Loss

F.I.P.

“I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, ‘For the same reason I laugh so often–because I’m paying attention.’ I tell them that we can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved. We must decide.”     ~Glennon Doyle

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Splashy, aka Foggy Foo

On Tuesday night, minutes before we were scheduled to leave for our son’s high school Cross-Country Awards Banquet, I discovered our African dwarf frog belly up on the rocks at the bottom of his aquarium home. Although he (I decided years ago he was a he without any biological proof) hadn’t been acting himself for weeks and I had suspected this was coming, the knowledge he was gone left me with a frog-shaped hole in my heart where he had escaped like a cartoon character busting through a wall and leaving only his outline.

Nine years ago, as a heart bandaid after a life-scarring debacle in which my son and I unsuccessfully attempted to raise a tadpole into frogdom, I purchased from Brookstone (don’t ask) four fully grown aquatic frogs in small habitats. Each of my young sons would have two critters to care for. That was the plan, anyway. Although the boys named them, Padme and Anakin and Swimmy and Splashy, we all know how the story goes. I fed them. I cleaned their watery homes, bought their food, and looked for new plants for their decor. They were mine in all their froggy glory from the beginning because I had killed their tadpole and these were my mea culpa. Still, I told the boys that these frogs were temporary, short-lived pets and they needed to prepare themselves for that.

Padme, like her Star Wars character, was the first to perish that first year she moved in. About a year later, Swimmy and Anakin died within a few weeks of each other. I figured the last holdout wouldn’t last much longer on his own and I would be free of the stigma of the tadpole catastrophe and the work of the frog experiment. Splashy, who was now referred to by the unfortunate sobriquet Foggy Foo, however, continued to thrive. Research told me most most aquatic dwarf frogs lived less than five years in captivity. After six years, I began to suspect Foggy Foo was an anomaly.

Foggy and I worked out a marvelous relationship over the years. He recognized my voice and would emerge from his house when I called him. He did not do this for anyone else. He would swim to the top to eat when I fed him and had on occasion eaten from my hand. I would often pause during my day to check on him. I enjoyed watching him and listened for his muffled songs. We had a bond. He was my little guy. I loved him as much as any human can love an amphibian, although definitely not in the same way Sally Hawkins loves her amphibian in The Shape of Water.

My heart broke a little the night he left us. Although I compartmentalized the loss until after the awards banquet, when we got home I carefully lifted him via fish net from the bottom of the tank and brought him upstairs to the main floor commode. I gathered my men, gently deposited Foggy’s lifeless form into the bowl, and we said a few words about our deceased friend. Float in peace, we told him as I depressed the high-flow option on the toilet and flushed him with great flourish to his final resting place.

I won’t lie. I shed a few tears Tuesday night. And, since then, I’ve shed a few more. I am verklempt thinking about him now. The space on the counter he occupied for years is desolate, and I suspect the frog-shaped hole in my heart is there to stay. Perhaps it seems silly to mourn a tiny frog who existed on the periphery of our lives, but the smallest things can hold within them the deepest of life’s lessons. That frog was a link to the days when my boys were young, noisy whirlwinds who made our house reverberate with life. With Foggy’s passing, I can see that my little guys are also gone, replaced by hirsute young men with booming voices and earbuds that render me silent. Letting go of Foggy is an acknowledgment that soon my sons will leave Joe- and Luke-shaped holes in my heart as they also escape my world. It sucks and it’s worth a few tears.

I am working on the Buddhist notion of patient acceptance, knowing that the most important thing I can do for myself in this life is to welcome what is without wanting to change it. This is much easier said than done. Joe and I will begin touring colleges next week, and I have no idea how we got here. But life is messy and emotional and difficult, full of reasons to laugh and cry. So, I will float on and be in what is and cry when I need to and laugh when I can because I am paying attention. I will practice my patient acceptance so I too can float in peace someday.

 

Even The Great Ones Die

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Closest I ever got to David Bowie. Section E, Row 36, Seat 2

“It never even occurred to me that David Bowie *could* die.” ~Michael Ian Black

Yesterday was a weird day for me. Like many people my age, I imagine, I spent the day steeped in memories, stunned by the loss of David Bowie. David Bowie has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Literally. One of my first memories is waking up hearing Fame on the radio in my bedroom. I was seven. I remember it so vividly because I’d been dreaming and that song was playing in my dream. When I awoke and heard it playing in my room, I honestly thought I had some sort of psychic powers. It was much later that I learned that happens to everyone and I did not have the gift. Oh, how it sucks being average.

David Bowie was the anti-average. He was the coolest man who ever lived. That is how I will always think of him. He was bold. He didn’t apologize for who he was or what he did or what he created. And he did all this without being a self-absorbed, self-serving jerk. He was talented, elegant, handsome, enigmatic, and yet somehow accessible. His music made me feel and reminded me that I belong to the universe. It made me think of things beyond myself. And that is just so damn cool.

Right after I saw the news of his passing, I was scanning my Twitter feed and I saw this tweet from Michael Ian Black. It took everything I was feeling and put it into a convenient package. It never occurred to me that David Bowie could die either. Legends don’t die. And they certainly shouldn’t pass away quietly from cancer at the relatively young age of 69. My big takeaway yesterday was a kick-in-the-gut reminder that we all die. Every last one of us. Even the coolest man on the planet.

Last night I was a bit more circumspect than usual. I could not look at my husband or my sons without acknowledging what we all know but bury deep inside. Death happens. It’s the only guarantee life presents when you are born. You will die. People you love, people who inhabit your soul, will die. I stood in the doorway to my sons’ room last night, staring at them while they slept. For a few moments, with teary eyes, I remembered things outside myself. I remembered to breathe and to feel and to take it all in.

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he told us not to blow it ’cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.” 

And Then Life Happens

What will you leave behind?

What will you leave behind?

It has been a lachrymose few days for me. And while I’m rarely teary-eyed for long, sometimes my thinking brain gets trampled unexpectedly by my feeling heart and leaves me a bit off kilter. Life’s challenges can explode like forgotten landmines lying in wait, and recently I’ve been privy to more bad news than good. The shock of the unexpected and the gravity of life’s free fall moments got the best of me last week. I’ve been clawing my way from my heart back to my head for days hoping to gain some traction in the present.

Late last week, I learned via Facebook that a former high school classmate of mine died. It’s not easy when anyone dies. It’s more difficult when the person who passed is your age because, well….Hello, Mortality. Beyond that, I hate learning about death through social media. It’s such an unwelcome, impersonal shock filled with unanswerable questions. I can’t say that I knew this person well. He was among the best students in our class, so I was on the outskirts of his life in AP Physics and Calculus. He was someone I knew from the hallways, the yearbook pages, and the sharing of mutual friends. As the news of his passing spread across my Facebook friends’ news feeds and the online memorial tributes to him increased in number, I grieved along with my friends through some sort of osmotic process. The few interactions that John and I shared happened in the more recent past. I knew more about him through Facebook than I knew of him in the real world, so I suppose it was fitting that I learned about his moving on through the same channel. I can’t say that I had an impact on his life in any way, but I know that his life touched mine in the kind of way that makes you realize that we citizens of Earth have more in common than we think we do based on what we see on the outside.

Today as I was driving home after dropping the boys off at school, still absorbed by life’s absurdities and ill-timed departures, I was following a snow-covered van. We traveled along at 55 miles per hour and the snow from the van’s roof blew off in swirls. As the individual flakes whizzed toward my car, it appeared I was making the leap to hyperspace. In the early morning sunlight, each flake was a tiny fleck of gold or silver. I got caught up in the beauty of this pure and simple occurrence. It made me deeply and honestly happy. I felt better than I have in days. It wasn’t a winning lottery ticket that brought me out of my funk. It was a moment of gratitude for life brought about by a random act of beauty I was finally present enough to appreciate.

I can’t stop thinking now about how wrong we humans are about our journey on this planet. We make life into what appears on the outside. We obsess with how we look rather than focusing on who we are personally and what truly matters to us. We stress about where our kids go to school more than we worry about our relationships with them. We want the respect of others, and we think we will earn it with important job titles, tastefully decorated homes, and luxury cars. We are cats jumping at shiny things. We are clueless.

The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. Everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart. ~Jim Carrey

This quote has been bouncing around in my head for weeks. I’ve been wanting to say something about it, and several times I’ve sat down with my laptop to try to coax the words out of my mind. They wouldn’t come. Then our class lost John and it came into focus. All the epitaphs, composed for a friend who left us too soon, collected the whole of John’s heart and put it on display for all of us who regret that we did not know him better. Short though his life was, it was a life lived right.

We who are still here are lucky enough to have this moment. Don’t squander it. Look around you. Be grateful for what you have. Pay attention to those who matter. Don’t bother chasing the shiny distractions. Time is precious. Someday someone will be painting a verbal picture of you posthumously. Make sure you show them your best side now.

Sour Grapes Just Make Bad Whine

Go Broncos!

Go Broncos!

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”       ~Vince Lombardi

So, we’re Broncos fans in this house. As you can imagine, the Super Bowl tonight was not exactly the game we were hoping for. We started off hopeful, quickly became disillusioned, slid right into disappointment, and from there rapidly devolved into depressed. And that was all before the end of the first half. Our sons, especially, were not handling the game well. At one point they vowed to stand out in the freezing cold yard until the Broncos scored. After 15 minutes, they gave up and came inside after hearing me drop a particularly fervent expletive. I guess we were all having a rough time. The game continued from bad to worse to appalling. The Broncos were handily outplayed. Seattle and their incredible defense had their best game, while Peyton Manning and the Broncos had their worst. Anything that could have gone wrong for the Broncos did. I started hoping the zombie apocalypse would interrupt the game and save us further disappointment but, alas, it did not.

As it became increasingly apparent how the game would end and as our entire family began spiraling into the pit of despair, I made a choice. I decided that if I wasn’t going to watch my team win the big game perhaps I could turn it into a win all the same. Instead of getting more upset, I reined my emotions in and modeled the attitude of gracious loser. I reminded the boys that every game has a 50% chance of ending in a loss, and today was not our day for a win. I reminded them to Look for the Good and Keep a Grateful Heart, just like our family mission statement urges. We talked about ways to do just that. So instead of ending the game with sour grapes, when the clock finally ran down and the blue and green confetti rained on MetLife Stadium, we ended it happy for Seattle’s first-ever Super Bowl win and grateful for a record-breaking season with Peyton Manning at the helm of our Broncos. Are we sad that the Peyton didn’t get to end his unbelievable season with a Super Bowl win? Absolutely. Are we bummed that we won’t get to enjoy a victory parade in Denver for the team that worked so hard for its fans all season long? Of course. But it isn’t the end of the world, and acting like it is would be an unfair example for our sons. Life is full of defeats, some of them crushing losses like the one the Broncos suffered tonight. Teaching our kids to accept disappointment is every bit as valuable as celebrating victories with them…maybe more so.

Our guys didn’t win the Super Bowl, but tonight I feel like we had a little victory all the same. Peyton Manning is not a failure because he didn’t get this Super Bowl win. He still had an unprecedented season that is worth celebrating. We have a tendency to focus only on the outcome and not the journey, and that’s not right. We don’t all get a Lombardi Trophy to hoist and we can’t all be Super Bowl MVP. After tonight, though, I hope our boys are on their way to becoming gracious losers because in this day and age it’s harder and harder to find those. Next year though, just for the record, I’ll be perfectly okay with it if we have to teach them to be gracious winners instead. The world could use some more of those too.

Thanks for a great season, Broncos!

In The Grand Scheme Of Things

You can learn a lot from the tiniest of things.

You can learn a lot from the tiniest of things.

I turned 45 years old at exactly 2:12 a.m. today. After a restless night, I was awake quite early this morning as the sun began to rise. I found myself thinking, while the rest of the creatures in my house slept, about how old I thought 45 was when my own mother was 45 and I was a whopping 19 years old. Back then, 45 seemed ancient. At 45 my mother was recently separated and embarking on a new life, one she probably never had expected when she was just 19. Now that I am 45 I can attest that I do not feel as old as the Sphinx. That 19 year old girl still lives inside me. She’s just been roughed up a bit on the outside and the extra 26 years have widened her eyes.

I had a wonderful birthday. Started my day with a 20-mile bike ride that I never would have been able to do 10, or even 20, years ago. Followed that up with hours spent lounging by the pool with my family and good friends. Throughout the day, dozens of well wishes popped onto my Facebook page from friends new and old, each one a little present in itself. For dinner we grilled out and I got to open more gifts than I probably deserve at this advanced age. And, as the day wound down, I headed up to the boys’ room to read to them just as I do every night (for as long as they continue to ask me to).

It was then that I noticed one of our four African Dwarf frogs was not doing well. It was upside down at the top of the frog tank, one of its buddies hanging close to its side helping to keep it up at the top of the tank. I told the boys that he (they’re all named after dwarves from The Hobbit) would not likely survive the night. It was a tough moment that we all knew would come someday. We did not expect it to be today. We purchased these frogs three years ago. Truth be told, they’re more my pets than my sons’. I’ve been the froggy momma. I clean their aquariums, feed them, talk to them. They are my precious charges. Seeing one belly up hit me harder than it should. After all, it’s just a frog, right? Everything has to die. I know this. I’ve been expecting these small amphibians to perish ever since the day I brought them home.

But today, as I celebrate having enjoyed 45 amazing years on this planet, watching a little creature struggle in his final moments was poignant and poetic. I tell my boys all the time that life is death. There cannot be one without the other. It is the one black-and-white truth we are guaranteed. Everything that is alive will at some point die. Nothing and no one escapes. If all goes well, we are wise enough to cherish our moments and lucky enough to have a plethora of them to recall. But it all comes down to this. We come into this world and we leave it. The life of that darling little frog is no less important than mine. It’s as much a part of the grand scheme of things as I am. Its passing on my birthday, as heartbreaking as it is, is simply a reminder that my days are numbered too. I must remember not to squander them. The next 26 years, if I’m granted them, will pass in an instant. Then I will be 71 as my mother is this year and looking back on 45 and wondering where the time went because I still feel that 19 year old girl inside.

You Just Never Know

It really is the little things.

I struggled this morning trying to decide what to use this platform to say on this somber day. Every adult has their own personal memory of what the morning of September 11, 2001, was like for them. My story is unremarkable. It was 7 a.m. mountain time, I was holding my then three month old son, Joe, and I turned on the television to NBC to watch a few minutes of the Today Show. I remember standing there looking at the footage of the first tower on fire, listening to the broadcasters, and being naively confused about what I was seeing. How could a pilot accidentally fly a plane into a building? A few minutes later I was watching the live footage as the second plane hit the second tower, and my confusion dispersed like the smoke rising into the clouds. The rest of my day was spent crying while watching the news footage, holding my infant son, and wondering what kind of world I had brought him into.

I was one of the lucky ones. I lost no one that day. I knew no one who was there. I was 1800 miles away, removed from the terror except for what I witnessed on television. On YouTube, I can watch that same video footage from NBC that I saw that morning. I watch it in tears every single time. I can’t fathom what that day was like for anyone in New York, anyone who was looking for a loved one, or anyone who lost someone. My still visceral reaction to the video tells me that those who were directly involved with the events of that day must suffer the reopening of wounds and the revisiting of horror on this date. I can’t even imagine.

I was out on my inline skates this morning as I struggled to think of what to say about the unspeakable. The sky was dotted with light clouds. The leaves on the cottonwood trees, now both green and gold, were whispering in the breeze. There were snowy egrets and cormorants on the river. I was at peace. There is nothing I can say about that morning that hasn’t already been said. I spent years reliving the terror of that day on its anniversary. This year, though, I’ve decided to approach it from a different place. I need to focus on something positive. I have everything in the world to live for, and I won’t waste a minute more of it being depressed about the things I cannot change. What happened that day was horrific. I will never forget it. But, recalling the paralyzing fear and stomach-churning agony of that day doesn’t change a thing. 2,977 innocent people died that day. I did not.

So, starting today and going forward, I am going to recall the events of September 11, 2001, pay my mental respects to those who sacrificed that day, and then find something positive to live for in the moment. Every life comes with a death sentence. To honor the thousands who died this day eleven years ago, I am going to hug my kids, take a walk, savor a piece of cake to help celebrate the birthdays of those who happen to have been born on September 11th, and cherish the now. We never know how life might unfold or how death might unravel our life. Take some time today to thank a police officer or firefighter. Hug those you love. Find something beautiful and life-affirming to enjoy. Savor what you have. Never forget, but live wisely because you just never know what a day might have in store for you.

 

 

File It Under “Typical”

The license in question…and, yes..the info on it is correct. Well, all of it except the vision restriction.

I spend most of my life in a perpetual eye roll. It’s probably not the best look for me, yet the habit persists. I used to be able to control it, or at least curb it during inappropriate situations, but now it’s second nature much like breathing or sucking my stomach in when I get out of a swimming pool. Just a bit ago, I found myself in an eye roll that was likely visible from space. The magnitude of my annoyance was so great that astronauts aboard the International Space Station could have seen the whites of my eyes if they had been looking.

Last Friday morning, I decided that my exercise du jour would be an inline skate. It was cool when I left the house, so I donned a light jacket with a pocket. When I got to the parking lot near the path, I loaded the jacket pocket with all the usual necessities….chapstick, my ever-present iPhone, my Nano (which has all my best music on it because I save the memory on my iPhone for apps), and my driver’s license because you never know when you’re going to be exercising alone, become the victim of some completely bizarre tragedy, and need to have your body identified. I skated a bit longer than usual, so halfway through my skate the temperatures had climbed and I didn’t need the jacket anymore. I wrapped it around my waist to transport it back to the car. When I got back to the car, I had just one thing on my mind. A venti Cool Lime Refresher from Starbucks. So, I peeled off my skates, slipped back into my flip-flops, and headed off to Starbucks in mental turmoil about whether I’d use my expired gold star card or not.

On Friday night, I was digging through my wallet looking for something and realized my driver’s license wasn’t there. I remembered I had taken it out for my skate, so I checked the back pocket of the jacket. The license wasn’t there. Curious. I then thought I remembered putting it in my purse (and not in my wallet where it belonged), so I began rifling through my bag. Not there either. I searched my car, the garage, the kitchen counter. I mentally retraced my steps. I scoured both the purse and the wallet again. It appeared to be gone. I told myself that I would give it the weekend to turn up and then call it quits and face the dreaded line at the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles.

Well, the dang thing did not miraculously hop back into my wallet over the weekend, so this morning it was time to face the executioner. Armed with my passport, a current credit card bill, and our checkbook, I prepared myself for the misery that is Driver’s License Hell. Amazingly, there were only 6 people ahead of me when I arrived. When I was able to approach my surly clerk (from what I could tell while I waited, there were 4 surly clerks and 1 pleasant one), I handed over my identification, took the vision test which I passed with flying colors sans corrective lenses courtesy of LASIK 6 years ago, and shelled out $21 for a replacement license. When I was finished, the clerk informed me that my license “should arrive via mail in 30 days.” This comment induced another epic eye roll. I have to wait 30 days to discover what hideous portrait the camera dude was able to come up with? Sigh. I took my temporary license (a flimsy 8″ x 4″ piece of paper) and went home annoyed at myself for losing the real thing. The photo on the license I lost was taken in 1999 when I was 31 years old. I liked that license because I looked, oh, about 13 years younger in it.

Well, I’m sure you know where this is going. This afternoon I got the mail. I opened an envelope addressed to me and guess what I found there. Yep. My original license, the one I lost, the one that wasn’t due for replacement for another two years. (This is when the eye roll visible from space occurred.) Some kind soul had found it along the path where it had fallen from my pocket and mailed it back to me. Typical. What does today’s experience teach me? It teaches me not to be so timely when I replace lost items. It also teaches me that the next time I skate I leave my license in my car. If some horrific tragedy befalls me while I’m skating, let the coroner ID my body. That’s his job anyway.