25 April 2007

A tail-wagging tale. ..

I often think that people who post nothing but video's or copy and paste the quotes of others, are just too lazy to write, but this video is well-worth featuring. This dog was nearly given away due to "mischief". Just think what might have been missed if this man hadn't take the time to see what was behind the mischief? You really do need to watch this...it's about so much more than a dog that can do tricks. What a profound lesson disguised behind a cold nose and perky ears. It truly is about a partnership. Sometimes God's best blessings shed a little hair, but they always shed a lot of light if we take the time to look.

Wouldn't you just know it's a Texas dog?

20 April 2007

A canvas splashed with friends...

"A friend may well be reckoned a masterpiece of nature." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson was right, of course. He knew what we all know in the deepest parts of our heart to be true. It is, in the end, about friends, isn't it? Of course it is.

My morning started with text messages, voice mails and a stubbornly ringing phone and on the other end of these text messages, voice mails and that stubbornly ringing phone, were my friends. How much I love them. How blessed I am that they refuse to stop leaving voice mails and take the time to text message me and tell me that I am expected to be here or there and that they will come and hunt me down should I fail to show up where my presence is expected. Oh, they can be such a pain in the ass! How fortunate am I that they are just that way.

I have a great family and I've written about them many times and I love my family but with family, well, they're just sort of "stuck" with me and it's my great good fortune that they are but with friends, it's not quite like that. I seriously know in my heart that I have been blessed with some hugely cantankerous, obstinate, mischieviously delicious buddies. Truly, these friends make my life the most fun!

"A gift, two years in the making!"

Yesterday, I had the wonderful pleasure of a visit from my friend from several years back. I hadn't seen Jimi since September 2003. He's kept in touch with me through the years and refused to give up on me. When this brilliant NYU-trained attorney slipped into my life back then, we could never have foreseen the wild twists and turns that were ahead of us, both individually and collectively. But thank God he didn't forsake me when the chips were down and no matter how many times he encountered my voice-mail or e-mails that went unanswered for a time, he hung in there and the bond we forged almost four years ago, has stood the test of time. Though Jimi lives in another part of the state, I've felt his support and affection throughout these past few years and he's easily one of the brightest men I've ever met and he's never failed to give me good advice and counsel, both professionally and on a personal level.

Two years ago, I made a huge announcement. Some people bought gifts. There were frames, more frames, wind chimes, pieces of art and some gift cards. Jimi gave me something that, at the time, I thought was pretty funny and never in a million years did I imagine I'd have the opportunity to take him up on his offer but, as it turns out, he was much wiser and knew that I wasn't making the best decision. I thought he was crazy. As it turns out, I was the one that was behaving crazy. When the time came, I called, he answered and made good on his gift. Thanks Jimi. I promise that should I find myself about to make a similar decision at some point in the future, I will not do so without your prior approval. You have my word.

Jimi popped over yesterday for coffee before attending to a meeting that brought him to our fair city. Last night, after his business was over and my meeting was finished, I picked him up from his hotel for dinner and we had such a great time at Elijah's. It was a celebration of sorts. The waitress who took our photo, and a few of our fellow diners, laughed as we explained what we were celebrating. I mean, it did sound kind of funny, now that I think about it, but to us, it made perfect sense.

We laughed and smiled our way through oysters (his selection, not mine), and fish & chips (mutual). We had the best time and hopefully he'll be back next week for a more serious meeting and I will get to play tour guide again. After I dropped him back off at his hotel last night I thought to myself how lucky I was to have these angels in my life.

We couldn't help but muse about where life had taken us in the past four years. So many things had landed us places we never could have foreseen back in September 2003, and I think we both felt darn lucky to have survived ourselves. More than that, I sat there and felt gratitude that our friendship had survived. What's interesting, is that you never know how pivotal a few "chance" meetings in your life can be. You never know when those paths will criss-cross and and where a few hair-pin turns might take you and then one day, there you are and sometimes, it's fascinating to go back and connect those seemingly unrelated dots. We connected dots last night over seafood, dining in view of the twinkling lights of the Cape Fear River, in downtown Wilmington, less than a block from where we first met a few years ago. There we were, coming around again and smiling on top of it. Thank you for a lovely evening, Jimi, and a most fortuitous gift.

This morning, I awoke to a text-message and a sweet and funny E-mail. Sharon texted me to call her. NOW!!!! The first e-mail I opened up was from our other partner-in-crime, Mary Ann, who told me I was having lunch with them downtown and that I'd better be there. Again, courtesy of two angels who must sometimes feel as if they have more contact from my voice-mail than with me but who never, ever give up on me. Thank God for them both.

I walked into the Courthouse Cafe and the warm embrace of Mary Ann who, though outwardly a sporting dark hair, Sharon and I suspect she has blond roots. She just likes to give off the appearance of being a savvy brunette. We know better though, don't we Sharon?

It was just like old times! Only better!!!!!!

Clearly, we had the best seats in the house and how great it was to see Matt and his wonderful staff!

These two women have been so incredible to me for coming up on seven years. My gosh, I think I must practically be a native and I swear, they are my anchors. They have both walked beside me in good times and challenging ones and I'm just so very honored to love them and honored to be loved by them. They remind me how rich I am and I smile every single time I think of them, which is often. It's uncanny to me how friends seem to know when you need to hear from them. I have come to believe that the magic of such relationships, the intrinsic intermingling of personalities - is one of the finest intangible coping devices from a most benevolent Creator and one of the most vivid expressions of that Creator's love for each of us. When I look at Sharon and Mary Ann, I know God loves me because He sends his best angels to light my path. These two qualify as spotlights with exquisite candlepower.

After a wonderful lunch, I popped over to check in on my compadre Vanessa and ran right into another one of my best buddies - Kathleen. As it turns out, Kathleen and her husband Richard are celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary! Cheers! Kathleen and I did the only thing that made any sense in the middle of the day - we headed for Port City Java and celebrated with highly caffeinated beverages! It would have been wrong not to!

After a nice visit with Kathleen, I ran into yet another special lady who has grown to mean a great deal to me and always gives me wise advice. I had the wonderful chance to chat with Susan who had sailed in from Bald Head Island for the afternoon and her timing was perfect! I love this beautiful lady. When we first met last fall, I was drawn to her immediately and today reconfirmed for me why. She has a radiant charm that is infectious. Time spent in her company is a pleasure. We made plans to get together soon.

And then there is my Vanessa. Never a dull moment with this woman! Rare is the day that goes by without contact between us and some days, I'm quite sure we just communicate telepathically. I find that both scary and comforting but mostly comforting. :-) How dull my life would be without Miss Vanessa to stir it up. Hey, what can I say? She's family.

And last but not least, Billie, my special friend of almost nine years, is flying in next month to take Katie and me on a special adventure.

We're both excited! All of this job-hunting can be just grueling and exhausting, so Billie has invited the Parker women on a retreat and we couldn't be more thrilled - we're headed to the Outer Banks for a few days and not a minute too soon!

Now, you have to understand, Billie has an ocean front place just outside of Tampa so you would think going to the beach wouldn't be that big of a deal for him which, of course, raises some questions. Billie can walk right outside his door and voila, he's at the beach!

But Billie has never been to the Outer Banks. He rented a cool beach house near Rodanthe and was kind enough to decide that Katie and I need to hang out with him. So of course, we had to say yes! I've been after him for years to visit the Outer Banks and he decided it was time.

Billie will be flying into Wilmington on 5/18, Katie will be taking Amtrak from Penn Station a couple of days before that and once everyone is assembled in Wilmington, we'll be heading for Rodanthe on 5/19 with kites, fishing poles and the DVD "Tombstone" which is a Parker tradition on the Outer Banks. Fun times!!!!!! Hopefully Justin and Stephanie will be joining us for a few days, too.

Personally, I think Billie is basically going to all this trouble just to have an invitation to one of my Mom's home-cooked dinners but, just to make it look good, he's taking us on a holiday. Geez, some bachelors will do anything for a decent home-cooked meal! He loves my Mom's cooking and she loves cooking for him so it all works out. Of course, once we get him out of Wilmington, Katie and I plan to clean his clock at Scrabble, Gin-Rummy and I'm sure we'll both out-fish the poor guy, but he'll smile and swear he's enjoying it.

Then I question, should I really be going on a vacation when I'm not actually working right now? Doesn't that seem a bit...silly? "No, no, no!", according to Billie and my daughter Katie. They feel that a few days out of town, focusing on mental pursuits such as scrabble and cards, and catching the occasional fish in the surf, will renew my mental resources and can only result in heightened creativity.

I was skeptical. I talked to another good friend who isn't involved in this vacation, and asked her what she thought and I even posed my question in way that would make her feel safe to criticize such a plan and, it should be noted, this is one of my more grounded, sensible, hard-working friends. Her response genuinely caught me off-guard: "I think it's a great idea! In fact, if you find a job before your planned vacation, just tell them you already have that week tied up and you will still need to take that week off. I definitely think you should go.". I reminded her that it felt almost indulgent to think of going to the beach while I am searching for a job. Sally didn't skip a beat and again, reiterated that it was a very good idea. I didn't see THAT coming! She's usually so practical.

So what can I tell you? I guess the consensus is that I need to get out of town post-haste! Everyone seems to have abandoned their common sense or, well, maybe they just want me out of Wilmington for a week? My advisers seem to overwhelmingly feel I need to get out of Dodge. How can I argue with all that?

So, the job hunt STILL continues, but I'm sure something will work out in the next few weeks. I've come to realize the worrying doesn't change a thing and honestly, I've been enjoying life so much lately I've been too busy to become panicked. It is spring and that seems reason enough to celebrate. For now, I am enjoying many of those "masterpieces of nature" that Emerson so eloquently described as friends. Days disguised as daisies...

12 April 2007

A Mountain State Confession...

It's the funniest thing - while I feel no real need to conceal my recovery, I have always found that making another admission has the tendency to be a bit more problematic and often, I don't even offer the information up at all unless there's just no way out of it and someone connects the dots and my carefully constructed cover is blown. The admission I speak of goes something like this: "My name is Susie and [lower voice to a whisper] I'm from West Virginia".

I have to admit, I still have problems with that one. It's not something I plan on writing a book about - "My struggle with growing up in the Mountain State" or "John Denver was geographically challenged and other quirky facts of life in the wild, wonderful, chemically-noxious hills of the Kanawha Valley". I can't imagine I'd be invited to a book-signing in Charleston, WV for that one...

It's true, I've never been particularly proud of my where my roots were planted but, fortunately, they were short roots and not the type to lock one in, because my family was always moving. Before my marriage, we moved often, but in-state. After my marriage, we moved even more often, to many states.

I've even been known to skirt around the issue and, when queried about my accent...rather than proffer a bold-face, outright lie, I would mention that I moved here from Texas and, well, should the person asking questions draw the conclusion that I may be Lone Star in origin, I have never really found the need to correct it. I can't help it if they don't follow-up with, "But where are you really FROM???"

Tuesday Night, however, something changed. We were invited to dinner at the home of two natives that any state would be proud to call a native son and daughter. Don and Betty Johnson graciously entertained us with a real West Virginian home-cooked meal and, after stuffing ourselves on every food I count among my favorites, Don pulled out his handsome, Martin guitar and, in a scene straight out of "The Andy Griffith Show", he plucked and sang some songs that every self-respecting West Virginian knows by heart. The only thing missing was a porch-swing and a mason jar with collected lightning bugs.

What a wonderful evening and so much about that night tickled memories from my childhood. Even though it was a Tuesday, Betty served up what I grew up calling a "Sunday Dinner" - the kind my mother lovingly served after church when, more times than not, we had company which generally consisted of neighbors from towns we used to live in and a few relatives sprinkled in and sometimes those people would be one in the same because, as everyone knows, just about everyone in West Virginia is related one way or another though my parents still maintain they are in no way "blood kin" which heightens the mystery of how they turned out a kid like me. :-)

I remember so many times after dinner when my parents would say something like, "Susan, play (fill in the blank) on the piano" and, before I could think of ten excuses, someone else would 2nd that nomination and offer to sing, so any protestation I might launch was futile, at best.

When we retired to the living room after dinner this past Tuesday, I was leafing through a book that Don had just started reading, "The History of Medicine" and, lo and behold - even though there was a beautiful piano within spitting distance, I heard my mother make a musical request but, oddly enough, it wasn't directed at me. In fact, it was meant for Don and his guitar. I looked up and smiled - pleased to be off the hook and then, within seconds, wondering why she was suddenly uninterested in my services?

Like any respectful West Virginia boy, Don kindly obliged and played several songs that lead each of us on our private, individual sentimental journey down memory lane. He played beautifully and sang well, on top of it. I was astonished at how many flashbacks pleasantly passed through my mind. Good memories. Happy times. Each one the creation of an experience in a state I often deny a connection with.

Now, as a few people know, my family arrived in Wilmington courtesy of the May 2000 issue of "The National Geographic". No, seriously - that's why we moved here. We were living in Amarillo, Texas and one day in May, I was innocently leafing through the May 2000 issue of NGS and read a small story on the relocation of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. I realized that for as fond as I was of Amarillo and West Texas, it occurred to me that I was just about as landlocked as a person could be and, even though the landscape in Amarillo is flat and a bit on the sandy side, and gosh knows the wind was pretty constant, it didn't carry even a hint of salt and I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard a wave crash, though in reality it couldn't have been more than 18 months because we'd only lived there (again) for 18 months.

Within a few days of receiving that issue of NGS, there was a "For Sale" sign in the front yard and within six weeks we had sold the house and had Wilmington in our sites. I did try and make it a democratic process and actually took a family vote and, though my Dad is a great sport, he wasn't pleased with the outcome; the vote was 4 - 1 in favor of a move East. My Dad still maintains that Amarillo is the best place he's ever lived, though I do believe Wilmington has grown on him quite a bit.

Betty and Don Johnson came to Wilmington by another way - medicine. Though both Betty and Don are West Virginia natives, they hail from different parts of the state. Don grew up in the southern part of West Virginia and his growing up years were spent near where my parents were raised. In fact, my Mom and Dad were acquainted with his father before they were actually acquainted with each other.

Betty was raised in the northern part of West Virginia. Don and Betty's paths crossed at WVU - when they were both deep in medical school. Betty is more formally known as Dr. Betty Johnson, who for years practiced as an anesthesiologist at New Hanover County Regional Medical Center and Don or, Dr. Donald G. Johnson, was one of the founders of Delaney Radiology and, a few short years ago, served as chairman of the radiology department at the same hospital.

Both have since retired (at a very young and tender age) from medicine and pursued other interests. In addition to being the proud parents of their son, Steven, who lives and works in LA in the film industry and daughter, Marsha, who lives and works in London, England, they still manage to keep quite active and busy.

A few short years ago, after a well-respected career in medicine, Don must have been bored or something because he headed back to the classroom and enrolled at UNC-W as a student where he picked up a BA degree in history and went on to earn an MA degree in European History. Just for the heck of it, he added a degree in Public Health and Tropical Medicine from Tulane University. He's now installed as a part-time professor at UNC-W where he teaches courses in history, when he's not running, biking, reading or typing up Betty's genealogy research notes, a passion my father highly approves of and shares with her.

These two are extreme over-achievers and yes, to reinterate, they are both from West Virginia and, like my parents, I'd bet they aren't related to each other, other than by marriage, of course. I know there's a lot of jokes made at West Virginia's expense and how we all tend to marry our cousins and the number of teeth we possess number in the single digits, but I have to tell you, if I were to find out I was in some way related to these two, I'd certainly not argue the point. I'd probably just smile and nod, kind of like I sometimes do when people "assume" I'm from Texas.

A special thank you to both to both Don and Betty for a wonderful evening and best wishes for their upcoming trip to the London and tour of Ireland next week, when they fly over to spend some time with their daughter.

Betty, Susie, Barbe & Maxine - 10 April 2007

Don, Susie, Barbe & Maxine - 10 April 2007

And to update - I'm still looking for a job and welcome any job offers and may well begin entertaining proposals because being a "kept woman" is starting to look less offensive. The insurance alone might be worth the bother. :-) If you're interested in offering me a job, e-mail me for a resume. If you're interested in making me a kept woman, I'll need to see your financials and last three years of tax returns and, of course, proof of health, dental and vision insurance which will cover your intended spouse (me) should everything else check out.

What do I bring to the table? Though I have no real domestic skills, I like to fish, love the beach, will brag on your culinary skills, have above average kite-flying skills and as long as I have an adequate (subjective) stipend for books and tea (with lemon), I'm generally quite easy to live with. A beach-front house will ensure that your application merits special consideration. Oh, and I do prefer men with cutting-edge computers and the wisdom to give me adequate space to write. See? I'm entirely low-maintenance!

09 April 2007

On the road of life...

You remember that VW ad campaign from a few years back that declared, "On the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers. We're looking for drivers. "

This past Saturday, on the road to Raleigh, there were passengers and drivers and, let me tell you, I would so much have rather been a passenger. My vitals haven't quite returned to normal but, well, I'm cautiously optimistic.

I knew I wouldn't enjoy making that drive. Last week when I would fast-forward and see myself motoring north in my sweet little PT Cruiser, I didn't accurately forecast the sheer TERROR. As the miles clicked faster toward my fear and destination of Raleigh/Durham traffic, so did my heart rate, respiration and I'm sure my blood pressure was off the scale.

The only saving grace was that I would get to see my daughter who had wrestled her own fear by flying south from Teterboro, NJ airport. True, she was flying in style and, rather than commercial, she was in an opulently appointed private jet, courtesy of John's generous and wonderful Aunt. Apparently this 12 seat jet came equipped with every amenity imaginable including a flight attendant. Ahem. Oh how I would have loved to have traded places with Katie! But to be fair, she would have been happy exchanging her airborne seat for the driver's space in my car. Hey, everyone's got their "issues", I just wish I could have sent mine on spring break for the weekend. But of course, it doesn't work like that with irrational fears and phobias. They have the obstinate and annoying ability of sticking around when they are least welcome. Not that they're ever really "welcome" in the first place, but my gosh, give me a break!

Other than the drive - which should have taken 2 hours and 20 minutes at the most and actually took something like 4 1/2 hours - it was a great visit. In addition to Katie and John, I got to catch up with Nina, John's mother, Daria, Melanie and Bill, John's aunts and uncle and their frequent traveling companions and good friends, Kathy and Mary Lou. And of course, there were John's two sisters, Kim and Katie and his brother, Mark. Last but certainly not least, to make the mix even more interesting, were some of Nina's neighbors and friends. What a colorful and eclectic crowd!

Embassy Suites of Cary was the scene of arrivals and departures and where we stayed when the ensemble wasn't shopping, sight-seeing, more shopping and, of course, eating and, did I mention eating?

Saturday Night we had the most amazing meal, hosted by Daria and Bill, and this was a big meal! There must have been 25 - 30 of us. The food, the service, and the wait staff were impeccable. Dinner began at around 7:30 PM and we finished up around 11:00 PM. What a great night!

And I must send out a special and heartfelt "thank you" to John's sister, Katie, for offering to exchange places with me so that I could have the chance to visit with Katie without actually yelling across the room. Not that I would have, but this young lady was so kind and considerate and after she made the offer, midway through the first course, I smiled and hesitated and then, with a wry and knowing grin, she said, "Come on, you know you want to do it. Let's trade.". What a sweetheart! What a very kind heart housed inside a lovely young lady. Thank you Katie G.!

We arrived back at the hotel at around 11:30 and met up again the next morning at 11:15 to head off for brunch at Nina's beautiful home. Of course, as expected, she thought of everything, and then some. She's not only gorgeous, but one of the most gracious and generous women I've ever met. No wonder John is such a great young man. In fact, each of her four children are just a gaggle of over-achievers and I mean that in the kindest and most flattering way possible. Not only are they well-accomplished, but they're so much fun to be around! Trust me when I say this is a very unique and impressive family and their affection for each other and those of us blessed to be included and counted as friends, feel bathed in that warmth and love as well.

After John and his sister (and new puppy owner) Kim, opened their birthday presents (John's was on the 2nd of April and Kim will "formally" celebrate her 25th birthday on the 18th), it was time to load the van and head for the airport (big gulp for Katie) and I-40 (big gulp for me). Nina followed the van carrying the 12 NY'ers with John's bicycle in tow. Since they were traveling on a private jet, they were able to take all manner of things not allowed on commercial airplanes. Good thing - in addition to John's bicycle, more bottles of wine than I could count and countless bags from shopping excursions, Kim received a very nice knife set as a birthday present which would never have made it through airport security.

I followed Nina who lead me to the ramp that would deposit my cruiser on (big gulp) I-40 where I proceeded South to Wilmington and long before I was halfway home, Katie called my cell to let me know they had already landed at the airport and that it was snowing in NYC. I already miss her like crazy, but I'm so happy not to be dealing with snow. Suddenly our mid-50 temperatures felt just a little more temperate. I did find driving AWAY from Raleigh to be more calming than heading INTO Raleigh, but I do wish Katie had been with me.

I arrived home in one piece and I'm happy to say I didn't crash into anyone on my drive, but I was so relieved to be out of that car and out of that traffic that I swear I briefly considered kissing my driveway but, given that it was daylight, it just didn't seem like the thing to do. I'm sure my steering wheel was pretty happy to be released from my white-knuckled grip.

Was it worth all of the angst and fear and hyperventilation to motor north to see Katie and the clan? Of course it was. Though we were together just short of 24 hours (and 8 of those asleep), any time spent with my daughter is time well spent. She and John looked great and being with them made it all worth the ride. I simply adore her and, while I miss her, I think NY agrees with her and she's obviously very happy and that's what matters most to me. Even if happy happens to be 485 miles north.

And, while driving wasn't exactly relaxing (understatement), it did get my mind off the fact that I'm still looking for a job. I'm certain the change in scenery was good for me, particularly if that scenery included my daughter.

Now, I can relax and settle back into praying and searching for the perfect position. One can't lose faith or heart and I'm nowhere close to throwing up my hands. Hey, sooner or later something's gotta give, right?

Until instructed otherwise, prayers are still encouraged, welcome and most sincerely appreciated.

04 April 2007

Flipping out...

Looking for a new job can be exhausting.

I send out at least a couple of resumes a day. I call friends/editors/more friends/people I don't really like/network with people I don't even know but pretend as if I do and they're generally so confused they grow to believe they know me.

I am working with a couple of recruiters. I talked to my PC Magazine editor yesterday and he had some promising leads and a few possibilities and he even promised to search hard in his budget and see if he could find a little wriggle room and pass the word.

And when I'm not sending out my resume, I spend the rest of my time worrying. Obsessing. Imagining mysterious illnesses which can only be the most horrific and untreatable because I'm now without health insurance coverage. The stress of stressing about no health insurance could literally make me sick and I can't get sick because I don't currently have health insurance!

It's an ugly and vicious cycle.

Last night, my Dad forwarded an e-mail to me that someone had sent him. My Dad is a wonderful man and he thought he was doing me a huge favor. This e-mail he forwarded explained the different symptoms observed between men and women which might signal a heart attack.

I started reading about jaw pain, indigestion, pressure, pain shooting down the left arm, and that's about the time I hit DELETE! OH MY GOSH! This was the LAST thing I needed to read! Right now, I am so wide-open to the power of suggestion and in such a hypochondrical state, that if I were to get a simple, benign rash, I would immediately decide that it was petechia which could only mean my platelets are low which, one could easily surmise, would mean I have acute lymphocytic leukemia and should immediately schedule a bone-marrow biopsy and settle on whether to seek treatment at Duke or Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and then, THEN, realize that I don't have health insurance and will get the worst possible care at a county hospital which sees maybe 3 cases of leukemia every 18 years.

I'm only marginally exaggerating.

Ahem. I'm driving myself, my cats, my dog and a few close friends positively crazy. They do, however, say that I'm the healthiest looking non-terminally ill patient they've ever seen. I'm sure they're probably just saying that to make me feel a little better. In fact, the doctor I've not been in contact with and who hasn't examined me, has probably called them and told them just how bleak things look from where he doesn't stand. They're all putting up such a brave front. What amazing actors they are...every last one of them.

So today, well, I could see this dawning as another day to drive myself crazy but, rather than head for crazy, I decided to head for the beach. It was one of the best ideas I've had in years. In addition to giving me a much-needed change of scenery, it got me out of a very dangerous neighborhood - my head. I really needed to get out of my head before I went out of my mind.

It worked. The sun. The water. My iPod. A 2 mile walk with James Taylor and John Mayer and the sun, the water, the waves, more water, stopping and just sprinkling water all over myself, celebrating the sun, the spring, the promise of summer...glorious summer. Everything I'd obsessed, worried about, focused and feared and panicked over, magically seemed to wash out to sea. I think the tide took my troubles away. At least for awhile.

I looked out at the horizon and saw a dolphin breach. A good sign, yes, dolphins do that. They just splash and jump in the air turning arcs even without someone in a wetsuit blazened with the "Sea World" logo, dangling a bucket of fish before them in the promise that, if they do their tricks, go through the paces and hit their marks, they'll get a frozen fish dinner. It's true that dolphins frolic as an expression of joy, exhilaration, emblematic of how much they love life, even outside the confines of a marine park. Especially outside of the confines of a marine park.

Today, I felt just like a dolphin and if I was, today, this day after I felt so much fear and trepidation and worry over things, to impossibly feel so much hope, so alive, giddy and finding myself breaking into an irrepressible smile, well, that can only be God. Today, I was that dolphin, flipping in the air for the sheer thrill of it all, splashing in a sun-drenched, multi-faceted diamond-studded sea. I wasn't offered a job today nor was I handed a prepaid one-year health insurance card and it was OK. It was all just fine. Hours after those magic moments on the beach, the effects linger still. I can close my eyes and hear those waves, feel the sun, look out toward an endless horizon and when I do, I feel that joy. And it is real.

You were right Bill Leftwich - God will see us both through, even when we're not looking.

And you know, I'm almost happy that I was so wound up and in knots yesterday because if things had just been coasting along in some expected way, today wouldn't have held the same brand of magic for me. Today was positively delicious.

I find it's sort of like that with driving as well. I still forget sometimes and I'll think, hey, I need to go pick up this or that or whatever, and then it dawns on me that I can go get in my car and I can take myself here and there or anywhere and at anytime, and as wonderful as that is, after almost 3 1/2 years of not driving, it's an adjustment! There have been a few times I've felt panicked like maybe it's not such a good idea I'm on the road after all! What if I can't do this? I get scared and my heart will race and my breathing will accelerate and I'll start to feel as if I can't breathe, much less drive. But of course, the only antidote to that is to do the thing that scares you. To march straight into that fear, just go there and grit your teeth if you must, even clench your fists, but don't turn back. You can't allow it to win.

A couple of years ago, my daughter gave me the greatest card. It was so perfect for me, so very "Katie" in sentiment. It is black and on the front, in typewriter-style font in lower-case letters, it says, "do one thing every day that scares you." which is, of course, a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. And you know, I keep that card tacked right above my computer monitor and I glance at it only about a dozen or so times a day. I have come to believe it's such wise advice.

"Do one thing every day that scares you.". Lately, I do ten things every hour that scare me!

The truth is, I don't want to cross that bridge when I come to it. I really don't. Couldn't I just "blink" and get to the other side?

When I am driving or about to cross a bridge, and gosh I hate driving across bridges - I would almost rather clean my house and steam all of my carpets than drive across a bridge and if it's a bridge with any height, well, my palms get sweaty just typing it, but when I see one on my horizon and I know that to get to where I need to be, I have to cross that looming bridge - I instantly remember that quote and I see that card in my mind and I think of Katie and how she would say something tender and inspirational like, "Stop being a freak! Just do it, woman!".

Sometimes when I'm intensely scared, she has the uncanny ability to call me right before my fear sets up residence - almost as if she intuitively knows that I need her to talk smack to me; to be firm and to remind me that whatever "bridge" I'm looking to cross, real or metaphorical, that I can do it - that I have done it - and I lived through it and I even went on to have two smart-ass kids who entertain me to no end. It's so astonishing how she knows just when I need to hear from her.

There are times when I wonder if I'm the female equvalent to Tony Shalhoub's "Monk"? I can relate to him probably more than I would care to admit.

It's reminiscent of when my Daddy would tread water in the deep end of the pool, tirelessly trying to get me to jump off that diving board. He would tell me, "Susan, you can do this. You can. You will be fine..." and you know how when people you love and respect and would literally trust with your life, tell you that it's going to be ok, and you want to believe it with every single cell in your body but there's that repressive force, holding you back and implanting the most insidious seed of a doubt.

Of course, at some point, you have to make a decision. You either pull off to the side and watch all of the other cars cross the bridge and you turn around in defeat or you hold on tight, listen to Katie's smart-ass voice "Just do it, woman! My gosh, you're such a crazy nut!" and after a few seconds of terror, and an abundance of faith you didn't even know you had - even though it's shaky now and then, you cross that bridge; you walk to the end of that diving-board and jump so that your poor father can catch his breath after an hour of treading water and exhaustively trying to talk you out of your head and into something that he knows you will grow to love and want to do over and over and over again, if you just get past your "self".

I guess the bottom line is that I'm never going to run out of bridges or diving boards. Well, diving boards don't bother me at all now, but certainly bridges and Raleigh traffic mess with my mind, big-time. And certainly sitting at my desk wondering when I'll get a full-time job with health and dental benefits can drive me to sheer and utter distraction and even I sometimes have to laugh at myself and realize that Katie is right. I'm such a freak!

This afternoon, at the beach, I was sitting back in my chair and I must have been smiling, and I noticed this woman, probably mid-30's, chasing around three kids who all looked to be under the age of six. They were in constant motion and the beach is a really big sandbox with lots of room to roam. I watched her chase after one, get him settled and then take off after another and I sat there remembering when that used to be me and those kids were Katie and Justin. I remembered being buried in sand several times, up to my neck. Sculpting whales and making grand castles out of sand pail molds, one towering over the other just at the water's edge because we needed a moat and a receding tide was great for that.

Eventually, this woman's husband joined her and he became the chief chaser and she looked so very relieved. She was walking back toward her chair which was somewhere behind my stake of sandy real estate, and as she passed me, she stopped and said, "You look so relaxed. I'm jealous." and I smiled and said, "I used to be you." I don't think she quite understood what I meant, but soon enough, she will.

I wanted to tell her to forget about taking her well-earned break and get back to the sand castles and the kinetic kids and to chase and splash and tease the waves with a child in each hand. I wanted to tell her someday, sooner than she will imagine, she will be sitting where I was, and instead of yelling for her daughter to "get back here!", she will be on the cell phone hearing about the pounding rain in Manhattan and being told to "hold on" as her daughter orders a coffee from some shop on 59th Street on the Upper East Side, about 485 miles from just where these waves were lapping at my toes.

Yes, this is me looking so relaxed, trying to forget that yesterday I read an e-mail from my dad cluing me in on the fact that heart attack symptoms manifest themselves differently in women and I should be aware of it and having to get up from my desk because I suddenly felt a rush of blood to my head and wondering if maybe my carotid artery might be occluded because that runs on my mother's side of the family and who knows, I could have an early onset of the condition. Sure lady, I was smiling because the waves and the sun melted my stress, but if only you'd seen me just one day before...you wouldn't have found me looking so serene. You would not have been jealous.

What a difference a day makes. Especially one warmed by the sun and with a clear view of the ocean and dolphins that frolic for no particular reason at all.

So here's to different stages of life. I have high hopes of chasing kids again on a sandy beach and, with any luck, that beach will be just a few hours north somewhere on The Outer Banks and maybe I'll have a modest clapboard beach house with a wraparound porch, wooden screen doors that slam, side-stepping a couple of dogs lazing on the well-worn steps and a cat or two napping in a sunbeam. Of course, those "kids" will be my grandchildren and there will be kites to fly, castles to build, waves to chase and treasures waiting to be discovered, left from a retreating tide.

And I will be some variation of grandma, granny or whatever - maybe even Susie if they like. I want them to have fun and not worry about tracking sand in my house (it's the beach for gosh sakes!), or about getting wet when we promised only to go for a walk and the ocean just happened to rush up on us and we never saw it coming, honest. At some point, I should probably find someone to marry who can handle the cooking, but I promise to juggle the activities and we'll never, ever be bored. We'll lay on the sand in August and count shooting stars when the Perseids perform their stellar show and trace the constellations during night-time beach walks. And with any luck at all, they won't care that I went through a period where I had to regroup, learn to do things differently, that I went for a short while (God-willing) without health insurance or that sometimes I got very scared and had to pull over and screw on my courage and call their mother so she could talk me across a silly bridge or two.

Maybe they'll think that, overall, I didn't turn out too badly and that, for an old lady, I'm still a lot of fun.

And at some point, we'll rush toward the waves, and I'll teach them to do flips in the water and, if they hesitate, I can look at them squarely in the eye and sincerely promise that they will be OK and that's it's safe.

Because my Daddy said so. And he's never been wrong yet. My Mom's got a pretty good track record going, too.

Oh, and to that breaching dolphin just off the coast of Wrightsville Beach at the #6 Beach Access, thank you for expressing your joy in such a beautiful, whimsical way and for reminding me to re-discover and celebrate my own.