Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mountain Climbing

Everyone faces challenges in life.  Although you can easily feel like you're all alone in the midst of a challenge, it's almost a surety that others are facing the same struggle at the same time, and sharing that overwhelming sense of despair, loneliness, worry, and frustration with you.  Over the course of the past several months, it has seemed that the people closest to me have been charged with an unusually severe lot of life's challenges.  As I've observed my friends and family take on these "mountains", I've found myself analyzing how it is that they've chosen their particular paths up the mountain.  I know...stop it, Jen.  

But every one of my family and friends in their specific situations has in many ways been training to meet the valleys of these mountains and take on these climbs.  They probably don't always realize it, but the smaller struggles that they've encountered in life up until this point have prepared them (in many ways) for what they're up against now.  More than likely, these mountains will one day look small in comparison with the next mountain range with which they'll find themselves face to face.

Here's an example - my ex - let's call him "Anthony".  Still a good friend, we've maintained contact since our split a little over two years ago.  When he and I were together, Anthony was rather distant from his family, and he preferred to keep that distance.  I, however, have a strong familial bond with my big, fat, Greek family, and they seem to be constantly in my business or me in theirs.  Through the years that I spent as half of the couple "Jen & Anthony," I showed him the value of keeping family close, relying on them and supporting them when necessary, and I like to think he caught on to some of that, and grew closer to his own family as a result.  When I was diagnosed with cancer in September 2010, Anthony and I were living together.  I knew my world was about to rapidly change, whether I wanted it to or not.  I thought then that even though Anthony and I had our issues, he was my best friend, and when the shit hit the fan, he would come through for me and be there for me 100%.  I thought that I had done such a good job of welcoming and incorporating him into my family, that he would follow-through as I'd expect one of my own family to do in a time of need.  But when I got that life-changing diagnosis, I learned that I was wrong about Anthony.  He didn't know how to be there for me and support me through that.  He reverted back to how he knew to stay safe in a family - by keeping his distance.  And he lost me.
Anthony's younger brother was in an accident this past fall.  Let's call his brother "Paul".  In his early twenties, Paul could have died; he could've been permanently brain-damaged; he could've been paralyzed for the rest of his life.  Anthony and his family were devastated.  Anthony could have hidden his feelings and detached himself from the situation and carried on with life as he knew it.  Paul was living in another state, and they saw each other rarely (holidays and other special occasions).  Instead, Anthony showed up at sunrise; he changed his life to fit with Paul's changing life; he started to climb full-speed up that mountain; he knew and feared the possibility that if he didn't start climbing, Paul would fall off his mountain and out of Anthony's life forever.

Maybe his sense of loss over our romance and depth of friendship was his prep-work for what would happen with Paul.  Anthony said to me recently over a bottle of wine, "I want to be there for him the way I wasn't there for you."  The fact is, he's kicking that mountain's butt now, and I'm proud of him for even taking it on in the first place.

When I think of the mountains I've personally had to climb in life, there has always been an adjacent challenge that came first to prepare me for how to handle it better when the real mountain appeared.  I guess everything happens for a reason; and everything happens when it should, as it should.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Baker's Morning

Hot rays of sunshine crept onto my face to the point of discomfort. I slowly woke and with eyes closed I saw only blood orange light behind my lids. Alone in my queen bed, I felt warm, safe and secure, nestled into my crimson cotton sheets and fluffy white down comforter. I felt the gray and black striped cat stretch atop the bedspread, always touching me slightly so I couldn't sneak away while he slept. As I came out of my dream and into the day, I opened my clamped jaw to discover morning breath - gross.  Lying in bed, I imagined the warm refreshing shower and tooth-brushing that was to come upon dragging my dead-weight body out of bed. I dreaded being wet, but the thought of the clean feeling that it would produce enticed me to push the sheets and comforter and cat aside.

An hour later, clean and full-stomached, I began another day in my kitchen. Today's menu - devil's food cake with caramel swirl crunchy icing. Eggs, flour, sugar, cocoa, cream and love were my life's ingredients.

A Reason A Season or A Lifetime

A wise person recently shared this idea with me, and I feel compelled to pass it along:

We meet people and form relationships for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

It didn't take long for me to identify myself as the type of person who enters into every relationship with the loose expectation that it will last a lifetime.  There is no "purpose" motivating me to open my mind and heart to a friendship or romance except simply to have a friendship or a romance.  When it comes down to it, it's pretty simple and (at that stage, at least) I don't overthink it.  My initial analysis of a relationship tends to be purely intuition-based.  I have a tendency to trust people until they give me a reason not to.  I can usually tell within the first 5 minutes of meeting a person if they're someone I want to give my trust and friendship.  Once that trust is irreparably broken, the season ends.  But it was always my intention to have a lifetime.

I'm not a friend with ulterior motives; I'm just a friend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jazz Standards

I'm a music-lover.  I am a musician.  I love to listen; to play; to write.  I love it all.  It's a true passion of mine.  It's always been a part of my life, and it always will be.  As my good friend, Tiffany, and I related to one another recently, the right music at the right time can speak to the soul and bring us to tears easier and with more depth than just about anything.  It brings back memories, good and bad.  It  can pull at your heartstrings like no one and nothing else can.

If asked to select my genre of choice, ordinarily I hate to peg myself to just one, since I have an eclectic ear and enjoy all genres of music.  Here's my secret truth: my favorite is standard jazz.  I could listen to Tony Bennett, Nat King (or Natalie) Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and the like all day, every day, and never stop smiling and/or crying.  

The chords are so thick and luxe, I sometimes don't even listen to the lyrics.  But when I do, those lyrics are so soulful and real.  It's like they've taken everything I've ever felt and will ever feel and mashed it up into the sweetest, perfectly warm and smooth cup of hot chocolate you can imagine.  This stuff is unbeatable from where I sit.

It's not the pale moon that excites me,
that thrills and delights me, oh no
It's just the nearness of you


Means for Inner Peace

It's rare that I just don't feel like going for a run.  Running accomplishes so many different things for me.   While on a run, I can consciously think through problems and (sometimes) find solutions, or I can forget the problems and think about nothing, knowing that I'm doing something good for my body and mind.  Whether I'm seriously thinking or not, I remind myself during each and every run that I am strong; that I am alive; that I am a survivor.  I always feel like a superhero when I finish a run, sweat dripping from every pore, stretching out like a champion.

Growing up, I found solace playing the piano.  I could lose myself at the keys the way that I do now on a run.  Yes, I still play the piano, and I still find solace there sometimes.  I haven't replaced my old friend, baby grand, with a treadmill or open road.  But I have found it increasingly challenging to get away from the grind of everyday life to play the piano.  It seems like whenever I sit down to play, I strike a chord, and immediately, someone needs me for something.  My phone rings or I get a text that needs attention; Dad or Marie want me to do it NOW, not later; someone's favorite TV show is playing loudly in the background, drowning out my peace.  When I go for a run, there is nothing else for me to do but that; right there, right then.  Dad and Marie sure as hell aren't going to come running after me.  There are no calls or texts urgent enough that I can't handle them 60 minutes from now.  For an hour or so, I've reclaimed my peace in the world.  I can unplug and reflect on what's good and what needs some work.

Everyone needs an escape now and then.  Everyone needs a daily dose of introspection.  Without it, we melt down.