I don’t have a picture of him.
It was a simple enough assignment. Gather old photos of him for a collage at the restaurant, ones of him laughing, cracking a joke, the fishing rod in hand heading out to the boat, calling out over his shoulder, sitting on the dock with a cigar and a neat glass of tequila, watching the sun coming down, coming in with the kids, standing at the grill, loading the truck, playing light sabers with the little one. I looked through all the hundreds of photos I took over years of vacations together and there wasn’t even one. Not one of us watching the TV show about haunted New England lighthouses together. Not one of him bringing in the boat. Not one of him untangling a rod.
The only photos I have of him are in my mind, my memory. The moments when we were together we not the ones we photograph–they were the simple everyday moments, like when you pour a drink or flip a burger, or break open a lobster. Now I wish I had marked all those moments as spectacular–worthy of capturing on film for posterity. They were ordinary in the most extraordinary of ways. I wish I had photographed every one so that I could make a thousand collages, line the halls with them, one after another. See how he lived! He lived.
I think that even though I know that saving his image, freezing it on paper, would not have saved him from cancer.
My cousin Larry died a week ago after a short, intense and courageous fight. He was 43. He taught Max to fish and use a pocket knife. He fixed things that got broken and loved his daughter fiercely. He made me feel like a rock star whenever I made my guacamole. The way he gobbled up my guacamole healed thousands of tiny holes in my heart.
I don’t have a picture of him, but if I did, I can’t imagine that it would capture the brightness of his spirit, his gentle ferocity, his wry and quiet sense of humor. And knowing this, I know, I have everything I need.
In gratitude for having known him, I bow my head and lift one small glass of high end tequila poured neat and settle in to the crook of the couch and smile wryly. This is how he will live. This is how we all keep living.
I sometimes feel as though I am whipsawed between two polar opposites who war in my body, and my mind. The “responsible me” who makes choices based on what is “safe” or “smart” and “dreamer me” that is trying to push past my fear, take risks, be brave and who (if I listen to my gremlins) risks sending us to certain doom.
Truth is I am neither of those people. I am fiercely resilient and a problem solver and someone who can look at any situation and give you best and worst case scenarios in the time it takes to say my name. I am a planner and an implementer and a person who can see all sides of a situation with a clarity that is alarming. I can see into hearts with tenderness and know what frightens and gladdens you without needing to hear your whispers. But, when you do whisper, I cherish what you shared as though it were the secret to everything. I am not religious but I am deeply spiritual, even when (especially when) I seem to lose my faith. I have known deep pain, and real loss, and given myself over to the Universe time and time again, only to find a new way emerge out of what at times felt like an impossible tangle. Several times over I lost sleep desperately afraid that I would lose everything. Indeed, I have lost lots of things (more than I would like) but never myself. No, even though its been very dark at times, and I have stumbled and tripped and turned about in circles, I never lost hold of myself.
Let me tell you a little secret. I am both extraordinarily happy and flat out scared these days. Often both at the exact same time. The happiness and fear–well they stem from the same piece of news in my life. I am, as a single mom, with no other means of support and barely any savings, planning to head back to school to open up a new life that has been calling me.
It is a choice that will mean student debt and a reduced salary and a choice to stop climbing the career ladder that has for so long defined me. It means financial gymnastics and the end to luxuries like bookstores and movie theaters and take out food and new clothes and air conditioning (and who knows what else). It means the end of my own house as I take in a housemate and the end of saying “of course” to Max without thinking about what we give up. Its means thinking about the price of gas before dashing across town. Its a choice that may mean giving up on providing Max a solid chunk of change for college in exchange for teaching him about following his heart and doing what others might say is impossible.
It is also a choice that means embracing something that feels as natural to me as breathing–finally choosing a path that may at times be challenging but never is hard.
The fear shows up sometimes as that exhilarating kind of scared you get right before jumping out of an airplane or riding the latest roller coaster. Sometimes its a dark kind of scared, like you feel when all the lights have gone out and the snow is piled up and you think you might just never get out again. But then, when my mind stops and I can listen to the song of my life, there is a happiness, a contentment, a feeling of relief and peace that comes when I no longer thinking– just doing–taking steps, shuffling one foot in front of the others, knowing that slowly, slowly I am making my own life– not simply making do and dreaming of a way out–but making my own way.
I am making my way as I make my bed and I sit in meditation and take my vitamins and drink my water and eat my breakfast because I know that self-care is fundamental especially when going through transitions.
I am making my way as I make Max’s lunch and discuss what we learn from TV (good and bad), as I drive him to school and help him with homework and put medicine on his feet and read him to sleep because even though he and I are both changing and growing with dizzying speed, my love for him is the North Star, the one true constant in my life.
I am making my way as I make my train, make appointments, make my meetings, make conversation, make eye contact because I know the most important way (perhaps the only way) that I make a difference is simply by showing up.
And yes, I am making (and remaking) budgets, making choices, making phone calls, making proposals, because this forward moving action, however slow or small, is the only way I will welcome in the change I seek.
I write here on this blog to a small circle of friends. Some I know in “real life”, others only by your sweet comments or lovely emails. I never mind the silence here but on the scarier days I need to know that I am not alone. If you come here, tell me so and hold my hand as I keep making way.
Six months ago, by the light of the bright moon, my friend John and I dug in earth and planted a daffodil with a wish wrapped around it. He had come to the house, after hours of writing his law school essays. He was frustrated and blocked, momentarily out touch in with his own amazing potential–the big dream of his life loomed huge, a mountain insurmountable. So he came to take a break and I dragged him out to plant daffodils.
Max and I wrote our wishes for John on pieces of paper and he too played along. We went outside and planted them, and then having declared what we hoped for him we all gave them over to the earth and recognized that like the daffodils–they too would bloom in time. I told him that now that the Earth was holding those big dreams he could let go of the “biggness” and focus on what was immediately in front of him. I think he thought me a bit crazy (as he often does when I drag him out to do these things) but he listens to me because I cook him dinner and tell him I am old enough to be his mother.
We watched the Caps game and cleaned the house. We stayed up late talking and even spent some time trying to break open the stickiness he was feeling around his essays. Somehow the weight of that essay–the need for it to be amazing as though it was a magic key that would unlock his dreams (or forever keep them hidden away)– made it so big. But I told him if he could just let go of all the meaning he was putting on the essay and write he would have no trouble. He is a gifted writer.
The next morning after Max’s hockey game John went home to write one of the best essays in the history of law school applications. I am sure it would have happened anyway but some how letting go of the big huge massive vision of the change we wanted, trusting it to the Earth or to God or to whoever makes sense to trust, made it easier to take the immediate steps. Its a lesson I keep forgetting but remember frequently with joy.
This weekend I have a heart both heavy and full. Yesterday, 6 months to the day when John planted his daffodil, he left the city where we became friends and headed out to begin his new life at his first choice law school, a top ranked school which not only accepted him with open arms but offered him cash as well. I am so incredibly proud of him for all the tiny steps and big leaps he took to walk the path toward his dream and I miss him because he was in every way a daily inspiration.
For so long now I have been overwhelmed by a very big dream myself, a dream of becoming a healer. On a good day it feels still just out of reach and on a bad day I can think that I am bat-shit crazy. To even get to the place where I thought I might be able to do this has required so much transformation and change and release of fear. All fall, I planted hundreds of daffodils myself, each one of them a prayer that I asked Mother Earth to hold. The flowers are blooming now and for me well its time to get cracking.
All spring, I have been consumed by hundreds of small steps that may just open up the path for me. Truth is I have been walking it already but now after months of slow wandering, it feels as though I am sprinting down it at lightning speed. There are thousands of tiny (but huge!) things that need to be done to pull me a long and I run the risk of getting paralyzed by each of them. We are renting our basement and I need to find the right tenant, line up the contractors to do work on the house (so said tenant can come in). Line up my financing, apply for scholarships, restructure my current paid work, figure out new ways to plug the gap between what I will be making part-time and our current expenses. And yes, I am doing all this while trying to keep our life humming along. To quote a dear friend of mine, I feel like I am balancing a refrigerator on my head. I could at any moment just give up and let the whole thing come crashing down, declaring that it is too damn hard.
But instead I keep remembering what I told John that chilly October night. Give the big dream over to the Earth and let her hold it and just do what is in front of you–right now. Don’t give it too much importance. Just walk, tiny step by tiny step and trust that if you do that, one day, that dream will blossom.