Tell Scott I said hi!

It didn’t matter if we had been chatting for quite a while or if it was a quick exchange of pleasantries, Jerry always ended each conversation with me with a quick, “Tell Scott I said hi!” And eeeeeeverytime I assured him I would.

I think Jerry really liked Scott. They had different backgrounds but were both ‘boots on the ground’ workers. A mutual respect was established early in our California days.

Jerry was an airplane pilot for the Air Force. At one time he was based out of Dover AFB so we talked about that area often. We’ve known about his flying career for the entirety of our friendship with Gisela and Jerry, our across-the-street neighbors. Pre-COVID, he was a docent for the Aerospace Museum of California. It was only recently that we found out his actual job was to fly the planes that did in-air refueling of the fighter planes.

This tidbit of information was particularly interesting to me because inflight fueling of planes always makes me think of my mother. She loved a sermon she’d heard (and referred to often) about the intricacies of this unique military maneuver. Hovering over the other plane at 20,000 feet, the refueling team pumps thousands of gallons of gas into the jet at 300+ miles an hour – all without interrupting the flight at hand.

The pastor presenting the sermon used this analogy to speak about the times in life when things are happening around us too quickly to simply stop everything and rejuvenate. Pressures and stresses are coming at us too rapidly and yet our resources are waning. Many (if not all) of us can relate to this feeling the past few years. In an attempt to keep all the balls in the air, our fuel tanks have neared empty far too many times.

Thankfully, God is able to surround and sustain us even while we are still maintaining 300+ miles per hour. He is able to refuel us within the trial, not simply before or after it occurs – just like the Air Force jets do so far above our heads.

Gisela texted me this morning, a very simple sentence: ‘Jerry just passed away’. Having fought cancer for the past two years, it was time for him to land the plane. I spent the morning with Gisela while she waited for him to be transported. There is a year’s wait for Arlington Cemetery, but that will be where he is finally buried. The majestic and hallowed Arlington Cemetery in D.C. While she took a shower, I stayed with Jerry. He had on a white AIR FORCE tshirt and I once again thought about Mom’s favorite sermon. I could hear Gisela’s blow dryer upstairs while I leaned in a little closer to Jerry’s ear. ‘You provided a marriage of exciting hikes and biking trails. You impressed us all with your intellect and travel stories. No more inflight biopsies or invasive procedures. Rest well now. And hey Jerry, tell God I said hi.

I felt sure that he would.

Grief

It’s been a rough week, hasn’t it? We are a mourning nation. Confused, sorrowful, and enraged. Mix in a wonderful visit from our daughter that happened to end in sync with the school shooting, and a bit more sadness is stirred into the mix. However, our focus lately has been on our two neighborly friends. One lady – strong and interesting (I’ve joked for years that I had a bit of a crush on her), passed away yesterday. Dreaded cancer that she found out about two months ago. And our other neighbor across the street who has battled cancer for a year, does not have much more battle to fight. Three years ago, Jerry and Gisela were the first to welcome us here, knocking on the door to bring a neighborhood newsletter. We’ve since shared numerous items back and forth across Will Rogers Drive.

Now it feels like there is only so much that lasagne and garden veggies can do. We keep doing clumsy, awkward things for them all. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? We check in with them and tear up when they tear up, all voices cracking in unison.

I stood at my kitchen sink today, watering my philodendron, watching a truck back into Judith’s driveway, back-up beeps interrupting an otherwise sunny Memorial Day. As the water ran through my houseplant, they loaded a now unneeded hospital bed into the back of the truck. How quickly life can change, then how quickly we crave a sense of order to return after it does. Not able to alter a life ended so early, the elimination of a hospital bed reminder is one item that feels doable and immediate.

We in our 50s. They in their 60s. Children in their single digits.

Outside chaos of all kinds clamor at all our doorsteps on a regular basis, but it has become less and less noisy to me lately as the people right in front of me suffer unexpectedly. Social media seems less important while simultaneously, the friends behind each profile photo are held with warm and happy memories.

Life is big and scary but also small and wholly clear. We are not promised days; live entirely into the ones you are allowed.

Scott and I are off this week to explore a few more areas of California we’ve not seen before – the Mendocino coastal region. As I organize how to get Jerry to the car tomorrow morning for a doctor’s visit, his wife texts me information on where to see the rhododendrons along our trip. Such is the recipe of everyday life: the bitter balances the sweet. I’m thankful for a few days away with Scott. He is my person, balled up socks and all. Menial things are blurry these days. The importance of the moment is holding court. Tilly will dictate our stops and starts along the way, blissfully unaware of gunman and disease. Give her an open window and the occasional duck jerky and she’s filled with immeasurable canine glee.

I’m going small for awhile…the week has been especially difficult on our street. ✨ Please take good care of yours. ✨ They are the field God has given you to care for. Swap lettuce. Lend books. Gossip about the price of gas and late night talk shows. Do that universal head nod and arm wave as your neighbor pulls into their garage after work.

He comforts us in all affliction, we have been promised. If you are willing to be present, joy comes in the mourning as well.

– g

SING, UNBURIED, SING

This family drama was true southern prose full of spirits and stories and spells. Sin and family and forgiveness. No one dies quite like a southerner, taking their specific cooking and unique lineage, leaving us our heritage and pockets full of stories to embellish for many generations to come.

“…. sorrow is food, swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

This was a book with a strong second half. I appreciated the lyrical writing and ghostly references only a southerner could fully appreciate.

for this moment.

2020. Dude. We are tired.

Just like you, I have felt overwhelmed and confused and demotivated and quite frankly, just SAD this year.

I lost a college friend today to sudden heart failure. He was 58 years old. To some of you, that may sound logical. To someone nearer that age, you know how young that truly is. He left behind a wife, two girls in college and a 7th grade son.

He has served as mayor of a thriving city for 20 some odd years. He was beloved and effective and will be deeply missed.

My physical world, currently, is immersed in fog and smoke and terrible air quality from the California fires. So not only was I feeling heavy at the loss of Mike today, but I was surrounded by the physical reminder that all around me was the loss of property and animals and memories and ancient trees and breath-taking beauty.

It’s too much, God. It’s too much. I felt listless and directionless.

Then this verse came to mind and a small shift happened in my brain. While I am raising my fists and confusion to the sky thinking WHY do we have to live through this tumultuous time of pandemic and political division and racial injustice and illness and death? WHY do the punches keep piling up? Lord – come ON. Enough!

Esther says that perhaps…THIS is the time that was meant for you. YOU are needed right now. In the midst of all the grief, it is not that you have to live through such difficulty but that the difficulty and injustice and sickness and division needs you.

If you are here right now in 2020, is it because you are needed for a task uniquely suited for your talents? Your intelligence? Your capacity for compassion and empathy? Is that why you’re here today? Is this the moment that is waiting for you?

We were each fearfully and wonderfully and wildly uniquely made. What is the moment you were created to own? To lead? To listen to? To advise or protest or hug or cry or text or smile into?

Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY by Truman Capote

Illustrator Beth Peck elegantly illuminates the words of Truman Capote as he tells the story of the uniquely loving relationship between seven-year-old, Buddy, and his ‘sixty-something’-year-old distant cousin, living in the same house. ‘We are each other’s best friend.’⠀

They make cakes together every year as the weather turns cold and fly homemade kites when the weather begins to warm. They dance together around the house, laughing and enthralled in all that is happy in life, not like the other more burdened members of their family. She relies on his youth, he on her zest for life. “When you’re grown up, will we still be friends?” I say always.⠀

‘“Buddy, the wind is blowing” and nothing will do till we’ve run to a pasture below the house, plunging through the waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel the twitching at the string like a sky fish as they swim into the wind.’⠀

Satisfied and sun-warmed they lie in the grass, happy and filled with adventure. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery, and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are…” – her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass – “…just what they’ve always seen, was seeing him. As for me, I could leave the world, with today in my eyes.”

THE YEAR of MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion⠀ ⠀

It would appear to be a morbid book to read, yet this memoir about the year following Joan Didion’s husband’s death, was a systematic, matter-of-fact approach to try to make sense of the common process of grief. I mostly found it fascinating that our mind tries to make sense of something our heart cannot easily process. ⠀

Didion’s husband (John) had a sudden heart attack and died at home one evening. Didion recalls simple things like going to the hospital with the paramedics and her husband’s body to take care of the paperwork…’the regularization of death’. At the NYC hospital she recalls looking at the time and realizing that John had not died yet on LA time. Didion wondered, for a brief moment, if she could somehow stop him from dying before that California time arrived.⠀

The Year of Magical Thinking would be particularly fascinating to anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one as they would surely find similarities in the way Didion processed her husband’s death. ⠀

As is common, she spoke of wanting to tell John something important, only to realize she could not. “It was as if I put the arrow in the bow, pulled back and just before shooting it realized he was not here to listen to my story, and I would release the arrow and set the bow back down.”⠀

Didion recalled the many times in their marriage that after having a dream she would tell John about it in the morning when they woke up “…not to dwell on the dream but to let it go.” As a reader I wondered how therapeutic this memoir must have been. To write about her process of grief. Not to dwell on death, but to let it go.⠀

After a year of grieving and looking back on what was happening the previous year between she and John, she realized that while his death occurred on December 30, December 31 would be the first day in which John was not a part of the previous year. That is when she began to move forward and her way of thinking shifted. “I began to allow him to simply be the photograph on the piano.”⠀

This was a fascinating book about the process of grief – universally experienced but very uniquely felt.⠀

A highly recommended book.

Learning the rhythm of relaxation…

It was an unseasonably cool day today. I know I have a long way to go with the California heat (and truly, I’ve enjoyed the warmth of it) but it’s also nice to have an incredibly cool day with the windows open wide.

We are excitedly anticipating a big group of family coming to see us at the end of the month. But of course that means projects and to do lists. Admittedly, I love to have looming projects ahead. I love the challenge of overcoming and conquering the unknown.

But I am learning more and more the value of stopping. Sitting for a few minutes. No, not just sitting but sitting and unwinding the Monkey Brain of mental activity even when physical activity has momentarily stopped.

“Destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Embrace the concept that rest, recovery, reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and happy life.” – Zach Galifianakis

We DVR’d and watched the CNN show, Chasing Life, last night. Dr. Sanjay Gupta travelled to Norway – in the midst of their three month period of 24/7 darkness – to find out where they find their happiness (consistently ranked the Happiest Nation in the World.)

It was fascinating to hear their stories. Stories thick with personal challenge and empathy for others. Kindergarten classes held in the forest with little play supervision. Can you imagine a U.S. classroom teacher allowing their students to climb high trees?! It made me cringe to watch. And yet the students developed such a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. Not to mention how they helped each other through the process of play.

Dr. Gupta interviewed a ski-survivor. After a horrific ordeal in frozen water…heart stopping for several minutes…she was now alive and participating in all sorts of sports. When asked if she was back 100% her reply floored me:

“I’m not 100% but I am 100% of what I need.”

Do I have 100% of what I need? It is a worthwhile question to hold close for awhile.

As so many others in the world, I have felt such a heavy loss with the sudden death of author, Rachel Held Evans. And just like others, she represents such a moment of hope for me. I was at a crossroads when I found her blog. Having been brought up in a strongly conservative christian church, I was feeling at odds with what I understood God to be and how He was represented within the Church as a whole.

Rachel merged the contradictions for me. She led me through the difficult process of letting go of human church expectations and pointed me more fully to the face of my Heavenly Father. To compassion and forgiveness. To acceptance of all humans as possessing equal value in the eyes of God. I was challenged to look at the periphery of life and notice those that were being left out of the public conversation.

I have been simultaneously grieving her 37-year-old-wife-mother-of-two-young-babies presence in the world while also feeling challenged. When such a strong human advocate leaves a void, how is it best filled?

And with any tragedy, it shook my priorities. I spend more mental space than I care to admit on what my next Instagram picture will be. It suddenly seemed so meaningless. I mean, let me be clear: being on Instagram is not meaningless. Finding inspiration is never unnecessary. Nor sharing inspiration. But the amount of mental space it takes up in my mind is silly.

Everyone knows blogging is dead. Yes. I realize that’s a commonly accepted thought. In my heart of hearts I think it might experience an uprise as people tire of quick and easy and return to a deeper delve into thought and ideas.

I am not good at vulnerability. While I don’t believe in divulging everything to everyone, I would like to go back to a time that I was more open and honest with my blog readers. A braver time. I think there are areas in my life that might be similar to others. Things we tend to brush under the carpet and smile relentlessly.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we tried to work through some of that together? There is a place for frivolity and fiction in life. It’s good to sit back and relax. It’s necessary. But I’ve spent too much time in the realm of easy lately. Self-examination has fallen by the wayside; too wide of a pendulum swing.

Iron sharpens iron we are told. I need your input and advice. I value it. I need to re-learn to do life in partnership with others.

Drawing from Dr. Gupta’s discoveries: Challenges give us confidence and self-worth. It stimulates creativity. Spending time in nature, exercising, developing deeper empathy for others – all foundations of happiness.

I’m up for the challenge. How about you?? We need to take care of each other.