We can be heroes.

IMG_2084.JPGSometimes things happen that can make us feel bad, leave us reeling and bruised, and scared to take another step forward. So what’s the difference between being a victim of these circumstances, and deciding to re-write the story, and become the hero instead?

I have a few friends who experienced infidelity in their marriage, men and women. However, it’s the men who are more hurt by this, who struggle with the fact that their wives chose to be intimate with other men. “My wife cheated on me”. “My wife cheated on me, repeatedly”. “I saw her”, “I knew”, “She cheated with my friend”. All horrible, painful situations that undermine a marriage. But the cheating, is that something she did to you? Or is it a symptom of a failed marriage, and a sign of her shortcomings, not yours?

I was married for 16 years; we were together for longer than than that. The last few years were incredibly difficult for me, beginning with when my husband was arrested at work (on completey bogus charges) when I was pregnant with our younger child, and our older daughter was barely over a year old. My husband then lost his job, there was a legal battle, and he barely talked to me about any of it. Our younger daughter was born, we sold our home, and moved to a state I’d never been, buying our new house while driving across state lines with all of our most important things – the two babies and our labrador – in the back of our Highlander. My husband and I never recovered from that. We both tried hard, but the wounds were deep, and eventually, I needed to leave. I was so lonely, and disillusioned, and sad…and I needed to start over. And, I was faced with a choice: how did I want to view my failed marriage?

More recently, I was in love with a man who became abusive. He hurt me emotionally, and to a lesser extent physically, and at the end, he did both in front of my children. I beat myself up over this, and then I talked to my children, and asked them what they remembered: that I told him no. That I told him he was wrong. That I told him I was tired of his insults, and trying to make me feel bad about myself. And, that I told him that I love myself, and that I was better than all of the crap he was dishing out, and that I was leaving. And, that we packed up our stuff and left. That’s what my girls remember, my saying “no more”, and taking them away. And so, I began to re-write that story. I am not a victim, and never have been; I am a strong woman, who pushed back against a bully, and left. “Mom, you’re a bad-ass”, they said.

Each of has the ability to write our own story. My marriage ended, because we both deserve so much more than what we had. My husband and I had all good intentions, but just didn’t have what it took to make it over a really hard time. I made the choice to leave, and doing that, as painful as it was, set us both free. He is now in a loving relationship with somebody who is truly his partner, and me…well, not yet, but it’s coming.

So that’s the thing. Shit happens. It happens to us, around us, it derails plans and can create havoc. But we are the authors of our own stories, and how we choose to respond, is entirely up to us.

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When you know, you know.

Certainty. That’s what I saw when I watched President Obama give his farewell speech and speak about the role his wife has played in his life. Of course also love, and gratitude…but there was something more…and that something was certainty. Their partnership is deep and sure. You see it in how they look at each other, and how they lean in, and how they share private smiles and jokes when they dance together. They have both passion and deep respect, and they simply like each other, too.

It’s what we all want, to have a partner who speaks about us the way the President speaks about Michelle. And it reminds me of a couple of conversations I have had over the years, which I need to remember.

A few years ago, I was very casually seeing a man who I liked. He was fun to spend a little time with sometimes, and we had a decent physical attraction. Then we had The Conversation, and he told me that what we had worked fine for him, but that he wasn’t interested in dating me. Let me tell you, it Blew My Mind. What? Why not? Isn’t this good enough? And he told me, no, it’s not. That he can tell pretty early when someone is a good fit for him and a relationship has potential, and ours didn’t. He told me he was looking for potential, and it didn’t lie with me. So after I got over my hurt feelings and being seriously miffed, I thought about it, and he was right. Truthfully, I never got excited to see him, I didn’t think about him when we weren’t together, and I often found him somewhat humorless. I’m sure those who he has a real friendship with find him very kind and funny and wonderful, but my point is that we had virtually no connection and so I did not. And I thought, Right On. Bravo for knowing what you want and calling it early. I wish more people had that insight, and that bravery.

Fast forward to the more recent past. Another date, so much hope, and no connection. He tried, I tried, and the whole thing was utterly painful. As we were waiting for the check, he asked me what I thought. Trying to be evasive, I asked him about what, and then I remembered my past experience and how I appreciated the candor. Well, I told him, I think you’re very nice and clearly have a lot to offer, but I just don’t see that we have a connection. He looked a little hurt and then agreed, but said that he thought sometimes these things take time. True, I countered, but when you know it’s right, don’t you know immediately? Don’t you have a sense right out the gate, and doesn’t that grow as the minutes pass? Every single time I have been with someone with potential I knew immediately. I felt the butterflies, and I felt the curiosity. I felt in balance with him, in synch, and conversation tumbled forward easily. Isn’t that what you want, I asked? And he paused, and said yes.

I struggle with being a romantic. I distort reality to see what I want to see, and I make excuses for people when I should not. It’s a flaw, but it’s also something I appreciate about myself, because it points at Hope. Each mistake I make offers a lesson, and the growth is often painful and always worth it. I think about the relationship that ended last year, the one that turned Bad, and how much that hurt and how grateful I am for it. I had another relationship recently, much shorter but equally profound, and while it didn’t turn out the way I hoped, I am grateful for it as well.

When I was a teenager, my mom gave me a mug that said “before you meet a handsome prince you have to kiss a lot of toads”. Ugh. I don’t want to kiss toads, and think that most men are both a little bit prince and a little bit toad…as are most women. We’re all in this big messy soup together, and owe it to ourselves and each other to be candid: I want certainty. I want somebody who is certain about me, and I  want to be certain about him. Neither one of us waiting for something better to come along, or feeling like we’re just killing time because it’s better than being alone. And when it’s right, we will know.

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A Year in Review

Facebook made me a little video, my year in review. It was fun to watch, mostly – so many happy times with friends and family, travel to Belize and Colorado and Italy. This year. my children started at a new, academically rigorous school, and they have embraced the challenge and are happy and doing well. My older daughter did an alpine backpacking trip with Outward Bound for a week, facing her fears and finding her strength at 9,000 feet above sea level. She also celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, exceeding our hopes and expectations  with her dedication. My younger daughter continues to be her sweet, mellow self, but has begun to challenge friendships, and move away from the girls who don’t align with her values; she’s learned how to put herself first first, a skill that many of us have yet to master. Half of the pictures in my video are of my ex-boyfriend, even though we were only together for half of the year. It’s funny how distant that all seems now, both in time and miles…it’s like someone else’s life. There I am, in the pictures, but that woman; she’s just not me, any more. And with the passing weeks and now months, I have found my gratitude.

That may seem strange, feeling grateful for a terrible breakup, grateful for being called names and shoved around, physically and emotionally. But I am, because it taught me so much about myself, and things are simpler now. Now, I take my own temperature. If something doesn’t feel right, I focus first on my own needs and wants, instead of worrying about another, or trying to interpret their motivation, make excuses. Now, I am far less pliable. If something doesn’t feel right to me, that’s really all I need to know – that it doesn’t feel right. Now, when something does feel right, am am overwhelmed, and deeply appreciative. I am able to be present, because I am living in my own skin, for myself. It’s an incredible feeling, that shift, and the ripples of it are everywhere. I am feeling more at peace, calmer, more present. I understand that I can say NO, and the world will carry on without so much as a hiccup. I am just one tiny blip here for a very short amount of time, and it is not up to me to make others happy; it’s up to me to find my own happy, and invite others along.

All in all, 2016 was a very good year, in review.

 

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Heal the World

A few weeks ago, I visited Mother Emmanuel Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is the site of a terrible act of violence, a gunman who killed nine people who were there for bible study. The minister addressed us, sharing their reaction: tikkun olam, heal the world. It’s God’s challenge to us, to make the world better. The minister told us about the decision they made that day, when faced with the question of how to respond to so much hate, so much violence, this act that been conceived from the darkest part of the human soul, and designed to tear them apart. He asked, how does one counter darkness? With light. How does one counter hatred? With love. And so that day, they fought back by wrapping their arms around each other and by inviting the community to share their grief.

When I woke up this morning to the election results, I was in shock. Deeply disappointed and sad, numb, dumbfounded. I see Donald Trump as representative of the worst parts of us, the dark parts of our soul; he’s a divisive minsogynst, a racist, an elitist. I simply could not fathom how he could possibly win the Presidential election. How could so many smart, good people vote for him? Because, you see, they did. His supporters are not all a bunch of dumb hicks; they’re you and me. They’re teachers and lawyers and mechanics. They cross every segment of society. And they’re not all wearing “Make America Great Again” baseball caps…and they could be living next door, or be the person who held the elevator for you this morning, or who let you cut in front of them in traffic. They are everywhere, and they are us.

My daughters were angry and sad and disillusioned this morning, and even more so when they came home from school. I struggled to dig up an explanation that would be authentic and also make them feel better, and so we began to talk about tikkun olam. Healing starts here, now, with us. We will seek grace, and act with compassion. We will be an example of the best parts of ourselves, and will fight darkness with light, and hatred with love. We will double down in support of our community, and look for opportunities to be kind. We will accept the results of the election, and will respect the office of the presidency. We will wrap our arms around each other, and around our community, and we will have faith. We will not allow this divisiveness to divide us; we will push back with an embrace.

Gandhi advised us to be the change we wish to see in the world. I know the change I wish to see, and it will start here, and now. Heal the world. Be the change.

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I shouldn’t be missing.

Autumn

The seasons are shifting; we can feel it on the edge of the soft night breeze. Soon the leaves will fall, followed by the snowflakes, and then the sun will melt it all away and we will start again. This is life, the seasons; and this is our life, too. I look forward to the seasons, and especially to my spring, and fresh starts.

Earlier this month, my Tribe celebrated Yom Kippur. It comes each year at the end of the Days of Atonement, which are ushered in by Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. All together, this 10 day period is called the Days of Awe, and they are the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, and the Jewish life. The Days of Awe are a time for deep introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. One of the ongoing themes of the Days of Awe is the concept that God has “books” that s/he writes our names in, writing down who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the next year. This concept of writing in books is the source of the common wish offered to another during this time, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.”

I have always appreciated that my faith assigns a time for this introspection, a time to take stock of the good and the bad, to take a deep breath and set an intention for the future. This year, it was especially meaningful, as the past few months have offered incredible emotional challenge. I said goodbye to a relationship I treasured, and to a man who I loved. And, I was forced to see and then take responsibly for my role in the relationship; all that I had done to foster the environment that became so incredibly harmful. Most difficult, though, was the missing: I miss him. I miss his sharp wit, and the way he loved me so completely. I miss his jokes, and his strong arms which hugged me so completely. I miss…him. I miss the good parts. I miss the way we were, before it all crumbled, and before he got mean. And I have been so angry with myself, because I thought, I shouldn’t be missing.

It’s been five months, and it’s been tough. In the past, I would run from pain; I would distract myself with noise, with new relationships and bad decisions. This time, I needed to be different. I want to be different. I want to absorb all the pain and the joy and the tumult, and make them part of who I am. I want to embrace all of the feelings I have had, and make them a part of who I am, with love. I want to be gentle with myself, and gentle with those around me; I want to be honest. I want to admit my flaws without apology. For such a long time, I thought I wasn’t capable of falling in love, for letting myself be that raw and vulnerable. And you know what? I am grateful for this heartbreak, because I know know that I am capable, and that eventually, I will have a great love. And he will hug me tight in his strong arms, and he will make me feel loved and safe, and he will be kind, and gentle.

Last night, I had a dream. I dreamt my last love came to visit, trying to reconcile. I sat beside him, and looked into his beautiful brown eyes, and saw a stranger. I wanted to feel a tug, but the tug did not come; it was over. The past had become the past, and that book is now closed, and sealed. I am grateful for the time I had with him, and for all he taught me. I am grateful for the love, both given and received. And now, I am grateful to close that chapter, close the book.

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Italian lessons

Walking toward to the enormous aqueduct in Spoletto, feeling the sunshine warm on my skin and with the scent of olive trees in my nostrils, I thought, we’re doing it all wrong. Some of us, we’re doing life wrong, and we could really stand to learn from our Italian friends; the greatest of these lessons for me was to take the time to pause and enjoy. Enjoy a meal, a conversation, a view. Slow down, stop. Find my own rhythm, and make my own space for what matters most in my life. The people and experiences that make me happy, and make me hum. 

Taking time, so far away from home, gave me the space to reflect on what makes me hum, and how can I carve out a better space for it. Better space, for me.

I see now that I create the busy in my life. The noise that interferes…I let it in, let it overwhelm me. It’s a matter of choice, really, deciding, prioritizing. Doing the laundry, or sitting on the patio with my daughter, enjoy the evening light together. Leaving my phone on the kitchen counter when I take the dog for a walk; putting the phone in another room when my children and I sit down for a meal together. Do you eat standing up in the kitchen? I do, often…well, usually. There’s no good reason not to sit down; I just tell myself I am too busy and can’t waste time.

There is no such thing as wasting time for a meal. Sit, eat, nourish, pause. Taste your food: you will enjoy it more, and probably eat less of it. Italians take hours for meals, and hurrying the process is rude. When you have dinner at a restaurant, the assumption is that the table is yours for the night. Why not? Where else would you rather be, than here, enjoying the company of the person you made plans to share dinner with? And that whole paper cup of coffee thing? Honestly, it’s kind of gross and definitely unnecessary. Do you know how delicious coffee is out of a real ceramic cup? Do you remember? Have your coffee before work instead of in the car. If your mouth is free you can use it for wonderful things, like singing along to the radio, or smiling.

What makes you happy, and what makes you hum?

Focus on the present, be right here, and live. Notice the sunshine, suck on an olive pit, laugh with a child. What matters more than right here, now? Contentment is a ripe, low-hanging fruit, and it’s ours for the taking; we simply have to pause, and let it in.

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Mala beads and good intentions

A few years ago, a friend asked me what I was looking for, and I gave him a list. It started with “tall, and not-blue eyes”. I then went on to describe nice table manners, an appreciation of wine and good food, someone who skis and has straight teeth…honestly, it was utterly riculous, and I am embarrassed that I said any of it out loud. My friend chuckled and patted my arm, and told me something that has stuck: that I would meet someone who I would fall in love with, someone with a firm sense of who he is and what he wants, and that this man would break my heart. And after that, I would pick myself up, and be changed. Though heartbreak, would grow stronger, and finally, finally be ready for a real partnership.

Mala necklaces are strands of 109 beads—typically stones, crystals, sandalwood or rudraksha beads that carry certain energy – traditionally used during japa meditation, where a mantra is quietly repeated 108 times. Wearing the mala as a necklace or as a bracelet throughout the day helps you manifest the power of the stone. And much like a rosary, the beads help the practitioner keep track of their place as they move through a meditation practice with the beads in between their thumb and forefinger (never letting the beads touch the middle finger, a sign of disrespect). At the 109th bead, it is customary to give gratitude to teachers and the most important people in your life. (quoted from Yoga Journal)

The beads that I chose are a traditional rosewood strand, with a large smoky Quartz teardrop. Their description reads, “leave behind things that no longer serve you. We are talking about the difficult stuff: toxic relationships, the uninspiring job, or maybe a destructive belief. When you let go you create space for the new and wonderful to come in and fill your life. Smokey Quartz’s healing energy transforms negativity into positivity and inspires you to take the steps in the directions of your dreams. Labradorite is said to enhance one’s magical powers. It is believed to calm the overactive mind and return joy and spontaneity back to one’s life. Amethyst is a calming stone that works in the emotional, spiritual, and physical to provide balance, patience + peace.” (from Tiny Devotions)

I chose them with the intention of letting go of my last relationship; letting go of the pain, and the blame, and the sorrow. But in that meditation, and in that space, I have found quite a different letting go: it’s a letting go of shallow assumptions about what I want from a partner, and an embrace of something far deeper and more meaningful; an understanding of what I need. In that space I have found grace and compassion, for myself. I have found peace, and softness, and an opening to the possibility of life, the gift that will unfold organically when the time is right. What I have let go of is this feeling that I need a man to validate me, to keep me company, take care of me. What I have let go of is the need to search, and what I have found, is patience. So going back to my friend’s question, about what I am looking for? Finally, I can answer that I am not looking. I am finding. I am discovering me, and taking good care, and treating myself with love. I am being my own best partner, and I am perfectly content.

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The magic of the mundane

Whoops, I did it again: met a man who lives in another city, too far away. I did not mean for it to happen;  we met, we started talking, and things escalated to planning a visit. And then I panicked. I don’t want another long distance relationship, ever. I want somebody here, and real. I want everyday, ordinary…because I have come to learn that it’s in those simple moments where the magic lives. The magic lies in the mundane.

My last relationship knocked my socks off. He was exciting, and I wanted to be with him all the time. And, the time in between the times we were together almost crushed me. 

I think that perhaps I have been disingenuous in some ways, giving the impression that being single is exciting,  full of wonderful adventures and wide open possibilities. So often, friends have confided about their marriages, about how they’re boring, and the connection that was once strong is now hanging on by a thread. And every time, I give the same advice: you still have a thread. That’s everything. Fix the rest. Try. Just, try.

When I first got divorced, I had great plans. So much romance, right around the corner! But that’s not the way it is. The parts I tend not to share are the parts that many people find difficult to hear: the loneliness, the challenge of co-parenting with an ex-spouse, the financial worries. The constant nagging suspicion, usually quiet but never quite gone, that there is a very real possibility that I may not find this perfect match, the man who, I was so sure five years ago, was just aound the corner. And you know, it’s true, I won’t. Because I have changed, what I want has changed, and I no longer want perfect; I want messy, and imperfect, and mundane. I want challenging and supportive, funny and earnest, crazy smart and very silly, and mostly, I want kind. I want a man who is my friend first, to make out with pretty much always. And I want quiet Sunday afternoons at home, eating bagged salads and going to bed early. I want help making the bed, and someone else to poke the fire when it dies down, a lover to make a extra cup of coffee for and read cookbooks with. Yes, these past few years have offered incredible adventures, and I have had my share of romance. I have learned, and my heart has been opened and also squished, and I would not trade a moment. We are the sum total of our experiences, and my experiences have lead me here: to finally see the gifts offered by the ordinary.

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Leave it on the mat

That’s a yogi thing, to leave it on the mat. To practice with purpose and intention, and leave behind all that no longer serves you. Tonight, there were puddles on my mat, so many that I had to keep adjusting for them, stopping to wipe down. I was leaving it all behind; all, and then some extra for good measure.

Yesterday, I downloaded software to save text messages. I wanted them off my phone and out of my life, but I know that I will also need to remind myself at some point why I made the choices that I did, and why I was right to leave. Because you know, the mind plays tricks sometimes, and it becomes easy to only remember the happy times; my heart wants to only remember the happy times, because the rest just hurts so much. But that’s a defense mechanism, and if I am to learn and grow and evolve, I have to embrace the hurt, and let it incorporate itself into the rest of me. To become one more part of my personal history.

So I downloaded the messages, and then I deleted them all from my phone. I deleted him, and blocked him as well. Then I began to read, and read our messages from when we first fell in love. I remember how my heart raced, and of how I thought of him all the time, couldn’t wait to touch him, to wake up beside him. I saw the pictures, too – the funny goats that we fed strawberries, and the breakfast he made me the first time I visited; eggs and avocado forming a smiley face. Pictures from a life together, so many happy pictures, so many happy times. And then I skipped forward, and I saw things begin to shift. I saw his frustration with me, and I saw that transition into anger, and then I saw it transition into abuse. I saw his rage grow, and I saw myself closing down. I saw the first messages where he told me I was weak, and then told me to fuck off. He liked to tell me to fuck off, it seems, because he did it a lot. And then he would be sorry, and we would stay up late talking, and things would be better for a while…until they weren’t.

A few days ago, I woke up to a series of angry messages. They were ugly, and threatening, and mean; and, they were wrong. He has made up his version of what happened, and drawn himself as a victim, and he is wrong. I wanted to correct him, but I didn’t, and I won’t. It’s time to move on, and time to release myself. It’s time to leave it on the mat.

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Burn the whole thing down

I am trying to wash the scent of woodsmoke out of my jacket. One wash, two…it’s lying in the sun now. Usually I love the memories that scent evokes, but this time, it’s only sadness. It’s loss, and disappointment, and hurt. It reminds me of the love I had, and lost; it reminds me of the hope I had, and lost. It reminds me of terrible conflict, both around me and inside of me. Of feeling off balance and torn. Of looking at the man I loved and not knowing him anymore.

Looking over the tarot reading I had, funnily enough, almost exactly one year ago, I see themes that now make sense. Eight of Swords: a blindfolded, bound woman in a jail of her own making. Three of Swords inverted: healing from heartbreak. My foundation card was the Moon: deception, by self or another. The tarot reader urged me to pay especially close attention to this, as it was linked to all the rest.

But this isn’t about Tarot; not at all. It’s about trusting yourself, and following your instincts. I knew something was wrong a year ago – that’s why I got the reading – and I talked myself into believing I was wrong. I KNEW.

On our very last good day together, we went to the amusement park in Glenwood Canyon. It sits up on the mountainside, overlooking the town. Years ago, there was a devasting fire in the canyon. It started on one side, then jumped the river, then the highway. So much was lost. Up on the observation deck, the forest service has erected educational signs about the fire, so you can look across the landscape and visualize the extent of the damage. I learned that the fire was so bad, in part, because there had been no controlled burns; the brush and other debris were thick under trees, which were too close together. I read about how the fire service learned from this, and how they now routinely do controlled burns so the fires have less to hold on to. And I read about regrowth. About how the land is healthier now than it was before the fire, because all the junk had been incinerated. New shoots popped up, and the trees that survived were the strongest. And I looked over at this man I loved so much, and my heart hurt, because I knew.

What an enormous love we had. Wonderful adventures, and so much laughter, and so many moments that I will treasure always. But I ignored the debris. His extreme critism and anger. My reaction to both – shutting down and quietly imploding – and my doubts. Knowing that our lives are so different because of the people that we are, and because of the choices we have made. Knowing that I will probably never have the kind of freedom that he has, and that I am okay with that; I choose that. And finally, knowing that, as much as he wanted to, he could never choose me. He could never accept me the way I am, because what he needs is something different. Does that excuse all the awful things he said to me, and the way he behaved? Absolutely not. But it’s context, for me, because I knew.

I knew.

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