Under the Big Top

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I 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 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

Shall We Dance?

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I’m pretty sure when I was born, I was rockin’ to the 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 it, move it is still instinctive, a fact that always (and gleefully) embarrassed 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  a 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

Across the GREAT Divide

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History is a funny thing. Depending on the glasses it’s viewed with, the past is either chock full of not so great things or colored with a romantically soft blur. Me? I think it’s a little of both. History is life, with all its ups and downs, no matter how we’d like to retouch it. Graphic designers like me are cool with that kind of artistic license but history needs no retouched brand marketing. It is what it is.

The words ‘great again’ in relation to America have now become part of our daily lexicon. They are heard nearly every day and are pretty much guaranteed to echo through the next few years whether with hope or huh?  They are meant to be a bold yet nostalgic rallying cry. Each time I hear the phrase I find myself scratching my head. I can’t seem to nail down the period in history when our American lives were perfect enough, great enough for an encore.

If a handy time machine could transport us to the past, where exactly would we land? What era would our GPS point to? Would we be whisked back to the time we helped our entitled selves to the land of the true Native Americans, elbowing them out of the way? Or when we bought, sold, traded slaves to build a spanking new country where WE could be free? Maybe it was those scary days when we were kids and the Cold War sent us scurrying beneath our desks. Those good ol’ days also included ‘colored’ drinking fountains, gays who were forced to remain in the closet – and women in the kitchen.

I’m in advertising. I know snappy taglines sell things but I’m just having a problem wrapping my head around a ‘great again’ marketing slogan. I can’t seem to pinpoint the glorious golden age when all, regardless of color or gender were peaceful and happy.  Is our country truly great? You bet. But in a country of more than 318 million people of every diversity, having ups and downs, even in a single day, is part of the deal. It doesn’t make us less great; it makes great more fluid.

I’m old enough (not ancient, mind you) to have lived through several wars, from Vietnam and the Gulf War to Iran and Iraq. Living in a different time and different skin, I never experienced Jim Crow laws that brutalized a whole portion of our fellow Americans. They were the citizens sent to the back of the bus, and denied use of the same restrooms and drinking fountains as their white neighbors. As a woman, I was lucky enough not to have lived in a time when I couldn’t vote because of my ‘weaker’ sex. I was a young mom by the time Roe vs Wade signaled the end of back-alley abortions and same sex relations were taken off the list of criminal offenses. Our land of opportunity didn’t always gift those opportunities to everyone. For many — it still doesn’t. Continue reading

#reality check

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Once upon a time, I was a flirty, social butterfly. Yeah, I can hardly picture it either. But back in the day, Saturday nights rarely found me at home. In that seemingly ancient time, I was post-nesting mama of three — and pre-married again. Happy wanderlust and a dancing queen persona was the fallout of sudden singlehood and ended when a really neat guy succeeded in, once again, getting me to the altar. When your nearly perfect match shows up with love as a big as an ocean liner, you say yes – and never look back.

But in a way, I was back – into the world of couple dinners, grandparental team babysitting nights, movies for four and parties for many and I was more than happy. I never really was the blithe divorcee anyway. (‘blithe’…seriously?) I had returned to where I began, peacefully curled up with hubby at home. And I was content.

That’s not to say I didn’t yearn for a night alone sometimes. Oh, there were dinners with a girlfriend or an adult ed class but I admit I did look forward to the occasional business trip that left me solo for a night or two. Having our own business, I could probably count on one hand when that actually happened. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my guy madly and when he was AWOL for a night, I missed him next to me. Still, those few nights I was a loner I ate what he hated, coveted the remote and happily watched chick flicks. Now every night is single night and whatever enthusiasm it used to hold, left the building when he did. They always say, ‘be careful what you pray for….’ Duh. Continue reading

‘Tis better to have loved . . .

annivGrow old with me; the best is yet to be.       Robert Browning

Yes, I AM sappy enough to have hung that innocently hopeful plaque in my bedroom – but it was also the first thing to go after my husband died. It seemed a pretty lousy reminder that growing old together wasn’t on the table.

Remember your first wedding anniversary, when you toasted the 365 that followed your wedding day hoopla?  Maybe you congratulated each other on how well you maneuvered those first months of growth, woven together with discovery, change, joy and maybe even a little disillusionment. You made it through the milestone first married year. Like us, you probably made an anniversary toast, as you celebrated each other and the years ahead.

Well, this week marks an anniversary, too, but not one I looked forward to. October 14 marks the first anniversary of my husband’s death and there’s nothing to celebrate about that. There’s no joyous newlywed year-end toast nor any of the anniversaries that marked another year of precious memories. All the laughs and kisses once shared with the man I loved will only be given and received this anniversary with all who gather to remember him that day. Continue reading

A rainbow of grief

7b47cba0-12f0-0134-e753-0a315da82319All the colors of humanity, of love, of loss. We saw each in Orlando in terrifying technicolor this weekend. Sons, daughters, brothers, sisters – lost. Each of us, who’ve lost the person closest to us, know well the journey their families now will take. Those families, those parents, siblings, grandparents had their hearts ripped out in a second of senseless violence. San Bernadino, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook. Adults, children all cut down in the business of living.

Plumbing the depth of my own loss, the slicing off of an artery in your heart without warning, I can’t help but think about the people grieving this week. Many years ago, my young brother died at 19 of leukemia. His loss was immeasurable and I saw my parents nearly destroyed by it. A life that never got to be lived. Watching the mother weeping uncontrollably for news of the son she couldn’t find in the melee, I recognized the anguish. And knew the bottomless pain she now will swim through.

Her son did not survive.

I usually write of my own trip through loss that I never packed for, but tonight my words are for Orlando, the latest headline from hell. There is way too much talk of hate, of exclusion, of retribution – and no healing, no coming together, no real answers. I’m angry, frustrated that weapons of war (um, you don’t need an assault rifle for hunting deer – or PEOPLE!) are available at ANY level especially for the unstable, violent or disenfranchised.  The time has come to listen for truth within the rhetoric and for more than tears and talk. I can only hope it is now.

We need to remember the trusting children who left for school, those who went to work, or a casual night of celebration — and never returned home. And we need to remember the families whose new normal will be mourning.

I have questions and no answers. Maybe all we can do is think carefully about Mahatma Gandi’s words “The future depends on what we do in the present” because if we do nothing – there will be no future.