Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sacred

As Christmas Eve and Hanukkah arrived this morning, I woke up incredibly thankful to celebrate the holidays surrounded by grace, peace, and hope.  This year in particular I’m blessed beyond belief and it only keeps getting better.  Wishing you all a wonder-filled season of light.  
Here’s a Christmas memory from 2012…for the Sharmas with love.


“Sacred”

Being with the Sharmas has healed me in ways that are difficult to articulate.   For it's not in words that I find myself in relationship to them.  It's in how I feel whenever we spend time together.  The easy comfort with which they welcome me.  The way they allow me to share myself with their children.  The way Nidhi calls to chat and ask how I’m doing.   To let me know that they miss me.  To plan a play date or a special event or a surprise for one of the kids. 
It's been a joy to take them all to Putt Putt Miniature Golf.  To drive Satish and Danta to and from soccer practice.  To beam like a proud aunt from the sidelines when they score a goal or make an assist.  A couple of years ago, Amita's Girl Scout troop held an Edible Book Contest, and I was honored when Leena asked me to help her create a whimsical display that brought The Giving Tree to life.  And what a delight to see her win first prize!
I've been there for their birthday celebrations, for homework and handwriting drills.  For lost teeth and Halloween trick-or-treating.  I've watched the boys learn to read and the girls grow into kind and caring young women.  When I come over for a visit, Danta loves to read to me in a variety of hilarious voices, my favorite being his infamous "cowboy" which sounds just like a southern drawl.  Satish always asks if we can play a game:  Parcheesi or chess, Monopoly, or my personal favorite, The Game of Life.  We don't mind bending the rules a bit on the latter as I like to teach Satish the value of buying a house that you can afford (and still have enough money for the insurance). 
I've delighted in taking the boys to Children's Wonderland, a holiday exhibit and play center that I used to visit as a child.  Their expressions are priceless as we pass the lighted displays and decorated trees.  Like me, Satish says his favorite exhibit is the one with the animated raccoon family getting dressed and ready for their daily adventures. 
The first year, as we walked past the Nativity, Satish pointed to the three wise men and said, "Look...those guys are from India."
I nodded.  "Yes...those are the three wise men from the east.  They brought gifts for the baby."
"Is that Jesix?" Danta asked.  "Isn't He your favorite god 'cause you have a picture of Him in your yoga room?"
"Yes, that's Jesus," I replied.  "And that's why we have Christmas.  To celebrate His birthday."
"What are you?" Satish asked, wrinkling his brow.
"What do you mean?"
"Well...you know about Jesus and you also know the words to the Hindu songs we sing," he said.  "Are you Christian or Hindu...or what?"
"I like how Gandhi explained it," I told him.  "He was from Gujarat...just like your family.  He said, 'I'm a Hindu and a Christian and a Muslim and a Jew.’"
"What's that mean?"
"It means I love to learn about all religions," I smiled.  "Paths are many...God is One."
Satish nodded.  "My Ba says that too."
Like Satish, I also call his grandmother "Ba."  I love to sit at her feet and listen to her tell Hindu stories of gods and goddesses.  She explains their symbolism and the lessons they provide for our own spiritual awakening.  We can talk for hours, and sometimes, we practice a little yoga or breathing.  Sometimes we enjoy a cup of tea.
Always we share a lot of love.

Like the flowers that bloom in my garden each summer, the time I spend with the Sharmas is beautiful and vibrant.  Still, the blossoms are gorgeous, yet transitory, soon to diminish until another season comes around.  The same is true in our busy lives, so I cherish the moments with Nidhi's family, for the wheel of time is always turning and there's always something new on the horizon. 
Nevertheless, because of all the work I've already put into the tilling, the planting, the watering and weeding, the pruning and the nurturing, my gardens have become effortless to sustain.  And so it is with Nidhi and her husband, Ashoke.  With Amita and Leena.  With Danta and Ba.
And of course, with my adorable friend, Satish. 
Once when I was watching the boys while the rest of the family was away for the evening, Danta asked me why I didn't have any children.
"Don't you want any?" he wanted to know.
I nodded, giving him a tender smile.  "For a long time I did.  But now I can't have any."
"Are you sad about it?"
"Not anymore," I replied, leaning my shoulder against his.  "I have you.  It's like you're my little boy when I'm here."
Danta grinned.
"Am I your little boy, too?" Satish asked. 
"Of course," I said, kissing his cheek. 
I remembered a precious moment with them the previous Christmas.  Satish and Danta were at my house one evening while their parents were shopping.  Tired from a long day of play and holiday fun, the boys wanted me to read stories until it was time to drive them home.  Sitting in the rocking chair, they both snuggled on my lap and listened while I read Berenstain Bear books in the glow of the lights on the tree. 
Especially at Christmastime, I had wanted to hold a child of my own...in my arms...and in my heart. 
And now I had two.
They feel asleep in the car as we drove back to their house, the stars twinkling in the cobalt blue sky.  When I pulled in the driveway, Nidhi walked outside to greet me.  She saw her sleeping angels in the backseat, covered with a fleece blanket and smiled.
"Thank you for taking such good care of the boys," Nidhi whispered. "They were looking forward to seeing you all day."
I've been looking forward to this my whole life, I thought. 

I've waited a long time to be the aunt I've always wanted to be.  To help nurture children who I can watch grow, becoming more of who they have been created to be.  To cheer them on in their successes and encourage them in their struggles.  To actively participate in their lives now and optimistically anticipate the journeys they have yet to take.  To celebrate moments in their lives, big and small. 
To give to them all the love I have that's overflowing with thanksgiving for the scared space they have filled in my heart. 



           
     
   


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Open Road: Year Four - Still Here

The Introduction to 

In August of this year, I took a trip to Sedona, Arizona.  A friend and I had talked about going ever since our teaching days, more than twenty years ago.  As a surprise gift for my fiftieth birthday, Sandy made all of those hopes and dreams a reality.  Every morning we hiked in the red rocks, soaking in the incredible energy of the many vortexes around Sedona.  Every evening we watched the sun set over a mesa that is indescribably beautiful. 
The rock formations were mesmerizing.  The millions of years they’ve been on this planet, mindboggling.  Yet the countless faces I saw on the craggy mountainsides reminded me that it often takes eons to create something both magical and mystical. 
In 2016, I often ran into people from my past who I hadn’t seen in a while, some for more than a decade.  They kindly asked, “Are you still teaching yoga?”  “Still writing?”  “Still trying to get published?”
I nodded, silently acknowledging all of the things with which I’m still determinedly engaged after all these years. 
“Wow,” one person said.  “Your persistence is inspiring.”
Later, when I took the time to meditate on it, I marveled at the longevity of my tenacity, and I also acknowledged the toll it’s taken to be where I am, still in this place of waiting for the fruition of what seems like a lifetime of diligence and patience.  Yet entering a new decade has allowed me to look back with gratitude for that which has passed and look forward to all that is still yet to be. 

The past year has been filled with complete surprises, some wonderful.  Some not so much.  Still, each one has allowed me to be more willing to let go of the past, more open to new experiences, more honest in sharing my life.  In preparing this book of essays, I’ve noticed the theme of death and resurrection rising to the surface.  As I’ve taken another trip around the upward spiral of my life unfolding I’ve been able to reveal my True colors, I’ve learned to Fly like an eagle.  I can feel safer when I let my Dude treat me like a lady and I finally figured out that This is it.  It’s not always been an easy journey, but it’s certainly been a fruitful one.  Now, more than ever, I’m thankful for it all.

The mesas in Sedona have stood in one place for millions of years, slowly evolving to become the stunning wonder that they are today.  The passing ages have created beauty and generated energetic vortexes that have the power to heal and inspire those who are fortunate enough to stand in their midst. 
Perhaps the same is true for each one of us.  We may not have millions of years, but as long as we’re still here, there’s a purpose and meaning to our lives.  I’m so thankful to be here.
Still learning.
Still growing.
Still evolving.



You can purchase paperback and digital versions of Open Road - Still Here on Amazon.com




Monday, December 5, 2016

December 13, 1990

       The holiday season is here and for many of us, it's a bittersweet time.  Since Thanksgiving, yoga classes have been filled with students whose eyes glisten with tears while they talk about loved ones they've lost, family members who are ill, rifts between  friends.   The holidays can be a conundrum...this time of intermingling nostalgia and hopeful anticipation. 
            My grandfather died suddenly in December, 1990 and for years, Christmas was never the same.  As the winter solstice approached in 1994, I remember saying to a friend,  "God will have to bring me something very special at Christmastime to make up for the loss of my grandfather."   I waited twenty-two years for the fruition of that gift, but it was worth the wait, for I recently started seeing a man who has shown me that while no one can ever take the place of Granddaddy, someone can come along and make me feel unconditionally loved.  Yesterday, after a wonderful afternoon out and about, I told him, "You embody so many of the qualities my grandfather had...he was kind and generous and compassionate.  Since he died, you're the best man I know."   Christmas this year might still be bittersweet, but when I'm with my new sweetheart, each moment is both magical and mysterious.  
           So here's a bit of my memoir which recalls that day in December, 1990 when my life was irrevocably changed.  This year I hope my incomparable grandfather is looking down on me with a twinkle in his eye,  overjoyed that I've finally found more happiness than I can hold.




"December 13, 1990"

It’s Thursday night and I’m supposed to be at choir practice.  Ms. Francis, the director, has moved me from the alto section down to the tenors in the hopes that I can keep them on pitch.  We’ve been practicing in earnest for Christmas Eve and they have yet to learn the chorus to “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  It’s the “Gloria” part that skunks them every time. 
But tonight I can’t speak, so I certainly can’t sing.
I need a night off.  I’ve been taking classes for my Master’s Degree and in addition to singing in the choir, I’ve been subbing for Sunday School and handbells.  I like to stay busy.  It keeps me from thinking about how lonely I often feel, especially during the holidays. 
This year I’m teaching first grade and really love it.  Who knew?  The kids give me hugs and sit on my lap when they read Sun Up and Happy Morning.  My advanced group is already in Magic Afternoon!  They draw pictures of flowers and dogs and sharks that I proudly hang on my desk and the surrounding walls.  “I love you, Miss Ingersoll,” many of them print with their colorful crayons. 
One of them came to me the other day to have his glue bottle refilled.  “This thing sounds like my aunt’s dog when I squeeze it,” he announced.  Leaning in closer, he whispered dramatically, “It FARTS!”
I could hardly keep from laughing.  I can't imagine a better grade level…and what a surprise it’s been.
Still, all the sniffles and tears leave germs everywhere, so I’m struggling with another round of strep throat.  The doctor has me on antibiotics that take away the pain, but I still can't talk.  So here I sit on this cold and snowy night, reading a book and sipping hot tea with extra honey.
The holiday break is coming next week and I can't wait for two weeks of freedom.  I’m thinking of adopting another cat to join Scout, my one-year-old tabby, who’s been a treasure.  I still can’t believe I used to be terrified of cats!  Now I can’t imagine my life without her.  Granddaddy says I’m nuts, that one cat is more than enough.  He says I should get a dog, but I can’t.  The apartment I live in is " cats only," which is why last fall Scout joined me instead of a puppy. 
Granddaddy is coming up for Christmas again this year.  He just retired in September, right after his seventy-fifth birthday.  He told me that he’s set aside some money for my sisters and me (for a little nest egg), but that if he wants a steak, he’ll eat a real one, not a “tube steak” (a.k.a. a hotdog).
“You spend all that money, Granddaddy,” I told him smiling.  “You worked long and hard to earn it…you enjoy it.”
I’m glad he’ll have time to relax and rest and do all the things he wants to do.  I’m not exactly sure what all those things are, but I imagine he’ll stay busy with the library guild and his church.  My grandfather personifies “practice what you preach.”
Now I go into the kitchen for another cup of tea.  The clock on the stove says “7:30.”  I wonder if I should call in sick for tomorrow.  I spent the whole day resting and am feeling better.  Maybe I'll wait until the morning and decide then.
I go back into the living room and sit in the rocking chair.  Karen Carpenter sings “Ave Maria” on the tape deck.  My Christmas tree glistens in the corner and I have a small water pistol nearby if Scout makes a mad dash for any of the low lying ornaments.  For now she’s curled up on the back of the couch, her tail wrapped daintily around her pink little nose. 
The intercom buzzer startles me with its shrill noise.  Who’s over here this late? I wonder.  I get up and cross the room, then press the button.  “Yes?”
“Katie…it’s me."
I let Greta into the building, then open the door to my apartment.  A wave of cold air follows her as she climbs the stairway.  I know something’s wrong.  Her face is puffy and her eyes are red.
“What’s the matter?” I ask.  My voice is hoarse and gravely.
We step inside the door.
“Mom and Dad wanted me to come over and tell you…they didn’t want to call.”
“What?”
“Granddaddy died.”
I dissolve into tears and feel my heart pounding in my chest.
We sit on the couch while Greta explains.  “Dad has been trying to call him for the past two days, and he got no answer.  This afternoon he called the neighbors and they found him sitting at the bottom of the steps.”
“Heart attack?”
Greta shrugs.  “They think so…or maybe a stroke.”
“How’s Dad?”
“He’s pretty upset.  They’re going down there tomorrow.  The funeral will probably be next Monday or Tuesday.”
I nod, not knowing what to say. 
Greta fills me in on the details and lets me know we can all make the long drive to Granddaddy's house together over the weekend.
When she leaves, I curl up on the couch, tears falling down my face.  My throat feels raw.  My head hurts.  I don’t want to do anything but lie there in the dark and stare at the lights on the tree.  I think of the fruitcake I had made for Granddaddy at Thanksgiving so the brandy could steep for a month before Christmas.  It’s been our annual tradition since I moved out on my own.  I make the fruitcake…he makes the hard sauce and everyone enjoys the once-a-year treat after Christmas dinner. 
Now I’m tempted to just throw it away. 
I don’t want Christmas this year if my grandfather won’t be there.

A few days later my family sits in a small alcove in the funeral home, waiting for the service to begin.  Granddaddy’s friends fill the outer room and I can hear the soft murmur of their voices.  Uncle Bill sits to my right and I give him a weak smile.  He nods and pats my hand that clutches a wad of soggy tissues. 
I can’t stop crying.  For the past few days we’ve been walking through the fog of funeral preparations and planning when we can come back to close up Granddaddy’s house.  Last night I slept in his bed, covered with a quilt Great-Grandmother Ingersoll had hand-stitched years ago.  This morning while everyone was getting ready, I walked through the clothes hung in the basement and pressed my face into my grandfather's sweaters and coats, breathing in the spicy, sweet scent of his aftershave.  That’s when I started crying, and for the past three hours, a steady flow of oily tears has slipped down my cheeks and chin.
The service begins and the pastor reads some passages from the Bible.  One of the scriptures startles me for a moment:  it’s the same verse I had taped to my kitchen cupboard when I moved back to Toledo.  “We live by faith and not by sight.”  I smile through my tears...wondering if this is one last message from my grandfather.
After the eulogy, the pastor says a prayer for our family.  Near the end, he says, “Our thoughts and prayers are with John's family."  He proceeds to read a list of names, ending with my cousins, Lori and John.  "May they all find peace and comfort in the days ahead.”
My heart pounds and my throat tightens.  I sniffle and wipe my eyes, unable to look at anyone.  The pastor said everyone's name but mine.  I have been forgotten, and for some reason I can’t explain, I feel ashamed and irrelevant.
Afterwards we drive in a huge limousine to the burial plot.  I pay no attention to the winding road that takes us there.  Instead, through swollen eyes, I gaze out the window and watch the barren trees and snow-covered mountains in the distance.  

Of all the losses in my life thus far, the pain of losing my Granddaddy is the most lingering.  The pain was intensified by the shock of losing him too soon, by the grief of never getting to tell him how much I loved him…just one more time.  While I'm thankful that Granddaddy didn't suffer through a long illness or the need for extended care, I still wish he could have lived longer.  But doesn't everyone who is blessed with a kindred spirit for a grandparent?
Before his death, I had attended many funerals.  My Auntie Veda’s was the first.  She was a close friend of the family and I was only sixteen when she passed.  The memory of seeing her darling granddaughter toddle through the funeral home and do somersaults in front of Auntie Veda’s casket reminds me that the endless circle of life and death will forevermore keep this world turning. 
Granddaddy’s second wife, Mary, died a few months after Auntie Veda.  Her visitation was packed with former students, friends, and colleagues and the line outside the funeral home wound around the building for nearly a city block.  During both nights, I often sidled up to Granddaddy, offering him a glass of water or a tissue.  More often than not, all he wanted was to hold my hand, his bony fingers squeezing mine.  I leaned against him and he leaned back, allowing me to be a support for him as he had always been for me.
Of course I knew death was finite.  By then our family had lost a couple of Schnauzers and a handful of hamsters and gerbils.  The neighbor boy across the street had died in a motorcycle accident.  Older members of our church were mourned in memorial services every year.  I thought I knew the power of death.
But then Granddaddy passed, and I realized there are endless opportunities to learn how to mourn.  In the midst of letting him go, a very familiar thorn was once again thrust into my heart.  As the final prayer was said and my name was omitted, it felt as if another nail was being hammered into the coffin of my identity.  As if I didn't even exist in one of the most pivotal moments in my life. 
After the funeral, there was a wake at Granddaddy’s house.  I was standing in the kitchen making a cup of tea when Uncle Bill came up the narrow stairway.  He gently cupped my shoulder and apologized for the pastor’s mistake.  “You know your Granddaddy would never forget you.”
Tears stood in my eyes as I nodded silently.
“And that’s what’s most important, Katie,” Uncle Bill continued.  “You meant the world to him.”
More than two decades later, it is still a bittersweet memory and every time I see my Uncle Bill, I am reminded of his kindness and generosity on that sorrowful day. 

In the years following Granddaddy’s death, I would often dream of him.  The dreams were vivid, tangible experiences.  I could feel the touch of his skin, the smell of his aftershave, the sound of his voice.  We would sit and talk about my life and the afterlife.  Granddaddy's body was the same, but his eyes seemed brighter, his spirit more open. 
In gleaning pictures and keepsakes from Granddaddy’s house, I was gifted with photographs from the late sixties in which my grandfather is holding Patricia and me.  In every single one, I am tucked into his left arm, near his heart, and he is smiling at me.  One of them sits on the altar in my yoga studio, a constant reminder of the gentleness that was the great gift of my grandfather’s spirit.
I was also given the beautiful hand-made quilt that had covered his bed for decades.  Just this morning I was airing it out and marveled at the intricate flower pattern and the endless hours it must have taken Grandmother Ingersoll to complete such a remarkable heirloom.  Infused with the richness of my heritage, it is one of my greatest treasures.
Since December 13, 1990, I have experienced a host of transitions.  With each one, no matter how terrified I might be to take that next step of living by faith and not by sight...of walking through doors that are open instead of banging on ones that have been locked forever, I choose to remember Granddaddy’s words the night we had dinner together.
“You are strong and brave and I know that you’ll always be able to land on your feet,” he had said.  “You can be on your own and you’ll be fine.”
Granddaddy was right.  I've always been able to take care of myself.  But I'm not all that certain I've always been alone.  For after my grandfather's passing, providential experiences began to open my awareness to the great mysteries of life, and even today, I still feel his spirit with me...always.



Thursday, December 1, 2016

All I really want for Christmas

All I really want for Christmas
Originally published on December 10, 2013

Last February my pal, Satish, asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year.
"That's a long way off," I replied. 
"I know," he nodded. "But what do you want?"
"A boyfriend," I smiled.
He grinned, knowing how the subject of my singlehood often comes up with him and his little brother, Danta.  Both are perplexed that I'm as old as their Papa, but still on my own.
"Do you ever want to get married?" Satish asked.
"Maybe....but I want to practice first."
I let that conversation drift away and didn't really think about it much this past year.  Writing a new manuscript, teaching yoga, and keeping up with a new kitten has kept me focused and busy.  Now that the holidays have rolled around again, I'm reminded how much our culture focuses on Christmas as a gateway to engagements, to "Baby's first holiday," to all things family related. 
When I was younger, a mild depression would set in around Thanksgiving and hover over every part of the season.  Media reminded me again and again that I didn't have what was typical...normal...desirable.  Impressionable and unable to separate the advertisements from reality, I would boost my confidence by telling myself, "Next year you'll have someone...next year you'll have what you really want.  Next year...next year...next year."
         
Since then, a couple of decades have passed and all of those "next years" have evolved into something completely different.  Now I appreciate the holiday season as a time to decorate for the many yoga students and friends who pass in and out of my home.  I make nearly all of the gifts I give and enjoy watching excited faces try on handwarmers and socks and hats.  I play Holiday Bingo and practice fun seasonal yoga poses with my kids (candy cane, reindeer, and chimney, just to name a few) and delight in watching them make up their own renditions of Santa's sleigh and Jingle Bells. 
I've made peace with the fact that my life is as it is meant to me...now and always.  And while as a single woman, I don't have a family of my own, I do have the time and space to choose a different way of enjoying the season.  No one asks me what I want for Christmas and to be honest, there's nothing missing from my life...not really.
I'm reminded of the first Harry Potter book in which Harry spends part of his first Christmas at Hogwarts discovering the Mirror of Erised.  Dumbledore explains that the happiest person on earth would look into the mirror and see himself/herself exactly as he/she is.  It's taken a long time, but now when I see the reflection of my own life, I wouldn't change a thing.
But I'm still open to whatever unseen gifts the future will bring.

Last night Satish, Danta and I were discussing the fact that I no longer wear my wedding ring.  Danta asked me why I still wasn't married to a real person.  "You're older than my Papa," he explained.  "You should be married."
"You mean I should marry just any old guy even if I don't really like him...just to say I'm married?"
He pondered this.  "You mean what if he doesn't like your cats and he picks his nose and he yells and messes up your yoga room?"
"Well, everyone picks their nose now and then," I giggled.  "Just not in public."
Danta and Satish burst out laughing. 
"Yeah, but what about all that other meanie stuff?" Danta asked.
"Well, a guy like that wouldn't last two minutes in my house," I said.
"He wouldn't last two seconds!" Danta quickly replied.
Ah, that kid really knows me well.
"What kinds of things should I look for in a good husband then?" I asked the boys.
"Well, he should like kids," Danta said earnestly.
"And he should be honest," Satish nodded.
"And be kind," said Danta.
"And be generous," echoed Satish.
"And he should be really peaceful," Danta smiled. 
"Wow...those are really good qualities," I smiled.  "You guys will have to pray that someone like that is sent my way...and if it's meant to be...it will be."
"We will," Satish promised. 
         Earlier this morning I was pondering their list and realized these are the things I really want for Christmas...not necessarily in a man, but to embody within myself.  To be playful with children.  To be honest and kind and generous.  To live in peace.  How wonderful to know that all I really want this holiday season can't be found beneath my Christmas tree...but already lives inside my heart.  





Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Popcorn and jellybeans

Popcorn and jellybeans
Originally published on November 6, 2014

One of the most lovely and haunting sights at the park this season is the bittersweet bursting with oranges, reds, and yellows as it finally has the opportunity to show off a little.  Autumnal weather has withered my garden and with it, my chores have changed.  No longer needing to weed and water, I've been pruning and purging and raking for the past several weeks. Wrapping burlap around the shrubs.  Covering the flower beds with a blanket of mulch. This season, I saved the biggest job for last, or rather, I waited for the bitter north winds to do half of the job for me, transforming the wild trumpet vine that grows along the backyard fence from a lush and vibrant privacy hedge into spindly twigs and woody stems.
Last year I was incredibly busy, so my neighbor, Dean, was kind enough to do the honors of taking the vine down to the studs.  This year, I repaid his kindness and did the job myself.  After two and a half days, the work is finally done, and I've said a sad good-night to my gardens which are ready to sleep the winter away until next spring.
Still, November has its charms as my favorite holiday is just around the corner.
At the grocery this past Friday I happened past an older woman who was perusing the Christmas displays.  "I'm all for getting my shopping done early," I admitted.  "But I sure do wish there was more attention paid to Thanksgiving."
"I do, too," the woman nodded.  "It seems like it's just getting swept more under the rug each year.  Too bad our culture can't take even one day to be truly thankful."
"I couldn't agree more," I smiled.
The woman patted my hand.  "It's good to see young people with that attitude," she said.  "It seems everyone nowadays is only interested in buying more of this or that instead of taking time to just enjoy what they already have."
The United States was the first country in the world to establish a national holiday to give thanks.  But it seems our country's great expectations for Thanksgiving have shifted from "Where's the turkey, stuffing, and yams?" to "How many stores are going to be opening early so I can get Black Friday deals that much earlier?"
Over the weekend I watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  Curled up in bed with the electric blanket toasting my toes and a mug of hot tea on the bedside table, I had much to be thankful for already.  Yoga classes are going well.  The novel I started this fall is beginning to take shape.  My health is good.  I have a warm and comfortable home.  I'm content with who and where I am in life, so in watching this show from my past (I was only seven when it was first broadcast on CBS), it was effortless to see it from a different perspective and still enjoy the whimsical story of Charlie Brown sharing an unusual holiday dinner with his friends.              
When I was little, we didn't have VCRs or DVD players.  I can distinctly remember taping Happy Days and other shows I didn't want to miss with a small cassette player situated as close as possible to the speakers of our huge cabinet set in the basement.  Each year when the Charlie Brown holidays specials were shown (usually on Fridays or Saturdays), my sisters and I would take our baths early, make a pan of Jiffy Pop on the stove, and eagerly wait through the Dolly Madison snack commercials until Vince Guaraldi's memorable music would fill the room. 
Then and now, it's great fun to watch Snoopy commandeer the kitchen, joyfully toasting up bread and enthusiastically popping a mountain of popcorn.  When he proudly serves the eclectic meal to a bewildered Peppermint Patty, I feel for him when she bitterly complains, "Look at this! Is this what you call a Thanksgiving day dinner?"
Of course, the message of the show is to be thankful for friends and for what we already have.  To know that our expectations of what a holiday is "supposed to look like" can't truly be met, particularly if we put no effort into the process.  And perhaps most importantly, to understand that while Norman Rockwell might have meant well, I doubt that even his family had the type of fictional holiday experiences he often painted on canvas. 

Great expectations aren't reserved for those who buy into media-based ideas of what a perfect family life is meant to be.  And of course, the American family is changing rapidly.  As a single woman, I know what it means to be on the outside looking in on my friends' experiences with their husbands, wives, and children.  As someone who has been estranged from my parents and sisters for over five years, I've had to redefine what it means to be a part of a family.  Not that it's been easy.
Like the wild and gnarly trumpet vine that needs a thorough pruning every autumn, my expectations of who I am and what I should be doing this time of year have had to be taken down to the studs...again and again and again.  There have been those who don't understand my choices.  Those who pity me or project how they might feel if they had to face the holiday season alone.  But I don't know any different, and over the years, I've redefined what this time of year means to me.
Last week, one of my friends asked, "What are you doing for Thanksgiving?"
I smiled.  "Well, I'll probably take a walk at the park and then sit in silence for a while.  I may write in my journal or do a little yoga.  Usually I think about the year gone by...and all of the things that have happened and not happened.  All of the things I have to be thankful for -- mostly the things you can't really see with your eyes."
"That's really what the day's all about, isn't it?" my friend said kindheartedly.
I don't eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal anyway...and haven't for years, so when friends invite me to their homes for dinner, I gently decline, saying I'm perfectly content to be alone.  However, I do remember a Thanksgiving meal I shared with my friend, Sandy, in the late nineties.  Colleagues at Greenwood, we had just finished the very long and tedious process of putting together the annual First Grade Feast.  The celebration went off without a hitch on Wednesday and we decided to spend a quiet day on Thanksgiving sipping tea and talking about anything but schoolwork.  Sitting in Sandy's kitchen, we watched the sunset through the darkening window.
"Do you want anything for dinner?" she asked.
The year before I had made a pot of vegetarian chili and this time it was her turn to cook, although we had been having so much fun doing nothing, the day slipped by.
"Sure...but don't bother to make anything," I said, grabbing my coat.  "Let's head over to Food Town and see what they've got left."
Fifteen minutes later we were back in her home.  Sandy enjoyed a warm and wonderful meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.  And what did I have?  A very memorable meal of baby carrots, hummus, and a little bag of chocolate-covered almonds.  It was the best Thanksgiving Feast imaginable.  At least for me.
"Spending time with good friends...and sharing a quiet day," I said, smiling at Sandy.  "This is what Thanksgiving is all about."

Sandy's since moved away, but sometimes my friend, Barb, comes over for Thanksgiving breakfast.  I'm not sure what I made the last time around, but while I'm writing this blog, a loaf of gluten-free banana bread is baking in the oven -- a test run for the big day in a couple of weeks.  I'm trying out a new brand of flour and pray the bread turns out a lot better than the hard-as-shoe-leather cookies I made a month ago that my friend ended up feeding to her eager and happy dogs.  
But even if it's not perfect, I'm sure Barb won't mind.
I look forward to decorating the table with simple place settings.  Brewing a pot of tea.  Creating a light and delicious breakfast for a friend who has been a great support this past year.  We may not be sitting at a ping-pong table enjoying a plate of popcorn and jellybeans, but the sentiment will be the same.  For as Marcie said to Charlie Brown, "We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by Thanksgiving."
 So this year, I'm thankful for Dean who took the time last November to do an incredibly difficult job that made this year's fall clean-up that much easier.  I'm thankful for yoga students who grace my own house with love and light.  For my health and my pets and work that allows me to heal and become more whole.  For all the quiet and unseen aspects of my life that I no longer take for granted.
Mostly I'm thankful for my friends.  Near and far, they're all a part of my wonderfully eclectic extended family. 



Monday, November 21, 2016

Inside out

Inside out
Originally published on June 27, 2013

  I have a decision to make.  It's not important to give you the details, but suffice it to say, I've lost some sleep over this one.  While not earth shattering or difficult, it would be joyfully life changing if I tipped the scales in one direction.  And yet, if I leave well enough alone, life would still be comfortable.  For now, I'm sitting in the middle of two realities, both of which are desirable.  It's in moments like this that I have the opportunity to walk my talk.  To sit back and detach.  To see the bigger picture, let it breathe and then when the timing is right, make my move. 
Or not. 
           
When I was younger, I needed to have all my ducks in a row -- the sooner, the better.  I made quick decisions, pivoted easily toward one direction or another and moved on.  Looking back, it's no wonder I was often faced with the same type of choice again and again.  Which job should I take?  Which group should I join?  Which person should I become involved with this time around?  I often made a choice so quickly, I missed the clarity within the details and because steps were missed, I needed to go back and retrace them in order to make more conscious assessments.
I still like to have some sense of structure in my life, but am more content to let things rise, to wait for the eggs to hatch, and to live in the mystery of "what next?"  I just came in from gardening and needed to prune back a lot of growth that's sprouted up this past week.  We've had a lot of rainfall in the Midwest and along with it, a plethora of beautiful blossoms.  The day lilies surprised me this morning, their trumpets wide open, ready to soak in the sun while it lasts.  As I was clipped errant trumpet vine that loves to gnarl its way around their long stems, I told them, "It's your turn to bloom."  For I know they only get one opportunity a year to strut their stuff and shine.  Next month the hydrangea will flourish, and then the lavender and then the sedum in August. 
Everything has its time.
The same is true for many of the choices we all must make.  Life's circumstances are often thrust upon us and we have to respond instantly -- in a traffic jam, when dealing with home repairs, or enduring power loss during a thunderstorm.  And so I find it comforting to be visited once again with a down-to-earth life decision that doesn't need immediate response, that can evolve over time.  I can sit with both sides of the coin, knowing that if I allow it, more will be revealed so that I can make a wiser choice.

One of my favorite responsibilities while working in the garden at Esalen was taking care of the chickens.  Each morning I would arrive early so I could let them scamper around the hen house with Henry, the cocky old rooster, calling the shots.  If there were any eggs laid overnight, I would carefully gather them and take them to the lodge where they would be stockpiled in the walk-in refrigerator until we had enough to feed the whole garden crew. 
In the summer, my boss allowed us to leave a few eggs in the nests and see what would happen.  We were blessed with several tiny fuzz balls that hatched, then celebrated their new life by making "bee bee bee bee bee" sounds all day long.  We were never quite sure if an egg would result in a chick, but it was always exciting to feel the anticipation as I walked through the farm and across the bridge every morning on my way to the garden to see if a new baby had arrived.  Perhaps it was then that I learned to enjoy the spaces in-between an initial intention and the providential result.
As for now, I'm content to sit in the middle.  To let things evolve.  To cradle both eggs in my hands and watch for signs of possibility and new life.  I'm curious to see which one will emerge first to guide me onward.
For it's in moving from the inside out that I make my best choices.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Prince Dustin and the Lady in Red

"Prince Dustin and the Lady in Red"
an excerpt from my memoir, OPEN ROAD: A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR

It's a snowy Christmas Eve and I've just arrived at my parents' house.  Earlier in the day we had lunch at Greta's.  Then I drove home, quickly fed the cats, showered, dressed, and drove through the falling snow to Mom and Dad's where I was expected to arrive at five o'clock on the dot so we can take pictures before we go out to eat.
I'm early.
Of course, only my father is downstairs, calling for the dogs that are playing in the backyard.  I can hear the rest of them upstairs in the bathroom, in their bedrooms, talking to one another:  "Elise....get your tights."  "Greta...can I borrow your hairspray?"  "Josh....let Daddy help you with your tie."  "Mom...do you know where I left my purse?" 
Joe and Patricia have brought their two Terriers; Greta is spending the night along with her Golden Doodle as well.  After Dad lets the dogs in, they sniff my shoes and pantyhose for the lingering scent of my cats, then flop on the floor by the fireplace in the family room, blissfully oblivious to the mayhem upstairs. 
I stand in Mom's kitchen, the counter decorated with lively tins of cookies and candies she and Greta bake every holiday season.  Christmas carols play on the stereo and the tree is lit in the corner of the living room creating a lovely background for our family photos.  I glance at the clock.  It's five-fifteen and they're still not ready. 
Sighing, I walk to Mom's desk where I pull out the chair and sit down.  Her small table is clean except for a photograph taken in the late 1950s.  Four teenage girls beam for the camera, three of them wearing white, chiffon-like dresses.  They look plain compared to the other one who is dressed in a stunning fire-engine red dress with a tight bodice and off-the-shoulder sleeves.  All the girls are pretty, but the lady in red is absolutely gorgeous with her dark hair, smiling eyes, and bright lips shaded in the same crimson color as her dress. 
I study the photograph for a while and wonder who they are.  Mom and Dad have boxes of yearbooks and pictures from their high school days, but none of these girls look familiar.  Shrugging, I put the photo back where I found it and wait.
A few minutes later, Mom walks in dressed in a woolen skirt and jacket.  She looks nice and I tell her so.  As she checks her purse to make sure she has all the essentials, I ask, "Hey...who are these girls in this picture?"
She beams as she replies, "I found that today and left it on my desk so you could see it."
"I don't recognize any of them," I tell her.  "Are they high school friends?"
Mom nods.  "That was taken at a school dance."
"Who's that gorgeous one in red?"
"That's me."
Stunned, I take a closer look.  I've never seen a picture of Mom without her glasses, but now I can clearly see her lovely face smiling back at me.  "You looked really hot, Mom!"           
She laughs.  "Well, I thought that looked just like you, Kate," she says.  "Don't you think so?"
I'm startled by her comment.  I've always been told how much I resemble my mother, but never in such a complimentary way.  I've never been called gorgeous or stunning or beautiful by anyone.  
"Seriously?" I ask her. 
"Oh, yes," she says, picking up the picture.  "I remember shopping for that dress with Mother.  I had to have the red one."
"You look like Scarlett O'Hara!" I tell her.
She smiles and hands it to me.  "Don't you think that looks like you?"
"I don't know," I reply, knowing I never would have worn something so daring in high school, or even now for that matter.  I haven't felt attractive to anyone for so long I'm starting to get used to it. 
That scares me a little.
Moments later, everyone thunders down the stairs and we have our pictures taken by the tree.  I watch Mom pose first with my father, then my sister and her family, then, finally, I stand next to her while my brother-in-law snaps the camera.  Even in her sixties, my mother is still beautiful with her olive skin and brown hair peppered with white.  She beams for the camera and I wonder how it happened that that lovely lady in red soon transformed into a Midwestern housewife, a mother, and now a grandmother.  I wonder what she had dreamed of all those years ago.  What she wanted from her life, all the things she might have needed, yet never received.
I think I know who I am, what I want, where I want to be.  But in light of all the things I'm discovering about myself in therapy, on my yoga mat, and on the massage table, I'm not sure who I am anymore.  Still, it's a strange comfort to know that somewhere deep inside, deep in the quiet parts of my spirit, there lays in wait a lovely lady in red who is patient enough for her time to shine, for her turn to emerge and bloom as she vigilantly clears the pathway for her resurrection.

***

For the majority of my twenties, I lived in a fantasy world of television, movies, and music.  Outside of teaching, I lived alone as the proverbial introvert, a reluctant hermit.  In my head, I was the damsel, living in a tower of my own making, longing and waiting for Prince Charming to come and rescue me.  In reality, I became what Bowsher's High School's class of 1984 had voted me to be:  Second Most Likely to Become a Nun. 
Some people called me Sister Catherine...and I'm not even Catholic.
Caught between who I thought I was and who I wanted to become, mirrors were the enemy.  I knew who was the fairest of them all, and it certainly was not me.   So I spent most of my time teaching.  Working with children kept me busy from sunrise until sunset.  In the evenings I often sat at my kitchen table grading papers or planning lessons late into the night.  It was rare for me to go out with friends on the weekends, and when I did, I wore overalls, baggy turtlenecks and clothes that covered every inch of what I didn't want anyone to see. 
Time wore on and my unflattering style of dress wore out.  Through uncovering the secrets of my past, I was able to strip off the layers of fear and shame, and doing so, completely transformed my closet.  Out went the turtlenecks, the drop-waisted jumpers, and any sweater that hung to my knees.  I started wearing more fitted shirts, vests, pants and sometimes a nice skirt.  Looking in the mirror, I began to see a reflection of the person I had always been beneath the layers and I liked it...a lot. 
One of the reasons I enjoyed spending time with primary children was the unabashed way they would speak to each another.  Compliments were doled out just as easily as insults, and while I did my best to intercede in the latter, I highly encouraged the former.  There were many times I walked around the classroom and listened to my students’ unblemished conversations.  How wonderful to hear them talk about their work, their parents, and their interests…free of judgment. 
On a cool September morning in 1995, one of my first graders came into the room and peeled off his light jacket.  Beneath it Dustin wore an adorable suit, complete with a collarless blue jacket and white shirt with matching accents. 
He grinned at me when I bounced my eyebrows.  "Nice suit," I told him.  "You look awesome for picture day!"
One of the girls was standing next to me, sharpening her pencil.  "Yeah, Dustin...you look like a prince!" 
The name stuck.  For the rest of the year, whenever my little friend with blonde hair and brown eyes wore a fancy outfit, we all called him "Prince Dustin," much to his delight.  It was a joy to watch him soak in the compliments, especially when a lot of the boys shot him unsure glances.  Dustin was a free and endearing spirit who brought his sister's Polly Pockets to school for Show and Tell.  Who loved to draw pictures, and tell stories or entertain the class by reading the morning message in a variety of newscaster voices. 
As long as they didn't hurt someone's feelings, I encouraged the kids to express themselves openly.  Over my nine year tenure as a first grade teacher, I was blessed to be with hundreds of little ones who taught me how to be natural and playful, to see things from a more open-hearted perspective, and to be silly and spontaneous.  Dustin, in particular, was a wonder to see each morning when he would enter the room with a bright and vivacious, "Hello, Miss Ingersoll!" as he gave me a big hug.
Even when I left the classroom, I followed Dustin's progress through school.  Throughout junior and senior high school, he was an excellent student and was well liked by many. 
And then he came out. 
I didn't know until recently that he had been teased mercilessly, that the boys in particular were unusually brutal.  Later, Dustin revealed to me his long journey of finding and accepting his identity, not as a choice, but as a freedom to be completely who he has been created to be.  His unbridled courage and drive to engage the world from his vibrant center never ceases to amaze me.  Not held back by fear or the judgments of others, Dustin walks on, ever mindful to bring his talents and gifts to the world.  He soaks in what life has to offer and offers his light in return.
I told him I saw it all along.  "From the moment you beamed when we called you 'Prince Dustin,' I knew there was something wonderfully unique about you."
"Did you know I was gay?" he asked.
"Yeah...I suspected it," I replied. 
"When I was in your class, I always felt loved and accepted by you," he said, smiling.
I smiled back.  "And you always will be."
  
It's taken a long, long time before I ever felt grown up, before I felt like a real woman.  I went from being a little girl, to a pre-teen, a teenager, a college girl, and...then what?  When I moved out of my parents' house I felt stuck.  It seemed I would always be twenty-two, endlessly jammed in a place that didn't allow me to mature socially, emotionally, or otherwise. 
My inner and outer worlds were completely incongruent.  I used to be a pilot light, tiny and flickering, in the hopes that someone else would come along and ignite that which lay in wait.  Then I became a bonfire, blasting my way through life, burning through my self-imposed barricades.  Through it all, my head wanted to stay mired in fantasy while my heart longed for freedom.   But I knew deep down that stepping outside the fairy-tale meant I had to discard my fantasy and embrace reality.   Having been afraid of my feminine energy for most of my life, I'm certain that is one of the reasons I hesitated to disclose my true feelings and risk either rejection or the possibility of something else I wasn't yet ready to embrace. 
In comparing me to her electrifying teenage self, my mother must have seen something in me that I had never recognized.  Having the courage to wear red when everyone around her was in white showed Mom's energetic spirit, her boldness in deflecting what was expected.  I imagine there were plenty of boys who asked her to dance that night and I'd like to think that she, unlike Cinderella, danced until well after midnight, no glass slippers necessary.
I'm incredibly thankful that I have reclaimed my own Lady in Red.  I'm bolder in the way I dress, the way I speak, and what I want to share with the world.  No longer a hopeful damsel waiting for my prince to come, I can now see the huge ransom I've paid for locking myself in a tower of my own making.
Besides, I have better things to do.
There is no happy ending.  No magical moment or man that will make my dreams come true.  Still, I find it curious that in the last few years, I've been noticed by men half my age, often when I'm wearing a ball cap and not a stitch of make-up.  I wonder what they see in me now.  I'm certainly no fairy-tale princess while riding my bike or hiking at the park.  And yet, I'm cheerfully content with being who I am.    
This Lady in Red doesn't need to apologize for being strong and independent, so perhaps my sheer presence reveals the fire within.  No longer a pilot light or a raging bonfire, I hope to be a benevolent hearth for those with whom I resonate.  I welcome them to gather in my warmth, feeding the fire of my enthusiasm with their joy and grace.
Maybe that's my happily ever after...after all.