Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Norma Hopkins Wallace: A Lively Spirit Flies

I received a phone call today at work from my brother. We don't
talk on the phone all that often, so seeing "Johnbro" on the cell screen alarmed me a little. It's kind of that same way when I see the "MomandDad" incoming call these last few months. Important people in our lives are "getting on" as it were. My mom, for one, has been in and out of the hospital. We lost my grandmother in July, but she was 102 so one can hardly begrudge the Lord for calling her home. If Victoria had her way, that homecoming would have happened years prior. But I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to hold her hand and kiss her on the forehead only hours prior to her demise.  I still get a lump in my throat at times when I look at the brown shelf that had been in her room, or the scarves that my daughter used to dress up in to entertain Gramma when we'd visit. These scarves have become part of the "dress-up" box, but they still feel and smell of Gramma, and so produce a little welling tear every now and then. But then I remember that I really did get to say goodbye.

I did not have that same sense of closure today when my brother called to let me know that my second California mom, Norma Hopkins Wallace, had passed suddenly from a heart attack. I was sitting at my school desk in disbelief as my brother relayed the news. In fact, for a few moments after I hung up the phone, I continued to stare at the essay I had been grading and for a flash of a moment I thought I had just hallucinated that call. The rest of the evening has gone the same way. If I just go about my regular routine, Norma's still alive, no phone call received. All is well with the world as long as I just do the dishes or the laundry or grade another essay. But then I needed to articulate this news. To my daughters as we drove from school, quite late post-soccer games.
"Do you remember Norma?"
"Yes! Is she coming to visit?"
"No, she just died today."
"But didn't she have another amazing trip to go on?"
"I think so, she always kept on moving, didn't she?"
Tears. More silence.

This is where distance creates such a confused state of grief. I felt very much this way when my first California Mom, Peggy Secor died over two years ago. When you do not see someone very often, but this someone has helped to form your soul and heart and has been with you in mind and spirit for as long as you can remember--when a person such as this passes away it's a grief that comes in waves. It is easy to have moments imagining that this is not true. It is not as if we spoke every day, or I drove to her house every Sunday. So what changes? Everything.

When I was at USC, Norma's home in Simi Valley was my freshman year "family dinner destination." And Norma was someone I could call (and did on many occasions) to help me work through my feelings of how annoying my Gramma (who I also saw most weekends in CA) was being about the clothes I wore or how I looked fat. Norma's way was to accept the world just they way it is, to love people right where they were. And while she might believe you could be better or work harder, she let you do things in your own time.  She learned this way of calm, I know, from her mother Grandma Jennie, a Norwegian-blooded 4 foot 9 inch spitfire, who also had a verve for life and way of making everyone feel loved, even if she was disappointed in you. Grandma Jennie passed away many years ago, and I remember writing to Norma and thanking her for sharing her mom with our family. Norma was my mom's roommate at Mount St. Mary's in Califorinia, so my mom had been adopted whole heartedly into the Hopkins family. It was a natural progression for me, then, to feel adopted into the Wallace family.

And this, I suppose is the pain I feel from Peggy's passing a few years back, and then Norma's passing today. These women were family to me. Because they helped me grow and challenged me to think of my direction in life, and inspired me to look at the world with wise, energetic and curious eyes.  They watched me become a person-- from toddler to teen to young woman to mother. And I watched them go from "friends of my mom" to "my California mom" to counselor, friend,  to beautiful elderwomen from whom so much could be learned.

I saw Norma last Eastertide. She was stopping by my parents for a couple of days between visiting her relatives in D.C. I don't live all that close to my parents, but she was only around for a weeknight, and I knew I wanted to see her. I didn't necessarily think that would be the last time I would see her, but, to be honest, I had a very carpe diem sense in my mind about that trip. I get that every now and then, a radical priority shift that says seeing family is more important than gas or time or finished work or sleep. While I cannot reconcile that visit as any kind of closure, I can add it to a slew of wonderful warm memories of an incredibly special woman who taught me that there is very little time in life for criticism, but all the time in the world to love from the depths of one's heart.

Norma, I will miss you. And I thank your beautiful children Jimmy, Allison, Stacy, Janelle and Chad for sharing their mom with me, too. I know there is quite likely a party at the gates of Heaven right now. Grandma Jennie is probably doing the funky chicken and you're giving little Noah big grandma hugs and kisses. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Donuts on the Desk, A Glass of Water, and A Human God

So, not that I have so many blog followers to notice, but I didn't really update as I said I would during my 40 days of Living Consciously. I'm not a very consistent person. I'd like to spin that and say that my spontaneity and unpredictability is one of my greatest charms, but truly it is often a great weakness. However, while I did not post very much during this time, I would like to highlight the following moments:

Every Friday my advisees and I have "Food Fridays" for which someone brings in donuts or cookies or some other kind of Food for breakfast. So, my advisees brought in two giant boxes of donuts and there were a ton of them left. Andthe box ended up sitting on my desk all day. Every now and then a student in another class would ask for some, but there remained a significant amount of donuts on my desk pretty much all day. At the end of the day my two favorite kinds of donuts remained. And I didn't have one. That was a pretty memorable challenge of these forty days. But it made me think that sometimes, if you face your fears and challenges by just placing them right there on the table, they actually become more manageable. As opposed to avoiding them or hiding them, then when they rear their ugly head you are caught off guard. Isn't there a saying "keep your friends close, your enemies closer?" Perhaps a temptation on the table keeps you much more conscious. 

This may seem like a silly observation, one of those "duh, who doesn't know that" kind of situations. But drinking water solves a lot of issues. I know this because I don't drink enough water and I have a lot of issues. It should seem an easy routine, wake up in the morning, drink a full glass of water. But I cannot seem to make that my daily routine and I know I need to. On the days that I was more conscious, I DID drink a full glass of water before anything (well, sometimes the dog won't let me even get that before his walk). And I always felt better. Water is a precious gift and I need to always make "hydrate" a morning mantra, a real, attainable and healthy one.

So we are coming to the end of the Lenten Season. It culminates in my absolutely favorite bundle of three Mega-Masses known as The Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil. I feel so fortunate to be in an awesome and active choir, because although I will spend more time in church these next three days than I have in the last four months, I will have the opportunity to sing some really lovely and meaningful songs.

Holy Thursday is by far my favorite of the three Mega-Masses. And I was actually thinking deeply tonight about why I like it so much. I'm sure it started back in 1974 when I had my First Communion and I was chosen with 11 classmates to have our First Eucharist at the Holy Thursday Mass. We sat on the altar like 12 little disciples. This was clearly the beginning of my desire for full and creative participation in the Mass. Yay, for the progressive priests of SCB in Cinnaminson. I don't think they ever did that again, but it was a pretty impressionable moment for me, and likely the origin of my love for that holy day.

However, there is a great deal more to my affection than nostalgia. The realness of the humanity of Christ is what makes the Holy Thursday Mass so poignant to me. That Jesus calls us to serve one another in the symbol of washing one another's feet is incredibly powerful. Tonight, at our new parish, they do the foot washing with three different stations and anyone who wants to get their feet washed just goes on up there, but in return they wash the feet of the next person. And while my 15 year-old had said, "I'm not touching anyone's feet", I looked out from choir and saw my 8 year-old have the courage to get her feet washed by a stranger and then, in return wash another person's feet. Got a little choked up, must say. I find that idea of serving as the ultimate show of a true leader, most powerful.

Holy Thursday also has the heightened awareness of the Eucharist. Again a really powerful symbol of sacrifice, unity, communion. We recognize Christ living in and among us in the Eucharist. We recognize that we are all called to have Christ's love nourish us, and we in turn must be willing to be Christ for others. I know that Roman Catholic communion practices can seem very odd and voodoo. But truthfully, the theatricality of it all has always been what has made it the most real for me.

Above all, when I reflect upon Holy Thursday, I think of how the Mass closes in all that Roman pagan incense and pomp, carrying the Eucharist around with an ancient Latin chant, but then the Eucharist comes to rest in a small chapel. No closing song-- so as to mark no real "end" to the sacrifice. And then you can sit in silence there, in simplicity, you and Jesus, contemplating, praying, the way he did the night of his betrayal and arrest. This is when I feel we see the most human Jesus, the Jesus who says "If this cup could pass me by, I'd be quite ok with that, but your will be done." He experiences sorrow, betrayal, denial. He is faced with mortality. And he's scared. And I love this Jesus because he is real, and calls us to be real for one another. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Day 1 of Conscious Living

I was faced with a pretty incredible challenge last evening that created a great deal of stress and anxiety such that I was not able to sleep more than an hour. I actually had the thought, "Oh no! How am I going to Live Consciously tomorrow when I'm literally going to drop over UNconscious." And yet Providence shone upon me. I drank a big glass of water, I walked the dog a brisk mile, I got the kids to school without screams or curses. Faced further with having to confront last evening's challenge further this evening,  I found inside me, bolstered I know by the songs of Ash Wednesday, a strength to remain calm, to speak from a place of support and to see many sides beside my own. I am indeed very tired now. But I am confident I can chalk Day 1 up to very Conscious.

Here's one of the songs we sang tonight:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

40 Days of Conscious Living

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday marking that time of year where Catholics "give up" everything they had already given up as a New Year's Resolution but didn't quite get it right in the preceding 10 weeks. What better time for me, then, to actually DO something since I don't really ever make New Year's Resolutions.

As I thought about what I wanted to do I recalled something I once heard a lawyer say in a mediated conversation I was in. My husband and I were becoming legally separated (we're back together now, so, yay for mediation over litigation everyday!) and the lawyer made us make a list of all the expenses we had every month all the way down to hair care products and toothpaste. This proved a bit hard for my husband as he could not recall the price of even a sandwich he had bought hours before the meeting. And I will always remember the lawyer saying, "So, you are an unconscious spender." It was that word "unconscious" that really struck me. That idea of being fully aware and awake in one's actions seemed to really resonate with that word. And I thought, wow. I do a lot of things unconsciously, too.

So I thought of that word again as I wanted to formalize my Lenten plan. And it seemed to fit so well with what I wanted to make sure I'm doing: being aware, being purposeful, being conscious. So here goes with the plan:

because that's what Lent is for

To God
I will greet each morning with a fully aware and heartfelt, "Thank you, Lord, for giving me each day." Knowing that waking up every morning is a gift.
To My Family
I will choose words carefully and make sure that what I am saying is not born of stress or anxiety, but in the light of truly conveying a message. I will choose positive over negative. I will let people know I love them both in words and deed.
To My Friends
While I am not "giving up" Facebook, I will be a much more conscious Facebook member avoiding being sucked into useless hours, when minutes can certainly suffice.

I will make sure that what I put in my mouth is first and foremost fuel. That means I will eat when my body is hungry, not my mind bored.
I will drink water before my body asks for it, remembering that hydration is the key to alleviate many problems.
I will buy only what is needed not what advertisers have designed and manipulated me into wanting. 

I will exercise with purpose. While I am training for a 1/2 marathon, I will not only run, but I will do weight training, knowing that cross-fitness is the best fitness. When I feel I do not have ample time for exercise, I will do at least  40 somethings-- crunches, push-up, lunges--whatever it is, I need to do 40 of them.

I will write, rather than just think about writing.
I will read, rather than just have books by my bed.
I will go to live music, theatre, dance whenever possible.

Ok. Let me just say as I finish my unconscious Dunkin' Donut-- it's time to get real, be aware and come to Consciousness.  I will report on my progress. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Down In The Valley A Heart Remains

Thoughts that have been mulling in the noggin, but finally took form tonight.

  Down in that valley my heart remains
A piece forever stripped from me and
Laid bare, out on the terrace
Sitting on a green Adirondack chair
There pulses a piece of myocardium
in that tech booth laughing with creators
and dreamers
and shapers
of young women’s lives
and I wonder
if I need that part of my heart
in order to live

Like soldiers in a jungle or a desert
I was once part of
the band of brothers, sentry of sisters
fighting the fight to keep young women’s
hearts in tact
minds alight with curiosity
Asking ourselves if we were crazy
which we always knew we were
but a good kind
the kind that Ralph Waldo said
was what great men were

And now in my civilian status I continue the good fight
of shaping the inchoate minds of our future
I still challenge them to challenge themselves
and let their gray matter vibrate to their own
But through open doors of wonder and new thoughts
New worlds
And Yet
I feel alone sometimes
Like no one knows what it’s really like
to have been there
only my fellow crazy soldiers who have ever
been in that valley
on the farm
could know, could understand, could empathize

Time is a healer.
I know that to be true.
Time creates the distance necessary
To make a new place home
A new work, mine.

But I still wonder about that piece of my striated muscle
that continues to throb in the room behind the great window
where that hodgepodge family sits for mass meals
Or up in the fields where the deer roam with soccer net turbans
Or up in that large room where I sometimes sighed
sometimes huffed
sometimes laughed
and often pleaded, “Be Honest with Yourself, Have you really given your best effort?”

All I know is, I did
give my best
In the lifetime of years where I shapeshifted from friend
to sister
to mother
from teacher
to coach
to director
from neighbor
to colleague
and now,

outsider even.

I do think it may be similar to what returning troops feel
Once discharged
Back in country
A little directionless and
feeling a hole in one’s heart
the kind not easily healed 

A piece forever was stripped from me and
Lives down in that valley
Laid bare, out on the terrace
Sitting on a green Adirondack chair
There pulses a piece of myocardium
in that valley laughing with creators
and dreamers
and shapers
of young women’s lives
and though I know I don't
need that part of my heart
in order to live.
I wonder will it continue to beat
outside of me
so others can 
hear the spectral love
the way I heard it from my predecessors?

And I think, maybe that's why from my first day 
traversing from the plantation home
across the quad
past flagpole and into the creative arch 
I felt the special
that is that place
where hearts remain
though people move on.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What a day this has been . . . .

Can't even process the series of strange events today. . . . finding it hard to sleep. So the day starts out with me walking the dog very early in the morning so I can crunch the ice off my car. Driver's door is frozen shut so I have to climb over the stickshift from passenger side. Whatever-- I'm used to this.  Kids not ready when I finish walking dog, taking out trash, thawing car, taking shower. I flip a gasket. Again--been there. Blast the kids to school so I can get to a conference up at Far Hills Country Day. Get there. It's cancelled. Apparently an e-mail came to me last night at 11:15--- but I went to bed at 10:15 (I know, that is the piece that's weird and never happens.) Anyway--awesomely I get to see Maedean Kramer at FHCDS for a hug, eat a Cocoluxe Breakfast Pizza and pop in to see my peeps at Purnell. SOOOOO awesome to see everyone even if briefly, but surreal too, like I was just gone on a long vacation or something . . . love me some rolling hills especially in the lovely snow. . . so that was weird, but weird good -- anyway THEN I'm driving back and feeling hungry and I have two chocolate croissants from Cocoluxe I could eat, but I bought them for the kids as a memento (because we used to go there for a treat) and I'm like DO NOT EAT THE CRIOSSANTS-- because I'm feeling bad about the gasket I flipped on the kids this morning --- and so in driving past Cheesequake Rest Stop-- I'm like-- I've got time, I'll grab something to eat and look how cheap that diesel is!! Let me get some of that, too, since my tank is less than 1/4.  So I pull up to the pump that has diesel (and other fuels) -- but there are only two that have diesel and I pull up to the one with the diesel because my car is diesel. And I say "$30 diesel please". And the guy fills up my tank and I pull away and I'm like 500 yards into the rest stop parking lot and ENGINE LIGHT---- DEAD CAR. What the )(@*$@#(*?? I look at the receipt-- HE PUT REGULAR IN MY CAR!!!!!!! This has never ever, ever, ever happened. I'm livid because I know this has effectively busted my car in a big way! AND now I'm not going to make it back to my afternoon classes-- I might not even make it back to pick up my kids!!  So after putting my hazards on and running down to tell the guy who filled my car he's an idiot and him telling me, "don't tell anyone, lady, I'll lose my job" I'm like-- you make this right and I won't tell anyone, dork, and you can't make it right because now I have to get towed, and you know what AAA won't come because I'm the the GSPkway!!!! Gah. So I call 911 and the "Parkway Authority" sends out a tow guy (who is AAA certified, just saying) and I tell him what's what and tow truck guy knows the Sunoco  manager who is very accommodating and sets all straight at least in terms of the "We'll pay for everything, don't you worry" part of things. But he's out for blood and wants to know "who did this." And not that I want to throw anyone under the bus, but this is my Jetta we're talking about and you don't mess with my Jetta-- "It was Dave." "Are you sure? Because the number on your receipt is Mike."  And for a second I start to doubt myself, but I'm like no, Dave handed me my receipt. I will not swear that Dave pushed the button, but he is the one who finished out the thing. So this is a hooked up operation and manager guy pulls up "the video" because he still thinks it's Mike. BUT-- video shows-- it IS Dave! So perhaps Dave KNEW he screwed up and when he punched the receipt he tried to frame Mike? Who knows--- but I don't forget a face-- especially when it's like 5 SECONDS prior!! Geeeeeez. So my little Jetta is at the VW hospital and the guys at Enterprise and I are on first name basis now since I have had rental cars more times in the last five months than EVER.  Oh my. . . .and do you think it ends there??? Um. No. But for the other piece you'll just have to wait and see if I post in my Mommalescence blog-- because that is all teen craziness. . . . This part -- this was, I believe, as my car has done pretty much since I've owned it-- absorbing all the bad vibes and taking a hit for the team. I KID YOU NOT!! Any time something has happened to my car it's been on a day when I flung invectives to the universe-- and then UDA 42R, as I affectionately call her, has conked out. Weird? Perhaps.