Charting life's circuitous path

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Balled up words

Words are full – they’re full of meaning, connotation, history, nuance…

They’re also so big sometimes that they stick in the back of your throat and never come out.  We say “I’m so sorry” because we don’t have the words to truly voice the chaotic emotions in our heart.  The hurt, the sadness, the memories are all balling up and wedging themselves like a plug.  We whisper “take care” and what we mean is “stay with me, don’t leave, get better, be like before.”

Don’t die.

I’m grateful we live during a time where words like cancer can be spoken out loud.  I only wish that the emotions came with an easier vocabulary.  But words are only words – limited in definition and size.  Their inadequacies feel like our own as we try to emotionally deal with something we spend most of our lives ignoring –mortality.

This past week I found out that a dear friend has terminal cancer.  Given a prognosis of less than a year to live, I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t know what to feel.  I couldn’t imagine what she was going through.

I wanted to say everything and yet my mouth could only vocalize “oh, no”.  Words came up but I choked them down, afraid to say the wrong thing.  Afraid to hurt her more with my ignorance.  Naively, I thought I was more prepared for this kind of news since I have read a lot of books where characters are given a terminal verdict.  I found out this week just how unprepared I was and how little I knew.

One thing I definitely found out?  It’s far better to say something than nothing at all.

To try as hard as you can to vocalize even one part of what you’re feeling.  Will it be enough?  Maybe not. Will you think of things later that might have been better?  Probably. In fact, in my case, definitely. But opening myself up to that moment gave me the opportunity to bridge the silence and sadness.

In the end, the words are there. They just need the power, our strength, to be spoken.



Is it A, B, or C?

I was never a very good multiple choice test taker.  Invariably, I’d be the  first to finish, last to turn in, and always the one with the most switched answers.  I could never understand the optimism that others felt since for me, it was a battle against my own confidence.  Give me a fill in the blank, write out your answer test any day!  At least the answer would be solely my own.  No need to debate on the other possibilities offered by someone smarter than me.

applesI wouldn’t go so far as to say that multiple choice tests set me up for a life of self doubt.  Being unable to decide between a cream horn and a danish at the pastry counter is probably a bit too much to ask of such a thing.  But it definitely served to strengthen the feeling that  over and over again any decision I made was fraught with (negative) possibilities.  There was only ONE right answer and more often than not I’d erase it after an agonizing chew of my pencil.  Giving me choices definitely didn’t make my life easier.

Being decisive, and especially when it comes to my own desires, is something I’m struggling with in my therapy sessions.  All my life I’ve been allowing others to make decisions for me.  Sure, I was there somewhere making the ultimate choice, but I wasn’t making me the key part in the process.  I realized that a lot of the decisions were based on what I thought would make others happy.  Even if I didn’t believe in the decision anymore, I was still making it based on expectations.  In a lot of ways, I was self-sacrificing my own wants and desires for what I thought others wanted and trying to derive happiness from their happiness.

It wasn’t sustainable.


I was failing to satisfy my own needs and therefore becoming more and more bitter, and more and more unhappy.

So I’m in the process of changing my outlook on the decisions “I’ve” made in the past and making new ones that are in sync with who I am right now.  If those needs change, then my decisions change and I don’t beat myself up about it.  Apparently the key to this is to focus on me, what makes me happy and then acting on those beliefs.  Even at the pastry counter. 🙂

This isn’t easy.  It’s downright scary and it’s as hard as breaking through concrete with a small hammer.  I’m making baby steps towards this new assertiveness with decisions at restaurants, stores and other “low risk” situations.  So far, I’ve felt more empowered after each decision.  I always feel like I’m going to “fail” in some way if I get it “wrong”, but after each successive “success”, I’ve come to realize that life isn’t always about failing and winning.

It’s about building and creating.


Sometimes being just isn’t enough

Very rarely am I up so early in the morning that the sun is painting the sky a soft peach.  I was a bit edgy after the nightmare that woke me (my dream mother decided to take up drinking with my coworker – yikes!).  I settled on making cinnamon oatmeal, and sitting down at the computer to change the “scenes of blue” Windows background theme.

I picked cute kittens because, apparently, it’s a kittens kind of day.

We never had a cat growing up because my parents were 100% dog people.  Dogs of all shapes and sizes have bounded through our house, and the only cat to ever spend one night was from a neighbor who got the mischievous ball of fur back the next morning after a well-aimed scratch (children who grow up around dogs need definite cat training if all is to go well – trust me).  Fluffy puppies and tough dogs clutter the pages of our albums between photos of family and friends.

There are lots of smiles and candid shots of people having picnics, playing in parks, or sitting around the table.  Kids are laughing at an unknown joke, and mothers are sitting quietly with adorable babies at their side.  Big holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving are heavily featured with birthdays coming in a close third.  Picture after picture display moments where lives are captured by a bright flash.


Many of those people are still in the same places, building lives out of the spaces left when we moved away.  Phone calls and emails play “catch up” and while it pales in comparison to what the pictures show, it’s still a connection we attempt to make a few times a year.

Others we might see at the post office and feel grateful for the “lucky” chance that brought us together, but the pause necessary for a photo has long passed.  We leave them wondering what they’re up to, as our thoughts quickly scatter to the next task in our busy schedule. At best, the encounter is tinged with the warm brown brush of yesteryear.

Then there are those others.  The families that used to share movie nights together when the children were young, but now only send Christmas cards with cold, solitary signatures.  The child that laughed on the father’s shoulders now shifts uncomfortably silent on the phone with nothing to say (but so much to express).  Or the long-ago friend whose smile lit up the shot in our album, but now makes our heart race out of fear as to what we’ll say when we spy them at the deli counter.

I can see all of these types of people in the pictures looking back at me.  I’m not naive to think that people stay the same.  Every day we change just a little bit and every year we shift slightly to the left, to the right, but always just enough that we aren’t the same as the year before.  Gray hairs have started to show up in my dark brown bob, which was once down my back, and my skin needs copious amounts of lotion.  But most of these physical changes can be fixed – mended. It’s the small, physical distancing that leads to the emotional unraveling of years and countless moments together that scares me the most.

It’s the fewer phone calls (oh, didn’t I call you?), shorter meetups (hi! *smile* how are you? *smile* Good, we’ll have to meetup sometime when we can sit and chat! *smile*), and the eventual disconnect.

beach2This year we’re having Thanksgiving at our place.  This means that we won’t be meeting up with the rest of the extended family for our yearly shared holiday.  Will this become routine?  No. We’ll see them at Christmas and order will be restored.  Having Thanksgiving at our place has been something that my hubby and I had wanted to do for a long time, and it’s logistically impossible for everyone to meet up.  But there’s a quiver of fear deep inside me wondering what it’ll take to finally have things fall apart.  As much as I want to believe that family stick through thick and thin, I know better.  Right now, we’re okay, but we’ve been shifting to the edges of the frame for many years.  Slowly but surely the smiles have dimmed and members have drifted out of shot.  At times it feels as if it’s only my Grandmother holding it all together.

Relationships require a lot of effort and even family relationships. It’s so easy to let everyday life take control and lose touch outside of the occasional Facebook post.  I know I’ve let people down and have let friendships dwindle away due to a selfish desire to focus on me and only me. When I flick through the old photos I’ve scanned, my heart sinks amidst all of the family smiles that no longer shine and the unrecognizable faces bent so close to mine.

It’s also hard to rebuild the gap.  Lives have moved on and so much has happened that it seems insurmountable.

But maybe it doesn’t need to be.  Maybe it’s okay to let what was stay captured in the fading snapshot.  Today, we can and should focus on maintaining and being thankful for what we have now.  If we do, then perhaps those faces will stay in the frame for many more brilliant flashes to come.