A Chronicle of the Commute from Hell

Life is such a precious gift, dear reader. Appreciate every second of it, even the terrifying seconds.

The weather outside was frightful, in the way that only seems possible in the Pacific Northwest. I’ll never get used to the weather out here. I actually had to learn a whole new vocabulary when I moved here from Florida. Microclimates. Atmospheric Rivers. The Pineapple Express. Rain Shadow. Graupel. And now, Freezing Rain.

There had been about an inch of snow on the ground when the freezing rain started around midnight. This was bad news, because I had to be back at work no later than 7 am the next morning. I usually leave early, because if there’s even the slightest delay in my 38 minute commute, it can throw a serious kink into my timeline, and the bridgetender whom I’m relieving might get testy.

It’s a good thing I got up an hour early. It was 18 degrees out and the freezing rain was still coming down. When I looked at Google Maps and saw what I had to look forward to on my commute, I knew I had to bolt out the door. The traffic was already horrendous.

I am not a morning person. I’d much rather sit in a stupor for a half hour and kind of ease myself into the day. Instead, I had to spring into action before the CPAP marks had even faded from my face.

Crossing the yard to my car was a challenge. Thank goodness I had the foresight to put winter trax on my shoes (another phrase that I’ve picked up out here) or I would have hit that inch thick, perfectly clear slab of ice that stretched from my front door to the horizon and probably would have slid 20 yards past Dear Husband as if I had been shot out of a cannon. He had actually gotten out there ahead of me so as to warm up the car. (How lucky am I?) In order to do this, he had to chip away at the ice on the door handle.

Instead of skating past him in an unchoreographed, flailing, screeching dance of utter helplessness, I minced across the yard as if I were a baby deer who was learning to walk for the first time. I was thinking about how I had won the lottery when I chose this husband, and also patting myself on the back for having put a frost blocker on my car the night before. At least I wouldn’t have to scrape anything off the windshield before I left.

But then I actually looked at my car for the first time. I discovered that it was encased in ice. Had there been time and motivation, we could have lifted it up in one piece and come away with a car-shaped ice shell.

Instead, we had to chip away at the frost blocker, which had adhered so solidly to the glass that I despaired of ever being able to drive the car again. Once we managed to rip it free, the sheet of ice that came with it broke in thick, gummy pieces like windshield glass does. That was an interesting coincidence.

I’ll say it again: the  freezing rain was still falling, and it was 18 degrees outside. I was not living my best life. And I still had a 25-mile drive ahead of me, after approximately 4 hours of sleep.

In retrospect, the fact that I made it down our sloping driveway without incident was pretty darned impressive. The street in front of our house is very well-traveled, so much of the ice had been worn away. Still, I didn’t risk going more than 20 mph.

The night before, Dear Husband had suggested that we put chains on my tires, but when he told me I wouldn’t be able to exceed 50 mph with them on, I decided to risk the trip without them. Since I normally drive to work going, let’s say, substantially faster than that, that snail’s pace would have made the journey seem endless.

My car is all wheel drive, and in fairness, none of the cars I was to see that day had chains on, either. But had I known that I’d barely go above 35 mph, even on the interstate, I may have changed my tune about the tire chains. I won’t be making that mistake again. Tire chains are our friends.

The end of my street slopes sharply down into the valley, so it wasn’t long before I saw “Road Closed” barriers blocking my path. If I were younger and less brittle, I’d have called in sick and taken a sled to that hill. It would have been epic. Instead, I was forced to follow the detour signs, which routed me southward, despite the fact that I wanted, ultimately, to go northward.

After multiple twists and turns on residential streets in unfamiliar neighborhoods, I discovered, to my horror, that I was crossing my street yet again, now heading northward at least, but only about halfway down the hill. This was to be a long day.

I creeped further along this narrow road, which I probably couldn’t find again if my life depended on it. (Did I mention that sunrise was still 2 hours away?) And then the detour signs directed me to turn left. Apparently I was the first person to reach this part of the detour, because what I was looking at was an incline that, under the current conditions, was as slick as goose grease.

I made the turn and gunned the engine. In this case, that meant that I was trying for 25 mph. I was hoping that the momentum would carry me up the hill. And it did. Almost.

But then just as my front tires reached the top, I began to slide backward. And then at an angle. And when I pressed on the breaks, I discovered that they were frozen solid.

I won’t share my expletives with you. Suffice it to say that I was standing on the brake pedal, listening to the ice crack off the brakes, and thanking God that there were no other cars in sight. I finally had the presence of mind to pull the emergency brake, and I drifted to a halt on the shoulder of the road. Another foot, and I’d have been back in the intersection.

I had to gather myself. If I wanted to deal with this brake situation, I needed a level street. That could only be found at the top of that stupid little hill. Even though my backward skid had broken up some of the ice, it took me three attempts to achieve that goal. I let out a triumphant whoop.

Another strange thing about the Pacific Northwest is that there are sometimes stretches of road that make you think you’re in farm country, even though you know you’re still in the city. The transition is so abrupt that it’s startling. I was on one of those stretches. There were no houses in sight. Great.

So I creeped along at 5mph, pressing the breaks intermittently and hearing chunks of ice fall from them. Believe me, if I could have gone slower, I’d have greatly preferred that. But one makes do.

Finally, the brakes felt functional again. Because of that, this Florida girl got cocky. I was on level ground, so I let myself speed back up to 20mph. I felt like I was in a racecar.

When I saw the curve up ahead, I gently pressed the brakes and made it around the bend without incident. Yay, me! But after the curve, the road took me by surprise by sloping downward. Before I knew it, I was skidding again. At least this time I was facing forward.

I was too busy thinking about whether or not to turn into a skid to even consider expletives this time. I wasn’t sure if that rule applied to all wheel drive vehicles or not, and besides, every instinct within me was telling me to fight the skid. Meanwhile, I was heading right toward the hill that rose steeply up off that side of the road. Did I really want to turn toward that?

Brakes. Emergency brakes. Again, I drifted to a halt. I sat there for a moment, with my eyes closed and my hand gripping the emergency brake handle like the life preserver it had been.

I knew that if I called Dear Husband he’d have come and gotten me (assuming I could adequately explain where I was). But I didn’t want him out in this mess either. So I looked around, and saw that there wasn’t much hill left, and after that there was what looked like a well-traveled road with some traction to it.

I gently eased off the emergency brake and instantly started skidding again. This time, toward the other side of the road. This was really, really bad, because I had only just noticed that on the other side of the road, the hill sloped downward so sharply that if I plunged over the side, people would probably drive right past me without seeing the car.

I remember thinking that I wasn’t ready to die. And at that moment the idea of no longer being with Dear Husband was so acute that it manifested itself as a sharp pain in my gut. I was saying “No, no, no, no, no, no!”

I don’t know how or why, but the car righted itself and started sliding right down the street… and into the intersection of that busy road. Fortunately, no one was there at that moment to crash into. Suddenly I had traction again. Three cheers for traction! I got out of there.

The only reason I didn’t give up and go home at this point was that now there was nothing but well-traveled roads between me and work, whereas I’d have to get back on these crazy residential streets again to return home. And I knew that the ice was supposed to be melted off before the end of my shift, so getting home after work would be a breeze. Especially since most people had been sane enough to take the day off, so traffic was light.

Onward.

The snow had obscured the pavement markings on the interstate, so most of us were going 30mph and giving the lanes our best guess based on the tire tracks ahead of us. It was slow going, but uneventful. I reached my bridge only to find out that the sidewalks and bike lanes were covered with that same shiny, inch-thick sheet of ice that coated my front yard. Thank heavens for my winter trax.

I made it to work at 6:59, and my coworker was very relieved, because the other two bridgetenders who were scheduled to man the two drawbridges to the west of me had called in saying they couldn’t get here, and our supervisor was scrambling to find replacements.

The bridge was covered in brine and pellets, and this sheet of ice seemed to be laughing at all our efforts. Nothing short of a flamethrower or a jackhammer was going to get rid of that thick blanket of ice. By now it was 26 degrees, so there was to be no thaw in the immediate future.

Seattle was quiet. It felt like I had the entire city to myself. So in the afternoon, with no one in sight, I decided to open the bridge for an invisible sailboat to see what would happen to the ice. I was hoping to see the entire sheet come crashing down. But no. It didn’t budge. What did happen, though, was still kind of cool. Water started pouring off the bridge from the underside of the sheet of ice. The ice was still there, but now, instead of looking like a sheet of glass, it took on a cloudy, milky tone.

Finally the end of my shift approached, and my coworker, bless him, showed up early to allow for the road conditions. That’s when the phone rang and a frantic supervisor asked if I’d be willing to work a double shift because he was still having staffing issues.

Four hours of sleep, a death defying drive to work, and then 16 hours before I got to go home after having moved to a second bridge? Ugh. So I suggested some alternatives. While he checked on those, I started driving. Some of the ice had thawed by now, but not all of it. I made it up one hill without incident, and was about to get on the freeway when the phone rang again.

I looked for a place to pull over, because the supervisor was now asking if I could at least work 4 more hours, and I could hear the desperation in his voice. I said I’d do it, but needed assurances that this 12 hour shift wouldn’t turn into a 16.

He said something, but I didn’t hear what it was because I had to throw the phone down. In my attempt to pull to the side of the road, I had hit a patch of ice which sent my car sliding sideways down a narrow side street with cars parked on either side.

What a helpless feeling. I was screaming and cursing and all of this was being heard over the phone, to my utter mortification. I slid for two blocks. But at least, when I finally settled gently next to a telephone pole, having caused no damage to my car or anyone else’s, the supervisor understood completely why my plans had changed and no, I couldn’t go to another bridge on that day for any amount of hours.

I sat there for quite some time because my heart was pounding, and I was feeling slightly nauseous from the adrenaline. I always thought I’ve been acutely aware of the fragility of life ever since someone I loved very much died unexpectedly, but this little caper made me realize I had slipped partway back into taking it all for granted. Now the hyper-awareness is back with a vengeance. Life is such a precious gift, dear reader. Appreciate every second of it, even the terrifying seconds.

I think I was in a little bit of shock, because I have no idea how I got my car out of its soft little nest beside the telephone pole without scraping the side or ripping off the side view mirror. The next thing I knew, I was headed toward the interstate. From there it ought to be smooth sailing. And it was. For a while.

Something told me to call Dear Husband to ask him to remove any lingering ice from our driveway. I didn’t relish the idea of going up even one more icy slope. I had had enough.

Unfortunately, I forgot to mention that I was actually running early because there were very few cars on the road. (Because they’re smart.) So when I got to the driveway, there he was, at its top, just starting the ice removal.

I was having several thoughts at once. Abort the mission! But there was a car right behind me. Gun my engine up the driveway. But what if I skidded into Dear Husband? So, stupidly, I turned into the drive without gunning it… and of course I slid back down into the street. Then, since DH had gotten out of the way, I decided to take one more run at it, gunning it the whole time. But I slid back down again, this time with the tail end of the car sticking into the street.

After the six slip day I had, I just sat there, feeling hopeless, and praying no one hit my car, while DH removed all the ice. Finally, I was able to summit our driveway, park, and head straight for our living room recliner, where I stayed for the rest of the evening.

That night, I dreamed that I woke up and every single thing in the world that didn’t belong to me personally had disappeared. I was crying and screaming for help, and wondering if everyone I loved was just a figment of my imagination. Thankfully, I woke up.

The next day I drove in to work. As one does. A few hours later, Dear Husband sent me this photograph. That particular ditch is very close to our house. This could have been me. I’m so glad it wasn’t.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Negative Hands

“I was here.”

Recently, I caught a minute or two of a TED Talk in which the speaker was discussing “negative hands”. I was really confused by this, having never heard the term before. It kind of sounds like some form of abuse to me.

But the speaker explained that back when early man started doing art on cave walls, one of the first innovations was to place your hand on a wall, then spit paint over and around it, and when you removed your hand, you left a “negative hand” painting on the wall.

I’ve been looking at photographs of negative hands for decades. They always make me wish I could go to the site and touch the hand, while imagining the artist placing his or her hand in the same spot. (It’s a wish I would never fulfill, though, because I wouldn’t want to damage the work.)

What an amazing feeling that would be. Standing right where the ancient artist stood. Touching her, his or their hand. That would feel like some sort of time travel conversation. Artist, in a faint, distant voice: “I was here.” Me: “I know! Thank you! Lovely to meet you!”

The motivation for putting negative hands on a rock wall is fairly simple to understand. I’m sure that for as long as there have been humans on this planet, we have all wanted to make our mark on the world. We all want to say that we were here. It’s as primal an instinct as an animal marking its territory.

We do this in so many ways. We create art. We tag walls. We name things after ourselves if we can, and after others if we haven’t quite “made it”. We write. We invent things. We make scientific discoveries. We pass on our genetic code. We mark graves. We teach others. We build things. We try to nurture and lift up the next generation so that they’ll remember us. We do good works. More and more of us, unfortunately, prefer to live in infamy.

We are all mortals, and so we reach for immortality in creative ways. But like it or not, it will be time to go for each one of us eventually. Some of us will be remembered much longer than others. We will hope those memories are fond. Some will be remembered without really being remembered, as their innovations morph into common household objects that get taken for granted, or when their descendants display similar quirks, or when their art is labeled, “artist unknown.”

Whether we succeed or not in making our mark, I’m glad that we are driven to try. It’s that instinct that brings about change, and, hopefully, improvement. Change can bring about beauty as well as destruction, so we must learn to tread lightly.

I hope, dear readers, that your marks upon this world are positive ones. When all is said and done, that’s all that matters. Either way, I wish for you a life well-lived, because, yes indeed, you are here.

ARGENTINA Patagonia Cueva de las Manos Cave of the Hands. Prehistoric rock paintings of human hands in red black and orange 13 000 to 9 500 years old. Wouldn’t these people be stunned to know that their hands are now seen on the internet by more people then they imagined would ever exist?

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

Stupid Deaths

There are many options to choose from, but don’t.

A friend of mine just posted footage of some people on a beach in Lake Tahoe. Bucolic enough, until I add that there was a mama bear and her three cubs walking straight toward them. And they see that, and don’t seem to care at all. They’re too busy sunbathing to worry about minor details like their imminent demise. When in doubt, save the freakin’ beer.

IDIOTS!!!

I was just telling dear husband the other day that when I die, I hope it’s not because I’m being stupid about something. There are so many stupid death options out there to choose from. Most intelligent people value their lives too much to “take advantage” of those options.

For example, you won’t see me driving while intoxicated. I’m also not going to cross train tracks when the traffic gates are down. Nor would I ever jump an opening drawbridge. But you’d be amazed how often these things happen.

I’m also not going to eat something that can kill me if it’s not prepared just right. Fugu can’t taste good enough for me to risk my life or it. Nothing can. I’m also never going to ingest something without knowing what it is, even if everyone says the high is awesome.

I also have zero desire to play with explosives or fire or deadly weapons. I think a lot of stupid deaths are caused by youth and arrogance. That whole, “It can’t happen to me” thing is ridiculous. If it has happened to someone, then, by definition, it can happen to you.

I’m not saying that people should be so cautious that they don’t live their lives. If that were the case, no one would ever walk across a street, even if the traffic lights are red. We’d all be paralyzed with inactivity.

It’s a statistics thing, really. If I want to enjoy the redwoods, I’m not going to cancel my trip to see them because one person was crushed by a falling redwood. I just won’t wander amongst those trees during heavy winds or rains, and will heed all warning signs that I come across. Calculated risks. That’s the ticket.

Currently, 95 percent of the COVID-19 deaths are by people who refuse to get vaccinated. The fact that this whole issue was ever politicized is a travesty. Going without a mask while unvaccinated is not living free, it’s living stupid, and potentially dying stupid. It’s entirely preventable at this point. There’s absolutely no valid excuse.

So if you’re thinking of juggling chainsaws while walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon, I’d urge you to think of the consequences and consider how much you value your life. Because there’s nothing quite so pathetic as having someone stand over your grave, shaking his or her head, saying, “what a stupid, unnecessary waste.”

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Taking Stock

“You’re alive! Don’t you get it?”

I just read an interesting article entitled, “How the World’s Most Venomous Fish Convinced Me to Stop Working Myself to Death.

The details were fascinating, but I knew what the conclusion was going to be before I even started reading. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing like a brush with mortality, or the actual mortality of someone you love, to make you reassess your priorities.

For example, when the police called me to say that they had found my boyfriend’s body in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, in the pharmacy parking lot just a few blocks from our apartment, I swear I could see my whole entire life crumbling around me as I sank to the floor. I instantly came down with the flu, and couldn’t hear a sound for three days. Go figure.

You’d think the quiet would have given me plenty of time to think, but shock isn’t like that, really. I felt more like the blue screen of death you see on your computer right before it completely and utterly crashes. There was very little brain function going on. And in the months and years that followed, I emerged as an entirely different person.

Most people, whether they know it or not, take life for granted. It’s only when you look the grim reaper dead in the eye that you suddenly realize that everything is temporary. Everything.

Once you know the temporal nature of life, a lot of things cease to matter. The only real important thing is that you’re alive, and that’s a gift. You look round and you see people getting all worked up about the silliest things, and you want to shake them.

“You’re alive! Don’t you get it?”

That feeling makes you unwilling to work at a job that you hate or stay in a toxic relationship. It makes you focus on quality of life, which you have a bit of control over, rather than quantity of life, which you clearly can’t control at all. It makes you truly figure out what matters to you.

But most of all, it makes you appreciate, for the first time, absolutely everything. It’s all a gift. It all goes by so fast. It’s all so special.

I knew that by experiencing the worst thing in life, I had been given something really precious. My eyes were truly open. I wanted to always live in that state of awareness.

But I knew that over time, I’d fall back into my life routines, and the feeling would fade, or at least be smothered by the minutiae of the day to day. Mortality awareness takes a lot of work, and I can understand why most people kind of put that off until the last possible moment. It can be an extremely unsettling feeling that is very hard to sustain.

I wish there was a way to explain this to you so that it would sink in deep without you needing to experience tragedy on your own. Having your eyes opened is priceless. And sure, I’m not nearly as “woke” as I was during that first year, but I do make a conscious effort to remember what it felt like. Because meeting death causes you to truly fall in love with life. And I want to love life with every fiber of my being. I want that for you, too, dear reader.

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Birthday Renewal

Three cheers for another year!

The older some of us get, the more our birthdays remind us of our mortality. And time seems to pass so much more quickly as we age, so the hits just keep on coming. Today I’m another year older but at least I’m not deeper in debt.

But, unlike other years, when that mortality sledgehammer has hit me right as (lucky me) I’m exhausted from being at the tail end of the holidays, this year I’m actually feeling really grateful. As I speed toward what is quite likely the last quarter of my life, I’m viewing every birthday as a precious gift. Approaching one more of these anniversaries is something to be savored.

There are many reasons for this mindset, not the least of which is that I feel, more and more, that I have something to live for and lots to look forward to. Moving to the right place and marrying the right person really helps in that regard. Also, my hard work and personal growth is paying off. (So if you’re young and frustrated, please do not give up. You can do this.)

Because I feel that way, I’m exercising regularly for the first time in my life. And I’m actually enjoying it. That is unexpected. But since I have so much to look forward to, I want to experience it in the most fighting fit form that I possibly can. I still have mountains that I want to climb. (Well, hills, probably. I mean, let’s be realistic.)

Another thing that has made me stop and reassess is that I recently realized that I’ve already lived longer than my oldest sister had a chance to do. Even at the time, I knew that 54 was way too young to die, but now that I’ve blown past that, I really, really know it. I’m relatively young. I have a lot that I still want to do. It’s horrific to think that it all could end so soon. I’d feel cheated.

But who knows? Maybe I will always feel that way, when the time comes. I lack that perspective still. (If I continue to blog into my 80’s, I’ll be sure to let you know.)

I’ve also learned the priceless lesson that life is very fragile and can be taken away with no notice, so every single day should be viewed as a gift. What will you do with your gift today? Being surrounded by a raging pandemic has only reinforced that mindset for me. I am so grateful for every day.

So I think that from now on, rather than viewing birthdays as one more year closer to the end, I’ll think of them as an extension of my expiration date. They are a renewal of the contract of life, as it were. Yay! Three cheers for another year! Woo hoo!

I can’t wait to find out what’s inside!

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Have We Outgrown Religion?

If it can’t keep up with the times, it should be left behind.

This is a thought experiment that I’ve been conducting with myself for most of my adult life. It will probably offend some people, as religion is a very touchy subject. Please know that I often write a blog post simply to clarify my own thoughts and get thoughtful feedback. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to think or believe or disbelieve.

Recently I came across an article entitled, “A 43,900-year-old cave painting is the oldest story ever recorded. Archaeologists say it might also contain the oldest known religious images.” By Kiona N. Smith. I’ve always been fascinated by cave paintings, so naturally I had to read on. (And I highly recommend that you do, too.) One passage really jumped out at me:

“Before we could develop religion, we had to develop the ability to think and talk about things that don’t exist in the natural, physical world. We had to learn to describe and imagine not just things we had already seen, but things no one had ever seen… In other words, we had to invent the concept of fiction.”

Was the author equating religion to fiction? Or perhaps she was describing the process of faith? I don’t know. Either way I found this to be a fascinating topic.

It is not unreasonable to consider religion to be a philosophical invention of sorts. Religious tenets came about to explain those things that we didn’t understand, and also to set forth a set of rules to define morality. Much of it has to do with a subject that most of us still struggle with: our own mortality, and the acceptance thereof.

The thing is, we’ve learned so much since the establishment of most mainstream religions. The invention of refrigeration alone makes most religious food restrictions unnecessary, whereas at the time they were critical to maintaining life. We’ve also invented planes, trains, and automobiles, so our horizons have expanded and we really don’t need to have such a tribal worldview. And the invention of medical devices, microscopes, telescopes, computers, the scientific method, birth control, and meteorology have changed the way we see our planet and have impacted the way we live upon it.

Because of all this, I find it impossible to live within a rigid, inflexible religious system that is more than 2000 years old, just as I wouldn’t take medical advice from that era. Any philosophy that isn’t living, breathing, and adapting to current circumstances and our increased knowledge base does not serve us well. The fact that the Pope won’t condone condoms, even in countries ravaged by AIDS, is just one example of this.

I think we’ve outgrown religion as it currently stands. If it can’t keep up with the times, it should be left behind. My opinion. You are entitled to yours.

this-cave-contains-the-oldest-story-ever-recorded

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Impermanence

Don’t forget to appreciate the now.

When I was 19 years old, I was in love for the first time, in Paris for the first time, and seeing the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral for the first time. It doesn’t get much better than that. It was one of the high points of my life.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the love wasn’t going to last, but, as they say, I’d always have Paris. Some things you just assume will last forever. Some things, you think, will be as permanent as Mount Everest.

Watching Notre Dame burn broke my heart. That spire crashing down felt like it went right through me. Yes, they’ll rebuild, but it will never again be “my” Notre Dame. That’s gone.

We tend to forget that the things made by man are very impermanent. If a stretch of interstate highway was abandoned for 10 years, it would be so reclaimed by weeds and trees that it would be unrecognizable. Whole cities have disappeared with the passage of time. Buildings and bridges collapse. Towns burn. Tumbleweeds roll down what used to be main streets. Waters rise, winds blow, sand dunes encroach.

Most of us try not to think about it. It is hard, living in that state of awareness. Impermanence is scary. It reminds us of our own mortality. If Notre Dame can burn after having stood for about 800 years, then my fragile little body is toast.

But in many ways, that impermanence is actually a gift. While Notre Dame propped up my 19 year old’s sense of beauty and romance, I went on to have many other amazing experiences, and I’m sure that more are in the offing. Knowing that all these things are merely blips on the radar of the universe makes me appreciate them even more. What I am experiencing right here, right now, will be gone in a moment.

What a gift that I got to collect these memories, if even for just a cosmic second, even if they aren’t made of mountains, and will someday be reduced to dust.

Don’t forget to appreciate the now, dear reader. In the overall scheme of things, it’s really all that we have.

Notre Dame

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Alternate Realities

Five years ago, I remember being in a room with two good men. One was Chuck, the love of my life. The other was Glenn, who was a dear friend. I remember talking, smiling, laughing with them both. It was a good day.

I wonder what I would have thought or said or done had I known that by the time of this writing, they would both have died unexpectedly, at different times, for different reasons, leaving behind different sets of broken hearts. It was the first time they had ever met each other, and the last. They didn’t know how much they were going to have in common.

It’s a weird concept that I was the only one to survive in that room, and some day (not too soon, I hope), I will be amongst their number, as will we all. Death and taxes, as they say. Inevitable.

Another strange coincidence is that I had told people about them both, at different times, and for different reasons, thinking that they were both alive, and then discovering later, to my horror, that they were not.

Chuck, I talked about all the time. He was a character. He walked through life leaving hilarious stories in his wake. He had a quirky outlook, and it was safe to say that if he didn’t delight you, at the very least he’d make you think. There was only a few hours delay between his death and my being notified, but during that time I’m sure I mentioned his name a dozen times. (In fact, I think the sheriff’s office figured out how to contact me because I had texted him, and his cell phone was chirping beside his body.) Not a day goes by when I don’t experience a jolt, realizing he’s gone. He shouldn’t be gone. Not yet.

Glenn, I hadn’t seen in years, but we were Facebook friends. We had been in the same college classroom together for two years, and he was close to me in age, unlike the many 19-year-old students, so we kind of related to each other. I have no idea why he popped into my head during my vacation to Utah, but I mentioned him to my sister. Just a few of your basic, “I have this friend who…” stories. After my vacation, I thought, “I should say hello on Facebook, and see how he’s doing.” And that’s how I found out he had passed away weeks previously. He was a good man. He loved people. He was a family man and a compassionate care giver. I’m sure his absence is going to leave a huge void.

But what I can’t stop thinking about are those times when, in my head, these guys were still with us, when in reality they weren’t. I would have bet my life that I’d be talking to them both in no time, and that wasn’t at all true.

They were both too young. They both had so much more to do. It makes me wonder how much I can really count on knowing, you know?

But maybe they are here after all. The human heart has room for many people to reside. And in my mind I’ll always be able to see their smiles. May they rest in peace.

Heaven

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Continuity

I read something recently that I found very comforting. The same sunrise/sunset has been circling the globe for millions of years. Mind officially blown.

I love the idea that my sunset is someone else’s sunrise. It gives me a sense of connection with the wider world. It links me to all of time, past, present and future.

I also enjoy the perspective this gives me. The thing that is causing me stress and anxiety today is a mere blip on the sun’s radar. Talk about not sweating the small stuff! Here I am, one tiny little person, in one tiny little point in time, worrying about one tiny little thing.

It also makes change seem trivial. That multi-million year sunrise has looked different every single day, for every single person, and it will look different again tomorrow. And yet it still keeps on keeping on.

Despite our mortality, despite the havoc we wreak, on a larger scale there is stability and continuity. Life will go on, in some form or fashion, somewhere, some time. We are each just one thread in a vast, complex tapestry.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

ancient-pattern-vector-illustration_M10c0Pid_L.jpg

Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Knock, Knock, Knocking on Mortality’s Door

Spring is a time when life feels so abundant. Flowers are blooming and there are baby animals everywhere. Spring, for me, is the most hopeful time of the year. I went decades without experiencing it because I lived in Florida. Now that I am in Seattle, I have that hope once again, and I will never, ever take it for granted. It’s such a gift.

But this has been a strange spring. Mortality seems to be trying to get my attention of late. A dear friend of mine has been in and out of the hospital as his kidneys are failing. This, of course, has me extremely worried. I can’t imagine my life without him in it. He’s so young. Too young to be going through this. And then Don Rickles goes and dies of kidney failure. The last of the rat pack, reminding me that this is a big deal.

And then the other day, I Googled an ex-boyfriend just out of curiosity, only to discover that he died two years ago. He also managed to have nine children in the 25 years since I last saw him. But it’s a strange feeling, having boyfriends old enough to kick the bucket.

As I write this, I’m worried about my sister, who goes in for (granted, routine) surgery tomorrow. She’s my last sibling. She’s not worried. But just in case, I called her just now to tell her I love her, and to say that if she up and dies on me, I’m going to be really pissed off. Update: She did just fine and is recovering nicely.

I guess the older you get, the more this type of stuff enters your world–contemporaries dying, or having close calls. It makes life very bittersweet, but all the more precious for the frequent reminders that it’s all so finite.

Spring

Start a gratitude practice today. Read my book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5