I Remember – First Plane Ride

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I have a vivid memory, but I’m still not sure how much of it isn’t fantasy. I’m holding Dad’s hand and we’re boarding an airplane. We are standing in the aisle looking for our seats and I picture myself perfectly. White patent leather shoes to match my little purse, carefully placed Jackie O style on my arm. My jacket is all white and buttoned up to my neck, the collar properly turned down. I don’t think I had a hat. Although my hair is neat, as neat as a five year old’s can be anyway, but still sticking out over my ears, a little more than it does now. I’m not wearing the gold pin of pilot’s wings, but I must be clutching it in my small hand. I kept that for a long time after, but haven’t seen it in decades. I did get a replacement provided by my friend, but now you have to ask for your wings. They don’t think they let you visit the cockpit anymore either, although I don’t recall visiting the cockpit on this flight. We were on our way to see family in Toronto, Canada, and since we always drove and my mother and siblings weren’t with us, I can only imagine that it was for some kind of big event like a funeral. We always stopped in the duty-free shop when we drove, so I can only imagine that we did on this visit as well, although Dad could have only gotten half the normal allowance of whiskey and cigarettes, a staple of ours on our return trip to the United States. My parents didn’t drink, but this was a time when you kept alcohol in your house for guests; just in case. These little snippets of memory pop out at the least provocation. Sometimes, they don’t seem so far away.

A Perfect Cup of Tea

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I arrived at my friend’s house bright and early Tuesday morning. We had about four or so hours to begin preparations for his party the next day and he had to work an afternoon shift at his new job. I hadn’t had breakfast and I don’t think he had either, but we were very excited to see each other and after showing me his mother’s horses and meeting the dogs, he showed me the gardens: his containers of vegetables and herbs clustered around the front. I met his mother and I think she asked if he was going to feed me; I think he promised he would. I noticed the fences he’d complained about putting up and repairing last month and the rose bushes that had been planted or replanted, I can’t remember which.

When we got up to his apartment, he showed me around and we dropped my stuff off in the dining room. He told me his plans for the morning and offered me his boxes and boxes of teas to choose one. I looked through them all and after finally deciding on a loose mango tea, he told me I had to pick something in a bag because he didn’t have a tea strainer.

I may have rolled my eyes out of his line of sight.

He showed me how to use the electric kettle – a pretty neat contraption and I set out once again to find an appropriate tea. Something different, something I didn’t have at home, but after looking through three boxes twice I decided on what was right in front of me: PG Tips.

The little tea bag that looks kind of like a hackeysack. I dropped it in the mug and poured the boiled water over the tea bag. Immediately the water turned a very dark brown. I watched it steep for a few more seconds, still darkening, and then asked about milk and sugar.

Oh, that was all downstairs in the main kitchen; his parents’ kitchen. We’d be cooking in there anyway, so down we went. He suggested that I ditch the tea bag; it was looking very strong, and while I usually don’t really care for very strong tea for some reason I wanted this one to be nearly black.

I poured the milk in. I think it was an almond milk, something I’d never had before, and it did its swirly thing like a whirlpool in a bathtub. In the tea to be honest I didn’t taste anything odd or different using the almond milk. I added my usual two teaspoons of sugar, realizing too late that I hadn’t taken a teaspoon from the drawer but a grapefruit spoon.

A spoon’s a spoon, and it stirred just fine.

I took a sip and tasted it.

The tea was perfect.

Dark and strong, very tea-like with the tiny bit of airiness that the milk gave it in little spirals turning the liquid into a tanned-golden color. I sipped and I felt the warmth slide down my neck and stop briefly in my chest before it continued the journey.

And then I did it again.

Tiny sips, savoring every swallow until it was the wonderful tepid temperature that lets you drink it a little bit faster and think about a second cup.

It was then that I realized how much I’d missed black tea. I hadn’t noticed not drinking it until this cup was nearly gone.

For Lent, way back in February, I gave up Diet Coke and I read somewhere that to counter the effects of the aspartame, I should drink green tea. So every morning for Lent, I drank a cup of green tea with jasmine. I enjoyed it very much and after Lent continued with my new morning drink.

It was only in this moment, with this second to last sip that I realized that this was the first cup of black tea I’d had since Lent began. It was the middle of May; how could I have gone so long without my beloved black tea?

It was like an old friend come to call, and as I watched my friend slice the apples as I peeled the others, it was a perfect cup of tea in the perfect place.

That doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.

Your Work in Me

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“Jesus, I welcome your work in me this coming year. I want this year to be a time of growth in my journey with you.”

I’ve been attending church services for almost one year now. I started the actual Masses during Holy Week. There was never any intention to join the church. I just needed a place to sit quietly and think. I knew that I would talk to G-d. I hesitate to call it prayer; it was a simple conversation. True, it would be a one-sided conversation: I’d do all of the talking and hope that Someone was listening. It was the one place I could say, or think, anything and there was no judgment, no scorn, no bad things.

Whenever anyone came into the church while I was there alone, they left me alone. On occasion someone would ask if I needed anything, if I was waiting for anyone, I’d get a wave or a smile, but no one ever asked why I was there. No one ever asked me to leave. To be honest, that was the primary reason I chose a church for my thinking: I would be welcome.

The first time I spoke to G-d here, He answered with the church bells. It was perfect, and all of the scared things, all of the hurt, all of the anger just went away, and I cried.

There were so many more moments like that, and every time I was ready to lose faith, another sign, another answer came to me, and I went on for a few more days, finding comfort in the stability, the steadiness of the daily Mass.

I wasn’t quite alone any more.

Things would happen at home or I would be upset and certain that this was my last day, and the Gospel would be read, and it was the exact answer that I needed for my exact problem.

There was a ray of light hitting a pew, an extra strong scent of incense while I was reading a passage, the smell of the candle wax melting. Sitting in my ‘usual’ pew, I glanced up, not anything special, just a slight lift of my head, and I would have sworn that I could see Wales. Upon closer inspection, through that one particular window that you could only see from my seat at just my height was the trunk of a tree and green leaves hanging heavy, dripping water with bright sunlight coming from behind it through the spaces where the trunk split. I took a deep breath and my lips curled up.

It was Wales.

So I stayed.

The quotation above is something that I didn’t know I was looking for. I’ve heard people talk about Jesus, and the moments when they felt the pull. I’m cynical but open minded and I’ve never really been a believer in that sort of spiritual stuff. I do believe in ghosts, but Jesus, Son of G-d, that’s a bit much.

When I was called, when I knew, it just happened. It wasn’t getting hit by lightning, but it was profound and I could feel it. Once I decided that I would be baptized, I wouldn’t wait; I needed to speak with the Father immediately, as soon as possible. I knew that it would be a difficult concept for my family, and most of them still don’t know, but I have the support of my best friend and my church family (and all of them would have supported me either way – no one ever asked me about conversion; they just enjoyed what I was getting out of the Masses).

When I read that quotation, it is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

I’ve been much more spiritual; much more calm and thoughtful, and forgiving. I feel G-d on my shoulder and I do pray now – actual prayer in addition to the conversations I still have with G-d.

I will keep that quotation in my notebook, and remind myself of how far I’ve come, not just in other parts of my life, but in the spiritual part, the faithful part. It makes me stronger, it makes me more confident, it makes me smile because I feel it so deeply; I feel the love and the support and it centers me and reminds me to take those moments to think; to think and then do in all parts of my life.

I look forward to the upcoming year. I’ve looked forward to observing Lent, and missing out on my Diet Coke reminds me of the other things in my life that I should be thinking about. I’m writing more, which was one of my intentions for my Lenten Pilgrimage. I am feeling my faith and living my faith and after becoming nearly a completely different person in the last two years, this faith, and my journey with Jesus Christ is like putting on a comfortable sweater, tucking into a cup of tea and a good book or a friendly voice on the phone.

Crosses

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I bought my first religious ornament this past Christmas.

Mother and Child.

It doesn’t say or imply Mary and Jesus, but really? A Christmas ornament called Mother and Child? It’s not even trying to be subtle.
I wanted it for that reason and because being a mother (a Mommy) is so much of my identity.
It’s not always in the same order or in order of priority but it is always

Mother
Friend
Writer.

Not sure which order, in fact, the order changes importance on a daily basis, so really it’s all the permutations. They’re all important, and on some days, one comes before the other two.
And then they trade places.

I also started wearing a cross on my charm bracelet. I’ve never worn a cross before. I know a lot of people do, even in a non-religious way. They appear on a lot of clothes and accessories, journals, posters, etc. They’re everywhere, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable wearing them.

Once I made the decision to be baptized (in another year or so), I kind of started looking for a cross, not intending to wear it though; just thinking about it.

I’ve always loved Celtic crosses, but avoided them. I do have Celtic jewelry, but never any crosses.

When I was looking for a rosary for a friend of mine at Christmas, I was trying to find something for him that I would have liked. I dismissed this as one of those gifts you get for someone else, but hope they have so they give it back and you can keep it. 😉

(Seriously, don’t give it back.)

I did get that out of my head. It was really only in passing anyway. At the time, I wasn’t interested in getting myself a cross or any kind of religious jewelry.

While I was looking for charms for my daughter, however, I did look for crosses. Most of the ones I found were a bit much: large, heavy metal, very black, skulls, not quite my style.

Not until I found this one. The four ends look like a triquetra and they’re all wound and braided together from one piece forming a very simple, very lovely, Celtic looking cross.

It blends my new Catholicism with the Celts of old-the Cistercians I enjoyed reading so much about during the time of Llywelyn Fawr. He was a generous patron of those White Monks of his time.

I will probably get another after I’m baptized, or ask someone to get me a special one, but for now I have this reminder of what is still to come in this new year and beyond.

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Faery Snow

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I love snowflakes. Pictures of snowflakes. Books. Those paper cutouts of snowflakes. Sponge painted snowflakes on blue construction paper. My kingdom in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) is Concordia of the Snows with a snowflake badge.

However, I hate snow.

The anxiety that comes with the first snow is about the same as getting on an airplane and to get me on one of those takes half a Xanax and a talisman. The cold; the ice; the wet; the slip sliding around the streets. I think I stopped driving after the first snow since around 2004.

I used to walk to school in the snow. Really. I student taught in in a little town in upstate New York, and lived too close to drive. It would have really been absurd to drive, so I walked the rural roads, crossed the bridge over the kill and for a few weeks I was Abraham Lincoln.

I drove back to college from student teaching in blinding and drifting and blowing snow to see a boyfriend. Love, and an old car, makes one stupid.

Fire drills at 2am in the snow. Who pulls a fire alarm at 2am in the snow? Freshman, obviously. Freshmen with a death wish.

The only snow I remember with fondness was the faery snow in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the worst snow in more than a decade. Started out locked in the hostel at York, hours upon hours of train delays, flights cancelled, but Edinburgh snow in January………brilliant.

Light.

Fluffy.

Shiny.

Sparkly.

Faery snow.

I spent the evening with Peter. He had never seen snow being from Australia and it was the best thing. People who’ve never experienced the bad of an upstate winter like ice storms and Red Cross Shelters – they all love the snow.

Especially if they’ve never seen it.

He had the bright eyes of a four year old, almost twinkling as much as the falling flakes under the lampposts below the castle. Everything is better with a four year old. Or a twenty year old who’s never seen snow.

This snow feels different.

It tastes different.

It grabs the soles of your feet and slides you down the street. You don’t really slip – faery snow’s not there to hurt you, only to enthrall, entangle, entwine you with the web of the faerie’s call.

Sometimes It Takes a Lifetime to Find Your Voice

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(Note: This was originally written for my family who had begun to complain on Facebook about my ‘political’ postings and opinion pieces. I re-read it and kind of still liked it, so I’ve included it here even though I’m working on a newer version as I continue to find myself.)

For someone so quiet it may seem strange – my posts, my links, my commentary. I’ve always been quiet; listening silently, agreeing or not, but remaining silent and mostly following. Even though I felt this starting in education and parenting because of my kids, I’ve been online for almost four years, and it’s created an even greater voice I didn’t know I could have. That’s probably why I go kicking and screaming to each new social media, but I still go, looking for the one that fits; the one that will give a meaningful platform to my words.

I don’t know how someone goes from silently watching and taking notes hoping for change other than speaking out; for something, whatever that something is to being an actual activist. That was always a word I was afraid of, but the reality is that is what I feel like. The old cliche of “if I don’t, who will” has never felt more true.

As I said, it started by questioning teachers and administrators, and school nurses when I felt my kids were not being treated in the way that I thought they should be treated. My excuse was that I was old and cranky, and people would laugh, but it’s laughable that I needed some kind of excuse to do what was best for my kids.

I came very naturally to It Gets Better and The Trevor Project. Children should not be killing themselves. They should be playing and going to the mall and fighting with their parents about their computers, Xboxes and cell phones.

The Human Rights Campaign and Marriage Equality and Transgender Remembrance happened for me when I saw something first-hand and knew it was wrong, but didn’t know how to fix it. For me and for others, a lightbulb goes off and it’s always been there in front of you, but you’re too afraid to see it or too afraid to speak up or you remember times you’ve made mistakes from not understanding and then you do understand; some of it anyway. Besides a personal story that is not mine to share (more than one actually), I’ve also realized that my ‘tolerance’ was validation for someone else’s life, and the people living the life don’t need my validation or approval; just my love and support.

I started speaking out against domestic violence and abuse in all its forms when my closest friend was shot and his roommate, who would have been my friend eventually was murdered.

I’m starting to talk about and link to the topics of mental illness. Just the phrase ‘mental illness’ has negative connotations and everyone shudders and hugs and finds the pill to make it go away. But mental illness isn’t always illness and it isn’t always negative; sometimes it’s just different.

I’m also starting to post about Autism. My interest began with my own children and looking for warning signs, and reading about vaccines and other causes, but knowing more people and interacting with them and seeing different sides of a word opens it up to talking about it.

These things, whatever you want to call them – causes, projects, undertakings – they’ve come to me naturally and speaking out is hard; it’s the hardest thing I’ve done. I don’t want to embarrass myself or my husband and kids by either saying the wrong thing or speaking too loud. I still care what people think of me. I still don’t like a spotlight on me. I really don’t like the center of attention, especially if it’s extremely positive or extremely negative, but as hard as it is, it is still easier than what the people I link to are going through.

It may look a bit like follow the leader, but if I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t do it or talk about it. The one thing I found from this summer was that I was in my element with mapping and media lists and urgent cares and updating the website. I’d like to do it for something that’s not a grieving process, where I won’t feel guilty for enjoying the parts that are enjoyable; where I can help people and still do it for me, too.

And I want to write about it. There’s an essay coming about college and careers and writing and a long talk in a far away place, but for now this is what I want; what I need. And this is who I am.

At 45, I expected less change, but as physically lazy as I can be, all I see ahead are continuing changes and reaching out and touching the edge with my fingertips and pulling up and moving slowly forward, but never back; and then writing about it.

It scares me.

Activism. Living my life. Writing. Something.

Tea with a Friend

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(Note: This was originally posted elsewhere on Dec. 7, 2012 before experiencing the last of the teas: the 5th Tea with Brittany, which can be found at: http://wp.me/p2JuBV-3j )

I’ve been trying to write this post for days. Trying to explain (because I do that sort of thing) why I picked today to be my last tea; my last Brittany tea.

When did she become an adjective?

I’ve said before and I don’t know if it offends people, but it’s my truth: I feel closer to Brittany now than I did when she was alive. It’s much more than a rewriting of history or a wannabe relationship or an expectation of something that hadn’t happened yet. I feel her presence; her friendship.

It is very much a spiritual thing. I know she was a spiritual person. I know she was kind. Except for once, she was always kind to me, and looking back now (and in April before she died), I can see the amount of stress she was under then, at that moment that I didn’t see or understand.

We had little things that we ignored, and we had two big things, both in December. Both were misunderstandings, and more than misunderstandings, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to have her last tea, her special blend, her tisane, in December. I want to have a positive memory of Brittany in December.

December is supposed to be a happy time. My birthday was last week. Chanukah is Saturday. Christmas is in 18 days. Culturally, December is full of glorious holidays, lights in the dark, winter begins, but it’s really just a prelude, a moment on the Solstice where it is the shortest, we hit the bottom of the universe and then work our way back up. Everything begins to get longer and starts its birthing process; its rebirth.

Today is the 7th. Brittany died on the 7th (in May, 2011). The 7th (of December, 2004) was also the last time I spoke to my mother before she died. I told her to go to the doctor before I said ‘I love you’ and hung up. This is a good day to push out the negative and remember people the way they should be remembered as the kind, generous people they were, not just to others, but especially to me.

In the last year of depression recovery (and yes, I truly believe that it is a recovery process, and that last week was simply a relapse, but it is a continuum and a constant struggle), I’ve found many things, some of which I did not like and some of which I wanted for and from myself, but was afraid to approach, to strive for.

And in this last year when I didn’t know I was searching for something, rather than running from something, I found my spirit.

I think.

I pray.

I speak my mind if sometimes only in my head.

And this is where I feel Brittany.

A poke in the shoulder. A nod of a shadow. A hand in my hair.

Telling me it’s alright. I’m alright.

Not pushing me, not even guiding me, just, simply encouraging me the way she would have as we became better friends, as we were walking towards each other from two different paths to the one we were about to share. When she returned from New Zealand, I was going to visit her in San Francisco. Actually, I was going to visit Andy, but she would have been there. It was unsaid, but I knew that I would be visiting them both, and that’s when my initial changes took place. It is so freeing to let go and at the same time grab onto something so important, so special, and so needed.

With one hand I let go of the anger and with the other I grabbed; I reached out, and she grasped back, and her death did not break that connection, that bond.

That’s why I can still feel her with me. She never let go.

So this morning, I will take a shower and get dressed. I will wear my purple scarf. I will leave the television off. I will put aside a tiny bit of the blend to make a sachet and keep a little bit of Brittany with me now that her tea is gone. I will keep trying new teas and tastings and somehow continue our tea time. But for now, I will brew Brittany’s special tisane and I will spend the morning with her, writing in my journal and thinking back on my journey of this last year and not only acknowledging how far I’ve come, but relishing in it and being proud of who I am still becoming. Tea with a friend.