Thursday, November 24, 2011

Never Leave a Friend Behind: In Memory of Larry Healy

I never really got that whole Biker code you lived by, but this rule I did understand:  Never leave a friend behind.  Yet, here I am, left way behind, without so much as a goodbye.

It's been exactly ten Thanksgivings now, since I found your lifeless body.  I was so freaking mad at you:  I told you this would happen!!!

Since then, I can't make it through Thanksgiving without re-living that day.  Even after all these years.  I can still feel the icy air on my skin as I walk into the house, knowing full well what I will find;  and I can still feel the frantic fear that our dogs are feeling, all cooped up in there with your cold empty corpse, not knowing what to do.  Every year I wait by your side for the paramedics to come and tell me what I already know:  "He's dead."  Every year I call your mother and tell her what has happened.  She's a woman, like I am, and so she already knows, when she picks up the phone, what I'm going to say.  She's known at some level ever since you didn't show up for Thanksgiving dinner.  Every year, I sit with her again on the side of the road, while they put you in a bag and take you away.  They won't let us touch you, because they have decided your death is "suspicious" and they don't want us to compromise the evidence.  They won't let me anywhere near you, because even after eleven years of togetherness I'm still not your wife, and so I don't have the right to say a proper goodbye.  I can only stand off to the side, helpless and alone, as they take you away.

My life ended that day.

But then, my life also began that day.  I started to sing as a way to survive the relentless grieving.  After a while, I began to notice that my heart was also learning to sing, and I began to find joy again.  Real joy.  I learned to be grateful for all of it, even the really sucky parts.  Even for losing you.  Even for the death of our baby daughter, and our dogs, and our cat, Pearl.  Our whole family died in just a few short years, and I was the sole survivor.  Yet, through all of that, maybe even because of it, I've learned to be grateful, and that has made all the difference.  Out of my deepest sorrow has come more joy and beauty than I ever dreamed was possible.

Thank you, Larry.  For all of it.

I miss you, old friend, and some days I still cry.  I want you to know that I'm OK, even though I'm pretty sure I may never be able to give my heart to anyone else as completely as I gave it to you.  That makes me a little sad sometimes, and every now and then I think it might be nice to let someone love me again.  But it's very likely that I won't let that happen.  Instead, I make it a point to choose men who I'm certain won't try to get too close.  I'm not sure I could survive another loss of this magnitude.  I don't even want to find out.

I've learned to find contentment in other ways:  walking in the woods, singing a lot, writing a little, and learning to love it all with everything I've got.  You never know, do you, if this might be your last day on earth.  As you once wrote in one of your poems:  "I get my happiness one teardrop at a time."

I'll see you again, eventually, although I'm no longer in a hurry for that day to come.

Until then ...


Monday, July 25, 2011

Soy La Madrina

The other day, when I had to watch the kids, my friend Billie said, "You have to be the grandmother today."  Although I don't mind being a grandmother, it feels strange being one to Billie's kids because she is my friend, not my daughter.  

I am becoming a member of this family.  I'm staying in Billie's basement for two months so that I can enjoy spending summer in the Maine woods.  I don't make enough at my summer job to help out financially, so instead I help out by doing all the laundry, and sometimes cleaning the kitchen while I watch the kids.  I also help out by helping Billie:  I provide child care so she and Aaron can earn extra money, and I provide an extra car and driver when Billie has to be in two places at once.  I do mountains of laundry, and bring it upstairs to her clean and folded, ready to put away.  I help her to brainstorm solutions to everyday challenges, just as she helps me with mine.  

In exchange, I have a free place to stay, electricity, water, trash, bathroom and kitchen privileges, and free food.  She provides complete room and board, just as she would for any family member who lived with her.  She also has my back when I get myself into situations that involve conflict or require negotiation.  Billie is The Enforcer.

I'm coming to depend on her.  Together, we are learning to trust in God to take care of us. Together, we are practicing Loaves and Fishes:  On paper, the money we are earning doesn't quite meet our needs; yet somehow it all seems to work out.   We find ways to earn extra money.  We watch for them, and jump on them when they come.  People give us free stuff for no reason.  We find money hidden in pockets or between the pages of old books.

Whatever we need, we have.  Knowing this, we face each challenge with an attitude of grateful optimism.  We choose to stay happy, making time each day to enjoy life.  We have excellent food, a nice place to live, happy children, friends and family, and each other. What's not to be happy about?

I came to Maine to be a hermit in the Maine woods, so I could think and write in silence. What I got instead was a noisy house filled with happy kids, a barking dog, and two bossy cats. I am becoming a family member, with all of the rights and obligations that go with that.

So what is my role in this family?  Who am I?  I'm too entwined in their lives to just be the crazy cat lady who lives in the basement.  Still, I refuse to be the grandmother; they already have plenty of grandmothers.  So who am I to be?   I must be careful in choosing my title, because naming carries  powerful mojo.

I once spent a summer in Madrid, where I stayed in the home of a family.  It happened to be the month when the men all leave the city to go live de soltero, without the women.  In Spain, in traditional families like the one I stayed with, the men believe themselves to be the heads of their households.   At meals, they are fed first, and get the choicest morsels.  I was the only female boarder that year, and so I always got whatever was left, which sometimes wasn't much.  This seemed so unfair to me at first.

After a few weeks, though, I began to see the wisdom in the women's scheming ways. The men felt adored, and were satisfied, and so went off by themselves to do manly things, leaving the women alone to live their lives in peace.  And live they did! Working within the boundaries of what the men considered acceptable behavior, the women went about the business of running the home, raising the kids, and finding whatever fun and happiness they could find along the way. To make that happen, they had to work together, because someone has to watch the children and make sure the chores get done.   Because this arrangement among women is such an integral part of their culture, Spanish people have a word for it;  each of them is comadre to the others; she is co-mother.

Although I like the image that the word comadre conveys, none of our people speak Spanish, and I don't really want to set myself up to have to explain it every time someone calls me that.  There's got to be a better way to express it.  When I Googled comadre to find synonyms, I came across the beautiful word madrina, which means godmother.  I can't believe I forgot that word.  It's enchanting, like out of a fairy tale.  

Hmm, I think that's it.  I will be the madrina:  the Fairy Godmother who lives in the basement.  I can work with that.  After all, I'm already the laundry fairy.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Dream Deferred

by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Town Beach
Naples, Maine
4th of July, 2011
Last week I left a secure, sensible job so that I could run off and live in the Maine woods for the summer.  It was a wild and reckless thing to do, I admit.  The impulse came over me one night as I was drifting off to sleep.  I immediately jumped out of bed to call my friend in Maine to ask her if I could move into her basement for the summer, and could she please find me a job?  A week later I had quit my job in Florida (to my boss's stunned amazement), left Infinity House in the charge of very capable caretakers, made the trek up I-95 with Brother Boy the Gypsy Cat, and was now selling T-shirts and souvenirs at Gazebo Tees on the Main Street Causeway in Naples, Maine.  Today, I'm writing this under a shady tree in the Maine Woods, blissfully happy.

I'm finally living a dream I've had for most of my life.  In my dream, I live in the Maine woods during the summer months, spending most of my days by the side of a lake. I always picture myself hiking in the woods, or spread out in a hammock under a shady tree,  reading a book.  In my dream I write, sing songs, and stare out at the rain over the water, blissfully serene.  Life is slow, and the air is cool and dry. I am healthy here.  In the winters of course, I'm lazing away in my hammock at Infinity House, my tropical hideaway on a sunny Florida beach.  It really is a beautiful dream!

It has always been one of those "some day" dreams, the kind that Langston Hughes calls a dream deferred ... postponed until a later, more sensible, time.  When my father used to talk about his dreams, he'd always start by saying, "When my ship comes in ..."   Like my father, I always have very sensible reasons why I have to put off the dream until "some day."  I enjoy the dreaming of it, but the doing of it always gets deferred until some future day when other, more important, matters have been handled.

This year, when summer rolled around and thoughts of Maine once again filled my head, it suddenly occurred to me that I could, if I wanted to, go to Maine right now. This year. This week, even. Yes, I had a job, but it didn't challenge me or leave me feeling fulfilled, and it barely paid the bills.  Couldn't I get a job like that just about anywhere?  Naples, Maine is a resort town, meaning that from the 4th of July to Labor Day all the tourist places are open and will be needing summer help during the very months I wanted to be there.  Suddenly it all seemed so simple.

Once I made the firm intention to move in the direction of my dream, opportunities began opening up for me.  It always happens like that.  Today, two weeks after the decision to make it happen, here I am in Maine with a place to stay, good friends, food to eat, a reliable car, Brother Boy the Gypsy Cat, and a job that pays my bills.    I'm living my dream!

What dreams have you deferred until "some day?"  Bring them out into the light and dust them off.  Instead of making lists of all the reasons why you think they're impossible, see if you can find six ways that you can make them happen right now?  Hint:  Money is really not as big of an issue as we tell ourselves it is.  It is merely one resource.

My father's ship never did come in; he trudged through life, weighed down with responsibilities, his un-lived dreams still locked away in his heart when he died.  He didn't realize that if he had once ever decided to accept the call of adventure and set out in search of his heart's desire, his ship would have instantly appeared on the shore, ready to carry him off.  

Where will your ship take you?

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The Alchemist:  Follow Your Dreams

Follow Your Bliss