Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A place to deal

There is a sacred place in space and time. It is precisely where the ocean meets the sand, where the sun pierces the horizon turning the sky into a watercolor palette of perfection. Beginning and end, birth and death, joy and pain, sense and non-sense all meet in this place. Though its location is precise, it is also universal. This place could be anywhere. I know this place in my heart, in my soul and in my bones. Something tells me you probably do too.

I stood in this place yesterday evening and watched the fiery orange glow of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico. The salt from my tears was bittersweet alongside the lingering taste of ocean in my mouth. I stood there this morning after having meditated in solitude on the dark, pre-dawn beach with the nearly full moon illuminating the surf, and I felt the sun's energy rising up along my back.

I was on Florida's West coast for one of my company's annual meetings. This was a business trip like none other. Normally I wouldn't find myself crying, or swimming in the ocean for that matter, on a run-of-the-mill company gathering. But yesterday one of my colleagues, V., fell to the ground suddenly while we were in the midst of playing relay race-style team building games on the beach. She began to have a seizure. Another colleague, a former EMT, stepped in and stabilized her as best he could until the paramedics arrived. Roughly three hours and three cardiac arrests later, she passed away.

Surreal is the word that continues to find its way onto my lips. How to comprehend that one minute someone is standing there, laughing, alive, animated, and then seemingly without warning, they are gone the next? How to be the one to call that person's loved ones and how to be that loved one who had to fly across the country to a place you don't know to "claim" everything you knew to be true? How do you deal?

I dealt in the ocean. I couldn't get in the water fast enough after the medics wheeled the kind, talented, admired and adored V. away. I craved Mother Nature's embrace in the form of rolling surf, salt and sand. My internal clock brought me away from our grieving group at precisely the right moment to watch last night's sunset, and it woke me at just the right time to experience the calming ritual of my morning yoga practice on the beach at dawn. In these moments in this place I began to wade through all the emotion of the previous hours. Being present for this heartbreaking turn of events, grieving the loss of V., feeling a powerful connection to people I've related to in almost exclusively a professional capacity before now, feeling a connection to certain people in my personal life that surprised me as well. . . It is a lot to take in and certainly will take more time to process, but process it, I shall. Deal, I shall.

Experience has taught me that if you sit still, quiet down and let your heart guide you, you will find your way to navigate any experience or situation life presents you. You will know if you are best served seeking solace in nature, in a trusted loved one or in your faith. You will know instinctively who's embrace you want to feel around you to be comforted. You will know how to help yourself. It is within us all.

In loving memory of V., I wish you all peace and comfort.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pulling at the heartstrings

Though most of my musings thus far have centered around my marriage and divorce in some capacity, that experience was not the only one to pull on my heart in the last few years. While that relationship was coming undone so was my father's health, and truly, his life, in just about every capacity. But coming undone doesn't mean falling apart, it doesn't have to mean destruction. Sometimes that is the case, and sometimes it is a catalyst for needed growth and change. Sometimes it is just a question of how you look at the situation. A year ago tomorrow my father passed away.

In the end it was cancer that took him, which was almost ironic given the string of maladies that had plagued him before "cancer" even became part of our daily dialog. A long-time sufferer of diabetes and hepatitis, my father was not the picture of perfect health by any means, but for the most part, he managed to live his life and work hard. When he was told that his liver disease, a byproduct of the hepatitis, had advanced markedly and would require a transplant, it sent him into a downward spiral mentally and emotionally that ultimately marked the beginning of the end. From start to finish, that final chapter took some two-and-a-half years, included countless hospitalizations, an attempt on his own life, two amputations and a rebirth of his soul. It was grueling, it was inspiring, it tore our family apart and it brought us back together. And just when that happened, just when my father finally seemed to find peace and become a much softer, gentler, more loving being, he was diagnosed with end-stage cancer and passed away not quite three months later.

No small coincidence, since there are no coincidences in life, or so some would say, that cancer has reentered my daily dialog again, just in time for the one year anniversary of my father's passing. This time it is early-stage, small and controllable, sitting in the chest of a treasured friend. Yesterday she had a lumpectomy and hopefully today she will go home to recuperate and resume her active life. Will her cancer be her wake-up call? Will it bring about change in the areas that need it most and prompt her to reevaluate certain decisions and situations in her life? Only time will tell. Personally, I have every faith that she will come out of this stronger, healthier and happier, that coming undone will spark beautiful forward movement in time, but we each have our own path to walk down so ultimately she will decide.

And that is what it comes down to for me: making a decision. I could choose to be sad and stay in a broken state over the loss of my father, the loss of my marriage or any other perceived loss in my life. Or I could choose to embrace the gifts that come from these situations. I reflect back on what transpired with my father and it brings a smile to my face and a feeling of warmth and fullness to my heart because I know that in the end, he really began to work out some of his negative karma and was in an amazing place. No matter that his health, finances and mobility were severely impaired. He had love in his heart, kindness on his lips and his family by his side. I held his hand, kissed him goodbye and prayed as he took his last breath in this particular life. I saw him at peace, truly. So I choose to hold on to that and it makes me happy.

My first grade teacher introduced me to the wise, beloved euphemism, "when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade". And that is what it's all about. Take what you are given and make the very best out of it. Learn all you can. Cultivate gratitude, patience, compassion or whatever other virtues are to be had. Find the vantage point that allows you to see the beauty, the good, the value of any given circumstance and hold that in your heart. It makes for a much happier way of being than the alternative.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Family Matters

Mother. Father. Children. Throw in a couple sets of grandparents. Maybe a few aunts and uncles. Sprinkle in some cousins. Isn't that a family? That definition doesn't work for many and certainly never worked for me. Even as a child, I was pushing the boundaries of a traditional family. I instinctively knew I couldn't possibly get everything I needed and wanted from my immediate family unit. I considered my mother's best friends my aunts despite having a few biological ones as well. I felt so wholly comfortable and part of families that I had no blood connection to that I spent as much time with them and trusted them as my own relatives. It isn't to say that I didn't or don't have close relationships with my family, but we are a small group and it seems that it is in my nature to want to be part of a bigger family tree. I can't help what I was born into but I can plant my own seeds. And so I did.

I have been "adopted" into quite a number of families, sharing in the good times and bad, the birthdays, the holidays, the milestones. I love the members of these special, beautiful clans with all my heart, just as they have opened their hearts and homes to me. We've already touched on the fact that I'm nuts for kids, but there are some kids in particular, children of my dearest friends, who I love as if they were my own, and I would absolutely do anything within my power to support, protect and nurture them. While I was married I was part of a huge Latin family who's tree had so many branches I lost count, and I absolutely relished in it. All the "tias and tios", the "primos" everywhere we went. It's no wonder I'm still so drawn to that culture and their men! And there is this immense sisterhood that I am blessed to be a part of. . .a group of sensational, inspiring, beautiful women from such a diverse array of backgrounds that have come together to form a family unto ourselves. My soul sisters, and for a girl who grew up with a brother as her sole sibling, it is really an immense treat to experience!

Last night one of my sisters raised a glass of very special wine that she selected for our family in honor of the sentiment I just shared. With tears of joy and gratitude in her eyes, she spoke of the family she was born into, spread out geographically and emotionally, and how it is this family that we have all consciously chosen to create and nurture that makes her feel at home. My heart swelled because I truly understood how she felt. Another one of my sisters shared that it was only in becoming a part of our family that she truly found herself since for all her years prior she had been so strongly defined by her role in relation to the family she was born into. I get that too.

Family is what you make it, what you want it to be. We are not all born into the Leave It to Beaver family that was once the touchstone of our society. Many of us have very strained relationships or deep-seeded issues tied to the parents, siblings and relatives we grew up with, while others have truly remarkable connections to these people in their lives. One is not better than the other. It is our karma to be born into these different situations. It simply is what it is and then it becomes your choice as an individual to decide what you do with that experience. And let us not forget to look beyond our immediate line of sight and take time to honor the human family bound together by the universal energy that exists within us all. This is at the core of yogic teachings, and while it may not be the easiest lesson to grasp for some, I personally believe it to be true and strive to act accordingly.

One family. One love.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Independence Day

Rather than a BBQ and fireworks, two things that I thoroughly enjoy, I crossed the Gulf to Mexico for an extended 4th of July this year and celebrated my very own version of Independence Day. Not terribly patriotic insomuch as the USA is concerned, but very true to and supportive of my own self, the country of me. You see, though I travel often for work, which entails many flights, meals and hotel stays solo, this was a solo travel for pleasure. Admittedly, I was not entirely alone. Dear friends of mine who live far away finally decided after 13 years and 2 children that it was high time for them to get married in the Catholic church. They'd had a civil wedding many years ago, but he only recently became Catholic. Since it was very important to them to formalize their union in this way, off went a group of close friends and family for a beautiful getaway in Riviera Maya, Mexico for some fun, sun and an oceanside wedding.

There is a degree of irony that the first solo trip I took post-divorce, was to a wedding. The weekend prior I was partying it up in South Beach, living the single fab life to the fullest, and the next I'm off to honor marital bliss. Adding to the irony, the other wedding guests were composed of about 90% married couples and we were staying at a beautiful resort full of couples and families enjoying their vacations alongside the turquoise waters and warm breezes of the Mexican coast. So for the intermittent chunks of time that I was not with my friends and/or doing wedding related activities, I was one of very few people that I encountered doing just about anything solo. When I checked in there was a slightly puzzled look on the face of the receptionist when she confirmed that I was traveling alone. The handful of times I strolled in for a meal on my own at one of the bountiful buffets the server would politely inquire if another guest would be joining me. It was an odd sight, apparently, for me, a young woman amidst a resort full of people with their people, to be alone.

In reality, many people choose to travel alone, even if they have a significant other, family or friends to join them. For some, it is extremely pleasurable to strike out on their own and have an adventure or just relax. Whatever the reason, the attraction is having space and time to do what you want to do without worrying about meeting the needs of others. I must agree that there is something to that. My married friends with children really envied the afternoon I spent lounging on the beach and eating lunch at 4pm while they'd been doing the family thing. I loved it as well, along with the book I read cover to cover, the giant bed I had all to myself and the room without overflowing suitcases and clutter from the kids. I was able to appreciate that, just as they are blessed with the love and incomparable bonds of their families, I am blessed with incomparable self love and independence. These qualities allow me to enjoy an experience such as this trip rather than wallow in the pangs of sadness that do occasionally strike when I find myself longing for my special someone by my side.

Let me be real here. . . Swinging the balance in this direction took work. For a while after my separation I had a really hard time being around couples, even the couples who happened to be great friends and showered me with love and support. I found it much more comfortable to be with just the girl half of said couple, or better still, my single girlfriends. And the friends with kids, oh boy, that was another tough one. I'm a kid magnet. I LOVE children and have this uncontrollable urge to engage them whenever they are near. Everything in me wants to be a mother, and it is perplexing to some that after 6 years of marriage I did not have any children of my own. It is easy now to see why that didn't happen, and frankly, I am glad. But it did take some getting used to for me to be around my friends with kids and not be outright jealous and sad that they had the thing that I want most at the very core of my being. I remember being brought to tears while visiting one of my best friends in her beautiful home, complete with handsome husband, adorable infant, cat and dog. . .you know, the "happily ever after" package?!?! The thing is, I know better than to draw conclusions based solely on outward appearances. I know firsthand that this particular couple has fought hard to nurture the beautiful relationship and family that they have today. And I know too that there are moments when they envy my single life just as I envy their married one. In this case, I don't think a little shot of envy is such a bad thing. It reminds you to keep a little balance between what you have and what you would like to have. It gives you something to strive for.

So what am I striving for? Right now, what I want to continue to do is explore and embrace my own independence. I would like to grow increasingly more comfortable with solo travels and adventures because I absolutely intend to keep seeing the world and enjoying myself whether I do it alone or not. My plan is Europe in the fall! Also I'm going to continue going nuts over the absurdly adorable children my friends keep popping out and relish every moment of it. Being Auntie Jess is a blessing of its own and a role I'm honored to play. I'm going to live my life, fully, freely and with wild abandon. That is what makes me happy, right here, right now.