Peace: A Work in Progress

Last night at my women’s spiritual group, we had to do a writing exercise about PEACE. The board asked: What brings me peace? Do I believe that people, given a choice, would choose peace?

The two people in my discussion group gave adamant no’s, which surprised and saddened me. These are the kindest, gentlest women you’d meet, so their despondency marked a change in my understanding of people today and made me feel like sharing my response about PEACE.

In our 2013 lives we face many challenges but most of them are safe and fed people’s challenges. This means that they are important, but not essential. Most Americans are not poor nor rich, but rather in the middle. We have stable homes, our kids know they can go to school and graduate, we have enough food, and we know that our laws, insurance and societal moral fabric will protect us most of the time.

I would never say that this is always true. I would never say that our country is perfect or even exemplary. Personally, I would not point to the USA as the model of how a country should be run. Yet, all that said, I am very thankful that I live here, where I don’t have to worry about my or my family’s lives. My community is strong. We all have access to education. We walk comfortably down our street. We sleep without anxiety in our beds. We trust the people we meet and deal with. We know that most of our neighbors operate from a will to do good. This is a solid foundation on which to build a life.

That life may fall apart. The weather twists and howls. Prices rise. We may suffer a blow to health or lose a job. We may even be forced to leave our home. Sh$##t happens—all the time.

Yet the foundation, with rare exceptions, remains. And I have learned to take time each day to ponder that with complete concentration:

I am safe.
I am loved.
I am fed and sated.
I am clothed and bathed and warm.

This alone is wondrous.

Then there is all the rest that comes with being middle class: the culture of too much. Almost every group of things a person can have, we have.

My husband opened his closet the other day and with exasperation announced “I don’t have anything to wear!” And my daughter sitting next to him laughed. She saw the closet full of clothes and thought he was telling an ‘April Fools’ joke. She said, “Mommy, Daddy is being silly!” And I had to laugh too because I say the same thing far more than he does, and because we are silly.

We spend most of our chores time getting rid of things. How we amass them is something that hurts my head to ponder. But the truth is, we are crammed chockablock. In this era of cheap available stuff, we pretty much have it all—and that’s on half of what many consider a living salary and refusing to shop at places like Walmart.

 Help! My Stuff is attacking me!

OK, I’ll fess up–my passion for thrift shopping is one culprit. Can I help it if Boston offers a cornucopia of gorgeous second-hand stores?  Kid’s books and clothes, furniture, books, games, clothing, shoes, kitchenware, jewelry, bikes, sports equipment, and all sorts of vintage finds are just some of the things we can get cheaply and easily. And get stuffed.

Another conundrum of this age is that we are starved for time. We are a country on the run, where seeing friends is akin to thievery to ‘steal a few minutes’ together. In the good US of A, family-time is a label with little meaning or support. New fathers are lucky to get 2 weeks off; kids get holidays off from school yet parents are expected to work.

I won’t even talk about mail, and how many trees died to print useless super-saver coupons and replicate credit card offers.

Lots of bad decisions are made and bad people are not punished. As a nation, we suffer from acute politicitus (yes, I made that up)

Do I trust everyone? No. Do I think the government is great? No.

       

SOMETIMES YOU JUST GOTTA CRY IT OUT

Do I pull my hair out over issues that I can’t believe we have to live with, much less debate? Yes yes yes.

Yet, I am capable of peace.

Is this wrong of me? … In light of all the crap that goes on, I wonder if people might think so. I wonder if people might think me guilty of shucking the weight of the world. And perhaps, feel guilty of doing so themselves. I know I’ve been guilty of feeling guilty! (hmmm)

Yet, I am capable of peace.

The truth is most mornings I wake in…
1) a bad mood because I hate mornings in general,
2) a semi-alive state because I am a night person and I am almost always woken up early (aka any time before 8am) by my child,
3) creaky, because I am no longer a spry young-un.

 I always look lovely when I sleep

Yet, I scramble slowly up, shuffle down the hall blindly until I wash my face with warm water and slip on my glasses. Then I stretch. I do believe without a doubt that I’d be a different person, maybe even not alive, if I did not practice stretching. Each lift of the arm, each salutation, each deep breath rolls out tension. Rolls out each cobweb and creak and squeak.

Give me about ten minutes and I’m smoothed out. I can see. I can manage a smile. I can face the world.

Then, I stop and look inward to seek that banner that lists what I love, what I’m thankful for, what I enjoy and savor and appreciate. I borrow from my spiritual teacher Pema Chodron when I offer thanks each morning to these obliging old friends:

Safety,
love,
warmth.

Then, I give gratitude for my most essential gift:

I have another chance to be alive, to love my loved ones, to do my best, to make this world a better place in my little way.

I am here today. Yay! Cause for celebration. I get another chance this day. This present.

I woke up.

Literally, that was my change. I woke up. Once I simply assumed that I would unfailingly rest and rise, like the sun. But one auspicious day a lightbulb went on and I saw that waking up is an amazing miracle: Isn’t it cool that I get to open my eyes, that I get a beating heart, that I get a body that’s mine to move through the world in?  I get to hug my husband and kiss my daughter on her cheeks and nose and forehead. I get to see the new Spring flowers start to bloom.

Because one day I won’t wake. Or one day I’ll wake and look in the mirror like it’s any day in a row and that will be the last time I stare at my face. Then I’ll be gone. Chances over. No more time to try.

So I am thankful for today. I try today and today only. And in this way, I can feel peace.

May my lightbulb be your lightbulb.

My Sisters – A Valentine

All counted, I have nine sisters in my family. My two closest and dearest sisters are Marissa, my blood sister and Tara, my life sister. Both sisters augment my existence in very different ways and both sisters are essential to my daily happiness. I don’t want to imagine life without them. I love each of them dearly.

When my little sister was born three years after me I was given the job of looking after her. My mother tells that when Missa was a toddler my mother’s words to me, “Help her” echoed jubilantly in her little ears so that she went around parroting “help her, help her.” I never had a problem with that standard tax on elder sisterhood. We grew up close, sharing most things—a room, clothes, friends—most hours of our sprouting lives. We are undeniably different and I’ve always wondered what she would have been like without me. Without me to define herself against, what would she have defined herself as?

My sister does a lot that I could never do. She’s a nurse’s aide and—I find this harder to imagine—she loves this job. If I tried to be a nurse of any sort, I would leave pools of tears in my wake. She has three kids while I can barely see straight to raise one. That’s bravery and kiss-it-to-the-wind that my logic oriented brain can’t compute. Marissa possesses the thick-skin and steely stubborn genes that evaded me. These same traits can drive me batty even as I admire them.

Differences aside, I would do a lot to keep us close. My family makes the 4 hour drive up to Vermont once a month. I try to assess the patterns of her phone availability, as well as share mine with her. I try (try try) to recognize—before it’s out of my mouth—that my helpful advice in her ears is probably criticism. I take my auntie role to my niece and nephews seriously. If you’re ever up in Vermont and meet a nice, diminutive, black-haired lady named Marissa, you’ll see—my sis is awesome.

When I met Tara twenty years ago we were in many ways babes just hatched into the nest of Emerson College with all the other artsy, Broadway-bound, geeky fuzzy chicks. We thought that because we’d left one parents’ home we were all growed up. When we caught our sage teachers sharing winks behind our backs, we were offended. What we didn’t know was that we were on a course that includes many homes: childhood, college, singleton, decent salary, partnered, with kids to name the doorways most walked through. Yet we were the most dewy-eyed and wet-behind-the-ears as they come. It took my mother many hours, weeks and months of list-making, buying supplies and phone calls for her to handle my leaving home. I thought she was being very Sicilian. Ahhh youth. Now I know different. Now I can see what she saw.

At Emerson we thought ourselves the artiest of the arty; Tara with her shaved head and me in black-rimmed glasses and combat boots. We birthed a women’s art group that gave us opportunities to learn some good lessons. We wavered and circled, and leaned on other friends more. But as the years rolled out, over hills and down valleys and round long bends, we’ve always found a way to meet up in a parking lot or land with bags in hand for a brief, sweet interlude before she falls asleep, because she is the morning person. I’ll be talking and she’ll get that drawn out effect to her words and then she fades.

We’ve worked like blacksmiths hammering out the red gooey blob we began with. We’ve sweat and honed and somewhere during our baby-mama years we realized that we are as sister as sister can be. There is no other word for what we share. When you’ve been through the worst catastrophes and storms and you are on the other side still talking, that’s when you realize nothing can come at you that will break your link. That’s sisterhood. That’s trust.

I’ve also acquired three sisters, who came to me as presents through marriage. There are my husband’s two sisters, who I almost never see. The Foley family is from Dublin and once they got their degrees they scattered to the wind. I have always wished it was different. I’ve always wanted to share more of their lives, but that Atlantic Ocean is wide.

A happier sisterhood is what I share with Lora. Last year my brother married this Oklahoma girl after a couple of years of dating. When I met Lora I had high hopes that she would become another close sister. We met for tea. We share a zillion likes in common. I semi-secretly believe that my brother likes her because, although there are some major differences, she’s a lot like me. However, achieving this idyllic alliance has been more problematic than I bet on. There was the infamous couch incident.

There’s also contrasting lifestyle, which can be easily broken down into: they have a life (aka they have no kids) and we have no life (aka we have a 5 year old). Apparently, rarely the twain shall meet.  Yet, I admire Lora and am thankful that she sees my brother’s awesomeness, even if he never learned to clean. I have hope for Lora as a possible real sister one day; only time and distance from the couch incident will tell.

My last set of sisters hail from very different tribes came to me by that mark of modern life: divorce. When my parents divorced o so long ago they each married again and we gained two new step-families. My mom married an older WASPy dude and my dad married a younger Puerto Rican chica so you might visualize some of the differences. It’s the stuff of a sitcom for sure. Between these blended marriages came my distant sisters Nidia and Jessica, two young girls, and Meg and Erin, of our age group.

I could not imagine more varied sister experiences than with these duos. Yet they are all great women who I’ve been happy to spend a small amount of time with over the years at the odd family gathering big enough to merit their travel from Florida and San Francisco to New England. Basically we see each other at weddings, sashaying in our satin dresses, holding up skirts as we Macarena, clinking champagne glasses and escaping for late nights in diners to play catch up. It’s been wild watching them grow alongside us over the years and comparing notes of progress from teenagers to adults, kids to mothers ourselves. Our connections read like a pack of tarot cards in my head, one for each bi-yearly meeting over the past 20 years.

My sisters—parts of my tribe, submerged and known, cool and affectionate, distant yet sharing the most intimate of connections.

Yet… my sister list is still incomplete. I need to include friends who were sisters to me over the years.  We shared our New Jersey childhood as our area sprang up around us from old farms, fields and dump sites.  Most of our parents were immigrants, one skip away from their New York landings. We shared bathing suited summers at the pool and beach, skeet ball, cotton candy, Sicilian pizza and rollers coasters that Sandy hurled and left in the sea.

We shared bowling and roller skating to Led Zeppelin’s All of My Love and Dire Straits’ Roller-Girl. We pretended we were afraid on Monday dates nights so we could experiment with closeness to the other sex. We played a lot of Pac Man and passed through the sieve of dozens of teachers like awful Mrs. Ledbetter. We tried out for cheerleading although we weren’t friends with anyone on the squad and so of course were not chosen. We admired and feared the learned Dr. Godbold.

We strolled down cobbled Amsterdam streets and splashed our bikes through rivers of puddles. We practiced guttural Gs, and danced and split jars of peanut butter. We shared lofts and dresses and art school and writing groups and umpteen rehearsals. We sold theater tickets and were volunteer ushers. We were adventurous and flirty, young and mischievous, and our dating life generally sucked.

We’ve stayed tried and true. Or our glue dried and our pages pulled apart. But the parts that touched still show signs of where we pressed. There were sisters I met like flash floods; we were together intimate and hourly, until the torrent of our sharing burnt away; the DNA of those cinders is coded with some of the best times of my life.

My sisters, close sisters and blood sisters. Far and distant and lost sisters. The sisters who I ended badly with. The sisters I want to know better and the sisters I’ll never understand. And the sisters yet to come, still waiting farther up along the way. Happy Valentine’s Day. Love to you from my dot on the map, traveling all of the routes to the separate strands of your lives.

–I don’t own any of the photos I’ve taken of sisters from the web. Thanks to the people who took the pictures and posted them on the web.