Monday, April 11, 2016

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“Grace swoops in where you least expect it, where highs and lows collide.  One day, perhaps some breakthrough string theory of the heart will explain why awkwardness and elegrance can be perceived at the same moment, why gloom and enchantment can hit you at once.

But until then, let’s just call it grace.”

                               (Sarah Kaufman in The Art of Grace: On Moving Well through Life)

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Bombings in Brussels

I knew something was wrong last Tuesday morning when the phone rang earlier than my relatives and friends expect me to be up, though that day I was.  When I saw my dad’s name in caller ID I worried it was about his health or my step-mom’s. 

But no, he was saying, “Don’t worry, Sammy’s all right, but there have been some bombings in Brussels.” It took just a second for the alarm bells to start ringing inside my head, combined with a huge sense of relief.  My son, God bless him, had sent an email around to the whole family at 4 a.m. our time and my Dad knew I might not get to my email for a while.

It was horrible, all those people killed and injured on an otherwise ordinary day, just going about their business, with the mundaneness of the daily commute to work and the bustle of the airport.  It shattered all the illusions I had had about Brussels being a plum assignment, a “safe” assignment as my son’s first tour of duty in the US Foreign Service.  At his graduation ceremony last fall from the Foreign Service Institute I listened as the assignments of his classmates rolled off the speaker’s tongue, places I knew were plagued by civil war, religious violence, and more, and I thought how lucky we were and how scared those parents of his classmates must be.

This was an anger-inspiring reminder that nowhere is “safe” anymore, and that includes our own home, the US.  Millions of people across the world already knew this, living with terrorism and other violence on a daily basis, but so many of us were also so na├»ve.

I had just talked to Sammy the day before as he threw together a stir-fry for dinner and we happily talked of what was going on in our lives. The next morning I was running to my computer to read that he was safe and sound but that his office, where he was by then hunkered down, was close enough to the airport that he had heard the explosions.  I wrote him back, told him I loved him bunches, then went to the TV to get more information and to grieve with all the others watching.

Thursday he called me to check in again and told me that one of his colleagues had just found out her husband had been one of those killed—more than two days she had been frantic with not knowing.  It’s like a small town, he said, everyone knows someone who was at the airport or in the subway station. 

I have nothing wise to say, nothing that makes sense of the senseless, except love those you love fiercely and hold in your hearts the loved ones of those lost in Belgium last week, and around the world every day. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Busting a Move

I’m finally coming up for air.  I just moved—groan—locally but still a huge transition, one I’ve had to go through far too many times.  The move was all-consuming; I dreamed about it, I went to sleep and woke up thinking about how things were going to fit in my new place, I read and watched TV at night with one eye always landing on some corner of the room that I wondered if I could purge more clutter from…

I wouldn’t have gotten through it all with my sanity intact without the help of super-organizer and packer Sheryl Morgan of Morganization Plus.  Sheryl is a dynamo, packing me up quickly and efficiently (and most importantly, so I could find things when unpacking at my new place).  Although I had for months in preparation for my move to a smaller space been hauling things off to charity and throwing things in the trash, she still gave me gentle and good-humored de-cluttering guidance when something came to light that I hadn’t used in the entire four years in my old place.  I became brutal—toss it, donate it, throw it, purge it all!  (Sheryl might argue here as my new apartment is, albeit tastefully and colorfully, filled to the gills. No wall space has gone undecorated, no flat surface remains bare. But it fits!)

The last two weeks I was all packed up with boxes from floor to ceiling, waiting for settlement on the condo and for Sheryl to get back from a previously scheduled vacation before the big move date (which had to be postponed because of snow).  I had only the basics to live with those two weeks. For example, in my kitchen—one knife, fork, and spoon, one bowl, one plate, one cup, one pan.  It makes you realize how little you can really do with if you have to.

Sheryl told me she considers her work a healing profession, and I agree with her.  Having someone walk with you through one of life’s greatest transitions isn’t just about packing boxes, it’s about emotional support and her welcome constant reminders that everything was going to be all right, and indeed it was.  This move was one of the smoothest I’d ever experienced thanks to her, and I can’t recommend her highly enough.  Now with boxes all unpacked and out the door and paintings all hung on the walls I’m going through Sheryl withdrawal, back to tackling life’s challenges alone again. 

I love some things about my new place, like an opener floor plan in the living and dining space, and am still getting used to others (like a tiny shower). I am making new acquaintances in my new building and enjoying its amenities.  I lucked into another southwestern exposure so am uplifted by lots of light all day and beautiful sunsets through the stark bare trees outside my windows. (This poetic view is available if you lift your eyes above the cars in the not-so-pastoral parking lot.)

I don’t recommend moving if you don’t have to, but it is a survivable experience.  Now it’s time to get my head back in the game at work and socially, and live my life in the now rather than as a pending disaster.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“When we come to understand the paradox that what we most value in our lives was often born out of conflict and struggle, we can begin to get a glimmer that perhaps one day we may begin to embrace our difficulties and find grace in them, even if that day is not today.”

                                                            (Jack Kornfield, from A Lamp Unto Darkness)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Son Takes Wing (continued)

I do solemnly swear
That I will support and defend
The Constitution of the United States
against all enemies foreign and domestic,
That I will bear true faith
and allegiance to the same
That I take this obligation freely,
without any mental reservation
or purpose of evasion,
and that I will well and faithfully
discharge the duties of the Office
on which I am about to enter.
So help me God.

So went my son Sammy’s swearing-in as a US Foreign Service Officer.  The occasion was a mix of solemn and exciting both for the new FSOs and their families in the State Department auditorium that day, and phones busily took pictures of beloved children. 

For me it was a lot better than I had expected, because Sammy’s first tour of duty will be to—drum roll please—Brussels, Belgium!  I was weak with relief when I heard, and then quickly filled with pride that he should have garnered such a coveted assignment.  He’ll be a political counselor.

I’ve been kind of blue since the swearing-in, since it makes this imminent departure of my only child very real.  He’ll be leaving the week after Thanksgiving, and I will miss him terribly.  I won’t be privy to the nature of the hard work he’ll be doing (he’s been told that posting involves a lot of late nights and weekends) but I will get to hear what he’s doing in his limited free time.  Brussels is a short two-hour train ride to London and Paris, for example, besides the city itself being beautiful and culture-filled.  (I’ve already hit Wikipedia and the Belgium tourist websites to soak up information about my son’s new home.)

Now he’s busy with additional training and with the logistics of his move, selling his car, deciding what to take with him, and saying goodbye to friends.  We’ll have a wonderful Thanksgiving together to send him off, though I don’t know whether we’ll get to have his birthday party with my mom and I and Sammy’s dad and his family which we usually have Thanksgiving weekend, too. 

I have much more to be thankful for this year than I had ever hoped for, knowing that my son will be as safe as anyone can be in this world of ours.  It will truly be a Thanksgiving, but then I still have to say the hardest goodbye I ever have.  I love you, son.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Son Takes Wing

I’ll know in just a few weeks.   This is big, really big.  My 26-year-old son, Sammy, is joining the Foreign Service and in October will get his first tour-of-duty assignment.  He’s shown me the “bid list” of 73 cities where there are openings in the embassy or consulate: he had to rank them in order of preference and just turned that in yesterday. No guarantees he’ll be placed in one of his top or even medium preferences. First-tours are, thank God, not sent to war zones but there are definitely some places less than desirable on the list according to this anxious mom. (And some cities I’ve never even heard of, but that’s another story.)  

This is an ultimate case of giving your children roots and wings.  You have to live with where their wings take them and hope that the roots are strong enough that they will thrive and yes, miss you and stay in touch.

I am so very proud that my son wants to serve his country and that he has a spirit of adventure, and that he has successfully been accepted into a very competitive job. I am thrilled that his dreams are coming true. I am also sad, anxious and fearful. I will miss him terribly; he went to college in Maryland and has been living close to home, in Washington DC, since he graduated from college, a boon for me.  Even if we didn’t see each other every week or anything like that, I knew he was nearby and safe and of course we talked almost every week on the phone.  Now I’ve gotten a web cam and set it up so I can Skype with him wherever he is, but that’s not the same as an in-person conversation and hug.  I fear for his safety in a world full of conflicts and negative sentiment of varying intensities in some quarters towards Americans.  I worry that he might be homesick and isolated, though in reality he is a very social creature and makes and keeps friends easily. 

I want for him all good things—safety, interesting work, new friends from both the expatriate and local communities, a sense of self-worth, recognition for his achievements, a comfortable home sanctuary, a chance to see the world and realize the universality of human experience across borders, and much, much more. 

I wish for myself good Skyping, maybe a good place to visit him (and that my frequent flyer miles will be enough), and most of all the ability to sleep at night.

More to come… 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thinking of My Father

I put my dad back on the train to Cleveland after a wonderful one week visit.  It was a laidback visit, befitting my dad’s nature, mostly just hanging out, talking, reading, and spending time reconnecting. Highlights were a refreshing afternoon at the pool, a walk around Brookside Gardens, and his getting in nine holes of golf and dinner with his grandson. For me it was welcome companionship, a much needed break from being alone all the time.

My father, praise Spirit, is healthy, in his early 80s.  H lives a good seven hour drive away, but I make sure to see him at least once a year—I wish it could be more.  When we’re apart, what reminds me of him, full in the face and all in a rush?

M*A*S*H or any Alan Alda movie, because I think he looks like him—or vice versa!

Anything to do with Johnny Carson.  We watched together; I guess it must have been when I was an older child or young woman.

Likewise, old musicals, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, old westerns—Sunday afternoons, watching with him.

Laughter is a fine inheritance, and a sense of playfulness, too. 

Having a glass of cold milk with a piece of chocolate cake, that juxtaposition of colors, the melding of the two flavors, like heaven; this is Dad, too.

The smell of British Sterling cologne, which he’s worn all my life.

Big brown bedroom slippers.

Peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Coffee.  Endless cups of coffee.

The slight scratchy feel of his face even after he shaves.

Anything to do with American colonial history, because when I was a teen he was involved in re-enactments as a Minuteman.

Always looking for someone as sturdy and absolutely dependable and loving, I search for my father’s bear hugs.  Phone calls just don't do the trick compared to those hugs goodnight. 

Miss you, Dad!