I bought the most perfect annuals to plant on my stoop. I’m more of a dandelion girl than flower fan so I have no idea what kind they are. My criteria for Spring plantings are simple; lifts my heart when I look at them and won’t shrink away in relentless sun. The sticker says they thrive in full sun. I find the bold red on the soft pouty petals irresistible… so how could I resist?
But before I can plant new, beautiful things, I need to clean out the remnants of what used to be. The vestigial roots that keep anchored in the earth, unaware that they are dead. They still feel the blaze of the relentless sun that falls upon my stoop every afternoon. But the rain rolls off rather than soak in. Now and forevermore unable to receive the nourishment of the earth it is surrounded by. To me this process is always a little sad. As I wrestle with the dead roots, I think about the joy that bloomed when they were alive and now gone, still hanging on.
Once the sad and dirty task of clearing away the remnants of the dead season is done, the new flowers can take root and thrive. Sometimes I wait a while to do this.. which doesn’t make sense. Why continue to give time to what is dead instead of investing it in what is alive? This year I can’t wait to make that turn.
Each year I embellish the plantings with garden picks. Ladybugs, frogs, butterflies, more pretty things that make my heart happy. I usually take them in well before winter comes. Last year I left one pick out: BLESSED.
If anything could endure a Long Island winter, I figured, it would be something that proclaims BLESSED in the face of it. And endure it did. Left out alone to endure the elements, rusted battered, bent but never broken. Still standing upright. Still BLESSED. Just. Like. Me.
So as I embark on clearing dead things, making way for new life, I’ll keep BLESSED to remind me that although life can have its way with me, I can stand upright and belong among the beautiful things and will always be BLESSED.
A wise person told me not long ago “sometimes the soul has to take a dump.”
When you’re full of shit, empty is not a bad thing to become.
In 2021, shit. got. real.
In 2021, so many words written and unwritten were given their voice. Just as oxygen breathes life into our bodies, so it is done to words. Something happens when they are heard out loud, whether a whisper or a scream. Thoughts and feelings long confined to our heads first step onto pages. Pages can be crumbled. Files deleted. But once words take flight when launched from our lips, they can never be retrieved. They take on a deeper realness.
Different from the coping mechanism of involuntarily repressing memories that my mind used to protect me from the trauma I experienced as a child, these thoughts and feelings were deliberately suppressed to the point of constipating my head.
I told myself a variety of things to justify hanging on to the shit. I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse. I didn’t want to ruin good times. I needed to establish boundaries. While establishing boundaries are healthy in certain situations, and in these they were, there is a world of difference between that and building a wall around your heart in order to keep your feelings prisoner. Which is exactly what I did. I walked in discomfort as I carried the bloat until…
Until 2021 presented me with circumstances, the timing of which made it impossible to contain the shit I shouldn’t have been holding in any longer.
I let it all go.
Some instances more articulately than others. In all instances accompanied by tears, not only for the weight of the words I was saying but for the relief they gave me which I had denied myself of for so long.
The world didn’t end after I said them. It changed. I changed. As painful as it can be, change is often good. The more overdue it is, the stronger the likelihood that the change is ultimately for the good.
It’s a strange empty as the weight of the bloat vacated my mind through my mouth.
I let it go and it is gone.
Yes. Sometimes the soul has to take a dump. That way the soul can be nourished with healthier things.
I arrive here in 2022 awaiting that feast with some trepidation but an even greater curiosity of how the empty will be filled.
God knows every mistake we will ever make. It’s these mistakes that prepare us for our destinies. Without making them ourselves or having them happen against us, we would never build up enough strength to handle the blessings God has for us.
He has given us the grace to endure these wrongs, whether we are the receiver or giver. With that grace comes His forgiveness. How could it not? We are human and He knows that means we are imperfect. We know even better than Him what being an imperfect human feels like… yet forgiveness of others eludes us so often. I believe that is because unlike God, we attach expectations on others based upon our needs and wants from them rather than what God has equipped them with or considering what their true role in our lives are according to the destiny God has for us.
While we find reasons for our own sins to be forgiven, we come up with a litany of reasons why we cannot forgive others. That is part of the human experience and why so many of us and our relationships suffer for so long while we are here. Mercifully by His design, the human experience ends with death and all that is left is the love He placed inside of each of us when we get called Home.
I believe that is why those of us who are left behind when a loved one dies feel a similar Divine release at memorial services. There we can let go of all the wrongs committed against us by the human we are mourning. Those wrongs and failed expectations along with our human shells are buried to be consumed by the earth and transformed into nourishment so life can grow and go on again.
From the start, I have had a complicated relationship with my mother. Pain and anger given and received on both our parts only added to that complexity.
But Truth is undeniable; God chose her to be my mother, for my soul to pass thru and become part of this earthly existence. When that happened, some of the parts of her that I took are some of my favorite parts of myself. I didn’t give her enough credit for that while she was here. Among them I took my mother’s gift of writing, her feminist sensibilities and dry witted sense of humor. I built on these things to make them my own but their foundation was based in her. Without her, there would be no me. I am who I am not in spite of her, but because of her… the good, the bad and the indifferent. Even with all that happened and didn’t happen between us, if given a choice, I would pick her to be the mother for my soul to pass thru and make me human. God knows what He is doing.
We can’t rewrite the past. What is done is done. But we can reinterpret history to feed the goodness that lay before us. That is, if we choose to do so with our gift of Free Will.
That is my choice with my Mommy. Our hard past is now buried. Literally. The other side where I will be reunited with her whole spirit will be awesome. Until then, nothing but love remains.
Yesterday, I stood and declared this over my mother’s grave. I hope it gives both of us the peace we deserve.
The age old saying goes “you only live once.” I saw a meme that said “wrong! We only die once. We live every day.” In my experience, both of these are incorrect. Thirteen years ago today, I died. For eight years after that, I existed. For four years after that, I resented. Today, I live.
I think something that is just as, if not more, dangerous as fear is comfort. Comfort is not always synonymous with goodness. Comfort is familiarity and what one is most familiar with is not always good. It is that dark, prickly comfort that kept me from living. Existing is no way to go through life.
Someone told me that God promises us ‘Beauty for Ashes.” The thing of it is that you need to give the ashes over to God first. Sounds easy. Give God the ugly thing that haunts you and He will give you something beautiful in return. Why was this so impossible to do for so long? Was I skeptical that God would make good on His promise? Perhaps. In life I had already been let down a lot. Was the agony of the ashes I held more comforting than God’s promise? I didn’t know. I. Didn’t. Know. That was it. I was so fearful of the unknown that I preferred to suffer. That, too, is no way to go through life.
I came to the conclusion one day that whatever it was that I didn’t know had a pretty good shot of being better than existing in resentment. I gave God these ashes. Forgiveness followed. That was when I began to live. Maybe for the first time.
This day always has a strange energy about it. I don’t know if it is already there or if I manifest it into existence. Today’s weird energy was different than years past. It was the first year since It happened that I entered into the day with total forgiveness. Each time the memory inevitably crept in, I said to myself “it is done” and shifted my thoughts elsewhere. What a difference this made. It didn’t resurrect the Me that died 13 years ago. Dead is dead. It didn’t erase what occurred back then. What happened, happened. It stopped me from replaying in my mind one of the worst moments of my life. A memory that for some reason I clung to so hard. It gave me no solace. Far from it. It made me cold and empty. It validated my feelings of unworthiness that I attached to myself from the lies I was told to and about me from my earliest days. It was this hanging on to these dead things that turned me into a resentful zombie. Now, it is done.
I know that in the days that come there will be times when this version of me will die during the circumstances I must face. But I know that dying is essential to living. I’ll be afraid and perhaps even reluctant but I know that God will always receive my ashes and give me beauty.
When I was 43 I got into the best physical shape of my life. No magic tricks. Just eat less, move more and drink water. I got in the habit of going to the gym pre-dawn. I had a love/hate relationship with the gym. I hated the exercise but loved the results more. So I did it.
What I didn’t do was address my mind and my soul. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was in the throws of a nervous breakdown that lasted from 2008 until 2016. I have always been a high functioning neurotic. It is a double edge sword. On the positive side, I can plow through emotional circumstances that most others find debilitating. On the flip side, much to my detriment, my issues would go unaddressed. In 2016 while reentering therapy, I was made aware of my nervous breakdown and began the process of reassembling my mind.
I’ve always been spiritual. Even from the time I was a child. Perhaps that comes from being an only child in a dysfunctional environment trying to figure out if, how and where I belong. But no matter how spiritual I got, no matter how much I learned about different religions and philosophies, it never entirely clicked.
This is why despite feeling and looking great as a result of my physical fitness and maintaining it for 5 years or so, I backslid. Going to the gym less then not at all for months at a time. Eating shitty. Not drinking water. The weight came back on pound by pound. Muscle mass lost. While I didn’t backslide all the way to my physically unhealthiest, I was well on the way there.
Then in late 2019, my spirituality clicked. That got me thru the psychological rigors of 2020. That lead to getting back on track with nutrition and movement. But with the gyms closed and the general state of WTF, I was inconsistent at best.
Then lo and behold… in February 2021, I had the mental ass kicking I needed to put everything into alignment. Finally. Uncoincidentally, this mental ass kicking occurred as I was almost exactly 50 1/2. It hit me that I am not getting any younger. If I’m gonna do it… “it” being anything from getting back into good shape to getting any other long put off shit together, I had to DO IT NOW.
So from that moment on, I did. Hitting the gym a minimum of 4 times a week. Eating clean. Struggling with drinking water but doing better. I noticed something different this go around though. Some of it being the metabolic changes I went through with aging from the last time I was fit making it slower to take off the weight and build back the lost muscle. More of it being that my mind’s restoration to wholeness, my soul finding a home and experiencing the liberty of the “I don’t give a fuck 50s.” I don’t mean being flippant, rude and reckless. I mean being comfortable enough in my own self that I will be ME bo matter who sees vs trying to publicly be who I thought I was supposed to be in my younger (and not so younger) days. I cannot express what a difference having the mind-body-soul connection in alignment makes.
This time I love not only the positive effects but I love the movement itself. I lose myself in exercise. I put my earbuds in, blast the Lady Gaga Pandora station and have conversations with God. I literally feel the Holy Spirit move with me and hear God speak to me as keep the fuckin elliptical from killing me, at time dancing as much as I can on the machine. I am all in. So much so that the week before last, as I was in the final 5 minutes on the elliptical in a half squat, the person at the front desk comes running towards me from across the gym. I thought I heard an odd noise over the music pumping in my ears but didn’t think much of it. Until he stopped dead in front of me with his mouth agape. I pulled out my earbuds as I continued working the elliptical. That was when I heard it. SCREEEEEEAAAMMMM coming from my machine until i stopped moving. The front desk clerk finally saying “I have never heard it make that noise before.” I apologized for breaking the machine as I dismounted.
There are many more ellipticals in the gym and arriving there pre-dawn, I almost always have my pick of them all. The next morning I picked one, got on it and worked it with the same joyful intensity as I connected with God. Which leads me to today and the lessons learned from it.
Once again as I was heading into the homestretch of my half hour on the elliptical, I see someone coming straight at me. I thought “Oh shit. Do not even tell me that I broke another machine.” But the person heading towards me was not the front desk clerk. Rather it was one of the pre-dawn regulars I see several times a week. There aren’t many of us. Only about a dozen in the entire facility. We smile at eachother (as much as we can through our masks) but remain hyper focused on our workout rather than small talk.
I recognized the woman making the bee line towards me, although I didn’t know her name. I pulled my earbuds out bit didn’t pause my workout.
“You know,” she started, “I’ve been seeing you here for months. Every day on this machine, dancing, singing, really workin it. Don’t stop. It looks good on you.” How amazing that you hear just the thing you needed to just when you needed to hear it. Yesterday despite feeling in better health overall, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and my reflection didn’t show me what I believed I should see after the last 3 months of dedication to my fitness regimen. What this stranger said brought me back to my new reality and left me with these lessons:
Never hold back on being yourself. You never know who you inspire. I’ve often thought to myself, it’s a good thing everyone is so wrapped up in their own thing to notice you because you must look so ridiculous dancing, singing and praising while working on breaking elliptical #2. Turns out someone did notice and didn’t think it was a display of foolishness. And instead of being embarrassed and tempted to suppress myself, I felt proud to be me.
Don’t be stingy with your compliments. See something, say something. It might be exactly what they need to hear. I am so glad that this woman whose name I still don’t know understood this and acted on it. She totally made my day and delivered exactly what I needed to hear. I am inspired to be that someone to others. I think it’s a great way to be.
It all comes down to this…If I can’t forgive, how can I ever be forgiven? My sins aren’t any cleaner than anyone else’s simply because they are mine.
God chose my mother to be the one to bear me. She met His expectations. For my whole life, I have questioned why and for my whole life, I have focused on the wrong answers. Not because the right answers were not in front of me; but because I chose to blind myself to them.
During my journey of self healing, I forgave many who did unspeakable wrongs to me. But forgiving my mother seemed impossible. Not because what she did (or did not do) was worse than what others did, but because she did not meet my expectations thereby making the pain worse. If I am being truly honest, that is an incredibly unfair standard.
When you allow yourself to love, you choose to overlook shortcomings and focus on the good. That is what is at the heart of forgiveness. That is my choice today.
So many of the things I love best about me are rooted in her. I have been too hurt and angry to acknowledge that. But not acknowledging the truth is only perpetuating a lie. While the lies might’ve been necessary for survival, they are unnecessary if you want to live.
So here are some of the things I am grateful to my mother for…
My Life. She was 19 when she gave birth to me. 19. I forget how young that is when it comes to my mother. She was a child getting through the tumultuousness of adolescence compounded by dysfunction, newly married to a mentally ill and often violent man. And then motherhood. Barely knowing who you are yourself then being responsible for an entirely new human being. How frightening that must’ve been. But here I am anyway. If not for fighting through the fear, I would not be.
Style. My mother was a groovy 70s chick. She looked like a mod Liza Minelli. I used to love going into her closet, finding her patchwork denim bellbottoms, fringed suede bags and platform clogs. I dreamed of looking just as groovy one day.
Feminism. My mother embraced the sexual revolution. Gloria Steinem was among her heroes. As a young woman who had been victimized more than many by the subservience to men, forced into silence, it’s no wonder she so fervently joined the movement to speak out. She subscribed to Ms. Magazine and bought me my most favorite record that was put out by Ms.’s publisher: Free to Be You and Me. I played that record on my victrola until I wore the needle out. There were songs, vignettes and stories of acceptance. That album was crucial in how I saw myself and the world.
Writing. The thing that is most essentially me undeniably came from her. My mother is truly gifted with the written word. Although I never had a lot of opportunity to read her writings, I was always left in awe of the way she was able to articulate her unique point of view.
A mother’s love is unconditional. That’s a two way street. As we mature into adulthood, the child inside lets go of the impossible notion of our mothers being superhuman and embrace their humanity. It is a priceless gift for both mother and child. And today it is a gift i am finally ready to give and receive.
A truly grateful heart is humble enough to generously express thanks not only to those who make it happy but to those who brought pain as well.
This was a very difficult concept for me to wrap my head around. I get it now.
I was in labor for 24 1/2 hours before my daughter was born. During the course of that day that felt like an eternity, I thought I was going to die. I even wished I would die at certain moments. Obviously, I was wrong. Not only did I live but it was as if I was reborn that day along with my daughter. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined the pure elation I would receive by literally pushing through the pain. I was never the same. I was better in every possible way though in the immediate aftermath exhausted and battle worn. At the same time, some of my uncertainty fell away. As if by laboring through that excruciatingly long day I earned my new place in life; mom to the most perfect person I’ve ever known. Although I would never excitedly choose that agony, I would happily relive it every day of the rest of my life if it lead to the same outcome.
It is as if the challenging circumstances in life are the labor pains that must be endured to birth the most priceless gifts in life. So how could we not be as grateful for those moments and the people who brought them as we are for our joys? Without the pain we would never know the pleasure.
It is easy to express gratitude to those who make us smile. Nothing worthwhile is easy. The true test is feeling grateful to those who made us writhe in pain. They are the ones who made us grow the most whether they meant to or not. They gave us the ability to stand upright and tall. What can be more worthy of gratitude than that?
As I walked through my neighborhood during the shutdown, my mind went back to the days when Mama would take me on our daily walk to Flushing Main Street & Roosevelt. Nothing made these memories more vivid than seeing the “wish puffs” and the dandelions they create.
Mama never learned to drive. She never really had to. Born in The (Da) Bronx, raised in Brooklyn, raising my mother in Washington Heights then raising me in downtown Flushing, Queens, everything you need was within healthy walking distance. The few things that weren’t, the bus or subway would get you there. I, on the other hand, got my drivers license the minute i was able to. My long walks through downtown Flushing ended when I was 12 and my mother remarried. Obtaining my drivers license ended all my long neighborhood walks at 17. But the shutdown on COVID19 resurrected them. With the gyms being closed, I hit the pavement for exercise. However as with most things, when you slow down enough to become part of your surroundings, you receive much more than you anticipated.
Trekking through suburbia brought me back to my childhood days. My heart ached with a longing to reach out and hold Mama’s hand; the same hand that as a child I would work to wriggle free from so I could make my own way…but never too far from the safety of my Mama.
We were fortunate to have a stamp of grass in front of our 3-family home. When the weather got warm, the postage stamp of a yard would be filled with “wish puffs.” That’s what Mama told me they were. “You pick them then make a wish and blow until all the puffs are gone.” I swear I must’ve gotten to every single one. I can’t remember what any of my wishes were. I know that one more day, one more long walk with Mama, holding her hand tight this time, would be what i would wish today. But my days of blowing on wish puffs are long gone…and so is Mama.
Shortly after the wish puffs were gone, looking out from the front window of our third floor apartment, I would see our postage stamp dotted with sunshine. Mama told me that everywhere a wish landed would grow a dandelion. On our walks to Gertz on Roosevelt Avenue, i would see them growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. Grownups would walk right past, never even noticing them, sometimes even stepping on them. Yet the dandelion would remain and grow and show off her crown of sunshine in stark defiance of the gray around her.
Every day I would pick a bouquet and give them to Mama. I told her that dandelions were my most favorite flower. Mama laughed and explained that they weren’t flowers at all. They are weeds. People work very hard to get rid of them but hard as they try, the dandelions survive. I told her that I didn’t care what they were. Dandelions were still my most favorite.
In the decades that past, in all my reflection of my moments with Mama, I hadn’t thought of these until I slowed down and walk thru my suburbia.
To be carried by the breath of childrens wishes and to bloom wherever you land, whether a lush field or crack in a sidewalk in downtown Flushing. No need for constant care. The dandelion takes whatever amount of nourishment it can get and stakes it’s claim to its place in this world, becoming a force to be reckoned with while standing tall in a crown of gold. What a glorious thing to be.
I’ve never been one for flowers. I always have been and always will be a Dandelion Girl.
My word of the year last year was FORGIVENESS. I didn’t choose it. It chose me. It was time. Perhaps even overdue.
Through all the years of my life, I thought to forgive was to say that the wrong that was perpetrated was then pronouncedright. I learned that is not forgiveness at all. There are wrongs that can never be made right. But even those — perhaps even especially those –can be forgiven. Forgiveness is an acknowledgement that IT happened. That there is no amount of contemplation that will change the fact that IT happened. And that IT occurred in the past. Forgiveness is the act of leaving it there rather than carry the weight of ITS baggage that never truly belonged to you in the first place. Forgiveness is a gift of freedom that you bestow upon yourself. In 2019, I was blessed to learn it, deliver it and receive the glorious rewards that are still coming into my life.
This year I also learned a new word: MANASSEH. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this word found me after I realized the true definition of forgiveness. I would not have been ready to ponder the concept, let alone wish for its arrival in my life, had I not.
MANESSEH is a Hebrew word meaningcausing to forget. It makes its appearance in the Bible during the story of Joseph who knew incredible betrayal by his family and a variety of other abuse during his life. But these events that he could not control didn’t alter his destiny. He was able to get through it all not only in tact but enjoying a life so rich with love, beauty and prosperity that it made him forget all of the previous pain and trial he endured. MANASSEH arrived. Joseph was so grateful for this gift that it was the name he gave his firstborn son.
C.S. Lewis described Hell as a place where nobody forgets anything. Each soul in Hell remembers every wrong ever done to them, clinging to those wrongs (large and small) forbidding forgiveness thus locking them into perpetual misery. He goes on to describe Heaven as a place with gates that are unlocked by forgiveness. There all those past offenses are left behind so each soul enters unencumbered, light and poised for renewal.
In my life, my mind chose to repress things for decades that I was unequipped to face. My mind later chose a time when I was stronger to cause me to remember. That began the healing and ultimately the forgiving. Now my soul beckons MANASSEH to preview Heaven while still earthbound inside me.
So as I embark upon the beginning of the New Year/New Decade, I choose MANASSEH as my word for 2020. In this life, we can’t really be fruitful until we are also forgetting, can we?
May we all be true to our word in 2020. Happy New Year!