It was enough

29 06 2010

My Dad died one year ago today.

One of the most beautiful memories I have of his death is a conversation I had with my sister the night he died.  She was telling me how she had cleaned out the room he rented at his brother’s house within hours after his death.  At first, she told me, she was so hearbroken that our father’s entire life had been reduced to one room.  And that that room could be emptied, 80 years of life totally erased, in just a matter of hours.

Then, she said, “I realized that it wasn’t heartbreaking at all.  That room had been just enough for Dad.  He was nearing the end of his life and, where our society tells us that we have to have more and more and more, he saw that none of that mattered at the end of your life (ever??) and so, he had ‘just enough’ to live his final days.”

I remember us both saying how amazing it was that our father…a very simple man, an old boxer who spent the better part of every day camped out on a bar stool drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes…had been so wise in the end.

I had forgotten about that conversation until today, the one year anniversary of his death.

I cleared my schedule for the hours around 11:13 CST, the time of his death.  I wanted to be sure I was fully present to honor him when that moment came.

This morning, after meditation, I lit a candle for Dad.  It burned all morning.

Around 10 CST, I called my sister to check in.  Like me, she had freed her schedule to honor Dad.

We had a great, free-wheeling conversation that covered all the bases.  Talking over each other, as we do all the time.  Half-interrupting, half-finishing each other’s sentences.  Not from impatience, but from a love and an excitement that just wants to gobble up the entire buffet of each conversation.  We talked about work (and how much better the world would be if people would just do as we questions asked).  We talked about our pets that run our lives.  And we talked about the new beginnings that simultaneously are unfolding in our lives.  New beginnings that came, as all births do, from death.

All of a sudden, I looked at the clock.  I had totally lost track of time.

It was 11:13.

I stopped my sister.  “Well, it’s been exactly one year since Dad died.”

“So it has,” she said.

We then confessed to each other that while we had known we would each honor Dad in some way today at 11:13, we hadn’t a clue as to what that ‘honoring” would look like–though we each said we had some vague, slightly dramatic idea of sitting in silence, letting some equally dramatic something wash over us.

Now, here it was 11:14 and that moment, that opportunity to honor, had passed.

“You know,” I said, “the truth is that nothing would have pleased Dad more than to know that one year to the minute after he left us, his kids ‘honored’ him by simply being together, surrounded by love and laughter…and peace and opportunity.”

“You’re right,” my wise big sister said.  “We paused at 11:13, no drama, no big scene.  We were simply together.  It was enough.”

And it was.  Enough.


The Single Story

21 01 2010

Yikes!  My husband was NOT happy with me for writing yesterday that Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin love America as much as we do.  He explained that people like them were in it more for the money and power.  Of course, I explained that he had just described 75% of Washington DC’s residents and 98% of the media, but….still.  Maybe it wasn’t the best way to make an important point.

A point that I, increasingly, believe is the #1 challenge we face in this country.  So, I’ll try again and, as often happens in life, I’ll turn to someone else who makes the point far better than I did!  Her name is Chimamanda Adichie and her point is “the danger of the single story”.

A Nigerian author, she draws from her own experience to observe that, too often, we all have but a single story of each other.  And that “single story” approach always will lead to misperceptions…and missed opportunities.  She talks about, how when she attended college in the States her roommate “already felt sorry for me before she even met me.”  In their first conversation, the roommate–an American–asked Chimamanda, who had just arrived from Nigeria, if she could hear some of her “tribal music”.  The roommate was shocked when Chimamanda pulled out a Mariah Carey CD!

Here’s a link of Chimamanda talking about “The Danger of the Single Story”  (it’s from a great website, btw, called

It’s worth the watch…and, then, try to see where you paint people into Single Stories.  Where you have a single story for all Democrats…or all Republicans.  All feminists..or all gay marriage opponents.  For a parent who you’re still punishing for wrongs done a lifetime ago…or a coworker who you dismiss because their skills are oil to your water.  Then, try to see beyond the Single Story (note use of the word “beyond”…vs, say, “ignore”).  Don’t hurt yourself (or your ego!), maybe just start be seeing Two Stories…and, then, as Chimamanda explains, see how your vision of others..and yourself…changes!

Why Martha Coakley lost..and what we can gain

20 01 2010

If you live in Massachusetts and have a pulse, you have an opinion about yesterday’s special election to fill the remaining two years of Ted Kennedy’s term.   Here’s mine.

First, to my Democratic friends across the country, don’t jump off the ledge yet.  Martha Coakley will go down in history as running one of the absolute worse political campaigns…ever.  She (and all her consultants who now need to be unemployed by Dems running in November) is trying to spin her way out of things by saying she worked “hard”.  Well, yes she did.  But she also worked “stupid”.  And that is at least 50% of why she lost.  You do not win campaigns by being so entitled that you select your Senate staff BEFORE Ted Kennedy even died.  You do not win campaigns by adamantly insisting on Monday that in no way would you ever back a health care bill that penalized those seeking abortion and then, one week later say, well of course you would.  And you do not win campaigns by saying that it makes much more sense to meet w/ union bosses, lobbyists and fund raisers than “stand outside Fenway Park…in the cold..and actually shake hands with people.”

So, yes, when Martha Coakley looked in the mirror this morning, she had to know that she was looking at the person who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory..not only of an election, but–perhaps–of broader health care access.

So, yes, it’s not time for Dems to jump off that ledge (besides, it’s only January..that’s a lifetime away from November..esp coming off an election when Coakley was up 10+ points 2 weeks ago).  But they should at least come out of the back-rooms they’re increasingly comfortable in and crawl out on that ledge for a dose of reality.

Here’s what they’d see:

1.  A party that is playing with an old playbook…that doesn’t fit the times.  Massachusetts has been a majority independent/unenrolled state for at least a decade (it’s, btw, why Ted Kennedy was in danger of losing in 1994).  Unions make up only 13% of the American public today..and only 7% of the private sector.  Barack Obama won by NOT making his race an issue in the campaign.  And the web has made facts and figures available to everyone-not just a select few.  THAT’s the world today.  Yet, in this race, MA Democrats acted as if their party was in the majority and that union support would carry an election.  Martha Coakley ripped not just a page but the entire book from Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign by initially arguing that her primary qualification was that she was a woman and that it was time to have a woman senator.  Finally, the Dem spin-meisters forgot that the average voter now is much more aware of what’s actually going on in DC.  So, when you try to say that gay rights will stall with a Brown win, many folks asked “but how do you stall that which already is stalled?”  When the D’s tried to say that Brown would reward Wall St, voters asked “But isn’t that what Chuck Schumer, Larry Summers, et al already are doing?”  Democrats, meet reality.

2.  A party that has lost its soul.  Forget rhetorical flourishes and fund raising events, Democrats now OPERATE pretty much the same way as Republicans.  The Obama Admin has added $1 trillion to the deficit–in one year.  It has escalated a war it promised to end.  When it comes to health care reform, it and Congress have welcomed the health care foxes into the public’s henhouse.  And they have tried to convince everyone that America’s economic recovery is largely dependent on Wall Street’s success..which works unless you happen to be un/underemployed—which 25 million Americans are. 25..MILLION.   I know many, many good Dems–in and out of Washington–who wonder if their party’s courage died with Ted Kennedy.  Especially when you see folks as politically divergent as Barney Frank and Jim Webb start today by saying yesterday’s defeat means we should hold off on health care.  Hmmm..what about the 47 million uninsured Americans?  The 22,000 who die every year because they don’t have health care?  Are we waiting for the day when it’s safe to enact health care reform?  America’s blacks should be very grateful JFK and LBJ didn’t take that strategy in the 60s.

3. A country that has lost its civility.  While all of the above contributed to Coakley’s defeat yesterday, I believe the fundamental reason is that we, the people, have lost our civility.  People are scared in this country right now.  We all heard it in the hysteria of the health care town hall meetings this summer.  And how did the Democrats react?  By calling people un-American.   Here in Massachusetts, good friends dismissed all Brown supporters as anti-gay, anti-choice bigots/imbeciles/assholes and worse. Name-calling and dismissal rather than trying to see the common humanity we all share. Trying to empathize with the terror you must feel if, like my almost 70 yr old mother, you have seen 30+% of your retirement vanish.  Trying to motivate people to vote based on that which unites us vs what divides us.  As election day neared, it is this that made me most distressed about a party I used to fiercely believe in.  This knee-jerk divisive reaction that is every bit as ignorant, prejudicial and harmful as the Republican’s. Coming from Democrats.

And it made me wonder if those who kept talking about the need to beat the imbeciles/haters, etc in memory of Ted really knew Ted Kennedy.  If they did, they’d remember what I do:  that one of his guiding beliefs–so strong that it was what Teddy Jr highlighted at his father’s funeral–was that your opponents love your country just as much as you do.  That Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Scott Brown, Newt Gingrich et al love America.  That, while you may disagree w/ them on most things, you should never forget that fact–even if they do.

So, to all those on both sides–whether you’re a lefty who thinks the bigots have taken over our country or a Tea Bagger who suggested Martha Coakley get creative with a curling iron (a taunt that is as familiar as an old shirt to those of us who campaigned in the old days for gay electeds), look across the political spectrum and see the “opposition” as your brother or sister.  Remember that–just like the health care bill languishing in DC–we most likely agree on far more fundamentals than disagree.  And, see what happens.  It may take a few deep breaths.  Hell, it may even take some martinis and illict substances (the Democrats, of course…never the Republicans!)  But, over time, you might actually see–and believe in–those similarities.  And, then, we can get to work in–together–rebuilding this country.

Fortune before the Fortune Cookie

5 12 2009

Financially speaking, 2009 has been a pretty brutal year at our house.

Last year, I cut my business to devote more time to writing.  This year, those clients I kept slashed fees…and, repeatedly, skipped or delayed payments.  For the second year in a row, family “stuff” required multiple trips back to Texas…and multiple withdrawals from checking and savings accounts.

For the most part, we’ve stared down the creeping fear that comes from being on a financial cliff (or is it off?!) by reminding ourselves that dreams don’t become reality without sacrifice. That and acknowledging that you can only have so many $200 dinners before they start to taste like, well, dinner!

But fear did get the best of me the other night.  I had just ordered Chinese food  ($20 is the new $200!) when a family member called.  We hadn’t chatted in awhile and , for some reason, I soon found myself laying out  the harsh realities of our financial situation.

“I’m so sorry,” she said.  “I’m soooooo sorry.” (As if I didn’t get it the first time!)

“It’s fine, really.”  I responded the first time, as I felt the first stirrings of Fear awakening deep in the pit of my stomach.

“I’m so sorry,” she repeated.  Fear, meet Failure.

“Everything will work out fine,” I said.  Fear and Failure were building an army by now.

“Well, I hope so.  It must be so upsetting to see everything you worked for disappear.”

“I’m actually quite calm,” I lied because, by this time, the allied forces were barreling down my soul with one target in mind:  Courage.

I hung up the phone and covered myself in a warm blanket of Doubt while I waited for a very stiff martini to numb what was sure to be a crushing blow.

And then the doorbell rang.

It was the Chinese food, delivered by a central casting delivery man.  Not a college kid trying to earn a few extra bucks, but an adult trying to feed his family.

As I went to pay him, I tried to pay forward some of that Fear I had.  “How are your holidays going?” I asked.  “It’s a tough year.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “But, hey man, at least we’re living!”

It was the first time I received my fortune before I had even eaten my Chinese food!

“F*%k you,” I promptly told Fear and Failure and the army they rode in on.

Maybe our household was failing by the standards  money or labels or status.  Or security.

But, what the hell?

Not to get too “Lifetime moment” here, but you can’t take any of those things with you.

Did my husband and I want to cloak ourselves in those things society tells us equal success…or did we want to venture out, beyond where the safety net reaches, and create our own definition?

To paraphrase a Zen buddhist I love, did we want to pretend that the plane of life was just a bus?  Ignoring its wings and just taxiing from destination to destination?

Hell no.

Baby, this bird’s got wings.  And we’re taking off.

We may or may not make it…but, hey man, at least we’re living!

The “change” fallacy

3 12 2009

I got a big kick out of an acquaintance’s Facebook post yesterday (he’s created a virtual Facebook fortune cookie where each day brings a new one line pearl of wisdom guaranteed to make your business succeed).  Yesterday’s was:  “To make a change, clients must believe they’re getting something greater than what they’re giving up.”

Now that’s a very logical statement…if it were true.  If we actually got to choose whether we changed or not.  If, by choosing NOT to change, we could STOP change.

The truth is, we can’t.

Remember that old adage:  the only constant is change.  Well, like most overused phrases, it’s overused because it happens to be true.

And, yet, we increasingly live in a world that denies change (even as the world, itself, is changing..constantly).  That pretends “change” is just one more thing to be spun or mastered by the infallible genius of human intellect.

Folks nip and tuck their way out of aging.  Hoping that you’ll look at the wonders surgery can do to a sagging neck…and not notice the natural beauty of aging hands.

As financial markets were hurtling America (and much of the world) over an economic cliff last year, the airwaves were filled with promises of change.  And, yet, one year later, what HAS changed?

Congress (hopefully) is about to pass health care reform that does increase access, but doesn’t do much to reduce cost.  Because politicians have refused to change the system where it is most fiscally ravenous:  the costs at the final two years of people’s lives.  The costs associated with senior care.

In our own lives, how many of us deep down inside know it’s time for a change…in career, in relationship, in scenery, in habits.  But we tell ourselves we’ll wait til it’s the “right time”.

Of course, what we really mean is that we don’t have the cajones to acknowledge the change that’s already happened…and all that’s needed is for us to acknowledge it, let it in.

Because that’s the fun little truth about change.  It’s always happening.  It’s happened with every second that you’ve read this blog.

And if you ignore it, you more and more find yourself in what a client of mine calls a “disorienting dilemma”.  You think you’ve dealt with it by ignoring it (just wait for the press releases trumpeting the “landmark” health care reform!).  You put a check mark next to an incomplete (or totally ignored) task and go on your merry way.

But here’s the funny thing about change.  It won’t be ignored. You can’t tuck it away in a box until the sun, the moon, and the stars align for that “perfect” moment to deal with it.

Nope, it’ll keep stalking you.

And we can muster up all the illusion we want to ignore it, eventually being consumed by a tsunami of the inevitable.

Or we can do the natural thing…and acknowledge the change.  Welcome it.  Dance with it.  And learn to ride its wave.

Why I missed World Suicide Awareness Day

6 10 2009

World Suicide Awareness Day was on September 10.  I missed it.  Because I was thinking about committing suicide.

Yep.  While most folks spent their summer vacations  at the beach (or dreaming of it), I spent it in a dark, dark free-fall that brought me perilously close to ending my life at least 3 times.

Now, since you’re reading this, you know how this story ends:  I never pulled a trigger..or slit my neck or wrists or crashed a car.  But I did make plans…and took fairly deliberate action…to accomplish all of the above (except the gun part, this IS Massachusetts after all!).

The whole thing started with the death of my father.  For years, I’d wondered how the death of a man I barely knew would affect me.  Starting at 11:13 CST on June 29, I got the answer.  As my father was dying, I saw past all the illusions I’d carried about our distant, but complex, relationship.  I saw the truth of an imperfect man who, in the words of my sister, did the best he could.  And I thought that was that.

It wasn’t.  It seems that unravelling the illusions of my father launched an avalanche of unravelling the illusions that surrounded my entire family and my entire life.   For two and a half months, I was like Alice, falling through the rabbit’s hole into a place where absolutely nothing was as it seemed. And the more I tried to grasp onto those threads of  illusion, the more they fell away.  And me with it.

As all this unravelling was getting under way, I remember standing outside a hotel room in Texas with a bottle of wine in my hand.  The corkscrew had broken and I was so desperate for something–anything–to calm me down, to center me–that I cracked the bottle against a pole.  That action took away my desire for a drink…but it also made me look long and hard at the jagged glass. “Perhaps, I can sit this bit of karma out,” I thought.

I decided against it because I thought it was a bit white trash to end it with the jagged glass of a bottle of cheap wine outside of a Texas no-tell, motel.  I also decided then and there that the only way I was going to make it through this was to, “A”, go through it alone and, “B”, relinquish all control.   This wasn’t Oprah or Kripalu.  This was my life.  My darkness.  And I wasn’t going to find my way out by following someone else’s path.  And I sure as hell wasn’t going to make it by trying to drive this roller coaster.  After all, I had no idea where it was going.  So, that night, I put the cheap wine down and relinquished all control.

Which is not for the feint of heart.  Funny thing about the Universe.  When you set your intent, it tends to deliver.  And, boy, did it deliver.

From late June til late Sept, I stood in front of the mirror of my life, taking an unflinching, unvarnished look at my reflection.

Just as I thought I was looking, at long last, at me, another layer of illusion fell away.

At first, seeing the thickness of the layers of illusion made me angry.  I remember being in a hotel room in Rochester, MN, literally banging my head against a bathroom mirror, in order to break it and escape from the anger.  I’ll forever be grateful to whatever forces prevailed that night for dying in Rochester isn’t much better than dying outside a no-tell motel!

Then, as illusions of my family gave way to illusions of my life, I became terrified.  Turns out, I hadn’t left Texas to escape dysfunction and come out of the closet.  I left simply to build a new closet with a new career and new set of friends who simply mirrored what I had always known.   The dysfunction had followed me from Texas.  Stalked me, relentlessly and quite successfully.  And that realization led me to put my clothes and car keys aside one night as I went to bed. My plan was to wake up, get in the car, and drive it into a pole at high speed.

That was the one night in a very long time that I slept soundly all night.  I woke up at about 5 a.m.  The first thing I saw, in the betwixt and between light of the dawn was my husband.  Even as he laid there sound asleep, his love embraced me.

It was a transformative moment that told me I wasn’t going to get in the car and escape this journey.  I was going to follow those threads of unravelling illusion all the way to the end.

Which is what I did.  In the most unexpected of ways, at the most unanticipated time (funny how life works when you stop planning, huh!?).

About two weeks after I DIDN’T get in the car, I was doing some work for a client.  All of a sudden, I felt myself falling.

It was that awful feeling I’d had so many times since June.

Except this time, I landed.

On my twin bed in my elementary school bedroom in the first house I ever lived in.

And there, staring me in the face, was 12-year old Will.

He had a message for me, the one I’d been searching for.

All those illusions?  They weren’t put there by my family or by my friends or clients or anyone.  They were created, decorated, placed and guarded…by me.

He reminded me of exactly where we were.  It was the exact day, the exact moment, 32 years ago when I was sitting down to study for a spelling test in Mrs. Fugate’s class.  As I lay on that bed, I was thinking that the life of a smart, studious kid with thick glasses wasn’t really getting me far.  While my world was filled with books and music and thoughts that seemed like nohing I heard from anyone else, it wasn’t filled with friends.  So, I decided to change things. To bomb the test.  To do–and take and drink and say…and BE—whatever it took to fit in other people’s world.

And I did.  And I was good at it (it’s no surprise that my career has been based on spinning the story clients’ customers WANT to hear).

And it was all an illusion.  Each perfectly crafted, fiercely clung to, illusion simply added another layer that took me further and further away from my self.

Further and further away the power…the source…that each of us needs to fuel our own flame of individuality.

And, now, after months of darkness–no, after 42 years of darkness–the 12-year old Will was there to give me my power back.

Are you a rain grump or a rain buddha?

3 10 2009

As I slog around Boston this stormy Saturday, I am reminded that you can tell a lot about people by how they react to the rain.

There was the woman I saw on Washington Street, in the South End, darting feverishly from overhang to overhang and contorting herself as she dodged puddles.  Her tensed body was absolutely panicked it would be get.  Nervous that even a single raindrop would burst the fragile bubble of perfection and control her well-manicured nails clutch around her.  A burst that would toss her from her comfortable cocoon of illusion into the messy reality of, well, reality.  That woman needs a drink, I thought…or a good lay.  Or both.  And I wouldn’t want to be the one to give her either.

Closer to home, I saw a college-aged kid stomping in puddles as his girlfriend laughed uproariously.  Neither had an umbrella.  Their H&M outfits were so drenched that they may as well have been nude.  And they could have cared less.   They seemed to be the kind of people who have mastered the dance of life at a young age (or maybe it was that age hasn’t yet robbed them of the mastery we’re all born with).  My bet is that they greet a downpour with the same sh*t-eating grin they welcome a sunrise.

As for me….well, I used to be a rain grump.  I’m not yet a rain buddha, but I’m making progress.

14 years ago, I stopped being annoyed at rain…and started tolerating it.  I have the first Boston-to-New York AIDS ride to thank for the change.  For 1 1/2 days of the 2 1/2 day ride it rained.  Nonstop. I wore glasses at the time, which meant that I went through the entire state of Connecticut without sight…or brakes.  I distinctly remember going down a steep hill, literally unable to see what the flashing lights at the bottom meant, praying that it didn’t mean I needed to stop (because that would be impossible), and then…suddenly…knowing that a day of rain was nothing compared to a life with AIDS.  “Get over it,” I told my drenched self.  And I did.

Last year, I went from tolerating rain to revering it.  I was in South America at this magical place where the rain forest comes right up to the ocean’s edge.  I was there to spend two weeks doing deep dives with Ayahuasca.  It was the rainy season, which meant that it pretty much rained all day…and all night.  And I couldn’t have been more grateful.  There, immersed in a ritual shrouded in mystery, rain became a life savor.  Its wetness was as warm…and essential…as a mother’s embrace, welcoming me back from Ayahuasca’s vine.  The sound of the raindrops became the thread I would use to trace my way from the darkest crevices of the universal grid back to shore…or at least my chair.

I returned home from that trip forever grateful to rain.  Now, each rain shower offers  a chance to wash away the hurdles we too often let others put in our way (or put there ourselves).  A chance to wipe the slate clean.  To water the soul.

A chance to stomp in life’s puddles, celebrating the gift of being alive…wet or dry.  Shall we dance?