Wordless Love

This has been a very rough patch for losing beloved family pets; my brother and sister-in-law and two dear friends all had to say goodbye to dogs who were woven deep into their lives and the lives of their families and communities. Sweet, true, good animals who loved profoundly and without question.

This made me think hard about the special quality of wordless love. I talk too much. I don’t mean to, I just kind of can’t control myself. I have a thought and feel compelled to utter it, sometimes without any editing whatsoever. Sometimes with disastrous consequences. A therapist once told me that my life would be improved immeasurably with a 5 second delay button; think thought, push button, use 5 seconds to filter out meanness, then say something better. Words can hurt. They can also heal and we need them for all kinds of reasons.

But all these losses of 4-legged friends make me wonder if the greatest love of all might be silent. I think it is possible that I married my children’s father because once, long ago, in a snowstorm, in a hotel bed in Grand Rapids he looked deep into my eyes with such pure love that it went straight to my soul and ricocheted right back to him. Maybe if we had been able to duct tape our mouths for the next 15 years we could’ve made it as a couple.

Tom was not a word guy. He was smart, well-read and wise, but clever repartee or killer Scrabble scores were not in his wheel house. But when he chose to weigh in on a topic, usually after listening to someone (often me) rant and ramble for a very long time he would choose a couple of absolutely perfect words that showed his understanding and provided sterling advice all at once. It was a gift that was mentioned more than once at his funeral. We all thought he’d done it just for us. None of us had realized he did it for everyone.

An even greater gift was his physical presence. He radiated calm assurance as well as actual heat and he could place one hand on me and literally suck out all the stress, worry, chill and angst. It was magical. I miss his touch more than any single thing in this world.

I think this explains why hugs are so powerful. There is such comfort and peace in being wrapped tightly in the arms of a loved one. Such a feeling of connection and well-being and love. Sometimes it feels as if they are literally lending you their power and strength, passing it directly from their body to yours to shore you up, allow you to go on.

I like having this image and insight just 24 hours before I start 5 days of silence. It makes me think about the value of wordlessness instead of how freaking crazy the whole thing will likely make me. And when I get back maybe I can channel Mandy and Zelda and Cosmo. Maybe I can do more wordless loving, more just showing up next to someone I love because it seems like the thing they need most.

That would be nice.


Notes from the Mat

Rebecca was sent directly from God to be my yoga teacher. I know everyone else thinks that too as she is wonderful, but I don’t care. God and I know the truth. She is mine. I have cried enough tears in her classes to float an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. As with my minister, Peter, every word that comes out of her mouth is targeted for me like a laser.

Today her entire theme was having an open heart. She said there are two opposing forces in the world—love and fear—and that we would today concentrate on choosing love. She made us do things that were uncomfortable in the service of getting our hearts to crack wide open. She said we don’t like to feel because it brings emotional pain, but that it’s all ok because the pain will pass and we will be left with a heart so wide and big that it has no option but to choose love. She spoke of the heart chakra (ana hata?) and said it means the force which cannot be destroyed.

I hate the way she knows exactly what I need to hear at exactly which moment. How does she do that? And don’t say it’s not all about me, because I already told you it is ALL about me—she is my personal heaven sent emissary. The fact that others in class might glean a grain of truth here and there is nothing more than a happy by product of my life lessons class with Rebecca.

So it turns out the heart is the force which cannot be destroyed. Who knew? I would not have taken that bet. I would’ve put my entire IRA on the square that said “Tom broke your heart so completely by loving you so well and leaving you so soon that you are now on the permanently disabled list. Like many others with terrible injuries, you will eek out some pale version of the life you had imagined and you will keep going because you are a mother and have no choice but it will suck. It will always always suck. Well maybe not for a day or two in May when the lilacs and lily of the valley are both in bloom at once, but certainly every other day and FOREVER.”

She closed with “Open your heart. Let it reveal itself to you.” And of course the ongoing advice to Stay Present—the most impossible task of all. Oh and she even threw in at one point—just to see if I was listening—that the tortoise wins the race every time, NOT the hare. We then did tortoise pose. I do not ever recall being asked to do hare pose or buzzy bee pose, both of which I’m sure I would like very much. I identify closely with both and have great fondness for them. So BUSY, so PRODUCTIVE, SO good at completing their to-do lists: hop, hop, nibble, procreate. OR buzz, fly, get nectar, make honey. Repeat. Bring queen a nice cup of tea. Buzz more. I hate plodding tortoises. I’d rather die trying to win the race at full-tilt bozo pace than crawl along in the dust slow and steady as she goes. BLECH!

I am going to see the man who seems to have cracked my heart wide open one more time and then I am going off to the five days of noble silence in the woods. Five days to clear my head and keep my mouth shut (God I hope they provide duct tape) and 5 more with my college friends and then a couple with my 101-year-old aunt and some long lost cousins and one with a dear teaching colleague and friend. That is what I’m going to do. It will be good to get away? Ok, not so much, but if I have any hope of not doing my usual jump in the deep end without knowing how to swim thing this really will be a blessing. Two full weeks away from everything. Time to think and write and BE. God I hate even typing the idea of just BEING. What’s so bad about DOING again? Oh right. It’s not really what life is about. Shit.

Let the Game Come to You

After a month or so of manic on-line dating I had had enough. I was exhausted. I was discouraged. I was starting to see true value in staying home in my jammies—forever. I have already covered the details of my many horrible first dates and my near-miss with the gun owning Republican, so suffice it to say—it hadn’t really worked out.

Then I went and had coffee with my wise new friend Ron. He is 80, he is a beautiful writer, he plays tennis (singles) 6 times a week, he survived losing his wife to cancer 20 years ago and instead of giving up on life became a valued Hospice of Michigan volunteer. He also jumped back in the dating pool and after a couple failed attempts finally found a woman he has now been happily paired with for 15 years.

I shared a few of my dating woes with Ron. He said, “Mary, I’m going to use a sports analogy. Let the game come to you.” He then went on to explain that when people are trying TOO hard in sports things often go wrong. When they take a breath, look around, see what’s before them and let the game unfold naturally they have more success. I believe he felt that trying to rack up a kajillion dates in a couple weeks might not be the best strategy. He would be right in this belief.

I took my profile down from the sites I was on, sent a quick email to the one or two men I would’ve felt guilty about just vaporizing on, explained that I was taking a break and would be in touch if I ever decided to jump back in. And then the funniest thing happened. The game came to me.

It reminded me of when I had struggled with infertility in the early 90s. The doctor assured my husband and me that we both had working parts and should by all rights be able to conceive. And yet we couldn’t. They put me on some medication but still no results. The next steps would’ve been invasive and expensive and neither of us had much enthusiasm for them so we just gave up. We merrily went about our marital business with nary another thought of children. I decided I would go back to school and get a teaching certificate. If I couldn’t have my own kids at least I could have kids in my life. And then the game came to me. I was pregnant in the blink of an eye. All those insensitive idiots who had told me people always get pregnant when they finally give up or decide to adopt and they are RELAXED turned out to be right, the smug little shits.

In the case of dating the game came to me in a text from a man my friend had fixed me up with. When we finally met for a drink after a couple scheduling snafus he informed me that he had also been encouraged to contact me by another mutual friend, one of my favorite piano students of all time—a truly exceptional young man who has been with me for 11 years. This felt like the universe was opening up in a strange and wonderful way. When we left he gave me a CD he had burned for me. This led to a lot of texting about music and ultimately my sending him a link to my favorite aria. I had listened to about 6 sopranos before I found one that gave me actual goosebumps and sent it off to him with no mention of the goosebumps. When he listened he texted that it was haunting and had given him goosebumps.

We are now 3 dates and about 100 texts in. I am in real trouble. So far I like absolutely everything. We went to the world’s worst movie and salvaged it by walking around town afterwards holding hands. Then we had a drink while he told me he had been having a rough year, had not really been looking to date, had not expected to find me, liked my heart, liked my brain, wanted to know me, wanted to go slow. During most of this I was having a little trouble concentrating because I was thinking, “Please jump my bones RIGHT NOW!” He is adorable and self-control is just not my strong suit.

But Ron is a really smart guy and I hear him in my ear saying, “Mary—let the game come to you.” I also think I hear Tom someplace saying, “Be patient. This is a good man. He is a keeper. You don’t have to rush for once.”

And then I realized that I may one day actually fall in love with this man. I seem headed in that direction already. And I can’t believe I could even think about possibly feeling that again. How can there be anyone else in the universe that I might love after losing Tom? Ah…..but I am starting to see that love is not only not a zero sum game, it is the complete opposite. It is infinite in its breadth and depth. Like when you give birth to your first baby and are positive you can never have another because you could never ever in a million years love ANYONE as much as you love your firstborn. And then you have another baby and love that one just as much without robbing one drop of love from the first one. How can that be?

It can be because we are not talking about oil or fresh water or electoral college delegates. We are talking about LOVE and there is enough for everyone to shoot it out in massive quantities to anyone they want, to everyone they see. If I one day love another man it will not mean that I love Tom one iota less. For some reason this is a HUGE comfort to me. I would like to love someone again and receive love in return. My love for Tom was enormous, heart-stopping, breath-taking and also pure comfort and ease and joy. I floated on it like a tiny raft in the hollow of a wave. I felt sheltered and safe and oh so very very happy. Will I ever have that exact love again? Probably not, but that’s ok. There are different loves waiting and they will be wonderful in their own ways. And they will not make my Tom love any smaller.

So…..deep, deep breaths. Channel someone you are not and pretend to be a reasonable, patient woman. Take it slow. Swim to the deep end gradually from the zero-entry area. Two weeks away should help. A meditation retreat in the wilds of Washington state might bring some clarity. A little braking on this exhilarating downhill ride might be exactly what is needed. And a little break might give this very new relationship the legs I’d like it to have.

Still, I am in trouble. Deep deep trouble. I am feeling the silly smile creep around my lips—the same one my kids saw when I first met Tom. Shit! Hearts are so damned independent and hard to reason with! But I am trying to find my game, Ron, I really am.

Losing my Edge

A man I have had two dates with has each time found a way to comment on my “intensity.” I mention this to a friend who says my intensity is one of my best traits and if he doesn’t like it he is not for me. But I’m not so sure.

Today at breakfast I shared with Alyssa the wonderfully efficient plan of 6 liberal arts colleges in Ohio to create an “Ohio Colleges Tour” whereby prospective students can visit 6 schools in 2 days. She looked horrified and did the equivalent of a stand-up comedy routine on my manic need for busyness and efficiency above all else, something along the lines of “OK!! Today I’m going to go to yoga, take a bike ride, teach 20 lessons, have coffee with a friend, go shopping, go to choir, write 5 blog pieces, plant some flowers and paint a picture. What are YOU going to be doing?!?!” She explained to me in that careful, slow, kind voice that both girls seem to be practicing for when I’m truly senile, that she and I were very different people and that although a whirlwind tour of Ohio colleges might appeal to my extreme need for effective time management, it would completely stress her out and maybe we could plan to visit schools one at a time. (Ugh! Blech!)

My sweet mother once complained in her later years that I was just “so fast”. My kids have always cringed when I stood in the kitchen clapping my hands and shouting “Chop! Chop!” as I was rushing them out the door to school or church or any of 100 other places. I am always in a hurry. Always looking to squeeze maximum accomplishment and productivity out of every minute. This is not restful, for me or anyone in my vortex.

I have written in these pages before that I was raised in a culture of busy. My parents were whirling dervishes of church and community meetings, committees and obligations. My siblings and I all but exchange calendars to prove the jam-packedness of our schedules and thus our worth as busy, contributing members of society. Because my actual volunteering (as opposed to check writing) seemed to be lagging the family standard, I once foolishly agreed to serve on my church’s governing body only to have beg to be released a year into my term because I thought I might do bodily harm to the blatherers who gathered each month. OMG could those people beat dead horses! Endless circular arguments where each person’s voice was patiently heard, understood and considered. I HATED it! Just make me queen and we can all go home and watch Gray’s Anatomy!!

Usually this intensity and abhorence of wasted time has served me well in the work place. I once landed a big deal because I beat the guy to his office early one morning and he thought that showed the kind of initiative he wanted in a banker. Meetings that I chaired were never long and anyone ever looking for a brief summary of a situation knew exactly who to come to. Even now it seems to work as each student or group of students only comes under my laser scrutiny for 30 short minutes and receives enough to think about/work on to last well into the next week. And evaluations often mention my “patience” which makes my own children roar with laughter and disbelief. They can mock me, but it’s true—when sitting on my little bench listening to someone play piano–good, bad or indifferent–I can hear them out fully, jot a few notes and speak kindly about what was good and not so good. I don’t know why, but it gives me hope that this slightly slower pace and the kinder, gentler woman who takes it might spread into the rest of my life like an oil spill. (God, did I just quote a Bush? Shoot me now!)

Here is the only thing I have figured out about life after lo these MANY decades: Sometimes we are gifted with or develop skills that serve us very well for a long time. And then they stop. And that’s when we need to dig deep, grab up all the miles of creeping roots and let them go. Stare at the empty hole for a while and think hard about what should get planted there. Consider that the best answer might be no-thing. That a little empty spot in the garden might work out just fine. Might even allow those pretty coreopsis to spread a little farther.

One of my favorite up north choir anthems starts “Slow me down, Lord, I’m going too fast.” I’m going to copy that down and hang it on my mirror for a while. Stare at it in preparation for my upcoming 5 day (gulp! what was I thinking again?!!?) “noble silence” retreat at a Buddhist center in SW Washington state.  Nothing like throwing the non-swimmer smack in the deep end to see how she’ll do!!

I’ll keep you posted on my intensity de-tox. But in the meantime want to take a bike ride, or a hike or have coffee or lunch or join a book club?






Confessions of an Oops Baby

When Franny had her brief peek into the treatment center world (most kids there were cutting, attempting suicide, having sex with dangerous sorts, etc. while she was there because she hated her parents, who were in the middle of a nuclear divorce and could not manage her slightly higher than normal teenage defiance) she discovered there was always a separate therapy group for adopted kids. The theory was that the level of primal rejection experienced by these individuals was so debilitating it was nearly impossible to recover from.

Because I came along when my siblings were 14,11 and 8, the joke at my house was that I was adopted. It was not funny. It was never funny, but biting, hurtful humor was de rigueur in our family and got the biggest laughs and most attention from my dad. Given how little he was around, his attention was to be gained and savored at all costs.
At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party I told the “joke” about allegedly being adopted. I then turned in profile and asked my dad to do the same. Paternity not in question. I have his nose, his cleft chin, his small mouth, his bad teeth and his scary fierce will to get what I want. His athletic prowess went elsewhere.
But despite all that, he didn’t want me. I think I always sensed this under the surface, but for some reason my mother decided to confirm it well into my adulthood when my dad was already dead. This woman who could barely say the word sex and claimed to never have liked it, actually told me that the diaphragm had some defect, my dad was mad but told her to go see the family doc who would “take care of it.” She refused. You would have to have witnessed their marriage up close to understand what that must have cost her. He was not a man accustomed to being refused anything and certainly not by her.
This did explain something that has always troubled me. When my parents married, my dad opened a savings account and told my mom they would go to Europe in 20 years. True to his word he slaved away saving for the trip and even though they had 4 kids by the time the 20 years had passed, off they went, with every kid in tow except me. Now I was 3. I get that Europe with a three-year-old would not be fun. But they left me for 6 weeks with his college roommate’s family, lovely people who lived a state away and vacationed with us every year. I had a great time, but when my mother came home I didn’t know who she was. It occurs to me that I could no more have left one of my girls for that long at that age than fly to Jupiter. It must have broken her heart. Maybe that was the point? Payback for having had me at all.

Fast forward many years. My dad was very big on birthdays and holidays and mandatory thank you notes for every possible kindness. To fail to toe the line in any of these areas was to risk receiving the most dreaded of all correspondence —a mean letter from dad. One year I had apparently forgotten to thank him for the extremely generous (and equally unnecessary at that point in my career) $500 Christmas gift. I got a letter. It called me an ingrate and many other things. I walked to the first floor of the bank where I worked, asked the teller for five nice crisp $100 bills and put them in an envelope with a note that said I was never again going to open one of his poison pen letters and did not need or want his money. He called to apologize (I think) but I did not take his calls and we were estranged for weeks. His hold on me was much looser after that incident.

When my mom told me he hadn’t wanted me I almost laughed saying all my siblings thought I was his carbon copy and thus his favorite. She looked aghast. “You? Oh NO! Annie was his favorite!!” OK then. But I still think he respected me and took pride in my accomplishments in the male-dominated business world which he had planned to conquer himself prior to receiving “the call” that clergy always list as their reason for entering seminary. My dad never provided a single detail nor did any of his four children have a clue about his personal faith. He was a mystery until his death and beyond.

But the underlying feeling of being an oops, the thought of not really being wanted seems to have shaped my relationships with men. It explains a lot about why I would enter two marriages that were complete mistakes—one to a man I liked but didn’t love and another to a man who had sent so very many signals that he was troubled and possibly incapable of loving me not to mention the children I was hell-bent on having. In both cases they pursued me. They wanted me and I needed to be wanted.

This is not really ancient history. It keeps coming back like a rash. Tom wanted me too, but that’s not how it started. It started with him declaring MY love for HIM. I was shocked and annoyed and thought him cheeky and egotistical. He was, however, also right. He claimed to be able to see my love for him in my eyes, to feel it in the way I looked at and treated him. Maybe that look of love drew him to me? I can’t know for sure, but shortly after this reverse love declaration he carved me a beautiful wooden heart and told me he loved me too.

Nice man from the dreadful on-line dating fiasco claims I am the woman of his dreams, the one he thought he would never find. This is patently ridiculous as we have been on exactly three dates. He doesn’t know me and whatever he feels is pure infatuation, something I don’t often inspire. But it may be enough to buy the time necessary to reveal true selves to each other and for me to figure out if I feel anything for him BESIDES gratitude at being wanted. I think he is a good man. I think he truly loved the mother of his children and was devastated when she divorced him hoping to sail into the sunset with her boss/lover. I accused him of never getting over her and suggested he try reconciliation even after decades as co-parents and friends, but he claims he already tried and it is not to be. This may be good news. He will never be Tom and I will never be wife #1. Maybe we have both lost the loves of our lives. Maybe this creates a level playing field that could work.

What I know is that I have more work to do than I thought and certainly more than I’d hoped. I need to get over wanting to be wanted and start figuring out what I really want in a partner or if, in fact, I even want an actual partner. And even more important I need to be happy and ok and not so damned anxious and jittery being with JUST ME. I am not bad company. I play decent piano, like to sing just for/to myself and have lots of other creative outlets that bring me pleasure and amuse me. I am less good at just sitting quietly with my feelings or truly doing a sitting meditation, but I am getting better and trying harder than ever. Those who go out into the world whole and happy are more likely to attract equally whole and happy people as friends, colleagues, lovers.

So my mom saved my life 62 years ago and wanted to be sure I knew it. I’m glad I got to live. It’s quite a ride. And I’m still choosing to believe that once I got here I made my dad proud. If nothing else, I was his carbon copy and who doesn’t like having a mini-me around? And if I’m wrong that’s ok too. Still grateful to have all these years to grow my soul and prepare for whatever comes next.

String of Hearts

Given a choice, I would prefer not to be

the latest pearl strung on what must surely be

the very long necklace of hearts broken by you

(including my own friend, no less)

It might be worth it just to know my heart can still beat (hard)
and has the capacity to break–again.
Besides, there’s always super glue, right?