Dad, It’s Been Six Years…

Six years ago today, on this date and on this day, was the last day my father walked this earth.  He would have liked the weather today – brisk and gray.  It goes without saying that I think of him often.  I wish he were alive.

But I am not sad.  He lived a big, long, full life.  We anticipated his death – there was nothing sudden about it and for that I feel very blessed. Though six years is starting to seem a little distant, it is not hard – not one bit – for me to sense him whenever I want.  I can hear his voice, I can see his smile, I can listen to his laugh.  I know what he smelled like (an odd mix of Listerine and 4711…I don’t suggest anyone try it but it worked for him).  I can hear him say my mother’s name “Loring!” with love and exasperation.  I can recall how it felt to hug him at different stages of his life – when he was overweight and full, when he was post cancer treatment and without hair, when his body was starting to give out and his shoulder bones became more apparent but still so warm, so loving, never letting a hug go first. I can dial up music that he loved and go straight back to 6PM any given weeknight in the ’80s and imagine him downstairs in his chair post work, waiting for dinner. I know what it felt like when he touched a cheek or laid his hands on my head, as he did so many times, to give a blessing.  I can see his stance in the pulpit delivering a sermon. On that front, he was more Bill Clinton than Typical Preacher…I could have listened to him for hours.  I can see him swirl his pen before signing his name.  He drank black coffee.

So he is never far.  But there are times when even I am amazed by the closeness.  See he was a crafty guy – especially for a priest.  He loved a good joke and one of his biggest life lessons to me was “You might get what you want but it probably won’t come in the package you expect.”  At the risk of sounding supernatural, I am pretty sure he continues to reveal himself to me often…

  • A few months ago I was standing in Times Square with a million other people and a man walked up to me.  Before he spoke he struck me as peaceful.  He approached me from pretty far away and said “Excuse me, can you tell me how I might get to The General Theological Seminary?” Not Rock Center, or the Empire State Building but GTS.  Since my dad happened to have gone there indeed, yes I could.  In that crowd of thousands I was the perfect person to ask.  What do you know.
  • I look like him more and more as I get older.  I never saw it until a couple of years ago.  And now in pictures and the mirror I see it everyday.
  • Standing in a deli recently, buying my coffee, I noticed a chocolate bar on the counter.  Not just any chocolate bar. This was a Tabasco Spicy Chocolate Bar (dark…not milk…an important distinction as he never would have approved of milk).  For those that knew him, you may agree the combination of those two things in a bar is nothing short of a direct gesture from the heavens.  Had he been alive he would have bought as many as they had.
  • And then last weekend, the same night six years ago when we last had a family dinner with him, he showed up again.  See last Saturday at that very same time, my husband and I called a restaurant to see how long the wait was.  The hold music struck me – I couldn’t place it but knew it.  It was a hymn.  I recorded it and texted it to my sister who in an instant identified it as the hymn “I Bind Unto Myself Today” which was HIS hymn. That was the one.  He had it played at his ordination and then at his funeral.  What are the chances that a Thai restaurant chose that as their hold music and we happened to hear it at the very moment when six years prior we were all together.

This is how I felt six years ago: http://wp.me/pvg99-1y.  At the time I was worried I would lose the sense of him.  But now with time passing it seems he’s still as close as ever.  I have no doubt.

A View To Remember

There are certain moments you don’t want to forget.

A few minutes ago our son woke up crying. I brought him out of his room so he wouldn’t wake our daughter. Carrying him, I turned off all the lights in the kitchen and living room. I’m sitting with him on the couch. I’m in our living room and it’s quite dark. The only light comes from our two windows up front. I love those windows. We have tall ceilings and these are tall windows. There’s a tree outside filled with leaves. It looks like we have a breeze now. The light is dim coming from our street but enough to outline the flowers on our dining room table. I bought them two days ago. There’s a small shadow of a lamp on a side table. Our daughter used that lamp this morning as she colored a picture. The outline of the dining room chairs where we all ate dinner tonight is clear. The fan spins silently but powerfully on our ceiling. There’s a small piece of stained glass artwork hanging on a window. Our daughter made that months ago.

There’s a little street noise. I hear the air conditioner turn on. But mostly there’s breathing. That deep rhythmic breathing you hear when you know someone’s asleep. He’s asleep now on my lap.

I think I’ll stay here a little bit longer before quietly placing him back in his bed.

Vacation Response

Almost vacation time! 

I cannot wait.  It’s been a while, a good year and now it’s time to recharge, unplug and gear up for autumn by powering down in August.  I will set an email auto-response that says something like “I am away through blah blah and if you need to talk to someone urgently please contact blah blah blah.”

This is factual and directive, but not that much fun. I am considering a few alternate responses:

“GO AWAY”** Tempting

“Out smelling roses. It’s the end of August. I suggest you do the same.” Too preachy?

“LOOK! Over there!” The art of distraction

“Got your email.  Maybe just hug it out.” Peace

“Sorry I missed you.  I am on the beach building sand castles with my kids who are three and six and if asked, think Mommy and Daddy spend too much time on our phones. In fact, they (and we) have decided that since we are away digging in sand, eating messy ice cream, playing chase and star gazing that phones/screens are a distraction and we will only be looking at them twice a day.  Consider switching places with us right now.  Would you like to take a call from me and interrupt your time with your three year old who’s experiencing mint chocolate chip for the first time?” GUILT

“I am away right now.  Everything will be fine.  There are very few actual emergencies and truly urgent situations.  Please review your emails from the last year.  In what percent of them did you use the word Urgent, include ALL CAPS in your subject line or choose the red exclamation point?  If you did any of the above in more than 5% of your communications, please go HERE.”

“I am on vacation. If the word ‘vacation’ is hard for you and you think less of me for taking time away please read THIS ARTICLE.  And let me rephrase, I am in the middle of task-negative pursuits. Talk to you in September.”

:-)

** An idea from my mother-in-law, a very direct and wise individual who, while maintaining a very active life, is also a master of all things non-screen and comfort-oriented.

What’s New?

What’s new? Well it’s hot and muggy and August – none of that is new but it is current. New? My three year old resists bedtime now every night. Guess that’s not new either. Most three year olds resist bedtime. A friend of mine told me her three year has been acting like a “punk bitch” lately. That is new. And funny.

Robin Williams’ death is new and so sad. He must have felt so alone. To take your own life ever…but to take your life when so much of it is behind you and less in front of you and you’ve been through and accomplished and lived so much. We need a different lens on depression.

Because we always have two or three screens going at once, on my other screen I just sent a text saying that I don’t go to church much (ever) because I cry every time. That’s not new either.

I don’t know.

Today was an important day at work so I wore eye shadow. New.

There is one other thing that’s new. I joined a cult and that has been kind of nice. Good people. Very welcoming. Super supportive. Push me to do things I think are crazy. I pay them. At times I feel trapped.

Crossfit! Ha! Yes. I don’t care if it sounds like a cult – it’s new to me and I love it. Yes indeed.

I am a runner. I can just run and run and run. Not fast. But for quite a while. But see, what’s new is all of a sudden I stopped finding that satisfying. And it wasn’t doing anything for my double chins (yes) and I’m just weak as can be. So in a twist of fate, I broke my toe in May, had to skip the Brooklyn Half Marathon, totally stopped running, hobbled by a Crossfit and said “Yep. I am going to try that once this foot heals.”

Don’t ask me about it if you don’t want to hear about it. I freaking love it. It’s really hard, very daunting and really fun. And I hate group things – HATE. I am a loner (runner) and an introvert (hate people) and even I love groupy Crossfit.

It is hard.   I am definitely not The Little Engine in there saying “I think I can!” I’m more The Little Engine that sees the workout on the board and says “No freaking way.” Others who go have told me they “can’t wait” to get to the gym (BOX – whatever) and do the workout. This is not my reaction. Mine is more like this “holy fuck I can’t do any of that, what a joke.” But I still go.

People ask me what it’s all about. It’s about squats. A lot of squats. Lift a bar with weight over your head! Squat. Throw a 20 lb. ball against a wall! Squat. Rack a 35 lb. kettle bell at your chest and guess what…squat. It’s a LOT of squatting. There’s also a surprising amount of jumping around. Crossfitters hop on and over things. I generally do not. Picture me hopping around – it’s ridiculous. I am more of a stepper at this point. When’s the last time you jumped rope? I couldn’t remember either but they teach you and then say “Great you can jump with a rope…now repeat 899 times.” We did a warmup the other day (totally exhausting) called Junkyard Dog (PGCounty!) where you jump over a partner. Please. No wonder Crossfit is criticized for being dangerous. I jumped kind of near and above her. I am not planning to add to the injury rep.

The cool thing is that even scaled down, every workout makes you feel like a badass. Yeah, it’s a little about ego.

Take pull-ups for instance. I can’t even begin to do a real pull-up. So I use resistance bands to scale them. I use so many bands that I look like an art project. One false move and someone (me) is getting an ugly slap in the face by those bands. But they help me get the movement and one day – ONE DAY – I will start removing those bands.

So every day I do it I start my day with a “no way” and then a tired hour later I end with a “holy crap I did it.” Every time.

So that’s new. Starting a day with a seemingly impossible challenge and then a win. That’s new. And I will take it.

The Thrill Of Victory

I read a lot about writing.  Authors like Anne Lamott and Brenda Ueland write brilliantly and honestly about what it’s like to be a writer.

I don’t know that I will ever be a famous writer.  For one thing, I have never actually written nor attempted to write a book.

Along these same lines, I am coming to terms with the likelihood that neither a Grammy nor an Olympic medal are in my future.  Specifically with regard to the Olympics, I have no sport.

I take that back – that’s not entirely true – I do run a mean eleven minute mile and have been known to attempt the occasional back-bend.  It’s not for lack of physical exertion that I will not be an Olympian.  Trust that for me, running 5 miles at eleven minutes each is a feat of epic effort and exhaustion.

But the question really is, might I experience a moment of greatness at some point in my remaining years?  Yes – there are times when I wonder if my best days are behind me.

I will never forget a moment of personal artistic brilliance that actually WAS recognized by someone other than my mother.  It was in fifth grade.  There was a contest for who could most creatively design a sign encouraging fellow students to read.  The moment I heard this, I knew this was my challenge to lose.  The crayons fell to the page with ease and grace and before I knew it there were trees, apples and eyeglass-wearing worms happily reading books.  It was titled “Be a Book Worm. Read Books.”

I won First Prize.  The Gold Star.  A $5.00 bill.

You may be wondering where this is all going so let me bring it home.  Facebook is one thing, life is another.  A friend of mine wrote me the other day as she struggled through a child rearing, guilty mom moment and she said “can’t wait to see you to pick your brain on how you manage to have a successful career AND be a good mom and wife!!”

And I realized while this may be a picture the honest answer is don’t we all work on these things every day?  The best, most helpful conversations, and relationships, I have are those where the Brain Picking results in trials, tribulations, fear, successes and brutal honesty.

Now back to sports, the glory is not just the thrill of victory – it’s that RIGHT alongside the agony of defeat.  I learn every day to take the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, the failures with the successes.

And some days all you can do is reach deep into your closet, pull out the dusty box of memorabilia and remember how you felt as a 10 year old accepting a $5.00 bill for what was indeed a brilliant piece of work.

Notable Items Of The Week

This is my 427th post. What a great number…427.

Entertainment: I never tire of holiday music. But I always cry no matter who sings “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”  This makes for some awkward moments at work.  “No no – don’t mind me – I’m ok – just a little teary over here again…”

Kids Are Awesome: Avery told me the other day that she didn’t want to meet “some fake Santa in a costume” that she wanted to meet the real guy.  She didn’t buy my story about the fake Santas being Authorized Reps for the real guy.

Same night, Aiden told us he wanted to put on a show. He directed us to sit on the floor.  He got the ukulele and stood in front of us. Then he said he needed a stool.  So he went and got a stool, sat in front of us, lightly strummed the guitar and watched all of us watch him.  I just wish I’d taken a picture.  Watch for this kid to hit the stage in 20 years.

Men (and women): http://www.salon.com/2013/02/17/why_are_men_so_foolish/.  I learned that science shows that men take more risks then women generally because they are less apt to consider the downside, whereas women are far more calculating about risk.

 “When the odds are actually good, women will compete (by entering the race) more than men. They just refuse to waste time with losing.”

 “Men tend to focus on the reward. The larger the reward, the more they ignore the odds. Women are the opposite: they tend to focus on the risk, and larger rewards are less relevant.”

 “The bottom line is, if you have a girl, I would put her in the best school as possible and have her around the smartest peers possible,” Jackson summarized. “If you have a son, you should put them in the school with the brightest teachers, but you should be wary of putting him in a hypercompetitive environment. Being a small fish in a big pond is particularly bad for boys,” Jackson added.

Goodness is contagious: The other day a woman walked onto the subway train I was on.  She asked for food. This is a pretty common sight.  She wasn’t having a lot of success.  I had a box of raisins so I gave it to her. And then another woman gave her money, and another, and another.  It was like a yawn that everyone caught.  That was all it took – a first step.

Hope Springs Eternal:  This almost needs no explanation.  As a dedicated Knicks fan, all it seems we have at times is hope.

But then something good actually happens (not to the Knicks).  Something good like a dear friend calls and says “please come to dinner…I’ve met someone.” And you learn that she had maybe not totally given up hope but was literally on the verge of checking out of the dating scene and there was a moment – a brief fated moment that stopped her. And that was the turning point…several weeks later it seems she has met someone wonderful and I don’t know when I’ve seen her so happy.

Grief and Joy – which is which:  I cannot recall what prompted this thought but at some point in the last few days I felt the need to list the most wonderful days of my life.  And the usual suspects were there – the day I got a fat envelope from a grad school (good day), our wedding day, my sister’s wedding day, the weekend I spent with my mom cleaning the loft at her house (long story), the days our kids were born, and at last…the day of my father’s wake.  Yes there it was.  Right up there with all the others.  In our house, friends arrived from years past.  People came to sit in his chair.  To look at his books and CDs.  To open his desk drawers and see his handwritten notes.  I surprised myself thinking about this and realizing “Wow, that was a wonderful day.”  There is no other way to describe it.

And Finally a Poem to Sum it up:

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

~ Mary Oliver