Note Of The Day…

“My mother… she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.”  – Jodi Picoult

My mom was just that, soft and nurturing,  yet small and oh so mighty.  We went toe-to-toe in my childhood and adolescence – my strong will matched so completely by her inner strength; a power that I suspect she never quite fully realized.  It’s what I channel to this day as a mother of my own mini me.

To grow old and be like her would be an honor.

My mother lived what unconditional love looks like; she was forever my number one champion and the evening she quietly slipped to the other side marks a most striking contrast; a before-and-after moment in my life, unparalleled by nothing other than the birth of my own child. The stories I could share to make this clear are endless. My mother knew me in ways I am still yet realizing. She saw me in a way I can’t even quite yet, standing here in the middle point of my life.  She accepted me despite my many attempts to push her back, because I always needed one more test to know that she really and truly was always going to love me.

She always passed.

Today marks the day she left our world, sixteen years ago.  There will come a day, when I will know more years without her than I do with her, but thankfully we are not there yet. Even if so, her essence, her spirit really, is etched deep within; she is part of me. If life is aligned as it should be, we do not forget our mothers, and I think that we never stop needing them. At least I don’t, and in fact, the older I get, the more I realize just how much I need her. I wasn’t yet a mother myself when she passed on, and it’s my deepest sadness that we didn’t get to share this profound part of our lives.

Anticipating this milestone, I have been thinking of her more than usual, if that’s possible. Not too long ago, I unearthed a box of old journals – a Pandora’s box of memory and emotion.

In the box, I found – among so much else – something I wrote in October of 1995, while taking a creative writing class. It reveals, and reminds me of an exquisite part of her character, her everyday presence. That look between us in our photo above.  Her gift of constancy; I always knew I was at the top of mind for her.  What I wrote 19 yrs ago  – which turned out to be exactly two years before we started to say our goodbyes, my memorial to a most gracious soul  – is really my post for today.

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Here’s to you mom,

you are missed

in every way,

in my every day.

xo

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Fluency

Leaving work one late afternoon, I was happy to find myself walking out to my car at the same time as one of my favorite women on our faculty. She and I enjoy a camaraderie in the midst of an organizationally challenged workplace, an ability to banter easily and we always manage to share a few gripes about the ol’ establishment and the shortcomings of it’s leadership and yet walk away still laughing and feeling buoyed by the other. This is not one of those friendships that takes place over  long lunches, streams of texting or for that matter, even frequent sightings. But when we do bump into each other, there is always a seemingly mutual happiness at our seemingly chance encounter (as chance as it can get when we work in the same place!).  And that day we ended up having what I decided was a conversational event that left me thinking…

…I’ve always wanted to speak more than one language; but it eludes me; not finding me a worthy companion.  I must accept the fact that Rosetta Stone and I will never be tight.

Sigh.

Let me explain.

I stare at my shampoo bottle every morning, willing myself to understand even a smidge of French by trying to translate the directions for shampooing from English to French, reading the ‘faites…rincez…repetez’ – over and over and over. All I have learned is that oui, it is true, moi will most likely never (I know, never say never) speak French, unless ordering a croissant should ever count.

Despite the fact that I grew up in a community where Spanish was spoken as much or more as English, I no habla Español. Well, I suppose you could say  I speak just un poquito, enough to ask for the el baño or more importantly, for more muy grande margaritas. The important things.

Perhaps I should take into account the Pig Latin I spoke fluently as a child, used fervently to pass notes to friends seated a row or two away or surreptitiously in the transition from recess to math. All the while under the misguided belief that we were the first to invent this language and that our teachers ad-Hay o-Nay ue-CLay   at-WHay e-Way ere-Way aying-Say!

And I cannot forget the sign language I learned so that I could teach it to my son in his infant and toddler days, so that he would have words before he had well, words. So that he could tell me he needed more milk, or that he wanted me to read him a story, without the need for tears or tantrums. Those happened too, of course, but for reasons far more dramatic and upsetting; like a toy being beyond reach or the commencement of the ever ill-fated nap-time.

And while Rosetta Stone and I will never be BFF’s, I should disclose that I am quite fluent in Fours, four letter words. I have to remind folks of this at times, of course, when an unnecessary apology follows closely on the heels of an exceedingly necessary expletive. They apologize as if speaking in the French I do not know and would not comprehend, and I must remind them that oh hell yes, I do understand how freaking shitty the whole effed up mess really is. I have to admit, I keep a stash of f-bombs handy, (I didn’t want to waste one back there, the situation didn’t really call for it…) you never know when one will be needed. What I don’t understand is why these ‘apologizers’ always ask me to pardon their French. I clearly do not understand French if I can’t decipher the simple instructions for lather, rinse and repeat on my shampoo bottle but that does not translate to not being able to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. So, feel free to speak in Fours to me, but if you speak in French I will be waiting for the croissant…

I am also fluent in the lingo known as texting, tagging, and tweeting; hashtags, likes, posts and shares.  Emails can be exceedingly exquisite, and when needed, extremely efficient, and my fingers usually cannot keep up with my mind, but we work it out and get the point across.

So while I am perhaps ‘multi-lingual’ in unconventional ways and can, with confidence, order a margarita por favor, tell you something is full of it-shay, sign with a baby and tweet like a bird, the language I love the most – while not one bit musician – is the one that feels like a melody to me. A melody that as easily finds itself in the low notes as it does the high notes. It is the language where in one moment we connect with another – whether new friend or ancient confidant – at a level just below the surface, at that place where words are almost not necessary and in the next,  laugh together at the silliest so-funny-you-had-to-be-there-belly-laugh-kind-of-way thing and then in one swift moment, go back to that other place.  In a dolphin-like way of dancing between the depths and then resurfacing  –  gracefully, playfully, effortlessly.

Like the day my colleague and I walked our to our cars together and in one breath, almost without words, we were talking about and completely understood the other’s pain of losing our mothers far too early in life, the grief, what it’s been like in the motherless years since, and then in the next moment found ourselves in a fit of giggles at the hilarity of an astonishingly messy trunk and not wanting the other to see this side of her otherwise always professional presence.  And then we were back to our mothers. And then the damned trunk. And then the grief. Just like a dolphin. But also like a song, the two parts harmonized and resulted in something much more than if each part were sung as a solo. I emailed her the next day and said,

“You, and that ‘conversational event’ we had in the parking lot yesterday?  That made my day”.

She wrote back and said,

“Me too.”

Like the reconnecting of friends who have now known each other longer than not, who find themselves in the same zip code, finally, for but one day, and fluidly, naturally, swiftly move between sharing the profound moments in their far away lives and being profoundly silly.

Like the quiet between friends when words are not necessary to communicate the importance of the other.

Or the unexpected, but welcome, free, affirming exchange of emails, posts and comments between friends, while new to each another feel old as days, where there is ease in the acknowledgement of affection, appreciation, admiration yet allowing vulnerability sight unseen, punctuated at each turn with an easy laugh and  a carefree silliness.

Now we’re talking.

Yeah, that’s a language I understand, I recognize.  Hands down, in friendships – from newly planted to beautiful old vines – when the ace of hearts is played, I have gratitude in spades.  Rosetta, it appears I may not need you after all. But, I still want the croissant and the margarita.

 

Learning to Fly

Yesterday, I got the news that one of the students, a very recent alum, who worked on one of my student teams just over a year ago, lost her battle trying to survive a tragic, life threatening accident. She was just 21, and on the eve of her upcoming  22nd birthday.  On the eve of the rest of her life, really. She was born in the year I began my career working with college students, and as I have said before, irony rarely skips past me.

When I hired her, for a leadership position, I knew within seconds of meeting her that she was a perfect fit for the team I was assembling that year. She was vivacious, articulate, enthusiastic and she wanted the job. All the things you look for. But she was more, you could just see it in her eyes. She was bright, she was positive, she was wise beyond her years. She radiated a joy and had an appreciation for life that most of us don’t wake up and completely understand until we hit life mid-stride.  A thrill seeker, she was always training for something, always found time to go out to support one of the other students on our team who was a star runner on the university’s track team. She had faith in me, her-more-than-twice-her-age-old-enough-to-be-her-mother-boss, when I signed up for my first boot-camp training group. She left notes for everyone around the office with affirming messages, brought in goodies at various holidays and despite challenging personal situations we knew she was dealing with, her attitude and ability to nurture others never wavered. She was the perfect mentor to the younger students she was responsible for helping and welcoming to our department.

This beautiful young woman was passionate about living every bit of her life, she loved the outdoors and was constantly pushing herself in the pursuit of every goal she set for herself. What is so perfectly unfair is that she lost her life as a result of a tragic accident, doing exactly what she adored. She was an ‘adventurist’ and while participating in a jeep-crawling event up in the high Sierra mountains, her jeep turned and she suffered burns over the majority of her body and other life altering injuries. She faced months in recovery and a long road to healing if she could pull through the hardest part.

In my work, I am used to saying goodbye; the people I work to ‘serve’ are supposed to leave!  I have often commented that it’s the perpetual preparation for parenthood, we send these students off into the world year after year, it’s what is supposed to happen if we are doing our jobs well. With every hello, comes more goodbyes, and it’s always hard to say farewell, especially to the ones we see every day. But because it is part of the landscape, we celebrate their leaving with great joy. But, as good as I am at these goodbyes, and despite all my years of  ‘practice’, nothing can prepare you for this kind of goodbye.

What paints the prettiest picture of Rachel, better than I could do with any words, is that within mere days, her family and friends had formed a foundation in her name to help pay for medical expenses,  raised over $20,000 in just over a week with efforts that were ongoing until the day she said goodbye, and established a Facebook page that gathered over 3,000 people within days, and ultimately, 5,000. This kind of response is incredible and speaks volumes about this young lady and the countless lives she has blessed with her resilience, her energy, her undying love of life and her ability to truly see each person. It has given me pause, stopped me in my tracks, to contemplate the kind of young person who generates that kind of response. Within minutes of learning about her accident and the outpouring of love and support, all I could think of is how much I, we, have to learn from someone like her. How she lived, really lived, her life. The small ways that she made those around her feel big. People all around her were only giving back the very thing she had given to each of them at some point, all along or somewhere in between.

To be just a fraction of that…

On my most recent road trip stop to meet Mimi and her Karma Truck, I learned that we share the love of some of the same music, and the song I selected for that part of my ‘trip’ speaks about going whichever way the wind blows you, being out on the open road.  It was only after discovering this song and playing it while ‘driving along’, so to speak, did I learn  the story of the artist, Melody Gardot, a contemporary of Rachel:

…The story of vocalist Melody Gardot is as remarkable as any who perseveres against abject adversity. Born in New Jersey in 1985, she took up piano and played as a youngster on the nightclub scene of Philadelphia, influenced by jazz, folk, rock, and pop music. At age 19 she was a fashion student at the Community College of Philadelphia. But, on a fateful day, while riding her bicycle, the driver of a Jeep made an illegal turn, hurdling into Gardot and leaving her in the street for dead. As she lay hospitalized for months with multiple head injuries and pelvic fractures, her love for music was the best therapy she could receive. While in her hospital bed, she wrote and recorded songs…

Well, maybe your wing may be broken

Well, maybe you’re learning to fly

Well, so am I

Finding your way out on the open road.

I feel inadequate to capture this unexpected paradox of two young lives; both incomprehensibly altered by a jeep, but yet, somehow, I am in the same breath, heartened by this odd, inexplicable cosmic kind of overlap, something that I clearly am struggling to find words for and can only feel at some level.

Rachel :: little lamb, one with purity | Amalia :: industrious, strong

Perhaps, I just want to know that Rachel is not just a bright shiny star, beaming down upon all who love her and who now feel a void once filled by her vibrant self. That she is not just looking out for all of us, sending her love notes and bright smile, but that somehow, someone is there, helping her learn to fly, helping her find her way out on the open road.

Treasury Thursday :: live with joy…today

I chose my own theme this week for Treasury Thursday…it was easy and an obvious choice for me.  Last week I shared that my boss. a wonderful man, died unexpectedly and suddenly on Friday. It seems impossible that this is true; he was just there. He just sent me an email, I just saw him….

When we lose someone this way, so suddenly, it’s like a trick is being played on us; our brains simply cannot comprehend or process the sudden absence. But as it slowly begins to sink in, it becomes so clear –  what we love or admire about the person, who has suddenly vanished from our every day.  We start to examine our own lives and the obvious fact of how the small moments are really the most important, and say the most about the person we really are. We take stock and in a way, re-align ourselves.  Especially when a really really good person is gone. Not that all people are not good, it’s just that some people are really really good.

I will miss the man that I was lucky to call my boss. He was so many things, but at the top of the list are things like compassionate, understanding, honest; supportive. He was kind, funny, good hearted and knew how to enjoy his life. And generous, he was generous in a way that many people aren’t these days. Working with and for him was a joy; he understood the way I work. He appreciated my creativity and encouraged me. We shared the craziest sense of humor.  Meetings with him always took way more time than scheduled; we’d get so off track. We shared the sadness of losing our moms on almost the same day, just years apart.  He supported me as a working mom; I never had to worry when I needed time to be with my kiddo for school functions or a sick day. I knew that he knew that family always comes first.

I liked him. I respected him. I trusted him.

I will miss him.

I do miss him.

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{ let’s celebrate our amazing life }

Friday Foto :: everlasting

Today’s photo is significant for two reasons…yesterday my husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, so this image of an older couple gazing off into a gorgeous lakeside sunset just seemed to fit so well. Imagine all the sunsets they have seen together; all the joys and challenges; the secrets shared,  the misunderstandings, the inside jokes and shared memories. And the love.  It seems everlasting when you see the two of them sitting side by side.

And a second, much sadder reason. My boss  died this morning; and it’s such a loss for our professional community, and for me. He was a generous, personable, trusting man; always ready with a laugh and we shared the same sarcastic sense of humor. It was a joy to work with him for many years and he will be so very missed.

 It’s a reminder to keep our loved ones close, give that extra hug and to remember that it’s these quiet moments with each other that mean the most.

{ i hope you hug someone today }

What a Lady

I am taking a little personal side trip; a detour of sorts.  Today’s post will be short, simple and hopefully more sweet than sad, but some tissues may be needed.  14 years ago today my mom left this world after a short but fierce battle with cancer.  My brother came across this photo of her not too long ago and sent it to me; I was so glad and couldn’t believe that in all the years, I had never seen this particular image of my mother. I wish I knew how old she was here, but I am guessing mid-to-late 30’s.  Not too long before, but definitely before she would become my mama. Isn’t she stunning?

Bernice is/was her name; and wow, what a truly spectacular lady! I am biased, obviously, but ask anyone who knew her and you would get the same response.  Wise beyond her era; ever insightful; strong and gentle. Patient.Prayerful. Powerful.  The original listener. She was my biggest fan and that job is difficult to fill; truly unconditional love is hard to come by.  About three years after her passing, I had the opportunity to spend a few days alone in a quiet, beautiful location. Prior to that, I had found this book, or rather I think it  found me. It practically jumped off the shelf into my hand the day I bought it, but it took me three+ years before I would feel ready to crack the cover.

So, I spent three days among the redwoods, just me and this book.  What I loved about it most was the way the author Hope Edelman approached the issue of mother loss; she “explores the myriad ways that losing a mother can affect almost every aspect and passage of a woman’s life.”  Having experienced the loss of her own mother at a young age, she found that not much had been written about this and felt there was a void in the literature that needed to be filled. She focused her compassionate work on the examination of the stages of a woman’s life at all the most critical junctures; infancy, childhood, teens, young adult, early 30s’s, and so on.  She researched the life stage developmental tasks being mastered along that continuum and then examined the impact of the loss of the mother at those crossroads, and the resulting impact of the loss as the girl/woman progresses through life. To do this, she interviewed hundreds of women whose stories literally grace the pages.

Those three days alone were transformative; I was {too} young to lose her; and  found myself on the pages in a way I hadn’t expected.  Needless to say, I was exhausted, depleted, drained, after those days, but more importantly, that is when the healing process started to begin. Don’t get me wrong,  I miss her like crazy, and to this day, 14 years later, it can still feel like it was yesterday.  But those days with trees and words and pages and stories marked an important turning point.

Before my time concluded, I found myself reflecting on how much I had learned from my mom; that I wanted to capture and celebrate. Things that naturally I fought with her about while growing up; rolled my eyes at more than once and tried to get out of more than once. I wrote on the back cover of the book all that came to my mind that day and filled it edge to edge.  While still needing her in my life; I knew that she had left me with so much grace and wisdom; and not to mention, some really practical stuff too!  🙂

So, today, I celebrate the lovely lady I knew as my mom; all that she taught me and all that she was. I have often said, if I could be even just half the woman she was, I would be quite a woman.  Miss ya mom!

{ Off to find a tissue…Id love to hear about something you are glad your mama has taught you }