencing the deep love and caring from the friends and family in our lives right now.  Christmas Eve’s Feast of the Seven Fishes is one example. It is hosted by my oldest son’s girlfriend’s family and I appreciate it just for the fact that it was one of my late mother’s childhood traditions. Stepping into the door of Carolyn and Fred’s home is like visiting my mother’s family. Yet, it is more than that. Those whom we met last year remembered us (and asked after my youngest immediately). We had delicious homemade food and meaningful conversations tinged with laughter. It was a joy to be there!

Of course, we went to the late service for church to sing carols and light the candles (the glitch happened just before, but all is forgiven!).  Part of the reason I like it so much is that the young people attend. It is like a reunion for my sons as well as myself since I have spent some time with most of them.  It feels good to wish everyone a “Merry Christmas” on this night. We get to bed in the wee hours of Christmas morning and waking up a few hours later is always interesting. I like that “fatigued” feel as the boys stumble down the stairs to greet their stockings first. Christmas breakfast this year was bacon and challah french toast with real maple syrup. No rushing, as dinner at Emily’s was in the late afternoon. We would part ways here as my youngest was having dinner with his girlfriend’s family.

And Emily-what can I say about Emily?  Do you remember when I talked of my gift to her in my last post?  It turns out that she purchased the same one for me! I had thought she would not have time to read my story given her busy holiday preparations. Wrong! We had a good laugh and of course confirmed our close connection with one another. Dinner and conversation were a redux of Christmas Eve- a warm and wonderful day; you could not ask for more.  My oldest and I ended our evening with our annual viewing of  the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”- the perfect metaphor and reminder that all you need is not out in the world but right in front of you.

I caught a glimpse of my future when my finance’ arrived with has daughter the day after Christmas.  This year was to be the first  that we all shared under one roof. I found myself digging out old recipes that I hadn’t made in years in anticipation of the time we would be sharing meals together. It felt good to revisit this part of my life. I made a huge meal on the 27th as seven of us would be breaking bread and opening presents together. When the boys, their girlfriends, my future stepdaughter, my finance’ and I sat down, I knew that  I was sharing this time with my family. It was positive and energizing-never draining.  Meal preparation and cleanup were a team effort-such a difference from years past.

The next night found the two of us back at Emily’s for a couples dinner with two of my other close friends.  Champagne was shared in celebration of our engagement.  The “kids” spent the evening together sharing pizza and visiting the local zoo to look at Christmas lights.

And today found us back with family-my fiance’s sister and her brood. Once again, I realized that this was to be my family too! More gifts and one unexpected one-a print of our choice for the time we would be sharing a home together. Incredible!

Tomorrow we end our week with a birthday celebration for my oldest son who was born on New Year’s Eve. He is the reason that I like the holiday as much as I do now. A child born with minutes to spare in the old year under the light of a blue moon! Very special indeed.

No matter the struggles, I am glad for the past, mindful of the present and hopeful for the future. I have all that I need right in front of me.

The Day Before the Day Before

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on this earth. ~from “Last Fragment” by Raymond Carver

So here I am today, the eve of Christmas Eve, with one last present to wrap. It is a gift for my “soul sister”, Emily, and I cannot wait to give it to her.  It is a small book by Anne Lamott aptly titled, “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers”. When I heard Anne interviewed recently about the book, I knew immediately that I would be giving it to my friend as her Christmas gift. After church this morning, I went home intent on finishing the last of the gifts. Of course, I was quickly distracted by the book and I sat on my   bed to peruse it! I happened upon a few pages that I feel were quite timely for the season and certainly befitting of my current positive state of mind. One particular sentence struck a chord for me: “Amazing things appear in our lives, almost out of nowhere-landscapes, seascapes, forgiveness-and they keep happening; so many vistas and so much healing to give thanks for.”

This year more than any other in my recent memory, has been a year of miracles.  It began with the return home of my youngest son. He had been living for the better part of his high school years with his father. This was something that was both painful for me and necessary for him at the time.  It afforded him the opportunity to get to know his father on his own terms and to be educated at a high quality technical high school in that district. This is not to say that I did not see my son. We adhered to a schedule of regular time together but it was not the same as it had been for the first 14 years of his life. I had to have faith that the foundation of values that I had laid were enough to keep him on a fairly straight path as he navigated his way through his teenage years without me there full time.  In some weird way, I now believe that while he was breaking free of his attachment to me, he was at the same time maintaining his loving connection. There are too many instances and examples of the latter to talk about here; but suffice it to say that each time he needed advice or a good conversation, he called me. By the time the early part of this year had rolled around,  I was not surprised to get the phone call that he was moving home.

Our new time together began with healing for him. The last year of living with his dad had been one of high stress, neglect and emotional abuse. He came to me thinner than he should have been and in need of strong TLC. We talked and talked and I fed and fed him. He saw his therapist. He lost a job and got a better one. He started dating a young lady who appreciates him. He got regrouped and relaunched. And best of all, he has matured greatly. The other day, when I was sharing a quick meal with him and his girlfriend,  I said how proud I was of his growth this year but I did not want to take the credit for it. And my son, being my son, turned to me and said, “No mom, you deserve a lot of the credit.”

I have also observed my oldest son grow even more mature this past year. I see him now as a young man who feels less responsible for protecting me and being a role model for his brother and more tune into his own  needs. He has come into a different level of independence. And lately, he has been making authentic moral choices that most of us might balk at given the situation or the person involved (especially when that person is ethically challenged).  This is nothing but a positive sign post for his future as a true and whole man.

And what would this year be without the continued and steadfast love of my sweetheart? He is my third miracle, my landscape of a respectful and loving commitment brought to me through the love of my mother.

For me Christmas is not so much about the gift giving-although I love that too! It really is a means for us to be freely generous with our hearts and souls. In this season we remember and reminisce about those we have loved and lost and understand that they are still with us.  It is a way for all of us to come together and express our love for one another.

May the blessings of the season with all its revelry and challenges be with you this year. May you find love and peace within yourself so that you, too, feel as beloved as I do.

Wounded Hearts

Second Day of Mourning

The second day of mourning is always grey,

When the grandeur of elaborate pain

Fades into a comprehensible dawn.

The asthmatic morning laboured to wheeze a few

Competent breaths to last from bus to school.

A grim visage canopies a lurching heart that still stumbles

In the quicksilver and endless corridors of remembering.

Mourning seems such a vain thing.

It cries aloud to be seen, solicits pity with

Conscious tears and wanton dysphoria,

Damns an implosion with a paradoxical front.

Trudging up the overhead bridge that prevent dented fenders

And stubborn bloodstains on the roads,

The sweaty morning clings onto my skin and sorrow

Weighing with the symbolism of exertion.

Gaston Ng

This post will be brief for there are no words that can aptly express the sense of  grief and shock regarding the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The pain is real. For those of us who are parents, it is not too hard to imagine what it would be like to lose your child in such a violent and unexpected way. Our children are gifts that we give to ourselves. When they are taken from us, a big part of us goes with them.

Let us all hope and pray that this brutal incident will lead to a seismic shift in our culture and its glorification of violence. Too many lives have been  lost and we need to find ways to prevent carnage like this from happening again. Turn off your television,your computer, your cellphone. Throw out those video games, call your Senator and Representative so that common sense changes to our gun laws can be made. Spend time with your children. Read books together. Go for a walks. Play. Stay connected and pay attention to one another. Twenty-four people per day are victims of gunshot violence. There have been sixty-two incidences of mass killings in this country since 1982. It is time for all of us to start demanding a change.

The Gift of Darkness

Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter’s evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day. ~ Virginia Woolf

Well, it happened again last night. We lost power and were once again plunged into blackness. As if it were not already dark enough.  This time of year is challenging for those of us who live in northern climates. The days are hopelessly short and mostly gray. The sun-when it does come out-barely lasts a few hours. On Sundays, I have the opportunity to run later in the morning-about 8am. I look forward to running in the daylight.  I was particularly excited yesterday morning to see the sun come out.  But it did not last long at all. I ran for 75 minutes and then it disappeared about halfway through my jaunt. Oh well, steel-gray it is. I like to call this time of year Solstice Time.  By the time we turn back the clocks in November, Mother Earth has already begun to shift its axis. As Thanksgiving arrives, one can almost feel darkness’ descent upon us. We begin our seasonal hibernation. We become ensconced in our homes- cut off from the world-seeking the solace of “comfort food” and the steady stream of  television noise.

It is easy to lose sight (no pun intended) of what this time can give to us. In reality, the true darkness only lasts but a few weeks (at least where I live).  After the Winter Solstice, the days begin to get longer again if only in minute increments. I refuse to spend this short time complaining about the lack of light. Really, that would be wishing time away, and none of us can afford to do that.

So this season I am embracing the sunless world as best I can. As a runner, I need to pay close attention to the weather in order to plan my workouts efficiently. It is incredibly easy to roll over at 4:30 am and avoid dealing with the cold, black ice, or snow that may very well accompany the light less predawn hours. But once I take that first step-no honestly once I pass the first mile, who am I kidding(!!)-I have no regrets. The world is positively still.  Sometimes the moon is up and so, too, the stars (that is when it is really cold!).  I try to soak it all in as slowly, but surely the day begins to turn from a deep, deep black to a charcoal gray. Previous to this season, it seemed that a switch would suddenly turn on and it would be bright. No so now. The day is very monochromatic-gray, gray skies and black skeleton like trees. There is something starkly beautiful about the landscape.

I have noticed also that people seem to dress much like Mother Nature looks. It is as if we are all in a state of mourning! And while I do have my share of black in my wardrobe (it is slimming), this year things are very different. Purples, pinks  and outrageously deep tie-dye colors abound! No black winter jackets either. Red fleece, light blue, raspberry and plum are where it’s at. Plus my multicolored polka dot gloves! I like to the think my fashion sense stands in sharp contrast to the  dullness around me.

I want my new found attitude to be a foil for the moods of those around me. And I want it to be contagious! Getting out into the unlit day changes your very being. Your thoughts slow down; you become more observant (watch out for wildlife!) and even more prayerful.  I don’t even think of the day ahead of me. I let myself be in the moment- thinking of others during this time and send out my good intentions to them. And while I am in my moving mediation,  I am turning inward too; contemplating my place in the world and hoping that I am making it better somehow.

Lesson learned from last night (when the lights eventually came back on): the darkness never lasts forever as much as we worry that it will.

Romance for a Lifetime

Until tonight
my heart was just half full
I’d never known the fruit which fed the soul
but now I see what may put to rest my longing
for I have seen, the face of love
the grace of God, the face of love ~Jewel

“Don’t be afraid to ask for your wildest prayers.” Elizabeth-one of the yoga instructors at my studio- made this statement during a class some months ago.  It may even have been a year ago. No matter though.  It hit me hard in a good way. Many of us who struggle for long periods of time forget to ask for things beyond just getting through the day,the month or even the year. Of course, this kind of mindfulness matters.  At times of intense adversity, it really is important to stay focused on the task at hand. Conversely, one runs the risk of not thinking of the future and the good things that inevitably will come.

A wild prayer can be  a life prayer. At the time that I heard it from Elizabeth, I had not realized on a conscious level that I had been already begun the process of appealing for my wildest dreams. Five years ago, I felt unworthy of love and commitment. It was a perfectly normal feeling at the time-having been left after 18 years of marriage for “greener pastures”.  For Christmas that year, my oldest son had given me a beautiful purse. Inside were three music cds of artists he knew I loved to listen to. I would play the music endlessly as its lyrics and tunes resonated with my emotions at the time. Some of the songs spoke of love and commitment and I remember thinking: “Someday a better man is going to love me as I deserved to be loved.”

That thought went out into the universe as I went about my daily business of dismantling the marriage and simultaneously trying to hold myself and my sons together. Fast forward to eight months later as my sons and I are enjoying a week’s respite with my folks on the west coast of Florida. My parents flew the three of us down as we had just concluded a small celebration. In exchange for them being unable to attend, we got a treat of fun and sun with family and friends.

At the time, I had no idea that the trip would be the vehicle that would ultimately change my life for the better.  While my sons and I were enjoying a post race party and swim, I noticed a man wearing my local city’s baseball cap and shirt. I asked where he was from and he told me that he grew up some fifty miles from where I lived. He climbed into the pool next to me and the conversation didn’t end until two and half hours later! That evening, my mother asked me what I thought of him. I said that he was very nice-he certainly seemed to be a dedicated father and a spiritually grounded man. She, of course, went further in singing his praises (my parents had known him for a year and he was a member of their running club). I told her, however, that it could never work due to the long distance (1400 miles) and the fact that I wasn’t ready. She simply replied, “You never know.”

Of course, my mother was right!  Months went by and we corresponded by email and eventually by phone. For me it felt safe and easy. Then Thanksgiving arrived and he was due for a visit to his sister’s.  He asked if we could get together that weekend and I agreed.  We spent the day hiking, walking the beach and dining on Thai food. We ended our day at a local soap store where I commented to the owner that I was a “lavender chick”. When he took me home late that night, he presented me with a bar of lavender soap. I remember thinking: “Here’s a guy who pays attention!”

Looking back, it was then and there that my wildest prayers were beginning to be answered. Since then, we have managed to form a loving and everlasting bond that has stood the test of time,distance and many trials and tribulations. Additionally, we have spent time with each others children and have developed healthy relationships with them. I feel like his love for me has been heaven sent. After the trauma of an unhealthy marriage, I now realize and appreciate what it is like to be loved and respected as an individual.

This weekend we returned to the place where it all began. On a cold, snowy, late morning with Christmas in the air, he bought me a ring.  My heart felt full as he placed it on my finger declaring- in his own quiet way- his love for me. For the first time in forever, I feel utterly content and blessed with God’s amazing grace.  Elizabeth was right- your wildest prayers can come true!