Perhaps

Perhaps
By Carla Kucinski

On the last day of the year, a dense fog rolled in,
thick and hazy like a Whistler painting.
This day feels heavy,
the year’s final, long sigh—an exhale of the sorrow, the joy, the pain, the beauty.
Ahhhhh.
Tonight, I will go to sleep and lay to rest this heavy heart,
let go of the weight,
all that it has carried and endured.
Perhaps my head will be buzzing from the Moscow Mules I will sip with dear friend M,
counting down the New Year.
10, 9, 8, 7 …
Perhaps my heart will feel light like December’s first snowflakes—joyful, swirling.
Perhaps I will close my eyes and recognize that the lightness I feel is gratitude,
gratitude for it all—the darkness, the cracks of light—there is always light.
Perhaps everything has a purpose.
Perhaps next year will be easier—a break will come—
some peace will settle from the cloud of dust of 2018.
Perhaps I’m stronger than I think.
Perhaps this new year will feel like a warm blanket.
Perhaps that’s the beauty, the not knowing.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps …

***

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Photo by Carla Kucinski

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House fire

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The Downtown Mall in happier times.  Photo: visitcharlottesville.org

I have no memory of my first visit to Charlottesville. I was a baby in my mother’s arms. She would have been in Charlottesville visiting Aunt Lillian – her mother’s older sister. I would visit that home, near the Downtown Mall, many times as a child.

I grew up in Harrisonburg, VA, a small town about an hour from Charlottesville and travelling there always felt exciting – like going to a real city. There have been many trips to Charlottesville since that first one some 60 years ago, including a dozen years that I lived there beginning in the early 80’s. My father and my sister went to college there. My mother took her last breath in a hospital there. Charlottesville has always felt like a second home to me and what happened there on Saturday has broken me.

Disclaimer: This is not a political blog post. If you’ve followed me at all on any social media you most certainly are aware of my leanings. No, this is a personal post – more of a lamentation if you will. I am grieving another loss – the loss of what little innocence remained in my life. Over the past 15 years or so, I have experienced a great deal of loss – my parents, my longtime partner, and a job I dearly loved – that’s just a bit of the inventory. I’ve become comfortable with loss. No, I don’t like it but it feels familiar to me.

When you suffer such loss, you tend to cling tighter to happier times – you grip those memories with white knuckles and you don’t let go because sometimes you feel like your life – or at least your sanity – depends on it. So over the years, my memories of Charlottesville have been a virtual safe house for me. It was a place I could go in my head to feel whole and happy again. I am either blessed or cursed with a wicked memory and I can see my times in Charlottesville like a movie I’ve watched a dozen times.

I can see my dad and me on a sun-dappled October afternoon in Scott Stadium watching UVA play football. I can hear him cheering – more like yelling – and I can feel his big bear hugs after a touchdown. UVA would more often lose than win but my father, ever the eternal optimist, would always put his arm around me as we walked out of the stadium and say, “We’ll get ‘em next time, Adda.”

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Win or lose – a happy place for me and my dad.  Photo: virginiasports.com

I can see my mom at Mother’s Day brunch at the Omni Hotel, dressed so elegantly and relishing being the center of attention as she sipped – more like gulped – her champagne. Good Lord, my mother loved champagne. I can also see her take that last breath at Martha Jefferson Hospital on a blustery cold night in December. That may sound morbid to you, but I don’t intend it that way. My mother was in death as she was in life – a lady – and she exited with courage and grace and that moment is one that I will cherish until my last breath.

I can see my former partner and me at an apple festival. So many apple festivals! I’m not even that wild about apples but those festivals were such pure joy – folks out in sweaters and fleece enjoying the grand weather, eating apple everything, listening to bluegrass music. I wonder now what we possible could have worried about back then.

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A bushel of fun.  Photo: tripsavvy.com

I suppose it was a simpler time everywhere across our nation but Charlottesville is my personal frame of reference for a precious time of great contentment.

That was until Saturday. I don’t care to recap the horror that unfolded in downtown Charlottesville, not far from Aunt Lillian’s house. Heather Heyer, 32, is dead and several people are recovering from injuries. And a beautiful city has been terrorized.

I know what happened in Charlottesville on Saturday is way bigger and far more important than me. It happened to our whole country and the national grief is palpable. I feel it – you feel it. But my grief is also personal and I don’t know where to go with it.

My safe house has been burned to the ground.

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The end of the innocence.  Photo: nytimes.com

Adventure is calling …

“Let me fall if I must fall. The one I become will catch me.” 

A year ago, I purchased a black and white postcard in a bookstore in downtown Rhinebeck, N.Y. The postcard features a photograph of a woman in a dress, holding a parasol and balancing on a tightrope between two rows of hedges. The image resonated with me and felt like the perfect metaphor for my life at the time. Just weeks before, I had taken the GRE, which stands for Worst Test Ever. It was the first major step I took toward my dream of becoming a mental health counselor. That entire year felt like a balancing act, teetering between the past and the future, my grief and my healing. Many times, during that difficult year, I felt stuck in my grief, like I was sinking into a deep pool of wet, heavy mud. But when I saw that black and white postcard that afternoon, I also saw lightness in the way the woman balanced her body on the tight rope, and her gentle determination. The photograph gave me hope that I would once again find the lightness in my own body and reach the other side of the tightrope.

Well, I have reached the other side of that tightrope. Tomorrow is my first day of grad school. This journey that I embarked on a year ago is actually freaking happening. I am in shock every day that my dreams are being realized. Along the way, so many of my loved ones were cheering me on, supporting me, believing in me, confident that everything would work out. It’s also been a nerve wracking and scary experience to take on. I left my job just two weeks ago. The night before I gave my notice, I printed my resignation letter, walked into the living room, and joined my husband on the couch with the letter in my hand. I started to sob. “I am freaking out. Majorly freaking out,” I sobbed. “You should be,” he said. “It’s a huge deal.” Yes, it is a huge deal. But I never second guessed one second of this journey. The closer I got, the more I realized how much I wanted it.


Every step of the way, I was shocked and surprised when I’d make it to the next level. After I took the GRE, it was like doors just started opening for me. I applied to two nationally ranked schools and got into both. My Life Coach instructor kept telling me last year that my dream was just “three clicks away.” I laughed and told her she made it sound so easy. “Because it is,” she answered. I listened to her advice and I wrote the words “You’re just three clicks away” in black Sharpie on a post-it note tacked to my computer at home and at work. Doing that simple task made my goal seem attainable. The day that I realized that there were no more clicks, that I had arrived at my goal, I smiled as I removed the sticky note from my computer, balled it up in my hands and tossed it in the garbage.


I’ve wanted to be a counselor for a long time. It’s one of those things that I feel has always been in the back of my head. I’ve always had a heart for people and helping others. As early as grade school, I remember my girlfriends passing me notes in class, writing to me like I was an advice columnist: “Dear Carla.” They had questions about boys, friends, their parents divorcing. In high school, I volunteered a lot through the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) and spent time in psychiatric hospitals and assisted living centers singing carols, serving food or just having a friendly conversation with the residents.

By the time I was a sophomore in college, I became depressed, partly due to the stress I was under. I was a full-time student working 25 hours a week and writing for two on campus publications and in a relationship. I was overwhelmed and extremely unhappy—numb even. I don’t remember how I ended up at the counseling center at my college, but my counselor, Alice, saved me from a really difficult time in my life. The other day I was rummaging around in our guest closet when I found a piece I wrote about my struggle with depression for my Creative Non-Fiction class sophomore year. I sat down in the middle of the closet and read the entire thing. I remembered going through a tough time, but re-reading my own words made me realize how much pain I was in. I couldn’t help but cry reading it.

Since Alice, I’ve seen four counselors throughout the peaks and valleys of my life. And I can honestly say because of them, and because of the work I put into growing and learning about myself, I am the best version of myself. I believe so strongly in the power of counseling, and how it can transform lives the way that it has mine.


Last year, my heart felt called to do this work. Writing will forever and always be my first love, but I have never in my life felt so pulled to do something like this. At times, it has felt like there has been some outside force pushing me, guiding me down this path. When I would talk about my dream with my friends or family, I would start crying; that’s how badly I wanted it. After my first interview at my top choice school, I called my husband and best friend and bawled over the phone, blabbering about how I didn’t do well and feared I didn’t get in. A few days later, my acceptance letter popped up in my inbox. I was on my lunch break, casually checking my email while shoveling food in my mouth. My whole body started to tremble and I burst into tears, re-reading the letter over and over to make sure it was true. It really wasn’t a dream.

During the last two days, I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.” In chapter 5, “Bouncing Forward,” she writes about “post-traumatic growth,” positive outcomes that follow loss. I wasn’t familiar with this phrase, but as I read the chapter I began to realize that grad school is my positive outcome from my trauma. That experience, that loss, changed me forever. Months after it happened, my eyes started to open. I found myself re-examining my priorities and redefining what really matters. I longed for a job that would fulfill me and impact the lives of others. I felt a deep need to help people heal and grow.

Sandberg writes that in the past psychologists defined two possible outcomes of trauma: a person either struggled (developed PTSD, depression, anxiety), or they were resilient. But now, there is a third outcome, bouncing forward, Sandberg writes. Seeing new possibilities is one of the forms that post-traumatic growth can take. The chapter goes on to share a dozen anecdotes about people who have experienced an incredible loss, and recovered by re-imagining their life and “adding more love and beauty to the world.” That’s how I see this change in my life. More love. More beauty. A better world.

“It’s like you’re going through a portal. You can’t go back. You’re going to change. The question is how.” That’s a quote from Jeff Huber whose story is told in the chapter. He lost his wife to cancer, quit his job, and became CEO of a company that detects early cancer—despite warnings from loved ones not to make any big decisions or changes after losing his wife. Jeff’s words made me pause on the page. Last year felt exactly like walking through a portal. I came out on the other side a changed person. Now I’m using that experience to fuel my dreams and, I hope, help others who have undergone similar experiences of loss and trauma.


My department orientation was last week. I got to meet the rest of the future counselors in my cohort, and reconnect with those I met during the interview process. I was on an adrenaline rush all day. I still couldn’t believe I was there, that this was happening, that these professors saw my potential and welcomed me into this program and this profession. I can’t believe this is my life.

When I recapped the day to my husband, I told him how I had this comforting feeling the whole time that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. “I found my place,” I told him. “I found my people.” It took me 37 years to get there, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

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Coming to the mat

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My morning began today with about 50 other yogis gathered mat-to-mat in our yoga teacher’s new studio space. She opened the doors this morning to her first yoga class, and we all gathered to set positive intentions for the space.

Before we began our practice, she shared a few words about her journey to this point, and like any journey, there were a few bumps in the road. She promised not to cry, and yet couldn’t help but let a few tears fall. I felt my throat tighten as she spoke because the end and beginning of a journey can be emotional. You are saying goodbye to what was, and embracing what is. This new studio is another new beginning for her, and, also for us, her yogis, who continue to come along with her on the journey. Something has led each of us to her studio—an injury, a divorce, a death, whatever it may be—we all come to our mats for a reason, she said. Two years ago, I returned to my yoga mat after a hiatus of a few years and embarked on a journey I had never anticipated.

I came back to yoga to cultivate more peace in my life. I am inherently a stressful person, and I thought returning to yoga would help me cope better with my stress. I also came to the mat because I was trying to get pregnant, and I had read and heard from friends that yoga was a good way to support fertility. Going into it, I had no way of knowing that yoga would be a factor not only in helping me get pregnant, but also in healing from my miscarriage.

I remember my first prenatal yoga class. I was only five weeks pregnant. It was a cold January evening. I remember standing barefoot at the top of my mat and looking at all the women around me in their different stages of their pregnancies. Twelve weeks, 21 weeks, 33 weeks. Some had rounded bellies as big as a beach ball, others were just starting to show. I was both excited and scared and a bit in disbelief imagining myself where they were in their pregnancies. Even before I was pregnant, I longed for a big pregnant belly, and I would stuff clothes under my shirt and turn to the side in the mirror to reveal my bulging profile. I couldn’t wait to feel our baby growing inside of me, wear cute little maternity dresses, and eat ice cream all the time.

We stood in tree pose as we went around the room introducing ourselves—name, how many weeks, how many babies you’ve had. I remember women sharing that this was their second or third baby, and then they’d add this was their second “angel” baby or third “angel” baby. There were a lot of angel babies in that room. I never would have thought my baby would turn into an angel baby or that this would be my first and last prenatal yoga class.

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It was because of my yoga teacher, Andrea, that I stopped thinking of yoga in terms of just physical fitness, and started looking at it to nurture my mind, body and spirit.  Yoga helped me grieve, and let go of all the emotions I tried to stuff down deep inside out of fear of how they would emerge. What would it look like? What would it feel like? I shed countless tears on my mat in the year that followed. Nearly every time I got on my mat, something in me would release, and the tears would fall. In the beginning, I would be afraid to go to class because I didn’t want to cry in front of others, but Andrea made her studio feel like home, and I never felt self conscious about crying yet again in class. It became a safe place for me to be me. It hurt too much not to.

Yoga helped me face my grief and also forgive my body for what I felt like was a betrayal. In the aftermath of my miscarriage, I carried a lot of shame even though logically I knew that what happened was not my fault or anything that I could have caused or avoided. Yoga helped me connect with my body and mind and heart, and focus on the present so that I wouldn’t stay rooted in the past, crippled by my grief. Yoga helped me let go and allow. Even today, when I do yoga, I feel liberated from everything. Judgment. Sadness. Pain. Stress. Yoga opens me up and makes me feel free, like rolling down all the windows in your car and singing at the top of your lungs.

At the end of class today, before we sealed our practice with a collective chorus of “Om,” Andrea turned to all of us and said something along the lines of: “You’re home.” I smiled and thought to myself, “Yes, I am home.” This new studio is my home. Just like the previous space, this is where the journey continues, where I can be myself, let go of whatever I need to release on my mat, and know that no matter what happens in life I can always come home to my practice to ground me and remind me that I have the power to heal myself and that we’re not alone in this journey.

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What dogs and salmon can teach us about resilience

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The Angel Oak Tree in Johns Island, S.C. is estimated to be more than 400 years old. Photo by Carla Kucinski.

It’s been an unusually warm weekend for February in North Carolina. There’s an expression here: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few days and it will change. How true that is about NC’s climate, but also about life in general and the ever-changing shifts we experience in our own lives.

We opened the windows today and let in the spring-like air. What is it about opening windows that seems to help us breathe a little easier? Opening a window after weeks or months of being sealed from winter’s cold is strangely cathartic. There’s a release, a letting go that comes with such a simple action.

All weekend the sound of the chimes on our balcony have been tinkling. The sound is what I would imagine Tinker Bell would make, waving her wand and sprinkling fairy dust. The chimes are light and delicate with three small beaded Jade stones strung together and anchoring the center of the chimes. They’re so dainty that it’s rare they actually sway in the breeze and produce a sound that’s even audible. But for the last few days they’ve been constantly ringing, their sound following me as I roam throughout the house doing chores. Friends of mine from work gave them to me last year around this time actually. They came with a Bonsai tree that has sat neglected on my porch, its leaves dried and shriveled and transformed to a burgundy color. I tried in the beginning to care for it, but I was barely getting by taking care of myself during that time.

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about resilience, not just my own but of others close to me. Last year I began to understand that the bad things that happen to us almost always turn out to be gifts. The tough experiences I’ve been through taught me that. Because of those experiences and all that I had to overcome, it’s taught me how to reset and find my way back to center, my baseline, even after the worst traumas.

I thought of resilience last night as I was lying on the floor with my dog Molly. She is the toughest dog I’ve ever owned and has gone through so much in her almost 8 years of life on this earth. My husband and I were out of town for the night on Friday and got a call from the kennel in the morning that Molly’s eye was leaking some kind of green goop. By the time we had picked her up, her eye was red and swollen and she seemed to be in pain. At urgent care, they told us she had a faint scratch on her cornea, but that she’d be fine and her eye would heal on its own. Still, I felt so bad that she had to go through all of this. And now I have to squeeze ointment into her eye twice a day, but she is the best girl and trusts me to spread open her sensitive eye and squirt this stuff into her sore eye. Last night, as I held her face in my hands and kissed her snout, I told her how resilient she is and she thumped her tail in agreement. In the last five years, she’s had four surgeries—all of which were pretty extensive procedures and recoveries. She’s had two teeth extracted and also underwent emergency surgery after a stick punctured her belly while she was running through the woods. And then this past December she had a lump removed from her chest that had a smaller second growth on it that turned out to be cancerous. I guess that now makes her a cancer survivor. And yet she is still smiling, laughing, thumping her tail, handing out kisses and walking around with an inflatable doughnut around her head as if it’s the next hot thing in doggy fashion ware. My Molly is a fighter. I guess I am, too.

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My smiley girl.

I thought this past week I would certainly fall apart. It was the anniversary of my miscarriage a year ago, and leading up to it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I would feel when the day would arrive. To my surprise, I didn’t fall apart after all. There were a few tears here and there last week and a sadness underneath the regular day-to-day minutiae, but like Molly, I smiled through it for the most part. I had two social engagements with friends that I came close to bailing on, but I’m so glad I didn’t. My girlfriends Monday night were my solace, and Tuesday night at a friend’s going away party, I laughed so much my face literally hurt. I kept reminding myself of my intention for this year: choose joy. So Wednesday night I asked my husband to be spontaneous with me and get out of town for a night, and so we did. During our overnight trip to Raleigh, I didn’t care that we got stuck in traffic or that the Chinese food we had that night was terrible, I was just happy to be with Andrew.

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My girls always making me laugh. This is them in downtown Greensboro exchanging freezer meals out of the trunks of their cars. Don’t ask. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

Saturday morning, we walked to the nearest coffee shop and grabbed two wooden stools by the window that looked out to the street. It just felt good to be somewhere else. As I sat there sipping my tea and he his coffee, a young family with a dog sat on the bench outside in front of us. They were kind of a mess. The husband tried tying the dog’s leash to a pole, while the wife tried to console their toddler in the stroller who was looking pretty hangry and on the verge of a meltdown.

“That kid’s about to lose it,” my husband Andrew remarked.

We both laughed and then talked about how cute the dog was and watched him for the next 10 minutes. He was a black puppy, possibly German Shepherd, with pointy ears and one that flopped.

“I like how we’re more interested in the dog than the baby,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” Andrew answered.

A year ago, even six months ago, I would have sat in that window and started to cry seeing that family. But that moment became further proof that I really have returned to center. I really am resilient.

Salmon are regarded as one of the most resilient species. Over the span of five years, they’ll swim upstream 7,000 miles in order to return to where they began so they can reproduce and then die. Despite hurdles like waterfalls and bears that threaten their life, they still persist. Like humans, we push on when faced with adversity because we too are fighting for our lives and fighting to return “home” to ourselves.

When we came back from our trip the following day, the chimes continued to tinkle. I can still hear them now as I type this. Those chimes were a gift in the early days of my grief. They used to make me tear up when I’d hear them, especially in the beginning, but lately, they bring me a kind of peace. I’ve come back from losing what felt like everything. My journey has come full circle, and I’m finally home.