Lessons from MacGyver

Storm Prep the MacGyver Way

What do hard-boiled eggs, bar-b-ques (Sloppy Joes), pinto beans, and a very tall glass of OJ have in common? Yes, that’s right, folks. It is my supper. Lunch was a take-out box of spaghetti from Monday. I started to prepare some food that I could eat cold if necessary or that could be heated up easily on a gas grill bit first I have to get older leftovers out of the way to make room in my fridge. I stockpiled some fresh food and beverages (including a quart of cream for my instant coffee) that would sustain me for a few days during a predicted visit from Hurricane Florence – who at the time was not going to be a Cat 3 or 4. I bought the requisite water and disinfectant wipes, charged my flashlight and other electronics, put fuel in the car and truck, got cash. Remember, MacGyver’s M.O. was to use what he had on hand, keep his sense of humor and stay humble, and avoid conflict. Like MacGyver, I was planning to take it seriously so I could stay calm in the crisis.  That was the plan.

Before I could remove all the potential flying missiles (i.e., backyard crap) from the storm’s path, I also had to make room in my garage for the chairs, tables, doo-dads, trash and recycling bins, etc. It happens that our neighborhood will be having a community-wide yard sale in a few weeks, so double win for me: I could clean garage, pile things for sale on one side, and yard trinkets on the other.

That Other Flood

It’s So No Fun to do all of this by yourself. It’s hard work, lifting and shlepping and shoving and piling things precariously. I know; I’ve done it before. I lived through a flood, in which my house took on 51″ of water. But, luckily, that time I had my two boys and an entire community helping sandbag  and otherwise prepare.  In the end, I gave up the house rather than risk lives due to a breach on the other side of the river, my eight sump pumps taking turns taking breaks, and the threat of a compromised wall in my basement. So that’s all another story, but in the end, I could find not one good reason to stay strong and be tough in the face of calamity. So I evacuated. After two weeks of sandbagging, moving furniture, losing sleep, and accepting help, I walked away. I fought as much as I could, and then I couldn’t any more.

It’s now 21 years later, and instead of a flizzard (flood + blizzard), I’m preparing to outrun a hurricane that may or may not be a direct hit but will still carry plenty of danger. I have had a few offers of help, and I did take Jackie up on it. She helped me get plants and yard crap under the deck (behind the lattice) or into the garage.

Mishaps, Setbacks, and Tragedies

But I have to tell you about a little mishap I had on Sunday, pre-Jackie. Once before, another time not the flood, I had a little mishap also. The flizzard was a setback, and now I know the difference. That one took months to recover from physically, and years in terms of PTSD whenever I saw floods in the news on television. I have also experienced tragedies (death, health conditions) but these were not that. I’m not whining here, just giving you some context so you don’t judge me.

That Other Mishap

So that other time I was getting ready to go on vacation and needed to get the dog kennels out of the garage attic. I was home alone; in fact, my husband and I had a commuter marriage at the time, so he was 200 miles away. I placed the 20′ extension ladder into the access hole door in the ceiling, climbed up, and retrieved the crates. I had done this kind of thing several times.

I lowered the crates down to the floor, reached for the door panel while standing on the ladder, and promptly kicked the ladder out from under me somehow. I grabbed the frame around the ceiling/floor opening and held on. The frame was surrounded by an L-shaped metal flange that held the covering. It was sharp, and hard, and it hurt.

I couldn’t think how MacGyver would have gotten out of this predicament, but I analyzed the situation and came up with a few thoughts. 1. It was going to hurt, because it was about 10′ down. I am aware of my limitations, and I am not a gymnast. 2. The ladder was on the floor directly underneath me, and to land on it was likely to cause a further movement upon impact. 3. The ladder had round rails and round rungs or steps, meaning I could easily roll my foot/ankle/knee or whatever hit the ladder. 4. If I landed on one of the kennels, that could cause a ricochet slide/bump/fall.

I did not have my cell phone on me, and the garage door was closed. The cell phone would have been a good thing to have handy. No one would see my legs dangling out of the ceiling and come to my aid. Luckily, the dogs were in the house, so I did not have to consider landing on one of them. Unluckily, they also were not related to Lassie and would not likely be able to go get help.

I finally let go, swung my not-svelte body, and managed to clear the ladder below me. Concrete is hard, though, and there was no graceful way to land softly. My injuries were long scrapes on my arms and ribs and legs, but nothing was broken. I was mad at my absent husband for not being there. (I know, this was a little irrational, definitely not humorous or humble.) Worse, the damn kennels did not fit in the trunk of the car after my great sacrifice of skin! I had to disassemble them and put one in the trunk and one in the back seat. All this delayed my departure by a few  hours, making me grumpier. But I survived, and I learned from that episode.

The Latest Mishap

This past Sunday I had occasion to again MacGyver my way out of a somewhat similar situation, i.e., consider how to fall best so as to limit the inevitable injuries. shelfThis time I was up on a 6′ step ladder, maybe 4′ off the solid hard unforgiving concrete floor of the garage. Wearing flip flops. Holding a computer printer that I was trying to put on a shelf above my head. Between the staircase with wooden post and railing that goes into the house from the garage and a set of golf clubs I was also going to move up and out of the way.

This time I did have the garage door open. I also left the door to the house open but with a doggie gate in place. My reasoning was that if I fell, eventually the dogs would get hungry and bark at me, and when I didn’t respond, their barking would alert the neighbors, who would see it was dark and my garage door was still open, too. Eventually, someone would come to my rescue. The phone was on the table in the kitchen, unfortunately, but also fortunately because I would have smashed it given what happened next.

MacGyver Thinking

Can you guess what happened? Yessiree, Bob! I went down. But while in mid-air, I managed to stop time long enough to consider advice from my ex-husband back in the day when he was teaching me to drive a stick shift: If you have to hit something, aim for the cheapest thing.

My thoughts: 1) Don’t land on your back on the railing because you will then flip over and hit the steel post that protects the furnace. There is no way that can be good. 2) Don’t try and break your fall by putting out your hands because you’ll break your arms. 3) Don’t land on the golf clubs because a 60-year-old woman impaled on a putter or a 7-iron will not be pretty and will hurt a lot. 4) I only had about 4′ to fall, and the most padding I have naturally is in my “backyard,” so it might be jarring but best case scenario was to land on my arse if I could. ladder

I dropped the printer (not in my plan) and landed on top of part of that. I also landed on part of the bent leg of the aluminum piece of crap ladder (some of the bruises now match the width of leg of the ladder). I did stay face up and did not have whiplash that could have come from kissing the concrete. My glasses flew all the way to the garage door, so I’m certain there was a bit of head action somehow. No broken bones, nor an injured coccyx,  just a sprained wrist and the aforementioned bruise on my acidosilus. Which is the size of a generous salad plate, and very dark in color.

I lay there a minute and saw my neighbor pull into her driveway. She just moved in a week ago, so although I knew her name and had met her once, I didn’t really feel like this was a good time to chitchat. I quickly inventoried my moving parts: I could move fingers and toes, there was no bleeding. I was breathing normally and without pain. No double vision, no headache or wobbly neck.

I picked myself up and hobbled into the house to call my sister. I was all shook up and burst into tears as soon as she answered the phone. She is so great at listening and helping me to calm down; she’s had a fair bit of practice with me. I was furious at Kevin for again not being here so that I was alone and had to do this without him. One hour and two scoops of Colombian Coffee & Vanilla Bean ice cream later, I was “okay.” My ankle was swelling and the wrist was throbbing, so I got the ice packs out, put my feet up, and rested for most of the rest of the day.

Angel on Duty?

Now, here’s the interesting part. Yesterday, two days after the incident, I was having lunch with a group of friends. I was enjoying my status as Center of Attention while I told the story of why I was wearing a wrist support brace. I got to the part about being mad at Kevin for not being there, saying he should have used his angel capacity and either swooped in to catch me or flown under me to keep me from harm. And one said, “Well, he was there, don’t you think? You didn’t knock yourself out or break any bones or scratch your glasses. It could have been so much worse, and it wasn’t.”

Wow!  She was exactly right. He was there, he had to be! I was immediately contrite and grateful. And happy!! I have an angel, and he was on duty! I keep doubting, and he keeps proving to me he is here. How I didn’t get a serious injury given the fate of the ladder is at least a minor miracle, in my book. I didn’t  knock the golf clubs over either, just shoved them over a foot or so. My glasses skidded a good 10 feet across the concrete floor. I was a little sore Monday, and even more sore yesterday, but not so stiff I couldn’t move; just creaking a little.It is still awkward to try and not use my left wrist when I’m packing and cleaning, or closing the car door and putting on my seat belt.

Evacuating from Hurricane  Florence

So back to why I was doing this in the first place, Hurricane Florence. I have zero interest in seeing what a hurricane looks like up close and personal. None at all. As the predictions worsened, I started making plans to go visit my sister in Ohio.

The expectation is the electrical power will go out for maybe a week. Not sure about water availability. The biggest worry is if a tree(s) falls on my house. I would prefer to not be sitting on my couch and suddenly have a tree in my lap.  I also know that my three dogs will destroy my house if they can’t get outside to do Their Business, plus Sasha is afraid of thunderstorms. The food I had prepared (plus veggies, smoothies, yogurts,and sandwich meat) to eat during this extended storm now needs to be consumed or taken with me so it doesn’t spoil while I’m gone. I am nearly as dreadful as a one-armed paper hanger trying to load a cooler and carry it to the car. I will have to finagle a suitcase from the attic, pack it, and get it from upstairs out to the car in the driveway. I have to manhandle a 28# beagle into his seat belt and the other two into their car seats. The forecast keeps getting updated but I am ready to go.

It feels like a little bit like I’m running away, but honestly, waiting this out is not on my Bucket List at all, no way, no how. I have anxiety already just thinking about the risks. I give my angel so much to do already, just falling off ladders and stuff, that I shouldn’t press my luck. I will get out while I can, so others can worry about the ones who really need worrying over. I pray for safe travels for those who are leaving and a safe stay for those who don’t.

What to do once you are prepared and waiting…

As long as the power stays on, you should watch some MacGyver episodes.  (What? You don’t know who he is? Check out MacGyver here.) I haven’t seen the new version but the original series was always pretty good. You just never know when a mishap, setback, or a tragedy will come your way. Best to stay calm in a crisis if you can.

 

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Rx: Charm School

Flailing arms and legs, jerking head, baring teeth, and otherwise squirming and twisting every which way but loose (literally). I’ve seen people have seizures, and it wasn’t that. And it also wasn’t over, by a long shot. So far, it was a draw as to who was ahead in the battle to trim the toenails. I was secretly glad to witness that the veterinarian, a professional who even had an extra set of hands from her assistant, wasn’t much better at this than I was all by myself. At only 3 years old and 13#, Sasha was holding her own, but in the end, she came away with a nice set of short nails, a treat, and a recommendation for attendance at charm school. Seriously.

Then it was Harley’s turn. At around 12 years old but just barely 6#, he still proved to be a contender. In fact, he held out longer than Sasha did, and I was proud of my boy for the way he defended himself against the crafty pair with the clippers and Dremel. After all, he is blind, deaf, and has no teeth, and did I say only 6#? So his acrobatics against those two sighted tricksters was admirable. No recommendations for manners for him, but I’m guessing the hope was that I would be the one to learn something, and then I could somehow transfer all my new knowledge to him as well.

No offense taken; I know my kids are the product of their parenting… mine and whoever had them before me. Since it’s just us now most of the time, I let them get away with a lot, and they know I’m the Alpha. When it gets tricky is when other people or dogs are involved. It doesn’t bother me to let them be what they are, which is dogs, or more appropriately, animals. Yes, they sit on the furniture; it’s where I sit and I like to cuddle them. Yes, they sleep in bed with me; I don’t mind sharing a king-size bed that would otherwise be too … let’s not go there … (although I do whine about them sleeping on top of me). Yes, they bark at the neighbors walking by; when it gets to be too much, I just close the door. Their biggest crime (and this is all of them) is when they insist of eating breakfast at 0’Dark 30 in the morning. But I also have seen and heard Sasha get territorial and self-protective. And those nails do scratch me.

Can you teach an old dog (or mother) new tricks? Or a young one who has been flipped and flopped to four homes in the one month before I got her last year? Oh, did you see that? I am already making excuses for her (and ultimately, me). Yikes! I’m an enabler!! I can see it now. Darn it. You know what this means. I can’t un-ring that bell. I will at least have to give that trainer a call now.

The proof is in the pudding, my friend Diane says. I guess we’ll have to see about that. Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Sasha Goes to Charm School.

By the way, the rest of the annual checkup was all good. Weight gains, skin healed and fur flourishing; all test results fine; vaccinations given without incident. The vet did mention something about brushing Sasha’s teeth every day to keep plaque down. Like that is going to happen without me losing a finger or two. I’m sure that was a joke.

I feel pretty good about my critters and my role in getting them healthy and feeling safe. I feel like I’m just now getting to know the real dogs instead of the scared, stressed out, uncertain ones I rescued last year. (Truth: I am pretty sure they rescued us, me and Bo both. FYI, Bo happens to be fully recovered and bounding all around these days, either following Harley or escaping from Sasha. Grateful that his earlier paralysis this spring has gone away and that he has gotten used to his furry mates.)

Something MORE

Have you ever felt SO-O-O excited and scared and nervous and sure all at the same time? That’s what I’m going through right now. Oh, it’s rather fabulous to be me right now! It’s only taken 60 years for me, and it’s only been the last year or so during which my potential is being revealed.

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Remember the Personal Sabbatical I gave myself – one year to figure out my life, the year after the year after Kevin died? That was nearly three years ago. The first year after he died, I kept on working and trying to fit back into my old normal life, which was impossible. The job wasn’t living up to my expectations anyway, and I was smack-dab in the middle of mourning and grieving. The advice I kept getting was “don’t make any major decisions for one year.” It turns out that was good advice…for several reasons, but mostly because I was completely discombobulated and didn’t trust my own judgment about future decisions that would be needed to be made.

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The second year was the year of the sabbatical. I thought I could sit quietly and wait for God to call me on the phone and tell me what to do next, where and how to do it, and who to do it with. Instead of giving myself time and waiting for that call, I quickly (too quickly I think) started my own consulting biz and distracted myself from the grieving process. I listened to well-intentioned friends guide me back to their version of solid ground. What I really wanted to do was float and fly and drift for a while, but still not trusting myself, I let myself get involved in something I couldn’t really put my heart into. My heart was already busy, you see. That year flew by. So I agonized a bit about going back to work, getting a real job. In the end, I decided I needed another year.

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The third year that call still hadn’t come. I wasn’t any more clear about my work direction, but I was finding myself. I didn’t know if I had ever – in all my life – really known myself and committed to ME. I figured this out when I discovered that I hadn’t  really been happy in my life. Content, yes; satisfied, yes; accomplished, yes. But happy? I felt like I had sort of fallen into my life and hadn’t deliberately planned it out or said “I want this, and then went for it. So when people said to me now, “What do you want?”, I didn’t know.  I was frustrated that I didn’t know because I felt like I should. I felt guilty for not having figured it out sooner.

It was at that point I started my real grieving. Losing Kevin was one thing; losing myself was an extension of that. But losing our dreams when I didn’t have any of my own to plug into play was a different kind of sadness. I knew in my heart that his life was about him. Now, I had to face the reality that my life was about me, and I did not have my own dreams, my own plans, my own vision.

However, I had a new awareness that even if I wasn’t exactly happy, I certainly wasn’t unhappy. I was okay just as I was. In fact, I was getting happier than I could remember being, and I knew in my heart of hearts that there was something more waiting for me. I didn’t have to go in search, I just had to be ready. So I started to work on ME instead of working at a job for money. The pay was nil but the benefits are great!!!

Because of my philosophy about life after life, and that life goes forward, and that our children are Life’s longing for itself (thanks, Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet), I decided to stop being the grieving widow. Yes, I did just that – I made a decision to stop.  Besides, I was only doing a mediocre job at it anyway. Instead, I started to study my life and figure out what could make me happier, what events or people had influenced me in childhood and beyond, what forks in the road had I taken that made a difference to me. Then I talked to people who knew-me-when. My sister Peggy is only a year younger than I am, so we had a lot to talk about. My parents are both gone, but I talked to an aunt who was around all of my childhood. I talked to friends I’ve had for much of my adult life. I talked to my kids, too.  And I read dozens of old journals, books, magazine articles and blog posts, listened to music, watched movies, met new people who didn’t know me as a child or mother or wife.

I started a different kind of journal that has turned out kind of cool. I drew a family tree of sorts (more of a diagram with labels) and pasted in pictures of my mom and dad from when they were young and again about the time I was born, up through the years. I added pictures of me from infancy to today. I included pictures of my husbands and my kids as youngsters to today, plus my grandbabies. Then I described each person, somewhat objectively based on my “research.” Finally, I  followed what is the commonly known as the Fourth Step in AA, but I used the Adult Children of Alcoholics model, to do a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, my parents, and my life then and now.

The more I opened myself to what I was discovering, the more light bulbs clicked on, the more puzzle pieces started to fall into place, the more the past came alive. I started finally to make sense of my life with a 10,000 foot view (or 60-year telescope):  why I am the way I am, why I do the (some of the) things I do, what my values are, how I stored my feelings, what behaviors have changed, the results of decisions I made. The good news is that as I began to understand myself, I fell in LIKE with Me and we became great friends! Slowly over the last year, I have been letting go of old unresolved hurts, feeling old feelings and saying goodbye to them, learning to be kinder and gentler with my new BFF, Me.

It wasn’t an afternoon at the beach, to be sure. I laid the cards on the table – really, I made up  index cards for my feelings – and I played them one by one. Abandonment. Fear. Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Betrayal. Loss. Insecurity. Anger. Love. Confidence. Hope. Safety. Pleasure. Inspiration. Excitement. Smart. And more. I would pick up a card and question myself about when I had felt that. I would try to remember a childhood experience related to that emotion. Many times I was unsure of what that emotion felt like; I had learned too well how to stuff it away, so identifying it and getting comfortable with it was a process, like defrosting old mystery meat so I could decide to cook it or throw it away. Fortunately, I was able to let go of many of my frozen feelings, which in turn lightened me up, which in turn made me happier. It was like Mario Bros. and I was jumping over the trolls and taking elevators to higher levels. Who knew this is what life was supposed to be about?!?

I still have to sit with my feelings and reflect by replaying old scenes, which now is a 60 year repository to go through. I have learned that living is truly an art; there is no one right way to do it. Social acceptability is worth less to me than it used to be. Praising myself and affirming my choices and decisions is actually more fun than I thought it would be.

I’m not done yet. But I know there is Something MORE for me yet in this lifetime. I was asked yesterday if I ever wish I could have Kevin back again. The obvious (and expected) answer is Of Course! But the courageous and honest answer is, Maybe. I have changed a lot in the past four years, and right now I  seem to be in a fast-forward phase of growth. Would he come back as he was then, or would he, too, have changed from his experiences wherever he is/was? I am not ready to really think about that too much, since it’s such a hypothetical question anyway. I’ve moved on, truly, madly, deeply. And I know I have more moving to do.

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Things Come Apart

The dog dish

The cute, colorful, ceramic dog dish sailed across the charming (read: uneven) Saltillo tile floor straight into the base of the unforgiving corner cupboard. My toe started throbbing before the food jumped all over the place seeking safety from the impact. 20180705_1609563The crash was more of a thwack sound, kind of dull; not like shattering glass, but the result was the same: shards everywhere. One of the problems with staying in someone else’s house,  you see, is that things aren’t where they would normally be. Thus, the simple step to find the cereal became a punt-kick for the poor dish. I’m glad it was our own dish I had brought along instead of one of theirs. But anyway, broke is broke.

I’m staying at my son’s house in Santa Fe while he and his family are on vacation. They watched my dogs while I detoured to California, and now it’s my turn to repay the favor. As it happens, I think I am going to owe them money; more on that in a bit. It has been unusually hot and windy here, too warm to cook a proper meal, so I was getting by with cold cereal for supper.

What do Kintsugi, Work, and HGTV all have in common?

The Japanese have a word for taking something broken and fixing it, usually with liquid gold, to create an even more beautiful replacement. It’s called kintsugi. I didn’t have any gold powder and other materials on hand, and anyway, it was a dog food dish. Still, I had a fleeting thought as I looked at the mess to be cleaned up: I could maybe fix this. (No, I didn’t even try.)

Fixing things is a habit. Partly it is because I was raised as a Midwestern girl to be thrifty and practical and independent. I’m also a teensy bit fiscally conservative (meaning I didn’t want to have to buy a new dish if I could fix this one), and I also believe in the reduce-reuse-recycle movement. I love consignment stores and second hand shops, and as an HGTV junkie when I had cable tv, I learned a lot about crafting.

My fixing habit is also born out of a preference to make things right, to keep peace, to not let things get out of hand, to keep everyone comfortable, to not have things once gone wrong not go wrong again; i.e., I relocated the remaining dog dishes to avoid breaking more of them.  I was (and am) quite good at confronting and even occasionally creating conflict if I need to. But that rarely is the case now. My fights are with usually with myself, between my head and my heart, over broken expectations of myself.  I am working harder now at trying to not overthink things, to observe and feel, to be present and not invest in worry and regret.

Buddy

So back to the dog dish. I remembered how I had bought it for Buddy when he was about 1-1/2. It was a find in the Denver airport, of all places. It was a souvenir gift for him when we left him with my Dad when we went to my son’s wedding in California 12 years ago. (I just remembered that I forgot to send him a Happy Anniversary wish! Darn!!) So wanting to fix it and keep it was an emotional response. Buddy crossed the Rainbow Bridge, as they say, a year ago. I shed a tear over the dish coming apart, realizing it was time to let go of another piece of him.

I came apart a little too. I had to, to let the tears out. And then as Harley wandered into the mess I was trying to sweep up, I found a little smile. I wouldn’t have him or Sasha with me today if I still had Buddy to care for. I scooped him up and snuggled him for a minute, feeling the warm liquid gold of love fix me.

A relationship

Other things have come apart on this trip as well. There was the conversation with my daughter about my living so far away from all of my family. That opened the door to continuing discussions about the sense of belonging, common desires, new plans being made. The old reasons are holding up like they used to; they were (and are) valid, but they’ve gotten thinner as time goes by.

Two shoes+

There was Olivia’s black suede boot 20180627_085227Oscar chewed the toe out of when he was bored. That was on my watch, and I felt bad. It was followed by Kelsyn’s shoe losing a strap on the back. 20180628_212751I was frustrated and my patience was coming apart at the seams until I realized I only needed to be more present, to pay attention, and to outsmart the dog who was on his home turf. Closing closet doors was a simple start, and then I helped him release some anxiety and energy with outdoor play. Playtime fixed both of us.

The ex

Oh, and then there was the fantasy, if you can call it that, that my ex (and father of our three children) and I could become friends again. Ha! I thought since I was in town and had seen him in passing on a city street, that I would reach out and see if he wanted to have coffee.  The call did not go well, as I heard the same macho guy of 30 years ago tell me how busy he was but if I called back and “reminded” him, he might be able to get together in a few days. WTH?!?? I did NOT and will NOT call him back. That was not liquid gold; it was old dirty duct tape that was sticking to itself. Some things need to stay apart; that is all the reminder I needed about that.

My perspective on things has been changing ever so slightly sometimes, and other times it changes with a crash or thwack or sound of a phone call being disconnected. I like how I no longer go from 0-60 in a single second when I’m stressed. I like how I can see from multiple angles now instead of a single dimension. I like how I can observe and be able to feel the feelings I am having instead of needing to dissect an interaction.

Because…

I like how some things come apart so I can peek  inside and let the light in, let the love in, let the feelings  go where they need to go. And some things come apart so we can let the judgment out, to bring our attention where it is needed, to allow softening of rough edges.

Freedom of the Open Road

 

The gas gauge indicated there should be half a tank of gas, on a truck that that has about a 25-gallon tank. Yet, the “Low Fuel Level” message lit up. A wind gust buffeted the side of the camper. Although finding a gas station would undoubtedly lower my stress level, still we sat still in the line waiting for the emergency responders to clear the roadway from of the semi-tractor that had jack-knifed ahead of us. There was no telling how long we might be there, and the need for air conditioning was competing with the need to avoid walking when I ran out of gas. Such was the dilemma of that moment.

Wouldn’t you know it? I made safely to a gas station not long after that, and I gave my thirsty truck a big (BIG) drink of fuel. I wasn’t in a hurry as far as the clock was concerned, and we were on our way again shortly. But then the Check Engine light came on, and at the next exit ramp, we were off again to figure a plan of action. Luckily, there was a truck stop with a 24-hour maintenance shop. Except they only serviced big rigs. However, they referred me to a 24-hour wrecker and auto repair shop nearby. Tommy, the technician, guessed it was a loose fuel cap, and hooked up a sensor to the truck’s computer. Yep. A quick reset, and we were on our way once again.

By the way, “we” is me and three dogs – who are unsurprisingly useless in a crisis, but at least they didn’t cause any further stress by howling and growling. They were much more patient than I was, thankfully.

This was the second leg of my adventure. I spent the first day traveling to Elkin NC and survived a wicked thunderstorm in 5:00 Friday night traffic in Winston-Salem. Yeah, I know, good planning on my part, right? Anyway, I had an absolutely wonderful time Saturday on the Blue Ridge Parkway, revisiting Blowing Rock, and getting the feel of my camper and truck on a cross-country trip. So making it through Nashville’s spaghetti system of interstate interchanges was done by a fortified driver.

I was relieved to make it to Memphis, anticipating Graceland’s tour scheduled for Monday. It was too bad some jerk parked his truck quite close to my campsite, making backing it and setting up harder than it should have been in the dark. But two women from Ontario, Canada, Dawn and Louise, were very helpful, so all was right again in the world. (If their names had been Thelma and Louise I might have had second thoughts about letting them guide me.)

The next day would be a long-awaited visit to Graceland, but as I finally laid in bed that night, my mind was filled with thoughts about how I was living out the Solowingnow name I had given myself. Of course, we are never fully alone. I did have my dogs, but I also am certain I had divine help in the form of angels helping me along the way. How else do you explain that I never once had a close-call with merging onto interstate traffic because the lane was clear a mile back? Or that I made it to a gas station in the nick of time, and that I found not one but two 24-hour service stations on a Sunday night? I think we often think we are alone because we don’t see anyone else, but I was not unaccompanied either physically or spiritually.

Other thoughts also kept my mind entertained for a while that night. I remember thinking that Kevin would have loved this trip. He would have loved the scenery, the challenge, the upcoming sights to see, the freedom of the open road. And then this bright thought occurred to me: as much as he would have loved it, I also loved it. I promised myself right then that I would start now to put myself first. It is all well and good to think of others, but my first responsibility now is me. I can invite his spirit to come along for the ride, but the realization that it is indeed an invitation means that I have completed another phase of adjustment toward this new life I am living. I am no longer waiting for it to be my turn; I am claiming my place at the fire of the strong, brave, wise women of the world. I have my own stories to tell now, and this trip is just one more collection of memories that comfort me.

I am blessed – and I know that I am blessed – to have this opportunity to travel. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as “they” say. I have been to the ocean, to the mountains, across the prairie. I do not have to choose one over another. That is freedom.

 

Here are some sights along my way so far. More to come as I settle in.

The Second Hurdle

That mountain looked mighty big. In fact, it looked plain mighty. It was rumored that a rookie motorcyclist of less than a year’s experience was going to attempt crossing the Beartooth Pass in Montana. Sixty-eight miles of windy, curvy roads, and the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies. It is heralded as one of the most scenic Beartooth mapdrives in the U.S., but I don’t know how anyone who was driving would be able to see anything but the road in front of her. I didn’t.

It was July but we were pulled over to dress warmer in our leather coats, gloves, and balaclavas. Was it true that there was still snow at the top? We: my friend Janet and her husband Troy, who both had been driving motorcycles for 30 years. Pat beartooth pass groupMy brother Jeff, who had been driving at least 20 years but this was his first big road trip. My husband Kevin, who had been driving since he was in high school. And me, that scared rookie.

Curves are hard enough, but managing the climbing speed on the Montana side, and then the downhill control on the Wyoming side meant finessing the clutch, the accelerator, and brakes while keeping the 658# bike upright. Though possible snow.  What was I thinking?!?

We decided I should go first so I could set the pace. I would be followed by Jeff, then Troy and Janet, with Kevin last. I believe in following speed limit signs, even on a motorcycle, especially on the curves. They were all so patient and encouraging I didn’t have the heart to tell them I wanted to  change my mind. Plus, I knew we were almost 600 miles from home, and either they went over without me and I drove back home alone, or they had to forfeit the trip. Sometimes it’s good to have that kind of motivation. Of course, I knew they would never have agreed to this in the first place if they – the experienced ones – didn’t believe I could do it safely. Umm, did I say this was my idea?

Holding a big bike upright is a lot easier if you are going faster rather than slower. I already knew this from the 1000 miles of practice I had in the previous months. Still, I wasn’t going to do anything stupid. And so we pulled back onto the road, with me in the lead, at about 25 mph. The first couple of miles were fine, like riding the Black Hills of South Dakota, and I relaxed a little. I had done this before, and I could do it again. But as we climbed, I started praying, “Oh, God; oh, God; oh God!!”

Troy zoomed by me. Then Janet. I started to sweat and feel like I was out of my league. They were out of sight, around a turn to the right. I made that turn and found myself in a topless tunnel of snow with walls almost 20’ high and a blue sky overhead. Up ahead on the side of the road I saw Troy, crouching down with a camera in his hands, ready to get my picture as I drove through the Pass. Janet was right there ahead of me; she pulled off on the slim shoulder but there was no room for me.

pat-beartooth-snow-tunnel-e1525101106515.jpg

yes, it was July 16 – Janet on yellow bike, me in pink coat behind

I kept going. All by myself; I didn’t see anyone in my rearview mirror. Around the next curve, and the next one. No one ahead of me. Then there was a large pull-off area next to a snow field. I made it safely and parked my bike. I realized how cool and windy it was but I was too hyped to be cold. Kevin and Jeff were suddenly beside me, smiling big goofy smiles, feeling the freedom and the accomplishment. I started crying. pat kevin snowThe stress and the excitement and the relief washed over me. I had done it. Sort of – I had to get down the other side yet, but still, this was something amazing I had done. I was staying between the mountain and the wild blue yonder.We made it down the Wyoming side without incident, although there was a bad accident we had to drive by. I chose not to look but the others said there was a mangled motorcycle on the side of the road beyond the ambulance and cop cars.

At dinner that night, Janet presented me with a small sign:

I never doubted that I could do it. The question was whether I would do it. It’s one thing to know something intellectually, and it’s another to feel the feelings of fear, then step into that fear and do whatever it is anyway. If you’re like me, you play Devil’s Advocate with yourself, imagining all the What-Ifs that could happen, judging yourself before you even try. But I know the antidote for fear is preparation, followed by action. When you are tempted to let fear shut you down, remember that developing any skill is a process. If you try, you evolve. Good habits make us better; bad habits help us get worse. Understanding the situation from all sides is prudent. Having a back-up plan is responsible. A little teensy bit of fear is maybe a good thing – it keeps you alert and aware.

I have been known to ask myself, “I wonder what I would be capable of if I just would apply myself?” That’s not fear speaking; that’s laziness! I do enough to get by sometimes, and then I feel the sorrow of not having really tried. What has been working for me lately is the mantra that It’s my time to become the solution. I have shifted my mindset, to feel the fear and do it anyway, or to just get off my butt and do it anyway..

I sold Kevin’s bike a year after he died. Mine has been sitting in the garage ever since, waiting for the time I feel like riding again.  It’s not doubt or fear that keeps me away. It just doesn’t feel the same without him. I had taken it out a few times that first summer after he passed, but that fire has gone out.  I know I could if I wanted to, I just don’t.

I’m thinking I might sell it and buy a convertible instead.

3 Hurdles to Overcome

“Higher! Higher!” I remember hearing the voices in my head when I was in high school and wanted to run hurdles on the track and field team. If I could just reach my leg a little higher, stretch my stride a little longer, I’d find the rhythm that would make hurdling easier. Alas, a toe would drift down and graze the top of the hurdle, I’d stumble or knock it over, and occasionally I’d hit the ground. It didn’t register then that I wasn’t as tall as some of the other girls who more easily glided over the course, and my legs might never give me the clearance I’d need.

track ribbonsAnyway, I turned to sprinting, minus hurdles, and I managed to secure a spot on the relay team that had some success and  made it all the way to Regional competition. I was no Olympic wanna-be; I just wanted to belong and do something I was good at.relay pins

“You’re a runner; you can do this! No.  It hurts. I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner. I can’t breathe. Yes, you can do this. Just a little more. This is crazy. Who cares about a stupid record?” And because I kept up the conversation in my head and didn’t stop running, when I was in the U.S. Army’s Basic Training, I completed a 2 mile run within time and captured a record, a big one. I was the first woman EVER to get a perfect score of 500 on the Physical Training (PT) test.Army 500 I happened to be in the last class of the Women’s Army Corps before it was absorbed into the regular Army, so, I guess my record stands.

Much has changed in the past 40+ years, at least as far as athletic accomplishment goes . I couldn’t jump over a hurdle now if my life depended on it, and sprinting around a cinder track would most likely take half a day and hurt a lot. I kept up the longer-distance running for a while because it turned out I liked the moderately slower pace and the feel of being healthy and limber, but I let a marriage, three kids, and a full time job get in the way of my routine. Now I’m happy if I can stroll around the neighborhood with the dogs without getting worn out.

But I have – fortunately – learned a few things along the way, three lessons that have stood the test of time and now serve as nudges when I get stuck in a rut or completely run out of air. I was reminded of them the other night when I heard Greg Lilly, a local author and publisher, speak about how writers can get moving again if they are feeling unproductive or blocked, but they apply to most efforts to finish something we have started (or get started at all).  They are the lessons of managing Time, overcoming Doubt, and finding Inspiration. In this post, I’ll talk about time, and I’ll cover the other two in future posts. Time is the biggie for me, even though I’m no longer tied down to a full-time job outside the house. I still have plenty to do with volunteerism and a menagerie of dogs to love, but solidly managing my calendar to allow writing time trips me up sometimes. Wait til you read about the solution below!

Time

I am usually amused when someone says they don’t have time to do something. We all know we have the same amount of time, so what they are really saying is that the something is not a priority. When we don’t want to do it, we fudge a little and blame it on the thing we all relate to: not enough time. Just yesterday I canceled a coffee meeting with someone I had recently met at a networking meeting. Rather than talk about my business, I realized that he was trying to sell me some kind of insurance when he sent me a video the night before and asked that I watch it in advance of our meeting. I copped out just a little – I sent a text instead of calling him, but in my defense, he sent the video by text also. Anyway, I told him it would be a waste of his time and mine, since I wasn’t interested in the insurance product, and I canceled the meeting. I have to admit it felt good to be honest (I could have said my dog got sick or something). And it felt freeing, because this was now “found” time I could use for writing.

Discipline v. Commitment

Writers, like other artists and creatives  I suppose, like to use the word “discipline.,” We way we “just aren’t disciplined,” or “I need some self discipline.” What  it comes down to is really just  putting our butts in the chair and getting to the  business of writing. But I like how  Julia Cameron referred to this in her book The Right to Write. She said that people think they have to be disciplined, which in itself has a negative or strict connotation. What we need instead, she says, is to make a commitment, and then we will find the time. “Commitment” is a choice, which is a positive spin, which is motivating. Tomato — to-mah-toe? I am on the side of commitment.

Newton v. Einstein

Another take on this issue of having enough time comes from  a fascinating read by Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap. He says that time is a paradigm, or set of beliefs, we hold and that there are two views on this.  There is the Newtonian paradigm (from Isaac Newton) which says there is only a finite amount of time. We have to be careful with how we spend it so there is enough time to do…what we want to do, what we need to do, before it runs out, since we can’t make more time.

Unless we can. The solution to this, the other paradigm, is Einstein Time (yes, Albert Einstein). Hendricks suggests Einstein had a new way of “being with time” that lets us get more done in less time and helps us enjoy plenty of time to discover and express our abilities and feel good at the same time. Einstein time gives us a way to expand time, if we allow ourselves to become the source of time and slow things down. Essentially, we have to change our thinking to taking full ownership of time.

Sometimes I get it, this idea…and sometimes I am confused and skeptical and … you know what I mean, you’re probably feeling that way right now, too. I can’t discount it completely because  I have been able to stretch time on occasion, but to consciously slow things down so there is enough time to get things done; I have to think about this. Time has stood still for me on occasion, and I have had the experience of time flying (like those last 40 years). I really have to get my mind around this concept, though.

In sum, Lilly’s advice is consistent with Cameron and Hendricks. We “find” time for what we have decided is important to us, and we do that by claiming it and staking our ground. Maybe we shut ourselves away in a room or leave the house to do what we “need” to do. Maybe we trick ourselves by setting a deadline. Offering rewards to myself doesn’t work for me because I’ll just go ahead and get what I want anyway if I want it enough, but it might work for you. The big idea here is to drop the guilt about spending time doing what we love to do. And engaging in that act of creation or whatever, being in that moment, giving ourselves permission to do this is a way to overcome the hurdle of time.

Since I’ve been “solowing,” my time paradigm really has changed, and I’m much more aware of and respectful of time. While we like to say “we never know how much time we have” in terms of life expectancy, I know this to be true. So I have shuffled my priorities, discarded some projects or responsibilities, made time for others. It’s possible I am shifting from Newtonian time to Einstein time! In any event, I value time now in a way that keeps me from getting blocked or stuck. I take my commitments seriously, and I don’t make  appointments that will be a waste of time.  If you have a time-saving tip, if you have experience with expanding time, if you have a story to tell about when the time was just right, please share! It might help me and others to make shifts in our thinking.

In my next post, I will touch on the hurdle of doubt and fear. I hope you’ll check back for that soon. That one is a huge one in terms of making it to the finish line of achieving our goals.

 

The Things We Keep

I want to tell you about my friend Jackie,

jackienme

Last summer at the Eastern Shore

who moved about three months ago from Virginia to Pennsylvania, which is  home to her even though she has lived here for 16 years. Isn’t that how it goes sometimes….you live somewhere, with friends and furniture and fun memories, but those fixtures are not enough to ease the longing for that place we call home, that sense of truly belonging, with the people we love most, trying to fill the void that can’t be appeased with all the stuff we have accumulated.

 

Jackie had spent nearly a full month culling out the things she no longer wanted or needed (an exercise could all benefit from if we had the motivation she does). She had a yard sale, then donated several boxes to a local charity, and even gave some things away (I got 2 plants and Pampered Chef pitcher!). She sorted and saved, wrapped and rewrapped,  packed and  piled her things to keep and to let go of. She started out quite deliberately, and then as the time of leaving got closer (and as friends were more objective than she), released some things to make room for the new life she was curating.

I went to help her or hang out a few different times. I admit I was a little jealous of the wide-open, fresh-start future awaiting her. She returned home, but I don’t know where my “home” is. Her roots go deep; mine go wide. Her parents live in the house she grew up in; not only are my parents both deceased, but my closest sibling to my home town is nearly 100 miles from there. She had a plan; I feel  adrift most days. She is single, never married, no kids (but 2 adorable dogs); I am solo, hundreds of miles from my nearest sister and thousands of miles from my three kids and five grandkids, still occasionally overcome with memories and dreams of a life that has been short-circuited. Of course, I am happy for her, and truth to told, I am not unhappy with my own choices to stay put and wait for inspiration.

It was interesting to peek into the pieces of her life as we packed and rummaged through closets and arranged the stuff that makes up her. I was reminded of how I painstakingly went through each and every single item that was Kevin’s after he died, which has taken me most of three years to do. And I couldn’t help but think as I drove away from Jackie’s what it would (a) take to divest myself of my stuff to make yet another move and (b) for my kids to someday have to go through this exercise without me. Except for the “crap” (as Kevin would call it) in my Diva Den, which is all my crafting/sewing/painting/unused exercise stuff, I think I don’t have all that much that would cause them to ask “WTH was she thinking?!??  It may not all be necessary, but it’s comforting and meaningful, and it reflects me.

So back to Jackie. One 30-something aged woman, two dogs. A yard sale, a donations pile, a large trash bin. A 20′ U-Haul, a car trunk, and a full SUV. Full of energy and optimism. Kevin went quietly and quickly, without a dime, nor a pair of shoes on his I-hate-bare-feet, nor his glasses to see where he was going, a book for while he was waiting at the Pearly Gates, not even a pair of pants or even his own toga! He left behind friends, memories, and a garage and one attic full of just his stuff. That’s the way to go, I guess.  If prepping and packing and purging weren’t so dramatic and draining, I might consider it myself. If I knew where to go. So I’d know what to keep and what to let go of.

Once I had to make a bottom-line decision about what to keep. It’s like those people who face evacuation from a raging fire or a hurricane. My house was in imminent danger of flooding (Moorhead MN, April 1997). I was going to have to leave. I told my boys to pack up a suitcase each with enough clothes for a week, and I had friends clean out the refrigerator and freezer. I took my box of important papers and a stack of photo albums (yeah, it was before the digital age). And we drove  away. It was not hard in that moment to prioritize my valuables. I was mentally prepared to completely start over if I had to.

What is hard is going down Memory Lane, taking detours, reliving every significant moment, touching your past, and deciding what things to keep. Is the apron my great-grandmother crocheted important enough? What about my favorite book(s)? The wedding dress? The pottery collection? How about those red plates I got a second job for so I could afford them? The basket of old love letters and other memorabilia from school days or between-husbands days? The 60 or so dragonflies that adorn my walls? My $300 leather planner? Oh, and the painting I commissioned of the adobe wall and the hollyhocks? I love that painting. The curio cabinet Kevin gave me for Christmas? The sleigh bed I always wanted and now have? The cedar chest or what’s in it?

How much of all the stuff I have is “valuable” because of the joyful experience I had acquiring it rather than any monetary merit? What is replaceable, if I could afford to buy it new? What have I forgotten that I even had, so therefore should be willing to not keep  any longer?

I have moved at least a dozen times in my adult life. For about the last three times, I’ve said This is the Last Time! And yet, I don’t think it is. Above all, what I want to keep is my sense of self, the Me I’ve become in the past three years, while keeping the Me I was that made me who I am. Kevin’s death forced me to face the reality that life is short and so should be really lived, not endured. Helping Jackie prepare for her move showed me that while it is work, it is work worth doing to dream up new dreams and chase them down.

Another thing Jackie’s leaving has taught me is about the impact on others that you are in a relationship with. Usually it is me who does the leaving. Those dozen moves were all me driving down the highway. But this time Kevin left, and I stayed. Last year my next-door neighbors Richard and Rosie moved across town, and I stayed. Buddy died, and I am here. Now Jackie is off to Pennsylvania, and I’m still here. Maybe I’m still here because it is my time to understand how it feels when someone else leaves and I stay. Maybe what I need to keep now is my compassion and my generosity of spirit in helping others  … helping raise grandkids? Helping them to be curious about life, to go exploring, to have adventures, to make memories. To know that even when someone leaves, it’s not about you; it’s about them. To know that life goes on and relationships can still continue and thrive. That the things we keep are up to us, whether it’s a memory, an artifact, a secret, a friendship.

Jackie is coming back here for a visit, and I’m happy to report we’ll be spending some time together. We’ve managed to stay in touch by phone, text, and Facebook, so it won’t be awkward to pick up where we left off. I remember what I used to sing as a Girl Scout when I was younger:

chloechewie

Chloe                     Chewie

Make new Friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and the others gold.

 

(Shout out for Jackie’s two dogs, Chloe and Chewie who have their own blog at http://chloeandchewie.wordpress.com, and a facebook page at Life Adventures of Chloe & Chewie.)

The Right to Write

I have a long To Do list that keeps growing. I have found it difficult to say No and volunteered my time for more things than usual. Plus I’m actively trying to promote the Author Academy I’m going to start with a business partner, Dawn. That was supposed to start February 6 but we postponed it to get more registrations, so what I would have done a month ago I’m working on now. I’m also on the board for my homeowner’s association (president, no less) and agreed to do two no-fee presentations in March. Uff-da!

So I have plenty I should be working on, and instead, I’m choosing to write this blog post and work on some other writing, too. It feels like a bit of an indulgence, a bit selfish. But really, I have the right to write. Unlike other entitlements that infringe on someone else, this is my decision about how to spend my time, and it is guilt-free (and calorie free, I might add!). Julia Cameron, author of The Right to Write, and The Artist’s Way, and other books, says so, too, so that’s more validation than I even need but I’m happy to have it.

permission-card.jpgPLUS, I found this old card in my desk! I used to give these out to staff when I was an administrator, to empower them, in a way, to take risks and to not wait for me all the time to say “okay” to something.

Why do we do this, this denial of the things we like to do? The floor needs cleaning, the dogs need walking, the bills need paying, the programs need development. And here I sit, happily clicking away on the keyboard for a change. It’s been weeks since I’ve worked on my book, and I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it’s been since I wrote in my journal.

Today is a good day for writing, just because I decided it is.  A writer should write. And  a dancer should dance, and a cook should cook, and a teacher should teach, and doers should do. Because doing is how we honor our being. I’m not saying we need to be doing all the time, busy for the sake of business. I’m saying that we should do what makes us feel good about who we are. We must take time for filling up. You know that saying, you never miss the water til the well runs dry? Okay, so if we don’t fill our well, we will also dry out, and we will miss ourselves and shrivel up.

Interestingly enough, I have trouble sometimes declaring myself to be a writer. Earlier this week I was having breakfast out with two of my friends. One had been commenting about my blog and how much she was enjoying it. The other wanted to know why she didn’t know about my blog. That lead to the first one encouraging me to do more writing. Then I got what she called the God Wink.

Another customer sitting a few booths away from our table overheard us and came over. She asked if we were writers, and my two friends immediately pointed at me and said, “She is.”  The woman said she had a story that needed to be told but this wasn’t the place to talk about it. She mentioned she has friends who are writers but she can’t tell them this story, and would I be interested in talking to her more? I gave her my card, and she left. Now, I don’t know if this is a common thing that happens to writers where other people either want to tell you their story or want you to help them write it. Either way, it felt really, really good to have others call me a writer, to accept that myself, and have the woman look at me with respect and interest. So call this a God Wink, or a sign, or whatever you want. I’m calling it good!

I have collected other people’s writing in the form of books, quotes, books, posters, and more books. The current situation involves 6 bookcases and 2 stacks bedside. I’ve discovered that it’s not just the physical object I’m collecting, and it’s not just the ideas I want to learn from, and it’s not just the sense of place that I can escape to. It is all that, but more than that, it’s validation that writing and writers matter. That writing is legitimate,  lending credibility and permission to myself to do what looks like nothing but is, in fact, a very good expression of who I am. Even if no one ever reads what I write – although you are proof that some of my writing gets read by people other than myself, and the magazines with my name in them are proof, too.

It’s my ego that gets in my way most times. She resists my writing, I think, when she suggests that I am wasting my time or when she discourages me to appreciate what I have written. I’m getting better at recognizing this, and when I do, I try to shift my thinking. It’s sometimes hard to remain faithful to what I believe in, what reflects my authentic self. I torment myself with fear that I am not producing any income, for example, and that I should go get a “real” job, and then I move into “fight or flight” mode. I start to live in the past, to worry about the future, and shove away the idea that I can be this person who creates through writing.

Today is that kind of day, though, when I feel the need to empty my thoughts and ideas onto the page so I have room for more of thoughts and ideas. Today I am ignoring Ego and honoring my Spirit. I am grateful for all the gifts I have been given, including the gift of connection with my Higher Self. I am going to tune in to a higher channel with better reception. I’m not blowing off reality; I am blowing off the Ego’s need for control. And that is freeing.

You, too, have this right to write…or to create, to fill your cup or your well, to share your gifts, to rise and shine. If you need me to help, I’ll be at my desk, writing away, lost in the wonderful possibilities ahead.

Women of Letters

I wrote today, and that made it a good day. Not just another few hours at the keyboard this time. Not just a work plan, or replying to an email that required an explanation, nor this blog post.

I wrote a letter to a friend. Four pages, handwritten, blue ink on yellow paper, folded in thirds and then in half to fit inside a card I bought. letterShe will be pleased to get it, since most of our contact over the years has been phone calls or an infrequent visit. I wish I was getting a letter. I told her a secret. I’m excited for her!!

My mom used to be a big letter writer. She corresponded regularly by mail. I remember once she made some comment about being bored, and I suggested she write a letter to someone. Her reply was, “Well, I can’t. I don’t owe anyone a letter.”  Yeah, that would be bad, an insult that the other person had not responded quickly enough or had missed responding altogether. Anyway, I remember she would sometimes watch for the mail to see if she got anything that day, just as excited as a kid. It was her connection to something, someone outside our house. Fortunately, when I left home she wrote to me even if I hadn’t written back. I guess the rules can be bent for children, even if they are adults. Mostly she told me about the weather, occasionally some news from the Gazette, our local twice-weekly newspaper, and once in a while an update on a family member or neighbor I may or may not have known. So maybe I got my love of letters from her. She kept some of the letters I did manage to send her, and now that she is gone, I have them back. It’s a treat sometimes when I miss her to sit and reread them.

I still have three letters from my first husband, all written in the early stages of our courtship; my first love letters, more than 40 years ago. Even though we divorced, they are a reminder of young love and that although it didn’t end well, it started well enough!

Kevin was not a traditional send-in-the-mail letter writer, but before we got married he used to email me almost every day. He lived an hour away, and phone calls still cost money. We both had jobs and kids with activities, so sometimes all we had was a few minutes here and there. Those were the days of local internet providers, too, so I don’t have access to those emails any longer. He gave me cards for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day (from the dogs), my birthday, our anniversary, and even Christmas. I kept many of them.  And I do have two voice mails I have saved from shortly before he died, both less than a half-minute of his voice asking me to call him when I had a minute. Still, there’s something about a letter… I wish I had even one from him.

My journal the first year after he died was almost all letters to him, telling him local news and about how I was feeling. He died unexpectedly, so this was my way to say all the things I didn’t get to say when he was here with me.  The letters were my way of not just processing his death but saying goodbye to him and the future I thought we were going to have together. The second year saw a slight shift. My journal became public with this blog, so my posts were more about him, not to him. This gave me a bit of distance, creating that space where I could prepare for not just a new life without him but a new me in that scenario.  And now I realize I write about me and my world, with an occasional mention of him. I can’t say the circle is complete, but it is the sign of the times; I’m healing and moving on.

An interesting thing about writing this letter today is that it gave me as much joy as I hope it gives my friend when she finds it in her mailbox. It validates me as a writer, too. I’m spending a lot of time at my desk on the computer lately. It felt good to have the slight weight of a pretty pen in my fingers as words flowed out. Time slowed down for a bit, and I still feel  relaxed, as if I had meditated a while.

She’ll wonder if it’s an Easter card (it’s not) or a very early birthday card (it’s not). But when she opens it and finds the letter, she’ll probably set it aside and make sure she has a fresh cup of coffee and uninterrupted time. That’s what I would do.

When is the last letter you wrote – that wasn’t a mass-produced Christmas Letter or a quick autograph on a $4.95 Hallmark card? I’ll bet you know someone who would love to get a letter in the mail. If you can’t think of anyone else, there’s always me!!