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.
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?
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.
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!
So often the moments that impact your life forever happen so unexpectedly.
On this day 17 years ago, i looked to the sky as i got ready for work and noticed how crystal clear it was. I wonder how many of those 3,000+ who never got to see the sunset that day looked up and noticed the same? I wonder how many were too busy getting through their commute to notice? We are all guilty of that too often.
Millions of people who were all just like us attended to their mundane lives on a tiny island that morning. Shortly after getting their morning coffee or setting up their tasks for the day or putting off that call they’ve been dreading for just one more day, they would be evacuated. Their designated safety marshall having to pull out the procedure manual he was trained on but never really thought he’d ever have to use.
Downtown shellshocked people covered in dust walking like zombies thru the unnatural clouds. Midtown and Uptown hearing rumors that NYC was under attack then looking south and seeing it was true. Nobody able to make a call to loved ones. Everyone trying to make their way off the tiny island that now seemed so big.
Silent panic as millions of ordinary people walked across bridges. Louder panic of ordinary people in the boroughs and Long Island were terrified in the silence on their Manhattan commuting loved ones.
First responders who were in the safety of home, off-duty kissed their families goodbye and headed into the unknown for weeks.
After millions finally made it home on foot, the families of the still missing went downtown with homemade posters and “Have You Seen Me” flyers in the hopes that their loved ones were wandering about NYC disoriented survivors of the experience.
This morning the clouds effectively hide the sun. We are each getting ready for another ordinary day in the life. But all Americans…NYers especially…are forever changed as we look to the sky. I still see the ghost of the Twin Towers as i look at our skyline. And with it, i see the souls on their ascent deep into the Universe when they abandoned their wrecked bodies there. I hope they can feel the love of we the ordinary give unto them daily and know they will never be forgotten.
God bless the ordinary; we are truly extraordinary. God bless America.
Today as I honor our US Veterans, I am reflecting upon how many members of my own family volunteered to serve. I am truly blessed.
In the photo below is my Uncle Sidney as he graduated his training in the US Navy then onto fight in WWII. My Uncle Bob fought in Europe for the US Army during WWII. My father’s father was in the US Navy in Europe during the war then in the South Pacific during the occupation. And, of course, my Great-Grandpa Sam who served in BOTH WWI and WWII.
During the Vietnam War my father and his brother served in the US Air Force and US Army respectively. I wish I had my father’s service photo. Somewhere I have a picture of my uncle in his uniform during a visit home. One day I will find it.
My Aunt Cathy served with the US Army and her son, my cousin Steven, with the US Navy for what seems like forever.
The blessings continue as the list of family who served in the US military goes on.
There won’t be any buildings named after my relatives. No statues erected in their image. Their birthdays aren’t destined to be national holidays. But their dedication — all veterans dedication and service — to our nation makes them just as important as those who do have those things. Maybe more. When each took their oath, they knew they would not return home the same as when they left. Thankfully in my family, everyone came back with their bodies fully in tact. Yet they had all changed from the experience. And every American is better for the service of every US Veteran.
How appropriate that we honor our Veterans on the 11th Day of the 11th Month in the 11th Hour, the same month as our country celebrates Thanksgiving. It is a month that gratitude is top of mind. I am in the habit of saying simply “Thank you for your service” to every Veteran I encounter. It brings a smile to their faces and makes my day every single time. I highly recommend doing this. Not only on Veterans Day but every day.
Prayed to and for Mama last night. That’s nothing new. I’ve been doing that for over 15 years now. But last night the yahrzeit joined us. It made me think of the traditions Mama taught me. She was not religious but always considered herself a Jewish woman. Other members of the tribe understand this notion easily.
It was decided that when I was born because I was a mix of so many different cultures (among other reasons), I wouldn’t be raised in any particular religion. I would be exposed to both Catholicism and Judaism and my ultimate spiritual path would be yet another thing i was left to figure out for myself.
When I bought my yahrzeit candle for Mama from the supermarket, the cashier in his chit chat said, “You know, someone came in here before and bought 36 of these!” My knee jerk response was to say, “Wow…that’s a lot of dead people.” He looked back at me, puzzled, and said, “I guess you light these on a particular day?” I forget sometimes that I’m not in Queens anymore. I explained briefly that it is for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Candles are lit for loved ones who have passed. I felt Mama’s spirit strong in me as I spoke to this young man. It reminded me of how she explained the holidays to me years ago. He smiled and said, “Enjoy your holiday!” I didn’t correct him by telling him that Yom Kippur isn’t seen as a joyous holiday but rather a somber day of attonement. Instead I smiled back and said, “Thank you.” Not simply because my supermarket theology lesson had come to its natural end but because I have always enjoyed having a day set aside for reflection.
Yom Kippur is a day for our human self to be as close to our spiritual self as a mortal can be by letting go of what our earthbound bodies require like food and water. Sin is also what makes us human. It is a day to recognize the sins we’ve committed, reconcile them with our souls and ask God for forgiveness.
In years past, it is the reconciliation of my sins to my own soul that gave me the most trouble because unlike God, I lacked a clear definition of what true forgiveness is. It rendered me unable to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done and because of this, I couldn’t imagine anyone, including God Himself, being able to forgive me either. Age, experience and hard work have helped me greatly in this regard.
Being able to do anything for 40 years is significant. At 47, it is only now that I am grasping a true understanding of what Time does to us during our human experience and why we mark milestones.
Today is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death. I am grateful to the strangers who posted the photo online of his tombstone in Arizona. When they posted this picture, the only one I have of “him,” I found out the exact date he died. I remember clearly being told the news by his mother. I remember clearly being 7 years old. I remember clearly being in Mrs. Rosenberg’s 2nd grade class, sharing the news with her and seeing the pity in her eyes. But without the kindness of these strangers, I wouldn’t have been able to mark his exit on this date for the last few years. It is as important for me to honor this date as I continue my earthly existence, hopefully for many more years, as it is for my father’s soul, wherever it may be.
In the last 40 years while my father’s body lay under his tombstone, I lived a life he helped to create. And when I say that, I do not simply mean in the biological sense. Even though I don’t have memories of looking into his eyes, hearing his voice or holding his hand, there are few things as significant in how I viewed myself and the importance of my life than his abandoning me as a baby then dying when I was a child. His deliberate absence to kiss the boo boos he inflicted upon me taught me a lot. Much of those things were wrong but he wasn’t there to correct me. I was a child who learned to fend for myself emotionally at an all-too-young age.
As I got older, my pain hardened into anger then fermented into rage. Directed at my father. Directed at myself. Rage and self-hatred do not make a solid foundation for a life. They are fodder for bad choices. And despite my pragmatic nature, I did make bad choices. Some on an epic scale the consequences of which I am still dealing with.
Thankfully rage can’t fuel an everlasting flame. As decades passed, I worked on making the corrections that my father wasn’t around to guide me through. No words of wisdom. Only his ghost that I made certain still haunted me and some degree of mental illness.
It was when I became a mother that things really changed. I mean, as a parent your entire life shifts. Here I mean my relationship with myself in turn my “relationship” with my father really changed. As my baby girl and I went thru life together, achieving milestones, making mistakes, maintaining mundane everyday lives, I thought about all the things my father missed out on. As I accumulated tools in my mental health toolbox to combat my chronic depression first motivated by motherhood then carrying on for me, my heart started to break for my father. As adept he was as building and creating, his mental health toolbox was empty…and that lead to his early demise after a short life of rage, violence and self-hate.
The scars are still here 40 years later. They’ll still be here in 10 more years for the next milestone of my father’s passing. They make me who I am…and 40 years later, I kinda like who I am. But to a huge extent the rage, hate and resentment that I had so long, so strong, have been replaced with love and compassion for the man who made me but never really knew.
Last year, the REALTOR organization that I have the honor of being president of, hosted its annual charity fundraiser in support of a grassroots organization helping Veterans transition into civilian life and combat PTSD through comedy and the arts. I talked about my father during my introduction of the group’s founder. I think it fitting to share here too as I commemorate the milestone of 40 years without-now-with my father…
“…Tonight I want to share a little bit about…why Project 9 Line’s mission struck such a deep chord with me.
My father, Peter Frank Dajnowski, Jr.,enlisted in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. He dreamed of one day being a pilot. While he never realized that dream, he was proud to don the uniform and serve our Nation, especially during a time of conflict.
His life ended with a bullet in 1977 at age 31. It has been a long-standing controversy as to who put it there…but it has always been clear that HOW it got there was through a series of bad choices and sick thinking. That day, the war was finally over for my father.
My father had mental issues and was gone from my life from the time I was an infant. All I have ever had were stories to bring him to life for me. I was told that from the time he was little, he loved to create things with his hands. He was funny. He made everyone laugh — often without trying — with his quick wit and biting sarcasm. Makes me wish I had a chance to laugh at his jokes.
Fast forward to about a year ago when I met Patrick Donohue at an Islip Chamber of Commerce meeting when he told me about an organization he started. He told me that Project 9 Line works with Veterans, many of whom are combatting PTSD, helping them transition into civilian life through the arts, comedy and a variety of other ways that he will tell you more about in a moment.
I couldn’t help but think of my father. Maybe if there was an organization like this back then, maybe his internal war might have ended differently. Maybe. But it’s too late to rewind that tape.
It is my current hope that we can do through programs like the ones that Project 9 Line offers, that instead of a soldier’s daughter living off secondhand memories, she gets the opportunity to create her own firsthand…filled with laughter. That would be priceless.
So Daddy…I am grateful for the life you gave me and I hope that I am making you proud with how I am choosing to live it. I hope that wherever you are, you finally found peace. And thank you for your service. It might not have showed much at the time but IT MATTERED. Your life mattered.”