High School Reunion

Reveling in the glow of my high school reunion last Saturday night, I could share that I was happily surprised to see two of my very best friends from that time, who I hadn’t seen in at least 30 years. Our hearts connected and I could have basked in the glow of their company all night.

I could share that I got to enjoy my visits with many of the girls who, in high school, were way cooler, way prettier, way more fun than I was. They still are, but we didn’t have that artificial barrier anymore.

I could share that, after these past few years of Facebook interactions, I got to hug one old friend who is like a cousin to me.

I could share that I loved having conversations with my more studious friends, and how very smart and loving they still are.

I could share that I reconnected with some guys who I met when I was 11 and who I grew up with. They are even more warm and compassionate than they were then, if that is possible.

I could share that I truly enjoyed my conversations with some of the guys I met through my high school boyfriend, and that one of those conversations was on a topic I never would have guessed we would discuss, and I appreciate his encouragement of my thoughts and my writing.

I could share that, at one point, I happened to stand next to someone who I assumed was leading the perfect life when he shared that his wife died of cancer while their children were still young. It was like God planted him there for me. I could have talked with him for hours and so appreciate his openness, caring and willingness to connect.

We all knew each other through eyeglasses, braces and acne, through fashion style changes, through activities like sports, music, drinking and drugs. Through those years when we tried so many things that helped each of us learn for ourselves who we are at our core.

But the biggest thing I want to share is that after 35 years, we came together and met each other where we are, today. For this reunion night, our facades disappeared. There was no “in group” or artificial segmentations between the jocks and the heads, between those who were academic and those who were not, between those who were physically beautiful and those who had interesting and diverse features, between the cool kids and nerds.

Instead, I feel like I met the very best in my classmates, those who I knew growing up and who knew me possibly better than I knew myself. They carried absolutely no judgment. Connecting with each one was like a comfortable, familiar meeting of our hearts, grounding me in who I am. Because of this stable grounding and their supportive connections, I have strong roots and trunk, and I can feel the sunshine and reach as far and high as I would like. I love them, as we are all part of each other, and I’m grateful to those who put together this party so that we could do all this in person.

If you have the opportunity to connect with people from your past, and are able to do so with love and without judgement, I suspect it will be food for your soul. In the meantime, I hope you are able to connect with the hearts of those around you today.

Love and beauty,
Marie

Making connections

I met Kathy when I was about 20 years old. I always liked her, and we traveled in the same circles, but we never socialized one-on-one.

Time passed and I grew distant from the friends who connected Kathy and me, so I didn’t see her or hear about her life.

A couple years ago, maybe one or two, we reconnected. Though I don’t remember exactly how, I suspect that Facebook was involved. And I don’t remember how or why I told her my story, but she started to pray for me. And then, she had her prayer group praying for me.

You know how I am about prayer and its power. I was incredibly touched (and still am), and felt so much closer to her, even more than 30 years ago.

Recently she told me that she would be coming to Needham, a town relatively close to where I live. We made loose plans to get together.

Then life intervened and my schedule got crazy. I only had a sliver of time, so I suggested that I meet her at the airport for a quick hug and hello. She said no. She already arranged transportation and wouldn’t give me her airline or flight number, but I did know her arrival time.

No problem – I used to travel frequently and I can figure this out! I did have a bit of uncertainty – I wasn’t even sure that she would be flying in from Pittsburgh. But I kept picturing how fun it would be to see her and decided I would take the chance.

After driving to the airport (and figuring out parking – the lot was full!) I headed inside to wait. I brought a book to pass the time but I realized that I was too excited to read. Plus, I had to watch two escalators to make sure that I didn’t miss her, though I shouldn’t have worried. You couldn’t miss the influx of Pittsburgh Steelers apparel. (In case you aren’t familiar, Pittsburghers love our Steelers clothing, and one can purchase, and wear, a Pittsburgh Steelers outfit for every occasion.)

Pretty soon, there she was! We immediately recognized each other and then talked for so long that the limo driver called her cell phone to track her down. It was such a high to see her again, and I’m just sorry that we didn’t get a picture together!

This feeling is so fabulous that I want everyone to feel it! I hope you get a chance to connect with someone, whether you just met them, see them all the time, or haven’t seen them in 25 years. And thank you, always, for being connected with me. It makes this path immensely more positive to travel.

Love,
Marie

 

Leg warmers of love

When I was growing up, my mother made all my clothes. For my senior prom, we went dress shopping together. With each dress I tried on, I would tell her the aspects that I liked, and when we got home, she made a pattern that incorporated each of those aspects into one unique dress that I loved.

My friend Harriet has similar skills. She can look at any set of raw materials and quilt, knit, crochet, build, sew or otherwise construct a thing of beauty.  And fast.

I can do that with food. I cannot do that with knitting, at least yet. From watching my mom and Harriet, I know a project can be done and I generally dive in, even knowing my limits.

When I wanted knit leg warmers, the pattern I loved was a cable stitch, something I’ve never done. I don’t require perfection but I know that I am a slow knitter. I worried that I wouldn’t get the leg warmers finished until next winter (who knew how endless this winter would be!). Also, there was that nagging feeling – would I be around to wear them?

Harriet and her flying needles immediately came to mind. Maybe she would make them? After a brief, online conversation with her, I sent off the pattern and the yarn.

Something to know about me: I don’t see people as they are today. I generally see them at their best. So say, if they were a great gymnast at age 7, a brilliant student at age 15 and a fashion model at age 20, I see them as all these things at once, even if they are 80 years old with a failing memory and walking with a cane.

It never occurred to me that Harriet might be out of her knitting phase and into something else. And she is too generous to burst my little imaginary world.

This is the story of the leg warmers and the generosity of friendship, from Harriet’s point of view. So beautifully told, I had to share it.

My beautiful leg warmers from Harriet

And the leg warmers arrived well before the end of winter, too. Thank you, Harriet!

Lots of love,
Marie

P.S. Harriet also taught my children to say, “Thank you for my lovely dinner. May I please be excused?” I LOVE that gift every single day.

Being cared for and carried

Last week, we got to travel to VT for skiing, snowboarding and, my personal favorite activity, visits with friends. They invited us for dinner, which included a chicken and chickpea soup in a thick broth. I no longer eat chicken but I love a thick broth and wondered how I could create that with a vegan soup.

When we returned to our place later that night, I noticed a recipe in my email for a vegan soup with greens and chickpeas in a THICK BROTH. The sender was a random cooking site, and I was thrilled with the serendipity.

These kinds of events make me feel like I am being cared for and carried.

Your positive prayers and intentions also make me feel like I am being cared for and carried. At this same friend’s house, I also recalled that we have been seeing each other during this same week every year for about four years. Four and even three years ago, I felt easily tired. Once, I had to find a bedroom to rest.

But this year, I feel like my energy was normal, even great. I likely overstayed my welcome, leaving quite late. And I got up to go skiing the next day.

I recognize this as the difference you make. I truly appreciate going to a dinner party and actually eating dinner with friends, being able to help a little with clean-up, and visit for awhile afterwards. I don’t take this for granted, and I thank God and each of you for your help in making this all happen.

It also makes me happy to know that this happens for others as well. About a week ago, I had tea with a friend who happens to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was bubbly and effusive and full of stories. She talked about the day she received her diagnosis. Months before she even suspected, she planned a gathering with a group of old friends from all over the country. They arrived and reconnected, then she got the phone call. Though the news was difficult, of course, she said she could not have been in a better place and with a more supportive group. She was totally taken care of.

In addition, between her diagnosis and the start of chemo, she was able to take an already-planned trip to Israel with her church, where she had all sorts of unexpected and spiritually uplifting experiences, strengthening her spiritually in preparation for her treatments.

I am grateful for all you do to strengthen me. It helps me to do the simple things that make up my life and mean so much. I am grateful knowing that my friend Debbie has similar moments of grace. And I am grateful that you are open to any and all possibilities as they unfold.

Love and blessings,

Marie

What is reality?

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes. I had chemo last week, Tuesday through Thursday, with no vomiting during my at-home time. Woo hoo. To top it off, usually Friday is a recovery day, but this time around, I was able to walk and pick up my son from school. I attribute that to your prayers and positive energy around no side effects.

Last week also carried a Joni Mitchell theme, specifically her song Both Sides Now. Friends on Facebook would post pictures of clouds – storm clouds overhead, clouds during a sunset, clouds below their airplane. Each time, the lyrics, “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now….”  popped into my head. Then a friend posted those specific lyrics. Another posted a picture of himself with Joni Mitchell.

In the meantime, chemo was done and I was feeling better. I reflected upon some point years ago, right after my diagnosis, when I was struggling to process all that was happening. At that time I thought, “What is the difference between the day before I got my diagnosis and the day I got it?” My body felt the same. The primary change was that someone else told me something they thought about my body.

Their words influenced my reality. They shifted how I thought and felt about myself and my life. So, I worked to form my own version of reality, and when I am feeling good, I like to think and act as though I don’t have cancer, and that makes me happy.

But then, sometimes, a different side comes roaring in: A friend sharing her experience on hospice, another experiencing a scary phase, a third who passed away. I felt deeply honored that they let me into their very personal experiences, yet my heart broke each time. I didn’t know how to handle all this, how to be a friend without layering my own concerns for them on top of it all.

You do that all time for me, and my gratitude expanded.

It is winter here, grey and cold. Driving to church on Sunday, the boys started to talk with each other about death and heaven. They discussed whether there is a point before you are really dead where you get to decide whether or not to die, who you might see there, what it would feel like. They seemed to have a pretty comfortable handle on the afterlife, and I was glad they were having this discussion. But it also reminded me that our family needs to have discussions like that, and I felt more and more of the darkness.

Once in church, the topic was about Jesus being a light in the darkness. When in the dark, look for the light. If opening my heart to my friends can have me feel heartbreak, it can also let in the light.

The day felt better now. Looking at it from a different side helped. Which is reality? I don’t know, but I like to think that it all is, regardless of the side we see.

Both Sides Now
Joni Mitchell

Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way 

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all 

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way 

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all 

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way 

Oh but now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all 

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

Heart explosion

Much of this weekend was spent in religious services, which also means that much of the weekend was spent with me tearing up from all the beauty.

On Saturday, I attended the bar mitzvah of the son of our friends. Let me start by saying that I love the Jewish faith. I happily immerse myself in the prayers, the songs, the cadence of the words. I adore the history, the rituals, the intellectual leanings and conversations. I admire that one practices certain holy days at home with family and others in community at the temple. At one point in my life, I studied, just a bit, toward conversion.

So in addition to the honor of being invited to share in this very special day with friends, I looked forward to the service itself.

Still, I arrived ten minutes late. Plus, my laryngitis turned into a chesty cough, so I slid, hopefully unobtrusively, into a seat in the last row on the side, away from everyone else.

From that position, I settled into watching the bar mitzvah boy lead the service. Clear and composed, he obviously prepared well for this day. The rabbi and cantor surrounded him with infectious joy, smiling throughout the service and, at times, almost lifting themselves off the floor. Their phrasing and tone was consistently positive and upbeat. Though I entered a bit grumpy and sat on the sidelines, I couldn’t help but be quickly drawn into their current of happiness.

The service itself focused on our interconnections, God’s loving kindness, gratitude for the simple things, making this world a better place, and all those other topics that slide right into my heart and make life feel warm and wonderful and full of possibilities and love.

Because the Hebrew words and the corresponding actions do not come automatically to me, I watched others for guidance throughout the service. What page are we on? Was it time to sit or stand, bow or close our eyes? Do we all sing or is it just the cantor for this part?

As I looked around for hints, I saw so much more. The husband and wife sitting in front of me, with their school-age son between them. Each of the three of them wore a yarmulke and prayer shawl, clearly reverent. They also clearly shared a strong bond of love. The family of the bar mitzvah, each one beaming so strongly I would not have been surprised to see light pour out of their faces. The woman across the aisle from me, heartily greeting everyone who came her way as if each were a long-lost friend. The husband near the front, who tenderly put his arm around his wife at various points in the service. The son who held his mother’s hand when she need to take a few steps, and her smiling response. The sisters who read from the bimah together, supporting each other with smiles and a few giggles, then, when they finished, putting their arms around each other. All these connections demonstrating deep love and joy brought tears to my eyes.

In the midst of this crazy love, I realized that I didn’t want this service to end, and suddenly worried that it might be coming to a close. Right then, the rabbi had us pause, take a deep breath, and hold onto the beauty, sacredness and awesomeness of the moment we just all experienced together. My heart expanded until it was about to explode and I could have screamed with joy (if my voice were back to normal).

I woke the next morning in some pain (unrelated to the bar mitzvah), but dragged myself and a thermos of tea to Sunday Mass. I am almost always touched by the Mass and, after Communion, often moved to tears.

Again, I was late. I was thrilled to see that this Mass would be led by a priest who also spreads kindness, joy and acceptance. As I eased into the Mass, his infectious and joyful demeanor helped to move my focus from myself to the service itself, and I felt my own pain  dissipate.

Midway through, I remembered yesterday’s advice of the rabbi. Inhaling deeply, I took in the awesomeness of the moment. Ahead of me and across the aisle to my left sat, side by side, three teeny grey-haired ladies wrapped in wool coats and hats and the comfort of a long friendship. Just then, an older man entered alone and sat a few rows ahead of me, shoulders slumped but relieved to be here. Directly in front of me, a mother and teenage daughter periodically leaned toward each other, touching shoulders as they gave the usual Mass responses. The toddler directly across the aisle sat so quietly and attentively on his father’s knee; I admired the peace between them. The pianist wore sunglasses that made me think of Ray Charles and I giggled inside. With each sight, my heart expanded. When my eyes fell upon families who have children the same ages as mine, I realized how much they have helped me to grow and to feel a part of this parish, and my heart expanded yet again.

Both days, it felt as if God’s love was running through all of these connections, then through me, eventually pouring out through the tears that landed on the lens of my eyeglasses.

It doesn’t stop there. I feel this connection with you, when you read this or write or pray for me or even do something kind for someone else. It expands my heart to exploding. I overflow with tears, and my smile could break out of my face. Thank you for all that you do to make my life, and this world, a better place to be.

Love,
Marie

Why can’t I fly?

First grade started today for our younger son. His first-day-of-school anxiety made his behavior oscillate between quiet and silly, and he didn’t want me to leave. As a last resort, he selected a book for me to read, guaranteeing I would stay a bit longer.

In Why Can’t I Fly? by Rita Golden Gelman, Minnie the Monkey asks one flying friend after another why she can’t fly. One tells her that she needs to take off her boots. Another helps her to apply feathers. Her ladybug friend suggests that she needs dots.

As I read this, I thought of all the well-meaning people who try to help me to fly / heal. I am totally open to what seems to work for them and, like Minnie the Monkey, sincerely try every single thing I can. Also like Minnie the Monkey, I feel like it will work and then I flop.

Like most children’s books, this book moves repetitively and slowly. As I read aloud, my mind raced to predict the ending. I assumed that Minnie would be content being a climbing monkey or the book would provide some other zen ending about loving your own life, gifts and limitations.

But no. In the end, as her friends all watched Minnie about to flop yet again, they each grabbed the corner of what looked like a big sheet, caught her mid-fall, then flew through the air carrying Minnie with them.

Suddenly, I didn’t relate to all of Minnie’s failed attempts but instead realized how I, too, am being carried by friends who seem to be able to magically do what I cannot.

I almost had tears. But it was the first day of school and we really didn’t need that.

Thank you for flying so beautifully. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. And thank you for carrying me. It enables me to feel like I can fly.

And thank you to the amazing first grade teachers and friends: At pick-up time, our little boy enthusiastically declared, “First grade is AWESOME!”

Love,
Marie

I’m half crazy all for the love of you

Slogging through a rough week, this cheerful bicycle appeared on my doorstep last night:

Bicycle buit for two

I read the note and immediately broke down in tears. That’s a good thing overall – I have come to believe that tears can indicate the presence of God.

The most lovely, happy, heartfelt ANONYMOUS note was attached to it, and the givers went to great lengths to make sure they weren’t seen in the process. So I can’t thank them personally.

But they did indicate that they read my blog. So I hope they see this here.

Thank you. Right now, I don’t know what else to say. You have my gratitude and my heart. My admiration for pulling this off. And my marvel at the two seats on this sweet ride, reminding me that I do not have to go it alone.

Know that you are the presence of God in my life. And the enabler of some good cheer that keeps on rolling!

Love,
Marie

Typical Tuesday at the Casa

We started the day cutting vegetables for this week’s soup.

Here is a bucket of shu shu, a new vegetable for me. The inside is light green and has the consistency of zucchini, maybe a little more firm. It has one seed in the center. IMG_2045

Anything with ridges is harder to peel, and shu shu also needs to be cut and the seed removed. I got there early (notice, very few people!)….

Lots of buckets of vegetables on benches

…so I was able to find a sharp knife and a peeler (truly rare commodities) and laid claim to a bucket of carrots (easy to peel). That is my blue water bottle, above, and my bucket of carrots, below.

Bucket of unpeeled carrots

Friends soon arrived to peel with me.

Peeling with friends

Sam does some creative carving as well!

Carving a carrot

Once peeled, the carrots are cubed using this tool. A trained professional places the carrot on the grid, then lowers the handle. The carrot cubes drop into a bucket below.

Cubing the carrots

As folks slowly arrive, peeling becomes the morning social gathering.

A garden of us peeling vegetables

After peeling veggies, I sat in the garden, went to the waterfall (3rd time – I love it there!), and joined a group doing some truly uplifting spiritual singing (led by three guitar players). So fun!

Tonight, alot of us met up at Frutti’s for dinner and dessert.

Hanging out together at Frutti's

Tomorrow, we see John of God again.

Love and blessings,
Marie

Summer of Love

Because of your prayers and positive thoughts and good wishes, summer has been amazing.

The weather is hot and humid – just the way I think that summer should be.

We had friends at our house this weekend, then travelled to Pittsburgh on Sunday and Monday to visit my family and take the kids to Kennywood, the awesome local amusement park. On Tuesday night, I got to help host a Mexican-themed community cookout at the boathouse. Tonight, our neighborhood held a pizza party, then everyone shifted to our house for an  impromptu after-party.

Family and friends all around. That is also the way that I think that summer should be.

I know that I am fortunate to get to enjoy all of this and actually be fully part of it. In the quiet moments between the activity, I give thanks for you.

Thank you for helping to make my summer all that I love. I hope that you are also able to craft the summer you love, that you deeply enjoy it and know that you are blessed.

Love,
Marie