02 March 2008

Say What You Need to Say...

"Take out of your wasted honor.
Every little past frustration.
Take out all of your so-called problems.
Better put 'em in quotations
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say..."

Here are a few things I really need to say.

I played a video this morning and then, well, I played it again. It struck me as powerful and maybe it will you too, if you click on it. I like the directive. Like almost everyone within reading and listening distance, many thoughts circulate through my mind at warp speed as the minutes of a day click off into the oblivion of history. Those moments seem to tick away so much faster with each passing year. Does it feel that way to you, too? Time becomes a runaway train on the express line and some days all you can do is just hang on, hope for the best and try your very best not to blink. You can hardly chance a blink.

February was a powerful month, but aren't they all really, when it comes right down to it? If they're not, they really should be. I like it that most of them are.

So, let's see - on this sunny Sunday in early March, glorious March - the month that delivers Spring, - what do I want to say as I sit here reflecting on the recent passage of time? In no particular order, I think I'll go the route of free-associating because it just seems like the right format for this moment in time.

This past January, I was talking to one of my good friends and in the middle of our conversation, one of his sponsee's (AA speak), came up to him and gave him a gift. It was an unusual present and at the time I just thought how kind it was for this young man to give my friend a going away gift because this friend of mine was preparing to make an ill-advised and curious move to Greenville, South Carolina. (There's no ocean in Greenville, SC.)

The gift was one of carved wooden letters and those letters spelled out the word "GRATITUDE". It was something you could set on a bookcase or table and it was just unusual, but not terribly surprising. We speak a lot about gratitude in Alcoholics Anonymous. That's what a bunch of people who've experienced a miracle in their life feel quite often - gratitude.

My friend returned to Wilmington last weekend. I'd been working six days a week for the past three weeks and my brain felt fried. I just wanted to hole up in my office, watch reruns of the democratic debate and eat Smithfield's chicken wings and drink a gallon or two of jasmine iced tea. When he called and suggested lunch, I wanted to decline, but for some reason, I decided it would probably be better for my sensibility to get out of the house, even though it was cold and blustery and staying in was an almost irresistible option.

For some reason, as I was waiting for him to come over and pick me up, it crossed my mind to ask him where he had put his carved gift, the one that spelled out "GRATITUDE". As soon as that thought crossed my mind, it struck me like lightning - where do any of us put our gratitude? Where do I keep my gratitude, and I'm not talking about a handsome, carved depiction of the concept, but the real thing...where do I essentially keep my gratitude?

I thought about that all day. It's just a great question, for me at least. I never got around to asking my friend where he had situated his present because I became much more wrapped up in considering the placement of my own and what, in fact, is my gratitude comprised of?

What am I grateful for? What are just a few of the many things I need to say?

I am grateful to Sally, Amy and Jonathan for celebrating my birthday with me at Henry's. Sharing time with these friends was such a wonderful way to turn 48! The food was almost as delicious as the company and conversation and the warmth that ensconced us. Friends sharing good food, thoughts, ideas, opinions, insights, and kindness. It meant so much to me and I smile every single time I think back to that evening. I think of it a lot.

Never can I say I've run at of words, thanks to my friends and writers Amy and Jonathan. Oh no, they ruined that for an excuse. They presented me with a beautiful copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary. It's FOUR INCHES THICK! It even has a CD! Can you imagine a better gift for a writer from two writers? I was so thrilled with it that I actually took it to bed that night and leafed through the pages of this powerful volume.

Gosh, just having this leather bound edition on my desk makes me feel I'm a lot more talented than we really know I am. It's great for building self-esteem! There is no end to the gold packed in these pages. I was so honored. It's so heavy! In fact, I think I had to ask Jonathan to carry it to my car after dinner. Maybe it will build my mind AND my biceps? However, it wasn't inscribed, so when they come over next time for a writer's meeting, I must ask them to remedy the situation and if they say they have "no words", (though I can't imagine these two ever running low on words), I shall simply flip the pages open and direct them to pluck some out. :)

I'm grateful to my handsome son, Justin, for making my birthday and every single day of my life special since he popped into this world. He gave me three beautiful angelfish for my 55 gallon aquarium and he wrote words in a card that made me smile and cry, all at the same time. I adore this fellow more than I can write and he has taught me so much. Sometimes I look at him and I'm sure my heart will burst.

One week after my birthday, on Valentine's Day, I came home long past dark from work. I was cold, tired and I nearly bypassed my office in order to just fall into bed, but I knew I had to feed the hungry mollies in my office aquarium and take a passing glance at my e-mail. When I walked into the room, I noticed a pink envelope on my keyboard and just beneath it, a heart-shaped box. I opened the card and realized that I'd received the best Valentine's Day present I'd ever received - a card in handwriting I'm intimately familiar with: "I love you, Mom! Justin". No longer did I remember that I was cold or I'd just spent ten hours in an office. I forgot that I was tired. Right about the time I read the card, he appeared in my office and delivered a long, warm hug which was sweeter than the chocolate contained in the box.

Three years ago such a scene would have felt impossible. We were barely communicating - he was 18 and I was irritated and scared by his behavior. How far we've come and how intensely proud I am of how much he's grown up. I admire his compassion, his dry sense of humor and his kindness and especially his stalwart sense of justice. He's taught me a great deal about standing by friends when they stumble and I don't really know why that should come as a surprise to me. Justin stood right beside me when I stumbled a few years ago. He is wise beyond his years. He is one my heroes, as is his grandpa.

Probably five nights out of seven, I swing by the drive-thru at Smithfield's and generally order a few chicken wings and a LARGE iced tea. I love their chicken wings and sweet iced tea but that's not really what keeps me coming back. When I place my order in the speaker, I know instantly if I hit "pay dirt" because I recognize the voice. The voice I'm speaking of is Mary. I don't know Mary's last name, but I have come to look forward to seeing her irascible smile. Seeing Mary at the drive-thru is like sunshine. She tells me of her latest lottery winnings (she wins a LOT!), what she's been up to, how she is doing and then she promises that when she "wins the big one", she will hire me as her assistant and allow me to take care of the stuff she's too busy to deal with, being a millionairess and all.

I realized the other day when I was pulling away after a "Merry Mary Encounter" that I always smile when I pull out. The chicken wings are delectable, but it's the moments spent with Mary that makes the detour worth everything. I really love that lady. She's a day-brightener and I would wager that she doesn't even realize it. I'm very grateful for Mary, even if she never wins the powerball. Her smile is worth a million, and then some.

As we know from past entries, there are good pirates and bad pirates among us. Last summer I l discovered that I love sailing, sailboats, and that few things compare with becoming one with the wind, water and sky. Sailing touched me in a way that can only be defined as spiritual and I plan to do more of it.

Life is good. If you're on a beam reach, it's charmed.

In addition to sailing, I gleaned something else. I made a very wonderful friend who is, without question, a "good pirate". She's tenderly tough, talented, artistic, wise and funny. Through the course of our e-mail exchanges we discovered we had so much in common. I haven't been the most faithful e-mail correspondent lately to anyone, but I always get excited and thrilled when I see that my friend Bobbi has written. We finally met in person last October and it was truly as if we had known each other for something like forever. Hopefully this year I will get to meet Sofi (her fur child) and her beautiful sailboat which she keeps in Oriental. Hey, we have big plans, and the Panama Canal is NOT out of the question! Two crazy women on the high seas - adventures in every port - I can see it happening and I could find no better company than Bobbi. I'm so grateful for her. I'd set sail with her in a heartbeat.

They say that politics makes strange bedfellows. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that this season of endless primaries have been a huge source of interest and entertainment, phone calls, text messages and e-mail links between my daughter Katie and me. We have daily briefings - generally when she's taking her lunch hour. She calls me from the streets of Manhattan and we dissect the latest debate performances of Obama and that woman that's trying to run against him (we're both Obamamaniacs), we speak of the poll numbers, sift through the latest breaking news and dish about what life must be like for the folks clinging tenuously to the slowly sinking Clinton ship who refuse to go gentle into that good night. During debates, coverage of notable speeches, we keep a running text-message commentary. Most of her remarks make me laugh out loud and trust me, Hillary wouldn't appreciate a single one of them.

I adore her sardonic delivery and acerbic observations and especially her passion. Katie is never, ever tepid about anything and doesn't mince words in stating her position. You should see the e-mail she sent to MSNBC's Chris Matthews last month. I was stunned and I was so proud of the way she expresses and articulates her thoughts and feelings.

Even more than our shared interest in this never-ending primary campaign season, I am grateful that I have such an open, easy-going relationship with this young lady. Just as I am with her brother, I am so proud of the independent and forthright young lady she has grown into and I marvel at her courage in making it in Manhattan and doing it with such eclectic style and grace. Katie is a constant source of amusement, pride and sometimes even bewilderment for me. I wouldn't trade her for all the jasmine tea in Sri Lanka.

I have a friend in Amarillo who writes me now and again and whenever I see that I have an e-mail waiting to be opened that is written by Jim, well, I know that before I finish reading the words he writes, my heart will be touched. He never fails to deliver.

Sometimes he shares with me the goings on in my favorite West Texas town, or how wacky the weather has been, but somewhere in there, will be a line or two that I am better off for having read as he talks about what's been on his mind, memories he's been reliving and the observations they provoke, and his crystal insight will prompt memories inside of me that in some way parallel his experiences. Sometimes, he attaches beautiful photographs of things like ice clinging to the fragile branch of a tree as the sun hits it from only the perfect angle.

Last year, Jim sent me a hand-carved flute for my birthday and carved on that flute was a Kokopelli. Now, initially I didn't know the name for the symbol but in a strange twist of synchronocity, when my friend Bobbi was visiting with me in my office this past October, she admired the flute and then noted that Kokopelli was the name of her sailboat. Synchronicity indeed! Coincidental? Hardly. There are no coincidences in my world. There probably aren't any in yours either. I prefer to think of it as celestial design. It's totally a God thing.

I am reminded of the words spoken by Fred Rogers in a commencement speech he delivered to Dartmouth College a year before he went to heaven:

Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel. A facet of that jewel. And in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal. We are intimately related. May we never even pretend that we are not.

I think of those words when I consider that a fine man in Amarillo, Texas sent me a beautifully hand-crafted flute with a curious looking symbol carved into it and how, eight months later, a woman I didn't even know existed when I received that precious flute, immediately noticed it hanging on the wall in my office and with delight told me that her sailboat was named in honor of that symbol. Fred Rogers was right, of course, we are all intimately related and we seem to lose our way if we pretend that we are not. I try very hard to remember that but I'm human and I forget it far too often.

I work with a woman who has taught me a great deal about strength though she'd deny it. Sherry works even more hours than I do, and her life is complicated beyond measure, but no matter how exhausted, tired or whatever events may be swirling uncontrollably in her realm, I watch as she treats each one of our bruised clients with kindness and care. In spite of dealing with several serious health issues, she somehow manages to push every personal challenge she deals with off the table and when she is doing an assessment, her focus narrows to that person as she determines what level of treatment will serve him or her best. Most of her workdays stretch into nine or ten hours and her lunch breaks are generally filled with errands or attending to details rather than any form of a relaxing break. I marvel at her strength and I am touched by her heart. Sherry inspires me every single day and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. I see it every time a client leaves her office, walking a little lighter and filled with the seeds of that most precious commodity...hope.

On February 6th, I walked into my office and found the most gorgeous bouquet of flowers with the sweetest card. Even in the endless tasks that she tackles on every given day, she somehow managed to remember my birthday. If I had her schedule, I wouldn't remember my birthday or anyone else's! She is truly a giving, caring and loving woman and it is an honor to work and learn from her. We laugh and talk quite a lot and I feel so grateful for the time I spend in her office.

The amazing thing about Sherry is that she doesn't quite grasp how talented and strong she truly is, but it's certainly not lost on me or the clients she attends to on a daily basis. She makes a positive difference in so many lives and I hope that someday she is able to grasp how pivotal her role is in making a difference to those who sit in her office for an assessment. No one ever looks forward to a drug and alcohol assessment and many of the people who visit us are scared, pretty beaten up emotionally or living in a deep and scary state of denial about the alcohol use that threatens their existence. As I watch Sherry take care of these folks, it much more resembles a ministry, a calling of a higher order, rather than a process of social work. I'm pretty certain she's an angel. I'm very grateful to be in her orbit.

Another angel in my life sent me a bouquet of beautiful daisies and they were waiting for me in my home office when I arrived home the day I turned 48. Michel has been my angel for nearly ten years. He is family, he is dear and how much I adore and respect this wise and talented gentleman. I'm convinced his installment in my life was celestial in origin and I am grateful for him in more ways than I can say. His is the little voice I always hear whispering to me at the end of each assignment...in a decidedly (and sometimes stern!) French accent..."Susie, are you sure this is the best you can do? Don't you think that sentence is poorly constructed? Bouf!". I swear, it's true. Michel is always challenging me to be better than I ever believe I am capable of and though many, many miles separate us physically, I never leave this house that I'm not aware he's in my head and heart, always near the surface of my thoughts.

I think of Tim Parker when I consider "say what you need to say...". He was my husband for almost seventeen years, he's the father of my kids and he's an amazingly resilient and indefatigable fellow. Yes, it's true, the marriage faltered and a divorce resulted, but there was this one night I remember, around the time it became obvious that we were splitting up and some of the dust had settled. Tim had already moved out of the house and had dropped by one evening to see the kids. We were standing outside talking and he said that he imagined we'd eventually wind up being friends someday. At the time, I thought he was out of his mind to consider such an possibility, but in fact, his words came to pass. I'm just so grateful that they did.

Through the years, my former husband has been a sounding board, my tax consultant, a co-parent I could phone for advice when I wasn't sure of a decision dealing with the kids, and he didn't run and hide and pretend he didn't know me when I joined AA. A lesser person would have taken the opportunity to blast me with a litany of my shortcomings. Tim did none of that. Truly, he's helped me sort things out from time to time and how blessed I am that he has. Compared to many couples, we had a startlingly civil divorce and in the early years skirmishes were few and far between, but along the way, I have grown to respect him so much and his ability to rebound, career-wise, may well be the stuff of legends.

I can appreciate how weird and odd it may be to say this but, as former husband's go, Tim is tops. In the most absurd twist of fate, though I never truly imagined myself divorced, I managed to have been blessed with an ex-husband who is exemplary and very much a stand-up guy.

Every now and then the kids and I will say, "Boy, am I enthusiastic!", mimicking one of his most frequent pronouncements he cheerfully blasted us with, generally very early in the morning, when neither Justin, Katie or I were terribly enthusiastic about much at all except the prospect of finding more sleep. In the time that has passed since our divorce became final in 1997, I've come to realize that it's absolutely OK to remember with warmth and a smile, the good stuff and happy memories and in reality, quite a few come to mind from time to time. I am grateful for each one.

Looking back on it, I can't help but remember his optimistic intonations with no small measure of admiration. I respect Tim and not simply because he IS the father of Katie and Justin, but because I truly to believe he is an honorable man with impressively high ideals. I am grateful to know him, to have produced two kids with him and as I watch his relationship evolve with the grown-up version of our children, I see many qualities in them that could only have come from his donation to the gene pool. I wish him well on his new adventure and expect he will meet with a success that will be hard-earned and well-deserved. Thank you, Tim - looking at Katie and Justin - I think we did pretty well!

"Say what you need to say...", John Mayer appeals in this song from the movie, "The Bucket List". I haven't seen the film yet, though Justin, Stephanie and I made plans today that we would see it together in the next week when we each have the same two hours free.

What I need to say is that there are days that I forget where I placed my own personal "GRATITUDE". Friday Morning was one of them. I woke up and my bed was wet. I immediately thought of two possibilities: Either I had sprung a leak or one of my cats had. After realizing that it wasn't me and didn't seem to be the cats, I realized my water bed was the one with a problem. Oh no! My bed was sinking! I love my waterbed. How could it turn on me like that? I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful that my bladder was fine and the cats should be thrilled they weren't responsible but I LOVE MY BED!!!!!! It reminds me of sleeping on a sailboat. I love sleeping on a sailboat.

I was miffed. Irritated. At extremely tangled loose ends. Cold and very, very wet! It must have been obvious by my facade because my son quickly walked over to me as I stood in my room wondering what in the world I was going to do. Basically, I wanted to both cry and scream in no particular order. He put his hands on my shoulder and quickly reminded me that this is no huge catastrophe. So the bed leaked. "Mom, we're a glass half full kind of people! C'mon, it's not the end of the world! We'll fix it!". And he set about doing just that. He quickly acquired a hose to drain the remaining water and then went over the mattress with a fine tooth comb. He somehow managed to find a small tear and set about patching it but, unfortunately, there were many small pinpoint holes springing up all over the place and it was finally decided that I would have to order a new mattress bladder. He sent me on my way to work with a fresh large iced tea which I managed to spill down my front before even making it out of the house. What was it with me and spills and leaks?

I got in my car and was in quite a state for a mile or two and then I thought about how my son had dealt with my over-exaggerated over-reactive angst. "We're a glass half-full kind of people!", he enthusiastically reminded me. How brilliant of him. My water bed springs a leak and Justin springs into action to calm me down (and honestly, I'm generally pretty even-keeled in a crisis and a tropical storm!). But for some reason, when faced with a completely benign occurrence, I wanted to crawl under the covers but I couldn't because my bed was going down alarmingly fast! How silly, I thought as I drove further down the road. What an over-reaction. That's when I realized that I had misplaced my "GRATITUDE". Thank you Justin, for helping me remember to find it. It may have been the end of the mattress, but it was hardly the end of the world.

I can't possibly write a blog entry on GRATITUDE without mentioning two people who are at the top of a very long list and who are the very reason that we are, as Justin suggested, a "glass half full kind of people!". My parents are the human embodiment of the word "GRATITUDE" and they aren't even members of AA! I don't think anyone has ever told them to practice being grateful because it's just so intuitive to both of them. They live and breathe it. They passed it onto me and when it sometimes slips out of my hands, my kids are right there to catch it with a wry aside from Katie or a warm hug from Justin.

I must also add that John Goulah, Katie's boyfriend, is an equally welcome addition to the clan. But, then again, I might be biased - how could I not care about a guy who bought me Stephen Colbert's book, "I Am America (and So Can You!)" for Christmas? I mean, such lofty, thoughtful, literary taste, not to mention that he's the tallest person I know who kindly allowed me to stay at their apartment this past November when I visited NYC. I have to say that both of my kids have managed to find wonderful people to fall in love and share their lives with and that's no small accomplishment. Maybe I should study them and learn a thing or three.

To my friend David C., who's "GRATITUDE" inspired this post, well, let me just say that I still think you're one of the strangest and craziest people I have ever met, but there is no doubt in my mind that you have a heart of gold and an intellect that is downright scary. Thank you for making me have lunch at The Oceanic last Sunday and walking on the pier with me to breathe in the Atlantic Ocean. I could go on, but your head would only burst and I know how much you like to maintain a state of humility so I won't embarrass you but I want you to know that I appreciate your insights, observations and generosity. I am very grateful for your friendship and crazy sense of humor.

"Have no fear for giving in
Have no fear for giving over

You better know that in the end
Its better to say too much

Than to never to say what you need to say again."

This didn't turn into the short post I intended. It was even interrupted for a few hours because Justin and Stephanie invited me to meet them downtown for lunch at the Copper Penny. As I was walking into the restaurant, my cell phone rang and Katie was on her way to Brooklyn to spend the day with her friend. We're both looking forward to the primary results in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island and hopefully the results will be to our collective liking. But more than that, I am grateful on so many levels for this family of mine, thankful that my daughter rings my phone often, thrilled that my son treats me to lunch, always honored to share coffee and everything else with my Mom and Dad.

"Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open


Say what you need to say..."
~ John Mayer

I want to remember to keep updating my GRATITUDE list and refer to it often. It's what "glass half full kind of people" need to do in order to stay that way. Thanks for reminding me of that, Justin.

Katie, this photo is for you. Looks like the whole house is coming down with Obamamania. Justin wears his allegiance on his shirt. Pretty cool, huh?

I'll have more to "say" soon. Feel free to "say" something right back to me. In the meantime, I'm going to try my very best not to "lose" or "misplace" my GRATITUDE.


karengberger said...

Thank you for a fascinating post and a wonderful reminder that each one of us MATTERS, no matter how difficult our lives may be at the moment, no matter where we have been; your words remind me that we are created by LOVE and we all matter. Thanks for helping to strengthen my gratitude today.

Anonymous said...

Thank you..I am touched and I am teary eyed. Life is so joyous and you have certainly added to my joy by your friendship. My gratitude is kept in my heart, the same place that I keep all the special things in my world...such as you!

We will sail together!