Finding grace at Trader Joe’s

I’ve never really enjoyed grocery shopping, but COVID-19 has made me approach this ordinary task like a Navy SEAL. Gone are the days of just running in to pick up something. Grocery shopping today requires strategy – and PPE. Have mask, will shop.

So, I set out yesterday morning and went through my litany. List. Check. Wipes. Check. Sanitizer. Check. Anxiety. Check. I arrived at Trader Joe’s shortly before nine. Shout out to TJ’s – they have done an excellent job of adhering to safe distancing guidelines. There are blue tape strips on the sidewalk outside the store marking the magical six feet and they have a traffic controller outside only allowing so many people in the store at once. Meanwhile, another employee is constantly sanitizing carts. Once in the store – you’ll see more blue strips, reminding you to stay in your lane.

No one looks like they’re enjoying their outing. There are plenty of awkward moves as folks try to avoid each other while snagging a beautiful avocado. Things get a little more tense when you approach the bin where the highly sought after Danish Kringle resides. Behold the Kringle, a sinfully delicious Scandinavian flat ring of pastry. Trader Joe’s Kringle even has a calendar. True story – the flavors change every quarter and the most popular one, almond, comes out after Thanksgiving. I’m grateful that the COVID-19 Kringle is raspberry – not my favorite so no reason to risk my life to grab one.

I got the essentials – Greek yogurt, hummus and wine. And maybe some more wine. I head to the checkout and find myself behind a very elderly woman. It was a warm and sunny morning, but she was wearing a teal raincoat and had a floral scarf wrapped around her head (not her face). And she was wearing sunglasses. Think Little Edie without the cats.

Her cart was full of various canned goods – beans and tuna and such. She asked the cashier to give her a running total of what she was purchasing. Yes, I had definitely picked the wrong line (per usual) and as I rolled my eyes, I surveyed an escape route. I decided a pandemic is no time to be changing lines and took a deep breath. I must remind myself to do this several times a day now.

Meanwhile, the cashier was patiently and kindly calling out the total to Edie. When the grand total was announced – something close to $60, Edie started pulling out items for the cashier to remove from her bill. Clearly, she had a budget and she was not going over it. I thought for a moment of offering to pay for the discarded items, but there was the bold blue tape reminding me to stay where I was, and I wanted to respect this woman’s space and privacy. Once she got within her budget, she pulled out a roll of paper bills from her pocket. I’m pretty sure I gasped. Paper bills! Surely that’s where COVID-19 goes camping. The sweet cashier (who was wearing gloves) never missed a beat as she counted the multiple bills and gave the woman her change.

Edie didn’t want her items bagged – she told the cashier that she had plenty of room in her trunk. Then the cashier thanked her – again, most cheerfully – and told her she hoped she would enjoy the beautiful day. I was mesmerized by her genuine benevolence to this rather eccentric woman. Surely it could have gone another way with a different cashier.

She greeted me and I took my place in front of her plexiglass shield. And then I heard my own muffled mask voice speaking to her, “You were so kind and patient with that woman. You are a lovely person.” Once it was out, there was nowhere to go. She looked at me a bit surprised, but not startled and as she started to respond to me, I could tell she was tearing up. She said, “That is such a nice thing for you to say. Thank you.” And then I teared up and we both looked at each other through our masks and the plexiglass and into each other’s eyes. And I knew that she was smiling, too. It was the most intimate moment that I’ve experienced during this wretched quarantine. It felt like the passing of the peace.

Two strangers sharing communion through the plexiglass of a pandemic.

I’m fairly certain this is how we save each other.

The myth of the ruby slippers

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors and a certified treasure to humanity, has some simple and direct advice when it comes to writing. It goes like this: “Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair.”

I’ve been writing – or pretending to write – this blog post for months and it’s high time I got my butt back in the chair, although it’s not always a bad thing to let a piece of writing sit for a bit. I’ve found it often marinates into something richer than it might have been. I guess it could also grow mold, but I’m hoping that’s not the case with this post.

My original piece was going to be a reflection on my summer sabbatical in California and the importance of place in my life. For some reason I stopped working on it in early November and well, somehow the daffodils are now in bloom. To be honest, I know the some reason was that the holiday season is a roller coaster of emotions for me (and a bazillion other people).

Me as soon as I see the first Lexus Christmas commercial.

A typical day for me during that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas is not unlike a NC weather forecast – sunny skies early, thunderstorms in the afternoon, some containing hail and heavy winds, followed by partial clearing. In short, I’m all over the place – which is where this post originated – place.

When I returned from my summer (a civilized no humidity summer) in California, I began thinking a lot about Dorothy – yeah, that young girl from Kansas. Or was it Missouri? How was she so very certain that there’s no place like home? Maybe it was those ruby slippers that fortified her resolve. Me? I’m more of an Allbirds kind of girl and when I bump my rubber heels together, well, there’s no magic.

Don’t get me wrong – I was delighted to be back with my dear wife, but it hit me when my return flight approached PTI that my connection to North Carolina becomes more tenuous each time I leave this state. It was dark as we made our descent and I could see the lights of familiar places, but I didn’t feel much different than when I landed in Atlanta on my layover. I realized that Winston Salem is a destination for me, but it doesn’t feel like home. It never has.

Home is not always in plane view.

I envied those passengers I heard talking about how good it was to be home and I tried to remember when I last had that feeling. It made me sad that I really had to think about it. I suppose I would have to go back several years ago to when my parents were still alive.

The truth is that I’ve always felt like an accidental tourist in North Carolina. I moved here in 1995 when my partner at the time was recruited for a good job opportunity. I was a Virginian for the first 39 years of my life, and I had always thought of myself as a southerner – until I arrived in the Old North State. I’ll never forget my first trip to the post office and after a brief conversation with the clerk behind the counter, he looked at me a bit suspiciously and said, “You’re not from around here.” Not a question. I felt like I was in one of those old Westerns and waited for him to say, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” He wasn’t unfriendly, but his statement surprised me and before I could respond, he asked if was from up north. I said, “Yes. Northern Virginia.” He nodded slowly and told me he thought I was from New York City. That’s exactly how he said – true story.

My first trip to a NC post office. He didn’t make my day.

That memory is harmlessly amusing and oddly affirming to me today as I ponder the nuances of home. NC is never going to be home to me no matter how long I live here. And that’s okay, because I figured out this summer that for some of us, home is more abstract than an address. Most often for me, it’s a state of mind – and heart.

I talked to Kelly, my hairdresser/therapist/dear friend about this recently. She’s married and has two young children and moved to this area in her late teens. I asked her what popped into her head when she thinks of the word home. She took her time answering and said, “Home is the place I feel most filled.” I think I startled her when I responded, quite enthusiastically, “Yes, yes, that’s it.” I’m so lucky that my hair stylist completes me.

For some of us, home is not an address or a house. It’s a space where we feel in harmony with the world. Maybe it’s not even a space – it can be a sound or a smell. The Episcopal church I grew up in had a musty woody smell when you entered the front door. I left the church for several decades as an adult and when I made my way back to a small church in Greensboro on Easter Sunday in 2007, that same smell engulfed me like a hug. I was home.

The red door of just about any Episcopal church feels like home to me. This one is All Saint’s in Greensboro, NC. Watercolor by Mike Tiddy.

And I suppose that my church here in Winston Salem is one of the physical spaces that feels most like home to me these days. And that was certainly the case this holiday season. Church was a sanctuary for me in all manner of ways.

My mother died almost twenty years ago, but I’m still stopped in my tracks when I smell Chanel No. 5. That was her perfume. The morning after she died, I walked into her closet just to breathe in that scent still lingering on some of her clothing. I felt comforted. I was home.

Tastes can feel like home, too. My father always made oyster stew for breakfast on Christmas morning. Hey, don’t judge, I’m from Virginia and we didn’t have Moravian sugar cake. The first Christmas without him, I steeled myself over the stove to try and replicate his no-recipe recipe. It must have been divine intervention, because I came pretty darn close. I remember taking a deep breath before that first taste and there it was – that familiar briny tang.

I spent some time in Charlottesville over New Year’s – a place I lived for over a decade. Several times during my stay, my heart felt full – most especially when I shared time with my friend of over three decades, Chris. She and her husband Ed live on a farm in Crozet, just outside of Charlottesville. The farm has long been the backdrop for all sorts of celebrations – including a memorable 4th of July when we almost burned the front yard down. Our bad – Ed did warn us that the grass was too dry for sparklers.

Friends since the first Reagan administration. Hoping to live long enough to see a Democrat in the White House again.

Chris and Ed were both so dear to my parents – in life and death – and it is an abiding comfort to me to have such a rich history with them. Their house feels like home. And hugging Ed reminds me of being in my father’s arms – he’s a strong but kind man like my dad and he’s okay with me crying into his warm flannel shirt. And just like my dad, he is always so happy to see me. He greeted me this time with perhaps the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. “Addy, you know we just sort of set our watches until the next time we see you.” I mean, who says that? Ed does. And then I cry.

Me after hugging Ed.

I often feel at home in nature and what a glorious gift that is. I’ve always enjoyed walking, but after the apocalypse of November 8, 2016, walking became a spiritual practice for me. Yes, it’s good exercise, but it also gets me away from the turmoil of our BREAKING NEWS world. There are just so many screaming words flying back and forth, and I for one would much rather hear the tweet of a bird over one from a president.

Budding blooms > Breaking news.

It’s taken me a long time to accept that for me, home will probably always be a moving target, a fleeting yet often visceral moment. On my best days, there are several moments when I feel at home and as Kelly said, I am filled in glorious ways.

Mary Oliver, the beloved goddess of poetry who passed away last year, exquisitely captures the feeling of home in the poem below. I read it at my best friend’s wedding several years ago outside on a warm day in May while her dog barked. It was perfect.

Coming Home

by Mary Oliver

When we are driving in the dark,
on the long road to Provincetown,
when we are weary,
when the buildings and the scrub pines lose their familiar look,
I imagine us rising from the speeding car.
I imagine us seeing everything from another place–
the top of one of the pale dunes, or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea.
And what we see is a world that cannot cherish us,
but which we cherish.
And what we see is our life moving like that
along the dark edges of everything,
headlights sweeping the blackness,
believing in a thousand fragile and unprovable things.
Looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

I’m glad Dorothy made it back to Kansas, but I’m going to just keep trying to enjoy the ride home wherever it takes me. You see, for some of us, there’s no home like place.

Chris and Ed make my heart feel home.
When a familiar view feels like home. Holidays up on the farm.

Do you hear what I hear?

the_scream-1

The Scream

“I have passed through the initial five stages of grief: Denial anger bargaining depression and acceptance. Now I am in fascination–cobra hypnosis, newly apoplectic every day by the latest. I believe I have actually keened within recent memory. At this rate, i may have a flickering tic in my eye by sundown.” ~ Anne Lamott in a recent post-election Facebook post

As usual, author Anne Lamott writes what’s in my head only it sounds almost lyrical instead of the ALL CAPS RAGE AND DESPAIR that marinates inside me these days. Oh, and my eye tic has manifested as a pain in my right arm. No, not the heart attack kind of arm pain. It hurts the most when I undo my bra. Sorry, if that’s too much information from this nasty woman. My doctor, Web MD, says that this could indicate stress in the rotator cuff muscles. My symptoms started shortly after FBI Director James Comey released his now infamous letter to Congress regarding Hillary Clinton’s damn emails 10 days before the election. Coincidence?  I think not. Case closed.

Lamott also writes about stress eating during these troubling times. I have no doubt that Weight Watchers will be inundated with an influx of chubby liberals come January. Carbs are one of our sole/soul comforts these days. If it weren’t so unbelievably frightening, it would be funny. Lamott prefers Oreos and Cheerios. I feel for her because her options are limited. She’s been in recovery for over 30 years, so wine is not a viable option for her. By the way, did you know that Aldi’s carries some decent wine? What? A friend told me – just putting it out there.

betty-white

Limiting myself to just one glass a day.

I ran into a dear and much admired colleague right after the election. I was leaving a professional function as she was pulling into the parking lot. She put her window down and we lamented together about the results and she picked up a McDonald’s cheeseburger sitting on the passenger seat next to her, took a big bite and garbled, “Look, I’m stress eating!” She’s a very petite and trim woman which made the whole thing even more amusing to me.

I’m trying to practice good self-care so I’m pretty much in a news blackout, which I guess is not really that different from the actual campaign, right? There was so little news about policies and issues. It was Reality TV at its very worst and it helped elect the least qualified presidential candidate in the history of our great nation. We were punked. Bigly. Faux news is the new news. (I just got one of those shooting pains in my shoulder.)

So I’m under a TV blackout except for every liberal’s lifeline these days. Yes, on the eighth day, God created Netflix. And it was good. And ironically, the show saving me in this post-apocalyptic election world is one about a monarchy – The Crown. If you’re reading my blog, you’re most likely watching The Crown, too, but for those in the royal dark, the series is about the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s a fascinating behind the scenes look at her marriage to Price Phillip and her relationship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. And it’s a glorious diversion from the reality of the Park Avenue president-elect only without as much gilded furniture.

the-crown

Who needs term limits?

I haven’t been able to give up social media but I’ve made my Facebook world a kinder, gentler place. And for the record, I think “unfriending” is a misnomer. We can be friends in REAL life and not be “friends” on Facebook because in real life, I might not ever know that you get your news from Breitbart or that you really think that all Muslims should be deported. Another irony – people are more their real selves behind a keyboard than in actual conversation. Social media is like HD TV – it makes all your warts and blemishes that much bigger.

And honestly, it makes it easier for me and my wife to worship with you at church if I don’t know that you supported a ticket that opposes our marriage. What I don’t know can’t hurt my heart. And spare me the “how can we ever find unity if we don’t talk about our differences” crap. Tell me what I should have said to a friend I have known since the 7th grade when she accused Michelle Obama of being a “race baiter” because she talked about the White House being built by slaves. There is no middle ground to find on scorched earth.

I haven’t slept through the night since the Cubs won the Word Series. Granted, that was a short night since the game didn’t end until after 1 AM. I’m not much for drugs but Tylenol PM has been my constant companion. But even with my version of the little blue pill, I still wake up at 2 AM and immediately start worrying about so many of the things I care about. Many – most actually – of the folks closest to me are feeling the same way and while often comforting, it can be an exhausting burden, too – trying to be present to their pain while holding my own.

My best friend from college is a chaplain in California at a large urban hospital. She is a woman and she is gay and she is Muslim. Damn, there goes my shoulder again. She’s struggling and she has to be available to everyone she encounters in her work – there can be no “others” in her day. She has observed that it is only white people who ask her if she’s okay – because she doesn’t seem “like herself”.  She’s come up with a brilliant response. She tells people that she is “soul sick”.  And there ain’t enough chicken soup in the world for this kind of sick.

I’ve been going to the movies – always a balm for me. I can highly recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fantasy is so superior to reality these days. And I just want to pinch Eddie Redmayne’s ginger cheek. Spoiler alert: Love really does trump hate in this movie.

But I made the mistake of going to Costco the other day. How can it be time for Christmas again already? The decorations made me feel disoriented – like going into a Christmas shop on the boardwalk when you’re at the beach in July. They seemed garish and out-of-place. Bell ringers are out now, too. I have plenty of valid issues regarding the Salvation Army so I’m never excited to hear those bells, but this year, the tone sounds almost ominous to me. It’s a tolling, not a ring.

A few days ago, my mourning changed to anger – white hot anger about what has happened in our country. My shift was not subtle. It came the moment I read who Trump had appointed as his chief strategist – Steve “Darkness is good” Bannon. Let’s be clear – the term “alt-right” should only ever be used with the word DELETE. Even Sarah Palin knew that if you put lipstick on a Nazi, it’s still a Nazi.

Yep. That was my tipping point. That day I signed up for the Women’s March on Washington – the Saturday following Not My President’s inauguration. Initially, I didn’t think I had it in me – to be in our nation’s capital at such a deplorable time. The last time I marched in Washington was 23 years ago for gay rights. That march changed my life in immeasurable ways. It made me feel empowered to live my life out loud. I hope this march empowers every woman, man and child there to go home and speak up for all of those that this new regime would diminish if given carte blanche. Hell, I might even burn my bra since I may not be able to clasp it anymore by then.

mockingjay

Resistance, my friends.

Jonathan Capehart, a gay black journalist, had a great piece in the Washington Post last week about the palpable fear that many of us are experiencing post-election. A fear that some of our friends – mostly white, mostly male, mostly monied – don’t feel – the fear of being targeted under the new administration. Capehart sums it up here really well: “But here’s what our well-meaning friends, especially those who have not felt the sting of discrimination or even otherness, need to understand. President-elect Trump has made promises that represent a threat to real lives and livelihoods. Some are unconstitutional. All are immoral.”

So, yeah, we others are kind of worked up over all of this. But we still enjoy your pictures of puppies.

Truth be told, it’s all Hillary’s fault that I’m going to the march. Damn her. A week after the election she honored a long-standing speaking engagement at a celebration for the Children’s Defense Fund, a cause near and dear to her broken heart. And God bless her – she showed up looking like – well, me, a few days after the election – no make up, regular going to the grocery store hair and a weary looking face. Twitterverse went wild with commentary – someone saying Hillary had “no more fucks to give” and another speculating that she was raising a middle finger to patriarchy. Whatever, I’m still with her. And it wasn’t how she looked but what she said that kicked my sorry ass.

“I know this isn’t easy, I know that over the past week, a lot of people have asked themselves whether America is the country we thought it was. The divisions laid bare by this election run deep, but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it. Our children are worth it. Believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up.”

tweet

Truth.

I don’t have super powers like Hillary but I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

So in January, I will march but what about those damn holidays before us?

Pray for peace, people, everywhere.

And pass the cookies.

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

I’m still with her and our power’s turned on.

Safety instructions

sully

 

“Brace, brace, brace.”

That phrase constitutes the critical dialogue in one of the many emotional scenes in the film Sully – the story of US Airways Flight 1549’s emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009. No spoiler alert needed, we know that all 155 passengers and crew on board survived that harrowing day in January and the incident came to be known as “The Miracle on the Hudson”.

The flight attendants called out that chilling command to passengers as the plane began its descent into the river. They kept repeating that refrain until impact in unison like holy words in a chant or prayer.

As I watched that dramatic scene unfold on screen, I became aware that the top of my shirt was wet – drenched from the steady stream of tears rolling down my face. I wasn’t even aware that I was crying but my body was apparently having a very visceral reaction to what I was seeing – the sheer power and beauty of humanity on display. Strangers helping strangers in the most dire of circumstances.

A quick aside – I have reserved a giant eye roll regarding Clint Eastwood since his asinine “empty chair” routine at the 2012 Republican Convention but damn, that old coot is still making great movies at 86.

Maybe the timing of seeing Sully was simply serendipitous for me because I was in desperate need of a good dose of humanity. I have been feeling the heaviness of the world in ways I can’t ever recall in my 60 years.

It has been a tough year for me personally, that’s true – losing my job in a maze of malevolence, searching for a new spiritual home after transitions at my church and just generally struggling with my place in the world.

The world – where do I begin? Syria, Orlando, Nice, Dallas, Charlotte, on and on. And this presidential election that has worn anyone with a semblance of a brain or a soul down to a nub. We live in a constant barrage of noise and vitriol.

Some days I feel like I’m walking around wearing that lead apron the dental hygienist puts on you when you’re having x-rays taken. I’m moving but the sound of my own heartbeat feels muted by the weight of it all.

syria

No words…

There are days I feel hopeless and then I am almost always miraculously saved by a connection with another passenger on this journey. Some of them I know – others are simply kind strangers.

Last weekend, my salvation came in some gloriously different ways. On Saturday evening, my dear wife and I attended Harvest of Hope, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Our good friend, Lori, a 20 year cancer survivor and her wife Sue, are two of the original organizers of this annual event. This year’s dinner was the 15th and final one. Lori is retiring next year and 15 seemed like a nice stopping point.

lori-cooks

My amazing friend, Lori – cancer survivor and chef extraordinaire.

About 150 people were at the dinner and near the end of the evening, all of the cancer survivors in attendance were asked to stand to be recognized. Now there’s a club none of us would choose to join. But as those 18 folks stood and everyone applauded, I suddenly felt that thin space between life and death. I thought about what those good souls and their families and loved ones had been through – the treatments, the pain and sickness, the fear and finally, the relief and peace.

And once again, I became aware of the tears running down my face. I thought about some of the people in my life that could no longer stand because of cancer – my parents and my friends, Regina and Kristel, who died earlier this year. Those survivors – most of them strangers to me – made me feel connected to the people I loved and lost.

Humanity.

“Cancer is an asshole.”

Those are the brilliant words of my friend, Jennifer, a young mother who is fighting breast cancer. She is a writer by trade and she is kicking cancer’s ass in her brilliant blog, Two Boobs, One Fight. Her words connect me to feelings I have had about life and death and everything in between. She has saved me on some of my heavy days with her courage and humor and yes, humanity.

jens-blog

Read this blog!

On Sunday, my salvation came in the form of family. Not my family of origin but a family that treats me like family and best of all, makes me feel like family. My fairy god-daughter Ella turned five and we went to her birthday party in Raleigh. We were given fair warning by her mother, my friend Sarah, that there would be approximately 20 four and five-year olds and their siblings at the celebration. We were also promised that there would be plenty of prosecco on hand so we decided to take our chances.

Sarah’s family is large – a mom, a dad, an ex-husband, a boyfriend, three children, two sisters – one with twins – and their husbands. I fell in love with her kids years ago and I still pretty much swoon when they call me “Auntie Addy”.

I had not seen them in over a year and for the life of me even I can’t explain why. I’m just going to blame it on what Queen Elizabeth would call this annus horribillis. I was a little anxious that they would be a little distant around me – they’re 9, 7 and 5. My fears were quickly put to rest when Maddie, the oldest, raced down the stairs to squeeze us when we pulled up in front of their house.

house-rules

Sarah’s rules rule.

And then we were swarmed upon by Sarah’s Big Fat (a term of endearment, they are all skinny) Family. Her two sisters greeted me like my own sister – okay, they didn’t actually cry like my sister usually does – but they were so incredibly sweet and affectionate. Everyone was so damn happy to see us and I could no longer feel that apron on my chest. I felt happy. I felt connected.

The birthday party looked like a cross between a United Nations meeting – only with very short people – and a Benetton ad. There were white kids, black kids, Asian kids, Indian kids – all kinds of kids – and it was awesome. There was a jumpy house, a balloon guy, a piñata, temporary tattoos with glitter and best of all – very limited crying.

ella-at-5

Ella is crushing 5.

Ella didn’t open her presents until after all the guests had left and it was just family. God, I had forgotten how much I love that feeling – being in that intimate circle – belonging.

The birthday girl was incredibly thoughtful with her pile of loot – carefully opening the cards first (swoon again – I love a girl who appreciates a good card) and looking very pleased with every gift – especially the s’mores maker. Right before we left to go home, we happened to end up in the kitchen alone with her and she smiled and sort of shook her little head and said, “Wow, I got so many great stuffs.”

That’s how I felt about the day, too.

After the horrific terrorist attack in Nice this past July, author Anne Lamott (yes, her again) made a raw and sprawling post on her Facebook page that I have gone back to often. Here is just a portion of it:

Remember the guys in the Bible whose friend was paralyzed, but couldn’t get in close to see Jesus preach and heal, so they carried him on a cot, climbed the roof, and lowered him down for the healing? Can a few of you band together – just for today – and carry someone to the healing? To the zen-do? To a meeting? Help a neighbor who is going under, maybe band together to haul their junk to the dump? Shop for sales for a canned food drive at the local temple or mosque? How about three anonymous good deeds?

There is no healing in pretending this bizarre violent stuff is not going on, and that there is some cute bumper sticker silver lining. (It is fine if you believe this, but for the love of God, PLEASE keep it to yourself. It will just tense us all up.) What is true is that the world has always been this way, people have always been this way, grace always bats last, it just does – and finally, when all is said and done, and the dust settles, which it does, Love is sovereign here.

There’s a scene in Sully where Captain Sullenberger corrects one of the NTSB investigators who describes the event as a crash. Sully says adamantly, “It’s not a crash. It’s a forced water landing.” Even though the situation appeared to be totally out of his control, Sully knew exactly what he was doing – trying to get those passengers and crew to safety.

Maybe that’s what we’re called to do in these heavy times – to help each other avoid the crash and navigate a safe landing – to carry each other to the healing – whatever that looks like for each of us.

This is our common prayer.

Brace, brace, brace.

Amen.

healing

 

 

A work in progress

final first birthday

That’s me partying like it’s 1957.

I’m turning 60 later this month. There, I said it.

I know what you’re thinking. “Gee, you don’t look it.”

Work with me here.

The ever wise and wicked funny Anne Lamott wrote a marvelous Facebook post last year about turning 61. She said she thought she was only 47 and then she checked the paperwork. I get it. I don’t know how I got here so fast.

Most folks have a bit of angst about such a milestone birthday and the universe has certainly conspired to humble me as I approach the Big One. Funny, I can remember when 40 was the Big One. At least I think I can remember.

Anyway, my year began with losing my job as the leader of a local AIDS service organization. Now that will do wonders for your self-esteem, especially if you are kicked to the curb as ungracefully as I was. After 11 years of heartfelt service, my office was packed up for me and delivered to my home in four FedEx boxes. Ouch.

toy box

I’ve always favored thinking outside the box.

My dear wife has a charming saying she uses in delicate situations: “Now that will hurt your feelings.” That about covers it.

Along with my job, I also temporarily lost faith in what I always thought I knew about loyalty and integrity. That was a terribly distasteful feeling but I’m grateful for the many good and kind people who reached out to remind me that these virtues are still alive and well.

I’m not sure I ever thought much about turning 60 but when I did, I guess I assumed I’d be at the peak of my career, not starting a new one. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. You see, I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer. I was 26 before I got my ears pierced, 48 before I got my first tattoo (yes, I have more than one) and 57 before I was a bride. Oh, and I was in my mid-thirties before I came out. True story, but when I did come out, I came out loud and proud.

I guess you could say that I’m the slow and steady type and I think that served me well for a very long time but there’s no getting around the reality that I feel the meter running these days. I lost two friends in January – both to cancer – and one of them was only 54. And my oldest friend on earth – we met in the 4th grade – survived a brutal battle with Stage IV tongue cancer before she turned 60 in April.

You can eye-roll a cliché like “Life is not a dress rehearsal” but it’s true. It’s show time and I plan on making the most of my second act. And now that my bleak career midwinter is behind me, most days I’m very excited about what’s next and on my very best days, I’m even grateful for this opportunity to reinvent myself at such a seasoned age.

A handful of my friends have already retired or are counting down the days but an early retirement was never in the cards for me – not too many careers in non-profit afford you that luxury. And the truth is that I don’t want to retire. Maybe if I won the lottery (which I never play) I suppose I would not work and move to the coast of Maine where I would write the next great American novel. Okay, maybe I have thought about it a few times. (Note to self: Buy lottery ticket.)

One of my favorite books, which was turned into a surprisingly good movie, is The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. It’s about a rather sullen man who writes travel guides for reluctant business travelers. Imagine Rick Steves not enjoying travel and writing his guidebooks. It’s a delightful premise for a story.accidental tourist no 2

I think I’ve had an accidental career – actually a few of them – and while I very much enjoyed each of them, I’ve never been particularly strategic with my choices. My first career was in retail management as a buyer and then division manager for a department store chain. This was when the economy was booming and the mall was the hub of civilization. “Going to the mall” was pretty much a part of everyone’s weekend vernacular. Yes, kids, there really was a time when people shopped at the mall, in the dark ages before Amazon Prime.

I loved the energy of retail – every day was different. And I loved the seasons, most especially Christmas. You can’t be in retail and survive it if you don’t get excited about the holiday season. I especially enjoyed assisting the husbands who came in on Christmas Eve looking like a deer in the headlights. You could smell the fear – they needed a gift for their wife and the clock was ticking. They were easy prey for an overpriced sale. And they were clueless. Many of them didn’t even know what size their wife wore and they always asked with desperation, “She can exchange this if she doesn’t like it, right?”

bear

Retail could be a real circus during the holidays.

There are so many women out there who have me to thank for the upgrade on their Christmas gifts in the eighties. You’re welcome.

My two stores were in Charlottesville, VA – still the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived – and I got to know a lot of my customers personally. It may sound a little Lake Wobegonish but it felt really good when Mrs. Shifflett came in to buy a dress for her daughter’s wedding and asked me for help. (Oh, you cynics. I don’t eat meat, either, but I know a good burger when I see one.)

I feel like I got to work in the Golden Age of Retail and I was fortunate when the fall came to be able to transition to a new career in fundraising. A friend of mine from retail was working for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) in Washington, DC and told me about a brand new position in planned giving. I had no idea what that even meant but I was lucky that their program was just getting off the ground and my track record as a good salesperson was enough to get me in the door.

To my utter amazement, I got the job and thoroughly enjoyed my eight years on staff there. PVA was the first time I was out at work and I was received incredibly warmly by the veterans’ community. Those guys loved me and I loved them back. God, they were funny and disarmingly optimistic. And they drank like the sailors many of them had been.

pva

Veterans Day, Arlington National Cemetery, circa 1996. So proud to be an American.

I learned so much –  about science and heart – getting to know so many wonderful people in the spinal cord injured community and I can tell you that not a day goes by that I don’t have a moment where I am intentionally grateful for my mobility. That was PVA’s gift to me.

Those good folks also kindled my patriotism in ways that have remained with me over the years. I think of my time there every Veterans Day – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

If my time at PVA taught me about sacrifice and courage, my time at my last job taught me a lot about stigma and poverty and how they are the natural enemies of HIV prevention. My position also gave me a front row seat to magnificent acts of generosity and compassion – some large ones that came with checks with lots of zeros and some small ones that came in cases of green beans from Costco. All of them mattered.

thp good times

Fighting the good fight at my last job.

It is an extraordinary thing to spend your work days with passionate people who share a vision and  my time there broke my heart wide open in remarkable ways that will inform the rest of my life. And it has ruined me for ever just working for a paycheck.

Nope, I need a side order of a mission statement, even if it’s just one of my own making.

The upside to a forced sabbatical has been the luxury of time to do a lot of pondering about my past and my future. I’ve thought a lot about my parents. Certainly losing them both just a few months apart from each other in my mid-forties was the watershed event of my life. Their deaths, or rather how I handled their deaths, changed the course of my life.

I came across a line in a book recently that stood me still. One of the characters, who has lost a son, explains that he and his wife will often not speak to each other for hours at a time because, “We’ve learned that grief can sometimes get loud, and when it does, we try not to speak over it.” I know now that I tried to escape the deafening din of my own grief in destructive ways and it cost me a great deal. I deeply hurt a few of the people who I held most dear and that can never be undone. And, of course, I hurt myself in ways that only I can fully know.

This has led me to thinking a lot about regrets and for the record, I don’t really buy it when people say they don’t have any. It’s an arrogant reflection on life. I have 1,001 small ones – that I didn’t learn to play the piano, the tragic dress I wore to my senior prom (picture Laura Ingalls in polyester organza) and my early insistence that John Edwards was not a cheater.

high school doopleganer

Me and my high school doppelgänger, 1973.

But it’s the big ones that I stumble through like thickets at 2:00 AM. I’m not ready for a full confession on those but I will say that I regret saying no more than I regret saying yes. I need to remember this.

I was actually feeling pretty good about myself at 60 until I listened to Bill Clinton’s 42 minute recitation of Hillary’s resume at the Democratic National Convention last week. As I brushed my teeth before going to bed that night, I was afraid to look in the mirror for fear of seeing the reflection of a sloth. Oh well, I still believe in a place called Hope.

final sloth

That’s me in the mirror. #ImWithHer

I’ll be in California for my actual birthday visiting my younger (damn her) sister. I couldn’t imagine not celebrating this birthday with her. I love her beyond measure and no one knows me as well and deeply as she does. We share an emotional GPS that alerts us when the other is off course in any way. It is an indomitable connection that has kept me tethered to this world in my darkest storms.

SISTERS final

Sisters, Sisters. There were never such devoted sisters.

My sister is known for her extravagance and I’m a little nervous about what she might pull out for this celebration. Sissy, if you’re reading this now, I was just kidding about the Tom Ford sunglasses. Sort of.

I didn’t want a big party. I never want a big party. And I most certainly NEVER want a surprise party. And so I will have a sushi (my fav) dinner out with my wife and my sister. The icing on my birthday cake is that my best friend from college will join us the weekend before my birthday for some revelry. She turned 60 in June and is anxious to have me join her in this new bracket so I’m approaching it like signing up for a very exclusive wine club.

dinner party

I’ve always preferred the more intimate dinner party.

She just sent me the loveliest email that might just be my wish when I blow out my candles. She wrote, “I’m hoping our time might have a magic slow quality to it.” I’m hoping the rest of my life has this quality.

It makes me happy when I just think about looking at those three beautiful faces all in one place for a few precious days.

addy and cj

Me and my best friend from college before hair products were invented, circa 1981.

Sometimes I imagine a soundtrack for my life when I’m processing things in my head.Who needs Pokemon Go when you have an overactive imagination? Lately, I’ve been hearing this Iris Dement song – My Life.  

My life, it’s half the way traveled

And still I have not found my way out of this night

My life, it’s tangled in wishes

And so many things that just never turned out right 

But I gave joy to my mother and I made my lover smile

And I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting

And I can make it seem better for a while 

It is an achingly beautiful song and if you ask me, it’s a pretty damn good resume, too.

 

final jaddy

I’m embracing 60 with joy.

 

(All photos property of Addison Ore)