All Souls

Last night I had a moment of surrender. I finally had to use the reading glasses I swore I'd never use.  I have been avoiding this for some time now, thanks to my Kindle. I have it set to HUGE FONT so it makes reading really easy on my eyes.  But I bought a real book at a real book store, and was appalled by the small type.  

It’s amazing how in one moment you’re a teenager, weeping over the total lack of control you have over your life, and then the next moment, you’re leaning into 40, looking at your sleeping children, and realizing that the reading glasses you swore you’d never wear allow your eyes focus on that wonderful book for a bit longer.

When I really stop and think about it, it’s such a privilege to experience such a mind blowing range of emotions, situations, of highs and lows in this lifetime.

I visited my Aunt Susan two days ago with my mom.  Susan is in hospice care, in the final stages of surrender to cancer after a very long, very brave battle.  I went into it thinking I would handle it just fine… after all, when I volunteered at the hospital, I loved visiting with people who were just about to be ushered out of this life and into the next.  Things are so real with these people. There’s no small talk. There is only presence.  I figured, “I’ve got this.” I will admit to some smug feelings of superiority over my mom as we pulled up to the house.  I’ve got this.

I didn’t have it.

It was exactly as my former mentor at O’Connor Hospital, Fr Basil, once told me: “Remember, you are not the holy one administering to the sick. They are the holy ones administering to you, teaching you something very profound about the nature of suffering, surrender and facing the ultimate fear.  Remove your sandals. You are on holy ground.”

When it was a stranger I was administering to, it was so much easier to be in full possession of my spiritual tools of being a quiet, peaceful presence in the room.  At the hospital, I always seemed to know what to say, how to say it, and when to not say anything at all.

But Susan is someone I know and love.  Someone who is part of our family, mother to my two precious cousins. Wife to my Uncle Dennis, who has been a part of my life in a big way for 40 years.  I was speechless. Dumb struck.  Unable to do anything but let my mom and Uncle guide us through the visit.

Coming into contact with Susan means stepping into an empathy that required me to imagine what it must feel like to know you only have a few weeks left. That you have to say goodbye to your children. Your husband.  This beautiful, broken world.

Just typing those words makes my heart swell and ache at how precious it all really is, and how I bumble through it half high on caffeine, totally disconnected from its unfolding gifts.  So absorbed with finding the right radio station I miss the scattering of pink clouds stretched out across a sky that goes on forever.

Such a visit should make me silent, listening… waiting and welcoming life in any form it takes – the sound of those squirrels twittering outside to each other… the moments when my children put on their Halloween costumes, giggling and wild.

Such a visit should bring me to a place of such gratitude for the life I’m still living. Visiting Susan should bring me to my knees in sorrow for the life she’s leaving behind.

But I was in possession of none of that, just a vague knowing that I had little to offer except my being physically there and that I came bearing raviolis from La Villa Deli and a very decent bottle of Pinot.

My mom on the other hand…  She was gentle, quiet, allowed Susan to dictate the rules of engagement.  She told Susan stories only when Susan expressed an interest in hearing them.  And when Susan was tired, my mom picked up on that too, and shuffled us out of the room.

As I get older, there are so many sneak attack feelings of superiority over my parents.  I don’t intend to have them, but they just show up with their air of sophistication and I fall for them every time.  Age brings with it experience, and sometimes I mistake 40 years of acquired experiences for wisdom.  My mom’s grace was a revelation to me.  Susan’s total peaceful surrender to her situation, and presence of mind and ability to connect with me one-on-one to say goodbye… to tell me how proud she is of who I’ve become… My Uncle’s ability to keep his sense of humor through the small, grim, real acts of tending to the mother of his children who is dying… these are behaviors I can’t even begin to approach in my current state.  These behaviors remind me of how far I have to go to get beyond an embryonic state of humanness.

I am only capable of witnessing it all play out in front of me.  I am only capable of hoping that when the time comes, I’ll be in possession of such grace.   Today, I’m only capable of getting my kids dressed for Halloween without making it a problem.

Today I’m only capable of being fully awake to the fun of walking around the neighborhood behind these little people, clutching my glass of wine, chirping at my best friend Naomi who always comes with her family on this night every year, knowing that my husband is watching all of us with his wonderful diligence and carefulness.

Wherever you are, dear reader, may you and I do these small things with great love and great attention.   May we be brought to our knees in appreciation for this incredible gift of October 31st, 2013.

This sweet moment, my enemy.

Image By far, the sweetest part of my day happens around 7:15am.  I come home from exercising, I pickup the sippy cup full of warm milk at the top of the stairs that my husband has prepared for our sleeping son, Luca, and I walk into his bedroom.  He’s usually standing in the crib gripping the sides, waiting to be scooped up, hopping from one leg to the other.  After a quick diaper change (during which I struggle not to eat every single one of his toes) I take him into our big bed and snuggle him while he drinks his milk.  I can hear the water running in the shower as my husband gets ready for work.

The feeling of comfort, love and peace of this ritual is almost more than I can take.

In fact, I noticed this morning how difficult it is to “be” with these moments of total joy and satisfaction.   Of course it's difficult to hang with the negative emotions, but it wasn’t until this morning that I realize it’s also hard to stay present to the positive ones.

Initially I feel the oozing of joy, and within a few seconds, I'm already thinking, “soon he’ll want to wrestle and throw pillows around, and this perfect, quiet moment will be over.” And just like that, I've missed the moment.

Yesterday was another perfect example. We were at our community garden, reaping an unreal bounty of veggies, and I was weeding happily.  I could hear the girls playing and giggling in a mud patch, and Luca ran up to me and threw his arms around me, and said, “I lub you mama.”  I was swept up in such a powerful moment of melancholy… how could this perfect joy possibly last?  Don’t all children grow up and move on?  Aren’t we always left behind?  Isn’t that what success looks like for a parent?

Only I would ruin such a perfectly sweet moment with the dual-side airbag of sadness and nostalgia for stuff that is barely happening now, let alone 11 years from now when my oldest daughter leaves for college.

How on earth do we stay present to this moment – even in our joy? I’m afraid to allow my heart to swell… because on the other side of swelling is diminishing.  The opposite of expansion is contraction.  I tell myself the lie that if I don’t swell too much, the deflation will be less painful.

How do we find the courage to allow our hearts to be blown to smithereens by the experience of this life?  From the moments of aching joy, to the moments of appalling suffering?

To admit to the highs and lows is to admit to how fleeting this whole Earth School thing is.  And if I’m being really honest with myself, I love this life so much, I never want it to end, and end it absolutely will.

This must be what Dr. Brene Brown means when she calls us to live with courage – not with an absence of fear, but engaging in this life with our whole hearts, knowing that it does come to an end.  And experiencing every moment anyway.

Hopefully I can be brave enough to savor tomorrow’s ritual, and not be tempted to mourn the loss of the gift I’m still enjoying.

HelloFlo: Am I the only one not laughing?

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 3.25.46 PM Judging by my Facebook feed, I may be the only woman I know who isn't laughing at the new ad for HelloFlo.  HelloFlo is a "period starter kit" that provides young gals with all of the equipment they need to get through their first period or three.  Not a bad concept, really.

Don't get me wrong.  Normally I'm a huge fan of irreverence, sass and calling a spade a spade.  But something really bothers me about this ad.  (Warning: Man friends, you may hear more about this subject than you want to if you keep reading. But you are more than welcome to read on.)

I have two daughters (7 and 5) and because there is very little privacy in my house, they are all too aware of my "cycles."  Back when they were first able to converse about this I make a conscious decision to re-message what periods could mean to this new generation of girls, two of whom are living with me.

Instead of making it all about the hassle, the embarrassment of "accidents" and the aches, I figured I would focus instead on two things: 1) the meaning behind the bleeding and 2) the opportunity to care for ourselves a bit more carefully during this time of the month.

Meaning Behind the Bleeding?

It is certainly true that I don't love that time of the month.  But it is also true that fertility is a power so essential, we would be extinct without it.  A woman's ability to grow a new human is still considered an astonishing miracle - even in the age of Google Glass and self-driving vehicles.  Women the world over who possess the gift of fertility out-perform Michelangelo...  The Sistine Chapel is nothing compared to the sweet perfection of a newborn child.  So, yeah, once a month we women have to clean house and get ready for the next cycle of possibility.  Seems like a small price to pay.

And if that "possibility" isn't one we are open to, we make choices that align with that, and when it is something we are open to, we make a different set of choices.  This kind of thinking honors what we are as women, and encourages the kind of thoughts that promote healthy self-esteem in young girls bombarded with hyper-sexualized images starting at age 0.

Slowing Down: A New Badge of Courage?

Unfortunately, given how much I model the celebration of busy-ness in my house (mostly unconsciously), I am grateful that I can also use my cycle as an opportunity to model slowing down.  Get some extra sleep. Say "no" to that invitation I would normally push myself to accept. Not from a place of "poor me!" but from a place of "I choose me today over busy-ness."

So when I saw the ad and the sassy "Camp Gyno" bent over another little girl in fetal position who is mourning the pain of tampon insertion, and listening to Gyno girl say, "This is your life now..." I cringed.  That message might as well have said, "Welcome to hell. Suck it up, little girl..."  As if periods are just another way life is screwing us over.  What a welcome to womanhood, right?

Instead, can we celebrate the seasonality of what IS?  Can we be honest that, yes, it's inconvenient, but it also has meaning and purpose, and here's how you take care of yourself during this time?  To me it seems like insanity to hate something that is such a part of who we are, and then drive ourselves crazy with grief once we are too old to experience it.  Am I alone on this?

So to the folks at HelloFlo - I am thrilled to see us talking about menstruation in a way that is out of the shadows, but did you have to make it seem so hideous?