Tag Archives: mindfulness

What Does Self-Care Really Mean?

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I’m glad that Self-Care is finally a “thing.”  I’m glad that when we hear that phrase now, it’s not considered selfish so much as it is believed to be self-preservational.  But I hail from the former way of thinking and it’s taken me a lot to arrive at the latter.  I think I’m officially…finally…sorta-kinda-maybe-please-God…there.

But first…let’s dip back into the 1960s.  And 70s.  And 80s.  People didn’t “work out” when I was growing up.  Handsome men had bodies like Rock Hudson and Cary Grant—with soft middles and borderline man-boobs, skinny legs and gentlemen bi-ceps.  Women had “love handle” hips, and god-forbid muscle mass.  Hell, Marilyn Monroe was a size 14.  Super models were a size 6.  I was a size 6 and people told me I was too skinny.  When I became a size 8, people told me I was “just right.”  No one belonged to a gym.  The only mainstream Yoga was with Lillian on PBS– strictly spiritual, not for sculpting an attract-a-Hedge-fund-manager ass.  Frozen yoghurt was a sexy craze, especially with carob chips on top.  Woo-woo!  Health food was for Hippies.  Milk came from cows, and you were supposed to drink a lot of it.  Plenty of the population smoked and boozed and not a lot of people felt guilty about it.  When Jane Fonda hit the scene in make-it-burn leg warmers and striped leotards, we all were a bit confused.  When Richard Simmons introduced this thing called jogging, my grandmother said, “how unattractive, jiggling yourself all over the road like that.”  She and her Marshall Fields girdle.  She was also known to say, “Why stand when you can sit, and why sit when you can lie down” and made a mean southern fried chicken.  She lived to be 98.

I’m not saying that these were better times.  I’m just saying…that people had a very different relationship with their bodies then…compared to now.  Some people joined the fitness craze.  I didn’t.  I was lucky.  My body was just naturally healthy and fit.  Fit enough, anyway, so that I didn’t think too much about it.  As I moved into the “real world” from college, I walked and rode my bike as much as I could, but more because I didn’t have a car.  I ate healthy food, because healthy food was everywhere.  I lived in Seattle, after all.  Organic food was the norm.  Farm to table was the standard.  Foraging was a good afternoon in the forest with friends.IMG_4873

My mid-western father would scoff:  “Why do you have to go and spend all that money on fancy food.”

“Because when you were young, all food was organic, Dad!  They weren’t poisoning it!”

He never bought it.  He ate the same old same old.  He walked the Chicago Loop every day to work.  Played a little tennis.  A little golf.  Raked a lot of leaves.  He lived to be 86.  Worked happily until he died.  Healthy to his final good-byes.

“You come from good farm stock,” he’d always say.  And I believed him.  All the way through my 30s.

But little by little, as I moved into my late 30s, I started to feel like I was missing out on this fitness craze.  My friends’ bodies were looking sculpted and better in bathing suits, (bikinis, mind you)…than we all did in our 20s!  They were, in their words, “Getting after it.”

I wasn’t sure what the “it” was, but I figured I’d better give it a whirl.  My body hadn’t really recovered from having two children, and I hadn’t worn a pair of jeans, never mind a bikini, in years.  And in my subconscious I knew…(I just didn’t want to admit)…that I had honored my mind all my life.  My writing was the outward sign of that.  In it all…there was always writing.  Writing doesn’t make your ass look great in jeans, but it feeds the soul.  Writing has always been the constant, all my life.  I still hold:  that writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness.  Key word:  exercise.IMG_4873

Exercise meant moving my body.  I knew how to move my mind.  My body was secondary and always had been.  I knew that it was supposed to be my temple, but I didn’t need it to be a fancy one.  I’d watched plenty of women attempt that.  It had always seemed so frivolous.  Like such a vacuous pursuit.  The columns of my temple had seemed well-enough fortified to hold up more important affairs—that of the mind and soul and spirit.

But now it seemed like those columns were starting to become a little bit shaky.  (Side note:  No one was calling this “it” Self-Care.  Yet.)  And it occurred to me that without my body…my mind wasn’t worth much.

So I went after this version of “it.”  Hard.  I joined the gym, got a personal trainer, and worked out every day, rode horses three times a week, got a nutritionist, and heck, while I was at it…a therapist to see how to connect my mind to my body once and for all.

Those happened to be days when there was some money in the bank, but even still, I felt guilty and self-indulgent.  What was I trying to prove to myself, anyway?  That I was strong?  That I had willpower?  That I could be skinny and fit like the rest of the women out there who seemed to agelessly fit into designer jeans?  I was never that woman to begin with.  I had energy.  I felt healthy.  But this pursuit did not make me feel happy.  I started to dread the gym.  All those people going nowhere fast on all those machines.  And here we lived in Montana!  What was wrong with taking a good old-fashioned walk?

Then one day, I walked into the gym and this woman came out of the yoga room with a towel over her shoulder.  “You just missed yoga,” she said like the worst mean girl in high school.  Was this some sort of competition?  Were people trying to win some sort of medal?  It brought up all of my early childhood I’m bad at sports S***.  And I turned around and didn’t come back.  Aggressive gym people weren’t my peeps.  Especially aggressive yoga gym people.  I stuck to my horse.  And walks in the woods.IMG_4873

But I’m a writer.  I sit for a living.  My back was a mess.  My stomach was slack like it had never been before in my life.  And then I fell off my horse (but at least it’s a helluva good story—other day, other blog post) and spent three months in bed.  I felt weak.  And frustrated.  I was in my mid-40s then, and my body was changing.  Fast.

And then the damn steps thing had to come out.  And suddenly everyone was bragging about how many frigging steps they took.  At my kids’ soccer games.  At the grocery store.  So then it wasn’t enough to lift some weights in my living room and get my heart rate up on my treadmill or up the ridge for half an hour.  Now I had to have 10,000 steps a day if I wanted to live to see my grandchildren.  Oh, and p.s. suddenly milk came from nuts.  So coffee could never taste good again.  And you couldn’t eat a good loaf of bread.  And butter was absolutely positively out.  And so basically, I couldn’t eat anything except for avocados.  And almond butter.  And bananas.  But only before noon.  And freaking kale.  And brussel sprouts.  And BEETS.  Couldn’t a girl get a good steak in this world of “getting after it?”  I was depressed.  I’m sure of it.  My temple, including my mind, was crumbling.

So…I just gave up.  On the whole thing.  Ate as much butter and toast as I damn well pleased.  Felt guilty about each bite.  Turned my treadmill into a clothes rack.  Felt guilty about it.  Took walks when I wanted to.  And felt guilty when I didn’t.  Basically I guilted myself into a place of not eating.  And not moving.  Just sitting and writing.  And that doesn’t work either.  Menopause really doesn’t like not eating and not moving.  So suddenly…no clothes fit.  And I noticed one day that I was starting to get that thing under my chin that my grandmother had.  The one who said, “Why stand when you can sit and why sit when you can lie down.”  I’d blown my thyroid.  And my blood pressure, in my doctor’s words, “sucked.”  I was moving rapidly into my 50s.  My face, and a lot of my skin, had fallen.  And it couldn’t get up.

Things needed to change.  Really change.  I needed to rip up my relationship with my body and my mind…and start all over again.  I needed to ease out of all of this mania.  Find a new way.  A way that would work for me.  Because I realized that somehow, after everything I had tried…I was still separating my mind from my body.  I wasn’t caring for my whole self.IMG_4873

And then this thing called Self-Care came along.  People were talking about it and it didn’t have anything to do with a gym.  Or kale.  It had to do with something that met me in a place I had been longing for all my life.  A place that I only knew on the page with a pen in my hand, or tapping a keyboard.  I wanted to learn just what Self-Care really meant.  Not as an action verb.  But as a way of being.

So I hired a therapist.  Again.  Fifteen years later.  Maybe this one would help me in a new way.  In a way that would feed my soul.  A way that would be about my whole self.

One day, in her bright little office by the river, she gave me a little frame with the word:  gentleness in it.  “Keep it for as long as you need it,” she said.

“What am I supposed to do with it?  Anything specific?”

She smiled.  “Just…whatever you want.”

So I put it on my bedside table.  I’m in my bed a lot.  My office has become overrun with too many stacks of too much grown-up left brain stuff.  My bed is soft and safe and holds my muse well, especially in these weeks before my house empties, my son goes to college, and it’s just me.

At first I wasn’t so sure about it.  I have plenty on my bedside table already.  Stacks of books of poetry and spiritual texts, fiction, and non-fiction.  Essential oils and candles and journals and so many really good pens.IMG_4873

And now this little frame.  Gentleness.  In lower case loopy script.  I figured it would get lost in the shuffle.

Instead…my eyes caught on it over and over.  Probably five-ten times before I even finished my morning writing.  Probably another ten times during the second cup of tea.  Again later folding laundry.  Talking to my daughter, away in California on her first post-collegiate job.  I miss her like crazy.

Gentleness.

Talking to my son, as he comes in with baseball news and plans for the night and the ever-present-request of gas money.  He drives the old Suburban after all and there’s no way to work when you’re playing Legion ball.  Still.  I am not made of money.  But man, am I going to miss that kid.

Gentleness.

Each time my eyes meet this little word in this little frame, I realize that my shoulders are tight.  My jaw is clenched.  And it does something to me.  I take in a breath and sigh.  Loosen whatever is tight.  It feels so nice.  So…gentle.IMG_4873

Gentleness.

My mother is moving.  She wants to know if I want my father’s WWII Army blanket and duffle bag.  If I want her old record player.  If I’m going to show up at my son’s Parent’s Weekend in Minnesota, even though I lead a retreat a week prior, and a week after.  And if she can come.

Gentleness.

And I’ve realized…that I have lived so much of my life bracing against it all.  I don’t have to.  Anymore.  Gentleness can be the most powerful way I have ever lived.

In the last few weeks with this new little frame as my companion, I’ve learned to be gentle about the way I care for myself.  It doesn’t come easily to me.  At all.  Taking care of others comes easily to me.  Taking care of myself…that still feels like a tall order.  But being gentle with myself?  I can do that.  In little moments.  Baby steps.  And I know…babies fall hard.  But they get up.  I was that baby once.  We all were.

I’ve found that the first place to start is with this gentleness.  To give myself permission to find my way to Self-Care, and not judge myself if it looks very different from how others might approach theirs.  Like you’ll probably never find me in a gym.  Or in an ISO floating tank.  Or running a marathon.  Or counting my steps with a watch on my wrist.

On a good week it looks like this:  riding horses.  Doing daily yoga in my living room.  And writing.

On a normal week it looks more like this:  taking walks.  Doing a few yoga poses here and there.  And writing.IMG_4873

I try to be kind to myself.  To go slowly.  To realize that to sit and be and notice and stop the madness of this cyber “cult of the personality” * which has become our civilization…is a powerful way of caring for ourselves.  We don’t have to be in constant motion.

Maybe I’ll be soft around the belly.  Maybe my heart rate won’t be monitored by a machine.  I’ll know it’s working by the way it carries me up the ridge behind my house.  I’ll know I’ve honored my body when I wake up the next day and feel that I moved it well.  I’ll know by the look in my eyes:  that my grandmother was right that carrots make them bright.  I’ll eat my carrots.  But not because I’m supposed to.  But because I delight in how they give themselves to me so that I can keep on going.

Gentleness.

There is a prayer that I use, not just for food, but for all that I do for my body and soul.  May it help you feel gentleness and gratitude.

This food is a gift from the whole universe.

The earth, the sky, and much hard work.

May we be mindful of our deeds as we receive this food.

May it transfer hatred, anger, and greed.

May it prevent illness and keep us well.

In gratitude, we receive this nourishment, that we may seek the path of love, compassion, and wisdom.

(A variation on the prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh)

Gentleness then, to us all.

Love,

Laura

* Braided Creek

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  We have few spots available for the 2018 fall schedule! 

To arrange for a phone call with the Haven team, email:  Laura@lauramunson.com

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The Art of Giving Up…to Go On.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetPart One

Ten years ago, I watched my friend go through Empty Nest.  Her solution:  drive a massive ice-breaking truck at the McMurdo Research Center in Antarctica.  She brought some home-made hula hoops too, and a few instruments, because she’d never go anywhere without those personal items.  She faced Empty Nest with something more like…Empty Next– with the same electrifying spirit and adventure with which she’d raised her boy and girl…and now they were off to see the world.  And she was too.

At that time in my life, my boy and girl were still thick in the throes of music lessons and sports events and homework at the kitchen table and weekend slumber parties.  I couldn’t imagine letting them go, much less letting myself go.  Not like that.  I was sad for her, even though I knew she’d come back with tales to tell and more life experience under her frost-bitten belt.  But I felt like she was avoiding the grief…going so far away.  It looked like running away to me.

I mentioned it to another friend and she said, “Are you kidding?  Motherhood is great.  But you’re always a mother, even after they leave.  It’s just different.  Your kids are on to new things, and you should be too!  And you get to have your life back!”

My life back?  I felt like I was just getting the life I’d dreamed about.  Being a mother was the most fulfilling thing I’d ever done.  Sure, I’d travelled all over the place in my teens and twenties with a backpack on my back.  Intrepid, stubborn, solo, and full of wonder.  Writing my way through it all.  But it felt like all of that was preparation for the most hair-raising, plot-twisting, heart-warming, soul-feeding work of my life:  raising children.

And I did it.  I did it well.  For twenty-two years.

And here I am.  In a few weeks, my boy will go to college.  My daughter just graduated from college and moved into an apartment in San Francisco.  She’s got a great job, great friends.  He’s got a great roommate and will be living out his dream playing baseball at an institute of higher learning.  I couldn’t be more proud.  We’ll move him in.  My daughter will go back to the city.  I’ll come back here to my house in Montana.  It’ll all be over.  That part.  And I’m afraid of the grief.  I’m not afraid of my future.  I’m just afraid of who I’ll be without them.  Here.  In my empty nest.  In short, this last month has been excruciating.  And I want so deeply to appreciate these last weeks.

This helps:  (maybe it will help you if you are a parent with a child soon leaving…)

So…just like my friend…I anticipated this pain.  About two years ago, I started imagining the next chapter of my life.  The fear of Empty Nest had me by the throat, even then.  But I took my friend’s lead, and my other friend’s comment, and I decided that I was going to grab this next chapter by the ponytail and yank the weeping woman attached to it back out into the world.  To trust-fall into travel and adventure, only as the woman she is now.  Exactly as she is.

So this winter, I’m hitting the road.  I’m going to live my own version of breaking the ice on Antarctica, only for me…it’s with my journal.  I’ve started a new Haven Writing Program:  Haven Wander.  First stop:  Morocco.

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My primary Haven programs  are still here in Montana, and you can bet that I scheduled four of them back-to-back for this fall with the express intention of healing Empty Nest in my own back yard by doing the nurturing work I most love outside my motherhood– helping people to find their voice through the power of the written word.

But for people who are less writing-focused and more travel-focused…I have a new adventure and it utilizes yes, my experience facilitating meaningful small group experiences in the grandeur of the Rockies…but now in exotic places around the globe!

For my first Haven Wander, I found the perfect place and the perfect people to help me plan this remarkable, priceless, uniquely local Haven program, and it lands us in a small village outside of Marrakesh, Morocco.  With the help of these fabulous and inspiring locals, I have spent the last two years putting together a week of intentional wandering around Morocco, using the Haven Wander Portfolio as our guide.  It will be a feast for the senses and soul, and with a component of giving back through Project SOAR, to empower young women in finding their voices.  I’m going first to get the lay of the land, my journal and me, so that I’m rooted and ready when the women join me for our first Haven Wander._MG_2142_20150412

Personally, I do want to see who that stubborn young dreamer was with that backpack on her back, traipsing around the former Yugoslavia and Turkey, and all over Europe in the mid-’80s.  I know she’s still in me and I do want to see what her confidence and curiosity is all about.  And I also want to meet her with the wisdom she’s gathered along the way as a mother and as a woman and an author.  I want to scoop her up and tell her that she doesn’t have to do it alone.  She can do it in the company of kindreds. Because I’m pretty sure that the nest travels with you, wherever you go.  And you don’t have to live it empty.  You can live it with a small group of women who are just as curious and just as hungry for connection with the world outside their front door as you are.  Who long to have their senses activated in a rich and deep way, and who want to learn and fill their souls with powerful and meaningful experiences.

Arabian dining tentI want to sit her down on benches and on Mosque steps and in public gardens and seaside café tables…and ask her to be still.  To watch.  To listen.  To be.  After all, she never had a cell phone.  Or a screen of any kind in that backpack.  She had a journal.  And curiosity.  And courage.  I want to scoop her up and merge with her, and tell her that she becomes a very good mother of exceptional beings who fledge well.  And that she gets to have a new chapter of her life.  And it’s going to be wonderful.

poolSo Haven Wander:  Morocco is hatching this February.  I’m taking seven women on a one week journey of intentional living and being, using writing as our guide.  As for me, I’m going to take the whole month and write my way through this first blush of Empty Nest.  I’m going to start imagining who this next me is.  Who she’s always been and who she became and who she is becoming and will become.

In this next chapter, I want to wander all over the world.  I want to go to places that scare me a little, that feel exotic, and I’m going to do it with these small, temporary communities of women who need this as badly as I do.  The sky is the limit.  Uruguay.  Ethiopia.  Kathmandu.  Thailand.  But first…Morocco.

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Part Two

Before that, though…first and foremost…when I get back home from college drop off, to this empty nest, (and even this Empty Next)…before the back-to-back fall Haven Writing Retreats and Haven Wander:  Morocco…I know I need a very deliberate and very serious pause between chapters.  A full stop to honor it all. 

So I’m borrowing from the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of this tradition of sitting shiva for a week after someone dies.  Of stopping your world and observing the loss and your grief, and the life that has left.  I’m going to have my personal version of it.  But not in uncomfortable chairs.  I need soft pillows for this.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetI’ll light a candle and sit on my screened porch in my favorite chair, and reflect in thought and prayer, and write in my journal.  No TV.  No screens at all.  Just observations of my motherhood and who these children of mine have been:

I’ll sit my personal version of shiva for my babies turned little ones turned big, and my mothering of them.  I’ll sit shiva for all the learning to crawl and learning to walk and learning to speak and running barefoot in the grass and swinging on the swing set and making mudpies.

I’ll sit shiva for piano lessons and guitar lessons and school plays and orchestra concerts and soccer games and track meets and football games and baseball baseball baseball.  I’ll sit shiva for all the birthday balloons on the garden archway and all the streamers taped to the corners of the porch and the dining room and down the banister.

I’ll sit shiva for the pony rides in the front yard and the badminton, and the croquet, and bocce, and backgammon and cards and Farkle and Scrabble on the screened porch by candlelight.  For all the bonfires and marshmallows and star-gazing in sleeping bags on the dewy cool grass.  For every ahhhhh to every shooting star.  And every ooooo to every falling one.

And then, I’ll borrow the rest of this Jewish custom.  On the seventh day, I’ll take a walk around my land, all four corners of my twenty acres, and then return to my front porch to symbolize my return to society.  I may even call my rabbi friend to read these customary words from the Old Testament:

No more will your sun set, nor your moon be darkened, for God will be an eternal light for you, and your days of mourning shall end. (Isaiah 60:20)

My kids always say, “Mom.  You walk so confidently without having any idea where you’re going.  You even walk confidently in the wrong direction.”  They’re making fun of me, of course, in their own way.  Millennials.  They’ve never navigated directions without their noses in their GPS screens, robots telling them when and where to turn.  I doubt they really know their right from their left, frankly.

“I know where I’m going,” I tell them.  “Essentially.  I like taking an unexpected turn.  I like asking actual human beings how to get to the train station.  Siri and Uber have done our civilization a grand injustice!  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about the world and humans by asking strangers questions.  And heck, if I really need to be so exact and so punctual, I have my phone, or I can research it prior.  There’s this thing called making plans, you know!”

They part laugh, part roll their eyes.  They don’t seem worried about me in the least, for this next chapter.

“The truth is…I’m sick of racing to get everywhere on time,” I tell them.  “I’m sick of being so responsible.  Of having a life where everything has to be so full and stacked and go go go.  I just need to wander again.  I need to have room in my life to stop when I want to stop.  And sit.  And just…be.  And to do it…in a very meaningful way.”

Their faces fade a bit.  Maybe the way mine did when my friend announced her Antarctica adventure.  They think that it’s nice, their mother wanting to travel in this way.  But probably a bit depressing too.  This gung-ho fling-the-windows-open mother I’ve been, pushing us all out the door on to our next adventure.  They think that maybe I’m…giving up…by wanting to wander so slowly.  Wanting to luxuriate in the senses and in connection with people and place.  That maybe I should go break ice for penguins in Antarctica!

But that’s exactly what I need to do.  Give up.  In the best sense of the phrase.

Give myself to this next chapter.

Let go of the last, onward.  Upward.

There will be that week of sitting with it.  Honoring it.  And I’m sure there will be a lot of tears and nostalgia and wanting it all back, those little ones, that young bright mother.  I’m sure I’ll sit in both of their rooms, bawling my eyes out, rocking in a corner covered in their blankets and pillows and maybe a stuffed animal that made the cut that I’ve dug out of their closet.  I’m sure I’ll be a mess.

But here’s the thing:  I can’t get it back.  It’s not possible.  And I don’t want to be miserable.  This last month, I’ve been miserable, watching the last of everything.  The last graduation.  The last family boat ride of the last summer.  The last bonfire with his buddies.  The last home game.  The last the last the last of this long chapter of our lives.

I want to feel my joy again-- the same joy I felt when they were little and we had a whole day in front of us with so much possibility and learning and wonder.  Wandering in the woods for Calypso orchids and morels.  Singing.  They say it goes so fast.  It didn’t for me.  It went long and to my core, and it makes it hard to remember who I was before it all.  I was a joyful young woman, without children, loving life.  I want her back.

tangineNow I’ll be wandering in spice markets for tangines with a world-renowned chef who will show us how to authentically cook with them.  Wandering in the Secret Garden, learning about the history of tea.  Wandering on the beaches of Essaouira and maybe even riding a camel.  Wandering in the Medina and learning about Moroccan history with a local guide who knows just where to take us so that we can follow and let go and pay attention and let this colorful country give itself to us…writing our way through it all and sharing at the end of the day about it.  And maybe we’ll even get a little lost.  And a lot…found.

Next chapter, please.  Empty NEXT, indeed!

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  We have few spots available for the 2018 fall schedule! 

To arrange for a phone call with the Haven team, email:  Laura@lauramunson.com

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Managing Expectations: Or how to drive a U-haul in San Francisco

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Now booking the fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! 

From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (two spots left)

Well it’s summer and likely, if you’re anywhere over ten years old– actually even if you’re ten and under…you’re managing expectations.  Your mother’s, your father’s, your sisters’ and brothers’, your boss’, your children’s, partner’s, house guests’…everyone’s expectations.  And it’s also likely that you feel like you’re letting someone, or a lot of people, down.  It’s also likely that you feel that someone is letting you down.

Except for maybe the Culligan Man.  He showed up this morning and I looked out the window hearing that familiar diesel truck moan and sputter, and I smiled and ran to the front door because I knew it was for one thing and one thing only:  to find out if we have enough salt in the softener.  Salt in the softener so that we can have the best of our well water.  And then maybe he’ll check the filter to see if our reverse osmosis thingy is working well, or whatever he does in my basement.

All I know is that he shows up with big bags of salt like he’s Santa, smiling– always smiling, takes off his shoes at the door, knows just where the light switch is for the basement, (I’ve lived in this house 20 years and I’m never sure which of the three switches it is on the panel, but he does!), and marches down my stairs.  He doesn’t balk at the mouse droppings, or comment on the disarray of my son’s Man Cave.  He plows right through it all to the mechanical room that I try to enter as seldom as possible, and does whatever voo-doo he does.  I don’t follow him.  I don’t micro-manage his little tete-a-tete with the bowels of my home.  He has it under control.  He knows we need him, and it’s his job to show up and he does, like Swiss clockwork.  I even feel the house being relieved that someone competent and consistent is in charge of its digestive system.  The house has expectations too.  I try to meet them.  But sometimes…I just fail.  The refrigerator, lawn mower, and front stove burners are all currently broken.  The gutters are spilling over, and there’s a significant ground squirrel problem under my porch, and I missed last month’s electric bill.  I just can’t do it all or be it all.  I have to fail something or someone.

As I explained to my daughter, home for the Fourth of July:  you just can’t be all things to all people, even the ones you love most.  You’re just gonna let people down from time to time.  Even and especially when you’re doing your best.  Something’s got to give.  But there’s no shame in that.  You have to learn to let yourself off the hook.  And to let others off the hook.  And sometimes…all the people you think should be there to help you, won’t be.  And you’ll need to pay people instead.  Or you might be surprised at who shows up when the primary people don’t.  Or can’t.  Or won’t.  No matter how hard we try…people fail each other.  You’re going to fail people.  And I hate to say it, but ultimately…it’s not your problem.  It’s theirs.  Even if it’s your mother.  Or your child.

I can say this to her…but do I really believe it?  Truth is:  I haven’t had that much experience royally failing someone I love.  Recently, I had to.  I had to choose:  Move my mother?  Or move my daughter and son?

Pretty much every primary person in my life is in a major transition right now:  moving, going to college, going from college into the work force, down-sizing from house to apartment, changing jobs.  Everyone needs each other’s help and no one has the capacity to give it fully.  They can barely give it to themselves, teetering in the untethering.

Some of this is help we can pay for.  But a lot of it isn’t.  Like who gets Dad’s World War II army blanket?  And who gets Mimi’s crocheted afghan, lovingly knit with arthritic fingers, even though it’s in every shade of diarrhea?  And who gets the monogrammed wedding tray?  And what to do with the old letters?  And who will meet the roommates and get just the right toiletry case and put the Montana flag on the dorm wall, or christen the apartment with a bottle of prosecco after getting the right kitchen table that exactly fits the nook.  And who will drive the U-haul through the streets of San Francisco?  This isn’t just stuff you can do with a credit card online.  This is stuff that needs a daughter, a sister, a mommy.

I’m all three.  And I just can’t be all three right now.  Not well.  My plate is so full, it’s over-flowing.  I can barely be one person, never mind three.  I have to choose.  I have to say “no.”

Sure, I can take on a portion of the help that’s been asked of me, but not all of it.  Most of all, I hate that I can’t freely offer it, because I know it’s hard for people to ask—even loved ones.  I have to leave it to them to divvy up their needs with other people, paid and volunteered.  No matter how I shake it, no matter how much I know that I have to say “yes” where I must and “no” where I must…still, there’s shame.  Guilt.  Because I know that there are old, engraved, ingrown expectations attached to every request, especially the ones which are non-verbal.  People show up for people they love.  That’s just the way it is.  Especially family.  Especially when they are in big transition.  They get on planes and roll up their sleeves and help pack boxes, and bring tea and food and comfort and love to the one in need.  They don’t say, “no.”

Until this summer, I have never been in a position where I just…can’t…give everyone the support I want to give.  My physical world won’t let me.  No matter how hard I try to juggle my life, it’s just not possible.  I have to say, “no” to most and “yes” to the ones who truly are incapable of doing what they need to do, without me.IMG_3464

That means that I just drove a fifteen-foot U-haul through the streets of San Francisco with both of my kids in the front seat, to move my daughter from college into her apartment.  Yes, I drive a horse trailer, but not on insanely-vertical urban hills!  Where you have to parallel park!  I was afraid to drive a car in San Francisco, never mind a U-haul!  But I pulled it off.  She asked, and it was the best answer I could give.  “Yes.”  That was what I had to offer.  That’s what needed to get done.  My daughter:  the organizing and packing.  My son:  his strong back and football-honed muscles, the heavy lifting.  And in a few weeks, my daughter and I will do it all for him when he moves into his dorm room in college, thankfully midwestern-flat.  As for my mother’s move, thank God for my other family members and the professional movers.  I’ll come later to help settle them in to their new apartment.  I’ll do my best to manage their expectations then.

So far, I’ve been met with grace.  But I still feel awful about it.  Just awful.  Even my mother’s “Don’t worry.  I have help now.  You have enough on your plate with the kids and work.  You can come later,” doesn’t feel all that great.  I should be there.  I should.  Period.  But I do feel a little less guilty.  Thanks, Mom.

Here’s the lesson in it:  when I say, lovingly, responsibly, that I just can’t…people figure it out.

Or someone else steps in.

The world doesn’t rely on your shoulders’ ability to hold it up.  And it doesn’t end if you give it a much-needed shrug.  And…so far, no one dies.  And I’m not the bad guy.

I have to choose the expectation that I can actually manage, have to manage.  And let the others go.

Maybe the world works that way when we claim our truth and let go of our guilt.

So today, thank you, Culligan Man, for managing mine.  You do it so well.  I don’t even know when you leave, I trust you that much.  I just hear that moan and sputter down the driveway, and know that I have good water to drink.  May we all have at least a few expectations that manage themselves as easily as that.

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Memorial Day: Remembering Two Lakes and Two Men

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  Now booking our fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (still room)

4:00 am.  Montana.  May.

I awake to a hard rain and a deep longing.  I’ve felt it all day and can’t quite place it.  But the rain drums on the metal roof like it’s my skull, and scares it out:  I have been longing for a lost and very old feeling…of safety.  Of being held.  And I know that I have to listen to the rain on the roof of my longing.

It’s not a rational longing.  I know that I live a life that is for, all intents and purposes, safe.

It’s my heart that forgets.

It happens this time of year when winter so rapidly wakes to the greening and blooming of May.  With the robin eggs hatching and little yellow beaks pointing to the sky– puffed up red-breasted daddies poking at worms for their babies.

It especially happens this weekend, when my son was born and my father died.  Memorial Day weekend.

Remembering hurts and I don’t want it to.  I want it to bring me the solace and salve that their love gave me–my father’s open arms, carrying me up the stairs each night when he came home from work, my son’s eager limbs, letting me carry him until he was too big and a snuggle on the couch sufficed.

I lie in bed at 4:00 am, the dawn-soon birdsongs maybe staved off by the rain, and I wonder:  Where is this heart-safety now?  I can’t see it in my tomorrow—not the way I want to.  I’m losing the people in my house, one by one.  My son is about to go to college.  And soon it’s going to be just me.

I lie here and let the longing out, letting myself imagine what it would take to feel like I did in my father’s arms and with my baby boy before he became big.  When we’d sit on the porch and nurse, while the robins fed their babies.  I lie here and let myself want that tender pause time, where I felt tucked in to the promise of those particular loving arms.

But I have to feel it.  Not just long for it.  It’s still in me.  It must be.

Now the rain bats, adamant, and I reel through the places of my life, trying to land on that warm, cared-for, safe feeling.  To use this tender time between consciousness and sleep to re-create it, and let it lullaby me through ‘til morning.

And I land.  I land on lake.  Two lakes.  Two men.  One me.

073db487f4c4c2354d17ccad8d24eb24Trout Lake.  Wisconsin.

Here, I am baby, child, little sister.  Here I am safe from suburban swimming pool rules and an un-swimmable 1970s Lake Michigan.  Here I dare the cold clean Wisconsin water, staring into it, pretending that it is thick glass, that I am that brave, that powerful, that in need of this particular water.

I’m not scared.  This isn’t a swimming lesson and there’s no winning or losing.  I pray my hands water-ward and go with a grin, slicing through, cast in Muskie-kissed water.  I float down until my hands lay flat on the sandy bottom.  Here I am lake baby, invisible now to my other self as long as I can hold my breath from leaking tattletale air bubbles, listening to the zing of the ski boats on the other side of the swimming ropes.

I like the sound of ski boats in my ears.  It’s the day’s Reveille to the night’s loon Taps.  You can’t have one without the other, as far as I know.  But I don’t think a lot here.

Here I pick up lapped-at stones along the lake shore, but not forget-me-nots.  I have a pact with them:  If I don’t pick them, they will remember this me, while I am back doing suburban Chicago things.

While the others nap, I sit on the screened porch and polish the rocks with Baby Oil so they look wet again– amber, sienna, umber marbles.

Dad comes in to admire my collection.  “I think it’s even better than last year’s.”

“Will you make sand castles with me now?”

He puts on his excited face, and I can tell that he only pretends to like making sand castles, but I can also tell that he loves how I want him to play with me.  That he longs for it.  Always this pressing, this knowing, that this is all so fleeting, fifty years my senior.  Maybe I make him feel as safe as he makes me feel.

“Carry me!” I beg, and he puts on the same pair of Ray Ban aviators he’s worn since World War II and hoists me up to his sunburned shoulders.  He smells like Sea and Ski, not like newspaper and the Chicago Loop.  He warns of rogue tree roots.  Leeches.  Black bears.  But we both know that this place is safe in all the ways that count.

We walk toward the lake, looking for chipmunks as we go, and he tells me stories of the one chipmunk who is always here, all winter when the cabins are empty, and screened doors don’t slap.  This one chipmunk who knows my heart and who knows me, and who will look over the little polished rock cairn that we leave under the cabin before climbing back into the station wagon for home.  This creature will keep my wonder safe and my father will remind me of it at bedtime, every night until we are back.  But we both know that it’s my father who holds my wonder.

On Memorial Day in 2004, I am standing at the end of his bed.  I hold his feet while he takes his last breath after 86 good years.  My son is four.  We go to the lake after that.  It’s been a long time.  No rocks under the cabin.  The forget-me-nots help.

073db487f4c4c2354d17ccad8d24eb24Whitefish Lake.  Montana. 

Here I am mother.  Here I am teaching the littlest of two children to dive from the dock.  He doesn’t want to point his hands to the glacial Montana lake.  He wants to do 360 Moonshine and mid-air Karate kicks and see how big the splash.  He wants to do it again.  And again.  And again.  He wants to see how long he can hold his breath underwater, but he is anything but invisible.  There is no suburb to wash off of him.  He lives here.  His screened porch door slaps all year long.

He collects stones too.  Flat ones to fling across the water and see how many times it will touch before it falls, counting the ripples.

“Watch, Mom,” he says, not caring if I do.  But I always do, and he knows it.

“Sixteen times!  You have one heck of an arm, son!”

He beams and I grab him and hold him to my hot summer skin.

“1…2…3…,” he shouts and takes my hand and we jump in the lake together.  And for a moment I lose him, and then I feel his arms under me, and his extraordinary face emerges.  “Look!  I can carry you!”

Don’t forget this, I think.  Do NOT forget this.  And I let him swim me to shore.

“When you get big, do you promise that you will still let me play with you?  And hug you?  And that we’ll swim in the lake together?”

“Of course, Mom.  Of course!”

And I can’t help but think:  He looks just like my father.

5:00 am.  Montana.  The first birds.  Robins.

He’s graduating next week.  And then he’s leaving for college September 1st.  There’ll be a lot of baseball through to August and for the next four years.  Leftie pitcher.  Heck of an arm.

I lie in bed, tears melting into my pillow.  But I’m smiling too, remembering.  I have held and been held.  I feel it, lying here.  And I wonder:  can I feel held by myself?  That’s what I truly long for.  That’s what I truly want to feel.

I decide that this year when the robins leave their nest on the porch lantern behind, I will take it and place it on my mantle.  I won’t fill it with anything.  Instead, I’ll study its woven grasses and mud, moss and twigs.  I’ll study the holding.  It’s my turn.

With so many of you enjoying Memorial Day, likely at lakes and on bodies of water across the country, I hope that you will let yourself feel held by the waters of your heart, where you can always find loving arms.  Your own.

Love,

Laura

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Ask Your Mother

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Well it’s Mother’s Day. I am ever aware of how grateful I am for mine, and for the honor of being a mother too.  Not everyone feels so great on this day.  I have a hard time on Father’s Day.  But for all of you, no matter what…there are people you love, who are older than you, and who have inspired you.  Here’s a list of questions that bring out a lot in those people.  We are honored to have the answers of my mother, and two mothers of Haven Writing Retreat alums HERE!  Pour a cup of tea on this fine morning, read, enjoy, and learn.  It’s all about the questions, after all.  (list of questions at the end)

Love,

Laura

Questions to Ask Your Mother:

Virgina 

1)    What would you like your descendants to know about you?

My whole life I’ve felt secure.  I’ve been very lucky.  Not everybody has had wonderful parents, and two wonderful marriages.

2)    What excites you?

I like the feeling of performing and meeting people’s expectations, whether it was my mother, or my teachers.

3)    What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?

I was twelve and it was my birthday, and my mother and father gave me a watch and a hay ride for my birthday party, and that stands out as one of my most favorite days. In Glenview, IL.  A gold watch—with a little black band—made out of a twisted woven sort of material.  A HAY RIDE IS SUCH FUN!  AND IT WAS A SURPRISE!  That was 74 years ago!

4)    If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?

I have a genealogical question I would ask them:  Who was Seth Aldrich’s father? (Spencer, MA—married Mary Knight (Holly), married in 1804, and had Jefferson, who had William Elliot, who had Hilan Duane, who had Jefferson Elliot, who had me.

5)    When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?

You should sweat the small stuff.  I’m a perfectionist.  And I haven’t changed what I want to be perfect in my life.

6)    What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?

Nothing.

7)    What is your favorite swear word?

shistervonboodlebottom

8)    What should I look for in a friend?

You want someone you can trust, who is loyal, who loves you, and has your best interests at heart, and who would never want to hurt you, and who cares deeply about you.  And there are not many people like that.  You’re lucky if you have three friends in your life, who you would do anything for and they’d do anything for you and you’d stop your life for them.  They remember my anniversary, and details, and they care.

9)    What should people look for in a partner?

Someone who has a belief in God, and who you can trust.

10) What is your advice on marriage?

Marry someone that you can trust.  Who you know adores you and you adore them.  Who you would do anything for and they would do anything for you.  And they would make the effort to make sure it lasts forever, and would never do anything to hurt you.  Someone you admire and respect.  You have to give all of yourself—you marry someone for better for worse, and you don’t give up.

11) What is your advice on aging?

Try and take care of yourself, exercise, be more flexible, because things don’t go the way you wished as you age.

12) When in your life have you been most happy?

Being married to your father.  I loved when he walked through the door.  I adored your father.  Just to see him and be with him, knowing he loved me, and he’d change his clothes and take the kids, and have dinner, and go outside and garden.  I could count on him.  I could trust him.  He would take care of those topiary trees.  He was always working to make sure that things were just perfect.  All of our friends hired gardeners and we never did.

13) What is the value of school?

To learn all that you can to help you in life later on.  Two examples:

In 7th grade, Miss Lawrence who was very demanding, and was my English teacher.  I felt challenged and supported by her.

There was a woman at Bennett name Miss Cody, and also expected you to do the best you could do.  She scared the hell out of me.  I wanted to do what she wanted me to do.

14) What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Knowing all that I have to do.  I’m a day person.  My friends say that I do five times what they do in a day, so I have to get up early to accomplish it all.

15) What is your advice to parents:

Make sure that as parents, you are honest with each other and in good communication.  And are a united force.

16) What is your advice on money?  Save it or spend it or a little of both?

Be as wise as you can be about how you spend your money, but knowing that you’re not going to live forever, you might as well do what you want and travel.  I try not to order the most expensive thing on the menu.  Know how much money you have.  You don’t want to be in debt.  We were never trust fund children, so we had to borrow money.  That’s why I started my business so I could make extra money to support us. I might not have started my business if I had more money.

17) What are three places I must see on this planet?

Israel—knowing that Jesus was there

Thailand—so exotic

Africa—looking at all the animals free and in the wild

Nepal—rode elephants to look for tigers

Loved going to Norway and all the Fjords

Alaska—islands

India was too dirty.  Liked Agra.

18) What are some words to live by?

Be honest.  Do your best.  Be all that you can be.  Be kind to others.

19) What makes me special?

You’re able to support your family, be everything for your family, and you work so hard and you are amazing and I don’t know anyone who can do all that you do.  I don’t know when you sleep.

20) When I am your age, what should I strive for?

To be somebody who people respect, and to have done the best job you knew how to do.  Your father used to say that on my gravestone it should read, “At least she tried.”

21) What are your hopes for this planet?

That we never have war.  That we have peace.  That people will love each other.  And we can be environmentally safe.

22) What would you like your legacy to be?

To have people remember me with love.  And that I was the keeper of memories.  I had a different color photo album for each child.  I didn’t put your photos in a shoebox.  I tried!

23) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?

I hope I’m worthy to be here.

Haven Writing Retreat Alum, Kim Smith’s mother:  Madalenne 

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1) What would you like your descendants to know about you?
That I was loving, kind, and generous. Unless you’re giving me bad service – then I’m a bit of a pill. But, otherwise, loving, kind, and generous.
2) What excites you?
Projects and challenges! Keeping busy and staying productive is so important - there’s really no age at which that doesn’t hold true. I’m currently the volunteer librarian at a local Catholic high school, and am thoroughly enjoying putting their library and their textbook dispensary in order. The Dewey Decimal System is a thing of beauty!
3) What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?
The first time I became a mother is the closest thing to a perfect day in my life that I can recall.
4) If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?
“Can you please tell me the details of your family history?”
5) When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?
Someone else’s idiosyncrasies! Remember that you, too, have idiosyncrasies, and that you cannot change someone else’s behavior – it’s a waste of precious energy to try. So, as the young folks say “Just chill!”
6) What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?
Trying to change someone else’s idiosyncrasies!
7) What is your favorite swear word?
While I may, or may not, have used the colloquial word for bull feces once or twice in my life, my “go-to” expletive is “numb nuts!”
8) What should I look for in a friend?
The best friends possess a magical combination of kindness, loyalty, intelligence, and good humor. When you find them, do all you can to cherish them and keep them close. They, along with your children, are life’s great treasures.
9) What should people look for in a partner?
Love. Generosity. Fidelity. Shared interests and goals. A sense of humor.
10) What is your advice on aging?
Keep your sense of humor (are you sensing a theme?!). Stay busy. Stay loving and caring, and focus, as best you can, on your blessings, and not your burdens. Choose happiness.
11) When in your life have you been most happy?
Having lived a life rich with happiness – in both small moments of quiet joy and of overwhelming bliss – I cannot isolate any particular time or year, and call it my happiest. Having said that, the years we spent on Chicago’s North Shore, raising our children, being involved in rugby (and so many other things), and making lifelong friends, was a very special time for me.
12) What is the value of school?
The value of education is incalculable. If you aim to be a happy and productive human, capable of enriching the lives of others, get thee to school! The best education inculcates not only knowledge, but also character, compassion, and integrity. And NEVER stop learning. Never, never, never.
13) What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Prayers, projects, and challenges. Also, cortisone shots and a not-insignificant amount of Motrin.
14) What is your advice to parents?
Demonstrate, every day in every way possible, the following qualities: love, positive communication, thoughtfulness, compassion, patience. Be kind and respectful to everyone you come in contact with, and there is a far greater chance that your children will grow up to be kind and accepting as well. Remember…they are always watching you, always listening to you. Show them the kind of person you’d hope them to be.
15) What is your advice on money? Save it or spend it or a little of both?
Are you joking?! I am the last person anyone should seek financial advice from.
16) What are three places I must see on this planet?
Oxford, Florence, St. Petersburg.
17) What are some words to live by?
“Nothing is worth more than this day.”
18) What makes me special?
The inner beauty you have always possessed. Your kindness and thoughtfulness. Your intuitive understanding of family, friends, and associates, that enriches them all.
19) When I am your age, what should I strive for?
Humor. Activity. Acceptance. Serenity!
20) What are your hopes for this planet?
The return of the Messiah. This is what I devoutly wish for this troubled, wonderful, singular planet of ours.
21) What would you like your legacy to be?
My legacy is a living one…the jewels in my crown, my extraordinary children, Kim, Paige, and Richard, who have already made this world, and the many lives they’ve touched, a better place.
22) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?
At Last!
Haven Writing Retreat Alum Cathy Kenworthy’s mother-in-law, Lucille

1.  I would like my descendants to know I love them more than anything in the world.
2.  What excites me – A good Symphony or Opera
3.  One Mother’s Day with my Mother and three children in a little mountain town. And my 75th Birthday in NY.
4.  If I could ask my mother or father one question what would that be? Do you wish you had had more than two children?
5.  Don’t sweat what you cannot change.lucille_in_maine
6.  In hindsight I would not be jealous – ever.
7   My favorite swear word is s___.   Sorry about that.
8.  In a friend I demand loyalty.
9.  In a partner – same thing but unconditional love.
10.  On aging – enjoy the benefits, forget the tribulations.
11.  I was most happy when my three children were in their teens.
12.  I don’t know what I would do without school.  I enjoy learning.
13.  Time of the day gets me out of bed in the morning.
14   Advice to parents – Know what is going on with your children and care about it.
15.  Advice on money – spend it!
16.  Two of the places I must see on this planet I have already seen – Italy, Great Britain. Would like Galapagos.
17.  Words to live by – Golden Rule.
18.  What makes you special:  There are many things– you are exceptional.  Bright, beautiful, caring.
19   At my age – don’t change what you are striving for – same as what you are striving for now.
20.  My hopes for this planet – environmentally in much better shape than it is now.
21.  What I like my legacy to be – a happy family.
22.  When I get to the Pearly Gates I will say I am so glad to have made it there – instead of the other place.

THE QUESTIONS.  Call your mother today if you can.  Ask her some of these questions.  Cherish the moment.  Keep the answers.  And if your mother isn’t available, ask someone else’s mother, or mother-in-law, or your father, or an elder in your world.  It’s a gift to them too.

1)    What would you like your descendants to know about you?

2)    What excites you?

3)    What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?

4)    If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?

5)    When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?

6)    What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?

7)    What is your favorite swear word?

8)    What should I look for in a friend?

9)    What should people look for in a partner?

10) What is your advice on aging?

11) When in your life have you been most happy?

12) What is the value of school?

13) What gets you out of bed in the morning?

14) What is your advice to parents?

15) What is your advice on money?  Save it or spend it or a little of both?

16) What are three places I must see on this planet?

17) What are some words to live by?

18) What makes me special?

19) When I am your age, what should I strive for?

20) What are your hopes for this planet?

21) What would you like your legacy to be?

22) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?

Now booking our fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (still room)

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What to say when someone dies

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September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (still room)

October 24-28 (still room)

I’m re-posting this in honor of Haven Writing Retreat alum, Christine, who lost her husband Brian in an heroic, and tragic accident over spring break.  Our whole Haven community sends you love.

No one really knows what to say to someone when their loved one dies.  You can say, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” and maybe that’s true.  Maybe you actually know what to think or pray on that person’s behalf.  Personally, I’m never sure. 

You can tell them that you’ll be there for them—that you’re their middle-of-the-night-phone-call friend, and promise to sleep with the phone near your bed.  You can write them a With Sympathy card and let Hallmark say something in lofty cursive and sign your name with love.  Or make a digital card with organ music to have a more flashy effect.  You can go to the funeral and wake and talk about all the good memories of their loved one, memorialize them with a slide show, give a toast, even ease the pain with some good jokes. 

You can bring them soup.  Bone soup, if you’ve been there.  If you know how hard it is to eat when you are in emotional triage.  It gets physical fast.  And every bite needs to hold health.

You can use social media to show support, post by post.  But do you “Like” an announcement of death?  Do you “Share” it?  Do you “Comment?”  It’s all a way of observing your friend’s loss.  But in the same place you share about what you ate for breakfast? 

You can give them books:  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, in which the minister rages against the loss of his beloved wife, himself, his God, and Who Dies, by Stephen Levine, especially Chapter 8, where he goes deeply into Grief as an ultimate vehicle of liberation, saying, “We are dropped into the very pit of despair and longing…an initiation often encountered along the fierce journey toward freedom, spoken of in the biographies of many saints and sages.”  But most people are not open to that journey in the first place, and certainly not when their hearts are shattered into splintered shards.

The truth is, and it hurts in the worst way…that ultimately, the mourner will be alone in their grief, and who wants to say that?  Who wants to bear the news that soon…people will stop Thinking, and Praying, and Liking, and Sharing, and Commenting, and bringing soup, and sending cards and emails and books.  Even the phone calls and texts will fall away.  The unspoken reality is:  People go back to their lives and you are alone.  You are in a club that you never wanted to be in.  And that’s when you watch Renee Fleming singing “Walk On” over and over on youtube as loud as you can.  And eventually…you do.  You absorb the grief.  And you start to see the “golden sky” she’s singing about.  But you never get over your loss.  Never.222

There is the opportunity, however, to use it.  If you’re in the club, you might as well be a steady and gracious club member.  I’m in the club.  And recently, one of my dear friend’s beloved husband dropped dead out of nowhere.  She’d lost her grandparents in their old age.  No one else.  She was bereft.  She asked me to write her a list of things that would help her, based on a phone call we’d shared.  Her mind was in a triage fog, my words were helpful to her, and she wanted to remember them. 

Here is what I wrote.  I offer it to you, if you are a new member of this club.  You are not alone.  And I offer it to you if you are one of those people wondering what to Think, Pray, Say…do: 

Hello, beautiful.  I am thinking of you non-stop.  Thank you for calling on me to be in your circle at this impossible time.  I am not afraid of this, so I’m glad you called me in.  I will be there for you.  The books you asked for should be there by the end of the week.  I will write some of the points I made on the phone here, since you asked for them.  If my words on the phone were helpful, it’s only because you are open to them.  I truly hope they help.  Here is what has helped me and some of the people I know who have been through deep loss: 

  • First of all:  Breathe.  I mean it.  That’s your most important tool to stay in the present, out of fear, and to sustain yourself.  You will find yourself holding your breath.  Try to stay aware of your breath no matter what and keep breathing…in…out…in…out.  Deeply if you can.  Little sips when deep is too hard.
  • Lean into Love.  Wherever you can find it.  In your God.  In friends and family.  In yourself.  Let it hold you for now.  Call on friends and family to give you what you need.  You cannot offend anyone right now.  Let us know what you need and tell us how to give it to you.  “Bring me dinner, please.  Come sit with me.  Read to me.  Sing to me.  Rub my back.  Draw me a bath…” 
  • That said, be careful who you bring into your circle.  Stay away from people who say things like, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”  They’re trying to help, and maybe those things are true, but right now you need people who are not afraid to hold the space for your pain.  You need to find the people who feel easy and safe and not necessarily wise.  Keep your circle small for now.  It might be that you call on people very different from the ones you habitually have in your life.
  • Make sure to eat.  Even if you want to throw up.  Please, eat.  And drink a lot of water.  You don’t want to block your natural energy flow.  Your body actually knows how to handle this immense pain.
  • Lie in bed with your feet up. 
  • Take a walk if you can, every day.  Even if it’s short.  Just get outside.
  • Take Epsom Salt baths.  Lavender oil helps.  Keep some in your purse, put a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together, then cup your hands to your nose and breathe deeply when you need grounding.
  • Write.  If you can.  Just a little bit.  If you have it in you, at some point sooner than later, it’s incredibly useful to write down your vision of what was “supposed to be.”  I heard those words come from your deepest place of sacred rage and I believe that to write that story, as fully fleshed out as possible, would be an important step in one day sending off that “supposed to be” into the sea of surrender.  So that you don’t have to hold it anymore and you can live into your future.  Letting the supposed-to-be go doesn’t mean that you do it injustice or that it no longer exists in dreams and heart.  But it’s important not to have it become armor of some sort.  It’s not time now to surrender it.  But I do believe that it would be helpful just to write it out with great details as a way to honor it.  And one day…yes, to let it go.  Writing is the most transformational and therapeutic tool I know and I think it should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of wellness.  Keep a journal by your bed.  It helps.
  • When the terrifying, claustrophobic, impossible thoughts come, do not let them multiply.  Literally put up a wall that keeps them on the other side.  They are not your friend.  There is no making sense of this loss.  Unless your thoughts are loving and forgiving and helpful, banish them.  If you have to shout “NO!” then do it.  What you let into your mind should feel and act like the very best friends and family who would never let you entertain fear, but only shower you with love.  Love yourself.  There is no thinking your way through this.  This is a time to really find what it is to just…be.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.  In out in out.
  • There is no check list right now.  There is nowhere to get.  There is no goal other than to fully live in the present moment.  You can’t skip steps with triage, grief, or healing.  Grief attacks at will, it seems.  Be gentle with yourself if you feel graceless around it.  You have to feel it to shed it.
  • Go slowly.  Be careful.  The only real wisdom I have gleaned from Grief is this:  Grief is one of our greatest teachers because it doesn’t allow for hiding places.  When we open to our sorrow, we find truth.   Your tears then, are truth.  Honor them.

That’s enough for now.  The main thing is to be gentle with yourself.  I love you so.  And the love you two shared will never ever go away.  He is Love now and he is all around you and in you.  If you can’t feel him, feel Love and you will be feeling him.

Hope that helps.  You can do this.  I am here for you.  I promise.  If only just to listen to your tears and let you know you are not alone.

Love, 

Laura

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In honor of Dr. Nick Gonzalez 

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Ladies, We Need to Talk Money!

Haven-4-1024x1024There’s nothing like 4 am for all the good haunts, money being at the top of the list.  This morning, I realized:  We need to start talking about money.  Period.  Throw aside your east coast cranky Yankee “T.J. Max’s finest,” your mid-western farm-stock “Hand-me-down,” your mountain-mama “Made it myself,” your mildewy PNW, “5 bucks at a thrift shop,” your southern belle, “Oh, this old thing?”

This is a call to action!  Especially to women.  Especially to single women.  Especially to single women of a certain age:  we need to start talking about money!  (Yes, even you, my WASP sisterhood.)15-my-two-cents.nocrop.w710.h2147483647

The other night, I spent two hours on the phone with a dear old friend  of mine.  We have a very specific and special friendship.  We were roommates for a semester in college in a foreign country.  We have never lived near each other.  We have never had mutual social engagements or group interactions.  It’s always just the two of us on the telephone, hashing it all out.  We go deep, fast.  And because of that, we also go months, sometimes years without talking.  It requires a large window.  But we figure—this sort of friendship is rare.  And we don’t get to see each other in real life– I think we’ve seen each other three times in the last two decades in person.  And still, somehow, we love and trust each other like sisters.  Sisters who need each other.  All of a sudden.  When the shit hits the fan.

So our friendship is based on these epic phone calls, when we both have a wide open window.  And it’s usually when we’re both in pain and really need a friend.  We are both, at age 51, financially independent women.  No hubbie taking care of us.  And whatever’s in the bank, has everything to do with our ability to put it there by mining our talents, creating businesses, and being highly adaptive.  In other words, neither of us has done it the way we were “supposed to” do it.  And that has had its rewards in spades.  Just not necessarily in dollars.

“Can we talk about money?” I said to her.  “Like really talk about money?  In all the ways we need to, but aren’t really supposed to?”

“Yes.  Please!  I need it.”rosie

I went past everything I’ve been taught, and launched in.  I told her what I have in savings.  I told her what I have in my business account.  And I told her what I have in my personal and retirement accounts.  I told her how much my house was appraised for and what I pay for my mortgage every month.

And then I added, “I’m alone in this.  And even though I have great people on my team…I’m really doing all of this alone.  And it’s all been baptism by fire.  I really had no idea what I was doing when I started my business.  I didn’t even know what a mortgage really was, never mind the word amortization.  I still don’t have a clue what that is.”

It was her turn.  She told me her versions of all of the above.  It felt positively liberating.  I trust her.  She trusts me.  And we’re not lying in bed talking about boys and dreams.  We’re talking about the shake down of all of that.  The other side.  The raw reality that we are both faced with.  Will we always be alone in this?  Will we ever have other people in our lives who help us financially?  Will we get a break or will we be the sole generators of income for the rest of our lives?  How can we fortify our financial future?  Our dreams?  Can we even afford to dream?

What I love about us is that we are still those little girl dreamers we once were.  But we now have seasoned reasons why some dreams are worth wrangling right now for sanity’s sake than others.

“I’m so glad we’re having this conversation,” she said.  “Women need to have this conversation.  And I can tell you:  most of them aren’t.”

Why, I wonder?  Is it shame?  Is it that we think we are weak when we speak our truth, especially about money?  Do we think we’ll be judged?  Do we think being stoic is powerful?  I can tell you…it’s not.

What would it take for women to have these conversations?  A completely non-threatening woman in your life who you’ve never had to compare yourself to in waistline or social prowess or cocktail party cleverness?  Someone you never shot the shit with in the school pick-up line, or with whom you felt the pull of gossip or push of bandwagon or zing of local political divide?  I hope not.3333_are-women-more-risk-averse-investors_1

I hope that we can have this conversation with exactly those people you’ve rolled around with in your town, in the local heartbreaks and purchase.  I hope that at your next gathering, you can grab a woman who you know is going through the exact thing you are—divorce, re-invention, empty nest, troubled kids—whatever, and pull her into a side room where no one’s listening and say,

“Sister.  We need to talk.  Are you okay?  And I don’t mean just your heart.  I mean…do you have your affairs in order, financially?  Because I learned baptism by fire, and I have a great financial advisor, and you need to be on top of this.  There’s no shame here, and if there is, it’s time to chuck it out the window.  You are going to be old one day and we live in a country where our Social Security is not enough to live on!  You’ve got to be smart.  You’ve got to plan.  The future is going to happen, if it in fact happens, and you have to be prepared.”

I frankly cannot believe these words are coming out of my heart and mind and onto the page.  Even as I write them, I feel loath to push Publish.  What will my mother think?  What will my WASP kindred say if they read this?  But I don’t want for you what happened to me.  The cold hard reality is this:  The rugs of life get ripped out from underneath us.  No matter how perfect we think our lives are or how hard we’ve worked to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.  And we need each other.  We don’t have to do this alone.

So ladies…take a deep breath, gulp, even roll your eyes a little…but think of that friend you can trust, and call her.  Ask her if she’d be willing to talk money with you.  And if she says yes, then get in that mosh pit together and roll around in that mud until you come out knowing you’re not alone, with some pretty good ideas, and a very good plan.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Because that, is priceless.

My dear friend is here.

Here’s a piece I wrote about how I re-invented, in the former editor-in-chief of More Magazine’s  new brain child:  Covey Club.  May it inspire you to mine your passions!

Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018! You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.

Now Booking!  Click here for more info.

April 18-22 (full)

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September 19-23

September 26-30

October 24-28

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You Need a BREAK!

Haven-4-1024x1024

Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018! You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4 (full)
April 18-22 (one spot left)
May 16-20 (one spot left)
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

You give yourself a break.  Time away.  You get to feel new ozone on your skin and wander streets that might have you fall between the cracks, and you like it that way.  Your life needs more cracks and more possibility and maybe even more danger.  Things are too plum, shored, sealed up tight.  You need to be sloppy.  Irresponsible, even.  You maybe even need to turn a heel in a crack and fall. Mostly, you need to bum around and forget about things.  You need to stop in a café and have a cappuccino just because why not.  You don’t really drink coffee but a cappuccino looks so good.  You don’t really give yourself those little gemstone pauses these days and you need to.  You need to sit at tables in public and watch the world go by.  You need to get away from your routine—all that sitting alone staring at a computer.  You need to get away from your list—that never-ending list.  You need to get away from that voice which stands behind you with a megaphone, blaring at you all the time and even when you sleep, to do it faster, better, best.  And p.s…you’ll never do it as well as you should, or could or were supposed to.  And the worst of it:  This voice is YOU.

At 4 a.m. you actually sit up in bed and shout, “ENOUGH!  STOP!  Go away!”

And that’s what you need:  you need to go away.  Maybe she’ll stay at home and make perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and remember to pay the property taxes on time, and make sure to have a dozen eggs in the fridge no matter what.  And write thank you notes and send Christmas cards before Christmas and remember everyone’s birthdays and get the driveway plowed at just the right time, before the storm, before the thaw, UNLIKE you…when you fail to consult Mother Nature, and the whole world is an ice-skating rink, and no one has control over their cars or footing.  And it’s all your fault, because you didn’t deal when you should have, could have, were supposed to.  In short, you suck.  Either way, you suck.  So you might as well leave.

Enough!  I’m out of here!  You stay here and do it all right.  I’m going to go get a little, or a lot, lost.  There’s an extra set of keys in the little drawer next to the stove.  Oh, and the propane bill is late.  Hope you have heat.  The woodstove is exceptional.  But there’s zero wood on the front porch, and the path to the woodpile isn’t shoveled, so good freaking luck!

And lo, you find yourself in Mexico.  In a little hill town.  Thin, cobble-stoned streets, full of fallen women.  Just like you.  Divorced.  Middle-aged.  Artists.  Sad.  Looking for happy.  But in the mean-time…just looking for…looking.  They are you and if that’s true, you’ve never looked more hopeless in your life.  But at least you’re not at home.  Staring at your computer.  And at the snow.  And at February.

You need to just…sit.  And let the world go blurry.  Lose time.  Have that one cup of coffee be your only goal.  And maybe you won’t even drink it.  It will just sit there getting cold.  You have no commitment to it.  You can leave it untouched and it will hold nothing against you.  Maybe you order wine instead.  At noon.  And decide you want to sit in a church after.  And then on a park bench.  And then take a nap.  There’s a weight on your back that you need to shake.  It feels like a feral dog and it’s about to grab you, jugular, all the time, unless you keep going and going and going…email by email, buttons– so many buttons, screens, phone calls, gas, bills, heat, groceries, school and sports event after event, parent by parent.  Are we all really doing this so well?  Is anyone else about to be slain by February?  If anyone asked, and if anyone answered, the whole thing might erupt and send ash for miles, across states, to the sea.  So no one does.  We slog.  And we say, “How are you?”  And we say, “I’m fine.”  Are we?

I had to leave.  I had to stop.  I had to get off the orbit and float in space.  I took a week.  I wrote for hours every day in my journal.  By day six, the dog was finally off my back.  I heard it growling around a corner, but it was growling at someone else.  Another person.  A running person.  I was sitting in a church with wine breath and it decided I wasn’t worth it.

A week of this– no 4 a.m. haunts for seven days.  And on day six, I was free.  And I was new.  For one day.  I slept until 11:00.  I sat by a pool and read Vanity Fair (my porn).  I thought about nothing but whatever was in those pages, like some kidnapped socialite who wrote a memoir, and I didn’t really even think too much about her because she looked okay in her polka-dot dress…until I fell asleep in the sun, getting my last fix of Vitamin D.

And then I got my notice from the airline that it was time to check in.  And the dog began growling at me.  Not that other person.  Me.  I warded him off all the way through a four hour wait in Mexico City and nine hours of flights.  And I came home.  And it was all still there.  The very opposite of the green green grass of my vacation.  No one shoveled and we had 20 inches.  The mail stacked up because I forgot to have it held.  The mailbox creaked a refusal when I pried it open.  No one set mouse traps and one (or a whole family) have taken up real estate in my pantry closet—seems they really like pancake mix.  My truck was dead on arrival with a low front tire, at that.  And my homeowner’s insurance is a month late.  Oh, the satellite got turned off too.  I must have had what Holly Go-lightly calls The Mean Reds.  And I don’t feel so new anymore.

I’m up at 4 a.m. again.  Sleeping with the dog.

I have a few more months of this, before the birds come back and promise that the world will melt to color again and myself too.  I look out at the still-snow, deer paths labyrinthine from my blanketed garden to my blanketed front door, as if they too are sick of it and want to come in by the fire.  And I know:  I have a choice.  I can welcome this last rash of dormancy.  I can accept and allow this no thing-ness, this negative space of winter.  I can try to take small sips of that getting lost feeling even with my stacked-up responsibilities.  I can even try to take the dog off my back and let him run around in my Montana field and get all his growling and barking out of his system, at least for a few hours.

And if that’s not true, if the cruelty that is February this year, is not shakable in my own neck of the woods…then I have learned nothing in my life.  And I know for certain that’s not true.  I wrote a whole book about happiness being a choice.  Thank you, February, for giving me practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  I don’t know if practice makes perfect, but I do know that the next time someone asks me how I am, I’m going to suggest that we both answer what is really true.  And I give us both permission to say, “Not so great.  Want to go have a cappuccino?  Or maybe a glass of wine?”

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

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 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

You Are My Haven

Laura Di Franco

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You are my haven,

my safe space to be

me.

 

You’re my shelter

in a storm.

The only one

who sees.

 

You feed

my soul,

wrap your arms

around my heart,

hold the pieces

broken apart.

You

are the glue.

 

You’re the mirror

for my soul

how I know

myself

my essence

my purpose

my worth,

get acquainted

with the light

and the dark.

 

You help me

shine

remind me

there’s no more time

to be afraid.

 

What you say

sits softly

in my core

twirling

a magic wand

creating a song

from the shadows

there.

 

Finding you

like a jewel

just lying there

all sparkly and blue

in the mud

saying, “scoop me up.”

It’s like you

were dropped there

from heaven.

My haven

is you,

the calm

the fire

the peace

you inspire

the strength

I feel

in my bones

how my mind

feels light

and free.

 

Thank you

for giving those treasures

to me.

Thank you for

treading

gently,

holding me

firmly,

keeping me

still,

forcing me

into

the healing.

 

You

are my haven.

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.04 PM

 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

The Chapel

Jennifer Revill

Chapel 1

Amidst the crowded terminals, the sensory assault of the checkpoints, and the rumble of shuttle buses at the curb, there is a place that breeds calm. On this day, I am alone at Our Lady of the Airways chapel at Logan International Airport.  The midday Mass is over, and the dim, brick-walled, low-ceilinged sanctuary is quiet. A decorative wood grid ceiling floats above the rows of pews. (There’s a local joke: it’s appropriate that the pews at the airport chapel have insufficient legroom.) Rows of colored votive candles glow.

When it opened in 1951, this chapel was the first at a US airport, and the first Catholic one. But like many airport chapels throughout the world, it has become nondenominational of necessity. Below one of the Stations of the Cross, there is a neat stack of prayer rugs and a diagram with an arrow pointing towards Mecca.

During my thirty years as a facility manager at this airport, I’ve observed millions of travelers. What they do can be amusing, even endearing, but also aggravating, sometimes downright distressing, and, every so often, illegal. These people want and need many things: a craft-brewed beer, a cinnamon latte, a place to nurse their baby, to charge their phone, or to shed a tear in private. Though they are travelers, they are vulnerable human beings first, who exhibit the complete range of human emotions while under our roof: dread, fury, despondency, anticipation, joy.  Always, they want to feel secure, and to feel certain about what’s going to happen next. It’s my job to help them succeed in this.

I was at Logan on 9/11. That morning, a colleague raced out of his office, shouting, “An aircraft just hit the World Trade Center!” Was this possible? And then he said, “And they’re saying that the plane left from here!” This was downright terrifying. Within an hour, not knowing much more than the rest of a shocked nation, a team of us had gathered at the airport hotel in preparation for…what? This was not an ordinary crash that we were trained to handle. That day, we could only watch the tragedy unfold on television. Holding hands in that hotel conference room, we watched the North Tower collapse, many of us weeping.  The airport chaplain stayed with us all afternoon, tendering comfort and prayers.

Eventually, amidst the uncertainty, we set to work. We received and comforted the families of the crew and passengers on the two airliners that had been lost, who showed up at the airport for lack of any other place to go. Every building, parking garage, tunnel, and rooftop were inspected. We also needed to close and secure every terminal at Logan for the several no-fly days that followed the attacks. Airports are not designed to be locked. This had never been done. It seemed impossible.

But it wasn’t impossible.  How do any of us ever do the many impossible things that we are all called upon to do in a life? Starting from a place of security helps; but if we don’t have that, and we don’t have certainty, we simply stumble forward in faith and hope. As vulnerable human beings, we set to work, doing our best and trusting for grace.

This chapel is my Haven. I come here when I need respite from work stress, or a moment to expand my heart. I think about life, the loss and pain of it and the exultation of it. I say thanks for the people who feel their way through life beside me. This little chapel helps remind me that so much is possible.

My Haven

Natasha Kasprzyk

As a high school English teacher, I’m used to being asked questions.

A lot of questions.

Most of the time, the questions allow for reasonable answers:

What’s a semicolon?

Why does “pneumonia” start with a “p”?

How long does this have to be?

Some questions have answers, but they’re never satisfying:

Why did Candy let Carlson shoot his dog?

How could the jury convict Tom Robinson?

But those are nothing when put up against the mother of all questions:

What does this word mean?

How do we know what a word means? Do we consult the Rosetta Stone? Urban Dictionary? Connotations from 1972, 1986, or 2015? How my nephew names his toys? Is there a “correct” meaning for any word?

Take “haven,” for example. Merriam-Webster’s primary definition is “harbor, port”. So…where a sailboat hangs out when it’s over summer tourism and needs to introvert extra hard?

The secondary definition of “haven” is “a place of safety: refuge.” I don’t get why that’s the second definition. Was it 26 votes shy of taking first after the dictionary gods found themselves deadlocked and handed over the reins to Survey Monkey, letting plebeians make the final call?

The older I get, the more strongly I believe that to truly honor a word, one should pick it apart, turn it inside out, see how it looks next to last year’s favorite sweater, the hurrah of this year’s 4th of July fireworks, a hot mug of tea…and how it fits inside one’s heart.

Or, in my case, how one’s heart creates space – becomes a haven – for another, and for itself.

In March 2011, my heart was beating too fast, working too hard, and becoming too full of what didn’t serve it. If I couldn’t realign its purpose, I didn’t know how much of my original self I’d be able to save.

In one grateful moment, I realized that in order to be me, to be my true self, I needed to take care of someone else.

I’ll never forget the afternoon I brought him home. He just stared at me, his brown eyes boring holes into my soul, wondering if he’d be safe, loved, protected…and, perhaps, what my expectations of him would be.

Don’t put him in bed with you, they said. He’ll never sleep in his own bed, they said.

We’ll be fine, I said.

Seven years later, we’re still fine.

I’ve shaped my life around him. I make sacrifices for him. He can drive me absolutely bonkers for three days straight, but as soon as I have to turn my back and leave him with people who love him, I miss him.

He is my everything.

This is how I show up for him, my haven: I make room in my heart because I love him so much.

He radiates joy when we go to the park, as he runs and spins in circles until he’s out of breath. He brings joy and smiles to friends and strangers because, really, he’s just that cute.

And, at the end of the day, he curls up in my lap, nudges my legs with his head, lets out a deep sigh and a soft smack of his lips as he settles into sleep.

To love him and see a brighter, more interesting world through his eyes — he is my haven, he will forever be the primary definition for that word in my personal dictionary, and I’ll show up for him for as long as he’s here and years after he’s gone.

My baby boy.

My first love.

My first dog.

Sully.

Steamboat Sully

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