Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Donut Days and Deep Roots

Tonight I discovered something about myself that should have been pretty obvious: The fact that our family has donuts for breakfast each Saturday is more than a treat for me. It’s an emotionally comforting ritual with deep roots.

In college, during Mark’s and my stint as singing waiters, Saturday mornings were our time to rehearse the music for our weekend dinner shows. Larry Kussatz, the owner of Carver’s Restaurant and our music director, would always have fresh pots of coffee and platters of donuts ready for us at 9 a.m. We each had our favorite selections – donuts and songs – and we each counted on this weekly ritual, just as we counted on each other to fill in the melody or harmony of our particular vocal part.

As Mark and I reconnected tonight with Pamela Cross Samuels, one of a select few who knows what it felt like to be a Carver’s Singer, I found myself grateful for the comfort my Saturday donut continues to bring me each week. I also found myself hoping that Pam has something similar to comfort her at the end of weeks when she might feel at bit overwhelmed at times.

In the years since we entertained diners at Carver’s (Craig Bennett being such a patron), we’ve all experienced some fairly daunting life detours. The most dramatic part of Mark’s and my detour story is connected to Stross’ birth, as recounted in Involuntary Joy. Yet Pam’s and Craig’s lives have also been defined by moments that are equally as book-worthy.

For instance, HIV has detoured Craig’s life plans while leukemia has detoured Pam’s. Her diagnosis came six months after losing her mother to cancer and seven years after becoming a single mother. Yet it’s clear that Pam refuses to have her life defined by chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), single-parenthood or life without her mother.

As we lingered tonight – laughing over who we were back then and how we lived out our more naïve existences – we affirmed the rhythm of life and the transcendent power of love. We helped transport each other to happier times, silently acknowledging a fierce, if unspoken, love for one another along with an inability to fully recognize that love for what it is.

Tonight we affirmed there is nothing that can diminish the power of life itself. Not physical and intellectual disabilities, not HIV, not singleness, not single parenthood, not the loss of a parent, not the loss of a job - not even chronic myelogenous leukemia.

And certainly, if we ever experience a week when we begin to feel diminished or overwhelmed, we can count on the revival that Saturday morning donuts and a fresh pot of coffee might bring. Emotional comfort with deep roots. “What would I do without my music? What would I do without my song? What would I do without my music, to pick me up when everything seems wrong?”

Love to you, Pam. Thanks for the memories. And, thanks to you, too, Craig! Let’s do it again. Soon. Life’s way too short. (Don’t we know it!)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Winter Wonders 2010

I have a difficult time getting in the Christmas spirit without an ample supply of snow. Fortunately, the Midwest's weather patterns have made for a wonderfully white Christmas season this year without a worry of it melting before the happy holy day. Our children have already had opportunities to play in the snow with their cousins, an activity that doesn't become too childish no matter the age of the child - me included. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed having a reason to run outside to take photos of the crew as they rough-housed and rolled in the fluffy white stuff.

Tonight I was reminded of the full range of holiday experiences we've been enjoying since Thanksgiving. Not long after sunset I ran outside in my stocking feet - with no coat, either - to watch winter fireworks from our front porch in 5º weather.

Only three weeks earlier our family wandered around in the Phoenix area's 70º weather, taking in the sights and sounds of its holiday celebrations. I highly doubt a native of Arizona would have done what I did tonight - the stocking-foot-with-no-coat thing. In fact, a lot of Midwesterners wouldn't have stood in the snow in stocking feet - and I say good for them, the smart ones. I just didn't want to miss the action.

Watching the fireworks appear to light up our Iowa neighbor's evergreen reminded me that our family saw the Tumbleweed Christmas Tree in Chandler, Arizona, one week before it was officially lighted. You can see it, too, in this clip of our adventures.

Fortunately, in this era of YouTube, I was able to see the finished product shining in its full glory, courtesy of another family. I posted it here so that you, too, can enjoy the lighting of the famous Tumbleweed Christmas Tree as it was experienced by a family in the Southwest - likely one who would find it fascinating that there is a small town in the Midwest who lights fireworks in December.

What makes it feel like Christmastime where you live? Whatever it happens to be, I hope you are experiencing the wonders of the season in all their fullness.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nebulous Nature of Life’s Pivotal Moments: Part 2

To read Part 1: Click here.

It was late in the spring of 2000, and I was angry. I didn’t know that I was angry though. Not until Mark uttered these words a second time: “Is that what you want?”

I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. His repeated question hung for a space of time that allowed me to live through the experiences that had gotten me to that particular moment – the way someone’s life flashes before them when threatened.

Did I feel threatened? Mark had – quite possibly – offered me exactly what I wanted and even needed. I had simply to respond: “yes” or “no.”

His question came after I blasted into the video editing bay where he was working on a project for Waldorf College in order to harangue him. It was a long diatribe. Something about the college (who happened to be his employer and our primary source of income) and how we had tied ourselves to a place that had announced a little more than a year earlier that it faced dire financial circumstances. I also included some fierce sounding accusations about how he spent an exorbitant amount of time at the college and that it didn’t seem to be appreciated. The entire episode was tinged with overtones that said I was tired of being the go-to person on certain matters related to our sons’ care.

Only seven years previous, we had chosen this life arrangement: Mark becoming our family’s primary breadwinner rather than me continuing in that role. Me becoming our children’s primary care provider, and our family living in a city with a population that represented 2 percent of our previous hometown.

Stross was 9 and Skye was 5 at the time. And, evidently, I was tired of being the home-based parent, because these incredibly revealing words tumbled accusingly from my mouth: “You know, I could have been the vice president of communications for some company somewhere by now.”


Mark and I looked at one another, me unflinching as I – in private horror – wondered where my statement had come from; he unflinching as he gathered his thoughts and then offered a genuine and animated response that affirmed my anger.

“Is that what you want?” He asked, looking part relieved and part frustrated. “Is it? Because if it is, I’m game. Just say the word, and we are out of here. I’ll go to my office right now, type up a letter of resignation and start packing. You mean more to me than this place. A hell of a lot more. And if you’re not happy, I’m not either. So if it’s time for us to leave so you can do what you need to, let’s do it.”

His words were exactly what I needed to hear, but I couldn’t determine if they were what I wanted to hear. I said nothing. He continued even more pointedly.

“Is that what you want?”

There it was again, but this time my life flashed in a dizzy mess.

I did not want to say “yes” just because I was angry – and I could no longer deny that I was angry. In fact, I was something beyond angry. I was not living the kind of life I wanted to live. I had tried so hard not to become a victim of circumstance after Stross’ birth, but I had finally begun to acknowledge what I had lost. Stross’ dramatic needs now shaped mine. He was born with conditions regarded far outside the realm of normal. My life now reflected his realities. No, they were my realities. Non-normal realities. Whatever that meant.

I also could not say “yes” out of a selfish need to preserve an identity that fit about as well as my pre-pregnancy jeans. But I was scared. Mark knew it. He was scared too. He didn’t want to lose any more of me than what I’d already shelved.

I answered using the word that best matched my mood.


“So you don’t want that?” Mark asked. “I know you are right. You could have been a vice president. I won’t hold you back.”

“I said ‘no.’”

“Then what is this about?”

“I don’t know.”

That was more than 10 years ago. And I did not know what it was about then. But I do know now.

Two roads had diverged in the woods that was my life. And looking down one as far as I could, I had not liked what I could not see beneath mounds of nettles and undergrowth. However, I could not take the other road either. Instead, I had hoped it would keep for another day.

Yet way leads to way, just as it did years before that moment when we decided to have a child. And then again when we decided to have Mark become a stay-at-home father, and yet again when we decided to move and switch roles, and still again when we decided to have a second child, and still once more when Stross became gravely ill and we thought about moving after he recovered as a way to manage our debt.

I have never been able to figure out a way back. I can only hope to keep moving toward new diverging paths that pose easier choices. And I learned long ago –simultaneous with Stross’s first breath – that it is futile to wonder where other paths might have led.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Can you hear me sighing? I sure hope so, for if you can, that will make all the difference.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nebulous Nature of Life’s Pivotal Moments: Part 1

My muse must be messing with me. And he must be into poetry right now, for today – like a few days earlier – I awoke with the stanza of a poem that is connected to a childhood memory marching through my mind. It’s the last part of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” a poem I was required to memorize during my sophomore year of high school. (Thank you, Mrs. Johnston.)

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost has kept me captivated with the nebulous nature of life’s pivotal moments from my first reading of this classic. The undeniable notion that a person’s life is forever changed by one choice is … well, undeniable, isn’t it? Ask people in prison, mothers in maternity wards, or company presidents now in either confining or comfortable quarters. Their lives changed instantaneously because of a choice they made, even if they were unaware of it at the time.

I’m certain mine has too – multiple times. Make that a multitude of times. Today my muse has reminded me of the moment I continue to ponder most; and no matter how many times I recount or relive that particular moment of divergence, I cannot decide if I took the road less traveled by or the one most people would have chosen. I can’t even decide if my choice was intentional or simply the product of picking the path of least resistance.

Perhaps you will be able to tell.

It was late in the spring of 2000, and …

Stay tuned
Part 2

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Swing

It took me a while, but I finally remembered enough words for a successful web search. Now I have the full memory of my mother reciting Robert Louis Stevenson's The Swing every time we would swing together. My memories are locked in at about age 7 to 9, but I know she did the same thing when I would swing in junior high and even high school. In fact, if my mother and I were to go to a park where I could enjoy swinging now - she past retirement age and me in my middle years - she would start reciting this poem. I know she would.

So forgive me for posting this photo again; but it just seems right, for every time I swing - as I did just a few weeks ago when I took this photo - I hear my mother's voice lyrically reciting lines in time to the pace of my swinging. I don't hear each specific word, but I hear her and I connect with the spirit and intent of those life-filled moments.

I think divine communication is like that. I sometimes hear God (or for those of you who like to use this term: a higher power) marking time to the cadence of my life's experiences. I can't hear exactly what is being said, but I hear God and am able to connect in spirit. It is incredibly affirming. Not like the sing-song pattern of my mother's cadence, but a steady reassurance.

Even without hearing words - like when my memory supplies this poem's cadence as I swing to a lyrical beat - I can feel the spirit of a moment as it divinely ties me to some earlier time. And I know what I am hearing. I feel safe. I feel the intent.

But I must remember to make time to enjoy swinging. So also I must make time to dance or waltz or walk or sing or sit or cry with God. Or perhaps even yell at God. God doesn't mind. That's what the divine cadence tells me.

I hope you have such moments and that they help you feel secure - even if a bit scared. Like when you are swinging really high but can hear your mom's voice helping you keep a steady time.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

The Swing
by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Love every moment

written Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010

I devour dark chocolate at some point each day - part indulgence, part coping mechanism; my daily ritual is always comforting. Today I also found myself contemplating a new life perspective, courtesy of the wrapper message on a Dove® dark chocolate single. The message read: Love every moment.

Upon first read, I understood the message as an invitation to love each thing that happens to me during the day – an implication that each moment has worth, regardless of what might be happening at the time. Then came my instant revulsion to that thought by way of my poo-on-that-no-way attitude.

You see, I wasn’t particularly in the mood for such a platitude, for only seconds earlier I had walked out of Stross’s bathroom after helping him with a particularly messy colostomy issue. A literal “poo-on-that” moment. I had not loved that moment nor could I imagine loving such a moment until I had another, far-less-revolting thought: What if the message was not a command to love every moment, but to spend every moment expressing love? Love – every – moment. What if I was being reminded to – just as the wrapper read – love in every moment that I am alive? That is an extremely intense challenge; however, it is certainly something worthy of my aspiration. And, truly, love is what keeps me present so I can do my best work when helping Stross during moments that are far from Norman Rockwellian slices of life.

My more nuanced and more enlightened thought solidified when – not content with eating only one Dove® dark chocolate single – I grabbed for another shiny wrapped treat. The second one's message also conveyed a message related to love: Love rules without rules.

Ah, ha! Perhaps, as I suspected, the first wrapper was not a command. Perhaps it was simply a reminder. I have the option – a choice – to express love no matter what might be happening in my life, every moment of every day. I can choose to love every moment.

That’s a tall order when my attention is derailed by poo-on-you incidents. But that is what I am called to do … regardless. To love with all my heart, soul and mind, and to love my neighbors as myself. This call to love should not be easily forgotten, for it is echoed by every major religion in the world. Even by the candy wrappers on my chosen daily chocolates.

Thank you, Dove® dark chocolate singles. You gave me something new to think about today. Love every moment. I will remember that rule even when life feels as if there are no rules.

Amen. May it indeed be so.