Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been so long that I can’t even remember when I last went to confession and these are my sins.
Or at least the latest ones.
Or the ones I can remember. BTW are we responsible for the ones we can’t remember?
Oh Lordy. Well here goes.
I did not attend any Easter services this season. Not Holy Thursday. Not Good Friday. Not Easter Vigil.
Zero, zip, nada.
I did this intentionally so now you know why I’m here today.
Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
I cleaned my house and did my Target, TJMaxx and Trader Joes shopping. I worked in my garden, fertilized all of my succulents and marveled at the first spring flowers on my Cecile Brunner Rose. I cooked a bit and squeezed lemons to freeze for future Lebanese delicacies. I went to dinner and a movie with a good friend. I finished a novel and started a new one. Took a morning hike and photographed several cows with their calves.
For the grand finale, Easter, I shared a meal with my wonderful family, chased toddlers around the house and played with my little grandson.
For these and all my sins I am sorry.
Now, Father, I’m sure you want to know why this cradle Catholic defied all of the rules.
My reasoning? I wanted to see what it was like to live in a secular world without the sacred. I wanted to see what it’s like to not believe, to not have my Catholic community, to not sing and pray for my loved ones and the world at large. I wanted to see if God in nature was enough for me.
All in all it was a very spiritual experience. But here is what I discovered.
I realized that I missed the incense, the chanting, the candles and the ancient scripture. I missed the washing of the feet and the opportunity to meditate on service and being a woman for others. I missed the veneration of the cross and the church bells and the bowed heads. I missed the experience of humility that comes from believing in something that is beyond myself and out of my control. I missed the celebration and the lilies filling the sanctuary. I missed the Alleluia and the joy that comes after the sacrifices of Lent.
I missed the good old fashioned Catholic aerobics… standing for a half hour gospel and then springing up and down and up and down to the rhythm of the rituals and the liturgy.
I missed it all. And now I feel an indescribable void.
So, Father, I guess you can take the girl out of the Catholic but you can’t take the Catholic out of the girl. I’m sure you have an appropriate penance for me? 10 Hail Marys and a Glory Be? 100 continuous genuflections? A Novena with my head covered?
You missed it, my dear. Penance done. Amen. Hallelujah.
One wouldn’t get in a sailboat without a compass or embark on a grueling scenic hike without a map.
Or would they?
Myself? I have a tendency to get lost. Lost on a trail. Lost on the freeway. Lost in my thoughts. A good plan keeps me focused and on task. Goals help me to breakthrough inertia. A map helps me to reach my destination.
So I plan. And I plan. And I journal. And I plan some more. And I re-read my old journals to see if life has deposited me somewhere close to where X marks the spot.
How about you? Do you know where you want to go in 2017? Do you have a hankering for something different? Are you ready to change things up and see what sticks? Or are you plodding along the same path. Waking up to the same job. Shopping at Target and getting take out from the Chinese restaurant on the corner.
Benjamin Franklin once said “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Winston Churchill said this- “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”.
In either case, some self reflection seems to be in order as we embark on a new year.
I found this engagement announcement years ago after my mother passed away. I had inherited the “trunk” with all of the family heirlooms and photos. When I first saw the fragile news clipping, I thought nothing of it really. I assumed it had gotten torn somehow and my mom had saved it nonetheless.
Years later, while going through the trunk, I saw a different fragile news clipping. It was a reflection of a broken heart, a broken woman, and the life she had imagined torn asunder. She most likely carefully and deliberately tore the piece right down the middle and replaced it in a box of photos.
No accident here. It was a message. A statement. Perhaps a legacy.
My mother told me once in a private conversation weeks before my own wedding, “I never planned on being divorced”. It was during an argument between us when I foolishly told her that what happened to her would never happen to me. If only I could take those words back.
Not only because I am now a divorced woman. But because my words had a certain arrogance and a sting that hurt her deeply.
No matter how you slice it, divorce wreaks havoc on a family. It creates “teams” that don’t play well together. It rents the fabric of family life, rearranges every holiday plan and every summer vacation. The repercussions rear their ugly heads in the least expected moments.
Growing up is something we all have to do. Becoming wise and learning difficult lessons is optional. Knowing what I went through with my parents divorce, I have a difficult time digesting the fact that I had a hand in repeating this history. Perhaps it was my legacy. Or an unconscious attempt at solidarity with my mother.
Maybe it was an “I told you so”.
Nonetheless, I am the woman I am today because I had to grow through the pain and struggle of my decisions. If only I could have been this woman without having had to wreak so much damage and heartache.
We project a part of ourselves into what we see and observe. What we interpret has everything to do with our own experience. As a young married woman with three small children, I saw a fragile news clipping that had accidentally gotten torn. Years later I see with different eyes. It is a statement of grief. A message and a warning.
And sadly, a legacy.
in the secret of darkness
before I saw the sun
in my mother’s womb
Dear little Boe,
You are a miracle. A gift. Someone new to love and long to hold. A bundle of sweet smells and warm cuddles. You have us all in awe and wonder.
How beautiful you are. A blank slate. A crisp white page to be filled with lovely lyrics. An empty vessel within which we place all our hopes and dreams. Your innocence is compelling. I feel absolution in your presence.
I know that some little parts of you have been etched from my own body. That in itself is mind blowing. I look at you and feel such love and connection- and at the same time, a sense of mystery. Who are you? Who will you become? How will I fit into your life? What will we do together to build our relationship?
Little lovey, the day you were born we all experienced a life changing transition. Woman and man became mother and father. Mother and father became grandmother and grandfather. It may take some time for us to learn our new roles so please be patient with us.
I hear other grandparents brag that they can spoil their grandchildren and then send them home. All the fun and none of the responsibility. Then they laugh! But Boe, I have a little secret for you.
I would do it all again. The pain of labor, the sleepless nights, the diapers, the desitine, the sticky kisses, the million and one soccer, basketball and little league games, the waiting up for teenagers, the “sex” talks, and the endless and painful letting gos- witnessing three little boys traverse their paths into manhood.
But there would be do-overs. I would clean less, order more take out, play more games and be more attentive to the ebb and flow of raising a family. And most of all I would allow myself to enjoy it all. Not be so stressed and insecure. Not be so hard on myself. Not compare myself to other moms who appeared to be doing it better.
Little Boe, when your daddy was growing up, I wrote him letters on his birthdays and other occasions so that he would know how my love for him unfolded and developed as he grew up and became a young man. When he graduated from high school I gave him all those letters. It was a labor of love.
I want to do that for you, little Boe. I want you to see what I see in you. And in those moments when you are feeling insecure or a little blue, I want you to know how much you are loved, fearfully and wonderfully made, and carefully knit together in the secret of your mother’s womb by an even greater Love.
My heart is full. My life has taken on a new meaning with your birth. I have so many things I’d like to share with you. So many songs I want to sing to you. And I have all the time in the world to listen to you.
Stay sweet, little boy. Take in all the love you can. Learn honesty and integrity. Be generous and kind.
Grow up to be a man for others.
I love you,
Occurring at a favorable time. Opportune. Involving divine foresight or intervention.
I think both definitions fit perfectly but I am leaning towards the latter.
I am finally in my new home. It feels somewhat like a new shoe. Super fabulous looking but in need of some breaking in.
My sons and my daughter in law have all come to share a glass of wine, Chinese food, snacks, coffee and bagels. My grand-dogs have run through the house, making my cat, Ethel, climb up high on top of the kitchen cupboards just like old times. I’ve had interesting people in and out buying items from my Craig’s List postings (thank you, Patrick), giving me some nice cash to buy lots of take out so that I can feed the “help” until I get this new kitchen organized.
Yesterday I met the most interesting couple- Sharon and Neil. They drove from Hayward to get my Pottery Barn chair and a half with the matching ottoman. Neil is a Marriage and Family Therapist like me and Sharon is a Pastoral Minister, a Buddhist practitioner and a future radio personality. They were so very compatible, finishing each other’s sentences and taking turns sharing their personal stories with me, my son, Peter, and my daughter in law, Brianna. Neil and Peter had a common acquaintance. Sharon and I could have talked forever about her work and her experiences ministering to the dying at UCSF.
We contemplated my parents’ dining room furniture and how difficult it was to fit into my new place. Sharon had so many insights about how objects carry memory and good “karma” so to speak and how passing them on is a blessing to the next owner. Perhaps I could also make a sort of “hope chest” in the closet under the staircase with the silver and other family heirlooms that I’ve had the pleasure of inheriting over the years. A future grand-daughter might fall in love with these items. I felt somewhat of a release from the old and permission to move into the future with not only my earned wisdom but also with fresh ideas and a clean slate.
After Neil and Sharon left, I experienced my new home with different eyes. How did these two intriguing and insightful people walk off the street and into my life? Even if I never see them again (although I have a feeling I will) they have touched something deep inside of me.
New concepts. New opportunities. New people traversing my life path and sharing their stories. This is not just my new home. This is an opportunity for transformation.
As Peter and Breezy piled the doggies into the car and prepared to head north, and we reviewed our visit with Neil and Sharon, I asked, “Providential. Is that a word?”. Peter said “I don’t think so, Mom. You made that up.”
I do sort of make things up sometimes. I embellish and take writer’s liberties. I’m a good story teller.
But when I got back into the house I Googled “providential” like a good student of vocabulary and there it was.
I couldn’t have made up a better word for the way I was feeling.
Imminent- about to happen, close at hand, forthcoming, in the offing, on the horizon, expected, anticipated, looming…
It’s like waiting for the wedding to begin. Everyone is giddy with excitement and suspense. Or waiting for a baby to be born where there’s a conglomeration of anxiety, longing, and hopefulness.
We spend so much time in our lives waiting for something to happen. My friend, Tom, calls it “waiting energy”. We wait for the clothes to be dry, for the turkey to be done, for the pudding to set, for the tomato plant to produce for us a bumper crop of sweet fruit. We wait for someone to “pop the question”.
We wait for the mail to come, for a phone call from a significant other, for the car to warm up, for our guests to arrive, for the guy from Home Depot to deliver the new refrigerator. We wait for the test results, for some good news, for a loved one to pass away from their pain and suffering into relief and peace.
And then we wait for our grieving to end.
I’ve been waiting all summer for my townhouse to be finished. But it’s really not about the townhouse.
It’s about me.
What is it about “waiting energy” that zaps our lives and renders us immobile, unproductive and frozen in time and space? Why can’t we stop waiting for something to happen and just start living our lives in whatever space we dwell in.
Physical space. Psychological space. Spiritual space. Inner space. Outer space.
What have you put your life on hold for- and why?
I recently traveled to Pendleton, Oregon via Portland to attend a wedding with my manfriend, Dale. Driving along the Columbia River, I requested to stop at Multnomah Falls, a place that I hiked often with my little family when we lived in Portland almost 18 years ago. I was totally unprepared for the flood of emotions I felt as we stood at the base of the falls.
The next morning in our hotel, after engaging in a ruckus round of early morning texts with my siblings- not an unusual exchange and something my son, Patrick, refers to as a Lebanese alarm clock- my brother, Johnnie, who lives in Pullman, Washington, singled me out in communication.
“Did you drive or fly in?” he inquired.
I responded: “We flew into Portland. Made me sad. Good memories.”
” Yes.. I bet.” He replied.
Me: “Don’t you wish you could have some do-overs in life?”
My brother, Johnnie, left the Catholic church years ago for a more fundamental Christian congregation and I quite expected him to come back with a bible verse that might elevate me out of the mundane into the spiritual realm.
But his response surprised me.
“Yes.” He said simply.
Now I would not bore/shock you with the list of potential do-overs that I have experienced in my life. Some are huge detours I’ve taken off the main road and some are on a smaller scale yet significant nonetheless. A few are so private and personal that I don’t even allow them into my conscious awareness, never mind share them with my closest friend. Most have had far reaching ramifications that were impossible to foresee.
I am going to make a list of those potential do-overs for myself, have a good cry, and then create a ceremonial burning so that I can face the future without regret, remorse and existential angst. If you decide to make your own list, I’d love to hear how that goes for you. Hopefully we can be the salve to heal one another’s disappointments in life, missed opportunities and painful mistakes.
I was quite saddened when I read about Vice President Joe Biden’s 42 year old son, Beau, who just died of a brain tumor. This poor man has been through more trajedy than one could imagine. First losing his wife and infant daughter in a car accident with his two small sons fighting for their lives. Then years later having one of them succumb to cancer after not only surviving but also thriving with an enviable life, a successful career as an attorney and a fulfilling marriage with two beautiful young children.
Fate is twisted.
Ya’aburnee means “you bury me” in Arabic. It means wanting to die before a loved one so as not to have to face the world without him or her in it.
This was the prayer on my mother’s lips when she received the news that my brother, Bobby, at age of 31, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. “Let it be me. Not you.”
She fought for her third son from the very beginning. He was born premature weighing only four pounds. Just big enough to fit in a shoe box. In school he was the class clown and the ring leader among his friends, often getting into trouble with Sr. Dolores, the principal at St.Philip Neri, in our small town of Compton. He would lead kids twice his size around the neighborhood, looking for mischief. He teased me endlessly about being chubby and offered to pay my membership to Vic Tanny’s Salon.
After nine years of Catholic school Bobby begged to be set free to attend the local public high school where most of his friends went. He was a rebel. A contrarian. A master of debate. How he convinced our ultra- Catholic parents to transfer him to public school remains a mystery to us all.
Years later while waiting to be accepted into Law School after earning a degree in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University and a Masters Degree in Political Science at American University, he would bide his time sitting on our couch at home reading through the encyclopedias from volume A through Z. By now I was taller and not so chubby. But he would still find things to tease me about.
Bobby went on to become a successful attorney. He fell in love and married Christine. Together they had a family, Matthew and Katherine. I’m sure my mother stopped worrying about him at that point. (If mothers ever stop worrying..)
Until the evening when she got the news of Bobby’s brain tumor.
“Ya’aburnee,” she gasped in fear.
She got her wish. My brother, Bobby recovered after several years of treatment. He was healthy and back to work as an attorney, just long enough to be the Executor of my mother’s will after she succumbed to ovarian cancer in October of 1986.
And I imagine she was waiting with open arms at the gates of heaven with St. Peter when the cancer took my brother Bobby’s life in July of 1991. For a brief moment, they would embrace and she would comfort him. After which they would move on to join the Communion of Saints, their lives on earth but an ethereal dream.
My father was not so lucky. He buried my mother. And then he buried his third son. Dad died of cancer and a broken heart almost exactly a year after my brother died.
All these painful memories come back to me as I read the article about Joe Biden losing first his wife and infant daughter, and then years later, when it looked like life had self corrected, he lost the son he fought so hard to save.
Ya’aburnee. You bury me.
My new mantra.
I ran into the Morgan Hill Safeway last week to pick up some groceries and a woman stopped me in the frozen food section. I had dashed back to that aisle to pick up some blueberries and was pretty much done with my shopping.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure” I said, thinking she wanted to know where to find the cat food or to inquire about a good hamburger place in town.
“Do you have a blog? One Hip Diva?”
Stunned, I replied “Yes”. I had never seen this woman before and clearly she had only seen my picture.
“Where did you go? In your last entry you were moving out of your house.”
I had to think for a minute. Where did I go?
I am betwixt and between. At a midway point. Neither here nor there. Most of my “things” are in a storage unit somewhere in Morgan Hill. There is stuff in Dale’s garage and extra bedroom. Random objects are at my work in my office.
And I am in a liminal space until my new townhouse is completed in July.
I don’t usually do well with this sort of thing. I am a planner, a plodder, a tidy woman who likes to keep things in order. But for some reason I am unexpectedly calm. This liminal space is defined by Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest who says that Everything Belongs.
It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.
Indeed. It is very unlike me to not want to flee! But in the betwixt and between there is time to unwind and discover who I am without all the accoutrements and props I’ve accumulated throughout the years. I’m waiting in the threshold for what’s next. It’s a creative space that begs to be explored. I’ve gotten out of my own way. I’ve let go, moved on, leaped, unhooked and trusted.
How do I explain all this to a woman I don’t even know, yet who knows me pretty intimately through my writing? Her name is Jill and if I hadn’t gone back to the frozen food section to pick up just one more thing I would never have met her.
Hello, Jill. And thank you.