Leonard Cohen and the nuns

Lately, I’ve taken to hour-long lunches: food nibbled on at leisure, midday napping in the grass, and poetry pocketbooks. I drop the edge of the blanket under the sunshine to warm my toes and soles, and tuck the rest under the shade. It’s 80 now, but with the regular appearance of a cool breeze, the air retains the impression of being less. Today, my companion is Leonard Cohen. His sultry poems slide past my lips as a mimed monologue, one blending into the next. Then comes the added rhythm of dodging the nuns in my head who toss shock and shame at my afternoon affair. “Shhh!” I shout in rebellious reflection, like an apostle seeking a psalm to reconcile humanity. But the epiphany is not impressed upon the soul via knee caps or constitution. It is not sipped in, from silver goblets or whispered behind velvet guilt. This truth permeates the ordinary. It slips in from syllabic temptresses who press me to finish before the nuns return.

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at the airport

She arrives on Thursday morning. She forgot to call ahead. I forgot to call to see why she hadn’t. We both reach out in the latter half of awake.

She’s a declarative disaster. I’m silence, rushing to escape my morning meetings–annoyed–and forgetting that I can just say, “I have to go.”

She is calm and I am crinkled. I trip around the car and dive for the bags, a half “hey!” smothered by practicality. I tuck away the shoes that live behind the driver’s seat and plank luggage on the back seat. Exhale. She is in front of me: the human factor. This time, I fling a bold “H-I” and bolder embrace.

Beginnings flourish in the roll of her tongue and flick of her vibrancy. I break beginnings. I’m as awkward as a fifth grader at a dance: hunched in the shadows–a breath away from the action, but cemented to habitual self-impositions. I clutch silence into stagnation with an obsessed focus on tasks; conversation stales quickly with others, but she is all patience and forgiveness. She waits a breath longer than most.

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a week of pandora

My uncle was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on a Tuesday. Mom meant to tell us, but she was still figuring out how. He died four days later. I spent the weekend in shock, the kind of shock where you forget about email and Facebook and eating. When enough of my wits returned, I flew home to be with my family.

I was supposed to drive down to an aunt’s in Newport Beach. I was supposed to use the weekend to complete my holiday shopping. But I wanted to stay close to my parents, to look over them, as if I could protect my family from any more loss or harm. On Saturday, a gunman fired off 50 rounds at Fashion Island. One reporter covering the story had the audacity to fill the last paragraph of their coverage with an explanation of Fashion Island as a high-end retail mall, as if the average property value in the area were a mass bulletproof vest. My family, too soon, returned to panic mode and began calling my aunt’s cell and house.

I’m sure the gunman thought he was exacting his rage on the rich and privileged. He threw his rage at them with a calculated fury. But that’s the thing about rage–it doesn’t much care who your intended target was; rage is chaos and like making a deal with the devil, rage will destroy any and all within sight. I’m sure he thought the joke was on those who had pissed him off, but it turned out that the joke was on humans. The joke was on families like mine, already grieving, already in shock from personal loss, already feeling vulnerable and stunned from the horrid massacre in Connecticut just a day prior. And none of us found the joke to be funny.

On Tuesday, we gathered for the funeral. Five generations. A cousin from Australia who had to catch a plane directly after the funeral. The aunts and uncles who were there for every birthday, every milestone. The babies of the family who were no longer babies. We gathered to say goodbye but had to wait. Someone’s idea of a joke: bomb threats. The first in the early morning against the synagogue, the second against the police directly. I received the news stone-faced. I was empty. All my energy had gone to finding peace amidst a mad scramble to keep the chaos away from my family.

I’ve never been a fan of funerals. I find them grotesque and bleak. But my mother hen instincts kicked in as I wandered the reception, stealing facetime with my beloveds. Billy and I joked in the hallway about selective hearing, while I explained the family tree to a cousin 10 years my junior. I found my peace there, in my family, in memories remembered and made. And peace was what I needed most, because it’s not the gun or absence of that separates them from us, it’s the rage. Of course I felt rage in Pandora’s week, but rage doesn’t heal. The ability to let go of our rage, to process it, in a way that is not destructive to others is what sustains our humanity, what leads one person to open fire on all that is not and another to just let go and embrace all that is.

*In memory of my cousin Billy, not mentioned, but no less loved, who passed away Christmas Eve 2012.

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This is Telluride

They used to say to hell you ride, but anyone who’s been here knows that on the other side of that winding ride to Telluride, lays a little bit of heaven. With a population around 2,000, this town sits 8,750 feet above sea level. Wanna ski? The gondola will carry you another 800 feet to the top of the slopes. There’s the typical resort town (read: overpriced) activities like sledding, snowmobiling, and boutique shopping, but there’s also a small-town subculture. Families return year after year, children giggle into adolescence with friends, divorced parents make sure those without the kids this year don’t spend the holiday alone. The cashier at Cafe de Luz greets customers with quirky cheer. The baristas at The Steaming Bean greet seasonal customers with as much familiarity as family. UPS accepts packages handed over in the middle of the road. The grounds manager knocks on the door Christmas Eve to see if the plants need watering. Boys shoot hoops at school over the weekend. The speed limit is 15. It’s a gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian we won’t judge you for your dietary allergies or choices town. Oh, and you’re gonna run into the neighbors, and the dog trainer you passed in the street–you should get to know them now. This is Telluride.

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A time to say goodbye

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Time

My uncle is dead. He found out that he had stage 4 cancer on Tuesday–a brain tumor. The doctors said 3-8 months. He passed four days later on Saturday morning.

It’s not the way it’s supposed to happen. You’re supposed to get a second opinion…find the right time to tell the family…fight your fate and then make peace with it.

I was supposed to have time to visit the family, to catch up with those who I always miss when I fly in for the weekend. I booked the trip home, was so proud of myself for finally making the time. Four days too late.

We were supposed to have time.

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The Countdown

It’s official. 12:01. The first minute of my last day as a “regular” employee. So, how do I feel?

5. Excited at the thought of flexible hours. When everyone else is stuck in the office, gazing hungrily at the haze of sun that filters through the West-facing window–I’ll be taking a walk in that 5-minute stretch of sun that the Seattle winter loves to taunt us with.
10. Relieved that I get to still work from an office when I want to. I’m planning on a couple times a week. I’m a huge advocate of face time. No amount of technology can replace it.
3. Confused by the IRS forms. I’m breaking this into weekly milestones. This week, I just have to locate all the forms.
2. Exhausted from the 10 hours of phone calls to health insurance agents and the IRS and retirement funds. Let’s skip over this one so I can retain my happy place mentality before bed.
7. Overwhelmed by the Internet’s overload of information. I do not need this many choices.
1. Rejuvenated by the sense of possibility.
9. Grateful that I start my first freelance gig on Monday. Not to sound like I just whipped up a job out of thin air: I knew that I’d need to find work a while ago, so I lined this up in October.
4. Proud that I ran through my to-do list with my wise old dad, who said, “When I can finally retire in a couple years and do what I love, you can help me maneuver all of this.”
6. Like the center of a twister.
8. Humbled by all I have yet to learn.
11. Confident of all that I have learned.

And that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? Realizing your worth as a professional and walking with humble confidence into the unknown.

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