More Birthday Wisdom

Last weekend I had two interesting conversations about birthdays and age.

The first one was with my ex-husband Rob, who turned 70 earlier this month and who has notoriously and vehemently hated any mention of any birthday since he turned 19. Don’t think for one moment that he hasn’t lived life to its fullest; it’s just to him birthdays mean he’s one more year closer to death. He has always been an outdoorsman, a brilliant professor and an avid martial arts student and teacher. But over the last 5 years, he’s been plagued with health issues ranging from minor to debilitating.

The second conversation about birthdays was with my lover Lee, who turned 60 last weekend and who happened to mention that there have been many birthdays that have passed unacknowledged unless someone sent a birthday card.

Rob called me because he was looking forward to attending Lee’s surprise party but would be unable to due to his latest injury which is either a muscle pull or a hernia.  He told of upcoming vacation plans that would have to be shelved and of how the day before while putting his dogs’ bowls on the floor for breakfast, he collapsed in pain and lay on the floor for half a day until the pain was diminished enough that he could get up. HALF A DAY! I said to him that I was so sorry he was suffering so many physical ailments recently. He replied, “I don’t know why it’s such a surprise, I’m 70 and just waiting to die.” He abruptly ended our call after that.

Unbeknownst to Lee, 40 or so of his family and closest friends gathered together to wish him a Happy Birthday last weekend. He was under the absolute impression that we were attending a dear friend’s military retirement. The surprise was that we were there to celebrate his life- 60 years of laughter, love, pranks, antics and memories.  To say he was emotionally moved is trite and an understatement. Seeing ‘his whole life’ in one room was cool and reminded him how lucky he’s been in his life to have such caring and wonderful people in his life. He was genuinely grateful. And on more than one occasion he’s mentioned that he plans to live for another 30 years. I truly hope so because I plan to walk with him through each of those 30 years.

I love these two men in similar and yet different ways and I have known each of them for 27 years.  Rob’s waiting to die saddens me greatly; a light will truly go out in this world when he dies.  Lee’s planning to live another 30 years fills me joy and hope. Joy that my friend and lover will be making people laugh for a very long time and hope that we will spend those years together living a little and loving a lot.

Happy birthday to two of my favorite men; you mean more than you will ever know. I love you.

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Purple Rose (Blank Background)

Image by Law H8r via Flickr

Among the things I recently found are several boxes of old business cards with my former names listed in bold letters.  I have changed my name five times over the last thirty years, meaning that I have adopted a new moniker on average every 6 years. Oh I can see you raising your eyebrows at the sheer mathematical reality of that statement.

Today many women keep their maiden names throughout their lives regardless of the number of husbands they collect.  Despite that trend, I have happily and eagerly taken the last name of three husbands. The amount of work necessary to change over bank accounts, credit cards, school records, employment records, social security numbers, and driver license numbers never deterred me from this custom.

But the biggest surprise for most people is that I legally changed my first name and eliminated my middle name several years ago.  Born near the end of the Baby Boomer generation (1946-1966), I was given the most popular post-war name of the 1960s – Lisa. Until I changed my name, I spent my entire life answering to Lisa, even though many times, I wasn’t the Lisa being addressed. When my youngest brother married a Lisa, twice the number of Lisas in the same family meant twice the confusion.  In order to discern which Lisa was being addressed or talked about, my mother started using middle initials. If Lisa didn’t feel right to me, imagine after 40-odd years now being asked to answer to Lisa E. It was disconcerting.  Who was this stranger that was now me?

I’ve always had a fascination with names, what they mean, what their origin is, and who has changed names and why. Despite not having children, I own two name books for humans and one name book for pets; I even keep a running list of possible names for my next dog. I wanted a quirky moniker and I was tired of confusion.   It really didn’t take me long to decide on Jaz and I knew immediately that I would spell it with only one Z.

Almost everyone comments that my name is cool, unusual, and interesting. Some inquire whether my parents were flower children and given my age that’s an apt question but no, my parents were far from the hippie crowds of the 60s. My name has nothing to do with jazz music and it isn’t short for Jasmine, Jazmine,  Jazmin or any other spelling of such name.  It’s just Jaz. It’s unique and feels like who I think I am. My devoutly Catholic family has taken three marriages and three divorces in stride but was obviously bewildered by my changing my given name.  I appreciate the fact that my parents carefully and lovingly chose a name for me at my birth and I understood their displeasure and puzzlement when I changed it.  It’s been over 6 years now and my family rarely, although occasionally, reverts to my natal name.  I love them all the more for their efforts and acceptance.

Now I find myself saddled with an ex-husband’s last name that is distasteful.  It is neither a last name I’m proud of nor one with which I want to be associated.   I kept the offending name because I did not have the emotional energy to change my name everywhere when I was granted a divorce from him.  I’ve taken to omitting this last name on return addresses and other sorts of documents if not legally required.  Given my dismal record with the whole marriage thing and the decidedly strong opposition to marriage that my lover has, I doubt I’ll ever get married again.  If I’m wrong about that, I will adopt his last name in an instant.  If I’m right, the name of this rose will be Jaz, just Jaz (or Jazzy to my friends and loved ones.)

Mother’s Day

My Wonderful Mother

A few weeks ago, when I retrieved my belongings from the home I shared with my former husband, I found among the detritus of my life, a letter written to me by my mother on my first day of first grade 42 ½ years ago.  It is the only letter I know of written to me by my mother;  I don’t know when she actually gave it to me (I certainly couldn’t read it when it was written) and I don’t recall ever reading it before a few weeks ago. It is in pristine shape, as if she’d written it in the recent past.

The letter is about the closing and opening of doors from toddlerhood to childhood to womanhood and she asks that I “open doors slowly so that I may enjoy a very full and happy life.” She also tells me that “some of those doors will be happy and some of them sad. “ And that I “have to make my own decisions…but that she will be around any corner if I need and want her help…even if it’s just to talk. Love Mommie.”  The last sentence says, “Enjoy yourself.”

For most of my adult life I have opened doors quickly, sometimes without thought of consequences. Behind some of those doors have been periods of prolonged happiness and joy; many of those doors hid unbearable sorrow and pain either immediately or some time after being opened but only one was a sort of Pandora’s box unleashing evil and insanity into my life last year and yes, I opened that door too quickly seven years ago.

I saw and remember the pain etched on my mother’s face last year when she and my father and sister picked me up after being arrested, over-charged with crimes I did not commit by a husband who hoped I’d kill myself as I had wanted to do the night my marriage ultimately fell apart because in his sick mind my death would mean he could keep everything I, and we as a couple, owned; as I sobbed for the loss of a marriage that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on; and as I sat through hearing after hearing in a court system that didn’t really care that all I wanted to do that night was die and nothing that happened had anything to do with his safety.

I have paid for that mistake and am free to carry on with opening and closing doors.   At first I was gun-shy, not trusting whether I knew which doors to open and which to leave closed or to close quickly, once opened. Through it all, every turn, every success and every failure, my Mother was there. She fed me Maraschino cherries when she had to pull off a fingernail, tended to scraped knees, adopted kittens I brought home and hugged me when I cried. And last month, when the judge at my divorce hearing asked her if she thought there was any chance of reconciliation between me and the man who wished me dead, she stated without qualms or qualifications, “NOT IN THIS LIFETIME!”

Needless to say I cried when I read her letter of love and advice to me, written so long ago, when I was merely a child. It resonates with me today. I am the woman I am because of her. I didn’t always take her advice and to her credit, she didn’t give a lot of it. But what she told that little girl 42 years ago, she might well have told the woman who is her daughter just this last year.

I love you, Mommie and thank you. I am indeed happy.

A Stranger’s Birthday

Last week while in the grocery store with my sister, an elderly gentleman approached me

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Will Clayton)

as I was walking towards my empty cart from the Customer Service counter.  He held in his hands a small sheet cake, which he held out to me and asked me, “How does my cake look? Is it nice?”

It was a beautiful, simple sheet cake with multi-colored mylar ribbons in one corner. I replied, “Yes, it’s very nice. What’s the occasion?”

He stated that his daughter had bought him this cake for his 79th birthday tomorrow and she told him not to peek. We smiled at each other conspiratorially.

And then he said, “There must have been something wrong in my head when I was a teenager.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I never thought I’d live past 40 because I could not imagine what my life would be like and so I figured I’d never live that long.”

My mouth gaped open as I stared at him in utter disbelief.  I sputtered, “Me too!”

I have told countless people that same thing. I clearly remember in my teens, thinking I’d never live past 30 because in my teens I could not imagine what my life would be like past that age.  Not once has anyone I’ve ever met ever hinted at similar feelings and in fact every person I’ve told that to  looked at me in incredulous disbelief. Yet, here was this stranger, on the brink of his 79th birthday, echoing my very same thoughts at approximately the same age I had them.

His daughter approached us just then and he indicated that she was the  youngest of his three daughters.  She was staring at her receipt and didn’t make eye contact with me until I said hello.  And at that time my sister called me back over to the Customer Service counter to finish our business there.

I thought about him and his birthday frequently over the next week. I thought about a seemingly random encounter with a stranger who echoed my same thoughts, decades before I had them. What’s the meaning? I sure don’t know…but people come into our lives for a reason.  Over the past 6 years or so, I’ve kept to myself thinking that at my core I am a recluse. I’ve learned over the last year that people really do need people. That I need good, loving people in my life.  Something in my demeanor communicated openness, or his spirit recognized a kindred spirit and gave me a gift on the eve of his birthday.

No matter how it happened I am grateful to this stranger who shared 5 minutes of his life with me.  Happy Birthday and many, many more to both of us.

Wabi-Sabi

Fist Full of Sakura

Image by JapanDave via Flickr

Wabi-Sabi is the Japanese philosophy of appreciating things that are imperfect, primitive and incomplete.  The concept embraces age, rust, respect, nature, accepting the cycle of growth, decay and death and finding beauty in the simplest things because beauty is indeed everywhere if we choose to see it.

Wabi  connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance.  Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.

And so, this new chapter of my blog reflects my desire and decision to embark on a less materialistic and more simple life.  Two weeks ago, my long-awaited for divorce hearing occurred and although I long wanted to tell my side of the story, a story of a husband whose wedding vows apparently meant nothing, of emotional and verbal abuse which culminated in physical abuse, of bruises and cracked ribs, of lies and theft, of depression so deep that suicide seemed the only way out of the mess that was my life.  In the end, the decision to end the drain of money into my lawyer’s pocket and be done with he who will not be named was the right way to go.

And so, ten days ago, I retrieved from my marital home, the possessions we both agreed I could have.  I had an army of people who gave not only physical help with moving but emotional support as well. Thus began the unpacking of my stuff, accumulated over the last 30 years of my life.  There is a sense of letting go and of coming home all at once in this unpacking.  I have found things that hold more meaning to me today than they ever did previously and I have found things that no longer hold any meaning and will be given away or sold.

And whereas, previously, I would have wanted to refinish and repaint and repair those things that are scratched or cracked or broken, I now see beauty in their imperfection as well as in my own imperfection.  I will continue to grow into this new person, the person I always wanted to be, with new-found knowledge and insight about what is really important in life. I will live a little but I will love a lot. And therein lies the only things that makes life meaningful: simple beauty, deep love, spiritual oneness with our surroundings.

Namaste.

Endings….& Beginnings

Yesterday was the end of a year filled with endings.  The end of a marriage that in retrospect wasn’t worth the paper and time I spent on it. The end of a business I loved and was good at.  The end of a corporate career I was good at but burned out on.  The end of competing with my dogs in a sport we loved.  The end of fake friendships with people who couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to supporting me at the worst and most needy, lonely time of my life.  The endings were painful and I felt adrift, lost, scared and often desperate to hold on to the only life I knew while simultaneously pondering and planning how to end that very same life because I couldn’t figure out and didn’t know how to live through such betrayal from my ex-husband.

Oddly enough, I spent the last 32 hours in bed, dizzy, nauseous, and sleeping after I cried the last tears I will ever cry for the losses and events of the last year.  There are many people who think they know what happened a year ago and believe the worst lies because that is human nature… to crave and enjoy the drama and mistakes of others and to revel in the mud and crap of someone else’s misery. They are shallow people not worth the time it takes to try to correct their misguided beliefs. Many of those people seemed supportive in the beginning but after a few months chose to believe the confabulations of the mentally ill man who was my husband. The man who tortured me in ways only a narcissistic evil man can do.  His last words to me were “I can do whatever I want to you and you cannot stop me.”

He tried his best but in the end all he did was to show me what a liar and a thief he really is and to allow me to escape a brutally abusive relationship and toxic way of life.  In exactly eight days, the final paragraph will be written, the divorce will be final and he will be dead to me.

And out of the weeds and crap that was my life, I found beginnings and renewal.  I’ve lost weight, I eat healthier, I renewed relationships with my parents, brothers, sister, niece, nephews, aunts, cousins—all of whom have been so incredibly supportive, more than I could ever have previously hoped for or possibly known.  I hold them in my heart with deep love never fully appreciated before now.  I found out who my true friends are and that friends hold your head and hug you through your grief and despair and they find ways to make you laugh. They tell you over and over as necessary that you are worthy and beautiful and that they love you until it sinks in through the muck and mire.  I met new people who have become friends, who know the story of my life over the last year and don’t judge me, but accept me and embrace me.

I found new love from a very old friend, a man who loves me as I am right now, who makes me laugh, who is tender and attentive, who challenges and appreciates my intellect, who sees through the self-doubt to the beautiful woman I am.  He has taught me that happiness is a choice and that life lived simply is the most important thing.  Possessions and money don’t define happiness, experiences do.  We read to each other, we are silly in play, we are deeply passionate in our love for each other and are both grateful for the wonderful people in our lives and most importantly for each other. We get to work together on a family farm as I’ve dreamed of for years, with good people who are kind and generous and loving.  I get to be creative, to read, to write, to cook, to work with plants and animals and to love and laugh freely for the first time in 6 years.  I am no longer surrounded by shallow pettiness and that is truly a new beginning.

The sun rises and sets, the seasons come and go, seeds are planted, crops are harvested, rebirth, renewal , love, laughter, life.  My life is only half lived: I was born this year in the 49th year of my life; coming home to the woman I’ve always wanted to be. I’m looking forward to the next 40 years, slower years, loving years, happy years.  It’s a matter of choice and I choose to live my life simply, happily and lovingly.

Resolutions

My New Year’s Resolution was to be unreasonably happy, to find joy, love and peace in every moment and to live life more fully yet more simply than ever before. I’ve been meaning to write about this resolution for almost 2 months.  I’m not sure why I procrastinated writing about a resolution that on the surface seems so incredibly simple, spiritual and emotional while others resolve to lose weight, work out more and generally work on their physical looks or health.  My resolution seemed simple enough and very doable, all I had to do was to choose to find happiness each day.  Happiness, joy and peace were the very things missing from my life for the last several years, this past year more so than the previous ones.  So it only made sense that my resolution would be to work on my emotional and spiritual health.

I had no idea how hard this resolution would really be.  Most days I succeed and many days I pretend to be happy, joyful and peaceful.  Pretending to have these emotions many times tricks my mind into believing that I really am happy, joyful and peaceful. But some days I fail miserably, inexplicably and am abjectly sad.  One night early in February was one of those times, one of those dark nights when dying seemed better than living.  I spent hours of the night writing goodbyes to my loved ones.  It was, of course, arduous and emotional.  And in the wee hours of the dawn, I closed my eyes and fell asleep, only to awaken an hour or so later to a new day.

My guardian spirits surrounded me the next day, calling, hugging, picking me up and offering words of wisdom, love and guidance.  I don’t know why some days are harder than others when each day really is the same. I don’t know why most days I can remember to laugh and some days I can’t stop crying. My dear friend Diane encouraged me to stop trying to stand against everything that life throws at me; to stop trying to move the mountain as it were. Instead, bend, let the pain and crap wash over me and envelop me because I’m not strong enough to stand against it, and the energy it takes to try to continue fighting  wears me down.  My therapist is fond of reminding me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel but it’s not coming AT me.

It is part of the healing process, having to go through hell and pain to get to the other side of a better life.  And despite the pain, life is truly better today than it has been for years.  Nearly eight weeks after the start of the new year, many have given up their yearly resolutions, but each day I reiterate and renew my resolution to be unreasonably happy, to find joy, love and peace in every moment and to live life more fully yet more simply than ever before.

In the past three weeks, I have found happiness, joy and peace in gorgeous sunrises, deer running across a field, curious horses following me as I walk, cattle inexplicably lined up in single-file, the smell of tomato plants, the taste of farm-fresh eggs from free-range chickens, the unmitigated ecstasy of my dogs when it’s time to play ball or take a walk, the joy of watching Tasha trot and run through the snow pain-free and without a limp, the sound of laughter, the hugs of loved ones, unexpected calls and notes from friends,  and the knowledge that I will live happily ever after after-all.