Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Putting away childish things...

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. St. Paul,  I Corinthians 13:11


In many places one of the biggest holiday events, particularly for charitable foundations, is the "Festival of Trees". At these gatherings donated Christmas trees are auctioned off to help raise money for new cancer wings to a hospital, an addition to the animal shelter or to help a terminally ill's child's 'wish' come true. Each tree has a theme. I've seen "The Nutcracker Suite", with mice, ballerinas, snowflakes, flowers and a Nutcracker tree topper. I've adored the "Baker's Dozen"..a tree completely decorated with miniature baking implements; roller pins, tins, tiny tubs of flour aprons and recipe books. I thought, given that I live at the ocean, the always stunning "Beach Lovers Delight", embellished with shells in every shape and size, was magical. Each tree had another unique, carefully planned symphony. When I got home from attending these beautiful parties, I'd look over at my funny, goofy, random tree and see a cacophony of mismatched ornaments and cringe.

As tempting as it was for me to chuck my ridiculous, mismatched collection of Christmas decorations, I could never seem to part with them. I have a few stunning crystal ornaments that catch the light and reflect it throughout the room. I have the little gold colored church bauble, that my husband and I gave to our wedding attendants, as party favors. Mixed are the reminders of our children's births, a cable car from San Francisco, a Saguaro cactus from Arizona, a glass blown Eiffel tower, little hockey skates, tiny skis, ballet shoes and trains. We have a Darth Vader that, when plugged into a Christmas light bulb, says, in that raspy James Earl Jones voice, "The Force is with you young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet". That expression has greeted me each time I've turned the tree on for the past 15 years...because my oldest was a Star Wars fanatic when he was very young. There is the elegant Tiffany engraved ornament hanging next to my schlocky German Shepherd angel. A carefully glittered snowflake shimmers like diamonds, just above the incredibly tacky snowman bell. 

If I were to continue to peruse my tree, mixed in with all of these tokens of my married life are the ornaments of my childhood. When I first got married, and moved to Germany, my mother gave me the box of these ornaments as a way to bring my past along with me. Knowing I wouldn't be home for the first Christmas of my life, she wanted me to have "home" wherever I was. So our moves to Wildflecken and  Idar-Obersten, Germany, Lawton, OK and then back to Camden, Maine, all brought my treasures along for the ride. None of these are valuable in the monetary sense. But each one reminds me of being a little girl. I have bells with my parents and my names on them. and somewhat tasteless 70's ideas for Three Kings crowns. I have some 'once adorable' mementos of buying my 'yearly ornament' at Gervasoni's on State Street in Santa Barbara, following our annual trek to go see "The Nutcracker Suite". Going to Gervasoni's was a tradition my best friends, our mothers and I had. Figuring out which ornament to pick was nearly impossible, as the usual flower shop was transformed into a winter wonderland. And yet, each year we managed to find the perfect one. And I still have all of them hanging on my tree.

The most raggedy of all of ornaments (and that's saying something) is a half bald, woe begotten duck, made out of puff balls and wearing a ski hat. This is the oldest ornament I have, and it made the long journey of my childhood from San Francisco to New York to Santa Barbara and then on to Maine. It wouldn't even suffice as a decent dog toy. Still, it's my favorite. For reasons I can't fathom, when I was tiny I named him "The Chickie" and the Chickie he's remained to this day. I still pull him out from the boxes each year and greet him as I would an old friend who has been on this long journey with me. He's seen it all: the year I turned 5 and had chicken pox and ended up lying in bed wearing my new ice skates and trying to hug my sled. He was present in the afterglow of my seeing my first Broadway show, my becoming a horse crazy tween, my cousins and I sleeping under the tree to "catch Santa", my falling in and out of crushes, and my first true heartbreak. When my then new husband was away for months at a time, and I'd get the ornaments out by myself, the Chickie would remind me that I could connect my Christmases of years past with my present. 

Today I'll begin the process of de-Christmasing my house. I'll bring out the boxes in which to place the garland, fold up my burgundy tablecloth and remove the holiday paraphernalia. I will begin to take the ornaments off my tree, one by one. I will carefully look over each piece and decide if it's time has come to meet the rubbish bin. It's not an easy call. Some do actually break. With two exuberant, immense dogs, for whom the tree is nothing more than a fun object into which to crash, I've lost my share of glass balls. Others just looked worn and tired. I know that it's time for them to go...and in doing so, to make room for new pieces of new memories. Yet, it's tough to say goodbye even to the worst of the lot. By saying to them, "You look just awful. I can't have you on my tree any longer", it's as if I'm losing a part of my own Christmas memories. I'm the furthest thing from a pack rat. If anything, I tend to purge our house prematurely. When it comes to Christmas ornaments I've had for 40 years, however, I'm a hopeless nostalgia keeper.

I've resolved to let go of many of these ratty bits of fabric. The plaid covered bell, with places that are so bald Styrofoam can seen underneath is going to the trash. The assortment of Santa looking ornaments, that have always seemed a creepy to my daughter, will be donated, since they're in good repair. The snowman that I myself think looks a little demonic can bite the dust. The others, who resemble nothing in particular but just seem boring, dated and devoid of sentimentality, are out of here. Harder to release are the dodgy ones that evoke childhood memories. I know it's time. I know they don't add any character to our tree. But I think of my late father, whom I adored, when I put up the now shabby lobster boat. I remember my Grandma when I see the falling apart little doll she once sewed for me. And then there is The Chickie. My friend. My amigo. My traveling companion. I realize that I'm an adult and, to paraphrase St. Paul, it is time to put away childish things. 

I'm just not quite ready yet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rolling with the Homies

Life is too short for traffic.  ~Dan Bellack


What a difference a year makes! I can only look back and reflect now, because enough time has passed for me to take the full measure of all that has happened. I count my blessings every day. I take nothing for granted. I am immeasurably appreciative for the people who have been so good to me. I am deeply indebted to my family, who have been courageous in the face of my fears. I am thankful for the chance to recreate my life anew.


Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of my major cancer surgery. One year has passed since I was uncertain about what fate would have in store for me. Would my tumor touch major organs? Would it have metastasized? Knowing that my form of cancer doesn't respond to chemotherapy or radiation, surgery was my only hope to keep it from spreading further. Where would it have insinuated itself? I went into surgery with my mom, my husband and my daughter, Caroline, as my support system with me. Caroline was amazing. She got a kick out of my joking around with my pre-op team and surgeons. She was there for me when I swore like a sailor getting that darn Heparin shot...which by the way, hurts like hell, but prevents blood clots. We held hands, we thought positive thoughts, we laughed, we cried a little and we just spent that hour before my operation together...in the pre-op 'stall' at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Hers was the last face I saw before I was wheeled away. Hers was also the first face I saw when I woke up and was wheeled into my hospital room after the procedure. That beautiful face, with those adorable dimples, was my touchstone that day.


It's only fitting that Caroline and I will share another adventure tomorrow. I'm picking her up from prep school for her last Christmas break before she graduates. We will have another "cruising" experience; albeit a much more positive one this time. Instead of rolling into surgery, we'll be rolling  home to Maine. I can't wait. Caroline and I have established a tradition during the 4 1/2 hour trip to and from her school in western Massachusetts. We sing as loudly as we can. Since I tend to flub up words, and can't carry a tune to save my life (pun fully intended), I am a constant source of amusement to my daughter. I insist that my lyrics are correct, and if my tone is a bit 'pitchy', well, it's all part of the fun. We belt out show tunes (I have passed on my passion for Broadway musicals), pop songs and, this time of year, Christmas carols. I once had Caroline nearly rolling on the floor laughing when I insisted I could speak Hindi, when I went through my Bollywood phase, thanks to the "Slumdog Millionaire" soundtrack. She made me realize how tame my generation's music was compared to today's rap lyrics. We laugh, we sing, we tell stories, we catch up, we think positive thoughts, we share and we just enjoy being in each other's company once again. 


In some ways, December 15, 2010 and December 15, 2011 won't be all that different. I'll be with my daughter. We'll be talking, day dreaming, venting and just basking in the gratitude of having each other. However, we will be much more lighthearted this year. We still have our worries. We still have issues we're concerned about. But, we have many wonderful memories that are ahead of us. A year ago, we were so entrenched in the present it was hard to see the future. Today, we're happy that some mysteries still await us. I'm glad to be sharing it with Caroline. Not only is she my daughter, but she's my 'homie'. There's no one I'd rather "roll with".

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing

We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing.  Action always generates inspiration.  Inspiration seldom generates action.  ~Frank Tibolt


The most common questions I'm asked, when people inquire about my blogs, revolve around where I find my inspiration. People want to know if I make notes when special events pop up, and if I have a special writing ritual. Do I write for a certain number of hours each day? Do I only write in the morning? Do I keep a journal? What incites me to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) when a thought pops into my head? Do I pitch anything, or do I keep it all? In short, how do I do what I do? 


The short answer is "yes" to all of those queries. I do make notes, when I think about it. I do prefer writing in the morning, though I don't have a time minimum or maximum, and if the muse descends at 2 am, I'll write then. I do keep a journal, although it's mainly written in shorthand notes that even I have trouble deciphering.  I'm inspired by art, by books, by my family, by the circumstances in my life, by exercise, by rest, by food, by friends, by music, by films, by nature and by just about everything else in the world around me. I write whatever is on my mind, and if I think it's not ridiculous, I'll keep working on it. If I think it's dreadful, I'll delete it. I like writing with a cup of coffee by my side, but it's not absolutely necessary. 


The next question, after the "how do you write?" curiosity, is the bigger one: "Why do you write?".  This is the far more complicated posit. I've always written. From the time I was very young, before I had the power of spelling at my disposal, I created little books with drawings on each page. I was able to tell the story to the viewer. Writing has been my medium of choice for communication. I'm an abysmal talker and tend to babble when awkward silences fall. I can't think of the right things to say during countless situations, and therefore, end up with my foot in my mouth, having spoken exactly the wrong thing. I wish, far too frequently, that I could recall my words, just as a fisherman might reel in a line that's been cast astray. Words, once spoken, can never be taken back. 


When I write, I feel as if my voice is the way I want it to sound. If I make an error, it's an error that, at the very least, I've given some consideration. The written word provides me the ability to convey my thoughts in an edited, contemplative manner.  I can delete. I can enhance. I can recreate. I can discover that a tangent is far more intriguing than the original idea. I can let go of all ubiquitous strains, or I can embrace them.  By writing, I can learn what I'm truly thinking and where my heart indeed rests. It gives me a window into my soul, my psyche and my subconscious. I learn more about myself, by reading my own writing, than I possibly could in any other way. Writing, for me, is much like meditation in this way. 


Sharon O'Brien, author and noted Willa Cather scholar, wrote "Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say." I quite agree with her. When I sit down to write, the words often take me by surprise. I'm just as excited to see what my fingers type as I would be to sit down and read a novel by another writer. It's a fascinating process to me and I'm often amazed by what emerges. I might sit down with the inspiration for one piece, and another seems to flow right out. I'm always interested in what I'll say next because I learn and grow each time.


"Why do I write?" is the big question. "Because I must" is the answer.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Thankfulness Project

A little over a year ago, I tried the "October Dress" project. It was tough, but I managed to come up with a new and inventive (some days more than others, however) to explore wearing a simple black dress every day for a month. This Spring, I participated in the 30 Books in 30 Days project. I enjoyed this one because, as a lifelong bibliophile, I was able to stretch my imagination to narrowing down those books that have been most special to me.

In the challenge I'm taking on this month, I'm exploring a subject very close to my heart: thankfulness. Gratitude is something sadly lacking in our culture. In this era of "what's in it for me?", people are far more inclined to think selfishly, rather than altruistically. People seem to still want whatever is 'next and new', rather than what's 'here and now'. Additionally, few of us rarely take time to truly appreciate those blessings, big and small, that occur in every day life. I'm as guilty of this as the next woman.

As a two time cancer survivor, I'm deeply appreciative to even be here, writing this blog piece. And yet, I get incredibly grumpy if I feel 'slighted' or maligned. I've felt personally picked on by the universe. Why? Cancer twice does put a bit of a monkey wrench into my sense of fairness. Factor in that I am an organic eating, non-smoking, (now former) yoga instructor, and that I also had a nearly lethal variant of E-Coli in between these two cancer battles. We all have our challenges in life. Mine have simply been more visible to the outsider.  I've learned that life is rarely fair. But it can still be beautiful.

It's my hope that, with this blog, I'll stir up a little goodwill in my own heart...and maybe help others to do so, as well. So, on Day 1, what am I thankful for? The inspiration to write all of this out, and the medium in which to do so. Please join me at my new site 30 Days of Thankfulness or begin your own quest for gratitude.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Unexpected

“Most people want to be circled by safety, not by the unexpected. The unexpected can take you out. But the unexpected can also take you over and change your life. Put a heart in your body where a stone used to be.”   ~  Ron Hall


When I'm traveling to other parts of the country and tell people that I live in Maine, I usually get the same reaction. It's one part "I'm so sorry...you poor thing!", and another part "How pretty it must be there in July!". These comments generally drift into an anguished sympathy asking how I can possibly function with 'all that snow'. To the outsider, living on the coast of Maine year round seems as if we residents go into a 'bubble' from October to June. These folks imagine that we're mole people, tunneling our way underground to have an entire civilization away from the cold. No one can fathom that we lead completely normal lives. Kids go to school. Adults go to work. We go to the market, to the movies and to restaurants. We don't hibernate. In fact, for many of us, winter is pretty nice because the crowds are less and the gatherings are more intimate in the places we socialize. Yes, it snows. But, we deal with it. We have the occasional snow days (to much laughter and joyful dancing). We have to shovel. But, it's life...and frankly, we're just used to it. It's simply not a big deal. It's the expected, and it generally begins after Thanksgiving and before Christmas.


Halloween has always been our last 'outside' blast of fun. In our little town of Camden, there are a couple of streets that get all the Trick Or Treat traffic. There are police blockades set up so those little Fairy Princesses and miniature Supermen can walk safely without cars. For teens, the village green has become a 'somewhat' sanctioned location for the annual shaving cream fight. It can get a bit rowdy, but in general, Halloween in our Maine town is akin to a small version of Mardi Gras. It's all in good fun. There are always a few 'bad apples' who try to ruin it, but it's a traditional night of merriment and joviality.  The big storm that hit the northeast was a huge surprise! We've lived in Maine for twenty years and, not once during that time, did we ever have a "white Halloween". It definitely put a damper on what many people, especially young people, were planning for their holiday. Will tiny Ladybugs or petite Firefighters have to wear snowsuits over their costumes? Will the shaving cream turn into a snow ball fight? We just don't know. Jack O'Lanterns are buried all over New England right now. 


This snow storm has really struck me as incredibly metaphorical for the challenges I'm facing in my life right now. I do have a diagnosis. I do have some answers. I don't have a way to fix the broken problems with my body right now, here at home. I'm nervous about how to repair my terrified spirit. I'm constantly waiting for the 'other shoe to fall' once again. An October snowstorm sums up, quite neatly actually, the way I feel about my life. I had expected lighthearted joy and received unforeseen melancholy. 


What the "October Snowstorm" metaphor  has taught me is to find the eye of the hurricane, and to rest in that bright spot as much as possible. In between some dreadfully painful and invasive neurological tests, I was able to go out to my favorite restaurants with my mother and 'aunties'. While my husband has been looking for a new career, we've had the luxury of wonderful time spent just the two of us. The unexpected is terrible. But, it's taught me another lesson: I've learned to never get too 'comfortable' in any situation. Why? Because that comfort can easily turn into complacency. We can be so satisfied in our current circumstances that we allow contentment to override the possibility great changes. We can also become dreadfully set in our ways. "October Snowstorms" teach us to remain open to new situations, and also to learn to react effectively when massive changes hit. Most of all, the unexpected can be a drill in living in the moment and a reminder not to take our current lives for granted.


One of the pleasant parts of my recent health complications was my trip to Arizona, where I was blessed to find a doctor who could diagnose my problems. However, this exceptional woman wasn't the doctor I had flown 3000 miles to see. The expected neurologist was great...not only was he a nice man, but he was a premier doctor at the most highly rated neurological center in the country. And, he was completely stumped by my case. He felt it was "just one of those things that might go away on its own". This didn't help me with my pain level or ability to walk. The doctor who ultimately aided me was recommended by one of my mother's best friends. The doctor is an MD, a Princeton educated doctor no less, who also has studied Eastern medicine.  She a tiny office in a tiny town in Arizona. She was the first person to ask me when my ability to walk became a problem, listened to the results of all the traditional tests I'd had (which she'd assured me that she would have ordered) and then proceeded to help me using acupuncture, chiropractic work and other 'alternative' methods. Had I not flown to Arizona, I never would seen this doctor...and she wasn't the health care professional I'd expected to help me. I still have to find 'help' here in Maine, but just having the diagnosis of a compressed spine has made a huge difference.


October Snowstorms come out of the blue. We don't expect them, and we certainly don't feel, when we're in the midst of one, that we can learn anything by the blows we're dealt. And yet, these 'come out of nowhere' experiences also have blessing of pushing us out of our comfortable territory and into exploring new horizons. My mother has a great illustration for this: "Make plans, but always have your running shoes by the door."  I get that now. I appreciate that now. I live by that now. The only difference is that I make my plans, but keep my Uggs by the door. I think the same concept works.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Balloons

As I sit in the tranquil, zen-inspired-by-way-of-Tuscany, courtyard of my mother's house, it's easy to slow down, breathe and count my blessings. The past month has been a hectic, frenetic blur. From one doctor's appointment to the next, then dealing with health insurance and still trying to barrel my way through pain...it's been overwhelming.

I have felt a bit like the girl holding a giant number of balloons. The balloons lift her up off the ground and she's completely stuck: if she releases the balloons, she will plummet to the ground. If she keeps holding on, she is letting those balloons carry her further away. Additionally, the winds are dictating where she will wind up. The girl has no voice in her journey. She is, quite literally, along for the ride. None of her options have happy endings.

However, I've slowly been coming to discover another outcome...one that doesn't involve a crash into the side of a mountain. If I think of each of the trials, tests, struggles and roadblocks as balloons, I can release them one at a time. I'm able to create the image of a Cerulean blue balloon as the vast amount of radiology I've had. I can then imagine it in my hand...and can then simply let it go. It's gone and I don't have to worry about it anymore. I can do the same with the shimmering teal balloon that may be my surgeries, the deep burgundy for the loss of my yoga career and the pearl grey one for my heaviness of heart.

One by one, I can let them go. It's not all at once. I am not dropping my hand without making sure that I'm able to watch each individual concern float away. It's just a way to allow myself to
come down from this worrisome, unknown place slowly, gracefully and at my own pace.

But for now, all balloons are on hold, so to speak. I have my feet planted on Terra Firma. My arms were getting tired from holding onto all those strings. It's good to rest. I can pick them back up later.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Indian Summer

"I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it."  Alice Walker "The Color Purple" 


One of the greatest joys of living in New England is the change of seasons. I look forward to the magic that each new time of year brings. In part, I think this isn't so much of a case of disliking the current time as it is an eagerness for what comes next. It's great fun to pull out my sweaters every Fall...just as it's a great relief to put them away every summer.


My father, a lifelong Northeast resident, enjoyed our move to California...up to a point. The first few years, I think he managed to "suffer through" being a Santa Barbara resident. However, the bloom was off the Banksia rose (and the orange blossoms, hyacinth and nasturtium), when he bought (and wore) a t-shirt that said "Just another sh%*^y day in Paradise". Other people might have found that statement to be witty and ironic. Dad was dead serious. He missed the snow. He daydreamed about Autumn leaves, Nor'easters and waking up to the crunch of first frost on the lawn.


This year, however, I'm soaking up every bit of the glorious Indian Summer weather. I'm basking in the glow of hazy, breezy afternoon sun. I'm finding incredible peace in just celebrating October temperatures in the 70's. Why? There is just so much unknown on the horizon. In less than one week I'll be in Arizona, consulting with a new neurological specialist. I've run through my meager medical options here and must head to a center that can offer me help, answers and a plan of action. So, I find myself with a lack of enthusiasm for the changing seasons this year. I still love Fall. But I just want to hang onto the present, pleasant days I'm having now.


As exciting as it is to take out that box of warm clothes, I realize how much time I've wasted looking too far ahead. For now, I'm content to just remain utterly thankful for Indian Summer. It's as if I've been given a reminder to stop and notice "the color purple"...especially if that color comes with a glass of iced tea next to the hammock.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Awake

A brahmin once asked The Blessed One:
"Are you a God?"
"No, brahmin" said The Blessed One.
"Are you a saint?"
"No, brahmin" said The Blessed One.
"Are you a magician?"
"No, brahmin" said The Blessed One.
"What are you then?"
"I am awake."

~ Zen Lesson


While I was lying prone in bed last week, I came upon this lesson former yoga teacher training books. I'd first read the quote about 8 years ago, just as I was beginning my R.Y.T. program. I found it to be enlightening, encouraging, helpful and compelling. I was excited to become a yoga teacher! I knew that I'd be "living what I love" in my new career. The extraordinary concept that I could actually get paid to practice yoga, and to share it with others, was still a novel concept to me at that time. I studied the wisdom words by everyone from Moses to the Buddha to Thomas Merton. My program of study was especially wide ranging. Not only did I learn an incredible amount about anatomy, but I also apprenticed in the 15 most common forms of yoga practice. It was both overwhelming and edifying, and unnerving and revitalizing. I had phenomenal teachers and surprisingly nasty ones. I met lifelong friends in my classes, as well those who took competition (in a 'supposed to be non-competitive' atmosphere) far too seriously. Through all of these lessons, over my 8 months of study and practice, I kept coming back to this first lesson: I asked myself if I was "awake". I felt, at that time, that I was. Every cell in my body told me that I was finally waking up from my lifelong trance-like slumber.


Now that I'm older, more jaded and, hopefully, a bit wiser, I've learned how unconscious I am most of the time. My thoughts of being awake, 8 years ago, are laughable in their innocence. What I had envisioned to be a "one time alarm clock moment", even a 'born again' experience, was simply not the case. I think that, regardless of one's religious beliefs or personal practices, the art of being awake isn't a singular event: it's a lifelong goal for which to strive. I can't possible undo decades of absent minded and heedless practice overnight. In our culture of repetition and unconscious habit, it's tough to remain mindful in everyday life. I seem to operate on auto-pilot through much of my day. Before I'm even aware of it, I'd gotten up, made breakfast, gotten the kids to school, taken the dogs for walks, done the errands, paid the bills and even taught a yoga class, all without consciously being aware of these actions. Living mindfully aware, in the present moment, requires a great deal of practice, I've discovered. I tend to get so caught up in daily routine that my sense of being 'awake' slinks into the background.


I'm no longer a yoga instructor. Unfortunately, my surgery last December made that career impossible to continue. However, I have discovered a bit of a tough lesson: even being a yoga teacher did not make me immune to falling into daily amnesia. I often taught six classes per week, in addition to my other 'jobs' as mother and wife and committee member and volunteer. My daily practice and classes simply were added to my 'to do' list. 


It's my hope to find a bit of time each day to "wake up". I'd like to have my reflections and prayers become more than my 'wish list' of 'wants'. I would to get out of bed each morning not just stumbling towards coffee, but as a conscious experience of the new day being the precious gift it is. I truly understand my ignorance of 8 years ago as a wistful enthusiasm. I just hope I can poke that same hopeful, eager, but exhausted woman I was back then. Perhaps in my gentle (or even forceful) nudges to my psyche, I can revivify that former earnestness, but temper it with cautious awareness.


The alarm clock has gone off! I'm awake!  But I'm learning that waking up is easy. It's staying awake that's much more challenging.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Too much of a good thing

"Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?" ~ William Shakespeare, "As You Like It", Act IV, Scene 1


There are very few things in life I like more than curling up in bed. A cup of coffee by my side in the morning, or tea in the evening, my book, my snuggly dogs, a rainy day and my Netflix account....it just all makes for sheer bliss for me. No amount of temptation can lure me away from the coziness that is my favorite space. To quote my cousin Lori, "I love my bed so much I could marry it." 


However, I have learned that even a sloth like myself has limits. Last week I had a lumbar puncture. The old fashioned way of referring to this procedure is a "spinal tap". Dear sweet heavenly radishes, but it was dreadful. After being reassured countless times about how simple, and painless, a maneuver like
 this was nowadays, it did not go well for me. Apparently (and in the 'who knew?' category), I do not have easy access to my spinal column. This is in part just how my body works. It's also thanks to my badonkadonk, which gives me a sway back. Regardless, a ten minute job turned into at least half an hour. And, I was left with a Post Lumbar Puncture Headache. This isn't a lousy "let me take some aspirin" headache. Oh, no. This is a "could someone be so kind as to remove my head from my body?" headache.


In order to avoid more invasive hospital cures, I was advised (even ordered) to take to my bed. I needed to lie completely prone (i.e., no beautiful, elegant pillows propping me up) for a couple of days. I was also advised that caffeine would be beneficial. Despite my pain level, I thought, "Hallelujah! I can do this! Lying in my bed all day long drinking coffee! That's my skill set at last!".  I mused, "Finally! A treatment I was born to do!". 


However, I quickly learned that this activity is, well, just awful. Not only am I used to sitting up while drinking said my caffeine sources, but I'm also accustomed to being able to move about when I feel like it. Despite my marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth, I did have nagging feelings about all the things I wasn't doing. The laundry was getting done! The kitchen hadn't been wiped down! If I forgot something at the other end of the house, it was a "no soup for me" moment.The dogs might be able to go outside through the dog door, but the pitiful way they kept bringing me their leashes showed me that their imprisonment wasn't any more fun than mine. While I did have my friend introduce me to "Dr. Who" on Netflix (a fabulous distraction), I really wanted to go into town. Even though my neighbor went to the farmer's market for me and brought me fresh vegetables, I wished I'd been able to go with her. I missed being with my family in southern New England. In short, the bloom was off the rose. My bed no longer represented a delicious sanctuary. It had become a prison with lovely pillows....pillows I could not use, by the way.


I'm up once more. It's slow and gingerly movement. I'm keeping an eye on the headache from hell. I have to monitor my time up and my periods of rest. I now find myself daydreaming about doing things like climbing mountains in Tibet or a safari in Africa. Just like the child who, when caught eating cake when she wasn't supposed to, and then being told to eat the whole thing, I have find I've lost my appetite for cake. Or, in my case, lying in my bed.


But, the hammock is looking positively captivating.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nobility and Humility

"Whatever comes," she said, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.  ~ "A Little Princess", Frances Hodgson Burnett


We have had a challenging month or two. My health has gone from adequately recovering from my December cancer surgery to being in debilitating pain. I have suffered through complex neurological issues that have not only taken all my strength to muddle through, but my dignity, as well. My husband, who has always been a hard working provider for our family, has lost his career. We went from looking forward to spending an extraordinary year planning out our next steps as recent "empty nesters" to just worrying about what the next day will bring. I wait from moment to moment, terrified when, and where, my next bout of seething pain will strike. I am deeply concerned about the unpredictability of our financial situation. There are times I want to be impatient, snappish, angry, bitter, jealous and downright mean spirited. I want to smack the hands of the nurses who can't start my IV's (after three tries). I want to kick the shins of the doctors who don't meet my eyes while telling me "We just don't know" about my medical saga's answers. I am seething when I see less qualified, and less competent, people who are still working in their same positions...and who want to buy bigger houses...when I worry about how we're even going to pay to heat ours.These are not thoughts I'm particularly proud of. In fact, I'm ashamed to be such a grumpy, churlish shrew. For better or worse, I'm exhausted. I'm too worn out from pain, from worry and from fear to be concerned about the social niceties.


Yet, when I think of the woman I want to be "when I grow up", this is not she. The woman I want to imbue is not a despicable harpy. She is a noble, kind, humble, loving gentlewoman. The "fully realized" Ellen of my imagination is about as far as I can travel from my current state of resentful harridan. Somehow, I need to make this transition from one of angry terror to one of gracious acceptance. It isn't easy. If I'm not physically in pain, I'm emotionally distraught. I do realize, however, that it's up to me to rise above these present circumstances and move into being the woman I choose to be. One of my mother's favorites quotes, from St. John of the Cross, keeps coming to my mind again and again: "I am not made, or unmade, by the circumstances in my life, but by my reactions to them".  If I judge myself in this light, I am thoroughly abashed. I have allowed myself to be 'made' by the circumstances in my life...both the good and the bad. I have taken pride in areas which were really no more than good fortune. I have basked in the glory of praise. Because I allowed myself to get caught up in believing I was 'made' by the good circumstances, I know that it's no wonder that I have been 'unmade' by the poor ones. I am ashamed.  Mea culpa.


I believe that this is my chance to grow up at last.I need to let go of letting my situation dictate how I feel. I must "put the ways of childhood" behind me and move into adulthood. The inspiration for desired transformation, ironically, is from my one of my favorite children's books, "A little Princess" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The protagonist, Sara Crewe, shows exceptional courage and strength as layer, by layer, her carefree, beautiful life is stripped away from her. She's left with nothing, quite literally. And yet, her angelic, compassionate, noble soul shines through. It doesn't matter if she's wearing the latest fashions from Paris, or the rags of a street urchin. Sara Crewe, even as a fictional character in a child's book, embodies the woman I hope to be. She is unfailingly kind. She is loving to those who are wretched to her.  She is generous with what little she has. She is altruistic, accepting, satisfied and humane. 


Therefore, I've set my goal: I want to be a princess. Not the spoiled, nasty type that one sees on "reality television"...no, I want to be a princess 'on the inside'.  I may be in pain. I may be embarrassed. I may be frightened. I may be living with an unspeakable number of unknowns. But, I can be kind. I can be loving. I can remember that if I behave in a way that shows strength, courage, gratitude, peacefulness, acceptance and joy, perhaps that will come true. As Sara Crewe pointed out: it's easy to be noble when everyone knows it. The challenge comes in creating that gentle nobility within myself that is immovable regardless of what happens to me. 


I won't be wearing a tiara. I have never owned a pair of Manolo Blahnik's. My wedding did not take place at Westminster Abbey. Yet, I can be a princess all the time. Perhaps, if I think about how a princess should behave, when confronted with adversity, it will be reminder to emulate one.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The End of Innocence

Somewhere back there in the dust, that same small town in each of us. I need to remember this. So, baby give me just one kiss. And let me take a long last look, before we say goodbye. Just lay your head back on the ground. And let your hair fall all around me. Offer up your best defense. This is end of the innocence. ~ Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby "The End of Innocence


September 11, 2001 began as a beautiful day. The sun was shining. The leaves on our large Maple tree were just beginning to turn. We could see the brilliant yellows and reds outside our kitchen window. I was still homeschooling my children, who were 9 and not quite 7 years old respectively. We were curled up on the couch in our family room, reading "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". Josh and Caroline begged me to postpone their math lessons to just allow for one more chapter. "Aslan is on the move, Mom! We can't stop now!", they said. I realize that those two sets of beautiful brown eyes were both serious in their earnest request for more reading. I also knew it was partly a ploy to postpone multiplication tables. I was okay with that.




The phone rang just after 9:00 am. It was my friend, and fellow homeschool mother, Jennifer asking if I had the television on. Jen wasn't any more likely to be watching TV on a school day than I was. We took our jobs as homeschool teachers seriously. But, I heard the tone in her voice, and still couldn't comprehend what she was telling me. How in the world could a plane have crashed into one of the Twin Towers? It was with horror that the children and I watched the events unfold. What we thought must surely have been a terrible accident initially, clearly took on much larger meaning for the entire world.


It was the end of innocence for our nation, I've heard it said. No longer were terrorist attacks limited to unfathomable bombs going off in Israel or India. Our oceans to the west and east couldn't protect us with their natural barrier. We were no longer the citizens of a country who had to travel to foreign lands to protect ourselves. We needed protection here at home. Europe bears the scars of war from within the last 60 years. So does most of Asia. We had now joined the unwanted society of countries at war.


Because I'm not a politician, or journalist, or in the military, I can't speak for a world perspective. I didn't see the carnage first hand. I didn't lose a loved one or a colleague on September 11th. But, as a mother, I know what our family lost: its innocence. Until that time, my family flew several times a year with ease. My biggest concern was having enough items in my carry on bag to entertain Josh and Caroline for our trips. My only fear was that we'd run out of things to do and someone would melt down in public. After September 11th, our trips changed in tone. My children saw me pulled out of line and searched almost every time we flew. I explained that it was for all of our safety that folks were searched randomly. "Is it so that we don't hit a big building, too?", my daughter asked the first time this happened, "Don't they know you're a Mommy?". I tried to think about how to illustrate the concepts of fairness, equity and impartiality. It was hard to do when my children just wanted to go visit their Nana, and were afraid to fly.


As it turns out September 11, 2001 was an end of innocence for our family in other ways...in aspects that had nothing to do with the terrible events of that day. This was, ultimately, the last year I would homeschool the children. They both went on to doing extremely well in school. They loved their peers and were successful in their classes. They gained independence by leaps and bounds every year. I am exceptionally proud of both of them for their diligence and leadership, both in the classroom and outside of it. But, I still missed the sweet quality our days together had once had. It was the last year before I was diagnosed with cancer the first time. My life was never the same after my first cancer digagnosis. I would find myself revisiting this chapter time and again. I would come to the understanding that no matter how well I take of my body, it can betray me with illness. My husband was working in a job he loved, with people he admired, during this time. Although his career would take another decade to end, I look back on 2001 as the time in which my husband was working in a capacity he most enjoyed. 


Obviously, things haven't been all bad since that September 11th. We've continued to travel, to grow, to learn, to laugh, to cry and to explore. We have had outstanding years and utterly dreadful ones. We have known profound joy. We have experienced deep sorrow. Ten years is a long time, but it's also the blink of an eye. I am thankful for every day I've had since the terrible tragedy occurred. If nothing else, the terrorist attacks taught me to appreciate life all the more, to hold my children a little closer, to hug my husband every day before he leaves for work, to call my mom and tell her how much I love her.


Back on the homeschool couch, on September 11th, I used the remote to turn the TV off. I pulled a blanket over Josh, Caroline and me, and we read another chapter from the Chronicles of Narnia. Then, we read the chapter after that. And on, and on, until we finished the book. We may have skipped math that day, but I believe that time spent reading was vital. After all, Aslan was on the move.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My happy place

Definition of "Happy Place" from online Dictionary: "A psychologically-induced trance-like state, where a person may regress from a stressful situation."


As a student of yoga for the past 12 years, my master teachers have often encouraged us to find our 'happy place'. Nearly every book I've read, and every instructor I've had, has described this internal location as more of a void than an actual dwelling. Because I'm far too visual a person to just go into nothingness (though that's the ultimate goal), I initially imagined an all white room with nothing but two simple chairs. It was more "the Matrix" than the void, but it worked for me. I was able to use this conceptualized, somewhat blank, visual mantra for a while. I could even feel a nurturing, conjured up sage talking me through the meditative technique.


I'd listen to my fellow yogis and yoginis with envy (another bit I'm supposed to detach from), as they described slipping out of themselves during meditation or Shavasana. They talked blissfully about shedding their selves and just leaving all ideas of Place for a while. It sounded liberating. It sounded delicious. It sounded impossible for me. 


Much as I tried to even let go of my quite white room, I found that I went the other direction. Instead of leaving it completely behind and just allowing my mind the freedom of nullity, I'd somehow, unconsciously, made that releasing impossible: I began to decorate.


My white room was too, well, white for me. So, I warmed it up with a deep red on the walls, some natural sunlight and a fireplace. I realized that no happy place could be could be complete with floor to ceiling bookshelves. I'm nothing else if not a reader so,  of course, I needed some comfortable furniture on which to curl up and read. As much as I love wood floors, rugs really do help make a space feel cozy. Honestly, they should be Persian rugs...after all, I'm going for fantasy, and frankly, the many-colored-designs really do create a focal point in a room. What about art? I need art! Art is beautiful! How can I live without art? Up on the walls art goes. And so on. While other yoginis are contemplating the sound of their own breathing, I'm debating window treatments and the merits of French doors over pocket doors. I've gone so far as to think about making a pergola with a fountain just outside on the patio. Though, in fairness, I'm somewhat stuck between mossy brick or sleek flagstone.


Obviously, I'm very far from mastering the concept of a happy place, at least how it pertains to yoga. I understand the letting go of attachments, enticements and temptations of this world. I just really love to decorate. And I love comfort and beauty. I've come to my own realization, or perhaps it's a justification, that my happy place can be my dream room. I feel safe there. I feel the ability to let go of "House & Garden" moments to just explore how I'm feeling "deep down true". I may not be one with the universe, but I am away from my cares, my worries, my fears and my indignities. Perhaps I do focus too long on the merits and shapes of topiary plants. But, perhaps that's just what I need right now. Maybe I need to think about throw pillows and cozy blankets to get me out of my pain filled head and my despair over our lives' complications at this moment. I beat myself up over my lack of ability to conjure up the empty void. Yet, I'm coming to the realization that what I may need now isn't a void, but a space that's filled with light, peace and comfort.


Professor Dumbledore once said to Harry Potter, "Numbing the pain for a while will only make it worse when you finally feel it." I had a yoga instructor tell me something very similar recently. However, when we're on complete overload, I do think we need a little numbness now and then.


Mine just happen to come with choices in upholstery.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Laughter through tears

"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." ~ Dolly Parton as Truvy, in "Steel Magnolias".


There's an absolutely wonderful short film by European filmmaker Christine Rabette entitled "Merci". In this exceptional 8 minute movie, not a word is spoken. Emotions, however, are conveyed with powerful imagery. The scene opens with an underground rail system and moves into a Metro car. The riders are nearly colorless...bland, beige, drab and downtrodden. Every face has a frown upon it. Every eye is downcast. It's a gloomy, depressing scene. The viewer feels the degradation, the monotony and the bleakness of the lives of the riders.


At the next Metro stop a smiling, robust, jolly man steps onto the train. Despite his grin, no one meets his gaze. He begins to chuckle, at first. Then guffaws. The train riders look aghast initially, or even disgusted. Yet, his laughter is infectious. Before long, the woman next to him is laughing along with him. The serious, stern riders further away begin to smile to themselves. Within an instant they, too, are giggling. A moment passes and the entire train is filled with optimistic, joyful mirth. As the Metro pulls into another stop, The Laughing Bodhisattva departs. But he leaves behind a much happier car.


For the past few weeks, I've felt quite a bit like the discouraged riders on that subway. One situation after another has left me depleted. Once again, I'm unwell. Although we don't have a diagnosis yet, I'm in nearly constant severe pain and am suffering from other ailments. It's been extremely difficult to get a doctor to return  my calls. In the hospital, it was nearly impossible to find anyone to even really listen to me. They were simply too busy to meet my gaze. In a sense, those health care professionals were riding on this same sad Metro car along with me. Additionally, my husband just lost his job. More than that, he lost his career, due to downsizing. He's a well educated, hard working man and has always been employed. This blow has also been extremely demoralizing...not to mention that it's terrifying in this economy. My heart has been so heavy, it's been close to breaking for good.


Yet, I had my own personal Bodhisattva appear, in canine form, this morning. My dog, Dakota, is a rescue. She's a beautiful Shiloh Shepherd. She came to us with many fears and has slowly been emerging from her personal troubled subway ride. As Dakota has gained in confidence, a mischievous sprite has taken form. I woke up to find her snuggling with me in bed. This isn't surprising. Dakota is very cuddly. What was unexpected, at any rate, was that my entire bed was covered in toilet paper. Not only was Dakota wrapped up like a mummy, but my other dog, Murphy (a Newfoundland-Golden Retriever mix) also was quietly bearing the binds of his wrappings. My lamps were covered. My robe, next to the bed, was covered. Somehow, my Kindle was completely wrapped up in its own package, as was the remote control to the television. There was toilet paper from headboard to the end of my bed, draping us all in a cocoon. It was as if I woke up in a canopy bed made of toilet paper. Miraculously, none of it was really broken. It was all looping, long, entire rolls. And, I'd slept through the entire construction. My crimson and gold bedding was lost in a sea of white. Seeing through the curtains of toilet paper, I saw two beautiful, mirthful eyes. Dakota had been waiting for me to wake up.


Although Dakota couldn't begin laughing herself, I knew that this was her gift to me. Her sprightly, goofy antics were the medicine I needed. I laughed. And laughed. And laughed. Dakota got up and rollicked around with the now destroyed toilet paper castle. She jumped. She whirled. She nearly pulled me out of bed with her merry shenanigans. I loved every second.


Are our problems solved? No. Do we have any answers to the fearful question we face? Also, no. But Dakota gave me a precious treat: the ability to look at the present moment with joy in my heart. When you think about it, isn't that what we all need?  Life isn't about the long term; it's about loving each day as if comes, finding the bright spots and steering your course towards them. It's also about laughter through tears. If we can't laugh during our times of trial, then we won't see the miracles that are right in front of us...even if those miracles are created by a dog with a penchant for toilet paper.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Losing things

"Anyway, it doesn't matter how much, how often, or how closely you keep an eye on things because you can't control it. Sometimes things and people just go. Just like that."  ~ Cecelia Ahern, "There's no place like here"


I lose things. I absolutely, resolutely, completely and totally misplace things all the time. Occasionally, the evasive  items seem to reappear in the most random locations possible. I remember, back in middle school, I was absolutely frantic because I'd lost my French book. I had a huge quiz on several chapters the next day. My mother and I turned the house completely upside down looking for it to no avail. I called every friend in that class to see if she might have taken my book by mistake. I retraced my steps over and over again. When my mom (who is a former French teacher) promised she'd do her best to make me up a study guide, with thoughts on her best 'guesstimate' of what the test would include, she realized it was time to start dinner for our family. The mocked up French chapters would have to wait until we'd eaten. As she opened the fridge, she saw, behind the orange juice and leftovers, the hiding text. For reasons I couldn't quite fathom, I'd come home from school, opened the refrigerator to get a snack and then left all of my school books inside. It made no sense, and yet, it made perfect sense. It was a logical, albeit peculiar, place for me to set them down after school and before my riding lessons.


Most of the time, my forgetfulness is exactly like this experience my 12 year old self had had: my missing items aren't actually missing. They're simply misplaced. I'm a terrible organizer, even to this day. I will kick my shoes off in the most illogical spots and then be panicked when I can't find them. (They're usually under my desk or, for reasons I don't really understand, in the pantry.). My husband will find bills in my car. My daughter will notice that my favorite bracelet is in the suitcase I'd used a week before. My son will laughingly point out that my sunglasses are not, in fact, missing, but rather are on my head. 


And yet, there are those times when something simply vanishes. It's gone. No amount of house turning over will help. I have learned the "St. Anthony" prayer from my Catholic friends. It does help me locate items that are still just misplaced. I've learned, however, that some odds and ends are stubborn and refuse to be located. I think this is why I enjoyed "There's no place like here" by Cecelia Ahern so much. Ahern (who is best known for "P.S. I love you" and "The Book of Tomorrow") has created a magical world. But, unlike Narnia or Middle Earth, Ahern's other dimension is populated by all those missing objects that people lose every day. The land is filled with car keys, luggage that vanished from being checked onto a plane and thousands of individual socks. More than that, Ahern has imagined a place where all those missing people, the ones we see flyers for every day, have landed. These folks have gone onto have full lives, built homes and a sense of community, in this home of the disappeared. The protagonist, Sandy Shortt (who is over 6 feet tall), has a classmate that vanishes from her neighborhood in Ireland, and becomes obsessed with finding every lost possession. She goes on to create a private detective service, specializing in missing people. Because, in both life and literature, irony remains a crucial tool, Shortt herself goes missing and winds up in this home for the off course. There was no need for money (though the residents have plenty, thanks to those vanished wallets and purses) because all of their needs are met by gathering the new suitcase arrivals. They have homes, lives, jobs and are settled into the lives they now have.


Although some readers had found this novel scary, rather than quirky, I quite enjoyed it. I actually took comfort in believing that, perhaps, my collection of right hand gloves (I have dozens of lefts) are somewhere nice. I am optimistic that my books (most of which I'd only made it halfway through) are being read by someone else somewhere. I'd be relieved to know that my children's favorite toys (which were tearfully left behind in places) would be loved by others. While it's awful losing something we treasure, the possibility that it's gone on to have 'another life' is ultimately reassuring. 


Obviously, this can't happen. Those poor books, left forgotten and face down on a beach someplace, have turned to paper goo. The stuffed animals, or Star Wars figures, would have, at best, ended up in the trash. My right hand gloves, most likely left on top of my car after I'd unlocked my vehicle, probably blew off to be driven right over only moments later. Still, the imaginative idea of a second life for all of this 'baggage'  is a fascinating daydream. I'd like to believe it.


In the meantime, I'll continue to look for my yoga mat  and car keys. If only I could find them!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A day off...

Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in reverie.  ~Henry David Thoreau


When my children were younger, it often felt as if we were on a merry-go-round that was spinning much too quickly. Our days were spent rushing from one place to another. We hurried to get out the door to school, to pick up, then to soccer, to ballet, to hockey practice. We might have had Cub Scout meetings in the evening. We would be up until midnight creating a diorama for a 2nd grade project on dinosaurs while helping to make flashcards to memorize multiplication tables. Even vacations seemed to be too busy, as we hurried to visit one group in the family in one part of the country, while already planning the next trip. It became a stressful, messy blur of movement.


Every now and then, I'd declare a family holiday. No one would go to school, go to sports, we'd blow off Sunday School one weekend and we'd simply let the laundry go undone. I'd throw a blanket down in the yard, or in poor weather, in the family room. We'd watch Monty Python and make traditional English "set tea". We'd play endless games of Mother May I or "Guess Who?". We'd make forts using couch cushions and sheets. We'd make pizza for breakfast or pancakes for dinner. We would let the phone go unanswered. We'd leave the mail in the box. We'd read. We'd read. We'd read. The kids and I read all of the Narnia Chronicles in just such days. 


Obviously, we couldn't do this all of the time. We had responsibilities. We had work and lessons and life. It was all just outside our home. But, for a day here and there, we stepped outside the realm of 'have to' and into 'want to'. These were blissful, magical, dreamy lazy days. I wish we'd had more of them. Time does march on, of course. Kids grow up. It's much harder to miss AP Biology than it is to blow off one day of long division. The world becomes more stressful with every passing year. 


With the unbelievable dread of the news today, I find myself thinking of those days off wistfully. The horrible helicopter crash in Afghanistan broke my heart. The economic crisis makes me terrified of our own financial well being. My health being precarious only makes my fears more personal. I wish I could take a step back from all of it. I want to turn off the phone. I would like the television to either break, or to only broadcast shows that are lighthearted. I want to throw off bill paying, house cleaning, yard work, personal commitments and everything that causes me concern. I want to lie in the hammock and re-read children's books that are full of fancy and imagination.


I want a grown up day off.  Too often when my husband and I have extra time, we need to squeeze the most of it. While Jeff is mowing the lawn or sealing the driveway, I'm getting caught up with vacuuming, dusting and organizing. I wish I could wriggle my nose, like Samantha from "Bewitched", and all of those chores would be completed. More than that, I'd like to curl up and watch "Bewitched", "I Dream of Jeannie" and even "Gilligan's Island" and remember being 10 and having a day off from school.


I think we all deserve it. I believe most of us work far too hard every day not to have a true day off...with an interrupted block of time to do absolutely nothing. Or to do something absolutely silly. Try it. Ignore the news. Ignore the phone. Ignore the calendar. And just be. 


Just don't forget to laugh.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Well Behaved Women

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. ~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Have you noticed how many bumper stickers appear on cars these days? It seems as if everyone has an opinion, on just about every subject. The far left believes that we should  all be vegetarians, remain out of all wars, reduce our carbon footprint and vote for the Democratic party. The far right wants us to know that we can take their guns from them...out of their cold, dead hands, as well as demanding that we vote for the Republican candidates. We are told to wear Birkenstocks and to share the road with bicycles. We are implored to shop locally and think globally. We are entreated to ask for birth certificates and reminded of the Bill of Rights. There are stickers denoting a Confederate flag, whether or not a person's child made the Honor Roll at Lincoln Middle School or how they'd like to kill fans of a rival sports team. On and on the bumper stickers go. People don't advertise their politics or personal code of ethics on their sleeves, but on their cars.

Frankly, the one bumper sticker I'd be slightly tempted to put on my car would read "Pro-privacy". Why? Because I prefer not reading about someone's legislative dynamics. Again, why? Because so few people live up to the standards their vehicle may espouse. By virtue of noticing a person's 'light reading' when stuck in traffic, I hold that person to the standards their car advertises. I don't think that's an unreasonable assumption to make.



An experience I had recently brought this point home. The bumper sticker on the back of a Prius read "Well behaved women seldom make history". I happen to agree with this sentiment. I graduated from the oldest women's college in the United States and I'm very proud of that fact. During my time in college, I learned more than the average college student about the role of women throughout history. The suffragette movement was particularly interesting to me because I came of age to vote my first year of college. I learned what an extraordinary priviledge this was and that I was able to be a voting woman thanks to a group of 'non-well behaved women' who lobbied tirelessly. They were the vocal minority fighting against an equally vocal majority who did not believe that women were capable of deciding government affairs. 


The "pious Prius" in front of me, however, led me to feel anger at this particular bumper sticker. In addition to cutting me off in heavy traffic, the driver flipped me 'the bird' and screamed "get your 'bleeping' gas guzzling SUV off the road." She also yelled out epithets regarding female dogs and the possibility of my being illegitimate at my birth. As I slammed on the brakes (to avoid hitting her car, as she ran through a stop light), the bumper sticker was inches away from my own front bumper. I followed this driver slowly, through the gridlock of Maine summer driving, and had ample opportunity to think of nasty rebuttals. My mind went round. And round. And round. Every vicious, calculating, evil idea that crossed my thoughts remained on the tip of my tongue. When the non-well behaved woman held up traffic to double park in town, and I was able to inch by her, I had the perfect opportunity to shout any one of the snarky retorts I'd devised. My window was down. She was stuck next to her double-parked car because nobody was letting her cross the road without being in the crosswalk. Dozens of mean spirited comebacks were available to me!


I did not say any of them. I actually smiled, and waved her on so that she could cross in front of me. Of course, I thought these comments to myself. My internal monologue was screaming at this woman. But, I didn't say a word. Why? Because I'm far too well behaved to have caterwauled unkind, and unnecessary, insults. Maybe this means I won't make history. I'm positive it signifies that I'm doomed to live a quiet life of swallowing scorn. But, I'm okay with that. I don't believe I'm any less valuable to society because I am a well behaved woman. I'm frankly damn proud of being well behaved. In a world in which people hurl insults at one another based on which baseball team one favors, I'd like to think I can rise above this kind of petty anger, sparked by bumper sticker mayhem.


I don't put bumper stickers on my car. I have no beef with anyone that does choose to advertise their beliefs in a vehicular fashion.What I do have is some advice: keep in mind that your "words of wisdom" are read by lots of people every day. If you choose to advertise your feelings on any given subject, you should be prepared to live up to those same words. If they entreat, implore or encourage the person in the car behind you to believe in your ideals, you should be answerable to them. If your bumper stickers are offensive, harsh or downright disrespectful to anyone, ask yourself why you feel the need to publicly put others down. I agree wholeheartedly in difference of opinion. The world would be a tremendously dull place if we all felt the same way on every issue. I've actually learned the most from people with whom I have had a healthy debate. Yet, far too often people's opinions cross the line in a very public way that may even reflect badly on the very issues they feel strongly about. Is it too much to just want us all to 'get along'? Is common courtesy a thing of the past? I remain steadfast in my own commitment to simply 'be nice'.


In the meantime, I remain a well behaved woman. I may never make history, but I fully intend to live up to my own paradigm. I just choose to keep those ideals private.