Why I’m Calling This Child Hope.

My dog’s a kid magnet. So, one neighbor girl has been hanging around uninvited since the day I moved into my sister’s place four years ago.

This three-year-old little girl and her ten-year-old brother came over to pet my Black Lab Phoenix, who was six, and almost as rambunctious as the kids.

They threw tennis balls for her with the Chuck-it while I fantasized about their parents coming to find them. (They never did. Like never.)

Long after the boy grew too cool for anything but basketball, his little sister still came around, mostly during the day when my sister was at work and I was busy writing the next Eat, Pray, Love.

Now, I’m going to call this child Hope. Her real name, sadly, sounds like another word for rejection. Like she got labelled even before she was able to knock on neighbors’ doors looking for friends. She had to work harder at that than the other girls.

Hope carried the look of different. She certainly hadn’t become accustomed to positive attention. She could only receive it in small bits, although she could hang in my home for over an hour on any given afternoon.

It’s funny how a kid can seduce you with, “Can I play with your dog?” if you did the same thing when you were a girl.

Like little Hope, I had to be taught some basic manners.

“You don’t just walk into people’s homes, honey,” I said, “You have to knock.”

I doubt anyone had to tell me this, as I did her: “Okay, so when you knock or ring the bell, if I don’t answer, you stop knocking and go away.”

“But,” Hope said, “I knew you were in there because I saw your car.”

“Yes, Hope, but sometimes people are home and they don’t answer the door because they’re busy doing something else, like taking a shower.”

“I know. That’s why I kept knocking—so you’d hear me.”

One neighbor said, “You just have to be stern and send her away. She knocks on everybody’s door trying to get someone to play with her.” As if it was a crime.

All the gossip couldn’t come up with a good reason why her parents’ parental practices didn’t line up with the norms of my cul-de-sac neighborhood.

The thing is, I was once that girl and nobody called me Hope.

So, in the early visits I gritted my teeth and tolerated the kid so many resisted.

As the weeks, months, and years passed, I couldn’t reason why no one had embraced her before.

Hope grew more confident and less irritating. She stopped following me when I took Phoenix for walks, insisting she was joining us.

The day she was locked out of her house because her brother was at basketball, her dad was at work, and she couldn’t find her mom, this frightened five-year-old found her way to my door. Her vulnerable voice shook as tears ran down her face.

I was as relieved to be home as she was to see me. She wrapped herself around me in a helpless child hug. In that moment, I was her adult.

Later that evening, she came back and apologized for bothering me. “You’re not a bother, Hope. You can come to me any time you need.”

I saw the shame release from her face.

Hope’s presence became a norm in my life—without any formal introduction to her parents (I tried) or real relationship other than designated neighbor.

After a while, Hope was assigned a sister from Big Brothers, Big Sisters. She eagerly awaited those visits.

One afternoon, Hope told me she met a “real author” at school and how cool she thought that was. I did, too. Then, she said his name: Jack Hanna.

She also told me about her friends at school and the kids she tended to get into arguments with.

She mentioned how on special mother-daughter days she got to go to the movies with her mom while her brother and dad did father-son activities.

Sometimes, Hope and I colored together. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t give her my dragonfly coloring book after I’d said yes to so many other things.

Hey, the girl needed some boundaries, and these were my dragonflies.

So, I made copies of some pages for her. She said, “That’s okay” and left them.

She spent countless afternoons at our kitchen table and on our deck chairs doing homework like the good, smart kid she is.

One day, Hope said, “Can I come in and talk to you?” She was seven, so grown-up compared to the tag-along three-year-old sister I met on day one.

“My mom and my brother and I are moving to an apartment and my dad, he’s moving to New Jersey. That’s where he spends a lot of time because that’s where he’s from, and also, it’s where his girlfriend lives. So, that’s it. My parents are getting divorced. There’s a lot of stuff to pack.”

“Okay,” I said. “How’s your mom doing?”

“She’s sad, but I think she’s kind of relieved. They’ve been fighting a lot.”

Years before, this bright young girl who no one wanted to listen to said, regarding my sister whose husband had recently passed, “She just seems so sad.”

Hope knew what sadness looked like in another’s eyes. I winced seeing it in hers, especially after I’d gotten so used to the light.

I asked Hope how she was feeling about her parents getting a divorce and about moving. She said, “I guess I’m both sad and happy. I’m going to have my own room.”

I flashed back to the awkward, lonely girl I once was, my neighbor Mary Ashby who let me knock on her door and “play with her dog,” which led to playing cards and drinking sweet tea, and how my parents divorce hit me when I was just 10.

Sometimes we do kind acts by overriding our resistant egos and our constant need for comfort and convenience.

Hope was inconvenient. At first, I found her hard to take.

However, by the time she came to say a brave-faced goodbye and it was likely I’d never see her again, she’d tattooed herself on my heart and left me hopeful.

Angel of Grief

“I now realize the Angel of Death would have to be God’s most tender and understanding angel, to be sent at such a significant, frightening moment.” ~ Marianne Williamson

Tried to hide in busyness,
Attempted to invite you in
At the appointed time, even
Determined to be done with you.

Until slapped straight.
You’re in control.

You’re not the minute
I thought you’d be,
Or the obstacle
I strived to surmount.

You’re not a season, like winter,
I thought I’d come to peace with.
You cannot be defined,
By me or others.

More than a visitor, as
Inappropriate as a stranger’s touch,
Deeper, you reach inside me
To places I hardly recognize.

Yet, you and I have been intimate
Many times over the years;
I find myself leaning into you,
Welcoming you to do

What you will with me.
You smash collisions of
Untouchable memories
Causing untold ache.

But, still…
Every breath with you
Conscious, clear, alive,
Trivial cannot touch me.

On my knees and
Simultaneously
Standing tall
Angel of Grief, you are not the Devil.

 

How to Endure the Darkness. #bloglikecrazy

“All not-good things in the world are transient, containing within themselves the seeds of their own destruction.” ~ Peace Pilgrim

Sometimes darkness comes upon me as strong as my brother’s fist when we were kids.

I remember times in my youth when I believed darkness was my destiny.

Darkness can be like claustrophobia; it’s only threatening until the release.

Finding my claustrophobia funny, an ex-husband used to lock me in our tiny half-bath. I took control back by hiding books under the sink. My panic dissolved when I dove into reading. Then, the door opened.

Now, I prepare for darkness with my candles: prayer, writing, yoga, music, movement, and occasionally conversation.

The greatest power is knowing darkness’ temporariness.

If you’ve been engulfed by the black night, I offer you the idea the light will return.

I can’t tell you when or how. Just consider the idea: This is temporary.

Say it and let it seep into your mind.

Sometimes, it can be a long, lonely night. I will not belittle your darkness.

I’ve tasted its bitterness and touched its sharp edges. But, I won’t pity you.

See, I believe we’re made for these moments because we’re capable and there’s something for us in the dark.

Sometimes, the strongest way to wrestle is to simply sit with gloom and allow it to pass through like a ghost.

While you endure, I send you a candle and my faith that you’ll find the light again.

Hold still. Let your aching heart rest.

Ego and others tell us to fight, as if we aren’t already trying hard enough or just need fresh affirmations.

Whatever works, but so many suggestions seem to come from people born with sparklers in their hands and music playing in their minds.

My birth certificate says I was born in morning, but I’ve danced with darkness since childhood.

Five decades in, she no longer scares me. She can’t slay me.

Darkness is a visitor. I give her the attention she deserves. I offer her tea and ask her what she knows.

I listen, aware of her tendency to tell tall tales and make fake new feel real.

And yet, like that really tough teacher, I’ve learned some of my biggest lessons from darkness.

I don’t pretend her away or allow darkness to highjack my identity.

I respect her when she arrives in my home, regardless of invitation.

Sometimes, like the friend who talks too much and keeps saying he’s leaving, darkness stays for what feels like forever.

I encourage her departure. I even hold the door open, but pushing her is like pushing the lid of a jack-in-the-box.

I now trust darkness’ temporariness. In this, I am strong.

I have faith in light’s return, as a child has faith her parents will come home to release the bad babysitter.

Until then, I trust myself to sit with darkness.

She will not manipulate me into choosing her; I’m attracted to the light.

Soon, darkness will walk out my door, dropping lessons as she goes.

Sweet light will make herself known again. Because she always does.

It’s My Birthday! Version 5.3. #bloglikecrazy

Fly free and happy beyond birthdays and across forever and we’ll meet now and then and when we wish, in the midst of the one celebration that never can end.” ~ Richard Bach 

It’s my birthday. “5.3, Icey!” I hear my deceased boyfriend say.

Yes, I’m 53. It’s a gift, I tell myself—trying to overcome my feelings with my mind.

I’ve already gotten 26 more of these celebrating days than my brother’s 27.

I’m three years shy of my mother’s whole life.

There was a time when their deaths made me dig in and live with fury.

I’m slower now, not old woman slow, but embodying acceptance that I’m not in control, trusting grace and allowing life to reveal itself.

You know, when I’m not comparing to those I marvel at and clinging to the sweet taste of yesterday (my beloved, aka The Fire!).

I’ve never been one to settle, but I find beauty in coming to peace with it all.

I’ve spent too many autumns of my life missing the colors while cursing the bitter winter I knew was coming.

The seasons are predictable, just not their intensity. Saying I want to be complete with my grief is wanting winter to end.

Spring will come, but there are often the surprise cold snaps after we’ve put our winter clothes away.

I’ve walked a thousand miles in grief’s shoes and I’ll walk a thousand more, because once I move into spring regarding the death of my beloved, another death of another loved one will arrive in my life—unless I go first, which I refuse.

So, I vow to live with the knowledge: people die. We know this. Yet, we resist.

Me? I’m going to live, eyes and heart open to all the seasons. I’ll grow old with grace and gratitude.

Today, I’ll sit back and laugh with my ladies. I’ll smile at babies and pet puppies. I’ll count on the sunset and let it caress my eyes. Heck, I might even dance on tables, just to prove I’ve still got my groove.

I’m still here. I breathe the breath of spring and find the delicious in everyday delights.

Life unfolds. Angels hold me, owning this space and time, infusing me with courage and refining my character.

There’s nothing to chase. I stand in this moment and allow memory to befriend me.

I smile with every drop of my flowing blood, picturing my beloved flexing in his bedroom on his final birthday: “5.8, Icey. Pretty good. What do you think—5.8?”

I thought he’d live longer. I thought he was the most handsome version of 5.8 ever created.

I love the way he saw himself and how he helped me see all of me with new eyes.

As my birthday dawns, I celebrate life’s rich hues. It’s been colorful and even when I can’t feel it, I hear him say, “It just keeps getting better.”

I lean into my belief: “5.3, Fire, what you think? Pretty good. It’s me: Icey 5.3.”

How I Pray for my Friend in the Meantime. #bloglikecrazy

“Being open to miracles is a discipline and an art.” ~ Marianne Williamson, The Law of Divine Compensation

Dear God,

This is a prayer for my friend. She’s lost her way and is starting to question.

Be her answer. Be her flashlight. Be her map.

Hold her hand through the dark.

Show her the way and reawaken her to what matters.

Let her know you didn’t forget her.

Unclench her clinging hands.

Free her from the burdens of her body and let her return to love—the love she had as a little girl, before she followed the rules and they broke her.

Take her heart to the time before she tried so hard and decided it was never enough, or she wasn’t worthy, before her subconscious kicked her to the curb and encouraged her to settle for less.

Give her a clean slate. Refresh her spirit. Present new opportunities she’s yet to imagine.

Whisper her soul’s song to her again.

Deliver the kind of connections which reflect back the picture of her you keep on your dresser.

Remind my friend what she calls mistakes merely prove her perfectly imperfect humanity and the arrangement she made with you so long ago.

Revive her passion with opportunities offering fulfillment and surprise and make her rise like she came here to do.

Let her feminine come out to dance and play. Brighten the light in her eyes.

Map out all that’s meant to be, and in the meantime, while she waits and hesitates, infuse her with patience.

One day she’ll arrive in that place on her path where she stands in awe and knows it was all worth it, but she’s not there yet.

Please, God and angels, meet her where she is.

Give her your omnipotent kiss.

Thank you.

Amen.

How I Negotiate with Grief. #bloglikecrazy

“A thousand times she has let go of grief, and it has returned to her a thousand more.” ~ Amy Weiss, Crescendo

I negotiate with grief. In the beginning, it was a heavy weight I committed to carry.

At six months, I thought she’d be lighter, or I’d be stronger. I vowed to keep walking.

First came the end of the calendar year in which my beloved died in March. Grief grounded me.

Surely, at the one year anniversary of his passing, I’d turn the page to something blank and hopeful.

But, grief had already written a pink slip on every day.

Now, it’s two years since the month I spent at his place when we delighted in magic moments and spinning memories I didn’t know I’d rely on to comfort me.

Presently, grief is lighter, like the sunlight on the fall leaves in his front yard, like the crisp morning air when I left his bed and pulled on his KISS robe as I let my dog out.

Grief is bright, like the moon the night we made love on his deck overlooking the river in the country, where I never wanted to live but now miss.

Grief is musical, like the blues he introduced me to and his deep, manly voice.

With time, grief’s become sweet, like the laughter we wrapped in intimacy and his chest holding my head as he stroked my hair.

Grief lingers. She doesn’t leave, although she’s done a little shape-shifting.

I know there will still be heavy days I can hardly stand under her weight.

But, today, I’m strong. I’ve negotiated well.

And grief, she’s beautiful, like his smile when he looked at me.

 

Let’s Restore Peace to the Playground of Life.

“When we turn on light, darkness disappears.” ~ Marianne Williamson

We want black and white, good and bad, light and dark. We want to choose sides, draw lines and know we’re right—in the church we’ve chosen, the political party we’re affiliated with, and the side of the law “our” people are on, as if DNA hasn’t exonerated hundreds of falsely convicted.

It takes courage to examine the gray.

Personally, I like to draw a line and call Donald Trump the devil. Maybe, but maybe he’s the wake-up call our society has served itself. Maybe there’s some good there.

That thought is quite a stretch for me, but I actually like trying to understand, even when I disagree with other sides. I’m curious how people come to their conclusions.

While I’m a thousand miles from sharing certain ideologies, I can sometimes see, stretching into openness, how someone arrived. Sometimes I can imagine maybe if I was born to those parents, with that DNA and raised in those circumstances, with their challenges (or wealth and opportunities), I might conclude things that given my particular path I can’t fathom.

Curiosity is a start. Not just what do you believe, but how did you get there?

Maybe if I understand another’s journey, I can simply honor—for them—the seductiveness of a philosophy that’s foreign to me.

And yet, this consideration scares me, due to the rhetoric and bullsh*t I like believe I’m immune to. How many of us like to think I’m smarter than that?

Well, I’ve seen intelligent women fall for deceiving men (and vice versa), smart businesspeople fail, and good family members and friends vote for a charlatan.

I myself have been manipulated, multiple times. Then, I awoke.

Things I believed in my 20s and 30s no longer serve me. That doesn’t mean I was wrong. I was on my path.

Maybe that’s the best I can do—respect each has a path and invite light on mine. What I can’t do is become so understanding of darkness I go there.

I cannot condone hate. I cannot stand idle to the fall of our democracy, to mistreatment of children, animals or marginalized groups.

But, maybe I can say, “Yes, I see you there” because people want to be seen. I see you in your darkness. I won’t make you defend it.

I hope and pray with everything I’ve got that I may shine light. Not me alone, but together with other women and men walking in the light.

The truth is I’m afraid of the dark: violence, anger, hatred, judgement, self-righteousness. Screaming is enough to shake my soul. I’m a peaceful warrior.

For so long, I’ve been walking the path of peace and believing that was enough. Now, it’s time to awaken the warrior and spread the light.

I’m little in a sea of opposing forces. But, still I swim here. I live here. I love here. Collectively, I’m part of a new path. I’m walking in spite of my fear.

Why show up at all? For one, I have a beautiful little niece named Madeline who’s dancing in the light of childhood and innocence. Life will teach her many hard things. My hope is she doesn’t have to grow up into a world welcoming her with proof that darkness prevails.

Second, my mother fought for women’s rights. I witnessed that fight and naively believed it had been mostly won. No, the baton has been passed. I’m called to continue.

Third, my stepmom marched for civil rights. Doesn’t the name say it all? What happened to civility?

We, as a country, have turned cruel. We’re not embodying the basic principles most parents teach their children—kindness, fairness, decency, respect, showing up, not being bullies.

My God, I saw a group of middle-aged adults engaging in fist fights at their children’s high school graduation, over someone saving seats. Really?!

This is the playground of life. Some swing on the swings happily oblivious.

But, there’s a bully beating others to a pulp while a crowd chants, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Someone runs to tell a teacher/leader, but they don’t want to jeopardize their comfort. So, they hang in the lounge pretending not to hear.

We must walk through the crowd of instigators and pull the bully off our democracy. We must say: Stop. That’s enough.

We don’t care who threw the first punch. We care about stopping the fight and restoring peace to the playground.

Sure, it’s more complicated than that. Or is it?