To Donna Jean, from Joanna Bean

Happy Birthday, Mom.  Today you would have been 60.  Well, to be honest, today as I write this, you would’ve been 59 and 363 days, but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel on your actual birthday, so I’m writing in advance. There are things I didn’t get to say to you and things about you the world should know.

There are moments in your life I wish I could’ve witnessed…

…the first time your Father held you in the strong, safe paws that he passed along to you.  Counted your toes and heartbeats and blinks.  Filled the palm of your hand with the pad of his thumb, your fingers curling around it in security. Your reaction to each  other; warm, brown eyes reflecting and consuming each other, prisms of milk chocolate.

…the first time you smiled, announcing those striking dimples.

…the first time you smelled a puppy and felt its scratchy tongue.

…the first time you stood up.  And when you stood again after your father, your hero, passed away when you were only 12, the blow of your life.  You had to regain the strength and courage to stand a lot in your life, donning more shields than swords.  You were a muscle and a warrior, a grizzly beast of burden.

…taking care of and teasing Uncle Dave thereafter, how you two adored each other.

…the first time you mounted a horse and broke into a cantor, your favorite freeing gate.

…running barefoot across the fields of the horse barn you volunteered at, toes sparkling in diamond dew and moonlight.  This was one of your favorite stories to tell, and my favorite to hear.  This is how I picture you now.

…at the Billy Graham crusade when you fell in love with Jesus.  When later, you and Dad drove cross country with your Alaskan Malamute Cody and you wrote it in the sand.  During every free falling, free wheeling moment of that trip.

…when you were appointed captain of the basketball team and cheerleading squad.  Watching you lead.

…when you composed and delivered your valedictorian speech; your nerves and excitement and pride, and the admiration of your peers.

…the first time you looked in the mirror and saw that you were beautiful.  And when you realized in your heart that a mirror didn’t reveal that.

…rocking in the rocking chair for hours before giving birth to me at home.

…the first time you held Katy, Luke and me.

…the moments during which you wrote journals about us, capturing our childhoods so that we could know who we were.  These are now my most cherished readings.

…picking out patterns at Yankee Barn to make our clothes, despite my demand for “fashion clothes.”

…lovingly quilting our baby blankets and albums, and preserving them for our keeping.

…when Dad tried to make us join a commune and you retaliated.  Thanks again for that.

…planning our home school lessons and teaching us. (Or Katy and Luke, at least.  Pretty sure I was finger painting stick figure dogs and hiding my boogers at this point).

…gardening so you could nourish us organically, a natural in so many ways.

…the first time you nailed your Apple Crisp.

…setting up the train around the tree on Christmas Eve, the year you and Dad surprised us with it, when we could barely cover the mortgage.

…courageously driving to visit me in Columbus, arriving face half covered in your big old floppy hat and a grin of pride from ear to ear.

…bathing your Mom when she no longer remembered how to.  The evenings you spent together in silence and in love.

…exploring Italy with you, what would’ve been your first trip overseas.

…watching over us as we let you go.

…reuniting with your fathers.

 I wish I could see one or two or a thousand more times…

…your rascally smile as you “picked our thumbs.”

…bundling up and walking the dogs in the snow, no matter how cold it was.

…doing the Stromboli dance. “Stromboli, Stromboli – makes the bottom get big!”

…when I got in my car accident and you refused to leave my side in the ambulance as they rushed me to the hospital.  Fighting like a lioness with the nurses and doctors until you felt I was adequately cared for.

…praying and writing quietly in the mornings in your pink llama robe.  Such an eloquent, talented writer and you never even supposed it.

…the ornery twinkle in your eyes when you licked the mixers and spoons after baking, smiling slyly as if you knew a secret.

…choreographing and performing graceful dances for the church.

…performing not so graceful hip hop dances for us.  That rhythm, though.

…ogling Michael Jordan and Nicolas Cage.  Wide ranging taste, you had.

…preparing the kitchen for our friends and their children to decorate Christmas cookies.

…laughing at me falling, countless times, and laughing at me in general. It was one of my favorite things, to please you.

…laughing at everything that came out of Josh’s mouth. He was like a second son to you.

…laughing in general.  That dazzling, generous laugh.

…welcoming any and everyone with that captivating smile.

…making me grilled cheese and tomato soup, even when you could hardly stand.

…proudly watching Katy perform.

…holding Bella.  The gazes and giggles of adoration and admiration the two of you exchanged.

…fighting with and then laughing with and then fighting with and then laughing with Aunt Jenny.

…your awe of Alexandra and Anthony, as you watched them each grow up.

…the deep and simple love between you and Uncle Dave.

…swinging peacefully on your porch swing under the colors of the country sunsets.

…your glory days at Coalton Days. How much you loved your aunts, uncles and cousins, and how fond they were of you.

…our easy, breezy summer cookouts at the ranch.

…scurrying around the house determined to deliver fairy tale Thanksgivings and Christmases, and more than accomplishing it; my favorite memories.

…eating giant eagle cake today on your birthday, and for 40 more.

There are things I want to thank you for…

…tucking me in, praying with me and tickling my back before bed.

…journaling about me throughout my childhood, and then hiding the journals in my treasure chest/coffee table so that one day, while digging in it for a book, I’d find them.  For understanding who I was before I did.

…planting the apple crisp recipe in a low traffic drawer in my kitchen that I didn’t open until some months back, with the words, “Joanna, my dear, keep this and make it for your family!  It’s a tradition.  Love you!” and in some of the final directions, “Mix butter into dry ingredients with your hand.  Lick fingers when done. :)” 

…your quirky sense of humor which informed my quirky sense of humor.

…for holding me until I stopped crying when we hit and killed the black kitten by Rufener’s farm. I was so helplessly angry with you, so struck by the reality of death and suffering in life, shaking on the farmhouse kitchen floor in sobs, and you laid down next to me and wrapped your arms around me until I finally stopped crying and we just laid together, my back comfortably, safely cradled against you, your back surely uncomfortably against the oven, exhausted, silent spoons.

…for the dates to the Hartville library, consignment shops, chocolate factory, New Baltimore Ice Cream and Quail Hollow, and the occasional bike rides there, too.

…for letting me spit like a boy on the softball field, even though it bothered some of the other parents.

…for allowing me to be as boyish or girlish as I wanted to be, whenever I wanted to be it. To fully express myself.

…for giving me Katy and Luke.

…for giving yourself entirely to us.

…for giving me the trust and freedom to become, and the encouragement to continue becoming.

…for the love, security, support and pride that birthed the confidence and self-assuredness you always admired in me.

…for doing your very loving best and for it being miles more than enough.

For teaching me…

…empathy.

…to care for animals and people and the vulnerable.

…what it feels like to be loved without condition and how to love in that way myself.

…to seek the truth and stand up for what is right and just.

…to make wise financial decisions.

…that college is important, but it’s okay to waste some credit hours on dinosaurs and caves, just for fun.

…how to make a home a home.

…the character, promise and mystique of a quality antique.

…the meaning of selflessness and sacrifice.

…the importance of a strong work ethic and integrity.

…the power in the humility of a servant’s heart.

…that I’m no better than anyone, but that I’m great.

…to dry up a heavy cry with a heavier laugh.

…to live in balance and moderation, peas and grilled cheese.

…when and when not to take myself seriously.

…to seek beauty.

…to go into the woods.

…that I can’t always have my way.

…that life is just unfair.

…that I’m stronger than I ever knew…

…that I’m a beast of burden, too.

…to nurture my art. You loved my drawings, paintings and writings, especially this poem I wrote for you a few years ago about hope and Quail Hollow, and I’ve since clung to myself.

Hollow Tears

Today my peace felt hollow
More hollow than before
The quail’s song was solemn
Dead eyes on forest floor

Past scratching at the wind
Little girl with haunting smile
Scrapes through and grabs my hand
Says “walk with me awhile”

Remember bridge and creek,
Warmth slicing through the trees
Your skin on forest skin
Lungs full of crisping leaves

You ran and danced with blood
Kin breathing the same air
You bathed in river love
Drowned away your fear

I wish I brought epiphany
Could remedy your pain
Quail’s song was always solemn
Fog also shares this lane

But  I promise you one thing
I defend your honor here
Past joy and future hope
Bring peace to hollow’s tears.

And this one I wrote to you, in the days following your death.

My self is hard to be, without you. 
My flesh and bones are of you, cross-stitches and puzzles.
From your inside out, I am. 
My hand now holds the other, wishing it was yours.
I’d give up both, you know, for just another tickle. 
Three heartbeats cry together but the Phoenix is in flight.
The horse begins its cantor.

I’ve since realized that I’m not actually without you, and have begun to put the puzzle pieces back together, reacquainting with my self.  Mama, this life of mine was a gift from you tied up in a fiery red bow, and now more than ever I’m impassioned to unwrap it.  So I promise you, I will live for 2, then find my way to you.

Happy 60th Birthday, Donna Jean.  I hope the cake and the cantor are as sweet and free as you.

I love you more than you can imagine.

Your baby girl, Joanna Bean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Brother, the Snowman

 

Today, we’re celebrating the Valentine’s Day birth of my favorite little person, my niece Isabella.  Eight years ago today, in anticipation of her upcoming arrival, I wrote the following piece on my brother/her father, Luke.  Those of you who know him might enjoy a few laughs.  Those of you who don’t know him, might want to.

My Brother, the Snowman

He is carpenter, snow remover, electrician, plumber, landscaper, painter, handy man, grill-master, a real “Mr. Fix-It” driving Walker Texas Ranger’s truck.  He always smells of a hard day’s work – sweat, grease, dirt, gas, oil, beer; evidence of whatever his trade was on that particular day.

He sports very necessary steel-toed boots, a pit-stained, once white t-shirt, and care-free torn up jeans.  He ran out of shampoo a week or so ago, and he coulda sworn he had one more bar of soap left.  His paws are as massive as the grizzly’s, but as intricate as the man’s.  They’re as rough as the laborers, yet as gentle as the brain surgeon’s.  He could go rounds with a mother mountain lion, and then cradle a baby kitten, and would do both if given the chance.  The ever-present calluses give away his labors.  The beds of his fingernails provide ten promising trundles for grime to rest, and he almost always has a blood blister, which baffles me, as I can’t picture him screwing up.

If the day is just a teeny bit dry and arguably warm, he jumps onto his motorcycle, conveniently forgets his helmet, and lets loose his tricks, ignoring the speedometer.  He worries his family sick, but wastes no concerns on himself, or on the flashing blue and red lights that he just left in the dirt again.

His muscles swell from beneath the cotton of his off-white t-shirt, but he doesn’t have a gym membership, nor any weights in his home.  His strength of mind matches his strength of body.  The only thing Luke can’t do is be wrong.  On the numerous accounts I’ve told him he’s no longer my brother, he has unhesitatingly refused to comply.  His temper mirrors his reliability.  I know when and which buttons not to press, and have learned the virtue of patience, at his mercy.

His eyes are a mystery to most, but not to me.  I’ve swam in them for twenty three years, but not just anyone can dive into these pools.  These very same eyes have pierced the daylight out of many a questionable prospect pursuing my affection, with their suspicious and knowing gaze.  “I know guys, Joanna.  He’s a fucking loser,” he states as he farts unabashedly, and then compliments the interaction with an “I dare you to say something about it” challenging grin.   For his little sister, when it comes to men, the bar is high and uncompromising.  When it comes to her nasal cavity, not so much.

When our conversations become questionable, we swear on our “brothership and sistership,” and he probably believes that those are words.   He says funner a lot, and if others are involved in the dialogue, I don’t correct him.  What a shame it would be for the other parties to miss out on the company and conversation of such a character.  He can laugh at himself, too, but those days are in the presence of those lucky enough to earn his trust.  Those days, he doesn’t stop laughing.

He knows more than one might assume, if only considering his vernacular; from politics to sports to mechanics to current events, he is fit for all conversations, and will enter them, invited or not, whenever the right nerve is struck.  He has quite a few sensitive nerves, but it’s hard to tell when you bump into one, as the tone and decibels of his voice make it hard to tell if he’s angry, excited, or hard of hearing.  He’s not hard of hearing.

At the dinner table, as Dad prays, I sneak a peek at his bowed head just in time to see the hidden dimples submerge into his cheeks, as the corners of his mouth head north in response to my toes tickling his shin under the table.  Don’t laugh, Luke.  He snickers under his breath and squints his eyes open a bit, head still bowed, just in time to briefly catch mine before they close.  This momentary eye contact broadens his smile, as I steal one more peak before Amen.

He’s always loved basketball with a passion, and was the rock of his team up until the 9th grade.  He didn’t like the coach, so he quit.  Some say he has a problem with authority.  He argues that he has a problem with people who know less than him and try to teach him what they never knew in the first place, the idiots.

Never will you find his refrigerator void of Budweiser, except for when he’s struggling and financially forced to resort to Busch.  When he’s really financially struggling.  His craving is for the taste, not the intoxication, although I’ve seen him lose his balance once or twice, and heard two or three words magically morph into one, a few times; new words he would later argue a Webster admission case for.

He loves to please and takes great pride in barely singeing the outsides of a well-seasoned steak, before serving it to his guest in a pool of its own blood.  Everybody loves it.  If he does it right, his guest won’t need A1 Sauce.  He doesn’t own A1 Sauce.  “Do you like it?  Is it good?  Whadya think?  How is it?  That’s a fuckin’ steak man, huh?  Have a Bud.  You need a Bud.”  We all need a Bud.

We have a special relationship, in due part to our shared senses of humor.  He stops over to my house on a dangerously snowy night in the early winter of 2009, his snow plow leading Walker’s truck, and I tell him of a very important revelation I just had.  “Since people who work on the police force are called policemen, and people who work for the fire department are called firemen, technically, you are a snow man.”  I watch the dimples emerge again as he lowers his head and his giggles turn into heavy laughter.  He mutters, “Joanna, you’re so gay!”  while scratching his crotch, which I only barely notice anymore.  We both laugh, never ashamed to laugh at our own jokes.  We wouldn’t tell them if we didn’t think they were funny ourselves.  Then he heads out into the bitter night to plow the glacial snow for the next thirty hours, having had no sleep for twelve hours prior.  He doesn’t get to my driveway until the end.  I’m already snowed in.

Luke and his girlfriend, Bri will become the parents of a lucky little baby girl named Isabella this Saturday, Valentines Day, 2009.  This unexpected blessing only shook him for a moment.  He will figure it out, as he has figured everything else out, from building tree houses to building mansions, fixing toy trains to fixing cars.  He could play the hero in any fantasy action movie.  He is already a hero in reality.  He does not, will not mess up, excepting the blood blister rooming with the grime under his left thumbnail.

Peruvian Treasures

Why Peru? I’ve received this question a lot, and since the answers led to some of my most treasured moments, I’m excited to unlock compartment one of the chest (there will be another post, post-this post). Since my first acquaintance with suffering, I’ve felt inclined to protect against it as much as possible, and when impossible, hold its hand.  I did some research and settled on a childcare program in S. Africa, but after continuing to postpone it on the grounds of a pricey flight, I revisited my motive.  Why did I want to volunteer?  To help alleviate the suffering of the vulnerable.  When did I want to do it?  Now.  Where could I afford to?  In South America.  So why Peru?  For the history and mystery, and treasures young and old.

On Saturday, August 28th, 2016 I flew out of Columbus, Ohio at 12:15 pm and arrived in Cusco, Peru Sunday at 6:00 am, 18 hours, two connections and zero zzz’s later.  It was winter there and cold, so the bikini I’d ignorantly packed was going to be as effective as the down jacket on my coat rack.  I was told there’d be a representative from the volunteer organization to greet me with a yellow smiley face flag, but I saw no smiles, and started to lose my own.  Fending panic, I tried calling the volunteer organization, thankful for the international data plan my Dad had subscribed me to, but Verizon had a different plan in mind, called failure.  After 20 minutes of faltering around in a sleep-deprived, anxious fog, I saw a flagless man with the name of my volunteer organization embroidered on his coat, and succeeding a broken Spanglish exchange, followed him warily to a fun-sized car.

The young Peruvian driver provided me with an informational packet donning my name on the front, and my stomach climbed out of the dungeon it’d dropped into.  He said a few things I wished I understood, and began to drive.  Peering out, I was instantly humbled, my aforementioned problems retreating, tails between their legs.  The streets collected piles of trash and the trash collected piles of people and dogs and pigeons. Somehow no creature minded the other, as they all dug for sustenance – maybe a shared empathy, careless of social order.  The buildings and roads, anything once envisioned and constructed, were in states of decay.  A gang of stray dogs moved begrudgingly from the street as my driver beeped.  An elderly lady stood outside of a decomposing cathedral, staring solemnly at what seemed to be nothing for what seemed to be a long time.

After a brief, everlasting drive, we arrived at my host family’s adobe hut, headed by Senora Maria Vila de Parejo and Senor Adolfo Pareja Herrera, a retired teacher and her economist husband.  Maria greeted me with a warm smile and warmer hug, in her llama patterned fleece pajama set, a scarf that looked like Christmas stretching from her chest to her eyes.  Their casa, unheated, was cold but cozy, the walls bejeweled in captured smiles amidst Peruvian culture. It smelled exactly how a grandmother’s house smells, like there’s a perpetual cook in the kitchen stirring freshly picked herbs and spices into hot soup.

Realizing I spoke very little Spanish, she gave up trying and motioned me to follow her.  A beautiful, candle-lit shrine of the Virgin Mary and two flights of hobbit stairs later, the last case spiraling back out and up into the cold, and I arrived on my floor.  She showed me the bathroom and held my hand under the frigid shower water repeating, “caliente” and I thought, I must’ve mixed my Spanish hot and Spanish cold and I am nothing compared to Helen Keller.  Maria gave me my room key and left me alone to settle in.  The quiet felt so quiet, and the barks of the wild dogs and angry drivers, so loud.  As I unpacked, I thought about Cheryl Strayed alone in her hotel room the night before she embarked on her Pacific Crest Trail hike, and I remembered how she missed people.

Every move I made carried a commanding sound, and every command carried memories long gone.  Opening the drawer of my nightstand.  The sound of my wrist cracking.  The soles of my shoes as they moved across the floor. Untying my shoelaces.  Picking nervously at my finger nails. My heartbeat in my ears, like the tick tock of a Grandfather clock. My hand as it moves across this notebook, letter by exhausted letter.  I popped a sleeping pill and faded into an ambien haze for a few hours.  When I woke, I ventured out to the Plaza De Armas, map in hand, gut-punched again at the reality around me.  The lady on the street selling melons for un Nuevo sol, who laid her crying baby girl in an empty, cardboard fruit box to collect my payment.  The disabled homeless people and dogs with wagless tails.  I felt small and helpless, but very much alive within compassion.

In the plaza, I was enchanted by the illustrious Cusco Cathedral, the majestic architecture, crumbling shops, local street art, and ancient cobble stoned alleys dripping in Peruvian culture.  Before dark, I bought a hat, a coat, a picture with a llama and its lady, water and 3 cans of cerveza, and headed back.  I got just a hair lost, and a thankfully nice lady in a white car who spoke little English recognized it.  After Spanglishing back and forth until we could finally still not understand each other, she called Maria who’s number I had with me, and Maria sent Adolfo quite literally around the corner to fetch me.  He guided me on the 30 second journey back, giggling and patting my hand all the way.

That night I experienced my first of many Peruvian “family dinners” with Maria, her sweet 5 year old granddaughter Sami, and the other volunteers.  Between belly laughs, Maria shared my rescue story, which a bilingual veteran volunteer Robert struggled to translate through his own laughs.  The evenings thereafter, Maria prepared a family meal for all of us, Peruvians, Americans, Europeans, Asians, some of us working in childcare programs, others in medical programs, some in jungle preservation, and others on the animal shelter project; perfect strangers breaking bread, meat, cultural barriers, and varieties on varieties of potatoes.

The next day I walked through the ghetto to my assignment, Juan Pablo II, an orphanage founded in 1985 as part of the “Foundation of the Children of Peru” who’s objective is to support the Peruvian youth by offering them basic needs and a family.  There are 53 children, about 5 in each apartment ranging from the ages of 3-17.  From the outside, the orphanage resembles a prison, but I was pleased to find that the interior of the apartments themselves were adequately furnished, colorfully decorated and warm enough.  I met Marta, the house mom and my five boys, who ranged in age from 11-16.  I was surprised that we didn’t know their stories, but my project leader explained to me that in a third world country with limited resources, record-keeping and case investigation sit low on the priority pole.

It took a day for most of them to warm up to me, but Rene, an eleven year old with suspected special needs took to me very quickly, following me everywhere. David # 1 and I played basketball together, until I bored him into a siesta by the court.  Another boy who had no interest in me at all and wouldn’t tell me his name played marbles with David # 2.  At first, I sat silently and watched, rooting for them when they got excited and after about an hour, they started answering my questions and trusted in my interest.

Rene eventually led me back inside to a few sheets of torn, used notebook paper smeared in eraser marks, and some broken eraser-less pencils, motioning me to draw.  As I did, his eyes traveled back and forth from the paper to my hands to my face and he would occasionally burst out in happiness and hug himself and then me.  Then, I asked him to draw.  At first, he traced what I drew.  Then, he copied it without tracing.  And finally, created his own real masterpieces!  His focus was inspiring and his talent, impressive.  Eventually, we drew together.  One of us would start a drawing and then we’d take turns adding to it. We drew Scrat, the Ice Age character and then a Christmas tree to which we each added ornaments representing our likes, including the first initials of the names of everyone in the house.

The next day I brought them each their own drawing pads, notebooks, sets of colored pencils, and erasers and when the rest of the boys realized they had something of their own, they joined us.  That’s how we spent our days.  Drawing, coloring, writing, teaching each other Spanish and English, doing crossword puzzles, playing Uno, marbles, basketball, and futbol, finding ways to understand each other, and listening to salsa and Norah Jones.

We got excited over things like crackers covered in spaghetti sauce, and lemons, and didn’t turn on the electricity until we absolutely had to.  Soap and toilet paper were scarce, so I brought my own of each.  When they could use the electricity, they opted for R rated horror movies and were thoroughly disappointed when I ejected their preferences, inserting Pirates of the Caribbean instead.  At times, we disagreed and once, I had a knife pulled on me.  It was real life with adolescent orphan boys.  In some moments, it was scary, but in most, it was rewarding.  In reverence of real suffering, fear loses its power.

While watching Rene and wondering who he was and who he’d be, I remembered the loving, tender, invaluable observations my Mom wrote about me from the day of my birth through late childhood, and in a tugging moment, choked back tears, feeling so thankful I had had her, and so sorry that Rene hadn’t.  I hugged him close to avoid a wet eye contact and after gathering my bearings, I drew his portrait as he had asked me to, my observation of him that proved to be invaluable to him, for after I’d completed it, he wouldn’t put it down (even though it turned out to be more of a caricature.  When an orphan asks you to draw them, pride goes out the window).  One of 7.5 billion profiles, but one in 7.5 billion.

On our last day, we exchanged friendship bracelets and hugs that could’ve never lasted long enough.  In one of the harder moments of my life, aware I likely wouldn’t see them again and that I have no control over their futures, more brokenhearted than I’d expected, I walked away.  Since the trip, in my guilt for leaving and the pain of missing them, I’ve wondered whether it’s better to show up and leave so quickly, or not to show at all, and I’ve resolved that something is better than nothing, and we should do what we can.  “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean, but if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something,” Mother Teresa.

My job wasn’t to change their worlds and secure their futures.  It was to show them kindness and love for as long as I could afford to.  To pay attention.  To help them see their worth.  To help equip them with the skills, trust, confidence, security and hope to one day change their own worlds and secure their own futures.

Why Peru?  For the lost Inca gold,  of course!

 

 

 

 


Tree Truths at Lake Hope

For the countless hours I spent climbing and falling in love with trees as a child, I realized recently that beyond the maple, the oak, and the pine I don’t really know who they are.   So, I bought a book and learned a couple things.  Trees have been around for over 350 million years, which to put in some perspective, exceeds human existence by 349,800,000 years.   There are over 80,000 different species covering almost a third of the earth’s land surface, ranging in size from tiny Arctic Willows who stand just a few inches tall, to the grand Redwoods who can stretch to over 300 feet. They’re kind of a big deal.

There’s a lake named Hope just an hour and 15 minutes away from me, and on an unusually warm Sunday last weekend, I went to meet her.  I packed my backpack with the usual: journal, book, pen, mace, water, granola bars, flashlight, camera and now my tree identification book, and headed in her direction.  As I got closer, the roads became hillier and windier, reminding me of my old motorcycle hikes.  In and of itself, this drive was an adventure.  Rollercoasting over the hills of Zaleski State Forest, I even lost my belly like I loved to do when I was a little girl.

After acquainting myself with the names of the leaves swimming together in the soup of the forest floor, I arrived at a clearing with a picnic table and just a few minutes left of sunlight, Hope reflecting all around me.  With nature as my greatest muse, tucked away in the safety of its wardrobe, I was inspired to finalize some thoughts.

In considering resolutions for the New Year, I felt that mine weren’t resolutions as much as they were principles and truths I’d like to live by.  Here is how and who I want to be (these are in no way suggestions on how to live life, unless you’re me):

Do everything you want to do, so long as it doesn’t hurt others or yourself.

Stop reminding yourself your dogs are going to die someday every time you hug them. It’s seriously not healthy for any of you.

Pay very close attention.  Become intimate with your senses.  Look again and closer and know why what pleases you, does.  Really taste your wine, the body, the tannins, the viscosity, the structure as it all harmonizes around your tongue.  Listen to the lyrics, melodies, instruments, and beats of the songs that you love and try to understand why you love them.  Discern the aesthetic and memorandum in that piece of art that moves you.  Smell the books, the pipe tobacco, the forest – feel the furry moss, spiny leaves, rutted bark and sweaty soil.

Live in balance.

  • Conviction and an open mind
  • Passion and composure
  • Preparation and spontaneity
  • Softness and grit
  • Empathy and assertiveness
  • Structure and fluidity
  • Healthy diet and grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Work and play
  • Whiskey and wine
  • Relation with yourself and relation with your others
  • Left brain and right brain
  • Purpose and pointlessness
  • Humility and pride
  • Giving and accepting
  • The boardroom and the forest
  • Heels and cowgirl boots
  • Dogs and horses and cats  

Get your head back in the clouds. When you can afford to, step away from the system to dream a little. Look up, down and all around and wonder.

Figure out your beliefs.  Know why you believe in what you believe in and revisit and revise as needed.  Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know if I actually believe that anymore,” and then figure it out.

Know why you want what you want.  Don’t be afraid to realize, “I don’t know if I actually still want that.”  Lose sight of your illusions.

Sacrifice your need for certainty. Unfold, instead, like John O’Donohue’s river.

Sleep with a dog or 2.  The furrier, the better.

Figure out your roots.  You come from a wealth of interesting human beings and cultures.  Learn the family narrative that wrote you.

When you can, be strong. When you can’t, be gentle.

Get comfortable just being.  Pursue Einsten’s sacred awe.

Steer clear of the cow path.  Be as unconventional as you’re designed to be.  Get weird.

One thing at a time.  So you want to be a top sales exec, write a book, produce a film and start a foundation for the suffering?  Let’s start with matching socks.

Don’t forget your child.  Not your literal child, but your inner child.  Although if I had a literal child, I would try not to forget them, too. “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  – my man Picasso – be a big, awkward looking child sometimes.  Paint a piece of crap.

Avoid feelings of entitlement.  This life is unfair.  The entitlement lives in the expectation of it being otherwise.

Be extraordinarily kind, considerate, and merciful, so long as it’s not at your own expense.  If it is at your expense, consider it’s worth.

Forget the sentiment of fearlessness.  Accept your fear, try to understand it, and meet it with courage. When your courage is insufficient, ask to borrow a loved one’s.  Lean.

Discipline the move.  During the moments you think you’re least capable of it, just stretch.  Stretch yourself as stretchy as you can stretch.  And then, brush your teeth. And then, make coffee.  And then, …

Give what you can as often as you can.  Selflessly, because you’re a bleeding heart.  Selfishly, because it’s proven to reduce stress levels.

Don’t mistake that bleeding heart for weakness.  Blood also evinces conquest and survival.

Accept your sadness and pain.  Fortify it with the things you love.  Massage the broken tissue surrounding the dagger in your heart with the tender mitts of the beauty in your life.

Apply appropriate pressure, to your heart and to your dreams.

Cry when you need to and stop being embarrassed about it.  Not like on the subway, or in a subway, but at home or in your car or the window seat on the airplane.  Avoid eye contact with the other birdies though. 😉

Avoid absolutes.  They threaten the life of learning and unfolding and self-actualization that you desire to live.  Grey Goose is more forgiving.

Don’t aim for resolute happiness.  Treat this life as a collection of moments.  Don’t surrender to a bad day. When you have a bad moment, try to follow it up with two good ones, even if it’s just a 1. flashback to a memory with your niece, and 2. imagining what she’s doing right now.  Aim to have more joyful moments than not.  Know what brings you that joy and pilgrimage for it.  Many things are out of your control but this isn’t completely.  You really can steer this ship through and out of dark and murky waters. You really can do this.

Trust yourself.  You’re a survivor, by nature, by nurture, by defeat, by default.   You’re intentionally designed and well equipped to know your way.  Make your decision and trust it.

Accept compliments and credit.  Don’t give all the glory away when you did something pretty cool worth recognition.

Write more. Read more. Volunteer more. Do more yoga. Get more massages.  Eat more cheese.

Treat forgiveness as an ongoing practice, not a graduation.  Forgive yourself and others as often as you need to.  And when you’ve forgotten you’ve forgiven, do it again.  Cheryl says: “Forgiveness doesn’t sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up a hill.” She also says…“The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.”

Practice acceptance.  Control the controllable. Let the rest go.  Salute it from the shores of a bourbon on the rocks.

Choose your battles. Consider what really matters, what you really want, what your end game is.  If you must go to war, approach it with David’s courage and Mother Teresa’s mercy.

Seek to learn something new every day, even if it’s just an aggressive, crisp 1 syllable word or a juicy, voluptuous 4 syllable word.  Sink your teeth in the delight of discovery.

Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes, even if they’re a little tight-laced.  Try to understand.

Make time for the things you love. You have 168 hours in a week, 45 of which you’re working, 42 of which you’re sleeping (hopefully), netting you with 81 hours to do what you want.  Stop making the time excuse.  Stop cancelling your piano lessons.

Keep yourself and others honest.  Ask the hard questions.  Be prepared for the hard answers.  Have a safe place ready to hug you, whether it’s the solitude of a cabin in the woods or the arms of your best friend.

Ask the dumb question.  Know that regardless of what they say, dumb questions do exist and yours is probably one of them and they’re all going to giggle about it behind your back.  But, be willing to sacrifice your credibility in order to truly build it.

Be shamelessly delighted.  So what if you’re 31 and still giggle when you lose your belly on windy, hilly roads, pretending you’re on a roller coaster.  So what if you look like a Dora the Explorer alien admiring every element of the woods as if you’ve never seen a weed before.  Cling to this.

Listen to understand and really lean in.  Ignore your to-do list as it tries to interrupt.

Don’t rush your learning process.  Appreciate the stairway to knowledge and wisdom.

Shed.  Abandon.  Give up…

… your aspiration for perfection.

… the influence of societal constructs on your path.

… your false or faded delusions.

… the things that no longer serve you.

… the idea you have of who you are, if you aren’t anymore.

… the lives you didn’t choose.

… the lives that didn’t choose you.

… your need for certainty.

… the sentiment of “fearlessness.”

… the sentiment of “happiness.”

… hesitation.

Turn the “I should’s” and “we should’s” into plane tickets and memories.

Admire the shadow you cast.  She’s kind of cute!

Revisit Lake Hope many more times.  Take shelter beneath the outstretched arms of these friendly giants much more often, especially now that you know their names.

Feed yourself all of this yummy stuff.  The stuff that gives you feathers and perches in your soul and never stops at all.

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me

– Emily Dickinson

All You Need is…

…sleep.  You were swell, John Lennon, but love can wait.  Beginning this past Sunday night, I embarked on one of my less thrilling, more sacrificial adventures.  “Sleep Restriction Therapy” is what the medical community calls it, which is a nice term for sleep anorexia/brain cell starvation/memory kamikaze bomber/quality of life slayer/90 year old doppelganger creator/tired elf.

As an idiopathic insomniac (there’s got to be a better term for it), I haven’t slept well since I was a child and there’s not an explanation as to why.  After participating in two sleep studies (the first one was inconclusive), my docs, perplexed, showed me my charts.  No signs of apnea, no signs of resting leg syndrome, just a brain that dives down through levels 1, 2 and 3 of the sleep stages, and then at REM, seemingly out of breath, I resurface and awaken.   Perhaps an underactive sleep system, or an overactive awakening system, or an allergy to REM.  Either way, I’m not swimming in the Zzzzz’s.

So, they prescribed me Ambien, which knocked me out for the most part, but for the other part, made me feel really good and warm and awakened, which as much as I try to follow the Buddha’s lead on, I’m pretty sure his idea didn’t involve narcotics.  And… it made me think I had cats.  Like I had this new cat, no joke, that I would catch myself petting.  It sat next to me on the couch, silent as nonexistence, while I pet it.  Every now and then I knew it wasn’t there, but still my hand eventually found its way back to it’s hairless, boneless, nameless back.

During the days following the nights, whether they were sleepless or renditions of the Cats musical, I started losing my memory, acuity, fresh ideas, inspirations, ability to learn and retain, to interpret and concisely communicate, to reason, to measure, to calculate (not numbers, not happening), to wonder (lots of wandering, no wondering).  I felt like a blunted, dulled shell of myself, but thankfully still with enough lacquer to realize it.  So, when I went to Peru with only enough pills left to get me through half of the trip and no hope for a legal prescription refill there, against the doc’s recommendation to slowly ween off it, I quit.

Which brings me here today. Sleep Restriction Therapy is exactly what it sounds like.  You restrict yourself to a certain amount of sleep (4-5 hours for me) for a certain number of nights (3-4 for me), then slowly give yourself a half an hour a night back until you attain a healthy number.  It’s a behavioral therapy that works to improve the efficiency of your sleep by limiting the amount of time you allow yourself in bed.  Triggers some kind of reset. I’m on my 4th night, and battling the resentful feelings growing toward the two furry critters who’ve literally slept three quarters of the past six years and are snoring on each other on my lap.  It’s kind of brutal, but, I’ve always been a proponent of temporary pain for long term gain.  Not in the peck and ab-plastering muscle shirt kind of way; closer in brotherhood with the monks.

Part of the issue is that I just really enjoy being awake.  I enjoy the quietness of both the morning and the night, and I like to do a lot of things, which require a conscious state.  Since I am awake right now, and spend most of my time here, I thought it’d be appropriate to share two of my favorite poems from two of my favorite awakened people:

May You Awaken

By John O’Donohue, Irish poet, philosopher, and Catholic scholar

May you awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path.
May the flame of anger free you from falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

The Journey

By Mary Oliver, American Poet/Author

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Buddha says, “You’re body is precious.  It is our vehicle for awakening.  Treat it with care.”  Thanks, Buddha.  Let’s  revisit this sentiment post-therapy.  Until then, my friends, I’ve included a pixie of a song from one of my favorite artists Lisa Hannigan featuring Ray LaMontagne, to hopefully lull you, and eventually me, to sleep.

 

New York Minutes

This past week I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about time. First, I sell the keeping of it for a company named after the Greek God of it, Kronos (he was also known for eating his babies but that’s for a different day).  Second, I was staying in it’s very bright square in New York City for an industry convention.  Third, I decided to preamble the work trip with a short holiday by flying in early to stay with my sister and a friend in Brooklyn, during which time we visited some remarkable timeless marks.

Of our many stops was The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Established in 1870 and an architectural masterpiece itself, The MET is the largest art museum in the U.S., holding more than 5,000 years of art from all over the world, across various cultures.  5,000 years.  If my math is correct, which it’s likely not, that’s around two hundred generations worth of creation.  If my math is incorrect, which it likely is, that’s still a lot.  The MET has also been sued for displaying looted and stolen antiquities, so more than thrice, I had to refrain from breaking into the pink panther theme song and creep.

While perusing the artwork, I thought how curious it is that, while human beings and most other things can’t, art can defy time. The sky, landscapes and even the earth’s coordinates, all succumb to it, but these artists, although long passed, here they live together; their inspirations, ideas, visions, decisions from the mediums to the textures to the colors, their originalities, insecurities, prides, joys, pains, dedications, breakthroughs… their time; the things they didn’t do so they could do this, the lives they didn’t live so they could live this, the total opportunity cost; all of it preserved.  From Lithuanian born Ben Shahn and his heart gripping street art, to French Dubuffet and his humanistic authenticity, to Balthus and the resentment represented by his monsters, they each had stories, told stories, and those stories live on here.  Their brains did this, their hands did this, their hearts did this – a trinity of creation in a victorious battle against time.  During moments in time far away, but no less real than this one, they did this.  They touched then what people see and feel now.

Another day I spent an afternoon in the New York Public Library, another remarkable illustration of art both defying and in concert with time, working from a room full of people much quieter than me, beneath two mermaid angels carved into the ceiling. If I could have a super hero power, it would be to acquire all of the knowledge and wisdom of the world.  If I could have two super hero powers, I would be a time traveler, which might lend to my appreciation for art and books because for me, they offer that.  A good book, a little bit of time, and an Ann of Green Gables imagination can transport you anywhere, anytime.  If I could have three super hero powers, it would be to get rid of this hyena laugh so I stop risking getting kicked out of places and losing friends.

Touched by the stateliness, strength and quality of the structure, the softness of the marble, the ornateness of the detail, the smell of the old books, the exhibits of Henri-Charles Guerard, the original written manuscripts from Thoreau’s Walden, and the time spent on it all, I found myself again in awe of the durability and sustainability of art against time. Life was hustling and bustling just outside the library’s Goliath doors, and here I was safely tucked away in a time capsule full of boundless words, beautifully bound.   How much I love so much of this world and many of its inhabitants.  How much I feel like a little mouse.  How long I could stay here, if only they would let me.

Another inspiring visit was to architect James Renwick, Jr.’s beautiful Neo-Gothic-style Roman Catholic church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a sobering commandment of reverence like a mountain, regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof. Erected in 1878, lined by statues of renowned saints glowing above candles lit in remembrance and offering, pews dotted by tourists and worshippers and those in between, echoes of the entrance into and exit out of prayer, I was humbled to tears.  Here we all were.  Strangers with timeless desires, to experience God, history, art, beauty and/or relation and/or all of the above, like those who’ve come and gone before us.

Just outside the venerable peace of all three institutions, urgency lived on in the electricity of New York City life. Time was moving forward uncontrollably.  People were rushing to work, dinner reservations, landmarks, shows, to capture a final picture before heading to the airport, to escape the rain.  Horns everywhere screaming “GO!”  Duality reigned.  The necessity to balance the deadline with the “you” time was overwhelming.  We seem to have so little time to spare, until we step into the right place and realize that in some moments, it’s temporarily endless, and absolutely necessary, and we should and really can sit still.

The MET – timeless art. The NYPL – timeless story.  St. Patrick’s Church – timeless reverence.  The human – timeless desires for it all.  Depictions of mortal visions converted into immortal conceptions.  So much thought and attention, both fleeting, and forever.  How much time gives us, and how much it takes away.  How generously it serves us, and how quietly and unassumingly it brings us to our knees; the greatest healer and ultimate assassin, the host of life and death.  A prodigious escape artist,  how precious and rare it is.  How imperative it is to spend it wisely.  No matter what, while breathing, we at least have time.  You might have nothing else to spend, but still have that.

 

 

The Quickening Art

I like my friends how I like my music, diverse and in abundance, and I was thankful to ring in 2017 with lots of both. Two sales execs, a yoga instructor and a chef road trip it to Nashville to visit a singer/songwriter for New Year’s Eve.  With one deep in contemplation writing haikus in the backseat, one balancing her checkbook, and another twerking out the passenger window, I had no concerns.  Except:

I hope Amy and JoAnne are okay that I testosteroned our girls’ trip by the last minute addition of my friend Max, whom they’ve never met. Total girl foul.

I hope Max doesn’t pick up that they might not be. Because we’ve got 4 days and 760 miles of road together.

I hope they don’t mind sleeping in the same apartment. Because my sister Katy can only sleep the two of us comfortably, while the neighbor lending us her apartment can sleep three.

What will we talk about? Besides Japanese poetry and popping, locking and dropping it.

What will we listen to? As it turns out, each other.

We arrived in Nashville late Friday night in a cloud of hazy, lazy travel stupor which evaporated into excitement as soon as we saw Katy run-walking (her usual method of transportation) from her apartment complex to help us unload. After quickly settling in and spritzing on some “had-a-bath,” we honkey-tonked out to the neon lights of Broadway, where we shared a fried bologna sandwich, a few dances (arguably defined), a lot of bourbon, and a relieving synergy.

Throughout the weekend, we shared much more, including family style brunches, mud baths (this calls for a later post), toasts, laughs, culinary masterpieces, secrets, fears, dreams, and an unexpected union. Our last night in Music City, exhausted from the preceding festivities, we rallied for one more Broadway adventure.  As we watched a country band belt out some old jams that took me back to high school days, I scanned the room and noticed I wasn’t the only person acquiescing to nostalgia.  How powerful music is, to summon memories and the emotions that they carry, to summon the spirit of comradery. If it wasn’t for music, Katy wouldn’t live here.  Without its music history, Nashville likely wouldn’t have ranked as a top New Year’s Eve destination.  Without Katy and that ranking, Amy, JoAnne and I might’ve settled elsewhere, and Max might’ve been less enticed to join.

On the drive home, I had that sad feeling that I recognized from when I was a little girl and got to have a friend spend the night and then after so much fun, they left the next day. It turned out I wasn’t the only one suffering the holiday hangover blues, so we decided to spend just one more night together in Columbus.   With the power of music heavy on my mind, I proposed we watch one of my favorite documentaries called “Alive Inside” about the effect music has on people suffering from dementia.

It opens up with a 90 year old beauty who, when asked questions, apologizes for not remembering the answers.  But after listening to Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” she’s suddenly joyfully spitting off memory after memory after memory, her eyes twinkling, testifying, “I didn’t know I could talk so much!”  The viewer witnesses many more patients seemingly come alive through what the philosopher Kant calls “the quickening art.”  A little Cab Calloway and a dormant patient named Henry fills with so much excitement he can barely keep his eyes in his sockets.  After listening to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” a husband who didn’t recognize his tearful wife looks across the table at her and tells her that he loves her.  A 10 year patient named Denise, while listening to Schubert, pushes away the walker she’s been using every day for the past two years, to dance.  Vistas open up.

We learned that this phenomena exists because the parts of the brain involved in remembering and responding to music are not affected too much in Alzheimer’s or other dementias,  and this is due to the way music enters  our brains in the first place.  Music activates more parts of the brain than any other stimulus.  It’s a cultural intervention, a narrative of our lives, living in the cerebellum not just auditorally, but also visually, and emotionally. It records itself in our motions and emotions when we’re young, which are the last parts of our brains effected by dementia.   And it starts in the womb.  Our brain, the engine of our organs, seeks union at six months, which is when the cerebral cortex can support thought.  Studies show that the patterns of the cries of newborns reflected their mother’s speech, which means that even before we’re born, we’re learning how to sing with another human being.

Music moves people, to memory, to action, to my favorite kind of tears.  I have yet to leave a symphony without a wet eye and a belly full of intense awe. For the patients in “Alive Inside,” the music, through memory, reawakens their souls, restoring a sense of freedom, choice, control and independence that the illness robbed them of. The narrator states, “We need music.  It awakens in us our most profound safety; the safety of living in concert with each other, and with our own selves.”

We didn’t go to Nashville for the music. Without knowing it, we went to Nashville for what the music meant.

I’ve included the “Alive Inside” trailer in this post, in case you’d like a further glimpse. It’s one of those perfectly sad, perfectly beautiful, detoxifying feel goods that, combined with a hot cup of tea or a full bodied glass of wine, can melt away your wintery, Sunday blues, remind you of your blessings, inspire you to do something,  and make you feel like the good person you are.

 

 

 

 

 

How to be a Pillar of Hope

katy-and-santa

I like supporting local, so let’s start there. For so many reasons, this first post is about my sister, Katy Hope.  Reason number one is because she insiste…  err… inspired me to get started.  When Katy speaks, you feel like you’re swimming in a bowl of cursive alphabet cereal and silky almond milk.  The alpha bits synchronize excitedly to form the most eloquent of words, so effortlessly composed and dreamily served by her milky voice.  This spoonful was, “You really need to start your blog.”  She’s not always a dip in a cereal bowl.

More importantly, written in the stars by her middle name, she’s a selfless force of hope and grace and fierce determination.   Even under the pressures of this holiday season, one that could’ve been bluer than it was for our family, her fire embraced and warmed the blue.  How did she do it?

Here’s how to be a Katy Hope, or how to train your sister to:

  • Forget yourself.
  • Deliberately plan all of your minutes around everyone you love.
  • Spend an early December weekend in Columbus to help your sister-elf decorate her home, because you know how much she wants to, but that it’s possible she won’t.
  • Help her pick out a real tree and walk it half a mile to her home on your shoulders.
  • Decorate it over a bottle of champagne, cheese and crackers, and an Amy Grant Christmas record.
  • Indulge in Christmas cheer and new friends during her favorite event of the year, Village Lights, and treasure hunt the local biergarten.
  • The week of Christmas, drop all obligations where you live in Nashville and drive up unnecessarily early, five days before Christmas, to again, spend an evening with your sister in Columbus, regardless of any inconvenience.
  • On your drive up, pray a lot for everyone, and send “positive energy vibrations” (or whatever) to all your loved ones.
  • Bring a portable coffee maker because WTF is a Keurig going to accomplish this chaotic Christmas.
  • Bring your close friend, who has also suffered the recent loss of a parent, and may need a hug or distraction.
  • Take said friend to a cocktail party at a magical, antique, fairy garden house in Highland Square, surrounded by the loving family you’ve become a part of, complete with an impromptu ballroom gown dress-up sesh.
  • In honor of your Mama, wear her classic white turtleneck sweater this first Christmas Eve in 59 that the world hasn’t had her; grace us with her smile.
  • Take your sister to a gift exchange at the magical, antique, fairy garden house with the loving creatives – enjoy a champagne toast, a whiskey cocktail, and beautiful artwork gifted to you and your sister by the loving creatives.
  • Rush to the side of a dear friend who’s in crisis.
  • After securing friend’s safety and wellbeing, truck it to the country, craft gin and tonics at your aunt and uncle’s, and laugh and cry past midnight.
  • Sleep in your childhood bedroom and say your Christmas prayer at your bedroom window.
  • On Christmas day, in the kitchen of the farmhouse you grew up in where traditionally, your Mama made an exquisite Christmas brunch, spend hours replicating it for your family and friends as close as family; + homemade eggnog and Irish coffees.
  • Since your brother broke the traveling coffee maker, improvise with a large Budweiser glass – rock those beans.
  • Spontaneously break into sporadic dance moves that you learned in your hip hop dance class, followed by the “moves” you’re learning in your ballet class.
  • Visit your precious childhood neighbors and play the beautiful guitar once owned by the loving husband and father they’ve been missing for years.
  • Take 3 red roses symbolizing her 3 children to your Mama, and wish her a Merry Christmas – turn to your sister, hug her, tell her through your tears and her tears that she’s beautiful, smile gracefully, and lead on.

So, here I am.

Because my sister made me do it.

Because my soul allied with her.

Because my Mama would be proud.

Because she is.

christmas-mama

 

 

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