I believe in we

Do I feel any better today than I did the morning after the election? Not really. But the good news is, I’m no longer suffering from panic attacks and insomnia. I guess the new normal is beginning to sink in despite how horrific I find our current state of affairs. The biggest realization I’ve come to in the three weeks post election, is that I completely underestimated our enlightenment. I sincerely thought we were better than this.

No one will ever be able to convince me that we’re headed in the right direction. This country is pretty messed up. I’m not sure how we fix the things that need to be fixed. But I know we won’t make any progress by denouncing climate change, targeting ethnic groups, or chipping away at civil and equal rights. I’m still waiting for our new president to do or say something presidential. And no, saving a few jobs in Indiana while giving away the store in government incentives does not feel hopeful. It feels like he got played.

The world is a cold place and my instinct is to nest and hold tight to the people I love. I keep telling myself that this too will pass, but I don’t really believe it. I know good people are doing good things; more of my friends are making an effort to educate themselves, to understand what’s happening and to have a voice. Looking back is pointless, except for the lessons to be learned. I’m not yearning for what might have been — but I see where the mistakes were made, the hubris, the lack of awareness. We didn’t see it coming. The groundswell. And yet, there is this: the president-elect is losing the popular vote by an historic margin. According to every news source out there, Hillary leads the popular vote by 2.3 million…and climbing. So, the groundswell? Yeah… I’m not so sure. Somehow less people in more states were the deciding factor. But there’s no going back now.

As time goes on and the routines of daily life take over, the shock and the disbelief will continue to fade. The one thing I will carry with me is this: good people doing good deeds can change the world. No matter how disillusioned I become, I will always believe that to be true. I will always take the side of kindness and justice and equality. Because that’s the only kind of world I want to live in. I don’t believe in us vs. them.

I believe in we.

 

 

Flight

I flew to Los Angeles yesterday to spend a few days helping my mom — and my siblings — with her ongoing recovery from a broken shoulder and a fractured knee. That fall two weeks ago was no joke; recovery is always such hard work. I found her to be a little better than I expected in some ways, but not so much in others. I think, in this, we have a long road ahead of us.

I continue to be on the verge of tears, emotional and distraught from the results of 11/9. I realized last night that so much of what I’m feeling is rooted in the same sense of fear and dread I had after another fateful day, a day that shares the same digits, just in a different order. I don’t buy any of the “get over it” rhetoric. As much as I have wanted to give our new president the benefit of the doubt, his behavior and his choices in recent days have left me with very little generosity in my heart.

I’ve been vocal about my feelings on FB, but  rather than continue to post my shock and awe, I’m going to put on my objective reporter hat (yes, I have a degree in journalism; I am trained to see both sides of the story and to illuminate the actual facts). I want to look for ways to better understand what’s happening here, and whatever means we may have to effect change in the months ahead.  I’m sure the law of averages would tell me that there are a number of people in my life who pulled the lever for him (though I don’t know for sure because I’ve had no one approach me directly to explain why they think this president is a viable choice), but I believe the only way forward for me is to somehow get my feet on the path of better understanding. I don’t really know if I am capable of this, but I’m going to try. I want to embrace the dignity and class of our outgoing administration. I want to go high when they go low. But make no mistake, I’m still fired up and ready to go. And I will not stand quietly in the face of injustice.

That said, I’m not quite ready to let go of the grief. November has been a slap in the face, a beat down of so many things I’ve come to take for granted. I need time. I need space. Recovery is hard work. I plan to focus my efforts in the coming days on supporting organizations like the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Emily’s List. When a single party controls the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial), we need watchdogs with the muscle and the power to hold things in check. I hope, too, that somewhere in this mess, a new-age Woodward and Bernstein will rise above the media ranks, that newsrooms will stand up to their corporate owners and personal bias to simply report the news. I don’t need a talking head on TV or a front page story to tell me what to think. I need them simply to present the facts so I can think for myself.

I also plan to use this historical moment to educate my son in the hope that his generation can do better. We’ve had countless discussions in recent days about the difference between fact and fiction, about how you have to dig deep, find sources you can trust. The internet has no filter, so much of what is reported, so much of what sways public opinion to the right or to the left is not based on facts. Misleading headlines, click bait and Wikipedia have become the norm. Everyone has an agenda and a means for promoting it. If we buy into everything we read without really doing our homework, we’ll never break the cycle of misinformation.

Still, the most important lesson I can teach my son — and one that can only come from my own example — is that compassion and empathy, kindness and a generosity of spirit are the North Star. It’s okay to grieve for what has been lost, but we must ultimately find our way home. Just as violence and hate breed more of the same, so too does love. I want him to know we are stronger than this. We are better than this. Hope is a fragile thing, a small bird with feathery wings. It’s impossible to hold onto, but we must never stop trying.

 

 

Slip sliding away

I feel my zen slipping slowly out of reach. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything these days: the election, the dread of what’s to come regardless of who wins, family things, parenting things. One of my oldest friends (as in longtime, not age) has taken to calling me Debbie Downer on our text messages. I get where he’s coming from. Most of what we frantically type late into the night is about the election, and I really doubt there’s a human being on the planet who feels hopeful about what’s been going on in American politics. I’m not here to write about my views, but for the record: I’m with her. No doubt or question about it. And not because she’s the lesser of two evils, but because she is a superstar in my book.

But again, I didn’t come here to write about or debate politics.

Thursday night my mom fell, hit her head on the tile floor, lost consciousness, broke her shoulder and humorous bone, and fractured her knee. It happened during the wake for my dear friend who passed away on Sunday from ovarian cancer. I’m told there was a great deal of panic, emotions were fraught, everyone was sad and overwhelmed and then the fall, no one could find her pulse. Of course, I was here. Three thousand miles away. And I don’t want to write about that either, about the guilt, the feelings of helplessness, the phone calls and text messages to my sister and brother. It has been years of this through countless family crises. So, no, that’s not what I want to write about.

My mom is a fighter. One of the first things she said when she could was something to the effect of “there goes Christmas.” And, of course, she was thinking about the fact that we had already bought our tickets, that the four of us living here in NY are planning to spend the holidays in LA for the first time since my 15-year-old son was a toddler. Christmas means everything to her. She’s been on cloud nine since we told her we are coming. But again, she’s a fighter. And through the unbearable pain and disappointment and sadness and frustration of the long recovery ahead, she is focused on what she needs to do to move forward.

Sometimes — despite my best efforts — the worry seeps in. It’s not where I want to live, or how I want to live. But when I’m tired and stressed, my thoughts turn to all the what ifs. What if my cancer comes back is the big one, but there are plenty of others. Some are tiny annoying thoughts, others are harder to push aside (like the fact that we recently discovered the bank put a $10,000 lien on our house seven years ago and we have no idea why). I know I’m not special. Life is ridiculously hard and challenging for just about everyone. Yet still, moving far away from this mindset, choosing to live on the bright side, is the healthiest choice I can make.

Yesterday, while we were waiting to hear whether my mom needed surgery to reset her shoulder (she doesn’t, thank god), I was looking up flights and mentally trying to rework my calendar for the next week. For now, a panicked run to the airport is on hold, but not entirely ruled out. Still, my heart hurts with the heaviness of it all.

When I told my brother-in-law what happened, he asked about Christmas. I told him we are still going and he said, “we’ll just have to bring the joy with us.” Smart man.

When I think about walking this other path, finding and focusing on my own definition of inner peace, I think mostly about gratitude. It’s not about eliminating what’s difficult or stressful or frustrating, but accepting that those things exist. The absence of challenges does not lead to peace because we would have no perspective, no context. It’s the acceptance of conflict, the understanding that despite hard times, there is so much to be grateful for — that’s where my zen lives. And while there are times when I feel it slipping away, I know deep in the heart of my soul, that it is never really gone.

This is life’s work. This is what I hold on to. As bad as things get, I still come back to gratitude. And I know that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not an easy thing, either.

 

Amazing grace

My sweet friend Gretta died on Sunday. Ovarian cancer. Fucking cancer. I am at a total loss.

We grew up together, and then, somehow, we got cancer together. Gretta was already a year into it when I was diagnosed. And though her initial surgery and treatment were a success, she learned her cancer had come back right around the time I had my first biopsy. When I told my mother I had breast cancer, the first person she called — the first person she cried with — was Gretta’s mom.

When I think of my dear friend, I think only of her grace and her beauty. She taught me how to live each day with gratitude and hope, even in the face of absolute despair. I have never known anyone like her; she was a beacon of light in my darkest hours.

The last time I reached out to Gretta she was in the hospital. We texted a bit and then she sent me a gif of a beating heart. Two weeks later, she was gone.

Rest in peace, my beautiful friend. I will love you always and forever hold you close in my heart.

The sun came out

Last weekend I helped my brother-in-law sort through his mother’s things. We made piles for donation and much smaller piles of things to keep. In January, she will have been gone a year, and we are heading into our first holiday season without her. All of this makes me very sad.

I found among her things two notes that I had written to her and my father-in-law around the time of my wedding. I was so young, so earnest, so entirely hopeful and committed to making my life here. I knew that marrying her son meant letting go of every other option. I wasn’t just marrying James and marrying into his family, I was marrying New York, and letting go of California — though you never really let go of the place you grow up, at least not all the way.

This afternoon I finally watched the movie Brooklyn. I didn’t know much about it, but I had heard that it was charming and sweet and it was, in fact, all of those things. In the last scene, the main character is telling another young Irish girl what it is like to leave Ireland and move to Brooklyn. She says: “You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day the sun will come out and you might not even note it straight away, it would be that faint. And then you will catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who’s only yours. And you’ll realize that this is where your life is.”

And I thought, yes. That is exactly as I remember it. James was my certain someone, and this has been where my life is. When I think back over the years, I know we’ve been happy. We’ve weathered a few storms, but the sun has never let us down.

Of course, California still tugs at my heart, and someday — maybe — we’ll move back. But I’ve been feeling nostalgic, too, for that time when New York felt so new and so believable, and I was a young bride welcomed into a warm and loving family.

And home became this thing I never could have dreamed possible.

Random loose ends

Last night I slept with the windows open. And the air coming in, the cool breeze, the fresh clear morning, reminded me that the season is about to change. I love this time of year. I love how fall sneaks in quietly to overtake the last hot humid days of summer. I love how the cooler days feel like treasure waiting to be discovered. It’s still warm — tee shirt weather warm — much of the day, but the nights and early mornings are cool enough to throw on a light sweater.

A week ago I had an MRI which confirmed a diagnosis of adhesive capsulitis in my left shoulder. In layman’s terms, I have a frozen shoulder. A couple days after the MRI, I had a cortisone shot and now, finally, I am starting to feel some incremental relief. I’m no longer in constant pain, and while my range of motion is still severely limited, the no-longer-in-constant-pain part is really key. In a week I can go back to PT and moderate exercise. I’m beyond ready to put this chapter behind me.

I get frustrated with the level of vigilance, the amount of follow-up and ongoing care, my doctors require. My oncologist has been bugging me to get back on track with regular visits to my primary care doctor. I kind of let that slide last year since I was, well, you know, dealing with the cancer and all that. So last week, I went in for my annual physical. The good news is, I’ve lost ten pounds. But the bad news is I’m about an inch and a half shorter than I was before starting the lupron shots and the aromasin. At my age, that’s not really normal or expected, so even though it’s only been about 16 months since my first bone density test (which was normal), I need to have another one. Oh and my A1C number is a little high despite the fact that my fasting glucose level is well within the normal range. I’m not sure which of these two things bugs me more. I wonder what would happen if I just stopped getting tested for things?

I already know I’m going in the right direction. Most of my health news is good, and the not-so-good things are fixable. Except, of course, the shrinking. Pretty sure I can’t un-shrink. When I consider where I am, where I’ve been and how far I have come, I know I’m in a good place. I have a lot of people in my corner, and I have so very much to be thankful for. Somehow that makes the annoying and the crazy and the frustrating a little easier to take.

The other side of fear

I’ve told the story before, on other blogs, in essays, but today 15 years later, it bears repeating. We mark anniversaries, we try to give meaning and purpose to that which is impossible to comprehend. I look at the young man sitting across from me and I remember I was eight and a half months pregnant when the towers fell. He was born just blocks from the smoldering remains at St. Vincent’s hospital in Manhattan. Our room overlooked the rubble in a city that was eerily quiet and grey.

Four years later, they closed St. Vincent’s to make way for luxury condos and it broke my heart. It felt like a moment in my past, a deep and meaningful moment had been erased. I spent countless days of my pregnancy there hooked up to a fetal heart monitor, hospitalized and on bedrest. At the time I couldn’t imagine a scarier thing — to be responsible for another human life and yet absolutely dependent on the doctors and nurses and midwives who cared for me, who kept my challenging pregnancy alive, who brought a beautiful healthy boy into the world.

Five years ago, I wrote this:

 

I’ve been thinking about a day this past March, a beautiful crisp late winter day. We drove over the Williamsburg bridge and in a way that was completely unplanned and unexpected, found ourselves pulled deeper and deeper into lower Manhattan. As we got closer, I knew we would park and walk and for the first time since it happened, I wanted to see it.

But I underestimated the impact it would have on us. I watched as my son realized for the first time that the planes were in fact passenger planes and not, as he had always assumed, war planes piloted by military men, but living breathing airplanes like the ones he travels on every summer to California and his father rides in over and over again on business trips.

Processing that information was too much for him, coupled as it was with the story of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, and the idea that ordinary people on their way to visit family or to work somehow saved so many others with their heroic actions.

I am something of an idealist. I believe our job is to take care of each other, not push each other away. There are so many things that divide us, but I refuse to accept that we are better off building walls and closing ourselves off and disrespecting — rather than embracing — our differences.

In April of this year I attended an event with James at World Trade Center One, a single spire of a building that has risen slowly above Ground Zero. It was a beautiful night. A celebratory event. And as I looked across the Hudson to New Jersey and down into New York Harbor, I saw the Statue of Liberty. A tiny green pillar of hope and ideals. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I believe in the golden door, in beacons of light, in the beauty and symmetry of one world. I believe that everything we want is on the other side of fear.

There are moments that stay with me. Hard and hopeless things that I have had to face. But I will never let those things define me. And I will never stop believing in the power of all that is good in this world. Out of the ashes, they created a thing of great beauty and strength. When I consider that line, that singular thought, I cannot help but think it speaks to so much more than rubble and skyscrapers.

Yesterday I sat in a room with other breast cancer survivors and I saw great beauty and strength. I heard stories and told stories, laughed and cried. There is so very little in this life that we can count on. I am grateful for the moments when we can count on each other. Because everything I want is on the other side of fear.

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Yesterday

Yesterday I bought four tickets to see La Boheme at the Met in January. It is a gift to myself. I’m taking my husband, son and brother-in-law. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is one of those things that’s been on my bucket list for a while. I love listening to opera, but I’ve never actually seen an opera. In the past, I’ve tried to interest friends — even my husband — to come to an opera with me, but it seems my interest is not widely shared.

In the car, I was listening to a Moth podcast where Elif Shafak, a well-known Turkish writer, was talking about art and its role in society. She told a story about the 1999 earthquake in Turkey where more than 8,000 people lost their lives. At the time she was in the middle of writing a novel and she found it almost impossible to go back to her work in the face of such tragedy. Her writing felt small and insignificant, pointless even, in light of the world she was living in. It wasn’t writers block, but a crisis of faith. She said, “To me, to this day, this is one of the toughest dilemmas in my work: to have the faith, to have the belief that words matter, that words make a difference and connect us across the boundaries, and the sneaky suspicion that all art is in vain in the face of larger, darker world events. And between this optimism and pessimism my heart is a pendulum, it goes back and forth, back and forth…” She went on to tell of a neighbor, who after the quake, extended a kindness to her that was born of their shared experience. She said, “Perhaps at the end of the day, this is what we writers want to achieve with our stories, something to remain, a spontaneous bonding, a speck of empathy, and also the possibility of change.”

This resonated with me. There was a time when finishing my novel was the most important work I could imagine myself doing. But then there was a shift, a change, and the words felt pointless and insignificant, the work nothing more than an exercise in vanity. But in my heart, I know that it does matter. Art matters. Whether it’s on the stage of the Met or a draft file in my hard drive. I don’t want to let go just yet, but I’m not certain I can find my way back to the work that sustained me for so long or even make my way into something new. I still don’t know what my story is, but it’s not something I can know without beginning to put the words on the page. It’s a slow reveal. Always.

I don’t write as often as I used to. Not here on the blog, not anywhere for that matter. For me, the crisis of faith lingers. So I listen, and watch, and read. And pray that the pendulum in my own heart swings back to the side of optimism and hope again soon. Because the words are a gift, one that is meant to be shared.

I am still trying to process and figure out my post-cancer world. I am newly sobered by the experiences of the last year and a half, the lingering emotional fallout and the ongoing physical problems (problems, seems like such a big word in this case… maybe it’s more like physical glitches?).

But I am alive. I am here. And I am grateful.

And I know there’s a story to tell.

If you’re lucky now

I hold tight to the summer’s magical moments. Laughing with my mom and my sister on the lawn of the Hotel Del Coronado as we try for a perfect sunset selfie. Sitting under the stars at the Greek Theater with friends at a Ryan Adams concert. Floating in the pool with my son. Driving to Manhattan Beach at dusk with my nephew’s surfboard on the roof of the car, holding our breath for fear it will fly away.

I am a lucky girl, my memories like bright shiny beads in the palm of my hand. I string them together, wear them close to my heart, where they remind me of the things that matter. Family. Friends. Laughter and love. We have just a week left here before we fly home and I want to hold on to these moments, let them carry me through the seasons until summer finds us again.

Tonight I sat with friends and talked about music and politics and family and high school and I thought about how amazing it is that this is my life. I have so much to be grateful for, so much to cherish. I am reminded every day of my limitations, of the things that are hard for me post-surgery, and yet, I am here, in this place that I love, surrounded by people who love me. And there is nothing else that I need.

It’s heartbreaking, in a way. The beauty of it all. To know that a moment in time is so precious, so perfect, that it will never be that again. And yet, just holding it is somehow enough. So much of life is spent chasing things and looking for things and dreaming of things — I want to take a breath, to pause and reach for the magic, to hold tight as the echoes of laughter and shadows of light slip away.

In the end, it’s all we have. But it’s somehow exactly right, isn’t it?

And the lights will draw you in
And the dark will take you down
The night will break your heart
But only if you’re lucky now

~Ryan Adams

Three weeks to go

It’s hard to believe we only have three weeks left here in California. I am a little surprised by how quickly our time is winding down. Our days have been full of seeing and doing, family and friends, and there is nothing I can think of that we haven’t done or still want to do that isn’t already scheduled.

I am already thinking about how much I will miss this in the months to come. How the long, grey winter stretches before us, how another school year — this one sure to be more challenging, more demanding than the last — stands between us and next summer. But I want to push those things aside, embrace today, and forget about tomorrow. I am here now. That’s all that matters.