We Both Lost

“It’s too hard here, “ she said while we paused momentarily from our morning walk. “It’s too hard here and I‘m moving to North Dakota to be with family,” she informed me and quickly changed the subject and asked how we were adjusting to the area.

 

The Princess and I met Marsha over the summer when we first moved to our new home. We thought that a water aerobics’ class would be just the thing for two, out-of-shape seniors and would give us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to some new people. So, we reluctantly squeezed into our undersized swimsuits and headed out to our community pool to meet some new folks.

 

And meet new folks we did. But whoever said water aerobics was easy on the body and good for what ails you never injured their sartorius muscle on their hip and walked around with a limp for two months!

 

Yep, I knew the moment I injured it. Lucky me. I take a water class for gentle exercise and injure myself.

 

Oh well…

 

But I digress.

 

Marsha was one of the lovely individuals that I met in the pool this summer, and I knew from the day I met her that she and I could be good friends over time. So, when I hurt my hip and had to stop class, I felt badly that I wouldn’t be able to develop a friendship with her. I had always hoped that I would run into her in our little community and was altogether delighted when we happened upon each other during a recent morning walk.

 

“Gosh,” I thought when spotting her walking on the other side of the street. “This is totally cool. I’ll get a chance to tell her why I stopped coming to class and maybe she and I can set up a time to have tea and chat.”

 

And then she told me that she was leaving town for two months and that when she came back, she was going to put her house on the market and was moving to North Dakota to be with family.

 

“It’s been hard living here by myself for the past few years. I lost my husband and in-laws all within a short period of time, and it’s just been hard on me living alone.”

 

Totally bummed out about her impending move and unaware that her husband had passed, I said, “ Oh my gosh, Marsha. I didn’t know your husband had died. When we chatted in the pool this summer, I assumed the activities that you were talking about with your husband were recent, and that he was still alive. I am so sorry.”

 

What she shared with me next, struck me as so forsaken. She informed me that, “Nobody wants to hear your sob story. I don’t want to be a downer in people’s life, so I just didn’t say anything to you.”

 

Hm…..

 

I still can’t get what she said out of my heart. Here’s this lovely, caring individual walking by my home for the past 4 months thinking of dropping by to say, “Hi”, but not doing so because she didn’t want to appear too pushy or forward; or better yet a downer if she shared a sad part of her life.

All I could say was that, “I wished she had dropped in. That she might have been treated to some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. “

 

And then I asked her, “What’s the worst that could have happened if you knocked on my door? That I said that I had an appointment and couldn’t visit just then?”

 

“Big deal,” I continued. “We could have set up another time to chat and it would have been great.”

 

But she was afraid of rejection I’m sure and looking foolish maybe. I don’t know for sure.

 

I see so many missed opportunities for people to connect and share their lives, but too many individuals are afraid to take that step and put themselves out there because they’re afraid of rejection; afraid of being turned down.

 

“Your losses are a part of your life, Marsha; a part of you,” I continued. “It’s not a sob story to me, but a part of your life that would be important for me to know if it’s an important part of what makes you, you.”

 

“Gosh, I’m so sorry that you didn’t stop by; so sorry that you didn’t drop in, “ I told her and gave her my business card with my email and phone number.

 

“PLEASE, “ I asked of her. ”Do consider calling me. Please think about having tea with me before you leave.”

 

And she graciously smiled and we parted and went on our way.

 

I don’t know who I felt sorrier for that day – me for losing what I saw as a future good friend – or she for losing an opportunity of a solid friendship?

 

Guess it was a tie.

 

We both lost.

 

May the holiday season be filled with good food, much laughter and the company of loving family and friends! And I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

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Let Everyone Play

In 1984, many of us remembered Sally Fields holding onto a coveted Oscar for her role in “Places in the Heart” and declaring, “You like me. You really like me!” In actuality, what she said was, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”

Like most of us, I’ve come to hold onto the first quote as the real one. For me it has accurately summed up my need for belonging and acceptance over the years, and explains why I felt so giddy last month after receiving my yearly t-shirt and hat from the Veteran’s Senior Center of Northern Ca.

I felt like some smilin’ 5-year-old, that day, who lost her first tooth and was eagerly awaiting a visit from the tooth fairy. And if the truth be told, I continue to feel that way.

You would think at this age that I’d be able to buy myself as many blue t-shirts and baseball caps as I wanted, and technically you’d be right. But there’s something that makes me cry with happiness when I think about what the shirt and cap mean. There’s something that’s so deep and primal about what those two items represent, that in one instance it overwhelms me with an unbridled joy and a feeling of unconditional acceptance and love. And in another instance, I travel back to my childhood, and am engulfed in a down-to-my-toes sorrow and a feeling of exclusion and dislike.

No matter how old, how rich or poor, how educated or uneducated we are; where we were born, or the color of our skin…we all have the need to belong and be accepted.

When we’re young, having friends is so important to our development and well-being. But maintaining friendships as we age sometimes becomes difficult. Our careers, family demands, and health restraints – all pull us in different directions – all pull us further away of what is truly important; truly valuable to our survival.

As a child, I keenly remembered being left out of play groups and study groups. According to a group of neighborhood kids, my family was poor and our father was crazy. So, it gave them a reason and justification to exclude me from playing kickball and hide and seek in the Cherry Street Park on those sultry, Adirondack nights as the lightening bugs dotted the sky.

“No newcomers,” Rosemary yelled as I rounded the corner from Orchard Street to Cherry, smiling with the anticipation of a naive 10-year-old who just finished her household chores and was ready to play. “No newcomers,” she yelled as I innocently looked behind me until the reality of her comment struck home.

Slowly my smile faded, ever-so-slowly my pace slackened. I was crushed – my spirit deflated – my self-esteem kicked in the stomach. But I knew then, as a 10-year-old that those kids weren’t going to get the best of me. So, I smiled even broader, straightened-out my young shoulders and walked right by them ignoring their jeers and taunts because I knew who I was – even as a 10-year-old – and I knew that I was better than their insults and abusive remarks, and I wanted nothing to do with them or their unkind ways. Or at least that’s what I told myself, as I walked around the block and went straight home to curl-up in my closet and sob myself to sleep, comforted only by the quiet and darkness of a long, summer night.

The fact remains: we were poor and our father was crazy. Killing guys on Pork Chop Hill during the Korean Conflict and leading men into a battle that took many of their young lives can do that to a person. There’s no doubt in my mind that my dad suffered from PTSD; no doubt in my mind that his self-imposed isolation and sitting for hours playing basketball with a small plastic, hand-held toy after he came home from the war were both signs of a mentally unstable young man; a man not able to appropriately parent four children and be a good husband to Mom. His demons were many and all went untold. So he’d thrash-out at my mother and beat-up on us kids and the more I’d watch shows like, “Father Knows Best,” and “Leave it to Beaver,” the more I thought something’s not right with this family, something’s not right in our home. But my mother would feed us, iron our clothes and try her best to keep smiling between my dad’s constant blows.

My mom would divorce him and eventually he died young – died alone and on vomit from an illness unknown, and I and my siblings went on with our young lives and turned into good people in spite of our poor start.

We had something more than money could buy – we had something more than fashionable clothing and all the newest toys – we had a mother who loved us and believed in us and taught us to be compassionate and fair. We had something that no one could give us or take from us; we had something undefined.

Our survival as a community, a nation, a world and a species, all depends upon our ability to make friends and play nicely together in the sand box that we call life. No matter who wins this election come November, may we all go forward and graciously let everyone play, because it’s necessary and it’s needed and it’s the right thing to do.

And in the meantime, I have a nifty new cap and a pretty blue shirt and I’m hoping that someday that everyone does, too. Have a great day, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

 

Last Look

Four years ago, I drove across the Bay and met a couple of friends out for lunch. We had a grand day chatting with each other and doting on the one friend’s new grand baby that her daughter dropped by to show us. From all outward appearances, we were just three good friends talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. No one would have suspected that one of us had stage 4 cancer and was weeks away from dying; weeks away from leaving her friends and loved ones and succumbing to a disease that she had so gallantly and courageously battled.

I don’t remember the topics of conversation or laughter and it really doesn’t matter. What I do remember, though, is the way Janet looked at me when we started leaving that afternoon. I remember those piercing, loving blue eyes of hers and the killer smile that always made you feel loved and cared for; and how she stood in the parking lot as the three of us were saying goodbye and how time suddenly stood still as she appeared to take a mental picture of us and everything around her.

And the longer she looked, the tighter the knot twisted in the pit of my stomach. I knew my friend, and I remember feeling that something was terribly wrong. So, taking the bull by the horns, I asked her if there was something else she needed to tell us – if the cancer had worsened?

She gave me that reassuring smile of hers and told me to get on the freeway – that she’d give me an update on everything as soon as she knew – as soon as the Doctors told her.

“Stop worrying,” she lovingly scolded. “I promise I’ll call.”

I knew that she wouldn’t. She knew it, as well. But what could I do? What could I say? We all got into our cars and home we wistfully drove.

And shortly after our lunch date, regular communication with Janet stopped.

Phone calls went unanswered. Emails and Facebook messages were far and few between. And those messages that were answered were cryptically short. The panic set in. The realization that my dear friend was dying hit home. She was leaving without saying good-bye. She was leaving and protecting me – protecting me one last time – not because she was selfish; not because she didn’t care…. She was so dedicated to me, so faithful and so caring. She knew I was unwell. She knew I was fatigued. She knew the drive over to her would be taxing and compromising, so she kept me at bay; kept me safely ensconced in a protective cocoon.

Like a butterfly escaping and transforming anew, I broke thru my cocoon and eventually her denial; and insisted I drive over – insisted I come – because I selfishly needed to; selfishly cared.

She knew that I loved her. She knew how I felt. She knew that I needed one last time for “good-byes”.

My dedicated, loyal friend; my Lancelot from the start. School was our Camelot and I was her Arthur. From the moment I met her, she was my aide, my confident. She graciously followed and did more than assist; she inspired and cheered and laughed when I blundered – and always the protector – she lifted me gently and helped me transform. She taught me, she cared for me; and when I was too ill to teach, she selflessly took over and never complained.

“How could my Lancelot die?” I needed to know why.

So ride-over I did and our visit was great. We ate and we laughed and we said our farewells.

And when I arose from her bedside to leave her frail, beautiful, blue-eyed-self, wearily lying in her bed that day; I remember walking toward the bedroom door, eyes misting, looking at the floor; not wanting to look back, not wanting to break down. But me being me, and her being her – I glanced back one last time, took-in her loving eyes one more moment, and then broke down sobbing, as she bravely smiled on, and out the door I went – out the door I staggered.

Crawling into my car, I began to compose myself, when I suddenly saw Janet’s husband gallantly standing on the sidewalk next to my door.

“Hey,” he began. “You doin’ ok?”

“Janet’s worried that you’re too upset to drive all that way,” he continued.

“She sent me out to make sure you’re alright. So, that’s what I’m doing, ‘cuz you know Janet, and if I don’t she’ll be upset. So, are you ok?” he dutiful asked.

I answered that I was and he nodded ok.

I drove on and got home and have no idea how; but of this I am grateful, of this I am certain – Janet’s life was a precious, flawless gift to me, and I will always be thankful for her dedicated, unconditional love that she showered on me and so many others.

Last year, as I celebrated my 60th with a whale watching trip out of Monterey Bay, I thought of Janet (as I often do on especially beautiful days) as we headed-out on the open seas of the Bay, and began to tear-up for a brief time, when I suddenly sensed this light presence next to my glasses and noticed a monarch butterfly fluttering to the right of me. I never saw a butterfly so far away from shore before and it brought a smile to my face and lightened my heart. As I watched it disappear into the horizon, I couldn’t help but think that somehow this beautiful butterfly was Janet’s attempt (from beyond) to let me know that she was ok and that it was time to let go; that she lost her battle with cancer, but that our friendship was still intact and that she was an integral part of my life and who I was – that as long as I was alive, SHE was alive – and for that I am eternally grateful.

May you all be blessed with the unconditional love of a friend or dear one, and may you know the joy of bestowing that same love on another.

I’ll catch you the next time, looking at life from my shoes!

I