In Defense of the Much Married

I’ve noticed that when people are talking about why someone is a mess they often cite their number of marriages. As in “What do you expect? I think he’s on, like, his fourth wife!” In a biography of Clementine Churchill, the author supports her claim that both the Roosevelts and Churchills were bad parents by totaling the marriages of their offspring –impressively large in both cases.

Lately I’ve started speaking up. When someone made a disparaging remark about a relative who was now on her THIRD marriage I said, “Careful now! Some VERY nice people have been married three times.” The speaker had the good graces to look chagrinned.

Not that I can throw any stones. I used to be the biggest judgey-pants on the block about divorce—right up until I GOT one! In my youth pretty much nobody I knew was divorced and I thought it was a truly terrible thing. Just the way the folks on Mad Men felt about the divorcee down the street.  A few neighbors felt pity, most were convinced she was after their husbands and all thought she and her status were deeply troubling, very odd and mostly to be avoided with eyes averted, like something distasteful on the sidewalk. Such was the tenor of 1950s America. It seemed completely natural to assume that there was something wrong with someone who was divorced—they were lazy, didn’t try hard enough, didn’t value long-term commitments or, worse still, had a fatal flaw like infidelity or substance abuse.

Walking down the aisle for my first wedding I clearly remember thinking I was making a mistake. But marriage still seemed de rigueur to me in 1977 and I had not received any better offers. No shock then to the thinking person (not me!) when the marriage ended 10 years later. But still I drove to my parents’ house with actual fear and trepidation at the prospect of telling my long-married mom and dad that I was about to have the first divorce in our family—possibly even in our extended family.  I’m not really sure when it was that a far-away and little-known first cousin got divorced but I do remember it was attributed entirely to being raised in the no-rules, free-wheeling atmosphere of that bastion of sex, love and rock and roll—-CALIFORNIA!!

In order to continue getting up in the morning following this colossal life failure, I had to temper my judgment of divorced people. I now said things like: Things happen. People grow apart. Problems ensue and only one half of the duo may want to work on them. I then quickly shifted all my anti-divorce feelings to people who did it when they had CHILDREN. I believe I even spoke the words on more than one occasion that once you had children the divorce option was simply off the table. It was so morally reprehensible to shatter a child’s in-tact family that no matter how miserable you might think you were with your spouse, you were obligated to suck it up. I remember a friend’s shock when she decided to leave her husband when their only child was 12 and her mother said, “Couldn’t you just hang in there for 6 more years until she goes to college?” Uh, no mom. Not really possible. But in truth I was kind of thinking the same thing and pretty much stopped speaking to this woman in favor of siding with her “abandoned” husband.

Of course, this judgment also had to be suspended when after 16 years, 2 kids and 5 years of therapy I finally mustered the courage to leave a toxic marriage. My self-loathing was immeasurable. Leaving had seemed utterly impossible right up until the day when I could not stop crying or get out of bed. I realized I could not go on living if I stayed in that marriage and that, no matter what pain might ensue, my children would be better off with a living mother than a dead one. That is literally what it took for me to leave because I was so convinced that people who divorced when they had children were lower than pond scum.

My years in scum-ville were the darkest of my life. I hated myself and what I had done to my children.  Leaving was horrible in every way except that suddenly I could breathe and no longer felt my heart sink every time I pulled into the driveway and saw his car there. Even in the midst of wracking guilt there was this tiny whiff of lightness and freedom and ………joy at having found the get out of jail card and used it.  And I was, of course, forced to alter my opinion of people who divorced with children, given that I was now a member of their club. I had to accept that sometimes wanting a family and actually being able to make it work were not the same thing. Divorce was still wrenchingly sad, but it was sometimes necessary for the survival of one or more of the parties. And the constitution does guarantee each of us a right to life.

It was four long years before I even contemplated trying again, but I eventually tired of being alone and went on line. The result was a giant gift from God called Tom. We have already covered that all-too-short, exceedingly sweet chapter and its tragic end. Just promise me that you will never say to someone who had a wonderful short marriage any of the following: “Well, at least you were together such a short time that you know you can live without him.” OR “Really you never had a chance to see if you would get sick of each other.” OR “Still in the honeymoon phase. Who knows how it might have played out.” As another widow recently wrote in response to such idiotic comments “Right! Thank God I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life with my beloved soul mate. Really dodged that bullet!”

Losing Tom was the greatest loss of my life. It made me doubt everything. God, the universe, the possibility of lasting happiness, redemption, the fucked-up health care system—EVERYTHING. Except love. He taught me how to love. He taught me how to BE loved. And those were lasting lessons that haven’t gone away.

I know I am still a super judgey person in many other arenas. But on the topic of multiple marriages I now get it. Shit really does happen and often it is not in your control. And sometimes the only way to keep living is to end a relationship. And sometimes the best way to keep living is to stay hopeful and have the courage to start another one, knowing full well that there are no happily ever after guarantees outside the Disney franchise.

I don’t know if John and I will ever get married. But we might. And he will no doubt have to explain away the fact that he is marrying someone who has had THREE previous husbands. Am I proud of that? No. Am I happy my life has gone that way? Uh-uh. Do I now accept that some basically well-meaning, not horrible people have multiple marriages? Yup. The right number used to be one. Now it seems to be pretty acceptable to have had two. I’m going to argue for a little more latitude since my third was a love match ended by cancer. But I also think there might even be something admirable about Liz Taylor’s eight for she always said, “At least I MARRY them!”.

So here is what I’ve decided. In almost all cases people are just doing the best they can in life. At least at that particular moment in that particular circumstance. Some people get lucky and are able to create and sustain a 1950s-style family that eats dinner together and stays in one piece. God love them. I truly wish that had been me. But it wasn’t. I tried pretty hard but apparently what the universe thought my soul most needed in this life was quite a few different tries at love.  I’ve learned a lot. At least enough to caution you about drawing too many conclusions about Aunt Susie or the lady down the street based solely on how many husbands she’s had. Some pretty nice people have taken a few tries to get it right. At least they didn’t decide to give up on love and sit home being bitter. That’s something.

So if one day there is a #4, let the tongues wag away. I’ve learned the hard way about the perils of throwing stones when your house turns out to have a LOT more windows than you realized!


Lost Weekend

There is nothing like a bad bug to get your priorities straight. I teach small children. I have done this for 20 years and you might think some immunity would have developed by now but not the case. I seem to fall victim to every weird, icky germ that blows through my house/classroom and in what is surely a big joke from God, usually wind up voiceless. Yes, ha ha. Very funny. I get that I talk too much, that I need to process every waking thought by speaking it out loud, that I tell people things repeatedly and issue annoying and often useless reminders to my loved ones on what they should be doing (this would not of course be NECESSARY if they would just do what I said the first time!) but still it seems a little harsh that every sniffle goes right to laryngitis given that I make my living by singing and talking.

Today Facebook reminded me that the voice doctor I saw years ago is having a birthday. I sent greetings and my thanks for having saved me from a vocal tear that developed when I sang right through/over a bad cold. I wound up losing my voice completely and he insisted on three days of complete vocal rest in order to undo the damage. This was a bigger problem than normal as I was scheduled to be the entertainment at a kid’s birthday party the next day. I emailed the mom and offered to come anyway and hold up signs and use recorded music and cut my fee in half. She didn’t have a lot of options so she agreed. I also taught piano by writing notes and using lots of gestures and facial expressions—kind of like communicating in a foreign country when you don’t speak the language. It worked better than I would’ve imagined but I really missed talking and could not sing for weeks which almost killed me.

I come from verbal stock. This was driven home when John spent a weekend with my two siblings and me. He said, “You guys can REALLY talk!” Our parents were both pretty verbal and my mom was a grammar snob and in her later years could talk you comatose about the minutiae of life. But it was more the contrast of me being one of 4 kids and John being an only child that hit home. When you live alone with adults (as I did for quite a while after my older sibs went off to college) things are just quieter. I was always a little envious of those big loud Greek or Italian families you see in movies where meal times are utter chaos. The only memory I have of big boisterous gatherings was vacations at Silver Lake in Wisconsin and occasionally holiday meals. The rest of the time it was my mom and dad and me eating on TV trays so my dad wouldn’t miss a second of Walter Cronkite. I made up for quiet at home by being that obnoxious smarty pants kid at school who always knew the right answer and made sure everybody knew it. Teachers usually liked me a lot. Kids not so much.

A friend’s daughter just posted about germs having ruined their weekend plans but the silver lining of having some fun in her own yard with her own kids. I did not get to go to the movie I’d wanted to see with John, or take my girls to the Rhapsody in Blue performance at the symphony, but I did have a nice long wide-ranging talk with my youngest (from a safe enough distance to spare her my germs) which ended in her telling me she liked spending time with me. We agreed we could safely have a big hug if we both held our breath!

I wound up cancelling a couple weekend lessons and spending 2 solid days in bed. There was some sleeping, but mostly carb loading (that feed a cold thing is not just a wives’ tale!) and binge watching—in my case one and half seasons of Transparent. I do not really think this is a good thing—even in a sick bed. I am all for guilty pleasures but I think the old days of network TV were safer and in some weird way kept us slightly more connected as our fellow humans were watching the same thing at the same time. I remember calling my BFF Betsy Stover at every commercial of Gidget or The Patty Duke show to discuss what had just gone on. It was fun to live vicariously through these slightly older teen characters and have a friend to process it with. Binge watching alone is just a way to burn time and fight boredom. OK when you’re sick (I guess) but possibly a symptom of the great divide that now exists between humans using technology.

Alyssa and I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books together. Every single one. I was talking to her about how much I liked them and learned from them and she confessed that the content was completely immaterial to her and not really memorable. She just liked the time with me. Having her head in my lap as I read. Listening to the cadence of my voice, regardless of what the words were. I know life was very hard for people in earlier eras. All that foraging for food, chopping wood for fuel, baking bread out of scant ingredients. But there was also reading aloud by candlelight and playing a fiddle and singing by the fire. I long at a deep level for simpler times that I know will never come again. At least I think not. The best seller Station Eleven recounts the tales of a traveling acting troupe that formed to spread culture in the aftermath of a flu-like pandemic that killed millions and brought the U.S. back to pre-technology, survival basics. I don’t wish that upon us for a minute, but I do wish we could all unplug.

Without my phone and laptop I might’ve read and written more this weekend. I might’ve gotten more sleep. I thought I was doing a good thing, maybe even an important thing when I canceled cable and even moved the TV and DVD player to the chilly, sparsely furnished basement. But, as always, I was a step behind the times. My daughter has trouble getting school work done because she can just watch entertainment on her phone. (Does anyone else remember when personal computers first came out and experts cautioned that children must only use them in common areas where parents could have full view of the screen? HA! That ship left the harbor pretty darn fast, huh?) I have talked to many parents lately who have to strongly encourage their children to get out of their rooms and actually see friends!

I felt isolated this weekend. I did not want anyone to get my germs and it was appropriate to stay away. But now I crave some human contact. It will feel good to teach again, to go to a couple up-coming social gatherings, to have 4 hours in the car with Alyssa on her first college visit. I pooh-poohed Facebook for years but have lately been finding it a reasonable way to stay in touch with people—a birthday greeting or a quick “like” of a good post. It still has the ability to instantly cause me to find fault with my pretty nice life when people post pictures of their fabulous vacations, perfect children and fun nights out. But I constantly remind myself that nobody ever posts “just dropped my son at rehab—again” and yet surely somebody is living that life too.

I am either getting older or wiser. Maybe both. In younger years I would never have acknowledged illness. I worked through every single cold/flu/virus for years telling myself they just weren’t there and if they were, too bad and BUCK UP! I definitely never cancelled ANYTHING and certainly not anything I was being paid to do. It felt kind of good to just say SCREW IT —I’m sick and my body is saying “stay in bed you foolish old woman and pound a couple thousand calories of carbs while you’re at it”.

Was it a lost weekend? Yes—-and no.

The Same, but Different

Two friends have now commented that John is nothing like Tom. I suppose that’s true, but it strikes me as such a funny thing to say. What were they expecting? Did they think there was a clone out there someplace? That there is a store where you pop in to pick up an exact replica when your beloved husband dies? An acquaintance I see rarely asked a few months ago if she could give my number to her contractor because he reminded her so much of Tom.

At one level I get it. One of the first men I went out with during my brief on-line dating frenzy was appealing to me because he was a flannel shirt and jeans kind of guy who had a beard and worked with his hands. And I spent a day or two ogling the guy working on the house across the street mostly because Tom also worked construction. But Tom was very different from most tradesmen and even had an occasional issue on job sites over differences in musical tastes. He always preferred something more mellow than the Heavy Metal favored by the mostly younger crews. And he shunned the fast food they wanted to grab for lunch and tried to avoid discussions of their often conservative politics. I still remember the enormous relief that surged through me when we were dating and starting to really like each other but were still in the discovery stage and he mentioned not having visited a McDonalds since Joan Kroc started funding Republicans. I think I might have actually laughed out loud and said “Thank you, Jesus!” that this lovely man was also a liberal.

Before I met John I had three dates with a very nice man who was kind and funny and seemed to like me a lot. He was also a Republican and a gun owner. I remember telling my best friend about him and she said, “He sounds great. I think it’s perfect that he’s nothing like Tom. Exactly what you need.” This man still sends me the occasional email to let me know he has lost weight, gotten a job, still thinks about me, etc. I have told him about John and encouraged him to move on. But I would likely see him again despite his politics if for some reason John and I don’t make it because he has the quality that I now understand is the only one that counts—a good heart.

John and Tom have almost nothing in common besides that, but it may be the thing that makes him seem familiar. He was billed as “a good person” by both of the friends who fixed us up and I have seen that goodness in his dealings with the very many friends in his life. Both he and Tom maintained loyal friendships with disparate types of people for 30 plus years. Both seem revered by those in their inner circles. I like people who are loyal and kind to their friends and who stand by them even in their darkest hours. My dad was like that. We vacationed every year with his college buddies and at his funeral people stood in line to tell us the ways in which he had helped and supported them in their hours of need. Tom’s funeral was a similar love fest.

If we accept that life is really only about love, then finding a loving mate is the single most important item on the dating checklist. I am unfortunately not that highly evolved and still find mutual attraction also essential. And acceptance. I understand now that if there is anything you really don’t like about someone, you better come to terms with it because the chances of them changing significantly—especially at my age, but really EVER—is pretty darn small. You either embrace them as is or learn to (silently) tolerate whatever niggling behaviors, habits or opinions you find annoying. John told me the other day that he didn’t care for my blue nail polish. I almost laughed. I do not give a flying f%^* if he likes my nail polish. I LOVE my nail polish and have gotten compliments all week. I find it odd that he would feel the need to comment, but in the big scheme of things it just doesn’t matter.

What matters are other things. We both do work that makes peoples’ lives better. We both admire what the other does and how they do it. We both love young people and working with them. We both have long-term friendships that we treasure. We both have family ties that mean the world to us. We both love nature and being outdoors. I love food more than he does and am less discriminating in my tastes. He is so much neater than I am it isn’t even funny, but unlike Tom he is not willing to run around picking up after me and I am now having to make the first real effort of my life to keep my chronic messiness in check. He is a recovering Catholic (basically tossed out of the church he was devoted to during his childhood and youth when he divorced his unfaithful wife) and I am a practicing Presbyterian, but he will go with me whenever he’s not worshipping the God of Golf. We both have deep and abiding ties to our Great Lakes properties (which are 7 hours apart!) and understand that although it is crazy, we will need to keep them both. We are both inveterate savers, although he more impressively than I as he never had children. We both love music and have bonded over our similar tastes from the very first date. I nearly did a jig finding The Fantasticks on his CD shelf and seeing photos of him in a skull cap playing the lead in his high school’s production of The King and I. He will even parrot back the strange accents that I do with my sister and Alyssa—French, Mexican, Russian—while we laugh and joke. And he plays a mean game of Euchre and might be willing to learn Mahjong, a game that my sweet husband was perpetually confounded by.

Maybe I just suffer from an overactive imagination. From the very beginning with Tom I had this movie running non-stop in my head of what our life together would look like. It was a happy movie and for the brief time we were actually married and under the same roof it was a wonderful life.  It is a little harder to bring a future life with John into focus. He is a more complicated person than Tom was. More like me in many ways. Tom had no job, no money and nowhere to live when I met him. He was more than willing to step right into my existing life and try to “make it better”. John, too, has expressed a desire to improve my life by making it easier and more fun. So far, so good. He likes to shop and has bought me both useful and fun things. He is taking me on a get-away to South Carolina next month for my birthday and I can’t wait. He heard me lament the overgrown state of my woefully neglected garden and has hired a nice man to come clean it up. He has made me wonderful meals and has twice bought my friends dinner. He is, in short, a kind and generous man. I could get used to this.

We still don’t know what our futures will bring. We would like them to somehow merge, but this relationship is only a few months old. We are old. We are cautious. But we make each other happy, we have fun together, we take each other’s breath away and we both seem to have achieved passing grades when first meeting family members and friends. He is, in my sister’s words, “a keeper” and the fact that he is nothing like Tom does not really enter into the equation. Because he IS like Tom where it counts—in his heart which seems to be full of love for me.

I started seeing white butterflies all the time right after Tom died. They seemed to show up at crucial moments and flutter around me. They have been here a lot lately. I’ve decided Tommy is telling me he’s still with me and that I’m doing ok. I think he would like John. I think somewhere he is so very happy that I am not alone, that I have found a good man to be by my side. I thought it would be Tom. Tom thought it would be Tom. But life does not, as we all know so well by now, turn out the way we plan. I am going with the alternate ending. It feels right. The same, but different.

Letting Go

My oldest and dearest friend, my first sister-in-law who chose me over her wandering-eyed brother, just staged an intervention—about my CLOTHES. She ambushed me as we were peacefully sitting around a campfire at the cottage with our daughters. I think I even teed it up for her by recounting a confession I made the week before that the dress I was wearing had also been worn at the after party for my first wedding—in 1977. The dress is still in perfect shape. Even the elastic top has not worn out after all these years, despite the fact that it now must support a bit more weight than back in the day. But she is not a fan of my bra-less summer style and told my daughter on the sly that it was unflattering. She may be right, but comfort trumps style every time in my book and especially in the summer at my own house. Still, I did admit that my dapper new boyfriend (yes, I am fully aware of how ridiculous that word is when used by a 61-year-old woman, but my daughter says my joking substitution of Boy Toy is even more offensive) wanted to take me to Nordstrom and “dress” me. My friend said, “ME TOO!!”

There was a time when I cared about clothes. I was making good money, was married to someone making good money and had a job heading a loan division that existed solely to make loans to people so rich they had absolutely no need to borrow money. I needed to look like I belonged in the same room with them, so I shopped at Nordstrom and Saks and sometimes the old Hudson’s and chose a few high quality pieces that I mixed into my low quality wardrobe and it all worked. It was fun. I hadn’t had babies yet and was a perfect size 6, sometimes even a 4. But I still never got rid of anything that fit and hadn’t worn out. All the lovely suits with football player shoulder pads have long gone to Goodwill, but all the comfy casual stuff is still in the closet. I did have a bit of a fright when I took an ancient sundress to France once and saw myself in lots of pictures looking faded and droopy-boobed. I will concede that a few items should no longer go out in public, but I still love wearing them at home with my nearest and dearest. But now even they are turning on me.

This raises the deeper issue of letting go in general.  When I picked up the same friend at the airport I wanted to carry her daughter’s suitcase. It seemed the polite hostess thing to do and I was raised to be polite at all costs. But this 14-year-old must’ve been raised to think old people were feeble and can’t carry suitcases. Or she is just as stubborn as I am because she would not let go. I said, “I’ve got this, honey.” I said, “Really, I want to carry this.” I said, “Let go.” To which she replied, “YOU let go.” At this point my friendly tone changed and I said, “Seriously, LET GO” and she finally did. But the realization that winning the point, having my will prevail was so important that I would have a wrestling match with a houseguest over a SUITCASE was an AHA moment. Jesus. Is it THAT important for me to win in every single encounter? Apparently, appallingly, so.

Maybe it stems from feeling so many things are not in my control. I could not save Tom’s life, could not even extend it, despite trying to find him the best medical care. I could not ultimately give my kids an in-tact family, despite trying for 16 years to make it work. I cannot keep summer from ending and my child’s joy-filled, carefree days with it. With so many big things out of my control it makes me want to be in charge of all the minutiae that will bend to my will. But that is stupid and stressful and often flat out harmful to other people and my relationships with them.

John and I were at a wedding and I lost my tiny purse. He said he would go check at the front desk to see if anyone had found it. I said I would go and check myself. He said he would go. I said it was my purse and I was perfectly capable of checking on it myself. He said he realized that was true but that I could let him do this one small thing for me. I said I was used to taking care of myself. He, in full therapist mode by now, said, “Yes, but do you want to continue to be what you have always been.” I then repeated this at full volume for the entire table in an outraged voice—joking, but not, and then went to check on the purse. I have no idea what this was really about except my ridiculous need to be in charge of absolutely everything and my fear of ever letting go in even the tiniest thing.

Alyssa told me tearfully that it would mean so much to her if I expressed belief in her, if I really thought she was going to be successful in school and in life despite being completely different from me. She did a little mocking imitation of me crossing things off my To-Do list with manic glee and rushing off to the next task. She asked me to remember that she had a good year last year and almost always gets things done although not in the manner and time frame I would wish. She basically said, “Please let go of my school life and leave it to me.” She is 16. It is a reasonable, probably long overdue, request. She needs to know she is a capable, self-contained unit before leaving for college in two short years. I need to know that too and express that knowing to her.

I do not, in fact, want to be what I have always been. It is time to change. It will not be easy. There may be blood. And possibly tears. No matter. I believe I finally left my horrible marriage because I realized my life expectancy could be as high as 97 (since that’s when my mom died) and I could not fathom staying that unhappy for another 40 years. I now think being this controlling for another 35 years will either kill me or leave me all by myself with me being the only person who can stand me and that might even be a stretch.

I hate change. I especially hate making changes. Painful. Tiring. NECESSARY. I’ll try. But the tube tops are staying at least until next summer. That’s the best I can do.

Going Public

When companies go public it is never easy. Besides all the financial nonsense (investment banker types, structuring the IPO, stock market exchange red tape) there is the emotional toll it takes on the current owners. They feel as if they are selling their baby to a bunch of big bad stockholders who might make them rich and ruin their company at the same time. And if the owners are family members they sometimes forget that things have changed and that they can no longer make major decisions without getting approval from that pesky new board of directors who now must include people besides Uncle Fred and Aunt Susie.

It occurred to me this week that taking relationships public is not so very different. Against all odds I have met and fallen in love with yet another truly wonderful man. He is kind. He is thoughtful. He is smart. He does work that is important and improves peoples’ lives. He has a great group of long-term loyal friends. He is a little too handsome, but I have decided to let that one flaw go. He picked up my car last week and got the worn out windshield wipers replaced and while he was at it cleaned the filthy interior and filled it with gas. In short, he is a keeper. The fact that this is completely unexpected, that I was convinced I would never be happy again, much less love a man enough to want to plan a future with him is a topic for another day. For now, we will consider only the effects of going public.

It is sweet beyond measure when people fall in love. Surprisingly, this is every bit as true in one’s seventh decade as in the second or third. The initial attraction, the slow unfolding of histories, values, dreams and fears, the tentative embrace of deeper feelings. The realization that someone who was once a total stranger has now been knitted into your life in what feels like a permanent way. This is all mostly delicious. You wake up happy and go to sleep the same. You make plans, you text or call throughout the day, you miss each other with an ache that brings you up short. There are bumps as well—misunderstandings, triggers from past lives, even certain words that have deeply different associations for each of you—but if the fragile underpinning of feeling is tended with a little watering and weeding and lots and lots of long talks, even the rough spots can seem like important steps on the path to creating “we”.

But at some point you have to go out into the bigger world. I remember my therapist asking me in the early weeks of my relationship with Tom what we did together. I said “Mostly just hang out at his house.” She raised her eyebrows and said “You need to go OUT.” I now understand a little better what she meant. It is lovely to get to know someone in the small world that contains just the two of you, but unless you plan to buy your own island and recreate The Blue Lagoon movie it is not sustainable. Eventually you need to throw other people into the mix. People who love each of you and feel protective and a little suspicious. People who may be worried and judgmental and might even have their own agendas. Someone on my side of the ledger fears I will love John’s cottage and sell my own which she treasures. Someone in his camp wanted him to fall for a friend of theirs instead of me. It can be complicated.

Even if you tell yourself that the only thing that matters is how you feel about each other, those feelings may change when you go public. Old habits of snarky “teasing” may kick in. Somebody may talk too much or not enough. Too much attention might be paid to others. Someone important to one of you may find fault with the new love interest. It can all be tricky to navigate.

In our case, going public has already included dinner out with another couple, a small dinner party at a friend’s house, two weddings with entirely different guest lists and a birthday party for a long-term friend. This is a lot of socializing for a pretty new relationship and has mostly involved gatherings with his friends where I was cast in the role of the new girl. And I use the term girl on purpose as I can’t seem to get past the fact that I could have GIVEN BIRTH to his last girlfriend. I know, I know. Older men who date young women are just plain icky—except that this one really isn’t. He just wanted to find a partner and kept barking up the wrong trees. As someone with LOTS of experience in that area, I have to check my normally harsh judgments. My choices may have been age appropriate but they were wrong wrong wrong in every other way. All except for Tom, who was a lightning bolt of luck and wonder in the otherwise semi-tragic landscape of my romantic life. So maybe she who built and settled right into a giant glass house for half a lifetime is not in a great position to throw stones at a guy who had his head turned by some pretty young things.

And as it pertains to being less gorgeous arm-candy than his friends are accustomed to seeing him with, I have decided they will just have to suck it up. I am older, wiser, smarter and possibly more loving than any of them and he says I make him the happiest he has ever been. I addressed a recent email to him Dear Warren Beatty and signed it Annette, as in Benning, as in the woman who finally captured the heart of the notorious Hollywood playboy more with her heart, mind and spirit than with her perfect looks. And I’m guessing most of his friends were doing a happy dance.

So we will keep going public. Most of my nearest and dearest are not local so there may even be some road trips involved as we make the circuit of his and hers VIPs. And I will remind myself that absolutely everyone adored my first husband and I let myself be carried on that wave of approval all the way to the altar—which was a colossal mistake. So if my friends like John and his like me and they think we are a good match, great. But if they don’t we will have to make our own calls and listen to our own hearts. And that will be enough. Because unlike companies, after you go public in a relationship you always come home and go private again—and it’s what happens there that really counts.

5 Days Silent-Peeling the Egg

On retreat they served some sort of hot cereal each morning and then hard-boiled eggs. I took one every day in order to be sure to get adequate protein during the all-vegetarian 5 days. Often I wasn’t really hungry after finishing the porridge, but we had a long breakfast period, nowhere to go, no one to talk to, reading and writing discouraged so I would just wait a while and then slowly and carefully start to peel the egg. I was in no hurry and it’s a good thing. Eggs take a long time to peel. The shell sticks to the inside, it only peels away in tiny pieces and it takes a lot of patience to wind up with a nice clean egg. Now imagine doing that with one arm.

A fellow yogi did just that, or rather he most often didn’t do that because a neighbor looked up and noticed him and took the task on or maybe he tapped them and asked for help—I’m not sure.

One night after the final sit I went to the dining hall for a snack. The one-armed guy was there spreading sun butter on toast. I figured I would offer help but I looked over at the perfect spreading job and backed away. I got my snack and went and sat down in a far corner.

Apparently the left over morning eggs are available in the fridge at night, because when I passed by later the one-armed guy had two eggs in front of him. And at his elbow was a guy named Asher to whom I had taken an instant dislike. He’s more Buddhist than Buddha in that way that only converts seem to be—shiksas who marry Jews, Jews who become Buddhists, born-again Christians—you know the type. Asher has taken mindful walking to new heights. He moves like a Tai Chi master and he’s, like, maybe all of 25 years-old. He prostrates himself 3 times in the meditation hall and even though others do too, his is bigger, showier, more annoying. Mind you we are on SILENT retreat so I have spoken not one word to this young man but have still stored him right smack on the annoying as hell shelf in my brain.

But when I look over, he has crouched next to one-arm guy and gently touched the eggs with a questioning look, received a nod and starts carefully peeling—one tiny shell piece at a time. He is kindness and patience personified. I am a horrible, mean-spirited, judgmental person and will be doomed to many eternities of suffering.

I have judged and mis-judged this young man. I’d tell him I’m sorry but he never even knew and besides we can’t talk. So instead I decide to forgive myself and set an intention to do better. Thanks, Asher. Buddhist master indeed. Well done.

5 Days Silent- Washing Dishes

I sign up for dish washing as my chore.

It is straight forward, satisfying, involves water.

At training the cook says lunch dishes (my shift) are the longest and hardest job.

I puff with pride (yes, competitive even on retreat) to think I have chosen so well and will maybe receive the paper plate award for hardest/best chore doer.

There will not, of course, be any paper plate awards.

The reward is the feeling of service, of contribution to this place, to this time together, to our oneness in the experience of work, such a welcome respite of doing in the midst of intense being.

I hold each plate, each cup and take care to scrub it well, imagining my own gratitude when taking a shiny plate off the stack at mealtime. The silverware I fish for in the sink, scrub each piece with care, remembering Head Cold Guy, Scary Cough girl and the importance of vigilance.

My work mate, Georgie, rinses and sanitizes in the bleach bath, arranges on the drying rack.

We take turns fetching new loads from the dining hall bins and then finally all the serving pans come, unwieldy but foreshadowing the end.

Never has work felt so honest, so simple, so good.

A small offering in the rich stew of receiving.

Metta—even in the kitchen.