I spent some time this weekend with a friend. She is deep in mourning, and her home is filled with all the remnants of charity. Cookies, candies, and cards litter the rooms.The air is still heavy with sadness. She looks exhausted, although she has slept most of the day. She shuffles her feet through misty random thoughts that are attached to anger and disappointment. I have been in that place, so I can recognize her body language and understand why she thinks she is losing her mind. She is now among women who have had to bury one of their children. This we now share, and I wish we didn’t have this in common. I went to sit with her. I wanted her to see it was possible to walk with grief without it squeezing you from the inside out. I told her there will be a day when she will wake up, and it will not be the first thing she thinks about. She couldn’t believe that, and I understand why. How does a mother bury her child and keep going? How do you prove that time has stopped when you see the second hand defiantly moving and experience one day turn into the next? I don’t have the answers.
          It has been a challenge for me to understand that illnesses can seemingly come out of nowhere and that healthy people that you love can die. It is hard for people to measure how long it will take to accept that  life as they knew it has ended. I am still working to accept loss. Last month, when it was time to say goodbye to my father, I wasn’t ready. People asked how old he was and if he was sick.  They wanted to help make sense of it. “Was it sudden?”  They asked. “No,” I said, but it didn’t matter.  You can never be ready to say goodbye, no  matter how prepared you or others think you should be. In ten years, I have said goodbye to a four-year-old daughter, a student who sat in the front row of my sixth grade class, three uncles,  two sets of granparents, a cousin, a friend, my father, and  a cat I tried not to love. Now, I am fearful that I may have to say goodbye to one of my oldest and dearest friends. Yes, she is sick and her death from this illness seems eminent, but I can’t accept the idea of saying goodbye to this forty-one-year-old woman. I am  numb from goodbyes, and I wish I could call a “time out”, but all of it is out of my control. So, it is a challenge to comfort this friend when I still feel raw with grief  of my  own. It is also a challenge not to tell her the truth: You will recover, but there will be other things you will have to get through, overcome, manage, and hold up under. Ready or not, those things will come.
        Things happen that are outside our control and we are forced to deal with it. In her book, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhonda Janzen writes about all the challenges she had to overcome after her husband decides he no longer loves her and leaves. She writes, “What I want to measure, what I can control, is my response to life’s challenges. ”   These words suit my present position. I cannot control what happens to those I love or spare them pain or sorrow.  I cannot measure how long it will take for someone to move past his or her grief. I can only measure myself against what I have overcome.  I’m still standing, living, working, and laughing even without the understanding of how and why things happen the way they do. I hope this gives my dear friend some hope. 

Faith is a knowing that “it”, whatever “it” is, will be. Sometimes faith can be shaky, but when you hit that beam of light in your heart and mind; it’s unshakeable.  For the past week, I have been on Facebook working to gain support for my self-publishing project. It is a big challenge to raise 10,000 dollars in forty days, but not impossible. I am grateful for friends and family who have already backed me because they love me and believe in my project. Yet, before my husband hit that launch button on the Kickstarter site, I believed it would happen, even though the thought that it might not, terrified me. In life, a little terror is unavoidable, and it has always been unavoidable for me. Terror has been a part of everything new I’ve ever attempted because I want to succeed. So this project is a little scary, but so is every leap of faith. You leap not knowing for sure where you will land, with your heart racing, and your soul  focused on that beam of light. If you can just stay in the light, it will happen. Yes, it’s cheesy, but I really believe it. I believe in the words of the old king in Paolo Coehl’s book, The Alchemist when he says to Santiago, “When you want something bad enough, the whole universe conspires to give it to you.”  For the next thirty-three days and beyond, I plan to keep stepping out on faith, and  I’m excited to see how far it takes me. 

        I have been off of spring break now for four days and with each day that passes, I come home to find  a new pile. They are showing up all over the house. They don’t care that I am tired and desperately wishing they will disappear. They wait for me. I have piles of colored-coded clothes waiting to be washed, piles of papers waiting to be filed or filled out, piles of coupons waiting to be chucked or clipped, and small piles of folded scarves or sweaters waiting to be hung. I came home after work last night, walked past all the piles with a sigh and went to my closest to choose the least wrinkled shirt to iron for work.  I had dinner, talked on the phone, and made more piles of papers. This time to-do lists that would need to be consolidated and check marked. Then I sat and planned a pile elimination plan. The pile elimination plan seemed impossible, so I took a walk. I walked to the end of my street to clear my head.  Instead of hearing, “Take one step at a time,” I heard, “Bird by Bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” This is what Anne Lamont shares as advice for her writing students and her readers in her book, Bird by Bird. I liked the bird analogy because it helped me to imagine each of the piles as a little bird flying away.  A little bit of stress would fly away  too. I would feel lighter and become encouraged to set free another pile, and then another, until all the piles fly south for winter. But it’s spring, and the piles aren’t going anywhere.

I sent my mom tulips for her birthday.  I had never sent her flowers before, and I probably would have counted that gift a waste of hard-earned money had I not fallen in love with flowers a year ago. I used to wonder why people gave them as gifts since they usually  didn’t last longer than a week.  Now,  I fall in love with a bouquet in the store and take them home to be reminded of the beauty, fragility and brevity of life. I did not become preoccupied with flowers or their symbolism naturally. It started  after I read The Florist Daughter, by Patricia Hampl. In the book Hampl writes,”Love and flowers, death and flowers. But flowers, flowers, always flowers, the insignia of  death, the hope of resurrection. ”
I place my flowers  on a coffee table where there are framed pictures of dead  relatives. I do this in remembrance of them.  In the center of the table I place the clear vase  with the prettiest flowers that I could  find that week in the grocery store. When there were just pictures,  I would walk by that coffee table every day without a glance to the frames that needed dusting. I didn’t pause to look at how strong my great grandmother looked or how handsome my grandfather was even as an older man. If I took the time, I could remember what he used to sound like, but I am always buzzing by that table to get to the next task.  The fresh flowers remind me to take pause. I know their life is short. I have to enjoy them before they wilt and die.  I know my mother will do the same with her tulips. She will smile at them and remember their beauty even when they’re gone. And, I will stop to smile at the beauty around me while I am still here. I will smell my flowers and remember to notice the beauty in the faces closed in their frames,  frozen in their time, and far from their hour of bloom.

 It is advisable not to do any walking outside between the hours of ten and two because the ultra violet rays are too strong. But what if you wake up at 9 a.m., don’t have a car, and need to mail a cashier’s check before noon? Exactly. So, I put on sunblock, and a white long-sleeve sheer blouse, grabbed a book and headed to the bank. The bank is a 15 minute walk from my house, but with the heat I felt like I was on a pilgrimage across the Sahara.    One of the best books I have read while getting my MFA was Don’t Let’s Go to  the Dog’s Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller. Her story is set in Africa. She learns from her mother, “If you drink a cup of tea and eat something salty in the middle of the afternoon, you won’t get heat exhaustion.” But, what do you drink in the morning before noon? I tried water and eventually some creative thinking.  I tried not to focus on the heat or the thoughts begging me to turn back. I listened instead to the birds chirping as their wings flapped above me. I listened to the dry leaves being pushed by the wind behind me. I thought  about lines from my favorite books. I focused on my breathing instead of the heat, and I reached my destination faster than usual.  On my walk back home, however, it felt hotter. I didn’t think of any lines from any book, I  didn’t think of tea or of birds. All I could think about was a new car and the feel of air conditioning blowing on my face.

I think it started ten years ago after my daughter died. People said I should “stay busy,”  to help keep my mind off grief. I definitely took that advice. I went from project to project and now I have become comfortable operating in overdrive. I have been working to learn how to relax and practice the art of “not doing” because my mental and physical health depend on it. Doing nothing, keeping my mind free of to-do  and should-do lists has been  extremely difficult for me. In  the last two years I have been teaching, managing and editing a school magazine, moderating a service club, trying to get a children’s book published, completing requirements to earn a MFA, and writing a memoir while keeping up with all the deadlines for home, work, and Converse College.  Obviously, no human can keep this up without losing sleep, patience, and her hair. I have lost a lot of all three. And  my allergies, skin eruptions, and asthma  have all intensified. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to stop myself. I have forgotten how to  live any other way. Two weeks ago, I went to the allergist and had a full and pleasant conversation about how I had been improving after a month  on the allergy shots. I told him I felt great. Ten minutes later, I took a breathing test and found my lung capacity was working at less than  60%. I didn’t even notice. I read this book called, Heal Your Body by Louise L. Hay where Hay gives an affirmation for each medical condition. For my rashes and itching skin, she recommends the affirmation: “Harmony and peace, love and joy surround me and indwell in me. I am safe and secure.” I will be working with this affirmation and others because more than anything, I want to be at peace.  I want it to  surround me and fill my heart and lungs. I want to feel safe when still. I want to live and breathe at 100%.

I enjoy quiet and solitude. Sometimes I have to leave my house to find a quieter place to read or write.   I jokingly tell my husband and children that I believe they are allergic to quiet.  I’m also very independent, so I usually don’t depend on others to give me what I need. My point is: Based on my independent nature and seeming need to be apart from people, I had always likened myself to a cat. Now I realize that the more I write, the more I am becoming like a dog.

      In her book, I Could Tell You Stories, Patricia Hampl compares the reader to a cat and a writer to a dog. I know many people who are afraid of cats, and I wonder if it because they are unpredictable. People often fear the unknown. And in that sense, a reader can be scary too. A writer fears  a reader’s reaction, which is often unpredictable. A reader could bear her claws and rip  a writer’s confidence to shreds. A dog, however, is always seeking to feed its belly and its own ego, and in doing so, it  often feeds the ego of the one who gives it the love or attention it seeks. Both parties are satisfied. In the past, I had seen dogs as inferior to cats. Cats seemed cool and self assured, and dogs were always whining and begging for attention. I would watch them run to and fro, mark their territory, and seek reassurance and confirmation that they were “good.”
        Last night after I posted my first blog, I found myself panting and waiting for someone to read it.  Actually, I begged my friends on Facebook to read it, and then sent an inbox message to two others. “Tell me what you think,”  I wrote as I sat wagging my imaginary tail. I was insecure and needed someone to pat my head and say, “good girl.”   Needless to say, I have become more compassionate in regards to man’s best friend. I now understand their innate desire to love and be loved. It is an endearing character trait. Last night, I wanted someone to throw me a bone and let me know I would have someone to play with if I just kept coming back. I am grateful to my first readers who posted their comments. They were a confirmation that I should keep going. Now, I still respect and understand that a cat does not need this, but like most dogs, and most people, I do.