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. 

life lessons

FALLING DOWN, GETTING UP

Meeting a new friend for lunch yesterday on a lovely Friday afternoon, the only stress I had was trying to find a parking space in Providence on a busy noon time slot. After circling the restaurant, Plant City, a new very hip and incredibly delicious vegan food fest, about six times, I decided that life is short and paid eight outrageous dollars for the mere convenience of removing stress from my already late self.

As I made my way into this food mecca of delight, I found my friend and we made our way to the Italian section of the restaurant and bellied up to the bar for conversation and pizza. Oh, and vegan raw lasagna which may sound awful to Italian food purists, but the taste sensation is really special. I am not a vegan at all, I love meat, but what I really love is food and its ability to bring out the most creative cooking among the brilliant chefs in our little state.

New friends are such a treasure and I have the luxury of meeting many cool chicks simply because I am in the beauty business and female energy abounds. I like that I am open to carving time to dive in to the Yes, Let’s make time for lunch answer when asked. I am even luckier that I am asked. More often than not, it is time well spent and yesterday was no exception as we inhaled the truffle pizza and had an indulgent mid afternoon glass of wine.

In my casual life I lead, I have also become more casual in my daily wardrobe, so yesterday I had decided to get it together and actually dress up a bit. These days, this means jeans, my favorite shoes I bought in Israel that I wished I had bought ten pairs of, and a nice top with some jewels- a little more than the typical athleisure (yes this apparently is a real word used to describe my daily uniform these days). I find myself clinging to comfort as my go to closet grab most days and I mostly don’t care about shoes and clothes anymore like I used to. Like I used to when the outside was more important than the inside.

I had one errand before heading home and that was to drop off my rent check around the corner. I had picked some flowers from my still very zinnia packed garden to bring with the check to my landlord’s receptionist I had gotten to know over the past twelve years. As I made my way up the stairs, I could hear the familiar sounds of the television he kindly allows them to keep on the reception desk to occupy their time when it is slow.

I walked in to his second floor office to find, not the familiar receptionist, but instead, a very pregnant one, whom I had never met before. I made my introductions, passed on the flowers and check and said goodbye. I was not rushing, I didn’t have anything in my hands besides my car keys and as I made my way out, I took a mint from the bowl and said good bye.

One habit I have added to my movement is to always lightly place my hand on any stair railing. My aunt had fallen and broken her ankle several years back, and it was a good reminder to be cautious on stairs. With the keys and the mint in my left hand, I placed my right hand on the railing and made my way down the stairs. Wait rewind. I thought this was what I did, but I don’t really know because within a split second, my Israeli shoed heels slipped out from under me and I slid down six or seven hard stairs to the hard landing. My tailbone, mid back and neck followed. I yelled, you know the type of uncontrolled yell like you do when you are on a roller coaster. The mint flew out of its wrapper and the keys went flying and I was in shock that this just happened.

The mint flying out of its wrapper was a clue that maybe I was trying to open it as I stepped on to the front stair which would mean that I didn’t put my hand on the railing before taking the first step. It is all a blur and doesn’t really matter because the end result was me on my ass and three people running to the unusual sound they heard. The sound of the full weight of me and the scream in the middle of a Friday afternoon was concerning. The pregnant woman whose name escapes me, the landlord and a lovely massage therapist from the first floor offices, who had been interrupted in the middle of her service because of the noise, all came rushing out to see what the commotion was.They found it alright, along with the mint and my keys, sitting breathless but, thankfully, conscious at the bottom of the stairs trying to determine if I should bounce up and brush it off or if I should take this more seriously.

Questions came flying out, Can I get you some water, are you dizzy, where does it hurt, can you breathe, I’ll get you some water, here is some water. I just kept saying, I just need to sit for a few minutes to catch my breath. Everyone was so kind, helpful, caring and concerned and I just sat patiently for a few minutes to evaluate how I landed on my ass in a split second. I knew enough than to berate myself because I didn’t do anything wrong. I wasn’t being careless. I wasn’t rushing. I was calm and happy, but I fell anyway. It felt like my heels slipped from under me, that is the only thing I can distinctly remember.

The textured rubberized stairs clearly designed for not falling were not wet, nor were my shoes. It was a freak fall. I slid down the stairs like a child on a newly wax papered metal playground slide from yesteryear. My tailbone took my entire weight, then my mid back then my neck then my head. My hands instinctively braced for the fall, causing my wrists to take some of the brunt. I could already feel the bruises forming. Was this all because of a fucking mint? The only reason I took the mint was because the lingering garlic from my lunch was so potent I was trying to defuse its aftermath.

No- I did not think I needed to go the hospital, no- I didn’t think I had a concussion. I would be fine. I was just trying to determine if I should drive or not so I sat and weighed my thoughts for a few more moments. I was sore but I felt fine enough. I would be bruised, both my body and my ego. As I find myself approaching fifty five along with my dear friends, our conversations are naturally starting to turn to ailments and health. We find ourselves laughing at this surprising turn of how did we get here conversation. A fall was just one of those things that is bound to happen. But for me the question was WHY? There always has to be a why for me. Just helps me understand and gives me direction.

I got up. Because this is just what I do. I get back up. I brushed myself off and made my way home. I packed up some clothes and made my way to my partner’s house. Just in case I did have a concussion and died in my sleep, I didn’t want to be alone. Yes, this dramatic thought ran through my head; who knows, I had never hit my head before. I didn’t play sports when I was a kid, I played the flute, hardly a chance to bang my head doing that. This was unfamiliar territory and as much as I minimize life coming at me, I was also pragmatic enough not to be foolish.

My lovely landlord reached out, obviously concerned, I jokingly told him that my fall got me out of my seven am workout the following day. As I laid on the couch tending to my very sore backside, I had a strange vision occur. The maybe answer to my why this happened.

I had never seen the receptionist who had been in the office yesterday. Maybe my fall was to create a hyper awareness in her pregnant self to be careful on the stairs. That fall I took yesterday could have been a fall she may have taken if she had been rushing like so many young moms. Maybe my fall was a guardian angel looking out for that little super being in her belly. Maybe this baby she is about to have has an added layer of protection as he or she makes her grand entrance into this chaotic world.

Yes- that is why I fell yesterday, for a higher purpose other than myself. It makes the fall worth it thinking about it in this light. We fall down, we get up, we start again and perhaps the lessons in our falls have nothing to do with us at all.

I thought I was going to wake up beyond sore, beyond bruised; in fact, I slept beautifully, and though I am a bit sore and a bit bruised today, I do think shifting the way I considered my accident yesterday healed me faster. I feel astonishingly good today.

To quote two of my favorites, ee cummings, “Thank you G-d for this most amazing day…. “ and Wayne Dyer, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Indeed.

AGING, life lessons

FROM A DREAM

Before I closed my eyes last night, after a good and hardy unexpected romp, I took several deep and grateful breaths. Flat out on my back, supremely satisfied with all my life is and has become, (I swear, no pun intended) I breathed in, saying my personal mantra that I rely on for a deep calm sense of peace,

I am in the divine right place at the right time, and I am always divinely protected and cared for.

Faith. I am so happy I have it as my secret weapon. Not the faith of a religious kind, but one of a spiritual one. The kind that stops me in my tracks when I spot a hummingbird in my garden on a bright pink zinnia. The faith that happens when I unabashedly use my scissors to cut the stems of my purple coned anise-hyssop plant as a swarm of bees drink their nectar. They seem unmoved by my presence, almost like they recognize me as their compadre, not their enemy, happy we live in a co existence both sharing the pleasures of their flowers in our own way.

I am not afraid. Clients and friends waiting for their luscious bouquets I happily donate to their kitchen counters, see me reach into the stems and comment, Oohh, Alayne, lots of bees…
Yes, I say with a slight touch of bravado, They are not interested in me, they only want the flowers. I know this because this has been my experience every season since I planted these flowers. I haven’t been stung yet. Don’t plan on it. We have an understanding, it seems.

Faith is a superpower for me. Anytime I have felt startled or dismantled in some way, I go to those two familiar lines and breathe them in. Even when I am not afraid, even when I am deeply satisfied in my life, I say them.
I am always divinely protected. Hey, whatever works as we spin through our short days in this life. I have learned that head speak is an important stress reducer and if a one line phrase can muster some good old fashioned peace and tranquility, it just has to be good for your soul.

Sometimes dreams have messages like this, too, and I had some beautiful dreams last night involving my dear friend, Jane. I woke up today happy to have remembered them so clearly. Sometimes dreams are like this, they create a vivid experience, so much so, that you question if they really happened. That was this morning.

I dreamed we were at her birthday party and our friend, Jen, was bringing in plastic sand toys, laying them on the floor as Jane sat at the head of the table with her head in her hands anticipating the surprise looming. Jen brought in three stacks of white boxes for Jane to have to open, the kind where there is a smaller one inside the next one and so on. They were wrapped with a satin bow and I knew that there was a gift of a trip to some place warm in the smallest one.

For some reason, in the dream, I felt the need to type a message and I quickly went over to my typewriter to type a note to put on the smallest box. As I went to type, I realized that the paper had already been typed on, so I took another piece of paper and realized that too had been typed on. I was trying to type this quickly so I could get it on the gift before she opened it, so I crumpled up those two pieces and woke up before finishing the note to these two phrases,

You are enough. You have enough. This is what I was intending to write before I woke up. That is what I woke up with as sharp as if someone was standing over me and saying it. Like Glinda the Good Witch or someone.

Whoa. What a way to wake up this morning.

You are enough. You have enough. I wanted to text Jane immediately to tell her I had this detailed dream, but she sleeps in, especially on a Saturday, and no matter how great this message is, she wouldn’t have been so elated to receive a six am text message. Instead, I decided to write this piece today to get it out of me so I wouldn’t forget.

You are enough. You have enough. Talk about a new mantra. Dreams are powerful. Like faith. They have those lovely messages sometimes that just sum up life in a neat little box with a pretty bow. Like the boxes Jane was going to open in my dream.

As I made my way downstairs to make some coffee and watch the sun rise I realized that there is a lot going on this weekend for me. This past week has been a week of leaning into allowing myself permission to give myself a break from my incessant need to accomplish tasks.As I opened the paper, I read a lovely essay by Jennifer Weiner, The Primal Thrill of a Cherry Tomato. I didn’t even really need to read the essay because the title was so aptly named, it said it all. But there was a perfect nugget of a paragraph I must share. She wrote:

These days with my 50th birthday looming, I think a lot about where the surprises are going to come from. Not the satisfaction, not the joy, but the unexpected delights — the didn’t-see-it-coming thrill you get from learning that your bid on the house was accepted or that you got the job offer or that you’re having a baby. At my age life doesn’t offer many firsts. It’s short on surprises, and the ones on offer aren’t pleasant. Instead of ‘congratulations, you’re pregnant,’ it’s more like ‘bad news, you need to get a gum graft.’
Which isn’t to say there aren’t upsides to being settled down. Chances are you’ve gained some wisdom. You’ve fallen in love and learned that no one dies of a broken heart, you’ve fallen on your face and you can almost always get back up.

There is that odd moment I can relate to she speaks of as I am in the in between space of my son just getting ready to graduate college this year, I am settled into my home, my career, my life, my partnership, my friendships are stable and life long, weeding out the ones that no longer serve. I sometimes find myself thinking with a micro speck of cynicism, What’s next? Where did the time go?

This week I learned, from my glorious and lovely bad ass Dr. W, that I no longer have to go for six month check ups for my previous breast cancer diagnosis and am now on one year check ups. I found out I have to have the entire duct work in my house cleaned and the only date they could do is on the first day of Rosh Hashanah which to some may seem blasphemous, but for me seems divinely appropriate for some reason. It’s like a full throttle house enema.

It’s like Jennifer Weiner said in her piece about surprises, but for me they don’t need to be the big ones. I am lucky I have experienced the big ones. I think aging is recognizing they don’t need to be exceptionally large and in your face. They can show up in your garden, in a one line essay title or in an unexpected lovely romp on Friday evening after a long day. They can show up in an abundance of monarchs on the result of fifty zinnia seed packets I basically threw with wild abandon this past May challenging them to prove the fittest survive theory (and it seemed like there were no weak ones this season).

This weekend my mother is visiting my son. We haven’t seen each other in five years and we just recently started speaking with each other again. And it feels redemptive and like part of the circle of life that is not a comma, but a solid semi colon that confirms there is a second part of what I am trying to say, but doesn’t need its own sentence, but also doesn’t need a gentle pause. We are in the early stages of accepting each other for who we are and more importantly forgiving each other for who we are no longer.

Surprises can be waking up from a dream with two beautiful phrases that I can take with me on my journey this weekend as I see my mother for the first time in too long of a time and know that healing stems from forgiveness and forgiveness and amends is exactly the calling of the Jewish New Year. Whether I go to High Holy Day services or go to dinner with my mother and my son, synagogue is what’s in my heart, not in a building, at least in my humble opinion.

You are enough. You have enough. Its message says loud and clear to accept myself and accept yourself. If this isn’t the simplest of surprises for this fifty five year old chick, I don’t know how it could be any better or bigger or more surprising than this.

grief, life lessons

BUILDING A WALL

I had no idea what to expect when I found out that my partner would be volunteering at the building of the wall. Not “The Wall,” the one that lights up every talk show, radio, podcast and television news channel, but the other one, the one that was forced into its creation because of the incredible loss of over 58,000 American lives.

The Moving Wall is a traveling memorial wall to make sure that this country remembers the Vietnam War and its over 58, 000 American lives lost and 304,000 wounded. Over two million Vietnam civilians and over one million Vietnam fighters died in this tragedy as well.

I am certainly not here to give a history lesson, for sure I need one myself since I was born right in the midst of its escalation, 1965. My father had been in college at the time, married my mother a year earlier, and likely because of his own fortunate socio economic position in life, avoided the draft. I am not sure if this is why he got married at twenty in 1964, but I am guessing that it must have been on his mind. I will never know since he passed away in 2011.

What I do know is that the Moving Wall must be named both literally and figuratively; it is moving to say the least.

Right now its resting place is Touro Park in Newport, RI and even if you have seen the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, this replica takes your breath away, wets your eyes and causes a great question in your heart, Why? As a mother of a twenty one year old son, my heart cracked open as I considered that most of the men on that wall were his age.

When I asked the Google question whether there were any women on the wall, the number that came up was eight, but I need to confirm this. This was a different time, our boys were drafted and the women who served were mostly in the traditional roles of nurses and caregivers, left to pick up the literal pieces of our boys. They were significant, but like the wars before seldom celebrated and memorialized.

Over two million of our boys were drafted. Over two million of a twenty-seven million pool. I can’t imagine what happened to the communities and the families during this time in our nation’s dark history.

When I went for the vigil this past Friday night, I had no idea what to expect; there were the rough and tumbled Vietnam Vets arriving on their motorcycles, leather vests, tattooed, long white ponytails well into their seventies now. There were the men and their families who managed to survive the war, return home in one bodily piece and get on with their lives. There were the families of the fallen searching for the name. Everyone had a story, everyone knew someone. Everyone cried.

My young world was not affected by the Vietnam War. I don’t recall anyone in my neighborhood drafted, or much discussion about the war other than its presence on dinner time television. I was only four years old when my partner, eighteen years my senior, was drafted. A neighborhood only ten or so miles away and miles apart with its impact on community. I may not have even gone if it hadn’t been for my partner. Micheal was drafted in 1968 and served in Vietnam for one year. His friends from his Federal Hill neighborhood were drafted too as their community fell into that unfortunate category my father had the luxury of avoiding.

These vets were not celebrated on their return, but booed, insulted and it was a double travesty. Vietnam vets suffered emotional wounds that if they are alive today still deal with, not to mention the long term effects of agent orange on their health and life. This wall commemorates not only the ones who didn’t make it, but the ones who were forced by our government to fight a war based on ego and abuse of government’s power. The ones who made it back, like my partner, his friends, my uncle in law are lucky to be alive. We are lucky they are still here to tell the stories and to share their grief as they open up to finally release theirs.

Michael and I looked for the name of one of his friends who didn’t make it back, we looked for the name of one of our friend’s cousins. We were asked if we wanted to do an etching, but we didn’t need to because once you see a name of someone it is etched in your spirit immediately. They are remembered. This is the truest memorial.

our friend, David’s Cousin, Wayland J. Batson

As I sat at the Vigil with my candle burning, I listened to the 203 Rhode Island names read, some still M.I.A. and wept. This wall is an important part of our American history so that we never forget what can go terribly wrong when decisions are made for the very wrong reasons. Every twenty something should bear witness to the possibilities of their own good fortune they don’t live in the time of a draft, for now anyway. We gratefully rely on volunteers to enlist and for now this is enough for our country. I hold my breath, though, because we just never know.

This wall is at the park until September 23rd and is headed to Attleboro, Mass Sept 26-30.

MY PARTNER, Michael, so happy her made it out in one piece. #luckyindeed
Health, life lessons

ON A BENDER

A slight bump in the road occurs, occasionally, when I go off the deep end and slide into sugar and wine oblivion. Sometimes it is just a slight curve and I put my hands on the wheel and do a quick course correction. Then there are the times when I head straight down the bank and end up in a ditch hoping someone will find me before it is too late.

This sounds dire. I sound like there is a cause for an intervention. It is not that bad. Really. Because the one thing I know about me better than anyone is my own slippery slope. I used to blame it on PMS, but I can’t do that anymore since there is no more of that. There is definitely a time limit on using the C word too, coming up on two and half years already, I think I have used that excuse for going off the deep end enough. “Enough already,” I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my head say.

So what is it? Why do I have this constant yo-yo where I can feel so incredible and unstoppable, not drinking any wine or eating any sugar that it causes me to almost self-sabotage, like there is some force greater than me saying, “Oh yeah? You feel this good? We’ll fix that.” I know every time I break my flow with “just one glass of wine” or “just one brownie,” I am off and running. Before I know it, I have eaten like an entire cake and drank way too many bottles of wine on the front porch.

Why does this happen? A normal person (if there is such a thing) would say, “Well, Alayne, if you know this is your pattern, then why must you incessantly rewind, repeat?” Sounds so simple. I am a smart successful and generous entrepreneur. I “live life to the fullest” following my brother’s instructions from his death bed like there is no tomorrow. I know better. But yet, I slide.
I have worked incessantly on myself for years trying to understand this pattern of mine.

The funny thing about twists and turns is that I only realize the ‘why’ part after the deep dive. During the dive, when it would be most advantageous to catch myself, is too late. I am ALL in. Whipping up blueberry cake, chocolate babka and cheese-ladened Mexican lasagna filled with dairy that surely would make my breast cancer doctor wince with estrogenic pain.

What I have realized with this last wild ride is that this happens when I am stressed. It is not some self sabotage at all. In fact, I like myself, I am happy with my world, why the hell would I need to sabotage this life I have made with my own two hands? But yet here I am. The weekend after too much wine and too much babka.
Stress.

Cortisol.

High stress=High Cortisol levels.

High cortisol levels=constant fight or flight mode. But there is no fight and there is no flight except to the refrigerator and thus the fatigue subsides as soon as the first sip of wine or the first bite of cake.

It is immediate. And it is satisfying- this temporary fix that no amount of self talk can persuade otherwise. Cortisol is pure power. It is what has made humanity sustain itself. But humanity, these days, is not the same as it was when survival was literal. Survival these days is dealing with the stressors that our bodies and minds could never be prepared for. On top of this, there is the constant brain workings of my mind with thousands of ideas and trying to execute many at the same time.

My mind holds the ideas, but what I lack is the reality of how much time each idea is really going to take. This is where my stressors are. So much work, SO little time. I am convinced that as much as we talk about nutrition as being a precursor to cancer, my gut tells me it is cortisol’s constant production in my system. This is why I exercise and meditate- to attempt to create tools to wind down this overactive brain of mine. And it really helps.

But sometimes I just need to eat cake and drink wine. This really helps too. Except that after a few days of it, my heart starts to race and my head starts to think negative thoughts that were definitely not there before I did my deep dive. The effects of meditation and exercise and healthy eating are cumulative. The effects of wine and cake are immediate and sometimes I just need immediate.

life lessons, NATURE

WAITING FOR AN ANT

I have an unstoppable amount of energy that propels me, daily, into a whirlwind of activity. This energy is a force  I have always had, one that when I lasso it, I can have such joy from the satisfaction it brings me. At times it can also cause an intense feeling of failure and fragmentation in my soul.

Today I woke up after a week of incredible accomplishment, finishing a to do list of cleaning and organizing that would make Marie Kando smile. I finally straightened up a basement filled with enough frames and glassware that I could probably open my own IKEA. This cleaning of the basement was nagging at me for months as I had done this already once before when I began my love affair with J’s Junk. This time, though, these things I had accumulated were from another basement, my Providence business location, that I had cleaned out over two years ago.

Rather than throw perfectly good reusable items away, I had decided to bring them to my basement and reorganize them for a yard sale or reuse some other time. Two years later, there they sat, gnawing at  me like an old scab on a wound that would never heal until I left it alone. Not a pretty sight, but kind of the last hurrah of many years of over purchasing along with disarray from having two businesses and everything that happens between them over time.

I love the feeling of saying to myself, “Let me just move this one thing.” And before I knew it, like Samantha twitching her nose on an episode of Bewitched, the entire basement was pulled apart and reorganized. I am not finished yet, but it is almost there. This caused me to redo a spare room in my business that had become a catch all for anything needing to be out of sight from clients. This led  me to clean a shelf removing my Wonder Woman collection from my living room and placing it neatly away in a storage bin.

Checking things off of my list, cleaning, organizing, moving and shifting energy, learning, reading, writing, growing, changing, this is who I have always been and I seldom tire from it, except when I do. Then it is that time. To stop. To stare. To sit.

So this is where I found myself today when I woke up. No plans, no to do lists, just me, my garden and my book and laptop. In the garden, under the umbrella, a plentiful array of birds at the feeder, butterflies and hummingbirds, cardinals and bunnies. A virtual gorgeous symphony of sound and a simply lovely environment to do nothing.

I watch an ant carry a dead ant on its back. As I get up to inspect this, I accidentally sweep them with a honeysuckle branch and split their funeral walk interrupting what may have very well been some type of ant ceremony. I scold myself and apologize to them knowing that I have disrupted a simple but likely complex natural life cycle of two little ants. I watch for the alive ant, who rushed off from the disruption, to return to pick up the dead one who was left behind from my insensitive curiosity to no avail. And I think, this is life too. I think, “When was the last time I watched ants?”

When my son was about four and I was opening my first business, I was moving things in and out of the space. He was sitting outside the stairwell using a stick to playing with dirt and an anthill. He was ensconced in the present moment  as only little ones can offer to us busy moms when we actually  just stop and notice. There was an annoying fly buzzing around his eye and he kept swatting it away. Frustrated and taking big sigh, he yelled out to the fly, “Fly! What do you think, my eye is your home?!” Truth serum out of the mouths of babes. I will never forget that tender moment all these years later. It was the reminder of the moment. To be in the moment for that actual moment that has stuck with me and one that I sometimes forget even when I am in my relaxed zen state.

There is always something to do. But sometimes it is important to listen to my brain and not do something. The not doing is doing and doing it is difficult. I am sure this is something that Winnie The Pooh must have said at some point. I watch nature, I wait for the ant to return and I check my phone. This causes me to lose sight of my intention to be in the moment and wait for the ant to return.  Instead I talk to my aunt on the phone for a bit and wander as I speak.

When we hang up, about twenty minutes later, I look down and notice that the dead ant is no longer there. I missed its departure and will never be sure if it was a fly that picked it up, or if the ant came back to continue its walk with it humbly on its back.

I sigh, thankful that I even noticed this and remember that I must slow down sometimes to notice. This is not something that comes easily, but rather than berate myself, I find myself just simply noticing the simple act of noticing. And the in between of not. Maybe the ant today needed to grieve the loss of its comrade privately without the prying eyes of a human giant. Perhaps this is nature at its truest core.

Meanwhile I work on my time alone with myself and nothing to do, trying to stay here in the nothing and not make my beautiful nothing into a busy something. Only time will tell.

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Breast cancer, life lessons, Women

DECONSTRUCTION OF RECONSTRUCTION

I look in the mirror and I am unsure of the image staring back at me. It has happened; my body is shifting in a way that despite the workouts there is a reorganization of sorts happening. I did not see this coming when I was in the decision phase of replacement parts for the breast tissue that would be removed. I say breast tissue because I have learned that this is really what a mastectomy is. It is a scooping out of all of the stuff that makes your breasts stare back at you and in need of a bra. If it were anything other than this, the skin would not be there and the breast surgeon keeps this so the plastic surgeon has the shell to work their magic on. This is why saying, take them off is incorrect. Scoop them out is more like it. But that sounds disgusting compared to take them off, so take them off seems to be the go to phrase.

This is what they did with me. Worked their magic so that when I woke up from my surgery two years ago, I would get the joy of having something similar to what was there before. It seemed like a great idea at the time. So much so that I never considered the alternatives as I wrote endlessly during that time how much I liked my breasts. And I did. And I do.

Sort of.

The reason, (that seemed obvious at the time), I chose reconstruction was that I didn’t want nothing. I never even imagined this as a possibility because I just couldn’t see myself with no boobs. I had a definite identity with them; they defined my shape, my femininity, my sexuality, my sensuality. When the doctor was reviewing all of the bells and whistles that make up a successful reconstruction surgery, listening to the details of this was not my priority. This is shocking to me in retrospect, since I am the annoying woman at the grocery store analyzing every label, driving endlessly to all of the specialty stores to buy bio dynamic wine, but I can understand why. At the time there was so much going on in learning how to remove the cancer, that the removal and replacement distinct details of post surgery were almost insignificant.

Getting diagnosed with early stage breast cancer twice in a two year span ensured my mental focus on removal of all things cancer. I didn’t ask the detailed questions about the silicone that would soon be replacing the real live breast tissue or the long term effects of having fat liposuctioned from the lower part of my abdomen so the breasts would have a more natural shape. I didn’t ask why this would even be important down the road and what it would ultimately do to my very flat stomach. Because honestly, life vs keeping my flat stomach was really not in my radar as a priority. Seems silly to even write it, frankly.

Let me preface the remainder of this piece today with the full realization that I am talking cosmetic surgery. I am aware that I am alive, that a simple mammogram saved my life twice and two years later I am a happy chick. I am humbled and am deeply grateful for the experience and the survival. I am not supposed to complain about these weird post observations. I am supposed to be happy I am alive and it feels selfish that I speak out about this. But this is typical of women’s issues. There is this unwritten law to not complain, to not speak up and out, to instead smile and be grateful. This is why this is a struggle to write about the reconstruction experience two years later. I don’t want to complain and sound like I am anything other than thankful for being alive. At the same time, I am starting to see the post surgery for what it really is and the impact that it has on my body.

I hesitate in even writing this because of all of the friends of people who were just diagnosed reading this and thinking immediately, “I have to forward this to my (insert female name here) right now since she is just getting ready to go into her surgery tomorrow and she needs to read this.”

Please don’t forward. This won’t be helpful. It will just create stress and confusion for an already stressed and confused time. Elective cosmetic surgery is already loaded with guilt ridden thoughts. It is saying aloud that I care a lot about how I look to the world and to myself and whether you choose to do reconstruction like I did, or you didn’t (like sometimes I wish I had) the choice is one you get to literally live with. My plastic surgeon doctor said on more than one occasion, “Alayne, remember, this is elective surgery.” This always cracked me up because it wasn’t him sitting opposite of me deciding whether or not he wanted his penis cut off and not replaced or replaced. Easy for him to say.

right after reconstruction hard to believe this was two years ago. holy time travel.

The getting used to part of reconstruction is that weird paragraph left out of the conversations in the intensity of planning a mastectomy. In reflection this part would likely not be helpful at the time, but now seems, in hind site seems like it would have. That is the learning curve of hind site, isn’t it? This is all a fantasy world that I live in though, because no matter how much anyone tried to explain the part about living with silicone implants as a new tenant in my body, nothing anyone could have said would have prepared me for the feeling of them. No conversations, no analogies, no sharing of stories from other women who have them. Implants from reconstruction have to be experienced to really appreciate what I am talking about.

They are not bad, they are not good, they are just there. Living in my body reminding me that I am here and this is good. They are also reminding me that there is always a chance I won’t be and I suppose this is good too. The possibilities of not being here create a sense of urgency in my soul though that can often debilitate me into freezing on decisions instead of moving at the speed necessary to get the plans of action done in a time before the next thing comes at me.

The post time of reconstruction surgery is when the conversations need to be happening. This is when the dust has settled and there are no more frequency of doctor’s appointments to feel like someone cares about the trauma your body just went through. We are numbers in the world of reconstruction unless there is a problem or another diagnosis, we are on our own to figure out what all of this emotional roller coaster of feelings is about.

I am lucky. I have many resources. I know how to talk, to write, to take care of myself and my needs and I have the means to do this. There are thousands of women who don’t. Who are struggling with these rocky and uneven paths they have found themselves on and don’t realize they are not alone. GloriaGemma.org, in Rhode Island is a worthwhile and deeply authentic source. My new friend, Kristen Carbone, has just started a website for this very dialogue, brilliantly.co, because she chose to have preventative surgery and, she, too, realizes the need for conversation.


What I do know is that we need to talk about this. Often. Problems or no problems. Choosing reconstruction or not choosing it. Boobs are getting scooped out left and right, silicone is getting placed inside our bodies with a vengeance and as more and more women say yes or no to this, we need to stick together and TALK. Just to be sure that what we are all experiencing is moving up and out and not going down and under. Down and under creates stress. Stress creates cancer and we all know we don’t want any more of that.

business, life lessons

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE


I walked into my first training with an extra bounce in my step. I was excited to start my new alternate career path of becoming a certified business coach for a company I had been born and raised with called Strategies. Because I have been a recipient of their wisdom, business strategies and philosophy since I opened my business over seventeen years ago, I considered myself already a member of the team. This is the luxury of knowing a company’s culture before your first day on the job, believing in it so much that the training in its culture is almost redundant.

some of the newbies I had the privilege of training with

This business company, the first of its kind in the beauty industry, strives to change the archaic model of pay and team found in its most often female centric businesses and was about to become part of my life. For the first time in over twenty years, I was about to become a sort of ‘employee,’ not in the sense of a real employee, but someone who would be working more as a per diem so that I could still run my own company.

The beauty industry, salons especially, are notorious for wacky compensation. I don’t know if it is because when we take a look at their history in the world, they were often wonderful entrepreneurial opportunities for women to have their own careers with less than one year of schooling and still manage to be there for their children. Business training wasn’t much more than how to ring out a client and order business cards. I am guessing that these single operating salons evolved for many over time into successful operations with no basic understanding of business and payroll. Like so many of us who have had the starry eyed notion of opening our own businesses on a scrap piece of paper, we are often technically savvy, but lack the business acumen to operate and grow it successfully. We wing it. A lot.

What fascinates me is how we succeed with barely a math course in our tool belts, but we chicks are resilient and as many men who have found their way into the beauty industry, we all need help in the way we run our companies. In fact, most small businesses could use more than a consultation with an SBA Score volunteer. Just like we had to learn our craft, whether, hairdressing, facials, nails or other industry like pizza making, donut making, gift shop running, law practicing, personal training, we learn quickly that this is only one component of running a successful operation. This is what I have learned in my business life and this is what I am excited to teach others because without the important skill of business I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What has given me the most thrill in this experience thus far in addition to the intense learning and presenting, has been the birds’ eye view of a fresh perspective on another person’s company. This has led me to consider how valuable new employees are to my own company if I can manage to get them to feel safe enough to share their first impressions. For me, this is easy because I believe in this company like it is my own and I know the owner and the president well. This translates into feeling safe enough to offer my insights into my first impressions and know I will be listened to and considered, genuinely. This is not something I take for granted and it speaks volumes of their leadership style.

When I consider sharing my voice, it is with the layer of interest and care for this company’s success. I know my intent and if I don’t share it, I am leaving valuable information in the closet that surely serves no one. It is risky opening your mouth and giving an opinion on someone else’s story, but as Strategies teaches, there are a lot of brains to be accessed in the employees who show up to work every day. We just have to access them.

As single operating business owners, it is common to leave new employee thoughts and ideas out because we get so wrapped up in our own day to day. We forget to simply ask, or even encourage their valuable opinions. My way or the highway serves no one and it surely does not make for a happy team and a strong growing culture that someone can believe in. Here are some of my thoughts and observations that I have brought back to my own company.
When someone walks into a company for the first time, they see everything with fresh eyes. How does the company clean their space, how do people participate, where do they eat, do they eat together or apart? Is the environment encouraging and supportive using simple and sincere language like, Thank you and Great Job on a regular basis? Do they ask for help and are they open to yours?

New employees watch for how hierarchy demonstrates itself. Does the leadership team show up and act as if they will roll up their sleeves to assist or do they stay away? Is the leadership team gender centric or is it diverse enough where a new employee feels like they not only could be a part of the tribe but want to be? How does leadership communicate with the new employees? Do they say hello with a cheery smile and do they make it a point to say good bye first when they are leaving the building? Or do they lack consciousness? Are systems in place for leadership development right out of the gate, does this seem possible or is it not mentioned anywhere and one can only rise up by happenstance? Is the top tier of the company a part of the bottom rung; do they have a true open door policy or is that just jargon?

Then there is the dynamic that is like a vapor. How does everyone communicate with each other, with customers, how do they discuss each other when that very each other is not in the room? All of these play an integral part in the binoculars of a new employee and it is all happening with barely a conscious thought. The vapor is both subtle, and tremendously powerful because this is the time when these belief systems are formed. Then there is the mirroring that goes on. Do the behaviors of the team and the essence of the company mirror what the new employee just learned in the employee manual on the company’s culture and philosophy?

some of the leadership team and coaches enjoying dinner together after a long day of presenting

The most revealing aspect of watching the dynamics of a company from this perspective is how much I learned about my own company and the way its very personality shows up not only to new employees, but the veterans as well. Is there a clear path that encourages movement and change for their own careers and do they feel like they have options within the company’s future? Is it career development or just a job? If a new employee is asked or made to feel welcomed in sharing their perceptions, magic can happen.

I came back to my business after my final training with a book load of actual information and also an entire new outlook on the way I welcome and honor my own team every day. I am proud to say that in this company I am about to embark on as one of these coaches, most of the observations matched their philosophy. This affirms my choice to be part of the party because as much as they said YES, Alayne, you passed the training and we welcome you to our family, I too was able to answer with a clear yes that I want to continue with them as much as they want me. This is an important lesson here. How often have we worked for companies that don’t match our own visions or that the companies don’’t even have their own vision for one to match?

Leadership in a company has a huge responsibility out of the gate. They need a deep consciousness on their welcome committee. What they say, how they say it, their tones, their assistance, the way they answer questions all speak. This is where the new person on the job forms feelings good and bad. I paid close attention to what came up for me in my training. Was the best brought out in me or did I feel dismissed and diminished by my questions? All of these feelings are so important to grow new people and as important as new clients are to our own businesses, new employees and employee retention is even more so. Employees are the messengers of our culture. They are the reason clients come to a business or don’t. Where do we compromise? Are we aware of these times and do we make corrections promptly?

Owning and operating a successful company is more than numbers. The numbers are the end result of the behaviors we encourage- the good ones and the bad ones. This new journey of mine is opening up the floodgates of possibilities. Like a great movie or a interesting eye opening book that I want to tell everyone about, this chance to teach business owners the business of their business is something I am super excited about. All because a man named Neil decided that he wanted to hire people like me. #Luckyindeed. #Becarefulwhatyouwishfor.

my new fearless leader, neil and me celebrating after completing phase 1 of the training.

life lessons, motherhood

TO MOTHERS DAY

I was raised with lots of expectations leading me to a lifetime of feelings of not good enough over my lifetime. Expectations are a double edged sword. We set them and expect. We expect certain behaviors, we expect performance, we even expect people to show up and act like they should act based on our own set of standards and values. In a work environment, this is standard practice and is a necessary piece of the puzzle we call careers. In our families, though, at times, expectations can also have layers of guilt attached and this is when they can turn into something other than what was originally intended.

In my family, when I was a kid, there was always an expectation of being good. What does this even mean? We use this one liner well into our adult lives when we say things like, “I’ve been good,” as it relates to avoiding the enjoyment of a nice big bowl of ice cream when we rationalize the stop on a warm summer day. “I’ve been good,” we say when we have decided to stop doing something that could interrupt us mentally or physically like going to the gym, abstaining from the nightly routine of a big glass of red after a long hard day at the office or making a big purchase when trying to say on a strict budget.

I’ve been good is a phrase so easily tossed around when our brains need to change some behavior that may have otherwise been helpful to our beings and we need a rationale for the change. At least this is me and my patterns. It is all too easy to blame this belief system on how I was raised, but the truth of the matter is, expectations are set so we have something to reach. At times they may seem unobtainable but we keep trying to climb anyway. We fall off the horse and we either walk away or we get back on and try again. Sometimes the very expectations that are set are subtle. In my memory much of our experiences are subjective when we look back. Two siblings can live under the same roof and have two completely opposing memories of one experience. I linked an interesting podcast below on the subject of memory from Malcolm Gladwell that will surely question your own memories.

When it came to birthdays and Mother’s Day, I was expected, as many of us were, to give at least a card and as I got older send one in a timely manner. This seems reasonable on paper, but for me, because there was an unwritten code that this was something I was supposed to do, often I would forget or be late in getting the card in the mail. This would cause hurt feelings, causing me to feel like a failure as a daughter, guilty as charged for missing the boat, lacking thoughtfulness and consideration for the person who gave birth to me.

I could never seem to get it right. Mother’s Day is always on a Sunday and if I mailed the card on a Monday, it would surely arrive in time. But Monday seemed to early, so Tuesday or Wednesday would be my target date so the card would arrive in perfect timing for Sunday. But I wanted the card to arrive on Saturday because for some reason earlier than that seemed contrived. At least in my monkey brain of aiming for perfection and then finding myself forgetting to mail the card completely until it was too late thus arriving after Mother’s Day defeating the whole holiday all together.

Clearly there was more to the simple act of sending a card here, years of expectations all fully present in all of this thinking. As easy as it sounds to get birthdays and Mother’s Day right, one slip up and you get it wrong and two people end up feeling bad defeating the purpose. Perhaps if my relationship with my mother hadn’t been so tumultuous over the years, these issues would be non existent. I never forget my son’s birthday or anyone I am deeply connected with. Ironically, this entire problem was solved when my mother stopped talking to me and in some ways it was freedom from the pressure of not getting it right.

The true irony though is not sending my mother a Mother’s Day card when she wasn’t speaking to me became almost painful. So at year two, I sent her a blank one that I had hand written simply, “You are still my mother,” and sent it on its way. In all of the years of those silent thunderous expectations, this card was probably the best Mother’s Day card I had sent. Because it was my own thoughts and heart that sent it, not Hallmark’s, and not my mother’s. Mine. My decision, my kindness.

When I had my own child, I made a decision to not set the barre for any of this nonsense. If my son made me a card, sent me a card, wrote a few lines with a stubby pencil on a piece of scrap paper, simply said Happy Mother’s Day or none of the above, this one day did not summarize his lack of love and adoration for me. I would not allow one day of the year to dictate the other three hundred and sixty four. The feelings of guilt in not getting it right and my own mother’s hurt expressions over the years would not be something I would put on my son. Ever. And I think because of this deliberate act, I have been the recipient of lovely handwritten stubby penciled notes over the years that have more meaning than any five dollar sappy card. As a result I have had lots of lovely Mother’s Days and I enjoy them so much because I know that when if time comes when my son could get married and have children, these Mother’s Days will have a shift for sure. So they are precious and appreciated.

I write this today so that we can remember that days like Mother’s Days are not about professing a years worth of maternal adorations for all of our hard work. If your child forgets to do something special, or not as special as you would have liked, could it be possible to just allow this and use the day to remember how lucky we are that we actually have children? Maybe we could choose to not say anything, not show hurt or disappointment but to just show gratitude for the day.

Every single day is special and as my own son gets older, I am more in tune with the privilege of having a healthy child who is still alive and well, who has made it this far so far. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for. Keeping this in perspective is the lesson from my mother over the years that I have learned the hard way, but my son gets to reap the rewards from.

one of the many lovely Mother’s Days out for a walk with my boy.

Happiest of Mother’s Day to all of you who get to wake up to your child tomorrow. There are so many moms who don’t. Lets try to remember this as we lie hoping for the breakfast in bed or the call that may not come at exactly the time you wanted or at all. As my grandmother used to quote frequently, “Those who hath no expectations shan’t be disappointed.” Easier said than done, but perhaps just relishing in the day and using it as an excuse for breaking your own rules, going out for your own ice cream sundae or a walk alone in the park listening to the birds and celebrating your own goodness as a mother. Enjoy the glorious day and cherish the little people we have raised. This is something to celebrate for sure.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/free-brian-williams/id1119389968?i=1000413184954
family, life lessons, Uncategorized

THIS IS YOUR LIFE

“Grandpa, didn’t Grandma have a shortened version of a Seder that she wrote?’ I asked him a few days ago. Passover is by far my most favorite Jewish holiday. Jewish families all over the world share the story of Moses (and Miriam for those of us who like to add some female power to the night) leading the Jews out of Egypt into The Promised Land. We eat the symbolic foods and have conversations about freedoms, slavery, privilege, humanity and so much more over a delicious feast all under the full moon.

Passover is one of those transformative holidays that usually gives me some type of spiritual ahha moment and I always wake up with a more grounded sense of myself the next day. What I enjoy about Passover is that is it more than just Let’s Eat, it is a ritual, a tradition and a retelling of the story of a liberation.

The Seder is community and pausing with family and friends. It is celebratory and hopeful and it goes on worldwide with each family adding their own twists and turns. This is how I remembered that my grandmother had made her own service to condense it for the many friends my grandparents have had over the years to make it more personal, more meaningful. And shorter. Because traditional Seders can be many hours long before dinner and this is a recipe in this short attention span life we lead for invitation turn downs at some point. Being in the Reformed Judaism category, I take some bold liberties in making sure that the Seder is both interesting and concise so when my Grandfather suggested that I take a look in my grandmother’s computer, I bolted into her old office.

My grandmother passed away almost six years ago, but yet her computer is still going strong. As I made my way into her office I noticed some vestiges of her still lingering, like the abundance of scratch paper and address labels, you know those free ones you get as a bait to make a donation to whatever charity thinks sending free address labels will get you to do this. But it is her Mac that most reminds me of her presence. Isabelle had a Mac before people were really buying Macs. She was always on the hip side.

I opened up her computer and went to her file labeled “Isabelle” thinking that so much of ourselves, who we are, how we think show up in what is stored and how it is filed. I was also struck by the notion that all may have been lost if I hadn’t been lucky enough to remember to ask about the Seder, too.

As I went through the treasure trove of files, I saw all of the writings I had sent her in my earlier years of writing that she had saved. She too was an avid writer, albeit a closet one, and I quickly discovered every trip she had gone on with the date, her itinerary and even the tour guide’s name. My grandmother not only recorded the sights and sounds of their trips, but she did it all in rhyme and I was quickly transported to China shortly after the cultural revolution. I time traveled to Africa, Tibuktu among some of the points they traveled to in the seventies. There were her trips to Israel right along with the one they took me on in 1977, too.

While their friends were headed to the Carribean and The Grand Canyon for pleasure, my grandparents were off on wild adventures to learn about the world. Because I was the oldest grandchild and lived nearby, their influence on my ability to look at the world differently was significant. I was able to read about her joys in traveling with the love of her life and was reminded of how hip she was. Then like magic, like she had directed me to this very moment herself, I found her Seder outline and printed it, happy to have found her words to share.

Since my grandfather’s stroke almost five years ago, he hasn’t gone out much and certainly hasn’t had any Passover celebrations at his house. I had decided to come down to Florida this year to have a Passover Seder with my grandfather instead of the usual Seder with my lovely son and our circle of friends back home. so that he could participate in one at his 101st year. As I have mentioned in many writings, we never know if this one will be his last one, the odds shorten each year and my pragmatism abounds.

I set up the formal dining room instead of the usual breakfast area in the kitchen and took out the good china, all of the candlesticks, and the cloth napkins. This is the joy of a holiday. The excuse to make something a little more special than just another day. Flowers on the table, special wine glasses, the old china serving dishes that I will never know their origins of. I just know they are old and were saved for special occasions. I used as many as I had food to fill them. And I printed all of her itineraries right down to her memories of her marriage to my grandfather in August 1942. It was here I got to spend some time with her in her recollections of their beginnings, the draft, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and her young life. So right before dessert, I pulled out the story and announced, Herb, this is your life and began reading it as the story it was.

Passover is the story of Exodus, the Jewish plight, the enslavement of people, but also of our own prisons we put ourselves in by our thinking. My grandmother’s writings reminded me that she did not take her own personal freedoms lightly. She lived her life to the fullest, and after re-reading her own writings, I was clearly reminded of why I live the life I do. Even though many of the people I adore were not physically at this year’s Seder either because of proximity or because they have left us, having this Passover with my Grandfather felt like everyone was there at our table. Liberation in our own way, connecting generations on this one special holiday I got to celebrate my fifty fourth year with a most cherished father figure, Herb Horowitz, my shining example that life is what you make of it.