Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Critical Conversations for Critical Periods

Lately I’ve been thinking about a few key concepts and how they relate to my life. For the most part, many folks think of me as “very grounded”, which in some ways I am. But what people don’t realized is how much I really do reflect and evolve over time. This is a concept that is hard to see in me unless you are one to stick around for the long haul because the subtle realizations don’t happen every day and are only verbalized after the repetition of said realization has been mulled over for a bit (ie. I am not a verbal processor).

At any rate, back to the key concepts.

1. I’ve been thinking a lot about identity. I know, a huge concept…how uncharacteristic (notice sarcasm)!
2. I’ve been thinking about what I consider my “spiritual home”.
3. I’ve been thinking about love and relationships…mainly because of this great film I saw the other day called “Chris and Don”. A great documentary that I highly recommend!
4. I’ve also been thinking about the quest of strengths…aka “Strengths Quest”.

Ok…now I’ve been thinking about these issues for some time now (you know, my whole life) but recently they have been coming up in conversations a lot more than usual. And I think that is where I have been seeing these changes take shape….changes that were barely manifested three years ago but are now the beginning of a paradigm shift of sorts. I’m not talking monumental mountain moving, but something more along the lines of what I like to call “deliberative heart exploration”.

I know…sounds a lot more Zen than it really is.

But after being back in the US again, being close to home again, refraining from the regular practice of going to Mass and actively engaging in self analysis, these changes have really taken a front row seat in the life that many people perceive to be so (insert word) focused, guided, grounded, deliberative etc.

Hmmm which makes me wonder…if these things are in a process of changing now, I wonder what 5 years will look like?

Certainly, these things can freak some people out. Self analysis and all that stuff…it can’t be tough. But so far, I’m taking it all in stride…one day at a time…and even prioritizing fun over heavy reflection.

It’s good to be in this place…I’ve got to say. To give myself permission to think creatively…to change and melt ideas. It’s liberating even to name this stage as something less firm and more moveable so as not to count of any realizations as “truth” but rather “process”.

And I would recommend this for anyone but then again…everyone is on their own journey.

On that note…off to live it and breath it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Epic Kayak Trip

I had only been 22 for a bit less than a month when my grandmother died. Mary…she died two days before her birthday. I was devastated. But still, a month later I got on a plane headed for Belize for my summer vacation. My last conversation with gram, on the phone was about fish (she had fish for lunch)…important relationships in my life…and my upcoming trip (which she felt uneasy about because I was flying by the seat of my pants always). I talked to her on a Thursday I think…she died the next day (the same day I was coming home to visit…the same day I was going to say goodbye).

She knew she was dying…we all did. She said all her goodbyes and she went on her terms. Of course she did.

She knew she had cancer (again) way before the doctors did. She had the surgery and refused the chemo. Mostly so she would have one good year left in her. It was a quality of life issue. And she lived her life well.

When she died, there were instructions. She asked for a memorial service at her church…food (everything is better on a full stomach she preached)…and cremation of her body so that the ashes could be scattered in the bay that we put grandpa in two years before (who also died of cancer among other things).

As a family we did all of the above but the ocean part. Instead my father kept the ashes. I guess people weren’t ready. At least until yesterday.

Six years later, my family felt ready. Of course, some things changed. We didn’t scatter the ashes because that’s against the teachings of the Catholic church…so we had to improvise instead.

So yesterday afternoon, on an overcast Sunday, my father, uncle and myself took our boats (two kayaks and a canoe) out in the ocean to the breakwall, a mile off shore. We paddled against the current, against the wind and into the choppy September swell. It was a little crazy given the conditions. But damn, it’s been six years! There was no turning back. Who knows when we would have actually followed through with it if we postponed the experience?

As my father tossed her box into the ocean to sink 30 feet below the sting of death came back all over again. Our family just hasn’t been the same without her and we’ve had six years of more painful deaths, including her oldest son, Butch, who died a few weeks ago.

Butch the free spirited, black sheep (if there ever was such a thing in a family of no-conformists), died after his 15 month battle with esophageal cancer. Butch tried his best to live life right up to the end. Reading books, spending time with family and taking walks out in the back woods of his West Virginia property, we all hoped for the best in a situation that just wasn’t working out. Even with the radiation and chemo, his tumor couldn’t shrink enough to make him a good candidate for surgery and then the poison spread…everywhere. Damn the cancer that took him before he was ready to go.

Needless to say, I had a lot to paddle through yesterday…a lot of stuff to work out in the waves. And as much as the timing of all of this stinks, my family certainly knows how to take the road less traveled. Nothing is quite done normally. And everything is quite unique and adventuresome.

Gram probably would have been pissed at the big “to do” that was created in burying her. But she would have laughed at the absurdity of it all. And if she had her way (which she always did) she would have told us how to do the whole thing better.

But the one thing that I have learned from all of this is that it’s not about how you are let go in the end. It’s not about the obituary or the eulogy or the people present at your memorial service. It’s more about all the days that lead up do that experience.

It’s about the conversations about tasty fish…talking with people about the ones you love…sharing your favorite books…digging a hole and planting flowers. It’s about singing in church, even if you are tone deaf and spending too much money on your grandkids. It’s about taking vacations, enjoying each day and spending some time reflection on how blessed we are.

Monday, September 01, 2008

No Woman is an Island

No Woman is an Island

The book “No Man is an Island” is one of my favorites. Written by Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk, I’ve found a lot of wisdom in his writings and the greater concept that was revealed to me when I was in high school. That’s the last time I read the book. A few years ago I lent out my tattered, musty smelling copy to a friend, hoping that hope might be revealed in the words.

I think what I like about Merton is his sense of justice, mixed with his conviction that life is not lived in a vacuum and therefore, careful balances of patience, active humility and community are essentials for sanity and solid communion.

Sometimes when I am in a bookstore I see copies of this book and the title screams at me!

I am not alone.
I am a collection…of people, places and experiences.
This is all a part of my life.

Sometimes I wonder if a crisp shinny copy will ever say something different. If a new copy will bring new perceptions?

In this last year or so of my life in the States, I have come to find community in some unlikely places. It’s taken a while to cultivate. And like any new place I go, the process is slow…mostly due to my fears. But day-by-day I deal and overcome and give up little pieces…

I’m certainly looking forward to what the future might bring in the next year and beyond but I can honestly say that not a day goes by that I am not grateful for this exact moment. This day….this realization. Because as much as this independent heart of mine goes off into the world and risks desertion, I always go back within my collected self and consult the reflections of the people, places and experiences that have created and nurtured me along the way.