Moments

Thank you for the prayers and positive thoughts – they really help to get me through chemo and then rebound into life again. Thank you for the difference you make in my life.

My life lately consists of driving the kids here and there, driving to the grocery store, and driving to the occasional outing. It can feel routine.

But then, there are moments. Like:

  • Walking down the street on a beautiful summer evening, suddenly realizing that I can hear our neighbor (an acclaimed classical pianist) playing piano through her open window.
  • Noticing the unexpected. For example: I sent Anne a thank you note on this stationery:

Thank you card beach stationery And she sent it back to me.

At first I was simply puzzled and amused that she would do that. Then I saw that she included a photo of her own, along with the note: “This photo is of my favorite place on earth!”

Beach "favorite place on earth"

(The original was more in focus, but notice the beach umbrellas and the blue and white striped chairs.)

  • Driving home from church with my mom and talking about Jill’s surprise birthday party at the Red Sox game (which occurred well over a year ago) when I hear a honk from the car behind me. I look, and someone is waving – it is Jill. She even got out of the car at the next traffic light to say hello!

These are fabulous in the moment, but then…each time I replay them in my heart, I can get the same joy, wonder, laughter and amazement.

Thank you for creating so many of these moments, for me and for others. I hope you are feeling the ones in your life that make you laugh out loud, smile inside, love bigger and pause in wonder.

Love,
Marie

 

 

There is fun, and then there is fun

Thank you for all the energy you send my way. It enabled me to travel to Pittsburgh with my family, to celebrate Easter with my parents and siblings and partners and cousins and friends. A two-day trip would normally be crazy and unthinkable, with everything that gets packed into that, but your support enabled me to do that.

On Easter Sunday night, at bedtime, I laid in bed with my younger son. As part of their bedtime routine, I like each boy to reflect on his day and think about what he is grateful for. I also like them to give thanks to God for those same things, though sometimes that part pushes my luck with their patience.

Neither boy is the reflective sort and they find this exercise tedious. Still, I persist, posing the question in various ways.

Tonight’s version was, “What was your favorite part of today?”

As I waited for his answer, I mentally ran through his day. We all slept at my parents’ home, so the kids woke in the same house as their cousin. They had a special breakfast made specifically with them in mind and received Easter baskets of goodies and gifts from my parents and their aunt and uncles. We went to church (granted, not a potential highlight when you are seven years old) and they ate cookies and cake and special treats throughout the day. He put on a gymnastics and dance show with his cousin.

Midday, a friend of mine arrived in a convertible BMW and took our son for a fabulous fast ride in her car. His grin was non-strop and I don’t think it was the power of the wind against his face.

He didn’t reply so I asked him again, “What was your favorite part of today?”

“Tonio.”

Late in the afternoon, my cousins arrived, bringing their two boys. Their older son is a teenager and did a fabulous job of playing with his younger brother (Antonio) and my younger son, who are close in age. My cousin and sister and I sat on chairs in the backyard and watched while they played football and freeze tag and lots of other games where you run around a lot. The balls would go over the hill, and the boys would race each other down the hill over the brambles to get the ball, then race back up again. Their clothing gathered grass stains, and the feet of my barefoot son were so dirty that we couldn’t scrub them clean in the bath that night. Both of my cousin’s boys are amazingly easy-going and fun, and they laugh easily. It felt idyllic.

Because it was the last big event of the day and everyone left barely an hour before this, I attributed his answer to the recency effect. So I pushed. “Easter candy?”

“Tonio,” he said again, definitively.

“Gymnastics?”

“Tonio.”

Riding in the convertible?

“Tonio.”

Though it had been a great day overall, clearly the best was the connection he made and the physical fun he had playing outside with someone he adores. Okay. Tonio.

I know that I get so caught up in what I am trying to get done that I often put off that physical connection and that fun. This was a good reminder for me to refocus.

Thank you for connecting with me, for being open to my connecting with you, and for enriching my life.

I send you wishes for a beautiful week, filed with the absolute joy and love of connecting with someone amazing.

Love,
Marie

God is in the Details

Thank you for your cheerful support of my good news about the tumors shrinking. It helped to extend the good feelings, especially when the usual chemo side effects set in and my lowered white count enabled my cold to flare up again. Ugh.

Between my cold, the shortening daylight hours in the northeastern U.S. and the dreary weather we have been having, life felt grey and I felt tired. Though I consciously know that every day is precious and not to be wished away, I just wanted to sleep through winter.

It was more habit than passion that pulled me to Tong Ren on Sunday night. Once I am there, I typically receive energy when it is my turn and spend the rest of the hour sending energy to everyone else.

This time, I took a seat close to the back, closed my eyes, and promptly fell asleep. Tom Tam and his wonderfully generous crew of tappers stood in front, facing our rows of seats and asked, person by person and row by row, what their ailment was. I jerked awake often enough to revel in the good reports from others but kept falling asleep again. When he reached my row, I managed to stay awake until he and his crew of tappers were ready to work on me. I requested help in shrinking the tumors, and added that I would like to also be rid of my cold and my fatigue.

After they finished tapping for me, I closed my eyes again. This time, instead of sleeping, I thought about how everything felt blah. My morning routine came to mind: it can feel the same each day, but if I focus on the actual details, it really does vary in some small way and set that day apart from any other.

Maybe I could focus on some little details right now. Maybe those would help to set this moment apart and remind me that life does vary in some small exciting way. Maybe it would help me to know that there is a larger story to all this, that this is not all there is.

I opened my eyes and looked at the 8-10 volunteers standing in the front of the room, each tapping away on their doll. My eyes moved toward Janice, who has a special place in my heart. I focused on her outfit – she always wears something fun. But another object kept glittering at me, catching the light so that the reflection was almost blinding. Shifting my focus to see what was shining, I saw that Lynne, doing her healing tapping, wore a chunky gold necklace, a larger piece of jewelry than I’ve ever seen her wear. Well, that is interesting. But not exciting.

I strangely couldn’t pull my gaze from it so continued to examine it from afar. It had large gold links, and, wait, something was hanging from it, made from a different material and style than the chain, sort of artistic. A cross?

Lynne's necklace

A cross. A blinding light in the grey. A detail that set this moment apart. The larger story that helps to carry me. Okay, even in my blah mood, this felt a bit exciting.

The session ended shortly afterwards, and leaving the room, I passed by a book titled, The Body Electric, instantly inserting the song from the movie Fame into my head. In the finale, the high school kids together perform what they have worked so hard to learn. They show their growth in singing, dancing and musical instruments as well as their personal growth.

The way all their artistic parts come together to create one amazing performance reminds me of how we all exist together. We each bring aspects of ourselves we’ve worked on, sometimes for a long time, and can now do well – maybe not perfectly, but pretty darn well – and we joyously bring them all together with everyone’s else’s hard work and magic and possibly mistakes and in that joining, create something larger and more complex than our own piece.

I’m just so happy to have one small part in all this, to be together with all your dancing and singing and joy and continued growth.

But wait –there is more! When I was Googling I Sing the Body Electric, I came across this poem of the same name, by Walt Whitman. The whole poem was confusing to me, but I really liked this part:

I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
to pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her nech for a moment – what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight – I swim in it as a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well;
All things please the soul – but these please the soul well.

I hope your soul feels pleased today, and pleased well.

With gratitude and love,
Marie

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

Joyful Surprises

Our six-year-old son, dressed and ready for the day, grabbed my hand with his cute little one, dragged me out of bed and rapidly pulled me downstairs.

“I have something to show you, Mama,” he said with excitement.

My barely-awake self followed along, primarily because I felt like that is what a good mom should do, and I do try to live up to some random set of imagined standards. Also, he has more upper body strength than I do.

I loved but didn’t share his enthusiasm. I could not imagine anything that would make me happier right now than a steaming shower and my usual morning routine.

The semblance of order in my morning routine helps me to feel like the events of the rest of the day can be within my control. I held tightly to my little illusion, pushing down unsettled feelings of impending chaos as we progressed toward the kitchen, where, without a word, he led me to this:

Sculler by J-man

That is me in a scull! Or at least, a clay model of me in a scull. Apparently, he got up early and made a sculler out of clay and two toothpicks, especially for me. He even crafted it on newspaper rather than directly on the kitchen table. Love that boy.

This was way better than a steaming shower, or anything else I could envision for my day.

Over the past few years, I’ve done alot of praying and one of my most frequent prayers goes something like this: Dear God, Things are a mess. I give up. I’m going to let You be in control from now on. Just lead me and I will follow.

Then God generously cleans up whatever mess I was in, and I basically say, “Thanks, I’m good. I can take it from here.”

Apparently I can’t. I need reminders that it is okay to sometimes have less control. I may even need reminders that my way is not always the only way. Clearly, and thankfully, God and the amazing human beings around me can bring me to wonderful places I could never imagine on my own. Even in my very own scull.

I hope that any disruptions to your plan and any surprises end up bringing deep joy to your soul and your life.

Lots of love,
Marie

Unbounded Joy. Always.

Unbounded Joy

As much as I love to see this kind of joy, I rarely feel it inside myself. Though I am happy in my heart,  I would not call it unbounded joy. Even if I feel that everything is wonderful, I still notice something I could have done better. Other times, I feel a twinge (or more) of guilt for things being so good. Often, I simply feel undeserving. Whatever the reason, something inside holds me back from feeling pure, unmitigated joy.

I do generally feel incredibly grateful, especially for seemingly simple things. I am grateful for being able to get a glass of water when I am thirsty, for being able to go outside or open a window when I want fresh air, and for having friends who forgive my many shortcomings and generously fill my life.

Most recently, I feel gratitude for being able to start a chemo holiday and then, the next day, leave Boston for Arizona to begin a week-long physical holiday with my husband and sons. I carried more than a twinge of guilt on behalf of others who are dealing with cancer and cannot take a break from it, and for being lucky enough to be able to travel when I know that it is a luxury for many. The guilt is not strong enough for me to cancel the trip, but it does make me hold back some of the joy.

While we were away, there came Marathon Monday and the events that followed. Not that I could have done anything to help in Boston, and it was probably much better for all of us that we were away, but I had some trouble reconciling the events back home with the calm and relaxing atmosphere in Arizona.

In the middle of that week, we stopped at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona. This tiny chapel added a religious element to the awe-inspiring and spiritual feel of Sedona. We spent awhile simply sitting quietly in the chapel; the boys and I lit candles and said a few prayers.

Because we live in a commercial culture, the Chapel generously provides a gift shop. Before leaving the chapel, we explored the gift shop where I saw a marble stone with this carving:

Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Be joyful.

Be joyful always.

If it is in the bible to be joyful, perhaps in the name of God I can push aside a little of whatever it is holding back the joy and know that it is okay to fully express the joy and the blessings of the moment.

I hope you are feeling joy, that it expands your heart and your world, because I do know that it lifts us all and gives me yet another reason to give thanks, even while I am still working on being joyful.