Eulogy for Beauty

IMG_3918She had asked me long ago to write this, long before the thought that it would be imminently necessary, amidst practical reminders from her that, of course, one day it would be necessary. 

I told her I was honored.  That I would write it. And then I filed her request deep in the recesses of my brain, where I thought it could stay for a long, long time.  

My children’s grandmother, the woman who was my mother-in-law, passed away on Saturday, 23 September 2017.  Today I spoke these words to her family and friends.  I share them here today so that my children will know just how much I love their grandmother, so that their father knows just how much I love his mother, so that her family and many friends know just how much I love her.  

I take no credit for these words.  Her life inspired them, yes, but I don’t remember writing them.  One minute the screen was blank.  The next minute this.  She had a hand in this.  They are her words.  I am grateful she allowed me to share them.  

“Looking around this room today, there is evidence, ample evidence, of a life well-lived.

“Family, friends . . . and friends who in the capacious and loving aura of Mary Farias felt like family.

“Colleagues.  Neighbors.  Fellow parishioners, of course.

“And acquaintances.  The waiter at her favorite restaurant.  A cashier at the store down the street.  A mother she only just met at the playground.

“Mary Farias truly embodied the notion that a stranger is simply a friend you have yet to meet.

“So, how does one person cultivate such relationships?  How does one person extend their reach and hold gently such a wide swath of humanity?

“It’s simple, really.

“Time.

“She spent time.  She made time.  She made you feel as though you were worth her time.

“Because you were.

“She wanted to know what you were feeling.  How you were.  What you were thinking and why you were thinking it.

“And this came from a place of genuine interest.  From a desire to connect with you and learn from you.

“You see, in this world where we are running–running here and running there–Mary Farias slowed everything down.  Asked you to sit, to stop running.  Because she knew this was important.  That this was everything.

“Because when you stop running and reach out your hand, open your arms and your heart, you discover our purpose as human beings, why we are here in the first place, why we are here of all the places we could be.

“It is to love.

“Love, to Mary Farias, was a verb.  It was action.  She was action.  Whether she was cooking for you, shopping with you, helping you find what you needed in the library, asking you about your day or telling you about hers, she expressed her love.

“Her love for people.  And her love for life.  This life.

“She saw life for the gift it is, and she honored that gift by moving through this life with dignity and purpose, her grace and her wit and her beauty surviving under oftentimes extreme pressure.

“This week much of our family’s conversation revolved around what Mary would have wanted.

“When I look out at all of you here today, I would say, “This.”  This is exactly what she would have wanted.  The people she loved, the people she touched, to be here together, sitting next to one another, holding onto one another and stopping for a brief moment to consider what all this means.

“Thank you all for being here today to honor a woman who was feisty, bold, inquisitive, and in many ways so ahead of her time.  A woman who endeavored tirelessly to understand and to be understood, who loved and was loved.

“The legacy of Mary Farias, the legacy she leaves behind is in each one of you.  She planted it there . . . possibly without your ever realizing it:  Spend time.  Listen closely.  Hug tightly.  Persevere.

“She is in me and she is in you.

And since you know Mary Farias, you know it is truly the only place she ever wanted to be.”

 

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An Invitation to Sit

I will often advise students when writing a narrative or a reflective piece to start in the middle of the story. There is a certain power to cutting right to the point.

So, here goes.

“Ho.”

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Two letters and what I would loosely call a word hurled toward me on a beautiful summer afternoon in a playground in the city I call my home. With my family and a family friend. While I was playing frisbee.

By a group of middle-school boys.

Ho.

I have spent enough years on the planet to have had the opportunity to be called many things. Having survived middle school myself, the range of insults runs the predictable gamut.

But “ho” is new.

And having to explain this to my children even newer.

But it is my reaction to the word that required the most careful deconstruction.

I have taught my children to walk away from bullies, to disempower them by ignoring them.

But I am not a child. I am rather a grown-up. And a mother. And a teacher. And this group of boys was not unlike any other group of individuals who in a group is compelled to mask their insecurities and frustrations and pain, collective and individual, by lashing out at others.

I could have lashed back. I could have walked away. But instead I walked toward them. Sat at their table. Told them who I was and most decidedly who I was not.

They were disarmed and thus desperately continued their diatribe with all they had, descending into vulgarities that belied their young years.

But I did not move.

And neither did they save for one young man who initially went to another table but then promptly came back.

I spoke to them . . . gently. And I continued to hold them accountable for every word they said.

I refused to move.

And my family watched.

And my sons had questions later. A lot of questions.

Why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you just walk away? What was accomplished by sitting with them? Why do you care?

Because they are children.

Not mine but still mine.

Because one day these children will become men.

And because sitting at the same table, literally, is the only way anything will ever change.

House to Home

We buried St. Joseph right in the front as we were supposed to.

We scoured Walmart for sage and burned it in the four corners of the house.

We have cleaned, decluttered, decluttered again, and lowered the price . . . twice.

And still our house hasn’t sold.

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It needs cosmetic touches, to that I can attest.  And for some who may desire a more contemporary open floor plan, the 1900 Victorian cottage rooms I find cozy may translate to an expense if not the proverbial can of worms that comes with knocking down a wall or two.

The kitchen still features what I can only assume are sixty-plus-year-old cabinets and cannot boast the most up-to-date layouts photographed in multi-page spreads in cooking magazines.  And yet if you ask around, you might find that some delicious meals have come out of that kitchen.

The bathrooms have fully functioning sinks, toilets, and showers, as my family’s relative cleanliness on most days can testify, though there is nothing particularly luxurious or high-end anywhere in sight.

There is no driveway, no garage.  But in twenty years, I have never not been able to park in front of the house.  With just eight houses on this dead-end street tucked off the beaten path of one of Newport’s most historic, most beautiful neighborhoods, the only people who ever find us have to be looking for us, and sometimes even then, only if they’re lucky.

Why it has not sold remains a mystery to me.  The part of me that believes in fate sometimes thinks that perhaps where we are going next isn’t quite yet ready for us.  The mystical part of me believes that maybe the house isn’t entirely ready to let us go.

Whatever it is, like everything else that has perplexed me, challenged me, caused me angst, I believe eventually the answers will reveal themselves, that this waiting, this limbo will one day make sense.

A good friend of mine told me recently to simply relax and enjoy the summer here–that people pay exorbitant rents to summer in this very neighborhood, walking distance to downtown Newport but still quiet, just three blocks from the water and the most stunning sunsets, perpetually bathed in the smell of salt water and fresh air.

But our family does not need a house, ideally located as this one may be.

We need a home.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again . . . and Again

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The way she looked at him took my breath away and sent me rooting for my camera.

The way she talked to him reminded me I probably shouldn’t be eavesdropping.

But there she was, an embodiment of a 17th-century woman from Massachusetts serenely tending her garden.  And there he was, an exuberant 11-year-old boy I occasionally feel was born far too late.

She spoke to him of her vegetables, the progress of her radishes, and how she was looking forward to the harvest so she could “slice them thinly and place them on buttered toast.”

He listened, soaking in her words, completely present in her moment and in this time.  He replied, “That sounds absolutely delicious.”

And he meant it.  To him, from her, though he had no prior experience with radishes on or off buttered toast, she spoke a truth that was alternately familiar and intoxicating.

Whether she broke character at that moment of connection and became a person who found him simply a sweet little boy out for the day with his family at Plimoth Plantation or remained a character out of place and from another time who found in my son a kindred soul, I do not know.

What I do know is that the softness of her eyes, the gentleness of her posture, the mystique of her words elicited from him what I know to be the best in him.

And every time someone can see what I see in this beautiful boy,  no matter in what century they may happen to reside, I can exhale.  A little bit more. And intentionally.

Climbing

A few days ago I woke up and knew it was time.

Time to put fingers to keyboard and start to write, start to move through this phase of my journey in the same way I have negotiated so many other moments.

Nadine Gordimer famously remarked that “writing is making sense of life.”

So, tonight I begin to make sense of this life of mine and write about divorce.

Divorce is all around us, if the statistics are to be believed, and it is and was certainly all around me.  My grandmother, mother, family members, friends, colleagues.  But as much as one human being can appreciate and empathize with another’s experience, it is not until you are in the throes of it yourself that you begin to truly understand.

Six months into the process, I most certainly cannot proclaim to be an expert nor do I yet have words of wisdom to impart.

What I do have is six months of learning and, fortunately, now, just as much hope.

17972018_10210696807670594_2708914811719925191_oThree weeks ago today, for the first time, I climbed a mountain–a small mountain, but a mountain nonetheless.  The boundless metaphors I encountered on that journey paled in comparison to that moment in the car, driving forward and back to my family, when I realized I had done something I never before thought possible and that there actually and still resides within me a strength sufficient to keep climbing and now to start writing.

For them, of course

But also for me.

 

 

 

 

A Twelve-Year-Old’s Response

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My twelve-year-old has recently become a master of the monologue.  Any subject can get him going—preteen angst, the perils of middle school, having to take out the trash, the fact that it’s Thursday.  Occasionally bringing me to tearful laughter, his curmudgeonly tirades are almost unfailingly accurate. 

So, his take on the election, I knew, would be especially edifying.

He listens but also puts all he garners through his own well-honed critical filter.  He sees and therefore thinks and communicates clearly, and conversing with him on subjects that step outside the realm of the occasionally coarse purview of twelve-year-old boy gives me hope. 

He was disgusted and sad and angry on Wednesday morning.

But what he was and is not is confused when he says the rancor of this election season and its attendant results prove how very far we still have to go—as a nation, as people. 

A twelve-year-old who sees clearly.

And a mother whose hope has been renewed. 

To My Graduate

10Today, for many people, will feel like a finish line.  High School.  Done.  I made it I did it.  Another hurdle surmounted.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you what I have learned about so-called finish lines.  They don’t exist.  This you may already know.  You know so much.  But just in case you don’t, it’s true.  There is no such thing.  Because once you pass through what the rest of the world would term a “finish line,” you are immediately onto your next race.  And that, I’m afraid, is how many people see this journey we’re all on.  Getting from Point A to Point B.  Rushing to get there, often, and forgetting that nothing—no destination, no accolade, no piece of paper–is worth more than the journey.  And nothing on the journey is worth more than the love you give and the love you are brave enough to receive.  You have achieved a milestone today, not unlike many you have already achieved, and for that I am incredibly proud of you.  I hope today you can feel pride, too, for your accomplishments, yes, but also for everything you have done to make this a reality.  This is not something everyone can or will do.  But you did.  Draw strength from that fact.  That you could do it and chose to.  You are ready to do such incredible work in the world, to be an inspiration without even trying.  Continue this journey of yours, crafting it to be precisely what you want it to be.  Embrace who you are, and know you are worthy and capable of great love.  Congratulations and all my love forever.