Wednesday, June 29, 2011

She said... He said...

 I said, "I'm on the rebound from a serious boyfriend in Spain, so I'm not sure I can commit to anything right now."
He said, "Okay. I can wait."

I said, "I love to travel. Alone. Often. If you can't live with that, then this isn't going to work."
He said, "Okay. Go see the world. I'll be here when you get back."

I said, "That ex-boyfriend of mine, the one that lives in Portugal, he's getting married. I'd like to go to the wedding. And the ex-boyfriend in Spain, he's gonna pick me up from the airport in Madrid on my way back thru Spain."
He said, "Okay. I think you should spend time with your ex-boyfriend in Spain. I think you need to decide whether or not you are over him. I'll pay for your ticket. And I'll be here when you get back."

I said, "Are you for real?"
He said, "Yes, I am. I love you, Gail, and I want you to be sure that you love me, so I'll give you all the time and space you need in order to be sure."

In August of 1990, he picked me up at JFK Airport after I'd spent six weeks in Madrid. He drove me to the hotel he was staying at in Reading, Pennsylvania. (The GE Audit Staff sent my dear boyfriend to some exotic places during his years of service there...) As we got off the highway, he began to fumble with the cassette player in the car. (Yes, folks, there were still cassette players in rental cars way back then...) When "our song"* came on, I started to cry. I wiped my eyes, looked through the windshield and saw the hotel marquee that read, "Gail, I love you. Will you marry me?" I cried even harder.

We dragged my stuff up to the hotel room (yes, folks, it was still possible to check two bags that were as large and as heavy as we were without paying any bag fees way back then...) which he had decorated with balloons and gifts of various sizes, shapes, and colors. There on the bed sat the box, the little black box, the box that would instantly change my status from "single" to "engaged" - if Facebook had existed way back then... With trembling hands, I picked up the box, slowly opened it, and to my shock, surprise, and dismay, it was EMPTY!

In full-blown panic mode, I wheeled around on one heel, and there was my beloved,
down on one knee with the ring in his hand.

He said, "Gail, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
I reached for the ring. He wouldn't let go of it.

He said, "You didn't answer my question."
I said, "Yes, Steve, I WILL MARRY YOU."

Later that evening, we went back outside to sit on the railing across from the hotel sign and stare at it. Two women walked by, and one asked, "Are you Gail?"
I said, "Yes, I am!" They looked at Steve and said, "Nicely done."
And, of course, I showed them the ring.

Twenty years ago today, we faced each other on the small platform in the front of the sanctuary of the Williamstown Baptist Church, and spoke the vows to each other that we had written together. We listened to the music. We laughed. I cried. He handed me handkerchief after handkerchief. (How did he know that I'd need more than one?)

When my turn came, I said, "I do."
When his turn came, he said, "I do."

By the grace of God, the counsel of therapists, the support of friends,
through time together, time spent apart, sheer force of will,
buoyed on love, laughter, patience, and forgiveness,
despite my selfishness, discontentment, complaints, criticisms,
many screw-ups, transgressions, faults, and misdeeds,
for the past twenty years, this man of mine,
this loyal, generous, gentle, kind, and outrageously funny man,
keeps on saying,
"Okay. Go see the world. Do what you need to do.
I'll be here when you get back. In fact, let me buy your ticket."

Happy anniversary, Steve.
I don't deserve you.

* Our theme song was "Always," by Atlantic Starr

Girl you are to me, all that a woman should be,
And I dedicate my life to you always
The love like yours is grand,
It must have been sent from up above
And I know you'll stay this way, for always
And we both know, that our love will grow
And forever it will be you and me
Ooh you're like the sun,
Chasing all the rain away,
When you come around you bring a brighter day
You're the perfect one
For me and you, forever we'll be
And I will love you so for always
Come with me my sweet,
Let's go make a family,
And they will bring us joy, for always
Oh boy I love you so,
I can't find enough ways to let you know
But you can be sure of course, for always
And we both know, that our love will grow
And forever it will be you and me
Ooh you're like the sun,
Chasing all the rain away,
When you come around you bring a brighter day
You're the perfect one
For me and you forever we'll be
And I will love you so for always
I will love you so, for always

Monday, June 27, 2011

I wish...

I wish I didn't care what other people think of me.
Of what I wear and don't wear.
Of what I read and write.
Of how I choose to live and refuse to live.

But I do care.
I care less now than I used to - and that's a good thing.
But I still care way more than I want to.

I worry what people will think of me if I curse or post a link to a blog with curses.
I worry what people will think of me when I say I don't go to church very often anymore.
I worry what other people will think when I say that I miss church sometimes.
I worry what people will think if I asked the questions that plague me at times.
I worry what other people will think if I stop asking those questions.
I worry that I worry so much about this stuff.
I wish I would stop all this worrying.

I read other people's blogs - about gardens and books and miracles and art journals and scrapbooking. I read about how great things are for them. Or how crappy. I read about how much they write and cook and work and sew and how many photos they take and books they publish every year. I read about the eradication of puppy mills and the creation of elephant sanctuaries and about how some people don't kill ants; they just usher them to the safety of the outdoors. I read about people's workout schedules and study schedules and travel schedules. I read about organic food and vegan food and processed food. I read about travel hacking and round-the-world-travel plans and how much of a difference they are making for orphans in Nepal or refugees from Rwanda or prisoners in Cuba.

And I wonder what I'm doing that makes a difference. What I'm doing that will matter in five or ten years. I wonder if I'm being positive or realistic or loving or honest or transparent enough. I wonder if I'm kind enough or gentle enough or loyal enough or faithful enough. I wonder if I'm waiting too long to live out my dreams or if I haven't waiting long enough. I wonder if I'm good enough, too good, bad enough, or too bad to be loved, accepted, forgiven, trusted, or taken seriously.

I wish this stuff didn't matter to me as much as it does. Most of the time, I keep all this worry and wondering and wishing in check. But sometimes, it's all I can think about. Some days the only question I ask myself is, "If anybody really knew me, knew what I think, what I don't think about, what I believe, and what I stopped believing years ago, what would they think of me?"

I recently read an anecdote from The World Domination Summit that took place a couple of weeks ago out west. Apparently, one woman stood up at the end of a session and said something like this:

"In my 20s, I worried a lot about what other people thought of me.
In my 40s, I stopped caring what other people thought of me.
In my 50s, I realized that nobody ever really thought that much about me at all."

I'm more than half way through my 40s; I've got a long way to go before I catch up with her.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Something I found this morning...

perhaps it is closer to the truth to say that this found me.

It is challenging me and many of my notions about holding myself together. Making me ponder many things that I need to stop doing and many things I need to do a whole lot more of.

I need to dance more and laugh more.
I need to listen to more stories and tell more too.
I need to touch and be touched.
I need to celebrate the wonder of life and the glory of love.
I need to let myself be moved.

Check it out HERE.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Georgia on my mind - and under my feet...

I am sitting at the desk of Suite 101 at the Homewood Suites in Macon, Georgia. It's my fifth night here. Two nights left. Nope, I haven't been condemned, sentenced, and banished to middle Georgia for a week of 90+ degree heat. Come to think of it - this wouldn't be a terrible place to send someone who deserved banishment to a very hot place for what feels like an eternity...

It's my son's fault. This tennis-playing phenom I adore and his doubles partner are on the move. Tomorrow they compete in the 14s boys finals double match in the Southern Closed Tournament. Nine states are represented here - North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Kentucky. And these two unseeded underdogs (CORRECTION: My son informed me that they were seeded 9th) will play in the finals tomorrow.

So here I sit. Alone in my room. With Georgia on my mind, under my feet, and in my sweat-clogged pores. (After writing this, I'm gonna jump into the shower where some of Georgia's finest dirt will flow down the drain where it belongs.) Several tennis moms are talking and drinking wine in the hotel lobby. Not me. After five days and four nights, I'm tired of listening to discussions focused on teenagers and tennis. I'm tired of listening to tales of earlier tennis tournaments, other people's bratty kids, and how special our kids are - of course. Enough is enough. I'm sequestered in my room, surfing the net, reading two fantastic books (Halfway to Each Other: How a year in Italy brought our family home and How to Improve your marriage without talking about it - both HIGHLY recommended, by the way), journaling, talking on the phone with my husband, and every now and then, it hits me: my son is in the finals. Win or lose, he goes home with a trophy from the Southerns. Yahoo!!!!!!!

It's true; I've heard a lot of stories about tennis matches and cheating and broken rackets and heat exhaustion and divorce and the cost of travel, hotels, and meals out. I get it. I really get it. Then I sit back in my seat at the restaurant and look around the table of adults. I look over at the kids at their table. I find my son in the middle of the fray, and I smile. We get to watch our children play elite USTA junior tennis. These are kids who, most likely, will receive college scholarships to play tennis. Several of them have older siblings, cousins, and friends who are at schools like Yale and University of Southern California and Furman playing tennis. These are bright, strong, determined, happy kids - for the most part. They are healthy, friendly, polite (for all its problems, and there are many, the South does a pretty good job of raising polite kids) and ambitious. They compete against one another fiercely on the court and then play ping pong jokingly with one another off the court. We travel with our talented offspring from tournament to tournament all over the south and beyond, check into and out of hotels, watch top-notch tennis, and cart home several trophies each year. We eat well, we travel well, we live well.

We are enormously blessed.
We are enormously blessed.
We are enormously blessed.

I am deeply grateful. So very grateful.

I'm not much of a commentator, especially after the fact, but here goes. In order to get to today's semi- final match, Daniel and his partner, Jack, (who have never played doubles together before this tournament!) had to win three other doubles matches (CORRECTION: My son informed me that they had to win five matches to get to today's match. Somehow I forgot about two matches. What kind of tennis mom am I???), including one against the number 1 seeded team in the Southern region and another against the team that had won the Georgia Qualifying Tournament two weeks ago.

Today's match, however, was literally a heart-stopper for me. Daniel and Jack, were up 6-2 -> two games from victory because they play to see who wins 8 games first. Then they went down 6-7. My heart raced. My blood pressure rose. I held my breath. I prayed. I did the sign of the cross several times. None of which helped I don't think because the parents of the boys on the other side of the net were doing the exact same thing, so, in effect, we canceled each other out. Jack served 2 aces in a row. Then he double faulted. At that point, my heart stopped - and then it beat again, almost immediately, I think. My breaths became dangerously shallow. Then a blur of shots, volleys, deuce, ad in, deuce, ad out. And then it happened: we won. WE WON * 9-7! A roar went up from the crowd. Well, a roar went up from the two moms of the two winning players, Jack's little sister, and a few other folks standing around - most of whom just wanted to go find dinner someplace nearby before heading back to our respective hotels in order to wash Georgia dirt back into its rivers and lakes.

Tomorrow at 3:30 pm, they are scheduled to go on court for the final match.
But they might go on sooner if the other team is willing to start earlier.
I'm gonna cross my fingers and toes. I'm gonna wear my cross necklace.
I'm gonna sweat. I'm gonna pray. I'm gonna call on angels and archangels
and good fairies everywhere to carry our boys on the wings of love
all the way to the trophy table where they will receive
either the first place or the second place trophy.

UPDATE: Our boys lost the final match, 6-3, 6-3. (Two full sets are played in the finals.)
It was a good match at the end of a great run in the doubles.
I am quite the proud tennis momma.
For sure.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Not my words...

but my sentiments, for sure.

Please read this.
Savor it.

It reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite books, The Temple of My Familiar, by Alice Walker.
"And she fell in love at the drop of a hat with all kinds of people, not all of them spirits. But sleeping with them didn't seem that important to her."

To love and be loved - that is the quest, is it not?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Against the odds

I believe in the power of hope.
I believe in the wonder of love.
I believe in the miracle of grace.
I believe in the freedom that forgiveness provides.
I believe that new life and new love are possible.
Against the odds.

Why do I believe in all of those things? Because I have seen them in action. I saw the effects of hope, love, grace, and forgiveness last week when Kristiana and I were on our road trip up north.

Hope granted two lovers and their children a chance at a new life together, a new marriage, a beautifully blended family, and a joint battle against stage 4 breast cancer. Hope gave - and continues to give - confused and sometimes despairing parents the strength to love their confused and sometimes despairing daughters.

Love granted another couple second, third, and fourth chances at reconciliation after as many broken moments in their marriage. Love brought aunts, uncles, and cousins together to celebrate a college graduation.

Grace welcomed the wandering spouse back home after a public and painful scandal. Grace welcomes the one who caused a betrayal back into the circle of friendship.

Forgiveness covers a multitude of sins, failures, abandonments, and sorrows. It doesn't erase them from memory, but it releases both the one wronged and the one in the wrong from the prison of bitterness and the desire for retribution.

I saw all of this and infinitely more with my own two weak eyes and felt them with my infinitely strengthened heart.

Hope keeps me hungry for, searching for, and attentive to signs of love, grace, and forgiveness in the face of all my doubts. I look into, under, around, behind, and at the most ordinary moments in order to sniff out, dig up, rejoice over, and cling to the hope that so often eludes me. In comparison with the most blatant reasons to lose hope - tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, flooding, fires, wars, divorce, prolonged unemployment, deadbeat fatherhood, alcoholism, illness, starvation, poverty, greed, etc, etc, etc - the quiet moments of peaceful conversations with my children, the quotidian mysteries of oatmeal and coffee for breakfast while the morning's cool air wafts in through the kitchen along with the sounds of birdsong, the simple wonder of conversations with caring, community minded neighbors while walking my tiny, little dog, rebuild my hope, strengthen my weakened soul-knees, and fortify me for another day.

On the morning of yet another scorchingly hot day in North Carolina,
sitting in the darkness of our homeschool room talking to my children,
sipping my hot, sweet, minty coffee concoction,
and later when I will undoubtedly be
folding laundry, dusting, washing pots and pans,
looking at photos from the most recent trip and the ones that came before,
listening to phone messages, reading facebook messages,
working up a lather in cardio funk class,
then standing under the cleansing and cool waters of our shower,
reflecting on the wonder, the agony, the joy, the shocking depravity,
the abundance, the surprises, the hope, the grace, the love, the forgiveness,
all of which make up this life I live, this life that defies so many odds,
I will be careful and deliberate in giving thanks to God for all that has been.
All that is.
All that is yet to come.

Against all odds, in spite of so many reasons to look the other way,
I look up with hope.
I look up with joy.
I look up with peace.
And I say, "Thanks be to God."
And thank you too, all who come to this page to read the story of my life's journey.
Thank you too.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"You don't have to smile."

My daughter and two of her cousins.
Memorial Day, 2011 - Brooklyn, NY. 

Several years ago, I read about a photographer who would tell her "photees" that they didn't have to smile for their photos. She said that some of the best photos she took were when people didn't smile, and when they weren't expecting to be photographed at all. 

In theory, I agree with her. In reality, I find it difficult not to smile when a camera is pointed in my direction. And apparently, that is also true of my family and friends. I like to think that when I point a camera at them, smiles happen spontaneously because they are so glad to be in my presence. Seriously, my loved ones and I have a serious smiling problem!

Me and my girl in Greenwich Village just before eating a fabulous meal at Aquagrill. 
Thanks, Raquel and Jay, for the many delightful delicacies.

Kristiana and Dr. Lisa Rooney, K's Stamford, Connecticut-based pediatrician from birth until the age of 11, at which time we moved down here. We drove past her office... and then we turned around and went back to say hi, tell a few stories, and thank her for being the great doctor that she was all those years ago. The good doctor was glad to see her former patient - her smile speaks volumes.

Steve planted those pine trees in front of our Norwalk house over ten years ago. At the time of their planting, they weren't even shoulder height. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw how large they are now.  

In Williamstown, Massachusetts. The breath-takingly beautiful young woman on the right, my niece, Clare, graduated from Williams College this weekend. My daughter and I put many miles on the minivan making our way up there. Smiles were shared by all.

 More cousin love.

She couldn't be any more beautiful. 

After the graduation. Before the sad farewells. One last pose for the camera. 

One of the happiest moments of the entire journey. Reconnecting with a dear friend, Sharon, whom I haven't seen in way too long. In the middle of an event where 200,000 meals were packaged and prepared to be shipped around the world. In one two hour shift on Sunday, the volunteers packed enough meals for 137 people to eat for an entire year - and we helped. Kristiana and I sat at a table, putting expiration date labels on hundreds of plastic bags, catching up with old friends, and marveling that we "stumbled into" this opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of people we will probably never meet. Those were undoubtedly the most important 90 minutes of our entire journey.

As I think back on the journey Kristiana and I have just returned from, 
as I ponder the time we shared with family and friends,
the food eaten, toasts made, wine imbibed in, 
the tears shed, stories told, hugs and kisses both given and received,
the many beds we slept in, the many floors we slept on, 
the miles we put on the car, the songs we danced to in the car,
the book we listened to in the car,
the clothes and books and shoes and jewelry and coffee and postcards
and cookies and drinks and other goodies we bought,
when I consider and reconsider all that we saw, thought, experienced,
I cannot help but smile.
I mean, I know that I don't have to.
But, really, I have no choice.