Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Meaning of Red Poppies

I looked down the city street to see red poppies bobbing up and down, bouncing into buildings and boarding trains. There were so many that for a moment, I did not see the people they were pinned to. It was as if each person had faded into the scenery and red poppies were blowing, swaying and swirling through the streets of Vancouver.

Canadians commemorate their fallen soldiers with red poppies. Remembrance day ceremonies are held on the 11th of November. Yet to prove commitment to remembering, on the last Friday in October the poppies start appearing. Inspired by the poem, In Flanders Field, the Canadian Legion launched the poppy campaign. By the time the Remembrance ceremonies are over, 18 million poppies will adorn the hats, jackets and lapels of Canadian men, women and children.
While in Vancouver this week, I was first intrigued and then humbled by the poppies. As I learned the meaning of the poppies, and watched the manifestation of gratitude and pride of the people, I was touched.

First, by the power of this small red symbol. With amazing precision, the sight of a red poppy would instantly remind me of its meaning. It is as if every poppy were accompanied by a soldiers’ whisper, “I know you are busy, but don’t forget. Don’t forget me.”  Next, I was inspired by the graceful unity of the Canadian people. I was impressed by the diversity of ethnicities, ages and economic classes whose solidarity to the cause seemed to whisper back, “You liberated me and I will not forget.”

Finally, I was reminded that sacrifice is still happening today. The poppy pinned to the jacket of a young man missing a leg reminded me that some sacrifices are endured in long and arduous ways. The fight for freedom, has not ceased since Flanders field. I don’t know that it ever will.
I will be forever grateful to my Grandfather Tripp, who gave his life as a soldier, and for anyone who bears the burden of freedom. I was inspired this week and reminded, that gratitude is more meaningful when delivered quietly and simply. As a result, I have adopted this beautiful custom from my Canadian friends.

I will wear my poppy proudly into the November night and I will not forget.

 In Flanders Field
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on
mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset
and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the
you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

Monday, August 31, 2015

Nothing Dark can Stay

A few weeks ago, I had my hair done. I wanted to add a little dark blonde, a little depth for Autumn. When I left the salon, my hair was muddy, grayish, brown with only hints of my original blonde. I was desolate. I felt dowdy and less attractive. I canceled dinner with a friend and went home frustrated and depressed.  This one little change affected my mood in a terrible way. The next day, as I looked in the mirror, the storm clouds in my soul reappeared. I did not look or feel like myself.  I wondered if I ever would again.

Three weeks later as I readied myself one morning, I noticed that much of the dark, muddy brown had disappeared. My original blonde had returned and now had hints of sparkling amber. My hair was pretty again. I chastised myself as I examined it. My hair has never held color for long. Despite my many efforts to make it something it is not, my hair refuses to be anything but blonde.

“You should have known,” I said to myself, “nothing dark can stay.” The words surprised me. They hadn’t seemed to come from me. Instead, they’d appeared; a whisper from the universe.

Nothing dark can stay.
Isn’t that the truth?

Throughout my life, even in the midst of my most difficult trials, I’ve shocked myself with an easy laugh or an impromptu smile. Of course, there have been times when I’ve thought I will never feel well again. Times when I have vowed never to forgive. These are the times when I’ve leveled a fixated effort to hold on to negativity, anger and pain. These are the times when I’ve put all my thought, action, and energy into staying in the dark.

Yet, the instant I exhale and stop holding on so tightly to regret, hurt or things I do or don’t deserve... The moment I let go, even just a little... The light comes flooding in. Without me realizing it, sometimes without me even wanting it, I have found when I let go, nothing dark can stay.

A few years ago my Sister-in-law died an unexpected and tragic death. The week of her memorial, our family gathered at her home. On the eight hour drive to get there, I often found myself staring out the window at the sparse, lonely desert. My heart was heavy at the somber weekend ahead. How would it be anything but devastating? How would we do anything but cry?

The night before her funeral, we gathered in the very room she died, and I felt the air disappear. As we gathered pictures, something magical happened.  The memories started to flow. Smiles started to appear. Our laughter began to fill the corners, wrapping us in a comforting embrace. We culled through her favorite songs from an Itunes list. Blasting the speakers, we sang at the top of our lungs and danced away our sorrow. There was no missing her in those moments. She was there.  We felt her dancing with us. We felt her swaying and whispering…” Remember me this way.”

It is not always easy to remember. Sometimes all you want to do is hunker down and hide.  I’ve been dipping my toe in shadows lately. I’ve been holding on to fear and regret.

It took a bad hair day to remind me of this absolute truth:

Our Universe repels darkness. Even the vast blackness of the expansive sky cannot swallow the light of twinkling stars. No matter how sad, how alone, how defeated we may feel today…we are not meant to feel this way forever.

Whatever we choose to believe in; God, collective energy or even the people who’ve gone beforeif you listen long enough, you will hear their significant message:

“Be happy. Be open. Be loving. Focus on living.  Don’t drown in the abyss, instead let go of all that tethers you, and reach for the light.”
No matter how dark or dreary your night has been, tomorrow will dawn a new day.

The sun will rise,

as a dazzling and constant reminder: Nothing dark can stay.
Dedicated to Shelle Blakemore whose children are the epitome of light.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day- A Mother's Point of View

Mother’s day was yesterday and in a sense I guess you could say I am recovering. I understand, even appreciate the sentiment. I wouldn’t trade the day for another. I wouldn’t make it go away. If I am honest, it’s not the most comfortable day to be a mother.

Instead, it’s a magnifying glass kind of day.

Magnification: is the process of enlarging something only in appearance, not in physical size. Typically, magnification is related to scaling up visuals or images to be able to see more detail with increasing resolution.

When I was 8, my Father gave my Mom a microwave for Mother’s Day. He brought it into the house after church and proudly set it on the counter. We gathered around and cheered her on as she removed it from the box. To my surprise, I watched my smiling young mother go from anticipation to anguish in seconds. Tears welled up in her eyes as she turned and ran out the front door. At the time, I didn’t understand her reaction. My Dad had given her a gift and a pretty cool gift at that. I thought she was ungrateful. I wanted a microwave dinner!

I didn't understand then. I do now.

I think she was suffering from magnification, just as I did yesterday. The scaling up of what “Mother” means compared to what she felt capable of, combined with her enlarged hope for how gratitude would be expressed for a job she felt so inept at doing.

Mother’s Day increases our appearance, but it doesn’t change our physical size. Mother’s Day doesn’t change who we have been or how able we are. Though on some level there is part of us, at least for some of us, that wishes it could.

I have heard it said, “to have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

There is no greater exposure. There is no greater love.

And if everything has an equal and opposite reaction, then it shouldn’t surprise us or make us feel guilty to say, there is no greater pain. On Mother’s Day, we feel it ALL, with increasing resolution.

Every last boundless hope coupled with our mistakes, our disabilities, our selfish needs. Then we feel our children’s’ sorrow, a driving ache to take away their pain and our anger at high-priced agency. Of course, we feel love. Abiding, limitless, joyous love. All of this is magnified and pushed into one tiny day.

It can be a little overwhelming.

It can make you run from the house in tears.

Sometimes we give microwaves. Sometimes we create National Holidays. And, though these are meant to celebrate…to somehow repay the debt… the day, the gifts, will never match the magnitude of the calling or the similitude of a Mothers’ heart.
Messages of love will.

On that Mother’s Day so many years ago, my Dad was trying to say, “I know you work hard, here’s a tool to make it easier.” As well meaning as he was, he didn't say it. As kids, we didn't show it.

Now that I am Mother, I think I know what my Mom needed that day. It’s what all Mothers need every day, but go without on most days. It’s not a pedestal that is easy to fall from. It’s not a trendy gift, although we probably won’t complain. What we really need is reassurance. Tell us to put the magnifying glass down. Tell us what we did and what we do, is enough. Tell us you forgive us for what we didn’t or cannot do. Say Thank you. Express your love.

These messages, even better when combined with your embrace, change our lens. They remind us to magnify the positive. Hopefully, they remind you too… that YOU, simple, beautiful YOU, are enough. More than enough for your Mother.
Dedicated to my Mom and to my amazing, talented, funny, gorgeous children. 
And, to all the Mom's I know.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Life is Like a Box of Donuts

When I travel, I people watch. In fact, it is my favorite travel pastime.

Sometimes I am disheartened by what I see. Most often I’m intrigued. Then sometimes, something different catches my eye, tips my world on its axis, and unties my perfectly packaged life scenarios.
Like when this happened at Regan International Airport.

I had just completed a palpitating rush through security and a frantic search for a half way healthy takeaway lunch. Panicked I ran to my gate, desperately hoping I hadn’t given up my chance to get home for a solution to my hypoglycemic state. I arrived just in time to watch a Delta Red Coat change my status to delayed. I gulped in a long breath of stale airport air and let the relief wash in.
This extra 40 minutes was a gift. I said a silent, grateful prayer. Then I found a table in a sea of travel weary warriors and peeled back the foil on my spinach chicken wrap. I took a long, cold draw of water and leaned back in my chair to watch.

I instantly noticed a woman and a young boy and I found myself pondering their relationship. She was short and slight with deep brown eyes and dark, olive skin. He was tall with pale skin and spiky platinum blonde hair. His brilliant quiff shot at least 2 inches above his scalp. Even from a distance, I could tell his eyes were a golden green.

I landed on these two, like a bird on a wire and perched forward in my hard plastic seat. Were they related? No way! Then I noticed they shared long thin noses that ended in the same abrupt point and high cheek bones that flanked almost hollow faces. And, I saw the crooked left smile that dawned from both sets of lips when they noticed the Dunkin Donut sign.

My detective work abruptly ended when I heard the excited boy.

“Mom, can we please get some?”
If there were any hesitation on her part, I did not see it. At his request, they moved quickly to the long line and chatted and pointed and finally disappeared. I went back to eating my sandwich, distracted by the parade of people who were now streaming out of Gate 27.

I noticed the pair again when “Spike” grabbed the newly vacant table just steps away from mine. Mom followed with 2 pints of milk, a few napkins and a box of donuts.

I thought I knew what would happen next, a perfectly predictable scenario. She would open the box and say something like, “Choose one. We’re saving the rest to share with Dad or Grandma or Aunt Beth.” He would whine and say something like “Only one? It is soooooo hard to chooooose.”

“No, she would counter. Choose one or don’t take any.”
My sandwich started to taste like cardboard as I predicted the plot.

But, oh, how wrong I was.
As she set the box on the table, he waited patiently. She opened his milk, unfolded his napkin and laid it on the table. He waited again as mom went through the exact same steps for herself. By now, even my mouth was watering. Finally, she opened the box. Without a word, each of them reached inside.

I caught my breath. “Oh, I thought to my spent and jaded self, I didn’t see that coming. They must have purchased a box of glazed.”
Somewhat disappointed, I resigned myself to take note of her
skillful parenting.

“Less fighting and whining when there is only one flavor.”
But, my axis was starting to tilt. Mom was taking an enormous bite of an airy traditional chocolate glazed and “Spike” had his long tongue extended waiting for a drop of blueberry icing to land squarely on its tip. When it did, he savored it, let out an excited moan and promptly took a large bite. They looked at each other with crooked left smiles.

“It’s gooooood!” he said, his mouth so full he blew cakey crumbs on her tiny face. She shook her head up and down in agreement. “Mine is good too.” Then almost in perfect sync, they both put their donuts, missing one bite each, back into the box. Each took a sip of the milk, eyed the rest of the contents and reached back inside. The world tilted again when both mom and son pulled out entirely different donuts. Another bite, another comment about taste or texture, another sip of milk, only to retire the newest flavor for a sweetness even newer.

Out came a glossy pink donut with white sprinkles and a sugary puff of a donut pregnant with raspberry jelly. One bite, one pleased glance, another trip back to the box. Next came a bumpy apple fritter, and fluffy Bavarian cream dripping with milk chocolate. One bite, a fist bump, another reach. Next came a sticky cinnamon twist and long fat maple bar. “Spike” dug his finger into the frosting and plopped a syrupy dollop on her nose. They both laughed. Mom licked the frosting off with her own long tongue. Then they each took a bite and dropped their donuts into the still full box.
A few more bites and they were done. Without words, they both glanced at the box one more time. She raised her eyebrow as if to say, “Do you want anymore?” He shook his head no, rubbed his tummy and closed the box. On their way to the gate, he dropped it in the trash.

Wasteful? Yes.

Gluttonous? Perhaps.... just a little.

However, these are not the life values that come to mind when I remember that day. Instead, I can’t help but think about the beautiful lessons this mother is teaching her child.
Instead of: “There is only a small portion for you. You can have only one."
He is learning the world is accessible.

Instead of: “You are stuck with your choices. Choose wisely.”
He is learning his choices abound and though he might not always make the perfect choice. There is always another chance. There is always another donut.

Instead of: Discipline created by scarcity, he is learning discipline in the midst of abundance.

Instead of: “I feel joy because it’s mine”. He discovered the elevated joy that comes from sharing.

When I think of “Spike” and his wise mom. One of my favorite quotes comes to mind. Please forgive me, this slight revision.

“Life is like a box of donuts... Full of pleasure and possibility, with more than enough to go around!"