Another Rosh Hashanah, more Sharon Salzberg…Begin Again

Tonight is a very auspicious time to blow the dust of this blog and post.

Once again, we are in the Days of Awe, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And tonight, I saw Sharon Salzberg speak about her new book (and got my copy signed!)

Last year at this time, I did this post about how we can always begin again. That is the basis for many Buddhist and secular mindfulness practices. And last year, I was reminded by an Instagram post of Sharon Salzberg’s.  (it was right after Scott’s workshop. He just had an AMAZING book come out, called  BIG LOVE. Go buy it! It. Is. Fantastic.  And Sharon’s book has “Love” in the title.  No coincidences….)

If you’ve never heard her speak–especially in person–she is very down to earth. She doesn’t get all heady or philosophical.  She speaks in practical terms, tells stories to punctuate her points, and often gets the laugh a comedian would get. Just by sitting up there, being, well, herself.

I find it both enlightening and comforting at the same time.  She embodies such wisdom, and she does it in a way that sparks the feeling in me that I, too, can do it.

Tonight, she was talking about her newest book,  Real Love.
And she said:
“Love is not a feeling.
It’s an ability.”

Of course, we all have feelings of love. But what she is saying is that it is not SIMPLY a feeling. Loving, the action, is a skill we can cultivate and nourish.  Choosing love, doing the hard parts of real love-whether with a partner, a child, friends, whoever-is a behavior. If we want to live in love, we have to get very good at the *behavior* of love. Choose it again and again, even when it is not easy.

Especially when it is not easy.

This applies all the time, but the Days of Awe are a particularly good time to reflect on how we love. How we love others–but more importantly, how we love ourselves.

I have a big stack of books to read. I have been on kind of a bender after not buying books for a long time.  I have a few I’ve started, some I have not yet cracked open.  In golf, when you want to let someone get ahead of you on the course, you let them play the hole you are on. It’s called playing through.

This book may just play through that big stack.

L’shana Tova to all, sweet year, a year of presence and discovery. And always remember that you can begin again, every moment.

 

 

When Doing Nothing Is Doing Something

I wanted one thing this New Year’s Eve: quiet. relaxation. Nothing to do.
Luckily, the best friend wanted the same thing.
We drove just shy of two hours away, to a small town, with a small historic inn that has a spa attached.
Yup.
There was a package: room, bottle of wine, and spa services. We brought movies and junk food. Paid for an extra night, so we didn’t even have to drive the day we went to the spa.
What a blessing to be able to do such a thing. I am truly grateful.

We both had a massage, and then a facial. And then we sat on a comfortable sofa in the spa, sipping hot tea, mostly silent. Occasionally chatting. Our phones were in a locker. We had nothing to distract either of us. We had just the tea, and the comfortable silence.

I can only completely relax when I’m not at home. It’s not that I don’t love my home; I do. But there is always something I could be DOING at home. Laundry. Cleaning out a closet. Re-arranging the pantry. Mind you-I don’t often DO those things, but I could be. I only feel totally relaxed when there is literally nothing expected of me.

And New Year’s Eve was one of those days.

The Inn was having a party-the usual, heavy hors d’oeuvres, drinks, music, watch the ball drop. Twenty bucks-such a deal! And there was literally nothing I wanted to do LESS.  Once we were done at the spa, we went back to the room, ate the dinner we had cleverly procured before going to the spa (so we didn’t have to go out), and watched the movie Postcards From the Edge, in honor of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (RIP, both).

Bliss.

The next day, when we were checking out, the young girl at the desk asked how our stay was. “Lovely,” I answered, smiling. “Did you go to the party?” she asked, as she printed out my receipt. “No!” I said. She looked at me, half startled, half confused. “Sorry,” I explained with a chuckle. “it’s just that we came here, purposely, to do nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

“Sometimes doing nothing can be better than doing something,” she replied with a smile as she handed me my receipt.

Her comment stayed with me. It was sweet and friendly and I’m sure heartfelt, but my mind argued with her.

And here’s why.

Doing nothing IS doing something, in particular when we *choose* to do nothing to recharge our energy. That’s radical self-care–although it shouldn’t be–to intentionally do nothing.

When I first started going to my acupuncturist, over fifteen years ago, I remember at one appointment saying to her: “I was exhausted, but I had to get everything done before I let myself take a nap.”

Her response has stayed with me all this time. It was kind, yet curious, gently pushing me: “Isn’t that backwards?”

I didn’t understand what she meant. Because I had been well-socialized, as most of us have, to PUSH PUSH PUSH. Never enough. Never finished. Always do more, more, more. No, it’s not backwards. You do not get to take the nap until you get EVERYTHING done. As if that is possible.

But now I do. It took a long time, and I miss the mark a lot. I have residual guilt about self-care sometimes. After decades of pushing myself, of never letting myself really relax into self-care, that makes sense. But now the guilt is no longer in charge. It’s not making my decisions. It’s something I notice, and it makes the choice of doing nothing, on purpose, to take care of myself….that much sweeter.
That much more precious.

So try it, if you don’t already let yourself. Try doing nothing, as *something*, solely for the purpose of self-care.

I don’t think you’ll regret it.

#missingAmy

me-amy-as-wedding

(Amy and me, at another friend’s wedding, 7 days before she died.)

 

Tomorrow, it will be 17 years.

I got the phone call from someone who didn’t really know Amy, so when he was acting strange, and told me to sit, and told me “Amy died” (his voice breaking), I didn’t have a clue who he was talking about. I would never in a million years have associated him with her. I had no reason to be concerned, and I wasn’t.

He didn’t know her maiden name, or her brand-new married name, so when I said, casually, “really…..Amy who?” all he could manage to get out was “Your Amy”.

Your Amy.

My Amy.

In all these years, and all this writing I do, I’ve never found the words to convey to you what she meant to me. She was my best friend, yes. She was like a sister, yes, especially because neither of us had a biological sister. She was my person-the one I went to when I was in need, the one I went to when something was, as she would say “awesome!”. She was, as Carrie described Samantha in Sex and the City, “my friend. My family…..my insides.”

Yeah, no…. still doesn’t do it. Anyway.

I miss her every day. It’s not the acute, suck-the-breath-out-of-your-lungs shock and awe show it was when she first died. But let me be clear: this kind of grief doesn’t go away. It may dull, chronic…it may not be the first thing on my mind when I wake up, it may only show up acutely on days like today, when I’m so aware of the date tomorrow. But it is there nonetheless. My loss of her is ever-present, it has been woven into fabric of who I am.

It changed me. In two very fundamental ways, ways that I’ve been reminded of since the election. Because I’ve had some similar feelings since the election, and as luck would have it, here we are just over a month later at her death anniversary.
Before I share these, let me be clear about something: I’m not grievous about the election because “my candidate” lost. I’m not grievous because I think things can’t change, or get better. I’m a social worker, which means “agent of social change”. Things are always changing.

I’m grievous because of how divisive our country and society has become. I’m grievous because when a huge portion of the country is devastated, and another huge portion is popping champagne, there is something gravely wrong. I’m grievous at how badly I see people treating each other, how much fear and hatred and distrust has been unleashed. That feels like a death to me. I believe people are basically good, and I’ve seen a LOT of not-good lately.

So here are the two fundamental ways that Amy’s death changed my life:

Firstly, when you experience someone who is young and vital and (we thought) healthy just literally drop dead, it can rattle you to the core. There one minute, gone the next. I have been feeling pretty rattled since the election, and the ensuing chaos. I have felt….disconnected. Listless. Like there is nothing to hold onto that feels familiar–and all of these things were things I felt when Amy died. And back then I learned–the hard way– to take nothing for granted. Not the presence in my life of the people I love, not the privilege and rights I’m so fortunate to have, not the way I see my own country and society, not the notion I have about people’s goodness. It can all change in an instant.

The second thing I learned, the yin to the yang of the first thing, is that every great loss opens the possibility for great blessings. That is not some Kumbaya bullshit, it’s not spiritual bypass. I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything. But it’s true, at least for me. When your heart breaks, it breaks OPEN. And there are things on the other side of that that we cannot even fathom. When Amy died my world went dark for a long, long time. People tried to tell me all of the trite cliches: “she’s still with you,” “you will always have the love you shared,” “she’s a part of you,” “you’ll always have your memories.” And those were all true. I didn’t want to hear them, but they were all true.

And then some.

In the seventeen years since Amy died I have mined from that devastation so many gifts I can’t even name them. I’ve opened my heart more and more, connected to my work more. Loved more, and harder. Taken risks I would have never taken before. There is an indescribable quality to my life, a presence, a vitality, that was not there before my loss of her. Sure, some of these things might have happened if she hadn’t died. I’ll never know, of course. But I know this: when I feel myself disconnect from myself, all I have to do is picture her fairy-tale wedding, and then four weeks later the same people (plus a few hundred more) at her funeral. Standing room only. And I remember: It. Can. All. Change. In. An. Instant.

I’ve seen something else new happen since the election: I’ve seen people wake up. Open their hearts more. Start to question, want to work towards making things better. Want to work TOGETHER towards making things better. Anyone who has known me a long time knows that I pontificate about this all the time (have for eons)-everything matters. What we do–or don’t do–makes a difference. There are a few politicians, and then HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of us. There is a consciousness arising as a result of this election that might not have otherwise shown up. And it is shaping up to be pretty fucking gorgeous.

I call Amy’s dying ‘her last and greatest gift to me’. Would I rather have her here? DAMN SKIPPY I would. I would do anything to have her back here. But I can’t. What I can do is accept the gifts that keep showing up as a result of that loss.

Would I rather have a country that was not so rife with conflict and misery? Would I rather have had an election that we had NO concern a foreign country hacked? Would I, personally, rather have a more progressive President-elect? DAMN SKIPPY I would.

But what I can do, is accept these gifts that show up in the middle of the shitstorm. I hope you will, too.

I miss you, my dear friend. Forever and always.

Rosh Hashanah: Begin Again

Rosh Hashanah is today (and tomorrow)–the Jewish New Year.  It’s a religious holiday-a Holy Day-not like December 31.  It is in fact when the new year in the Jewish calendar starts.

So it’s not about champagne and noisemakers and a countdown. It is, however, about marking the passage of time, but also taking stock of where we are in our lives.

One of the other “High Holy Days”–the holiest–is in ten days. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  And although it’s often billed as one whole day of Jewish “confession” for our sins, it’s a much deeper and richer tradition. Yes, it is about apologies, and forgiveness, and looking back, and looking forward. But also so much more. It’s a meditation, if you will. The “Sabbath” of the year-where we stop. turn off our phones, and in whatever way is meaningful to us, we have sort of a sit-down with ourselves.  Let’s take a look at the year, shall we?  The good, the bad, the ugly. The joyous. The frightening. The courageous, the compassionate, the lessons learned.

The days in between are referred to as “The Days of Awe”. I try to take that literally, myself.  Awe is everywhere, all the time. We don’t notice (because we are looking at our phones, mostly).  But before technology, there were other ways we distracted ourselves from the everyday sacred. I love the Days of Awe as a reminder to pay attention.

So, Sharon Salzburg, a renowned American Buddhist teacher, posted this on her Instagram the other day:

begin-again

and I reposted it, and wrote:”and again….and again….and again….”

This is what meditation is, essentially.  A return to the breath. it doesn’t “end”. it is a lifelong practice of noticing when your attention has strayed, and beginning again, with the breath.

and I used the hashtag #unlimitedstartovers.

A startover (I just made that up) is not a do-over.  It’s not even a fresh start.  It’s not trying to erase the moment before, or any moment before this one. It’s simply….well, a return. Return to the breath. Again and again. Begin again.

So today in services, the rabbi gave his sermon, and he addressed this notion. (all below attributed to him is my paraphrasing, my understanding of what he said.)

the bad news, is, we fall off. (the actual definition of “sin” is to “miss the mark”. )

The good news: when we realize it, we can *return*.  The proces of atonement for Yom Kippur is, in Hebrew, Teshuvah. Which translates into: To return.

When he said that, I thought: “Begin again.”

And I thought again that it’s not the same as a do-over, or even a clean slate, because we BRING OURSELVES WITH US.

Teshuvah.

To return.

Begin again.

Not do over.

We cannot erase what our past contains. We cannot erase anything about the past; and quite honestly, I would not really want to. The good, the bad, the ugly….the joyous, the courageous, the confusing. The growth.  The return.

And as I sat there in services, my heart said:
Bring it with you,
Your fear, anger, confusion and shame

Bring also with you…
Your essential goodness
Your courage, compassion, clear-seeing and capacity for love

There is room for all of it
We can honor all of it
And still choose to affirm our life
That does not mean
To get rid of pain
For pain is as valid as joy

The rabbi spoke about the state of the world right now, how overwhelmed so many of us are. How helpless and hopeless we feel sometimes. And that the antidote to that is community. It to come together and connect.

The opposite of joy is not anger/fear/confusion.
It is disconnection.
Numbness.

This past weekend I had the tremendous honor of taking a workshop with Scott Stabile,  and he said that when you open your heart,
You open it to more pain….
But also to more joy.
Often we recoil from the pain
Shut back down
Go back into hiding.

And then we miss the joy.

There is a saying in recovery saying:
“Don’t quit before the miracle”

Since we don’t know when it’s  coming
That is truly an invitation to never quit.

The miracle-which may not be what we anticipate, or wish for; hell, it may simply be the ability to hold the pain-could be just around the bend.

The miracle could be coming in the next moment.

Begin.

Again.

A healthy and happy year filled with joy and presence and discovery to all of you, Jewish or not.  As we say: May You Be Inscribed in the Book of Life. L’Shana Tova.

autumn-woods-sunset

 

the time when I mastered technology that a 3rd grader could use…to make a sample guided meditation

Okay, so I’m with the times. I have a smart phone, a tablet, and a laptop.   I am also fond of telling stories–particularly to those considerably younger than I am–that make me sound like a 100-year-old woman with a gray bun on top of my head, knitting in a rocking chair.

“when I was a kid, not only did we not have cell phones, we had a ROTARY phone. With a cord!”

“we never had an answering machine, until I got one in college and then my folks got one at home.  If you called and we weren’t home…you just had to KEEP CALLING BACK.”

“When I was in college, I typed my papers. On a typewriter.”

“when I was younger, in my 20’s even, we didn’t have cell phones. If you didn’t know where to park, were late meeting up, or were changing venues for an outing…you just had to WAIT until your friend got there and THEN go….”

I guess I would call myself a late-adopter….I am usually among the last to get things, like a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet.  And I tend to only use what I think I need-I’m sure there are thousands of functions on each of those devices I’ve no idea how to use.

I do use the recording device on my phone, though. For a lot of things: verbal journal entries, things I don’t want to forget to tell someone.  Last year I found a meditation I liked, so I read it into the phone recorder so I can listen to it. So that I can follow my own voice in a guided meditation, so I don’t have to memorize it or read it.  And I was with a friend, and she said: “can you send me that?” And I was all: “huh?” And she (older than I am by ten years, just for the record) hit the “more” button and SHARE came up and voila! I could email her the meditation.  (I’ve since made meditations for friends and family and emailed them off!)

So I wanted to find a way to put a sample meditation on here and on Facebook.  And I could not figure out a way. I know how to upload a photo, and I know how to make a video. But no mp3.  I toyed with the idea of making a video-even just focusing the visual on a still object while I led the practice. but I’m terrible on video, and that just didn’t feel right to me. So I asked some of my technically-savvy peeps if they knew how to do it.

They didn’t. The said it could not be uploaded.

My technically-savviest peep suggested SoundCloud. I was intimidated-would I be able to figure it out?  Would I have to call/email/text her, as I often do when trying to master technology?

Yup, I was. And nope, didn’t need any assistance. Signed up, recorded, and shared.

And here it is:

(photo creds: me. Yosemite National Park, June 2016)

 

 

Yoga On Wednesdays

(this was originally written on April 6, 2013)

I had just arrived, hadn’t even unpacked yet, when my father said to me: “hey…sometime this week, I’d like it if you’d teach me some yoga.”

“Uh…..sure,” I replied, willing my jaw not to drop.

My dad is not a “yoga” guy.

We were starting a family vacation in the paradise of Costa Rica. My brother and his family had arrived just a few hours before I had, and my folks had already been there a week. The house was made up of a main area (living room/kitchen/the ever-important wifi) and three smaller buildings, each containing an bedroom and bathroom.

I had just come down the steps towards the main part of the house when I saw the infinity pool. It looked like it dropped right off directly into the cove below.  I greeted my nieces and sister in law as they floated around the pool .The cove behind them was dotted with white sailboats and enclosed on three sides by lush mountains, and opened up into the Pacific Ocean. The view took my breath away; for a moment, all I could do was look at it.

costa-rica-cove

The excited voice of my niece calling to me brought my gaze away from the cove and back to the pool. I said hi and opened the sliding glass door, glad to be enveloped in air conditioning. It was hot.

“Hola!” my father said, in the loud, jovial tone with which he always greeted me. My mother was at the other end, in the kitchen with the woman who worked there, trying to navigate her lack of Spanish and the woman’s broken English to discuss dinner.  She looked up and saw me and came over to hug me, a big smile on her face. “hola!”

And that’s when my dad dropped the yoga bomb.  I’d been trying to get him to do yoga for years; has a dozen (more?) chronic health issues and some of them revolve around injury or chronic pain.  He asked me about meditation once; when he was in radiation for prostate cancer, the doctor asked him: “have you ever meditated?” My father replied with, “what….did my daughter  call you?”  Though I think everyone could benefit from meditation, I advised my dad to avoid silent sitting. “I think your head might blow off,” I said, and sent him two CD’s of guided meditation, one Andrew Weil and one Deepak Choprah.  When I asked him about them, he said: “I put them in, and then I fall asleep”. “That’s okay, Pop,” I answered. “That’s good, actually. Keep doing it.”

For his birthday a few years back I contacted a yoga teacher that used to have a studio where they live; I used to take classes with her when I went to visit. Turns out she mostly did privates and Thai massage (passive yoga), which is exactly what I wanted for him. He has bad knees, bad shoulders, arthritis, spinal stenosis, and had just finished radiation. I was worried that even if I COULD get him to a gentle yoga class, that he’d injure something. So I bought him a session with Karen, and he loved it. (although he admonished me for spending money on him.) For a while he had her keep coming. I think to him, the Thai massage felt like a massage, or going to the chiropractor.

But he’d never done actual yoga. And he’d certainly never asked me to show him.

We decided to practice for a half hour before breakfast on Wednesday.

It was Wednesday morning, before breakfast. I could hear the roosters crowing, and the tropical birds cooing. The heat of the day hadn’t kicked in yet, and the breeze was divine.  We laid on beach towels next to each other on the cement, and I employed my yoga voice: instructive and soothing. “Allow your breath to deepen very slowly,” I said, pretending I was teaching a class of strangers or leading a group of clients, so that I didn’t feel self-conscious leading my dad through breathwork.

A bad knee and a bad shoulder limit the yoga asanas you can do to a very few. But for me, yoga is so not about asanas.  It’s about entering a space, stepping into presence and joy and peace.  I used my body and phsysiological changes to make that transition, but the poses for me are just that: a tool, a conduit to reconnect the mind and body, and remind myself of the sacredness of this moment.

When we were done, he seemed more relaxed.  He stood up, smiling, and thanked me. I put my hands in prayer position and said, “We have a way of ending yoga practice that is an expression of respect and gratitude.  It has a whole long explanation, but when I teach kids I simplify it: ‘the light in me bows to the light in you’. “  I bowed slightly to model namaste for my father, and he imitated me by putting his hands together in front of his heart and bowing.  “what’s the word?” he asked.

“Namaste,” I said.

“Wednesday?” he asked, earnestly, then laughed.

And that broke the yoga spell. I cracked up, and couldn’t correct him for a minute or two because every time I started to, I started giggling again. “yes, dad,” I said. “Wednesday. Because today is Wednesday, and you can only do yoga on Wednesday.”  And then I repeated: Namaste. And explained it again. And he bowed again, hands pressed together in front of his heart, and repeated it back.

That is SO my dad. A big goofball.  It used to piss me off sometimes, especially times when I wanted to be taken seriously.  But for that day I appreciated it. It must have taken him a lot to ask me to teach him yoga-he has always been the caretaker, and yoga is a vulnerable practice, and his body is failing him in a few ways right now. His usual MO is to press on, push through, just keep shaking it off. So I was both impressed with him and humbled that he’d ask me to sit in that vulnerable space with him for a minute, and even beyond that…let me take care of him.  It was a tender and bittersweet half hour, and it wouldn’t have been my dad without a little goofiness to break that spell of vulnerability.

Namaste….and may your Wednesdays (and other days) be filled with yoga.

 

me-dad

 

Kimberly: Endless Inspiration

me kim nyc

(that time we ran into each other in NYC waiting for our respective buses back to Baltimore)

I went to a farewell dinner for a dear friend tonight.

It was, of course, bittersweet: I’m so happy for her, she’s going on a grand adventure. She sold her house, and all her stuff. She’s not been working for a while now, and she is taking dog in the car and just DRIVING. Not sure where she is going to end up.  And I’m sad, for me. I sat holding her hand as she cried at the table for about five minutes, while we all held sacred space for her, in silence.  I’m sad she won’t be nearby anymore.  I will miss her dearly.

She is fifty-one years old. But you’d never know it. She has a youthful exuberance and luminosity that could end our dependence on fossil fuel. Never have I met a more light-filled, positive person. Especially one that has more reasons than most of us NOT to be.

I met Kimberly more than 20 years ago. But it was when I worked with her that I really got to know her. I ran an HIV prevention program. She has AIDS, and she was a part of our speaker’s bureau.  She is also an addict and alcoholic-coming up on 17 years clean and sober-and I used to call her my two-fer. Our program was aimed towards young people, and she could tell her story-both her HIV infection and her addiction-and have twice the bang for our buck with the kids. (she used to say I should pay her double the fee. I wish I could have.)

I heard her story more than a hundred times. I heard her tell it to middle-schoolers, to high-schoolers, to college students. To small classes of ten kids, to auditoriums of hundreds.  And every year I went to her 12-step home group to celebrate another year of her sobriety. Another year of her journey. Another year of one-day-at-a-time.

I could listen to her tell her story every day.

I wish I could post a video here of her telling it. I could probably recreate a good rendition of it, and type it out (and she would give me permission to do so!). but it wouldn’t hold a candle to seeing her tell it.: drawing in her energy, being broken open by her honesty, her vulnerability, her courage, and her commitment to telling her truth in service of not only keeping herself healthy, but wanting to make a difference.

Wanting to prevent another 19-year-old from getting infected with HIV. Wanting to reach kids before they picked up drugs for the first time. Or maybe wanting to reach them at a time when it wasn’t yet a problem, or they didn’t yet know it was a problem.

Kimberly can reach anyone with her story, her smile, and her tears. Her honesty is completely naked, unfettered. She doesn’t hold anything back. She doesn’t feel a need to-she’s beat so many odds, and she knows, really KNOWS, that all she has is today.

I once couldn’t find her before a program at some school, I can’t remember now. I went everywhere looking for her and found her in the stairwell, in the corner, looking up, her lips moving, mouthing silent worlds.  She gave me her signature giggle when she saw me. “I’m praying,” she said. “I pray before every time I talk. ‘Please let me say something that someone needs to hear today’.”

I listened to her story over and over. Every single time, there was some new revelation for me, something she had never included before.  (which just proves my big life lesson in 25 years of social work: we never know the whole story. Even about ourselves.)  And each time, I got teary as I watched her bare her heart and soul, so that someone else might not suffer the way she did.  So that someone else might not get infected with HIV. So that someone else might not end up homeless from addiction.  So that someone else might, as she said every single time, learn to “listen to your inner voice”.

“I didn’t,” she would tell the audience. “I could hear it, could feel it in my belly. But I didn’t LISTEN. I didn’t heed what my inner voice was telling me.”

A lot of times we drove together, or ate together before or after a program. We got to chat.  We began to connect. And at some point, we crossed over from a purely professional relationship to a personal one as well-still within the confines of our working relationship.  I grew to love her, to admire her, and eventually to be in awe of how she survived, let alone thrived, with all that she had been through. All that she still lives with.

At some point, I am not sure of the exact moment, maybe it wasn’t a moment it actually happened….maybe it was just the moment I realized it.  I envied her.  I am a social worker. I am the helper.  I am the one who keeps it together and runs toward OTHER people’s crises.  I help. I bear witness to the suffering and vulnerability of other people. Sure, there were people I was vulnerable with. But not an auditorium full of strangers,  no way.  I envied her ability, her willingness to share so much. To touch people that deeply-and allow them to touch her.

Once, when I dropped her off at her car, I said something that I often said. Some version of: “you amaze me. You are so courageous. What a miracle you are.”

She called me about two minutes later, before I was out of the parking lot. I figured she had left something in my car and needed me to turn around. I even took a quick look around the car before I answered. Nope. She said, “If you see that in me, you must have it in you.”

And I felt that envy grow.  Not so much to tell strangers my secrets, the stuff I only tell MY therapists and MY closest friends.  But the ability to be vulnerable.  To lay it all out there and not have to keep up the “I’m here to help. I have no needs” persona that so many of us in the helping professions adopt–even, at times, with myself. (it’s exhausting, by the way.)

I decided, that when I grew up, I wanted to be her.

And when I left that job, we became *real* friends.

We met for dinner, and I blew my wad. I told her about the parts of her story that I too identified with, including that I could never imagine sharing them with strangers.  Her first response came immediately, without thought. The expression on her face was a mix of surprise at what I was saying, and compassion for me: “But Bets….I still feel not good enough. All the time.  Just because I’m public, doesn’t mean I’m healed.”

That just made me love her more. It made me want more of her light to spill on me, to illuminate all the things I felt I had to hide.

That was ten years ago. And in these last ten years, I have used her courage as a template, as a beacon like a lighthouse on the foggiest night. If SHE can do it, I can do it.  I am not nearly the only one who feels this way, by the way. I know this because I hear the others in her life say the same thing. All the time.

She is literally the most courageous human being I know personally. I’m sure there are many courageous humans, but in my life she stands alone.  And her courage doesn’t ring loud, and she doesn’t toot her own horn. (like, ever.)  but if you ever heard her story, if you had any idea what she had to do just to get out of bed in the morning….if you heard her story and realize, as I did, that she should have died already…. about 50 times. She got diagnosed with HIV at 24 and got on meds in the 90s (which didn’t work very well to begin with). Her addiction meant not only getting off the meds, not only using drugs, but not doing the things you need to do to be healthy WITHOUT HIV, let alone with it: eating well. Sleeping well. Exercising. Having hobbies, a community, fulfilling relationships.  Her boyfriend was murdered in a drug deal gone bad.  She did risky, illegal things to get money for drugs.  There are so many reasons she should not still be alive, and yet not only is she living, she is one of the most “alive” people I know. One of the most present people I know. One of the most grateful people I know. One of the most honest and humble people I know.  She not only inspires me that I can heal my own wounds, that I CAN be “better”–she inspires me to want to heal, to want to be all that I am in the world. To not only find my voice, but heed it. To stop hiding.

Tonight as I sat at a table that ran half the length of the restaurant, with her family and other friends, I was painfully aware that this group was not going to reconvene in a few months after a 12-step meeting, in some other restaurant, celebrating her anniversary. There would be no stack of cards and piles of store-bought flowers that we always bring her. And yet, I felt so grateful. I felt so present, in her presence.  I remembered where I was, who I was, when I met her over 20 years ago, even when I worked with her 10 years ago.  I felt, in my bones, how knowing and loving her and being loved by her has changed my heart and my life forever.

It’s been changed forever before just like this.  Knowing, and loving someone-andlosing them.  In 1999, I got a phone call that my best friend-the person, at the time, I was closest with on the planet-had died. Out of the blue. Thirty-one years old, and married exactly 29 days.  Since that day, the day that the bottom of my world dropped out and my heart broke wide open, I’ve done my damndest to try to appreciate everything as much as I can. I fail a lot. A LOT. I have days, weeks, months where I’m cranky and down and anything but present.  I get mad over petty things and let them take over my mind.  Amy’s death is my deepest reminder to be present. My deepest reminder of how fleeting things really are. When I remember that call, that day, the fact that I never got to say goodbye and the last conversation I had with her was completely uneventful, on my cell phone in a Target parking lot…when I remember how swiftly and completely she was no longer physically here, I am called to find my breath.  I remember that moment when everything changed. I am called to try to be present. To look around, at the rain or the sun or the snow or the darkness, to the people that I have in my life, to whatever is happening in that moment. To be present.  Because you never know when that will all change. In an instant.

And when I look at Kimberly, I think: she was diagnosed with death, many years ago. And yet here she is, despite tremendous odds.  When I look at her huge, beautiful smile radiating at me, and think of all that she has weathered and the life that she has fashioned out of that suffering, all that she gives back to the world from her seemingly bottomless heart, it sucks the breath out of my lungs sometimes.

I will miss her being here. But she, even with this journey, ESPECIALLY with this journey, continues to inspire me to keep going on my own path. Keep peeling away the layers, walking through the fear to the love, and being the most “me” in the world that I can be.

Godspeed, my friend.  I cannot wait to see what your next inspiration will be.

 

me kim june 2016

saying–not good-bye. just see you later–selfie.