Grief and Friendship

Losing a close family member has changed me.  I no longer take the existence of the people I love for granted. My heart is heavy, but the weight is now bearable.  I don’t believe I will ever completely heal, but a friend suggested that the scab will get thicker.  I find that, for now, I don’t want to read anything about grief and all its aspects.  I don’t want to talk about the pain for it seems to make it much harder. The third month anniversary of my sister’s death was this week.  My father’s birthday (who died in 1973) was also this week.  I was in a small fender bender.  I don’t think the three are mutually exclusive.  My brain feels like its been bouncing around inside my skull as if I’ve taken a hard blow to my head.  I expect this will happen on occasion.  I expect that holidays and anniversaries, along with birthday reminders, will be difficult to bear.  But, as I’ve done thus far, I will get through it.  I can’t truly imagine (and honestly don’t want to) the horror of losing a loved one to murder, a car wreck, or any tragedy that I can consider.  I don’t know how the loved ones deal with it and continue their lives.

I also don’t believe I’ll ever feel this intensity of grief again.  I could be wrong, but I certainly don’t want to be.  I feel as if a hardened shell is forming over my heart and won’t allow me to feel this horror again.   I’ve begun to understand how those in the medical field, the military, and coroners manage to deal with daily death, along with having to tell the family.  One must create the shell that keeps your heart from shattering each and every time that you must deal with the reality of telling others about the death of a loved one.  I have grave doubts that I could come close to doing that.  Just not in my DNA.

I recently read an article about how to determine who your real friends are.  Going through my grief, I’ve discovered that people I didn’t consider close friends have shown up to be there for me.  This includes a close friend who drove 4 hours one way to come to the funeral of my sister (she also drove 4 hours one way on the wrong Saturday  – this is a true friend).  There was another who came because she felt she should be there.  That is often the real essence of friendship.  The actions you take show others that you care.  The words you say can be meaningless if not accompanied by action.  I have to remember this.  It’s an important part of friendship.  Another friend I’ve never actually met sent homemade jams and pickled okra.

How do I show my love?  I do try to be there.  I doubt I’ve tried hard enough. I will do better now because of have the horrible ability to see how it feels.

My sister died of ovarian cancer.  She had 18 months after the diagnosis.  Please don’t take your health for granted.  Ovarian cancer is not detectable until it’s in the 3rd or 4th stage.  I believe she did all she could to fight this horrible disease.  I now know a lot more about this disease and the medications given to the dying – more than I ever wanted to know. If you or someone you care about has any of the below symptoms, please get to your doctor quickly.

  • A swollen or bloated abdomen, increased girth. Some women notice that their pants or skirts are getting tight around the waist. The bloating is a sign that fluid, called ascites, is building up in the abdominal cavity in later stage disease
  • Persistent pressure or pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary concerns, such as urgency or frequency
  • Change in bowel habits with new onset constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding

Early detection is vital.  And please be a friend to those who are diagnosed.  Women do live with early detection.  My sister wasn’t one of those.  I’m not happy to write about this.  I’m not anywhere close to pleased that I know as much about this as I do.

I read my sister’s eulogy.  I don’t remember doing it.  The mind truly will protect you from the pain.  I didn’t know that until this happened.

Please take care of your health.  And please be a “show-er upper” for your friends.  They will then know that you truly care.

The Howell House

The Howell House: A Novel

Chapter One

I stood at the bottom of the steps, looking up at the old, weathered Victorian style house.  Wondering if I had completely lost my mind.  Again.  Still, I knew that this deeply felt like home for some subliminal reason.  Perhaps I lived here in a previous life.  I looked around the small front yard.  It was covered in acorns, and there were empty patches of dirt in the grass where leaves had laid for too long.

I glanced first up the sidewalk to the right, and then to the left.  The cracks from the roots of the trees were deep in the walkway, but the huge oak in the front yard whose roots were destroying the concrete provided lovely shade and was probably well over a hundred years old.  At least a few things would be older than I was.

I heard a bird singing.  Glancing up into the tree, I gazed at the branches, looking for the source of the music. Finally, I spotted a cardinal high up, half hidden by the emerging spring leaves.  He sang his heart out, hopping to another branch.  Gradually, I remembered a story my grandmother once told me. Cardinals showed up when changes happened, bringing with them hope, joy, health, rejuvenation and celebration. I delighted in the symbol of the bird in what was now my tree.  I decided to find a special bird house and plenty of bird feed.  I needed as much of that as I could get, and I made a mental note to google the best birdfeed for cardinals.

“Hello, Red,” I said softly.  “We’re gonna be great friends, you and me.  I want you to stay so I’ll feed you well.”  I smiled to myself, and wondered if anyone was watching me talking to a bird.  I also recalled that my grandmother mentioned cardinals could live fifteen years.  I deeply hoped this was a young cardinal.

I closed my eyes and inhaled the fragrance.  A bit of honeysuckle tickled my nose.  This prompted a memory from my childhood, walking through the woods and blackberry picking with my grandmother, and here it was again in what I believed would be my last home.  A bit of earthy leaf rot mingled in the fragrance. It smelled like what heaven must emit.

I could imagine flowers being nurtured by this fertile loam.  For a brief moment, I could see the many hands that had lovingly tended this yard, planting flowers, watering and fertilizing, picking them to place in vases in the house, old gnarled fingers of timeworn women, young smooth fingers of youthful mothers. They were all part of the memories that created this home.

The wind blew slightly, and my hair tickled my face.  When I opened my eyes, I saw shadow dappling beneath the tree, and the illusion of an elf appeared in my imagination.  Briefly, I wondered if ghosts inhabited the home. Were there souls who chose to stay here in the lovely home rather than heading to some unknown after-life destination?  If so, I hoped we could be friends and get to know each other.  Ghosts carried earthly pain.  I wanted to be familiar with their pain. Perhaps they could help me with some of mine.

I gazed at the mauve chipped paint covering the exterior and the faded deep oxford green shutters.  The front door was still black, but I intended to change that.  I likely would repaint the house, but before I did, I would take lots of pictures of how it looked now.  It was vital that I keep records.  I shook my head, and wondered again if I was losing my mind.  I stooped to pick up my suitcase, and glanced back at the car.  Nodding at no one, I tentatively stepped onto the first step, and slowly climbed the few steps that would lead me to my new home.  To my new life.

“Here I go,” I thought.  Memories threatened like storm clouds, but I shook my head resolutely.  No bad memories for today.  Honeysuckle memories, yes, bad marriages, no.  Today was about the future.  I stepped onto the front porch and stopped to look around again.  The old boards groaned slightly under my weight.  Mental note to have this checked.  No matter how old or what the shape, this was mine.  My home.  Mine to do with what I wanted, and I knew exactly what I wanted.

The world had changed for me.  I was now sixty-six years old, and beginning a new life sans husband or children.  Grandchildren were also part of my life, but they, like their mothers and fathers, lived busy lives now.  It was time for me to move on, to develop a world that I loved and envied when I saw it for others.  I still deeply wanted a connection with my family, but I needed more. I was no longer needed as a baby sitter.  My grandchildren were beyond that.  I couldn’t simply sit at home and wait for them to have time for me.  That wasn’t who I was.  I understood that it would be difficult, a challenge, sometimes horribly challenging.  But what hadn’t been in my life?  This was my plan.  And if it didn’t work, then so be it.  I unwaveringly believed it would.  The clock was ticking, but this was a plan that was long overdue.   I decided to become my own clock, and make the later moments of my life good for me.  Here goes.

I walked to the front door, dug into my pocketbook for the house key, found it by its very size – I had chosen a particular key for my own reasons – and pulled it out, a vintage key to go   with a vintage home.  I looked at it carefully.  I had resolved that every action I performed today, I would do with purpose.  I wanted to remember every moment, every movement, every fragrance, every sight because this was the first thing I had done in my life with total purpose, complete forethought.  April 1, 2015.  So many past choices had been about just keeping the boat between the two shores, often navigating in hurricane like winds, just trying to stay afloat.  I was now the navigator, the captain of this ship.  My life was no longer a small canoe being shunted back and forth in the storms of my life.  I now had a motor, and I planned to use it. This had been in the works for months now, and I believed that it was to be – hopefully – my last move.  My final home.  The place I planned to live for the rest of my life, however long that was.

The first time I discovered Saluda, NC, I was taking a ride from Greenville to Hendersonville when the road that forked off of Hwy 25 looked like a shortcut.  It was so much more.  This is a disregarded road by the state of South Carolina.  Pockmarked and patched, in some places there are no yellow lines, and in others, there is a hint that one used to exist.  On either side of the road, you see acres of farmland, and an occasional mobile home along with lots of signs imploring you to love Jesus.  As I rode, I wondered if there was a company who produced large wooden crosses with the words, “Jesus Loves You,” “Jesus died for your sins,” or “Jesus Saves.” These signs are ubiquitous along this stretch of road.

The lawns are well kept, with lots of deep green ivy, flowers of many colors, and luscious flowing green ground covers.  The farm lands are even rows of well-tended crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, soy, peppers, and corn. Old tractors dot the landscape.  A few miles up the mountain, and the brilliant blue and green Greenville Watershed appears on the right.  Because it looks like a lake, there are signs preventing one from accessing it. From here, Greenville’s award winning water flows. In the early 2000’s, during a particularly dry season, Atlanta wanted to tap into this watershed.  The paper was full of stories of water rights and water wars.  Fortunately, the rains came and the battle was delayed. I’ve no doubt that this will rear its head again during future droughts.

I saw a sign to Saluda, NC, and thought, “what the hell?”  I was simply joy riding.  I turned right on the same kind of poorly kept road.  However, once I left South Carolina and entered North Carolina, the care of the road changed dramatically.  It was now an even light grey, with the distinct yellow lines well painted.  There was no patchwork.  I passed bikers going up and coming down.  I couldn’t imagine how grueling this ride had to be on the way up, but these people were determined and, based on the numbers I saw, the road must be a well biked route.  Once I passed from Polk County into Henderson County, the charming mountain homes appeared each one lovelier than the next.  There were terra cotta painted houses, deep green ones, and an occasional light blue home.  The yards were overflowing with azaleas of all colors – brilliant reds, deep corals, and light and hot pinks, along with beautiful rows of blue green hosta, bright yellow and orange day lilies, purple peonies, rows of lush tomato plants, varying kinds of ivy and divine deep green carpet grass.  I found myself mesmerized.

Then I saw The Howell House for the first time, and even in its disrepair, I was smitten.  Of course, that wasn’t the name then.  I knew nothing of the area, the tiny little hamlet of Saluda, which I discovered later, was a stopping point for people traveling from the coast to Hendersonville or Asheville in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to escape the summer heat.  Sometimes they came in wagons, and sometimes they took the Carolina Special, the train that ran through the small hamlet.  In the town, I found The Purple Onion, a café of great fame (and equally great cooking), Pace Hardware, which had been there since 1899, and beautiful artisan shops full of gardening items, stunning paintings by local artists, and history books of the area. My personal favorite became I Remember Saluda, by Charles Hearon, a local man, now gone, who was begged by his children to write the stories of the old Saluda before they were lost.  He did so, and in a quaint, mountain vernacular, he weaves you into the historic stories of Saluda now long gone.  I was hooked.

Upon doing some minimal research about the area, I learned that Saluda is probably the Anglicization of the Native American Creek word, Suale-te, which means Buzzard People. The language, “Itsate,” was the predominant language spoken in the Piedmont and western Coastal Plain of South Carolina.

All of the names of the original “Lower Cherokee towns” in South Carolina are actually Itsate Creek words.  Local histories in the region claim that Saluda is derived from the Cherokee word for “Place of the green corn,” Tsaludi-yi.  It is quite possible that the Xuale People were descendants of the Hopewell Culture and a division of the Shawnee. The buzzard was considered especially sacred to the participants in the Hopewell Culture. It is believed by some anthropologists that the “Hopewell” fed their deceased love ones to semi-domesticated buzzards. This macabre tradition is still practiced by some Tibetan Buddhists. Rather disgusting, but that doesn’t preclude it being true.  I shivered at knowing this could be the entomology of the name of the town.

I am a very social woman.  I discovered that through two marriages, four children, and many moves.  My job as a mother was not finished (was it ever?), but was no longer a label that continued to define me.  I had a good relationship with three out of four children, and I felt that was as much as I could hope for.  I had several good friends, and had managed to remain on friendly terms with one of my exes.  Again, as much as I could hope for.  Now it was really going to be my turn to develop the life that I wanted, to seek the support I needed, and to do something good for other women in the process.  It was a calling of sorts, or so I believed, and I was ready to make it happen.

But to tell this story well, I must go back.  Go back to how I ended up at this point in my life.  I was interested in knowing myself as well as I could, so I resolved to write about this journey, not an unusual choice for me. I have battled myself for my whole life, between being a writer who wrote and one who talked about writing. I was forcing myself to write this story in depth and with a willingness to face the past, the current, and the future.  We all have some of this – that part that we either choose to ignore, forgive, or forget.  But do we really do any of that? I was determined to find out, and I would do it here while creating the world I wanted, or at least giving it my best shot.

I became a young southern bride at the age of twenty.  Not terribly young for southern brides.  But I left behind much potential with a strong curiosity and a deep desire for education.  A child of divorce, I had many emotional scars, battle wounds that I attempted to stitch up with tar and feathers. Most of the time, the wounds festered, the cuts came open, and pain oozed out like infected pus.  I settled for marrying my first husband’s family – hugging to me an in-law mother and father who deeply cherished their brood, accepted and embraced me into their exclusive group.  Let me make that clear.  It wasn’t my husband I fell in love with, it was his parents.  My father in law was a jovial man, given to telling jokes – bad ones mostly – about women and blacks.  Of course those were not the words he used.  That part of my world was not too different from any other southerners’ in the early 70’s.  I was, of course, pregnant when Phillip and I married.  I thought of this as a romantic way to start a marriage – puking my guts up at every stop sign and rushing from any room at the sight of a Campbell’s tomato soup commercial to the nearest toilet.  No close toilet? Then I had to get outside quickly.  As I today ride around the town of Lincolnton, NC, I can still point out the spots where I lost my lunch or my dinner or the inner lining of my stomach. The odor of a rotten potato or bad meat in the refrigerator could send me to bed for a day.  Nothing was digestible during those nine months, and I look back at pictures of a pale waif like woman with a protruding stomach.  No makeup and stringy hair.  Who could guess how I would change.

My world had not prepared me for motherhood.  My own mother had ruled with a hard hand, and used beatings to keep us under control. This was my example of how to parent.  Our first son was a challenge from day one, and I had few friends in the newly built neighborhood in which we lived.  Phillip, Jr. cried constantly, had tons of ear aches, switched his days and nights for a very long time, and generally loved to pee on me when I was changing his diaper. Again, my example of how to parent didn’t prepare me to handle this well.  And there was no internet.

My young husband had no idea or desire to be a husband or young father, and he spent his days building houses for his dad, and many of his nights playing poker with his buddies.  Weekends for him were for golf, regardless of whether I was sick, we had a funeral, or the children were hungry.  I was expected to be at home for his beck and call day and night, regardless of whether he was there with me or not.  I was to cook, wash clothes, clean the house, and care for Phillip, Jr.  If he wanted to come home in the middle of the day to have sex, I was to be ready for it.  It was hell for me.  I hadn’t realized that I was to become my husband’s mother in a manner of speaking.  She was willing to offer this kind of life to her husband, and her children. I was not.

I grew up surrounded by my father’s extended family and customers from my grandfather’s store. This young marriage was a lonely and static life with little conversation and less stimulation.  Soap operas became my best friends, and I slogged through many depressing afternoons gazing at perfectly cleaned houses and even more perfectly groomed women.  Mornings were spent feeding Phillip, Jr., cleaning my house – daily – and dressing.  Who needs to clean their house daily?  I could take a walk with the Phillip, Jr. in the stroller, but few women were available to offer me comfort or conversation or to teach me how to be a young wife and mother. Many of those women worked, and those who didn’t had their own lives and friends.  I wasn’t willing to reveal my inadequacies.

Finally, I made friends with Joan, a back door neighbor who incessantly looked at me with terribly sad eyes.  I couldn’t understand why she felt so sorry for me, and it was years before I discovered her sadness was for her own pain and loneliness with her distant and unresponsive husband.  After months of getting to know each other, we were finally able to commiserate about our shared unhappiness, but it took a long time to develop that trust.  Once she became a close friend, she also became one of my closest allies, and in fact was my witness in court when it was time for me to dump Phillip.  I’m not sure she ever forgave me for that.

I lasted four years in this marriage.  I look back at the woman in that life and I don’t recognize her at all.  I see the pictures of a quickly aged twenty to twenty-four year old.  I don’t know where she came from, or where she went after it was over.  But she continues to be an enigma to me.  In many ways, I felt that she was one of the several personalities that reside inside of me.  The personality with the least amount of self-esteem, the neediest one who traded in everything she believed in for what appeared to be a support system.  Someone else’s support system.  I have never regretted her demise, although I have thought that there were parts of her that offered some tenderness and vulnerability that I could likely use.  However, I believe that she brought me through an extremely difficult time and was terribly wounded in the process.  The important parts of her were lost for many years.  Lost to the more brittle and cynical sides of my personality.  I have endeavored to discover the better parts of her – of me – and bring them back to life in way that I can cherish.  I still struggle with that.

In the third year of this awful marriage, my second son was born.  He was the antithesis of his brother.  We expected a girl.  I thought the reason was that my pregnancies were so different, but now I think it was simply because I so desperately wanted to have a collaborator.  I didn’t want more men to control me. Foolishly, I felt that a little girl would be on my side.  I don’t know what side that was now.  But it felt necessary, and the discovery at his birth that the new baby, Bobby, was male threw me into a deep depression that lasted for months.  I didn’t learn for many years that this was likely also post-partum depression, the baby blues, and that I probably could have received some much needed help.  But I didn’t, I struggled along with no preparation for motherhood, less preparation for being a wife, and knowing that I was sinking ever so slowly into the abyss of a difficult and male-dominated marriage, and that the person I strove to be was not in any way related to who I really was.  The effort to get up on some days took all my energy, and I wept through many afternoons.

The marriage itself had taken a deep dive during my second pregnancy, and by the time of Bobby’s birth, my husband was spending most of his evenings drinking, playing cards, and partying.  On one occasion, I showed up at the bar where he had gone for his usual Saturday night binge, and was quickly and frantically escorted out to my car, while he angrily explained that I should be home with the children.  I meekly left without considering why he shouldn’t also be home with his children.  Years later, I began to wonder who he was meeting there and where she had hidden while I was walking into the bar.  Even after the divorce, no one came forward to tell me that he had been involved with other women.  But a week after we separated, he moved in with a big haired blonde woman who owned a great sports car, and even I was smart enough to know that a relationship like that rarely develops enough in one week to be a living arrangement. The marriage ended long before he left our home.

Because I was still frightened of how he could hurt me, I remained quiet about my depression after our separation and entered my first therapy.  When Phillip found out, he accused me of being crazy.  I think it was then that I finally found my voice, and I assured him that indeed I was crazy.  Because I had lived with him for four years, I was completely loopy.  I allowed the hatred and anger to surface, and I found that I could say things to him that I had only imagined a few weeks before.  I became angry and bitter, and lashed out at him every chance I got.  It took me year to stop cursing him out every chance I got.  After six weeks of therapy, I convinced my therapist that I was cured, and I left the mental health department knowing that I had a long way to go to be mentally and emotionally healthy.  But it was my first effort at becoming healthy.  Little did I know how many years it would take.

Build Your Support Base

Life can give you a lot of lemons.  Lemon crops tend to harvest themselves sometimes in one season.  I think we refer to this often as Murphy’s Law.  When the lemons come, and the proverbial lemonade does not follow, life becomes a little more bearable if you have a strong support system – people around you who will pick you up, dust off your hurt feelings, and urge you to keep going.  This personalized system can be an organization, your family, your spiritual home, your friends – when tough times arrive, your base needs to be in place.  You will survive it stronger and with more compassion if you have taken the earlier steps to make sure you have that system and there are people on which you can rely.

I am blessed with much when it comes to people who step up and support me.  This support exists because I have taken the role of being a non-judgmental friend, family member, wife, sister, daughter, and participant.  I have two sisters who step up for me and offer me ideas, suggestions, and compassionate perspective any time I ask.  I have spent a lot of time and effort (good effort) on being there for my older sister.  I have not done as good a job with the younger, a situation I am working on changing. I have two brothers who can say the kindest things to me.   I have three close friends who have been part of my life for many years, and we have taken turns being there for each other when life distresses with parents and children have almost torn us apart.  I have a new group of girlfriends I intentionally created to have an even stronger net and to be part of their net.  I have become involved with my fellowship in order to be a giver to those who need immediate care including a hot meal and a few words of comfort.  I have a spouse who listens and supports, an experienced and kind therapist who offers me objective advice when I feel that those who love me might not be so objective.  I have a minister/friend who loves us all through thick and thin, and understands that his flock does the best that they can in almost all circumstances.

“To those who are given much, much is expected.”  I think that one is often credited to Rose Kennedy.  I have been given much, and I do my daily best to return it in kind.  This does take conscious effort on my part.  Not everyone has the time or the resources to complete this kind of action.  Not everyone wants to.  I do this not out of altruism – I do wish it was.  I do it because I need the love and support from those in my circle of influence who have been through so much themselves, and who are willing to get my back when I feel that the troubles of my life are pulling me under.

I offer this blog to you because you, too, can create such a support system.  It begins with one person at a time.  One written card at a time.  One phone call at a time.  One shared meal at a time.  Build your community to be there to offer you love and compassion when you most need it.  Do it intentionally.  Live your life intentionally.  Love your friends and family intentionally.  The return on investment will make it so worthwhile.

Writing…errr, ummm, not writing

I’ve been more in a reading mode.  If I read, I can think about what others have thought of instead of being inside of my head.  I think that’s safer for me now.  I just finished Anna Quindlen’s newest novel, every last one.  A tragically sad novel that ends with a tiny thread of hope.  Another excellently written novel.  But in reading the interview with Ms. Quindlen at the end, I related so strongly to her own style of writing, in which she states, “I would say my most pronounced writing habit is trying not to write.”  I so get it.

I am fully aware that writing is such a huge part of who I am, that when I don’t for days  on end, a part of me tends to begin fading away.  Kind of like Alice when she was disappearing.  Or the cat.  I’m not even a fan of Alice in Wonderland.  Too many strange comings and goings there.

I’m a writer.  Lately, I’ve tried hard not to write.  What’s up with that?  I could stop several times a day and just write my thoughts and feelings, and it would be like lancing a wound.  Ugly metaphor, but sometimes metaphors are.  So I’m getting back on the bandwagon (Have you noticed lately how many people begin their answers with ‘so’?).  Short stories, columns, editorials.  Time to get the words outta my head and on the page.  Time to fight our habit, Anna.

A Perfect Pocketbook

Is it really that difficult?  Can no one out there create the perfect pocketbook?  Or at least, set up a design service so that you can pick and choose what you want?  Is my perfect your albatross?

First, I don’t want it to be so big I am lugging a suitcase but so small I feel like I’m 6.  I need organization.  Pockets that withstand constant use.  A pocket for my phone, a pocket for pens that will keep them in the pocket, a pocket for keys, a pocket for assundry other stuff.  Its a “pocket” book, for god’s sake.  Okay, some of you call it a purse, but that always sounds so – ummmmm – old to me. My grandmother had a purse.  Okay, she had a purse when she was my age, but it didn’t look like a pocketbook.  Maybe a pocket for my future IPad.  And one for my date book, which I won’t need once I have an Ipad.

I need structure.  One that won’t simply collapse on the floor when I set it down.  Not a box exactly, but a firm bottom. Isn’t that what we all want?

I need one that is organized.  If everything falls to the middle in the ever-yawning hole of even the smallest pocketbook, that does me no good.  I can spend what feels like 20 minutes searching in a small pocket book for a set of 5 keys.  That is absurd!

I need a makeup area.  Finding my compact in the midst of an extremely oily moment can take hours.

I don’t want a lot of bells and whistles.  I don’t want a pocketbook that screams “look at me”.  I want one that says “Here I am and I didn’t spend my monthly grocery money on it to be here” look.  No shiny coral colored alligator.  Where are those alligators, anyway?

An elegant, organized, structured pocketbook with plenty of pockets that make sense and hold up.  In an elegant color that won’t make me look like a teenager-wanna-be (what???).  In an elegant reasonable price which will allow me to buy two if I’m smart enough and can afford it so that I don’t beat the same on up everyday.

Is there no one out there with such a purse?

See your path in front of you ~

During one of my earliest trips to Hilton Head Island, I spotted a woman on a bike.  She was wearing a yellow bikingtop and heather grey biking shorts.  Her socks were bright white, but I don’t recall her the color of her shoes.  Black, maybe.  She had a luxurious long grey pigtail down her back.  Tanned and fit, I guessed that she was in her 60’s.

I have maintained that image ever since then.  Perhaps 18 years ago.  I saw what I wanted to be physically at that age. I wanted to be fit.  I wanted to be biking.  A fit and strong woman riding her bike on a beautiful day in a lovely environment inspired me without having seen her face nor heard her voice.  Although I have lost my fascination with Hilton Head (another stoplight??), I have not lost my love of biking.  At some point in my life, I decided that if I took good care of my legs, they would take good care of me.  Even with the feet problems I endure, my legs are strong and vital.

I believe that if you see it ahead of you, you can get there.  If you can imagine it, you can attain it.  If you believe it, then “it” will become real for you.  The universe hears and responds.  I believe that I can stay fit for the remainder of my life.  The amount of miles I can ride may change from year to year, but that hasn’t yet been the case.  I rode 14 miles yesterday, and plan 20 today.  I’m 56 years old.

This is what I find curious.  I see women who apparently spend time and money on hair and nails.  They are completely finished with color and sparkle on the outside of their bodies.  But they are 30 lbs overweight.  Or 50.  I have to wonder if they took those hours which they spend on hair and nails – or a portion thereof – and applied them to walking, or Pilates, or biking, how much better could they improve their lives and their health?  How much better would they look with the glow of regular exercise?

Start slow.  Start small.  But start.  Walk to the mailbox, walk around the block, go to the park with your dog, walk. Walk.  Walk.  Cut down slightly on portions.  Notice eating habits after 9 PM or 8 PM or whenever you realize that eating is just about a habit or emotional need.  Give your body the attention you offer your hair or nails.  I think that the delight you will see and the health you will create will add great satisfaction to those lovely nails and that gorgeous hair.  You don’t have to be an athlete.  You simply have to decide what you want to be in 10 years.  Or 20.  Look ahead, find that image that inspires you – a realistic magazine photo, a picture of you in a fit condition, a cartoon – find something that inspires you.  And go get it.

Dang, this is not what this post was supposed to be about.  I’m going to get my nails done.

The Loss of a Great Lady

On Saturday afternoon, I attended the memorial of Jean Howorth.  The service was a combination of solemnity and celebration as family members and friends recalled what a loving woman she was.  We danced at the end – a large circle of people who held hands and sang or hummed the song. 

Jean was 90 years old.  She had suffered the loss of 7 inches of height due to arthritis, and in November, she had surgery for cancer.  I don’t know what kind, nor do I think it matters.  What Jean also had was an irrepressible spirit.  When she attended the Fellowship (GUUF), she was dressed to the teeth.  Makeup, jewelry, fashionable clothing.  At least as fashionable as one can be at 89 years of age with a walker and at last, a wheel chair.   For her memorial, she asked that her jewelry be laid out on a table and that anyone who would like a piece, to take it and wear it in memory of her.  I have bronze and brown pearls.  They aren’t real.  Yet they are so real.

When I began coming to this group over two years ago, she reached out to me.  The headstrong 55-year-old woman coming alone to find a spiritual home that would fit.  Or fit better.  Any fit at all would be better than what I had experienced.  She held her hands out to me, and told me what a lovely smile I had.  That she liked my words when I felt like sharing with the group. 

Jean had an aura that surrounded her.  An aura of compassion and love and interest in her fellow traveler.  When asked how she felt, she replied something like, “Except for the fact that my feet don’t work, I feel sensational.”  I’m paraphrasing but not by much. 

I’m struggling through some life issues now that I have because I’m healthy and alive.  I want to me more like Jean – to embrace the world because it is beautiful.  To think in terms of gratitude and not lack.  To be able to say, “I’m sensational.”  I don’t want to fake it, but I want to seek it.

Here’s to you, Jean.  You were truly an inspirational woman – beautiful, intelligent, curious, strong even in physical weakness, capable of teaching me every day living cues.  I will miss you.  I didn’t know you very long, but I cared for you deeply.  Wait, and we’ll talk when I get there.