Monday, September 24, 2012

Letting Go

"The art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on."
Havelock Ellis

A note from ME: I am participating in a tele-retreat by Alana Sheeren. One of the exercises for last week was to "pick a book that inspires you, open it to any page, read a passage your eyes fall on until it feels complete. Spend some time journaling about what resonated with you."  

In general, unless I'm feeling contrary, I'm a rule follower of the highest order. I don't veer too far from the instructions. This time, however, I didn't have a book close by, so I relied on the computer.  Everywhere I went, the subject seemed to be about "broken-ness."  I shared some of my thoughts about feeling broken and the parts not quite fitting together the same way with the group.

Today another topic I'm familiar with came at me from the universe.  Letting go.  I feel like I've been letting go of something all my life. I consider letting go and saying goodbye kissing cousins. My earliest goodbye was when I was 3 or 4 years old and my family left Philadelphia for San Juan. Packed up everything we owned, hopped on a Navy transit ship that smelled of diesel fuel (to this day I can't smell that smell and not think of puking over the side of the ship), donned life jackets and had drills to practice swift exit. Pretty scary for a little girl. Feels like I've been saying farewell, Ta-Ta, Adieu, Adios, or Bon Voyage to someone or something ever since.  Maybe that explains why I hang on to things much longer than I need to. Why I hate change, and why I grieve loss of any kind from deep in my bones.

I've entertained several times over the past couple years of writing a book called, what else, Letting Go. It might be cathartic for me, but I doubt it would garner much of an audience.  Instead, I'm going to use my blog as a way of journaling about the subject.  Maybe I'll get hit by a lightening bolt Aha moment, or just some gentle insight to what makes me wrap my hands around things and hold on tight. It's not NaBloPoMonth so I won't hold myself to a strict write every day routine, but I do want to examine the subject. I'd love to have you join me but understand that my journaling may not be your cup of tea. If I begin to bore myself I'll give up this idea.


One of my biggest problems with letting go is what to do in the space between what was and what will be - that briefest of moments that can feel like an eternity. Like the sequined lady on the flying trapeze after she lets go of one bar, she is suspended in the void before being caught in the arms of man clad only in tights. Not only does she have to let loose of her swing, she has to give up control of the situation and depend on someone else to catch her. While performing a twisty, 8.0 degree of difficulty somersault in mid air, she has to trust that he will be there when he is supposed to be and his hands aren't too sweaty.

AHA: Letting go means giving up control. Giving up control means trusting someone/something else will be there and know what to do.

 When I was about seven, I liked to watch Circus Boy on TV.  I envisioned myself as the sequined lady. I rode into the tent on an elephant behind the clowns. And when it was time, I climbed the tallest ladder in town and stepped on to the trapeze platform. When I finished the death-defying act that made the audience gasp in unison,  I'd drop down into the net then flip myself into a standing position to thunderous applause. I used to practice my roll out of the net technique from the top of a bunk bed.  The tall and narrow beds that had been re-purposed from am enlisted men's barracks. (My daddy was the Public Works Officer.) There was a bar under the top bunk that might have held a curtain for the guy below, or held neatly pressed dungarees. Dressed in a black ballet leotard and leather dance slippers held on by a piece elastic, I would hold onto the the bar and flip myself to the floor over and over again. My final, hands in the air, TaDa rivaled Gabby Thompson leaping off the balance beam. The fearless younger me was ready if the circus ever came to town.  Today, however, I still like sequins, but  I'm more of a stay on the ground kind of girl. I shy away from ladders. I don't particularly like heights. I think flying defies too many laws of gravity to take a chance, and I hate living out of a suitcase.  I've moved around in my lifetime enough to want to stay put for awhile.

Sometimes it's the staying put where I lose my footing. Stuck in houses that are too big for one, or relationships that lack the glue they need to hold them together, it's hard for me to move on. Even when I know, in my deepest knowing place, that the time for goodbyes is long past, I still drag my feet. The irony is my past farewell experiences also tell me everything will turn out okay.

I wonder why that is. Why, when I want to go and know after the pain of leave-taking has mellowed I'll be okay, the release paralyzes me? The obvious answer is fear.  Fear of the unknown. Fear of the sadness. Fear of being alone. Fear of standing on my own two feet. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear that the decision I made is the wrong one. I'm reminded of the 12-step slogan, fear is nothing more than false expectations appearing real. When did I stop being Circus Girl and become Chicken Little?

A few years ago, using her luscious, wavy, red hair as metaphor, I wrote a story about how it felt for me as a mom, when my recently widowed daughter dropped me off at the airport to fly back across the country, thousands of miles away from her. I was going home to what I knew. She was driving off, her hair fluttering in the breeze, to an empty house and a totally new life.

"No crying, Mom," she told me as I stepped from the car and put my suitcase on the sidewalk to free my arms for one more hug. The kind of hug that a mother gives a grown child when she wishes for the hundredth time the clock would stop.

 When Wendy was young we had many arguments over how her hair would be styled. I wanted pigtails, she hated the tight rubber bands.  I wanted her to look like Dorothy Hamill with a do that would keep its shape without much fuss or bother. She'd have none of it.  After  a few yes-I-will, no-you-won't struggles I realized that the time had come for me to let her make the decision how to care for her hair. It was, after all, her hair.

That day at the airport, I buried my nose in her hair and longed for the smell of Johnson's shampoo. As we said our final goodbyes, my heart ached for my daughter. It ached for me. It ached for the whole situation.  It ached because there was nothing I could do to change things or make it easier.  She had to let go of the old and embrace the new. I had to let go of my vision of a bald-headed baby wrapped up like a burrito whose very life depended on me.  But, I'd done all I could do. Handing over an imaginary hair brush, it was time to let my baby girl become the woman she was meant to be.

When we fast forward a few years, that same woman has taught her mother a thing or two about letting go. She lived in the in-between until something new appeared. She put one foot in front of the other and did what she had to do to get through her day. Was it easy? Hell no. Was it scary? Of course. But she did it. Today she has short cropped hair and a new husband. From the pieces of one life she refashioned a new one. A perfect example of what letting go looks like.

With our mother/daughter roles reversed, Wendy is the one to say everything will be okay. "Live in the moment," she tells me.  I'm learning that living in the moment means embracing that in-between place. You've never seen one Flying Wallenda pull another one from the swinging trapese. No, the sequined lady has to open her hands, let loose of the bar and fly.

AHA: Letting go, is all about opening up.

Wishing for you an open heart,
Merry ME

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Friendship and Marriage

"There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming 
relationship, communion or company 
than a good marriage." 
Martin Luther

I've had marriage on my mind a lot lately. My daughter tied the knot on the 10th, and I just got home from a wedding held in our church. I think it may be the first wedding I've attended there since I arrived back in Jax 17 years ago. (An aside: SEVENTEEN years ago? How did that happen? It's almost as long as I was gone.) Bit I have attended a lot of funerals. Many were for people who had a long-time spouse standing in the front pew, covered from head to toe in heartache. What I saw in pictures from my Weneki, however, was a tender, sweet willingness to join one life to another and skip down the sidewalk. I've never met, Weneki's Kurt, but let me just say this. In my book, any guy who holds his new bride's hand and skips down a city sidewalk is a keeper.  Seriously folks, a guy who skips is a rare find.

I don't think there's any one secret as to how to stay married for a lifetime. Ask 100 people and you'll probably get 100 answers.  But the subject of the priest's homily, "on this day I will marry my friend," rang true to me.  He didn't say BFF, or "soul mate." Words that are pretty over-used if you ask me. He said simply and plainly "friend." And again, ask 100 people for a definition of friend and you'll get answers that run the gamut from pal to "I can't live without him/her." The truth is, having and being a spouse could, at any point in time be synonymous with each of those definitions.

So what the priest wished for this couple was the company, the encouragement, the confidence, and the love of a friend.  For any couple embarking on a journey with a new husband or wife, these are pretty good qualities to have in your back pocket. You'll discover what works - and doesn't - along the way. Yet in each situation if you you remember to stick close, be a cheerleader, believe in your partner no matter what, and love through it all even if it hurts, I believe that while you might not be able to jump over every obstacle in the road, you'll find a joint solution as to how to skip around it.

In our church when someone is baptized the congregation is asked to make the same promises. I think, after watching today's wedding, that every few years married couples should have to re-commit to those vows, now covered in blood, sweat, tears and perhaps baby poo, they made in a moment of satin and lace.

I couldn't help but think of my own weddings. Yeh, sadly, that would be more than one. When I first got married, I was 18 years old, full of hopes and dreams and naive love that only teenagers can possess with such assurance. Somewhere around the 15 year mark what was supposed to last a lifetime began to break into pieces.  It takes two to make a marriage and it takes two for one to break up. But I still carry a good bit of shame and responsibility for not "making" it work.

And then when I least expected it, I found someone else to share my life.  We said, "I do" to each other in front of a can of peas boiling on the stove. And, as some long time blog followers may remember, Sweetie and I stood before a preacher, his wife, his son, the cleaning lady and God to say, "I do" again a few years later. 
Back then we were more than a couple. We were a triangle. Dad was very much in the picture, and no matter which side of the triangle was up, there was always some kind of tension on the other sides.  Despite a trial by fire, of all the things Sweetie is to me,  he is most often a friend who stops whatever he's doing to hold me, or lays his book on his chest to listen, or says, "okay, let's do it," without even knowing what "it" is.

I forget that sometimes. Especially lately when I've been experiencing complicated or secondary grief. Fancy words that mean I'm a bundle of nerves and emotions and don't always see beyond my own nose.  For example, yesterday we went to Walmart. He went one way and I went another.  When he called to tell me he'd already checked out, I hurried to the cash register.  (Hurry, late on a Friday afternoon could be a misnomer. There's no hurrying when the lines are long and there aren't enough checkers.) We hooked up at the car, piled our purchases into the trunk, listened to NPR on the way home, then he went to his office and I went to my chair.  I'm afraid we've become "old married people" without even knowing it.

Later at dinner, Sweetie told me a story about how he helped pay for a woman's groceries.  Not in a tooting his own horn kind of way, like I might. But with the nonchalance of someone who did something nice for a stranger because he felt it in his heart to do so.  Even as I began to cry at his tenderness, I chastised him for not telling me in the car. Then I realized how modest he was about sharing the story at all.  My heart burst open with love for the man I call husband. And I remembered how important it is to see my husband as he really is - kind, compassionate, humble - and not just as the person who shares a house with me. I thought about how much I like to be with people who do nice things with no expectations.  How even my isolated world is full of blog friends who set this example for me every day.  And I remembered how delightful it is to be on this journey with a man I am honored to call my friend.

Wishing for you a special friend,
Merry ME

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On Trees

So there we were, spending a quiet afternoon.
And then.
With no warning, in an eerie imitation of the NY towers that fell 11 years ago, our neighbor's rotten tree toppled across our driveway, taking part of the Lincoln, Johnson's truck, electrical wires, a transformer and the flag pole with it.
No wind. No rain.
One minute is was standing. The next it was down.
Guess that's what they call an act of God.
It could only have been God's hand that moved the old oak just a few feet to the north of the house.
It would have been a very different story without that Grace.

The trees in our neighborhood are said to be over 100 years old. Most of them are called "water" oaks. Most of them rot from the inside out. They look pretty on the outside, full and alive. It's the rotten core you can't see that you have to worry about.

While I'm filled with gratitude that the damage was so much less than it could have been. I'm also sad at having to say yet another goodbye. Not so much to my neighbor's tree, but to the two oaks left in our yard. Weighing in on the side of prudence, we've contracted to have the them cut down. Johnson is pretty sure the one nearest his room and the aiming right for the roof is in sad shape. The slightest of breezes causes it to creak like an old lady's knees. The other stands like a sentinel,  tall and proud, right in the front of the house. It's been there longer than the house, longer than we've lived here. It has survived rain and wind, lightening and ice, and even other trees crashing into it. It has provided shelter for birds and squirrels, probably a few other critters I'm glad I don't know about.

Things change.
Old things pass away.
New things take their place.
Memories linger.
Love, like springtime, refreshes the changing landscape.
My job, like a giant oak, is to plant my feet on solid ground, stand firm in the face of adversity, bend with the wind, soak up the sun, dance in the rain, make room for visitors, wave at the stars, provide shelter and solace, share my beauty, raise my arms to heaven, and bless the earth with my countenance.

Wishing for you the comfort and safety,

Merry ME

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What do ...

60 flannel sanitary napkins (see post below, 8/27) ...

A finished quilt ...

homemade chocolate chip cookies ...

and one happy couple ...

have in common?

Well, you see my daughter and her Sweetie tied the knot yesterday. They were in Seattle. I was in Florida, instead of standing next to her.  I'm not sure, but I think NOT attending your daughter's wedding, even if it's a small private affair at the downtown courthouse, breaks some law of nature. It's just not right. Alas, try as I might, I couldn't make it happen. 
So, I sewed. All day long. I sewed. 
Then about the time Wendy and Kurt were saying "I do" I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and ate so many that my stomach still hurt when I woke up this morning. 

I have to say with all honesty, seeing that smile on Wendy's face and knowing she's found love again makes me just about as happy as a mother can be. 

Wishing for you the same I wish for my daughter and new son-in-law .... an abundance of happiness, more good things than bad, sunny days and moonlit nights, rainbows after a storm,  blessings around every corner and always a reason to skip.
Merry ME

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Random Thoughts

Ed. Note: Today I am going back to my blogging roots. Having no idea what I'd have to say on a blog, I decided to just put down thoughts at random, as they came to me. I've been thinking of changing that name to something else, but haven't quite hit on the right something yet.

I went to the dentist this morning. One half of my face is still anesthetized. I can feel my tongue waking up. I've only dribbled on myself once. My father and I used to have a running argument over dentists in general, and often our personal dentist in particular. Dad thought dentists were just out to get your money.  Well, duh! But my side of the argument was that as medicine has evolved and become way more technical, requiring lab tests and x-ray procedures of all kinds, so has dentistry. New ways of doing things costs more and dentists have to feed their kids too. Balderdash, he'd respond. (Actually, I don't think  my father ever said balderdash, but I'll leave it at that.)  Dad never thought twice about seeing a specialist for what ailed him, and undergoing whatever procedure was suggested.  But, if he'd been me last week and gone in for a cleaning and came out with a bill for $166.00 and a "treatment plan" to the tune of $600.00 and then some, I think he might have pulled whatever teeth he had left himself and not ever step foot in a dental office again. I'm not ready to go toothless.

There were times Dad argued with me just for the sake of arguing. And if I'm honest, I suppose I took disagreements to a limit farther than they needed to go on occasion.  On this one, I am beginning to think my father had the right attitude.  The problem is I have no dental insurance.  Even though I've heard it only covers a small portion of the bill, I sure would have liked sharing my bill with someone else.

And my point is, (in case you were wondering) I think the Novocaine has jostled up my synapses, so I've got lots of thoughts that really don't go together.  Thus, I've traveled right back to where I started... Random Thoughts.

1. The dentist.
I have no reason to dislike my dentist. He's young, polite and pleasant enough. I guess he does good work because I haven't had any problems since seeing him. I think I prefer my old (and older) dentist who had a personal interest in most of my silver fillings that are now cracking with age and wear and need to be replaced by said young whippersnapper because he put them in and probably never imagined they would have lasted 45 years.  I liked his Dr. Welby-ness. Maybe paying an exorbitant price for a porcelain filling wouldn't hurt so much if you're greeted with, "Hi, what's new, you're looking good, how's your mother" Southern chattiness rather than, "Hi, that'll be X number of dollars, please pay now so we can get started."  I can see the new guy's point. Paying up front prevents people from getting a new tooth and running out the back door. Still, I prefer the old-timey approach.

2. Depression.
After I got home,  I wrote a note to a FB friend who's having a hard time, right now with depression.  Imagine that! Me, the Queen of Depression and it's sister Grief, giving advice about how to self-care when feeling blue. I don't like to call it advice, really. From my days in a 12-step group, I call it experience, strength and hope (ES&H).  Hope is often the first thing to back its bags and leave when Depression comes to visit for awhile.

I find it remarkable that when I'm depressed I can cry myself into a snotfest, worry myself into a panic state, sleep myself into a coma but fail to listen to my own, tried and true ES&H. So after I sent the  message to my friend, I copied it and want to post it here as a reminder to me, and anyone else who might be feeling blue.

Depression is a disease of the body and spirit as well as the brain. Be gentle with yourself. Remember depression is a liar. It does not speak the truth. Move. Even if you hate exercise as much as I do, some form of movement will help. Pray. Hold onto God's mercy and grace even after you feel like you can't hold on any more. Be grateful. It's hard when you're feeling low, but it is always good to count your blessings.  Spend some time with Mother Nature. The bluebird of happiness may be right in your own backyard. Create something, anything. Get yourself a balloon, because as Winnie the Pooh knows, no one can be uncheered with a balloon. Buy yourself a new box of 64 Crayolas and a coloring book. Paint. Sew. Write. Knit. Bake something. Take your meds as prescribed; no self medicating. Let the tears fall. Release the anger in a healthy way (no hitting yourself, or your husband, with a frying pan.) Sleep, but not too much. Eat, but not too much. Love, all you want. And don't forget for one minute how much you are loved by your family, friends and Creator.  

Dang, that's pretty good stuff! I kind of wanted to say, why didn't I think of that, then realized I did! Feel free to add something that you think I forgot or what has worked for you. 

3. One Square Inch of Silence.
On the way to the dentist I heard a local journalist describing his year of getting close to nature. One of the things he's doing is paying attention to the sounds as well as the sights and smells of nature.  Unless, we are very still and really listen we fail to hear Mother Nature's playlist. The cacophony of sounds in the world can be jarring, deafening. Silence, on the other hand, can be nurturing and melodic. I'm not sure how that works, but try it sometime, if you can find a silent place.

The man on the radio mentioned a place in Olympia National Park, in Washington state called one square inch of silence. Here's what it says on it's website.

"One square inch of silence is the quietest  place in the United States. Located in the Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park, it is 3.2 miles from the Visitor’s Center above Mt. Tom Creek Meadows on the Hoh River Trail. Hiking time from the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center to the site is approximately two hours along a gentle path lined by ancient trees and ferns. The exact location is marked by a small red-colored stone placed on top of a moss-covered log at47° 51.959N, 123° 52.221W, 678 feet above sea level. 
One Square Inch of Silence was designated on Earth Day 2005 (April 22, 2005) to protect and manage the natural soundscape in Olympic Park’s backcountry wilderness. The logic is simple; if a loud noise, such as the passing of an aircraft, can impact many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a 100% noise-free condition, will also impact many square miles around it. It is predicted that protecting a single square inch of land from noise pollution will benefit large areas of the park."

I don't know about you, but I want to go there. 

4. Random Thoughts
Maybe in a strange way these thoughts are not random at all.  Let's see if I can connect them.  
Even though I love snail mail and am addicted to email, blogging became a way to get and stay connected to my family.  I can do this because of the technological advances in computer science.  Technology has also advanced the way dentists do things. White "composite" materials and porcelain have replaced body-poisoning silver mercury amalgam fillings.  Porcelain fillings cost hundreds of dollars which makes me very depressed when I need one. I can combat depression by finding a quiet place to sit and soak up silence.  Finally, once I have settled into the silence my mind will begin to travel willy-nilly to uncharted places, which will give me things to write about on my blog, aptly named Random Thoughts.

Seriously folks, I think there was a little something extra in the Novocaine. 

I don't know that it's fair to say I saw God today (the Novocaine wasn't that good) but I did peek into my own recovery and discover some strength I'd reserved for others.  It feels like there was a little angel on my shoulder helping me.

Wishing for you silent places to hang out where your checkbook is not stripped bare,
Marry ME

P.S. Weneki, I think there is a beautiful synchronicity that the one square inch of silence was designated on Zubin's birthday.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What a difference a year makes ...

Happy Birthday, Gracie

Eleyiana Grace Ellington

Little Miss Sunshine
Sept. 2012