SLIPPING LIKE SAND THROUGH MY FINGERS


sand slipping through fingers“Time is like a handful of sand – the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers.”

I saw a photo today of people I knew in college.  I looked at the picture several times because, while the names looked familiar from the tags on Facebook, I could not place the faces.  In fact, I really couldn’t much place the names either but there was some ring of familiarity to them so I squinted and taxed my brain and tried to remember.  It was hard.  Granted, nearly 25 years has gone by – almost half of my life has happened since I graduated from college – but it disturbed me that I could not remember.  I was frustrated that I could not place them.  It feels like life is so fleeting and I could not help but wonder who, in 25 years, I would not be able to place.  Which people who play such a big part of my life today will drift into the obscure regions of my brain and will no longer conjure up clear, distinct memories?  Certainly, I hope no one but I know that is not true.  I know that life changes so rapidly and people come and go based on your life’s circumstances. People change jobs, they move, you drift apart.  It makes me want to hang on so tightly.  It makes me think that I need to commit even more effort to those meaningful relationships to ensure that they endure, that they survive the shifts that so naturally occur in our lives.

I know that change happens in between the milliseconds of time.  I desperately try to slow it down and attempt to capture each moment in order to witness the changes as they occur but it is something like trying to watch a movie and seeing each frame.  It is moving far too fast and our brains cannot keep up.  Regrettably, we can only identify change after it has occurred when we reflect on the difference – the noticeable aspects of someone or something that is not like it was.  Sometimes even after the fact it is imperceptible.  “What’s different about you?” you might ask a friend.  You know it is there but you cannot see it.  Change happens before our eyes but without our eyes being able to see it.

Part of my aching melancholy in life is that I am forever wanting to capture every moment and absorb every last drop of it so I can taste it, let it roll around on my tongue for a while and adhere some permanent memory to my brain.   I want to soak in all of the spectacular – and the not-so-spectacular – aspects of my life so I lose nothing.  Instead, I spend a great deal of time reflecting, trying to recapture, revisit and relish in all those moments.  I worry that, as distance grows, I will forget.  When I am away from home, I try to carry with me reminders of my children.  I want more than just photographs.  I like to store away very specific memories that can dance around in my head so I can visit with them in my mind when I cannot be with them in person.  I close my eyes each time I take off on a plane and play my mental reel, remembering the small moments, the specks of time that made me smile, that made my heart melt.  I ache when I return home and I am certain they have each grown just a little bit taller or their voices have sunken just a little bit deeper while I was away.  Those changes happen during my brief absences yet sometimes it feels like months or years have passed.  Something always shifts while I am gone and I can’t always figure out exactly what but I simply cannot put things back together in the same way from before I left.

In my coaching group, I recently asked my participants to write about a superpower they wish they had.  I thought a lot about this for myself because I never really admired superheroes for their special skills.  I never wanted to fly or have x-ray vision like SuperMan.  I never wanted to have special weapons or fighting skills like Wonder Woman.  What I always fantasized about was time travel.  I wanted to be able to go back and revisit experiences in my life to either relive them or intervene and make corrections.  I want the ability to go back to those amazing moments in time that I struggle to preserve in my mind and see them all over again.  I want to visit with those people from whom I have drifted and remember our special moments and try to recapture some of the magic of those experiences that time has clouded over, leaving behind distant and unfamiliar blurs.  I’d love the ability to make some different choices and perhaps change some situations but, most of all, I just want to visit my memories in full technicolor.

But, alas, absent those abilities, perhaps my journey includes learning to catalog all the wonderful moments of my life and preserve them in my own type of mental storage shed.  Perhaps my lesson is to learn how to extract all the critical vitamins and minerals from those memories in order to use them to nourish me during difficult moments.  Maybe I can learn to utilize all the memories to make sure that my past does not slip like sand through my fingers.  Rather than hanging on for dear life, my fingers slipping from the ledge, I can just let go and drift on into my future blanketed by my history ready to ease my fall.

This afternoon while driving around with my younger son, we had the windows opened, enjoying the first taste of spring.  As we drove down one particular winding road, my son declared ” Mommy, can you smell those smells?  It’s like fresh trees!  I love this street!”  His innocent little 9 year-old brain was enraptured with the early fragrances of the season and the bounty of the fresh air coming in through the windows.  Of course, we could smell the same scents as we drove up our own street but he was convinced this was a magical place that held these special smells.  “Close your eyes and try to remember the smell,” I told him.  “Try to take a picture in your mind so you will always remember this moment with these smells.  Then you will always remember this time when you smell these smells in the future.”  He only understood me a little bit but I knew that I was trying to pass on to him the guidance I give to myself.  I wanted him to be able to always place his memories and be able to observe his life through a lens other than his eyes.  I wanted him to be able to observe his life and all the changes that take place through the memories burnt into his brain.  I hope that when he is 45 and trying to remember the roads in the town he grew up in that he will close his eyes and remember our little spring drive today.

OCEAN VIEWS


IMG_3683“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” – Christopher Paolini

I just took a walk on the beach – a pretty uncommon occurrence for me in February. Fortunately, I have been swept away to Florida for work for the weekend and had the luxury of spending an hour to take a leisurely walk along the ocean, feeling the sand nestling between my toes and listening to the serene sounds of the smashing waves along the sea shelled shore. I often forget the effects the beach has on me. In fact, while I have known I was coming down here for a few months, I gave no thought to packing a bathing suit or even setting aside time to relax on the beach. I looked for excuses to not do anything relaxing and focus the time away on the work that I am here for and any other work I could sneak in with 2 uninterrupted days to myself. It’s odd when I think about it now – why wouldn’t I have focused on the beach, the pool, the spa or some other indulgences for myself? I am staying at the Ritz Carlton – there is an unending array of options for me to pamper myself and, yet, I focused solely on the amount of work I could accomplish while here. I really did not pack a bathing suit and I kept checking the weather hoping for rain.

Yet, once I got here, I could not escape the majesty of the ocean. From the balcony of my room, I immediately felt ensconced in the warmth of the sea air and calmed by the lull of the ocean tide. Peace and calm took over. As I walked along the ocean today, I marveled at how blissful I was and how my brain so easily shut itself down. Of course, being me, I pondered this and, for the first time in a really, really long time, I did not have much to think about except watching the seagulls and breathing in concert with the waves.

The beach has always been a significant part of my life. Perhaps it is because I am a cancer and, as a water sign, feel very connected to the ocean. Perhaps it is because some of my best memories of childhood took place at the beach. Perhaps it is because you simply cannot be stressed when you sit and watch the ocean and become mesmerized by the ebbs and flows of the tide. The calming that comes over you is difficult to be disrupted. When I was very young, my family spent lots of time in Montauk, NY because my father’s parents owned a home there. After coming over from Italy and settling in the Bronx where many Italian immigrants landed, my grandparents decided to truly move out to the country and settled in what was, at the time, a very undeveloped area – a simple fishing village – at the very tip of Long Island. Back in the 60’s when they retired out there, everyone built little cape cod houses on giant pieces of property that remained untouched. My grandparents carved out a piece of their land to develop a vegetable garden that rivaled some produce farms. They replicated the gardens they had grown up with in Sicily and, from their crops, produced some of the most aromatic, magnificent food I have ever tasted. You could not walk into my grandparents’ home without a pot of gravy on the stove or a fresh pizza in the oven. My little 5′ grandmother Annie could cook up a feast for dozens and managed to smack a few fannies with her wooden spoon as the children ran through her house.

In the days when my parents were still living their idyllic life, we would venture out to Montauk several times a year, especially in the summer, and experience some of the most tranquil moments of my lifetime. My grandfather, who always seemed like a little old Italian man (despite his great height and stature), would bounce me on his lap and play with all his grandchildren as we ran around their spacious front yard or ride our bikes along the gravelly, windy roads in their neighborhood. My grandmother would yell at us in Italian if we even dared to step foot near her garden. I was not a particularly adventurous or disobedient child but, sometimes, the curiosity simply took over and I would go down deep into the property to see what all the fuss was about. It was spectacular. In my lifetime I have never seen such elegant eggplants or bright, luscious tomatoes. There were peppers and cucumbers and cauliflower and broccoli. I never had any interest in the actual vegetables but I was fascinated by the magnitude of it all. I would peek my nose over the small fencing around the garden and, without fail, my grandmother chided me and I quickly dashed off to avoid her wrath.

I remember climbing the dunes only to find the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. After my little body made the climb up the steep sand hills, I would just exhale when I saw the waves breaking. I could not wait to run down and tempt my fate, praying not to get swept under. Needless to say, the tide often pulled me in and I emerged laughing and with a bathing suit filled with wet sand. My mother hated the water and, frankly, hated the idea of putting on a bathing suit even more, so she usually sat under an umbrella watching from a distance, smoking a cigarette or reading a book. She never played in the ocean with us but my father, if he was with us, usually came running in to rescue his kids. It was glorious. It is all still so perfectly vivid in my mind. They are precious moments – a short blink of time – that left such impenetrable marks on my soul. The memories represent bliss, serenity, calm, peace, happiness, joy. I pray that I never lose my memory because these are possessions that I cannot safely lock away in a vault to be pulled out and admired. They exist only in my mind. No photographs, no videos, no one left to talk about it with. They are mine and exist only in me. My grandparents’ house has long since been bulldozed – the property developed by the new inhabitants of Montauk. Now it is filled with wealthy weekenders who have moved past the Hampton’s and, while they love the charm of the upgraded fishing community, still want to have their creature comforts – their McMansions, their gourmet kitchens, their in ground pools.

The last time I went back to Montauk was around 1990. I was single and decided to take a weekend for myself. It was an unusual move for me at the ripe old age of 23. My life was all about my friends, my job, dating and having fun. But the quiet, introverted part of me desperately needed to be alone, to recapture the memories of my childhood, to ponder my reality. It was probably the beginning of my journey right there because it was painful and difficult to find peace on that trip. I was confronted with the realities of my life. The idyllic scene I had so masterfully captured and framed in my mind was now being disrupted by the truth of my life. It was infiltrated by divorce, abuse, death, misery, disconnection. The rays of sunlight that shined in my memories were masked by dark clouds and thunderous noise that did not at all resemble the calm and peaceful waves. Suddenly, I was confronting everything that went wrong. Going back to that joyful place made me sad. It brought me pain. I had a journal and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured my sadness onto pages as I sat by the water. I cried. I rode a bike around the village and visited all of my favorite haunts. I went back into White’s Drugstore where I had wandered as a child, buying bubbles, coloring books, postcards to send home to my friends. Everything looked similar but it was all different. I was all different. I was broken and I was first beginning to learn just how broken and was trying to find my way to a repair shop.

I have never been back and, remarkably, have never been there with my husband. I discovered a new happy place with my family – the Jersey Shore. I adopted my husband’s fond memories from his childhood and created new memories with my own family. Our children spent weeks during the summer on Long Beach Island. We take them to Asbury Park. We visited Jenkinson’s Aquarium and played the games on the boardwalk. And, the beach still brings me peace. I still feel the calm. I have managed to push past the sadness of that part of my life and illuminate with the soft glow of distance and understanding. It was just a sliver of my life – just a flicker, a gust of wind – but it also shaped me. It made me who I am today, even if in some small way. I had a glimpse into what life could be and it helped provide me with a simple sketch of what I might want my life to look like. It helped me understand that it is not all bad. Nothing ever is. There is always a silver lining. I am disappointed I don’t have more memories of that family, that house, that beach, that life. Yet, I am grateful it was real, even if just for a split second.

One day I will return to Montauk to try to recall the precious memories with this new mind, with a healed heart. But, for today, I walked on the beach in Florida and succumbed to the pure pleasure that the ocean brings. I was peaceful, I was happy, and I remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

AULD LANG SYNE


AULD LANG SYNEI’ve noticed over the past few days that lots of my friends on Facebook have been posting their “Year in Review” which consists of a series of photos that appeared on their FB wall, randomly selected to encapsulate their activities over the year.  In the past, Facebook would similarly offer up a compilation of your written posts to take a snapshot of what your year was like.  Looking at the images certainly evokes a sense of nostalgia, especially if they’re of close friends and you can remember the events where the photos were taken and partake in the reminiscence of the shared memories.  Frankly, I think about my year a little bit differently.  The photographs certainly remind me of the happy times with all the smiles and laughter that make me feel joyful but I also have to take a close look at the struggles of my year to gain an understanding of what I have learned and how I have grown.  It is imperative to acknowledge and respect the challenges that I have confronted in order to ensure that the learning is etched in my brain and that I can grow and improve in the coming year.

I am currently sitting in my melancholy room – my first floor guest room with its dim lighting and tranquility that always centers me and is my favorite place to write.  I came in here tonight because I was banished from the living room and surrounding rooms because my son has a bunch of friends over for a sleepover.  My husband escaped to our bedroom upstairs with the dogs and I decided I would move to the guest room to lay down and perhaps read for a while.  The moment I stepped into the room, however, I immediately felt nostalgic and thoughtful.  It was so distracting that it rendered me incapable of concentrating on reading.  I became overwhelmed with emotions and was compelled to try to capture the feelings in a meaningful way.  Curiously, this room has taken on an energy of its own for me.  It’s like sitting at the beach and smelling the salt and hearing the waves crash to the shore.  You can feel the sun baking on your skin and all the tension leaves your body nearly instantly.  It is almost impossible to feel tense at the ocean because of the calming and restorative powers of the sea.  The intense feelings that pour over me when I step into this room are inescapable.  I need not contemplate nor ruminate because the moment I open the door and move inside, I am flooded with warmth and calm and creativity takes over.  I don’t exactly know what it is about this room but I have my suspicions as to its magical qualities.

Tonight, when I sat down in here, I decided to text my friend to share some of what I was feeling.  I knew that a little texting was not going to cut it for me as I had a lot in my head and it was more than I could expect a friend to guide me through.  When I settled down with my thoughts, the first thing that came to mind for me was change.  Change is such a constant.  In my job, when we work with our corporate clients, we always teach employees to be prepared for change because it is the one thing that is, ironically, absolutely predictable.  Change is always going to happen.  As long as you are open and willing to engage with the change, you’ll ultimately be fine.  For me, change is certainly familiar.  I am constantly renewing.  Despite my inner desire for predictability and consistency, I have a very primal need for change.  I get bored.  I need to grow and learn.  I need to have new experiences while constantly battling my resistance to trying new things.  I want fresh faces, fresh ideas, yet I rely upon my old standards, the friends who know me for years and years and can help me reassemble my history when it all comes apart in my head.  At the end of every year, I rarely feel sad for the ending and typically feel energized by the renewal and the anticipation of what another new year can bring.  I am hopeful – eternally hopeful – of a better, more prosperous, more satisfying annum.

So, over the last few days when I was looking at everyone’s photos and smiling at some as I recalled the happy memories, I realized that photos could not encapsulate my year.  They only told one small part of the story.  My year was highlighted by things you can never capture in a photograph.  They were small moments – some quiet and some quite loud – that catalyzed me to change, to advance, to propel forward.  Some of the moments were tear-filled because I was sad or in pain.  Some were tear-filled because my heart was so full it hurt.  Some moments were solitary when I searched deep into my soul to find answers to questions that plagued me for a lifetime and still sat unanswered, patiently tapping its feet waiting for me to solve the riddle.  For me, my year was one that brought continued awareness of who I am, where I am going and what is most important in my life.  I suppose this blog is the best snapshot of my year but, of course, I only shared parts of it.  There were still so many moments in between the photos and in between the posts that pushed me from day to day, urging me to shift into the next form that my life needed me to take.

I fell in love this year.  I fell in love with my husband all over again.  I remembered that I have a partner who, through the darkest of days, stands beside me and provides me with unconditional love.  He makes me feel safe and secure even when there is no safety and no security when the wolf is threatening to huff and puff and blow our non-brick house down.  He envelopes me and ensures that I am loved.

I also fell in love with myself this year.  I found a part of me that either had gone missing or I had overlooked for a very long time.  I was able to do that arm-in-arm with some very intimate and special friends who supported me and showed me what I am capable of.  Not many words passed our lips but the power of friendship – really strong and significant friendship – propelled me to discover parts of me that I simply never felt safe enough to explore.

I revisited trust this year.  As the year comes to a close, this idea continues to wash through my mind.  A long, long time ago I stopped trusting.  Probably it happened when I was very little and realized that I could not count on anyone to take care of me.  I learned then to be tough and strong to make sure that I could survive.  I didn’t believe anyone would protect me and I learned how to build a shield, a strong armor to protect myself from anyone trying to break down the fort that I had built.  No one was going to penetrate my castle.  I built a deep moat with a small bridge that only a carefully chosen set of individuals could cross.  Rarely did I let anyone even approach the bridge but this year, not only did I let down the bridge more frequently, I actually gave a select few the passcode to lower it themselves.  No picture can describe the power of that.  No image can articulate the vulnerability I opened myself up to.  And nothing can express the joy and relief that comes from moving out from the shadows and showing myself in full technicolor.

My mother passed this year and, I suspect, with her went floods of pain.  Many locked doors began to swing open, asking to be entered and explored.  It has been painful and powerful and complicated and sad.  It has relocated me mentally and brought me to a new level of being, a new place of understanding.  I feel things I have not felt for many years because I was so locked away, working tirelessly to protect myself from old demons and monsters that had long ago lost their fright.  But, until my mother’s soul left the earth, I could not be freed from decades of pain and struggle.  I am sad to not have been loved in the way a child should be but I am grateful to have developed a sense of enlightenment that, perhaps, would never have been afforded me without the struggle, without my particular journey.  And, now, I have a clear lens to see what I need to see in order to do what I am meant to do in the world.  My mother had her moments and I loved her so much as a young child but she suffered a lifetime of mental illness. While I try to forgive her for all the pain she caused, I still strive to understand the depths of the damage and am continually amazed by the unexpected eruptions.

Nearly 10 months ago, my very astute friend asked me some questions that catapulted me into a search deep within myself that I knew would lead me down a very windy, very narrow, very treacherous road.  And, as this year comes to a close, I know for certain what I only suspected back then was true – this year’s journey was intentional, despite the pain, despite the problems, and its outcomes abundant.  As I sit in my melancholy room, allowing all of my senses to take over, I can only smile a little internal smile knowing that all of the wonderment and all of the magic of my year can be captured only in my mind.  I cannot post it on facebook nor can I even articulate it using my mad writing skills.  It is preserved inside me, providing me with a bounty to catapult me into the next year, hopeful that even more of my unique riches and rewards will be forthcoming.

And, for that, I am quietly and overwhelmingly grateful.

UNINSPIRED


I have been suffering from the worst case of writer’s block for more than a month. I feel uninspired and have not been able to pull a few sentences together to develop a meaningful, interesting blog post. It’s not as if I have not had interesting things going on in my life but I have struggled with connecting the words to the experiences. I am not one of those people who jot down a few sentences and post them to maintain their connection to their blog. I must tell a story – with a beginning, middle and end – and provide some poignant insights that help to move my readers in some way or another. I pressure myself to not be redundant and I try not to be corny or trite. Ultimately, it has left me sitting with a burning passion to put pen to paper without a proper connection from my brain to my hand.

I ultimately decided, after this unwelcome hiatus, that I needed to simply write and let the chips fall where they may. I have done this long enough to know that sometimes that is where the magic comes from. Sometimes allowing myself the freedom of being unstructured without pressuring myself to tie my writing to a meaningful plot, yields some surprising and, often, inspired results.

It has been an interesting few months. I turned 45 a few weeks ago and that was certainly momentous. While I embraced turning 40 with open arms, 45 came with a bit less of a friendly welcome. I began to experience a surprising anxiety about my own mortality. Suddenly the reality that more of my life was behind me than ahead of me became clear and scared me. I started thinking about all of the things that I could have done in my life and the paths I had chosen and wondered, trying not to focus on regret, if I could have made better choices and if I would be able to look back and feel good about the life I had created for myself.

Several years ago I went to a conference and had the pleasure of attending a workshop featuring John Izzo, the author of The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. He shared stories of the individuals he interviewed, all of whom were at the very late stages of their lives, and tried to boil down their wisdom into five key themes. One of the stories he shared with us has stuck with me after many years. He talked about a woman who was well into her 80s who said that when she was in her midlife she developed a guiding principle to help navigate the choices she made in her life. Her barometer was whether or not she could sit in her rocking chair on her porch when she was near the end of her life and look back on her younger self feeling proud and satisfied with the decisions she made. Throughout her life she would channel her older self and imagine how she would evaluate each of the major milestones in her life. If she felt that she would look back with satisfaction, she assured herself it was the right move. If she was afraid of doing something, she would ask herself is she would look back with regret that she chose not to do it. Over the years, I have thought about this woman and tried to apply some of her thinking to my own life. Of course, it is impossible to have the foresight that she suggested but it is an interesting exercise to imagine how your older self, with all its wisdom and insight, might reflect on the pathway you take, with all its winding ways.

As my 45th birthday approached, I was actually pretty excited because I decided to celebrate what was likely the turn of midlife (let’s hope that I have 45 more years!) and embrace it thoroughly. The last time I threw myself a birthday party was when I was 40 and I really did not want to have to wait until I turned 50 to celebrate again so I decided, months ago, to throw myself a party and invite all of the people I love to come and celebrate with me. The anticipation of the party definitely softened the blow of the reality of my age – the fact that I really was entering a new phase of life and only 5 years away from an AARP membership. It distracted me from the fact that most of the adults I knew growing up were now dead and that some of my own peers were nearing the point where illnesses and disease were beginning to impact their lives. It made it easier for me to look around at my friends and see how our children were all reaching adolescence or beyond and that we were no longer young parents with babies whose lives were still balls of clay that needed to be molded. Suddenly we had children with distinct personalities, their own personal challenges, raging hormones, and who were beginning to embark on their own journeys to navigate through the struggles of nearing adulthood. It seemed hard to believe that all of this could have happened in the short time I was alive but, in fact, nearly a half century had passed since I took my first breath. Time was marching on and I was not ready to absorb that.

I decided to host a Hawaiian luau because I wanted to do something fun and different and I knew that my group of friends always enjoy a good theme party and will do everything they can to embrace it and push it right over the top. And, they did not let me down. The 50 or so friends that came to celebrate with me all have a special place in my heart which made the party enormously fun and poignant. Each and every attendee has touched me in some meaningful way which is why I asked them to be a part of it. One of my friends, days after the party, reached out to tell me how much she enjoyed the party and said that it felt like a big love fest. What more could I have asked for? I was showered with love and surprises. While I made the decision to host the party, my husband and several very dear friends jumped in and took care of everything, showing me love in ways that I would never have imagined. Not only did it take the pain out of turning 45, it made me realize that when I am old and looking back on my life, I will have a lot of beautiful memories that will warm my heart. There is a saying that I cannot recall clearly but it is something about how the people around you are a direct reflection of what you put into the world. What I interpret that to mean is that you will be surrounded by people who give to you what you put out into the world. I hope that I am actually giving out as much love as is coming back at me because I feel loved and that feels great.

It’s been an interesting few years for me and with each passing day, week, month and year, I continue to reflect on where I have come from and try to carve out a clear path of where I am heading. I am trying to be present and enjoy each moment rather than anticipate what’s around the corner (that is certainly a challenge for me and a discipline that needs some development) so that I can be sure that my older self will not wince and sit in her rocker wishing that I had spent a bit more time soaking in the happiness and joy rather than worrying about the pain and sadness that will inevitably arrive. I want her to feel like she left even a small legacy and was able to see it and appreciate it and feel the power of it. I want her to have deep laugh lines around her eyes because she has laughed through tears and smiled big. I want her heart to be filled and bursting because there has been so much love in her life that it is almost more than she can accommodate. I want her to look at her children and see that they have grown into beautiful men who have love in their joyful, meaningful lives. I want her to reminisce on the love affair with her husband that never waned. I want her to know that, no matter when she leaves the earth, that she lived, loved, was loved and had an extraordinary life that touched many. I want her to feel fulfilled and at peace. I want her to be surrounded by others who have shared the journey with her and can smile and laugh with her as they remember the highs and the lows, the joy and the pain, all of which made up their deeply textured, meaningful lives.

And, hopefully, she won’t remember the days that were uninspired.

FLOURISHING


I have never fancied myself much of a gardener. In fact, I might be the worst gardener that ever lived. I have no proclivity for gardening, no passion for it and nothing in the way of talent. No green thumbs here. However, ritually, every spring, I set out to tackle some type of approach to gardening in my yard. I have selected some shrubs that I really like – hydrangea and lilacs and roses – and I make a valiant effort of pruning and creating flower arrangements in pots for my front and back doors. And I do ok. Nothing spectacular. I am scrappy so I don’t too much research. I go by my gut and get drawn in to the pretty colors. I try to follow the directions of placing plants where they will get enough sun and make sure to space them far enough apart to grow to their potential. Invariably, I am cutting back wayward rose bushes and overgrown black beauties but I do my best.

Growing up, my father, an Italian immigrant, was the one who handled all the gardening in our family. Even though he and my mother divorced when I was young, I have memories of him mowing the lawn, planting shrubs, taming the roses and taking great pride in the manicured landscaping of our home. My mother could barely maintain a houseplant since she hardly ever let any light into the house. She kept the shades drawn because she believed there would be less dust that way (after all, the sunlight allows you to see the dust particles so she was able to fool herself into believing that if she did not see it, it did not exist.) I do not have that many fond memories of my father since he was not around all that much and, when he was, his drinking created an inordinate amount of chaos in our home. But, I do recall his work in the garden as something he was passionate about and it brings me warmth when I smell the fresh-cut grass or breathe in the scent of freshly bloomed roses. It takes me right back to being a little girl and standing in our small yard that was fenced in with the typical Queens chain link fence. My father managed to bring some beauty to our very drab row house. We had a corner property so there was lots of room on the side of the house to plant all types of shrubs and there was a large lawn in the front of the house. I remember my mother lamenting about this after my father was gone for it was a lot of work to maintain our property and I recall the days when the roses became overgrown and infected, the grass was tall and the shrubs were no longer perfectly pruned. The disarray of our gardens were a perfect metaphor for the chaos of our lives.

Yesterday I spent the day in my own garden, paring down my enormously overgrown butterfly bushes and trimming the lilacs that decided to bloom far too early and, as I do every year, I thought about my father and these tender memories. Last year, on my first day out in the garden, I was unusually angry. I resented the fact that I was the one trimming the roses because, in that moment, I irrationally believed it was the man’s job to handle that. That’s a pretty remarkable thought for someone like me who fancies herself a feminist and does not ever define gender roles in that way. But, emotions are a powerful force and mine resulted in irrational resentment and surprising nostalgia for a man who, otherwise, was not a very loving father. With every branch I snipped from my climbing rose shrubs, I longed for a man who would, like my father, take care of the important details like landscaping. In all fairness, my husband is pretty awesome about taking care of the outside of our home and, of course, my emotions had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the loss I was feeling at that moment. I was suffering from never having had the opportunity to experience a traditional father-daughter relationship and the only connection I could drum up was the one that overwhelmed me as I got thorns stuck in my hands as the large branches came down. The stickiness and pain that came with each thorn pressing into my skin was a reminder of what I lost when my father walked away all those years ago.

My father died last year and, in contrast to when my mother died, I found myself to be very emotional. However, similar to with my mother, I had been estranged from my father for many years – decades, in fact. He and I never had much of a relationship at any point in my life in that I was so young when he left and his alcoholism was so corruptive to everything in his life – especially his relationship with his family. He tried to forge a bond with me when I was in college but, after so many years of being told what a bastard he was by my mother and feeling alienated and confused, it was hard, even as a young adult, to bridge that gap. I regret that we never had that opportunity because I know, at his core, my father was a kind and loving man – and he and I were very much alike. Those who have known me since I was a little girl have always told me that all the goodness in me comes from my father – which makes it that much more difficult to accept the fact that he and I did not have a relationship. I would have liked to have known him differently and have had him enrich my life in positive ways. Alas, that was not possible for so many reasons – primarily because he was drunk for most of his life and was not that great guy that everyone remembered.

When my father died and I surprised myself with my emotional reaction, I spent some time trying to understand how I could feel sad about losing someone who never really was a part of my life – someone who caused a lot of pain in my life. I suspected it was because I managed to find a way to forgive him and release some of the pain I experienced. Or, maybe it was because he and I had a deeper bond that simply never had the opportunity to blossom. Whatever the reason, I am grateful that I sat with the feelings and allowed myself to make my peace with them.

Yesterday, when I was undergoing my annual ritual in the garden, I decided to make it joyous. I chatted with friends and then listened to music – for hours. I spend a large chunk of my day trimming, planting, mulching and found it calming and enriching. My skills are no better, my eye is no more sophisticated and I am not sure what results will be yielded from my efforts. However, I was at peace. I remembered my father with fondness. I thought about all those summer afternoons when he would put on his shorts and t-shirt and sport his white boat shoes and tend to the garden. Memories I will forever cherish.

MEMORIES


When I look at my children, I often wonder what they will remember when they grow up. I hope that they are capturing some of the amazing moments of their lives and that they are etched in their brains for all of their lifetimes. However, I fear that the only things that stick are the very highs and the very lows. I fear that every bitter fight my husband and I have had in front of them will be emblazoned in their memories and will surface when they are adults and engaged in their own complicated relationships. I pray that they will also cherish our wonderful family vacations, the nights we sit in our house and laugh at the dinner table and the special times they spend with their friends.

My very first memory is from when I was 4 or 5. I was in my most favorite place on Earth – Montauk, NY – where my father’s parents lived throughout most of my early childhood. They had emigrated from Italy when my father was a young boy and settled in the Bronx where many Italian immigrants ended up in the 20s and 30s. When my father was a young adult, his parents bought property at the Easternmost end of Long Island in a community that was largely unsettled and he, his father and his brother set out to build a charming cape cod where my grandparents would live until their deaths decades later.

In my memory, my family is at the Montauk Motel – a place that we frequently stayed at while out east. My mother did not get along too well with her in-laws and did not enjoy staying at other people’s houses so we often rented rooms at what I would now consider to be a bit of a dive but, at the time, was paradise to me. There was a kidney-shaped pool with a waterfall that sat within a concrete patio and, when we stayed on the second floor of the motel, I would often hang over the edge of the balcony to watch the water cascade down. It was definitely during the summer because we only went there when the weather was warm and my mother, my older brother and I had probably been there for a few days and we were awaiting the other guests who would arrive for the weekend. At the time, my family was still pretty intact and my father would be arriving along with the others on Friday night. We often vacationed with our neighbors – my parents’ best friends, Evie and Billy -and sometimes their adult kids would join us for a visit too. My older sister, who was dating her future husband at the time, would also come out to visit for the weekend and it was simply sublime to have everyone I loved in one place and experience something that I can only equate to being pure happiness. In fact, I believe this memory stands out to me so much because it is the only blissful childhood memory I have.

On this particular day, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my parents’ friends and was standing up on that second floor balcony jumping around like an antsy child is inclined to do. I kept peering over the side of the rail to see if I could find their car pulling into the small parking lot on the side of the building. I ran in and out of our room at least a dozen times asking my mother when they would arrive. She had little patience for my impatience and, in between puffs of her cigarette, told me to go outside and look for them. My brother was off somewhere likely getting into trouble with the friends he made each summer. They would pull pranks on the little kids and I often wondered what type of secret activities were going on behind the motel.

Finally I spotted Evie and Billy’s white Monte Carlo pull into the driveway and could hear the rustling of the pebbles beneath the tires as they parked. I was jumping out of my skin and could not wait to see their faces. Billy, a NYC taxi driver and former butcher, was a bundle of sunshine. He was a jokester who lived to make people laugh. He often talked about how much he enjoyed entertaining the passengers in his cab and shared stories of celebrities he would chat up during their rides. As an adult, whenever I ride in a cab, I often wonder how Billy would fare today with his big moustache, thick Brooklyn accent and wry Jewish humor.

Evie played the straight man to Billy and, while she had a heart filled with love, she struggled to show it as freely as he did. Nonetheless, they were like second parents to me and my heart beamed when I was with them. I spent so much time in their house that they suggested that they should be able to write me off on their taxes. Later in my childhood when my days were very dark and I searched for a safe haven, their house was my sanctuary. Evie was a redheaded beauty and made sure that everyone knew how beautiful she was. Every Friday afternoon I would walk over to the beauty parlor by our house in Queens and watch her get her nails done. She and my mother were so close and so similar in many ways but, unlike my own mother, she had a lot more confidence about her looks and took every opportunity to primp and beautify herself. My mother went to the salon every week to have her hair done but never indulged in such luxuries as a manicure or pedicure. I loved watching Evie get her long beautiful nails polished and lamented as I looked down at my own chewed off nails that I only dreamed would one day be long enough to be manicured. It was one of the many aspects of my personal being that I was embarrassed about as a child. I was a chronic nail-biter – a habit my mother often tried to break me of using a variety of tactics, most unsuccessfully berating me and telling me how ugly my hands looked.

When I saw Evie and Billy make their way to the concrete surround of the pool and head towards the steps to come up to the balcony, I immediately burst into tears. I sobbed like a baby, so filled with emotion to see these two who I loved so much and whom I knew loved me back purely and unconditionally. To this day, this memory assures me that I was capable of feeling deep emotion before I became numb to what was happening around me.

I am often taken back to this memory, especially when I begin to explore the topic of vulnerability because I know, for certain, that I was raw and pure and unfiltered in that moment. I felt safe and secure enough to let my feelings show to these people who I knew, without a doubt, loved me and protected me. As an adult, when I reflect on this, I wonder how anyone could possibly recapture a moment, a feeling as pure as that. I am sure you can but it eludes me.

When I look at my children, I pray that they will be able to feel loved and secure enough to allow themselves to experience raw emotions not just at their tender young ages but throughout their lives. And I fear that life will simply get in their way.