Thursday, March 31, 2016

Don't Discount the Parenthesis

“We are travelers on a cosmic journey,stardust,swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” 
― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

So, as you know, I set my alarm for five o’clock in the morning again.  I do this alarm setting ritual when I feel out of control and lost and out of sorts and in control and in the groove and doing well. Basically, five o’clock in the morning means I am aware.

As the clock turned to five, the rain started to pour out of the clouds. I sat, waiting for my coffee, and I listened. I listened to my skylight, that I used to hate. I listened to the steady and consistent downpour that a skylight offers. I listened and felt. I listened and felt memories of steady and consistent rains. Rain that is loud enough to soothe, like the best of all sound machines, and gentle enough to build a cocoon of temporary safety around everyone who chooses to witness her momentary dance. 

And I thought. I thought of the tin roof that covers the cabin at my camp where I was a camper. I heard the raindrops hit that tin roof and melted into the white noise the constant pouring provides. I remembered I must shout to be heard. I must shout, as I wore my green parka with the hood, and run from cabin to cabin. I must shout because I was part of the oldest cabin and we run, because we check on the youngest cabins. 

I went to a girls’ summer camp, much like the summer camp the movie, Parent Trap. We checked on the each other and played a mean game of SPIT while the rain pounded the tin roof of the cabin and snuck out in the middle of the night to play pranks. We swam miles, only to earn the honor of seeing our names engraved on a board in the Dining Hall. And we lived for Hanging Breakfast. Hanging Breakfast, is basically packaged food hanging from trees in the woods that must be found at dawn in pajamas. I thought this Hanging Breakfast was so fun when I was twelve and at camp and in the dream world of camp.

And then so many years later, I moved into this house. A house with a skylight, that I don’t care for, and I insisted should be filled in and exonerated. Until I heard the first rain. The rain, pounding down on this skylight I think I hate, reminds me of camp and the tin roof and my friends and the cinnamon rolls hanging from trees. And this sound, it is magical. This sound transports me to a moment in time when the world was okay and I met friends because we tossed notes from bunk to bunk at nap time and because we shared a tent on that long and grueling Appalachian Trail Hike. This sound transports me to the night we returned from the hike, covered in bites and with swollen limbs because we accidentally trampled through a nest of yellow jackets. We were so very, very happy for a dinner of beanie weenies. So very happy. Like, it’s a tradition happy and we just did hiked and camped with giant, swollen hands and necks and all happy. This sound transports me to that night. That moment.

The sound of rain can bring me back to a moment I knew I was alive. Which is my new goal, to look for these moments, these I knew I was alive moments. The sound of rain brings me to a place of peace. I play cards and talk about nothing when it rains. I run from cabin to cabin, in my hooded rain gear, to check on the younger kids. I am at camp. Camp is a world where we all get along and we all care and we all listen to the rain and feel the dirt under our boots. Camp in a place where we hear the rain and we listen and we watch. Camp is a place where we live in the parenthesis.

I do not take rain lightly anymore. Rain taught me that the parenthesis of life teach us about the sentences of life. I loved camp. I loved rainy days at camp.  I loved the cards and the unscripted camp moments when we went off schedule and embraced mother nature and what she has to offer.

Yes, she had rain. Mother Nature, that tricky gal, with her downpour, she also throws in a bit of magic. She throws in togetherness and sameness and love. And a really good game of SPIT with some girls you met, on a bunk, in a cabin, at camp.

You will know these girls a lifetime even though they only existed in the parenthesis. Parenthesis moments will return return and my camp days taught me to notice them. Don’t discount the parenthesis. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fade to Black

I don’t have a big almost death story. Because I don’t remember the death part. I only remember blacking out -  which I am not quite sure is a good thing or a bad thing. I feel like Tony Soprano when he alludes to the whole ‘fade to black’ end of life bit. But, then, he is Tony Soprano so I am not sure that’s the best idea to conjure when thinking of death and the after life. 

Earlier, I sat on my porch with a friend. And she asked me the question. The question I hate because I don’t have an answer. Not even a little bit of an answer. “What is it like to die, even if just for a few minutes?”. 

Lordy, I want to give a whole lights and magic and flying on birds and seeing my old pets and grandparents kind of answer. My answer though, “I have no idea, all I saw was black. I only knew when I was alive.”

I think of this often. I only knew when I was alive. I think of it often because I try, so very hard, to be alive each and every moment. I try to remember that day as the day I woke up, instead of that day, I almost died. And then, I think of this story. I remember it because I woke up to this story. This day. Riding on a scooter. In Italy.

The wind tore threw my hair and my tight, brown skinny pants clung to the legs that grasped the scooter between them. The heels of my shoes were huge and could barely fit the pedals. My hands wrapped around Marco’s stomach and I had the sense to think and remind my eighteen-year-old self to think and to pay attention. I remember, more than the salt water air and the warm, but cool night...I remember, I sat on the back of a scooter with my arms around the stomach of my Italian boyfriend, in Italy, on the water, after a day in Rome. After a day I looked up and saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and assumed it would be just meh, but, instead, I was rendered silent and my eyes looked up for hours and days and minutes as I just tried to absorb the awe and wonder.

And you know what? This scooter scene is what I remembered after my whole fade to black scene. I remembered life. I remembered living; I remembered reminding myself to live. I  woke up from my accident still riding on the back of that scooter in skinny pants and huge heels. I woke up and I was still living.

Very few people know this story because it embarrasses me. This isn't a story about the after life. That part was all dark to me. But, the waking up, oh I remember it.

I remember the night I brought home my puppy. I remember the night I went to my first baseball game after my accident and my friend carried me all the way down to the good seats. And he secured my wheelchair and carried me up and down anytime I needed or wanted anything. And he explained the entire game of baseball to me. And I listened because he was explaining it. I remember the day I picked up my car. Not because it was a new car, but because it meant freedom after so much entrapment. I remember the football games with Ashlea and Kyle and Justin and Brandon and Natalie and how I just felt twenty years old. Not a paralyzed twenty years old, just twenty years old. I remember laughing and the kids I used to babysit and studying for exams and writing papers well into the early mornings with these joyful girls and boy. I remember grilling lamb kabobs at dusk and late night walks with my dog that turned into early mornings because I ran into a friend and we just couldn’t stop talking. I remember flying to New York City to feel loved by the only older sister I’ve ever known and I remember the smell of the wreckage at ground zero after 9-11. I remember the night we got stuck in my driveway in heels and sparkly dresses because it was snowing and some cute guy at the party kept telling us, it wasn’t snowing as hard as it looked, it was just the lights. I remember long walks at the river and the huge hills and the coaching it took to master those hills. I remember laughing over homemade dinners and gushing over dinners out and downtown. I remember watching the rain steadily fall and listening to her calm, yet ominous presence and talking about hurt and pain and loss and love. 

I remember the living.

I don’t have an almost death or after-life story. I just have a life story. I woke up and remembered living. I woke up still remember the living. 

We worry so much about the after life. About how we will be remembered. About what people will say. And these things are important. What is more important, though, is how we live now. What is more important is what we pay attention to now. 

I do not have a grand story. I have a story filled with a lot of really fantastic moments and some really hard moments. And it's in all of the moments I finally woke up and started living. It wasn’t the promise of an after was the truth, that right here and now, amongst the weeds and the dirt there are some pretty amazing wild flowers and trees and sun and lots of life to be lived and a scooter to ride, in Italy, along the water.

End of scene.

Fade to light.

And this. In the middle of all of the pain and hurt, I smiled and tailgated. Last Friday, I stole Will and took him into Ashlea's office to read books and keep quiet. We found this old picture book. He opened this page and pointed us out. 'Mommy and you." I remember this moment when we were young and I remember looking at the picture of this moment in an office with this gal's baby. I remember life. I have a life story. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Super Woman

A few months ago, I told Ashlea I was worried about life. I told her I worried about my endurance to keep up with its stamina and, even though, I have dreams, I worried how I would add just one more ball to the never ending sphere of balls I juggle, well drop, on a daily basis. Ashlea looked right at me and said, “Oh come on Sar,  you are Super Woman. Why can’t you see that?”.

I just kind of looked at her and thought, “Oh, right.”

My dad dropped off some stuff from my grandma’s house that my aunt collected for me. I dug through the age-stained boxes and cursive writing labeled vinyl picture books and I found this photo. A photo of me dressed as Wonder Woman - knee high socks, buckle shoes, wig, and all. I guess I did think I was Super Woman or Wonder Woman or some woman like that at some point in my life. 

I guess we all thought we were something special at some point in our lives. I guess we all think someone else is pretty special. I guess we all have something special. I guess we are all special. 

Tragedies remind us of humanness and sameness. Tragedies remind us of love and last moments and randomness. The brother and sisterhood we see in each other on days like today, should be the sameness we see in our fellow people every day. We can use this reminder to close our hearts or to open our hearts. 

We can use this reminder to see the dreamer, and the super hero, and the lawyer, and the artist, and the teacher, and the doctor that lives in each of us.  Or we can use this tragedy to build another wall and stop seeing and stop believing and stop dreaming. We each get to decide. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

My Samara Story

This story will start off sad. I promise you, though, it is not a sad story. Rather, a story of one of the greatest lessons I learned in my life, so far. I say so far because, lately, every single day seems to be a new lesson. Just the other day, Ashlea and I joked that we were tired of learning so many lessons. And, then, I remembered, my Samara story. A story I wrote weeks ago. A lesson I learned and carry with me each day since our encounter. Samara changed me in a huge way. Samara showed up when I needed her most. Samara is only six years old.

Just so you know...whenever I go quiet and am absent from this space, it’s usually because I am having a really hard time. I don’t go quiet because I can’t write or function anymore. I go quiet because my goal is to lift you all up, as you have me. I go quiet because when life gets really, really hard, I become a mack truck of not so lift you all up emotions. I stay quiet because a wise friend once told me it is better to just stay quiet sometimes. 

The defintion of really, really hard, well, it changes daily.  A few years ago, I would be grateful for my recent definition of hard. Even, I, forget those long and dark days when survival was my only concern. Which, hopefully, gives the suffering some kind of hope - this too shall pass and the worst moments will be hard to remember and normal stuff will be hard again. 

So, life got all regular hard, and as I do, I shut down. After a few days of this state, I went to the well. I set the alarm again for the crack of dawn and meditated in the bathroom, long before the sun rises. I meditate in the bathroom in January and February because it is the warmest room in my house. I wrap a blanket around my shoulders, light a candle, turn off the lights, and try to forget about the toilet. The bathroom works for me right now and I go with it. Sometimes, I need to do what works and, sometimes, that just means quiet and alone time in my warm bathroom. This ritual brings clarity and peace. And, it is during this quiet time that I allow all of the soot to filter to the bottom and for all of good and sparkly to rise to the top. Sparkly stuff, like that early morning, when I thought about Samara. Like, the many early mornings, I thought about Samara.

Right in the middle of my shut down mode, I drove up to Ashlea’s house for a bitterly cold, January afternoon toddler, milk and cookies themed birthday party. Not much beats a cold and icy January day with toddlers and sugar and working in Ashlea’s kitchen. Her house is kind of like church. And this sentiment, the whole church thing, was never more true than this day. This random and cold January day.

I think I was drying a dish or putting a straw into a chocolate milk bottle, but around the corner I noticed a girl. A little, toe-headed girl with hot pink glasses who wore a tutu over her leggings. Her arms, outstretched, and her face, wearing the most concerned look. She walked closer and I heard her say, “Awe, awe, awe.”

I must admit, my first thought was she was scared of my wheelchair. I know Samara has a few sensory issues and I worked with kids with sensory issues and fear of my chair goes with the whole sensory thing, every once in a while. I wasn’t offended in the least, I just wanted to make sure to handle the situation correctly. As she approached, I stayed calm and assumed I was the adult in this situation. Oh how wrong I was. Samara was the adult. Samara was the voice to hear. She grabbed my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes, and bore the most empathetic and intuitive expression I have ever seen, and said, “Oh my, oh my, oh my.”

Samara fell into my arms and hugged me. Then, she asked me if she could sit in my lap. And then, she asked me every question in the history of questions about paralysis. I usually tell kids about this wire that connects from the brain down the back and this wire tells the body what to do and mine is broken and now my legs don’t get the messages and usually that’s enough. But, Samara, she wanted to know why my wire was broken. Why did ‘your wire have to break.’ I couldn’t answer her, only tell her that wires just break. She jumped off my lap and went back to twirling in her tutu with her friends.

A little while later, I heard some noises in the other room. I went in to check and noticed two toddler boys smashing trucks. I tried to explain the virtue and fun in just moving the trucks across the rug, without the crash scene, and they weren’t having it. They ended up proving me wrong. Smashing trucks is way more fun than just driving them in a single file line. Ashlea came in to the room to see what we were doing and to tell us it was time to open the gifts. She and I gathered the two truck smashing toddlers and started to head out of the room. And then, Samara came through the living room door. Again, her arms were out-stretched. Only this time, she walked right into me, threw her arms around my neck, and said, “I just love you so much. I love you. I just love you.”

Ashlea and I metled right then and there. Literally, melted. Ashlea fell forward and put her hand on the back of my head and I fell foward and hugged Samara. The three of us stayed just like this for quite a bit before we could catch our breath. Ashlea and I kept trying to explain our actions to each other, but then realized we were both just overwhelmed and brought to our knees by a child and her ability to offer such unconditional love.

You see, I can’t tell you Samara’s story because it isn’t fair. It is her story. When she is older in age, than she is now, she may tell you if she chooses. Notice, I didn’t say wiser, because her wisdom far outweighs adult wisdom. Regardless of her wisdom, her story is her story and six or twenty-six, I respect her and her story. I assure you, however, that Samara has reason to shut down. Samara has reason to give up. Samara has reason to be afraid of love and curiosity and genuineness. Samara could close her heart, but she keeps it open. And not only is her heart open, but she shares it with everyone she knows.

Not long after this moment, Samara asked about each of my broken bones. She wanted to feel my broken collar bone. She felt the broken bone and then hugged my neck one more time. She didn’t say a word this time. Just hugged me.

Samara sees and she feels. She knows when someone is broken and instead of judging her she tells her she loves her. She isn’t afraid of darkness. Samara grabs darkness by the neck and embraces it and continues to try to bring light to the darkness. When she left, she walked over to me, one more time, hugged me, and said, “Please remember I love you. I just really love you.”

This is it. When we are broken, when we see our fellow friends broken, we don’t say, “You are broken and need fixing.” No, instead, we say, “I see and feel your brokenness and I love you, I just really love you.”

Thank you, Samara. Thank you for bringing me back. 

Me, trying to get Samara's baby brother to eat quinoa and cranberry baby food. I think wisdom runs in the family. I believe he is thinking, "I will not eat that stuff from this crazy lady."