As some of you know, I struggle with letting go and allowing love to grow (both in terms of what I share with others and in what I feel inside as self-love). I’ve recently been experimenting with giving in to love and thereby permitting myself to experience things like inner peace (similar to that moment on the train in Thailand), and seeing myself through the eyes of the ones that love me.
It’s really something – to feel the kind of warmth and acceptance of inner peace or of the love of another.
For these reasons, blogger Kendall Goodwin’s post with the above quote/poem, resonated with me.
Enjoy and thanks for reading,
All this time
The Sun never says
To the Earth,
“You owe me.”
With a love like that.
It lights the
– Hafiz, Sufi poet
Every now and then, life surprises you.
Let me provide a little bit of context:
My (younger) brother and I, grew up in Massachusetts.
For the first 10 years of my life, our family lived in a tiny rural town of less than 2,000 folks. In our early years, my brother and I spent much of our time together hanging out at the house playing or studying (because there simply wasn’t much else nearby, and our family was close). When I turned 10, we moved to the lower most floor of a “triple decker” (3 floor apartment building) in the inner city. From there, we moved to one side of a duplex and attended a charter school, and then finally to a small single family house in upper-middle class suburbia where we both finished out our high school years. When we weren’t in school, we were attending after school sports (soccer, baseball, swimming, dance, etc.), music lessons (violin and piano for me, drums for him), other activities (reading, web-design club, art classes, girl or boy scouts, Vernal Pool Society, martial arts…I can’t even remember them all right now…), and of course spending time with our respective friends and our Maternal relatives (who we saw weekly; our Paternal relatives would mainly get together on holidays).
Needless to say, at only 2 years and 9 months (to be exact) apart in age, with many shared life experiences, my brother and I were close. And even though there was the occasional poking, pushing, argument, and see-who-could-yell-the-loudest-fest, our relationship was pretty solid and stable.
Then when I left for college (and moved to Texas), things changed a bit.
My brother and I didn’t communicate regularly, in fact, we communicated about twice a year – once when I would return home for Christmas, and again when I’d visit during the summer. I’d find out how he was doing through phone conversations and email with my parents, but it wasn’t quite the same.
Sadly, in his Junior year of high school my brother became involved with some friends who introduced him to drugs, and my brother ended up on the wrong side of the law on a few occasions. By this point our communication was pretty strained and irregular at best, and our parents were on high alert constantly. It seemed like every conversation I had with our folks included commentary on how my brother was in trouble, wayward, or just difficult to connect with.
I spent isolated time with my brother during this period, which began about mid-2006. Again, we saw each other at Christmas, and possibly during the summer. Relating was strange.
Initially, I felt angry and sad. I was angry that my brother got into drugs, that he was becoming an increasingly bigger source of strain and tension on my parents, and that when I would be home, he was frequently unavailable. I was sad because I saw him suffering – upset that he got expelled from school, upset that he didn’t feel at home with our family or his friends, upset that he acquired large amounts of debt in legal fees and court costs – and I was sad because here he was, my brother, hitting some really difficult times and I felt helpless. I was in the audience watching a tragedy from the front row and no matter how much I wanted to jump in and change the plot, or close the curtain and hide the pain, I couldn’t.
Things got incrementally better…my parents left the Northeast and moved to Nevada in mid-2008 which caused my brother to have to (mostly) support himself financially (since he had been living with them but did not want to move cross country). My parents went on to their post-child-rearing stage and established themselves in a new State, with new jobs. My brother stopped actively using or dealing illegal drugs and found a couple of part time jobs that provided structure. He focused more on his music, his real passion. I graduated and worked at the university, did some traveling with my closest friends, went on to grad school in New York City, left a poor relationship, dealt with the accident, worked in market research, and found love.
Throughout it all, our family always met up at Christmas. My brother and I both would stay with our parents for about a week in December. During those visits, I would get moments with him – just me and him. But they seemed fragile and short. After the holiday was up, we’d all return to our respect corners of the country and go about our lives.
I didn’t push my brother into any kind of adult connection. We had our own lives, and to be honest, I knew so little about him as an adult that I often felt more connected by our past than the present. But furthermore, I became more my own person and I didn’t want a deeper relationship with my brother to compromise my adult identity – an identity that I’d been trying so hard to form and maintain. I also didn’t want my connection to him to resemble the one I have with our parents (re: emotionally difficult, laced with expectation and misunderstanding), as that was the only other example of a nuclear family relationship I had to draw from.
My approach became one of love from afar: I’d send the occasional text, email, and birthday card – tell him that I cared about him, but left the rest up to him.
I got a phone call from my brother last night.
It was completely unexpected, and it was really great. We talked for about an hour about how we’re both trying to find our way in life, how we are frequently frustrated at what we think our parents expect from us, how we feel misunderstood by our parents, and how we just want lives where we’re happy, loved, and enjoy what we do.
There were multiple moments in the conversation where I was awash with emotion:
– I could hear the exasperation and pain in his voice through the struggles he’s facing
– I could hear the pride and love when he talked about how thrilled he was with what I’d done so far in life
Here was this person, this one point of humanness across the country, who I could relate to instantly, feel strongly connected to, and dang it, really wanted to reach through the phone and give a hug to.
Now, I don’t take this recent phone call as a sign of massive change. I still anticipate that we may not communicate regularly, that we’ll really only spend time quality time together at Christmas, and we’ll send short messages remotely when a brief burst of “love you; thinking of you,” strikes. But it feels great to know that my child self, teen self, and adult self can connect to this person who has been there through all of those stages and still gives a damn.
It’s also nice to know that he and I can start to bridge the gap as adults and redefine our relationship in ways to match the present; something I perpetually struggle to do with my parents (and other relatives). Likewise, with him I’m the 25 year old me instead of the 12 year old me, but if I feel the need, I can invoke the 12 year old me sometimes and it will still be okay. Plus, no one else can quite experience the underbelly of our nuclear family in the same way, with knowledge of all it’s positives, intricacies, secrets, and dysfunction. I only have one person on this Earth I can call a sibling, and that’s him.
My family has been one of the greatest sources of inspiration, frustration, tension, and learning, in my life. It seems like that’s not going to stop anytime soon. I struggle on a regular basis with my relationship to my parents and other relatives, but I’m hopeful for the future as long as I can occasionally reconnect with my brother in a peer-to-peer way and remember that sometimes life (and others), will surprise you.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. As I mentioned above, family is a constant source of mixed emotion for me. A HUGE thank you must go out to Dan, and my dearest friends (Ya, Pa, St, Au, Ro, Al, Ra, Er, El, Ma…), who help me weather the storms and have truly become my own family, apart from that of my genes.
I had started working on another post a couple of days ago.
It was about decision making, the idea of analysis paralysis, and some reflections as a result of Seth Godin’s recent blog post on when to reconsider decisions.
But then, I found this article in the NY Times: The Vanishing Mind: When Illness Makes a Spouse a Stranger
And I cried.
The article discusses frontotemporal dementia, or Pick’s Disease, a rare form of dementia (loss of brain function, often connected to memory loss) coupled with brain atrophy in the frontal lobes.
What’s so striking is that the article not only describes the difficulty individuals have in dealing with the disease (changes in personality, loss of speech or memory and other functions) and the fact that there is no known cure, but also how the lives of those close to the ill are impacted.
The main couple described in the article is Mr. and Mrs. French: Mr. French with Pick’s Disease, and Mrs. French the spouse and caretaker. The interactions between the Frenches are completely tear-jerking – how he quietly accepts his disease and supports her care giving choices even when she’s wracked with guilt or uncertainty, and how she spends hours with him in his nursing home room, just to be with him.
While I find the French’s story incredibly moving, it makes me realize two things:
1) how much I love Dan and those closest to me, and how I wish to never be parted from them
2) how much Dan and those closest to me have had to deal with these last couple of years as I’ve faced and come to terms with a chronic injury
I could wax poetic about how life is precious and how important it is to treasure what you have, but instead I want to say this:
To Dan and all whom I love,
If something, anything, happens such that I’m unable to reach you, know you, or feel you in any way, please know this:
I love you.
Please know that I take every sliver of a shinning moment that we spend together – whether joyful, peaceful, angry, or unstable – and I keep them close to my heart in a little place that I retreat to when the world goes sour.
And if I’m somehow unable or simply not myself, then I trust you to do what you need to do for me, for you, and for anyone else involved.
I am grateful for all that you are, will be, and have been, and I hope to always have the honor and pleasure of continuing this journey with you for as long as I’m able.
Thank you for being you. And again, I love you.
I love, love.
From that warm, soft feeling of being truly home, to that passionate kiss, to that mutual understanding between people who just care about one another so darn much. And by the way, I’m not just talking the love between romantic partners, but also that between long-time friends, family members, and well, even between animals and humans (sigh, how I love animals).
Love will probably remain one of the most sought after, enigmatic, misunderstood and revered emotions/experiences, but those qualities only seem to make it more fascinating.
Anyway, I could go on and on describing love and the many facets it can take, but I’ve been sensing something different about love lately, particularly with respect to the impending Valentine’s holiday.
I’m an utter romantic. I’ve written Dan a multitude of love letters (sometimes love poems or love cartoons, even), I feel warm and gushy when I watch the scene in the gazebo between the Captain and Maria in the Sound of Music where they finally confess their feelings to each other (Julie Andrews and Christoper Plummer version), I shower affection on my closest friends, and I’ve been known to get lost in Wordsworth, a languid waltz, and of course, my own daydreams.
However, with all that being said, I’m coming to realize that I was raised to associate love with gift giving. Not exactly the idea of buying someone’s affection, but definitely the idea that physical items = an expression of emotion.
This idea is likely somewhat cultural. We’re all familiar with mass marketing and consumerism and how the Walgreens down the street starts setting up the Christmas merchandise days after Halloween. We’re bombarded with images of opulence in Entertainment News, and it seems like engagement rings are growing by the karats these days. But beyond the American interpretation of gift giving, my family also communicates emotion through objects – in fact I think I received at least one piece of jewelry to mark almost every life event (i.e., first communion, graduation, etc.) I’ve gone through.
So when I met Dan, I became a bit confused. “Spending time with you,” he said, “is the greatest gift, and that’s all I ever want.”
Hmm, this through me for a loop. He was saying and expressing the things I’d always longed to hear from a partner, but for some reason my brain could…not…compute. Time? Experiences? These are gifts in and of themselves? But what about that handmade watch or that specially tailored suit? Aren’t those gifts?
And I wondered if maybe it was a test or a trick. Maybe he was just being nice and doing the whole “oh you shouldn’t have” while thinking “I’m so glad she did.”
Plus, it wasn’t an issue of cost – I could afford to get him nice things from time to time, and I really enjoyed seeing something in a store and thinking “I bet Dan would like this” and picking it up for him on a whim. I felt like I was both expressing how I felt about him, communicating that I thought of him, but also, I was fulfilling a need (buying him something he might like to have but wouldn’t buy, or providing a can opener because his old one was really rusty, etc.).
But he kept saying “I just want to spend time with you,” and the “gifts” I was giving him, were piling up in my living room.
And thus began countless conversations between us on the topic of material “stuff.”
Initially this led me to investigate Gary Chapman’s Love Languages. At first I simply thought that Dan and I were just communicating on different wavelengths – I was a “gift giver” he was a “quality timer.”
But not exactly, because when we’ve been separated for periods of time (when I was traveling, or our work schedules limited us to seeing each other only on weekends, etc.), I’d feel myself going crazy with the lack of quality time. And, I realized that I wasn’t craving gifts from him, either. Don’t get me wrong, Dan often brings me food that he knows I’ll enjoy (often desserts, which are delicious), or will even pick me up something more utilitarian, and I have appreciated every “thing” he has given me, but what I most wanted, too, was not brownies and a container of dishwasher soap, but time with him.
I found that I also valued quality time across the other significant relationships in my life. I remembered disagreements with my parents over them wanting to buy me expensive Christmas gifts, while I just wanted some of my Mom’s delightful Christmas cookies. I realized how having in person conversations with my closest friends, many of whom no longer live in geographic proximity, has brought me so much joy – because I leave each of those encounters feeling filled to the brim with love and understanding.
And I reflected more on my own relationship to material items. In the last seven years, I have moved nine times – with more than half of those moves being across state-lines, and even across the country. In looking around my apartment and office, I have really whittled down my personal possessions, and on countless occasions I’ve found myself perusing the shelves at Target thinking “that’s a great (insert household item or piece of furniture or keepsake) but I just don’t need it, and I definitely don’t want to move it.” I even began taking digital photos of memorabilia (ticket stubs, airline tickets, brochures, etc.) so that I could compile all my mementos on my hard drive in an effort to eliminate the piles of accumulated trinkets in my life. But even there, the memorabilia was about remembering experiences and events. And who am I kidding, I constantly photograph everything from a sushi dinner at a restaurant to Dan walking along a hiking trail.
I really care about life events and adventures, but not because they are associated with a necklace or a dress. I care about them because I value people and our shared experiences. Clearly Dan had reached this conclusion well before me.
So with Valentine’s Day approaching (as well as the anniversary of our first date, whoot!), I asked Dan about gift giving and celebrating us.
He, not surprisingly, reiterated, “I just want to spend time with you.”
My initial thoughts, also not surprising, were, “but isn’t there something special I can get for you? Something that you’d really like to have but wouldn’t buy for yourself?” And in my head were visions of those handmade watches and tailored suits, surrounded by copious amounts of fruits and vegetables (Dan prefers fruits and veg to chocolates – that’s okay, more cocoa-y goodness for me!).
But he said, “no, not really.” He suggested a pair of dance shoes he’s been eying if I “really wanted to get him something.”
So I stepped back for a bit and I thought about it. I’d be happy to get Dan a pair of dance shoes, heck, I’d run to the store right now and pick them up so he could use them for our classes later tonight. But do dance shoes really communicate how I feel about Dan? How I feel about our relationship? Not really. Dan needs dance shoes, and I’m glad to help fulfill that need if I can, but I don’t want to mark yet another occasion with a physical item that doesn’t get at the heart of the matter (no pun intended), which is – how much I love, respect, and appreciate this man and our relationship. (By the way, I’m not saying that dance shoes can’t be an expression of love, it just doesn’t fit me/us in this circumstance.)
So this Valentine’s Day(/anniversary), I asked Dan if we could try a new restaurant for dinner (nothing too ostentatious, just good food), exchange cards, and hang out together. We’re going to give it a go. Afterall, I’m just me and while I could give him gold cufflinks and we could dine and dance in the Rainbow Room at the top of the GE building, which would all be fun, I’m excited not to have to worry about picking out the perfect gift and making sure my mascara doesn’t run into the Fillet Mignon at a fancy restaurant.
I’m just happy to be loved and in love.
Beyond Dan, I hope you all know how much I love and appreciate you, too.
To all the family and friends who have made my journey on this Earth more rewarding simply by their presence and the experiences and lessons we’ve learned together, thank you, and much love.
To all of you who read my musings regularly, semi-regularly, or once in a blue moon, thank you with love from the bottom of my heart.
A very Happy Valentine’s Day to you!
This post is almost a month overdue, but beyond my visit to the Morton Arboretum and the time Dan and I spent at Swing City Chicago, we also took in three different plays (Overweight: Unimportant, Misshapen; A Touch of Poet; The Great Fire), spent some time with Dan’s grad school buddy Shawn and his girlfriend Linn (both really wonderful people), and generally just hung out with each other navigating Chicago together.
The plays were all unique and interesting. Overweight was a European existential play, and while I truly enjoy existential adventures, I definitely felt like some aspects to Overweight were a bit beyond my understanding (I’m definitely rusty on Germany history, and even rustier on German existential theory…).
A Touch of Poet examined some of the issues of class, saving face, and increasing one’s status in society. This was achieved through the familiar plot line of an alcoholic-abusive father figure with a military past trying to assess his station in life and simultaneously the drama created by a daughter who wants to marry out of her economic strata. The story was set around the turn-of-the-century (well, by that I mean late 1800s) in the U.S., and the family were Irish immigrants though the father had fought for the British Army, so there were a few unique elements. The story was poignant – as the father becomes more self-aware and the daughter more understanding of her father’s dark traits.
The Great Fire was probably my favorite of the productions we saw. It was a retelling of the Great Chicago fire during the 1870s, and was a well-produced cross between a musical and a play. There were stories from Chicago residents, an overview of the event from the perspective of the city government and fire department, and the fire itself, was even made into a character. Special effects helped create the environmental elements – the literal “feel” and “sight” of a fire of that magnitude- and the cast was excellent.
Each of these plays touched on different elements of performing art and theatricality, and I appreciated each of them for their originality and message.
We also had the good fortune of staying with Shawn, and spending time with him and Linn. They took us to a delicious Korean restaurant one night, and Shawn spent time with us at his apartment and ate a couple of smaller meals with us. Both of them were incredibly kind and pleasant people, and shared some of their current activities/interests with us — Shawn’s optics research and career goals, Linn’s work in a NICU, their upcoming trip to NYC over Thanksgiving, and just their general ideas and dreams. A foreign city can feel so much warmer when you’re able to spend time with good people there.
However what I enjoyed the most was all of the time Dan and I spent together – just us.
Whether it was the plane rides napping against each others shoulders, late night rides on the Metro/L holding hands, when we looked around an all-Lacrosse store, when we sat on the stoop of an apartment building to share a few songs on his MP3 player, or were walking around downtown in the rain trying to find a theatre aggravated between the discrepancies on my printed directions and the GPS on my smartphone.
Life so frequently takes us both in different directions — he’s got a new design project, I’ve got a bunch of reports to write or consumer surveys to program, he has his friends to catch up with and I have mine, and we have our dance classes, etc.
As so many have commented before, and will comment going forward, quality time together is often limited. Or at least, quality time in which we are both free from other external obligations (work, family, friends, etc.) and can just be present in the moment with each other.
However, it was all those small moments where we were just together – maybe communicating, maybe just enjoying a quiet companionship – that I loved the most.
Now, almost a month after our visit to Chi-Town, I think back on that weekend with such fondness for those memories, but I also remind myself that we owe it to ourselves to make our relationship a priority in our lives.
We will always have giant to-do lists between us, goals to accomplish, chores to complete, people needing our help or attention. And those things are valuable – they give us purpose, make us feel productive.
However, sometimes the trappings of being “busy” are just that – trappings. They don’t provide true personal satisfaction, or perhaps more importantly, a true sense of mutual understanding and love.
I’ll say it now, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but love makes it all worth it.
For those little moments, those precious moments, in the past, present and future, I’m eternally grateful.