My brother would have been turning 60 on June 2nd. Sadly, he died at age 44 from an aggressive kind of cancer, germ cell type, and he had what is called an extragonadal germ cell tumor. It was lodged in his chest and was inoperable. Chemo and radiation didn’t work. I remember right after he died it felt like such an emergency, like an epic emergency, and I couldn’t understand why the world was still chugging along like usual. I was in the neighborhood bakery getting my coffee and I came close to blurting out to the cashier that my brother had just died. I didn’t know this person, and she didn’t know me or my brother, but still, I felt that she should probably know that such an awful thing had happened. Life was weird like that for quite a long time. I remember feeling that the earth wasn’t a safe place anymore without him on it with me. I also remember thinking that there has to be a number I could call to get through to him. I mean, I knew it was crazy, but I just couldn’t quite accept that there was NO WAY to talk with him. As an introvert, I have always hated “catching up” on the phone, but Tom had been the one person I could talk on the phone with for hours. We’d call it our ranting and raving.
(Luckily, I have started a new tradition of ranting with my brother Bob. :)
In the 15 years since Tom’s death, I have learned to become more like him. I’m braver now and more determined to live my life the way I want to. (Admittedly, some of this development is due to being in my 50’s and not giving *ucks anymore!) But man, he had always been good at that! He made shit happen! And one of the coolest gifts I’ve found is channeling his spirit when I’m moving furniture around in my house. I’m like, yes, I know Tom, it looks way better over here!
Here is a poem I wrote for him last year, remembering when we worked together in Harvard Square back in the day. xoxo
For my brother Tom
We took the bus from Medford to Cambridge,
Waiting tables at Atrium Cafe.
Stations flooded at once, pre-theater rush –
We need our check right now they'd say,
Over Chardonnay and vegetable Crudités.
Barry gave you "water" at the bar but
Truth was that vodka lit the shift ablaze
And from departed customers' plates we grazed
Leftover cheesecake as we bussed dishes.
There was Redline construction to Davis Square,
It was the early eighties and we'd share
20 more years before cancer took you.
They left an indelible mark somehow,
Those 50 Church Street days, calling me now.
Well, I sure meant to post a bit more this year, but spent a lot of time thinking about it and less time doing it. Though I did do a bunch of other stuff, like had my first kayak experience and traveled to Ireland by myself and biked around gorgeous Donegal County. But I recently looked back on my journal and felt that my November 7th thoughts would be a nice post for the end of 2018. And I also am sharing a few pictures from Christmas. Kesha kitty made sure we never got that puzzle made...
The picture of the rainbow tunnel is a cool image for 2019. May we all enter the new year through a rainbow tunnel of sorts.
There is something so delicate and crazy beautiful about realizing that life has been good and has delivered so much to you, maybe more than many people on earth have been able to have. I feel that at 55, I have already been gifted many enormous things! Kids, big love, education and fulfilling work! Whatever is left is pure grace. Still, I do dream of my life moving forward and with hope of discovering new things and finding out new ways to love. Can I find new ways to love now?
I wonder if I will find it with another, in another, or if it’ll be more in myself and in god, life.
I don’t worry as much as I used to about the length of my life. Of course I want to live to be 100! But at the same time I know that I probably won’t and that the nature of life is wild and surprising, mysterious, deadly. I think too that I trust the fact that my kids will remember me now, even if I die too soon. We’ve had enough time together for them to have internalized me (for better and worse I’m sure, snort snort) and carry me with them for the rest of their lives. I love them more than anything.
I’ve been trying to build faith, faith in life. Trust. Developing the sense that I am not totally in control of what happens to my life. I can control what I do in my life but then life itself has an agenda too. Like they say in AA, living life on life’s terms. I’m trying.
Honestly I do want more travel, another big love, home ownership for crying-out-loud (more on that another time) but I have moments when I remember, that I won’t feel any different even if I get those things. My life is my life. Period. Breathe in, accept the mid-life belly, the rolls, the chin hairs that pop out suddenly and send shame waves though my limbs. Rest in the fact that I’ve found dignity in being truthful, happiness in allowing this moment.
I wrote a poem a couple of months ago during a particularly trying time. I was reading different things for inspiration and found some helpful words from Anne Lamott and Pema Chodron. They are both great writers with a directness and honesty that is so healing because we can all relate to the way they describe suffering. And they do it with humility and humor which I adore. At about the same time I had heard about an app called WeCroak from my friend Emmeline and immediately started using it. The app sends several reminders to your phone that you will die someday. How awesome is that?! Sure, not for everybody, but definitely helps to keep denial to a healthy minimum.
I see my writing poems as a sort of mindfulness practice. Doing it requires a level of attention to moment and an engagement with an immediate focus, like counting syllables or thinking of rhyming words. It’s fun and also ironic that I both lose myself in the process and at the same time find myself right here in the now. I’m learning that practicing mindfulness sometimes looks like sitting with eyes closed and trying to stayed focused on breathing. And other times it is remembering to be kind to myself by letting fearful thoughts move on or catching my judging mind and then inviting a softening and allowing attitude instead.
Here is my poem.
For Anne and Pema
About suffering, Pema says to me
be curious, look closely and you'll see
it's not reality but reaction
to experience that is unpleasant.
Anne teaches me how jealousy is but
an emotion secondary to our
feeling excluded and also deprived.
When my heart was pierced unexpectedly
I searched for a cure for this misery
which brought their enlightened wisdom to me.
I invite my mind repeatedly, to
rest in this moment right now with my breath.
To safeguard against sleepwalking through life
my app shares five quotes a day about death.
So, I am writing my first “mini” blog entry, an explanation of what I intend The Relational Mind blog to be about and what I hope to accomplish with it.
The first part: My intention. I am interested in sharing ideas that involve a psychological, spiritual and/or human development focus. Within these wide areas I can imagine writing about meditation, psychotherapy, life transitions, loss, creative expression to name just a handful. I think I’ll probably end up writing about situations in life that I am moved by (both positively and negatively) or aspects of living that make me wonder.
Since I began writing poetry this year, I imagine that I will share some of that here, as well as poems by other people. To me, poems are a therapeutic tool that help us better understand ourselves and life.
The second part: What I hope to accomplish. I hope to become a better writer!
I also hope that my writing will move others from a mindful and heartfelt place in the spirit of The Relational Mind.