Category Archives: Life Lessons

I know close to nothing. But I believe in these things.

I have to have it all figured out.

It started off as a rumor and then it became the game changer. That’s what I think at least.

Somewhere, somehow, this myth rumbled into  a rumor and this rumor tumbled onto the lips of a lot of us: I have to figure everything out.

I have to know where I am going. I have to know what will happen next. I have to know the direction. The 5-year plan. The next left-hand turn. The Big What’s Next. 

I’m 25. I know close to nothing. But I believe in these things.

-hb.

 

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Know that this stage in your life, this very moment, will be the one that other people point out one day and say, “Oh, I knew close to nothing and I survived.” So there’s that.  You don’t have to know everything. You don’t even have to know what’s in your bag for the journey yet. But know whether you want to stay here forever or if you want to be the kind of person who starts fires and laughs like nothing hurts them. People will tell you the point of this stage in your life is to make mistakes, and be young, and figure out the things that make you happy. Believe them. Add “learn how to be a good person” into that mix and get moving.

Know that life doesn’t shimmy out a red carpet for you when you reach adulthood. Half the time, you won’t even realize you’ve been entrusted the keys to the next chapter. Know how to celebrate the little victories on your own when it seems like the world hasn’t noticed a change or a shift or a new journey unfurling. Find people who celebrate little things too. They are the keepers of this lifetime, the ones with victory in their veins.

Know what mistakes are worth it enough to make again. Know what mistakes will never be worth it. Learn lessons the hard way. Take note of these things: The look on someone’s face. The tremble in their fingers. The way their cheeks turn from thawed rose to white. Memorize those kinds of looks on people’s faces. All the twists and contortions. Save them in your pocket like a somber memory as a reminder that we get to make choices. Everyday. And those choices do make impact that extend beyond just our own little lives.

Know how to be a role model. Or at least know the stuff & substance of role models. You can totally go the celebrity route and make some big stink about how you are NOT a role model and the world should never follow your example. No one is stopping you. But you’re probably starting to realize that the years go by quicker as you get older. And life gets more fragile. And people sweep out of the scenes more often. Role models make active investments in the life of others. They store up treasures. They do noble stuff. It isn’t the worst gig.

Know how to quit something. How to just puff up your chest real big and be done with something. Let go of the things that no longer make you feel alive. The things you’ve looked at for far too long and said, “Well maybe tomorrow it will be different.” Quitting fuels the art of letting go, so it would be good to learn how to let some things go– Arguments. Problems. Bad habits. Political debates on Facebook walls. People who don’t really see you beyond who you used to be. Here’s a promise: Holding on won’t always mean everything the way it does in this moment.

Know how to eat. Real food. Don’t be afraid of food. We all have problem areas. We all have been in the trenches of body misery. But starving feels like a cover-up for the real root of the issue: the fear of being more than this. We have to learn to let that go eventually. Figure out how to taste food again. How to really taste it and savor it over good conversations with people who take you as you are. Food doesn’t always have to rule you; it’s a tough lie to shatter but freedom feels like sunlight after a New England winter.

Know how to push the boundaries. Know that boundaries are to be pushed. Surround yourself with people who have fire in their eyes. I don’t know about you, but I like the thought of touching knees and elbows with people who are gonna change the world one day.

Know how to sit with yourself. I mean, really sit with yourself. No moving. No flinching. No reaching for the phone to play tag with someone who doesn’t serve you beyond making you feel less lonely. Stop scrolling. Delete some apps. Unfriend some people. Lessen the load. Once upon a time, we had none of this connectivity. And people used to have no choice but to listen to their breathing. I want to know: are you a slow breather or are your juts of breath quick, quick, quick? Learn to sit with yourself so much that you can stare strangers in the eyes with hellfire confidence and say, “I know exactly what sits at the root of me. And I’m not afraid of it no longer.”

Know what breaks your heart. If you don’t know that yet then get out there and find something that breaks your heart. And pin your hours to it. And your spirit to it. And your commitment to it.

Know how to be your own best friend. And when you figure it out, write a book on it. Write a whole stinking novel. Encyclopedias. Anthologies. Spend your whole entire life breathing into those volumes. Don’t turn back.

Know that dignity is a big deal. Maybe the biggest deal. Know that everyone– no matter who they serve, or worship, or love– deserves dignity. Don’t stomp on someone’s dignity. Don’t steamroll over it with words or judgements. It’s already hard enough to give yourself dignity at the end of the day; it’s heartless to make it an endless obstacle course for someone else.

Know how to prove other people wrong. And know how to do it for yourself and not others. Bitterness is an awful sidekick and revenge doesn’t serve our lives though we live in a culture that romanticized the concept of it. Fixing yourself only to push it in other people’s faces will sometimes make you feel even emptier. But doing something for you? Because it’s what you so deserve? That’s the winning lottery ticket, babycakes.

Learn how to how to prove others wrong because you– yourself– have always deserved to break out from the boxes the world has learned to put you inside of.

Know how to look outside of yourself and recognize how very, very, very tiny your feet are in comparison to the size of this world. You’re small stuff. So am I. Know how to ignore people who tell you’re small like it’s a bad thing… like all the greatest movements didn’t come out of something that first started out small. Know that you may never come across the impact that you make. Know that half of the world– three-fourths and more– may never know who you are. So maybe the goal shouldn’t be “to be known.” And if it still is, figure out why you want that in the first place.

Know that one pair of feet will make a movement seem impossible but one solid idea, mixed with hearts that believe in it enough to back it, will make the thing unquenchable. Fires will start over that one idea.

Know how to start fires. Whatever that looks like for you. Know how to get on the ground and get your hands dirty with the mess of it all. Know that it takes grit, and guts, and courage to make a difference. The world will always need people who care enough to make a difference so don’t miss your casting call for that.

Know that if you don’t step out, someone else will. And they’ll probably have a really awesome time doing it. Don’t miss the fun.

Know that it will never be easy. And it might never be comfortable. And you are going to wake up some mornings and have no idea what to put on your body, or what food to eat, or which heart to choose. Know that knowing isn’t everything… Knowing the outcome, knowing the direction, knowing the point… we never got promised that. It’s time to stop looking for those empty promises.

Know this: There is no map. There is no manual. There is no brochure. There is no right or wrong way to do this life thing. As cheesy as it sounds, there’s sound reason behind going with your heart– what your heart finds to be good, and true, and real. Know what you want and stop apologizing for it. It’s been placed inside of you for a reason. So stop shrouding it with pity songs. And stop placing it on pedestals that you can never reach.

All of life is a big, steeping journey with many destinations but even more dotted lines. Don’t get so stuck on the destinations that you forget about the moving and the shaking and the glory of growing pains. Suck in the air when you feel you’ve arrived somewhere. Smile. Laugh. Take a photo. Make some sort of memory and say something wise for the moment. But don’t wait too much longer to pack up your bag and keep going on your way.

The dotted lines are the silent, unspoken victories of this lifetime.

Some would say everything that has ever mattered lives within those dotted lines.

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Walking away from 24.

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I spent my 24th birthday drugged up and crying as a dentist told me he would have to wait a week to give me a root canal.  I envisioned myself, within the folds of that one week, delivering my TED talk in New York City, slurring from the Vicodin and whimpering through the searing pain as I tried to muster up some sound sentence about connection in the digital age.

That dentist was a liar. He’s going to Tooth Fairy Hell (convinced!). And thankfully we found another dentist who would give me a root canal the very next day instead of making me stumble blearingly into New York City with a mail crate, a dream, and a toothache.

Tomorrow I am planning to wake up, brush my teeth good, and have a better birthday than last year. It won’t be too hard.

I turn 25 tomorrow.

Anyone who knows me is aware that this is the age I walked out of the womb looking forward to. It’s quite possible that my first coherent sentence at the age of three was, “Mom, when will I turn 25?” I have no reason why. There’s nothing that I deem to be extremely special about 25. I already had my “quarter-life crisis” at age 19 so that cannot be it. But I’ve just always wanted to be this age, I have just always thought it might be a really special year. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Always with birthdays, I always saddle this great pressure on my shoulders to share what the year has meant to me. To pluck out the pearls of agey wisdom.  Or tell you that the days were worth it. That I think the past 365 slivers of time were really, really wonderful.

And they have been. Of all the teachers in my life, the age of 24 might go down in history as one of the very best ones. She was hard on me. She was good to me. She definitely made sure my head kept spinning, and my feet kept moving, and my heart kept re-scripting its own beat because the slow, slow thud of a normal ticker could never match or mirror the quickened pace I felt all year as dream after dream came true.

24 was the year of leaping.

It was the year of learning that you cannot sit idly and wait for life to work itself out. When you’ve uncovered an issue, when you’ve found the dampened piece of the puzzle that no longer fits in the corner like it used to, you’ve got to cut something completely new out. Reshape it all, baby. You’ve got to point yourself in a new direction. You have to have the courage to go for something you said you always wanted.

Quitting my job, just one week after my 24th birthday, was the most unsettling and yet peace-driven decision of my life. I was walking away from a stable salary and benefits in to an unstable economy but I was walking in the full confidence that my dream job would only poke her head from around the corner if only I stepped out to follow her.

 

24 was a year of learning how to guard things more carefully.

My stories. My heart. My spirit in a world that will suck anyone dry tomorrow with lackluster routines. 24 was a year of learning that not every guy will offer the rose and not every man who shows up at the forefront of your life is deserving of your heart. You’ve got to be careful with that one. Once you go giving out pieces of your heart, it gets harder and harder to pull them back in.

24 was a year of learning that it’s ok to be single. There’s actually a single girl swag that comes out from hiding when you learn that you’re powerful on your own. You’re capable on your own. You’re a pretty flipping awesome person on your own and when a man comes along, and he’s lucky enough to have your heart, he will be the solid addition to someone who has already learned to be pretty amazing independently. 24 was a year of learning that settling can never be an option. The section it becomes an option, the second it slips closer to knocking on the door you’ve every intention to open.

 

24 was a year of testing faith and finding surrender.

It was a year that would have never been steady without faith bigger than my own body that a God far bigger than this tiny world would show up and push me where I needed to be. It was a year of giving things up for Him. Of letting “self” fall into the background to embrace a new purpose and plan. His plan was greater than mine. His hope for my life was more brilliant than mine.

24 was a year of falling in love and falling into rhythm with my own calling. I learned that anything– a passion, a job, a dream, a vocation– must be courted steadily. It must be tended to. It must be watered. It must be remembered. It will demand longer hours. It will cry to you late at night. It will push you, and make you cancel plans, and scream until it gets it way. But it will help you change the world. And it will instill you with a message that is far greater than yourself.

 

24 was a year of finding cheerleaders who never think to make you change or sacrifice who you really are.

At the start of November, I began the search to find a literary agent who fit me like a lace glove. On a whim, I queried to an agent I’ve admired all my literary life and she came back to me in two hours ready to see if we might be a fit. In the end, it was my writing style that never spoke to her and she told me, “You go out there and you find a cheerleader who is absolutely relentless for you. And I will be waiting to see your book on the shelves.”

I found that cheerleader. And she keeps me focused daily on finding the others to surround myself with who only have good intentions and bright hopes for me. They are the ones who challenge you because you are deserving it. And they keep you grounded and humble through all the longer days. 24 was a year of learning that I don’t have room in my life for anything but those people. Those people who don’t care about my success in the way they’re relentless for my heart.

 

24 was a year of breaking off.

Little by little, breaking off all the parts of me that no longer fit or no longer could serve the world. It was the year of learning that life is too short to stand around and pray that maybe one day you’ll wake up and be the person you’ve always wanted to be. That has to start with you. And in you. And it has to start sooner, rather than later. 24 was chipping away at the exterior with a chisel and refocusing on the the things of the inner: faith. decency. dignity. humility. trust. passion. forgiveness.

24 was a year of learning that things break all the time. And you’ve got to be willing to take a break when your body is spent and your soul is tired and your eyes are glazed over from looking at a computer screen for too long. Breaking is necessary for the refueling of your spirit and centering once again so you can better serve the world. & be a bright light within it.

25 will be a year of celebration.

A year of dancing in the aftermath of what 24 gave to me. 25 will be a year of hustling harder than ever before but sucking in the joy deep, like a curly straw stuck in the thick of a cookies & cream milkshake. 25 will be a year of breaking the rules (or at least the rules I’ve still left intact). It will be a year of testing limits. And pushing forward. And seeing more miracles than ever before. 25 will be a year filled with the spirit of relentless and oozing with the potential of greater things yet to come.

25 will be a good, good year. Just you watch and see.

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The “Happily” left. The “Ever” got gone. But “After” always stayed.

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They said it was cancer.

One of those cancers with the long swooping names, packed tight with all the syllables you learned to say in grammar school. But boiled down the word was simple and yet somehow harder to say than most: cancer.

People began watching the clock. They began trying their hardest to treasure the moments or hoard them in corners where no would could try to suck them away. They filled conversations over coffee with things like, “No, not him. He’s a fighter. He’ll get better.”

And then the doctors said it and they all sucked in, bit down, and gulped. Six to twelve months. Six to twelve months and he’d be gone. And his keys would be in the ignition no more. And they’d light candles they never wanted to light. And cry because they never wanted to weep. And say goodbye to a someone who they only wished would get a rewrite of his story. “More hello’s, please. We just need one last hello.”

And then he was gone.

And the world got quiet. And they lit candles. And they wept. And they somehow learned to say goodbye. They learned the word but it never got any easier. And the Happily Ever After never showed that day or the next.

When they lost a love to cancer, no one rode off into the sunset. No one waved from their palace. No one danced in the moonlight in a little longer. They all just got quiet. And they forgot the words to their songs. And they stopped trying for a little while because no one really felt like singing.

Not a soul, not a shred, sighed a deep breath and found the Happily or the Ever or the After.

We’ve learned to hold tight to something that was never given to us– A Happily Ever After. We hold it tight to our chest as if it is a guarantee as we devour stories that end well. Stories that tie up neat and pretty with a big white bow. But stories don’t usually resolve. And characters we love cannot always stay. And there is an underlying hymn of heartbreak that follows each of us throughout this world–not because life is bad or cruel or something to always cry and moan about, but because this lifetime hurts. Over & over again, it hurts to watch the fleshy, broken messes of We love and lose and love and fight and love and break and love and let go.

It’s the After. That is where we all drag out fingers along the dotted lines of life and point to when we find ourselves missing someone so deeply.

After they were gone. After they left. After. After. After.

That’s the part of the story we forget to focus on. The After is never the thing we think about when our jeans don’t fit and there is gossip sitting ripe on the screen of the iPhone and we’re late for an appointment and we are trying, trying so damn hard, to just be someone who is “known” in this world. We never think, in all the clutter of waiting for life to grow sane and livable, that we should have already begun to crane our eyes towards the After.

A legacy. A legacy.

It’s time to find out if you have one. If it is already in the building stages. If other people have the bricks. If you’ve passed them out in just the right capacity.

If you have one, my dear, it will mean you thought to live your life with someone else in mind. You’ll be the warm spot in the memory of another. People will carry you in a way that means so much more than the carrying you ever thought to do of your own stories, and your own accomplishments. Yes, a legacy will mean you thought to make this place better as you came on down to this dirt and water and thought to make it home for a little while.

A legacy gets passed. To children. To friends. To lovers. To people you will never even know in this lifetime. And it does not begin when your eyes shut or your fingers stop playing on the piano at night. And maybe it’s time we asked, will mine be full and bursting with goodness? Will it be just the thing she needs to crawl out of the bigger black holes when I am no longer here to stretch out my hand and say, “hold tight.”
When I write this way, I already begin missing things. Like I am going somewhere. Like it is ending sooner than I hope. Is that crazy to even admit?

I begin missing the trees. I begin missing the kettle on the stove, hissing as I enter the house with the light always on in the foyer. But I try to remember, as hard as it can be, to always think like this. To think about the After.

Like tomorrow someone might not have you and you will want to know that you built them up with every little thing you always wanted for them. Dignity. Respect. Joy. Amazement. The ability to stop and realize how good we’ve got it right now.

And this thing? This thing we keep waiting for to start? When we are skinnier. When we are happier. When this test is over. When this week ends. It’s all we get. And it is rushing through our fingertips right now. And sooner, sooner, there could be an After. I cannot tell you when, dear. I cannot tell you when.

And so, while the rest of the world goes on writing symphonies about themselves and trying so desperately to just leave something behind when they go– a company, an empire, a name of sorts– you’ve got a chance to let someone know you came here for them. And you got all sorts of determined to make this story better for them. And this life better for them. And any bit you could, you tried to make it better so that they would get to dance in the Aftermath of your legacy.

After your laughter. After your words that could fill a room like the aroma of evergreens at Christmastime. After you dug your heels deep in the planet and tried to make it the least bit better off than when you first came.

After, After, After. Enough of a focus on that and you’ll never need utter these words again: will you still hold me when I am gone? Have I given you enough to hold just yet?

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How to change the world by sitting on countertops, drinking hot cocoa, screwing calories and reading Neruda out loud.

Wake up. Don’t press snooze. Sling legs over the side of the bed. Right. Left.

Turn on music. Good, Good Music. Like First Date, New Shoes, Better Yet- Bare Foot Music. You need a life soundtrack, has anyone told you that yet?

Pick out something spectacular from your closet. Feel good in your skin. Put on an item that tells some kind of story. Always have a story to tell, just a wrist or coat sleeve away. And if that yellow sweater aint got a story yet, vow that this will be the day it comes home with one.

Wear bright cardigans on the rainy days. Rain boots on any day. And if the sun is shining and someone asks why you are clomping around in red wellies, you simply say that you Parading in Puddles of Passion Today. Offer them a flute in the Parade. A trombone or a front row spot.

Take your bag. A few bobby pins. A hair elastic as you will need one. You know you will. Remember breakfast. Greek yogurt, perhaps? Berries? Honey is good for the heart. Red Kettle. Drip Coffee. Yellow Mug. Teaspoons of Sugar Cause You Just So Sweet.

Coat. If you need it.

Walk outside.

Open doors for others. Compliment the woman at the corner. Ask yourself what a real life, human, fleshy “retweet” would look like and try it with the girl on the subway beside you. It must be one part conversation. Two parts listening. Another part learning something and telling someone else when you reach 59th street and walk the rest of the way because the air is just too good for underground travel today. Acknowledge people. Look them in the eyes. Better yet, memorize their eye color like the roots to spanish words you digested before the 8th grade test on verbs.

Research ways to be a blessing. Yes, research. Google. For starters: care packages, postcards, cookie recipes, trinkets. Call instead of texting today. Email instead of Facebooking. Use that status of yours to lift up your network. Keep the drama for your Mama and if you really listened to your Mama then you know she aint’ a Keeper of Drama. So let it go. Out the windows. Under the Doors. Let all the mean thoughts slip away with the winter that never came.

Clean. Your room. Your car. Your pocketbook. You’ll feel lighter. You will find that you don’t need all of it. Get rid of the things that hold you down. Back. Standing still in a spot that expired two years ago. If it is too hard to let go then throw a Going Away Party. Pack all the memories in a box and whisper lies to them, “You are just going on a vacation. You’ll come back soon.” Love notes without the lovers. Old shirts without the arms to wrap them in. Make room for new love notes. New shirts. New arms. Buy new doormats. New can openers.

Take time on people, as if it were the only thing you had to do today. Ask hard questions. Listen when they don’t answer. People rarely get caught in rainstorms like the movies show, save the both of you a terrible cold and kiss him by the window instead. Say stuff. Hard stuff. Mammoth stuff that won’t fit the text messages. The Kinds of Things that Tap Danced Upon the Elephants in the Room. When he asks if it is him, tell him yes.

Unless it is a no. Avoid lies. Remember feelings and how simple they are. Sad. Happy. Tired. Joyful. Like red in preschool. Like 2 x 2 in the second grade.

Drink hot chocolate. Abandon chairs to sit on counter tops. Screw the calorie count every once in a while. Find an author whose words are like truffles for you. Sit on the countertop, drinking hot cocoa, screwing calories and reading Neruda out loud.

Learn a few greek words. Make pancakes for dinner. Write your dreams down, even when you insist that you don’t have the time. Place them some place where you can see them. Draw the tree that has been heavy on your heart all morning. Since childhood. For the past few weeks. A big family. A movement of sorts. A bestseller. A college education.

Decide on one person whom you will tell about the tree. Make a coffee date.

Ask yourself: How thick is my tree? How crisp are the leaves? How high are the branches? Can I climb them? Dare I climb them?

And, when you’ve drawn the tree completely, ask the most important question of all: Will it give shade to someone else one day?

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The kind of life lived for red lipstick and poppy fields.

Dee & Her Red Lipstick

I never knew much of a woman named Dee. Sepia-stained photographs tell me she knew what it meant to stand laughing at life.

Dee. She is a woman I only know from photographs and stories that slip out from behind carved turkeys and cardboard boxes full of ornaments.

You see, I knew Grandma. I knew Boccu. But I never knew the woman with the beautiful brown hair and the burlesque lipstick that shaped a mouth that gave her vows to laughter.

When I found Dee, arthritis had crippled her hands after years spent holding flowers and the faces of children who cried and called her, “Mama.” Age had wrinkled her skin. Age had tattered her bones. Age, you are so fierce, can’t you tread easier on the ones who only ache to learn from you?

But the Dee I see in pictures is the Dee who believed that life was fierce. Life was bold. Life was a case for red lipstick no matter where ya’ headed. The grocery store. Central Park.

I want to remember that. And on some days, only that.

I think that Dee might laugh at me. Up to my knees is Must Do’s and Have To’s and Oh Lord, The World Will Fall Apart If This Don’t Get Done’s. I think she’d laugh at me then get real proud.

Her eyes might well up. She might bite her bottom lip, not caring in the lipstick caked her two front teeth, just the way I do.

She might remember the days when she held me, tucked me at her side to watch the Wizard of Oz with a tube of Pringles in my lap.

I was skinny like a rail and my nickname was “Graveyard” and I was never really a Dorothy type but all I really wanted was for Grandma to see me that way. For Grandma to believe that I could be a girl with a beautiful, blue checkered dress and the Most Grand of Red Slippers on my feet. That I could travel deep into this world and really get my Yellow Brick Road. That I could be someone. That I could be someone wonderful like that.

“I’ll see your name on book shelves one day,” Dee used to say. “Books are gonna love the feel of your name on their spine.”

And that is all it took. All it took for one girl to decide she’d grow up and be someone beautiful. She’d grow up and turn the Lives of Others into something really striking and rich.

Dee, if you can hear me, I know you’d care to know: I’m dancing somewhere in the middle of something really beautiful just like our favorite moment when Dorothy first finds the poppies and she’s trudging in Red. Pure Red. And the snow comes.

I’m doing something sort of like that lately, Dee. And there are days where I wanna run straight to Oz because I can see it so clearly. And then days where I know just what you would say, “Slow, baby, slow. I know you want to sprint, but don’t you forget that every moment you are running past is a chance to drag your finger across the map of someone else standing in that poppy field and lead them back to love.

Run at a pace that will let you catch the snowflakes. Let you get the Red all up in your toes.” 

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No girl wants to say, “And then the grey seeped in.”

When you read this, just remember that you are hearing from a girl who believed in a Grey Kind of Love Story far longer than she believed in the exiled Sugarplum who trudged away from the ballet for a career in swapping teeth for silver under pillows near midnight.

This girl, she once prayed for Grey Love Stories the way a little boy prays to catch the soaring leather skin of a Yankee’s homerun hit. White-Knuckled Prayers for Grey Kinds of Love Stories. 

She was a girl who thought that grey was a pretty, little color fitting for a love story. Someone could you love in shades of gray, she said to the No Ones of the night.

She? Well, she once talked for days just to keep from saying the two words that needed her tongue, needed the air outside of her mouth, needed the lobe of a boy who didn’t love her the way they Love One Another Hard in those vampire movies.

It’s Over.

Them’s heavy words. Heavy like the bags assembled by the clumsy grocery store clerk who’s prone to packing the gallon of milk with the cans of corn and lentils.

Heavy enough to make you wonder if your tongue can take it.

If your lips might break it.

It’s Over.

Knees shaking against the dashboard, she found the those words somewhere along the rows of houses all drawn on the same architect’s sketch pad.

It’s Over.

Pull Over.

Pull over, pull over, pull over.

Girl, you got to find the strength to grab the door handle. Girl, you got to stand beside the car and watch him pull away and realize you still got the dignity, the will, the Know How to Know Better. That you deserve that.

Better.

You Deserve Better.

Girl, I know the way you’ll find it hard to Pull Away. From Him. As he pulls you in and tells you, he always did like the smell of the lavender shampoo you used in your hair.

But Grey, if you cannot see her yet, she’s the Maybe’s, the Some Other Time’s, the I Can’t Make It’s, the Promise I’ll Make It Up To You’s.

All clustered into One Grand Excuse for why he never called and why you stood in those heels that gave you blisters far before you ever got to dancing and waited for the car that never came.

It’s like a person who will tell you Every Day that they might think to love you One Day.

And there you’ll go, marching off to join the crows of girls who ache for the One Day. Perched up on the fence for that One Day, as if they were waiting for Elvis to appear from his dressing room.

But you are not a One Day Girl. You are not a Maybe Girl. You are an Every Day Girl and you need to know it so.

Girl, keep the grey for the dyed threads of your chunky sweaters. Keep the grey for the furs of the mouse that always grows restless beneath your refrigerator around 10pm. Keep the grey for the days that demand rain boots, but don’t let grey lend you a love story.

Grey just aint a color made for telling love stories. No girl wants to say, “And then the grey seeped in.”

And Girl, if you got to scream, Scream Loud. If you got to cry, Cry Buckets. If you got to run, Try Barefoot. And, if you got to find a way to wash him away, Then Wash. Hard.

You sit in the middle of your bathtub and pour out every squirt of lavender shampoo if you got to.

If you never want to find Another to tangle that scent of you in their fingers, fine. Leave that then. But leave all the same.

Leaving knowing One Day you’ll look up. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But One Day, you’ll look up and it’ll be Yellow. All Kinds of Terra Cotta Gold & Tie Dye. With no trace of grey.

You’ll have left that color for your sweaters. For the days that demand rain boots.

And your love stories, they’ll be Salmon Pink. Candy Apple Red. All sorts of Deep Magenta tangled with hints of Navajo White.

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December 27, 2011 · 8:11 am

It’s as if we’ve been granted this Immense Potential for some Remarkable Storytelling, if only we use it right.

Some people only need to be lent a single sentence to captivate us for some kind of tiny eternity.

There are days when we find ourselves only two feet away from a body that will have us ripping clocks from the walls just two hours later, wishing we could chuck the ticking things from the highest of skyscrapers. Make Time Stop.

It can happen every day if we allow it to, if we believe the world is something to be entranced by, like the librarian with the purple-rimmed glasses.

Sitting Patiently. Legs-Crossed. Hands in Lap. Waiting in Awe for the Pages to Turn.

These Words. They are dedicated to One. One Who Captured Me With a Single Sentence.

She had a way of making her words latch on to one another like Children Atop the Creamy Clay Pueblo Storytellers.

“There are some books I cling to because they are indispensable…” It was all she needed to write in her tattered diary for me to know she was a writer, and a good one at that.

Her selection of favorite classics– from the Rilke volumes to Alice in Wonderland– left me wondering if my own diary had begun 60 years ago or so.  Her words made me ache. Her appreciation for life caused me to stare at the diary for ten minutes, every one of the 6,000 seconds scampering to the forefront, all wanting a glance. None wanting to find their Secondly Selves wasted.

I traced the outline of her black and white portrait and forgot for a moment where I was standing. In the middle of the United Nations’ Main Lobby. Surrounded by an extraordinary commemoration for the women of the Holocaust.  Lured by the life and telling of Helene Berr, a young woman who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just five days shy from Liberation’s arrival.

It wasn’t merely her knack for prose that swept me away from my afternoon’s work to sneak peeks at her not-so-private diary.

It was the reason she wrote that caught me. 

Perhaps the very reason why any of us should sharpen a pencil, open a new word document or pick up a pen and decide to Say Something.

She kept a diary throughout the Suffering Times of the Holocaust, during the times that some still don’t speak for, for an image she drew in her head of her fiancé, Jean Morawiecki, holding the book of her confessions close to him when he could no longer hold her.

She Wrote To Leave Someone She Loved With Untold Treasures of Her Heart. She Wrote Only To Leave Someone with the Single Story.

Helene Berr, she was no Anne Frank. She carried no childlike anticipation within her that the sun would come streaming through the fences of the camp and nest in her curls as the liberation came. She knew all along that she would not make it. And so, she kept that diary for the man who would still need something to hold after all the tragedy seeped into his hands.

She had this chance to make a mark. And so she did.

I have often taken for granted my mobility and potential to leave a mark on this world. With an age of the Internet where it literally takes less than five seconds to imprint something that will stay forever, I take it for granted that one day, if someone is clever enough with a Google search, they will be able to find me.

I spent last January entrenched in the stories of Holocaust survivors, cascading the walls of the United Nations. Some wrote books. Others, like Berr and Frank, had diaries published. But it is a generation of people who are falling away to Old Age. To Life Lived. To years that swapped youthful skin for the whispering of wrinkles upon the faces of those they passed. And I find myself sitting and squirming, praying that we will pick up these stories and push them forward. Because they are Captivating. Because they come Packed with Teaching Moments. Moments that Teach Better than Textbooks. Better than Technology.

I am praying that we are all learning and understanding from these testimonies. Using them as a foundation to draft our own. To take nothing for granted. To leave no page without remnants of dabbled ink.

We have this crazy, crazy ability to leave a mark that will stay. To Imprint. To Stamp. To Collect. To Tell. With a few single Taps on a Keypad.  To tell stories in a more permanent manner that those of the Holocaust, World War II and the Great Depression never had. And so it becomes our job to be storytellers, wouldn’t you say? To pick up stories that are close to being washed away by the tides of a paperback yesterday. To gear ourselves up with the Very Best Verbs & Adjectives to tell stories to the Next Generation.

It’s as if we’ve granted this Immense Potential. Immense Potential for some Remarkable Storytelling, if only we use it right. IIf Only We Use It Right.

It isn’t so much about sitting plugged into a computer all day concocting an internet persona that we envision will live on for lifetimes. It is plugging in after have lived it. It is going out into the world and doing Great Things, having Great Adventures. It is trying new things, being daring and excitable, wide-eyed like children seeking “Mama” in all the places around us.

Paying Attention to One Another. Staying Present to One Another. Not wishing away moments. Not always itching for the next chapter to begin.

It is living in the Here. Scooping up the Now. Finding ways to make the Present Moment blush.

And then recording it all for Our Children, for the Future. For those who will still want to hold us in the days when we can no longer be held.

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Filed under Big Dreams, Family, Life Lessons, Live with intention, Simply Living, Uncategorized

She Be a Blessing. She Be a Lantern. She Be There: Three Ways to Be.

My mother learned how to salsa in between a table of sheer glittered tank tops and a rack of leather jackets.

That’s the kind of woman my mother is and always will be, the kind to wear red flip flops in mid-October, a platinum gold satchel on her hip, while stepping on the toes of a 20-something Colombian named Carlos who was innocently folding men’s dress shirts in the middle of the Express clothing store before my mother somehow pulled a thread within him. Unraveling his whole life story. The Seams of Carlos All Tangled Up in My Mother’s Humanity and Salsa Dancing.

Carlos was in America for the year on a futbol scholarship and just then began to feel the waves of homesickness push in as the holidays began sneaking under doorways and into the store fronts of Sears and Macy’s.

So, my mother being the she & her that raised me to do just this, invited Carlos to Thanksgiving dinner but only if he taught her a dance. Hence the salsa dancing. Hence the 20-something Colombian learning to knife a turkey at my kitchen table.

My mother reeks of good human being. It pours out of her.

And even though often we are fighting over a) dishes b) bags left on the kitchen table c) student loan checks d) frying pans (all which sum up to the fact that I need a t-shirt that reads “Creativity ruins my Domesticity”), I still want to shake her by the shoulders while screaming loudly, “I wannttttttt tooooo beeeeeee jusssssttttt liiiikkkkkeee yooouuuuu.”

The key word is Be. I want to Be. Just like mother. She gets it. The Being part. She Be’s all day, every day.

She Be a blessing. She Be a lantern. She Be there. No questions asked, She Be there.

And if I can just sort it out, just unravel it the way my mother unraveled Carlos and his homesickness and his need as if he were a pool of yellow yarn laying on the ground at her feet, maybe then maybe I’ll Be too.

These are the notes I’ve taken thus far.

Be a blessing.

Lean in closer so I can tell you a secret: People get all weak in the elbows when you spend time on them.

Suddenly we shrink back into the days where our teachers complimented how nicely we folded our hands in our laps and then named us Line Leader for the day. It’s that kind of weakness.

A sweet, sticky glow that comes out from the cheeks. All because we stop… and think… and then act intentionally for one another in the form of care packages to cool down the homesickness like a hose, love letters to ward off the loneliness, baked goods to plump up and soften the heart, playlists to make the rains come… like clouds breaking open and clearing the drought from our eye sockets.

Be a lantern.

Or a lamp. Or a stoplight. Or a flashlight. Or the flicker of a candle. Just be a light. If you’ve got light, then be light.

People are looking for it. And they will tell you they are looking for a purpose, a higher calling, a lost shoe, their car keys, a deeper meaning, a better story.

And it’s really all just light. We all really just want something larger than us to pour through the cracks and light up the darkness we feel, even when the sun is out.

I think we all just want to dance somewhere in the light, shimmy and shake and hand jive and waltz somewhere in the middle of this quotation: “If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”

Be there.

You know, I don’t know anything about how it will be to die.

I’ve not a clue how the thoughts will spiral through my head when I realize that these toes are going, these hairs are going, these legs will be no more, this mouth of mine will hush, but I bet I’ll think about people like Carlos. People in my life who got all wrapped up in me. And I got wrapped in them. All Tangled. And it never even mattered that blue bled into yellow because somehow we knew that together we’d make green, something we could never do apart. Something we could never accomplish on our own.

“I needed you to make my green,” I might tell someone in the quiet of the room. “I am your yellow and you are my blue.” Something really beautiful like that.

It won’t be the board meetings that held us close to their chests at night. The job title will never have been the one who stood at the door and ushered us home. It will be the time when I needed you and you were there. When I took you by the hand and dragged your tired feet. The time when we both stared hopelessly at one another, with skinned knees but polished souls, saying into the fragile October air, “I won’t regret a single second, as long as you are the keeper of them all.”

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“She lived a breathless life…. A rare kind of breathless life.”

via weheartit.com

I wonder if she stood at the foot of the porch, arms crossed over her chest, and said out loud to the chill that stood in the air, “My daughter will be an undertaker.” 

I wonder if she debated rallying up the right bunch of words to tell a group of PTA mothers that her daughter was going to spend the rest of her life burying the dead. That she would be the youngest funeral planner this planet has ever laid eyes upon.

These are the very things I will never know if my mother thought as she watched me, stooped over on the sidewalk, poking a dead bluejay with a stick before fleeting into the house to find a perfectly-sized shoebox. Calling up my neighbors in frantic fashion, my tiny figure wrapped carelessly in the cords of the telephone, “I found another dead one! Let’s dig a hole in your backyard! I’ll bring my keyboard for the funeral!” 

I do know though, in all my days of  diary pages filled with fourth grade crushes & obituaries of dead raccoons pummeled by Toyotas on Belvedere Rd, she never said “no.” Or “stop.” Or “find another love.” Another passion. Another hobby. She just let her daughter go on, poking road kill with sticks before picking it up with kitchen tongs and burying it to an electric keyboard melody in the backyard.

She knew that her daughter Loved This Thing. This funeral thing. This burial thing.

And so she taught her daughter– her daughter with the dirty fingernails & assortment of black dresses in the summertime– that if you are going to love a thing then love it in a way that will make other people wonder if you sit on the Founding Committee for the Definition of Love.

Love the heck out of it. Love it in a manner that will leave others stretching to find the words to say, “I’ve never seen a thing loved quite like that before.” Love a thing truly. Love a thing madly. Love a thing purely. Intentionally. Whole-Heartedly. Don’t you dare go loving a thing if you only plan to love it halfway…. If halfway is your idea, then leave the thing Unloved for another to come along and Love It Beyond Ten Thousand Percent. 

I’ve only got 23 years of wisdom within me… some would say that is almost a quarter of a lifetime of “know-how” but I am willing to admit that I have at least a few more nursing homes to sit in, hearing the stories of my elders, before I get to the quarter mark.  But I am willing to gamble and lay the whole 23 years worth of wisdom down if it means you will read the next paragraph and take it with you today. Just please, try it on today. Imagine it be a dazzling peacoat with luscious brass buttons. Just at least see how it looks all buttoned up & handsome on you: 

Human beings are unreliable. They will always be unreliable ESPECIALLY when you turn to them and ask how to love. There will always be someone who tells you not to love this but to love that or to love him but not her. Always, always, always. Right Now, take your two index fingers. Point them straight out before you and take a good look at them. Don’t–I repeat–DON’T put those fingers of yours in your ears. It’s tempting to plug up against people but don’t do it just yet. Instead, go out and get yourself a little doctor’s kit, take out that plastic stethoscope, and plant those little ear tubes into your ears. Move that chest piece around until you find what Nicki Minaj would call that “Boom Badoom Boom, Boom Badoom Boom Bass.” And when you hear it, just promise me this: That You Won’t Forget It So Quick. That You Won’t Ignore It. That You Won’t Belittle the Beating. Gosh, there is an entire heartbeat dedicated to you, just you. And your passions. And your dreams. And your strengths & talents & visions. Now what will it mean if you never learn to listen to that beat? 

If you do ignore it then no worries, you’ll still certainly have the chance to meander down Ten Thousand Different Life Paths…. but will you be ok with never living the life you were destined for all along?

A life that makes you feel full and alive.

A life that will leave someone saying, as they stand before a crowd of crying people dressed in black who wished you didn’t leave  so soon, “She lived a breathless life…. A rare kind of breathless life. She loved a thing deeply. I’ve never quite seen a thing loved like that before.”

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Filed under Life Lessons, Live with intention

Kaleidoscope Lifetimes: 9/11. We Remember.

I spent precisely 73 minutes, curled up on the tile floor of the New York Library-Bronx Branch, crying yesterday. Book Propped In Front Of Me. Knees Folded. Pages Playing Tear Catchers.

I half expected a librarian to approach me, befuddled by my sinking the library with Titanic-like tears. Ok, maybe not Titanical Tears. But certainly rowboat tears.

Excuse me, are you alright?” She would’ve asked. Clearly feeling awkward upon the sight of me.

Oh, yes… Don’t worry,” I would’ve replied. “I do this all the time, no need to be alarmed. I always plant myself in the nonfiction section when I am having a bad day.

I wish I were kidding but we all have quirky ways to remedy our bad days. I am just more open to admitting mine. Something about the nonfiction section of a library holds me at hard times. The Shelves Quake as I envelope myself in stories that are not my own. Stories that remind me the word “Alone” can disintegrate with two steps in nearly any direction. We are not alone. We are not the only ones having tough days. We are striving so hard to be Individuals that we lose track of Sameness. Sameness Matters. Oh yes, it does.

I cried for a silent waltz between Individuality and Sameness bound up together in a hardcover. 1,901 portraits.1,901 Individuals Who Lost their Lives in September 11, 2001.

Mothers. Husbands. Teachers. Students. Fathers. Brokers. Aunts. Business Men. Fiances. Waiters.

All Different Lives. One Common Ending.

A day when Two planes Took To the air. Took down Two Towers. Took Too many.

If our lives look more like a waiting room than a kaleidoscope today then we are doing something wrong. If we are hoping life will begin someday soon then we are wasting time. If we are allowing words inflated with Doubt, Negativity, Hatred and Defeat take the reins in our vocabulary then we need a new dictionary.

Because 2,996 lives never found tomorrow after September 11, 2001. Over 200,000 lives lost the chance for a better life when the Earth Quaked in Haiti this past year. More than 4,000 soldiers gave up any form of a future to fight a war in Iraq. Why? So that we could have the future. Planted in our Hands.

We need only stare at a cover of the New York Times to slap our own wrists with reality: We have been given a gift. Gifts are never required. Nor guaranteed.

A volume full of single stories, each one begging to burst from beneath their byline, reminds me of the great nobility of everyday existence. In riding the 4 Train to work daily, where Doug Jason Irgang met his future bride-to-be after seeing her daily on the commute to work, reading her paper. They were set to be married in December 2001. In the pots of rice and beans cooked by Jorge Velazquez every Saturday for the homeless and hungry of Manhattan. In the spaces between the breaths of Janet Alonso as she called her husband to tell him That The Office Was Filling With Smoke. That She Could Not Breathe. That She Loved Him.

And then the Buildings Broke.

I am reminded on an every day basis that it will never matter which titles we held or the amount of money that our bank accounts digested. The fibers of our existence are counted then accounted for in the hands that we hold. The well intentions we wish. The prayers we send Upward. The compassion we sent Outward. The love we welcome Inward.

I hold a thousand secrets and I cannot share them all. But here’s one. Lean in closer. Open your ears: The only promising promise exists in this very moment and what we make of it. Ready. Set. Go.

 

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Filed under For a Better World, Life Lessons, Love Yourself, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy