Don’t Hesitate

“The love in whose presence we stand must also inhabit us.” -Daphne Rose Kingma

5 years ago, on Valentines Day, I published a blog post titled “Row”, about my niece Melissa’s excitement for the new man in her life, and my reaction to it. The title refers to Mary Oliver’s poem “West Wind #2”, which urges the reader to always “row” towards love, even if we sense “the embattlement” ahead.

15378_10203501783681721_864596546241764038_n-001I’ve been thinking a lot about my niece – and that post – lately, because in just a few weeks from now, she is getting married to that man from 5 years ago.

I’ve been thinking too about how weddings are happy but complicated affairs. They are a delicate balancing act for the two about to wed, between their own desires, and the expectations of all who love them. As much as we all buy into the “it’s your day!” idea, weddings stir the emotions of everyone involved. The movie version of this allows us two feelings: joy for the couple, and just a bit of sadness for those who have passed on and are missing the big day. But of course real life is more complicated than that.

How we feel about weddings – whether it be joyful, sad, nostalgic, surly, or some combination thereof –  is a reflection of our own experiences and associations with the institution. For those who are blessed with good partners, weddings inspire hope and happiness. But for those of us who are cynical about love, they become a spotlight – one of those bright, unflattering interrogation lights actually – on all the ways love has failed us, or how we’ve failed in love.

***

My niece has been the picture of calm while planning this very low-key, casual destination wedding, and it has impressed me to no end. She has stayed true to what she and Mark desire – a casual beach wedding in Puerto Rico – without placing any pressure on anyone, for anything.

She and Mark have shown a deep and relentless consideration for the friends and business owners in Isabela who will be part of their big day. Plans were made long before the devastating 2017 hurricane season, and they made absolutely sure that our presence there would be a blessing, not a burden. The consensus among the locals was to bring our business – that it would only help them.

They have vacationed in Isabela a number of times, and have made lasting friendships with locals. They have grown to love the beaches, the people, the food and the culture – I can’t wait to love it too. I know I will, and it will probably hold a special place in my heart after this, the way my niece always has, since the first time I held her when I was 10, and she was tiny.

***

I have felt deeply ashamed that I haven’t been able to feel a whole lot of happiness for her until recently. My 2013 surliness seems downright adorable to what I’m wrestling with now. 2017 brought with it yet another failed relationship (that I now refer to as “The Long Con”) and left me more battle weary than I’d like to admit. There is still shrapnel everywhere.

The shame I felt was all about the love I have for my niece, and not just how I “should” be happy for her, but because I desperately wanted to be. At some point late last year, I realized the advantage and blessing of that “interrogation light,” and shone it all around inside my heart and head looking for joy, like it was an attic full of dusty boxes. It was there, but I couldn’t get to it without clearing some things out of the way first.

Back in December, my dearest friend of 20 years, Michelle (who is also a wedding guest) saw me struggling to wrap my head around the trip to Puerto Rico. She knew I was freezing up, so she just went ahead and booked the trip for us, making sure that I was seated between her, and her husband on the flights. Which is pretty much a guaranteed 6 hour mix of exasperation and laughter. And Xanax. And booze.

I’m still not sure I deserve that sort of kindness. But then any unluckiness I’ve had in love in the past decade is so often tempered by my absurdly good fortune in the friendship department. Not that I’m keeping score LIFE but I totally am.

I am able to, more each day, feel a clearer happiness for my niece. I’ve watched her grow up, and grow through so much. She is thoughtful and kind, and brings those qualities to everything she does, this wedding included. I’ve seen her learn how to care less about all the small stuff, and how to take care of herself in a way that I could probably stand to learn from. I am continually impressed by her strength, her good heart, and her humor – though I harbor some resentment about that last detail. She really needs to stop being funnier than me.

I don’t want anything to keep me from taking part this joyful day with her, and Mark, and all the other people who love them as much as I do.  I may be still be wrestling with my own cynicism about love, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see it, or feel it, and so much of it, in all its forms. It is worth celebrating, worth digging up joy for.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

–Mary Oliver

More Love, Less Pain,

xo-L

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the way around again

IMG-7869This past year, I discovered the joys of coffee in bed on my weekend mornings. In fact I started this blog post during my last coffee in bed session of 2017. It feels luxurious and lazy – two things I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of being, which assuages any Yankee guilt I feel about the chores that await. In the personal and political chaos of 2017, I’m grateful for this new ritual. I use the time to read, write, or just watch the damn (albeit cute) House Sparrows in the privet outside.  

I think I like doing this so much because I had one of those years where I had to catch my breath over and over again. Probably not unlike yours, maybe worse in some ways, maybe better in others. I am now six months out from a breakup that should have been simple, but complicated my life in ways I could not have foreseen. It dredged up every last fear I have about trusting people, but I am working on it, and moving on. Then, in November, a dear friend parted this earth way too soon, leaving me – and so many people I love dearly – aching, and stunned.

With the year closing out, I am, like many of you, looking back, taking stock, and counting blessings.

Gratitude is a practice that is based in comparison. It may seem a morbid thing to do, but when things go badly, it helps to remind ourselves how much worse it could have been. It can work like the switch on a flashlight, forcing us to shine a light on our relative good luck. Sheryl Sandberg calls it the “gratitude for what’s left”, and it can offer perspective when things seem too much to bear.

I have done this, and I know my year could have been worse, and I am truly grateful for what is left.

The worst part of this year was watching people use this concept to dismiss each other’s experiences. I got a small dose of this in my personal life, but more so when I paid attention to the news. The term “snowflake” was flung around far too much. The lack of empathy was heart wrenching to witness.

In the best case scenario, people want to convince you that things weren’t really “that bad” or “could have been worse”, out of love, because they genuinely want us to be happy. In the worst case, it’s because our suffering is an affront to their happiness, or a threat to their fantasies about this country. 

But perspective and gratitude don’t make pain disappear – they are more like dressings for our wounds, not a miraculous tincture that seals them up. Healing takes so much more than that – like empathy, self-care, and time.

I know the whole gratitude thing can seem like some cult-ish fad, or a pollyannaish thing to do. I’m not saying it cures all, and I certainly don’t want to oversimplify. I speak from my own experience though, and how it helped me heal from a panic disorder 7 years ago.

I took up a practice of gratitude back then, alongside therapy, exercise, meditation, and yes, some Xanax too. If I’m honest, writing a list of things I was grateful for seemed silly, and no match for a disorder that felt like it might literally kill me at times. I was overwhelmed by bitterness about the factors that brought on the disorder, and felt grateful for nothing, but I was willing to try. 

So I started with the basics – like sidewalks. I walked 4-6 miles a day back then, because it was the only time I felt some reprieve from my racing heart and mind. Sidewalks made that safer, and easier, so, on the list it went. It took a few weeks, but I eventually realized that taking stock of the basics made sense, and was a good starting point. Over time, it helped chip away at the lies that anxiety tells, and it gave me real ground to stand on while I continued the work that eventually lead to recovery.

My point being: I have experienced the power of its practice. But I sometimes forget. I sometimes fumble around in the darkness, especially in years like 2017. And even though January 1st is an arbitrary date that holds no significance in astronomy or nature, I find the symbolism a new year difficult to resist. And what’s wrong anyhow, with taking time to reflect on what has transpired? Or with moving forward with hope and well wishes in our hearts, for ourselves and everyone around us?

And while I’ve shared this quote before, in another New Years’ post I think, I’ll share it again because it says it better than I can:

“…onward full-tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another–that is surely the basic instinct…Crying out: High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson

And then I’ll just leave you with one more thing – something a dear friend sent me on Saturday, while I was enjoying my second-to-last coffee in bed of 2017. This is the same friend who I spent last Christmas with while her world fell apart, and she too had a rough year, but is doing much better. It was so thoughtful of her, and so perfectly timed. 

If I have learned anything this year, it is that I won’t ever be ready for what life throws at me.
I won’t have the right words when it counts;
I won’t know what to choose when fate itself is staring at me down.
But now I know I don’t always need to have the right answer.

I’ve learned I can go on waiting for something,
sustained by hope and nothing more — or I can put it aside and shrug my shoulders.
Bravely accept the fact that I can’t keep my heart safe anymore than I can stop love from taking everything from me.

I have learned to stop saying yes when I don’t mean it — to live as authentically as I know how.
To allow the tips of my fingers to skirt the darkness, as long as I remember to keep my eyes fixed on the light.
And as one door opens and another closes, I will move forward with the knowledge that unlike so many others, I have another year ahead of me — another shot at making it all the way around the sun,
And a chance to get it right this time round.

-Lang Leav

I’m grateful we all have another “shot at making it all the way around the sun”, and wish you all love and peace in the year ahead.

More food, less pain,
xo-L

Row

Bladderwrack & Stone, Cliff Walk, Dec 2012

One day, back in December, Favorite Niece told me how excited she was for a visit from a guy. She was counting down the days, and, like anyone falling in love, could not contain her enthusiasm. She was grinning a lot back then*, and was obviously happy.

Her happiness did not resonate with me that day. I was feeling blue, and I remember counseling her to temper her anticipation, and to be careful with her expectations. I’m sure I thought I was being helpful, and probably believed that the 10 extra years of “wisdom” I have on her meant my advice was sound. I offered no positive encouragement, just a grim warning. And, like most unsolicited advice and criticism, it came from a place of unhappiness.

I regretted it instantly, and have ruminated over my reaction since. I started questioning why it was so difficult for me to just be happy for her. Had I completely lost faith in the idea of romantic love? Would I ever feel that it’s worth the risk again? Do I really even need that particular kind of relationship, when my life feels rich enough already with the love of my family and friends?

I still don’t have the answers, but I do have moments of clarity here and there. A poem I came across recently, “West Wind # 2”, by Mary Oliver, helped some, the way a good poem should.

This poem reminded me that, despite my bruised and hesitant heart, I still believe the risk is worth taking. I desperately don’t want anyone, especially my niece, to be as hurt and as disappointed as I was when my relationship of nearly a decade ended a few years ago. And yet, I have no regrets. Of course I wish I could take away the pain it caused both me and my ex, but then I’d have to take away all the years of joy and love and growth we shared, as well as the friendship that endures. Why on earth would I want to erase all that?

And the fact is, her heart might break. Mine might again too. But most hearts do, at some point, and usually more than once in a lifetime. Despite this, I still agree with what Ms. Oliver wrote – that life without love is “not worth a bent penny or a scuffed shoe.” It’s worth the risk, and I’m glad she’s rowing towards it.

West Wind # 2
You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to 
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent 
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a 
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile 
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water 
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the 
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable 
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth 
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls 
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life 
toward it.

-Mary Oliver

 

More Food Love, Less Pain,
xo-L

*And still is, I’m happy to report.

Love and Joy

A favorite ornament, handmade in Germany.

It’s a beautiful, chilly, quiet morning on Historic Hill. Out the window to my right is blue sky, with the tall white steeple of Trinity Church in the distance. In the foreground, colorful little clapboard colonial houses of varying heights. And then there’s Touro Synagogue, right below my third story window. I’m about to meditate, and this will be my view.

My hope is that 10 minutes of sitting will calm my rattled nerves. I’d hoped a good night of sleep would settle them, but that didn’t happen. I tossed and turned last night – thought about nothing and everything. Anxiety about nothing. Anxiety about everything. I’m sure you understand. I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles a bit with the demands of this holiday.

Despite feeling this way, I’m looking forward to today. I like the bustle of Christmas eve. After a few quick errands this morning, I’ll be helping out at Newport Wine Cellar and Le Petit Gourmet. Friends and customers that I adore will come by, and it will be a joy to see them.  It will be busy, of course, but fun. And after that I’ll see my family for dinner. I haven’t seen my little nephews in far too long, and can’t wait to get silly with them.

Rattled nerves won’t keep me from enjoying Christmas, or from meditating on what it has come to mean to me. My ideas about it evolve a little more each year. I’ve unplugged from the things I don’t like about it, and have learned to focus on the things about it that I love.

I’m also ever aware of how painful this time can be for people who are grieving. All those expectations of “love and joy” sting like a slap to the face when a source of love and joy is taken from you. Of course I’m thinking of those families in Connecticut. Who isn’t?

I know this all sounds a bit melancholy. But the holidays are complicated for so many of us. I’m trying to acknowledge that. Trying not to turn away from that fact. Trying to embrace it, and bear witness to it.

The sun is a little higher in the sky now, and the bustle is starting. More cars are driving up and down Touro Street, and I see people walking into town to shop. I should probably be doing the same, but wanted to wish you all a happy holiday first. I wish you love and joy. And I hope that with each hug from a old friend or family member, any stress or sadness you may be carrying around fades into the background for a little while.

More Food, Less Pain,
xo -L

Love After Love

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I had a pretty bad year last year. I’m trying not to dwell on it, but lately I can’t help but look back and feel gratitude that I’m not in the same, terrible space I was last summer, fall and winter.

For a long time I believed the post break up depression, and the anxiety about my new life would never pass. But it did. And in the past four or five months I’ve found confidence, clarity and stability again. It was hard won, but worth the struggle.

Today I was feeling especially grateful. On my lunch break from work today I walked, like I often do, by the ocean for exercise, fresh air and a chance to reflect. I thought of the great weekend I had. I thought of how robbed I was of joy last year, and how blessed I am with it now. I also thought of how my relationship with myself had to evolve, out of necessity and survival, from one of self loathing and doubt, to one of acceptance and kindness.

Then I remembered a poem that I found last year. I used to read this one over and over, and wanted so badly for “the time” to come for me to love my life again. Luckily, the poem offered some instruction in a language I understood, via the metaphor of feasting. Give wine? Give bread? This I get. I love the imagery of doing this for your heart and your soul. It’s a beautiful poem. And anyone who’s been through the process of rediscovering themselves after losing someone they loved will understand its message, and get inspiration from it, I hope.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

-Derek Walcott

More Food, Less Pain, 

xo-L