Things I Learned The Hard Way: That Crazy Day I Became My Mother, On Her Birthday, Through Her Words
April 6, 2018
I wrote this 2 years ago, before Donovan died - and I find it funny, kind of, how so much of how my Mom still pops into my life from beyond is also how Donovan does - but returning to it makes me smile and reminds me how my Mother loved to live. I'm adding two more to the list this year...and another next, and another next, and another next... :)
Stay with me on this one.
Though funny, kind of.
And maybe not so crazy to anyone who's ever suddenly realized that their deceased loved one still finds ways to stay involved in our lives down here in the trenches. Maybe not so crazy to anyone who's ever had their loved one give a 'sign' that they are still around. Still watching, guiding, and loving from the heavens.
Here's how it went.
Last Saturday was my mother's birthday. She would have been 74. I miss her every single day, but that's been true since she died when I was 19.
You get used to the missing. It becomes an easier skin to carry around. It doesn't hurt less exactly. But I think, if you watch closely and are open to it, you do get better as the days go by, the years, at finding that person, their memory, their words, their lessons, in your everyday life. You get better at interpreting the signs they're still giving. At trusting them, finding comfort, joy, and laughter in them when they happen instead of just feeling the pain. At realizing, when the Great Blue Heron flies over your head just as you are talking to them in your head or wishing they would reach out and hug you, at the sudden line of pennies sitting face up on the bench beside you that you swear weren't there before...you realize in those moments that in fact they've been here, sharing their gifts and loving you always, all along.
So, Saturday. I sat down, thinking I was just going to write a sentence or two to honor her. And suddenly, instead what came out was a challenge.
A challenge to pen 74 statements of what...of hope? Life lessons? Things to remember? Things to try?
I didn't know what they'd be. I wasn't sure exactly even who I was supposed to be writing to. Or why, except to honor her.
But it was clear. 74 things (meaningful, maybe).
Write them now.
So I sat down and started writing. And this crazy list started to form. At first, I thought I was writing to you kind people, you lovely people, who take the time to read these silly tales that I occasionally share. I thought I was writing to you.
But then it got muddy. Cause sometimes I heard my own voice, clearly sharing things I've learned over the years in hopes it might help all of you if ever you find yourself in a similar position (say, when you're thinking of buying kefir...or pleated pants). But then other times, the words were stronger, more powerful, and whole worlds more confident than anything I could (or would) ever dare say to myself.
It was confusing. Why was this happening?
But I kept writing.
All day long, they came to me. In the shower. At dinner. Walking Donovan down the street. Bowling. Staring into my closet. Trying to make toast. Thing after thing. Until finally, there they were. Huddled all together under the list's crazy golf-umbrella sized haven.
And then I realized, after reading them again, that in fact - this was my Mother's gift to me. And to you, too, really, if you wish. That's why sometimes the list entries felt like they were coming from another place - a good one, a stronger one that you never knew you could possibly dare speak from. Our gifts to one another I suppose.
In this list, sometimes I hear my voice. But I also, so incredibly clearly, can hear hers, too. Calm, kind, gentle, wise. And funny! On her 74th birthday, in my 47th year, she came down for a visit and left me a list. I mean, she made me write it....but isn't that what Mother's do? They teach you how to guide, and soothe, and laugh at, and trust yourself so that, even in their physical absence, you can make your way in the world. And stay connected to what matters - the people (and animals), on the earth and in the sky, that you adore.
And they assure you, when occasionally you might forget, that you are loved.
Don't feel like you have to read it. It might only be relevant to me, and that's okay. You lovely friends have stayed with me long enough (and do, all the time, I'm grateful!). But should you have nothing else to do and feel like meeting my Mom....well, here they are.
74 things: 1) love people. wildly. 2) love animals. with your whole soul. treat them with care and grace, as you'd want to be treated yourself. make their lives better. 3) watermelon and raspberries. sour cherry pie. heirloom tomatoes with a shake of salt. summer nights. all glorious. 4) if you are lucky enough to have a dog in your life, treasure them. make sure they know you can't imagine life without them. also, provide unlimited toys, snacks, and handmade noodles on demand. (Donovan added that part).
5) learn to fly
6) share your life with a horse
7) eat the cake (especially if someone you loved has made it. and it is made of really good dark chocolate...if it also has ganache, eat the WHOLE cake) 8) have a karoake song. SING IT. (still working on this one) 9) splurge on a very pretty very fancy thing to wear that will turn heads (in a good way) when you walk in a room. ACTUALLY WEAR that thing and ACTUALLY WALK into a room. (still working on this one) 10) stand up for yourself (and others) 11) laugh. daily. especially at yourself. choose to spend your life with people who help you remember to do this. 12) be kind 13) dance in the living room. or kitchen. or wherever. edit. maybe not in the shower, if you're me. that could end badly. 14) dive off the high-board. make sure to scream WEEEEEE!!!! on the way down, just cause you can. 15) spend time by the ocean. or in it. or on top of it. or just near it... 16) volunteer to go first 17) be a good partner. in improv. in life. 18) celebrate tiny victories 19) save as many worms as possible from street smooshing on rainy days. 20)look for daffodils 21) plant daffodils so you'll find them when you look for them 22) go out of your way to help someone who needs it (someday, someone will do it for you too) 23) eat a guava 24) tell your story 25) tell a joke 26) if your aerial coach tells you that you’re ready to do something, then you are. trust them. do it. 27) some things aren’t worth fighting for. some things are. figure out the difference as soon as you can. 28) just because you can dance on the treadmill doesn’t necessarily mean you should. but you probably should. cause damn, it’s fun. 29) wake up grateful. hey, no matter what -you woke up! 30) when your loved ones tell you that you’re beautiful, believe them. even if that’s not, right now, how you can see yourself. 31) listen to more Springsteen. 32) don’t cheat when doing pull-ups, unless you want to continue doing them badly. 33) go to a Sox game. do the wave when it comes by. sing sweet caroline like you mean it. 34) stretch your splits everyday or they will disappear. they might disappear anyway, but still…stretch. 35) if given the chance, go to the 10pm show…it’s almost always more fun 36) optimism: realizing that the dog poop you’re picking up on a bitterly cold morning is at least warm to hold onto 37) every time you find yourself laying in bed in the middle of the night feeling sad, worthless, weird, ugly, lost, maybe feeling like you can’t go on…know that there are gazillions of people in the world doing the same thing. and all of you are wrong. and none of you are as alone as you feel in that moment. hug your dog, and remember that. the morning will bring another day... 38) have hope - and keep in mind how lucky you are to be alive. 39) breathe 40) under no circumstances should you choose a garment with pleats. ever. 41) the only way to discover if you love something is to actually give it a try. this will also uncover things you truly detest. like polo, and rock-climbing for instance. freaking polo… 42) if something scares the stuffing out of you, that probably means you should do it 43) some of the most romantic moments in your life may be as easy to find as noticing how lucky you are to come home to your favorite dinner on the table, cooked by the person you love. 44) bangs. can’t live with ‘em. have an enormous forehead without ‘em. 45) if you need to cook something but don’t know how - ask your FB friends. they’ll help! thank you parsnip friends! 46) at some point, you may use the dog’s shampoo instead of your own. which is fine. it will probably work better. 47) you are surrounded by incredible people who, for whatever reason, believe in you. believe (and believe in) them too. 48) there is no shame in knowing all the words to Copacabana. there might be a little when realizing you’re unwittingly dancing to it by the bird seed in the grocery store. 49) tubing down a river is really fun until you think you see an alligator. then it’s still fun, just with WAY higher stakes. 50) as a kid, my Dad used to always tell me (when I complained that things weren’t fair) that FAIR was where you showed your COWS. i found this monumentally frustrating then. i find it monumentally brilliant (and funny) now. points for Dad (the Iowa farmer) 51) homemade cinnamon buns. worth every freaking calorie. 52) live hockey is so fun! go! 53) mirrors are not out to get you. and they have no power. don’t let them tell you otherwise. 54) when your dog stops to smell the flowers, let him.
55) cut yourself a break sometimes. you’re doing the best you can. 56) when your horse isn’t doing what you ask, it’s likely because you are not asking correctly. ask again. correctly. 57) if you believe the products in your bathroom, you might start thinking you are in need of complexion rescue, advanced healing, and intensive firming. screw all of that. you’re gorgeous and need nothing. 58) kefir. no. 59) you can start saving for your new car and find that all you’ve saved goes to paying for new brakes for your old one. still better to have saved. 60) you can outgrow friends. or they’ll outgrow you. that’s okay. you’ll find new ones. life’s funny like that. 61) there is no situation that can’t be improved by wrapping your arms around the neck of a dog or a horse. or your friends. 62) if you have a tiny torso, you will look like an elf if you tuck your shirt in. so, you know, don’t. 63) learning how to take a genuine compliment gracefully is so incredibly hard. do it anyway. it’s a gift. 64) when given an opportunity to wear your coach’s green tutu, have her do your makeup, and perform in a show in a foreign country with people you admire and adore, with a routine you haven’t ever done before to a song you haven’t even heard once all the way through…do it. do it. do it. do it. 65) old Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes and a cup of cocoa can solve a bunch of different problems. more so if the cocoa is spiked with Baileys. 66) be seen. invisibility isn’t as safe as it seems. 67) when traveling from Boston to NYC on the Acela - get a seat on the left…in Mystic, you’ll go by the ocean and it will be beautiful….I always believed that if I saw swans in those waters as I passed, my audition would go well. Usually, I was right. 68) when given the chance to choose your own copy, don’t be afraid to pick cat food. I got my agent with a read that started with ‘if you think YOUR cat is finicky, you’ve never met Ralphie! 69) when they call you back because they see a spot on your mammogram - don’t panic. my nurse said she was called back 5 times and everything was fine. and I was fine too. 70) you can do the most amazing things. the most. so much more incredible than even you believe. it’s true. don’t doubt that. Donovan and I once saved a dying crow in a tree using only a trash can and sheer will. not that that was so amazing I guess. except it was to me. and, I think probably, to the crow. you can do amazing things. go do them.
71) give folks (including yourself) the benefit of the doubt 72) be willing to be open. be willing to let friends in. be willing to let people help you. be willing to be the one that offers help. 72a) give everything you have, when you can, to lighten the spirits (and the load) of the people around you. life is hard. when we lean on each other, things get easier. 73) life is beautiful. trust that even when it doesn’t seem true. that’s when you most need to believe it.
74) love people. wildly. wait, that was #1, right? yes. yes it was.
75) wear the rainbow colored bowling shoes and the craziest trapeze socks you can find. they help, I promise...
76) actually stand-up in stand-up comedy class. in fact, stand-up in general - for yourself, for your beliefs, your passions, your friends...stand-up all the time...when it is the most terrifying is usually when it is most important. your friends will always have your back.