A week or so ago I scrawled this on the bike path at a park near our house.
You know the saying, you put out in the world, the messages you most need to hear. Yeah, well, this one had my name all over it.
For years, I have been a cheerleader for everyone else’s dreams. I have silently dreamed mine up, blew them like kisses out to the Universe but I never expected them to come true. Dreams becoming real, well, that was for “other people”, not for me.
For years I have had a persistent story about bounty and abundance being for “other people”. I relished and loved being a witness to other people’s greatest joys unfolding. I felt it was such a gift to be a dreaming midwife–to hold the space so others could birth their very magical dreams. I felt grateful for that place but I never once really imagined that the big dreams could be mine.
I could spend hours unproductively and painfully pulling apart where this story came from but my point is that I am ready for that story to go. it’s been a little bit hard to get there. See, this story protected me for so many years, kept me from taking risks I wasn’t yet ready to take. It kept me safe and secure in a world who’s logic I understood. Telling myself that dreams were for other people meant that I didn’t have to do too much trusting, that I didn’t have to take the big risks, the ones that leave you with egg dripping off your nose or sprawled out on the floor figuratively bleeding. That story let me be right about so many things, especially about the futility of trying something scary and so it kept me from being too vulnerable. I spent this week, often in tears, saying good bye to that story of mine and feeling terrified and naked and a little bit raw without her.
I have another story that I have been wishing farewell. A story that goes something like this: “Before you leap, have all your ducks in a row.” I am the queen of setting up those ducks. I am a queen of making sure that every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed. I am the queen of taking calculated risks with very probable chances of success. I used to set up my ducks and then take those very carefully calibrated risks and call it courage. Up until this week, I had a whole long list of things I needed before I could lean into my dreams: financial security, a partner to support me, health, happiness, inner peace. Each of these things seem as far away as they have ever been, elusive preconditions. And I realized that setting up ducks is really just a gigantic stalling tactic.
That “ducks in a row” story is really the twin sister of the “other people” story. Its a story that lets me off the hook. Its the story that tells me its Ok to give up. Its the story that tells me that its safer to sit back and watch and blame circumstance. Its the story that keeps me from really feeling my fear and pushing through her.
Its time to let those stories go. For the last several years I have been practicing for this very moment. I have been saying yes to improbable and crazy things. I have been practicing being a beginner. I have been practicing failing and starting again.
I am ready to start dusting off some of those long cherished dreams and (baby step by tiny baby step) to manifest them without any promise that it will go swimmingly. In fact, it is quite likely that it will all be one gigantic mess, or maybe a huge miserable disappointment, or perhaps just a anticlimactic fizzle out. But truth be told, I am so very ready to stop wishing for these dreams. I am so ready to stop wondering what it feels like to be “other people”. Instead I want to take action, to simply lean into the action of my life and see where those steps take me. Maybe if I can take a step they will take me where I dream of going. Maybe they will simply take me somewhere else interesting. In any case they will teach me courage. Of that I am sure.
Don’t worry mom, I’m not doing anything unsafe here. But I am taking steps that scare me, that I never thought I would take, without any promise, shoot without any hope, of success. These steps might make a more courageous person laugh for but for me they are big.
Watch me now, friends, lets see what happens when I leap.
I am in the process of doing a lot of dreaming these days. Leaning into long cherished visions of how I always wanted to live, wondering if it is at all possible to let go and really leap. I don’t know if I am standing on the edge of breakthroughs or breakdowns but it can get a little hairy sometimes.
At these moments, when all seems like my life is both breaking open and welded impossibly shut, I have these primal practices that I do to settle myself. I do laundry. I light candles. I make chai tea and breathe in the sweet spicy goodness that is warmth and comfort. I clean closets or sweep the floors. And then, I dance.
I often dance alone to music turned up way loud. Lately, however, there is another way. I am blessed that I have stumbled into a community of musicians who find each other on the weekends. A good Saturday night is a circle of guitars, a bass, a mandolin, a harmonica, maybe a fiddle or viola, some drums and if we are lucky a keyboard or peddle steel. And me, in the corner, dancing.
And it is here, that I touch the edges of that dream life I have always wanted, a life filled with music and authenticity. A life built around a community doing what they love, creating something out of nothing. It is here that I know that all that I ever dreamed of is unfolding, however slowly.
I wonder if they know, these musician friends of mine, how I delight in them. I wonder if they know how their play breaks me wide open in the most unexpected of ways. I wonder if they know how the sweetness of their voices opens up cracks, unsticks, unanchors and feeds me. Can they feel it is my laughter and hugs, the way I make my requests? Or do they simply just think I am their friend who comes to dance, nothing more? Does it matter? I don’t know. I don’t know.
Sometimes the music is transcendental. Sometimes it is just funny. Sometimes it is off, or no one can quite end the song. Sometimes it falls apart in laughter. Sometimes the harmonies don’t work out. Sometimes it just stops. These friends of mine are talented, each of them, but it is not their technical skill that matters. It is the joy, the silliness, the playfulness, the soul, the vulnerability and rawness that touches me. Do they know this? Does it matter? I don’t know. I don’t know.
When they play, the totality of joy and grief and goodness and love seems to unfold. My dance is the only response I can offer. They only thing I can do in the face of such beauty. The only way I know to honor the gift. My dance is my gratitude not only for them, but for my whole world, the good, the bad and the ugly. I am not sure they notice. Not sure, as they eye each other for cues on where to take the song, as they sneak their smokes in the garage, as they pour their tequila, as they move to and from the mic. My dance a gift to them, but is it? Do they receive it, take it in? Does it matter? I don’t know. I don’t know.
These friends of mine
They have lives
They work hard to live them right
And when they laugh it makes me high
They take a trip ten thousand miles
Before they fly…
And when the show is over, how I hope that they discover
The joy that they bring
And I hope that they remember
This bond we have together
And how they love to sing
This week I was cruising through my chores. My trip to Madrid had put me behind. I had so much to do. Several weeks worth of laundry had piled up and I had no work clothes. Max was running out of socks. In a burst of efficiency, I threw a load in and went up to make dinner. After homework and bath and bedtime I went down to move the clean clothes to the dryer. I put them in, turned the dial, hit the button…and then nothing. The dryer coughed a little. Strained a bit. But it would not spin. Incedulous, I tried again. And again. I checked plugs and connections and then, exhausted I gave up. A good nights sleep would do me well. I thought the same would be true for my dryer.
The next morning I was peppy. By the dryer still made the same cough. Still whined before growing silent.
We are on a very tight budget. I have practically no cushion for moments such as these. And sure enough, when I checked, other emergencies which had come earlier had eaten what little was left. I could not pay to have someone come and fix my dryer. Not now. It would have to wait.
This was not such a crisis. I delight in line dried clothes. They can be stiff perhaps but there is nothing like the smell of the outdoors, of the crisp air, on my shirts, my pajamas, my pillowcases. When Juan and I went to Mexico, I handwashed and line dried everything I brought with me on my last day and then rationed those clothes for months–breathing in the scent of a place I loved so much, a scent that did not come from mechanical dryers but from clothes hanging, swaying and drying in the Oaxacan breeze. I returned home from every trip with the intention of hanging a clothes line but each time convenience and lack of time got in my way.
This morning, as my anxious mind worried over bills, and dirty clothes and the impossibility of having time to wait for a repairman even if I could scrape together the cash, the simplest of solutions jumped to my brain. $10 for clothesline and clothes pins, sunshine and winter breezes, a reduced gas and electric bill, and sunshine infused clothes.
I recently read that Universe is always doing its best with what it has at its disposal. Always trying to arrange the moments, no matter how chaotic and sad and tragic for the best possible outcome. I could stomp my feet at our bad luck or I could hang a clothes line and delight in sundried clothes.
I chose the later.
What crazy, horrible, inconveniences have lead you to a place you always wanted to go? This wide eyed dreamer is searching and would love to hear your stories.
Grilled cheese is Max’s favorite food. I make it a lot and for any meal. Sometimes, what he wants most in the morning is toasty buttery bread with cheese. Who can blame him?
Max is also the pickiest of eaters. Potatoe bread, not whole wheat. Yellow American cheese, not swiss or cheddar. And real butter. Not margarine or bacon grease or olive oil.
So I go about making his sandwiches with love. I butter the bread. Use my cast-iron frying pan. Set the heat on the gas stove to 6 so as to not scorch the butter or bread. I layer on the cheese. Two slices–carefully arranged. Watch. Wait. Flip.
But I have learned that all these steps mean nothing if I miss one crucial ingredient. Attention. I have learned all too often that the difference between a perfectly grilled, brownish delight of toasty deliciousness and a blackened, overly crunchy sandwich that needs to be scraped is just a short breath. All too often, I have attempted to multi-task my morning only to suddenly lift my head to the faint whifs of smoke, the sizzling sound that tells me the sandwich has gone too far.
The art of making a perfectly grilled grilled cheese comes down to this: Paying Attention.
I can’t imagine a better lesson to remind myself of every morning.
I lay awake at night, I couldn’t sleep. The combination of cafe con leche, a late Spanish dinner, the time difference. The clock said it was 3am but I couldn’t sleep so instead I closed my eyes. Its unclear to me whether I really drifted off, of if I did if it was complete, but I know that 4 hours later I looked at the clock and it said it was 7am and I got up.
The in-between time was fascinating, interesting, magical, a gift. So many nights I have stayed awake fighting my mind as it turned over the past, dissected every last conversation, action. So many nights I have stayed awake driven by my mind’s insistence that if we review what happened just one more time we might understand it in a new way. So many nights I have stayed awake as my mind tortured me with the “what if…what’s next?” musings about the future.
But this night my mind was tired out by speaking Spanish, sated by sangria y jamon serrano. Blissfully my mind just did not show up.
Instead I listened to the traffic, to the people in the hallway speaking French. I didn’t know what they were saying so they couldn’t take me with them as their argument or simply loud conversation moved down the hall. Instead I felt the coolness of the sheets, the satin-y-ness of the bedspread. I felt warm with the blankets, chilled without them.
So this is a Spanish bed. This is a Spanish room. This is a Spanish click clack elevator next to my room. These are Spanish pillows under my head. I am in Spain. In Spain now. And it is all glorious.
It had to start here. In the city of brotherly love, where I first learned to love this game. Well, technically to be accurate, I learned to love the game in a New Jersey suburb, sprawled out on the floor, watching a team with my very big kid neighbor John and my mother who would tell me, “Only God saves more than Bernie Parent”
It had to start here in the city of brotherly love, because my brother does love this team so. He loves them because he was born here or at least born nearby. He loves them because he spent so many of his highschool and college years here too.
It had to start here, because there is no other team that Max and I love to hate more than the Philadelphia Flyers. It started with my childhood realization that the “Broad Street Bullies” were just that–bullies. It intensified when these Flyers knocked our beloved Caps out of the playoffs in overtime in game 7 in 2008.
We had to start here because here is in fact, where it all started.
So, after Max’s karate on Saturday, we threw our bags in the car, hooked up the i-pod to the car stereo and set off across a frozen tundra called I-95 to make a trek north to Philadelphia for our first stop on the “Great Hockey Road Trip”. We were going to see the Flyers play Tampa Bay Lightening.
To be honest, neither Max nor I were excited to see the Flyers play the Bolts. Really, ‘ what we wanted more than anything was to kick off our trip by watching our boys in Red squash those Flyers. We wanted to stand proud and red and feel the wrath of Philly fans as our guys scored goal after goal and we chanted C-A-P-S…Caps, Caps, Caps. But, as luck would have it, we had a conflict every time those Caps played Philadelphia and after a bit of discussion we decided the point WAS to see the Flyers at home and the tickets were cheap and why not? Sometimes the only way forward is just to go.
So go we did. I booked us a hotel room in walking distance to the mighty Wachovia Center, there on Broad Street, next to the old Spectrum. I filled our itinerary with plans to visit the Franklin Institute, the Mummer’s Museum, other places from my childhood. But as we pulled into South Philly, Max had a request. “Mom–can we make this trip all about the game and skip that other stuff?” It was as though he had read my mind. A late-ish start combined with an agenda that was way overpacked was beginning to stress me out. The other wonders of Philadelphia could keep for a warm summer getaway. This wintery weekend was about one thing–hockey–and we would stay in South Philly.
To top it off, Max is at an age where nothing is more exciting than a hotel room. Even a shabby one like this Holiday Inn. A giant bed that faces a TV with movies on demand. Pure bliss to this 8 year old. So we cuddled up and rented Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs while we practiced our Tampa Bay chants and looked at the hotel restaurant menu.
We started to walk over to the arena at 5:30. The wind was bitter cold, numbed our legs and stung our ears. But every block held a wonder. All of Philadelphia’s sports teams play in this South Philly neighborhood–it is a big playground of gigantic playing fields and parking lots. The walk to Wachovia took us past Citizen’s Bank Baseball Field, Lincoln Financial Field where the Eagles play, the old Spectrum.
Max had heard stories about Flyer fans. The legends told of rough and tumble men who would throw beer at you for routing on the away team. He wrestled about whether he would stand and scream his support when Tampa Bay scored or whether he would just cheer from his seat. He decided to stand and made a plan for how he would react when the inevitable barage of beer and hotdogs rained down on him. He told me he would stand and face the perpetrators with his arms spread out and yell…”Show some class will you–I hate the Rangers too!” He was in for a full experience of Philly fans he explained.
We were not disappointed. When we took our seats we found ourselves surrounded by die hards. Two grizzly season ticket holders to our right, a women’s hockey team behind us. In front of us was a row of 4 women who all wore signed jerseys and talked about a young prospect as though they were his family. And at last, as the game started, two huge, 20-something guys, exactly like the guys Max had heard legends about, sat to our left. They had thick accents. They carried multiple beers. They were serious about the Flyers. They started talking to us and didn’t stop. Max didn’t find them scary, as he thought he might. He found enchanting. They made him laugh. They were polite and apologized to me for swearing. They talked to Max about the players. They assumed we were all family. Before we knew it we were yucking it up with the whole lot.
And then, in the second period, Tampa Bay scored. You could hear a pin drop in the arena and so when Max jumped up and screamed, “Wahoo” our new friends noticed.
One of the women’s ice hockey team members was the only one who spoke.
Max did not experience a rain of beer or hotdogs as he imagined. He was not boo-ed. He wasn’t even treated unkindly. His new friends were simply surprised and stunned into silence. They had no idea he was supporting a different team. He was crushed though, thinking that he might disappoint them. He buried his head in my shoulder for a minute.
And then he spoke. “Mom,” he said, “Do you think maybe we should cheer for Philadelphia?” We had an emergency conference. I didn’t want him to feel pressured to switch sides for the love of strangers, even for the love of me, but on the other hand–we were in Philly and maybe this was a teachable moment about trying out new things.
“I think we should do what you want to do, sweet boy” I said, wanting to support him. But he was clearly confused. “I don’t know what to do, Mom. I want YOUR opinion.”
“Well,” I said. “On the one hand, I am proud of you for standing up even though you were all alone. That took guts. If you want to keep cheering for Tampa, I will cheer with you. On the other hand, truth is, we don’t really like Tampa. We are only cheering for them because they are NOT the Flyers. Maybe that’s a good enough reason, but you know, it might be kind of fun to try out what it feels like to be a Flyer fan. I mean…this might be our only chance. We could shift perspective and see how it feels to cheer for the orange, what it feels like to be a Philly fan here in Philadelphia. It could be good for us to see life from the other side. Just this once.”
“Well…I do like Mike Richards…” Max said. He was conflicted but intrigued. Maybe we could try it on–see the world from the perspective of the hated Flyers. We could go back tomorrow. Or maybe we would cross over into a murky world where all sides are just illusions anyway.
“You see…” he explained to his new found friends from Philly, “I am from Washington. I am a Caps fan.” They all looked a little pained but nodded. “Truth is,” he admitted boldly, “I really am not a fan of the Flyers. Especially after the 2008 playoffs.” His friends nodded sympathetically again. “But I think,” he said, “that I can be a fan just for tonight.”
Philly scored twice more that game. Max jumped up and high fived every one around us, hooted, hollered and sang. He even got beer spilled on him. He had the full Philly fan experience.
As we dashed back across the parking lot to the hotel I asked him, “What was it like to be a FLYER fan tonight?”
“You know Mom,” he said, “It wasn’t all that different. Just being a fan.”
“And does this change how you feel about the Flyers, babe?”
“Not one bit–but it changes the way I think about Flyers fans. They are nice–even if they are rowdy. I guess we are not all that different. Just fans lovin’ the game…”
At that moment I knew, every penny I spent on tickets, on the hotel, on the Mike Richards T-shirt was worth its weight in gold for the lesson of walking in someone else’s shoes…or skating in someone else’s skates.
For the last several years, it has been my New Year’s ritual. Encouraged by the lovely Jen Lemen, I pick just one word to be my anthem for the coming year. Its a word that holds in it all the boundless possibility of 365 fresh clean days ahead. Its a word to whisper to myself as I wake up. A word to help me channel what my heart needs, a touchpoint to keep it front and center.
In 2007, as I was recovering from the break-up of my marriage, my word was RENEWAL. In 2008, as I moved forward beyond that crisis my word was BLOSSOM. Last year, as I began the process of a strangely beautiful, challenging inner journey I chose the word TRUST. In all these cases, I found that the year magically delivered the lessons, experiences and opportunities that allowed me to sink into that word. These experiences did not always present as I imagined they might, but they unfolded perfectly nonetheless. My word becomes a prayer, a mantra, a device that immediately allows me to access deep wisdom and cherished dreams.
My experience with my one word has been so powerful that choosing it this year felt both thrilling and terrifying. But a word, is just that, a word. It is not magical alone. It is my awareness, my love, my action in its name that makes it so.
Nevertheless, at the end of last year, I sat in a driveway with the same friend who gave me this exercise, fretting over an appropriate choice. I told her that this year I needed to learn about ease, not the kind of ease that is associated with lying around eating chocolate while someone else cleans, but the ease that comes from grace, lack of resistance and effortless motion. I wanted to glide through the next year, instead of the “stumble stumble trip” sort of hike that many of my adventures have resembled. This is the year I want to learn to get out of my own way and see what develops when I drop my fears and excuses. This is the year I want to learn to stop assuming everything will be an uphill battle and to enjoy what unfolds effortlessly when I let me be me.
She barely missed a beat. SKATE.
I am a bit wobbly on skates. Once upon a time I knew how to glide about, but now I can be tentative and restrained at the rink. Old bones, many years away from the ice, they have all made me a bit wary. Max skates circles around me while I take frequent breaks to rest my weary ankles. I wondered if this word would really do. Sure, SKATE speaks of speed and grace and forward motion–but for others, not for me!
But then I remembered something that happened last February when Max and I went to New Hampshire. My friend Marcy loaned me her hockey equipment and we took to a frozen pond for a pick up game with our boys. I skated on hockey skates for the first time in my life. I tripped and fell and then I started to try things I hadn’t ever tried before because with all that padding, the fear had gone away. It was silly and glorious and while it didn’t transform me as a skater I learned enough that it changed how I approached the rink next time. Looking back on it, that Sunday afternoon was one of the most joyful, light and spirited days of my year. It was a day of laughter, of learning and of –yes–ease. That feeling was exactly what I was searching for this year. That bright blue Sunday afternoon feeling, when the feeling of grace and possibilty came my way, when falling stopped phasing me but instead became a teacher and trying became doing.
Skate is a word that speaks to me of letting go. Skate speaks to me of childhood, and crystal blue skies and forward motion. Skate speaks of speed and abandon and laughter.
So SKATE, I choose you as my word. I welcome you in and hope you bring a sense of ease, grace, fluidity. I know you will bring falls, and bumps, but I will remember they are teachers and like my hockey suited self, I will bounced up from them unharmed. In fact, they will make me laugh. I look forward to gliding along and seeing where we go together, you and I.
Now, you, tell me…What is your word for 2010? What do you wish to welcome in to your year?