Winning the🏆Real Prize🏆

Connecticut Press Club Award Banquet, July, 27, 2021

In all my days, I’ve arrived late, on time, but never early for a function. When my daughter, her godmother, who is my best friend, and I arrived for the Connecticut Press Club (CPC) awards banquet, we had 20 minutes to burn before the banquet started.

Last week, I wrote about my surprise when I realized I won the 2020 CPC second place for my blog post. After some arm-twisting from my daughter, I agreed to attend the awards banquet. What sealed the deal, as I also previously mentioned, was when I auspiciously discovered an inexpensive but beautiful turquoise necklace at a local store that seemed custom made for my black pantsuit that I planned to wear for the event.

Turquoise Necklace

“Turquoise, focus on turquoise.”

I know this is a nontraditional mantra, but repeating these four words helped me release most of my anxiety and PTSD symptoms on the day of the event. In my mind, all the negative, black thoughts were switched out. In their place rolled out a mellow turquoise the color of a New Mexico sky, moments after sunrise, very much akin to many of the photos that my friend sister Anne shoots.

What I am now aware of, that I was unaware of before, is that individuals suffering from mental health challenges cannot employ a mantra to slay their demon minds. Their demon minds slay them. For my son, this meant, outside of his workweek, total isolation.

I remember shortly before our family tragedy, I tried to help a close friend who was undergoing a tremendous amount of anxiety. I advised her to incorporate self-talk into her daily routine. Frustrated, she replied, yelling, “Self-talk doesn’t work for me.”

It was the first time that I started to comprehend the extent of individual variations of mental illness. Still, slaying my private demons decades ago, I fell into the group of positive psychology proponents. I believed that if you incorporate strategies like self-talk, mantras, positive affirmations and the like, it can help turn on a fluorescent light inside a darkened mindset. “Attitude adjustment” was the core belief. Now I know, you have to deal with mental illness before dealing with the attitude. In other words, if your mind is programmed differently as my son’s was, void of windows that allow the healing light to flow, there is no magic mantra to pull from a magician’s hat.

So, lucky me, last Tuesday evening, I possessed the mental clearance to leave the safe confines of my home. Upon arrival, wearing my turquoise necklace and saying my turquoise mantra, I can’t get enough of the turquoise sky crowning the Greenwich Water Club in Cos Cob, CT, a neighborhood in the town of Greenwich. The establishment is a private dinner/recreational club with an emphasis on water-related sports and boating activities for members, I gather, who never have and never will have to poke their rubber gloved hand into the cool water of a ceramic goddess and wash her majesty, a toilet.

Greenwich Water Club, Cos Cob, CT

As we make our way through the nearly full parking lot, the dust and sand from the spew of pebbles seems to undermine the club’s reputation. The clubhouse building ahead is impressive, but not imposing, perched on the Mianus River. The grounds are overrun by children and adolescents rather than adults. Members eat, swim at the built-in pool and, most obvious, relax, wane with the waning summer’s day that has turned into early evening. It is a Tuesday, my least favorite day of the week, but the sound of the children’s light laughter feels like a massage targeting just the right pressure points on my brain.

Inside a reserved space upstairs from the main restaurant, we are greeted with friendly CPC members who dispense name tags and apparently have no qualms about our early arrival. I scan the other name tags on the table, spotting one familiar one, Amy Oestreicher. It is a young woman and, although I haven’t been on Facebook for a number of months, a Facebook friend and fellow writer, not to mention artist and actress.  If given an opportunity, I make a mental note to approach her after she arrives.

Our trio nests in three leather, oversized chairs. I am stationed like a cut-down tree stump. I am there, but not really. My daughter prods me, “Go network.” Fortunately, it is the crowd I’ve grown up with: writers, journalist, PR professionals and all creative types that evenly pump my blood flow. I can do this. I rise and converse with a man who turns out to be the contest director. He informs me that the blogging category was fiercely competitive. Boo-yah! Ego found after being lost through 20 months of grief, isolation and sheer trepidation.

Later, in my seat, CPC officials, along with the evening’s emcee, award-winning journalist and TV personality, Mercedes Velgot, graciously greet us.

Before the presentation, though, I catch the eye of a woman directly across the way, who is with a dapper-looking gentleman. I smile and quietly admire the bright colors she wears.

“Do you know her?”

“No,” I reply to my daughter.

The presentation begins as Mercedes takes her place behind the podium, svelte and towering in a little black dress that elevates the word “perfect” to a higher level.

I’ve attended a vast array of awards presentations through the years and, overall, they are boring, not due to monotone speeches, but because the ego inflation makes my gut heavy, like it’s a soda can depository.

In total contrast, Mercedes’ opening remarks are succinct but packed with the kind of compassion, empathy, and honesty that makes you feel like you are listening to a dear friend’s counsel in your living room. The theme, of all things, is how every cloud has a silver lining, and how we need to learn to discover it.

She goes on to elucidate the many COVID-19 challenges of the prior year and how our world suffered in the eye of death, illness and separation. She also explains how her nine-year, award-winning travel show was canceled. Amazingly, too, she speaks about her voluntarism in different capacities during the height of COVID-19 as a front line worker, including training as vaccination assistant.

“This year has really taught us to be resilient. It’s taught us how to pivot. It’s taught us how to be grateful for each and every day. “

In addition, she credits prayer and “spiritual strength to persevere through all of life’s challenges.”

And adds, “Here’s to all of you … your talents in finding beauty in the human spirit through your pens. Keep writing and keep looking for your silver linings.”

I am blown over by her loving kindness and if the mind demons kidnapped me, instead of sitting in this lovely room with an extraordinary group of people, I would be alone in my bedroom faced with a three-D movie screen in the maniac projection room of my mind in morbid reflection of things best forgotten.

As if listening to the awesome speaker and watching other award recipients claim prizes wasn’t enough, when the award is announced for Amy Oestreicher, Mercedes informs the crowd that the recipient’s parents are present to accept the posthumous award for their daughter.

Posthumous award? How can Amy be dead? She was so young, talented – intent on living.

Question your thinking. I remember one of Mercedes suggestions during her opening remarks. Question your thinking. Self-centered was I to think I would be the one and only griever among the group. The one and only pain-ridden person.
Immediately, after the ceremony, I offer my condolences to Amy’s parents whose daughter died at the age of 34 from medical complications only four months prior. The grieving dad, it is obvious, is the mom’s anchor. Mom is a ball of fire. In spite of living through out-of-order death, the mom is an optimist. Her mission is to spend her life honoring Amy’s memory. The mom’s positivity is contagious and my faith-o-meter brims over.

My brilliant daughter advises me that I should mirror the grieving mom’s optimism. She winks her eye when she asks, confidently, “What are the odds of you meeting her and her husband on the same night you win an award?”

I nod my head. Is it coincidence or fate?

Looking back, the entire evening is lifted high in my memory by a faith muscle, fueled by the encouragement and support of my blogging community (thank you all!) and my close friends and, of course, propelled by my spitfire daughter.

ME
Connecticut Press Club Award Banquet, July, 27, 2021

To sum it up, I recall a well-known mantra that is intended to help anxiety: “Soham,” meaning “I am that” or “I am the universe.”

The idea reinforces the knowledge that I am one tiny brush stroke in a massive piece of artwork, a mixed-media, collage of life. The awards banquet last Tuesday is significant in my life because it reminds me of my insignificance. It reminds me how I can comfortably take a seat in the arena of life because whether we are in Cos Cob, Connecticut, or Canton, Ohio, or south of the Congo River, there is a designated space for everyone of us if we are wired properly to see it.

I am reminded, too, that no matter how stationary I am at any given moment, time is fleeting. Nothing remains the same. Everything is temporary. One day we are there, sitting. The next day “Poof!” we disappear. Paradoxically, as if on a magnificent piece of artwork, all parts, seen and unseen, make a whole, a never-ending composition of triumph.

It is all there is and ever will be. Right now as my own life fleets by, I can’t stop time, but I don’t have to wait until it is too late to say and claim it: I am that.

Faith Muscle

Unbearable Beautiful World

Today marks six months since my 26-year-old passed away. I am learning to break down each 24-hour interval into manageable milliseconds. There is no turnoff switch for me to prevent explosive emotions from erupting. However, when I feel I will fizzle into smithereens, I have discovered that people’s kind words and gestures become like a pressure relief safety valve.

Most recently, my safety valve was a friend and mentor. Betsy choked up as she spoke about her 28-year-old son, who took his own life 11 years ago. She shared about how more than usual she felt his presence that day. Listening to her, I not only felt great empathy, but my degree of sorrow for her matched my sorrow, if, perhaps, was greater than my own sorrow. And for that turn-of-the-pressure-relief-safety-valve moment, I exhaled, gifted with pain relief.

But wait, there’s more. As Betsy, generally a proud and really, really humorous fortress of a woman, continued to share, she spoke about how her son’s death only magnifies the beauty around her and gives her faith. That’s a tough order for me right now. Every beautiful pink-blushed apple blossom, magnolia flower and springtime landscape framed in natural beauty reminds me of my son, and I long in anguish for him even more. I cannot fathom the beauty through Betsy’s personal window. That is until I realize deep grief stems from deep love, and what is more beautiful than love? Now, I’m in the process of flexing my faith muscle so I can open up my window just a tad wider and let the sun spread it healing rays.

 

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Faith Muscle

The Cure By Albert Huffstickler

When the pain of my grief becomes unmanageable, I read the The Cure by Albert Huffstickler. I especially refer to it when the clueless around me spew quick-fix mouth service like “Let it go!” “It will get better.” “He’s in a better place,” and all the sentences that begin with proper nouns like Jesus, God and Buddha.

This poem gives me faith that someday I will have “the faith that it will fit in.” One day I hope to frame the poem and display it prominently on the wall. I also think a framed copy would make a great gift for grief-stricken individuals. In the interim, I frame my painful heart with these words, and the poem holds the fragments together like a vase.

THE CURE
We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles,
But not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
Never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to “get over” a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
But in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for: not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life without obliterating (getting over) a single
instant of it.

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Faith Muscle

Am I in the Right Room?

One grieving mom to another:

I just wait.
I know.
So do I.
I wonder what we’re waiting for?
Something.

The excerpt above is from a fellow blogger’s comments on one of my previous posts. It inspires further reflection.

What is this something? What do I wait for?

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Image by ravensong7 from Pixabay

Five months, two days ago, I COULDN’T WAIT to rip into the day, regardless of life’s circumstances. I leaped out of bed like a child who had no patience to discover what was inside the gift box under the Christmas tree. It sounds corny, but everyday was Christmas. Twenty-four hour segments flew by, and I darted behind each day as if I was trying to catch up to an Olympian runner.

Now, five months, two days later, I feel like I’ve been dumped into one of life’s empty waiting rooms without a clock on the wall. So, I wait. What do I wait for? The day I reunite with my son?

My mom used to say, “Day after day after day, ‘til the last day.”

Has that aphorism become my epic battle song that I sing now during the darkest chapter of my life until I arrive at the end of the book? Then what? I close the book, and a trumpet thunders and signals my long aWAITed reunion with my son.

“You’ve arrived!” In my imagination, I hear Alexa’s voice as an angel proclaiming the news.

Or, do I just wait for my son’s toothy white grin to be on the other side of the front door’s window? I expect to catch a glimpse of his eager face ready to enter what was once his home. I grow more impatient than ever since that youthful, solid and towering presence once crowned my world like the North Star and kept me from getting lost.

When my mom lost her oldest son she told me she always thought he was outside sitting on his favorite chair on the front porch. Numerous times, she found herself calling out to him. Of course, the front porch remained quiet and empty.

Admittedly, when no one is home I beckon in a familiar tone, “Marshall! Marshall!”

I wait and wait. In the deafening silence, I catch the familiarity of the maple tree’s drooping branches outside the exterior door’s window. Like the maple, everything has changed, but I remain standing.

As others await the end of this pandemic so they can return to their ordinary lives and do things like reset goals and “arrive” at new careers and new milestones in life, I have arrived in the waiting room of life before and during the pandemic. Going forward, I believe, this is my last stop. Fortunately, the space is not noisy and crowded. It’s not stressful. I am not afraid. I crave nothing.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s profound words frame the room, “This is it.”

So, that’s it. Waiting. The question is, does faith live here?

Is this the right room

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

Maybe the answer lies deeper in the same grieving mom’s additional comments on my post:

I am not going to say anything,
about how beautiful your son is,
and his mother.
Love to both of you.

Speechless, there is no response to those words because they are the words of hope, and their beauty cannot be contained under gift wrap. Subsequently, without faith, there can be no hope. Sometimes in the crux of waiting is the crux of our search. This is it.

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Faith Muscle

Abracadabra Prayers

Abracadabra!

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I will you give you a powerful prayer to create magical results in your life:

Name your intention:

  • Prosperity
  • Health
  • Employment
  • New Love
  • Friendship
  • Improve Personal Relationships

Once, 4 months, 26 days ago specifically, my life was based on prayer formulas. Without fail, I prayed a host of specific intentions to God. For urgent matters, I assigned a particular job to a particular saint to intercede. Eagerly, faithfully and patiently I waited for my prayers to unfold. My prayers were clay. God was the sculptor.

I witnessed masterpiece miracles. God’s handiwork studio space was divided in three sections.

  1. Work-in-progress prayers (For instance, a friend narrowing in on a new job!)
  2. God’s handiwork creations. (Houses spared from foreclosures. Jobs landed. Lonely singles finding mates, and so on.)
  3. Dry clay. You get the pic with that image, but, remember, if you sprinkle water, you can give dry clay life again. Right? So, hope underscored this section.

Reflecting back, section 2, God’s handiwork creations, consumed anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of the studio space. I was deliriously happy living in this studio. Faith beautifully wallpapered every turn and corner. Faith-filled tile fell beneath my feet like lemon drops, and life was magical.

And then one frightful Tuesday arrived, and the studio had to accommodate a new area: Bone Dry Clay. Undeserved. Unwanted. The section has no number. No prayers answered here.

In this dark dungeon, there is no God of anyone’s understanding to whom I can turn and beseech to awaken my son, if only long enough to see, his long, slim fingers with clean nails that formed hands that created magical mechanical parts. There is no expert saint to intercede who will nudge a supreme being who’s napping, and doesn’t realize that my 26-year-old son had a lot of work to finish in this life before his exit.

Now, this bone dry, nameless area, takes up the studio space now. There is no hope for any kind of sculpture, never mind a masterpiece. Sadly, I think faith means hope, and hope does not live between these walls.

So, I am left with no prayer, never mind powerful or magical. My faith is tested, and I have no faith at this moment. Or perhaps, for now, I am on a pause in my faith journey. Paused in the faith library researching things like prayer.

If my prayers are answered, am I worthy of the outcome? If my prayer petitions fall on deaf ears, am I unworthy? Or are prayer requests just a masquerade for magic? And if this is true, maybe the faithful have no prayers in need of answers since if you are faithful, you accept everything all the time, even the unacceptable, the unbearable, the noncomprehending. Maybe, you don’t mess around with God’s handiwork. Maybe you surrender your superhuman costume and just become an objective observer as the sculpture unfolds.

Do you pray? Why do you pray? Do you pray for certain things? Do you pray in general terms? Do you think prayers are magic? Do prayers help you, and if they do, what kind of prayers do you pray?

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Faith Muscle

Faith Fotos

Living in a new normal, I am still alive on this journey by flying on the wings of a small, select tribe. They hold me up when my legs turn to rubber. They stand firmly beside me despite the days when my words are thunderous and moods storm. When I am surrounded by dark, they are my light switch.

They infuse me with oxygen and hope. Faith has been called “the substance of hope,” and that is what my tribe extends to me the most.

In those first futile days, days after my world turned pitch black, my friend sister Anne, an amazing photographer, sent me the most glorious photographs that looked so polar opposite to the despair I was experiencing. As it turned out, they were part of my faith-fabric that sewed my unraveling world together.

 

Faith Foto2

Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

Faith Foto1

Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

 

“The sun always rises no matter how dark the night.” This is what my friend sister wrote along with her photos.

So far, the sun has risen. Ironically, the brightest, reddish, orangey sunrise (and the only one I was up early enough to witness) was the morning we buried my son. I still picture its splendor and wonder if underneath its robust spirited color, one could unearth a stairway to heaven.

Faith Foto3

Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

 

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Faith Muscle

To My Brother in Heaven

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32

It brings me great strength and joy to know you are in the loving arms of Jesus. Down here on earth, your arms were in the shackles of a disease that you did not want. I was four years old when I first tried to help you, but I was at a loss, wanting to contain your Niagara Falls amount of throw-up in a tiny pink cup.

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From that day forward, I felt like I trailed behind you through life, big brother, with a tiny pink plastic cup that could never contain the monster-sized remnants inside.

I won’t deny, that when you were alive, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about a replacement brother. The kind of big brother that takes you places above ground and not underground. The kind of brother who views life is lived on a rich, varied and textured terrain generous in rose-smelling opportunities. Like I told you a gazillion times, I never cared about your version of life lived in a flat-line region where the point of it all is survival.

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No doubt about it. We spent a lot of time in the mud hole: bickering, arguing and sometimes having a knock-down, drag-out fight. We landed in plenty of fox holes, too, where our prayers were “God Help!” Succinct ones, but as fervent as the long, formal prayers.

Seventeen years later, and I darn well know that if given the chance for a replacement brother or you, there is no doubt to the one I would choose. I attribute my choice to you. Underneath your disease. Underneath the monster. Buried under a mountain of hurt, you were one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. Not because you were handsome, strong, generous, compassionate, highly intuitive and intelligent and a war hero to boot, but because you knew that everything, no matter how utterly defective, stained, sinned or doomed, could root, grow and live under one condition: that it is planted in a bedrock of unconditional love.

Thank you for leaving me this bedrock of a legacy. To allow myself to be vulnerable, trust and carry the message tirelessly to those who suffer and those who need strength. Most of all, thanks for being my Angel Michael, right next to Archangel Michael, as I trudge this road of happy destiny.

Dear Big Brother in heaven, I can’t wait to see you in heaven someday. Feel your arms around me again, and see the sober twinkle in your eyes, when you radiate His love and gently whisper, “Peace.”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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Faith Muscle

FAITH ”AN IMPORTANT PART OF LIFE”

I am re-blogging this fantastic post from BE BLOGGER (OFFICIAL) 

via Faith ”An Important Part Of Life”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

 

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Faith Muscle

January Reflections: A Question a day to deepen your faith (31)

Never mind New Year’s resolutions. Angel4 Wrap your mind around January  reflections: A question a day every day for the next 30 days to deepen your faith.

31. What did I learn after a month of asking questions about faith? mustard seed

 

Plain & Simple: I  have mustard seed faith, but I have a mammoth God.  

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Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle