I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Mindful Living

I Need Nothing More

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‘Tis The Season for Kindness

In this hectic, busy busy busy season – a time of year when I rage against the crowds, the spending, the too high expectations I set for myself, and counter the stress each year by gradually allowing myself to do less and less and buy less and less – I dashed out of the house without my wallet yesterday.

This realization hit me, hard, as the train conductor came by to check tickets. Damn! I cursed, frantically searching my bag. I explained my predicament. He recognized me, pondered what to do, walked away to check more tickets, came back, and gave me a bye. My seat partner, a complete stranger to me, offered me her subway metrocard. Who does that?! I thanked her profusely and told her I didn’t need it. We smiled. A connection made.

I walked to my office. One of my office mates noticed that I seemed disconcerted.  I explained my predicament. She and every other colleague proceeded to whip out a $20 for me. I was turning away money! At the office holiday party that afternoon, my Secret Santa gave me Adele’s new CD and B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. Now that is a thoughtful person who knows me. Music and yoga? I need nothing more.

I was pretty sure my luck would run out on the commute home. I arrived at Grand Central at 5:03 and ran to catch the 5:04. The conductor came by to collect tickets. I explained why I didn’t have my monthly pass. He muttered, “Show it to me next time.”

And there you have it. A day filled with kindness. I need nothing more.

Thank you.  Thank you everyone.

Photo Credit:  Red Ribbon by SK Pfphotography

We Hurt Everywhere

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May We Go On

I understand anger. Kill them all! I feel anger.

I understand fear. Don’t go there! I feel fear.

I understand despair. There is no hope! I feel despair.

More than anything, I feel despair.

What now? How do we make sense of another 129 people dead? How do we go on?

I’ve gotten used to saying good-bye in the morning, after 9/11, whispering I love you, and wondering. Will I come home tonight? Will you? I no longer have burning ambition for my life. I am okay. What will be will be.

But I am heart-broken for my children. I want them to want to travel. I want them to want to change the world. I want them to want to bring children into the world. But what world is this?

The hatred is palpable. Why do they hate us so much? Why do we hate them so much? Why is there us and them? Aren’t we all human beings living on Earth? The last I read, there is very little DNA difference between us and chimps and virtually no difference between us and them.

If we kill them, they will kill us back and then we will kill them back and then they will kill us back. Is that what it will take? The apocalypse? We will kill ourselves. And our Earth.

More than anything, I feel despair.

I sympathize with the angry warmongers. But I want to believe the spiritual leaders who tell us to pray. For that is all I can do today. Pray for Paris. Pray for us. Pray for them. Pray for love. Pray for peace. Pray for my children and their children and their children and their children. May we go on.

 

“later that night

i held an atlas in my lap

ran my fingers across the whole world

and whispered

where does it hurt?

 

it answered

everywhere

everywhere

everywhere.”

 

― Warsan Shire

 

Image Credit:  World Map in Orange and Blue by Michael Tompsett

I Write Because

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My Heart Is Full

I write because it is the best way for me to express what I believe, deep in my soul. Talking is too fast. The other person impresses me with their articulate point of view. I can’t find my words quickly enough. If it is a person I care about, my worry about what they think of me gets in the way of being fully honest and centered, grounded in knowing and expressing my point of view. I want to please and be loved. So I sweeten my words, or shift my argument, or become agreeable, nodding in sympathetic understanding. Sometimes I don’t always want to please. Sometimes I want to be funny. Or smart. Or biting. Or right. Yes, I frequently want to be right. But usually, highly conflict-avoidant, I want to please.

When I write, I go inside. The words pour out. The words I do not have the nerve to say. Those are the words I write. It is intense. So intense that I do not, cannot, do it every day. No, in a good month, I post about three essays a month. Reflective and prone to introversion, that is all I can muster without becoming exhausted with the intensity and the emotion of writing from my soul, my truth. Besides, I am busy busy busy with my non-writing life. Working, parenting, cooking, cleaning, commuting, caring, reading, learning, achieving, yogaing, and measuring.  Measuring my spoken words, making sure they are the right words to please, or to impress. Anxious and horrified when they are not.

When I do carve out time for writing, I write about something that has absorbed me. Something in my life or something in the world that I care about that has affected me deeply. Something I ponder at 3 am. Something I think about when I close my eyes for the last 12 minutes of my commute. Something I want to have a conversation about but have not yet solidified my point of view. Something I want to reveal but haven’t had the guts to do so yet. Something that I think others are thinking but don’t have the guts to reveal yet. Or maybe it’s just something funny. Or maybe it’s something that has gotten easier in the last couple of years. Finally. Ease.

Sometimes, I am overwhelmed with all that I want to write that I cannot choose, I cannot focus, I cannot get the words out because there are too many words. Too many somethings that I care about.

June was too full. My heart was too full. Too full to write. I could not choose.

Why are some human beings evil? Nine human beings coming together on a spiritual journey were shot dead by a racist with a gun. I dragged my son to an exhibit of photographs showing portraits of human beings who have lost a loved one to gun violence. It was moving and opened several important conversations with my son. A human being can marry their loved one, whoever that loved one may be. Love wins. I am grateful. I am moved. Father’s Day. Sigh. I was reminded that even after lots of therapy, even after the profound realization that I am who I am because of all that has happened to me and all the choices I have made, I still feel shame and cry. Even though I laugh more and more and more, I still cry and cry and cry. I was reminded, not that I need reminding, of the power of yoga at an event honoring how yoga can prevent suicide. Indeed. Yoga has certainly reduced the suffering in my life, if not saved my life. July has begun with an equally full slate. My son has turned 16, which surely warrants its own essay, but my heart is too full. Love wins. Grateful.

Because I am now writing, finding my voice, more confident, both in writing and speech, I find I am less willing to sweeten my words, to be agreeable, to be swayed by the other person’s articulate and cogent argument. Sometimes, instead of being quiet or swallowing my words, I am provoked to blurt out, “I fucking can’t!” “I fucking won’t!” “I fucking must!” Like overexerting physically, I feel the effect of these outbursts for days. A headache, a nap, a retreat into silence. I do hope I will become more eloquent with my speech, moved by conviction, with less frustration and anger building to a hurtful or impotent outburst. Speaking in a constructive way, with increasing confidence, like my writing.  Is it true, is it necessary, is it beneficial, is it kind? 

In yoga, Matsyasana, or Fish Pose, is a big backbending heart-opener. I can’t do it. Years of self-preservation and self-protection have rolled my shoulders forward. Years of keeping my words inside, hiding, have rolled my shoulders forward. Years of not feeling deserving enough to take up my space have rolled my shoulders forward. I regularly practice a restorative version of the pose, stretching the front of my body and breathing deeply into my chest. But the full pose has eluded me. It requires great flexibility in the upper back, while stretching and exposing the throat, my throat. Exposing the heart, my heart, causing me fear and anxiety at such vulnerability. At the end of June, that full month, when my yoga teacher announced we were doing Fish Pose, I paused. Is it time to try it again? I asked her to help me. She gently came over and supported my back. I gently stretched my heart and my throat, releasing the crown of my head to the floor. I couldn’t see myself and whether I was doing the pose “right.” (Remember, I like to be right.) But I felt like I was doing the pose. It felt beautiful. And that is all that matters.

Full month. Full heart. I write because my heart is open.

Image Credit:  Matsyasana image from http://www.mindofpeace.com

Commuting Community

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Maybe It Was An Accident

We take the mundane habits of our lives for granted, unless something goes wrong, and then we complain bitterly. Like our commutes. They are too long, too crowded, too much traffic, too hot, too cold, a time-suck. For the most part, I like my commute. A lot. Yup. I do. (I am so boring and suburban.) After our meticulously choreographed-to-the-minute morning routine gets us all out of the house precisely on time, I head to the train. Sometimes I catch a neighborhood bus where I catch up with the other working women of the neighborhood. (We have a special bond.) Usually I get a ride from my husband who commutes by car. (Commute by car? Blech!) We get a few moments to catch up before our separate days take hold.

Ah, there’s the man who stands on the platform eating his muffin for breakfast. Every day I wonder if he enjoys this rushed, mindless, unnutritious meal. Ah, there’s the gaggle of women – a bit younger than me – who spend the entire commute talking, loudly, about their kids who are younger than mine. They annoy me, seeming so privileged and superficial. I remind myself that I’m quite sure I’m equally annoying when with a gaggle of my friends. Ah, there’s the man who sits hostilely in the middle of a 3-seater, aggressively daring anyone to ask to share the seat. So selfish! Why? Ah, there’s the young married couple who seem so happily absorbed in each other. She is a redhead with porcelain skin and a lovely elegance, taller than him. Ah, there’s the older man who operatically sings. Out loud. Loudly. Is he crazy? Or maybe he just doesn’t care what people think of him? And who, I wonder, flossed their teeth on the train and threw the flossing tool onto the floor.  Really!  Gross!

All the quirks of humanity are on full display. I don’t know these people, but I see them every day. They are part of my life. Some of them have become my friends, the community of commuting.

Like most commuters, I sit in the same place, see the same people, and do the same thing. Morning after morning. Evening after evening. I read the New York Times in the morning. Paper edition. I still stubbornly prefer the serendipity of flipping through each page, scanning the headlines, until I settle on something that interests me. It’s usually not something that would show up in my Facebook feed. Long live print newspapers! My evening commute has become more oriented toward listening to music or catching up on social media. I try to read magazines or books, but, like everyone else these days, I don’t seem to have the attention span for any heavy reading on the ride home. Sometimes I get a little catnap in on the ride home. It’s a welcome transition from the fast pace of my job to whatever the evening has in store.

On Tuesday, commuters everywhere went about their day and headed home that evening. Six of them did not survive their commute. A woman a bit younger than me, with a husband and three precious teen daughters, found herself caught in her SUV in traffic on the train tracks, of my commuter line, at an intersection where my husband commutes by car. No one is quite sure what she was thinking, as the warning lights sounded and the gates came down and the train slammed on its breaks and blared its horn. She must have been terrified, confused, panicked? The train hit her, killing her and five train passengers. It’s amazing to me that more people did not die. To see the photos and videos of the fiery crash, it’s amazing that only six people were killed. My people. My community. Of commuters. I don’t know the people that were killed. But they are like me and all the people I see every day. My heart goes out to them and their families. Their spouses, their parents, their siblings, their friends, their children. Their children. Can you imagine? Mommy is not coming home because she was hit by a train? Daddy is not coming home because his train burst into flames? Unfathomable.

Everyone is looking for a reason. Something to blame. Someone to blame. The gates weren’t working properly. The warning lights weren’t working properly. The train was going too fast. All grade crossings should be eliminated. Why didn’t she move? I don’t know that there is a reason. Maybe, it was just an accident. We think the habitual mundane activities of everyday life are safe. Until they’re not. And then we remember. Life is fragile, with no guarantees. Appreciate the commute. And all the quirky, annoying, beautiful strangers who share it. Kiss and ride. Kiss deeply.  Ride safely.

Photo credit: Albert Conte/The Journal News/lohud.com

To Sleep

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Perchance to Dream

A funny thing has happened as I’ve gotten older (and kinder to myself). I am sleeping more. Maybe it’s the dark mornings of Winter. Maybe I am a little depressed. While I do feel subdued, I don’t feel depressed. Indeed, after the death of my mother, I feel an increased urgency to live authentically, say what I want to say, and not waste time. Sleep doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Sleep feels precious and restorative. I am less and less willing to drag myself out of bed, tired. Maybe it’s peace. Maybe it’s wisdom.

I used to drag myself out of bed. To exercise. To school. To work. Frequently to exercise. Years and years of my life, I have dragged myself out of bed in the cold and the dark for punishing workouts which allowed me to feel virtuous and smug and provided an excuse for eating quantities of food. In my disciplined way, on auto-pilot, I did not listen to whether my body needed rest, I simply got up and did whatever it was I felt compelled to do at 5 am.

Now, when I wake at 4:30 or 5:00, I go to the bathroom, marvel that I ever dragged myself out of bed so early, and go back to sleep. Sometimes I have anxiety and find it difficult to go back to sleep. I breathe, I chant (in my head – my husband would be quite perplexed if I chanted out loud in the middle of the night), I do self-Reiki, and I usually go back to sleep, grateful that I am past the awful, awful, awful (did I say awful?) years-long, chronic insomnia of menopause. And when I go back to sleep at 5 am, I dream. Wild dreams. Convoluted spiritual journeys. Dives of rebirth into deep, deep water. And of course my standby, the anxiety dream. Lately, however, I’ve caught myself mid-anxiety-dream and told myself not to go there. “Don’t go there!” I command myself. And the dream changes or stops before it gets too nightmarish. I take this as a good sign. Of kindness and acceptance of myself. I am grateful.

Being sleep-deprived used to be a badge of honor. Oh, I never sleep more than 6 hours a night! Oh, I am so tired! Oh, I have so much to do! Oh, I am so important! Funny, then, I was sicker, had more headaches, and carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. In fact, “I am so tired” was an automatic mantra. I said it all the time. Now, I catch myself when those words bubble up, usually out of habit. I pause. Am I tired? Why would I say I am tired? Is it an excuse? For what? I’ve realized that it’s usually code for I don’t want to do whatever it is I am about to do. So, I pause and check in. What am I feeling? Am I truly tired? Do I need to do something different? Maybe I need to tackle an obstacle and get through it. Maybe I need to ask for help. Maybe I need a nap.

When I stopped therapy last year, I gave myself permission to treat myself to a massage once a month. This permission is hard for me. Massages feel self-indulgent. But the truth is that I am healthier and more content. The funny thing about these once-a-month massages is that they make me realize how tense I am. On the weekends when I get a massage, I find I am more likely to cut out activities and more likely to take a nap. Rest breeds the need for more rest.

Of course, there is still that voice, that habitual voice, that whispers: “You’re going to get fat. You’re going to get out of shape. You’re going to fall behind on achieving your goals. You Are Lazy. You Are Bad.” But there is a new voice that says, Be Quiet! This is me. I feel better when I rest, restore, sleep. And when I feel better, I am more compassionate to myself, more open to others, more creative, more energetic, more able to live authentically. More myself.

The science of sleep and deep rest (Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Massage) is fascinating. The benefits of sleep are many. Sleep strengthens the immune system, allowing us to heal from pain and wounds. Sleep prevents us from over-eating, helping us to maintain a healthy weight. Sleep eliminates the stress hormones from our body-mind and clears negative emotions, supporting us to be happier and better friends/parents/lovers. Sleep is central to our cognitive well-being, assisting us to process new knowledge and store memories properly. Sleep is crucial for children and teens – growth hormones are more active in certain cycles of sleep. Insufficient sleep is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and possibly Alzheimer’s.  That’s just the short list.

And of course there are all those magical dreams. Those dreams that only occur if you sleep enough to have REM sleep. I’ve started pausing between sleep and waking. Hanging on to my dreams. What was my dream? What does it mean? What can I learn from my dream?

Life is too short to spend it being tired. Go to sleep. Dream. Healing dreams.

Image:  Statue of Sleeping Ariadne

How Much Time Do We Have?

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Time Is Passing

If this new year were the last year of your life, what would you do?

Would you quit your job? Would you launch yourself on some grand adventure, sailing around the world or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Would you start some passionate love affair? Would you play the musical instrument you wish you had always mastered?

If this new year were the last year of life for someone you love, what would you do?

Would you help them realize a lifelong dream? Would you tell them everything you’ve held back, good and bad? Would you spend the time in anger and fear, resentful of the shortened time together or would you spend the time by giving love, helping to create the best day possible?

In Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, he shares some research by Laura Carstensen about perspective. How we choose to spend our time depends on how much time we think we have. When you think you have decades, it’s easier to delay gratification and plug away, grind away, at daily life. But when you only have a short period of time, your focus shifts to right here, right now, and being with the people you love.

Time is passing.

This was the refrain my father muttered over and over again as we sifted through the chores left for those who remain after a loved one dies.

Time is passing.

He meant it in reference to the chores.  We were woefully unproductive.  But it resonated more deeply.

Time is passing.

The day is over. The vacation is over. The year is over and a new one has begun. Time feels precious and short. The face in the mirror looks older, both sadder and calmer. Old enough to know that new year’s resolutions just lead to guilt and anxiety and self-hatred.   Old enough to know that time is passing and life is short. Old enough to know that changing habits is hard, but a few strategic goals and intentions can be a guiding light, a focus for incremental change and constructive personal growth.

So this year I will try. I will try to live each day as if it were a precious gift, one that I might not get tomorrow. I will tell the people that I love that I love them. I will try to create the best day possible, whatever that means, because it changes every day. And since I tend not to be spontaneous nor impulsive (and I have a mortgage), I won’t be quitting my job or launching myself on a grand adventure (at least probably not, or not right now). I will keep moving deeper into the activities I find meaningful and speaking with honesty to the people I love. I will look people in the eye – and smile – and say the words that facilitate connection: Please, Thank You, I Love You – so grateful for my friends and family and so aware of how much I need them and how much they help me.

Of course, I will fail. I will look at the Christmas tree forlornly on the street, feeling sad that I am sad. I will be anxious about returning to work. I will be annoyed at the annoying people on the train. I will begin missing my daughter even though she hasn’t left for school yet. I will be jealous and angry at all the people who seem to manage life with more grace and ease than me.

And then I will remember to try. To do something different. Because my anxiety and sadness are habits. And that everyone struggles with their challenges, their demons.

And then I will reflect on the last year, with pride and gratitude, and remember that I haven’t quite mastered last year’s goal yet, to choose laughter. So, I’ll just keep trying.

And I’ll add this year’s intention for this new year:

Choose love.

Crying With Strangers

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Beautiful Tears

According to the buzzy factoids that bombard my FaceBook feed, there are three types of tears: basal, reflex, and psychic, the emotion-based tears. Psychic tears have a chemical composition that includes protein-based hormones that function as a natural painkiller. That is why it is such a cathartic release when we are able to cry.

Beautiful tears

I cried a lot when my mother died. I was so sad to see her die. I was so honored to be with her when she died. But it was and is my father’s overwhelming grief and anguish that breaks my heart. This from the awkward and undemonstrative man who never cried. Like the Swedish farmer joke, he loved his wife so much he almost told her.

Stop the tears

After she died, I had to return to my busy busy life, making lunches, pleasing clients, doing laundry. You know, the important stuff of life. My family, my friends, my colleagues offered genuine sympathy, hugs, love, and support. I was surprised and so, so moved at the outpouring from all walks of my life. But I didn’t cry. Even though I was sad, it felt like it was time for her to go. Even though I felt her loss, it was a relief.

Stranger tears

Then one morning on my way to work, I ran into a casual acquaintance on the street. When I told her that I had recently lost my mother, she wrapped me up in a big bear hug. I cried. I hardly know her! Somehow the spontaneous hug and this sense that she knew deep in her soul what it was like to lose your mother brought out the release. After that, everything set me off. Arranging for donations to my mother’s alma mater, I cried speaking to the young woman on the other end of the phone, a stranger who was probably a current college student, as I told her the story of  how extraordinary my mother was, earning her Ph.D. in 1950.

No tears

I am still holding it together when I’m with my most loved ones. Why? Too embarrassed? Afraid of judgment? Am I not allowed to cry? Afraid I will fall into an uncontrollable abyss? After all, my days of being depressed are behind me. I am not going back there. But. Shouldn’t we be able to cry with the people with whom we are most intimate? Why do we put up our guard? The risk of vulnerability is greatest with the people who know us best. If we didn’t have good emotional role models then there is even more reason to perfect that suit of armor. It is through writing and journaling, yoga and meditation that I feel I can peel away the layers of armor and reveal my hidden self, emotions and all.   When I reveal what is hidden, I connect.  It is these moments that remind me that we are all connected and that the love between people can occur anywhere. With all the complicated bonds and history behind family relationships, perhaps it makes perfect sense that honest, emotional, spontaneous connections are easier with strangers. Maybe the delineation between family and friends and strangers needs to soften. How can we change the habits and patterns grooved into family life so that honest, emotional, spontaneous connections can happen with family and friends?

Allow the tears

This Christmas, I want to be more open and emotional with my loved ones, showing them my heart and giving them my love. Love is what is sacred and holy. Merry Christmas. May you shed beautiful tears.

Photo Credit:  Deep thanks to Rose-Lynn Fisher for the use of her beautiful photo of beautiful tears, Tears of Grief.

 

Breathing In and Breathing Out

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Alive

The death of my mother has cracked open my heart. With every emotion heightened, I feel impatient with the numb carelessness with which most of us approach our day-to-day lives. The holiday shopping honking at the slower and more cautious driver; the selfish crush of the commuter horde to find a seat; the eye-roll at the different: the slower aged elder, the awkward special needs child, the sad one. “Life is short! Life is precious!” I want to scream. We’re all going to the same final destination. Please be kind along the way.

I returned to New York and my life on Thursday. The familiar routine of work and household chores a distraction. But I find I don’t want to merely return to normal. I want to feel everything. I want to feel the sadness, the loss, the love, the compassion. It makes me feel human. Alive. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out.

Isn’t the breath amazing? We take it for granted, but it is what makes us alive from the moment we are born to the moment we die.

When I got home Thursday night, I shared the story of my mother’s last breath with my son. I cried. He cried. I held him. He said that he had been wanting to cry but couldn’t. I know that feeling. It’s painful. The chest tightens and constricts. You feel like your heart is going to break but you are too controlled, too embarrassed, too remote to let it go. Crying that night made him feel better. Catharsis. I whispered, “Live your life.” The best way to deal with death is to live.

My yoga practice has been immense comfort to me this week. Moving my body, focusing my mind, and breathing in and breathing out has kept me grounded and open-hearted. Yesterday, we focused on a sutra that goes something like: “The self must lift the self.” In other words, only you can make yourself feel better. We noticed the areas of our bodies and minds that were dull and brought energy to these areas so that every cell was shimmering with the breath. Alive. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out.

In this time of grief and loss, all kinds of random memories have come flooding back. I was remembering that she had this gardenia plant when I was quite little. She nurtured this gardenia, so proud when it bloomed. The scent of the gardenia blooms was sweet and intense, permeating the house. I was thinking that we should have gardenia flowers at her memorial service. As this was rolling around in my mind, I arrived home from work on Friday where there was a box waiting for me. I opened the box and GASPED.

It was a gardenia.

Mysterious. Awesome. WILD!

I feel inhabited by my mother. Her body may have stopped breathing but she lives inside me. I really feel her with me, supporting me with love as I breathe in and breathe out.

Remembering All Souls

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For Elizabeth

I was not brought up in any religious tradition, and don’t “belong” to any religion, but I am most familiar, culturally, with Christianity. I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell or an omnipotent God. But I have come to believe there is sacredness in the moments of connection between people and in the rare moments of peace we experience in stillness and in nature.

What happens when we die? Where do our souls go? Why are we here? Without religious tradition and faith, these questions can be troubling, leading to existential angst. These questions can also drive an urgency to live this life with meaning. Because, what if, there is nothing after this life? Better make this one count.

I believe that we are here for those sacred moments of connection and peace. I don’t know what happens when we die, but I know where our souls go. They are part of us who live on.

The daughter of my cousin Elizabeth – Elizabeth, my surrogate sister, the one who was killed by a drunk driver, leaving behind a 10 year old girl – is now grown and got married this weekend. It was a beautiful and joyous and emotional event. With great care, she and her groom planned a ceremony and a party that reflected their open and loving personalities and they included all the people they loved, both alive and dead. The dead ones were there. I felt them.

Elizabeth, Frank, Mary, Melvin, Fran, Earl, Sadie.   Those are the ones from my life that I felt. Present. At the wedding. Imagine if every person brought all their dead loved ones with them. (They did.) It was a big party!

There we all were, living and dead, celebrating the sacred connection of love.

Elizabeth, who I still miss deeply and so acutely at our rare family gatherings, lives on in her daughter and all of us connected to her. I know she is so full of love and pride for her daughter. I can feel it.

If there is no heaven nor hell after life, then surely it is here in this life. And if there is no afterlife, then it is urgent and imperative that we maximize heaven and minimize hell in this life. Love deeply. Those moments of sacred connection are heaven and those moments of sacred connection are the only way to minimize hell. Know that our loved ones’ souls live on in us.

Dear souls, may we find peace.

The Ones Left Behind

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What If?

If I had worked in the World Trade Center, I would have been one of the obedient workers who listened to the announcements urging employees to not panic and to stay in their offices. I would have died. Instead, I went to a meeting in a windowless conference room in midtown Manhattan from 9-10 am, only to emerge to the horror unfolding on the television in another conference room. It was surreal. I was numb, unable to process that this was really happening 2 miles downtown. When it seemed that finally outbound trains were running, I made the walk across town to Grand Central to make my way home. Sirens. Smoke. Dazed people. I looked down Fifth Avenue where those ugly mammoth towers that I took for granted no longer stood. There was no anchor to the Manhattan skyline.

I was not a first responder. I did not lose anyone close to me. I got home safely. But my life felt changed that day. We watched the constant coverage. Perhaps the most horrific images were those of the people jumping. Regular people who woke up, chose what to eat for breakfast, chose what to wear to work, and then had to choose whether to die by burning to death or to die by jumping to death. What was that like? It still brings my husband to tears.

My numbness suppressed my tears at the time. But when they surface, occasionally, when I let them, my tears are for the loved ones left behind. The frantic last cell phone calls saying “I love you.” The 2-year-old neighbor waiting for her Daddy to come home from the train, who is now 15, my son’s age. The parents who lost their children. The “Missing” posters. Unspeakable. Grief.

We went to the 9/11 memorial yesterday. Normally, I would have been too busy busy busy at work. And I am! I am! But, my husband was downtown for a ceremony honoring his (and others’) longevity as City of New York employees. It’s so easy for me to be dutiful to my work and to take my husband and my family for granted. But, what if, today is your last day? What if today is my last day? I would be sad that I did not share this celebration with my husband. So, I played hooky. I took care of a few things at work and then hopped on the subway to meet my husband for a celebratory lunch. And then. We went to the 9/11 memorial yesterday.

It is profoundly somber and massive. From the water pools in each tower’s footprint bordered with the names to the processional ramp down. Down to the foundation. As you process down and down and down, you hear the voices of the loved ones left behind sharing their love for their lost loved ones. Heart breaking. The beautiful and poignant art installation by Spencer Finch, Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning. It is overwhelming. At the pools, I paused and placed my hands on the names bordering the water pools. Trying to imagine. Trying to connect. Where are their souls now? How are their loved ones coping? What if it had been me? Me, who died. Me, who was left behind.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we were desperate to be helpful, desperate to connect with others and to show our pride in New York City and in America, and desperately afraid. I hugged my children tightly. I held my breath commuting in the tunnel to Manhattan. I looked up fearfully at every airplane. Even when we got back to “normal,” there was a new and consistent desire to make every day count and to make sure nothing, no one, was taken for granted.

We seem to be in a new era of fear. War, genocide, rape, poverty, climate change, disease. Ebola. Yes, I know, I’ve read the articles calming us down. The risk of Ebola is nothing compared to the risk of crossing the street or getting the flu. Really though, who knows? Like the announcements telling workers to stay in their offices, no one seems to know what to do. The one thing that seems certain is that the next 50 years I was counting on living is not certain. It changes the calculus of decision-making. From what should I do over the long term to what is meaningful if today is my last day? I will be hugging my family and friends a little tighter.

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