My Secret Azalea – or, Inside Out

It can only be seen from inside the house.

The ferns surrounded it, in lush, leafy hug.

And that made me smile.

It was a really good spring for my rhodo and my azaleas – lovely, abundant blooms. I put this one where it is last year so that there would be something evergreen to look at just outside there in the winter, even if it got buried by snow for a time.

I didn’t expect this abundance of ferns to swallow it up in the spring, but I like the effect.

It reminds me to keep something blooming within, even if others can’t see it right away.

Not until I let them in.

The garden is still a work in progress; it looks okay from the outside, but still needs a few more shrubs and perennials to fill in and squeeze out the weeds so I don’t have to spend so much time digging those out. Could use some mulch, too; I’m not much in the mood or the position to spend more money on it right now, so those things will come a little at a time.

The blooms on my secret azalea have gone by since I took the photo, but its leaves are there and will still be there there when the ferns fade. Maybe in a few years, it will even grow taller than the feathery, fluffy chaos around it.

My secret azalea reminded me that kindness implies a kind of trust – or faith, if you want to call it that – that those toward whom it is directed will benefit, be softened, encouraged, cheered, made hopeful, whatever,  but also that kindness directed from the inside out is always worth it, even if it isn’t received that way immediately, or ever, even. Being kind provides a sort of stillness, a type of calm, a sense of perspective, that is healing to me, regardless. Tends my inner garden.

My secret azalea reminded me that what’s going on inside affects what’s outside; that beauty within radiates outward, where it affects the world around it.

Let’s face it, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve figured out that I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve type. It isn’t really possible for me to hide my feelings. I send out a vibe, even when I don’t want to. So I have to work on that, pretty much constantly, trying and failing and trying again to send out a good vibe, to be kind, to be positive, to grow into the person I want to be, every moment, because every moment is precious, a gift.

In the words of my literary hero, Jack Aubrey, “there’s not a moment to lose.”

So no pity-parties, please. Fall of the horse, get right back on, keep going. The sun rises.

And the music plays.

I work at a place where I can listen to music, often at a good strong volume, all day – and sing along to it, and no one seems to mind. Or at least they put up with it. Most of the day the place is fairly empty, requiring manual (or forklift driven) labor. I’ve even got a sort of little fan club, that comes in once a week to do what they need to do, who caught me singing once and now seem to look forward to it each week.

The variety of music available is wide – classic rock, ’80s music, stations based on Journey (HA! sing like Steve Perry! who’s with me?) or the Eagles, or REM or Emmylou or Bruce Springsteen – everything from country to opera. Although it is hard to find a mix that always satisfies, I’ve found some really good stations that have brought back songs to me that I hadn’t thought about in years – good, cathartic, cryin’ songs, songs of hope, songs that put things in perspective. And arias – but don’t worry, I only rock the Puccini when the place is empty. Although come to think of it, Puccini, (O Mio Babbino Caro, to be exact) is what got the fan club going.

Remember that movie, Network News, where Holly Hunter, playing a news producer, would set aside a few minutes each day to just take the phone off the hook (hey, it was made in 1987 and set mostly in 1981 – landlines!) and just bawl her eyes out? Then she’d pull it together and get right back to work.

I’m a big fan of the good cry. And of getting right back to work.

During Mike’s illness, I did most of my crying in the car – car crying – because I didn’t want our child to see it and get upset, and I didn’t want to make Mike feel sad, or worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle things.

Now, I cry a lot less, but when I need to let it out, it often happens when I’m in the warehouse, cleaning or closing up, inspired by one of those great songs I had forgotten about, and it helps – it helps a lot. It helps reconcile the inside with the outside; harmonizing with the songs harmonizes me, in a way. Even if a lot of these songs seems sad, that’s not the point – the point is they give me a sort of cleansing that makes me feel better, calmer, stronger. Sing, cry, dry, work.

In no particular order, songs that came up that helped me “take the phone off the hook,” feel what I feel, let it out, and then pull it together and carry on include:

  • Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart For A While
  • The Eagles’ Peaceful, Easy Feelin’
  • Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, Cowboy Take Me Away, Not Ready to Back Down 
  • Iris DeMent’s Our Town (she was a discovery for me – hadn’t heard her before)
  • Any version of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide
  • Long, Long Time, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Shenandoah’s Ghost in this House,  sung by Alison Krauss (really, anything sung by Alison Krauss – Down in the River to Pray, Long Lost Friend, etc.
  • Softly and Tenderly, sung by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt

and the one that kind of sums up what I learned from losing Mike, and why I’m trying to grow in to a better, kinder, more loving person:

When We’re Gone, sung by Emmylou, Dolly and Linda –

…”And when we’re gone, long gone,
the only thing that will have mattered
is the love that we shared
and the way that we cared
when we’re gone, long gone….”

This song helps me remember there’s not a moment to lose, and not to skimp on love – it helps me nourish my inner, secret azalea, gives me hope that what blooms within will radiate out as love, as kindness, and as hope, one precious moment at a time.

May you find the music that gives you hope and peace, as this song does for me.

 

 

Just My Luck; or, An Out-of-Synch Life

Is this all there is?

……” Gonna pack my lunch in the morning
and go to work each day,
and when the evening rolls around,
I’ll go on home and lay my body down,
and when the morning light comes streaming in,
I’ll get up and do it again. Amen.”

-Jackson Browne, The Pretender

I snapped that picture up there, of my crabtree in full bloom, in mid-May, intending to write about it – in mid-May.

Well, here we are in mid-June and the blossoms on the tree have gone by – just my luck.

For more decades than I like to admit, I’ve been doing things too late, living a kind of “pretend” life by putting things off, expecting to get to them in some imagined future that never comes, and now I look up and find I’ve lived two-thirds of my life in a sort of  prolonged delay – “I’ll start living the life I want, right after I get all this other stuff done” —  my life never seemed to “synch up” with my hopes, dreams, talents, whatever.

Examples:

I met Mike at 30, married him at 32, gave birth to our one and only child at 35; nothing so wrong with any of that, but if you think about it now, it means it took me thirty years (well, ok, let’s say, twelve, in adulthood) to find him.

What if it takes that long again? I don’t have another twelve good woman years left in me, I’m afraid.

Just my luck.

The Fourth of July, a/k/a Independence Day, is a big deal in my little home town – more people come home for the parades and parties than seem to come home for Christmas around here.

And having attended decades of the same front-driveway-parade-watching party, watching decades worth of acquaintances, two generations at least, bring new babies to show off at that party, I finally got my chance, at 35.

And for the first time in 100 years, the parade was rained out.

Just my luck.

And right when Mike and I had the chance to rebuild our marriage and plan a retirement together, when our child was gaining more independence and growing into adulthood? Cancer. Gone in 18 months. It’s not like Mike could choose when to die, but it felt so unfair to us, so out of synch. Husbands are not supposed to die right when things could get good again. But it happened.

Now, here I am, nearly two years later, trying to be positive, to look ahead, to be open to a new relationship, to really want a new relationship with a kind, nice man, and what happens?

Kind, nice, men who like and respect women have sounded the retreat, afraid of saying so much as “how do you do?” because the lid has blown off the disgusting, abusive, boorish behavior of the unkind, not-sweet, not-nice men. Everywhere.

Just my luck.

Right when I’ve been trying (failing all too frequently, but trying) to become a nicer, kinder person, to live with love and laughter, my phone blows up with dozens of emails daily alerting me to some new atrocity to be furious about.

Fury is way out of synch with my efforts to respond to this world and people in it with kindness and love.

I feel guilty – selfish, trivial and ineffective. I sign petitions, I try to give money, but lately I’ve just felt peevish and out of sorts and jumpy-jangly all the time. In addition to being lonely.

Nobody wants to be around a person who is anxious, pissed-off, negative and jumpy all the time. Not exactly attractive.

Just my luck.

What do you do with an out-of-synch life? If you feel that time has passed you by?

Gratitude. I’m supposed to be working on being grateful, for each moment, each breath I am yet granted on this Earth.

So when I feel selfish for not being the person who has the snappy comeback or who can cite the verses that say what I’m thinking back at the person I want to cite them at, I’m grateful that someone else has done it for me. I’m reminded that many, many people are feeling what I’m feeling, and can respond to it better and more eloquently than I can right now.

I’m grateful for that.

Father’s Day. People innocently asking our child what we did for Dad yesterday.

“Dad’s in heaven,” is the reply. Which makes them feel bad, but it’s not their fault. They didn’t know. So I explain gently that we had a nice picnic by his grave, as a sort of “meet up” with his spirit.

I had a very vivid dream of him last night – our child announcing, “Dad’s here!” and me finding him there on a couch, and able to give him a hug, before he flew out the window, chasing something. I really needed to give him that hug. So I’m grateful for that dream.

A monarch butterfly, flitting past as I waiting for the train to the Allison Krauss concert. A perfect show. An angelic voice. Comfort in that.

I’m grateful for that.

But it can’t be denied that the second year of widowhood is hard – our child and I both going through a relapse of grief, trying to figure out how to carry it around with us without letting it define us.

There are no more ritual “first this-es” and “first thats” without him – it’s the second, which will lead to the third, and on and on, for the rest of our lives, without him.

Which magnifies the emptiness, intensifies the loneliness, makes what should be a good day a bleak one.

Out of synch.

Is this all there is?

“I want to know what became of the changes
we waited for love to bring..
were they only the fitful dreams
of some greater awakening?
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end, it’s the blink of an eye
When the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again
Amen”

(Note: “Out of Synch” came from a wonderful book called The Out-of-Synch Child that helped me understand my child’s sensory challenges – highly recommend for parents struggling to understand a developmentally different child’s sensitivities. It really has nothing to do with this post, just thought I should give credit where credit is due.)

 

 

One Moment To Get This Off My Chest

Let’s just take a moment for a quick dip in the Snark Tank, so I can vent a little, and then try to get back to trying to be nice (but remember, I own a T-shirt that says, “Pretending I’m a pleasant person all day is exhausting” and another one that says, “I’ll be nicer if you’ll be smarter…”

So, a snarking we will go…

By Heart

“…This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”

-Shakespeare, Sonnet 73

Mike preferred his poetry recited aloud, from memory.

Even when he was reading poetry alone, relaxing in our little “library/music” room, he’d read it aloud, to himself, to hear the rhythm of the words, and feel the breath within them.

He wooed me with poetry, recited on an answering machine (see, “Academy of Ancient Technology, recording devices, cassette.”)

Early in our marriage, when I was stressed out from the job, and the commuting, and the worries of providing for Mike and our child, he would read aloud to me, in bed, to help me sleep. He had a beautiful reading voice – smooth, gentle, beguiling, soothing. And I’d be out like a light in five minutes.

I could make requests of him – “tell me that one about the butterfly,” or “find me that Wallace Stevens poem” or “which sonnet was the one about the summer’s day?” and he’d know, immediately, and recite that poem to me. He rarely remembered a word I said to him, but he remembered every poem he loved, and recited them to me. By heart.

May 2, 2018, would have been our 26th wedding anniversary.

And I forgot.

The significance of the day didn’t hit me until, in the midst of my “maintenance Mom” morning, checking our child’s calendar for the day – do I need to make a lunch, should I send money, I better remind about taking the phone, etc. – I saw the date, and it registered.

Although we were married on May 2, 1992, we actually met on April 27, 1990, and always considered that our “real” anniversary.

Twenty-seven was Mike’s favorite number. His birthday and our child’s birthday both were on the 27th of their respective months, and there were a bunch of other significant 27s in his life.

So last year on April 27, which would have been the 27th anniversary of the day we met, I took myself on a kind of memorial tour, visiting the place we first met (although I knew it would be closed for remodeling) near our old neighborhood in the city, now so built-up and gentrified as to be almost unrecognizable to me.

But something about marking that 27th “real” anniversary seems to have caused a sort of release -not closure, exactly – but a lessening of the need to mark such such days or to make an effort to recognize their significance.

This year on April 27th, which would have been our 28th “real” anniversary, there was a gala benefit for the organization that provides our child’s day program. I raced home after working a full day at the warehouse, zipped through shower and hair, and whipped on infrastructure to support the new dress,  fresh and wrinkled from its Amazon package, and headed out to the train in a Lyft and splurged on a fancy car ride home (because the late trains stop at every single stop and take forever and I can’t do that late at night anymore).

I had a blast. The food was great, the music was fun, and I sat and chatted with a nice couple who were very kind.

On May 2, after I realized what day it was, I was driving our child to her train, and a song came on the radio that I think of as a message to me from Mike: One Call Away, by a kid named Charlie Puth.

And thus began another round of car crying, trying to hold it in so I wouldn’t upset our child, who seemed to sense the song was significant to me, and actually let me listen all the way through.

There’s a line in that song, “Superman Got Nothing On Me,” which is the reason I hear it as a message from Mike – because the first Christmas without him, when for the first time in years I had no man in the house to buy presents for, I bought a present for the Bulgarian, knowing that he would never come to pick it up, and that he would never tell me where I could send it to him.

It was kind of a joke, but significant to me because it was significant to Mike.

It was a Superman sweatshirt. I still have it, wrapped and ready, and I put it under the tree at Christmas to remind me of my ridiculousness, and of my last best year of loving Mike. There’s a story behind it –

When Mike was around 5 or so, as he told it, he was hit by a car in his dicey west side neighborhood. A little friend of his, a developmentally delayed friend, raced over to him, as Mike remembered it, leaned over him as he lay in the street with a fractured skull, and said, “don’t worry Mike, you’ll be OK. You’re superman.”

And in the middle of the remodeling job I put Mike through as he was enduring his illness, just to give him a nice kitchen for as long as he could use it before he died, there was a moment when I was nagging the Bulgarian about fixing something or other, and he, as usual, was patiently enduring it, saying he’d fix it.

“How?” I said.

“Magic,” he said, teasing me a little, reminding me of my ridiculousness. Of course he’d fix it.

And just at that moment our child blurted out, “you’re Superman,” to the Bulgarian.

I didn’t think our child knew who Superman was, but there it was.

And now here’s Mike with, “Superman got nothin’ on me,” from the next world.

But Mike, dear, even though you are only one spiritual call away, I can’t “run into your arms” as the song suggests.

Hence, the car crying, on what would have been our 26th wedding anniversary.

I took the rings off shortly after Mike died. Death had done us part, and I didn’t feel right clinging to the rings. I wasn’t married anymore. Mike was gone.

Since then, I’ve had some kind of weird arthritis in both ring fingers – starting on the right, where I wore my engagement ring after we were married, and switching, seemingly overnight, to the left, the wedding ring side. I guess I should see someone about it – I can’t bend that wedding ring finger all the way, and it is swollen and it isn’t getting better like the one on the right did, and if I accidentally whack it on something in the warehouse it hurts like hell.

Mike, hon, are you hanging on? Are you doing this to my wedding ring finger? Is this some kind of not-letting-me-go? Are you angry I took the ring off? Because at this rate I’ll never get any ring, much less my wedding ring, back on that finger.

Maybe it’s me, doing it, subconsciously. Maybe it is a reminder that it is time for me to let go – I don’t know. I certainly feel as if I am being pushed, shoved, hustled, into the next phase of my life, whatever it may be, starting with the job, that clearly came to me though divine intervention of some sort.

So I’m moving on, as much as I can. But I am grateful that I can remember the sound of your voice, dear, reciting poetry by heart, and that I can see you as clear as day, in your favorite places at your favorite moments, both when you were well and when you were dying, in and around this house and yard.

Even if the significance of days and dates begin to fade, I am so grateful, loves, that I still have you memorized, by heart.

Read that sonnet, number 73. Remember that every person you love, you will lose, “ere long.”

And may you always be able to remember those people you have loved, by heart.

Until my next post, I remain, your loyal, humble, devoted, etc.,

Ridiculous Woman

Let the Light In

Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find? What if that’s actually true?

“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in….”

-Sara Bareilles

A high school classmate, someone I haven’t talked to in decades, except for a moment’s greeting at the most recent reunion, emails me, out of the blue, and invites me to lunch.

Sure, why not? But why? Just curious – what made you think of me?

Just reaching out, she says – trying to connect and reconnect, after a divorce.

So I go to lunch with this classmate and another, also divorced, and hear their stories of the loss of their marriages.

And I tell the story of the loss of my husband, and what I was trying to push myself to do now – mainly, find a job, as much like my old job as possible. Close to home, where I can wear those beloved work boots, keep my head down, my mouth largely shut (except for necessary presentations to groups of volunteers) and otherwise do as I’m told, while staying on my feet all day, moving heavy things around and losing weight.

Where am I going to find something like that ever again?

And then the classmate who called me mentioned a place that she had volunteered, which I wouldn’t have known about or thought of if she hadn’t mentioned it.

After lunch I go home and check out the website of said organization, and right there, in the employment opportunities, is THE JOB.

The exact job. Warehouse work, on my feet, presentations to volunteers, the whole shebang.

I apply, writing a nice, not a snarky, cover letter.

Interviews came fast, followed by an offer.

An offer of a job with a regular schedule, good benefits, 10 minutes from home.

“Be careful what you wish for, ’cause you just might get it.” (I can’t believe I’m quoting a Daughtry song!) The job does, however, involve driving, and moving things with, a forklift. So that’s a line in my personal sand that I’m going to have to cross, have already started to cross, like it or not.

How did this happen, and happen so fast?

Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find?

What if that’s actually true?

Well, Okay! In that case, I’d like to ask for a big, strong, kind, gentle man, between 5’10” and 6’4″, black hair, green or blue eyes, deep, calm voice, handy, 15 to 20 years younger than I am, and — hmm, now how shall I put this — “energetic?” “vigorous?” “frisky?’ OK, maybe “frisky” is a little too, erm, explicit. But you catch my drift.

That would make me feel fully alive again.

Spring seems to have come at last – today is a sunny day and the crocuses are blooming, the jonquils have opened and the tulips are coming up.  When the sun came out one day a few weeks ago, I found myself opening the drapes, and realizing I hadn’t done that in over a year. Most of the time, we’ve been sitting in a dark house, not letting the light in, muffled, dimmed, in the shadows.

Right when I felt myself sinking into another round of deep grief, which seemed to be happening to our child as well, a year and a half after losing Mike, right when I felt at my weakest, lowest point, right when all I wanted to do was curl up in a little fetal ball and disappear – I unconsciously, almost absent- mindedly, let the light in.

Before losing Mike, I was never one to “hide my light under a bushel,” as the saying goes – far from it. My problem has been much more blaring my light so brightly that it never gives anyone else the chance to let theirs shine.

Part of learning from loss to live with love and laughter is to learn to live with humility – to realize that I’m not really in charge, that if I could just shut it for a minute and be quiet, where I am right now, I might actually hear whispers of God, and feel divine influence, even in the most mundane aspects of my life.

I think God assigns that sort of thing to angels who know your minutiae – who know what you need even if you don’t, quite. So Mike’s involved, here somewhere, I’m pretty sure. (But let’s step up the pace on finding that black haired, green eyed, big, strong, kind gentle man with the deep calm voice, OK, loves?)

I’m not sure why I was whirled right into this job so fast. It sure didn’t feel like I had a helluva lot to do with making it happen – felt more like it happened to me and I was being led by the nose into it. OK, I’ll follow that lead, and see where it takes me.

It already has taken me places I’m afraid to go (e.g. , the driver’s seat of a forklift – but I’m picking it up fast) and reminded me of things I didn’t do so well in the past (see, “making children cry,”) but I’m trying, really trying, to take those things as second chances, learning opportunities, offers to live with humility and kindness, and to get over some of my fears and anxieties, which take up way too much of my headspace. I’m trying (with mixed success, but it’s only been two weeks) to dial it back enough, and to keep my big yap closed for long enough, to hear those whispers of the divine, and to see all those other lights, shining bright, right in front of me.

I’ll keep you posted. Especially about that big, strong, kind, gentle man request. We’ll see how that goes, tee hee.

Until then, I remain, your humble, obedient, loyal, etc.,

Ridiculous Woman

We Now Return to Our (Slightly Rescheduled) Programming, Already in Progress

When I least expected it, lots of good stuff has happened to me.

I am not so vain as to expect that you will have noticed, dear followers (all two dozen or so of you, except those weird outlook.com email addresses that show up as followers without there being any additional views, and then immediately disappear – what’s up with that?), but I’ve been away. From blogging, that is, for a few months.

I’m back, and while I can’t promise I’m “better than ever,” I am better, I think. A little.

Suffice it to say that when I least expected it, lots of good stuff has happened to me. Challenges have been met, goals achieved, some amazing development in my adult child accomplished. Generally, I feel as if taking some time to try to be still (not claiming success on that front, just that I tried) has paid off in really unexpected, slightly amazing and scary ways.

For example, yesterday I started learning how to drive a forklift. Ha, weren’t expecting that, were you? Neither was I, exactly. But hey, it’s always good to learn new skills, right? Yes, I got a job, having written a nice, not snarky cover letter. And I am wearing those beloved boots again, just like I wanted.

I’m crying less and moving around more, although I confess to a good bawling session this morning, triggered by paying a medical bill for myself, which made me remember paying the copays and deductibles for Mike’s (ultimately futile) scans, doctor visits and infusions. The bill was for my first mammogram (first? at my age? for shame!  “Thin Ice,” remember?) – which was expensive, but worth it to get the all clear, because although my amazing adult child is triumphing over new challenges every day, each time I cough there’s a lot of “you OK, Mom? You’re here on this earth with me, right?” So yes, sweetie, I’m here, so far, so good.

But this is supposed to be just a housekeeping post – I’ll write more about all that stuff soon. Housekeeping-wise, my “slightly rescheduled” programming means I can’t keep to a schedule like “non-toxic Tuesdays,” “Fiction Fridays” or “Thankful Thursdays” anymore – not that I ever strictly stuck to it anyway. I’ll keep writing about non-toxic love challenges I set for myself, books and music I love and times I’ve felt grateful, but just whenever I can – which I hope will be at least once a week.

Spring has been a hard time coming around here, a real struggle. March never got to the “out like a lamb” phase, and April is clinging pretty hard to the lion stuff – still cold, still snow predicted. But things are coming up – I’ve had jonquils bloom on one of our few sunny days, and the bulbs I planted for Mike’s memory garden are coming in, despite the cold. Birds are at the birdbath (which, by the way, I did successfully move, and I like its new spot) and the chickens, bless them, are laying between 6 and 8 eggs a day (ok, omelettes, frittatas, crustless quiches? (gotta stay low carb) – any other suggestions for consuming an average of 40 eggs a week much appreciated!)

Like spring, new things can be a hard time coming, two steps up and one step back, but they are as necessary as breathing, and I’m grateful for the bittersweet opportunities to move ahead I’m being given. My life feels “in progress” again, and I feel Mike’s approval, and help, from the other side. I’ve learned to take things one day at a time, to be grateful for little victories and small goals accomplished – like f’r instance I finally got the floors washed today, decks scrubbed, priddied and flogged dry (another Patrick O’Brian-ism), and damn, that feels good. Little things like a clean floor go a long way toward learning to live with grief and absence, to make them part of you without breaking you, to carry them with you as you must, with gratitude.

I’m trying to teach our child to change her sighs from “a day without Dad” to “a day of happy memories of Dad,” to help integrate that grief and absence into a normal, fuller, happy life, carrying those memories each day. You don’t “get over” losing a parent when you are in your early 20’s – but you have to learn to live on with it, and this week has been a series of obstacles overcome, sadness and anxiety worked through to accomplishment and pride – with happy memories of Mike, and plenty of Journey songs still showing up each time we drive anywhere.

Stick with us, loves, we’re moving along. I finally took the time, like you said I should, and you were right, as usual. Tonight is Karaoke night, and I think it is fitting that our child’s selection might be the Dixie Chicks Ready to Run – ready to have some fun – what’s all this talk about love?” (no more online dating sites for me!), as long as we keep feeling that you are with us in spirit.

Until my next not-regularly-scheduled post, I remain, your humble, devoted,

Ridiculous Woman

Now

There are these rare people who have the ability to be fully present….I am not one of them.

“Be still and know that I am…”

…God (well, Psalm 46:10, actually, but same thing, really)

There are these rare people who have the ability to be still, to be fully present, right now, where they are and whoever they are with, and to listen, intensely, to others.

I am not one of them.

Being still is not my forte.

I always think of that verse up there as ending with “I am.” But it is actually, “I am God.”

Either way, to me it is basically God’s way of saying, “Shut yer pie hole and remember that I’m here; listen for me.”

Failing to be still and to be present to the people in the same room with you is a form of toxicity. I did it at work, and I have done it for years at home. My thoughts were and are always racing around, to the past and future, to the “to-do’s” and the “fix that”s and the “will you f…in get ON with it already?”s. Never focused on the right NOW.

I come from a long line of women whose behavior indicated a belief that the cure for any kind of illness or upset, depression, bereavement, disappointment, setback etc., was a good round of vigorous housework followed by a brisk walk outside, preferably in sub-freezing weather. Move, do, bustle, hustle.

Being still was not on their list.

These women also kept up a running commentary of self-talk – Grandma and Mom did it at a whisper, under their breath. I do it out loud (no surprise to anyone who knows me personally.)

Keeping my big yap shut is a constant challenge to me.

I love words, the more syllables the better. I love to sing, and I am prone to sudden outbursts of song, regardless of my surroundings.

When I go for one of those brisk walks, I often exclaim, out loud, to no one in particular, usually when no one else is anywhere close, about the beauty I see around me.

I spend very little time being still.

Which makes it very hard to be fully present in the now. All that activity is an effective way of avoiding being still, being present, now. Because really, who wants to do that? If I stop doing stuff, I’ll notice that “now” kind of sucks. Mike’s gone, I’m unemployed and gaining weight, it snowed 15 inches and I just barely saved the new kitchen from a bad ice dam situation, but a bit of the paint is still ruined.

The point of being still, though, is to notice that “now” does not actually suck – in fact, it is pretty damn miraculous. If I have learned anything from losing Mike, it should be how precious every breath, every moment in this world is – and to cherish each simple thing here as the miraculous gift that it is, right NOW. Even the little bubbles in the paint on the ceiling from the almost-leak. Reminds me of how bad it used to be and isn’t, now.

I’m going to give being still a go. The old college try, anyway.

I took myself off the dating sites again. I really don’t need to go back to the playground and be the last one chosen for the team, just now. (Besides which, there were the two guys who listed “Dexter” among their favorite TV shows – you know, Dexter? The one about the serial killer? The kicker was the guy who listed his most recently read books, every single one of which had the word “killing” in the title. I kid you not. These are men who are trying to attract women, not send them screaming in terror for the exits.)

I have unsubscribed from lots of promotional and political emails I had been getting. They feel too intrusive, grabby and, in the case of the political ones, hysterical. The notifications of their arrival caused me to attend to my phone when I should have been attending to my child, whose existence is by far the most miraculous, and absolute, proof of the existence of God that anyone should ever need.

And this being “non-toxic Tuesday,” I have set myself what should be a simple, non-toxic love challenge: I’m going to try to get through an entire day without “thinking out loud,” also known as “talking to myself.” I have to be able to do this first, before I even think about trying to learn to meditate. I mean, meditate? You have to shut up inside your head! Who does that? Really, who can actually do that? Not me, not yet. Not NOW.

On the simpler task of not talking out loud to myself?

I already failed at it. Within seconds.

Seriously, seconds. I narrated my way through the house just to get to my laptop to write this. The only time I really succeed in being quiet (in terms of not having sounds come out of my mouth through the mechanism of my voice) is when I’m writing. But when I’m writing, words are still coming out, and I’m throwing the flag on that. Writing, while pleasurable and cathartic for me, will not count as stillness.

Talking to the cat, however, is exempt. She counts as another sentient being and talking to her is paying attention to her, now, so there.IMG_20171128_131842496.jpg

Talking out loud to my late husband is also exempt. It just is, OK?

Reflexively saying “excuse me” out loud in an otherwise empty house when I sneeze or commit some other involuntary bodily expostulation is also exempt.

Listening to music is OK as long as I don’t talk back to the radio (e.g., Oh, come on, Carl! It’s 6 a.m.! Do we really need crashy-bangy Beethoven at 6 a.m.? Would it hurt so much to start the day with a little Palestrina or Bach cello sonata or something?)

Reading is OK, and talking back to my favorite literary characters, laughing with them, crying with them, all good. (See, “it just is, OK?”, above).

Other than that, however, I am declaring my constant stream of babbling self-talk to be a form of displacement activity: a way to avoid being still. Being still requires being QUIET and listening. A kind of surrender (also not my forte. I’m a stand-my-ground-and-wear- you-down type).

The photo up there is of the male cardinal who lives in the yard. He’s in the crabtree by the deck, in all his crimson glory. What you probably can’t see is the female, who is always with him, and is near him in that tree, hidden in the background, far less ostentatious, quiet, steady, faithful, constant. Present, but not presenting. I want to be more like her. For the time being, anyway. For now.

When the sun comes back out, regardless of the temperature, I think I will take that brisk walk. I hope the only sound I make will be my breathing and the crunch of my boots on the snowy path. I’ll watch the red tailed hawks soar and circle, but I won’t exclaim. I’ll work on being still.

Oh, and I’ll mute notifications on my phone, for the duration of the walk. It’s a start, anyway.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, I remain,

Your most devoted, humble, obedient, etc.

Ridiculouswoman