Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Journeys and Dreams

A few nights ago, unable to sleep and reflecting on the many people I know who are at crossroads, I found myself thinking about a poem by Marty McConnell, a performance piece, really, titled "instructions for a body."  I love this poem, which is unusual for me because (shhh - this should not be something I admit so freely) I am generally undone by poetry.  I can see where the beauty and power is, but it is more as an analyst than as a experience.

I could quote the entire poem, but this section, the ending, is what is ringing in my ears just now: 
...tell me you don't matter to a universe that conspiredto give you such a tongue, such rhythm or rhythmless hips, such opposable thumbs – give thanks or go home a waste of spark 
speak or let the maker take back your throatmarch or let the creator rescind your feetdream or let your god destroy your good and fertile mind
this is your warning / this your birthright / do not let this universe regret you.
From the poem "instructions for a body" - © Marty McConnell, 2005
The use of the word "regret" instead of "forget" seems especially telling, and brilliant.  Don't we all, when we are considering our lives, worry that we will be forgotten?  We plan, and assess, counting our accomplishments and considering our legacy.  But, in truth, I am ever more convinced that it is better to live the smaller life that doesn't trample others in our wake, to make the hundred (or the one or two) small gestures each day that are kinder, more generous, more giving than we are required to be.  Leave the world, or the person you just encountered, no worse for your having been here, and strive to leave it all just a bit better.

What had me sleepless, surprisingly enough, was hitting a milestone in a journey I'm on.  I am three-quarters of the way through a year of reclaiming my body, and I've now lost 75 pounds.  The number shocks me.  I'm very proud - my weight has been the thing that kicked my butt for years.  I've far exceeded my original goal.  But this progress is something that feels more like coming home than like a rebirth or makeover.  The truth is that the entire time that I was carrying all those extra pounds, I felt as though I was inhabiting someone else's skin.  I keep repeating this story, and I'll share it here, too.  My good friend Kat and I were once talking about being overweight, and she said out loud what I'd often felt.  When you are heavy and your body feels foreign to you, it seems perfectly logical to think, "ugh, people think I look like this."  Which is, of course, utterly illogical.  You do in fact, I did in fact, look exactly like that.

But as the weight melts away, the woman I've always known was in there is the one that the world sees, too.  It's good.  Now that part of me is in alignment - I look more like the person I really am.  Which, very effectively, erases my body as a reason or excuse that I can hide behind.  And that, I think, reminded me quite forcefully that my life's guiding principles, which for so long were tangled up in the responsibilities of caring for and providing stability to someone I loved, are now all mine to choose.  What a realization to accept, both the acknowledgement that for years they were not, and the scaryexcitingfabulous fact that I am choosing, right now.

This next connection is tenuous, but I believe it's real - just as I was the woman carrying all of those extra pounds, I am also the woman who must own all of my choices and actions.  The ones I highlight on my resume, and the ones I wish I could wipe away.   "People think I am like this," is as illogical a thought as "people think I look like this," but I am relatively certain it guides some of my (and maybe some of your), decisions.  We are "like" the actions and choices we make.  My life, my legacy, will be the sum of all of those actions and choices and blunders and moments of small triumph.  My life will not be the life I intended to live - it will be the one I actually lived.

Which is why I was sitting in my pretty little house late at night, unable to sleep, hearing the words "dream or let your god destroy your good and fertile mind" on a slow, rolling repeat.  Here it is, people - life is short.  Dream.  Dream often, in small ways and in wild and improbable ways.  Find the path your feet are meant to be on, and walk it.  You can take breaks if you need to.

Best to all who happen this way.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Musings on Pathfinding

While searching for a computer manual this weekend, I came across an envelope filled with images and memories I had not thought of in a long time.  Photos of me as a child, and as a young woman, photos of my father and my mother, my sister, brother, cousins, aunt - simply a small stack of images that translated instantly into memories.

I also watched the film "Being Flynn."  It is adapted from a memoir, and it's a worthy film if only for the performances of Paul Dano, who plays Nick Flynn, and Robert De Niro, who plays Jonathan Flynn, Nick's alcoholic father.  Jonathan is a big-talking and big-dreaming unpublished "writer" who has been long absent from his son's life but who, in the course of the film's events, suddenly bursts into Nick's world and becomes a presence he cannot ignore.   It's not an easy film, more difficult if you're the child of an alcoholic who, like De Niro's character, never quite achieved the arc that his brilliance might have afforded him.  As I watched Jonathan Flynn rage and rant on the screen, as I watched him live through humiliation and loss of his tenuous place in the world, it reminded me too much of my own father in his darkest hours. De Niro was brilliant, and difficult for me to watch, his brown eyes watery with liquor, his hair and beard scruffy and wild.  He hits the perfect notes of hubris mixed with bravado and, ultimately, crushing defeat.   The movie doesn't end in darkness, and for that I'm very thankful.

In the envelope of photos, there was also a letter that my father wrote to his father in December of 1984.  My grandfather never left Scotland, and the letter is written on one of those tri-fold airmail packets (do they still exist in this time of text, tweet, email and Skype?).  My father had been estranged from his father for decades, and I remember being very surprised when I first read this letter, years after my father's death.  In it, he sketches our lives at that time, with an attempt to emphasize the positive - think "Christmas letter."  My brother was in college, his first year.  I was not.  I was 20, and I was married (it seems impossible now) to a very nice young man, and working in a drug store, and in this letter my father's regret about those turns in my life, about what he had not done for me, especially, is evident.  He was such a proud man.  In the very restrained language of this letter I can feel pain and regret between the words, and I want to tell him that it's okay, that everything worked itself out, that those early missteps in my life just set me on a slightly different path.  I want to tell him that the combination of Scottish and Irish stubbornness and resilience has served me well. I did tell him all those things, after my mother died.  But I wish that I could tell him again now, that I could be assured he can hear me when I'm sending my thoughts out into the ether.

And as I read his letter, crosslegged on a cushy chair in my office and library, I remembered that time so vividly.  I remembered the early days, in 1982 when my mother came home from the hospital, when she needed so much care and her recovery was only a murky possibility.  I remembered helping her with physical therapy, or with a hundred small tasks.  And I remembered running up and down the carpeted staircase in our farmhouse when I had felt restless and scared and trapped, running until I was breathless and my hair was standing on end, alive with static electricity.   

My parents have been gone from my life for so long that I've simply lost some details.  I don't know, and would like to know, for example, if my affection for simple gentlemanly gestures (having my car door opened or my dining chair pulled out) is because my father did those things, because he did not do those things or has absolutely nothing to do with him at all.  And occasionally, my inability to confirm a memory is maddening.  After spending too much time trying to remember, I'll realize that the answer simply doesn't matter.  We arrive in our 40's or our 50's with the accumulation of our history and our choices behind us, around us, and the specific reasons for such preferences matters not much at all.  It's what we will do going forward that matters.  So I try to sort them out, the efforts to remember that seem in some way to question why I'd made a choice separated from the efforts to remember that seem rooted in my desire to remain connected to people who are no longer alive.  Thus I realize that while it no longer matters why I felt so responsible for things at age 16, 18, 20, 40--it does matter to me that my confidence, my moments of courage, are in some great measure a legacy from parents who simply believed that I could do anything, could be successful at any venture I put my mind and muscle to, and who instilled that belief so deeply in their children that we, too, were compelled to believe.      

That belief is what I'm considering as I allow the words on the thin paper of this letter to provide a frame for considering the path I've taken from 1984 to 2012.  There is a corollary: in our house, we all knew what it is to be loved, and to love.  My father's words on this page, his quiet regret being expressed to the father he was long estranged from, reflect his love for me, for all of us, quite surely.  I'm making a new life for myself these days, and it is with all the wisdom I can muster that I'm choosing my path.  So today as I am drinking coffee, looking at the drifts of golden ash tree leaves that need raking and the house that could use a good cleaning, I am also simply awash in quiet gratitude and pride for my imperfect and riotously, gloriously dysfunctional family.  They are the smart, fearless, sometimes foolish, sometimes drunken and always big-hearted people who first taught me that life is to be lived, that home matters, that joy is everywhere you look, that pride does eventually need to give way to humility, that what we will face will not always be easy but it will be real, and that our kind of love is never (ever) conditional.   

Best to all who happen this way.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Notes on Grace

I'm writing essays these days, and a theme has emerged: I was born to, and have surrounded myself with, people who, though they may kick and buck and complain about this fact, do not give up on other people, on life, on relationships.  I've been writing about what it means to not give up, and how a choice that might look from the outside like defeat is really sometimes a more beautiful and complicated thing called acceptance.  And as I write, I'm reading both new-to-me writers and my old favorites, pulling both crisp-paged books and yellowed and much-bookmarked volumes from my bookcases.

One of the writers I am reading is Andre Dubus.  In his essays, he writes as a man badly injured in an auto accident, a man who feels as though he has lost so much of himself that he is struggling to even define himself as a man.  It is relevant to me for several reasons, as it was when I first read Dubus a decade ago, but also in a way that is new, because I am no longer the woman I was when I first read these essays.  Dubus' voice on the page, sometimes so raw it scrapes, reminds me that in every human relationship there are at least two participants.  Each has a voice, each has a perspective, and sometimes more than one perspective over time.  I love the way words on a page can do that, reach out and touch you across years and miles and distances, and then touch you in a different way when you bring a new self to the same work at another time.

The essays seem especially important as I think about the people in my own work, the people I know and love, or those I knew only fleetingly, bit players on the stage of my essay's drama, in the drama of the lives I've observed.  I'm thinking hard about being fair as a writer, about being fair as a person, about the enormous weight of accuracy when we tell these big stories.  It's something I've always wrestled with when I write nonfiction, and it is one of the gleeful freedoms of writing fiction.  And this balance, this accuracy, this fairness--it is something I sometimes cringe over when I read other writer's work and see lives laid bare on the page.  Yet -  this honesty and detail is generally what lifts creative essays or memoirs from wimpy to powerful.  When writers take risks and tell the truth wholly, the stories they tell benefit.  They ring with both truth-of-telling and the bigger truths of what it means to be alive and human in this world of ours.

I'm always interested to know how other writers handle this struggle.  Some are defiant, or simply do not acknowledge that there is a struggle  "I'm just writing it the way I saw it, that's why my name is on the manuscript."  Others are careful, and acknowledge the challenge, the risks.  Some writers are simply paralyzed by this struggle, and choose to write about safer material.  Mary Karr prefaced her book with acknowledgment and gratitude for her mother's involvement as she wrote the stories of her apocalyptic childhood in her memoir, "The Liar's Club."  For me, and many other writers I know, the struggle to decide which parts of any story are the writer's to tell, and which feel like a betrayal of trust or intimacy can consume many hours at the editing table.  And often some liquor.  The occasional coin toss.

The other aspect of Dubus' essays that is consuming my thoughts when I'm thinking about this work is his use of the word "sacrament."  I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and Dubus was an actively practicing Roman Catholic for most of his life.  The word sacrament has a very specific meaning in our faith.  Dubus uses it differently, to describe the daily rituals between lovers, and sometimes parents--the small and generous actions that express our belief in one another and the connections between us, even when we might be angry, frustrated, exhausted, desperate to run away to some imagined better place.  I cannot think of a word that expresses this idea more accurately, but I'm trying.  Because, like Dubus, I believe in those small rituals.  They might be as simple as making a meal for your lover, picking up after your has-been-told-a-thousand-times kid.  Or they might be as large as committing to care for your husband or your father who has become disabled.

Sometimes, language can be a barrier to meaning, especially when the emotional stakes are high and you're speaking over hurt, anger or a history of both.  It is why sometimes your mere presence, some small act of giving--a  phone call, a shared hike, a gentle touch, a house filled with the scent of baking cookies or simmering Coq au Vin, a repaired kitchen faucet--speaks more clearly than hundreds of words. Faith in the power of those moments is what defines them as the human form of a sacrament, connecting you to those you love more firmly than some jaded sense of responsibility, your legal commitment, your morality.

Sound heavy?  It isn't.  These are the moments filled with healing, with joy.  They are the small risks we take every day--I am going to love you enough to do this in spite of your flaws, in spite of my hurt, in spite of what may or may not be in the future.  They are the moments that, even and maybe especially in apocalyptic life circumstances, sustain normalcy and connection.

I'm going to be thinking about the people I love today, as I take a hike in Boise's foothills.  Best to all who happen this way!


Monday, September 17, 2012

The Cost of Softness

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place. ~ Kurt Vonnegut

When I was a girl, my mother once told me that the worst thing that could happen to a woman was to become "hard." I have often wondered what, exactly, she meant by that word, that phrase. I will never know for certain, because I was too young when I lost her to realize that this would be one of the moments I'd remember so clearly, and question so often. Maybe she said it more than once, maybe she said it often and my crystalline memory of that day is not real at all, simply the distillation of a stack of memories.

I am not a girl any longer, and I know that the struggle to stay soft in this world, filled as it is with struggle, with injustice and with senseless pain and loss, is a difficult one. It does not escape my notice that my inability to ask my mother this--because she died when I was not yet 25--is itself an example of the temptation Vonnegut's words are warning against, the temptation to harden myself against loss, and pain. Yet, somehow I was lucky enough or wise enough to avoid that temptation. I knew better, I know better, than to allow myself the tempting plunge down that slope of anger, and then bitterness and, yes, hatred.

How to stay soft, then, remains the big question. In the course of my life, I've tried a lot of methods. I took a good long run at the use of denial. This is not a tremendously effective method to ensure you are living fully, on the off chance you are considering it. While denial can be a very effective coping mechanism to get through something painful, or awful, it is not a life strategy. Denial consumes a lot of energy, and it turns out that living in denial results in a life lived in perpetual numbness more often than a life truly lived. I have said that I'm "lucky" not to have grown bitter. But that isn't accurate.

I've come to the realization that the only way I've truly found happiness in the wake, and sometimes even in the midst, of pain and loss is to risk feeling the pain fully. To be vulnerable to exactly, precisely the kind of pain we never want to feel. To love fully in spite of the risk of loss, and even in the midst of it. To give freely to those who will never know you helped, and to expect nothing in return. Seek the joy, and the beauty, trust that it is there even when it is so dark you cannot imagine it still exists.

I have listened to Brene' Brown's lectures, and read her books. They are based on her findings while researching vulnerability, the surprising relationship between vulnerability and joy, hope and love. I think "of course" or, more accurately, "well, duh." How have we missed this for so long? The only way to truly succeed is to be vulnerable to failure, loss, rejection and complete idiocy. To find great joy, you need to take risks. Sometimes big risks.

So, take the job that isn't as secure but makes your eyes light up. Have the baby, even if it is not the right time. Go back to school, even if the degree you want to pursue does not translate into a fatter paycheck. Pursue the love affair, even if you or your lover have failed at love. Begin to dance, or bike, or run. Write poetry or play the guitar--even though you are no longer young and you'll likely never "make" anything of your passion. Do it, risk falling on your face, and watch the joy flow into your life.

Know that the outcome could be a trainwreck. Don't be an idiot - don't leap without thought. Keep your eyes wide open, know the risks. If there is another human involved, do your level best to know that person is worth the risk. Be mindful, and choose deliberately. But do not let yourself be frozen in indecision. Take a deep breath. If your belly tells you to leap and your head keeps reminding you how much you could lose, leap.

That is what I take from Vonnegut's words. I'm writing essays these days about the things I've seen and experienced, the people I've known who risk vulnerability and, in doing so, create connections that simply cannot be formed in any other way. These essays will someday be a book that gives readers a glimpse of how the world changes each time one of us bravely steps into a vulnerable place. Writing these essays is difficult. I feel vulnerable as a person and as a writer--almost frozen in place by the weight of all that I am trying to put onto the page. I'm doing it anyway, because it matters enough to risk imperfection and failure.

Being strong is not the same as growing hard. Care is not the same as fearful avoidance. Staying soft means remaining open to the joy, love, happiness and beauty that lies just on the other side of a scary and brave choice. If you are over 30 and reading this and thinking that there is no point in wisdom if you can't use it to protect yourself, then you're exactly the person I hoped to find with this message. Yes, risking a painful trainwreck in your life becomes more difficult as we grow older. We now have actual memories of pain, and thus the risks have more weight, as of course they must. We understand the risk because of our personal experiences, and not via some other person's told-to-us-over-libations war story. And yet--what is the point of having amassed all of that knowledge and experience, all of those bruises and scars, if it doesn't help make clear that we must open ourselves to hurt and loss and pain, because those bruises and scars are the mark of a life fully lived.

The truth is that risking hurt and loss and pain is simply what it costs to put yourself next to a person you adore, in the circle of a life that fills you with quiet joy, in a world that is wondrous and beautiful more often than it is ugly, on the stage of a life that is unfolding in full, vivid color.

My best to all who happen this way.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Beautiful Imperfection, Reprise

I'm working on a book review.  The book is compelling and beautiful and flawed and messy.  One of the things I loved about this book is that the writer just will not be hurried in telling his story.  He breathes real life into his characters, infuses the sentences with the drama of their interactions, moves the story forward in the slow sweet time that it takes to unfurl.  And his confidence and skill keep the reader engaged, and reading, and eager to find the next gem of language or image or exciting plot turn.  I'm contrasting that against writers I know who can't believe that a reader might actually stay with the story, so feel compelled to sell, sell, sell their work.  Offer it up and then sit back, I want to say to these writers.  Breathe a moment, and let the reader find your work and discover the wonders in the pages.  

Once again I'm reminded that reading and writing teaches me how to live.  

To live well is to live fully in the moment, stay in *this* moment, and stop trying to anticipate what the next turn or twist will be.  If this moment is a beautiful one - bask in it.  If it is a difficult one, then gather your strength and march on through.  But don't waste your life wishing for the next great thing, or hurrying through today's imperfection to get to an imagined better tomorrow.  It doesn't work, and we soon grow numb not only to the difficulties of today, but to the beauty that is all around us, all the beautiful imperfections of our lives.

Many of you will know that I have been working on my own beautiful imperfection this year.  I'm interested in the bombardment of messages about body image in our lives, especially for women of a certain age, of a certain size, in America.  It's a tough one for me - I have been heavy (I am still heavy!), and I know the biting discomfort of feeling judged for your waist size.  For me, size is not a determinant of worth as a person, of value as a human.  But I have to be honest and say that I feel better when my body is a strong and healthy version of itself.  It is simply easier to achieve strength and health when weight is within a rock toss of what the weight charts say is healthy.  So this year I'm remembering that I feel most beautiful in motion, in activity, in the simple joyous experience of moving my body through water, dancing across an open space, biking along a river or up a hill.  As I recall, before I fell off the wagon as a runner to become a caregiver, I even felt beautiful right after running.  There are limits, for hell's sake - it's gonna take some sort of moratorium on gravitational pull before I feel beautiful running.

Thus I am working on my body, and on my weight.  In doing so, I'm once again confronting my habit of delaying life while waiting for perfection to happen.  Or, to be more accurate, while trying to engineer perfection.  This means that while I'm waiting for (or trying to engineer) the perfect time, the perfect moment, the perfect me, the perfect weather - life happens.  Some of you will want to write me and say "No, no, you're being too hard on yourself..."  Shhh - I'm not.  I'm not scolding myself, I'm acknowledging that this is a habit of thinking that gets in the way of my living.  It gets in the way of me having all the joy and love that my life might otherwise hold.  I'm trying hard to jettison that habit.  And if you're reading this and you feel a twinge of familiarity, join me.  

So despite the fact that I'm still gloriously, beautifully imperfect, I drove my trusty Explorer across Oregon, loaded with women and dance gear, and competed with my belly dance troupe.  Wearing, I kid you not, sequins, glitter nail polish and hair extensions.  It was the girliest thing I have ever done, and it was scary and pretty damned fun.   

Here's to road trips and weekend adventures, to dancing on stages and kitchens and backyards, to impromptu bbq's, bike rides and lazy hours on patios and decks drinking the libation of one's choice. Here is to all the life we can fit into each day, and all the laughter, love and joy we can find on our journey.

Best to all who happen this way!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Honoring Ordinary

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity, of faith. . ." ~ Brene' Brown

This idea fills me with something I have been missing, a sense of reason or an organizing principle.  It it something I have been struggling to understand, something I could not give words.  And, as a result, I now have a tiny crush on Brene' Brown.  They are pretty words, to be sure.  But what makes them resonate so deeply for me is that as I'm working on writing essays about the experiences that I shared with Jeff in his battle to keep the life he wanted so badly, I've been unable to give words to the absolute peace and grace of his acceptance, and how it was not, is not, anything like giving up.  Acceptance can coexist quite beautifully with a fighting spirit, and it did in Jeff, and in me.  Brown's research frames it perfectly for me, and things simply clicked together, the last turn of a Rubik's cube solved.  Watch for an essay on this, it's too big for a blog post.

There are at least six examples from Brown's work that moved me.  But I want to focus on something more immediate, and more relevant to anyone reading this.  From the transcript of Brene's TED talk in Houston:
In this world, somehow an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life.  We miss what is important on the quest for the extraordinary, when in fact it is the ordinary moments that hold the most joy.  Embrace vulnerability by:
  • Practice gratitude.  Be thankful for what we have.
  • Honor what is ordinary about our lives.  
  • Experience joy and love. 
This is simply true.  We chase all the wrong things, are encouraged to identify all the ways that we are extraordinary and "work 'em for effect."  But it is the threads of similarity that tie us to others that matter most, not these flashes of extreme talent or brilliance or beauty.  It is how we connect with others, eye to eye as humans, that matters.  It is empathy, not sympathy.  Love, and not merely admiration.  Joy, and not merely existence.  Humility and not hubris.  Focus on these and the rest will fall into place.  Your life work will assume the rightful place in the world.  More importantly, you will have real joy, and you will have love.  It may not look exactly the way you had planned - but planning for joy and love is not really on the agenda.  This is a process that must simply be lived.

All of this means self evaluation.  I've practiced gratitude most of my adult life.  It has been a part of me since I was in my early 20's and thanking God and the universe for the people who fell into my life and gave me a helping hand.  But these days, how am I doing on my own path?  How many ordinary moments did I embrace this week?  When I imagine my future, as I consider the options for my future, how many of my choices are colored by a desire to find a more extraordinary life, and how many are more simply grounded in creating a life that might make me more vulnerable, but more happy?

Which leads me to discussions of my own vulnerability, the need for risk-taking.  One of the worst habits I have is the habit of perfectionism.  I also have the ability to strive for excellence, which is quite different.  In some areas of my life (my work in technology) I am able to balance the habit of perfectionism, chiefly because deadlines are deadlines and you just have to deliver at some point.  But also, my work in technology does not move my heart.  It is work, and I do it well.  I do it very well.  But it doesn't matter to me in the same way that, in contrast, writing does. And in those areas that matter most, self-imposed deadlines don't work.  In my writing, I delay stamping a story or essay as capital-F Finished, because it does not yet seem perfect.  By which I mean it does not yet represent the perfect version that existed in my head.  Get.The.Hell.Over.It is my advice to myself these days.

The other way that perfectionism interferes with my joy is in my relationship with my body.  I somehow drifted into a habit of delaying action/trips/dream-making, until my body was the way I wanted it to be - the right weight, fitness level, whatever.  This is not an easy thing to admit. Not everyone who knows me will recognize the truth of this, because I am relatively good at hiding this habit.  I have had a life that let me hide this habit - crowded as it has been the last five years with caring for Jeff and a truly inappropriate work schedule.  I have to own that I constructed this habit, this wall, and now I'm deconstructing it.  It's more difficult than I expected.

I have a deadline for that essay I mentioned, and I know which of my writer colleagues I will ask to give me feedback on it.  My body is gradually becoming my own again, and I am submitting a passport application so that this year I can experience at least one of the places that I've always dreamed of.

I am stronger than I ever knew.  I am more gentle than I ever knew.  I am as joyous as I have always known myself to be.  As always, I am grateful beyond measure for all of these gifts.

Be well wherever this may find you.


Notes on Brene' Brown:
Brown is a woman researcher who essentially fell into her life's work as a shame and vulnerability researcher.  She is a lively and animated speaker on the TED Talks series, and has written several books that deal with what she has termed Wholehearted living. 
One (fabulous) TED talk:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UoMXF73j0c

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I spent a few moments with one of my neighbors yesterday.  Eveyln has a progressive and terminal lung disease, given 2 years to live -- 5 years ago.  She is gritty.  She asked about me and then said she missed Jeff being out in the yard working on things.  "I knew how sick he was before the cancer, and his stubbornness made me stubborn, too.  I'm still mad at God about the whole mess."

It takes a lot of effort for a woman with progressive lung disease to say that many words.  Later I reflected that there was a time I would not have been still long enough for her to say them.  I'm glad I'm no longer that hurried.

I'm working on the outline and beginning pages of a memoir.  As I write sentences and paragraphs, and try to commit remembered scenes to the page, my heart sometimes hurts. As is often the case when I'm writing essays, I resist this discomfort.  I want to stop writing and go dig in the garden dirt.  And yet, there is an unsettled sense of urgency that drives me back to the page.  And there are the voices of people I love reminding me that I have a story that needs to be told.  So, I find myself digging pretty deep to find the precise, exact, story.  I've had this feeling before, this persistent and unnamed urgency, where the story or the wisp of memory is elusive and yet I know it is important.  It's a moment, as a person, where the uber-logical technical analyst person in my head is told to stand down and be patient.

I started out thinking that I was writing about the year that my husband fought cancer, and accepted death, and about the surprising lessons I learned while bearing witness to his wrestling with grace.  I thought that I had "context" that I would need to work into the book.  It would be important to relate that there had been 9 years before the cancer diagnosis that he lived with and fought myasthenia gravis, and to share how the effects of a back surgery and pain medications changed him.  I would need to delicately work in the details of anxiety disorders and chronic depression.  And I want to make sure that the joyous, funny, generous man with the crazy energy, the man I knew before all of these things happened to him, is alive to the readers of my story.  It would be important to say which parts of that lovely spirit remained until the very end.  Yes.  All true.  Nicely analytic and neat.

While I know that these considerations, as we say in discussions of writing, inform the writing, it seems to me that in the best essays and memoirs, they are more than context.  These details are more akin to the interwoven threads upon which the rest of the story is told - the warp and the weft of a life.  That's how I need to think of them, and it will be harder to write, but better.

This is my story, and it is also Jeff's.  It is also the story of us.  And the participants are gloriously and imperfectly human, and also gloriously and imperfectly infused with grace.  Perhaps, as I think these days, grace is given most generously to those who freely admit to flaws and foibles. Evelyn, and Jeff, and my family and the dozen other families I know that have been touched by loss in the last year.  Our story is not one of sudden and unexpected loss, it's the story of a longer war.  But it is also not all about loss.  It is, in great measure, the story of how unexpectedly beautiful and rich are the gifts of simply staying and doing what needs to be done.  How difficult, how tenuous and how lovely

Be well and joyous, wherever this may find you.