So there are some days that are better than others, some weeks that pass without much thought of him, or her, or any of them – the ones that I miss, the ones that are lost to this world I am still a part of. I know I mentioned it before, but there is a poem written by Scott Holland called, “Death is Nothing at All,” and while the entire thing is beautiful, there is a line that particularly resonates within me. It says, “I am I and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.” I find comfort in those words because sometimes, I think we give death more power than it actually has. We allow it to cleave our hearts and our spirits in paralyzing ways, when, in reality, death can do no more than keep us apart physically.
While this separation is undeniably painful, tragic even, it isn’t everything. Death cannot steal memories. It cannot ruin relationships. And although we who are left behind so desperately crave the embrace of those we cannot hold, their memories are safe, forever vaulted among our most precious thoughts. What strength that provides, knowing no shadow, no darkness can touch the light they left behind.
But trust me, I still know. I know how hard it hurt in places no consoling word can reach and no sentiment can heal. There is an ebbing ache that only time lessens. So I encourage you to take one moment, one hour, one day at a time, and someday you won’t be better, but you’ll be okay. You’ll carry on, because that is what he or she or they would have wanted. Some time ago I wrote this poem for someone I will miss for the rest of my life, because the world, my world, lost a bit of its glimmer when he went away – I hope you can relate.
Just for Today
Just for today, I am going to pretend that everything is fine.
In my mind, you are well and happy living your day with that smile Iʼve craved since the day you left and took it with you.
Just for today Iʼll pretend that I saw you only yesterday,
that we had an amazing conversation (like we always did)
and that we couldnʼt meet up today,
but only because our schedules didnʼt allow it.
Just for today Iʼll pretend youʼre only a phone call or short drive away and that if I really needed to see you,
or surprise you like I have so many times before,
Just for today my heart is only a slight distance,
tucked neatly beside yours.
Today I feel joy in pretend,
and it will give me the strength for tomorrow
I must face that you are in fact gone,
worlds away …
you have carried my heart with you.
Tomorrow I must acknowledge the .
But just for today, all is well
because Iʼll pretend youʼre close
close will be enough.
I am sorry for you and anyone and everyone you are missing. But remember not to give death more power than it has. And just for today … pretend.
There is a quote from Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice where the mother (Mrs. Bennet) is speaking to her unassuming daughter. The mother was annoyed at the non-urgent nature her daughter possessed and said, “You are is unconcerned as maybe!” I love that! It is so completely on-target with my feelings of the world around me sometimes. It is like everyone else is in a totally different time zone (most-likely the twilight zone). They view life with a certain nonchalant air and indifference. Typically, the way other people choose to use their time doesn’t bother me, because it rarely affects me. However, there are some times that the pace at which another person chooses to live their life does affect me … because it slows me down.
I do not pretend to think that my fast-forward, constant-sprint way of living is the right way. In fact, there are many times that I think slowing down would benefit me greatly, but those thoughts are quickly shoved out of my head by the next practice, work expectation, or chore to do. Idleness is so much not a part of my vocabulary, that when I do watch a movie or read a book just because, I find myself hinting toward internal melancholy. Again, this isn’t a trait I necessarily love about myself or my life, it is rather an observation. That being so, I find that I have little patience for things that I realize could be done much quicker than they are.
Slow talkers, bad listeners (who elicit a repetition of what I just said), and people with the general air of, “I’ll get around to it,” tend to annoy me just a bit (okay, more than a bit). Though I am not self-important enough to think that what I say needs to be heard or done, I generally don’t speak or ask anything of anyone who shouldn’t be listening to me! My husband, children, and students, fall into this category. And I guess, when I make a request, I am still naive enough to think it will be done! Take our blankets for example – at night when were watching a movie or reading to the kids, we tend to pull out our get-comfy blankets that soon sprawl across our living room. Somehow, regardless of the amount of time I request for them to be folded before bed, those blankets are still out in the morning. Of course mine is put away, because I asked myself to do it, and I always try to listen to me! My family however, does not share this urgency.
My daughter I must exclude from this. She is a great listener and does things exactly when I ask her to. I think I have mentioned that my daughter makes no great haste however, in any decision. She eats slowly, she walks slowly, she even plays and sings slowly. She truly believes she has all the time in the world, and to her five-year-old credit, she does! And I am happy for her. I think I actually even envy her a little bit for her ability to do things the right way. I wish I could adopt just a little of her patient nature, because I know she has a lot to teach me.
It would have been really convenient to have a smidge of her personality earlier this month when I was at the store. I was buying a gift for a friend, and of course didn’t have more than 10 minutes to do it. The minutes didn’t matter initially, because I knew exactly what I wanted and made my way to the checkout very quickly. This is where things slowed. I want you to imagine for a moment that a zombie was given a morphine drip. Now in that very dazed state, imagine that said zombie, also had OCD tendencies of preciseness. In reality, all the cashier had to do was wrap up one Pandora bead and put it in a bag. ONE! In my world, this is a task that would take a whole whopping thirty-seconds – not so for her. This girl meticulously took out four pieces of square tissue paper. Two pieces, she folded into perfect triangles, folded them again, and set them aside. Three minutes later, she folded the remaining two into smaller squares, which she also set aside. Then, she took out a bag … and then a tinier bag. She put the bead in a small piece of crimson paper and rolled it until it was a tight knot, folding it on both sides and placing it into the tiny bag followed by the two squares.
If I have lost you by now, because you are so dreadfully bored you have dozed off, you can only imagine how I felt. I’d love to say it was over then, but you are not that lucky, and neither was I, so the story drags on. The woman then routed around in a small box (like a nesting squirrel) with emblem stickers to put on the outside of the bag. After finding the perfect one (though they were identical to me), she put the tiny bag inside the bigger bag and placed the two triangular tissue papers inside as well. Halfway through the process I had a violent urged to snatch the bags and tissue from her and make a mad-dash for the door. I almost didn’t care if I was stealing at that point because I was sure that jumping over the counter to shake her awake would have had worse ramifications than taking one bead. I was beginning to develop a nervous tick that simultaneously twitched with the second hand of the clock and I was about to lose it. It was either go postal, or take up residence in a corner of the shop, nap on the floor, and tell her to wake me when she was finally finished. Thanks be only to God (as there was some definite divine intervention going on here) I held my tongue, clasped my hands and clenched my jaw and thought of my patient little five-year-old and what she would do. All in all, I think I have about five new gray hairs from the experience. Two are from the stress of watching something that should have been so quick take so long to do. The other three literally formed because I stood for such an extended period of time that I might as well now be a grandmother.
All joking aside, I do think that some lessons in patience are warranted. Experiences like the one with the bead-wrapper should not toss me into a frenzy like they sometimes do. Maybe if I took care to do things just a little bit slower, I’d be less likely to make mistakes. Maybe I’d be less likely to say things I would regret later. Maybe I would be less likely to have to apologize for the offenses I don’t intend. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and I know that patience is a virtue, but I also know that I am still a far ways away from perfecting it. Sometimes even thinking about being patient adds to my impatience. How’s that for ironic?
If I’m being noble, I will tell you that from now on I will take my time, I will live a lot more like my five-year-old, and I will patiently wait for every slow talker, walker, worker and thinker to find their words or actions. But if I’m being honest, I know that I will still anxiously tap my foot under the table while I wait. Sometimes I think the best we can hope to promise is to say, “I’ll work on it.” And I will, but “taking it easy” does not come naturally to me. John De Paola advised, “Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” All I can say is, I hope so, because right now everything I’m trying to accomplish is as Mrs. Bennet said, “unconcerned as maybe.”
So you may or may not be surprised to realize that I did not spend most of my time writing this post, but rather, choosing a photograph for it. And I can say honestly, it’s because of her. That beautiful girl beside me – my sister. Because whenever I found a picture that was of the two of us, my first thought was, what would she think about it? And I’d move on … because you do that for your sister … because she’d do it for you. Today is my sister’s birthday, and I am dedicating what I’ve got to say to her, for the simple reason that she is the reason I have anything to say at all.
Elizabeth Fischel once said that, “Your sister is both your mirror – and your opposite,” but I would like to modify that a little. My sister isn’t my mirror or my opposite, she’s the reflection I wish I saw when I looked in the mirror. She is the glimpse of all the good things I can see about myself. She is the reason my smile is a little brighter, the reason my eyes can hold a twinkle of mischief and the reason I always know everything is going to be okay, even when it isn’t. Because of her, whatever “it” is, I’m okay.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine who grew up without a sister. She asked me what it was like and I told her in the best words I could find. Having a sister means having someone in your life who so completely “gets you” that you are never afraid of being lost again, because you know she’ll find you wherever you are – and bring you home.
Quite some time ago, I wrote a poem about being “found.” It’s a piece about realizing that whether or not you wanted to, life caught up with you in ways you wouldn’t have anticipated. It is about trying to be yourself in times where you can hardly recognize who that is. And it is about the redemption of being “found” and made whole again by the grace of those God decidedly puts in your way.
I have found,
(in my limited experience of finding)
That things like optimism, brotherhood and benefit-of-doubt
still have a place among this place
It could be said I’m just naive,
and once, I was
my unfortunate moments have indeed proven that life
and so naivety is no longer my reason why
It’s true, that early on it was simple to be
Because my path was lit with golden strands that showed me where to go
seemed to make their way to me
Back then, there was no such thing as making up a mind
when I thought I knew it all
And my smiles then were breezy,
and I gave advice out freely
and I didn’t have a silver-lineless cloud
It was common then,
to look at life as though it were my game
until one day
it showed me
I could lose
For the first time I saw clearly
the haze and mis-perception
of perfection here
that no longer
The enchantment of ideas like
or “someday,” lost their glimmer
and I felt my sparkle
But in that in-between…
past “Who am I?”
“Where am I going?”
“What do I do now?”
I realized, that some people
the right people
whether they’d been lost
were waiting for me
to be right where I was
exactly who I was
accepting me for all they knew I could be
The graces of life
are the people you meet in it
those God sent
to bring out the potential you’d
And so I don’t say
that life is worth the struggle
from the other side of lost
is bringing others
to the light you know
For every time I have been broken, for every time I have gone astray or allowed myself to wander, I never got too far before she found me. My sister is my compass; she is my North Star pointing me back to where I need to be. Even a small amount of her light is enough to keep me strong. She once quoted E.E. Cummings to me and said, “I carry your heart, I carry it in my heart.” And that’s why I know I’m safe. It’s all because … of her.
I can’t help but look back on this picture with anything less than my brightest smile. My kids, a few years ago now, had decided, all on their own, to put rain boots on because their little feet didn’t like the feeling of wet grass. Instead of jumping through the sprinkler system, they approached it with all the care of scientists, much more in a method of understanding the way it worked than playing like “normal” kids. Completely unbeknownst to them, I had taken a picture of their aquatic study, and to this day, it might be one of my all-time-favorite captured moments. They hadn’t a care of my or anyone else’s judgement on their peculiar choice of wear or activity … they were being entirely themselves, and that’s what made this photograph beautiful.
Theodore Geisel, much more commonly known as “Dr. Seuss,” wrote a fabulous book called, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, in which he wrote the popular saying, “Today you are you that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!” No one! Not a single person on the entire planet of seven billion people! That is an extraordinary number of people to be unique from, but it’s true. “Truer than true,” according to Seuss. But that doesn’t make it easy to believe does it? Not many of us feel too special, too “set-apart” from anybody else. We tend to lump ourselves into categories of normalcy, into groups of “stereotypical-ness” that strip us of all individuality and make us feel less than desirable. I know; I’ve been there.
And here comes the anecdote. For the sake of the story let’s call him Aaron (even though that wasn’t his name) and let’s say we were friends (even though that was a stretch too). To be honest, he was my sister’s friend, and had been for years. Back when I was in my freshman year of college, you see, my sister had already graduated, and gotten married, but only a few months before I started. So it was only natural that some of her friends in the five-year programs were still in school. Pretty early into the year, Aaron had made it a point to be “available” to me. He would call once in awhile, offer me a ride back home if it was near a holiday and even invite me (a lowly undergrad, I remind you) to his frat parties. And at first, I’ll admit it, I felt special, notable even. I couldn’t imagine what a super-senior guy like him, could see in a practically-nobody first year like me. Then, I figured it out.
Near Thanksgiving, I was feeling a little homesick, and I really wanted to go home for a weekend. Even though I had a car, Aaron found out I was leaving, and offered to drive back too. “I’ve been meaning to go back,” he said, though I couldn’t imagine why. He was in a busy time, near finals, with a demanding major, not to mention frat responsibilities. But, he offered, so why waste my gas? At the time I realized I’d rather talk to him than be alone, and his attention and smiles weren’t completely wasted on me. We had a decent two-hour ride, and I didn’t feel too bad about this. Sure it wasn’t what I’d originally foreseen, but maybe? Right? Ten minutes after stepping into my house I knew better … maybe NOT.
Within that short amount of time, Aaron had shaken hands with my dad, made small talk with my mom, and glanced around “knowingly” at our house. I realized, in that moment, that he had been to my house a dozen times before, and not to visit me, but my sister. Always dating someone steadily, he’d never had a shot with her, though on more than one occasion all she’d have had to do was say the word. And none of this had broken into my memory before seeing Aaron placed in my kitchen, looking around with a familiar ease. Like a smack to the forehead jarring my memory, I “got” it. I realized why he liked me … I was the poor-man’s version of her! My sister. He’d always liked my sister and I was too young to really notice or care – but I wasn’t too young now to recall. And that was the end of that.
I may not be the most confident person in the world, not by a long shot, but I do know (and have since freshman year at-least!) that I am worth, at the very least, my own character. I could not, and do not understand people who don’t believe they are too. I get it, life is tough and judgmental. We can’t all run around in bikinis and polka-dots, surfboard shorts and camouflage boots and be completely at-ease with ourselves like kids … but we can take control of our own ability to be individuals; and we can like the “yous” we’ve become.
If it has been awhile since you gave your beautiful reflection a talking to about how amazing you are, I give you permission to do so. It’s not vanity; it’s integrity. Valuing yourself is no less-important than appreciating a one-of-a-kind, never to be seen again priceless work of art. You’re a limited time attraction – here today, not to stay, moment to be admired and desired for all YOU are, not for who you might be compared to. You are a poor man’s nobody. You are you; that’s enough.
When I think about my life, about my days, I have several heart-stopping moments throughout them – moments where I’m like, “Here we go … palpitations at full force!” But seconds later, the current disaster-at-hand is over, and just like that, things carry on. Within a matter of minutes, the other day, my little heart was in over-drive, just to keep things calm before we rushed into our regular nightly pattern of chaotic-normalcy. First, I got my kids started on homework. Then, I caught the dog licking the clean dishes in the dishwasher (throb, throb). Next, my daughter spilled her water WAY too close to my work documents, and as I scrambled for paper towel (which ran out, of course) my son proceeded to tell me, “Hurry mom, it’s dripping!” (Pound, pound).
Yesterday was no less of a miniature heart-workout. My son had a soccer game, and in our haste to leave, I asked my kids if they needed to go to the bathroom instead of insisting upon it! Rookie mistake, and I don’t even have the excuse of being a rookie! Of course, things were fine, as fine as they can be when you’re trudging onto a muddy field at 8:00 in the morning with sideways, freezing drizzle, blustering, cheek-chapping wind and a five-year-old girl who wants nothing to do with being her brother’s little cheerleader, (thump, thump). About twenty minutes in, I put my precious whiner in the car with a movie, removing her boots to stimulate some circulation back into her frozen piggy-toes! Tromping back out onto the field to watch my son, I had a few minutes of uninterrupted watch-time before she was back, running across the field in tears, “Mommy, I have to pee!!!!” (Heart pounding once more!).
Disgustingly, the only option here was to take her to the port-o-potty. Now some of you might think I’m being a tad dramatic here, but I’m not, because my daughter, in her desperate state of near-accident, was only wearing SOCKS at this point! (Bump, bump, bump, bump.) At this critical juncture, I had a decision to make, either run back to the car to grab her boots, whereby she will most-likely not be able to hold it and pee her pants, or, go to the potty in socks. You guessed it. Option B. This was a flat-line moment in my rhythm, where I’m pretty sure a part of my germ-a-phobic heart stopped completely. I won’t even relive the details; whatever you imagine, it was ten times worse.
So obviously, I’m feeling a little bit sorry for myself here, and my poor little heart. But then, there are real EKG moments. Moments that don’t stop your heart, but send it out in an erratic line of spiked peaks it wasn’t designed to handle. One of the closest people to me in the entire world had a baby boy on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he was rushed to the children’s hospital. Only twenty-two hours after delivering a baby, my friend was released (in a state somewhere between bewilderment and delirium) to be beside her baby in another hospital bed. The band Switchfoot put things into perspective when they sang, “You feel your heartbeat loudest when it’s breaking.” And they were right, that is the ultimate heart-workout. The kind where you feel it fracture just a bit at the circumstances it cannot make sense of. He is okay. Not more, not less. She is okay, but measuring her heart by the beat of his. And I? I am re-evaluating what it is that gets my blood pressure fluctuating, because suddenly none of the reasons I talked about before seem to amount to anything at all.
It is SO easy to get caught up in it all, so easy to get lost in the mundane “stress-drills” of the day. But man, this week has taught me a thing or two about myself, and the heart I want to have. I want my pulse to be measured by the peace I help others feel, instead of it being reactionary to the ticking of a clock, or the pressure of commitments.
What gets your heart going? Who is it beating for? If the answers to those questions aren’t the ones you wish they were, know that you’re not alone and I’m changing my heart’s current workout as well. I hope your EKG is steady, and your days and ways are measured with grace.
I always find it funny when I hear something in the news that says it is a real, “human interest story,” as if being human weren’t interesting in and of itself. There is a sort of funny irony to having to be told what is or isn’t “interesting,” but I sometimes think that in our over-stimulated, multi-sensory, “Google-it” savvy world, we start to lose our own ability to gauge our feelings, and in essence, do need to be told, or at least reminded how to act or respond.
I think it is because of this general lack-luster show of emotion that I appreciate individuals so much – not the posers, but the true individuals. It is sad to say, but a true original person is hard to find sometimes. In the world of middle school, usually kids are trying to be different, but in exactly the same way! Whether they are the outspoken jokers (waiting to be noticed), the goody-two-shoes, answer everything types (desperate for attention) or the shifty-eyed, silent ones (equally afraid of being seen and not being seen) all desire is the same really … recognition.
On a random (but soon to be connected note) I tend to nickname my students. I do this for two reasons, the first being, sadly, that I am horrible at names. But secondly, when a student does something that sticks out in my mind, they are branded forever with a witty (and always pre-approved) nickname they carry for the rest of the year as a kind of “right of passage.”
On the first day of school this year, I had an adorable young man wear a bow tie to school. I couldn’t help but think, wow … here is a true original. It takes a special kind of young man to pull off a bow tie, but he did it! I remember thinking, how cool and self-assured he’d have to be to stand out in a crowd of hoodies and graphic T’s. He wore another tie on the second day … and the third. Needless to say, by day four, he was affectionately dubbed, and now forever known as: Bow Tie. He even signs it on his papers! He’s different, he’s cool – why can’t we all be like that?
A character of Daisy Goode’s once said, “I think you would like to be seen instead of always being looked at.” Seen … for who we really are, not who others label us as, or stereotype us as, but what we identify as our “true” self. Wouldn’t it be great to be seen?
Another day, another student. This one not so easy. Golden eyes, a hesitant half-smile and a black hoodie, this boy tried to blend in, to “fit.” He wore the traditional jeans, had gages in his ears, and acted nonchalant, but in a way that somehow cried out for attention (despite the undercurrent of bravado). A few weeks into the school year, the students were working on something independently, a “get to know me” project that I’d assigned, and he was struggling. When I asked him what was up, he shrugged, saying, “I’m just not sure what to say about myself.”
“The truth?” I’d suggested.
“Well,” he said, “My mom is white and my dad is Mexican, but I always sort of identify myself more with my Mexican heritage because my mom makes jokes about adopting me from there, and I don’t know,” he hesitated not looking at my eyes, “I guess it just gets old, you know?”
Truth? I didn’t. I’d never had to deal with cultural identity issues, but in that moment, I saw a boy who needed to be understood. On a pale yellow post-it note, I wrote, “Don’t worry about ‘what’ you are, focus on ‘who’ you are. That’s all that matters.” From that day on, he trusted me. He knew that, I didn’t “look” at him, I “saw” him, and that made all the difference.
Funny enough, he nicknamed me first, finding out that my favorite thing in the world was peanut butter, he started addressing me in the halls with a, “Hey PB,” to which I answer, “Sup Jelly?” Yesterday when we analyzed a story in class, he asked me to sit next to him. Today, he left a space and asked again. The best part about this connection is, I didn’t do anything … nothing but take interest in the story of child no one would ever recognize as “news-worthy.” This boy is most-likely fairly invisible in his other classes; I know this because he almost tried to be in mine, but luckily, I saw him.
I wonder if there is a person in your life like this? If there is someone who might never be labeled as a “human interest story” whose story you could unfold? It is easy to write off those we think don’t want us or need us … those without bow ties for us to recognize and admire, but like Bill Cosby stated, “Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.” Who are we missing in-between? I’ll bet everyone’s story becomes a whole lot more interesting when WE take a moment to be human.