Archive for October, 2010

The Dream

If only ____(insert something)____ everything would be better, come together; then I could pursue my dream.

I have a dream and you do too.  We all do.  And we all have if onlys.  You know, if only I could lose x-number of pounds.  If only I could find the love of my life.  If only I had more money.

I watched The Count of Monte Christo last night.  There are many lessons inside that story but the one that resonated inside of me was the one about a man with a dream that was impossibly out of reach.  Still, he reached for it.

He reached for it against all odds,  past prison and near death, beyond betrayal, and the loss of everything he held dear, including his awareness of God, and then he became RICH beyond his wildest imagining and that got in the way of his dream, too.  Finally, having got past every conceivable distraction, he realizes his dream in a fairy tale ending, but the point of it, for me, was that anything and everything can get in the way of the dream.

Personally, I would pursue my dream if only I could get away, throw off responsibility and head for sunshine, beaches of sparkling white sand, or maybe the mountains, redolent of pine…  Then, I would write.  Then, I…

Well, likely, I would be distracted by Pina Coladas, sunshine, surf, or forest trails that beg to be wandered.  My point is that I would be distracted by something.  A change of location and lessening of responsibility would not necessarily facilitate the pursuit of my dream, as much as I like to think it would.  The only way for me to finish my novel – listen carefully, ’cause this is complex – is for me to start writing again.

In moments of discontent, my life feels too small. I used to travel the world, live out of a suitcase. No money? No worries. Somehow something would come up. I remember jumping up with a WHOOP and pumping my fist because I found 29 cents under the couch cushions when I lived in the Manoa Valley in Hawaii and I could go to McDonalds and get a hamburger because they were having a big hamburger sale and I WAS RICH!

I remember – score! – catching a ride with my thumb in the back of a limo to a private beach only locals knew about and I was – score again! – a brown, barefoot girl.  A Kama’aina (a child of the land).   God, I loved those days.  I sang at night, prowled the island by day.  Worry was something nearly foreign to me.  I shared a tiny room – 12′x12′, MAYBE, with five other girls in triple bunk beds and it was just about perfect.

I should mention that I had the same dream then.  I would write a book.  I would write it when I was done wandering.  I had to live a bit more before I settled down to write but one day I would do it.

Well, I’m done wandering.  Now, I have all this responsibility and I would write if only I wasn’t so damn stressed out.  Really.  If only I didn’t have so much responsibility.   If only I could just pack a bag and go live off the money mined from couch cushions in the Manoa Valley.  If only…

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How about you? Do you have a dream that wants pursuing?  What are your if onlys?

To Kate with Love

It was day two of our freshman year in college when I complimented my shy Japanese-American roommate on the lovely, hand-woven necklace she was wearing.  In response, she immediately unfastened the necklace and  handed it to me with a smile.  I admired it then tried to give it back but every time I reached out my hand she took a step back.  “It’s yours,” she said. “Please keep it.”

Thus began the catastrophe of gift-giving that marked my freshman year in college.  I reciprocated by giving her one of my favorite necklaces.  Her next gift came head-spinningly fast.  It was an all expenses paid weekend in Vegas.

I suggested perhaps we shouldn’t give gifts.  She agreed, even as she was handing me another gift.

I learned not to compliment her on anything she owned, because whenever I did, she would immediately gift the item to me.  It was painfully uncomfortable.  I swear, if I’d complimented the color or style of her toothbrush, as she was brushing her teeth, she would have bowed, removed it from her mouth, and given it to me!

A year or so later, living in Japan, I learned that the gift giving “thing” is cultural.  During my freshman year in college, however, I hadn’t a clue.

Flash forward.

I recently put a great deal of thought into buying a book for a friend, one I thought she would love.  She gave it a cursory glance, showing little interest (how rude!), then less than a month later gifted the same book back  to me for my birthday.   She said, utterly straight faced, that she’d heard it was an excellent book, albeit she hadn’t actually read it yet herself.  A half smile played around the corners of my mouth as she said it.  I mean, the book still had my inscription on it, which kinda worked since her name is Kate and so’s mine.  You know, “To Kate, with love.  Kate.” I laughed out loud, thinking it was a joke.  It wasn’t.

I had no idea what to say, so I said, “Uh, thanks Kate.  I love this book.  In fact, it’s one I could easily see myself giving you.” She frowned slightly and said, “You’ve already read it?”  I smiled, yes.  She offered to take it back.  I flipped it open to the inscription and showed her with a wry smile.  She scratched her head in puzzlement and said, “I don’t remember inscribing it…”  There had to be a bit of willful ignorance at play by then because it was clearly my handwriting, not hers.  But that’s Kate, God bless her.  :)

Anyway, this holiday season our hands are tied.  We’ve already decided we won’t be buying gifts, not even within the confines of our immediate family, not even for our kids.  We simply cannot afford to this year.  I’m actually looking forward to the challenge of coming up with something I have on hand or can make for my children.  Holidays like Christmas have nearly lost their meaning in the midst of rampant materialism, at least in my opinion.  It will be nice to take another step back from that.

What about you?  Have you ever given or received an obvious re-gift?  Ever experienced an awkward gift exchange?  What are your plans for the holidays and how do you handle the giving and receiving of gifts?

Living with Intention

If I asked you to tell me what matters most to you in life, what brings you the most joy, what moves you to tears, what do you believe with all your heart and soul to be true, would your answers line up with the life that you live?

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living and that resonates as truth in me; I’m constantly questioning my heart and actions.  I live with intention.  That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally veer off course.  I do.  It’s easy to get distracted, to fill one’s life with so many things that there’s no time to THINK.  We careen through the days without time to reflect or listen to the inner voice that speaks to all of us, if we have ears to hear it.

When I find that I’ve veered off course, I make a correction.  Sometimes I’m able to do it quickly and sometimes it happens in stages; I have to fight my way back to the things I hold dear.

It helps to have people we love and trust to speak truth to us.  If we don’t invite people to hold us accountable to live true to the things we profess to believe in, then we’re more likely to drift off course, and life is too precious to be spent too much adrift.

Sometimes we need to step back and just be quiet, stop talking, let go of all the distractions, and just BE for a bit.

Everything I Need

It was a gorgeous, sunny morning and I was sitting in a pile of loose hay in the hay loft of our barn, with the big door thrown open to the sunlight and a kitty curled in my lap.  My horses were looking up at me quizzically, so I laid down on my belly and crawled to the edge and hung my head over, reaching my arms down.  When they lifted their noses to me, I could just touch them.

Stretched out like that, with the kitty walking up and down my back, I remember thinking that I wanted that moment to last forever that I would imprint it on my mind and never forget.  It worked.  I’ve never forgotten, which is not to say that I was granted my wish.  The moment slipped through my fingers even as I was living it.  I think about that moment more than I do about vacations we’ve saved up for.

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It was early August, winter in Australia, when my not-yet-husband and I rode bikes into Canberra and found a hidden patch of grass beside a stream and we sat down, huddled together, cold in that way that’s perfect for being out with someone you love.  I remember turning his hand over on my knee and tracing the lines of his palm.

I wanted to freeze time, to stay there beside him forever, but I knew I couldn’t, so I did what I did in the barn when I was a girl, I seared the memory in my mind, made a conscious record of it.  This I will not forget. And I haven’t.

That moment stands out more starkly in my mind than any moment of our wedding.

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I think life happens between the “big” stuff.  It happens in these small moments when we’re caught unaware by beauty or love, which is odd considering the fact that we spend so much time dreaming, planning, and saving for things like vacations and weddings.  Why do we do that?

If I knew I had only a week left of this life I’ve been living, I wouldn’t plan a vacation or party.  I think what I would do is throw worry to the wind and throw my arms wide open to the people I most love to hold – my husband and my children.  I wouldn’t want to go anywhere because time would be too precious to waste in transit.  I’d want to be home, where my heart is, surrounded by the people and creatures I love.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be dressed up, wearing a stiff, white dress!   I doubt I’d give a second thought to my bucket list.

As much as we all want to, we can’t stay in those perfect moments.  If we’re fortunate and living with intention, we notice them and tuck them away for a rainy day, but all too often I think they slip away without even a nod of recognition because we take them for granted.  We’re too busy dreaming of the “big” stuff, planning for it.

Lately, I’ve been wanting a vacation.  I keep saying that it’s been too long, that I need a change of scenery, a chance to unwind.  Today, I realized that even though it’s what we’re wired by society to want, it’s not what I need.

What I need is to live this moment I’m in, to be present right here and now.  I can walk out to the barn and be transported.  I can hug my husband and children.  That’s the best of life right there.  I’m already living it. I already have everything I need right here right now in this moment.

©UnequivocalKate, October 2010

Mud Baths and Bedmates

My eyes started to cross, I swear.  It took a conscious effort to bring them straight again and wipe the drool off my chin.  At first I was worried that I might have offended her but I should have known better; I was the only other person in the room but she wasn’t even aware of me, of how she was being received.

Sometimes she would pause for breath and I’d try to respond to something she’d said, but she would just keep going, as if she didn’t hear me.  It wasn’t a conversation, it was a monologue.

The substance of her monologue was how the world had done her wrong.  Her parents basically abandoned her, she said.  Her children were difficult, despite her best efforts to parent them well, better than her parents had done for her, for sure.  Her latest live-in boyfriend was okay with them but their birth fathers were good-for-nothing dogs.

I managed to suggest that she should not have chosen to have indiscriminate, unprotected sex with whatever guy caught her eye.  How can you have unprotected sex with a guy – three guys, at least – that you know to be bad-ass idiots, and blame THEM when they don’t turn out to be great dads for the kids you accidentally spawn with them?

She looked straight through me when I said it, then kept right on talking as if I hadn’t spoken.

I picked my nose to see if it would give her pause.  It didn’t.

I got up and left the room, grabbed a glass of ice-water, rattled around in the kitchen, came back, and she was still talking.  I noticed her mouth had set in a permanent frown and it made me sad.  She had been such a pretty girl but her attitude had sucked the pretty right out of her.

In reality, life hasn’t been any harder for her than for most people.  It’s just that she’s taken every difficulty personally.  Instead of looking to meet a challenge or rise above it, she’s chosen time and time again to wallow in it.  It’s like she’s drowning in two inches of muddy water.  All she needs to do is roll over, get off her face, and right there is sunshine and air, but she’s committed to her face-down position.  Because she’s face down, even blessings, when they fall, hit her back and slide off.  If she’d only turn her head and look at them, change her attitude (i.e. physical and mental position).

I’ve been thinking about that visit for a long time now.  I don’t want to subject myself to that degree of negativity by spending time with her again, especially when she barely noticed I was there.  I know she will see my distance as another rejection.  But, really, she doesn’t want my friendship or fellowship.  She simply wants an audience, someone to listen to her mantra of self-pity.  She reminded me of an old record – remember them? – With a needle stuck in a scratch so that it played the same thing over and over again.

I’ve decided that the best thing I can do is send loving thoughts her way.  Whenever I think of her I will think things like, “Jessica (not her real name) is loved.  Jessica is blessed.  Jessica will sleep well tonight.  Jessica will feel the love of her children.”  I’m going to direct positive thoughts her way with the hope that they will somehow break through and touch her in a way I cannot do face-to-face.  She needs good thoughts.  What she absolutely does not need is one more person to commiserate with her.

I’m glad she showed up at my front door that day, because I believe she needs someone to pray for her, to send good thoughts her way, but I’m also glad she came because I think her coming made me a better person.  I listened to her complaining about everyone else and I realized how much I complain about myself.  I need to stop it.

Last night, I went to bed and began to cozy up to the self-deprecating thoughts that I frequently go to bed with.  I scooted over and made room for my other bed-mate, worry.  I always thought it was OKAY for me to sleep with them because I wasn’t projecting negativity onto anyone else.  I was just beating myself up and worrying – for the most part – about other people.   That’s a good thing, right?

Wrong.

I kicked self-deprecation and worry out of my bed.  I heard them land on the floor with a thud.  They tried to talk their way back under the covers but I was stern.  GET OUT, I said.  BE GONE.  And I lifted my blankets and let love and kindness slip in.  I went to bed thinking good thoughts about myself – it’s not a sin – and thinking of all the ways life might surprise me with something cool, how many good things might come from the challenges I’m facing.

I slept like a baby.

Thank you, Jessica, for showing me what I do not wish to be.  Thank you, for showing up on my doorstep, so I can pray for you and think good thoughts for you.  You are blessed, my friend.  Roll over, feel the sunshine on your face.

©UnequivocalKate, October 2010

The Life She Never Lived

The closet smelled of cedar and the light lingering scent of her mother’s perfume.  She’d only just finished moving her mom’s things into a room closer to the kitchen and the heart of home.   Long confined to a wheel chair, unable to speak or move voluntarily, her mom had only a few outfits left; remnants of a past in which she was vibrant, witty and full of laughter.

She’d cared for her mother since she was a little girl.  It was an honor and a privilege, which is not to say that she didn’t at times resent the responsibility, the grossness of changing adult diapers, but it was a labor of love.  Her mother was the sun, and the moon, and the stars, the light of her dim childhood.

But she hadn’t meant to move into her parent’s house, to fill their closet with her clothes.  She was only 29-years old but Kari could already see her future stretched out in front of her; she would somehow end up living her parents life.  She would slide into the numbing routine of middle-age, lost in the accumulation of things and the increasing weight of responsibility.  Her breath caught at the thought and she screamed inside, so long and loud that she was sure the neighbors could hear it, even though she hadn’t made a sound.

In the other room, she heard her mother moan and rushed to check on her.  It was nothing but the sound of pain of a human being trapped in a body that no longer worked.  Kari sank to her knees beside her mother’s bed and rested her forehead against the side of her head, just above her ear, and she whispered, “Mom, I have to go.  I love you more than the world but I have to go. ”  She pulled back to see her mom’s face, to see if she’d registered what she said, and right there in the corner of her mom’s eye a tear shimmered and fell; Kari cried with her and talked with hiccuping breath of her dreams, of things she’d talked about when she was a little girl, and her mom smiled, and her eyes said, “Go, I love you.”

So she went.  It took awhile to make arrangements but her husband quit his job, her father found a day nurse for her mother, and they sold everything they owned, Kari and Joe, and they flew half way around the world to live in the jungle, and they did some good.

Kari wrote long letters to her mom, knowing her dad would read them to her over and over again.  She told her about the sights and sounds… the smell of the jungle, the warmth of the people.  And she felt her mom with her in spirit, loving her strong and hard.

The future she’d envisioned, standing in her parent’s closet, never was.  Instead, she took the life she’d been given and lived it with intention;  she lived in full and hard, as if to make-up for everything the disease had stolen from her mom.

She wasn’t gone forever; she came back with her husband and children and had many more years with her mom.  It was her dad that died while they were gone.

Years later, Kari sat by her mother’s bedside again, listening to the labored sound of her breath, and she rested her face against the side of her mother’s head again, and she spoke more hard words.  She said, “Now it’s your turn to go.  I can’t go with you, not yet, but one day I’ll come and we’ll talk again; you can tell me everything you thought all those years when you couldn’t talk.  I’ll be okay.  I have my life and it’s good.”  And a tear slid down her mother’s face and her eyes said, “I love you.  Goodbye.”

It was only a few days later that her mom breathed her last labored breath. But it wasn’t the end, just another beginning for both of them.

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Some of you will recognize this as my story; I am “Kari” and my husband is “Joe.”   It’s a story of life, of beginnings and endings, of living with intention, of letting go.

I wonder about your story.   Was there a moment in your life when you lived without intention, just letting the days slide by?  Have you let go of a dream, then reached for it again?  Have you recognized a new beginning in the midst of a painful end?  Have you ever given someone you love permission to go?  Tell me what you think.  Tell me something real.