There is a natural instinct, I suppose, when you experience something wonderful, to want others to feel the same. “You’ve gotta taste this,” we say. “You’ve got to see this!” And I enjoy sharing things from around the world. But these are the obvious things. The guaranteed positive response. The Eiffel Tower, example. The Vatican. I feel blessed to have stood beside the Colosseum. Floated in Venice. But it’s not a surprise really. I expect people to like these photos.
Winter in Minneapolis. Not the expected destination for travel. But there is beauty. And I see it. Maybe it’s all just a reflection of the people I’m with, but the light!!!! The beautiful light of this city. One that I claim. This is something! I shared the image with my French family. When she replied, in French, how beautiful she thought the light was, it made me feel special. Not just because I took the photo. But that she could see it too. We were a little more connected. Sharing this truth.
It’s why I share the stories of the places I love, but even more so, the people. When I wrote this poem about my mother, The Truth about you, I did it because sometimes I just can’t imagine the incredible luck, the pure blessing, of having such a mother, and I just want everyone to know. To see it. To see her. So pardon my repeats, as I keep spreading the news. The joy. The love I have for my mom, my city. This world.
The light is coming in from the window. I hope when you see it this morning, you will know, it’s for you too!
To see yourself in the Alexandria Echo Press, was proof that you existed. The paper came out the day after our weekly softball game. During a slow news week, the local photographer would come to the fields and take some random photos. It happened only a couple of times between the ages of 8 and 12, but I can still feel it. That first glance of the sports page. Scanning. Long blonde hair. Bat. It was me. In full muddy black and uncrisp white. We rarely won a game. But that was never really the point. We were together. In the sun. With our friends in an endless summer. The proof was in our hearts, and randomly validated in the press.
When I finished this painting, the first thing my friend said was, “She belongs in the MIA.” It was as if I had turned the page and saw myself for the first time. I guess that’s what friends can do for you. Your true friends validate what is in your heart. They see you. And it is beautiful.
We are going to the MIA this afternoon with this very friend. And we all will belong. Together. My heart holds the proof — and even with a dusting of snow, I know the warmth of this friendship will never end.
I suppose it all takes time. To see the ordinary. And to appreciate it. Those of you that follow me here, have come, I hope, to know my grandparents, my mother, my schoolmates, and teachers. Some might say “just plain folks.” And that’s probably true. But maybe that’s the real beauty of it all. To find the spectacular in farmers, housewives and receptionists. To see the extraordinary in the daily living.
And in seeing them, it helps me see myself. Helps me find the gratitude of the day given. Of the toast for breakfast. The smell of coffee. The hand that reaches out for mine.
I am reading the book, “Love, Kurt (The Vonnegut Love Letters). I have this book, only because I have a special friend. Last year, together with our husbands, we went to Stillwater, MN. My friend and I stood in the bookstore as if before the Christmas morning tree. So many gifts in front of us, we had a hard time deciding. We each settled on our present. I loved her choice as much as mine. This year, she gave her book to me. Those simple words don’t seem to give it enough meaning, but I will tell you that it fills my heart. It brings me back to a laughter filled day on brisk streets and slow choices. It, for me too, is a love letter.
In the book, Kurt Vonnegut writes with his young pen, to his young wife, “Angel, will you stick by me if it goes backwards and downwards? Holy smokes, Angel: what if I turn out to be just plain folks?” Tears fill my eyes. I imagine we’ve all had the worries. Will I be special enough to be loved?
It’s these memories, of course, that give me that comfort. That give me the yes. My heart is packed full of the love from these glorious and plain folks. And I have loved them. Love them still. And I am one. Proud to be living with these extraordinary people. It is plain to see, they, we, are more than enough to be loved.
It’s ironic, I suppose, that she was singing, “If I could turn back time…” — this Cher hologram or avatar (or holographic avatar, I don’t know…) in my dream early this morning. We were shopping in a large department store. Tired of her following, her singing, or both, Dominique grabbed her imaginary face and kissed it. “That should keep her quiet,” he said. But it only seemed to make her angry. Maybe not so much, Cher, but the Roomba-like machine that was giving her life. It began following us around the store. Sirens blaring. We couldn’t escape. It’s hard to stop the passing of time.
Sometimes I think of how strange it would be to try and explain this all to my grandmother. I don’t mean the dream, but the iPad that I’m typing on. The phones that follow us everywhere. The cameras and clocks attached that are always with us. At the farm, the only thing that told time was the bird that popped out hourly from the coo-coo clock in the living room. And oh how she would have guffawed at the notion of taking her picture while she baked in kitchen. If Paul Harvey was on, it was noon — we didn’t need a clock in her car. She knew everyone in town. This was her social network.
Obviously I love technology. I use it daily. I’m not sure I could find my way without GPS. But I don’t think that in moving forward, we have to leave everything behind. Human contact will forever be the all. The everything.
We are going to go to the mall today. Even the Apple Store. And I’m excited. My grandma never wanted to go to the mall. But oh how my mother did! And OH the times we had. Because times do change. And that can be beautiful! Today, I will go with Dominique. And the experience will be new. We are forever changing. Time, no matter what Cher sings, cannot be turned back. But it can be carried with us. Nothing is lighter than joy. Keep it close beside you. Within you, as we all make our way.
We were all assigned to read Lord of the Flies, and yet, once a week, we managed to reenact the pages on the gymnasium floor.
Once a week, we (the 10th grade girls) were teamed up with the Senior boys’ gym class, apparently for lessons in humility. The games changed names but most inevitably involved rubber balls and a mat. Each started the same with team selection. Two captains — the two largest boys — chests out as if displaying their earned varsity letters. They quickly manned their teams, easily making their way through the list of boys. Each one jogging over quickly to their respective side, amid slaps and cheers. Then they moved somewhat reluctantly to the girls. I was lucky. I was usually taken in the first round of “I guess I’ll take”s. That’s the way they “chose” us — needing to let us know that it was, at best, a sacrifice. “I guess I’ll take…” and then they just pointed, not bothering to learn our names. The last chosen were all the same. And not even chosen really…the gym teacher usually spared them the long pause and just paired off the two remaining.
Of all the things we got right in the Alexandria Public School system — and the list is long — I’m not sure this was our best work. But I suppose that’s true with every school around the world. Then again, maybe it showed us the importance, the luxury, the beauty, of making our own decisions.
Because there are choices to be made daily. And along with the help of my mother — my best teacher of all — I made one that has changed everything. Never to wait around to be chosen. Even beyond the “I guess I’ll takes”. Because that isn’t good enough. And on this day, this Thanksgiving day, I can’t think of a better time, nor a better choice than to choose to be happy. Sure, there are tables we won’t get invited to. Places we won’t be allowed in. Meals that won’t make the Hallmark list, nor the Rockwell painting, but we get to choose our own teams, our own places. And it’s right here that I choose to be happy. To give thanks. Never as a sacrifice, but as a celebration.
You are the captain of your table. Stand tall. Choose wisely. Give thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
We never had a lack of things to judge each other by, and Central Junior High made sure that we never ran out. Of course there was the usual hierarchy of those in advanced courses. The grading system. The hands raised in class. The sulking heads in the back of the room. But then they sent us to gym class. They timed us around tracks and arm-flexed hangs. They measured and weighed us. Tested us through units of gymnastics and every ball game. With no self-esteem to spare, they sent us to the pool once a week. It would have been enough to be on display in our one piece suits and skin-capped heads in front of the other 20 or so girls, but the pool was adjacent to the lunch room, separated only by glass windows. Like the theatre view in an operating room, the 9th grade boys eating cafeteria pizza had a thirty minute view. We longed for the “eyes on your own paper” rule of law.
I suppose the greatest gift was the lack of time. The allotted 5 minutes to shower, dress, and speed walk (no running allowed) with wet hair flinging down the halls, to math, or English, or Social studies, didn’t allow much time for scrutiny. It’s only as I’m typing this that I realize there was really no need for the social studies class, we were living it, from beginning to ending bell.
I only mention it, because I use the skill they gave us, almost daily. I can get trapped in the moment of self-awareness. How do I look? How do I appear? Am I being judged? But really, nothing has changed since junior high. I don’t have the time to worry about what everyone else is doing…so certainly others don’t either. (And if you do have the time for judgement, maybe it’s time to switch course. Quickly. Down another hallway.)
There is so much to learn. I hope I continue. I’m sure I stumble on my way to daily social studies. But then I see you, my friends, my fellows, my human contacts, all trying to make our way, and I smile.
Bracing her hands against her knees, still looking up at the painting, smiling, joyful tears filled her eyes. I stepped closer in, wanting too, to be caught in her moment of happiness.
It isn’t often that I get to finish the sale in person. Normally it’s online, and then I ship it out. The grateful emails are nice, but nothing like being face to face. Yesterday, I got to witness her reaction. In real life. In real time. Of course the money is always nice. There is validation to the dollar amount. But to see the reaction. To know that this painting brings her and her husband home, this is priceless. This is why I keep painting.
There is an intimacy to this life, that should never be missed. When people allow you into their moments, be it tears of joy, or sorrow, go all the way in. Stand beside the raised arms or bent knees and feel the moment. It is the most precious gift we have to give. We have to receive. It takes courage, for sure, to do both, but the rewards are immeasurable.
I hope you see these words each day as doors. As windows. Come in, you and your heart sit down.
The assignment was on perspective. Maybe it was because it was my first time away from home at university. Maybe it was because my eyes were always filtered through my heart. Because I needed my world to get bigger, broader, more open, I saw the perspective in reverse and drew it. Instead of everything narrowing to a point, looking down the long hallway of the campus dorm, I was the point. Everything at the end of the hall got bigger. The other 18 year olds in class laughed as they displayed their drawings, one replicating the other. The teacher smiled. She gave me an “A.”
We were watching videos with friends last night, showing them tours of Aix en Provence. They were so excited. Ooohing and aaaahing over our ordinary. This is the street, next to the statue of the king, where I buy paint. The church where we laid Dominique’s mother to rest. Cezanne’s house. The place for the best pastries. Where I bought earrings. The fish market. The view of the Sainte Victoire. As their excitement grew, our ordinary felt spectacular again. Perspective.
It’s so easy to get stuck. To lose sight of the glorious things all around you. Trying to force everything to make sense — bring it all to a point. I learn the lesson again and again. To open my eyes. Open my heart. Change my view.
I guess that’s what real friends do — Oooh and aaah you into falling in love with your own life again. They are the point that opens all perspective.
I can feel her eye roll all the way from heaven as I sit in the hotel breakfast lounge. Not for me, of course. She would never have allowed me to go out into a public area dressed like that. She led by example. Hair, make-up, clothes — even when at their most casual — impeccable. And I wanted to be just like her.
When I was old enough, she got me my own starter kit for make-up. Most likely they were the free gifts from her purchases. She wanted me to learn with my own products. And not to mess up hers. This was clear from my earliest of memories. If I wanted to dunk my cookie, she gave me my own cup of coffee. And so it was with make-up. With clothes. I could admire her shoes, but never walk around in them. Because these things were special. They meant something. She took pride in herself. To be tall in stature was good, to be tall in self-worth was priceless.
And so we dressed for the occasion. Each day was just that. Whether we were toasting, or just going to the lobby for toast. I finished my morning coffee, not in judgement, but in thanks. I stand tall. Every day. My mother still sees to that.
She hadn’t told me anything deep, dark, or hidden. It wasn’t a designated secure place. Neither church, nor Switzerland. But for some reason, on the return bus trip from an out of town volleyball game, I felt safe. In this back seat, looking straight ahead. Knees pushed against the seat in front of us, I told my friend, as I had told no other contemporary, my secret.
This friend listened. Without judgement or questions. Braced, as if I were passing her the ball. I could feel the words spank off from my overworked forearms. She took the ball. What a relief to pass it on.
We had Judy Blumed our way through Junior High, but when I asked, on this yellow-orange school bus, “Are you there, it’s me…” she listened. No solutions offered. Just release.
I don’t know who we played that day after school. I don’t know if we won or lost. But never had I felt more a part of something. I had a real teammate. We didn’t speak of it again. We didn’t need to.
It’s not necessary to me that she remembers. I won’t forget. I had such a friend.