Of Love, Loss and Storage

Like most folks, I have my guilty pleasures when it comes to TV. You know, those shows you don’t readily admit to watching and that you try to justify by likening them to car crashes from which you simply can’t look away. I’m sure you have yours and I’m sorry if I’m holding  up an uncomfortable light in the darkened room where you indulge in your decadent viewing. In fairness, I’ll tell you that mine are (cough, cough) “Bring It” or as I like to call it, “Why Are We Teaching Our Girls To Be Strippers” and Married At First Sight (how old am I again?) Much as I’d like to say otherwise, you can find me sprawled out on my bed, chip bag in hand (if I’m going to be bad, I believe in going all the way) eyes glued to the TV when those two shows are on. I also read the live tweets while they’re on although I don’t tweet myself out of the fear one of my 10 followers will find out that I’m a trash TV watcher.

 

Funny I should call it trash TV because the kind of “reality” shows I can’t watch are the ones about the buying and selling of storage units. I think the philosophy behind these programs is supposed to be “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” but that’s not how it feels to me. When I see the ads the tag line I come up with is “pricing peoples’ memories” and it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because I took a trip to Boston last January (just ahead of the hundreds of blizzards) specifically to empty out my storage unit and it made me sad. I’d been paying to store my stuff from other life for over five years. I no longer live in Boston, my kids are grown and it was time to move on. Plus I was anxious that I be the one to determine what happens to my things, not the storage company or mother nature. The junk people stood by as I opened each box and decided which of my memories to keep and which to throw into the dumpster. I had to touch each one of my children’s old toys and my late husband’s golf trophies then let them go. I kept the tears at bay for the sake of the junk folks and for my granddaughter who happily ran up and down the long corridor of doors, making a new memory of her own.

The snake lamp I couldn't throw away.
The snake lamp I couldn’t throw away.

 

That’s why those shows seem cruel to me. I can’t believe none of those buyers feel empathy for the people whose belongings are in those units. If they do, they don’t display it for the cameras. They paw through the discarded, abandoned, forgotten items making callous remarks like “Chump change,” and “This is nothing but a dump.” Surely they have keepsakes of important times of their own. Surely they have experienced the loss of a possession that was special to them. Perhaps they lost a loved one and hang on to a material object as a way of hanging on to the person. I think if I were in their position, the first time I saw something that even remotely reminded me of a time in my life, evoked a memory from my own experience, I’d have to pull down the heavy steel door and walk away. I feel the least they could do is talk about it on camera. They could allow the viewer the real emotion in wondering out loud about the circumstances around each unit owner losing their belongings.

 

But they don’t. At least, not that I’ve seen in the half minutes I’ve been able to stomach watching a couple of episodes. Instead they greedily assess the contents, then scurry to the nearest dealer or retailer with anything deemed valuable to sell the goods for the best price. Big red plus or minus numbers appear in the corner of the screen to let the viewer know whether the buyer was a “winner” or “loser” on any given unit. But isn’t the underlying understanding that the unit owner is the ultimate loser? Then again, maybe not. After all, those buyers also get the karma attached to disposing of other’s possesions without knowing the provenance and good luck with that. Anyway, I threw my junk in a dumpster. Maybe one day I’ll have the guts to throw in my TV.

What Do You Do When a Person You Know Isn’t the Person You Knew?

The question concerns a woman I’ve known since college. (So it’s been longer than either of us would admit.) We were roommates in a dorm that was problematic for us as it was single gender and not very diverse. We became very close in the two years we lived there together. We shared similar backgrounds and a number of interests, especially literature. We felt safe enough with one another to reveal our ambitions concerning men and careers. We would lay in our twin beds at night describing our fantasies, born from youth and hope, about what our husbands would look like, where we’d live and which jobs on which magazines we’d get. And we both always assumed we’d remain friends. Back then, she was incredibly smart, strong, popular and a very talented writer. I admired her and I always felt enriched by being in her company.

Then bad stuff started happening to her. Really bad stuff. Tragic stuff. She suffered unimaginable losses that caused her to develop mental health issues. Among other problems, she became a hoarder. And her losses continued. Over the period of a few years, she lost a job, a house and her parents. She couldn’t tolerant the pain. I witnessed as her attitude changed so much she seemed to become a completely different person. A hard, not nice person. I understood why and how the transformation happened but she was no longer the person I had known and loved.

© Hallmark Cards
© Hallmark Cards

I wasn’t sure how to handle what was happening to her. In all honesty, I have put more than a little distance between us. I have discussed before on this blog that feeling compassion toward others is sometimes hard for me. I’ve learned from studying Buddhism and mystical Christianity that in order to be genuinely compassionate, one must put aside the sense of self, beyond empathy and beyond sympathy. That’s the hard part for me because I am seriously self-centered.

Unfortunately, this friend’s behavior was hurtful during a very difficult period in my life. I knew it was part of the change in her personality but truthfully, it broke my heart and I didn’t know if I could forgive her. I understood her but I needed space to re-evaluate the relationship because it was proving to be too difficult for me to get past the hurt she’d caused.  My rational mind conveniently told me I didn’t need to feel bad if I decided to let the friendship go because I didn’t know her anymore. I asked myself how I could really be a friend to a stranger.  Apparently, there were others who felt the same way because a couple of people who at one time orbited around her chose to leave her sphere.

Now she is seriously ill with cancer. This is not territory for my rational mind; this is the land of my heart. This is the time for me to reflect on the love I gave to this woman who was my friend but even more so on the love I received. I feel that although I don’t know this person anymore I’m required out of compassion to stay and give the appearance of a friend. But in my heart I know that isn’t real compassion. She is the same person with whom, for years, I thought I shared the unbreakable love bond of an authentic friendship. In her world and in her mind we are still connected, if in a way that only makes sense to her. I’m not sure I feel connected to her at all anymore so maybe I’ve changed more than she has. And I have to acknowledge that she still loves me in her own way. Yet the truth is I’ve let resentment of her fear and bitter neediness taint and diminish my love.

.Can I be a friend to this person I no longer know? She’s changed and maybe I’ve changed too. Maybe we need to have a different, changed kind of friendship. Maybe if I re-acquaint myself with her I’ll discover something new about love and compassion that will help us both. I’ll keep you posted.   

My (Partial) Gratitude List

I just returned from an 18 hour stay in Boston. I was there for the beautiful funeral of a good friend who greatly enriched my life. It was a profound juxtaposition to the dinner the night before with my cherished family. I gave thanks for all of it which reminded me of my gratitude list. I obviously need to add to it (Nyla’s face!) but I’ll reblog it for now.

Stop Along The Way

GloryThe Divine One’s Love
The Divine One’s mercy
Love
The love in my heart 
My kids
Olivia
The memory of Bill
Memories in general
The roof over my head
Constant affirmation of my sensibility: it really is The One
Absurdist humor
Humor in general
Music, always and forever
The music of my roots
The big one: hot water on demand
London
Things that grow in the ground
I saw Barack Obama elected president
My health
My health insurance 
My safety
Each new day
I don’t go hungry
Good food, of course
The ability to say, “I don’t know”
My kids grew up safely
The sky
The ocean
Songbirds
Nature in general
My sibs
My friends
My cousins
Freedom from want
The human body heals itself 
The fact that thoughts are private
The human voice
The ability to read
The ability to write
I don’t have fertility issues anymore
I’m not…

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Prodigal

My very dear friend’s mother passed away. Her funeral is today. Rest in Peace, Elsie. 

Prodigal

“Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons”
My mother gave birth to five children, of those two girls lived and stayed with her into our adulthood. My mother passed on two years ago.

“The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of the property that will belong to me.”
I was always aware that my younger sister asked for and received money from my mother even after she was grown and had a job. I resented her for it and complained about it to my mother.

“Not long after, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant land and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
My sister got married, moved away and lead an extravagant, upper middle class lifestyle she couldn’t afford so she still needed money from the family. My mother and I discussed, more than once, the character flaws that led my sister to be in constant financial trouble.

“After he had spent everything there was a severe famine…. and he began to be in need…He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”
My sister’s husband died and then she had a stroke. That chain of events led to her final and total financial ruin. She couldn’t keep her corporate executive job. Her home went into foreclosure and she had to apply for food stamps. She was embarrassed in more than one way. To make matters worse, she didn’t have any friends in her adopted city to help her.

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
By that time my mother had suffered a heart attack so she was in a weakened state herself. Still, my sister came back to our home state and told my mother that she had bad luck but she had also made bad choices.

“And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.”
My sister moved into my mother’s apartment. My sister wasn’t working because of her disability. She did my mother’s grocery shopping and they cooked together. They enjoyed meals together most evenings.

I asked my mother how she could be with my sister so easily after all that was said and done. She said she was glad my sister had survived the stroke; glad she had known enough to come back home. She said she was glad she could “lay eyes” my sister every day.

When my mother died my younger sister got a lot of her furniture, including her beloved Grandfather clock and many of her books. I didn’t care about any of it except for the books. My mother had a lot of theology books. It was a subject she and I shared a love of. Many times I drove her to her bible study class and listened to her discuss the lesson on the car ride back to her home. I was angry and wondered why she didn’t leave the books to me.

 I remembered something my mother said to me a few days before she died. First she said, “I really love you, you know. Then she said, “Take care of your sister because everything took a lot out of her and she needs you.” To this day I am left wondering, was my mother leaving me a lesson about forgiveness? Or was it a lesson about acceptance? Or did she just want my sister to have the books?

(I wrote this piece as an experimental exercise for my writers group. It’s a work of fiction. The news of Elsie’s death is what prompted me to post it.)

One Chair On The Beach

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. They’ve been very difficult to get through since my husband passed away. Unfortunately, the passage of time doesn’t make them any easier. While I was reminiscing, I re-read this piece I wrote. It was published in my writers group online magazine (http://atableintheback.blogspot.com) earlier this year but I want to share it here too. 

 

IMG_0184

How I love the ocean.

When I was young my mother would make a lunch, pack us up in the car and drive from Boston to Gloucester, Massachusetts on Sunday afternoons. Mom had a bad case of wanderlust so for her gazing out at the ocean meant plotting possible places to land. I must have inherited my love of the sea from her.  She’d park along the shore road so we could get out and walk. The shoreline in Gloucester is glorious and the air is salty and brisk, no matter the season. I loved running along, challenging the grey water and annoying the fisherman from the enormous rocks at the edge of the water.

When Bill and I were dating and had money to burn, we vacationed in Nassau in the Bahamas. We went to nighttime barbeques hosted by hotels on the beach where we danced in the sand under colored lights strung from poles.  In the daytime we rode horses in the blue waves and white foam of the tide. We lay in the sun holding each other. For us, the beach was romance.

After we married and had children, Newport R.I. became our family getaway spot. It was only an hour and a half from our home so it was easy for us to go there on day trips to swim and enjoy the seaside. When the kids were in elementary school we spent their spring vacation weeks there. We’d get a time-share right on the water where I’d stare at the yachts on the horizon late at night, relaxing and losing myself in the their rocking on the waves.

The ocean has always been one of my best friends. Right now I’m sitting on a different beach looking out at another lovely ocean view. I thought coming here to Cancun would be good for me. I thought seeing the sun and the ocean in a different place would rejuvenate me. I bought this e-reader so I could read on the beach. It’s supposed to symbolize that I recognize my vacations have to have a new take on an old theme. I feel foolish using it though. It doesn’t make me less of an old woman sitting alone, passing the time.

I know I should be grateful that I have memories but I miss those good times on the water and I miss everyone so much. Mom and Bill are gone. The kids aren’t kids anymore and they’re off making their own memories.  It’s a gloriously sunny day and I’m sitting here watching plucky seagulls hop across the sand but Bill isn’t here to make jokes about them. I see children up the shoreline playing in the surf and I wish they were mine. The beauty here seems cruel because I don’t have anyone to share it with.

It’s such a beautiful day and I’m here wrapped up in my sarong and my own arms. But this is my “new normal” as my therapist calls it. It’s my new reality and I’ll have to get used to it.  So I’ll be taking a walk along the beach, leaving a single set of footprints behind me.

The Power of Love

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In my post “The Love in Loss” I talked about the power of Love. Because of the time of year, because of the death of my stepdad and because of the shooting in Connecticut last week I’m going to continue to speak to that power.

I actually used the term power of Love because of a great song that’s been one of my favorites for a long time. “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love” was a modest hit by Stephanie Mills back in the 1980s.  I think it’s about romantic love but to me, it’s about all Love. From the first time I heard it my heart was touched in a “feeling the Holy Ghost” kind of way. I missed my highway exit once while I was sing along to it.  Every time I listen to it I want to testify.  These are the lyrics to the first part of the song:

I was a victim of my foolish thinking
Carelessly I’ve risked my love and my life
There’s no self-pity I admit I obliged
Overpowered by love I pretended to be blind

Faith has survived all the doubts I’ve summoned
My heart has stood all the failure and loss
Helpless I cannot further be driven

I’ve learned to respect
The power love…….

How beautiful is that? Say Amen?  I absolutely relate to the foolish thinking that leads to careless risk part. That could be the title of the first half of my life. But then I was thinking about the idea of being overpowered by Love. I feel like the Love we need to pay attention to and live by can be overwhelming. I’ve talked in this blog about how I can’t show as much compassion as I’d like. I think it’s because there’s too much negativity inside of me to get over in order to be that compassionate. I guess I feel like my love can’t outmatch my negativity. But I’ve come to realize that my love with a little “l” can’t. It’s only when I participate in the larger Love with the big “L” that it’ll work. And that participation takes getting over the petty sense of myself. That’s the part that’s overwhelming.

I thought about that this week in terms of the shooting of those babies at the elementary school. Like everyone else I was blindsided by how terrible an act it was. How do the parents, the community and the nation get over that much horror? Then I saw the footage of the prayer services held that night. The collective prayers sent up demonstrate the power of Love. They provide the pathway to the Love that can overpower that kind of hate.  Witnessing all those people earnestly praying for the comforting of others (for a lot of them, others they don’t know) was so encouraging to me.  Those people in that moment put themselves aside to give Love through prayer. I know the effect that kind of positive energy can have because I’ve felt it in my own life.

Just as the lyrics say, our hearts can stand all the failure and loss if we have faith in Love, even when we feel as helpless as we did this week. It can survive all the doubts we have about ourselves, about others and about the condition of the world we live in. It’s hard to hold on to though, when it feels like our daily lives are filled with nothing but failure and loss. But there have been so many good and spiritually blessed folks who have come along to remind us of the truth of the power of Love. Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama come to my mind immediately. Who just came to yours? And for those of us who celebrate Christmas, Jesus of Nazareth is supposed to be the number one bearer of that exact message.

So since it’s the season we’re supposed to be thinking about it and because we really need it at this challenging time, let’s sing along with Stephanie; “I’ve learned to respect the power of Love, (Yes I did!)”

You can read all the lyrics to the song at this web address. http://lyrics.wikia.com/Stephanie_Mills:I’ve_Learned_To_Respect_The_Power_Of_Love I couldn’t find a video of Stephanie Mills singing it but here’s a YouTube link of the recording. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDkCSf6cRRY.

I’m grateful there are words in the form of lyrics, poems, and psalms, et al that can express what I feel in my heart. Amen.

Here and Now

I’VE DECIDED I’M GOING TO STAY HERE.

DC

This morning, I found myself sitting in gratitude on my balcony sipping my coffee, listening to the birds and feeling positive and vital. Suddenly, I realized that moving to the DC/VA area has unblocked a vein of energy in me that I didn’t even know was blocked!  Since I’ve been here I’ve been engaged in activities that I couldn’t find the energy for in Boston. For instance, I joined a couple of meet-ups here. One is the history group I wrote about in a previous post. They like to experience historical sites by walking to them. Who knew I would enjoy it as well? The other is a group that deals with spiritual and religious matters. If you’ve read other posts of mine, you know how important that has always been to me. What’s different now is that I’m willing to discuss the topics with other people…face to face…in real time and I’m not emotionally spent afterwards. (See my post on introversion.) And where did I find the energy to keep up with my grandbaby? I mean really, do you know how busy a toddler is? Also, I’ve been writing. Obviously I’ve been writing all along but up until this summer, it’d been laborious and kind of scary. Now I’m writing regularly and with alacrity. That hasn’t been the case for a long time.

Four years ago my life veered unexpectedly and onto a path I didn’t know was there. This happens to a lot of people. We come to a twist or turn in the road and lose our sense of direction. Before we can move forward again we have to develop a strategy to figure out where we are. The unexpected path I found myself on was one of great loss and big change. It’s apparent to me now that part of my coping strategy was hunkering down inside myself and giving away the pieces of me that I thought contained the pain. So I stayed in a place that no longer suited me doing things for  people other than myself. I had gotten through the hardest time of my life without falling apart but I didn’t understand that I wasn’t whole.

The atmosphere here feels right for me. It’s a combination of being around people with whom I’m more comfortable and paying attention to the things that are important to me. So I’m not going back to Boston. I’ve rented out my condo and put in a change of address. Some of my friends cautioned me about making such a significant change at this point in my life. But I’ve decided that if my life can be changed dramatically without my intention then what’s wrong with changing it with intention. I’ve learned that there will be unfamiliar consequences either way.

I feel like my recovered self on this new path and I like where I’m going.  Last night I went with a group to the National Cathedral for a walk around the labyrinth there. How about that, people and walking all in one night!