reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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“i know you can do it.” [merely-a-thought monday]

inside a what-is-now-considered-vintage liz claiborne barrel purse was a treasure. not unzipped in years, i unpacked it the other day. i found a rattle, two small children’s board books, photographs in one of those plastic wallet picture thingies, a couple expired credit cards, a slew of emery boards, faded receipts i could no longer read, old chapstick, a collection of assorted pens and pencils, a few lists, some coins and two tiny mystery keys, a few notes from my girl, cars on scraps of paper drawn by my boy, and a card in the envelope it was mailed in. every now and then you stumble upon a treasure you forgot you had.

my sweet momma was famous for her handwritten letters; most of our family would easily recognize her handwriting, even in a crowded handwriting sampling, even years after last seeing it. this little card in my old purse was clearly something i carried around for some time. it was a note of reassurance, a note with great empathy, a note of encouragement. she mailed it early in january 1989, just a few months after i moved to wisconsin. still in the middle of homesickness and adjustment, though – as i realize now – she must have been feeling loneliness as well, she wrote to me. and she penned six words that i remember her repeating throughout my life:

“i know you can do it.”

those words – just six – can make all the difference.

momma was a glass-half-full type. her fervent cheering-on was a solid part of her nurturing. she fostered support with easy acceptance of failure, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” she didn’t list to the negative, nor did she wallow in it. in all her life, from early in marriage my dad MIA and then a POW in world war II, to losing her first baby within a day of her birth while my dad was imprisoned and she knew nothing of his whereabouts, to losing her grown son to lung cancer, to standing by my dad in his own lung cancer, a myriad of rough patches, to being left alone with my dad gone to face a double mastectomy at 93. no matter the challenge, she faced it down. she knew she could do it. and, despite any enormity, she left you with no doubt. even though her heart was thready and vulnerable, her positive spirit was contagious, her strength a force in the world.

these times – the pandemic and all it has wreaked, personal physical injuries or illnesses, job trials, isolation and loss of too much and too many to list – have cued up a range of mountains for each of us to scale. my mom’s “good morning merry sunshine” couples with her “live life, my sweet potato.” lines of counterpoint for melodies in life that are askew, her words brace against the storm. my sweet momma did not give up and she did not expect you to either. “you got this,” would be her brene brown shortcut message. she stuck with it all and rode each complicated wave, each complexity, each twist. she lives on in my daughter tearing down a run on a snowboard. she lives on in my son setting up a beautiful new place with his boyfriend. she lives on in the love her granddaughters and grandson bestow upon their children. she lives on in me.

in these times, with all its obstacles daring us to succumb, i can hear her. “i know you can do it,” her voice whispers to my heart.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

live life my sweet potato stuff


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andrea’s song

IMG_2711the sound of the cicadas outside brought me back to my childhood home on long island.  we had woods behind our yard and the summer days and nights were a symphony of crickets and cicadas. i would sometimes sit in my poetry tree (a maple outside my bedroom window with perfect limbs for climbing and sitting) late into the day, writing or reading and, although i probably never appreciated the crickets and cicadas as i do now, i would listen as the day would softly pass by. my sweet momma would know where to find me; if i wasn’t riding bikes with sue, at the dive center, fishing with crunch or at the beach, i was likely in that tree.

i wrote a lot of poems in that tree, a lot of reflections, a lot of stories and maybe even a little music…the kind without the music. as i think about the people who encouraged me in writing, one of the first people i think of is andrea. andrea was my high school english teacher. she, along with kevin, were the coolest in the english department. andrea, with kerchiefs in her hair and peace sign necklaces, long skirts and funky glasses, was the epitome of hip. we, painlessly, learned from her teaching style, her quiet wisdom, her laugh, her smile.

andrea was the teacher coordinating the art and literary magazine ‘gemini’ at our high school. i was involved with this annual publication each year, but was the editor-in-chief during my senior year of high school, a job i adored. not only did i get to immerse myself in a lot of poetry and art, but i got to lay out the publication and handle many of the details, all the while hanging out with andrea and having conversations about life and writing and balance.

in the (aaack! many) years since high school i have thought about her often and finally, over the last eight years or so, was able to get back into contact with her.   not only did i want to know how she was, where she was, what she was doing, but i wanted to share with her where i was and what i was doing. mostly, it mattered to me what her thoughts were. during that time we shared snippets of life. i found i could still learn from her teaching style, her quiet wisdom and her smile, even without physically seeing her. at one point she wrote to me, “nothing is idyllic. i think we have idyllic moments. we have to take time to savor what is around us.”   yet another invaluable reminder. how often must we learn these things, i wonder.

when we were planning our trip to boston for this summer, i found myself hoping that we would have the chance to see andrea…meet for coffee, have a glass of wine together. i worried when i didn’t hear back from her; she usually answered email. i was anxious to visit with her, thank her in person for the influence she had had on me, hear what she thought about a project i had sent her. it was about a week before we left, when i was online pondering whether to send her another note, that i saw the very sad news that she had died. i was stunned and (what would maybe seem) inordinately devastated. the connection backwards in time was broken; the opportunity to sit with andrea now vapor.

i thought about extending my sympathies on social media but for some reason that seemed too shallow. there is a loss i feel when i no longer hear the cicadas in the fall…something visceral that i feel inside. the loss of andrea was intensely visceral.

IMG_2708all throughout our home you will find peace signs; each of these signs make me think of this beloved lady in my life, this positive force who, without knowing, kept me writing, thinking, writing.

in my mind’s eye, i can feel sitting in my poetry tree. the cicadas’ song was all around me. as i write now, i cannot help but think about andrea and the things i learned from her, most of which had nothing to do with grammar and punctuation, but instead, with honoring the words within, the emotions, things palpable and things we can’t see or touch.  and so, savoring that learning, in fact, leaning into it, her song is all around me. it’s idyllic.

…peace out…