Charting life's circuitous path


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.


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Give your mind something to rewind.

I have a confession: I spent a good hour this week peering over old high school classmates’ Facebook pages.

And here’s the really guilty bit: they weren’t even on my “friend” list.  😳

Even though they’re public, I still felt like I was making some kind of faux pas – like I was outside looking in.  But who hasn’t taken the liberty to look up someone just to see what they’re doing?  Lately, however, an undercurrent of nostalgia had begun to sneak around the corners of my mind the fault of Stephen Chobsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

So I squinted at badly taken profile pics and read up on public posts.  One person was living in Germany with two kids (there were a lot of variations on this theme, give or take a kid or country) and others with unsurprising jobs (fitness instructors for athletes or the occasional computer tech for the valedictorians).  Some had gained weight and others were unrecognizable from their yearbook picture.  Everyone was smiling.

Even though I can’t relate to anything the main character Charlie in Chbosky’s book goes through (and it’s an almost Herculean amount of trials), I can relate to being a wallflower – an observer.  In fact, my very scouring of old Facebook pages still attests to that – sadly, I know as much about them now as I did then.

The mind is a collection of past experiences and recently mine had decided to relive all of my high school moments.  There weren’t many.  The same few replayed themselves over and over, not because they were necessarily amazing, but because I had so few to actually recall.

My happiest high school memory was going out with my friends to a café. It was late at night and we had all piled into the car with the radio high.  We were declaring our youth to the world as loudly and energetically as we could.  I can’t remember much about the café, except that I ordered a chocolate cheesecake and cappuccino, all the while feeling very grown up and very alive.  Here I was, sitting with my group of giggling friends, pretending to be sophisticated and finally feeling like I was a part of a real group.

I was 17.

It was the only time I ever did anything like that and the only time they ever asked me.  It wasn’t like I turned down so many offers that they stopped asking me.  Instead, my wallflower status seemed to have solidified itself into an actual wall where even asking me to participate seemed odd.

A book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg said (and here I’m shamelessly over-simplifying) that our brains hate new experiences.  New things mean work and that isn’t want the brain wants to do – coasting through life is its sole objective.  New thoughts, new feelings, and new people trigger panic and our brains want out pronto.

But the mind, oh how it loves to dwell.  To brew, like a thick, syrupy espresso.

Most of my life I’ve let my brain dictate how to act in social situations.  I learned how to be invisible and to turn down any future commitments before they even materialized.  I don’t really know when this started.  I was a really outgoing child.  So much so that I was constantly being told to quiet down, watch what I said and to “consider the situation”.  And then, overnight it seems, I wasn’t anymore.  I wasn’t shy, but what my French teacher in a moment of revelation called “reserved”.

I used to imagine what everyone’s faces would look like if I really went into the classroom and acted like me.  Or if I got up on stage and acted out a scene in the school play with ease and finesse.

But, I never did (nor did I even join the theater club).  Instead, I only watched as cliques formed around me with their beginnings and breakups, the dramas and fights, with detached cynicism.  I knew every single one of them, but I never really knew them.

My mind drags up old, tattered memories and amongst them sits the elephant of them all: my senior prom.  My friends were ditching their boyfriends for a last all-girl night out.  I had never been to a single dance, but they wanted me to go (we were seniors, after all).  I was immensely proud that I resisted each and every plea with a firm no.  I took pleasure in turning down their repeated requests – as if I was making some kind of vital point.

Now, I don’t really understand what I was thinking. I wish I had said yes.  Maybe not yes to the dress, but yes to being friends with my friends when we still hung out with each other.  When it really mattered.

If given the chance, I’d go out more, live more and just be more.  I’d insert myself more firmly into their lives.  I’d know them and they’d know me – and perhaps they wouldn’t be afraid and neither would I.

But we can’t hit rewind and record a new history.

In Chbosky’s book, Charlie’s friend asks him if he ever participates.  Does he actually do what he wants?

Do I do what I want? Do you?

I really like this image a friend (a real one this time) posted:

don't look back

Because when my mind sips again at the coffee cup of memories, I want it to be full and deep.

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Abundantly alive

I made the long trip back from my brother’s house alone this time, what with my hubby’s new weekend schedule prohibiting him from coming to family gatherings.  Armed with only an mp3 player, but thankfully minus the floating soccer ball balloon mistakenly not tied down in the back seat, I drove the hour plus distance with my thoughts half on the road but mostly on my nephews and my grandmother.

My oldest nephew was celebrating his big 5.  He’s tall for his age and still insists on being tilted upside down whenever he sees us. He’ll hold his arms out with a huge smile and ask to be “upside down.”  Being the pushovers we are, we always cave in.  This time he still wanted to be flipped and swung, but he held on for dear life all the while laughing.  All of my reassurances that I had him and that he could let go fell on laughing ears as he tilted and clung.

Another sign he’s getting older.


I remember back when I was shocked to find that being lifted by my armpits HURT.  I didn’t want to believe it at first, since being lifted and swung made me feel like a feather, so I surely could still do it.  Nope.  Ever since that first painful lift, I would never know what it would be like to be picked up and tossed about by someone I trusted to hold on and not let go.  It’s a memory that keeps me lifting and swinging my nephew as often as he wants for as long as he’s able.

When I used to teach, I would show my students a clip of a Hovis bread commercial from the 70s.  It featured a “rustic” voice talking about the old days when he used to ride his bike to the baker’s and be given a slice of Hovis sandwich bread.  I chose this clip because for many American ears, the accent of the speaker made his words almost indiscernible.  I would ask them what they thought he said and many either didn’t understand a single word, or a few would try to puzzle out a couple that they had caught.

I would then show them the same clip but with subtitles.  It was amazing.  Almost immediately everyone’s faces brightened with understanding.  After a third viewing without the subtitles, most could follow along.

Never again, I would tell them, would this clip be as puzzling as that first time.  Never again would they feel that sense of confusion, newness and uncertainty.  If they were ever to see this commercial again, which we all agreed was unlikely, they’d know what was being said and their response to it would be different than that first time.  And for many, those initial feelings would be replaced.

Because they had learned it.


Learning can be attributed to books and schools, but we “learn” all the time.  My nephew’s growing knowledge that being tipped could be dangerous or that it might be uncomfortable shows as he clings to my neck with a death grip.

My grandmother with her memory gaps relearns and in a way relives a moment many times over.  I watched her with sadness as she repeatedly picked up a quilting book and flipped through it like it was the first time.  I watched her face smile as she happily ate her pizza and asked if there was a place near her.  I answered like it was the first time, even after the eighth or ninth time, but I could feel an ache.  It was as if her learning and my nephew’s learning were different.  Since she was in her 80s, I felt as if she had lost something and each repeated question drilled it in even further.  However, with my 5 year old nephew, he had a whole life to experience so his learning felt full of possibility.

But on my way home, I realized that I was wrong.

Just like with my nephew, every experience for her is a new one.  The concept of gain and lost shouldn’t belittle the fact that both are living now – more so than most of us, including me.  I could, for example, do the drive without hardly thinking – taking the right exits, merging with traffic, watching my lane.  It was all automatic.  Life in a lot of ways, is automatic.  We wake, we do our daily tasks and we go to bed.  This doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyed, hubby and I can dissolve into a fit of giggles or get sucked into a good discussion between all of that routine, but it isn’t lived in the same way.  Things aren’t new, they lack that sparkle, that eye-opening first time-ness, that both my nephew and my grandmother experience daily.

The sadness I felt was for something that she could never attain again.  But while she might have lost the ability to retain memories, she’s gained the ability to live and relive in that moment, just like my nephew.

Something, I have to be honest, I wish I could say for myself.