life lessons, NATURE

THE IRONY OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

“Are you bored?” My mother asked me yesterday.
“No not really, I spent the previous day deep cleaning my kitchen and it took me seven hours.” (Cleaning my house is not something I have done on a regular basis).
“Cleaning for Passover?”she asked.
“Passover for one, hardly,” I replied.
“You aren’t having Passover?” She asked with a tinge of that old school Jewish guilt I haven’t heard for a long time.
“No Mom, this shit is real up here in the North,” I said with a tone of churlishness I tried to mask. My mother lives in Alabama and based on some of the history down there, the present governor hadn’t seemed to be taking this situation as serious as her northern counterparts.
“They just closed the malls yesterday,” she said. I am having Passover here.” She then proceeded to list the couples of friends coming to her house.

O.M.G. I thought. My mother is an intelligent woman. She is as liberal as they come, despite the fact she lives in a very conservative state with many ultra conservative friends. Yet, in just two weeks, in her mind anyway, she is forging ahead with a Passover seder. We are never going to recover from this pandemic if this is what is happening in the homes across America. Passover and Easter right around the corner, are people really digging their heels in and not heeding the severity of the warnings?

I have gone outside on some bike rides and walks, keeping my distance, or at least trying to, and I have noticed hundreds of people out, some attempting the distancing like my partner and me, and others lying in the grass making out, having family picnics, playing frisbee like it is a summer vacation.

We have missed our two week window to help flatten the curve and despite the warnings, despite the obvious problems in Europe reported daily, not enough people chose to #stayhome. Intelligent people who read the news who see what is going on have decided that because our government has not said the magic words, Shelter in, perhaps it isn’t that bad. The irony of this is that these are likely the same people who would dig their heels in if the government did say to stay home, refusing to be told to do anything. The live free or die mentality that is America is never more true than it is right now.

Die. We may. Especially if you are over seventy like my mother and all of her retired friends.

It has been two weeks since I closed my business and decided, after a Friday night out of dancing and partying before this new world started, that I would self impose a two week quarantine. Two weeks today. Though my self quarantine has ended in theory, it really has just begun as our world and our country spins out of control

Bored is not a word that enters my vocabulary. Ever. I am an active and energetic woman. On the go, thousands of ideas, mover and shaker, perpetual motion. Bored is not really a word that comes to my mind. There is so much life to live- even during this During Covid. time. — D.C.
I find myself with more time than I could have ever dreamed I would have. In all fairness, I have no little ones, I have no husband, I don’t even have a pet. My son is safely at his home this last semester of his senior college life with plenty of food and not too far away. I have a partner, but we don’t live together. My work is closed, my team is safe. I am not an essential worker.

I have a lot of time. I have a lot of time alone, but I am never alone. The irony of social distancing is that I have felt more social than ever. And I am an incredibly social person. The obvious lack during this time is the face to face close talking, lots of hugging contact I am used to, but taking this off the table there is a unique consciousness that has been happening. A deliberate charge to connect.

There have been the usual phone or texts and this has remained a constant, but now, added to it, are the face time calls, the Zoom get togethers and team meetings, the creation of Facebook groups that just a month ago I would have never considered. Connection during this time of unprecedented forced social distancing has turned out to be fuller than I could have ever anticipated.

Just in the time I have been writing this, I have been invited to a virtual surprise party for a ten year old girl I would have never been asked to just a month ago. I taught my 102 year old grandfather how to get on Zoom and we have had two cocktail parties with some of my favorite friends along for the ride. I have been asked to teach a virtual writing class and a virtual expressive arts class. The amount of exercise I have added to my daily routine is unprecedented because there is so much time during the day. Social distancing has brought many friends and families closer together in ways no one could have predicted.

I have written endlessly about my struggle with social media over the years, but in this unique situation, I have found it to be a helpful experience. I am not suggesting that I want this to continue endlessly, but connecting with people I care about, being a voice in the community of good, taking a stand on #stayhome and saying it aloud as often as possible.

Besides this fake social connecting, the real life nature connecting has been a surprise addition. My grandmother had two neighbors, sisters, who lived together for their entire lives. When they were well into their eighties, I went to visit them and noticed many bird feeders in their yard. When I asked them about them, Ethel, one of the sisters, said she sits in the yard and watches them. At the time, my son couldn’t have been more than six years old; the notion of sitting outside and just watching birds feed at the feeders was a foreign idea to this busy thirty something.

Now with all of this time, I find myself sitting by the window and watching the magic unfold. A fox family, cardinals singing, and as I was writing this piece this morning, I watched two ducks fly by my window and land in my yard for a spell. I have never seen ducks in my yard. Maybe they are discombobulated too.

I know this life I speak of is not the same for many, domestic abuse is on the rise, the elderly are in even a more vulnerable situation and the health care workers and first responders do not have this luxury I speak of. But even for my mama friends and team members who have little ones, each time I speak with them, they are outside with their kids playing, building forts, cooking and baking together, making the best out of this bizarre situation. The irony seems that the best is some of what is coming out of this.

We are in the midst of what I am calling a global course correction and it is invoking time together in a way we had previously forgotten in our quest for more. And our failure to notice how much disconnection there has been.

As I write this, it it two weeks today that I closed my company. My signage and my emails said, Closing for two weeks until March 28th. I changed the signs yesterday to Closed until it is safe to reopen. I have no idea when this will be. Some of my salon counterparts are giving dates. I am not willing to do this right now because frankly, I can’t imagine that we will be open anytime soon. I am in the business of touch and though I know we will all crave physical touch beyond belief, will we ever feel one hundred percent safe with this type of touch again?

A strange predicament, but without feeling overwhelmed I instead will choose to stay present to the moment, looking out my window staring at the nature that the divine provides on a moment to moment basis.
This is a curious experience in our lives and our children’s lives. We will never be the same for sure, but I would like to think that words like appreciation, love, connection and gratitude our words that will become our go to words for generations to come.

We may be past the point of new return, but as March comes to a close, so does the mixed weather. As bouts of warm weather approach with April, so do the vast numbers of people choosing not to listen to the warnings and heading outside like it is a perpetual vacation.

We have a long strange trip ahead of us as a country. I hope the country comes together and pays attention as a nationwide community. We may have separate states, but they are not separate countries. Now more than ever we must remember that we are called THE UNITED STATES for a reason.

Watch the birds. Bake some cakes, Have a virtual Easter and Passover and PLEASE #STAYHOME. #tellallyourfriends.

business, life lessons

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED AS OF DAY 5

I sat at my computer yesterday looking at my payroll expense account knowing that this would be the last payroll for some time. I took a deep breath and pressed the send button. This was the final major part of my business activity I would be doing since no money is coming in now and this was the last big expense. The action was saying, finally after 5 days of mayhem, holy shit, this is real.

I am a fixer. Chaos and I get along just fine. When things are going right, I get bored easily. I like to solve problems and help people solve problems. This is why I am so active with writing and on social media right now. I am in all hands on deck mode. How can I help? How can I serve? This has always been my driving force of small business owning. I never stop because of my love for small business and its ability to take action on so many levels beyonf the day to day operations. For my little business, I have a big payroll. This one is on the smaller size because to conserve money, I chose to not pay myself. I include the amount so any non business owners out there can see the impact of what just one business closing will be haivng. This is real.

The only thing that is keeping me going is that we are all going through this together.

Continuing on with my day to day of the shut downs, thinking that this would be helpful. Take what you need and leave the rest.

There are lots of “little,” seemingly insignificant charges, we small business owners, who wear every hat imaginable, incur on the day to day month to month operations of our companies.

A two week shut down is a stark difference to a two month shut down, but I was raised as a pragmatist, so I err on the longer shut down of my business then a shorter one. The realist in me says that as much as people may WANT a spa service when we come out on the other side of this, my business may not be their first call. Hair color, Waxing, Haircut, facial, lash extensions maybe not so much, in that order. I am guessing this all, but I am a planner and I am basing my thinking on human nature. I hope I am wrong.

DAY 5

Here is what has happened and my additions to the check list. I am capitalizing the first few since they are of utmost importance.

GET YOURSELF A NOTEBOOK AND BEGIN DOCUMENTING EVERY CALL EVERY DATE, EVERY TIME AND WHO YOU SPOKE TO. Keep the name of the company and the phone number in one place according to the date. You will need good records, this will save you a lot of time later.

CREATE A FILE IN YOUR EMAIL TO MOVE EVERY EMAIL EXCHANGE BETWEEN INSURANCE UNEMPLOYMENT, INTERACTIONS, REFUNDS, CREDITS ETC and as the emails come in just move them to the file to find easily later. When later comes. And later will come.

THIS IS NEW FOR EVERYONE. STAY KIND AND PATIENT. OFFER SUGGESTIONS TO SOME OF THESE COMPANIES WHO ARE NOT ON THE FRONT LINE OF THE BRICK AND MORTAR BUSINESS MODELS LIKE WE ARE. They are open to suggestions. This may surprise you, but this is only week one for them too. My suggestion was to create a checklist for their accounts and send them out to stay ahead of the panic. Don’t freak out- we are all in the same boat. 

THIS IS THE BEST TIME TO ORGANIZE ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS, ACCOUNT NUMBERS, LOGINS IN ONE PLACE. You will be needing them and the more orderly you can keep everything, the calmer you will be the longer this goes on.

CREDIT CARD COMPANIES: If you are trying to cancel those pesky monthly charges that happen with or without business have your MERCHANT ID and your BUSINESS TAX ID handy. Keep it handy because you will be asked for this over and over.

They are on the receiving end of our panicked calls. We are chump change compared to the restaurant businesses that have alcohol instead of haircuts or candles to sell. I called mine and after one hour this is what I learned to ask for. 

Salon Software told me to call Gateway company- in my case it was Salon Biz + PaySimple. I called Paysimple they told me to call the credit card company, WORLD PAY. World Pay told me I needed to call Paysimple. YOU CAN SEE WHERE THIS WAS HEADED. Here is what I learned. You can ask for a cancelation or a temporary suspension or a seasonal suspension. In PaySimple’s case, it was a cancelation. I will have 6 months from the date I canceled to reactivate or I will need to close and then reopen the account. I chose this as my option. The fees aren’t a lot but with no money coming in, 15.95 per month per location adds up over time. Right along with Pandora, Apple Music etc. Pick and choose your battles. I am being fiscally ultra conservative so that I have a business when we do reopen. 

This process start to finish took from 9:30am-10:38 am, over an hour. I ope this will save you some time. Many of us small business owners don’t even know how much extra we pay PER MONTH in addition to the fees PER TRANSACTION. Time to rise and shine, my beautiful small business owners!

If you have a separate credit card account for ECOMMERCE like I do, I didn’t cancel this. Just double check what you have and make decisions accordingly. 

SBA DISASTER RELIEF LOAN: Yes, taking out loans sucks. But I still say, fill out the paperwork anyway. Don’t do it on your phone. Sit down with your tax returns from last year or this year and have your debts, company names of mortgages and any other outstanding debt information at your side. It will take some time to fill out the form. You can save it and return to it later if it boots you out like it did me 3 times yesterday. I just turned it off, and am headed back to it today. Here is the website: spa.disasterloan.gov

My thinking is to get in the system so if I need it, I have the paperwork done. I hope I don’t need it. I hope none of us do. 

BUSINESS PHONE+INTERNET+SOFTWARE etc. I am in wait and see mode here. I reached out to them to see what their thoughts are and they are not ready to make decisions yet so I will revisit this next week. 

TEAM: Check in with your team. See if they need anything. Check to see if they received the unemployment confirmation. Send them a checklist that you have found helpful in your personal life. Set up a company zoom meeting so you can stay in touch. Not now, but keep this in mind as this situation progresses. Especially single moms, or moms home with their kids 24/7 for the first time. Work outside the home can be a very important outlet and identity for moms, this is a big shift for them.  A call, an email, a group text, letting them know you care during this craziness. You need them and they need you. The bonding between leaders and their employees shine the brightest in times of turmoil.

LEADERSHIP: Owning a business is easy when everything is going great. When the shit hits the fan like it is globally right now, we must take action. Make difficult decisions. This is not a popularity contest. Leadership is what you do when the going gets tough. It is the hardest job and this is a test of our ability under pressure. Not everyone is going to like your decisions, but this is a great thing too because it separates the people who you want as part of your continued tribe when and if you do reopen. This is a traumatic event. Ration your news feed. Put some music on. Light a candle. Call a neighbor and set the example by staying home. Encourage your team to stay home. Encourage your friend’s kids to stay home. Be a big voice in your business community. This is how we help.

SOCIAL MEDIA: I am in a lot of Business Facebook groups because I enjoy helping people. If the information you are reading is helpful then by all means share it, if it is causing you more worry and fear, then turn off your notifications and take a long bath, or a shower or make brownies with your kids. Don’t get sucked into the vortex. We need to keep our immunity up and strong during this time and health is priority number 1- physical and mental, spiritual too.

EXERCISE AND MENTAL HEALTH: Health is of utmost importance. If you are a gym person, and you don’t have access to it, you already know there is a plethora of videos and apps to keep moving even if you can’t get to the gym. For those of you who have been meaning to get to the gym and find yourselves hanging out on the couch more than ever- start small. 1 jumping jack, 1 ten second plank,  1 sit up,  1 deep breath. The next day try to add one more and keep adding until the end of the month. It is amazing how quickly these small additions can become easier and more important keep you sane. We have the time now. Take lots of deep breaths, write, draw, jump up and down, use your stairs, write letters to people instead of texts and emails. Keep moving. You need your health and you need your mind. 

TO BE CONTINUED, my friends. Stay safe. #Stayhome. #wewillgethroughthis.

business, Health, life lessons

THE NEXT TWO WEEKS

March 14th will go down in history as one of the most tumultuous days in my already busy brain. In the morning, I was comfortable with my decision to keep my business open, mistakenly thinking that I was providing a “respite” from the outside world. After all we in the beauty business of touch are not large gathering crowds. 

But as the day went on and I spoke directly with a dear doctor friend who is soon to be on the front lines of this pandemic, I learned much more. I read a detailed and very concise letter written by an esteemed professional doctor and that changed my mind. 

I closed my business voluntarily yesterday at 5:00pm after painful and deep consideration.What I have seen and heard is the next two weeks is the most critical. I didn’t realize this as I made my way out with the masses on Friday to party before my birthday weekend. I didn’t think about the seriousness of the next two weeks. Like the masses of people who decided to head out to the bars in Newport and Boston yesterday to celebrate the no parade St. Patrick’s Day, I was foolish. 

I am no longer foolish.

Our leadership, federal and state, doesn’t seem to want to say. CLOSE YOUR BUSINESS. Why would anyone want to say this? It is economic suicide not just for business, but for the people we employ. The Federal level has taken action to make it more streamlined for emergency money to help compensate the people we have to layoff for fourteen days. But no one is talking about the impact that my type of business has in the country. Spas, hair salons, nail salons, gyms, yoga studios, wellness- we are all touching people in the most intimate areas every day. We are then going home to our families, to the market, to restaurants. 

In my opinion, now that I know what I know, I would rather voluntarily close for two weeks and ask my team to self quarantine for that time, to help prevent what is happening in Italy and the rest of Europe. This is not a two week vacation. This is a time to self quarantine because the likelihood of exposure is the highest right now. We in the beauty and wellness businesses have likely already been exposed. I am not one to freak out. I usually weigh with much consideration the pros and cons when it comes to making these difficult decisions.

Europe is our countries Ghost of Christmas Future right now. I hope I am wrong and that my colleagues can laugh and point a finger at my for being “overreactive” a month from now. I am willing to take the laugh. Closing my business yesterday was the hardest decision I have ever had to make as a leader in my company and in my community. I am still in shock. My team is in shock. This is no joke.

But at this point, I do feel that it is each of everyone of our civic responsibility to voluntarily make these hard decisions. Hands down- our state leaders should be speaking about the beauty business, one of touch, and finally stop ignoring what a major part of the economy beauty and wellness provides for the citizens of our country.

For my colleagues out there, please voluntarily close. Self quarantine for two weeks and ask your team members to do the same. We are all in this together and if we set the tone for what the right thing to do is, we will be better as a community a month from now. 

Running a business is a day to day tricky business. We must make rough and tough decisions and in this case, we must not be making them from our pocketbooks. I know it is scary to think that income will cease for two weeks or more, but these are all great lessons in our lives to re think what we have, what we need and how we operate when we do get to open again. 

My friend said that he is hoping for a V upturn. Quick dip, quick return. Imagine when we all come out of our homes after this madness, the way the trees and the light will seem. The first delicious meal at our favorite restaurant will taste, the first workout at your gym or that glorious facial at your favorite spa. In the darkness when it seems like light is absent, that little spark of brightness means so much more. I am confident that we will see a business boom like we have never experienced when we get through this. This is not forever. 

For those of you out there who think some of this maybe hype, or politicization, I for one thought this a bit too last week, but when we see France close its restaurants and bars, when airports are closing and borders are closing, I would rather err on the side of caution. The glory of our free country is that we get to make our own decisions, but this is unprecedented and as a community, we have an opportunity to speak up and do our civic duty.

Please voluntarily close your business. Our communities are in prevention mode. Two weeks now could prevent three months later and we have the capability to take action now. I hope we can come together and support each other during this time and I thank you for considering this. And I am sorry to freak you out. I have attached the letter below so you can make an informed decision too.

https://www.alaynewhite.com/closing-update.html

life lessons, travel

WITHOUT A CAMERA

Sneakers and socks, fully sprayed and lotioned with the appropriate amount of sunscreen. Sweatpants on my bottom half and my go to throw on (probably should throw out) black cotton sundress I have been wearing for at least ten years to the beach, I made my way to my predictable beach spot. Barely a whisper of a cloud in the otherwise clear as a bell ‘blue true dream of sky’ topped off the shimmering white granite sand and the adjectives can’t control themselves in my brain trying to describe the feelings of this perfect Florida  March 1st beach day. If my friends were with me, they too would proclaim this as an almost ten beach day, but they are not as they are freezing their asses off in the 19 degree temperatures appropriate for an otherwise mild and uneventful Rhode Island winter. .

Heading out, cooler packed with an inordinate amount of food, making my way to the beach at the glorious hour of 8:30 am to get a power walk in before I settled down with what would soon be my fourth book of the week. Usually I go for a walk barefoot on the white granite crystals that aren’t really sand and never get hot allowing for bare feet on the hottest of days, but are also really cold on a cool day. Sneakered feet on the shoreline make for good traction and my plan was to walk a good four miles at a minimum. 

The beach is part of my life story. I write about it and from it often. The beach is my most grounding environment- maybe due to my Pisces water sign. For every place I have traveled culturally, the beach is the place that absolutely calms and settles my spirit, my body, heart, and very busy brain. 

The people dynamic at the beach is like looking at a segment of mostly white people in humanity’s fish bowl. Couples, families, grandparents fawning over their grandchildren, newly retired married people , it seems at first glance like this slice of the people on Siesta Key today are truly living the idea of the ‘American Dream’ of yesteryear, at least this is what the retirement ads show if you prepared like you were supposed to. 

Go to school, get a job, work hard, buy a house, maybe marry, save, buy a second home, ease into retirement gracefully, one golf game at a time. That’s what it looks like down here, anyway from my perch on the beach— from the outside anyway. Underneath it all are likely the traumas and dramas, I will never know as I make my quick observations looking into their glass houses without really knowing what is being said inside. 

When people are at the beach, they look content and happy. It reminds me of how much goodness there is away from the TV and away from phone and camera access as I make it a point to leave mine at home deliberately to avoid the temptation to “just check one thing.” 

Beach+ Food+ Book+ Pencil+ Notebook- phone = 100% happy place for me. 

I pause for a moment to quiet my writing mind and look up at the throngs of people marching like ants parallel to the shoreline. I am at least a football field away from the shoreline-perpendicular- to remove myself from the likelihood of bad music, annoying conversation and the sounds of people in general. 

I have my spot, and it feels like my own private beach. I hear birds other than seagulls chirping because to my left and behind me are palm trees and small grassy protected land gives them a place to nest. I notice the waves crashing, the light sound of sand blowing against my plastic blue and white igloo cooler, the resident cooler of my grandfather’s garage every visitor uses. I see pelicans dive bombing the gulf for their morning meal and all of it creates a Kodak moment for me.

We seem to have turned into a culture that relies on our phones now to capture every waking mysterious moment so that our cameras themselves have now become our memory and our entertainment.  I watch person after person taking photos of a seagull standing hopefully for a sandwich from the four year old he has his eye on. There is a pelican floating regally, looking prehistoric while it contemplates its next meal or perhaps enjoying its last one. 

There are the runners and walkers calculating their steps and heart rate and recording their every movement in their health apps- missing countless opportunities for the eye to eye contact that would surely produce one of the best memories – a random smile from a stranger, almost a rare commodity these days of perpetual head down body language. 

This is not a judgement or criticism. I have taken my share of beach photos. Ask my partner or my son and they will both roll their eyes at the memory of my countless insistence on snapping poses and places to try to capture whatever poignant moments I didn’t feel I could live without if I didn’t snap a picture right then and there. 

I watched all shapes and sizes in all forms of beachwear. The unprepared lot who just came to see what all of the Siesta Key fuss was about, pale in their black clothes standing out among the crowds and the nearly blinding white glistening beach. 

The walkers were there, experienced and focused trying to battle the bulge or challenge the creeping years hoping to win the battle of health versus sickness in their aging bodies. There were the professional sand castle builders and the laypeople trying their hardest to live in the moment with their children for just one day, building, digging, and seeming to enjoy themselves. 

I watched six backsides of adolescent boys, maybe high school or first year of college sitting in a neat row on their towels watching the stream of young girls in thongs go by trying not to stare with their eyes, yet hoping the movement likely below wouldn’t be a nuisance on their day out. Then out of nowhere two beach patrol vehicles looking like an episode from Bay Watch drove over to them. Next I saw the boys reach into their pockets reaching for their wallets probably to produce an ID. My first thought was that I was happy the kids weren’t black or brown or anything other than white, it would have added an extra maternal worry for their safety and vulnerability on what they must have thought was going to be a fun day out with friends. 

I didn’t see anything these kids were doing that would have warranted this visit from the beach police. They didn’t seem to be drinking or smoking anything. They weren’t playing loud music or causing any type of ruckus. I hoped they weren’t going to be carted away. I almost wanted to get up to make sure they weren’t being harassed which I am aware was a ridiculous way to think as these beach patrol men seemed to be trying to just do whatever job they set out to do. 

I watched little girls take on maternal roles as they protected and watched  over their little siblings. They seemed neither confident nor lacking confidence with their little bodies because the media hadn’t taken hold of that confidence yet to make them question that they could be anything other than perfect. Dads playing football with their sons and some daughters looking like they were trying to coach their sons so as to secure a place on a future NFL team. 

I caught the eye of an older gentleman fully garbed in solar protective head to toe clothing, a walking stick in each hand each with a sandal and a bottle of water for what looked like a very serious morning walk. He paused in a standing meditative state for what seemed like five minutes before he proceeded on. His stance peeked my interest and I was curious wondering what he was doing. I never found out. He picked up and walked. 

Marching forth.

I glanced out at the three boys left. Three of the six boys had moved on with  their things and had walked away from the group looking grim, heads down. Their beach day ruined for some reason I will never know. 

The sand kept blowing, the waves kept crashing. I kept noshing and applying more sunscreen.

What I noticed more than anything was how many memories were sliding into and securing a place in my mind. I considered how many of our memories we sort of give away while we are looking down at our phones or in the view finder trying to capture them. The irony of this is that the very memories we are trying to capture are actually the very moments we see while we are looking up and observing all of this beauty in our surroundings. 

All of these photos in our phones are the fleeting times we missed because we spent the time trying to get the perfect shot and may have missed the pelican dive bombing, or the man meditating. As we were looking down to check out our work or looking through the camera’s lens, we probably missed the kind stranger walking by who had the biggest most contagious smile to brighten the day with the eye to eye contact that only eye to eye contact creates. 

Our cameras are our eyes. They capture the colors and sounds and smells of mother nature more than any picture will ever capture and these moments in our lives fly by at the speed of light, more and more as I get to my fifty fifth year in a few weeks. I watch my grandfather and his friends and realize how even a life well lived and long is fleeting and the pictures could never capture my experiences with my grandfather’s long life.

I have 21,489 photos in my phone. If every photo took one minute between taking it and looking at it, that is 358 hours of my life, almost 15 days, or half of a month. How many of these silly photos replicate each other? What will I do with them all? How much time will it take to do something with them? Delete, organize, review? How much time do I want to spend doing any of that, when I could otherwise be looking up making eye contact and smiling happily at the life I have created for myself as I look up and enjoy the view with my own eyes, my own personal camera? 

I know I will never stop taking pictures, it is fun to scroll through them sometimes seeing where the time went, how the years did fly by like everyone said they would when your son entered kindergarten or you bought your first home. The camera is a good thing to house the memories of our lives, but so is our mind and being conscious of our days. They do fly by at the speed of light and I myself care to hang on to the minutes a little more selfishly. 

FRIENDSHIP, life lessons

MY FRIEND, ROS

I can’t even remember what I was looking for the other day as I poured through my drawers looking aimlessly. I am not the type of person who loses things but rather “misplaces” them. Temporarily lost items always turn up at some point. Whether I pray to St. Anthony or not.

I opened up the top drawer of my great grandmother’s old dark wooden buffet that would likely appear these days on a Pinterest board as a definite “before.” These days it seems the up and coming home owning, apartment dwelling generation prefers furniture that is distinctly in the after category. High gloss white with some bright insides drawer color taken from the latest Benjamin Moore 2020 paint trends, replacing the wooden knobs with something different erasing the history that lives in an old piece of furniture likely from the early 1900’s. Though it may certainly brighten the piece sitting in the corner of my living room, I can’t imagine interrupting its history like that.

As I made my way through the drawers of silver Kiddish cups used for the Jewish Holidays and the other serving pieces passed down from three generations, I made my way to the top drawer where I keep all of those little memorial cards of people who have since passed on.

Some people may cringe at the notion that I have a drawer of these and may even consider this a some weird drawer of death, but I consider it a drawer of memory. It reminds me how fragile life is, how we are just a mere speck on this planet we get to very briefly reside in and on. It is also a trigger for me to remember people that were once a part of my daily life, but are now people I have to consciously bring back to life with thoughtful and mindful recollection.
As I affectionately made my way through one card after another I noticed the different sizes, the one line poems, prayers and quotes that tried to sum up a person’s life in a less than two inch by three inch piece of card stock. These cards are their tributes, the takeaways for the people attending their wakes and funerals and I always take them.

When I was a little girl attending Hebrew School and Sunday School, the Rabbi’s wife taught some classes. Her name was Mrs. Weinberg and she was very religious and also very kind. She taught us to crack eggs in glass cups and look at them to make sure that they didn’t have any blood in them as this would make them non-kosher and unusable. To this day, when I crack an egg, I think of her and actually have a bit of a pang of guilt if I use the egg anyway. The decision to use an egg from my six dollar dozen of organic, free range local grown usually overrides her voice promptly avoiding wasting a perfectly good egg while people are starving somewhere. (My apologies, Mrs. Weinberg.)

She also taught me that when you write the word G-d, you write it with a dash so that if the paper ever gets thrown out, you are not throwing G-d’s name away in vain. To this day, I still do this. This habit has become so automatic that I even do it in text messages. I am confident Mrs. Weinberg would have been proud of one of her students continuing this habit well into the world of tech since the possibility of a simple click of a button erasing G-d’s name with barely a glance was nowhere near our imagination in 1970.

My son went off to Catholic School for his high school years just to shake up his notion of religion showing him another side of the coin. His religious teacher kept correcting his way of writing the name of G-d in his assignments. When he brought this to my attention, I told him to speak to her about why he did this, but he was uncomfortable doing it as one of the only Jewish kids in a freshman class at a very traditional Catholic high school.

I called the religious teacher and explained to her the reason, knowing she would completely understand. She thankfully did and expressed how much she appreciated knowing this wishing that my son had told her. We hung up each learning something from each other’s tradition and I am sure she took this with her to her future students who may have not been Catholic. She probably thought my son was way more religious than we actually were too likely scoring points in the future of his religious classes.

This brings me back to the memorial cards, I just feel weird throwing them out, like writing G-d without the dash. So I will leave them to my son to have to deal with after I move on and onto my own card (though, for the record, I want my card to be way bigger, like my friend Ros, who appropriately had a newspaper for his takeaway). Ros’ father had owned our small town newpaper and he owned it after his father.

I came across his four page piece that was used at his service three years ago and took it out to remember my fondest memories of an old friend who was like a father, a brother, a great uncle and trusted advisor more than anything. What would Ros do? What would Ros say? I think this a lot. He is right up there with my grandparents sound advice over the years.

Our lives are made up of millions of sparks of other people. Ros had a lot of sparks to share and I have a lot of them inside me. Political discourse, small town politics, true gentlemanly behavior, thought provoking conversation, love of chocolate and red wine, Friday nights by the fire with appetizers and reviews of the latest local gossip, quiet charitable persona, love of preservation of Linden Place, July 4TH, how to compost, why to compost, best blueberry jam ever, love of travel and LOVE OF LIFE IN GENERAL.

Ros died suddenly at the ripe age of 90 while he was in one of his most treasured places vacationing with his beloved wife on this day, three years ago today, February 7, 2017. As sad as it was to lose such a ripe and bright man who to all of us seemed like he would go on forever, he went out with a bang in a place that gave him so much pleasure. In hindsight it seems fitting for his exit. To make his life not just a fleeting moment while his body awaited for a traditional funeral, but rather a month long job in getting his body back to the states and all that this entailed. His grand re-entrance to Bristol from his vacationing joy.

Every time I crack my eggs like Mrs. Weinberg taught me and put the shells in the compost bin, like Ros taught me and walk it out to his very compost barrel, those sparks of important people like Ros are with me. Every time I nibble on a few Ghirardelli chocolate chips to satisfy my craving, or pour a glass of red wine on a Friday night, I think of my friend Ros and of an era gone by.

Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Ros on any level at all, knows exactly what I am talking about and if you didn’t know him, I am sure you know someone like him in your life. Take out the memorial card and remember that person. It will calm a busy mind, or a distracted heart. Even though it is so sad to lose an elder in our lives, the lessons and joyous life experiences from these special souls are with us for our remaining time.
March Forth, dear Ros and to all of us who will always miss his bright light and curious mind.

life lessons, self love

THE SUN ALWAYS RISES

I confess. I didn’t stay awake for the final moment from 2019 to 2020. I didn’t watch the ball drop or Ryan Seacrest in his delightful role as Dick Clark second coming. I didn’t eat prime rib or baked stuffed lobster or even open a bottle of good champagne. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even drink one spot of alcohol. I got into bed at 9:30 and fell asleep fast, woke up briefly at 11:07, hoping it was just a few minutes before midnight so I could say I was there, but it wasn’t and I didn’t want to get up and watch the ball drop. What difference would it have really made in my life to do this? I have done that. And I am good with having done that. And this is good. Good enough.

So instead, I woke up this morning on this bright new day of a brand new decade with that delicious thinking that only a first day of a new year brings of What’s Next? In addition to the new year, add the excitement of a new decade aptly named 2020 and I just felt an elation. While my partner stayed in bed, I made my way downstairs to put the coffee on for some quiet morning time alone that the earliest of the am provides. It is brief, that morning solitude, when it is the time before the sun rises, before the first sound of a car headed somewhere interrupts, before even the birds start singing their morning chirps.  

While the coffee perked, I moved into my almost regular routine of sitting quietly in meditation, giving myself the gift of pause before letting technology into my space. The jabber that happens moments before I sit cross legged while I wait for the coffee to alert me with its beeping is curious. The coffee percolating takes about eleven minutes, max, and yet my brain voice tries to pull rank over my heart voice shouting out the endless to do lists. 

But my heart won as it screamed right back at my mind, If not now, When?

If not now, When? So I sat. Giving myself the simple and very free gift of pause on this new day of a new decade hoping for that big breakthrough, but understanding that this is not the point. The point is to counter balance the ferocious energy that is my mind, always full speed ahead with the latest and greatest idea of what to do next—while the beauty of the present moment slides by unnoticed. 

This is the point- so I sat and breathed, knowing that this is what I need whether I like it or not. The present moment and the simple pleasures of allowing it in. When I opened my eyes, the sun was just making its way so I poured my coffee and put on my sparkly hat and bright red gloves along with my Bog boots and made my way to watch its arrival. 

My partner lives about a stones throw from a pond that overlooks the beach. I walked, steaming cup of black coffee in hand, down to the water with the only intention of feeling the light on my face and the sharp coolness of the morning in my lungs. I listened; I looked around at the homes where it seemed everyone was still sleeping and I took another deep breath in with the gratitude that the morning relentlessly delivers.

The pond, that serves as the local reservoir, winds quietly in a square shape with a neat path surrounding all types of flapping and swimming birds. The sounds and sights of the ducks and geese took me away from my chatting brain and I was hoping I would see the swans majestic landing overhead which would have made this moment more perfect.  I observed the tiniest corner of light coming from the east where I realized that I hadn’t missed the sun rising despite the light of the morning. I drank in the realization that I was going to witness the first sunrise of a brand new decade because I followed my heart speaking rather than the to do lists of my brain. Go to the pond, my morning meditation said. No, read, write, finish the project you started, write out the training outline you need to finish, my brain argued. The excuse of a new decade won. I would never get the chance again in my lifetime to witness a morning sunrise in the year 2020. 

2020 vision. A year of goodness lies ahead. I can feel it and I didn’t want to miss its rise to claim me. The ten years between forty-five to fifty-five were tumultuous and exciting, but also filled with a tornado of change that brought me to my knees. Some I chose, some chose me, but in the tail end, neither knocked me down. Fifty-five to sixty-five seems so much different. I don’t remember saying to myself at forty-five, Wow in ten years, I will be fifty five; they just didn’t feel as significant. This next ten does. They feel mind blowing because the last ten years flew by in what seemed like a flash. This next round of ten years I will be sixty-five if I am lucky enough. What do I want? 

I know what I don’t want. I don’t want to say yes to things I would rather say no to. 

I want to keep some of my power for myself instead of always giving it away to other people. I don’t want to keep giving my power away to technology getting sucked into the meme that it is a necessary part of life. I want to stay present more and be in nature more and create more. I want to have less email saved in all of the folders thinking that I will read the latest, How to have a more profitable blog, How to save more money on making less money and the endless stream of how to jargons that have found their way into my inbox and ultimately causing a distraction from myself that is hard to explain.

My inbox is full. And it needs emptying. I need to spend the next ten years riding my own wave, riding my bike, being in nature and having some alone time in silence. All of these promises are so easy on the first day of a new decade. The sun always rises no matter where I live, what is happening around me. The constant of this reminder is comforting as I stood there this morning and watched it rise with its direct beam of light headed straight for me as we stood there together patient, waiting, knowing it would soon be above me shining its light on a brand new day. 

What do I want? I want to remember this moment every day and allow it to direct me with its constant. I want to remember that this is what makes me feel whole and calm during the upheavals and the traumatic events that are naturally a part of all of our lives. There is that cliche- Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. My busy mind forgets about my calm and patient heart and it is my heart, when I listen to it deeply, that always gives me the best direction. This is my one New Years, New Decade resolution. 

Listen to my heart speak more and my brain speak less. 

My heart has never steered me wrong. I need to remember to connect with my own light. And to keep some of it for later. We never know what a new decade brings. It is exciting and frightening. I watch my life wind down towards sixty five and I watch my son’s twenty two year old life wind up. I am lucky to get to watch it. Lucky to be alive after the last five years of life coming at me. I am life experienced enough to know that on this brand new day of a brand new decade, I will forget what I am writing today. I will forget my self prescribed  directive to remember these new and fresh life commitments, but the sun always rises and every day is new decade and this is so exciting to this aging chick, I can hardly contain myself.

holidays, life lessons

A FREE SUNDAY

Flat out and over scheduled this past week, but also an inner joie de vie with the holiday excitement that only this time of year invites. I don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense, partly because I am Jewish, partly because the mass consumerism of it all is overwhelming. I have great memories of Christmas, though because even though my mother converted to Judaism, my brother and I got to go to our still Catholic grandmother’s house in Boston and celebrate a proper Boston Christmas. We never grew up with Christmas tree in our childhood home, but we did get to have a Christmas experience. 

i still love to follow traditionand bake holiday cookies with my aunt

I love Christmas. 

Our holidays were spent in Boston with our grandparents and our two aunts. My brother and I would usually go up a few days early and stay over helping our grandmother decorate the tree. My aunts would take us in our Aunt Peggy’s baby blue, barely any heat, Volkswagen bug driving Commonwealth Avenue to look at the way the homes were decorated. 

It was Magic. 

If I close my eyes, I can smell my grandmother’s house, filled with the buttery scents of homemade rolls, Christmas cookies, and everything Julia Child, my Grandmother’s go to director in the kitchen. I can smell the morning coffee and morning brunch my brother and I were forced to endure before we could open any presents. I can even smell the cigarettes that everyone smoked while this was going on and for some reason this doesn’t even bother my memories.

Going to Boston for Christmas in the 1970’s also meant Christmas shopping. Filenes, Shreve Crump and Low, Newberry Street, Lord and Taylor’s. It also meant shopping in some of the lovely little stores in downtown Wellesley, Mass and finding time to get to The Wayside Inn for a traditional family lunch in Sudbury, Mass. 

If it sounds like this little Jewish chick has the irony of the warmest and tenderest Christmas memories, I do. What I mean by not celebrating Christmas now is the gift factor. I love the energy the holiday delivers, the lights, the mayhem, the frenzy, but the vast consumerism that kicks in and makes people spend inordinate amounts of money is what I shy away from. The only person I buy anything for is my son and I buy Hanukkah presents for him. 

I have a friend who is from a large Portuguese family and the shopping, wrapping and chaos starts from what seems like the day after Thanksgiving. I have listened to her hilarious shopping stories since I met her almost twenty years ago. She is my go to comedian for all Christmas stories of what can go wrong during the holiday season, but so much of what can go right. 

Her family is the wacky type of family I never had. Picture My Big Fat Greek Wedding and substitute the word Portuguese.  I, in turn, am the Wasp substitute Jewish, family represented. I love her family and the stories she shares in who forgot who, who didn’t show up at a party, who didn’t call, and of course all of the goodness too that comes from this zesty family. 

The gift giving is fun to watch, though. So I enjoy going to the mall and watching, like a voyeur, and listening, like a spy, to the endless conversations between complete strangers about what they should be buying for what family members. They usually sound a bit breathless and tired, but never seem to question the auto pilot that Christmas steers everyone towards. I am a curious bystander with the glorious position of not having to buy for anyone so the sense of urgency is non existent. It is freedom. 

I found myself on Saturday night headed to bed thinking about my past week and realized that the following Sunday, yesterday, would be my last Sunday before Christmas since I always work the Sunday before the holiday. I was supposed to go to the movies, but asked my partner if he minded if I took the day alone and headed to Garden City to be with the masses. He had a brief look in his eyes that said, “Who are you and what happened to Alayne?” But he knows me well by now and there are likely daily surprises that come his way from my brain.

We parted ways and off I went. Cash in hand, with no real plan, excited to take an entire day to wander aimlessly with the only conversation the one in my head. Somehow I managed to find a parking spot immediately, no easy task at noon on the second to the last Sunday before Christmas. I got out of my car and began going to the parade of stores before me. I tried to avoid the stores that would make me shop for me, Lululemon, Athleta, Anthropologie and aim for the ones I might find some things for my son or my partner’s son. 

There wasn’t a place that didn’t look ramshackled. I felt a little saddened by this because in the old days of shopping before everything became an Instagram photo, store managers would never allow shelves to look the way they looked yesterday. Clothes strewn all over the place like we were at Filene’s Basement during a sixty percent off sale. I also realize, however, that the unemployment rate is the lowest and to staff these places with the hours they keep must be a feat to lose sleep over these days. 

The sales people were lovely, though, in every store I went to, helpful, smiling, kind and this warmed my heart. Old school sales people, mostly my age. This was interesting to me because usually I find young inexperienced people wandering the floor. 

At Banana Republic, they were virtually giving the store away. I use the word, virtually, literally because as I headed to a podlike dressing room, I noticed right away it was equipped with an iPad on the wall. The dressing room that was the size of a closet, but seemed like some type of small spaceship with atrocious lighting with an iPad. Maybe it was so I could order whatever I was trying on if the size wasn’t right. I really don’t know since there were no directions with it. And now that I am writing this, it occurs to me that iPads have cameras on them so now I am completely freaked out thinking that my changing room experience could have been captured like some Orwellian novel.  I am glad I didn’t think of this yesterday. 

I sighed. Is there no escaping technology and mass consumerism in the privacy of a dressing room? Has the entire world turned into one big Instagram photo op? The fact that I didn’t understand the point of the iPad in the changing room was in itself revealing. Banana Republic, like mostly every other store in Garden City, was not interested in the fifty five year old consumer that stood naked in between a mirror and an iPad I didn’t understand. They didn’t need to explain to me why it was there because I am not their market. I am really not anyone’s market, other than pharmaceutical commercials, it seems anymore as I made my way through the Gap, some store called Fatface, J Crew and even Chipotle to buy a gift card. 

The whole day yesterday reminded me that I am refreshingly irrelevant to these stores. It was a wonderful reminder of a chapter that is closing for me. Mass consumerism is not part of my world anymore. I am in the phase of getting rid of stuff, not obtaining stuff. 

I loved my day yesterday because if I got to a counter and there were more than three people waiting to check out, I left my choices and left the store. These stores don’t seem to care if you shop online or shop in store. I was looking for a holiday experience and it just really wasn’t there. I can see why so many consumers shop from the comfort of their own home; it really is so much easier, but there is a cost to this. You don’t get to have these life nuggets showing you where you are in your world. You don’t get to hear the conversations, see the men waiting on benches as their wives shop, traditionally. You don’t get to hear the bands playing outside and see the sparkly holiday lights decorating the stores. All of these sensory experiences are creating the stories and the stories are what we remember in our future selves. 

The children of today are not going to have memories of anything but their parents sitting with their face down in their cell phones hitting the order now button from wherever they are sitting and the UPS truck bearing gifts like Santa with his sleigh of reindeer. I don’t know why this bums me out, but it does.

With the world that we find ourselves in as one big virtual experience, I worry that we won’t know the difference between what is real anymore. My real will be different than my future grandchildren’s real. Maybe there will be a rennaisance and shopping at actual stores if they still exist will be a cool retro experience for our future consumers. I can only hope and dream.

I don’t know, but as I get ready to leave a roller coaster of a decade behind and head into a decade aptly named 2020, I have hope that the future will bring real authentic life experiences like I had as a child. Experiences that are real, not manufactured, I will continue to have for the remaining years I have left on this strange planet I rent my lifespace on. 

Happy Holidays to all of you real shoppers out there. Thank you for keeping the hope alive. 

life lessons, travel

WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?

I could not sit still with the book I had brought. It was not the book — the book was excellent, it was the noise bubbling all around me.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to my partner realizing that all of this noise was not going to permit me to really dive into my book like I had planned.

The noise, the sounds of children screaming, keyboards tapping, cell phones binging, the girl sitting next to me sniffling and sneezing, intercoms announcing gate changes and flight departures, was everywhere.

Then there was the sounds of everyone’s incessant cell phone streaming. I know there has never been a official code of law on silencing our non stop technology, but it does seem that the basic consideration between each other to respect the boundaries of our neighbors has gone out the window.

I am not sure when this became a thing, to act like you are the only person in the room with your noise producing machines and not allow the person next to you to have a say in the matter. This is what ear phones are for, but in the decline of basic manners, it appears that laziness has done a preemptive strike on even this little luxury of silence.

These days, the stink eye doesn’t even work because people are so engrossed in whatever had gotten their attention they don’t even seem to notice that someone is looking at them vying for just a glimpse of eye contact to hopefully send the message to turn their device OFF.

As I made my way through the alternate universe called the airport, T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island, I felt like a voyeur into people’s approach to sitting alone and waiting for their plane. Barely a book opened, there must have been over a quarter million dollars in Apple products just at my gate alone. Does anyone just stare off into space anymore? I didn’t see anyone reading even a magazine or a newspaper, let alone a book. Moms and Dads were sitting next to each other on their own phones while the kids were like separate little addendums waiting for their attention.

I felt like what I imagined it felt like for Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. This was me. I was in a time warp speed ahead gazing mysteriously at what the fuck has happened to humanity and why isn’t anyone else as freaked out as I am?

I started to panic with the anticipation that this noise would be following me on the plane for the next three hours and I realized that my only salvation were the earphones I had mistakenly packed in my suitcase. Said suitcase was now traveling through the underbelly of the airport and the earphones would be meeting me on the other side- after the plane ride. This is when I decided I needed to buy a set of earphones for the plane ride and made my way to the store where it appears someone in the purchasing department understood this as a need for people like me.

I stood in front of the shelves looking at the headphones (almost the same ones that I had in my suitcase that Apple gave me for “free” with my last thousand dollar phone purchase) contemplating my choices. Nothing started at less than 29.99 and they were all crap, not to mention that Apple completely fucked all of us when they switched their adapter so a basic set doesn’t work with our phones anymore unless you buy the adapter for another thirty dollars. I sound cynical and ornery. This is what is happening to me as I watch the demise of humankind’s ability to say hello and look each other in the eye.

As I decided on some Sony noise canceling headphones for 29.99, I couldn’t open the package fast enough and was waiting in line to pay when I heard this small and very confident voice say, “Where are you headed?”

I looked down to attach the sound to the human and lo and behold a seven year old or so little boy had actually asked me a question out of nowhere. Be still my beating heart. I looked up to assess the parental situation thinking I would be seeing some academia type parent buying their son some organic celery sticks from the vegetable fridge. The surprise was the exact opposite.

Block your eyes or skip this next line or two because I am about to make a broad brushstroke stereotype that is not pretty or kind, but it must be said to make the point that I am going to get to at some point here.
This little boy looked like the type of child who may wake up every day and ask the question, “How did I land here? And how are you my parents?”

They looked mismatched. Mom and Dad had an inordinate amount of tattoos, piercings and were dressed in one step up from pajamas. Mom barely said two words when her son approached a complete stranger and I was surprised she wasn’t on her cell phone along with the rest of the look. This little boy, though had a big blast of human curiosity that he bestowed on me and I was all too eager to take his scraps.

“Where are YOU headed?” I asked him with a robust curiosity in return.
“We are headed to Tampa.” He said this with such joy it made me want to sit next to him on the plane and get to know him.
“Me too!” I exclaimed.
“Does this mean I will see you on the plane?” He asked, enthusiastically, with the widest brownest eyes.
“Yes, I think it does,” I confirmed with such jubilee in my voice, it made us both smile in kind.

Mom whisked him away all too fast and I went on to my noise canceling headphones quickly realizing in my haste that I had purchased ones that needed an adapter. Drats no wonder they were only 29.99.

I returned them as quickly as I bought them deciding that the sounds and simmers of our fellow people traveling tonight would be just fine. I am headed on vacation and today is the first day to reintroduce the pleasures of observing human connection.

This is where I am headed young man. Thank you for asking.

grief, life lessons

DEAR MICHAEL ANDREW HOROWITZ

I woke up wide awake at three am blaming it on the very large piece of chocolate chip pie I ate after dinner. Then, after lying there for twenty minutes planning my day ahead, my workout schedule for the rest of the week, and reviewing my remaining appointments before my trip to Florida to see Herbie (who just turned 102 three days ago), I realized that today is November 20th.

November 20th, twenty four years later. The same amount of time from the time we heard Adenocarcinoma of the Lung. Rare. Highly Unusual. Usually Happens To Men in Their Fifties.

You were not fifty. You were twenty four.

And in 1994, we all began our new normal, preparing for the inevitable. There was no hope according to the doctors at the time. It had already metastasized all over your bones causing them to easily shatter just from a random toss of an apple core into a trash barrel.

Hope was in our dreams, my endless reading and nauseating quoting of Louise Hay’s positive thinking affirmations like by chanting them and thinking them I could cure you. Hope was in the endless stream of ideas from well meaning friends and co workers with their remedies and alternative solutions.

There was no chance. You were going to die before you had a chance to grow up. To find your way. To lose your hair. To get married and maybe have children some day. To turn thirty, forty, fifty next year.

We would never have the chance to grow old together, to lose Dad together, to celebrate my son together. We would not be able to mourn the twin towers or share the tragedies of the endless school shootings as concerned humans. We would not celebrate the purchase of my own home that you would have been loved and been so proud of. And if you had children of your own, shipped them off to me to hang out with me in my gardens and the space I so love.

In all of these life points, I am solo and siblingless which is not even a word. But it should be because there is no other word to describe my place as a sibling- minus you. I am not an only child because that omits your brief and poignant presence from my life.

I am without you.

And though my life goes on and there is much to celebrate and feel grateful for, I am stunned by the grief and sadness I can also feel simultaneously. This is the magic power of grief’s force — it simmers and lies in wait and allows periods of joy and happiness the further away it steps away from its beginning.

Then on these days, the birthdays, and the memorial days, the days of Michael applying for jobs and getting ready to graduate college and getting closer by the minute to twenty four, the days I hear about high school friends of yours getting married, buying homes, having children, growing up, working at companies and becoming entrepeneurs, I am reminded, with a force to be reckoned with, that you, my dear brother, as your enlightened and glorious being, are not here and will in fact never be.

I am reminded when I ask someone their age or the year they were born and they say, 49 or 1970 and I look at them and don’t see your aging face, but your youthful one because you never made it to now. I see your dread locked head and those dark brown eyes inhaling pot out of a gigantic water bong that looked like it came from a Hooka bar. And I wait for you to ask me what a hooka bar even is because hooka bars didn’t exist because smoking was still allowed inside many places in 1994. When you were alive.

Pot was the only thing that helped you, but that wasn’t legal in any states yet. Today you would have proudly carried a medical marijuana card. When I got mine during the cancer I had, it was to help me, yes, but it was to honor you too. It was my own twisted way to celebrate with you something that linked us even though it was cancer, weird I know. But I could feel you closer and whatever it takes to feel you closer, I will take. Not the cancer part, the marijuana part, I have my limits here, bro.

I am often surprised that Michael doesn’t actually know you personally, because he has so many mannerisms that are exactly like you, I sometimes I have to remind myself that he is my son, not my brother. His voice, his handwriting, his sharp mind, his laugh, his deep eyes, his expressions all remind me deeply of your existence. I like to think that you had something to do with this. Like it was your mysterious way of letting me know that you were watching. This is comforting even if to some it seems bizarre or wishful. I don’t care. I like the comfort. It feels good instead of sad and I like to feel good instead of sad.

When Michael and the Francis boys were in middle school and decided to record themselves lighting farts with a bic lighter, it didn’t horrify me as much as it should have because this was definitely something you did. Every time I hear Neil Young or Bob Marley or Peter Tosh — every time I see a VW Vanagon or a white guy with dreadlocks, or watch Michael eat chocolate chip cookies, or look at Craig Gurganus surfboard fish art you gave when Dave and I bought our first home, you are standing in front of me smiling.

When I found a tile coaster of a sun in my travels to Italy, I had to buy it because it reminded me of the sun you drew while you were dying. Your dying held on to every scrap of life you could muster. I couldn’t believe how brave and courageous you were at such a young age, but you were an old soul even at your young age. Maybe your dying young outwardly was really because you were old inwardly. Who knows. It doesn’t matter, You are not here. And this is permanent. And incredibly sad.

When Mom sees Michael, she frequently says how much he looks like his dad, almost seeming to want to wish away the parts so obvious in him that are you. I imagine it is so difficult for her to see the vestiges of your being in her grandson. The pain must be far worse than the possibility of joy in the duplication of your essence causing darts of reminders that must shake a mother’s loss. I wish I could talk about this with her and that you and I could talk about the fact that I can’t, but then if we could, none of this would be happening in the first place.

I write about you because I miss you every day. Every day for twenty four years.

It is not the type of missing that has debilitated me; I have moved through grief rather than around it, but there are times I step to its side and take my deep dive into the wallow, the mire, the quicksand of its vigor. More times I forget that that pull is grief all these years later. When a good walk and a good cry would probably be a better solution than a bottle of red and a slice of chocolate chip pie. But I have become much more forgiving of my slides into moments of pie. I have practiced grief and become better at allowing its call when necessary in whatever form it takes to just deal with the sadness at the time.

I am ok. The steps around or through are all ok. Twenty four years later, I have used this time to be more patient with these slides down the rabbit hole knowing that in some ways it is also part of my creative process and healing.
Healing. Heal-ing is a strange word because is implies that there is an end at some point after you have healed. I will never heal. There will never be an ‘e.d.’ after the ‘h.e.a.l’. This would mean that I have missed you Enough. That I am over missing you.

And this would be impossible. And I am more than OK with this. Because on November 20th every year, just like your birthday on October 20th every year, you come to life again because I get to be in the day of you with you how I want to be with you.

While I am alive, I will always do this and I will always remind Michael that today is another excuse to get to remember you. Remembering you is the closest thing I have to having you and if this is all I can have, then it will have to do.

grief, life lessons

I WILL REMEMBER YOU

Mom, my head is killing me, the text said at 6:00am after I responded to the preceding text of, Are you awake? 

My son, Michael, never really calls about things like this so I sit here trying not to go to the dark side. 

But it is hard for me. As much as everyone says how much he looks like his father, David, and as much as I see this, I also see my brother in him more and more as he gets older. His voice, his mannerisms, even his handwriting is similar. Maybe it is just wishful thinking that he resembles my beautiful brother. 

He is my brother’s namesake, Michael. 

My brother was a seemingly healthy, strapping young man when he was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer three months before his twenty-fourth birthday. He died just one month after he turned twenty-five. Needless to say, the loss was unbearable and almost twenty-five years later, as I sit with that loss, it shows up in my worry about my son. 

There is this lingering vapor that surrounds me and as much as I try not to give it my attention, it is there. My son is going to be twenty two in almost two months. And that is almost twenty three. Then I have two more years to be reminded of the deep crevices left from my brother’s death as I watch my son enter into the realm of his age. 

There is no positive affirming this away. I am not the type of person who projects bad things. This is just a trauma that is here. Death of a young person is like this. 

It sits there. 

And waits. 

And we can go through our days and our lives and have moments where it is not such a prominent thought, but it is always there. And when it decides to remind you of the pain, the dark feelings are real. 

So when my son calls me at six in the morning, not usually a complainer, I take the call seriously. We go to the doctor, the walkin because these days unless you have some boutique doctor that you have decided to pay an annual fee for the “privilege” of being able to actually see them without an appointment, you slog along to the walkin with the majority of the population. 

We sit and wait and as luck would have it, my own doctor happens to walk by and we start talking about why we are there. In a nanosecond she figures out the problem and in a nano second we are both semi relieved. When he was called for his appointment, it was weird to not go in to the office with him, it was one of those funny mom transitional moments. The kid is almost twenty two for goodness sake; I was traveling for a month alone through Paris with only one thousand dollars in my pocket and no credit cards when I was this age. 

He would have to fend for himself or else the likely eye rolls from the medical team of helicopter mom would prevail. Thankfully, the prognosis was that he had a past sinus issue that decided to keep residence in his head causing this severe headache. It wasn’t a brain tumor, it wasn’t an eye tumor. He wasn’t going to have to have chemo and radiation and lie dying while his body wilted away to nothing.  

This language sounds extreme; I fully realize how dramatic this sounds. The funny thing is that when he was a little boy and even into his teens, I was never the worrying parent. As a matter of reflection, I was about the only parent I knew who was elated at the prospect of him obtaining his driver’s license and getting his own car. 

Michael always showed up when he said he would, he would text me if he was going to be late, which was hardly ever. He was who parents would call a good kid. He still is. Responsible, kind, considerate. My brother was like this too, but the difference was that he died when he was only twenty five. My maternal worry has started this year and I can’t shake it. When most parents are breathing a sigh of relief that their children are almost across the finish line to graduate college, I am in a slightly unnerved state. 

This is trauma. Waiting like a patient tiger for its prey, ready to jump at just the right moment. October is like that tiger because it is the start of many defining moments. October 20. My brother’s birthday. Born in 1970, it is strange when I meet someone who is was born the same year. When I hear or see someone’s birth year as 1970, I look at them and am immediately struck by their normal aging face. 

Losing a twenty five year old makes time stand still because I only remember my brother young. He said this to me before he died as being the only benefit- like there could be any benefit- to dying young- that people would always remember him young. 

As time keeps ticking, I am struck by the fragility of life as I recall the birthdays of the people I love who have passed. October 24, my Grandmother Kitsie, the grandmother who always had a typewriter in her bedroom where she typed hundreds of recipes for me for my twenty first birthday. November 1st my Grandmother Isabelle, who encouraged my writing always telling me what a great writer I was. She kept all of my letters and writings discovered on the day of her funeral when all of the grandchildren found a three tiered storage box where all memories of us were kept. We had such a good time reveling in her love of each of us by what she kept all of the years.

November 10th, Lesa Turillo, a young woman who was an active part of my adolescence because she was the daughter of my first love when I was only a child myself. She died from an overdose almost two years ago. 

Then there are the birthdays of the people I love who are still here. My former husband, Dave, November 11th who I spent twenty years of my life  and the most positive end result being our son. And of course my Grandfather, Herbie, who at almost 102 is still going as strong as a 102 year old man who has seen much death in the last twenty five years can be. November 20th fast approaching is the anniversary of Michael’s death, the last year he will have been alive more than he will be gone. I remember wondering about that when he died, the feeling that would come to me when he would be gone longer than he was alive. And here we are.

Time travel. October 20th comes and goes each year and each year I sit alone with my memory. My mother struggles to speak of her loss and I get that -so I respectfully don’t mention it. My father has passed away so I don’t have him to just say, Hi Dad, I’m thinking of Michael today on what would have been his 49th birthday. Who will remember as time marches forth? Death is easy to remember. We memorialize death with plaques and Yahrzeit services but I remember your birthday. The day you were born. I will remember your life on this day. I will always remember you. You can count on that.