12.7.18 One Heartbeat at a Time

8

“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” C.B. Kelland

IMG_3565

I always tell people that I don’t believe in problems … I believe in solutions … but sometimes I am confronted with a life-dealt situation that seems  impossibly solution less. This is a picture of my husband Matthew, and his hero, my father-in-law, Pete. I met Pete over seventeen years ago, as a freshman in college who was head-over-heels for his son. I remember it clearer than yesterday … funny how some memories imprint.

Matthew was going to go home for the weekend and his parents were coming to get him. At the time we were “friends,” but I had ambitious hopes for more, and Matthew’s attention toward me led me to believe he might as well. I remember Matthew asked me to stop by his dorm to say hi to his parents. They were packing up his bags into the trunk of their car when they turned to meet me with open smiles and firm handshakes. I didn’t know it at the time, but Matthew said to me once that as they drove away, his dad said, “Well, I don’t think that’s the last we’ll see of her.”

I love him for having said it. Because I’m pretty sure that there is no opinion in the world that my husband values over that of his daddy … and if I hadn’t gained approval that day, I’m not sure that I’d even be a part of Matthew’s story, let alone its leading lady.

The great thing (in my experience at least) about falling in love with someone, is that you get a whole other family, and after fourteen years of marriage, that is what Pete and Peg (my angel mother-in-law) are to me. They are family. They are not in-laws, they are not extensions of family. They are family – pure and true. We have built a life on shared experiences: vacations, holidays, parties, gifts, jokes, pictures, traditions … and now … diagnoses. Pete-the-Invincible, was diagnosed with Ataxia, a rare degenerative disease of the nervous system. As if that wasn’t challenging enough in the last ten years, he now battles Multiple System Atrophy as well.

It is my formed opinion, that there is a great lack of men of integrity in this world. I cannot watch the news for two consecutive minutes without thinking so … and yet I was blessed to not only come from a man of integrity (my own dad) or marry one, but also see my father-in-law continue to raise the bar of what it means. It is quite something to witness a man of increasing virtue when he is continually faced with having to reintroduce himself to a new version of his no-longer-working body. But, again and again, from cane, to walker, to wheelchair – Pete continues to convince Matthew and myself that he may just be some secret kind of superhero.

My husband and I are in the stage of life where days pass without our having said more than a few sentences to one another. We are busy, sometimes involuntarily so. We have jobs, and kids, and commitments, and to do lists that are ever-so-impossibly long. And some days, if I’m being honest – I take it out on Matthew. I resent not having time with him when he is the axis point of my life. It is ironically impractical to lose patience with and have no time for the person I want to be with more than anything. And in that way, in those times – I fail.

Then I look at my mother-in-law … at her ability to love in the most flawless way. Her hands are servant hands. Her mind is their shared bank of memories. Her heart is steadied by the realities of love’s legacy before her. And she carries on. Impossible as tomorrow may seem, she faces each sunrise bravely, with the gentle touch of a warrior.

And I am ashamed.

I am ashamed that I struggle in these … the best and strongest days of our lives, to love her son the way he deserves to be loved – selflessly, regardless of the amount of time we do or don’t have each day to show it. I have him. We have now. And by their example, I am confident in how to build this love story of ours … just like his parents … one heartbeat at a time.

Walk, wheel, crawl, or cry out to the one you love the most. Don’t leave anything until tomorrow.

Elle

P.S. This holiday season, please consider a donation to the further research of curing Ataxia.

https://ataxia.org

11.27.18 A Name Worth Speaking

10

IMG_7551

 

I only had a minute, but I called her – that’s the not-so-generous way time is with me. She only had a minute, but she answered – the same gift of time she didn’t have to spare. But we talked. And it mattered, because in the few minutes we shared, me hearing her voice and her hearing mine, she told me a story.

“I just got through talking to the neighbor,” she said.

“Anything wrong?”

“Yes, actually.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Her mother died. It wasn’t very expected, but the way of it was powerful,” she went on. “Apparently, her mother had fallen, and being frail already, it was a decline enough to go on hospice.”

“That’s sad,” I said, imagining my own grandmother.

“It is, but then something amazing happened,” she went on. “I guess the family was all there, just visiting, and they were discussing nothing in particular when a chaplain came to ask if they wanted to pray. They said yes and right as the prayer started, her mother took one big breath … and was gone.”

“Just like that?” I asked.

“Just like that.”

“Wow,” I sat, momentarily struck by the beauty of it all.

“I know,” my mom said.

And she did.

To imagine that on the breath of a prayer, you can cross unfathomable distance. Your spirit and the doors of heaven meeting one another within the fraction of a whisper. To inhale here, and then exhale in exhalation ten million light years away. What a journey from breath to breath. What an assembly, with words spoken over you in intercession, to words ushered to you, entering you into eternity. What a journey.

This story, no, this reality, gave me pause in more ways than one, and I am honored that even in our trite “two minutes,” my mom offered me the gift of this telling. The truth is we really don’t know what lies between one breath and another. There is no “looking ahead” at the Author of Life’s chapter of your tale. And it makes you think doesn’t it? About what really matters one breath between another – and whether I’m using the breath within this very moment to compliment or curse, to speak or to listen, to drive away, or draw near. There may be nothing riding on a breath … or there may be everything.

The author Bansky once said, “… they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” And if this is true, then I think it matters so much more to me that the coming of my second death is far removed from the first. I want to live a life worthy of the memory of a name worth speaking again, and again, long after my dust has settled. Don’t you?

May each of your next breaths count.

Elle

Trepidatious Hearts 9.30.18

13

IMG_7992 2

“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.” – Douglas MacArthur

I am a little anxious writing tonight because I so desperately want to get this right. For the past few weeks I have been confronted with a tangle of thoughts and quotes and words and perspectives that have all built to a feeling to speak … I’m still not sure I know exactly what to say, but I can’t ignore the itch to try, and I pray something will come that is worthy of sharing, worthy of feeling and passing on.

I have been loving a song lately called “Charlie Boy,” by The Lumineers. It is about a young man feeling compelled by the speech of J.F.K. to enter into the war, and to fight for something bigger than himself – freedom. And as such, it is about a mother who is forced to accept his decision to fight, and ultimately, to die. The lyrics sing to her, “… don’t hang your head, love should make you feel goodIn uniform you raised a man, who volunteered to stand.” Based on of a true story, I wonder how many brave young men and women have heeded a call I consistently choose to ignore. I crave safety, not the price of it. I yearn to be protected, not defend myself. Having children has only deepened this yearning for sanctuary, I think because I want to offer my son and daughter a promise that’s not mine to give – that they’re always going to be okay.

When my son was five and in kindergarten the Sandy Hook shooting happened. As a teacher, I always knew the threat was real, but when I had a son in a school, and I wasn’t with him – something shifted in me that has perpetually remained unaltered. I’ll never forget the months of shaking hands when I hugged him goodbye and sent him off to class … the way I looked back at the locked door thinking it wasn’t safe enough … the way I questioned the administration about the how they planned to increase the security measures of a small private school. Nothing seemed right for a long time, and every afternoon, when I picked him up, I realized that I’d release a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding. It’s the same feeling I now have when I read accounts of families sold into slavery, of the Holocaust, of human trafficking  … to me they are all tales of mothers being taken from their children. And I can’t read stories as impartial accounts of history anymore, because all I hear is the injustice of a mother’s broken heart, and the empathy in me rises so that I can hardly breathe.

There is something about my son, my daughter, that have made objectivity impossible. I can no longer look at a situation apart from them, because they are my own precious version of gravity, holding my identity in this time and space in history. And I wish – I wish with every fiber of my being, that the world could understand this love … because if it could, I really believe things would be better. I’m reading an amazing book called Circus Mirandus, and in it, there is a section where a magician offers a little boy an illusion to see anything he wishes to see, as long as he understands it cannot be real. The boy wishes to see his father home from war, and in the illusion, the boy’s mother says something to him that absolutely wrecks me … and I found myself wishing, beyond all wishes, that it wasn’t an illusion, that it wasn’t a beautiful part of a beautiful story, because it is so very acutely the way I believe things should be.

“The war ended all at once and very calmly. It was as if, between one moment and the next, all the mothers of all the soldiers in the world had checked their clocks and realized that their children had been out playing for too long … The soldiers shook hands with one another and wished one another well. Then they raced back to their mothers or to their wives and sons.” – Cassie Beasley

And can’t you just see it? Can’t you see all the misunderstandings, the judgements, the hatred erased as if it were one big confusing game that has just gone on too long? Can’t you picture soldiers, gang members, politicians, and rivals shaking their heads in sudden confusion, bewildered at the mistakes they didn’t ever intend to go that far? If only everyone heard their mothers’ voices calling them back to themselves. If only everyone heard their father calling them home.

What a world we could promise our children.

What peace our trepidatious hearts could feel.

 

 

 

5.9.18 Out Once More

9

IMG_4489

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Norman Cousins

Two weeks ago the unthinkable happened … the young daughter of some friends of ours passed away after battling cancer for a year. I thought I was prepared for the funeral, after all, I’ve been to my fair share of them – I wasn’t. Though funerals were literally something I grew up with, I’ve only been to one other child’s funeral, and they were equally, agonizingly, heartbreaking – both for seven-year-old girls.

I don’t have words really, to describe how it feels to see their parents … it is surreally painful because instantly I’m forced to imagine myself in their place – and I am lost. So although I have no right to even pretend to know how it really feels, this poem is what came out of my emotions. All my love, all my prayers, casting hope to anyone who understands this pain. All my love to anyone who lost anyone whose lost life matters to them as much as their own. I so desperately wish this void was not a burden you must carry. We were not intended for separation. God knows … this is not the end.

Elle

Out Once More

In.

Out.

In again.

Out once more.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

I think that it’s “returning to normal” that I find the most offensive.

Things like …

casual conversation

filled with, “How are you?” and other equally unpleasant

pleasantries.

In those moments I feel every too-quick heartbeat

and it seems supernaturally unfair that involuntary responses

are not, in fact, involuntary –

because I literally need to remind myself to breathe …

to release.

Sometimes I can’t stand the sun’s arrogance – that it has the audacity to rise when I,

when she

no longer can.

And it hurts in places I can only describe as

the absence

the empty

the lost.

And I cry with a voice I don’t recognize as my own,

because “we” no longer are …

and I can’t remember how to find who I was

before.

Returning to a “normal” place in this life is somewhere I can’t find.

And so it seems I’m chasing a new normal –

something I’m seeking but am not sure I’ll be able to recognize

being in the state-of-being that I am,

or am not.

But even now,

even here

in this

in-between …

I can’t bring myself to hate the world,

because she loved it …

and I can’t hate my life,

because she was a part of it –

and as I live on

in some way

so does she.

It’s not in the way that I hoped for,

but she believed in hope,

and so must I.

In.

Out.

In again.

Out once more.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

 

 

11.3.17 “Wordless” a Bella Grace Post

3

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 5.30.10 PM

 

There are some experiences in your life that absolutely change you. This post, “Wordless” on Bella Grace Magazine’s blog Grace Notes is just such an experience. I would argue that it was one of the most significant journeys my writing has taken me on, and has bloomed into one of the most precious friendships I’ve ever had. Please read. Please share. For myself … for Michelle … and most especially, for the memory of Katrina.

Some stories have the power to change the world. This story changed mine.  I pray it will inspire yours.

Sparkle dear ones, and let your presence of light hang heavy over the sky like fireworks.

Elle Harris

9.30.17 Let Me Be Aware

8

IMG_8768.jpg

About ten or so years ago, I came across a poem that said everything I should say to my husband on a daily basis. I printed it out, and put it somewhere “safe” and then we moved and I lost it. All I remembered of it was a line … “Someday I shall wish … more than all the world, for your return.” And I remembered thinking that I never wanted to have that feeling, that relentless ache of NOT saying what I should have. 

Fast forward ten years, and miraculously, a friend gave me a stack of quotes as a gift. One of the quotes, as you might serendipitously guess, was the one I’d been searching and combing the internet for for all of these past years. I immediately looked it up, and this week, I was so very, very glad to have it, so I could read it to the man who not only has my heart, but has fiercely protected it since we met. 

Please share this video message, this poem, and this life with someone you hold just as dear. 

9.18.17 At Least We Get to See Tuesday

14

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” – Sigmund Freud

I feel like honesty is one of those things that people say they want, but shy away from when people give too much of it. They want to know things, but only enough to stay in the know. Well honestly … I think I’d rather really know you, really understand what you’re going through, than pretend to know the version of you that you pretend to be.

It is this very reason that I find teenagers are such good company. Having taught and mentored middle and high schoolers for most of my career, I find this stage of humanity so inspiring. Teenagers are too fresh with their feelings to know how to tamper them. They cannot quell their emotions because their emotions are too new to be tamed. When they’re happy, they are positively overflowing with it. When they’re angry, you can feel the heat roll off of their auras. When they’re scared, when they love, when they celebrate, when they’re sad – every emotion comes in tandem waves of give and receive. Teenagers cannot be near anyone for long without imparting some of what they feel into the surrounding atmosphere. 

And what a relief. 

What a relief to be near the unguarded reality of raw emotion. It is so much more appealing than so often trying to read between the lines of what you think someone said, versus what they meant, or deciphering between one placating smile and the next. Can I be honest? Sometimes I am sick of the dance. I am exhausted at the effort of sincerity directed at the insincere. I wish that people, like those precious teenagers, would just feel a little more, and let feelings, instead of pragmatism decide their course of action. 

I found out tonight that one of the best of these … these hearts that are ruled by feelings and not neutrality, passed away. She was a music teacher and would literally giggle, dance, laugh, and fume at her students in turn. She was wonder-filled and real; cancer, unfortunately, didn’t know her as well as those it took her from. Non-distriminant to the end, that disease – but if cancer had a heart, it wouldn’t exist.  

Thinking about her, though it might seem like the most insignificant of details, I realize that I have written her a Christmas card for the last twelve years. Somehow the reality that this year I will not immediately dimmed my spirit. It is as if a small bulb has burst, and now my string of lights will never be quite as bright as it was before. 

Honestly? I’m sad. I’m sad that a husband who loved his wife beyond the ability of most marriages is now alone. I’m devastated at the thought of children who have to grow up even more now that their mother is gone. I’m angry that anyone, including me, has the right to be anything other than grateful for this mundane, exhausting Monday – because at least we get to see Tuesday. 

I know that these words aren’t the sweetest. Like Mary Poppins I like to believe that if I had a spoonful of sugar to spin I would share it, but sometimes I think honestly might actually be the best medicine. I wish the world would try at it just a little bit harder. Whether it is happy or sad, angry or enlightened, easy or difficult to swallow … I wish truth and transparency for you today and always. 

Where are you? Honestly? I’d love to know your thoughts, and I will surely add you, my readers, to my prayers … because if I’m being honest, I am ever-so-grateful for you.

Elle

8.21.17 Analog Heart

4

unnamed

A really good friend of mine is getting divorced. It is both as blunt and pointed as that. I think one of the hardest things is that this person is not one to whom anyone could say they, “saw it coming.” And every time I think about the hurt – I hurt. What’s more is that I’ve seen this fragile, tender soul fall in waves of believing what writer Tonya Hurley once said, “If you expect nothing, you can never be disappointed.”

But that’s no way to live – and it’s not the identity one is meant to claim. It is not what any of us should be made to deal with. We should have expectations. We should believe that love is what it says it is, and will stay simply because it promised it would.

As I’m learning, this is not so. Apparently, some love, when it is unrequited and given up on, does end. Leaning into this friendship in ways of support, and listening to broken stories I don’t understand, this poem came to me.

An analog relates to a mechanism that requires a voltage or pressure to perform; it seemed a weakened, but still beating heart applied. So this is for my friend, who knows above all things the proverbial truth that, “Hope dies last.” Let your heart beat on – weak, but steady. For someday it will be filled again. It will rise to the point of a great crescendo. It, like you, will carry on.

Analog Heart

You – now equal parts ash and ice

who stumbles between the

purity of being tested in fire –

and the bitterest chill of indifference

You – beating fiercely as your

gears remain locked …

who feels the minutes pass –

hears every tick that slowly

grinds,

yet sees no discernible change

You – built to race,

built to fill and turn keys of

crimson and scarlet –

doors closed long enough

for filaments of light to become dull

You – filled to fracture with

memory – this moment –

even if it is all you’re capable of –

… stay …

… endure …

beat one time,

and let the echo of once

remind you how to carry on again

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 7.32.55 PM

Please share this with anyone whose heart is, or has been near to breaking. Remember that your strength only needs to last you this day, and somehow, miraculously, tomorrow you will find another way, another day, to carry on.

From my heart to yours,

Elle

1.15.17 Tell Tale

3

unnamed

Yesterday I had my will notarized.  It’s official.  According to paper … my death is in order.  I’m not going to lie, there’s something significantly disconcerting about having things “finalized.”  It seems like tempting fate in some way.  But, as the character Nate Scamander says in Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them, “Worrying means you suffer twice.”  So it’s probably better not to.  

As easy as it is to tell myself, it would be dishonest to say that the what if’s in my mind haven’t been kicked a little into high gear.  What if my husband and I don’t get to die together like we planned (I choose to be delusional okay)?  What if I died before I got to help my daughter pick out her wedding dress?  What if our four pets outlive us all out of spite?  What if my sister would go insane having to take care of my kids and her own?  What if, when I watch my life again with God, it ends up being a  total snore because the majority of my time is spent folding laundry?  Yes.  These are the things that run through my brain.  

When I’m being a bit more rational, (which I can be from time to time) thinking about death actually makes me think a lot more about life – about my life and what I’m doing with it, about the lives of those around me, and about the way we all process our own stories. Like the hundreds of books I have in my house, there are so many perspectives … so many genres … so many tales of heroes and villains … often portrayed by the same person – us.  I have to wonder about whether or not anyone maps the chapters of their lives like I do. 

What chapters do they sink into, reading slowly and savoring the memories of precious things only they know?  What sections to they skip past, too fearful of revisiting old demons?  What parts surprise them about themselves?  What parts enchant them?  Disappoint them?  Remind them to dream?  Make them feel most alive?  Do they think their stories are worth reading twice? 

Regardless of where you are in the process of looking back, or looking forward.  We’re all in the middle of our very own book of life.  I think the most important thing to remember is what Susan Statham said, “Your life is your story. Write well. Edit often.” It might just be me and my writer’s heart, but I believe there’s no such thing as a lost cause in a story … no matter how many plot twists yours may have.  Only you can rewrite the character of you … so what tale will you tell? 

Never lose faith, you are the hero after all. 

Elle 

12.3.16 Such as Him

7

unnamed

It’s amazing how disconnected this life is from loss.  Whenever someone important to me dies, it’s like I expect the ground to shake, the sky to darken, or strangers to mourn with me.  I anticipate some kind of drastic reaction to the void now imprinted on the earth, and I am always a little stunned when nothing happens outside to match what is going on within.

He was ninety-two years old … this man – his heart and his mind were sharp as the day of this photograph in his twenties, but complications in the body at ninety-two don’t care about the rest of you.  In his life he was a soldier, a surviving child of the Great Depression, a WWII veteran, a brother, a husband, a friend.  He was one of the last of the Greatest Generation, and knowing him for even a day would tell you why.  He matched wit with humor, war stories with a pocket full of jokes, and never let two weeks pass without a forty-minute drive to visit his ninety-four-year-old sister.  I just don’t think men are made like that anymore.

What hurts is that most will never know, and soon time will wear out even the nearest memories to him.  The closest thing he got to welcome in this life was a worn out, tattered version of hospitality.  And yet – his life mattered.  He was the closest thing my mother had to a father … and his stories became her tales to tell.  Two years ago, she took him on the Honor Flight to Washington, where for just one day, he was treated like the hero he’d always been to her.  From that day on, there wasn’t a moment he could be seen without his Honor Flight hat sitting proudly atop his head.  Besides his ready smile, it was truly his only adorning accessory.

unnamed-1

I wish the world had made a little more room for this man … and for all the men and women like him.  For the forgotten ones who lived lives of the truest forms of sacrifice, and the purest forms of humility.  But it doesn’t.  Without the digital proof of a life that social media trails throughout society, many “lives” are lost to the world far before they are truly gone, and that may be the saddest reality of all.

I’m thankful for those of us who did know this man … I’m grateful for how much he gave, regardless of how very little he had.  I appreciate the love he lavished on my mother, my grandmother, my children … and how whenever we’d send him a card, he’d call with thanks as if I’d given him the moon and the stars.

J.K. Rowling said, “To have been loved so deeply … will give us some protection forever.”  But I think those of us left in this world need to take a real look at this man, and anyone like him we have the honor to know.  If we don’t hear their stories, and carry them on, if we don’t try to understand the lives they lived, and the mentalities that made them so strong … we will become the lost ones.  Because there is a far greater loss to us who are living if we don’t embrace the lessons from individuals such as him.

Love you always Uncle Sylvester,

Elle