Drowning In Extremes

I want to talk about life’s ups and downs.

About extremes and trying to find the middle ground.

A wonderful week in Florida; two magical weeks in Prague.

Then I come home.

Husband laid out, on oxycodone,

After work accident led to surgery.

A new kitchen floor installed.

Refrigerator and dining table in living room.

Washer, dryer, dishwasher in driveway.

No hot water in kitchen sink.

Piles of dishes.

Lugging hot water from downstairs bath in pitchers.

Piles of laundry.

Dragging baskets to parents’ houses.

Husband in tears from pain; his boss whines,

“I’m losing money without him. I’m so stressed I need a massage.”

Then just as things are looking up, it happens.

Mother-in-law has a heart attack.

Survives five bypasses, only to end up with blood clot and paralyzed legs.

Emergency surgery doesn’t save her.

Funeral plans. Countless phone calls to relatives.

Final viewing. Burial.

Father-in-law’s blood sugar plummets.

Picked up by the PD for erratic driving.

Rushed to hospital.

Okay for now.

Then,

Two co-workers announce they have new jobs.

Boss is leaving for China.

Work follows me on my so-called vacation.

Thanks to invention of Smartphone.

Is there enough wine in the universe to help me forget?

Will this, too, really pass?

They say when it rains, it pours.

It is pouring.

But I am alive.

I am healthy.

I am free?

Still, I wonder,

Is there always a price to pay

For joy,

For love,

For beauty,

And the desire to be free?

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Remember To Be Happy

As you move through your busy day, your busy life, everything a blur, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, all running into each other, time passing, losing time, wondering where the time has gone, please, please, please, remember to be happy.

Hallways

Strange things happen in hallways. Beautiful things. Painful things.

This morning when I arrived at my office building, I saw a student crying into her cell phone in the hallway.  Another student, whom I knew, was comforting her. Since I knew the crying woman was in good hands, I passed by without saying a word, nodded to the woman I knew, and climbed another flight of stairs. When I reached the third floor, I saw a colleague hovering in the hallway. He’s not someone I know well, him being a VIP and me being a lowly in the trenches gal. But he seemed to be waiting for me. He knew I saw her, too.

“There’s a girl crying downstairs.”

I nodded. “I know the student she’s with. She’s in good hands.”

“She’ll be okay?”

“Yes.”

We went our separate ways. Later that day, in the hallway on the second floor, I saw a man who looked to be in his late sixties. He was dressed in a suit, wandering around,  lost. I wanted to ignore him, but I couldn’t.

“Can I help you find something?”

“Yes,” he said. “I need to speak to an advisor. My daughter was admitted here, but she couldn’t make the Open House. I’m on my way to visit her at prep school. I thought I’d stop by and talk to someone about your Learning Communities.”

The only prep school I knew of in the area was about an hour away, exclusive, expensive. He looked quite old to have a daughter who was a high school senior. We made small talk while I walked him to the appropriate office.  When we arrived, he shook my hand, thanked me for my help. We went our separate ways.

As I was preparing to leave work that same day, I left my office suite to get a glass of water from the fountain. A young man was seated at a table in the hallway, looking at his laptop and wiping his eyes with a paper towel. It took me a moment to realize that he was crying. It’s so seldom one sees men cry. I hesitated, but in the end I knew I couldn’t just walk by and ignore him.

“Are you okay? Can I help?”

“My friend just died.”

He went on to explain that it was a girl he’d grown up with.  He showed me her photo on Facebook. She was smiling, and so young. Her beautiful soul radiated out of the computer screen. She wore a silky scarf over her head.

“She had cancer?” I asked.

He nodded.

I placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to talk? My office is right over there.”

He shook his head. “No, thank you. She’d be mad if she saw me crying.”

We spoke for another minute, then I left him alone with his grief.

What is a hallway but a passage from one place to the next?

Husbands and wives, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters pass each other in hallways without saying a word.

When I was a child, after my parents divorced and I had teenaged babysitters all the time, the neighborhood kids used to come over and play hide and seek in my house at night. With all the lights out, no one ever found me when I climbed up the hallway walls, one foot and one hand on each wall, until I was near the ceiling. In that same house, I used to have dreams that I was flying down the hallway, about a foot off the ground, and I could see everything that was happening, and that had ever happened, in that house.

The next time you’re in a hallway, stop, look around, and feel.

The Quest For A Good Night’s Sleep

snoreMy husband snores. Badly. Eruptive, thundering refrains that torment me throughout the night. Worse are the periods of silence, during which he stops breathing, followed by violent, gasping-for-air inhalations that startle me awake – if I’m able to fall asleep in the first place – and have me fearing for his life.

Then there’s the matter of our mattress. It’s the absolute pits, as in it belongs in a pit. We’ve never had good luck with mattresses. Once we slept on the most comfortable mattress for two nights at an inn, bought the exact model, and that’s the one we currently own. We went so far as to have a mattress custom made once, and even that turned out awful.

Between these two things, I’m in the midst of a sleep crisis. Constant exhaustion. Eyes with perpetual dark circles under them. I’d go so far as to say that I feel like a zombie, but I’m pretty sure zombies don’t feel things, like aching shoulders, sore backs, and stiff necks.

This is no way to live. I love my husband, but enough is enough. And that mattress has to go. At my age, I need beauty sleep more than ever.

My husband’s sleep apnea was diagnosed when he spent the night at a sleep clinic. They recommended a CPAP, but he tore it off, claimed it made him feel like he was suffocating. He left the clinic and never looked back, and so his snoring continues. It is ruining our health, our quality of life, and our sofa. Most nights, he starts off in our bed, but after being elbowed several times by moi, listening to my grumbles of, “Will you shut the hell up?” and outright, “Please go sleep on the sofa”, he usually heads downstairs.

Part of me feels sorry for this, but mostly I’m too relieved he’s gone to care.

Then there’s the mattress. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I had it to myself and still woke up tired and sore. We have attempted some mattress shopping recently, but with so many choices, how does one decide? Yesterday, it seemed we’d found the perfect solution; two extra-long twin gel foam mattresses (pushed together to look like a king-sized bed) with separate adjustable frames that can be fitted to our individual bodies. The salesman suggested that being able to raise his upper body might help my husband snore less.

The mattress felt comfy and I almost fell asleep right there in the store while testing it out. Not wanting to rush into a purchase, however, we thanked the brilliant salesman and went home to do our research. The mattress reviews were mostly positive, but the adjustable bed frame reviews were bad.

Other models with rave reviews cost up to three times more. While a good night’s sleep is priceless, and I’d be glad to invest in a high quality adjustable bed frame if it means a great night’s sleep, past experience has taught me there are no guarantees – in life, in mattresses, or in my husband not snoring if we purchase a new bed.

So what to do?

I’m considering separate bedrooms (gasp!). Most articles say it can be good for a marriage because both spouses are sleeping well and have their own space. Even sex can be better because you have more energy and it’s kind of fun going off into one bedroom or the other. More couples want to do it, but are worried about the stigma. One lone article said that sleeping separately is awful for a marriage and a sign of poor communication. Does the author not realize that when you’re chronically exhausted, communication is whittled down to grunts?

Something’s got to give. We both need sleep. I’m thinking of taking a chance and getting the twin mattresses and adjustable frames, despite the reviews. Maybe we can also do separate bedrooms on weeknights, when having to function at work the next day is critical, and sleep together on weekends. Kind of like a slumber party, only better.

But I worry, will we be setting a poor example for our children? Will they think we don’t love each other anymore? Will we grow apart? Do I even care about all this as long as I’m getting a good night’s sleep?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on snoring, mattresses, and spouses sleeping apart!

Land That I Love

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One of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen is that of Lady Liberty from the ferry that transports passengers from New York City’s Battery Park to Liberty and Ellis Islands. This is the place where my great-grandparents and my paternal grandfather came to the U.S. in the early 1900s from Europe, immigrants in search of opportunity. Some of their names are engraved on the wall at Ellis Island. I wish I could talk to them now, ask how it felt when first they laid eyes on Lady Liberty after a long journey across the Atlantic. Were they fearful? Hopeful? Relieved? Homesick? Did they cry, too, when they saw her?

Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

this-too-shall-passMaybe it was my new header photo, taken in Jamaica by one of my students, that inspired me to recall the Bob Marley song, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright. The lyrics popped into my mind yesterday while I sat at the kitchen table paying bills. Outside, dark clouds covered the sky and nearly two feet of snow covered the ground. I should have been depressed, but I felt hopeful.

For a long time, I’ve felt rather hopeless and stuck. I won’t bore you as to why, but suffice to say that if there is a purgatory on earth, it seemed I was in it. Then on this dreary day, hope and Bob Marley’s lyrics filled me. The sense that I was reaching the end of a dark period has been slowly infiltrating my psyche of late, and in that moment I felt the light at the end of the tunnel beckoning me. I am embracing this light with open arms and resolve that I am worthy of it. This last is important because if we don’t feel worthy of something, we are far less likely to get it.

We all go through mini, and sometimes extended, purgatories, stuck and dark periods from which we can’t seem to escape. Maybe they are needed to process trauma or grief. Maybe they are an incubation period for new growth. Maybe they exist so we can appreciate the beauty of life when the light returns.

If you’re feeling stuck and/or hopeless right now, take heart: This, too, shall pass. The light will return in your life and everything will be all right. If you don’t believe me, take Bob Marley’s word for it.

How can anyone not feel happy listening to this song? Thank you, Mr. Marley, for sharing your beautiful spirit with the world through your music.

Walking In The Woods Alone, Sort Of

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I’ve heard it said that walking through a pine forest helps clear our negative energy.

If a woman screams in a forest, and there is no one there to hear her, does she make a sound?

There’s a beautiful stretch of woods adjacent to my father-in-law’s tree farm that my husband and I like to walk through. It’s mostly town-owned private property that leads to a reservoir. In 26 years, I have never walked these woods alone. I’m too afraid a bear, coyote or human predator will kill me. Yesterday, however, my husband wasn’t in the mood to go and I, feeling reckless,  decided to walk alone.

My father-in-law, as usual, was up at the farm sitting in his car when I drove up. He likes to do that in winter, and will sometimes sit there for hours. I guess he’s watching over the place, since no one lives in the old, uninhabitable house anymore, though an occasional bum likes to trespass. I chatted with him for a few minutes, then set off in the woods, taking the walking stick I leave leaning against a tree with me.

farm

The farmhouse that has been in my husband’s family since the mid-1800s.

I’d been walking for about a minute when a man in a turquoise blue running suit came charging toward me on the trail. He looked to be in his early 30s, dark hair, olive skin, a complete stranger. For a moment, I panicked. I had walked these woods at least a hundred times with my husband and had rarely seen another person. How had he bypassed the no trespassing signs and limited access? Could my father-in-law see him through the leafless trees? Should I turn and run back to the farm?

He ran by me without saying a word. I kept walking. At one point, I turned and looked back. He had stopped short of the farm’s driveway. It kind of looked like he was getting ready to run back my way. Again, I panicked. Should I run to the safety of my father-in-law? Stop it, I told myself. How are you ever going to conquer your fear of walking in the woods alone if some guy in a turquoise running suit is making you paranoid? He’s probably some harmless dude trying to get exercise.

I kept going, back straight, head high, stick in one hand, phone in the other. I called my husband. He didn’t answer, so I couldn’t tell him that he’d been wrong, that I wasn’t safe in these woods alone, that some strange man was running loose in them. I kept going, occasionally checking behind me for a flash of turquoise.

I continued on, past the reservoir, down the steep hill, and through the trail that led to a pond. I stopped at the pond and took a couple of photos with my IPhone. That’s when I saw the deer, a herd of six. They saw me too, stopped, ran a little ways, stopped again as I started walking, and then took off in the opposite direction. It occurred to me that I knew how they felt – unsafe, like at any moment a predator might attack. Poor, beautiful, hunted deer.

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If you look closely, you can see a couple of the deer.

With the pond behind me, I started on a trail that led back to the farm. On the right was a hill that looked like the perfect place to stage an ambush. Alert again, I took off my hood because it limited my line of vision. This action made me think how my husband never wears a hood when we walk in the woods, no matter how cold it is. I’ll pull it up over his head and within a minute, he takes it off. Was he maybe on alert when he did this, trying to protect his family?

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Ambush?

I couldn’t help but wonder if the man in the turquoise running suit was lying in wait for me, either over the hill or around the bend. I thought long and hard about this, and realized I wasn’t afraid anymore. If he was waiting, I’d be ready for him. Which turned out to be a good thing because sure enough, when I rounded the bend, there he was, running toward me. I didn’t panic this time. Progress! He ran by me, again without saying a word, which really was rude. I mean, how do you run right by someone in the middle of the woods and not even acknowledge her?

Soon I reached the clearing that led to the farm. I laid my walking stick against the tree and glanced about for my father-in-law, who was no longer sitting in his car. I figured he must have gone into the garage to warm up by the wood stove. I thought to go in and tell him about the man, but decided to leave instead.  I got into my car, feeling strangely empowered. I’d done it. I’d conquered my fear of walking in the woods alone, with a strange man running around in them no less.

We can overcome our fears by taking one giant leap or we can do so by taking smaller steps that slowly embolden us over time. For now, I choose the latter.

eleanor-roosevelt-quote

I don’t know about everyday, but I think I can handle once a week.