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February 2010

Posts from January 2010

A Day, This Day

Today it has been snowing since morning. All is white, except now it is an eerie white, lit by streetlamps.

Today I finished writing the first draft of my novel.

Today I listened to “Beloved Wife” by Natalie Merchant so often that the tears have finally stopped pouring.

Today is? was? my parent’s 55th wedding anniversary.

Today I didn’t blame anyone for anything.

Today I took three walks in the snow, one whose purpose was simply to walk in the snow and not an opportunity for Poops to poop.

Today I left exman a voice message about getting a Get (Jewish divorce decree) next week.

Today I baked a cake and cooked fish; one was very good and the other was not.

Today I came up with a few writing assignments for my students.

Today I was here to hear the thoughts and frustrations of my mother and a few friends.

Today I was the disappointing mother to a 14-year-old who had hoped for a snowstorm-event-planner mother.

Today still has two more hours. But it is time to go to sleep. What more can a day bring, except tomorrow.

More Thoughts on People

I’m still mulling people’s reactions to each other, or perhaps I am still mulling how people live their lives so separate from each other. Or maybe I’m mulling how I’m still disappointed in people, but I'm coming out of that into a disappointed acceptance.

The other day I received in the mail a condolence card from my colleagues. I cried as I read through their comments, touched that were sending out their thoughts to me and that they had made this gesture. But then I caught myself: so, they all knew that my father had passed away and yet they hadn’t said anything to me face-to-face. At first they got a sort of pass because it was possible that they hadn’t known that he had died, but now I know that they had known and yet they thought that “I’m sorry for your loss” on a card was sentiment enough. Maybe it is—in their worlds—but not in mine.

Yes, I know. My father died and your life goes on unaffected. Well, if my father hadn’t led by example never to curse I would say “f%#* you” to all those who are so callous. I’m in an angry mood, maybe it’s a stage of reacting to people’s reactions when called to rise to the occasion. First, disappointment, then anger. What comes next? Maybe, as a few of you suggested, cut the dead wood. Forget about those people who don’t want their lives to intersect with mine or who don’t know how to intersect with other people.

Yes, I should focus on my one colleague who gave to me a bottle of wine with a smiley face on it—Happy Wine—because she knew I’d “been having a tough time.”

I am going to resist retreating again from people. And I am going to try not to absorb the lesson “not to expect anything from people.” I am going to try to continue living my life according to the rule “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man,” because I prefer some tears of disappointment in others over tears of disappointment in myself.

Life lessons. Is that what life is all about? Is life like a billboard on a busy road? We keep passing the signs displaying the lessons, but only after we’ve driven by them countless times do we finally understand what they’re saying. Unfortunately, there are lots of drivers who are so focused or distracted or inept that they never look around, and so they never see the signs.

The latest sign: I’m going to stay focused (and not feel bad about it) of comprehending the signs and not letting the sign-less distract me.

Pillars, Crutches, and Other Manner of Support Systems

As I lay in bed the other night trying to fall asleep with used tissues littering the floor, it occurred to me that beyond the pain of my father’s death, his loss was not just the loss of a father who could be counted on to exhibit and act on his concern for me on a daily basis but it was the loss of any remnant of being the beloved daughter as she was cared for in childhood. Not childhood in a child’s sense, but in the sense that in some families a child knows that her problems can be shared with her parents throughout her life (shared as in expressed, which somehow shifts the burden).

Now, I share my mother’s problems. I am her ears and shoulders when she needs to have someone listen to what she did that day and how she is feeling or doing that day. It is not right, or I don’t feel that it is right, to seriously share with her my thoughts and concerns. It’s not that she doesn’t ask me how I am doing and wants to honestly hear, but for once I realize that she just doesn’t need my unburdening. No, I need to be her vessel. Maybe this is a step in the maturity of a child, a bit late, but such was the relationship that I had with my parents.

During most of my marriage and before the divorce, when things were getting bad but not bad enough yet to act on them, I held all counsel within. Then, when it reached the point that I would drive away, week after week, from the house in tears and fear for my life, I finally broke down and called my parents. They became my pillars. They gave me money to hire a divorce lawyer. They listened to me as stories tumbled out about their “son”-in-law’s fierce nastiness. To them I could unendingly vent as I couldn’t with friends. What friend could really listen to the unbroken story of a broken heart as she is trying to live through the dramas of her own life?

Was it selfish that I unburdened on my parents? I don’t know. I know that it was too hard to deal with the pain of my life on my own and they were there to levitate the pain as much as possible.

And now, now I need to be here to help shift the burden of my mother’s pain and emptiness, and fears.

For my daughters I need to remain chief booster and boaster. That is what they need and deserve. That is what I have been trained to be.

Perhaps the time has finally come for me stand firm. Maybe I don’t need anyone to hold my tissue box for me. At first I thought that I still needed to be propped up, but now I am starting to feel like one of those blocks that stays in place even when the blocks around it have been removed. I stay in place only because those blocks transferred their power and strength to me.

“Oh, Yeah, Sorry about Your Father”

My mother has found the outpouring of grieving reactions from people about my father’s death to be moving and comforting. She keeps saying how surprised my father would be—so many people have touched her by saying such nice things about a man who was always nice. Me, well, on the whole I have found that I need to reconfigure what I think of people. Granted, none of the people who have, unbeknownst to them, hurt me ever knew my father, but I had thought that on the whole people were kind and caring and were able to take a moment out of their lives to console a friend/colleague/acquaintance. My mother said I should just leave it, but how can I? How can I let the uncaring, or unaware, or thoughtless not impinge just a bit into my vision of the village?

Maybe I was like them before, not aware of how much a word, however brief, just acknowledging someone’s grief means to that person. But does that really excuse a colleague who I laugh with on a daily basis in the English teacher lunchroom to say to me the other day, as I was telling something that happened while we were sitting shiva at my parent’s house, “Oh, yeah, sorry about your father.” Speak of cutting to the quick with insensitivity. A few years ago, when I barely knew her, I went to her sister’s funeral. So she knows of grief. The casual way she addressed me just doesn’t leave me.

And then there is another teacher, her room is next to mine and we talk on occasion, but she is much older than me and she keeps to herself most of the time because she’s busy being the overworked theatre teacher. Granted, this summer we ran into each other in the records room of the courthouse when she was there with her daughter who was going through a divorce and I was there in the continual ache of divorce proceedings, which, perhaps, made some kind of outside-of-school bond. And I did tell her that I was flying down to Florida because my father was sick. When she saw me in the hall the other day, she gave me the warmest hug and said how sorry she was for my loss. Then, after we talked for a few minutes, as she was walking away she turned and said “Love ya,” which worked to bring tears again to my eyes, this time not in memory of my father or her parents who had passed away, but from the kindness of some people and the connections that we create that hold us to each other—and up.

There was an email announcement at school and at temple about my father’s passing. At school, one person sent an email and one person sent a card, and I received a plant from the school administration. I did tell three school friends about his passing before the announcement was made and they were kind, but each of them, I believe, should have contacted me over the break to see how my father was, which they did not do. At temple, there were calls and emails from a few people, and a donation made in honor of my father. At temple there were also genuine hugs when people saw me, and there was an honest sense of caring.

I don’t know what to think. Is it an age thing, being able to acknowledge someone’s grief and be able to reach out to a person who is grieving? Is it a work-relationship thing? Is it me and my ability or inability to connect at a deep enough level with people for them to reach out to me? Is it that at temple, a place created for, to a great degree, dealing with the hurts of life, people find it easier to connect? I have no idea.

What I sense is that we are so entrenched in our lives that we don’t take the time to reach out to each other, at least not in meaningful ways. What I sense, too, is that we are so very tribal and the tribe is so very very small: one’s own nuclear family and the few friends who are admitted into that circle. Social networking. Is that just another way to pretend that we engage with people when, really, we are further closing into the smallest family unit. Do we know how to create meaningful relationships? Do I?

The saving grace was my real friends, who showed that they are, indeed, real friends. Am I too naïve or deluded to hope/ think/expect that more of the people whose lives intersect with mine will care enough about me to extend a word, a gesture, an acknowledgement? Pain. Yes, it’s painful that my father passed away. But it’s also painful to realize that we are not intersecting with each other, we are simply in parallel paths.

Will this knowledge stop me from expressing my concern for others? No. There is a difference in understanding the way most people work and in succumbing to that. Are my real friends my real friends because they share the same characteristics as me? Maybe it’s not our circumstances that invites closeness but rather our personalities.

I don’t know. It’s all so painful. Is it really so hard to show that you care, that someone else’s life can divert from yours for just a moment?