it was but a mere second – nigh unto 4:30 in the morning – when my sweet poppo was on this planet and then wasn’t.
i said a wee-hours-goodnight to him, propped in a hospital bed at home in their house. he whispered back to me. i tried desperately to memorize his face, the love in his eyes.
and before the birds woke up in the morning, that morning eight years ago yesterday, i went from with to without.
three years later, we left my sweet momma sitting on the edge of her assisted-living-bed, grasping onto the blue-notebook-that-documented-their-moments-in-europe, her expression dancing with excitement, waving to us. i tried desperately to memorize her face, the love in her eyes.
it wasn’t but a couple weeks later, on the road back again to florida, around the time the sun is highest in the sky, i went from with to without.
suddenly, i was orphaned. suddenly i was without the two people who gave me life. suddenly i was without the two people who could answer any question i had about my growing up. suddenly – in a split second – nothing was the same.
100,000 families. in the past few months, due to the global pandemic decimating our country, 100,000 families have desperately tried to memorize a loved one’s face. they have held tightly to the memory of love shining in their beloved’s eyes. they have moved from one split second into the next. with to without.
and last night, on the solemn occasion of this number passing from 99,999 to over 100,000 – that one second – one person- one life – one with to without – i expected, foolishly, that something would change. that there would be gut-wrenching acknowledgement. that there would be communal nation-wide mourning led by the person in the highest seat in the land. that there would be kind, generous, thoughtful words spoken, grief-filled heart-soaked empathy for all that the withs-to-withouts have gone through.
we need remember. all of it. these are our split seconds.
waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a yes or no or waiting for their hair to grow. everyone is just waiting. waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their uncle jake or a pot to boil, or a better break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or another chance. everyone is just waiting.
somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying. you’ll find the bright places where boom bands are playing. with banner flip-flapping once more you’ll ride high! ready for anything under the sky. ready because you’re that kind of a guy!
oh, the places you’ll go!”
an eighth rest. these two broken wrists are down from a quarter rest to an eighth rest. and waiting.
we are all waiting. for hours, days, weeks to go by. for healing. we are biding time. on hold. on eighth-rest-repeat.
and in that vast biding of time we are maybe finding that some of the things we have busied ourselves with don’t count as much. and some count more. maybe our time of waiting will reveal to us that which is most important. maybe it will be a time of needed rest. a time of slowing down. a time of subitotacet. a time of honoring those who truly help us. a time of quiet conversation, of learning new things, of disassembled notes gathering together from their places in the stars to form a new song.
we wait. and we don’t know when the waiting will stop. but oh, during this waiting, and after the stand-still-pause is over, oh, the places we will go.
my emotional well was full when i woke up today. thinking of us, our children, our families, our dear friends, our community, this world. i desperately want to gather our beloveds in, hold them close, protect them.
i have no words for all of this; i have too many words for all of this. i fear that none of them are helpful, none of them are wise. it’s just me. and, like you, carrying the weight of the world one step at a time, one quiet minute at a time, staring out the window and wondering.
bananas. they were $.49 lb. we picked up a bunch and walked to the register. a moment later, with no question or drama, we paid our $1.17 and left.
the next step in my two-broken-wrists saga is occupational therapy. not because we do everything with our hands. not because we write with them and open doors with them. not because we use them for our personal hygiene or because we cook with them. not because we drive with them or dress with them or shake hands with them. but because using my hands IS what i do. the therapist asked me how long i have played the piano. 53 years. it’s what i DO. so getting my wrists back to pre-snowboard-fall is imperative to me. there are no other options.
before we went to this first appointment i, responsibly, called our healthcare insurance company – the one we pay $29,000 a year to – the one with the slogan ” for the care you need at a price you can afford” – to check in about the coverage of OT. i was told, after much menu-choosing, that i am limited to 20 visits and that the cost will be $50 per visit. with the OT’s recommendation that my getting-these-wrists-back-trajectory would involve appointments twice a week, that would add $400 to the already-$2400/month in healthcare costs. bracing. impossible.
the OT office checked in with me to remind me of my appointment, coincidentally, just after i hung up with the insurance company. i told them what i had just learned and they insisted i was wrong. “no,” i was told, “we have never heard of molina charging ANYthing for a copay.” I asked them to please double-check for me and they assured me they would and that they would apprise me at my appointment.
when i arrived, the receptionist checking me in told me that they had their 23-year-insurance-veteran in the office check and that there would be no copay. i asked them to provide a written document to that effect so that if and when i was billed i would have recourse. they assured me that they would triple-check and to stop back after my appointment.
at the end of my appointment with the therapist, the receptionist told me that “no, you don’t have to pay $50 per visit. it’s actually worse. instead, you have to pay 100% of all fees until your thousands-of-dollars-deductible is met.” what?!!!! now this is the third story i am hearing about the same service with the same provider and the same insurance company. who am i to believe?
i stood there and literally cried in front of the receptionist in the middle of the waiting area. you mean to tell me that our $29,000 a year doesn’t really cover much of anything??? this is blatantly wrong, grossly outrageous.
bernie sanders, if you have listened to him speak, has given a example of the perverted and pathetic healthcare in this country. he speaks about a family who makes $60,000 a year and that this family must pay $12,000 for healthcare. “that’s 20% of their gross income,” he bellows. what i wish he would add is this next example: consider a couple who makes say $65,000 a year (this is the magic healthcare cliff for two people and only $5000 more than the previous example). that couple will pay anywhere between $24,000 and $29,000 for a policy that will still have high deductibles and yet (clearly) not actually have good coverage. i want to jump on the bernie-bellowing-band-wagon and yell, “that’s 45% of that couple’s income!!! what is wrong with that???? EVERYTHING!” how is it that we can live in this country, the richest country in the world, and have the worst healthcare for our populace? how is it right to set the populace up for financial disaster when they have to deal with the eventual health scare, injury, illness?? (on a side note, i won’t even beGIN to start talking about Covid-19, for i have nothing good to say about the administration’s handling, lack of information or truth, and unpreparedness for this pandemic that will truly test the resiliency of our country.)
when i could take a breath at the receptionist’s desk i asked, “what do these appointments cost?” how much is my professionalism worth to me, i am thinking. i earn my living playing the piano, i am thinking. i have fifteen albums of piano music, i am thinking. i am a pianist, i am thinking. i just need care for my wrists so that i can do what i do, i am thinking. at what cost, i am thinking.
but healthcare is not like bananas. i was told, “we can’t answer that. we don’t know.” i beg your pardon??? “billing handles that. and it’s different depending upon insurance plans and whether or not you have appropriate insurance.” i beg your pardon???? “what if i just wanted to pay cash right now?” i ask. “you can’t,” she says. “we don’t know what it costs.”
i wonder if it would be more if i paid cash – after all, i’m not an overstuffed insurance company that has the capacity to deny portions of the billing or disallow costs or base payment on the coding used to describe my treatment, while at the same time accepting ridiculously high premiums from clients with the knowledge that the insurance offered is incomprehensibly lacking.
no. i’m just a person who needs her hands.
we left, went to the store and bought more bananas.
1980. it’s not often i have listened to this song since four decades ago when i recorded it. i was a mere 20. listening to it warbling now, in the way that only old cassettes can warble, has been a mixed bag: this cassette master, with little studio experience, with reel-to-reel recording, with no auto-tune for my young nervous soprano-ish voice, with too-sweet flute lines and picked guitar, measures-too-long-instrumental-interlude; i am catapulted back.
it is shocking to hear the innocence. it is shocking to hear the pain. if my wednesday post this week was too much, i would hasten to add that this will be as well. this is a song about stripping a young woman of choice, of what should be the blissful love of first intimacy, of no justice, of no opportunity to process. it’s the story of sexual assault in the late 1970s. it’s the story of sexual assault any time. it changes everything. every trajectory. it’s my story.
NO BALLOONS is a song of the times. especially for someone who listened to john denver, james taylor, carole king, joni mitchell, bread, loggins and messina, america, england dan & john ford coley, the carpenters – the A-team of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-interlude-chorus. simple melodies, simple instrumentation, simply written, simply sung.
i can’t believe i didn’t write it in the vein of led zeppelin or kiss. it should have been a screaming heavy metal song, full of pointed weapons of anguish, of power-stripped anger. instead, it sounds like a sweet love-gone-bad song, “you take away my hopes, my dreams, you give me no balloons to fly.” only it’s not. it’s about no air. no breath.
“and now with my eyes closed, i no longer see the pain in yours or feel it in mine…” and that was a product of the times as well. i closed my eyes and silenced my voice. i stopped feeling it. or did i? “and i cried as long as the rain lasted and when it stopped i stopped.” was it really that simple?
until this week i really never thought i would share this song again. after all, the song is 40 years old; i’m an alto, perched firmly on the tenor shore. but somehow, between the #MeToo movement and the swirling-around-us-in-the-world-contention and public court battles in recent media and the lack of regard for those who truly need help or healing and my aunt’s texted article and the weeping inside of my younger-self and my silenced-silence, it felt like it was time to be vulnerable and candid and believe that our muddy-boots-narratives might make a difference for someone else.
we each have a story, a timeline, an arc that takes us through this life. things we want to remember in detail, things we desperately want to forget. things we have lived boisterously out loud, things we have lived in despairing silence. the tapestry that holds all these threads together is the soul of our experience, the way we can hear others and truly listen, the empathy we can employ in a world that seems to cite MeFirst instead of UsTogether.
i wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. i’m pretty sure that every day since those-dark-days-in-the-late-70s i have both been affected and have effected because of them. i have made choices and non-choices, taken action and had reflexive reaction. i have searched for answers.
but i also know that my heart was blown open. i am not standing on a different rung of the ladder, too high up to understand or remember, too discurious to ask, too blinded to see, too discriminating or apathetic to care.
i am next to anyone who needs me to listen, really listen. i am next to anyone who needs me to jump and catch their balloons before they have flown too far to reach.
when i think about my sweet momma and my poppo, my big brother, my godfather uncle allen, my grandmother-mama-dear, more beloved family and dear friends – all who have left this earth – i don’t think about their jobs or upward mobility, their income or the status symbols they owned. i don’t think of the timeline of their school or work or whether they had finished a degree or if they had even gone to college. i don’t ponder awards or certificates they received or resorts where they may have vacationed.
i think about what a difference they made in my life. my mom’s devotion to cheery kindness, my dad’s quiet and stubborn thoughtfulness, my big brother’s goofy humor and ability to tell a story in all its details, my uncle’s absolute commitment to his fun-loving smile no-matter-what-was-happening. i think about the joy my mom experienced when my dad brought her grocery-store-flowers. i think about big bowls of coffee ice cream with my brother, neil diamond playing in the background. i think about my uncle generously paying for my very first recordings in ny, diligently holding me up and gently pushing me. i think about simple moments with them. in what could be a crowded-with-information-obituary in my head for each person, i hold a piece of their heart instead. they have made a difference in this world. they made a difference for me. i remember.
(from THE FAULT IN OUR STARS) “you know, this obsession you have, with being remembered? this is your life! this is all you get! you get me, and you get your family and you get this world, and that’s it! …. and i’m going to remember you. …. you say you’re not special because the world doesn’t know about you, but that’s an insult to me. i know about you.”
we live on an infinite continuum of opportunity. chances to bring light and hope to others. deeds we can do out of kindness, goals reached by collaborating together. we face choice just as soon as the sun-peeking-over-the-horizon wakes us. we innately or intentionally decide, we head in a direction, we live a day.
“We’re all traveling through time, together, everyday of our lives… All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable life. I just try to live everyday as if I have deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it… As if it was the full, final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.” (from ABOUT TIME)
this song. i have performed it countless times. in nyc’s central park for tens of thousands of people, in small medical clinics, in large oncological settings, in chicago’s grant park. at a pharmaceutical conference in puerto rico, outdoors with the lance armstrong tour of hope. across the country, in pajamas and jeans and all-dressed-up. in theatres and at walks/runs, in schools and churches. for organizations including y-me, the american cancer society, gilda’s club, young survival coalition, susan g. komen foundation, the annual breast cancer symposium. and each time, heidi and i, working together in performance, fighting back tears. the list is profound. not because of the innumerable times i have sang this song, but because of all the people in these places and behind the scenes, joining together, remarkably touching the lives of others: those they know and those they may never know.
we make a difference. in every arena of our lives. every place we go. every interaction. every gesture. every assumption. every conversation. every every-thing. every single thing.
what intention will we have? will we be positive or negative?
“the truth is, I now don’t travel back at all, not even for a day. … live life as if there were no second chances.” (ABOUT TIME)
with these broken wrists i have moved from a whole rest to a quarter rest. i have made progress playing my piano and my broken-wrists have told me when to be silent. in the silence the earth keeps spinning, we trek around the sun, everything keeps keeping on. but for a moment, i rest.
we are each granted rests upon entrance into this orchestra-of-earth. sometimes they are chosen, sometimes they are not. always they are necessary. it is in your quiet that others make noise, that others speak, that other timbres color the muted. the hush is yours to own; the rest is yours to take. the silence both sometimes frighteningly deafening and sometimes a grand relief. the metronome really never stops.
(a reprise of paragraphs from 8.13.2015 post): at 1am, we walked to the lakefront. away from as many lights as we could get away from, we laid on some old steps, bricks and mortar digging into our backs so that we could gaze straight up, watching the night sky for the meteor shower.
the streaks of white light across navyblueblack make us draw in our breath. i’m wondering how far away this meteor is…how it is that we, here on earth, can see this amazing sight. such a big sky. such tiny bodies in contrast lying on the ground, waiting for the symphony to start, waiting for the downbeat, the symphony that has been continuously playing, the downbeat lost in centuries upon centuries of time gone by. like any good piece of music, it’s the rests in-between the notes, the rests in-between the meteorstreaks, that build the anticipation, that create the emotionflow, that bring tears to your eyes. each burst, each streak of whitelight is a miracle, a tiny moment exploding in time, so far away, in vast vastness.
time stretches out in front of us. and behind us. we are tiny and we are big. we gather in the moments, we breathe them, we rejoice, we worry, we ponder, we move. there is no downbeat and the symphony is already playing, has been playing and will continue to play. always. it is magical. and it is vast.
ohmygosh, women are beautiful. women are strong. women are underestimated. women are courageous. women are tender. women are emotional. women are smart. women are bold. women are modest. women are utterly and undeniably amazing…
sharing two previous posts that i could not pen better than i did when i wrote them. thank you for indulging me this repetition. with love to the great big tribe called ‘womankind’. xoxo
WOMEN. WE’VE GOT BACKBONE. (dec. 1, 2016)
living with an artist means you get to poke around inside their passion. you get to see the things that paved the way, that set the stage, that were behind the scenes. you get to hear the stories of mountains climbed and deep valleys (read: chasms) scaled. an artist’s story is not a straight line and an artist’s art is fluid.
it also means you get to go through the piles, so to speak. i’ll play songs for him that never made it anywhere, onto any album, nor any stage. he’ll show me paintings or sketches that didn’t get framed or hung or shown or even looked at. sometimes i will just go downstairs into the studio and page through the painting stacks, traveling in time through my husband’s work. color and space and frenetic movement and paintings that breathe air; all tell a story about the place he was in when he painted them.
in a recent stroll through paintings, i stumbled upon this one. i pulled it out and sat down – right there on the floor – to gaze at it. there is just something about it.
grace. strength. i was struck by the beauty of its simplicity.
it made me think of so many women i know. my beautiful girl kirsten, who made her first turkey after spending a day on a snowboard on mountains she had never even seen a short three years ago. linda, tossing hay to a horse with a pitchfork and hugging alpaca, never before retirement dreaming of such a thing. marykay who wisely makes brownies (gf!) for every occasion, creating inroads for people to talk and share and become a part of a whole. jay, who is zealous about the children she works with at schools, a social worker beyond compare. jen, who stretches herself to learn new things at all times, while standing strong for her husband, stunned by changes in their lives over the last year. which brings me to randi, with a similar story and the same dedication and generous spirit. daena, who grades papers and reads elementary school novels in-between playing her handbell parts, because she is more than prepared every school day. susan, who, singlehandedly, day after day raises three young men and teaches them to see this very strength and grace in women. sandy, who quietly and fervently and proudly stands strong for the LGBTQ community. heidi, a writer who bravely serves up pizzas with a frantic pace, because it helps her family. dianne, who tirelessly works side by side with her pastor husband, keeping a full-time job and volunteering for, well, everything. beth, who posts a picture of her stunning chemo-bald self every time another friend is diagnosed with breast cancer. my sweet momma, who was kind every single time and didn’t see differences or lines, even in pain, even in dying.
because it’s true. in this time in our world, who of you cannot think of a woman or women you know who are the picture of strength, the picture of grace. i want to celebrate these women. i want to encourage these women. i want to honor these women. i want to celebrate, encourage, honor each of Us.
please forward this to women you know. not because there is a link to purchase Stuff – but because it is a Truth and as many women (and men) as possible need to see it…just to be reminded. add names to the list. in our herculean (and extraordinary) lives, let’s make this a herculean (and extraordinary) celebration.
i can’t think of a better time to further the celebrating, encouraging and honoring than right now. at a time when each of us WOMEN needs to be seen as strength and as grace.
we ARE women. and we DO have backbone.
WOMEN. YOU MADE IT THROUGH. (dec. 6, 2019)
“i want women to see that you do not get pushed around.” (* attributed below)
this piece today is dedicated to all the women who have made it through, all the women who are making it through, all the women who will make it through.
your fire has brought you to the edge of the battlefield many times and you have still made lemonade; you have still prevailed.
you have made it through intensely emotionally abusive relationships. you have picked up the pieces and you have moved on.
you have made it through physical or sexual abuse. you have risen from the ashes.
you have made it through terrifying health scares. you have pulled up your boot straps and determinedly plodded through with massive courage.
you have made it through society’s prioritizing of body image and appearance. you have been measured by your cleavage or lack thereof, by the indent of your waist, by the clothing you choose, by your hair. you struggle to remember you are beautiful. you stand tall.
you have made it through vacuumous times, the middle of chaos, the middle of multi-tasking. you have created.
you have made it through physical summit experiences. you have scaled mountains. you have boarded down untracked chutes. you have trained your body with weights and exercise. you have run. you have skated. you have pedaled. you have breathed in and sighed an exhale. you’ve run thousands of lengths of playing fields. you took the next painful recuperating step. you dove to the depths. you have been on world stages. you have risen with hungry or fevered children night after night. you have competed. you have given birth.
you have made it through falling. you have made mistakes. you have been human. you have forgiven and you have been forgiven.
you have made it through an education steeped in gender-inequality and bias. you have chosen to learn more, to actively seek the resources, rights and opportunities due you, to resist against the discrimination.
you have made it through a system that undermines your success and devalues your value. you have fought for your place.
you have made it through financial challenges of single womanhood, of single motherhood. you have been scrappy and, without complaint, you have layered onto yourself however much it took to get it done.
you have made it through work situations where you’ve questioned how you would be treated were you to be a man. would you be yelled at? would your professionalism be questioned? you have asked these questions. you have stayed, holding steadfast, or you have moved on; you have decided what is best for you and moved in that direction.
you have made it through the skewed-world fray into leadership roles where your every decision is challenged or thwarted. you have overcome; you have triumphed.
you have made it through being-too-young and through aging. and you are not irrelevant.
you have made it through. you have spoken up, spoken back, spoken for. you have written letters. you have marched.
you have been pushed around. but you have pushed back. and, just like the tortoise, you have made it through.
i don’t feel as much in-a-boat as i feel that i am relentlessly treading water. but there was no handy treading-water bitmoji and i remember the exact moment that this bitmoji showed up on my snapchat mapping…in the middle of a lot of treading.
treading, treading. guessing at why what-is-happening is happening – in wide concentric circles around us, tightly close to us.
and today, both valentine’s day and d’s birthday, i want to express gratitude for this man who is standing in the water with me – waves crashing over us, undertow threatening to pull us down, riptide ever present – and holding my fiberglass-cast-encased hand. the person who is equally as perplexed at this time, who takes turns with me being alternatively flabbergasted, philosophical and soberingly pragmatic.
he continues to zip my jacket, buckle my seatbelt, paste my toothbrush, carry my music, pepper-mill my breakfast and dinner, put the ernie straw in my coffee. he has learned the fine points of where-on-the-head to place hair conditioner, how best to tie plastic bags on my arms, what stool will work best at the piano, which wine glass i can pick up at the end of a day. he has watched me learn how to hold mascara with two hands and pull up girl jeans by the belt loops. he has been treading water with me as we look to the horizon.
maybe this watershed is the thing that elicits change. at the end of 2019 i could feel it coming. and i can now, with all authority and certainty, say that the change is not that i will, smack dab in the middle of middle-age, become a professional snowboarder. nope. but there may truly be things out there i just didn’t see or consider. perhaps the things that are vexing us, stunning us, deeply disappointing us, are just the things that will propel us. ah, if that just didn’t feel so pollyanna-ish.
this life is bigger than anyone can ever live it. that includes us. treading water in the watershed might be a time that forces dynamic change. like everyone, i wish i had some prescient inkling of what’s-out-there, what-will-happen.
my perceived lack of control is maybe a misperception. maybe that which has taken away control is conversely granting control, granting the creativity that comes with grabbing onto flotsam and jetsam in a sea that seems to be swirling. maybe the grasping-at-straws is grasping-at-ernie, a touchstone that seems flimsy and unimportant, but which actually is grounding, rooting, and gives voice to more solid footing, less wave-action, more direction-choosing.
the watershed is here. moment by moment we stare at it. we roll our eyes, we yell at the angst-y details, we shake our heads in confusion, we stop and stand still and, yet hyperventilating from treading, we wonder. we try to breathe, to center, to be in the eye of the storm.
holding hand-cast, we look forward and we guess that this ain’t the last watershed on the horizon.