Under the Big Top

ringling-brosI never joined the circus. Actually, I’ve never even been much of a fan. Too many rings to watch at once. Too many nail biting high wire acts. Too many animals  tethered and tamed instead of wild and free. And the clowns, yikes, the clowns. Maybe I was just a weird kid, but the circus was never a big ‘must see’.

Still, I must say I felt a teeny bit sad when the 146 year old Barnum and Bailey Circus recently pulled up stakes for good. But, hey, even the biggest show on earth would have a hard time competing with the red, white and blue Big Top of — politics.

If, like me, watching more than one thing at a time makes you dizzy, refer to your program and buckle up. There’s enough action under the Big Top these days to make your head spin. Precarious high wire acts. Slights of hand. Tricks that can keep you stranded in the air with no safety net. From acrobats to animal trainers, no one seems to like each other very much but every one is worth watching.

High flying tricks emerge energetically from every spotlit ring. Some are intriguing’ others could turn catastrophic in a heartbeat. All the balls are in the air and where they land no one knows – yet. We watch every act with interest or fear, approval or upset. Performers go through flaming hoops or emerge from clown cars. And we’re left to wonder what (or who) is going to bounce off the trampoline. Welcome to life under the Big Top. Continue reading

It’s all about the PANCAKES

amaranthCrepes_mainAs a pancake flipper, my husband crushed it. His pancakes were legendary and looking back, I should have eaten more, lots more.  But my tempestuous stomach competed with concern about my waistline to keep a lid on my appetite for these light as air suckers. Though I hadn’t eaten a lot of pancakes since my kids left home, when they were small I made more than my share of super healthy fat ol’ pancakes. Mine had apples, oats and wheat germ packed in but I never got any complaints. Of course, mine were all they knew.

Enter the pancake king.

From the decadent iHOP variety to stacks of homegrown hotcakes with the mom-forbidden syrup, (pancake syrup is only maple FLAVORED!) pancakes are always a go-to for kids. And the same kids who inhaled pancakes themselves, passed their love of the circular bites of goodness to their own munchkins. When my husband came on the scene, they discovered quickly that his specialty pancakes were like no other. Even I was crazy for them, but why not? These light as air pancakes were the crepe variety – delicate, delicious and often studded with blueberries.

Hungry yet?

Even nights when the exhausted work warrior trudged through the door, if grandkids were there and they asked for pancakes — they got pancakes. He’d drop his briefcase, and head to the kitchen, yanking out the griddle, eggs and spatula as he went to work. Before the first pancake was lightly browned, the kids were at the table begging for more. And crepe-like pancakes are labor intensive! The poor guy barely had time to breathe before grandpa duties got him by the apron strings — and he loved every minute of it. If grandkids asked, the answer was always yes. Continue reading

Black. White . . . Technicolor.

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Life is a mess of contrasts, isn’t it?  Few things are strictly black or white. Sometimes the same thing that makes you supremely happy can also be bittersweet, even really sad. You know, the kind of thing that makes you feel like your foot is on the gas and the brake at the same time. That pretty much sums up how we feel remembering holidays, birthdays, and yes, anniversaries after the person who was central to that day is gone. It’s also EXACTLY how I feel this week.

There’s a ton of stuff swimming in my head as my second wedding anniversary— without the groom—rolls in this week. There are some fun memories to be sure, like when my son whispered to me as he walked me down the aisle “Mom, what’s the rush?”. I had no idea I was practically racing to the altar but I had seen my guy’s adoring face and couldn’t wait to get there. (Sorry, my sweet son, you know I love you endlessly!) Now remembering my rush to get to my bridegroom I can’t help but wonder if, even then, I knew subconsciously that our years together were numbered. But blissfully ignorant, we still managed to wring every happy we could from the years we had.

Funny how memories barge in when you least expect it. Often, some of the most telling are ones that seemed insignificant at the time but years have raised their place in memory. Grey moments sandwiched between the black and white bookends take on a technicolor tinge. One of those moments was the morning of the wedding. Both sitting at the kitchen table, my youngest daughter teased the groom-to-be about needing to change into his tux somewhere else. She jokingly insisted that he uphold the tradition to ensure not bringing ‘bad luck’. Hah! Given our medically challenged life from that day forward, admonition had to be the most ironic turn of phrase!

Last year this time, I dreaded that once incredibly happy date. My daughters and granddaughter took me to dinner and a movie in the hopes we could all somehow just get through it together. We each were basically whistling in the dark but did pretty well on balance. At least I didn’t, like the Wicked Witch of the West, melt into a puddle of tears – but then I came home. Walking into the empty house, I had the perfectly masochistic idea to pop our wedding video into the TV. Brilliant. Seeing my husband so vibrant, healthy-looking, happy and in living color was a stellar way of kicking off a major pity party. Yet, I continued to watch. (No one ever accused me of being a quitter) I saw all our friends in their excitement for us, our kids so glad for our happiness and me, the radiant bride, totally clueless of the speeding train just around the proverbial corner.

They say love is being stupid together. If that’s true, we had honed it to perfection.  Remember the rubber ducks in the margarita fountain I told you about? The hot dogs that rotated above elegant canapes in a theater snack bar rotisserie?  We prided ourselves on silly fun and that wedding wingding we threw was a total hoot! But just like lovers being stupid together, as C.S.Lewis knew well, love is also being vulnerable together and we were that, too. When cancer has the first wedding dance, vulnerability is part of the package. But that package can also weave you together in ways that stitch more depth and knowing than the years you are given.

I’m not at all nonchalant about the anniversary rolling in this week. Even though it most likely won’t knock the wind out of me like it did last year, I still won’t be popping champagne either. The reason for that kind of celebration left when he did but I can still toast what we had because we had a lot. Maybe I’ll even drop that wedding video in again, but hopefully I’ll watch it differently this time. As the scenes of that day roll by, yes, I’ll be reminded of how blissfully unaware those two people were of what they would lose. But this time, I might also smile, even laugh, at the crazy couple who, despite all they lost through the years, kept and grew the love they began with. Contrasts, right?

Like one of the songs we danced to on that wedding night, sometimes what we don’t know, is a good thing. Life is not black or white but all the feelings, colors and hues in between. Good or bad, healthy or not, happy or sad, we loved each other like there was no tomorrow – until the day there wasn’t.

 

“And now I’m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end, the way it all would go.

Our lives are better left to chance; I could have missed the pain

. . . But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Garth Brooks, The Dance

 

 

It’s Your Move.

CandyLandSo you’re all packed, ready for the next step of your journey — but you have no idea where you’re going. Aces. Actually, that might not be a bad thing. Heck, you’ve already traveled a road no one ever listed on their bucket list. Who, in their right mind would ASK to go to Grief City — instead of Licorice Castle? That squared highway from hell you’ve been traveling hasn’t had great scenery but, look at you – you’re still standing. That’s a good start.

The even better news is that it’s your road and only you plot the course. It didn’t come with a map or snacks for the trip. You’ve been here before. But, though you played the cards well, your multicolored road ended not in Oz but a very lonely desert with nothing in your backpack but a broken heart. If you were lucky, (as I have been!) there was kindness of friends and family along the way, people who provided emotional sustenance. Maybe there was a support group of other travelers but, in the end, the trip is yours alone and you’re the only one who decides where to go next and how. It’s your game board.

Will you continue to wear your wedding rings? How about keeping your other half’s car? When is the right time to give away their clothes? You are the only one with those answers even if you don’t have one right now. They were YOUR person,YOUR other half and any decision about them is YOURS alone. It is you who carries the game pieces of loss every day in ways no one else does or can. No matter how deeply anyone grieves your loss, no one misses that person as intrinsically as a spouse. Sorry, that’s just a widow fact. Continue reading

Down the rabbit hole . . .

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You know when you take off running — and then you’re not? No seriously. I was running to catch the door of the bank as it was closing, and completely missed the curb. My bad. Actually, it could have been worse – a lot worse. Lying on the cement, Itwo things came to mind last week: is anything broken and, of course, did anyone see me. No to both, thank goodness. It could have been a “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial. Luckily, my only casualties were scraped knuckles, one bruised elbow, a ripped pair of jeans (which still didn’t make designer status) and a completely raw knee. Ouch.

What really tripped me up, though, was the smackdown of my confidence. I’m usually a pretty strong chick. I cry easily and am a total pushover for everyone I love but I take care of myself as I took care of my kids in my stint as a single mom. Yet, one misstep on a curb and I’m suddenly back to Grief 101. What the…?

More than the raw sting of my knee, it was the raw absence that greeted me at home. Somehow, I was still surprised that morning that my husband wasn’t there to ask what the heck happened. He’s has been gone for a year and a half and it should be pretty clear he wouldn’t be answering the door.  So why was I suddenly caught between a surprise pity party — and getting the fraud of the year award? Continue reading

In Like A Lion . . .

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Once upon a time, March was one of my favorite months. Now, it’s when I seriously consider getting out of Dodge except wherever I’d go, my weathered emotional baggage would still be with me. Swell.

Before I met my husband, March memories were the stuff of angry lions. The windy grayness paired neatly with the feelings I had assigned to it. March was the month my brother celebrated his birthday, except for the year he would have turned 21. It seems a lifetime later but memories of those weeks before and after he died 40 years ago never disappear completely. His birth and death dates will forever bookend the month. They remind me that even when you think that particular kind of pain is one of a kind, life has a way of proving you a liar.

When my guy came along years later, he arrived like an impulsive March wind with a brand of love that set the month on its ear. It was a chilly March 5th that year that we had our first ‘real’ date in a cozy restaurant that became ‘ours’ from that night on. Just one year later, we spent the 3rd of March in the courthouse – getting married. It was a bit off script but the cancer monster had raised its ugly head and my health insurance offered the coverage we needed to fight the beast. No big deal; we just postponed the cool church wedding until a few weeks later. It was all good.

March 25th dawned cold and brilliantly sunny that year.  The day was as bright as our moods as we prepared to celebrate our wedding day with the excited loving family and friends. They all knew well both our challenges as well as the fierce love that defined us.  Like most everyone on their wedding day, we were two little kids at a birthday party — and boy, was it a party! Cupcakes piled high on a handmade tower topped with bobble-headed figures with a remarkable resemblance to the kooky wedded pair. Rubber ducks swam in a fountain of margaritas while Hors d’oeuvres disappeared faster than they could be passed. A cool Pantone (Dun, I’m a graphic designer.) spring green bloomed in all the decor, painting both March and our wedding with hopeful new life. It was all just perfect.

Almost. Trying to pack all we could into the month, we snuck a dream honeymoon to Italy into March’s last days. Unfortunately, the trip turned out to be one week before my husband’s first cancer surgery. Looking back, that might not have been the brightest strategy but hey, it was Italy!

Through the years, we celebrated plenty of anniversaries of times when things were simpler. We toasted moments that had been brand new and those after cancer colored the months and years. When that guy of mine died suddenly, it was more than easy to sweep all of those times into the grayness of grief. When memories seem broken, who wants to remember them? Yet, those happy times were no less happy and they are no less part of us. They are just more painful to remember. When the person who helped make those memories is no longer here, our memories become both lion and lamb. But then the flip side of joy is pain – and vice versa. That’s just life’s dichotomy and who complains when the pendulum swings the other way? Life is perfect — said no one ever.  It hands us things we have no control over and sometimes they suck big-time. Like a temperature inversion, the fog eventually lifts, however, and suddenly choices are in our hands.

The year my husband-to-be rode his white horse into town, he  redecorated the month of March with some pretty good feng shui. When the lion caught up with him, he left behind  a hell of a lot of memories and I have all I can do to remember them without bawling. When you’re left without a right, it’s hard to find your center- but I’m giving it my best shot.  What I tell myself (and it’s a handy public service announcement) is that just because the moments are over — doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Boy, did they happen.

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I barely remember celebrating my brother’s birthday. So many years have gone by since he blew out candles on my mom’s homemade cakes but I have to believe he was happy then. And no matter how much time elapses, nothing can change that any more than I can or would erase the memories of our wedding celebration. The ultimate end to our grand romance does not erase the life of the miracle couple who dared cancer to divide them. The fact that death eventually did does nothing to deny the years my guy defied the odds.

One day I hope to travel again to the home of my ancestors across the pond. I’ll make new new memories in Italy but the singular memories of a goofy couple on their honeymoon will always remain. Just picturing that warm March afternoon in Rome, scarfing snacks on the hotel rooftop we climbed up to by accident, makes me smile and always will.

Everything that happens, even one moment after it does, is a memory. Some are better than others but all are part of the fabric of your being, ready to prop you up, give you hope and make you smile when you need them most. That doesn’t mean you won’t cry in the process, but that’s part of life, too. It’s the part that weathers months and storms, and still ushers in spring each year. We can learn a lot from this tempestuous month that comes in a like a lion and eventually becomes a docile lamb. Our crazy quilt of memories is stuffed with months, days, years of both pain and joy. Depending on the season of our life, one side or the other has us covered. Only we know when we are able to flip that quilt to the other side.

The last two weeks I’ve noticed that, in spite of itself, March’s frigid ground is giving way to nature’s Powerball ticket. Even if they are watered at times with tears, stubborn but hopeful green shoots still show up ever year. That’s the thing about spring and about us resilient humans.

Hello, March — my new friend.

Shall We Dance?

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I’m pretty sure when I was born there was a rock beat in the delivery room. A typical tutu-craving little kid, I started ballet at 4 years old, and made toe shoe status by 10. Today I might be pirouette-challenged but the need to move to a beat is still instinctive, a fact that eternally (and gleefully) embarrasses my once-upon-a-time teenage kids.

Though I may now groove a little differently, one dance rule will always be carved in stone. When you trip the light fantastic – don’t step on anyone’s toes. From the nervous 13 year-old partners of my youth to men keeping up with my spontaneous footwork, I’ve always tried not to plant my size 7 ½’s on theirs. It’s just well, awkward.

Speaking of awkward, there’s no place more critical for well-placed steps than today’s political landscape. Walking into that minefield, it’s a good idea to tread carefully. The more I read Facebook posts or talk with friends and family, I realize stepping carefully is more than just a decent social tip. No matter how correct your dance moves are, smashing someone’s toe in the process is never the best idea.

Shot through with quicksand and sudden storms, today’s politics have spawned very contentious differences in thought, belief, need and fear. You have to be really quick on your feet to avoid falling into a sink hole. Skillful choreography can help circumvent any spiraling tornado of words though it might not change the deeper divide. The growing chasm will take real thought to maneuver. I’m not talking about having rational,honest answers, standing up for rights, and even fighting for them. You go! I’m talking about remembering what we valued, cherished before we stepped onto this new dance floor, which can be a really slippery place. Continue reading