Sadie Said ❤️

Photo by Senad Palic on Unsplash

Sadie, who was the spitting image of iconic Elvira except she donned a white streak running down her charcoal colored hair, and I volunteered to coordinate weekly Thursday community lunches at a church hall back in the late 80s. Dressed in casual work attire, I’d leave my day job, located a few minutes away, during my lunch hour, which typically turned out to be more like an hour and a half. Sadie’s small, “clown car,” that her boyfriend purchased for her, usually pulled up instantaneously when my Subaru did. I’d recognize her six-foot-long stature crunched behind the steering wheel. All four doors would fling open and, along with Sadie, about a half dozen characters of an eclectic combination flew out. Each one, it appeared, she picked up at different spots throughout the region – starting at a drag show and ending at the homeless shelter.

“Hey! How ya doing?” she’d shout. Everyone within earshot heard her thick, Bronx accent. Additionally, when she asked the question, it appeared that she actually cared to know about you.

In fact, over the next two years of our volunteer commitment, I tested her sincerity and, likely, dumped way too many issues, mostly about living the single life, on her. Even though we came from two completely different worlds, she never judged or flinched, only listened and validated my feelings. About twenty years older than I, I not only appreciated Sadie’s listening skills, but also her sharp tongue that she attributed to tending a bar in the South Bronx, New York, for most of her life. In addition, she had an acid wit and an uncanny ability to make people laugh in spite of themselves.

Unlike most everyone else who fit into society’s norm, Sadie despised the norm. She was an outsider from her very beginning and, thus, found it difficult to connect with others, even though she tried to conform to the norm in her younger years by marrying her high school sweetheart at 21 years old. You see, she was raised in a traditional household at a time when women did not work outside the home. The only roles available to them were being wives and mothers. Shortly after Sadie’s marriage, she birthed her first daughter. By the time she had her third daughter, she had sunk into alcohol during her unhappy marriage. She eventually ended up divorced and married two more times afterwards. During her third marriage, when she heard about an opening for a barmaid at the local bar, she applied for it because it seemed like an interesting job that would allow her to use her skill set and allow her to earn her own money. As soon as Sadie found success as a barmaid, she divorced her husband, with whom she shared a daughter, her fourth. He was not supportive of her working outside the home, and she was not about to stop. A few months after her third and final divorce, she hitched up with a new boyfriend. With a burning desire to quit alcohol and turn her life around, what she would soon learn as she sought therapy and dealt with her insecurities and struggles was that she bought society’s “faulty bag of goods” early on and, by doing so, never acquired the faith in herself to believe she was good enough as a woman to survive on her own without a man meeting her needs instead of her.

Long story short and a trail of boyfriends later, Sadie managed to kick off alcohol and live sober and, in the interim, quit her job at the bar. Her current boyfriend supported her, and she was not afraid to admit it. In fact, she was proud of it because she accepted her human fragility and was the first one to laugh at her foibles.

I met her at a wonderful crossroads in her life. She was in the process of meeting two of her personal goals. One, she was saving money in order to enroll in a nursing program at a university. Two, she was trying out for community theater auditions to quench her thirst for theatrical endeavors.

After peeling off all the damage from the wrong influences, she finally became true to herself.  She wasn’t afraid to be different and she refused to conform to societal standards. In other words, she wove all her many painful moments in her life into a one-of-a-kind tapestry.

Sadie believed she was given a second chance and wanted others also to feel connected and loved and not shunned like a misfit. Guided by her new vision of self-acceptance, she befriended the friendless. Through their relationships, she discovered that they had a wealth of knowledge and experience that she could draw upon in her own life.

Anyway, I wasn’t as accepting. For instance, while we prepared the Thursday luncheons, none of her so-called friends lifted a finger to help. One of them, likely in his mid-twenties, who wore brown sandals with thick blood red socks in every season, sporadically stormed in and out of the building. His fury made you think he was a doctor headed to save someone’s life. Most of her other friends literally slept where they were seated. It was easy to figure out they were on some heavy duty meds. The one who really annoyed me was Jenn, but sometimes called Jim. Jenn, as I’ll refer to her now to keep it simple, was not a fan of mine. She shadowed me unbearably close wherever I went except, thankfully, to the restroom. Sometimes, I felt Jenn’s sour breath on my neck directly below my ear and, on occasion, I’d hear murmured grunts.

“Sadie!” I commanded nearly every week, “You just can’t bring these people here! They are not in their right minds. I’m waiting for the Thursday that Jenn just punches me. I mean, I don’t feel safe.”

“Safe?” Sadie asked with a cackle. “Safe? And, who would you say is safe in this world? Do you think my friends are safe? Jenn follows you around because she likes you. Is that so bad? If she were dangerous, do you really think I’d expose her to you or anyone else? I will ask her to step farther away from you, but my friends deserve the same sort of respect you do. Don’t we all have a right to be here? Can’t we all breathe the same air even though we are different? Is this YOUR world alone?”

“Well … “

“Are you saying they are different from you? That they don’t belong here with us?” she roared. During the pregnant pause that followed, all her friends, even the ones asleep, woke up and edged closer to us, forming a circle around us.

“Are they?”

“Well. Umm. No,” I reluctantly admitted.

“Okay then, we’ll see you next Thursday.”

Thursday after Thursdays, I grew to know Sadie and her EXTREMELY interesting friends. In the same manner as Sadie, through their relationships, I was able to learn more about myself and grow in ways I never thought possible. You see, the common theme among Sadie’s group of friends that supplies faith to me to this day is how to overcome a series of unfortunate events and sad circumstances.

The story, though, doesn’t end here. I’ll share the rest in next week’s blog. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will divulge that it is sad, but one that leaves you thinking about faith and hope and how we can still find purpose and a deeper meaning during some of our darkest moments — if we can decipher and are willing to wear the right corrective lenses.

Consequences of ❤️ Love

Photo by Susan Wilkinson on Unsplash

Another one of the things that my mentor, Kelly, whom I wrote about two weeks ago in a blog post, taught me is that tragedy transforms people into one of two personality types:

1.) Bitter and resentful. These are the people who have a need to be right and view the world as a place of injustice, where they are unfairly treated.

OR,

2.) Faithful and grateful. These folks need to feel connected to something bigger than themselves, whether it be God or nature.

Few people, if any, who survive tragedies, Kelly emphasized, end up with a lukewarm or neutral attitude towards life.

I agree that tragedy typically shakes you up in one direction — or another. Bernice is a woman who is a example of this belief. In fact, she exhibits the polar opposite traits of Kelly’s.

Bernice’s then 21-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the 1980s. Eleven months after her diagnosis she died, leaving Bernice and her husband to grieve for their only child.

The loss of a child is one of the most heart-wrenching tragedies that can occur in a person’s life. Whereas few, if any, parents can “move on” from this type of grief they can “move with it” and, typically, learn to find a place for it inside themselves, as if it is a massive piece of permanent furniture. In the process, they can fall into one of the two aforementioned categories.

In Bernice’s case, while grieving her daughter, she ended up fitting category #1. Not to minimize her horrible set of circumstances, but, to this day, it’s easy to spot Bernice anywhere she goes; she’s the one with the sour, lemon-face expression. She’s also quick to lash out and blame others when something, anything, goes askew.

Actually, after her daughter died, she blamed the doctors and medical staff as well as her then husband. Needless to say, her marriage dissolved and she and her husband divorced within a year’s time. Luckily for her, the divorcee met another divorcee, Ernie, a few years later. He was calm, patient and understanding of Bernice’s struggles. Bernice felt he understood her better than anyone else, and she felt calmer around him.

The problem, though, stemmed from her being a bossy, nasty stepmother to his three daughters, who were adolescents at the time. Opposite of their own birth mother, who was understanding and balanced in her parental approach, Bernice was strict and demanded perfection. She forbid them from dating boys or going out with friends, because she felt the only way they would succeed in life was to be focused on school. Ernie did not interfere with his second wife’s method of running the household. In this way, he could focus on his high-profile copywriter position for a large marketing agency.

On the other hand, Bernice’s ability to find a work-personal life balance was easier since she worked full-time in a far-less stressful environment then he did. Plus, Ernie willingly accepted his wife’s “parenting skills” of always telling his daughters what to do and how to do it, because he felt her motive aligned with his: helping his children grow up into good, responsible adults.

The sisters started to rebel against the rules of their stepmother, which led to a chaotic and difficult situation for Ernie. His daughters likely sensed what Ernie did not. Bernice had no control over herself and her tragic past. Unable to find peace in herself, she was an egotistical, unruly stepmother who created her own personal war in her husband’s family. The tactic was a great distraction for what mattered the most — sitting in her pain and taking responsibility for herself.

Basically, Bernice’s approach was the EXACT opposite of Kelly’s step-mother approach. I wrote about the positive building blocks that Kelly achieved in her relationship with her step kids in my previous blog post, but what do you think happened to Bernice’s stepfamily? Yep. It fell apart. It got to the point where Bernice gave Ernie an ultimatum: “It’s either me or your daughters!” Needless to say, although his daughters were heartbroken, Ernie abandoned them and instead, choose to be with Bernice. From there, for decades, the couple fell off the radar of family and friends.

Fast-forward to over thirty years later. The revelation of losing his own daughters caused Ernie to experience feelings of guilt and loss and he wondered if this was his wife’s desired intent. It made sense since, in this way, he could feel sad and grief-stricken in the same way she did. The more he thought about it, the clearer things became. He escaped his resentments and own guilty feelings by having extramarital affairs. Bernice, on the other hand, coped with the turbulent marriage by numbing her feelings with alcohol. Not long after, their marriage ended in a bitter, costly, miserable divorce.

Bernice has always been angry, but now she has reached her limit. She lives in her own small apartment rental and, apart from her kind-hearted brother who checks in on her every so often, she is left to fend for herself. Her only friend, at least as far as she is concerned, is alcohol.

Ernie is still playing the field, but slowly, very slowly trying to mend bridges with his daughters who carry their own load of anger, resentment and hurt toward their father.

Bernice and Ernie remind us that we all want to believe that there are things we can count on to make us happy, but life is not like that and neither is love.

Loss can be devastating and leave people feeling helpless in its wake. It can feel like a tornado has swept away everything familiar and left nothing intact. The question is:

1.) Do we shut ourselves off from all love if we fear the cruel twister of loss? In some cases, yes. (In the manner that Bernice did and, in a different way, how Ernie did.)

OR,

2.) Do we dare travel the open road with courage and an accepting heart while navigating uncertainty? (In the manner Kelly did.)

Do you choose, #1 or #2?

Don’t let anyone kid you, love is always a choice. All it takes is a little faith — or none at all. It’s in your pocket. Dig deep within you to release the strength you will need to walk your unique path and keep your eyes forward to meet the twists, turns and obstacles head on; remembering always, the best lesson in courage is not a lesson. It’s how you take life in stride.

because you take your life in stride

because you take your life in stride
Because you take your life in stride (instead
of scheming how to beat the noblest game
a man can proudly lose, or playing dead
and hoping death himself will do the same)


because you aren’t afraid to kiss the dirt
(and consequently dare to climb the sky)
because a mind no other mind should try
to fool has always failed to fool your heart


but most (without the smallest doubt) because
no best is quite so good you don’t conceive
a better, and because no evil is
so worse than worst you fall in hate with love
-human one mortally immortal i
can turn immense all time’s because to why

– e.e. cummings

Faith Muscle

Life’s❤️ Sweet Recipe

I was in the middle of writing the final paragraph of this week’s blog and then realized it was Valentine’s Day TODAY! Although the last string of my blogs have centered around love themes — figures that the blog I initially worked on for today pertained to a woman who was removed from love. I had to quickly change my plans and attempted to “force fit” a Valentine’s spin on the blog post, but failed miserably and decided to give up the reins of control and post the piece next week.

Interestingly, while trying to edit my original blog post, I conducted a quick Google search and found the following information about today’s holiday below:

“Today, is Valentine’s Day in America. The name Valentine comes from a Latin word meaning “strength.” There are many legends about it, but it’s ultimately unclear how Valentine’s Day became associated with the tradition of exchanging the affectionate gifts and love notes that we call valentines.”

I never associated Valentine’s Day with the theme of strength. When I learned this information, I thought about how love is beautiful, yet it can be difficult and take a lot of strength to get through each day in a relationship with someone you love. Worst still, is finding the strength to live as an unhappy couple under one roof.

Valentine’s Day is meant to be one of the most romantic and sentimental days of the year. It’s a day for lovers and couples to celebrate their love. For single people, it can be an especially hard day — a day that requires extra strength to get through.

And so this reflects my son’s story. From the time he was an adolescent, he became introverted and socially isolated. Every Valentine’s Day seemed harder than the last one and on those holidays every night seemed more difficult than the last one in the previous year.

I shared a similar history when I was his age. In fact, I wrote a string of maudlin-sounding articles dealing with being single and alone in America and, feeding into my sad, painful state, they were all rejected by editors.

At any age, it’s a challenge to find the strength to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. That said, Valentine’s Day has also taken on a few new meanings to me in recent years. It is no longer just about a traditional couple’s love and romance, but also about celebrating the LGBT community, marginalized and voiceless. It is a time for me to get unstuck in MY dark feelings and, instead, find the strength to get proactive and distribute a few “sweet treats” JUST BECAUSE, I care. JUST BECAUSE, I don’t want others to feel hopeless and fall into faithlessness.

And that’s what I’ve done over this last week, sprinkled a little Valentine’s magic in the form of greeting cards, gift cards and homemade candy (NOT homemade by me though!) to a few kids and adults I haven’t seen in a while.

My Heart-Shaped Sweet Potato GIFT

Now, I am going to tell you about a surprise gift that I received yesterday. It was a sweet potato in the shape of a heart, right out of the bag. It was such a simple thing, but lifted my spirits and gave me the strength to get through the rest of my day!

No matter how your spirits are today and regardless of your situation, my wish for you this Valentine’s Day is that you have the hope, faith and strength to celebrate the little things that warm your heart. For example, whipping up a sweet potato pie, a classic American dessert, to share with a neighbor will fill the bill (and your belly AND DEFINITELY WARM YOUR HEART!).

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY

Lesson 1 (the only one you need): ❤️ Love

Last week, I planned to write a blog post about love. However, after attending a Wynonna Judd concert, I changed my mind, and wrote another blog post that dealt with a different angle of the power of love.

As I watched the performance, it reminded me of how love transcends all boundaries and brings people together in ways that nothing else can, which, full circle, was what I intended initially to elaborate on. You see, when I was in my mid-twenties, I met a mentor, Kelly, who taught me this vital lesson.

Kelly married later in life for the first time to a divorcee. Her primary focus was on her husband, who was a big-hearted guy, and the couple’s goal was to embrace this new chapter of their lives with confidence and joy. However, as a stepmother, it is not easy to win the hearts of all your stepchildren. In the case of this particular woman, most of her then adolescent and young adult stepchildren immediately accepted her with open arms. Nonetheless, the youngest child, Maggie, was not so welcoming and, conversely, threw verbal pointed darts. Whenever Kelly was in her presence, Maggie constantly talked about her mother’s beauty and intelligence. It was an obvious manipulative tactic to pit Kelly against Maggie’s own mother to make Kelly feel inferior.

Kelly managed to not take anything about how “perfect” Maggie’s mother was to heart. Eventually, Kelly was able to put herself in Maggie’s shoes and realized that her stepdaughter wanted her dad to remain married to her birth mom. Kelly understood her motive, but rather than trying to force Maggie to accept her presence, she chose a different approach. She decided to listen and understand Maggie’s feelings in order to work towards helping her adjust to the new family dynamic. Subsequently, when it came to Maggie’s mother, Kelly made sure to be extra careful with her words. The most important thing to Kelly was that she be keenly aware not to put down Maggie’s mother in any way, shape or form.

(I should note that Kelly WAS NOT a pushover. If Maggie had verbally attacked or hurt her directly, Maggie would have drawn a healthy boundary so as not to subject herself to her stepdaughter’s abuse.)

Ironically, Maggie was an atheist and Kelly was a devout Catholic. Kelly never tried to convert her, (although would have liked to!). Because she allowed Maggie to be who she was without judgment, she found out soon enough, you don’t need a particular belief to have faith. In fact, Kelly found out that Maggie had a lot of love in her heart, which, to Kelly, was all that mattered.

This attitude allowed Maggie to feel heard and understood. By allowing Maggie to be who she was, warts and all, Kelly managed to build an understanding relationship with Maggie and eventually helped her accept the fact that she had another mother in her life.

But the story doesn’t end there. About ten years after Kelly married Maggie’s father, Maggie was diagnosed with a rare blood disease. Her odds of survival were next to nil. Who do you think she wanted by her side as she went through the terrible medical ordeal that followed? You got it! Kelly! Although she loved them both, it was the second mom who happened to be the most instrumental, because Kelly was a physician’s assistant. With her extensive knowledge of medical terminology and her ability to explain complex concepts in a simple way, Kelly was able to help everyone understand the medical lingo.

Despite the fact that her doctors gave Maggie less than a year to live, she ended up living for 10 more years with her illness. Ten! In the process, her parents, all three of them, were with her every step of the way, and, after a brave battle, she died peacefully at 43 years old last year, in the presence of those who loved her, including her two moms and dad.

It is easy to preach, but to teach by example is what counts. Kelly’s story helps me make difficult decisions in my life and gives me the faith that no matter how hard things appear, I can push through with the right attitude and determination. Her influence is not just something that I carry with me in my life, it has become a strong source of guidance and comfort and a force I turn to, like the power of light, which helps guide me through the darkest of times.

Juxtaposition Axiom

Photo by Fiona Art on Pexels.com

There is a tall and svelte woman Peggy that regularly jogs in my neighborhood. She works as an accountant at a startup company where her husband is the chief executive officer.

She spends more on keratin hair straightening treatments than most people spend on their monthly grocery bills. Temperatures and humidity could be soaring, and Peggy won’t break a sweat.

While I listened to the news on my car radio about the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, that left 19 children and two adults dead, adding to an alarming series of mass killings in America, she rolled past my view like a smooth, scarlet-colored ribbon.

I was headed to Trader Joe’s for a bag of reduced fat cheese puffs. It was my usual justified, self-trickery. Predictably, I would return with two bags of additional snacks and ice cream.

During my shopping trip, in my mind, I pictured the families of the deceased as well as the families of the perpetrator. Faces seized by shock’s fire. Raging in sorrow, grief. Confiscated homes that were once smooth and sound and as predictable as compiling a grocery list. Lives similar to normal plane mirrors, a mirror with a flat (planar) reflective surface. Sure, you wipe them off. Remove the smudges and streaks. In turn, they work for you. Not so.

Men, women and children now trapped in a not-funny fun house of distorted mirrors where every turn from here on means smacking into another jarring convex and concave section. Where to go? How to go? Direction is lost in a maze of thick grief, ground sodded and planted with inescapable emotional booby traps.  

My mind’s photos create a juxtaposition between scenes from the recent Texas tragedy and Peggy’s face, smooth with a ladybug complexion. I picture her scouring the pages on Amazon’s website, searching for blankets, sheets and pillows, helping her son get ready for his first year at an Ivy league school …. Gearing up for her jog the next morning.

During the rest of the week, the Texas tragedy unfolds on the news. I see the victims’ faces. Each one represents a wrinkle- and scar-free youth. I see the families’ faces. Each one, muscle lost, thin skin, ten-thousand tomorrows lived in a moment.

I repeatedly spot Peggy jogging out on the road. Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker’s “stunning” Italian wedding plaster the other news sections on my computer screen. By the time last weekend arrives, Platinum Jubilee celebrations of England’s queen steals the limelight as she hails “a renewed sense of togetherness.”

Maybe because it is my brain of COVID-19 (I was recently diagnosed), but I feel like I’ve lost my bearings, and I am out of touch, caught in unfamiliar terrain. I ponder, why can’t we all live a royal life of jubilation? Wander around, spending our days in a fun house where we can laugh at distortion, because it’s not real.

Why is it that some adults and children never seem to get a lucky break? Have they broken mirrors and it resulted in bad luck that exceeds its seven-year limit? Or is it that infants are born already swaddled in bad luck? Always by-passed. Never chosen to play on a sports team, while others seem to live life enjoying a daily picnic spread with plenty of no-calorie desserts?

Whether you consider yourself one of the lucky ones or not, the real question is, how do you find faith when there’s so much disparity? I don’t have the answer. I do know when I stay off the national news and social media and do something more productive like water ivy houseplants, I feel less anxious, less sad, less mad. I float on my sea of grief, cease the mean fight against the waves. It puts me back in my own shoes, and I can forge the walk-the-walk trek in life that I was taught 37 years ago. Pick up the discarded empty cigarette packs along the roadside in my teeny-tiny landscape. Pick up extra snacks at the store and give half away. Choose listening over talking. Stop thinking so hard and just be, because I am most precious to myself and others when I am humble, brave and free of distracting airwaves.

Faith Muscle

Broken Promises

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Some 20 years ago, my then husband and I attended a Dwight Yoakam concert in New York City. We were in our 40s, and our lives brimmed with the hallmark of blessings: an amicable marriage, a stable home, two young, healthy children and a future showing nothing less than promise.

Dwight was one of my favorite musicians, and my ex-husband went out of his way to not only secure the concert tickets, but also backstage passes to meet the singer. After the foot-stomping concert, which was worth the one-hour tardiness of the singer, the audience milled around. Waiting to be admitted to the private backstage party, we encountered a married couple in their 20s and started conversing. We learned that the couple traveled from England, I kid you not, to attend the concert. They didn’t have a sad story but were just starting out. I detected our one-time vulnerabilities, our long-ago future uncertainties in them that all seemed to have worked out for us. We were blessed.

I glanced at my then husband, who was on the same wavelength. He looked at me approvingly because he sensed what I was about to do. I gifted the couple our backstage tickets. I did have a condition.

“Please drop us a letter (this was pre-internet times) and let us know how it was meeting Dwight and the other band members. We would appreciate that,” I explained as I gave them our address.

They were more than happy to oblige and promised us that they would send us a follow-up letter.

Though my ex-husband and I never mentioned the promised letter again, with my rose-colored glasses cemented on the brim of my nose, I anticipated that the letter would materialize.

My ex’s motto was, “Don’t expect anything, and you won’t be disappointed.”

After about three months passed, it was only then that I knew the couple had “moved on” with their lives and didn’t take the time to write the letter.

Frankly, if I had been in the woman’s shoes, I would have fulfilled the promise. My father raised me, repeatedly saying, “Promise low. Deliver high.”

For the last 37 plus years, I also have followed a program for living that is based on vigorous honesty.

Plus, I am a writer by trade. Writing a letter would have been easy for me. In the couple’s defense, everyone has different talents, interests and priorities. I mean, maybe the couple sat down and experienced a debilitating case of writer’s block and quit. Who knows what could have happened? Maybe a tragedy occurred.  Maybe …

I will never know the reasons behind their broken promise. For me, one broken promise can be like a domino effect, and I begin to ruminate about so many other broken promises made to me. In fact, if the broken promises that I’ve received in my life were shattered pieces of quartz and feldspar, I could construct a granite counter that stretches the length of a football field.

Over these many years, I’m learning to put my faith into real rock — myself — and not depend on rocky humans. My life story may amount to a backlash of unmet promises, yet I do not have to contribute to the scrap pile. I, in fact, can raise above the scrap pile.

Coincidentally, my friend sent me a quote that said: “Don’t treat people as bad as they are, treat them as good as you are.”

I have learned the hard way that life is inherently unmanageable, and I’m powerless over people, places and things. The only power I possess is over my own behavior. So, do I feel bad about giving that young couple our backstage tickets? Rarely, if ever now. If given another opportunity, I would guilelessly do it again, again and again. Let the couple have their backstage views. I have the best seat in a house built on gratitude, humility, compassion, authenticity and a wealth of other gifts that I can bank on without disappointment.

Faith Muscle

Holiday🎃Season Kick-Start

When my children were young, the first sharp breeze, autumn’s precursor, stirred my enthusiasm. It signaled for me to uncover a special jewelry box and open the top drawer gathering dust from the year before. Inside was a treasure of assorted inexpensive trinkets that I spent seasons past unearthing at flea markets and tag sales. To me, though, the pieces were priceless because they helped me amplify the excitement of holiday time. Halloween kicked off the tradition. Two weeks before October 31st, I reached for my favorite troll pumpkin earrings and cottony ghost pin.

Earrings dangling and pin attached to my top, I performed the annual traipse up the attic stairs and started to pull out the jack-o’-lantern and fall leaf wreath. Christmas carols played in the background simply because I lacked a repertoire of Halloween music.

As a first-generation American child, my parents, both Eastern European immigrants, were not accustomed to Halloween. When I trick-or-treated around the neighborhood, I either went alone or joined a family a few blocks away. Each holiday, I wore the same old sheet I had worn the year before. My favorite part was at the end of the night when I came home and uncovered the scarcely distributed Hershey Bars among the bag of loot. An hour later, the juicy crunch of a fresh apple lessened the overly sweetening taste in my mouth from my consuming endless tootsie rolls and candy corn pieces.

I’ll never forget the Halloween when the TV news broadcast warned about evildoers hiding razors in apples. Learning about the deplorable act marked my innocence with its first blemish and elicited a spooky creaking door effect on my world, my first experience in adult boot camp.

After Halloween passed, my parents were big on church during Christmas, but, apart from that, they both worked tirelessly and viewed Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays as a burden. Looking back, my mother was completely bereft of organizational strategies, and her cooked meals turned out to be so late that my much older brothers had typically disappeared by dinnertime. She was exhausted and couldn’t eat. My father rushed through his meal, famished. I ended up eating my holiday meals in solitude.

It made sense that when I celebrated the holidays with my own family, I compensated for what lacked in the holiday memories of my youth. It all started with cracking open the dusty jewelry box and then pulling out the big decorations from the attic. A lot of the household décor I purchased the day after Christmas, long before frugal consumers understood the extent of the meaning behind “After-Holiday Sale!” savings. Christmas, in fact, got to a point where all the household décor was switched out for holiday ornamentation. Instead of one tree, we had two. We started with one fresh green pine and one white artificial that later transitioned into another artificial tree.

My then husband was not as keen on Thanksgiving and Christmas as I was. I feared I had recreated a familiar pattern, but I did appreciate how he loved escorting our kids trick-or-treating. Looking back, his crafted jack-o’-lantern  had to be the spiffiest looking one in our neighborhood.

There wasn’t a moment that I did not burst with gratitude during any of the holidays, always feeling as if I were given a second chance to experience the magical component in them, and it started with flipping the lid open on the one dusty jewelry box. Even when some of the mostly China-made jewelry broke, I kept the pieces. To dispose of them was like discarding joy.

Some women might, rightly so, feel privileged by wearing mega-sized diamonds. For me, nothing could replace the delight I felt from the colorful plastic holiday turkeys on my jacket’s lapel and Christmas light bulb earrings catching on the collars of my clothes.

I am sure, if tragedy had not struck, I would continue to keep the jewelry box in my over-protective hands while woolgathering about myself dressed as a real-life ornament, a walking signal of joy among my future tribe of grandchildren. Instead, my hands are robbed by grief. The first sign was last year when I discarded the broken jewelry, only to slam the box shut, unable do anything else.

This year, I sorted through the rest of my holiday jewelry and then cleaned and polished the box before donating everything to Goodwill. As I did, I pictured the young children out there and moms who are cozy and busy with their lives, so much the way I had been. I know someone will uncover the stash at Goodwill with new eyes and hope for the future. Someone, I anticipate, who felt the same blissful way at Goodwill when they unearthed my freshly cleaned wedding gown that finally I was able to part with three years ago.

Like seasons, holidays are the ebb and flow of life. I read recently something I never knew. “Ebb and flow” means that sometimes our life flows toward our hopes and dreams, and sometimes it flows away. I see it as the rising and falling ocean, a harmony that can only continue if we hold tight while learning to surf, because the raw truth is, at one point or another, we realize we are all novices and there is no mastery at life, especially when it shocks us into knowing how true this is, and we are left grappling with abstract ideas like the meaning of faith.

Faith Muscle

Life Stages and Curtain Times

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

As a follow up to last week’s blog post, a few days after I spoke to my neighbor, Felicity’s dad, who is wrestling with his remorse over her departure to a college some four hours away, I spotted him alone, slouched on a log behind an overgrown maple tree. He reminded me of Elmer J. Fudd, the cartoon character in Bugs Bunny, being thwarted by the “wabbit.” In my neighbor’s case, he couldn’t capture Father Time, and his little girl grew up in the blink of an eye.

Less than 300 feet separated us, but I did not impinge on his solitude as he processed the fact that the past is printed on a calendar of unrecyclable paper. Instead, I attended to depositing the trash into the garbage can, and the grief, heavy in its now permanently designated space, in my own heart. How I wished Hollywood movies, where friendship, family, justice and love always win in the end, were real. In my mind, I imagined the heroine/hero voice exclaim, “I have returned. I will stay and be your child forever and ever until you die. Witness a metamorphose from a cocoon into a butterfly, keep me close, a treasure in a jar, and be spared from an unspeakable hurt.”

The next day, less than a week after Felicity’s departure, my friend informed me that while she took her daily walk, she noticed that Felicity’s boyfriend and her parents commiserated in solidarity over dinner in the dining room. When my friend explained the details, I understood why she emphasized the location. Dining rooms are where family and friends gather to make formal toasts and share milestones. Dining rooms are where grievers congregate and leave an empty seat and, sometimes, a place setting, at the table during special meals to commemorate those who have departed. In essence, my neighbors held a “farewell dinner.”

“You can never have enough love!” I exclaimed, acknowledging the depth of affection that surrounds Felicity.

The neighbors’ planned farewell dinner reminded me of one unplanned farewell dinner we held in our dining room shortly after my ex-husband underwent a mental breakdown and, in the process, abandoned his family. It was at the end of 2010 and the lavish meal at the table belied his sudden disappearance. We ate our food with intent, forcing ourselves to believe in the possibilities of the future, taking comfort in how the meat and meatless entries, along with the potatoes, carrots, peas and other trimmings on our plates symbolically melded together and fit into some kind of balanced ensemble. And, as we swirled our forks around our plates and clanged our glasses against the china, we wondered what would be revealed next on the big movie screen of life. I remember how suddenly my brother Paul blurted out, “Who will walk Alexandra down the aisle when she gets married?”

“Marshall!” we all exclaimed, gazing into our identical crystal balls, happy illusions in our minds as my son turned scarlet red, forced a grin, but remained silent.

I would venture to say that our unplanned farewell meal and my neighbors’ planned farewell meal shared many of the same feelings and emotions:  fear, hope and faith.

The fear element, during both dinners, likely stewed along with a slew of desperate questions: “How, how do I get through this trench without knowing where my boots are? How do I move forward?”

These are the same questions that haunt me every day for over 22 months after the sudden loss of my son to suicide. His is now the greatest loss that has led me numerous times to our dining room where dishes brim with the greens of life and morsels to satisfy the palate as I poke and stab, but feel emptier by the moment as every memory digs into me, teases me, because the reality is that I sit in an unfamiliar seating arrangement. In my neighbors’ case, I thought while her family and boyfriend dined and attempted to figure out how to sing a new tune without her, Felicity found her voice in her dorm room with her new roomie, perhaps, chatting, getting acquainted, making plans to go shopping on the weekend and tour the city close by.

I have a coin I carry with me everywhere. It says: “Behind you, all your memories. Before you, all your dreams. Around you, all who love you. Within you, all you need.”

Felicity’s journey to adulthood has naturally been a rough transition on her family and boyfriend. As the years unravel, I am quite sure, though, that they will reckon with life’s growing and going pains and come to recognize the continual goodbye that strings the moments together until the final goodbye. They, too, will recognize the wave of the hand, year after year, as life marches on until, if they are lucky enough, they witness that the string of days behind them is much longer than those that are in front of them. It is all this as well as all those recurrent memories beaded together into a bespoke treasure to which words do not do justice.

Occasionally, I have faith that life is a Hollywood movie, because no matter how sad the plot is, the reality is that the more phenomenal the cast of characters, the more love wins in the end. In other words, even though the curtain is drawn and the show ends for my son, I know I once had the honor to share a stage with one of the most captivating, humorous and brilliant headliners one can ever imagine.

I also have faith and a full heart knowing that the curtain is still open next door, and I can’t wait to see Felicity when she returns for the Thanksgiving holiday. I think I’ll give that young starlet a coffee card token just to let her know how much I appreciate the opportunity to take a seat backstage as her character arc develops and unfolds and takes us all on the next grand adventure.

Faith Muscle

Entering the Gates of 🌤️Heaven

While checking into the Hilton in Long Island, New York, this past weekend with my daughter to attend her former college roommate’s wedding celebration, across the lobby, we witnessed a platonic embrace between a man and a woman that stopped us in our tracks and, for a few seconds, so did our world.

Nineteen years ago, shortly after my brother Mike died suddenly from a stroke, someone gave me a wallet-sized, inspirational card with an illustration of a beaming Jesus hugging a young woman. On the card it said, “Entering the Gates of Heaven.”

Whether you are a Christian or not, the image represents the essence of universal love. In real life, if you are fortunate to experience the magnitude of this type of love, it would equate to living a thousand lifetimes onboard a peace train of which the grandest theme is acceptance and harmony so powerful, it reaches and washes out your deepest, darkest, ugliest, most shameful crevices and allows the sunshine to warm, caress and heal every wound, scar and trauma.

Watching this young couple across the way at the hotel, I saw the young man’s face in the face of Jesus pictured on the prayer card, along with the woman’s windblown hair whose silhouette also resembled the image on it.

The woman could barely catch a breath in between her tearful cries, because of the emotional exhilaration, and it felt like the hotel walls would pop open from the joy. For a moment, superimposed on the man was my now deceased son and on the woman was my daughter. Obviously, I don’t know what my daughter’s take on the sight was, but what I saw was a reunion between the living and the dead unfold on a white marble floor of a Hilton hotel.

After the dramatic embrace, it turned out that my daughter knew both of the people, and, in fact, they were all part of the bridal party. The man had just flown in from Los Angeles, California, and the woman had flown in from Richmond, Virginia. The two people, who had embraced, once shared a semester abroad, along with the bride, in Germany. The reunion between them was a telltale sign of how a connection grows through the passage of time and memories shared, painted in easy, carefree, lofty and heavy highlights.

This is how the wedding weekend began. It was a postponed wedding due to COVID-19. A wedding I dreaded attending, knowing the pain points it would touch. Fortunately, I was prepared; warned by a dear friend about the “Mother and the Groom” wedding song. My defense tool was advice from another dear friend Michelle: In essence, I was there to be happier for the bride and groom than sadder for myself. The advice worked! (Thank you, Michelle!)

The wedding began with love between friends reuniting and then moved to a couple sealing their vow of love. One of the readings at the church was from Corinthians 13, 4-7, a favorite among ceremonies and, in fact, one of the readings at my wedding over 30 years ago, a now dissolved marriage. The famous last line states, Love Never Fails.

The way I interpret the passage is that love failed in our family, because many falsehoods prevented it from forming a pure, genuine love and, ultimately, our unit failed. I’m okay with that for today, because if I do not work in truth, there is no hope for love.

Anyway, the wedding crowd was composed mostly of young, brilliant adults who are changing the world in positive ways. During the reception, I never dreamed I would dance without guilt, but I did! I saw it as long overdue exercise, and it worked. I was, however, overpowered by some flashbacks sitting at the table during the reception, remembering how at the last wedding I attended in 2018, my son kept me glued to my cellphone for a good part of the wedding, despairing about his agonizing love life. The last wedding he ever attended was when he was seven. Deep in my pained gut, I knew he would never have an opportunity as an adult to attend a wedding function, which included his own. By the end of that night, half the male bridal party was commiserating with him outside on the patio on my cell phone. I laughed at the situation, feeling we were all working in the solution mode and on that night, it was true.

At this past weekend’s wedding as the night rolled on, when the traditional wedding songs began, I darted into the restroom until they ended. I can participate in life, but also allow for human limitations by guarding myself.

Looking back, the weekend moved along smoothly, a few hiccups, but no hacking or fevers. I’m left meditating and pondering upon genuine, unconditional love and different types of love. When I first married my husband, in my heart of hearts I believed it would last forever. I believed we would retire, rent an RV and take a year to drive to Alaska, adopting as many old, unwanted shelter poodles as we could along the way. In his own words, he wanted the same ending, but midway through the book, I turned the page, and he disappeared. Though he verbalized what he thought I wanted to hear, he failed to verbalize the truth and allow me to accept it and risk my not responding with unconditional love. In this manner, love failed. Fake love always fails.

From that point, the three of us that were left behind tried to survive best as we could. I will always harbor a tremendous amount of guilt today knowing and realizing the mistakes I made as a mother. One thing I always put my faith into, though, was the greatest thing that mattered to me: seeing both my children grow up as happy, thriving adults. I had faith with fabrication. My son held back nothing from me. Incapable of meeting him on his level, because I believed that the solution that worked for me would work for him, I spoke to him as if he were my twin. It was only a matter of time, when everything backfired and my dream shattered in half, with only one-half remaining, my daughter. I never thought I could be more grateful to have her. She is brilliant and compassionate, much like my son was and also gregarious, positive and confident – in that respect, a total opposite of my son. I am over-the-top grateful these days for her existence.

Now, for damn sure there won’t be any earth-stopping reunions in this life between my daughter and her brother or me and my son. I might dance for the sake of exercise, but not for the sake of pure joy. Those days are done and useless to think about like disposed tattered socks.

Fortunately, I have the mental capacity to still love a little and feel a big happy heart for others while throwing off the pitiful feelings for myself. In this way, I did receive a surprise bonus during our wedding weekend. The groom – quiet, introverted, kind, a good listener, considerate and compassionate – reminded me so much of my son. His image comforted me to the point of giving me such a sense of fulfillment that it felt like a spiritual reunion akin to a group hug teeming with lace, glitter and a gown’s trail long enough to almost reach heaven.

Faith Muscle

Maze Craze

Photo by Tiff Ng on Pexels.com

This past weekend, I was cleaning out the car in my driveway and caught sight of the young woman next door. All smiles, she exited her car with a white gown slung over her shoulders and walked into her house. I deduced that the gown was for her high school graduation. For a moment I was transported back to being a naive 17-year-old when I saw the world as a linear, simple place where scheduled events like graduations were made up of happiness, love, sunshine and uplifting greeting card sentiments.

Her smiling face also kicked off a grown-up memory in my maze of life full of twists and turns that happened 10 years ago when my son graduated from high school. About a month beforehand, my son wrote his father, who had relocated some 600 miles away, a request: please do not come. Although I kept my opinions to myself, the last person I wanted to see was the man I was in divorce proceedings with. Secretly, I sensed the act of barring him from my son’s graduation as punishment for the fallout our family experienced for his bad decisions and, at that time, I felt the punishment was valid.

On the day of my son’s graduation ceremony, as far as I remember, I was there with my daughter, Brother Paul, godmother Pat and my friend Lisa. We were all on guard in case my son’s father showed up. Malaise hid behind our smiles as we entered the auditorium. I was like a hawk searching the room with telescopic eyes, worried that my son’s father, whom his children had not seen for over five months at that point, would make a surprise appearance. Inside I was troubled, totally unable to fathom the outcome of such an encounter.

Concurrently, it was also a solemn occasion. Although a chair was reserved for one of the classmates, Robert, my son’s best friend, it was empty. Eighteen-year-old Robert had been killed five months earlier in a freak off-road vehicle accident during a blizzard.

During the ceremony, the family faced the audience as they sat in a special spot reserved for them at the head of the auditorium. The spotlight of unfairness of it all did not occur to me until this past year when I had a deeper understanding what it meant when the future milestones on the calendar are unwillingly torn off along with your heart. Now, looking back, I am stunned to think about how Robert’s family sat in the unfairness of it all and managed to be present and smile for the sake of the other participants. I equate it as purely a heroic act of self-sacrifice. Caught up in my own selfishness, it took a pair of grieving mom’s eyes to understand that after the crowd dispersed and continued the good celebratory vibe, the grieving family left in the same manner they had arrived: carrying their “griefcases.”

In addition, as it turned out, my children’s father never showed — at least, we never saw him. Years later, he revealed that he accomplished the 11-hour drive to the ceremony, but sans admittance ticket, he stood unnoticed outside behind the crowd. I can’t remember if I told my son that bit of information years later, but it’s doubtful if it would have kept him alive in his later years.

Anyway, after the ceremony, my son, despite the sadness of his best friend’s death and anger and angst of his father’s decision to abandon the family, was all smiles like my neighbor this past weekend. He rarely smiled during his middle and high school years. I remember I was on top of the world because of the picture he presented of rare normality, and it was one of the few times that I saw my son in sync with the world.

At the end of the graduation ceremony, the knowledge deep inside pumped my faith muscles and I knew that everything, as my now ex-husband had assured me in the early days of our break up, “would work out.” Obviously, I was tricked. The maze I was given with an entrance and goal was a scam, the layout, to this day, is too convoluted and ambiguous to ever figure out. There is no start and finish. No solution.

The kiss of promise on my son’s face is only a memory. During his 10-year high school reunion this year, there will be two empty seats for sure. Thinking of my young neighbor’s face, it is some sort of consolation, and I hope and keep the faith that things will work out in her life.

I recall seeing her in the window at midnight studying, working, and she reminded me of me at her age. I deserved a happy future just like she does. In the maze of life that’s not straight thinking, because we all get our own very custom-made mazes. Some are crazier than others. We all, though, at one point or another, get lost. Inch our way through. But then again, maybe finding the way out isn’t the key, maybe it’s how we stay steadfast to our values, keep the faith and remain in the game despite a burning desire to take a shortcut and erase the dizzying lines.

Faith Muscle