Bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh. Bleh and bleh, worry and fear, sad and mad, shame and guilt and regret. And yet— What if? I have the power to rewrite my story. What if? My words and thoughts have creative power to transform. What if? I think on noble things: health, wealth, and love, faith and gratitude, peace and hope and joy. What if I believe? Life is good and generous, and miracles are in motion beyond my wildest dreams. What if I say? Thank you, thank you, thank you.
A week ago last Thursday, I awoke not to the sound of an alarm, though I am quite alarmed. I awoke to the sound of a person with intestinal issues in the bathroom down the hall, not a new sound, instead a very familiar sound that has persisted months too long unchecked. How does one insist that another adult sees a doctor when that adult is averse to seeing doctors? I suppose one could wait for another health issue to arise, like blindness.
And so that is how I finally insisted that my thirty-two-year-old son see a doctor, or at least let the doctor see him. After having chicken pox last summer and refusing medical attention then, my son has experienced hearing loss, chronic bowel issues, a fungal infection, and eyesight loss. Last Monday, I accompanied him to an appointment with a general practitioner, who referred us to five more doctors, including a psychiatrist. I was able to schedule appointments with the ophthalmologist and the dermatologist within the month of June, the gastroenterologist for July, the ENT for August, but for a psychiatrist, we are currently on a twelve-month waiting list. I literally laughed out loud on the phone when the scheduling assistant disclosed the timeline. This is just one of many problems in the US for seeking mental health help.
So, on the first day of my summer vacation, I headed to the island for fish tacos and fresh air, the sun and the sand and the sea. The waves rolled in and retreated, rolled in and retreated. And that is life. Situations come and go. We inhale and exhale. We live and die. Everything is a cycle. In four hours, I drove there and home, and I promised myself another trip tomorrow, four hours, there and home.
When I moved from small-town, Oklahoma to Denver, Colorado at age nineteen, Auntie mesmerized me. She was Kody’s Aunt MeMe, his mother’s identical twin sister. Her face and mannerisms were amazingly like those of my new mother-in-law. I couldn’t look away. I’m pretty sure we bonded that way. That was thirty-two years ago. I called her by first name, Tana, but she put a stop to that. “I’m your Auntie, Baby,” she said. “Call me, Auntie, Bella.”
Auntie was tough. She told it like it was. But she was magnetic. People loved her. She had connections all over town, and Kody and I were along for the ride—from North Denver to Cherry Creek, El Chapultapec to the York Street Jazz Café. That’s how Kody’s Aunt MeMe became my Auntie. She taught me gratitude and a persevering attitude. I freaking loved her.
I flew into Denver last Thursday night in the dark. I couldn’t see the mountains. Kody picked me up at the airport. He had flown in days earlier to be with his cousin in the wake of death.
The sun rose on Friday morning, and Kody and I drove toward Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in North Denver. When the Rocky Mountains showed their face, I said to myself, “There’s no Denver without Auntie.” Even as I thought the words, traffic flowed from east to west, north to south. Of course, Denver would move forward. It already had. My heart broke, and I shed a tear all the same, but I felt Auntie’s spirit in the face of those mountains.
We did it the way Auntie would’ve wanted. A celebration of life. A party. Family. Fun. Storytelling. And fierce love.
All work and no play makes Crystal need a vacay. Please come back another day.
This past week, I googled Dr. Wayne Dyer quotes. If you ever need inspiration, he is an amazing go-to. Anyway, while scrolling, this one spoke to me:
We tend to pity ourselves when we perceive that fate is against us. I know a person whose son battles a severe brain illness, and her house flooded from a hurricane a few years ago. Recently her mom died, and just a month later her dog died. I understand how she might say, “Poor me.” A person can dwell on those thoughts or reframe them. “We are alive. My home has been rebuilt. My memories bring comfort and joy, and I am blessed to have them.”
Both Dr. Wayne Dyer and William Wordsworth proclaim the ability to create our own realities—through thoughts and intentions. How encouraging is that idea when it comes to our writing?
We can create our thoughts: “I am a writer. I am good. I am improving.”
Our thoughts can create our intentions: “I’m going to read at least three books a month with the goal of improving my writing, and each weekday I’m going to practice writing and check in with my writing group.” Our intentions create our reality. Little by little, in the same way that Wordsworth set out one summer with the intention of crossing the Alps. He didn’t even realize he accomplished his goal. He just had the thought and showed up and put one foot in front of the other. In the words of my friend Narayan Kaudinya—
Self-pity will inevitably sneak up, self-kindness is a practice, and I know what Dr. Wayne would say—
I love new beginnings—the opportunity to start over—to get my mind right. May March bring you joy, fulfillment, perspective, and hope.
A few weeks ago when I stayed with my daughter in Dallas, my bestie Denise let me do some of Lauren’s laundry at her house, which was awesome. Even better, what comes next. Our conversation started like this. “Blah, blah, blah…I’m angry,” I said.
She sat in her chair beside me, listened to my woes, and said, “Do you know where your thoughts are when you’re angry?”
I thought for a moment and said, “The past?”
And she nodded her beautiful face up and down and launched into some sound advice.
I said, “Wait, could I video this?”
Denise coaches golf. And for me, life. She should have her own YouTube channel. Our backstory goes like this—I crashed her birthday party when she turned five. I went uninvited with another friend. That’s how we met. The year was 1975. Later, we shared homerooms—first, second, and third grade. I was always happy to see Denise’s name on the list for my class. Flash forward through twelve years of school, and then I didn’t see her for almost twenty years. We became besties closer to age 40 when we realized we lived within twenty minutes of each other. There’s something about having friends who know exactly where you are from, and I’m just lucky to have a few of those.
I want to say the year was 2013 when my friend Pamela attended an Oprah-sponsored Life You Want Weekend in Miami. She texted me a selfie, and I texted her back, “Awesome! Take notes and forward!” I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want to live the life they want?
She texted me back, “There were so many takeaways but what rings in my ears right now is something Rob Bell said, ‘The life you want starts with being grateful for the life you have.’”
January 2021 was hard for me, a month of grieving, not exactly what I want to do with my life. I know I can’t rush the process, but I want to move forward. Since 2013 (I think), I’ve chosen gratitude as my path to the life I want. Don’t get me wrong. Acknowledging pain is important. Wasn’t it Rilke who said,
“Let everything happen to you Beauty and terror Just keep going No feeling is final" ?
It was Rilke. No feeling is final. Thank goodness. I’m thankful, too, for my little collection of words and insights and people, all of the ones helping me through. I’m especially thankful for my people. So many of you have lifted me up with your words this past month (and even before now) as I struggled against lowest lows. If that was you, leaving kindness in your wake, thank you from the depths of my heart. If you are reading now, I appreciate you for being here. I tend to feel everything deeply—beauty and terror—compassion, prayers, and gratitude.
And do you know what I love? How this WordPress blog tracks the distance of my words and the location of readers. I’m humbled, so humbled, by the readers who visited in January alone, readers in 47 countries—the U.S., India, Canada, The U.K., Germany, Spain, France, the U.A.E., China, South Africa, Australia, Romania, Ireland, Italy, Hong Kong SAR China, Egypt, Pakistan, Netherlands, Indonesia, Austria, Japan, Finland, New Zealand, Portugal, Jamaica, Philippines, Singapore, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Kenya, Thailand, Greece, Venezuela, Brazil, Bhutan, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Congo-Kinshasa, Zambia, Chile, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Israel, and Mongolia.
I am grateful for you.
It’s funny how a simple thanks doesn’t seem good enough.
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” I’ve carried Wordworth’s words awhile. I've worn them around my neck. Today I breathe a few of my own onto this page with my whole heart. Wordsworth would say, “The Poet thinks and feels in the spirit of the passions of men… he must express himself as other men express themselves…” with “a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and feels.” It’s about the expression, man’s or woman’s, keeping it simple. Relatable. He would say, “…in proportion as ideas and feelings are valuable, whether the composition be in prose or in verse, they require and exact one and the same language.” So Mr. Wordsworth, Do your words a poem make? Today my heart stopped breathing. So did the heart of my dog Rain. She was fourteen years old with a heart of gold, a heart that failed. But did it really— when she gave so much love away? One month ago, my mother passed. Rain traveled across the state line. A good eleven hours in the car each way. Away from home eleven days. The trip was hard. For both of us. Rain suddenly seemed her age. On the third day of the new year, a Sunday, Rain couldn’t breathe. I was ready then to let her go. But oxygen and medicine, a hospital stay and a dollar or two could fix her good as new. For a moment. Just ten days after my mother’s death, I couldn’t do loss again. But I knew Rain’s time would come. And now—“The rain is over and gone!” Yet somehow my heart breathes on.
When my mother tested positive for COVID-19 before Thanksgiving, I was winding down my fall semester. On the last Sunday of November, she left the nursing home via ambulance to the hospital. On December 7th, she returned to her home of forty-five years for hospice care. My dad, my sister Liz, my brother Scott, and I were all there to hold her hand and love on her some more. Somehow, I believe, my mother orchestrated all of it and brought her family together for our goodbyes. Meanwhile, in the final weeks of my mother’s life, John Berger’s novel Here Is Where We Meet spoke directly to me, and I had a final paper to write. This post is an excerpt. In a fusion of fiction and autobiography, Berger weaves separate and seemingly unrelated threads of memories and experience and time and space to depict the interconnectedness of life and death.
The novel begins in Lisboa with the narrator, an author named John, ruminating on his dreams. In John’s dreams his parents are alive, and he phones them for various reasons, forgetting they are dead (2-3). When the Lisboa scene resumes, John’s mother takes his arm, they cross the street, and she says, “John…The thing you should know is this: the dead don’t stay where they are buried” (3). A person who continues to live in the hearts and minds of others can never truly be dead. We carry the dead with us wherever we go, whether we are awake or asleep. John goes to Lisboa and meets his long-dead mother there.
In her farewell to John, Mother shares a final philosophy on life and some motherly advice, which shapes the course of the novel. She says, “we are here to repair a little of what was broken” (51) and “we come to the eternal conundrum of making something out of nothing” (53). She advises her son, the writer, to “Just write down what you find…and do us the courtesy of noticing us” (53). For the rest of the novel, John does his mother the courtesy of practicing her advice, noticing the dead, and writing down his memories of them. Perhaps the narrator John and the author John Berger are one in the same, and in writing this book, perhaps both Johns repair a little of what was broken.
John, the narrator, spends the rest of the book traveling throughout Europe, from Lisboa to Genève to Kraków to Islington to Le Pont d’Arc to Madrid and to the Polish village of Górecko, as if travel is one of life’s secrets. He moves fluidly between settings, the past and present, the living and the dead. His travels reveal the most important people, places, and experiences of his life. John Berger published Here Is Where We Meet at age 79, probably when he considered the influences and interconnections of life and death more than ever before.
John Berger’s eight chapters conclude with chapter 8 ½, a one-page dialogue scene with his mother that ends where the novel begins and connects it all together. Mother repeats her earlier advice, “Just write down what you find” (237). Perhaps life ends in the same way—we remember our loved ones and their words and connect all the pieces. John’s mother returns to her point in the way that people do when they want to make sure their audience has heard the message. Yet, even after eight chapters depicting the courtesy of noticing and writing it down, John responds by saying, “I’ll never know what I’ve found.” He doubts what he knows as we all tend to do, but in truth, John has found more than he realizes, making something out of nothing.
My mother passed at home on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family. She is no longer here, yet she is vividly here. In my mind, my beautiful Mama radiates the sheer joy of her prime and laughs a sparkling twenty-year-old laugh. She lives on through my family, in our hearts and minds, and in the countless number of trees she planted around my hometown. I can only hope to do my mother the courtesy of continuing to notice, to write down what I find, and to repair a little of what was broken..
I grew up blue in a little red state in a little red town. I played with the red kids. My blue parents didn’t put red parents down for believing Differently. That was great. We respected opinions and choices. Votes were our voices. We didn’t see Color— red or blue. Only people, and what's true— like a person's heart and character. Maybe— we can agree— You do you. I’ll do me.
I realize that living well is an art which can be developed. Of course, you will need the basic talents to build upon: They are a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings, and assurance that the world owes you nothing and that every gift is exactly that, a gift. That people who may differ from you in political stance, sexual persuasion, and racial inheritance can be founts of fun, and if you are lucky, they can become even convivial comrades.Maya Angelou