Moving Day

red letter dayIt’s odd how the most important moments in our lives are marked. It’s not so much by the grand pageantry of big events, but rather the small details that define our daily circumstances. We just don’t know it at the time. The little moments happen, building a collection of days and weeks that gradually mounts, moving us along until one day we look around and notice we’re no longer standing where we used to be. 

As expected, moving day on campus was a flurry of activity. Anxious parents, faces wrought with concern, clucked and fussed over their newly-minted “adult” children while those same children worked to acquaint themselves with their new surroundings. Hard as it was to wrap my mind around it — my nephew was part of this new batch of freshmen at Ohio State. An avalanche of applications, test scores and campus visits now behind him, he met his roommates and unpacked his modest supply of dorm stuff. Class schedule in hand, he seemed set for this monumental First Day of the Rest of His Life. 

Although I’m not his mother, an odd mix of emotions washed over me after we said our goodbyes. As I stood, squinting in the sunlight, watching his broad, grown-up shoulders fade and disappear into the darkness of the dormitory, feelings of pride, nervousness, nostalgia and sadness ran together in a silent churning sea of sentiment. The day he was born naturally leapt to mind alongside flickering memories of massive Lego builds, movie nights, school plays, sporting events and spontaneous trips to McDonalds. 

I felt a smile tug on the corners of my mouth when I recalled the time, just before he left for camp, when he gobbled three cheeseburgers I was sure he’d never finish. The the hot sting of tears followed quickly after the realization that he was no longer that little boy on his way to summer camp and cheeseburgers no longer an effective currency for affection. 

As we drove away I glanced out the window, noticing hundreds of bright-eyed coeds walking and laughing as they unloaded boxes or rested in slanted rays of sun on late-summer lawns — I felt emotion rise up in me once more. Only this time I recognized it for what it was: a beginning. It is the time when everything is shiny and new and the world rolls out in front of you like a warm and welcome ribbon of highway. It was at that moment—that little moment—that I knew it wasn’t the goodbye that was taunting me. No, caught instead in the corners of my mind… was the quiet turning of the page. 

We Are Not Boulders

agnes-vaille-falls11Every now and then something profound happens that makes you realize how fleeting life can be. Something reminds you how fragile your existence is and sharpens your awareness of the fact that no one is immune to the fatal flaw that is simply being human…

On an ordinary autumn morning, six family members were hiking along an easy trail in the central Colorado Rockies to bear witness to one of the state’s beautiful natural gems waiting for them at the end. It would truly be a breathtaking reward for such a brief mountain stroll. Except that this excursion would ultimately be anything but rewarding.

Carved into the side of towering 14,000 ft. Mount Princeton and surrounded by sheer rocky cliffs, evergreen trees and quivering golden aspen, the ice-cold waters of the AgnesVailleFalls tumble over the rocks thundering and crashing as they emerge from the mountain. Perhaps the recent rains or dramatic changes in temperature had caused the boulders to shift from their perches high above and the giant monoliths began sliding and falling to the observation area at the bottom of the falls… and onto the family watching below.

Of the six hikers, only a 13 year old girl survived. It is indeed moments like these that make us newly aware how quickly life as we know it can change. However, for me personally, this struck on a whole other level. You see, I did not know the family, but I did know the falls. I used to visit them frequently, hiking that very trail many times while living and working just a few miles down the road. It was a place I went to watch for wildlife, or to sit in quiet meditation and write.

I have stood where they stood—where they perished—and looked up in awe and wonder at this towering, rushing spectacle time and time again and marveled at its strength, endurance and majesty. I have climbed up high amidst the boulders to catch a better glimpse of a mountain goat and eaten my lunch surrounded by the rolling mist coming off the water when first it broke over thrusting rocky ledges. And although I thought I appreciated the power of nature and I’d like to think I respected it too, I felt perfectly safe and secure inside my mortal shell.

We human beings have an incredible knack for thinking of ourselves as boulders. We consider our life, our stature, our “situation” to be immovable and permanently grounded… as though life, like water, should flow around us but never actually MOVE us. We think if we root ourselves in the soil of whatever we deem important that everything else will get out of our way. We believe that illness, death, loss and change cannot happen to us.

How humbling it is to be reminded—in times like these—that we are not boulders. We are breakable and fallible and nothing in this life is certain. I don’t know about you, but it is during circumstances like these that I want to hold my loved ones tighter… keep them closer. Watch what I say and how I treat the people who matter most. Enjoy the beauty of a crisp fall day or the musical sound of pure unadulterated laughter. And I want to bask in thankfulness for all that I have experienced and been given. I want to put away the cares and worries of tomorrow… Living only for today.

Written in honor of the Johnson Family of Buena Vista, Colorado. And dedicated to some dear friends of mine who’ve recently found themselves in battle against forces beyond our comprehension.  

The Apron

By Tara Canestraro

The following was written by my friend Tara who lost her mother four years ago. Late one night, filled with deep emotion, Tara stayed up and penned the following about her mother, the relationship she had with her and the special kind of love that exists between a mother and her children.

the-apron

Anyone in my family can tell you what the words “go get my apron” meant. For as long as I can remember my mom always had an apron she wore to work. I used to think this apron was magical because so many things came from it.

From this “magical” apron came groceries, utilities, clothing, house payments, wedding dresses, car payments, college tuition and even toys. And the most magnificent thing that it could produce was a Christmas beyond a child’s wildest imagination.

Her apron was not only used for her own children — it was carried on to the next generation. It provided school clothes, more prom dresses, lunch money, Beanie Babies, books, coats and shoes. With her smooth tone of voice—never condescending—we were always told, “It’s in my apron.” Oh was this apron magical!

As the years went by, what I always knew to be “the apron,” had lost its shape and became the pocketbook. The pocketbook could take on the same majesty as the apron. It could provide for anyone in need without question. Even if was something as simple as a piece of gum, the pocketbook miraculously provided.

As an adult I now see that the apron/pocketbook helped a lot of people, and wasn’t really magical after all. I realize now that deep inside the pockets of this apron were things like sacrifice, dedication, and hard work. What came out of it were things like patience, loyalty and love.

She, like many, many mothers, was very dedicated to her children and worked tirelessly to make sure we had everything we needed and then some. Patience and loyalty were given without hesitation, and love and sacrifice provided expecting nothing in return.

Although I cannot repay all that the apron gave to me, I truly pray that my children will see her wisdom and virtues through me. I hope I can provide for my own family in the same way she did — without hesitation, without questioning, always loving, always putting their needs first.

Losing her has been the hardest thing in my life, but I have learned so much from it. What you have is material, but what you need is love. The most precious gift I can give to my children and my children’s children comes from my mother’s apron — self-sacrificing, unconditional love.

I hope in all my years, the contents of that “magical” apron will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.

Tara

Tara Canestraro

Flying Lessons

When you come to the end of all of the light that you know and step out into the darkness of the Great Unknown… Faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen. Either you will be given something firm to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.

personal-flight-attempt-1

I can’t remember the first time I heard this quote, but I have loved it ever since. It comforts me to be reminded that things always have a way of working out. It may take a while to comprehend what is happening or why, but eventually understanding comes. Hindsight is 20/20, they always say. In the meantime, during those darker times, those murky times, those uncertain times it is important to know that things won’t always stay that way.

Easier said than done. I know.

I personally prefer the first scenario given, that I will be given something firm to stand on. If something I can feel beneath my feet is good, then something solid and immoveable—something firm—is even better. It is the flying part that I have trouble with because it does not come naturally to me. In fact, unless you’re a superhero, it doesn’t come naturally to any of us. But sometimes, flying lessons are the only option we’ll be given. No less. No more. And that can be scary because it not only requires endless patience, but trust as well.

For months now I’ve found myself sulking around in one of those murky places… waiting to see if I’d be graciously given something firm to stand on or shoved headfirst off a cliff and forced to fly. In more specific terms, I was waiting to see if the company I’d been working for (on a contract basis for the last five months) was going to welcome me into the official fold or choose to go in a different direction with another candidate.

I equated getting the job with a great big slab of granite. A vast, strong, solid piece of property to stand on which I could call my very own. I would carve my name in it and decorate it with potted plants and adorable picture frames. Conversely, I equated NOT getting the job with flying… blind… in a hurricane… without a parachute or floatation device. Betcha can’t guess which one I’m doing right now?

Yup. I’m flying. But miraculously, it isn’t the death-defying, teeth-chattering, knee-knocking, goose-bump-inducing terror trip I was expecting. It is so bizarre. Sitting in the conference room, on an ordinary Wednesday, I knew from the look on my boss’s face that I was not about to hear the news I’d been hoping for. And I’ll be honest, I was crushed. Hot, fat tears splashed down the front my favorite periwinkle sweater the entire drive home that afternoon. That evening I cried so hard I gave myself a migraine. In fact, I cried so hard my teeth and gums and eye sockets hurt.

But when the sun came up on Thursday, I was over it. By Friday I was even MORE over it and when I agreed to stay on another week and showed up for work at the very place where my services were no longer desirable, I was completely over it.  No leftover attitude. No residual bitterness. Just peace, calm and contentment. I’m not exactly sure what happened… other than the distinct possibility that although I am flying, it is not without a net. 

You see, while I’ve been wading around in fear and uncertainty, worrying and fretting  about the unknown the last five months — my soon-to-be-husband, family and friends have been weaving a pretty tight mesh beneath me. Making it clear to me that even though there is no giant slab of granite beneath my feet for TOMORROW, being angry or bitter takes too much energy away from the things that I have TODAY.

Belonging

three swansThree white swans inhabit the waters of the quarry stretching beneath and beyond my new office window. The other morning, the aqua expanse awash in the warm, bright sunlight of a new day, I watched the trio glide across the water just as they did the very first time I saw them.

They swim in a unique formation and always the same. Two of them remain close together while one trails slightly behind. They are graceful and lovely and a welcome distraction from the busy computer screens blinking and beeping at me with email and meeting alerts for the majority of the day.

Normally, I would think very little of the fact that there are only three. But a co-worker pointed out to me that a year ago there were four. Two pairs, consistently swimming together and doing whatever it is swans do. Over the course of time, however, the group had lost a member.

For an animal lover like me, it’s sad enough as it is without the regard for one important detail… Apparently swans mate for life. And this was a tiny bit of avian intel that I did not know. It wasn’t just that the “group” had lost a member, but one of these creatures—the one who trails roughly a swan’s length behind—had lost its partner for life.

For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I’ve found myself obsessed with them. I look for them every day, hoping they will grace me with their silent presence. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that one of them has lost its partner, often causing me to wonder if perhaps he or she is sorrowful or lonely? Or whether or not it’s the fascinating fact that the other pair allows the lone swan to remain a part of the group? But something about this unconventional bird bunch intrigues and inspires me.

Such has been my preoccupation with them that I have tried to figure out the source of my quite-possibly-borderline-unusual curiosity. And I think (after some excessive reflection) I’ve nailed it down. I think it’s because the behavior is so human. Their bond reminds me so much of us with our innate desire to connect with others and to forge relationships that will stand the test of time.

The mating for life thing is cool… Don’t get me wrong. I know there are a lot of critters in nature who do this. But I think what has captivated me most is how consistently they stick together. The three of them… The odd number of them.

I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in knowing that the need to belong stretches far beyond me… far beyond my peers, family, friends and fellow human beings… and farther still beyond the edges of the quarry outside my window… and infinitely beyond any of the natural world that I can touch, feel and see.

Someone Else’s Life

“Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Not even one day somebody else.”

Someone ElseThat is the opening line in one of my favorite episodes of HBO’s show Enlightened. The show stars Laura Dern as Amy — an enthusiastic but broken woman turned whistleblower trapped in a less-than-satisfying-sometimes-tragic-and-chaotic life in corporate America. I’ve actually written about it before and for anyone interested, you can find that post here.

The show is about to enter into it’s second season this weekend, therefore the previews and reruns have been rampant. Not that I mind. I loved it the first time and have been anxiously awaiting this moment for over a year. While waiting I’ve been refreshing my memory by watching the reruns and last night was reminded of the line I quoted at the beginning.

I was struck the first time I heard her character utter those words: Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Because I remember, vividly, as a child often pondering the very same thing. It must have been some sort of phase having to do with self-realization, self-awareness or some other sort of psycho-babble. But I’ve never shared those thoughts aloud until now. Apparently, I thought it would be fun to tell about 200+ readers instead of say, a close friend, parent or sibling.

I distinctly remember a time, early in elementary school when I would sit around my room, looking in the mirror or down at my hands, legs or feet and reflect on the notion that I was always, only ever going to look at the world through THESE eyes. As me. And NEVER anyone else. And honestly, I was a little bit disappointed. Mostly I was in awe of the fact that of all the people I’d witnessed coming and going at school, on the television, at church, at the bank or the grocery store… I would never be anyone else.

I couldn’t help but feel a teensy bit cheated by that reality. I mean, it wasn’t like life had dealt me a bad hand or anything. I had a good life. I was and am healthy. I had and continue to have wonderful parents, a sister who seemed to tolerate me THEN and is NOW a friend, a nice home, friends, pets, toys and lots and lots of love and laughter.

But I believe there was something in me that wanted desperately to know what life might be like through a different set of eyes. Call me adventurous or perhaps insane… I think back then, I just didn’t want to get bored. An entire lifetime, to me, seemed a very long time to spend inside the same body. Notice I said back then. Because as adults I think it is quite common to wonder what life looks like on the other side of the proverbial fence. We wonder what if

What if I had studied something else in school? What if I made twice what I’m making now? What if I had two children or six? (depending on what you may or may not already have) What if I stuck that out? (insert whatever your “that” is here) What if I lived in Fiji and sold t-shirts on the beach or was a SCUBA instructor with a killer tan and chiseled body? (OK, maybe that’s just mine.) But I think you get the idea…

This is it. This IS life. And this is all we get. ONE of them, experienced through ONE pair of eyes for as many days as we’ve been uniquely given. And I guess I can pout all I want to when I look in the mirror… wishing I were taller with a willowy frame, or that I’d been an attorney or a SCUBA instructor. But I think the point is to live THIS out the best that I can. Making the most of the highs, gaining perspective from the lows.

I just love the way Amy says—with childlike honesty—something we’ve probably all considered at one time or another during this thing that we only get to do ONCE. This thing called Life… Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Not even one day somebody else.

What’s In a Year?

holding handsKisses were exchanged as the clock struck midnight and one by one the couples announced their plans for 2013.

“We’re gonna pop out a kid, honey!” Said the couple excitedly expecting their first child in the spring.

“We did a pretty cool thing in 2012 and it looks like we’ve got an exciting year ahead of us.” Proclaimed the pair of newly-minted parents whose baby girl arrived the previous fall.

“Here’s to the first year in our new home.” One of the two newlyweds seated on the couch replied to the other.

Looking out across the snowy landscape in the wee hours of a brand new year, we couldn’t help but consider what 2013 might hold for us. “2013.” Lee said as he navigated the snow-covered roads back to our house at the conclusion of the party. “Twenty years ago…” We began to say at the exact same time. Twenty years ago we graduated high school together before heading off in two very different directions. “It’s just so hard to believe.” One of us exclaimed… preaching to the proverbial choir.

We will get married this summer. That much we know. The planning has begun and as a picture of our wedding day emerges, our excitement grows for the anticipated date. But beyond that, it is unclear where we will go and what life will look like. We have a home and friends and belong to a community. He has a real job and I am hoping that the new year brings permanent employment (beyond contract work) my way. But for the most part, we are settled. Much of our picture is already colored in.

“So I suppose they’ll have their own little club once they all have babies.” I announced over lunch today while referring to the growing enclave of which we are not a part. “There’s no one else like us, you know.” I muttered with a mouthful of food while considering what the words “like us” meant exactly. I decided I was referring to couples in their late 30’s who don’t have children and aren’t sure they want any. I suppose it is as simple as that.

“I like us.” Lee stated very matter-of-factly as he shrugged his shoulders in a perfunctory but decided sort of way.

And I was reminded—all over again—why I love him as much as I do.

“I like us, too.” I said and reached for another slice of pizza.