Archives for posts with tag: love
Grandpa Joe, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only Grandma Gracie

Grandpa, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only “Gram”, Florida, 1983

My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was a fierce Italian woman who hugged too tightly and never hesitated to tell you what was on her mind. She fed us too well and despite the fact that she was only 4′ 11″, her footsteps were like that of an elephant’s (she was always in heels), and I swear that they based that TV commercial on how she would call my brother in for dinner (“Annnthony!”). She passed away last October, five days before I left for Nepal. I returned to NY to celebrate her life and then boarded the plane for a journey that would change my own.

In my backpack, I carried two of her prayer cards: a laminated version with a picture of the Blessed Mother looking down with love upon three children, and a paper one with a solitary image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was my grandmother’s lodestar, her namesake, and in her final years, who she remembered her own mother to be. It is because of my grandmother that my daughter carries the same name.

Two days after my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crouching on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, the gateway to The Beyond for the Hindu community in Nepal. A continuous stream of funeral pyres burn here, releasing into the waters the remnants of the dead, and are then re-lit over and over again, burning at the base of the Shree Pashupatinath Temple. In my hand was the paper prayer card, Mary looking out into an unseen distance. I thanked my grandmother for her love and devotion. I promised to always remember that “blood is thicker than water”, and to keep my eyes out for a “decent” girlfriend for my single brother—and then I let the card be carried away with the ashes of so many others in the waters of the Bagmati.

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015 – photo credit: Sahadev Panday

Despite the fact that I was able to perform my good-bye ceremony in one of the most sacred places on the planet, it wasn’t until I was hiking through the foothills of the Himalayas that I encountered my grandmother in the afterlife. As we marched through one tiny village after another, we came across so many lovely, yet somewhat solemn individuals. Always smiling, they kept mostly to themselves, a resultance of not speaking our language I’d assumed. But rounding the corner one warm morning, we came across an ardent, ageless crone who we heard before we saw. We met what could only be described as my Nepali grandmother.

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

Also a nonagenarian, this woman called us over to show us her broken eyeglasses. Her fingers, bent by time and arthritis, pointed at each of us with aggression, while she animatedly explained to our guide that her daughter had left to go breed a bull in another village and she needed new glasses. She was hard of hearing, but sharp as a tack and had something to say about each of us. She had the same demanding attitude, the same crooked fingers, the same “what in the Hell do you know!” gestures as she waved us away, annoyed that we didn’t have any glasses to give her. I quietly sidled up to her and held her hand as she talked, expecting her to impart some wisdom or have a spark of recognition for me—for clearly she was my grandmother in another time and a very faraway place—but there was none. She took no notice of me and barely registered that I was touching her at all. I was okay with that. I had received far more than I ever expected and was grateful for the opportunity to see that my grandmother could live on in unexpected ways.

This past week, my grandmother’s cousin and her closest friend, also passed away. It was no surprise when I received the call. Nonina, as she was known in the family, was as fierce and Italian as Grandma, and together they had so much deliciousness to offer the world, and a lot to say about it too. Where Grandma held expertise in food (though Nonina was no slouch), Nonina knew her fashion, and thanks to her, as a kid I was dressed in the very best chiffons and polyesters that the 70’s had to offer. Her children were her life, as she would tell you over and over again, and there was not an award, a performance or a Halloween costume that would pass without her inspection. Now that she is gone, the world is a little dimmer, but I can only imagine the party happening now that she is home.

After Nepal, I am excited to see how Nonina will show up again. I look forward to the unexpected moment when I hear two older ladies arguing and instantly think of Grandma and Nonina. And I’m curious to see where I’ll encounter someone who refers to me as, “Doll”. While I miss them both very much, I can’t wait until they visit me once again.

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002 – photo credit: Joseph Schuyler

 

 

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loveletter

We all walk a path. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can see the path shining before us, riddled with potholes and muddy puddles that give us some indication that the going will be slow and arduous, but not impossible. (There are also rainbow bridges attended by handsome Cosmic guides handing out maps, along with soothing cups of mint tea on the path, but we gave up trying to look for them sometime after our college years.)

Then there are the days when everything feels dark and suffocating, and we aren’t even sure the path is in front of us anymore. Hell, we can’t even feel our feet.

It is these times, when we are desperately clawing into the pitch black reaching out to touch anything that will give context and meaning to what we are spiraling through, that we can feel God reaching back. I believe that if we pay close attention, and work hard not to drink in the fear, we can feel Her putting a gentle hand on our head, wiping our tears with Her sleeve and whispering, “Shhh. Take a deep breath. I’m still right here.”

Recently, I was in that sinking hole. I knew that the path was there, but my feet could not stay underneath me, and over and over again I found myself crashing through the air and landing hard on my ass, knocking the breath from my lungs and making my head crackle with fear. And when that happened, I saw stars.

There were the two stars that slipped me unexpected notes filled with love, reminding me that I am brave and strong.

There were the stars that dropped off food for my family as I left them unattended to bury my grandmother, then journey across the globe.

There was the star that took the time to help me get my possessions safely home, at a time when I was having difficulty trying to remember who I was and where I lived.

And there were the stars that called me, one from so very far away, during my darkest hours, just to tell me that they loved me, to hang in there and “You’ve got this.”

There were so many that together these stars carried me out of the darkness. Like the lights on a darkened theatre aisle, I just followed one to the other until I was able to make my way back into the light. Their small moments of kindness rippled my world back towards positivity, and for that I can never repay them. But now that I’m back in the world of “seeing”, I can collect the light, and shine it back for others.

Thank you my stars. Thank you for shining the light of Her grace upon me. Thank you for returning me home.

Thanks to SunshineMomma for the pic.

Thanks to SunshineMomma for the pic.

“So, why are you doing this? I mean, what is the reason you have decided to train for this triathlon with me? I have a bunch of different reasons why I am, and I’m happy to share them with you, but why are you doing this?” I was eager for my 10 year old to tell me how excited she was to have some one-on-one time with me, to share in a crazy new adventure together, and to learn how to become a team.

“Because you are making me,” she shot back.

I burst out laughing. Here I was, due to some rip in the space time continuum, talking to my own 10 year old self, and she was annoyed and sarcastically funny. My daughter smiled in spite of herself and immediately tried not to. Memories of summers spent hauled off to aerobics classes, herded on bike trips, thrown into tennis camps flashed through my mind; I had injected into my daughter everything I once upon a time hated about my own childhood. In the best trick the Universe every played upon me, I was my parents and my daughter was me.

That was the moment I understood why I swallowed a heaping dose of insanity and signed us both up for a triathlon.

“You don’t have to do this with me,” I countered. “You are welcome to stop at any time. I want you to know that this isn’t about competing, this is about just being together as we make a journey. If we walked, floated and coasted the whole time, I would be ok with that.”

But I knew that deep down, this wasn’t necessarily true. I wanted her to love exercising so that she would never be overweight. I wanted her to lose the weight that her already pudgy pre-teen self was starting to gain. Deep down, I wanted to protect her from becoming me.

As we jogged along together, my mind spun trying to sort out if I was giving us a memorable experience, or condemning my daughter to relive the frustration and failure that I grew up with, as adult after adult forced me into exercise programs trying to help me lose weight.

“Mom, did you do this as a kid?”

“Yes. When I was a kid, my dad would get me up at 5:30 every morning to run with him. I hated it,” as the words came out of my mouth, it was as if I was standing on the sidelines watching both of our reactions simultaneously. I knew that what I was telling her was what could very well be happening in this moment. But I could change that.

“He would yell at me whenever I wanted to walk. And when I couldn’t run anymore, he would run off and leave me to walk by myself.” The words sounded harsh coming out of my mouth, but they weren’t emotional, they were simply true.

“Why did he make you run?”

Somehow I never saw this question coming. I paused, wondering if I should protect all three of us and create some trumped up reason about his love for the activity, but ultimately I decided that this very same truth about how my father felt about me, was an evil reality about what I feared for my daughter.

“Because he thought I was fat,” I explained.

“Sometimes Nonno can be mean,” she replied.

My father has a passion for teasing, and not always in the most gentle and loving way. This was a truth that even she had experienced as a very small child, so she immediately accepted that this is how he would treat his young daughter.  But for me, in that moment, I knew better. He wasn’t mean. He was scared. He was terrified, in fact, of his daughter growing up heavy and struggling to be loved and accepted, as he once had in his teens. My father was doing everything that he could, as were all of those pushy adults in my life, to protect me from the cruelty that gets handed to you when you aren’t perfect in the eyes of society. They didn’t realize that the damage that they were inflicting, as I continued to fail and feel conditionally loved, was worse than what they were trying to prevent. I knew this about them in my head, but in that moment I fully understood this with my heart; and for the first time in 30 years, I loved them all for it.

I made the commitment then and there to have fun on this triathlon adventure, no matter what. I am working on letting go of my unrealistic standards for myself as I train, and all I need to do is to look to my daughter and determine if our goal of having fun is being met. Once again, she is leading me rather than the other way around. Already, I have gained so much from this experience, that if we never run a single step, I would still be so much better for having started. Once again, it is not about the destination, but all about our journey.

daviddheart

Dear David,

It has been a while since you’ve heard from me. Perhaps you don’t recall my initial communication, or maybe it is tucked away in your underwear drawer, so that Téa might not find it. Either way, I wanted to follow up my initial romantic musings since I find that who I was in my 30’s has changed somewhat and there are a few additional insights that I’d like to share.

First, I forgive you for not dumping Téa and sweeping me off of my wedding altar, as previously suggested in my first letter, a mere 11 years ago. After Bree Sharp’s infantile song, “David Duchovny, Why Don’t You Love Me”, I can understand how my very real admission of love can seem like yet another pandering attempt at sex with a celebrity. While I don’t dismiss my own pandering attempt, mine was much more earnest as well as grammatically correct, and therefore prose to be taken a bit more seriously.

Second, if you are indeed still considering my offer to come carry me away to a life of witty repartee and hot alien role play, let me point out that I did marry that man that you left me with on the altar, and we did pop out a couple of kids. So, don’t be surprised if a toothy little six year old, probably with chocolate smeared on her lips, gives you the stink eye when she answers the door. Lately she has taken to supreme disappointment when I arrive to pick her up for anything, so she’ll have no issue with my departure.

I should inform you that I am no longer the be-damned-for-consequences person I once was. While I used to live on a diet of chili cheese dogs and Fresca, I’m now more of a hearty vegetarian stew with quinoa kind of a girl. My drink is no longer several gin martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives (I’ve discovered I’m lactose intolerant – something that can only help us both), but a simple glass of French wine or a fair trade coffee. While I still love good sci-fi, I prefer one that doesn’t involve naked women being ravaged by monsters of any sort. I like a healthy female lead with a head that remains on her shoulders. Somewhere along the way, extreme choices in food, drink and entertainment felt great in the moment, but the aftermath of ugly that stuck with me became too high a price to pay.

I love children now, which is a bonus since I have a couple, as do you. They don’t terrify the crap out of me anymore, and I find myself able to understand them better than the adults around me. I used to find their constant questions and curiosity annoying. I can’t help but wonder if that is because uncertainty in any form can be my own kryptonite. Now I see the constant questioning perspective of children as a different way to see the world and an opportunity to remember who I am when I don’t know all of the answers either.

And, about that man that I did end up marrying … I made a good choice. All of my secret fears of totally committing myself to someone only to have them emotionally crack me open like a coconut, drain out all of my marrow and leave me dehydrated and disintegrating, never materialized. I didn’t need you to save me from myself and my pending marriage. Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was that you never showed up.

Please David, don’t be upset. It’s not you, it’s me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I am different, and not in any of the ways that I would have wished for 11 years ago, I love my life now. I reached out to you to save me from a life that I imagined with fear, and asked you to replace it with an idealized version born from stories created by others.  Instead I should have realized that imagining my life with hope, born from my own romantic dreams, was a much more realistic and very possible outcome.

Let’s just be friends. Why don’t you stop over? We can have a lovely glass of wine, heck bring Téa and the girls! We’ll sit around and wax philosophically about life, government conspiracies and the role of women in sci-fi programming. I’ll bake us a batch of gluten-free pumpkin muffins and we’ll laugh over our French presses. I’d love to get to know you as a friend, a father and a real human being. My days of celebrity love obsessions and make believe realities are over. I’m interested in what makes real people fall in love, chase their dreams and cry out loud.

If you’re interested, give me a shout back. But don’t wait too long. I’m guessing I’ll hear back from Jon Stewart any day now.

blackdogmug

My coffee mug has a picture of a black dog on it.  Not just any black dog, but the iconic image from The Black Dog bakery and cafe in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  I drink coffee, tea and even the occasional red wine in this mug.  I love that it is old school, diner shaped, porcelain and that it is heavy enough to feel like I’m drinking something substantial.

A friend gave me this mug over a decade ago when she was embarking on her own west coast adventure.  It was of no use to her any longer.  She wanted to untie the bow lines and this mug was left behind.  She has since returned to the east, but has most likely forgotten about the cup.

Looking at the worn but famous type, I remember a visit to the bakery. I was on my way off of the island, hoping to never return as I had just experienced jail as well as my first in person hurricane, all at the tender age of 20.  The memory makes me smile.

This image on the mug is the same image that I once drew on the side of a canoe, the second major expenditure that my then boyfriend, now husband, made.  It represented our love of the island, the ocean and our adoration of our first major expenditure, our chocolate lab puppy, Graham.

That dog has since passed, but the mug remains.  Friendship, mischief, love… how can a simple coffee mug hold all of these things?

Because we attach our emotions, our energy, our stories to our stuff.

It was amazing to me, as we began the process of moving ourselves to California and determining what to get rid of, how heavy my stuff became with the memories and emotions that they were a part of.

At our wedding reception, my husband and I sat in two unique, red chairs – one velvet, one faux leather – like a king and a queen.  The chairs were a last minute addition to a very eclectic, self designed backdrop.

On the day that we walked about our house, deciding what to throw away, my husband immediately offered up the chairs – one broken so badly only the cat was able to still use it, the other forgotten all but as a depository for unused blankets.

“You can’t get rid of our wedding chairs! That one was my wedding gift to you!”

(I had found the red faux leather one on the side of the road, cleaned it, repainted it, and offered it up as a token of my undying love (and limited financial budget) to my betrothed.)

“Yeah, that chair is horrible to sit in, but we can keep it of you love it.  You only get to keep one.”

And there it was.  Those chairs were my wedding day, my love for my husband, my need to feel unique and artistic.  To me, they weren’t chairs, they were a part of my identity, a contrived one, but still a part of me.  To him, they were just chairs, mostly useless and uncomfortable.  To him, they were furniture.

Over the months before our departure, I learned a lot about my relationship to my stuff, and how I create my identity through my things.  We all do it, even my husband.  (Right now, he’s wandering back and forth in the living room debating exactly what is the right positioning for our artwork… all symbols of our artistic sense and creativity.)  I did fight for one chair, and it wasn’t the one I refinished.  It would have been easy to throw some sort of tantrum around my gift to him vs. his love for me… but in realizing that it was just furniture, not a love token, I was able to let that go.  What was even better was that the chair went to our newly married friends who had attended our wedding and held the memory of that day for us. There were thrilled to add this chair to the budding interior of their own home.  In some way, we were passing on the love of our marriage to theirs.

I am learning that I am not my things.  By attaching myself to my material possessions, I am only weighing myself down with the past and a contrived version of who I really am.  If my arms of full of my stuff, I have nothing left to reach out with and grab my dreams.

Yes, in addition to a handful of things, I still have this mug and I still have that one chair.  I negotiated a full reupholstery of the chair, complete with brand new peacock blue tufted velvet.  I sit in it now and marvel at how regal it feels, even in a simple living room.

The mug still holds hot coffee and a few memories.  If it broke tomorrow, I’d be frustrated, but not heartbroken.  My friend, my mischief and my dog will always be a part of me no matter who I choose to be.

Swirling thick, a tide around my ankles, dragging me into dark suffocation where I cannot breathe the rushing tide of you drowning
calling out.

How can I save you and save myself too?

Thick the wet wall of despair
suddenly
repeatedly
crashing down – bottom becomes top, light becomes dark, head over heels
over and over
I spin.

Anger, fear, desperation, escape.

If I save you, I have lost me forever.

There is guilt, shame, love, pain.  A scream trapped inside with ears pressed to doors waiting to hear what cannot be said.

If I let it go, it will consume us all.

Silently I sit
I breathe
kelp forests moving with the tide
I am a vessel for washing your energy away.  

I step back and let waves of fear and grief crash on my shore, pulling my heart grain by grain into your raging sea.  I hold on hoping that when your storm has ended, there will still be something left of me.