Remembering the Valiant

Memorial-Day-Thank-You.png“Happy Memorial Day” is a phrase that conflicts me.  This American holiday is a day of remembering  our nation’s men and women who died in service to our country.  I can’t be happy about any loss of life or the thought that war always seems to be the answer, and loss of innocent life is the result.

My father fought in two wars in service to this great nation.  The fact that he survived the Battle of the Bulge and a fierce hand-to-hand combat in Korea, astounds me. The terrifying ordeal of fighting in a foreign land strewn with the carnage of his comrades and friends, is a horror I cannot fathom.  This is the fate of the fortunate soldier;  millions of others  have perished in these agonizing battles. They are who we honor and remember today.

Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.

My father now rests among the endless rows of alabaster tombstones of our nation’s heroes, in the hallowed ground of Arlington National cemetery.  But the remains of many of those who have perished in battle have never made it home.

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Across the ocean, on the  now peaceful shores of Normandy, once strewn with the bodies of young Americans, there is a somber and hallowed graveyard.  The French have graciously granted this place in perpetuity for the remains of soldiers who fought in a foreign land for a people they never met.

The horrors of wars and the loss of American heroes – our fathers, sons and daughters, husbands, brothers and sisters – is our nation’s heartache.  It should be a constant reminder that there is an ultimate price paid for freedom. “Freedom is never free.”

Memorial Day will be happy when war is no longer the solution to the disagreements between countries and people.  Until such a glorious day of awakening among citizens and world leaders,  I remember our nation’s fallen with gratitude for their selfless service and ultimate sacrifice.

I join a grateful nation today praying for  heavenly repose for our dead brave and for peace in the hearts of those who mourn them.  And I will continue to pray for peace and to hold onto my hope for humanity.

 

 

 

 

Laughing Through Life- Happy Birthday, Kay!

 

A1F0D3CD-ED43-469D-8D7A-E12BB7709D95.JPGAunt Kay is 92 today and she’s an inspiration.  She’s a testament to inner strength and the adage that attitude is everything.  Kay’s still drinking from a half full glass and, sometimes, that glass has wine in it.  She’s not always had the easiest times, but she lives in a state of gratitude and that’s been a recipe for her happiness and probably even her longevity. She’s still remarkably beautiful and, although diminutive in size, she’s got a heart the size of the ocean.

Kay is Mom’s sister-in-law and close friend. They both dislike words like “cute,” “spunky” and “spry” because those words have implied meanings of old age.  “Who calls a young person, spry?”   “Oh don’t you hate it when they call you, ‘cute’, Ginny?”  They have a point.  Regardless, it’s no baloney that like fine wine, in many ways, Kay gets better with age.

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Surrounded by Strength

She’s physically not what she used to be and she knows it.  But instead of bemoaning, she’s laughing at her physical ailments and deteriorating functioning and cracking me up. too.  We’re hanging out together the other night and she refrains from smoking like a train because she knows it bothers me.  “I know I shouldn’t,” she tells me once, as she takes a long drag,  “But I am 92 and it’s not shortening my life.”  Even I can’t argue with that.

Kay’s eyesight is nearly gone and she reads through a magnifying glass. She tells me I look like I am 38, and I am preening like a peacock until I remember that she’s blind as a bat.  Paradoxically, she can always seem to spot a hot guy. When my friend William spent a Thanksgiving with us a few years ago, Kay  walks in the house with her daughter, takes one look at William, and whispers to me as she sashays past me, “Nice job. Next year bring three more.” Kay uses the word “delicious” for a handsome man.  I like it.

Kay and I spent an evening together this week that I will never forget.  My sides were splitting from the aging dialogue.   I was laughing at Kay, which was her intention.  My aunt is telling me about the many indignities of aging.  “Your mother is complaining about wrinkles,” she tells me. You can tell she thinks  Mom is an aging amateur if this is her complaint.   “Every night I take out my teeth and boob and I can’t see a damn thing.” Your boob? I ask.  And right then and there, Kay reaches into her blouse and whips out a prosthetic breast.

“I lost the damn thing once,”  she tells me.  ” I couldn’t  find it anywhere.”  She tells her daughter about the missing boob. Meg, like the rest of us, is wondering how anyone can lose a boob.   “Meg says to me, who would take a boob?  Kay explains. ”  I’ll tell you who,” she shoots back at me, ” Bubba!”   Bubba is their dog.  They found Kay’s missing boob in Bubba’s crate.

“Thank God, I still have it up here,” Kay says, pointing to her head.  She’s got that right; Kay’s as sharp as a tact. She doesn’t miss a thing. She’s probably mentally sharper than I and has better recall.   I’m telling her a story the other night and I start veering off the path rather seriously.  In fact, I am so far off, I am lost and have no idea where I started. Kay’s regarding me seriously yet softly.  She’s trying to help me retrace the breadcrumbs back to my starting point.  It can’t be done. There is zero recall. I am unsure who is more concerned at this point, Kay or me.  She’s got an expression on her face that I read  to mean- “For God’s sake, I am the one who should be forgetful!”   But I can also tell Kay’s rooting for me as I meander back through my thoughts, trying to remember my original point. I draw a blank and dismiss it.  (except it’s bugging me).

I share with Kay that the mind is a computer and the subconscious mind will always keep trying to retrieve any missing data. That explains random recall, when suddenly the missing information seems to magically appear and we blurt out things like “Burt Bacharach!  Daffodils, not tulips,  Daisy Buchanan!”  These are important bits of information only because they validate that we’re not, in fact, losing our minds. Being unable to recall unimportant facts only becomes important when they appear to be signs of memory failure.

“I’ll think of it tomorrow,”  I reassure Kay.   You can tell Kay’s  a bit bothered for me.   I really believe she’d rather be the one  addled minded rather than me.  Kay escorts me to the back sliding glass door, moving slowly with the walker she depends on more these days. I tell her I love her, because I do, but she’s can’t possibly understand how much. She always replies the same, “I love you more.”

I’m not even to the car when the answer appears and I begin to laugh out loud and run back to the door.  Kay’s still fiddling with the locks and when she sees me, she shouts through the glass, “You remembered!”   We’re cracking up, and I and I tell her that when I come to make her breakfast in the morning, I’ll tell her the story about the number 932. Kay’s visibly happy for my memory victory and I am laughing all the way home.

The next morning I call Kay to tell her I’ll be over to make her coconut pancakes.  Kay answers the phone, “932.” We both laugh.  “See, I am not so old.”

Laughter is the best medicine for any of life’s ailments and Kay and Mom are the best examples of that fact.

Happy Birthday, beautiful Kay.  You delight me, inspire me, amaze me and crack me up. 

A Mother’s Love and Lessons

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When people ask me what’s the best thing that ever happened to me, they are always shocked by my response.  “That’s easy,”  I tell them truthfully, “my daughter almost died.”  The faces are always palpably stunned, some look even mortified.  I explain.  “Almost being the operative word.”  This resonates a bit, but they are due an explanation.

My first words when the doctor told me I had just given birth to a girl. “Meagan, I knew it was you.  I love you so much.”  The obstetrician had a tape recorder in the delivery room; I would not allow a videotape (this I felt would be traumatizing to a child later in life. No need to ever see how the sausage is made or where babies come from).  The words were needlessly on the slim cassette because I would not ever forget that moment or the feeling of exquisite love.

When Meagan was born, there was a birth in me of a love so powerful, so selfless, so fearless, so unwavering,  I felt as if I had never really known love before.

When Meagan was still very young, I  wrote her a letter. As a single mother, my work demanded that I travel and, in the event that anything should happen to me, I wanted her to grow up knowing that my love for her changed my life. Although I had little spiritual basis at the time despite my years of Catholic upbringing, I came to believe that my child was not truly mine.  Meagan was too precious, too beautiful, too serene to have come from me.  She was a gift, and I was to love and care for her for the time that I had her in this life.

Motherhood is both incredibly satisfying and, at times, terrifying.  Children are sponges, observing, imitating and sometimes rebelling from the example they see.  It came as a great surprise to me that my daughter turned out to be an individual rather than a clone. Despite all my efforts to create a mini-me, she became a uniquely her.

For Meagan’s sixth birthday,  I decided that it was time for her to move from toddler to little girl, and had a grand scheme to change her room while she spent the weekend away with her father.  I bought a new bedroom set, replacing her twin bed covered with a bright quilt of Sesame Street characters, with a full-sized canopy bed.  I covered the pale blue walls of her bedroom with coats of blush pink paint and placed a striped pale pink and white quilt trimmed with white eyelet lace on her new bed.  The matching white dresser, bedside table and bookshelf were painted with a single small delicate bouquet of flowers. It was perfect.  It was the bedroom set I never had.

The unveiling of the magnificent new bedroom was a total disaster.  At the tender age of six, Meagan was sensitive to others, but instead of the joy I thought this makeover would bring, she was unable to disguise her feelings. She did not want new or pink or change. Meagan wanted familiar and comfortable. Instead of wrapping her up in luxury, I stripped her of security and took away her identity.  At the time, I did not see the lesson in this. I only felt our mutual disappointment.

“I don’t know what her problem is,” I joked later.  “I gave Meagan everything I always wanted.”

Oh right, this is not my life to live again, not  my chance for do overs or to avoid mistakes.  This is simply my chance to demonstrate unconditional love and teach by good example.. I learned that I cannot impose my will, but I can impart any wisdom. 

When my daughter became ill, it rocked me to my core and brought me to my knees.  For the first time in my life, I understood what it felt like to be totally and utterly powerless.  I remember literally falling to my knees and shouting to the heavens in anguish. “God, help me,” I cried through painful tears.

The feeling of peace that overcame me cannot be explained except to say that when I rose to my feet, I did so as a different human being.

Meagan’s illness turned out to be the greatest blessing in my life. It is the amazing gift that re-calibrated my life.  It gave me perspective that I never would otherwise have had. It made me focus on what matters most and filled me with hope, determination and new strength.  All the frivolous things that once consumed me, suddenly became unimportant.  I faced death and darkness and, in doing so, I found  light.

The small stuff?  I don’t sweat it anymore.  I place so much less emphasis on things and much more importance on the people in my life. Self-pity has been replaced by gratitude.  I count my blessings today and focus on what I have rather than what I don’t.  I’ve learned to forgive people and to forgive myself. I don’t regret  the many mistakes including taking my daughter’s identity and security when I whisked Elmo and Ernie away.  Mistakes have been my greatest lessons.

When I reflect my journey, I realize that while I may be the mother, Meagan has always been my greatest teacher. She taught me how to love and that is the greatest gift of my life.

For all you mothers out there who know the depths of maternal love and perhaps the pain of seeing a child suffer, I send love, prayers and hope.   There is no calling as enriching and rewarding as being a mother.  And there is nothing as beautiful or life-affirming as a mother’s love.

Happy Mother’s Day with my love and admiration for the grit and grace it takes to be a mother. And as my dear, devoted mother has taught me from her loving and living example,  “keep on keeping on” with all the love in your hearts.

Firewalking Over Fear

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The smell of smoke is carried all around me by the heavy gusts of ocean breezes.  Before I see the fire, I feel the heat of the flaming coals that glow with crimson fire.  This is no longer just a concept of walking on fire. This is the fire I am to walk on.  The thought of walking across the 17 feet of burning embers seems less like a test of will and more like a test of sanity now.  Before I can be consumed by any flames, I am consumed by fear.

It’s impossible to walk across 1000 degrees of piping hot coals I tell myself.   The bravado and self-confidence are gone, carried off like the great puffs of black smoke.  All that is left is doubt and rationalization.  What’s the big deal, and what I am trying to prove anyway?  The inner struggle begins.  The real test won’t be walking across the scalding flames; it will be walking through my fear. That’s really the point, isn’t it? To prove I can do anything if I put my mind to it? Then why is it necessary to put my bare feet through it?   Wasn’t enough to shatter the arrow and bend the rod of steel?  What more proof is needed?

Before we work our way up to the firewalking, our instructor, Peggy Dylan,  hands us a wooden arrow with a steel tip. It’s the real deal type of arrow that I have only seen in an old cowboy western. Then she passes out Sharpie pens. She tells us to write our fears on the arrow. It’s impossible; there is not enough room on the narrow circumference to hold my laundry list of scary thoughts.  Fear of failure and success, fear of never finding romantic love and fear of finding it and losing it, fear of the future, fear of not having what I want and fear of losing what I have…  Now the fire seems like the more gentle form of consumption.  My thoughts are torture.

The arrow is quickly covered in thick, black indelible ink. My fears are out of my head now. I am holding them in my hand.  Peggy stands on stage opposite her husband who holds a square piece of wood chest high.  She places the arrow at the base of her neck, at the hallow of her throat that is soft and vulnerable.  The sharp, metal point of the arrow rests on the block of wood that her husband holds. I shudder at the thought of what is about to happen.

The audience is instructed to raise our energy and I am wondering if energy manifests as sweat and rapid pulse and heart rate.  Peggy is leaning into the board in the direction of her husband. She takes a few deep breaths and thrusts herself at him! The arrow breaks in half and she is unscathed.

The sweat of my hands loosens my grip on the arrow.  The slender cylinder is hard and, although I just witnessed the woman break it, I am skeptical.  Peggy instructs us to come onto the stage and break our arrow of fears.  I scan the room for exit doors.

One by one, I watch as people place the end of the arrow on the supple hallow of their throats.  Men, women and children imitate the instructor, breaking the  arrows. It’s my turn and I am determined. If they can do it, so can I.  With all the positive, fear-obliterating energy I can muster, I throw the weight of my body into the arrow. It does not break. It shatters into tiny splinters of wood. It practically explodes.  My fears are indiscernible among the wooden carnage. I am not hurt. I am stunned.

Next, we are handed a six-foot long piece of steel that I am told is rebar. Normally, it is the steel used to reinforce concrete.  For our purposes, it is the steel that is used to prove a point.  Instead of the arrow, the husband and wife team place the ends of the rebar at the hallow of their throats. They breathe and flap their arms slowly like a mighty eagle about to take flight.  The duo begins to walk toward each other until the steel is bent in the shape of a U. The goal is to walk close enough so they can hug, and they are on stage embracing with the bent steel smashed between them. Come on…

It’s my turn and I choke literally and figuratively as I try to walk to my partner for a hug. The steel bar pushes at my throat making me gag.   It can’t be done, except people all around me are hugging each other with bent bars between them. My thoughts change and then so does the outcome.  Soon I  am hugging a total stranger, laughing at the mind and rebar-bending magic.

The fire is different though.  It’s far scarier and my mind starts racing with objections. Third degree burns! Painful skin grafts, long rehabilitation and embarrassing explanations.

Walk through your fears.  Mind over matter.  If they can do it, so can I.  

Seventeen feet of eternal flames stands before me. I walk, focusing on the end and I feel nothing but adrenaline rushing through my body.  I am amazed and then, for a split second, I think this is impossible and I feel the intense heat on my foot.

Now I know there is no trick to this. It is  fire and it really burns.  I must walk over the coals again because now real fear exits.

There are two more times that I walk over the glowing red coals. There is no explanation and even though I have done this, I am still somewhat unbelieving.

Peggy stands nearby and I approach her with my astonishment.

“How is it possible to walk on fire?”    She answers quickly,  “Because you believed you could.”

The small container of ashes from the fire still sits on my desk.  It’s a reminder that when my mind begins to create limiting and crippling thoughts, I know how to conquer them.

After all,  I am a firewalker. All we have to do is believe, do and then walk right over fear to reach any goal.

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