Things that can’t be taken away

“Not only had my brother disappeared, but–and bear with me here–a part of my very being had gone with him. Stories about us could, from them on, be told from only one perspective. Memories could be told but not shared.”

It seems like so long ago now, and still it seems like just yesterday that the charismatic and charming Riley V Whitehead graced this world. He committed suicide on March 22, 2011. Riley was my cousin, but the closeness we shared was more akin to siblings. On the day I found out it had seemed impossible, unthinkable, that the world did not grind to a halt at the moment of his death. More than anything I wanted to stop, wait, go back, do something to stop it. Yet the world spun obstinately on – oblivious to the anguished cries of disbelief from myself, my family, and Riley’s incredibly numerous friends. Everyone who knew Riley knew he was special. He was bright, easy to laugh, brilliant, fun, fearless, one of those people that effortlessly became the center of attention. And you’d better believe he knew it.

I think that was part of why we all felt like we had failed him. Riley was always there when you reached out to him, and for whatever reason didn’t feel like he could reach out to any of us.

Over 800 people came to his funeral. It was one of the most mind-boggling and touching things I’d ever experienced. Everyone laughed and cried and shared memories, and from all their stories I learned about dozens of facets of Riley’s life that I’d never known about.

This post has been sitting in my drafts for quite some time now, and I think it’s about time I just put it out there.

I don’t quite know how to wrap it up though. Thinking about it now over three years later I remember bits and pieces and mostly memories that make me smile. I remember how Riley got a bag of dog food for a childhood birthday — an inside joke amongst family because Ri would eat his dog Max’s food. He said “If it’s good enough for Max, it’s good enough for me.” I remember playing tag and swimming in the pool at his house. I remember family reunions and his ridiculousness. I remember how attached he was to his car and his satchel (though some of us teased him about it being a man-purse). I remember making crowns with vines that were growing on the fence by my garage. I remember Riley telling me that he would be the coolest uncle ever once my daughter arrived. He promised to teach her the most creative curses and the best ways to annoy me.

Leonard Cohen sang “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

That’s how I have chosen deal difficult life situations. One of the most important (and hardest) life lessons you can learn comes on the heels of death and tragedy. You can live without money, you can get by with next to nothing and still manage to wake up every morning happy. People can be resilient. You can be beaten down again and again, and still manage to get up at the end of the day.

It doesn’t matter what you go through, who or what you lose as life goes on. The world spins on, refusing to stop and let you get your bearings back. Use it to make you stronger. There are things that can’t be taken away from you. Memories. Hold them for a while, then index them and pull them out for a dusting now and again. Just don’t spend all your time with them. You have to move on and create more.

Don’t put all your time and effort into making more money, acquiring more things, or being more successful. All that effort is better spent on creating new experiences, cultivating the relationships that are important to you, and doing things that make you happy. None of us gets to know how much time we have, so let’s just make the best of what we have while we have it. The only things you end up truly regretting are the things you didn’t do.

Snow and me: It’s complicated

When I peeked out of my bedroom a week ago I discovered something terrible. It had snowed overnight, leaving a thin blanket of brrrrrr everywhere. How disappointing.

Now I do recognize that I live in a state where snow is a thing every year. There are loads of cool things to do with snow. You can build snowmen; My childhood winters consisted mostly of trying to emulate a lot of Calvin’s famous snow creations. You can build igloos (theoretically, of course. I’ve tried, and apparently I can’t.) You can go sledding, you can have snowball fights, you can build forts, you can do all kinds of things. Winter is a magical time.

So when I awoke to snow what I saw wasn’t a myriad of possibilities. I saw instead; People will be driving stupidly; I will pass several vehicular accidents (actual count: 4 that day); It’s bleedin’ cold out there. I wasn’t wrong.

It hasn’t really gotten better. I’m not very excited about this season.

I have hope, though.

I’m a romantic. Everyone who knows me know this. I try to find joy in the simplest things, I try to always have a positive outlook no matter the situation. Sometimes I fall back into that hole of despair but getting back out has become more like simply picking myself up off the ground – where it used to be like trying to climb out of a mudslide with bloodied hands. Point is, I always smile. I always laugh. I always try to help others up. I always try to be honest with myself and others.

Here is my secret hope I won’t admit aloud: I hope with all my heart that one day soon I look out my window and I see a sparkling, bright, fresh, thick blanket of snow on everything and it pulls out my inner child from wherever she’s been hiding, and it makes me want to go sledding, and make snow angels, and throw snowballs. I hope that when she comes out she’s loud and obnoxious, energetic and blindly cheerful beyond any reasonable quantity. I hope that winter doesn’t get me down.

Just seven words.

Khalil Gibran once said that people will never understand one another unless language is reduced to seven words. What would your seven words be?

  1. Hello
  2. Help/Danger
  3. Believe
  4. Peace
  5. Friend
  6. Forgive
  7. Always

I think that the most basic of words — yes, no, love, etcetera, can be conveyed without actual words. So when I chose these seven words, I was trying to think of words that need more than expressions to describe them.  The word love is meaningless without the feeling behind it. If you love someone you shouldn’t have to tell them — they will know by your actions and by your devotion the depth of your feelings. The phrase “I love you” is almost a call-and-response phrase — you expect the other person to respond in kind. I tell my boyfriend that I love him all the time, and he tells me the same, but I really know that he loves me by the way he treats me, the way he touches me, and the way he looks at me. None of those actions need words.

Another word that I pondered putting on the list — but decided to exclude — is the word “goodbye”. It’s such a sad word, and I can’t think of a single person that loves to say goodbye.

Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.

So let me explain why I chose the words I did:

The first, Hello, seems to also be one of those words that can be conveyed by body language. However if you delve deeper the word is more than a greeting — it’s an invitation. It’s a call-and-response as well, but with a stranger. By saying hello, you are extending a welcome that they can respond to in kind.

The second, Help/Danger is self explanatory. If you need help, or need to warn someone of pending danger, it’s much easier to have a word for this than using body language to explain the situation. The word is a call to action.

Believe could also be Trust. This is a word that cannot be conveyed by body language. Sometimes life requires you to take a leap of faith.

Peace. The opposite of a call to action, this word can serve to diffuse situations. It can also be used to intone that you mean no harm, or as a plea to dissuade hostility.

Friend is a word used to describe a relationship outside of sexual or family relations. A definition of bonded companions, confidantes, or play-fellows. Friendships are a basis for small communities as well. Humans are social animals, and need those relationships to thrive. Having a word for such a thing is important, because there is a difference between someone you are acquainted with, and someone who is a friend. It’s important to be able to define that difference.

Forgive, because sometimes forgiveness is required, whether you are asking for it or giving it. I thought about including a word for sorry or remorse, but some languages do not even have the word sorry, because one should never have to apologize. You can show remorse with your actions and beg forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged. Whether or not you apologize is irrelevant, because as they say: “Actions speak louder than words.”

And finally, Always. In my personal opinion, always is one of the most powerful words in any language. Always transcends all times and all barriers, on all occasions, come what mayAlways is a promise, a measurement, a consistency, an infallibility, without exception. You can always be a friend, always believe, always forgive. Beautiful in its simplicity and complexity and scope, always is my favorite word on this list.

More Time

Daily Prompt: Childlike

momastery.com

You know, one day you’re going to be as old as you wish you were right now. And it’s not going to seem nearly as cool as it seems to you at this moment.

In that moment, when you’re that age, the thoughts going through your head aren’t going to be “Finally, I’m a grown up” or “Now I can do anything I want to”. Do you know what they’re going to be?

“What happened to summers?”

“How did I get here?”

“Where did the time go?”

And I know you’re not going to believe me, but “I wish I could be a kid again”.

When you get older, you’ll regret not savoring the time you had.

Instead you wished it all away, you willed the years to pass, and before you even knew it, your wish came true.

And then you’ll be wishing you had more hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year.

Time is something that can be passed, wasted, borrowed, lost, found, scheduled, counted, given, and stolen. But whatever you do with it, you’ll only ever have a certain amount. Time is not something that can be bought or traded. You will never have more time than you do right now.

You’ll wish you had a lot of things – more money, more friends, more toys. But one day, little one, you’ll wish you had more time.

It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.

Back to basics

Unplugged.

Such an innocuous term. I think that a lot of people believe they can unplug themselves any time they want to. It’s a lovely thought, to turn off ones phone for the day and go “off the radar”. I do think that it’s something everyone should do, from time-to-time.

I actually recently read an article about a CEO deciding to work off an uninhabited island for 40 days or something. The thing about that is, even though the thought is appealing – Robinson Crusoe your way through a scorpion and snake inhabited wilderness and rough it – even he isn’t really unplugging. His intention is to telecommute while he’s on the island. In my mind, that sort of destroys the whole intention.

A few weeks ago the boyfriend and I decided to go to a place in WI called Baxter’s Hollow, which is the Nature Conservancy’s largest preserve in Wisconsin. We were going to take a hike and he was going to shoot for some pictures of the little creek that runs through the preserve.

Here’s the thing about trekking through a place like that – no reception. We were hardly surprised though, and ended up being glad of the walkies, handheld GPS, and hydrapak we brought with us.

First we decided to leave the phones in the truck – no use dragging them around with us, because inside the preserve they were literally no more useful than a snazzy-looking game-boy. After a quick lunch (Pb&J’s, chips, and soda), we threw on our packs and hit the woods. At first, the boyfriend wasn’t having much luck with pictures. We saw some songbirds, but they were flitting around too fast. So were all the honeybees in the meadow, and even a giant green caterpillar slowly crawling across the quartzite trails wasn’t feeling very photogenic. We wandered around a bit more, I became annoyed at myself for not moving efishly-quietly through the woods. (When I’m walking through nature I like to pretend I’m an elf. Don’t judge.)  I kept stepping on sticks and I was trying super hard not to scare off any wildlife, so I decided I needed a walking stick (because in my head this would help me be quiet for some reason). We even found some apple trees, where I picked an apple and tried to get Boyfriend to take the first test-bite, but he wouldn’t, so I did and it was actually pretty good. Take that, sense of adventure.

Then, Boyfriend found a nifty spot at the wood-edge to get a good view of the meadow, and started setting up the tripod to get some shots. I went back into the woods to find a suitable walking stick, and maybe a spot to sit so I could do some reading. I didn’t find a good sitting spot, but I found a walking stick and even remembered to turn on my walkie in case I wandered too far away from him and got lost.

Eventually he got his shots, so we wandered back to the truck to make our way to the creek – which was to be the cherry on our trip.

The first part of the creek was neat, but I broke my walking stick and there were no good shots for the boyfriend, so we headed to another part of the creek. I did see some fish though, and got to prance around on the pebble-banks of the creek and pretend to be a fairy or an elf or something, I don’t know. Boyfriend found me another walking stick. It wasn’t as ideally shaped as the first had been, but it would have to do. It needed work, so I set to surreptitiously shaping it as we walked.

The second part of the creek was much better. No pebble-banks there, just big ol’ quartzite boulders and neat little waterfalls that Boyfriend was really excited about. His excitement turned pretty quickly to disappointment when he realized that the tripod connector thing (let’s get technical with our equipment terminology here) had apparently fallen off his camera somewhere along the walk,  and he had no way to stabilize his camera to get the long-exposure shots he wanted of the little waterfalls. HUGE bummer. I did my duty as supportive girlfriend and tried to find good perches for him to set his camera on instead, and came up with a bunch of bupkis. He did end up being able to set up on his backpack and get a few shots, but not at the angle I think he wanted, although the shots turned out pretty well, so I’ll chalk it up as a “did what we could with what we had” win. After that though, he sort of lost his interest in taking more shots, and we kept going down the creek to see if there was anything interesting further down.

I pranced around some more, and fell on my butt in the creek, which was really funny even though I soaked my jeans and I’m pretty sure it looked like I peed myself (boyfriend said it didn’t look much like I peed myself, which I suspect is nice for “it certainly does, sweetie, but I’m not going to laugh at you about it”).  On the plus side, my fall didn’t destroy any of our equipment, so I didn’t have to beat myself up about that sort of thing on the 2-hour long drive home.

Anyway, after my fall we decided that it was time to skee-daddle and get some dinner (luckily by the time we found a restaurant my pants were mostly dry, except for my socks/shoes/bottom of my jeans area) at a little family restaurant we found on the way home. It was decent, and much appreciated after a day of roughing it, but nothing to write home about.

So we spent the day unplugged, and it was a pretty amazing day, pitfalls included. It was pretty refreshing to be connected in a very human way with no phones. It’s something I would like to do way more often that I currently do.

Maybe this weekend could be time for another adventure!

A love affair I have every Autumn.

It might seem strange that I voluntarily live in frigid Wisconsin and hate the cold. I mean, honestly, if it came down to it, I could move. I could go literally anywhere I wanted to live.

Yeah, I’d miss my family, blah blah, but I’d definitely get over it as I’m sipping shirley temples on the beach while they call and whine about the snow, is all I’m saying.

That said, there is one hugely redeeming savior of this time of year. It’s something that I look forward to the second I have to start wearing sweaters, and something I mourn the minute I realize its time has passed for the year.

You’ve probably guess it already, but if you haven’t, I’ll give you a big orange hint:

Oh my. Pumpkins.

I love pumpkins. Jack-O-Lanterns, Real pumpkin pie, Pumpkin bars, Pumpkin bread, Pumpkin Seeds….the list just goes on and on and on.

It’s around this time of year that pumpkins and one of my other favorite things come together and make something sweet, something beautiful, something that just sings of perfection. I’m talking, of course, of Pumpkin Spice Coffee drinks.

Oh mama. That looks heavenly.

Now, you might be asking – but Libris, you can move to a warmer place and still have your pumpkin spice coffee, can’t you?

And the answer would be of course, yes I could. But I think half the reason I love them so much is actually because the weather is so darn miserable. The warm coffee, the spices, the smooth pumpkin flavor almost wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t bundled up while watching the snow/rain/hail/blizzard through my window, with a really big book in my lap.

Oh, and the other good thing about the weather cooling down? No more road construction. My gosh, I’ve been getting so bloody sick of traffic barrels. Would you believe it? – He tried to hit me with a forklift!  My tolerance for that sort of thing is way down nowadays.

Fall means I get to replace this orange:

With this orange:

©iStockphoto.com/Donald Gruener

And I’m ok with that.

 

Reflections on a woman I never knew, whose light touched my life today

This is a bit complicated. Usually I like to elaborate on a simple subject, or tell a short story, but this has been on my mind today and I just feel like I need to talk about it. Please excuse if it doesn’t all flow very well

So it’s National Suicide Prevention Week. When I saw that, the first thing I thought of was my dear cousin, who left us in March 2011. Initially I thought of writing a small memorial post for him, but I don’t want to be depressing. I know he certainly wouldn’t want that.

However, it did make me want to write something, I just wasn’t sure what, exactly. Then, I saw this obituary, which made national news because of its unusual and touching nature.

That got me to thinking about my own mortality, and how not all that long ago I was at a low point in my life, where I wasn’t exactly suicidal, but I found myself hoping to die. Every day. Hoping that something would happen to me, to end my existence. I saw opportunity everywhere, and tried a lot of dangerous things. It was a dark time and I did climb out of it, and honestly, I like to pretend that point in my life never happened. But we all have pasts that we must face, we all have regrets, and we all have to just get over it. If you’re always looking backwards, you’ll never move forward.

I’m past that now, though, and that isn’t what this post is about.

Anyway, reading that obituary made me wonder about the mark I have left – will leave upon the world. What kind of legacy will I leave behind when I’m gone? That woman, Pink, as she is called by her surviving relatives, sounds like a very extraordinary individual. Her mark is in the love she left behind, everywhere and in every one she ever spoke to.

I’m so very guilty of many petty crimes that Pink rose above.

Never say mean things about rotten people, instead think of them as “poor souls who we should pray for.”

I definitely always say mean things about rotten people. I wish zombification on every horrible driver, I regularly imagine global catastrophes hitting obnoxious crowds, I internally curse every jerk I see in my daily interactions with people. Never, and I mean never, have I pitied those people for their ignorance and lack of respect for anyone else. But what a lofty idea, what a beautiful thought. It makes me think of the book A Little Princess, and how when I was little I wanted to be the sort of person that Sara Crewe was, always behaving like a princess would. A real princess would never say mean things about rotten people, no matter how terribly they behaved. Princesses are above that sort of thing.

Offer rides to people carrying a big load or caught in the rain or the summer heat. Believe the hitchhiker you pick up who says he is a landscaper and his name is “Peat Moss”. Offer to help anyone struggling to get their kids in a car, into a shopping cart or across a parking lot. Give to every single charity that asks. Choose to believe the best about what they do with your money, no matter what your children say they discovered online.

Wow. That’s a tall order. I’m convinced that this woman was a saint.

Are we such a jaded society that we no longer believe in truly good people, who do truly good things? I do my “good deed per day”, most days. I give myself a pat on the back every time too. Yeah, self, there’s some karma points. But now I’m thinking that maybe to make the world a better place, I should become a better person. Not that I think I’m a bad person. I’m not. I’m actually one of the best people that I know. But maybe this world needs people who lead by example, like Pink; instead of people who preach their morality to everyone else.

Take magazines you’ve already read to your doctors’ waiting rooms for others to enjoy. Do not tear off the mailing label … “Because if someone wants to contact me that would be nice.”

Ok, so I don’t actually ever get physical magazines, but this is such a nice thought.

Growing up, there is a mantra drilled into the head of every child. Don’t talk to strangers. Granted, this is pretty good advice for a small child. As an adult, we have to talk to strangers all the time, but we keep the conversation minimal. I don’t start a conversation with anyone I don’t already know at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, not even at social places like beaches, restaurants, bars, sports games, whatever. I keep to my group of family or friends and, I guess honesty is the best policy; I secretly watch and judge everyone else there. We do this all the time. We call it people-watching. You spot a person, or a couple, or a family, and you make up an imaginary life for them inside your head, based on what you see. But you never go up to them and ask to see how their real life compares.

I just think that it’s rare to meet and cultivate a friendship with someone who is not in your pre-established social circles these days. It’s kind of sad, really. So I might make it a point to say hello to people I don’t know now and then. If they’re not interested in a conversation, I won’t push the issue. But you never know if you’ll meet someone who enriches your life in some way. And that would be nice.

It’s especially wonderful that this woman, though I never even met her, has got me rethinking my own bad behavior towards others, and the world in general. Even after she’s gone, she’s touching lives.

What a legacy. What a saint. What a wonderful person to want to emulate.

None of us are perfect. But we can try to be our best, and that’s all that we can do. The legacy we leave behind is the lives we’ve touched, the people we’ve helped, the way we’re remembered as a person, and the lessons we pass on to future generations. The more love you put into the world, the more you’ll get back.

Those who’ve taken her lessons to heart will continue to ensure that a cold drink will be left for the garbage collector and the mail carrier on a hot day, that every baby will be kissed and every person in the nursing home will have a visitor, that the hungry will have a sandwich and the visitor will have a warm bed and a soft nightlight…

Your legacy is when the love you leave behind continues to live after you’re gone.