Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pain

"People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they're afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they're wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It's all in how you carry it. That's what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you're letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain. (Jim Morrison)

I noticed pain first in the waiting room. That’s when I felt it like a presence. Like a looming cloud over our heads, waiting to pour down chicken-egg-sized hail on us … Menacing. Not hitting us yet. But there.

With every door that opened, my heart jumped. I was hoping that when every door opened it will let Hope and Life burst out and we’ll be free from the heavy cloud. That he’ll be free from the heavy cloud.

But with every door, and with every doctor and nurse that passed, the knife was being pressed even deeper into my heart! No Hope. No Life. Just waiting. Endless waiting and pain, more pain. I could see the tunnel of what I was being shoved into now deeper, even deeper, with every carefree doctor that passed by. Torture. Hours feeling like days, months …

Herodotus says that “The worst pain a man can suffer is to have insight into much and power over nothing”. It’s how it is: you FEEL all these things abusing you, all your pores are open and you take in malicious things that shoot sharp knifes up your nerve endings and you feel, and you are aware, no enhancers necessary, but there is nothing to stop the afflux of “too much” information from the outside sad news. You’re powerless. You sit. And wait. And take it all as it comes. And pray that your body has the innate immunity to block some of this. And most times, it feels like it doesn’t.

Emotional pain is tricky. You can’t quite describe it. You can’t quite locate it and for sure you can’t quite take Tylenol for it. It’s there, all-encompassing your whole being, , and it’s worse than whatever pain you’ve ever felt, but there is no way to “handle” it.

You hang, feeling it, maybe the most in your chest, between despair and blasphemy and you just demand “justice” and “cure”. But there is nothing in sight.

Emotional pain is the only kind of pain that you just have to “put up with”. You go through it and you keep going. I think Churchill said that “when you find yourself walking through hell, keep walking”. That’s ALL you CAN do through horrible emotional pain. You’ve already lost the war, and it’s pouring ashes and snow, and you’re naked, stripped off the skin you had left, and alone in the field, with the blizzard whipping. And you know, that somehow, in all this madness, you’ll live. You know, somehow, that THIS is necessary and you WILL be ok. But you can’t avoid it. You have to be there, be present. Embrace it, even. It’s part of what will make you-you.

You’re not sure how long it’ll take for this thing to do its thing with you. You pray and you walk, and you burn, and you cry, and you hope … that somehow, you’ll come out of this.

Somehow, at the end of some day, you’ll be left stripped to the bone, and helpless and naked, and alone. And somehow, you’ll stand up and walk away back in the “normal” realm, where everything is warm, and tender, and cozy. Bruised, scarred and lifeless, you will stand up and walk. You’ll never be the same person, but this was necessary! To test the skies, and to test you, this was part of the daily routine we call “life”.

But till then, you bleed in the snow, and the wind and the hail of too much emotion thrown your way. You curse God and you don’t mean to. But who else IS there to blame or listen? Who else is capable of giving us so much pain?! You have questions like these and more, but they are called into the desert. You wait. And you pray. And you cry. And most of anything: you bow, and you’re humble and you’re hoping the sooner you take all that’s given to you the faster the healing will begin. But where does the abusing stop?! How can you tell? You can’t.

Just wait. And pray. And trust!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Missing you …

The world is emptier tonight. A little less bright and a little less hopeful.

I am learning new dimensions of pain. I have lost a best friend and the world has lost a unique and great person. It’s not easy.

I am still stricken with grief, blind with running tears and lonely, terribly lonely. And I am not sure that words can ever describe how I feel, or if I’ll come at the other end of this story coherent at all. I am sure I won’t sound complete by the end of it.

We’ll all read in the next few days about Jeff Carlton the writer, the reporter, the UVA alumnus, and the sports aficionado. But I have had a different experience with Jeff. I knew Jeff, the man, the friend, the devoted confidant, the loving son and brother. I will talk about things few people knew or maybe fewer people noticed.

The man had a “Vault” where he kept all his secrets (you know, Seinfeld style). He told me when I first met him that he “doesn’t just let anyone in the Vault. He lets secrets out one at a time, carefully”. Well, after two condensed years of friendship, that felt like 20 years or a lifetime, I feel like he blew the Vault wide open for me, and let everything bleed out. I have had the fortune, and incredible honor and privilege to know Jeff in ways maybe his parents or brothers didn’t know him. With me, he allowed himself to be vulnerable, weak, strong, stubborn, but also funny, serious, impatient, devoted, sincere, giving, and sometimes quite a bit of a nuisance, too. Never a jerk. Never a bore nor commonplace. Never.

Some of the things I have learned from him and about him will probably go to my grave, with me, because he wanted them “kept in the Vault”. And they’ll stay there.
Loneliness, tears and pain brought us together and made us friends forever. Happiness, joy and unconditional friendship sealed that bond.

I have learned more lessons from him in 2 years that I have learned from life in 33. He lived short. But he lived intensely. He did everything with passion and dedication. He never wasted time. He laughed hard and loud and often. Even if he didn’t feel like laughing, he always smiled. I could not find one picture of him either not talking or not smiling. He was always in mid-sentence and mid-thought. He met everything with a sense of humor. Especially pain!
Always active, and always cooking up some thought. His mind worked overtime, for sure, like he knew he was running out of hours. He loved everything he believed in, and he believed in having fun, being honest, being loving and generous, and in The Phillies, of course (I know that much!). Oh, and being Conservative, too. How he ever survived our Newsroom, I do not know!
Some people said they argued with him on everything. Some said they found at least one thing in common with him, he was that diverse. I did both!

We both loved mashed potatoes, long road trips, U2, good spelling, a cold pillow, and no tomatoes on the sandwich, please. We argued about politics (mostly), the music of the 80’s (I am sorry, but it DOES suck, Jeff!!), about how often he should call his doctor, and about leaving the dog out in the rain.

He was so contradictory, and such a “whole” person, all in all. He lived fully, but quietly. He had no patience for computers, faulty chairs, slow drivers and small airline seats. But he never, ever, not ONCE, lost his patience in trying so hard to explain baseball to me. He did it time and again, with the stoicism of Sisyphus. Nevermind my impossibility to wrap my head around that one. He never once made fun of that or gave up trying to teach me! He used to tell me: "A whole American nation GETS baseball, you'll get it too!". I only wish! I promise I’ll read the book, too, Mr. Jeff, and that I’ll get it, one day!! One day, when we’ll meet again, we’ll both watch a game and you can quiz me. I’ll pass, I promise.

I had a lot of “firsts” with Jeff. No, not “that” kind of “firsts”, but these kind: he took me to my first Major League ballgame, my first soccer and my first hockey game. I loved them all, because I could enjoy them through his eyes! He breathed and lived every game, with nonchalance, fun and a scary (to me) amount of knowledge. Like a fish in the water, he was most at home in the arena. It was fascinating to me to watch him watch every move, every play, and predict almost every game. Well, with the exception of The Phillies, of course.

He was the first man to ever not be afraid of sassing me back. My sarcasm was a cause of divorce in my marriage; it was a requirement to be his friend. I loved him for it! He’d say: “Don’t you sass me, I’ll sass you right back”; and he did. Or “sarcasm is a must to be my friend”. Always witty and original. The most I’ll miss is the way we cracked each other up. Never taking anything defensively, but always talking smack, lovingly and endearingly. I’ll miss his blue eyes, and his well-defined dimples and his writer’s hands. I’ll miss his bear hugs!

The part I am not going to miss is the pain I knew he was in. I am happy and grateful that he’s running free, where gates fling wide open, without broken latches on them, in which he can cut his hand.

The most I learned from him was about pain and accepting it with grace. I learned also about courage and the kind of facing every day like it was your last one to live. One of the last conversations we had was about strength and how he has it, and he should not be afraid. And strong he was, as I have watched first- hand how he dealt with bad news after bad news, and misfortune after misfortune. He kept smiling. And pushing through! Always smiling.
I feel that I am a better, wiser, more complete person, because he was part of my life. He was one of those people one is only lucky to meet once in a lifetime.

I am not sure what I’ll do with myself next time I want company to Boston Market, or want to go to the dog park. I am not really sure what I’ll do when I want to go to the ballgame to actually watch and understand the game, not just to socialize. I am not sure with what I’ll fill up the minutes of every day when I worried sick about him, and wondered how he was; the minutes we talked on the phone, or the times I’d interrupt his deadline work just to see how he’s feeling. He was a part of my life that’ll never come back now. A part – irreplaceable.

I am glad he never listened to me when I told him not to take a trip last year. Now, I know, you gotta take EVERY opportunity you get to do what you want. Life doesn’t give you second chances, and he’s a fine example of that. So, take it or leave it, as hard as it is.
He made me realize once more that riches don’t consist of bank accounts. His wisdom, compassionate understanding of humans, and unconditional friendship made him one of the richest people I know!

And above all, he was humble. He was private, and he kept things fearfully in the “Vault”… I think I was the only human, that I knew in our brief time together, to ever pry the Vault, and he helplessly allowed it. You never knew just how much he suffered. And you never knew how much he hurt. He wanted to keep YOU happy. He was thoughtful and caring. And through it all he used to say, with his innate self-mockery “It’s always about me, you know!”. He made it seem that way, but it wasn’t. I will never forget his last words to me: he wanted me to say ‘hi’ to my cats. On his dying bed, he wanted to greet the cats … He was like that. He died quietly, as he lived, but painfully, as he lived also.

The pain of the emptiness I feel is making my chest hurt. I cannot breathe, and I am not really sure what’s going to fix this.

There will never be another Jeff Carlton. I was lucky, fortunate, blessed beyond belief to have him in my life. He gave me two years of friendship, love, courage, togetherness, understanding, pain and healing. And mostly, he’s taught me forgiveness and hope.
Good bye, my dearest, and I miss you much, always, with love …!

Happier times. My favorite album of pictures of Jeff and Floyd.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Yep! I am chicken!

I hate to sound like a broken record, but you know how much I love my dad. And my dad can be a royal pain in the butt, but sometimes, about some things, he knows best: “sometimes - he says - things help ‘in absentia’ more than they ever will otherwise!”

I almost did it! I “interviewed” all my friends who have met online and got their opinion. I even talked to those who got married as a result of an online date and I was impressed by their recommendations! I have talked to one of my best friends who, I thought, was as skittish (old fashioned, conservative, insert your “guarded” adjective here) as me about online dating and who, recently, turned "modern" and uninhibited on me and started dating "online"... I thought that he and I were the only single souls in America not sold on the online dating craze. But, nope, I was alone ...

I even bought a book (always, my resources!), with a given-up title: "Fine: I’ll Go Online", about why and how you should date online. I even opened up a free account with E-harmony, "just" to see what my profile says and what matches I am being delivered”. Ok, ok, you get the picture: I was still on the fence, but very much over it, too, barely hanging on to it, before I touched the ground on the other side...That is, before I was to start putting myself out there, to try "online" dating, too ... Since the normal, day-to-day kind of dating has not worked for me for a while now ... Not that I am “that” desperate, but weekend trips can be lonely without a partner and cold winter nights even colder. Heck, we ALL need companionship, right?! So, I was sold. Almost. Till tonight anyway...

Tonight, I peeked at my "free of charge" matches from E-harmony. The matches are "real", but you don't get to communicate with them unless you pay, which I haven't yet. And I won't! I won't because one of the matches E-harmony delivered is a guy I know. And a guy that I tried to date. Desperately (almost), crazily single-ly tried to date. A guy that I met in the real world, on a real date, with whom I had many real dates … and who contributed to two of the most frustrating and confusing weeks of my life. He left me with a more bitter taste than bile acids can leave ... and he is now, one of my computer generated (how else??) matches on E-harmony.com. I was flabbergasted, amused, mad, and ... really, really, relieved! Relieved that I didn't sign up for an online dating site, that is... E-harmony is supposed to give you “leads” on relationships that might possibly work for you, with your personality traits… Relationships that will bring you to your "soul mate" and promise happiness for ever. Have you seen those commercials?! But this guy was “a cold trail” as Deputy Andy Brennan, in “Twin Peaks”, says about his love interest. I was amused!

Tonight I realized (yep, I am slow AND na├»ve), just like the junkie gambler who plays the casino and the machines for years and finally realizes he cannot beat a computer and gives up, that that's all that online dating is! It's a gamble! And just like the junkie gambler, you're playing the computer. It's the computer that "finds your matches", really ... Now, maybe you have some gambling luck to speak of! I don't! With my luck at gambling, thank you very much, I'll pass! Now, if you factor in my luck at dating, I am REALLY screwed! So, I think I'll leave the $120 in my pocket for now, and take myself on some real sushi dates with a movie at the end. At least I'll get the food, and some quality alone time with a bag of popcorn! Now, THAT's real! And to this day, has never disappointed me! Of course, the cold winter nights are still outstanding, so if you know someone out there who would like to join me… please send them this way, and I’ll share the popcorn…For now, no online dating for me, and still just a firm belief in Karma, and Fate and all old-fashioned things my mom used to talk about. At least they are monetarily free...

Of course, you'll hear first if there is a change... For sure. But, boy, was I close to almost being there ... Phew! What a relief!! Thank you, E-harmony! You have noooo idea !!!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Heritage of Love

My veteran readers are probably wondering what am I going to trash this year for Valentine’s Day? What crazy, sassy, sarcastic blog am I up to for 2008? The thing is, though: I am not in such mood. So sorry to disappoint: I think I’ll be goopy, for a change!
I thought about my parents a lot today. Their love story is a bit unreal and seems out of cheesy paperback novels, and I haven't shared it with many, but here it goes.
They met on a train ride to the beach one summer. They were 17-18 or so. Mom looked very old (as in “mature”) and serious and very beautiful, by dad’s accounts. Dad was a hippy, bell-bottoms and flip-flops. He was passing her compartment, he stopped in awe and he asked her: “Why are you sad?”; in her typical, dry, fatalistic tone, she answered: “I don’t think I will ever, as long as I live, know what happiness is. It’s just the way it goes”. And she looked outside the window, and didn’t smile, like he was bothering her. Then, he sat down and he said, just like that: “Well, that will be my mission in life, then: to make you happy. One day”. That was their first dialogue. And the rest is history. Or the rest is my life ...
We don’t have Valentine’s Day back home, or at least we didn’t when I grew up. But their “love day” was the anniversary of the day they met. That day, on the train ride. And until both my sister and I left home, I don’t remember one such anniversary they celebrated without us.
We never went out. But on their “first date” anniversary, we would go out, the four of us. They didn’t want to be alone, and they didn’t want a party, like they had for any other celebration. They always told us: “On this day, when we celebrate our falling in love, we want to be with the fruits of our love, the two of you (me and my sister)”.
Dad, forever the romantic, Beatnik hippie, used to tell me and my sister: “Your mom and I are part of the ‘Love Story’ generation: little money and lots of love will keep us going forever”.
And thus years passed and we always knew to be prepared to go out with them for “love day”. And I really felt that for ONE day, at least, that I could tell … mom was happy. They both were. Happy and in love.
And so, today, when the world (or at least the American one) celebrates love, I give thanks to all the loves in my life, in memory of theirs. Even if single (again, I know: broken record), I can feel love and taste love, and smell it around me. And I am grateful for it.
And I am starting with the parents.
Hopefully, we’re all here because of love, or at least pleasure, and that’s one thing we can think about and appreciate on our own, without having to “share” it with “someone else”. We can just enjoy it, on our own. I am grateful for that every day of my life: that I am a “result” of love.
I try to give that feeling back to everything else in my life: my house, my family, my food, my friends, people I work with, books I read, every day that I open my eyes to, my cats, the way I cook, the way I plant my flowers, the way I write, and everything else I do or come across with. Love is mindfulness and respect towards all that, for me, and I share it freely. With all of you.
Mom and dad are still married, after 34 years of love, cat-and-dog style. She nags and is “serious” and “bitter”; he tries, relentlessly, to make her happy. Children are gone now, far, far away, but he buys her gifts on their love day, or just flowers, while she sighs with sad eyes, looking out the window. And I am sure they both feel the happiness, and bask in it. It’s there. Even if they don’t “call” it that!
Give love and feel it. It’s always there. You just need to be still and find it, listen to it, taste it.
And as my dad would want me to, I will end with the most absolute (if “absolute” can have a comparison degree!) definition of love: the one that John Lennon left us:

“Love is real, real is love
Love is feeling, feeling love
Love is wanting to be loved
Love is touch, touch is love

Love is reaching, reaching love
Love is asking to be loved
Love is you
You and me

Love is knowing
We can be
Love is free, free is love
Love is living, living love
Love is needing to be loved”

Happy Love Day, everyone!
And remember: we’re all loved, somewhere, and also “lots of love and little money can keep you going forever”. And we all come from it! So, just enjoy it, and be happy for it, and tread gently …

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Communication Misfit …

“A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.” (Oscar Wilde)


I was thinking the other day that since I am such light years behind everyone else in the means of communication I use, I should make a somewhat “public” note of this …
I am sort of trying to tell everyone that despite what their perception is, no, I am not rude (not trying to be, anyway), no, I am not anti-social (not much), and no, I don’t hate them, either …
I simply use methods that are a tad less mainstream – just like I do with a bunch of other things in my life …
So, here we go, in case you're trying to get in touch with me ...
I don’t have caller ID on my home phone. Never have. I am not even ever considering having it, because it costs and it’s a luxury I can do without. So, I don’t screen your calls. If I don’t answer, it’s because I am not home yet, or because I am asleep (yes, I take naps, too), and I unplug the phone then.
No caller ID at work either, and that's out of my control. If I don't answer, I really am, away, or in a meeting, or on the other line, like the greeting says. Not lying at all.
I don’t use my cell much, which WILL come as a shocker in this day and age. I answer it only when I am in the car or in a public place, because those are the only places that don’t have a landline that’s permanently mine. If you call the cell then, I will be “quick” and ask you what you need, ‘cause I gotta go. I have a plan that covers 50 minutes of peak time a week and 500 minutes a weekend. Yes, in a world when people have 1200 minutes a month, I get 50 minutes! I know: it’s hard to comprehend. Again: it costs, and it's a luxury I can live without. No, it’s not you, it’s me. If you call the cell while I am at home, or at work, I will ask you to hang up, and I will call you from a land line. I am cheap indeed. No joke!
So, I don’t use the cell for chattin’. I love to chat, don't get me wrong: call my cell and in 2 minutes tell me when and where you wanna meet: we’ll chat then and there. For hours!
Since we’re talking “cell” here: I don’t text either! Never have. I am having trouble accepting "text" as a verb, too ... I don’t think I ever will "text". I personally think that’s insulting my very ability to communicate. You wanna talk: pick up the phone and call … meet me somewhere … you get the point… In my communication-challenged opinion, typing into a PHONE is slightly ... well, un-natural, for wanting to be less insulting here! :-) Doing something “just because you can”, we’ve learned from our 42nd president, can be pretty stupid! So, yes, I am going to be mad at you if on Christmas Day my cell goes off at 7 AM when you decide to text me “Merry Christmas”. So, stop it!
Unless you live on another continent, or another country, I typically don’t want to sit there on the phone and chat with you for 5 hours. Sorry… You’re welcome to visit anytime, with notice, and we can also meet in town and do dinner, or lunch… But I am not going to do my dishes and laundry, change my cat litter and do my nails or take a bubble bath with you on the phone … As I grow old, I am seeing how I am very A.D.D. anyway, so I am trying to focus more (this is no joke!), so I cannot give “the phone” undivided attention, while I do all that, plus: you’ll complain because of the noise … Maybe once in a blue moon, yes, I’ll chat you up, but if that’s your idea of keeping in touch with me, it’s not going to work for a long time at all. We’ll break up!
But there is always email, and ... I do email a LOT. And that’s because it allows me to have some freedom, the sole driving force of my life, and respond when I have the time, and again, to give you undivided attention! I will email you updates about me and I’ll ask about updates on you; I will expect an email back, although people will call back. You don’t get me then! … Again: it’s about being focused, and not missing things. And I can do my laundry at the same time, since you won’t mind the noise … I am religious about answering emails, so if you want a 100% sure way to reach me, email me. I promise you: I’ll be there. But again: ideally, we make time to chat!
It’s not uncommon that you should leave me a voice mail and you’ll get an email back. If the voice mail says “ I am just checking to see if we’re on for 5 PM for drinks” – I’ll call. But if it says “ I am checking to see how you are and what you’ve been up to lately”… and there is a looonnggg story behind it (make your own “WRONG” game show noise here!): yeah, I’ll write! I’ll even attach pictures. :-)
My days of IM-ing are over … The only people I used to IM with regularly and with patience are my parents, but since Skype, we talk live, over the Internet, for free … Since they live in Europe, they qualify for long distance “phone” chatting, you see . So, stop sending me messages about “IM me on MySpace” or on AOL, or on Yahoo: not gonna happen!
If you live in another continent or town and don’t have a pc, you WILL get a hand written letter once in a while IF you write back! OK, I am weak: for those who are so poor that can’t afford postage, I’ll even write without expecting a response back.
If you really made it to the list of “my friends”, you will get a hard copy of a birthday card, and Christmas card. I love paper and ink … And I love to write, so, yes, you’ll get me, in paper … I am still working on being good about the "thank you" notes. I'll get there, once I'll be "officially American", I swear!
And actually, that’s one thing I do miss: the handwritten cards and letters …
I guess I do live in the past … But here I am, still, trying to love all of you the ways and means I can master: as the ultimate communications misfit!
And always remember: you’re not doing anything wrong. This is about me, not you!