Goodbye: A Prelude

“Don’t break my red plate.”

“Don’t get attached to inanimate objects.”

“I have to; the animate ones keep leaving.”

Never before has that six year-old exchange held more meaning that in the past few months, especially in the past two weeks. Just a few days ago, eldest son, his partner, and their daughter (yep, my granddaughter) moved to Hawaii. Just today middle son left for summer adventure in Seattle and LA, along with participation in a dance intensive in North Carolina. Youngest son is taking driver’s ed: a definitive step toward many more goodbyes. He is also starting high school in the fall – yet another milestone that heralds more farewells.

We are in a culture that doesn’t like to say goodbye. Saying that word has fallen out of fashion. If you type in “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later” into YouTube, you get over seven million hits: original songs, movie clips, poetic tributes, and inspirational talks. Move that search out to Google, and you’ll get 39 million hits.

We don’t want to say goodbye. This is prevalent in modern dating culture. It seems to be (and I ran this by people in several different age brackets) standard to ghost a person you don’t want to see any more. For example, you have a first date – maybe even a couple of dates – and then: Nothing. No texts, calls, emails…no returned correspondence either. If this happens to you, you have been ghosted. The person in question is disappearing; they don’t want to say, “Hey, I’m not really that interested” or “This isn’t working out” or the old standby, “It’s not you; it’s me.” No one wants to say goodbye in any form.

We can also see this reticence in the funeral industry. Like all industries, the funeral industry evolves to stay relevant. And, in the end, we all use some part of that industry. However, a desire to avoid the finality of a goodbye caused by death plays a role. A number of factors, including rising costs; creating new traditions; and a move away from traditional organized religion, encourage families not to view a funeral or other life-end memorial as a goodbye, but as a celebration of life. If we meditate then party, we don’t have to say goodbye.

Why? Are we trying to keep our options open? Are we thinking: if I don’t say goodbye, then the person isn’t really dead? Or my friend hasn’t really moved away?  Or she might still date me if I want to re-up later? What’s happening here?

Farewells are hard. I have divorced twice; I have had close contemporaries and young students, as well as beloved elders, die; I have been ghosted; I have moved. I have sent two sons to college and into life. Goodbyes are a part of all of life.

Goodbye is a contraction from the 16th century “God be with ye.” Seems appropriate. Child going to college? God be with ye. Not interested in dating him any more? God be with him. Dear friend passed away? God be with her. Yes, totally appropriate. And needed.

We need to be able to say goodbye to people. It’s an important skill. Saying goodbye well teaches resilience. It draws a line, and it allows those being left behind to adjust to an absence. Being able to say goodbye means that we can leave someone and move forward. When goodbye doesn’t involve the finality of death, it’s easier; but even when it is funereal, it’s a prelude to the days where we have to go on living.

I’m not saying goodbyes are easy. But, I’m afraid that the lack of sincere, sometimes heart-wrenching goodbyes are rendering us incapable of moving on in a healthy way. Sure, I cry when a son leaves to move 3915 miles away. I have cried when my loved ones have died. I cry with others when their loved ones die. I cried when I got seriously ghosted earlier this year. Shoot, I cry when a contestant gets eliminated on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In their various forms, these goodbyes help me into the next act.

Yes, goodbyes are tough to swallow. And, yes, sometimes the next act totally sucks.

However, goodbyes are not the end of a song; they are  the entr’acte.

Goodbyes are the prelude to what comes next.

 

Springing Time

“Would you like a refund? You know…this is a hard medium…and you really don’t have any talent here.”

Years ago I signed up for and started a watercolor class. I’ve always wanted to learn to paint, and I enjoy the softness of watercolor. But, two classes in, the refund offer – in front of the whole class – was more than I could bear. I took my money and ran.

This past July a moment happened in my poetic life that had the same effect – I ran away. I quit. I stopped.

Well, it’s spring, and spring is a time of renewal and rebirth, according to the ancients. In the 14th century this time of year was called Springing Time, in reference to the plants springing from the ground. A new round of life. Another chance.

I drive a great deal in my job – all over Eastern Iowa. Because podcasts and music only do so much, I enjoy looking at other drivers. And, you know what I see? Bovine stares. Boredom. (They’re probably listening to local radio stations – you do know they still regularly play Duran Duran and Paula Abdul, right?) But, the stare. It’s death. It’s the I-have-to-do-this-to-make-money-to-pay-the-bills-to-go-to-the-grocery-store-to-buy-food-to-make-even-though-I-do-not-want-it-and-those-ingrates-at-home-will-complain stare. You know the one? It’s the stare that tells you about a life constructed without enough thought; legos, mortgage payments, and repeat episodes of shows that weren’t that good the first time around.

Well, folks – it’s spring time. And, I know it’s spring time because the schools I work with are beginning reflections on this past year and planning for next year. I know it’s spring time because daylight savings time has made early morning rising a chore. I know it’s spring time because I slept with the windows open last night.  I know it’s spring time because even here in Iowa we have a few daffodils up. I know it’s spring time because it’s the end of Masters’ Week in Augusta.

And, since it is spring time, perhaps it’s time to cast off the resignations of the past; time to find a non-bovine facial expression. Maybe you have some springing you’d like to do? I don’t mean the things you see as the usual requirements of spring; I mean some activity, hobby, habit of mind that you’d like to grow into?

Let’s go obvious: flowers. Have you always wanted some great flowers around the house or in a pot on the deck? Get them! Plant them! Start some seeds so you have cucumbers in July. Cleaning out the garage? Well, okay. Probably needs to be done, if it’s anything like mine.

How about an activity? It’s cliche to say it’s time for running or biking. It could be that. Or go for the less obvious: learn to play Call of Duty with your son; figure out how to bake bread from scratch; choose a new sex technique to try with your lover. Maybe something as simple as smiling more – even and especially in line at the grocery store?

Really, it can be anything. It’s time to spring; whatever your thing is, get out from behind the bovine stare, and embrace the spring. Sign up for the class. Put the festivals on your calendar, and actually go to them. Scoot down the the lake and rent a kayak. Adopt the pet you’ve always wanted; learn a yard game; read more; get out your old guitar and tune up; take painting lessons.

It really doesn’t matter – there are myriads of things you can try or do no matter where you live. Open up your world and jump in!

And, no matter what you choose to spring into, don’t let anyone try to force a refund on you.

Accepting more than Expecting

champagne-and-chocolates1On Valentine’s Days past I have written about loving oneself, one’s friends, one’s family, one’s pets. I have written – convincingly, if I do say so myself – about how love is all around. That we don’t need flowers, hearts, champagne, and chocolates from a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner to make us happy. I wrote these things so well that I believed them year-round – for a decade or more.

Until this year.

For some reason this year, I expected well wishes to come pouring in. I thought I’d have some flowers. A champagne toast. At least an overpriced Hallmark greeting. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Perhaps it was the 50th birthday induced hangover? Lots of well wishes there, so the same would surely continue? Well, that’s not what happened. Dad and Mom sent a chocolate treat. Nothing from the sons. Nothing – not even a text – from a couple of friends who I thought would send a greeting at the very least. And, for the first time in recent memory there was a person from whom I really hoped for a greeting. Nothing doing.

I fell into a funk. A pretty deep funk. My disappointment was aided by the fact that I have had a terrible cold that has morphed into what seems to be the flu. My discouragement was enlarged by the fact that being sick has prevented me from going to the gym, so endorphins are nowhere to be found. This whole bummer of a holiday was compounded by the fact that youngest son decided to be a full-on teenager today.

So, what happened? Why, after a decade of preaching the virtues of treating myself and loving my friends, have I found myself in tearful disappointment at the end of the day on Valentine’s Day?

I had a friend in college who spent every Valentine’s Day – classes or not; frat party or no – in bed all day in her sweats, crying. I don’t clearly remember why. A broken heart, a returned ring, and general abandonment all played roles in her yearly depression. I don’t know what she thought was going to happen. Did she have a Gatsbyesque hope that the past would repeat itself and all would be set right? Was she waiting for a fairy godmother to wave a wand and cure whatever ailed her mid-February heart? what-screws-us-up-most-in-life-is-the-picture-in-our-head-of-how-its-supposed-to-be

It was all – for her back then, as it was for me today – a matter of expectations. And, if you are finding yourself in a Netflix and no champagne Valentine’s evening, perhaps it is the same for you. Did you expect something that didn’t happen? Was someone supposed to treat you and failed?  If we expect things that we can’t make happen or if we are unable communicate those needs to someone else who wants to make things happen, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

America has a thing with holidays – especially those that mean consumer indulgence. America has a way of making sure that we all know that someone else is having a better, bigger, happier holiday than we are. Most of us tow that line, buy into the commercials and the competition. I feel like that’s what I did this year.

For whatever off-kilter reasons, I expected things from the world on this February 14; I made up scenarios rather than living life. I constructed a way it was supposed to be, and that was my recipe for disaster. Now, as soon as I get over this cold, I will get to the gym, adjust my outlook, and go – as my mom used to say – onward and upward.

Until then, remember that I have been right in the past:  Love yourself. Love your friends, family, pets, and neighbors. Tell them you care. Show them you are there for them. Make every day one filled with more accepting and less expecting.

More than a Blue Moon

More than a decade ago, my sister called me before she left for a professional conference. I wasn’t home. She left a message. I heard the message, and I decided I’d just talk to her when she got back from the conference.

Yesterday was my birthday. Along with all the Facebook-prompted well wishes, I was the glad recipient of other birthday greetings throughout the day. Friends sent texts. One friend sent flowers. Another sent balloons. Yet another took me out to lunch. I received chocolates. Youngest son tagged along tolerantly while I wandered through my favorite book store. There were a few presents, some cake, a flute too many of champagne. It felt good to realize that people were thinking of me; that others cared; that some went out of their way and incurred expense on my behalf. I felt special.

blue-moon-treeThen, as I am wont to do, I got to thinking. And then overthinking: why don’t we do such things for others that we care about on a regular basis? Why should well wishes, Facebook-prompted or not, be limited to a birthday? Don’t we want our friends and loved ones to know what they mean to us? To feel special?

I know: life moves fast. The news bombards us. Traffic stalls. Budgets are tight. People get sick. Dogs have to be walked. There’s laundry to do. And supper to plan. Cats throw up.  Oh, and work. The kids need transporting. I own a vacuum cleaner for a reason. I need to make summer plans at the beginning of February. And, youngest son has a vocal concert. Then . . . then . . . then . . . sometimes I have so much to do that I do nothing. Still and all, it’s easy to be distracted by the tyranny of the urgent.

But maybe you’re different.

You likely think of others more readily than I. Maybe you make the unexpected phone call because you want to hear a smile. You send greeting cards on time for anniversaries and birthdays.  Are you the person who picks up a scone for a colleague who you know is struggling?  You might even be one of those grand romantic gesture people, standing outside with a portable stereo over your head a la John Cusack. Perhaps you simply answer the phone instead of checking to see who is calling and groaning and hitting the “decline” button.

We all want to feel remembered, answered, cared for: it’s natural. I wonder if I can do a better job of this: caring for others in the way they need. I wonder if I can listen to people’s hearts better. Might I help someone feel special? Maybe I can take a breath and really hear what someone is trying to say to me.  Can I return calls promptly instead of spending time crafting an apology about why I didn’t call back?

Maybe I can.

Maybe I won’t miss anyone else’s last call.

 

 

Obligatory 50 List

Hello Everyone. I’m Laura. I will be fifty in a week.

I know nothing for sure.

This is a list of things that I’m pretty sure about as I turn a half a century old.

  1. Diversity is good.
  2. If shoes are uncomfortable in the store, they will be uncomfortable at home.
  3. Some people are worth the extra effort. Some are not.
  4. Go for a walk.
  5. Don’t forget the music – there’s always time for music.
  6. Computers are great. Manual typewriters are also excellent.
  7. Don’t buy clothes with the idea you will diet into them. Bodies change.
  8. The movies are never as good as the books.
  9. The beach. Enough said.
  10. Go to a museum even if you think you’ll hate it. You probably won’t.
  11. Learning a language is a good idea.
  12. The banjo is a grossly underrated instrument.
  13. Exercise is a good idea.
  14. Wine is a nice way to end a long day.
  15. Find books you love and buy them in hardcover.
  16. When in doubt – make a bowl of spaghetti and listen to music.
  17. Find the person who makes you smile when he kisses you. Kiss him. Often.
  18. Complaining doesn’t help.
  19. Loyalty may not be valued by everyone.
  20. Surprises can be wonderful. Stay open to them.
  21. It doesn’t matter what Oprah says to read; choose your own books. Just read.
  22. We have to take care of each other.
  23. Dogs should be trained; I’m not super at this.
  24. Go to happy hour.
  25. Open the windows as often as possible.
  26. Being part of a good couple is better than being alone.
  27. Being alone is better than being part of a bad couple.
  28. Call back. That person might not be there tomorrow.
  29. Drag shows do not start on time.
  30. Keep an on-going list of gifts to get people; when an occasion arises – you’re all set.
  31. Do not buy ill-fitting bras.
  32. The mountains are calling to you. Go there.
  33. It’s important to value yourself.
  34. Plan but stay flexible. Stay flexible but plan.
  35. Listen to people’s hearts.
  36. There is tragedy in the world. Do not get used to it.
  37. Nobody knows what happens when we die. Not for sure.
  38. Treating those you love is not a mistake.
  39. Playing cards with children is an exercise in patience.
  40. Expectations create divides that can be hard to bridge.
  41. Go out to eat. Somewhere good. Don’t go to bad restaurants.
  42. Get up early and stay up late to see the meteor showers.
  43. Beauty can be found everywhere if we look hard enough.
  44. High school show choir is fantastic.
  45. Children are valuable.
  46. Birthdays are a privilege. We will always want one more.
  47. Most days are tuna fish and corn chips – and, that’s okay.
  48. It is okay to feel sad.
  49. Doing something artistic opens up your soul to the universe.
  50. You know – you just never know.

Peace.

Choices.

There is a dark at the end of the tunnel of this week for many of us. The looming transition of power worries or horrifies 4245115019_68ff9e4355many people in our country. I have read real news; I have seen the memes; I have watched some speeches. I’m among the scared and horrified. There is a scarcity of joy in much of this country; even for much of the world as January 20 approaches.

There isn’t anything I can do to stop January 20 from coming, but I can do things in real life. I can engage in purposeful activities to manifest joy for others and for myself. I can make a difference for my community; I can be a source of comfort for friends and neighbors. I can make choices.

I am part of groups: a writing group and an activism group. Both address equality, creativity, social justice, understanding, and the power of voice. By conversing with and learning from others, I can check my perspective, broaden my horizon, engage with others in social justice. I can also support others in their creative lives.

I have signed up to get training (not sure a 20 year teaching vet needs it, but…it’s required, so okay) to teach English and assist with cultural information for refugee populations in my community. I have lived abroad, and it’s not easy when you choose do this, much less when you flee for your life to a country where some neighbors may not want you to be there. I choose to help marginalized families.

Poverty is everywhere, and I can’t solve that problem; but years ago my sister and I gave my parents a Kiva loan as a present, and I continue to reinvest it in women’s businesses.  Our measly contribution has been reloaned in five different countries to support five different businesses, including a bar and a sewing shop. I have a friend who sponsors and visits two children in other countries. Choices to support others in our world.

From an early age, I learned that love is love. It doesn’t matter who you love. People are damn lucky to find someone to love who loves them back –  gender, shape, color, geography, culture – none of that matters. I celebrate your love with you, and I will fight for your love with you.

bbd9a73ca9d14cf9647799c6d308a325At any given moment, I can make a choice to make someone’s life better. I can make a choice to speak out. I can make a choice to support others. I can make a choice to love.

Can I let someone with two items go in front of me at the grocery store and then pay for my 23 things? Yes. Would I make a road trip snack pack for a friend who is traveling to take care of an ill parent? Sure. Will I support my friends’ successes and happinesses without envy? Yep. Might I sit in the hospital room while you doze and recover from surgery? Absolutely. Should we hold hands and talk earnestly about what matters to us? Always. Little things perhaps, in light of the world’s precarious situation, but every bit of good helps.

As David Foster Wallace suggested, the day-in and day-out of adult life is filled with frustrating crap  – regardless of and sometimes because of who is in Washington – but, we can choose what we do.

What are you going to do?

Choose.

 

 

 

 

The Five Decade List: Update #1

Well, it is the third day of 2017, and I have completed two items from my list. I’ve also started two others (but, I’ll talk about those another time.)

One of my list items was to attend a University of Iowa men’s basketball game. Done. January first, I was excited to attend e2d4d12010eea61d26fca938dc7b30abthe Hawkeyes-Wolverine basketball game with my new dear friend who graduated from Michigan. So, we couldn’t lose. Someone would win.

The people who won were us: great seats;  fantastic company; a close game throughout; and, an overtime victory for my Hawkeyes.

Then, on the second of January, youngest son and I went bowling. I bowled 299 – in three games. Youngest son bowled somewhat less than that. We had snacks and drinks, and enjoyed hanging out together.

So, who cares? Why write about this?

The reflection is this: it doesn’t matter who wins. It’s all about the people you do things with and the memories that you make.

Sure, it was great that Iowa won. But, I applauded when Michigan made a good play. And, new dear friend gamely joined in being the “O” in the I-O-W-A chant that the pep squad led. We were enjoying the time, each other, and the experience. No need to be a rabid fan; no need for trash talk.

On the other hand, trash talk is totally appropriate when one bowls with a 15 year-old male. He deserves it, and he dishes it right back, and it’s all in good fun. Youngest son is incapable of bowling without root beer and french fries, and that’s fine with me. When he thinks back to his middle school days, I want him to think of these times fondly.

Building memories: we all do it. And, this year, I’m striving to do it more purposefully and more joyfully with friends and family.

 

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