The Great Five Forever…”TGF”

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

……from Winnie the Pooh

I know I need to eat.

My stomach, hollow, aches with emptiness…sensations that mimic the anguish teeming in my soul, in my heart.

My brain is active, as though on steroids. Memories flash repeatedly since I received the call…the five of us at recess in fourth grade dodging a ball, jumping rope, and participating in some ridiculous antic of squeezing each other around the waist until we nearly faint; then a quick recollection of our intramural basketball league, practicing in a decrepit gym attached to the Town Hall, with team names we coined like, “Have Ball Will Travel”; or standing in an outstretched line of maroon caps and gowns, slowly snaking its way into a full auditorium for high school graduation…straining to see the other four, together up ahead, seemed like miles in front of me, because they were fortunate to share the same height…immediately, I recall the loneliness I felt, because as everyone knew, we were inseparable; followed by a flash to years later in a shared cottage on Cape Cod, a vacation we scraped our dollars together to afford…us ‘working-class galsof little means…spending a weekend at the beach with our infants and young children…faces young, unlined, pretty; next image brings glimpses of gatherings at Darel and Charlie’s place…an enormous home he built by hand in the small, sports-rival town bordering ours…doors wide open each weekend to us raucous party-goers; and numerous dinners at the Fontaine’s suburban ‘farm’ where Pam might be serving a piece of a cow you had unknowingly patted on the head the day before…memories that once brought comfort and smiles, now heavy with loss and pain, carry a wound I have no clue how to heal.

It was 1974, a year after we married, when Dennis and I moved due to a job offer he received at a college in central Maine. Pam and Jim hauled our things up from Massachusetts in a truck, staying several days to help us unpack and hang pictures on the wall. My first experience of navigating life without my treasured friends, no longer living just down the street. There were no cell phones back then, and long distance calls were costly…instead we wrote long, detailed letters to one another, many I still possess. Remembering that first year, I felt lost, alone; far away from my kin, the ‘Great Five‘, a name bestowed on us in grade school that stuck throughout our lives.

A few months later, Pam and her family were off to Florida to start a new life, Penny fell in love with a Cape Cod fella and moved to Dennisport, followed some years later by Darel, and eventually DeDe, who loved being near the ocean even more than the rest of us. Life went on…seeing each other sporadically… in pairs, or perhaps a rare threesome, never the five of us…until our 50th birthday.

Everyone trekked to my home on an island in Maine to gather for the first time without partners, kids, or pets…no distractions…to reunite and celebrate our fiftieth year on the planet together.

That weekend began twenty years of annual visits…mostly to Pam’s beach home in Florida…spending a week to ten days immersed in gossip, laughter, some playful teasing…sprinkled with an occasional disagreement or a moment of well-intentioned feedback, always interspersed with the darkest of secrets.

In the evenings we danced together, belting out old 50’s and 60’s tunes, as we emptied bottles of wine, transformed into microphones. Our days were indulged in mutual favorites: lying in the sun on the beach, relaxing trips to a spa, or consuming large quantities of incredible food…yummy appetizers served in platters overwhelmed with assorted cheeses, salami, mixed olives, and fresh baked bread, lovingly prepared by Pam…and dinners out every night at local restaurants along the main drag of New Smyrna Beach.

The first year we gathered in Florida, Pam hired a ‘butler’…a playful, handsome ‘dude‘ who prepared our meals and on request, drew our whirlpool baths. He carried chairs across the road to the sandy shore for us each morning, and turned down our sheets at night, leaving behind bits of chocolate on our pillows. Later in the week, he invited a friend, who gave each of us massages under a tent on the waterfront. Indulgence on overload!

These flashbacks continue to roll like a feature film in my mind as I dribble spoonfuls of yogurt into a bowl, add slivers of almond and a tablespoon of maple syrup, in an attempt to give my appetite a shove.

I look up, and across the room, see Dennis typing on his laptop. His face is red, eyes are sad, tears dripping onto the keyboard. He has been so attentive to my grieving, he has, until now, held in his own.

DeDe first met Dennis in the summer of 1972, when we double-dated to Misquamicut Beach, on what would be our second date.

He was missing her, too.

I left my breakfast on the counter to give him a hug…noting an email on his laptop, written to Pam, Darel and Penny…the remaining members of the “Five”, expressing his tortured feelings over the loss of our shared friend.

Our DeDe.

On a Sunday evening, August 28th 2022, Diane Marie DeStratis Connors passed away after a year-long, relentless struggle with uterine cancer.

This is how I will remember her….

De was a force to be reckoned with. A tough Massachusetts ‘broad‘, spirited and feisty. Sometimes stubborn and excitable…dramatic and demanding.

Being an extrovert, Diane loved concerts, night clubs, parties…the more crowded the better. She embodied the cliche’…men were drawn to her like a magnet‘…she wasn’t just cute, or even pretty…she was gorgeous, striking! Her hair, as a young woman, was an ebony color with a slight wave, her eyes a deep, penetrating blue…the kind of beauty other girls envied.

De was health conscious and physically strong…preached the value of exercise and probiotics…always touting the latest homeopathic supplement she had discovered. She was physically active her entire life…arguably, the best female athlete ever at Leicester High…excelling at softball and basketball. Making this outrageous cancer diagnosis even more of a puzzle.

She was a voracious reader. Wise. Self-educated. A prolific poet.

Diane was a fierce mother. Insistent about her children’s physical well-being and health…to the point where I wondered, as their young years unfolded, if she were actually going to breast feed those kiddos until they graduated high school?!! Determined to secure their happiness and success, she was adamant they would attend college and paved that path with conscious ways of providing opportunities along the way. Proud of the incredibly accomplished, solid, loving adults they had become, she spoke often of how much she admired her daughter and son…and how deeply she loved them.

Her grandchildren were her passion. Nothing made her happier. Nothing gave her more pleasure than the joy she saw reflected back at her from all five of them…and they embody the essence of who she was…sweet, adorable, engaging and beautiful.

Grandkids were her soul, her children her pride and joy, her friends…companions for life.

DeDe was a nurturer. A caretaker. She authentically cared about your well-being. Two years ago, right by my side as I recovered from a fractured ankle. She dropped everything, drove to Maine …and proceeded to make my meals, manage my medications, shower me, dress me, and wouldn’t leave until Dennis returned from a business trip.

She did the same when my heart was broken, or my life was off-kilter….a steadfast presence, with me during a separation, a divorce, the loss of my parents, and more recently celebrated with gusto the birth of my first grandchild.

I could count on her like no one else, for over sixty-five years.

I cannot begin to imagine a life that does not include her.

Gone are my future plans with her: the hope of frequent stays at our new condo…one of the primary reasons we are upgrading from one bedroom to two…imagining our forays to the local beaches, perusing the Old Port shops, dinners shared at the fabulous restaurants that dot the harbor; the anticipation of a week together next winter in Florida; the assumed excitement of sharing time with each other’s grandkids; planning a Great Five reunion this year. The possibilities, now no longer possible.

Selfishly, I don’t want to live without her.

I’m pissed.

I feel abandoned, afraid. I’m irritable and lost…and sad…sad beyond measure, crying multiple times a day.

I’m grieving.

I ask myself, is my profound grief a blessing, a testament to how much she was loved?

And…where has she gone?

I look for a sign. I want to feel her touch from the other side.

Was that her speaking to me when I found the heart rock last week at the lake, with a line clearly dividing it in half? Was she the heron that landed on the shore beside me? Or the hummingbird hovering outside the window? Did she leave that penny on the sidewalk?

Losing a friend, especially one of this longevity, I am keenly aware of my own mortality, struggling to find strength or purpose. And…I know DeDe is mystically kicking my butt, nudging me toward the life that awaits me when my tears dry and I can lift my head again toward the light.

What sustains and keeps me buoyant are friends and family who graciously walk this journey with me.

Like Elise who is in constant contact…granting me permission to feel what I am feeling, sending ‘gigantic hugs, love and warmth’, telling me she’s ‘got’ me, and inviting us for dinner last night…knowing it would be a welcome, nurturing experience to share an evening with her and Shaun, two women we intensely love.

My sister, Theresa, who checks in on me, and whose voice expresses not only her own love for De, but her understanding of my sorrow…joining me at the wake.

Micki, who through her calls and texts, expresses an understanding of pain given a recent unspeakable loss of her own…and invites me to participate in a spiritual ceremony to honor DeDe when she visits in October from Houston.

Greg and Leslie, who were with us at a lake house in the woods of Maine when I received news that I was losing my sweet friend…gave me space to process my feelings, cried with me…sat beside me on Friday, holding my hand in a pew at the funeral…and intently listened to precious memories shared by me and Darel, another member of G5, at the private reception that followed the burial.

Our son, John, came from Boston to be our primary support…made hotel reservations in Worcester, drove us to every event over the two days of mourning, and held me outside of the church as we sobbed in each other’s arms. Diane was a second mother to him.

And Dennis, my pillar and rock, who has multiple times over the past few weeks yanked me from an abyss of gloom, catching and holding me with his empathic words of wisdom breathing new energy and sage advice into my tattered soul.

Dreading the inevitable day we would lose one of the ‘Five’, the texts and phone conversations between Penny, Pam, Darel and I, have been life preservers, keeping each other afloat, as we all sank in grief.

A quote sent from a friend…“grief is love struggling toward acceptance”…sounds about right. I’ve visited every stage of grief, at least twice, but can’t sit very long yet with acceptance…not yet.

From my spirit sister, Maggie…“those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are”…in this thought, I find hope and solace.

And yet another friend shared…“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.”

What I do know…when the clouds of sorrow part…I will hold gratitude for having been abundantly blessed. I have held hands, throughout my life, with four warrior women, beloved sisters to my soul, a cohort on whom I could rely and depend…whose love was solid, bonds unwavering… loyal and trusted friends…with whom I spent the most cherished moments of my life.

The women who have shared my history since we were nine years old.

Together, we lift our DeDe toward the heavens in hope that one day we will be again united. Rest in peace, our beloved…

TGF…forever…and ever…and ever…

And…just like that…my world was forever changed…

His eyes rarely open. He hardly moves.

When disturbed…his head bobs up, then down…barely supported by a thin, wobbly neck. A limb might stir, like a wounded bird, otherwise, his body hangs limp.

He doesn’t smile. He doesn’t talk. He seldom acknowledges me.

Yet….I am deeply, madly, in love.

I was not one of those women who longed to be a grandmother.

I never ached, pined away, and prayed to be a grandparent. If it happened…I assumed it would probably be wonderful. I didn’t realize…until now…that it would be a totally awesome, friggin’ fabulous, life-altering, spiritual, and breath-taking experience.

I never imagined this new being could take up so much space in my heart; that at times, there would be little room, for little else.

I never thought anything could occupy my mind and soul like the birth of Brennan Perry DaRos.

For months prior to his birth, I studied every misshapen, other-worldly, alien-like ultrasound image from the OGBYN’s office…holding it this way and that…whispering to myself, “is that a mouth, or perhaps an arm?” “wonder if his nose will always look like that?” “is he happy…or uncomfortable and cramped in there?”

I once felt him hiccup through his Mom’s skin, and in that moment, he became real. He became human. That was the beginning of my love affair with this baby bump.

We had the blessed opportunity to share a home with the parents of the ‘bump’ from Christmas of last year until just days prior to his birth, on April 23rd. As his Mommy’s belly grew, seemed exponentially a package appeared on their doorstep…gifts of clothing from newborn to toddler, diapers of every size, a variety of toys, bottles, stuffed animals, and lots of infant paraphernalia…received from cherished friends and family…the first steps in building a community of support that would surround this little one. Brennan’s ‘village’.

We read complicated instructions, nailed and screwed together furniture that would become a bureau, changing table and bed in the nursery. We were present the first time he moved in the womb, and the first time our son felt the movement, witnessing the awe on his face and in his voice…his child, our grandchild, coming to life.

As Brennan reached the age of five weeks, we flew to Florida to meet him. (I sit here staring at the computer screen, searching for words to describe my feelings prior to walking through the front door…as I held back tears, and my breath.)

My first glimpse was him nestled in someone’s arms (can’t remember whose, as I was rigidly focused like a beam of light on this tiny creature) and was immediately overcome, flooded with emotion one cannot define.

The first time I held him…worrying before our arrival if I would remember ‘how’...(my sons are 45 and 54, it’s been a while!)…and like magic, all my mothering instincts kicked in… he and I, became one. Feeding, changing, diapering, burping was fun, pleasurable, pure bliss! Who knew? Didn’t seem so when my own children were infants…this was something new, something different, something special. Perhaps with one layer of responsibility removed, a space of pure enjoyment is created.

My anxiety revisited when first attempting to soothe him, but this too became natural, normal and second nature as Brennan and I got to know one other better.

Tomorrow he will mark eleven weeks on this earth. In that short time he has learned to breastfeed, smile, coo, and make delightful little sounds that reverberate in my heart. I am forever grateful for FaceTime and Zoom, and the receipt of photos within moments of being taken, an almost daily delight…at least some compensation for living over 1,500 miles apart.

And as is true of most things cherished, it is accompanied by concerns, and worries:

Will our current political climate impact his ability to have the trauma-free life he deserves? Will he always breathe clean air, drink uncontaminated water, swim in clear oceans? Will he be safe, sitting in his grammar school classroom? Will the persons making decisions in high places, having an immense impact on his life, be honest, trustworthy, willing to make the tough decisions for the greater good, or be immersed in their own narcissism, power and greed?

Dennis and I are in our 70’s…will we witness him graduate from high school, even 8th grade?

Many of our friends are grandparents, in some cases, great-grandparents. I know, they, too, share my angst….wanting NOTHING to ever harm, hurt or upset their bundle of sweetness…and yet I know, I cannot protect him completely from life and what will unfold.

What I do know is I can be present every day to the blessing of his birth. I can be active in making the world a safe, healthy, peaceful place. I can share the joys of grand-parenting with Dennis, ‘oohing and aahing’ at every ping of photo on our devices.

I will savor at my core the love and tenderness I witness between Jeremy and Danielle, Uncle John, and baby Brennan. I will continue to send pictures to his great-aunt, Theresa, every day…and to his cousins Melissa, Rhyen and Jaedyn….who, along with John, share with me Brennan’s middle name…my maiden name.

I will share and describe this euphoria of grand-parenting to anyone willing to tolerate one more video, photo, or heart-centered description of this little guy and his progress in life. (Thank you, dear friends, for indulging me these last few months.)

Most importantly, as his Nana, I vow to keep my worst fears at bay and laser focus on the incredible delight that Brennan truly is.

Aging: How’s it Going For You?

“The trouble is that old age is not interesting until one gets there, a foreign country with an unknown language to the young, and even to the middle-aged.” – May Sarton

Months ago, I altered the name of my blog. No longer ‘approaching‘ 70…my blog title required an adjustment.

Yet….as I approach 80…I am more content, confident, relaxed…. more at ease with myself. In my mind, I remain decades younger than my given age. I hear these sentiments as well from other women friends in their 60’s and 70’s.

Most of us still working do so because it is our desire, because we enjoy what we do, and not necessarily because we have to. And if we do work, we work less. We have time to stretch our meditation or yoga practice to twenty or thirty minute intervals…truly relax into our breath…versus the rushed 5 or 10 minutes jammed into the frantic rush that was our life.

Friends my age are leisurely tending their gardens, reading voraciously, enjoying their grandkids, kayaking along the Maine coast in the middle of the week, sleeping-in when they please, vacationing more frequently or for extended periods of time. A few are writing books. Some are exploring their creative side in pastels or fabric art, gourmet cooking, photography.

Most find ways to stretch their social security check and IRA’s to meet daily needs, with money left over for leisure activities….all hopeful the accumulated stash outlives their mortality.

Friends are also, sadly, burying older family members, close friends, and life partners. Some are recuperating from unanticipated surgery or a cancer diagnosis. Others are caring for severely ill parents, ailing spouses…or are babysitting grandchildren to assist their adult children struggling with the overwhelming cost of childcare.

This period of life is a study in extremes.

It is a time of great joy….and ambivalence.

Of freedom and burden.

Of gain and loss.

A friend has invited me to join her newly forming ‘Women and Aging’ group. The timing is perfect. I feel an interest, almost an urgency, to explore the barrage of emotions and new insights I’ve been wrestling with. We begin in October with women between the ages of 60 and 85, gathering via Zoom. In preparation for our discussions and processing, we have been requested to read, ‘Women Rowing North” by Mary Pipher. You may have read her bestseller years ago, “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Lives of Adolescent Girls”.

I began the assigned reading while on vacation last week. I was hooked by the first line in the first chapter: “There are many lifetimes in a lifetime.”

Think about that.

Pipher also writes…”we elders must maintain clarity about the kind of women we want to be”.

I continually revisit this thought.

Perhaps acknowledging the short runway in front of me, I have become more honest with myself. I own more of my ‘dark side’. I know I can be judgmental, easily injured by the behaviors of others, prone to withdraw when experiencing emotional pain, minimize my needs and accommodate others. I have not always handled myself well when I am hurt or angry. Although I love the depth to which I experience emotion, at times my emotions overwhelm. I have less tolerance for these unhealthy behaviors I deem unbecoming the woman I desire to become. I check myself more frequently to assess my authenticity.

I seek relationships with women I trust….those who are comfortable sharing their stories, expressing their vulnerabilities, who openly process their flaws and request feedback, who own their improper behaviors apologizing when appropriate and celebrate with abandon their accomplishments and moments of happiness. Through these precious relationships I learn, change, grow. Openly expressing our love of one another we simultaneously, with tenderness, hold a mirror to our blind spots. There is a mutuality, a loving contract of honesty and desire for personal growth that we share. I am confident the upcoming “Women and Aging” group will embrace this powerful, limitless protocol.

Quoting Pipher again, “until we understand how short life is, many of us make the mistake that our routines will go on forever, but after our awakening, we realize we’ve taken far too much for granted. We only have left a finite number of full moons, spring mornings, and nights out on the town.”

Time is running short. Live the best life you can muster…totally woke….and to the fullest.

Embracing Chaos….

“Chaos: a confused mass or jumble of things, a state of utter confusion, disorganization; a state of things in which chance is supreme”

On our walk this sun-lit Christmas Eve morning, meandering through the winding, snowy paths of historic Evergreen Cemetery, our conversation turned to sharing how we felt about being separated from family, how were we each managing our emotions as we thought about celebrating this holiday honoring the tradition of family, peace and joy….with a bit of grief and loss in our hearts.  The background for this particular conversation in an apropos setting, surrounded by tombstones. 

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Dennis mentioned he recently read an article someone had written on ‘chaos’…how we are all just a moment away from chaos interrupting our lives. How, like COVID, it shows up uninvited, impromptu, as a surprise, a shock, with an overwhelming set of emotions. As he spoke, the concept of chaos instantly resonated with me as I thought about tomorrow’s Christmas dinner…for (only) two.

I believe this is the first time in over 50 years that we would be physically separated from both our sons, and Danielle, for the holiday. Last year our family celebrated together for a fun-filled, memory-laden week in West Palm Beach.  

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At this later stage of life, it seems legitimate to wonder how many Christmases might be in my future?  Seems cruel and unfair to miss a single one.  To be reduced to a small screen Zoom celebration, an aberration.

It breaks my heart.  

It will most likely be a full year before we’re in the physical presence of Danielle and Jeremy.  We have rarely seen John in the last nine months, although he lives just outside Boston, due to COVID. When we do connect, we are always masked, unless outside, and then distancing at least six feet apart.  Each time we get together,  I take the risk to hug John…..it is always from behind, masked, my arms around his waist, my face buried in his shoulder blades, holding back tears.

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It is the day after Christmas and I am reflecting on the holiday that wasn’t ideal, nor that bad.  

Our Zooms were fun. Our dear friend, Elise, drew names and assigned the five of us a Secret Santa duty.  We were to order something under $50 and have it sent directly to the recipient…in Florida, Massachusetts or Maine..not to be opened until our Zoom on Christmas Day.  John received a box  from Target and to be on the safe side, placed it under the tree.  As instructed, he didn’t open it until we were all together, only to find it contained a bottle of Shower Spray that he had ordered!  Luckily, there was another package containing a beautiful sweater from his Dad.  

As Dennis and I shared Christmas dinner, we propped an iPad up at one end of the dining room table and via FaceTime, included John, as he ate his dinner from his home in Winthrop.  Later, the family regrouped again for dessert together…including Danielle’s parents visiting West Palm Beach from Pennsylvania.

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On to the next holiday.

This week, I look forward to closing the door on 2020 and holding tight to a promise of better things to come in 2021.

I am thankful for all that carried me through this chaotic, unpredictable year…the ability to Zoom and FaceTime with family and friends on a regular basis, writing and taking pictures, losing my thoughts in every nature walk.

I have a deeper appreciation for the incredible natural art found in beach sand and ocean water, in the soul-touching colors of the sky…in a shell, a rock, a piece of driftwood, a cloud formation…and most especially,  I am thankful for sharing a space with my best friend and love of my life.  Without his playfulness, optimism and support, I am certain this pandemic experience could have been devastating.

I am certain that much of the chaos of this past year will dissipate as we venture into January and  toward a change in our government and the continuation of the vaccine program.  It is only a matter of time before I can hug each of you, mask-less, and with great vigor.

A toast of good health, peace and bits of magic to every one of you! Happy New Year!!  

Continue reading “Embracing Chaos….”

A Challenging Thanksgiving….

“Be present in all things, and thankful for all things.” -Maya Angelou

It is Thanksgiving Eve….and everything is different.

We picked up tomorrow’s dinner at Union, a popular Portland restaurant and a favorite of ours. Two handsome, male valets plopped a huge brown-paper bag filled with food in the opened trunk of our SUV with a cheerful, “Happy Thanksgiving”. We shouted the same in return as we drove away into the night.

I am 71 years-old, and in all those years only once have I not had a homemade Thanksgiving dinner at someone’s dining room table. The exception was one year…. seven family members decided to do something different and celebrated Thanksgiving at a local Inn. It was lovely to share the holiday together, but missing was the hustle/bustle in a kitchen, overlapping laughter/playfulness and discussion, punctuated with kisses and embraces.

I swore to myself…never again.

Fast forward and here we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

Along with our restaurant-made banquet…on the agenda is a breakfast and dinner Zoom call with our sons…John in Boston, Jeremy and his fiancé Danielle in West Palm Beach, and the two of us in Maine…relegated to an iPad screen to share the festivities.

Thanksgiving is a time for family rituals, an opportunity to pause and reflect.  The past year leaves much to ponder…the challenges….and gifts.

I have been surprised by feelings of relief when staring at a sparse calendar with few places to go and little to do.  It has opened time for meditation, reading, photography, writing, catching up on projects, quiet time to myself, and couple-time.

My emotions have swayed, plunged, overwhelmed, delighted, devoured and startled me….from fear, concern, worry….to boredom and stress….and revved-up….to flat.  I have learned I am remarkably resilient.

I have instinctively sought stability and peacefulness, immersing myself in nature…tranquilized by strings of sunbeams lighting a landscape, enthralled with the melody of a bird song, amused by the acrobatic behavior of a squirrel, mesmerized by a stroll along a Maine beach…offerings of profound medicinal relief I had not anticipated would be so delightfully strong, so welcomed.

I have learned living in a loft setting with one person over an extended period of time will magnify frustration and annoyance, while simultaneously expanding gratitude for companionship, shared laughter and calming presence..ultimately blessed to live with my best friend.

I appreciate the ability to linger longer in meaningful conversation with a scheduled Zoom call every Sunday with family, several times a month with my two women’s groups, with our couple friends, and one-on-one with cherished close companions.

I miss hugging. I so miss hugging. I cannot wait to enfold those I love in my arms, envelop, squeeze, linger, with tears…lots of tears.  I give you all fair warning.

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The last nine months have been an extension of a difficult year.  I have recovered from both a fractured ankle and a knee replacement, paling in comparison to what many of you have experienced.  We have family who have been on the front lines of providing medical services to COVID patients.  Friends have lost parents, been estranged from new grandchildren, are care-taking those they love.  We have all seen the extensive food lines, the intubated loved ones in the media.  I am humbled and saddened by what others have endured. 

I am thankful to those workers who have delivered our food, our mail, our masks/hand sanitizer, our toilet paper; for the members of our medical and dental community who have gone the extra mile to perform procedures in a safe environment; and to all of those who have worked under difficult conditions to provide the essential services keeping the rest of us cared for and comfortable…my profound gratitude and thankfulness go out to each of you.

And….for the scientists who have worked tirelessly to produce vaccines, we can, relatively soon, anticipate freedom of movement, the ability to connect with one another and a return to a semblance of life as we once knew it….coupled with a shift in government that at least for me, represents relief from chaos, with movement toward hope, re-connection, and country-wide  comfort.  Bravo!

This is not the Thanksgiving we all have been accustomed to…or would have wished for or wanted…but perhaps, for the level of consciousness, depth of gratitude and gratefulness…it will most likely be the most memorable.

Happy Thanksgiving!   

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Keep it Simple, Babe…..

Life is changing.  Becoming a daily challenge. Life after COVID…an unknown.

Many of us, riveted to our television and iPad screens, attempt to make sense of the mayhem of virus and violence. We are heavy with sadness and layers of worry that has plagued us since the celebration of a new year ushered in 2020.

Times are tough.

We are seeking ways to escape. Choosing ways to cope. Individually searching for methods to self-soothe.

I choose to write.

I write to connect with myself.  I write to connect with others.

I write, coaxing overwhelming thoughts to congeal, hoping to form clarity, dispel angst. Writing provides an outlet. Creates a hopeful vision. It distracts from the chaos, while inviting others to join in a thoughtful process of dialogue.

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I walk in nature.

Being one with the outdoors invites all six senses to focus on beauty….in beauty I find peace.

To witness light filter and fall in patterns on a forest pathway quiets my mind.

Hearing the melodic song of a red-winged blackbird radiate from a tree or flowering bush summons my eyes to search, to locate the creature in hope of a ‘chat’.

Yes, I do in fact speak to birds….chipmunks, bees, butterflies…dragonflies, too.  Tho, last week, when startled by a snake that slithered directly in front of me, nearly crushed under the sole of my shoe, my inclination was not to whisper but to screech.  Loudly.  Yet, even this being I found to be a delight!

I hiked the Scarborough Marshes again several days ago.

Since mid-March, traversing this unique area, at least a dozen times, witnessing the grasses transform from winter-brown to a deep summer-green along winding waterways that rise and fall on the ebb and flow, brings with each visit new enchantment.

At high tide, strings of whirlpool stretch out from under a bridge, covered in yellow pollen, swirling inward like a nautilus shell.

Staring at the circular motion, entranced, I hear a calming voice in my head whisper, “Keep it simple, Babe.”  IMG_5839

Today I walked Scarborough Beach for the first time since the end of last summer. It had been closed for several months in early spring due to the virus.

Arriving at 9:00 am, expecting a crowd, I was pleasantly gifted with an empty beach.

The sandy pathway to the water held the scent of Ragusa rose bushes entwined in a weather-beaten wooden fence. The morning sun, pitched at an angle, lit up treasures the tide had scattered along the shore…the irregular, bumpy outer-carvings and smooth translucent interior of an empty oyster shell partly buried in surf, an abandoned lobster trap dropped by the sea perches vicariously on a craggy rock, stones of various sizes and markings smoothed by the waves lie strewn about the sand for over a mile, an ocean-sculpted driftwood lounges on a ledge, and the remains of a crab, undoubtedly breakfast for a gull, is discarded among seaweed.

No words adequately describe the lure of the ocean, the awe, the wonder, the splendor of this extraordinary place, one of my favorite beaches in Maine.

At the farthest end of the beach, a woman perhaps a decade older than I, descended the steps of a typical Maine cottage….gray-shingled and weathered, a front porch supporting two matching Adirondack chairs…sitting high above the rock and sand.  

After an exchange of morning greetings…she with no mask, mine dangling from my ears resting on my neck…I asked if this were her home. She responded, stating she has lived here since the 1960’s.…this sanctuary with a splendid view overlooking the jagged, gold-streaked rocks, tidal pools and expansive open ocean, was hers.

My response, hand to my heart, imagining the joy of owning the likes of this home, “You are so blessed. What a beautiful spot you have, one of the most beautiful in Maine.”

And I meant it.

Farther down the beach, roped-off dunes allow a comfortable haven for hatching piping plovers.  A mother plover, behaving rather strangely as I passed her by, dragged a wing along the sand as tho wounded.  I later read this is the behavior of a plover protecting her young from harm, the cutest little critters, flitting along the sand, peeping with joy.

Another divine treat.

With each walk outdoors…in the woods, beside the ocean, among the marshes, through a cemetery, along the waterfront, across an island, and throughout the now pandemic-silenced city…I repeat my internal mantra, “keep it simple, babe”…and breathe.

P.S.  I am curious, my friends, how are you distracting, soothing, calming and caring for yourself during this time of unrest and pandemic?

Why It Matters…..

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed.  If people all over the world would do this…it would change the earth.”    William Faulkner

IMG_5811The emotionally exhaustive pandemic has taken a step back as we ricochet to the streets of America.

Breathless, I watched in horror as active-duty police, in heavily protective garb, without warning, discharged rubber bullets containing traces of tear gas….shoved to the ground, manhandled, and whacked with bats peacefully protesting American citizens with hands raised, walking backward.

I shouted obscenities at the thugs on my television screen.

Enraged and distraught to the point of tears, I helplessly observed the brutal behavior abhorred in the streets of vicious dictatorships happening in real-time across from the House of the people, staged to provide a passageway for a blasphemous photo op.

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Thousands of peaceful protesters marched by our home two nights ago. The photos in this blog were from that evening.  The writing in chalk from the sidewalk outside our condo building.

We stood on our street corner as the protestors passed.  Determined, energized, carrying signs, shouting slogans….were religious leaders wearing vestments in accordance with their beliefs, a multitude of young men and women, black and white, a few gray-haired seniors…the majority wearing masks, dressed in black as a display of unity.

We spoke with several marchers who were engaging, extremely friendly.  One offered us hand sanitizing lotion.

I noted a tall, handsome black man carrying his young son on broad shoulders.  Three college-age white women directed traffic along with a few young black women, in that moment sharing a sisterhood of support.  One came near us to put her empty cup in the trash and said ‘hello’ through her mask with smiling eyes.

In my heart, I marched in solidarity with them.

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There was a time when I was not attuned to my white privilege.

I was young.  It was easy to shelter in a bubble of ignorance and disinterest.  If it wasn’t personal, didn’t impact me, it wasn’t important.

My awareness evolved over time with exposure to and then embracing difference.

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My first job of any import was as assistant to the Director of the Center for Human Relations at Holy Cross College.  My boss….a kind and gentle African American man from Indianapolis, well-liked and respected by the population we served… welcomed twenty new scholastic additions, brilliant young men of color, to the all-male, nearly all-white Catholic college in the fall of 1968.

Following the murder of Martin Luther King, a professor of theology at Holy Cross, Reverend John Brooks, recruited these exceptional students, based on their potential to succeed if given the opportunity, graduates of high schools up and down the east coast, some from the most underprivileged sectors of our country.

As noted in the book, “Fraternity”, by Diane Brady, a book I highly recommend you read, she notes, “Father Brooks had been aware of racism all of his life, and yet, he realized, for too long he hadn’t done enough to address it.  He felt talk was meaningless if nothing changed, and once a person was aware of a problem, it was his or her moral and spiritual responsibility to solve it.”

I agree.

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I became closely connected to many of these young men, most near to my age at that time, several later attending my wedding, some of whom went on to become well-known leaders and iconic individuals: a Pulitzer Prize winner for literature,  a star receiver for the undefeated Miami Dolphins, one of the nation’s most successful defense attorneys, a Supreme Court Justice, and as Brady points out in her book, “others that went on to become stars in their fields as well,”….doctors, lawyers, dentists, corporate executives, business owners, etc.  The vision of Father Brooks made possible what would have been impossible for these exceptional young men.  An opportunity still not afforded many young, black students who reside in poor districts lacking funds for education.

It was 1970. During this period of time, the College experienced unrest. The Black Student Union was formed to express a range of demands for improving conditions on campus. My first experience with protest happened as the BSU occupied several buildings on campus, including the Administration building housing the top officials, remaining until they felt heard and promised appropriate changes on campus.

At one point in the conflict, I was the “voice” and conduit between the students of color and the local and national media who were following this protest.  A role I felt honored to fulfill as these were my friends, I believed their requests were just, and I supported them wholeheartedly.  In the thick of this peaceful demand for change, I learned the importance and effectiveness of protest and gained a better understanding of what it means to be Black in this country.

After leaving Holy Cross, I worked with a Black woman at Worcester State College. Louise and I became close friends as well as colleagues.  When I moved to Maine, we retained that relationship through letters, and while cleaning out a closet recently and reading them again,  I was reminded of the conversations we had about race, inequality, the hope for change.

That was almost 50 years ago.

And here we are again.

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Prior to my work at Holy Cross and Worcester State, I had little to no exposure to difference.

I grew up in a small, blue-collar town, a population of about 2,000 in west-central Massachusetts. There were only two young persons in town who were persons of color….Ron, a biracial boy who was in my class, and his younger sister.  Their father, a Black man, was the local photographer who took portraits of my then-infant son, John. Their Mom was white.

I wonder now what life was like for Ron and his sister…no one in the entire town looked like them.  Being young myself, I never thought to ask.  It must not have been easy.

My eight-year-old, biracial great-niece, Jaedyn, who I adore to the depths of my soul….bright, beautiful, with a delicate heart recently penetrated with sorrow by a television ad soliciting money to save the polar bears….lives and goes to school in my hometown.  I know, she too is in the minority like Ron and his sister were.  I ache, worry, deeply concerned, wondering if she will be included by her peers, will she be subject to racial slurs…or worse.  I cannot bear the thought.

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My best friend is married to a man of color…they have a biracial son, Nick, and granddaughter, Kyra.  Our families are totally entwined.  Leslie and I have mothered each other’s sons. I know Greg has given him the “talk”.  I want to protect Nick and his new family and have them never live in fear.  I will do all I can to make it so.

It is personal for me, this movement for change.  I marched for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and were there not a pandemic, I would again be in the streets…for Nick, for Jaedyn, and every single child of color in our great country.

I implore you to join me.

Write to your city or town manager or mayor, your Congressmen and women, your local police chief, your President. Join the political campaign of someone who shares your values and beliefs. If you are white, educate yourself on privilege. Speak out whenever you can in support of change and diversity. Make donations to organizations like Black Lives Matter. March in the streets. VOTE!

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Every cell in my body is screaming for change….is crying out for equality and justice…is begging to live in peace and harmony.

Will you join me?  Please.

 

Woke….

“The comeback is always stronger than the setback…..”  Dr. Jill Murray

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Time hangs.  Suspended.  Useless.

Weeks pass by….become months.

There is nowhere to go.  No one to meet.  No place to be.

The ‘new normal’ they say, seems quite ‘abnormal’ to me.

I am, tho, in my better moments, aware of an awakening, acutely attuned to an exaggeration of loss or longing, with intermittent fear, and boredom, mixed with breathtaking beauty followed by jolting grief.   Moving through a sense of enormous appreciation to annoying irritability, with a rapid switch back to embracing wonder and profound gratitude…..has now become the norm.  Blissfully calm, at peace one moment, on edge the next….up, then down.  Thankful to string two days of centeredness together.

Can you relate?

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My better self recognizes this time as an endowment to utilize in any fashion I choose.  This imposed pause, an opportunity.

Life, I am learning, is rich in its simplicity. Like opting to spend a bright, but chilly April afternoon peeling and chopping vegetables for a thick, creamy butternut squash soup.  The fragrance of sauteed garlic, onion, mixed with the poetic sound of tender piano tunes, filling my home.  For a pre-dinner, two-person cocktail hour, I create a red pepper dip and organize ingredients to prepare a freshly concocted whipped delight: heavy cream, several heaping teaspoons of sugar, a dash each of almond and vanilla extract, to top our dessert.

Beater in hand, I am instantly drawn to a memory of my Mom in our small home, in her even smaller kitchen, standing at a narrow counter.  Eleanora made her luscious whipped cream with these same ingredients.  Always from scratch.  No aerosol cans for my mother.  As my mind slipped deeper into the image,  I literally felt her standing aside me, hand gripping mine.  In slow, circular motion, together we whipped until the liquid formed stiff peaks.

I wept.

I missed her, deeply, at that moment.  Remembered her in vivid detail.

When was the last time I allowed my Mom inside, spent moments together?  Always too busy.  Always something more to do.  Something more important.  What a gift to be present enough to allow her in.

On a recent grocery trip to a local farm, we followed what has become the standard protocol of placing the order by phone, providing a credit card number.   Driving close to the farm entrance, we text that we have arrived, greeted by a masked and gloved someone who smiles with her eyes as she places the order inside the opened hatchback, as quick mask-muffled hellos and thank yous are exchanged.  On the ride home, unusually quiet, Dennis sensed a shift in me and asked how I was doing.

I paused and took inventory. “It depends on the moment,” I responded.

What had been a “depending on the day” experience during the first few weeks of the quarantine had evolved, mostly from the fatigue of atrocious pandemic updates, to an onslaught of multiple emotions brimming at once, shifting in nanoseconds, clogging my heart and soul.

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Dennis and I are indeed fortunate to share our lives together during this pandemic, have the ability to Zoom with family and friends on a regular basis, yet I feel isolated in my soul.  I am inundated, swimming in loss.  From the mundane missing of moving without concern through Whole Foods or the local pharmacy….to the soul injury that accompanies the inability to hug my children or embrace a dear friend.

I ache, deeply, for persons dying alone and for those who love them mourning alone.  Imagining myself in either situation is beyond comprehension.

From the depth of that darkness of feeling rises an enormous appreciation for every single being who touches my life and the lives of those who matter to me.  The grocery store clerk who every day runs the risk of developing the virus, as well as the truck driver who has delivered goods to my local supermarket; the family and friends who are healthcare workers and care providers, teachers;  my dentist who performed an emergency procedure, just he and I in his otherwise empty office space; friends who offered masks; my son who brought from Boston paper towels, toilet paper and kleenex that we would have otherwise been without.

We have uncovered artistry and found unimaginable charm and beauty on our almost daily walks.  My boredom is lessened with a visit to the enchanting Scarborough Marshes, the Baxter Woods in the center of Portland, the historic and peaceful Evergreen Cemetery, the magnificent Eastern Promenade overlooking Portland Harbor, the nooks and crannies of the Harbor piers, the profoundly beautiful Willard Beach with views of Portland Headlight in South Portland.  Each location, free of motorized vehicles and human beings, plus the afforded luxury of time, extend the allure of enchantment as we escape our four walls and breathe the outside air.

Living in a condo, in a city, we have been challenged to navigate our shared space, forced to develop new skills when we hit a bump.  We have never laughed so hard together or dug deeper into the tangled web of creating intimacy.  We avoid the hard talk of “what if one of us gets sick?”  We’ve been a comfort to the other when needed and have moments when, especially as introverts, miss our time alone.

I hear from many of you that your life pretty much reflects ours.  You are on this turbulent ride with us.  You are cautious, at times frightened, but like us, becoming keenly aware of your incredible resiliency.

What makes this fractured, unprecedented moment in time tolerable, is knowing we are sharing this experience together, that I can touch you, albeit virtually, and trust the magnanimity of our collective human spirit will lift us to the other side.

Stay safe ’til then.

 

Love Lessons Learned….

“We are all in this together”…..

Beginning to sound cliche…but it rings true.  Life, as we are accustomed to, dramatically changed overnight.

In a mere moment, we were catapulted to a new normal.

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Sitting here at my keyboard in Portland, Maine, it is raining outside.  There is nowhere to be, nowhere to go.  A nudge to my spirit, it is time to go deeper.

Soulful piano music softly fills the room.  My attempt to center, ground and soothe.

The city outside my window is unfamiliar with its empty streets, shuttered hotels, and restaurants.  Ordinarily bustling Exchange Street, the home of Holy Donut, designer clothing shops, coffee hangouts…would be teeming with visitors from out of state and all over the world,  scurrying from shop to shop…now weirdly, almost unnervingly quiet.

We are passing the time, as much of you…creatively finding ways to connect with others through Facetime and Zoom, keeping the incessantly horrific news at bay by meditating, reading, or tackling the ‘when I have time’ projects.  Cooking, sanitizing, walking outside when we can…but with caution.

Some of us are still working…our new heroines and heroes…medical staff, grocery store clerks, police, firefighters, garbage collectors, food distributors, pharmacy staff and many more… literally on the battlefield of this pandemic in service to the rest of us.

Our champions!  Warriors!  Superheroes!

These times are unfamiliar.  Knit together, inching our way toward understanding and resolution, we follow the guidelines and maintain physical distance from one another…we remain isolated in our separate abodes. IMG_5700

Yet in this collective confinement, we are demonstrating love.

Love for one another, for humankind.

The expression of that love is clearly apparent as it comes at us in many forms, all directions:  from the front-line workers, to the executives of large corporations.;  from friends, neighbors, even strangers;   the poor among us to millionaires donating to the cause;  from each one of us….street to street, city to city, country to country.

We have unearthed the gentleness and generosity that was within us all along.

We have released our concerns about ‘difference’,  genuinely embracing one another with appreciation and respect regardless of race, creed, religion, color, sexual orientation, age, gender.

Our huge planet now small, now one.

On our strolls around the city, the stillness allows bird songs to permeate the air,  penetrate the angst.

Five or six mockingbirds sing from brambled bushes that line the path along Portland Harbor…demonstrating a kindred association with fellow birds by mimicking their calls.

They do not discriminate.

They choose to embrace the distinct sounds of all, projecting the glorious melodies of each one.

Perhaps a gift evolving from our shared dilemma is recognizing we are gloriously different, yet the same…each with a ‘song’ to share that brings beauty to our world.

I have written a poem dedicated to my feathered friend….

 

“The Mockingbird”

 

A whirling planet paused.

Sputtered, 

halted,

to a dead

stop.

 

The people.

Every one.  Everywhere.

slowed their

pace.

 

Gathered as one

to love

from a distance,

 

Honored a space

created 

to heal.

 

Awareness

awakened,

each acknowledged the bounty received

when collectively they 

hushed

in unison

 

Giving thankful prayer,

in gratitude for,

the countless,

wonderous,

melodious songs 

of the 

mockingbird.

 

Be Safe. Stay Healthy.  Peace.