Monday, December 29, 2008

Learning to Dwell on the Unexpected

Last night, our family celebrated the eighth and final night of Chanukah.  We had just returned home from a trip to San Francisco, placed all of our suitcases in to the house, said hello to all of our animals, and brought out one of our menorahs.  Chanukah is a celebration of light and of freedom.  It memorializes the first battle that was fought for the right to religious freedom.  During each of the eight nights of Chanukah, a candle is lit beginning from right to left until the final night when all eight of the candles are finally illuminated.  The center candle is known as the "shamash", or the helper candle.  It is used each night to light all of the other candles.  The reason that it stands above the other candles is to remind us that God is always above us.  To me, it represents the idea that God is with us to light the paths of our lives and to guide us, even when things seem to be at their darkest.  It offers brightness and hope and encouragement.  It is a symbol of family and friends.  Although Chanukah is a minor holiday in the Jewish tradition, it is a time which is looked upon with great fondness.  It is a time of celebration and joy.   Often times, the children receive one gift on each night.  For our family, it has always been a time to celebrate together.  On one of the nights, I would have our extended family over to our home.  Of course, this always included my beloved brother, my sister-in-law and my two wonderful nieces.  Having my brother and the girls around always made me feel as if he and I had somehow succeeded in achieving the close-knit family that we were deprived of as children.  We always looked on, in awe, as our six daughters loved on one another in a way that we never experienced during our younger years.  He would sometimes shake his head and say, "I cannot believe that all of these girls belong to us!"  The look on his face as he took in those moments is something that I will hold onto within my memory forever.  

As Chanukah approached, this year, I found myself dreading it.  You see, when my brother gave me his usual bear hug before he walked out my door last year, I never, ever, ever thought it would be the last time that I would see him in this lifetime.  I didn't hold on long enough.  I didn't memorize what his final words to me were.  I did not know that just about six weeks later, as we were preparing to meet him and his family for dinner, that he would be gone.  And that the next time I saw him, he would be dead.  

My family has taken this in each of their own ways.  But the one that sticks in my mind is the phone call which I received from my youngest Angel, one night, when she was home alone.  She was quietly crying and when I asked her what was wrong, she replied that she missed her Uncle Robbie.  She said that she had written him a letter and that she wanted me to take her to the cemetery so that she could give it to him.  Ten months later, the tears flowed so freely that all I could do was tell her that I understood.  I still haven't asked her if I could read the letter.  I still have not gathered the courage to face my brother's grave site, again.  I know he is not there, but the part of the earth which he has now become a part of, is.  And I do not know if I am yet brave enough to face the finality of it.  In Judaism, the grave stands marked with nothing but a simple plaque, for the first year.  Around the anniversary of the death, a ceremony known as an "unveiling" is done, and the completed gravestone is then placed at the site.  My brother's wife will not be having an unveiling.  

When Mark and I were discussing how we would be spending the holidays this year, I knew that I could not face them at home.  I wanted to be away, some place different.  I wanted to be with all four of my daughters and Mark and I wanted Chanukah to pass rather quietly and inconspicuously.  It is kind of how most of 2008 has been for me.  A long passing blur on the highway of life.  Large, readable signs popping up along the way, but for the most part, fuzziness and blur.  So, we decided to take a trip up to San Francisco.  Someplace far away enough to forget, but close enough to remember.

And it was good.  It was good to be together, insulated from our world.  Good to be in a big city. And good to be able to spend some time alone, together.

San Francisco is a city that you can get lost inside of.  There are huge amounts of people, but most of the time, they insulate themselves inside of the safety of their own bubbles.  In the picture above, Mark, myself and our Angels Daughters created our own little bubble of family.
Beautiful architecture fills San Francisco with monumental buildings.  There is so much to observe and so much to get lost in.  A visual feast for the eyes.
This father paced back and forth, with his little one in tow, for a good twenty minutes in front of the restaurant that we were eating in.  We could not resist enjoying the tiny Christmas elf as he/she slept soundly nuzzled close to his daddy's back.  Look at how the dad even kept a hand resting on the baby as he chatted on his cellphone!
Trolly cars are a traditional staple on the hilly roads of San Francisco.  We skipped the ride this time, as it can be very interesting trying to find a place for six people in a car.  People can become very pushy and aggressive, so since we had already ridden on the trolly's during a previous trip, we skipped it this time.
AD4 and AD3 taking in some shopping.
Mark and our Angels standing outside of the Jewish museum waiting for me to stop with the camera.  There was an incredible exhibit of Andy Warhol's portraits of ten famous Jews being exhibited and so we decided to check it out.  It was definitely worth seeing!  We were able to stand within a foot or two of Andy Warhol's actual works!  Photography was not allowed, but I think Angel Daughter Number Two(our photographer, sneaky girl) managed to shoot one great shot of the portraits.  I will try to post it here soon!
AD2 gazing out at the city from our hotel room.
AD1, 4, and 3 hamming it up for the camera.  They sometimes get tired of me taking pictures of them.  Can you imagine?!?!?
AD2, or Nanook, as I lovingly dubbed her, decided to don her winter hat in the forty-five degree weather.  I definitely think that children who are born in warm weather climates have much thinner blood!  My girls LOVE the cold weather, but of course they have never had to actually live in it.
I asked AD4 to give me her best "That Girl!" swirl, but unfortunately, she had no idea what I was talking about.  She's a very good sport, anyway.
Chinatown is a big part of the San Francisco experience and it's a lot of fun to shop there.  This is the entrance to several long blocks of Chinese culture and history.

And so, another year has gone by, another memory created.  I cannot help but wonder how many more family vacations we will be able to take as our self-contained, little unit of six.  Our Angel's own wings are becoming stronger and more independent with each passing year, and soon, there will be others joining our roost.  It is only inevitable.  

As I was searching for one of our cats tonight, I opened the door of a cabinet that I rarely ever open.  As I looked down for a pair of glowing eyes, I found something entirely unexpected and it momentarily knocked the breath right out of my lungs.  Last year, for Chanukah, my mother bought my brother and I the same, exact Celine Dion CD.  Neither one of us were big Celine fans, but when everyone left my house and I was cleaning up, I noticed that my CD was nowhere to be found.  Tired and admittedly, a little bit annoyed, I called my brother and left him a message asking him if he had accidently taken my CD home with him, as well.  After a few days, he returned my call and told me, that yes, he had indeed taken an extra copy of the CD home with him.  A bit sarcastically, he asked me if I wanted him to mail it back to me.  I told him, "Of course not, I'll just get it from you the next time we get together."  When Mark, my SIL and I were planning my brother's funeral in February, she brought the CD over to my house.  It was kind of an odd gesture, so I placed it, still in it's original packaging inside of that out-of-the-way cabinet, a sign of it's seemingly unimportantness in the face of my brother's passing.  Yet tonight, in the resurfacing of this still wrapped CD, there is a message from my brother.  And although I have not spent the time to think it all the way through yet, I do know that there are no coincidences.  There is, however, insignificant unfinished business which has suddenly become a very important reminder from someplace else.  

I hope that your holidays were filled with love, meaning and enough joy to hold onto for a very, very long time.  And in the coming year, may the symbols and signs that are meant to teach, stop you in the tracks of your journey to remind you that there truly are no coincidences.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

As the Tides Change and Happy 1st Night of Chanukah

As I sit back to take inventory on the things that I have gleaned during 2008, I must remind myself to reflect more deeply on the good, while still holding on to the lessons that I have received from the unbearable.  Spreading my wings to fly off into the unknown of another year is, at the same time, a huge relief and scary as hell.  The emotions that I am experiencing in leaving this past year behind, remind me that I truly do not know what life will bring from one moment to the next.  That there are no guarantees, no coincidences and truly no absolutes.  And although this past year brought with it only a month and a half before my family experienced the saddest tragedy that we have ever had to face, life continued happening as we celebrated birth(renewal), a graduation(transition), and the flight of two of our Angel Daughters going off to college(one for the first time and one as a senior).  
And while I cannot say that I am at all sorry to get past the psychological boundary of putting 2008 behind me, I can say that it was a year that will stand out forever in my mind.  Heading in to 2009 brings with it a mixed sense of relief, apprehension, and hope.  In some ways, I feel as if I will need a compass in order to navigate the wind currents by which my life will now flow.  In other ways, I feel a bit stronger and better prepared because of the storms that sought to clip my wings.  Life is like that.  We don't realize how incredibly strong we are until the bounds of that strength are tested.  It is only then that we know, really know, how resilient we can be in the face of adversity.

Standing at the edge of a very low tide, last week, I noticed the rippling sands that are usually covered by the sea water.  It made me think about the things that reside just below the surface of who we believe ourselves to be during the times when our lives seem fairly unchallenged.  It is only during the unusual times, the times when things are not as they should be, that we are forced to peer beneath the surface into the face of someone who feels strange and unfamiliar.  Those are the times when we can learn one thousand lessons in what seems to be a few short moments.  The low tides of our lives, when taken seriously and to heart, are the times when we can gain momentous growth.  And whether we are ready or we are not, the wind currents will change, the tides will ebb and flow, and the storms will come.  It is in how we choose to navigate the changes, that will determine whether we will become permanently grounded or if we will be able to soar even higher than we did before.

As you reflect upon this past year, may you treat yourself as you would, a student who is constantly learning new lessons as they go.  Gently, honestly, but with a small bit of slack and a swift kick in the rear, when absolutely necessary.  

Thank you for helping me to find my own wings.

Monday, December 15, 2008

And They Say it Never Rains in Southern California

Sometimes the journeys which life leads us on, can bring us from this...
To this, all within the span of twenty-four short hours.  Southern California has been full of delightful surprises over the course of the past few days.  Even though we are missing just about half of our Angel clan, when we heard that there would be snow in our local mountains we decided to play "hooky" from work and school to head up to the five thousand foot level for some good 'ol fashion white stuff.  Sometimes, we're a little crazy like that.  It's how we like to roll!
And by the look on Angel Daughter Number Four's face, she and Jersey really enjoyed the extra cuddle time.  

May you take a little time to do something out of the ordinary, even if it's only for an hour or two and may you stay warm and cozy no matter where you live.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Welcome Home

I find that as life takes on a faster pace, I have an almost desperate need to slow things down. As someone who used to be a "doer"(raising four daughters will do that to you), I have learned to become a more constant observer and it seems to serve me well. I like catching moments as they happen. I enjoy recording things by camera or using words to express and evoke emotion. I feel that in some ways, I am finally beginning to come into my own. You see, when I was young, as early as eleven years old, writing was something that felt very natural to me. I found that it was a very therapeutic way for me to calm myself as I dealt with some very tumultuous situations in life. Writing allowed me to place things into perspective. It allowed me to compartmentilize my world into things that were good and things that were not so good. It allowed me to connect with a part of myself that understood a little more, a part that was wiser and more maternal. It helped me to withstand a difficult childhood.

Looking back now, I see that for a time, this gift, my coping mechanism, was taken away from me. Professors in college became overly critical of my use of "descriptive language". My father decided that I should become an attorney and that creative writing was a huge waste of my time. I lost something that was important to me. I lost something that meant expression. I lost my absolute love for the written word.
But somehow, my love for writing never really disappeared. It just lay doramnt, right beneath the surface of my life, waiting. Waiting for the right time. Waiting for me to return. And like this loyal dog who waited patiently for his master to return to the edge of the water, my words waited for me. Slowly I find them buried just beneath the surface, and slowly they return to me like an old friend whose been with me all along.

I began to read more and then more and then more. I participated in a wonderful writing workshop taught by an inspiring and gifted writer named Peggy Payne. Peggy encouraged me with her love of the written word, her adventurous spirit and her giving nature. She made me realize that to some people, words are like air and without them, we fail to thrive.

And as I became more of an observer, the words and images flowed back to me. I no longer waited for them to return without understanding that I was, indeed, waiting. I opened my soul back up to the power of the written word. I began this blog...

and the words poured out.

So I wonder when I think about the people I know, the friends I have, the Angel daughters I am raising. What have you left behind? And how will you open yourself up into coming home to it once again.

May you close your eyes and search your soul for the things you left behind. May you believe that you are worthy enough to bring those things back into your life.

I have been dealing with a computer crash since this past weekend so please bear with me if I am a bit out of touch. I am sharing this computer with my Angel daughters who for some reason, think that it's important to do homework.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sky Paintings

Sometimes the only thing it takes in order to change one's perspective, is to take a deep soul-cleansing breath...
raise your eyes towards the sky, and observe.  It does not always take something drastic or life-altering or even a move from where you are already sitting.  Sometimes, just breathing and looking up is all you have to do in order to view things in a better light.

During a moment of frustration, this afternoon, I stopped to look out of my window.  This was the beauty that met my gaze and held it there for quite a long while.  There is nothing like capturing a majestic masterpiece in time, just before it begins to fade out into darkness.  

If something has you feeling down, try looking up.  You might not find the answers to your frustrations there, but you certainly might find something that will distract you into a momentary feeling of calm.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learning to Navigate Hopefully

Coming home from our long weekend in the mountains, I find that I am filled with more questions than answers.  In so many ways, I am more grateful at this point in my life than at any other time in my forty-six years.  I have my loving husband and our four incredible Angel daughters.  We have our furry and feathery family members, the souls of our home, our constant companions.  We have our home as well as our other spaces in which to hide and retreat.  We can afford to have two daughters in college.  We are secure, happy and solid.  We are alive.

Yet this has been a year that has brought more despair than I have ever known during my forty-six years.  The death of my beloved brother in February created a domino-effect that we are all still trying to cope with almost ten months later.  I have experienced biting betrayal that left me in a state of pain, confusion and depression for much of the first half of this year.  We have been kept from my nieces, our other Angels, my brothers daughters, without any rhyme, sense or reason.  And now we must fight.  Fight for what we know is honorable and good and right.  Battle for love.  And although I know all too well that many others have walked this path before us, it rips at my heart to have to follow in their wearied footsteps.  When I look down at the path that lies ahead, I see things that have been shed both necessarily and by choice.  I see old growth which has been discarded and seedlings of things that may someday grow into something more.
Yes, indeed, the road is covered with more sharp edges and prickliness than I would ever care to navigate on my own.  Yet I know that I am not alone.  Never alone.  I am guided along by God, a Force much more powerful than I can even begin to understand.  I have my husband, my forever-partner and our daughters, our heaven-sent Angels.  And I have my brother, sometimes whispering, sometimes yelling, reminding me that we are the connection.  I am the connection.  He tells me that he will do whatever he can to help us to make things right.  He reminds me that he walks the path along side of me, his older sister and will remain here until the journey is just and complete.  For however long it takes, he will walk the tightrope between this world and the next.  He will stay between, balanced only by the hope and the knowledge that I will do what I must in order to bring his daughters back into the circle.
Along the path, there is renewal and there is hope.  There are words that come to me and I listen as carefully as I am able.  And when I look down and see the hope which grows along the path I feel gladdened and peaceful and safe.  Because if something that begins as tiny and as vulnerable as this...
can grow into an enormous giant that will, most likely, outlive me then I can hope.  And even in the midst of the darkness, there is always light.  Sometimes only as tiny as a glimmer and sometimes bright enough to guide us through places in which we are hesitant to go.  But how will we know if we aren't willing to muddle through the prickly, dark spots in order to find our way?  There is bittersweet beauty in all of it because it is a part of the process.  And if hope can create a towering canopy of Ponderosa trees out of a pencil-tip seedling, then it can certainly sustain us on the path that lies ahead.

May you honor that which you have lost by holding tightly onto the hope that you have gained along the road.  May you always feel guided, loved and surrounded by the things that allow you to believe in the journey.  If you aren't happy with the way that your story is going, may you search for a way to change the ending.

Thank you for hanging with me over a bit of a blogging break.  You are always appreciated.
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