Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sweet Summer 2014

On May 31, 2014 I took the kids to the Nashville airport so they could fly to Beijing and spend the summer with Buddy.  

In the following 58 days, I was in Nashville, North Carolina, Washington DC, Beijing, South Carolina, Portland and San Francisco and here's what I did:

  • Moved all of our stuff in Nashville out of our 2BR/1BA duplex into a PODS

  • Visited my old church in Palo Alto.
  • Met with many dear old friends in the Bay Area.

  • Made a few new friends.
  • Got a facial, a pedicure and 2 manicures.
  • Flew to Beijing for a week to see Buddy and the kids.

  • Flew 20,200 miles, which means I boarded 16 planes.

  • Got our tenant to move out of the East Palo Alto house and got it cleaned, repaired and inspected so it’s ready for sale.  

  • Spent 11 nights in hotels.  
  • Visited every US time zone.
  • Put Cooper into a training camp for the summer.

            $$$$$$$         $$$$$$

  • Agreed with Ty that we’ll let each other go.  The 450-mile distance became a real show-stopper and neither of us was able to move.  
  • Toured the world’s largest digital print facility.
  • When I just slip it in like that does it seem like not a big deal?  Because I really want it to seem like it’s not a big deal.  
  • Dipped my toes in the Pacific.

  • Of course I mean the break-up.  Not the digital print facility.  
  • Ate a lot of sushi and frozen yogurt.
  • Gained 5 pounds.  (Or so...)
(connection?  possibly...)
  • Attended my awesome nephew's confirmation.
  • Ate a cro-nut.  (Whose idea was this???)
  • Facilitated classes for 234 amazing people.
  • Got bangs.

Summer 2014 you were sweet and I loved you.  
Thank you for everything you brought me and gave me.  
It was all perfect in its own way.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Tuesday Rule

Pat’s house on a Tuesday afternoon looks like a glossy page out of a home decor magazine.  

The granite countertops shine.  The bed linens are clean and smooth.  The floors glisten.  All surfaces have been dusted and they are free of clutter.  

There’s one rule on a Tuesday afternoon.  Keep It Clean.  When Pat walks in the house after work she wants to get that moment of living in a home decor magazine.  So if you get home before her, do not put your purse down on a countertop.  Do not pull any belongings out of a closet.  Do not mess anything up.  

Last Tuesday I got home before Pat.  Her son Kyle and his friend Armando ("Armando!  He brings us so much joy!") were in the family room playing video games.  

Whatever you imagine when you think of “teenage boy”, these boys are it.  They are in a huge growth spurt and they are clumsy in their new frames.  They take up a lot of space.  They don’t smell great.  They laugh loud.  They eat a lot of McDonald’s.  If you have a heavy suitcase they will carry it upstairs for you as if it were a briefcase.  They are generally happy and laid back, as long as they have a Lacrosse stick in their hands, or else a Chicken McNugget.

For some reason this day I was feeling responsible for the cleanliness of the house.  I wanted it to be nice for Pat, and I wasn’t sure if Armando knew about the Tuesday rule.  So I poked my head in the family room.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” I said.  

“Hey!” said Kyle.

Armando used his one free hand, the one that wasn’t connected to a gaming mouse, to give me a happy salute from the recliner.  

“Okay, Armando, do you know what’s really important today?” I asked.

He laughed.  “I know, I know.  Keep it clean,” he said. 

“Ha, I should have known that you know,” I said.  

Armando laughed again.  “Of course.  I live here too, you know!”

I walked upstairs and laughed to myself because seriously, how could you not?  “I live here too, you know.”

In reality neither Armando nor I live at 300 Alexander Avenue.  

But we feel like we do.  We know where the key is.  We know how to walk the dog.  We know the Tuesday Rule.  

I wasn’t actually planning to live with Pat all summer.  My plan was to live in our empty house in East Palo Alto while I got it ready for sale.  But when I arrived in California Pat asked me, “Why are you doing that?”

“Well, because I can, I guess.  And I don’t want to stay in a hotel all summer,” I said.

“What are you going to sleep on?” she asked.

“Oh!  Right.  Your air mattress.  Can I borrow it for the summer?” I asked casually, as if it were not a plan I had made that very second.  

“Why don’t you just sleep here at my house on a real mattress in the guest bedroom?” Pat asked.  

“For the whole summer?” I asked.  “That’s a long time!  I can stay at the East Palo Alto house.” 

“What are you going to make your coffee in?” she asked.

I looked at her blankly.  

“Exactly,” Pat said.  “You’re here for the summer.  Kyle, put her suitcase in the guest bedroom!”  

And so it was decided.  I stayed with Pat for almost two months.  

We made grand plans for what we would do with our summer together.  We did some of it (moved the dresser, went to the beach for a weekend away) but we didn’t get around to some of our grandest plans (power wash Megan’s house, get tattoos).  

But we spent a lot of great evenings together in the living room, with our laptops in our laps and B-52s on the coffee table.  We read each other funny quotes from our Facebook feeds.  We moaned about everything that was wrong in the world.  We laughed about how easy it would all be to fix if we were just in charge of everything.  We laughed until we cried.  And sometimes we cried, until one of us made the other laugh again.  (“That joke would only have been funny if you were already DEAD!”)  

I love Pat’s house.  It has everything you might ever need.  

Need to snuggle with a ball of sweet fluffy love?  We’ve got that.

Need to take a dip in the pool?  We’ve got that.

Need to relax in the shade?  We’ve got that.

Need to chat while someone else does the cooking?  We’ve got that.

Need a comfy place to watch The Bachelorette and throw things at the TV?  We’ve got that.  

But the very most important feature in Pat’s house is Pat herself.  And that’s why I love it here.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Looking Back

It is a beautiful sunny California morning and Scruffy and I are out for a walk.  Scruffy, as usual, has chosen our route and we are at the elementary school at the end of the street.  It has a large parking lot and there’s a lot for him to sniff at.

He is a sniffer, this dog.  

I’m waiting patiently while Scruffy sniffs down a hibiscus bush.  A man carrying a baby is crossing the parking lot towards us.  The baby is in a Baby Bjorn, facing outward, and as soon as he sees Scruffy he starts waving his arms and legs.  Scruffy in turn wags his tail and we bound over to greet them.  Now that Scruffy is close by, the baby flails with even more excitement.  

“He seems happy to see your dog,” the man says.  

“My dog seems to be happy to see your son!” I say. 

“Oh, he’s not my son.  He’s my grandson,” he says.

“Wow, you look awfully young to be a grandpa,” I say.  He does.  

The man beams and says thank you.  We say goodbye and continue on our walk.  But the baby shrieks every few feet and his granddad turns around so he can get one more look at the four-legged furry wonder that is Scruffy.  I wave at the baby each time and his arms and legs flail with glee.  He looks like the happiest half of an octopus.

Another dog comes our way and Scruffy is elated to see him, but this dog seems to not even notice us.  Scruffy whines and tugs at his leash.  I let him approach the other dog but still, he ignores us.  I encourage Scruffy to come on, and he does, but keeps looking back longingly at the other dog, whining and wondering why, why, why….  

We’re almost home when we meet a woman walking in the same direction with her dog Jake.  She asks how old Scruffy is and I tell her he’s eight.  Which I think is pretty close to the truth.  When she tells me her dog is fourteen I exclaim, “Wow, he’s in great shape for fourteen!”  She nods but tells me that lately he’s starting to show Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.  I ask what that means and she says that sometimes he just stands in the middle of the house and seems to be confused about where he is and where he’s going.  Then she goes on to say it reminds her of her dad, who had Alzheimer’s.  She said he would sit in front of the clock and ask over and over again, “What time is it?”  

“Wow, I can imagine that’s hard to see your dog go through that, and to have those reminders of what it was like with your dad,” I say.

And then we both stop walking, and we stand there on the street corner for a minute in thoughtful silence.  

Then she looks up and squints into the sun.  She gives me a faint smile and asks what my name is.  I tell her I’m Melanie and I reach for her hand, and she shakes it warmly and says that she’s Nicki.  And we wish each other a good day, although I think in reality we are wishing much more for each other than a good day.  

I am wishing peace for her.  

I wonder what she was wishing for me.  I’m not sure.  

In a few more steps Scruffy and I are home.  At his home anyway, and for the summer it is also my home.  

I unleash Scruffy and untie my shoes and decide that I will give Scruffy credit for the song we just wrote together during our walk.  

We're still working on the lyrics but we have the title.

It’s going to be called “It’s Okay to Look Back”.  

(All Rights Reserved, Melanie Parsons Gao and Scruffy "I-Need-To-Sniff-That" Hill).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Monday July 14, 2014 was one of the best days of my life

I woke up in a beautiful resort at the beach, in a gigantic bed that smelled like sage and lemons.  

I went for a walk on the beach and thought about a friend three time zones away who was having a hard day.  

Then I spent a few hours with the geniuses behind one of my favorite websites in the world.  I know you use it too and you love it too.

This is why I love my job.  Because I work with people who are crazy smart and passionate about their jobs.  

After the class one of the participants thanked me for making the conference room a safe place for them, and when I asked what I had done to make it safe he hesitated, and then said that he thought ... it had something to do ... with my voice.

My voice….  Hmmm....

Then I went to Sam’s Chowder House and sat at the bar and ate grilled fish tacos and talked to the bar tender about the World Cup.  And then I alternated between admiring the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and watching all the families around me.  

Which means I alternated between enjoying my freedom and missing Audrey and Grant.  

Then I decided to visit my my mom’s cousin Nina and her husband Chuck, whom I hadn’t seen in 8 years.  I was in their neighborhood and had tried to email them but hadn’t gotten a response so I figured they wouldn’t be there and I would just leave them a note on the door.  But when I knocked on the door Chuck answered.  He gave me a big smile but I had the feeling he didn’t recognize me.  It has been 8 years, after all.  

“Chuck, I’m Melanie.  Marie’s daughter….”  

Another big smile.  Then Chuck said, “Oh yes!  And … do we know you…?”

“Yes, but it’s been years.  Marie is Nina’s cousin and I’m Marie’s daughter … I just wanted to say hi.  I was in the neighborhood…”

I was about to turn around and leave when Nina appeared in the background.  She clapped her hands in delight.

“Ah!  It’s … a Volkert!” she exclaimed.  At least she had identified me as family.  From there it was only a short jump to Melanie, Marie’s daughter.  

“Oh, Melanie!  It’s so good to see you!” Nina said.  “Chuck, we’re going to need champagne,” she said, and Chuck scurried off to the kitchen.

“Oh, I’m not going to bother you,” I said.  “I just wanted to say hi.  I was working just right across the street today and I wanted to say hello.”  

“It’s not a bother!” Nina exclaimed.  “Come in, come in!”

So I sat with Nina and Chuck for a while in their breezy beach bungalow and they told me about their children and I helped them program their new cell phones.  And when it was time for me to go we hugged and promised to get together again soon.  

Just then my BFF texted me and said that Highway 92 was closed due to an accident and I was going to have to take 84 to get over the mountain to get home and she was worried about me doing that in the Jeep, which is a stick shift.  And hers.  She let me borrow it for the summer.  

She let me borrow her Jeep for the whole entire summer.  And she let me stay in her house for the whole entire summer. 

And she watches traffic reports and sends me updates.  

And she worries about me.  

This is why we're BFFs.

So I bought her some clam chowder from Sam’s and started across the mountain in the Jeep.  It was actually more fun than scary, sort of like one of those Monte Carlo video games.  

And I thought that if I died in a crash on Highway 84, the clam chowder in the passenger seat would be a nice touch.  It would have given you all something to focus on at my funeral.  “Did you hear that the last thing she charged on her credit card was some clam chowder for Pat?”

But I didn't crash.  And Monday June 14, 2014 turned out to be one of the best days of my life.  

I wish I could tell you why exactly.  

It was a day when I was, technically, alone.  

I woke up alone, I walked into a conference room full of strangers, sat solo at a bar, went on my own to visit relatives, made my way across the mountain by myself.  

This day had the potential to be lonely but it wasn’t.  

I enjoyed my own company today.

And I talked to a lot of people today who I will never meet again.  We were in each others' lives for a brief moment, but for me that doesn't make the encounter any less precious.

Maybe that’s why I loved today.  

Or maybe I loved today because it was full of things that I have never done before and probably will never do again.  Each event, each encounter, was singular.  

Maybe that’s why I loved today.

Or maybe I loved today because it carried the scent of lemon and sage and fog and grilled fish and sand and salt and seagulls.  

And champagne.

And clam chowder.  

And, I guess, me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I'm distracted by blood on the counter

1.  Re-caulk the sink.

2.  Replace garbage disposal.

3.  Repaint walls.  

I’m trying to make notes for myself about what to repair or replace before we put the house on the market.  I write down the things the tenant mentions, but I’m distracted by blood on the counter. 

This house is haunted for me.  

It’s 2004 and I’m cooking dinner.  Buddy is on a business trip in New York.  As soon as the kids and I walk in the door Audrey throws off her sundress and starts dancing around the living room.  Grant is with me in the kitchen.  He has just learned to walk and he gets into everything.  

We are a young family on the cusp of everything.  I have recently started a career job with a great company.  Buddy is getting his MBA at a prestigious school. 

Grant reaches into the garbage can and pulls out a soup can.  The edges are sharp so I take it from him and as I do he shrieks.  I pick him up and take him to the sink.  It’s pouring blood.  It’s going to need stitches.  I press a clean dishcloth against the cut and balance Grant on one hip as I turn off the stove.  Then with my one free hand I drop Audrey’s dress over her head.  

Thank God for summer and sundresses.  

I’m going to need help driving to the hospital.  I go to the neighbor who has the highest radio of adults:children.  Thank God Wayne is home and is available to drive us to the emergency room.  

The four of us sit in shiny plastic chairs in the ER waiting room for hours.  I tell Wayne he can go on home but he entertains Audrey while I hold Grant, who has drifted off to sleep.  At first I worry that he’s going into shock or something but by this point it’s after his bedtime and he’s just plain tired.  

When we are called back for Grant’s stitches they apply topical anesthesia and begin threading the stitches through his finger.  

And he sleeps through the entire process.  

I am in awe of my baby boy’s constitution.  His fascination with all things sharp and shiny.  His tolerance for pain.  His propensity for sudden and deep slumber.  

Tonight I can cradle him head to foot in my arms.  I am grateful that injury, rescue and healing can all happen in the shelter of my wingspan.  

But, he is growing.  

My tenant and I ascend the stairs.  “I’ve shampooed the carpet every year but you might want to replace it now,” she says.

The carpet does look worn.  

We are standing on the carpet for the first time ever.  Construction on our new house is complete and we’re doing the final walk through with the builder.  We are brand new parents.  Audrey is just four weeks old.  

And we are brand new home owners.  

And then, our brand new baby throws up on our brand new carpet.  I hand Buddy a wet wipe and he drops to his knees and cleans it up.  Shocked and embarrassed, we apologize to the builder.  

He laughs.  “It’s your carpet now!” he says.  

Buddy and I look at each other and laugh.  Then I start to tear up.  It is our carpet.  It is our house.  It is our baby.  

We are proud.  

We are happy.  

And in a secret corner of my heart I worry that we are not worthy of being entrusted with carpeting or a mortgage or a baby. 

I am standing in the middle of this place which was once was my house and still is, sort of, but hasn’t been mine for years. 

Maybe it never was.  

I drive away and look at 942 Baines Street in my rearview mirror.  It looks so different than the day we moved in fourteen years ago.  

So so different than it did fourteen years ago.  

Then everything was new.  Everything worked.  The emphasis was on potential.  

When I lived here I could cradle my life in my wingspan.  

And then it grew.  

It grew and I couldn’t protect it.  

I couldn't protect it and couldn’t control it.    

And now …

The garbage disposal is broken.  The carpet is worn.  The walls need to be repainted.

And we are divorced.  We live on different continents.  Our babies fly as unaccompanied minors around the world so they can have a relationship with both of us.
And yet …

She still loves to dance in the living room after school.

Every night he falls into a deep and heavy, heavy slumber..

And still ...  

In a secret corner of my heart I worry that we were not worthy of being entrusted with carpeting or a mortgage or a baby.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Tale of Two Houses

Sometimes life teaches us an important lesson and just like that we hear pieces falling into place and clicking.

Click.  Click.  Click. 

And suddenly, something really important makes sense. 

On January 17, 1995 pieces fell OUT of their place in Kobe, Japan.  At 5:46am that morning, the residents of Kobe experienced one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history.  A 7-point earthquake rocked the city for 20 seconds and when the shaking was over, 6,000 people were dead and over 150,000 buildings and homes had toppled. 

At the time I was a student at Chiba University, a safe 400 miles to the north.  We didn’t feel a thing in Chiba.  Except, of course, we felt terrible.  So some friends from my church and I went down to Kobe to help with the relief efforts during our spring break that year. 

We slept on the floor of a church at night and during the day we helped people dig through the dusty rubble of their houses, searching for their belongings. Or we helped them move from a damaged home into one that had survived the quake intact.  Or we distributed things like toothbrushes and hand cream.  I remember very few people wanted the toothbrushes and the hand cream.  What they wanted were tarps. Tarps to cover a hole in their roof, or to protect their belongings that they had gathered in a pile on the street.  That blue plastic fabric was the most valuable commodity in Kobe in the spring of 1995.

One day I got a new assignment.  An architect from the U.S. had arrived and he was surveying homes and assessing the damage.  He didn’t speak Japanese so I was assigned to be his interpreter for the day. 

We had two houses on the schedule that day.  The first one was in a suburb on the eastern edge of the city.  To me it looked like it hadn’t suffered much damage during the quake.  The windows were broken and some tiles in the bathroom had fallen down and the interior walls had crumbled in some places.  But overall it looked like a few trips to the Home Depot might be enough to fix this house back up.

The architect wasn't a big talker, which made my job that day pretty easy.  He walked around the house thoughtfully, snapping pictures and making notes for himself on a clipboard.

I looked back at the house as we drove away and thought that this family was relatively lucky.  I had seen worse damage, much much worse.

Like, for example, the next house we visited.

It was a single family home in the heart of the city.  It was in bad shape.  All of the external and internal stucco had been shaken off during the quake, rendering the house a carcass of beams.  To make matters worse it was leaning on the house next to it, like an emaciated AIDS patient slumped against a hospital hallway.  I stood in the striped sunlight in what had once been the kitchen and thought to myself that this house was hopeless.   

Then the architect and I went back to the church, where he gave the staff his assessments. 

He reported that the first house was in fact damaged beyond repair and would need to be razed.  The second house, however, could be repaired with a fairly simple procedure.  The beams, he said, could be righted again with a ratchet and a steel band.  Once they had been righted, they would need to be nailed back in that position, then stucco could be reapplied and the house would be livable again.    

I had one of those terrible moments as an interpreter when you’re pretty sure you’re saying the exactly wrong thing.  And this can happen fairly easily with German and Japanese, because the verb often comes at the end of the sentence, and the interpreter has to guess what the verb will be and then do an internal check when the verb actually does come and make sure the guess was right. 

Fortunately the architect was also showing the staff the pictures and they were as confused as I was.  They questioned him. 

“The first house, the one that looks pretty much okay, has to be torn down?  And the second one, this bare bones house that’s leaning on the house next door, can be fixed easily?” 

The architect nodded yes.  And then he said something that made it all make sense.  It was something that I had completely overlooked as we visited the houses earlier that day.  It wasn't even on my radar.  Something I never even thought to check. 

It was the foundations, he explained. 

The foundation on the first house was cracked and there was no way to fix that.  When the foundation is cracked the structure is going to fall down.  It just is.  No amount of glass and tile and paint will help.  It’s going to fall in. 

The foundation on the second house, he said, was intact.  While the structure on top of it appears to be hopelessly ruined, it wasn’t.  Because the foundation was undamaged, the structure on top of it could be salvaged with minimal effort. 

The foundation. 

That was what mattered. 

Of course. 






Monday, May 5, 2014

I Think This One is About Pathways

I know the sermon is brilliant, they always are, and I really want to listen to it.  But I can't.  I'm not sure why.

He is snuggled on my right.  He puts his head in my lap and runs his fingernail along the golden cross embossed on the hymnal in the rack in front of us.  He rolls his head back and mouths "I'm bored" to me. 

I smile and nod, as mothers have done throughout the ages.  Somewhere out there in the universe is a giant cosmic crucifix, carved by the heads of billions and billions of nodding mothers, as we quietly admonished our children in church. 

"Yes, I know you're bored." 

"No, you cannot play with my cell phone." 

It is our own silent sign of the cross.

She leans her head against my shoulder, subconsciously asserting her equal right to my affection.  She too is bored and in her sleepy trance she traces her favorite scar, the 3-inch gash that traverses my forearm, where I had a mole biopsied when she was 18 months old.  The diagnosis was "atypical mole", which is your body's foreshadowy way of saying "not cancer yet." 

Atypical mole...  Third grade vocabulary.  Somehow I at least expected a diagnosis in Latin. 

Memento mori.  Memento vivere.

That is the call from this ravine that runs across my arm.  Remember that you will die.  Remember to live.

Baby Henry is two rows in front of us and is playing with his father's face as we begin to pray. 

"Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name." 

Henry pats his father's cheeks and then giggles as his dad playfully retaliates by biting his fingers and the two of them laugh softly, a happy undercurrent carrying our prayers.  And it occurs to me how it's all the same thing, what we're doing and what Henry is doing.  We are all wanting our father's attention.  I wonder if what Henry is experiencing with his father right now is priming the pathways in his soul to one day understand how much his Creator loves him.  Or perhaps it's the other way around. 

And I guess it doesn't really matter.

It's over and as I'm caught in the undertow of worshipers flowing out of the sanctuary I'm not sure what I got out of the service really, other than maybe something about river beds and currents. 

I walk out into the parking lot and this is what I see, painted in clouds.


What I see is  a question mark.  But I wonder - is that what you saw?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ordinary Perfection

It was a perfectly ordinary Monday night.  The air was just cool enough to be invigorating.  The spring breeze brushed my hair against my ear, and I heard whispers of pastels and peace.  Cooper and I were out for an evening stroll and all was well with us and with the world.

Ordinary perfection.

But as we were walking back to the house Cooper did something unusual.  He stopped in his tracks and slowly craned his head around to look behind us.  I hadn't heard a car or anything so I looked back to see what had gotten his attention.

It was a wild coyote.

He was standing in the middle of the road, looking at us.  Hungrily, I might add.  

I started to walk ahead calmly.  I looked back and saw the coyote was following us.  I sped up and so did he.  

That's when I let go of Cooper's leash and told him to run home.  He's faster than me and I figured he was the main attraction anyway.  Cooper took off.  

I started running too.  I looked over my shoulder and saw that the coyote was coming after me.  Thank God I made it home before I found out who was faster - the coyote or me.

Frantically, I opened the back door and Cooper and I zoomed into the kitchen like two bullets hitting a Manhattan phone book.  Grant was making his lunch for tomorrow and Audrey was putting her hair up in pink sponge rollers.  I stood doubled over the counter, panting and dripping sweat.  

"What HAPPENED?" Audrey asked.

"Is this mayonnaise expired?" Grant asked.  

"There.  Was.  A.  Coyote.  I.  Think."  I gasped.  Audrey rushed to hug me.  Grant ran into the backyard to see if he could catch a glimpse of the coyote.  He didn't.


When I recovered my breath I sent a similar text message to a few friends and neighbors.

Their responses were very different, which is what I love about all the people in my life.

My neighbor responded:
"Apparently they are all over...they can be sneaky...pretty cool, though, right?"  (It's nice to have people in your life who remind you that "scary" and "pretty cool" are just twins separated at birth.)

My BFF said:
"Oh jeez!  We have no coyotes in Califorina.  Just sayin"  (She knows that I'm too lazy to do a google search and find out that there are actually MORE coyotes in California than in Tennessee.)

My man said:
"Wha???  Are you okay???"  (So sweet!  Clearly I was fine because I was texting but still his first reaction was to make sure I was okay.  Love that guy.)

Another friend said:
"You turned yourself into prey when you started running."  (Good point.  But I don't think I could have stopped myself.  I mean, who could?  Well, except for maybe Grant, who ran towards the danger.)


I think I'll always remember that night.  Partly because it's the night Cooper and I didn't get killed by a coyote. 

But more than that ...

It was the night when the wild and the domesticated co-existed, sort of.    The night when the lines between scary and "pretty cool" blurred.  The night when the the winds blew pastels and peace one minute, and the next they carried the scent of prey to the hunter. 

It was the night when the ordinary and the extraordinary were both perfect in their own sacred way.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

A blog about blogging

A couple of weeks ago while we were in Beijing I had a really hard moment.  Emotions were running high and the tears were flowing.  I retreated to my room because that's what I do.  In my moments of greatest stress I retreat into myself. 

And I worked my way out of myself and out of the room by writing. 

That's another thing I do in my moments of greatest stress.

By writing about what was happening, I was able to see that event for what it really was.  I was able to see my role in things.  I was able to see my way out. 

The result was a post that some of you might have seen.  It was on my blog for a few hours.  I had a conclusion in the blog and I thought it was a positive one, but I went through some prickly places on the way to the conclusion. 

The trouble is, someone in my life who is important to me saw only the prickly places and not the positive conclusion.  And it hurt him.  And he let me know.

It gave me pause.  The Downtown Diner is my restaurant.  I get to cook whatever I want here.  If someone doesn't like the food they don't have to eat here. 

And yet, I had posted something that hurt someone.  And I wasn't sure how I felt about that.  I wasn't sure if it's more important to me to express myself freely on my blog, or if I have an obligation to be respectful of people here. 

Am I free to write whatever I want as long as it is healing to me, even if it in turn hurts someone else?

Again, the Downtown Diner is my restaurant, so I have to make this decision. 

So, I took the post down.  Because I want the Diner to be a place where people feel safe and treasured and respected.  I want my heart to be all of that too.

Therapy.  It was therapeutic for me to write it, but posting it to my blog is less important.  That piece of prose can always live as an entry in my journal, or perhaps as a chapter in the book I publish one day.  Under a pseudonym, naturally. 

On a side note, I believe that as we communicate in the digital world we are leaving traces of ourselves that one day our great great great grandchildren will sift through to figure out who we were.  Even the communication that we believe is private today, like our emails and texts and messages on online dating websites - I'm pretty sure our progeny is going to have access to all of that. 

Perhaps we're no different than our ancestors who threw a whiskey bottle down the hole in the outhouse thinking it was gone forever, their little secret.  But now decades later we do archaeological digs on that spot and we unearth the secrets of the past. 

The kids and I found this antique medicine bottle at a construction site in the 12th South area. 

I predict our great grands will do the same thing. 

To assume my descendants will do research about me seems presumptuous, but if they do, I hope they will look at the world I held private and the aspects of it that I put out in public, and see that I was consistently authentic and also that I used good judgment. 

I doubt they will say that I never hurt anyone.  But I hope they will see that any pain I inflicted was unintentional, or that the hurt served a higher purpose and was not just a selfish catharsis. 

I would be honored if they decided to create a space like The Downtown Diner in their lives.  A place where people are honest and real with each other, and yet balance that against being fair and caring and kind with one another. 

That's a legacy I'd be proud of. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Love grows best in houses just like this

This morning I was washing a dish and Grant needed to throw something in the garbage can, which was in the cabinet just in front of me.  So I turned off the water and held the soapy dish in mid air above the sink, while he
                    threw       away    
                                                  the   paper

It felt like forever.

That's when Audrey pushed me gently from the side so she could get access to the microwave to heat up a breakfast sandwich.

And that was the moment when I realized that although we have 960 square feet in this house, my whole entire family was standing on 4 square feet of it. 

All of us. 

And then, the dog walked over just to see what was going on. 

For almost three years we've been living in a 2BR/1BA house.  You might think it's not such a big deal for three people to share one bathroom.  But there was this one Saturday evening when Grant flushed my hot rollers down our one single toilet.  Late on a Saturday night.  It's hard to get a plumber to come out on a Sunday. 

It's also hard to do without your one single toilet until you can get a plumber to come out on a Sunday.

Sometimes when I tell this story people ask me how Grant managed to flush my hot rollers down the toilet.  These people know my son, so I assume the question is a rhetorical one. 

A few times every day I think to myself that I need to get a bigger place when our lease runs out in July. 

And yet every year in May I look around at the real estate market to see what's available.

And then I look around our cozy little house.

And then I sign that lease again, one more time.  Swearing to myself that it's only for one more year.

There's a song by Garth Brooks called "Love Grows Best in Small Houses".  And thanks to this house, I know he's right.

But you know, love grows best in little houses,
With fewer walls to separate,
Where you eat and sleep so close together.
You can't help but communicate,
Oh, and if we had more room between us, think of all we'd miss.
Love grows best, in houses just like this.