Weddings are My Undoing

My lover and I went to a wedding last weekend. The day was sunny and warm but not dreadfully hot; the backdrop was the beach, with waves crashing in the background and guests kicking off sandals and flip-flops to walk more easily in the sand and soak feet in the afternoon September sun. The bride and groom, friends of ours, were embarking on the beginning of married life for the first time for each of them. They were joyful with anticipation as newlyweds are apt to be, and the groom, with tears in his eyes, beamed more radiant than the bride if you can believe that. She gave him a run for his money though.

I couldn’t hear their heart-felt vows, but the personally written and spoken vows were meant for each other, not for us. We visually witnessed their commitment, rather than heard it. Later, when the reception was well underway, tears streamed down my face the way they so often do these days at weddings. I’m glad I couldn’t hear their vows, or surely, I’d have been sobbing during the ceremony.  It seems that wedding are my undoing, all of my own, as well as everyone else’s.

The tumble of emotions that besets me at weddings is mystifying:  part nostalgia, part melancholy, part grief, and part angst.  I believe in romantic love, and I believe in romantic marriages.  Unfortunately I’ve never experienced a romantic marriage, or any marriage that lasts, but I’m fortunate to be in a romantic relationship with an incredibly romantic man, a rare specimen in my experience.

We’ve been friends for 28 years and, in and out of touch with each other the last 10, and finally reunited in a blaze of devotion over a year ago. I credit him with saving my life last year and I fully blame him for making me happier than I’ve been in a very long time.  Our banter, many times in the middle of the night, is uproariously funny. We entertain each other immensely, we read to each other, we finish each other’s sentences, and we cry together at the sheer beauty and love we experience.  He says we fit like fingers entwined and inseparable: mentally, spiritually and physically. And he’s right.

We have talked about marriage, how it doesn’t last (preaching to the choir here), how it’s just a piece of paper, why wedding rings are stupid if you work with your hands. Intellectually we agree and I see the folly of such an endeavor, but in my heart of hearts, my hopelessly and endlessly romantic self yearns to be his wife, to call him husband, to join our lives legally.  Despite endless failures I believe that marriages can last ‘forever’ if both people are committed to feeding and caring for their marriage. My own two brothers have been married to their wives for 13 and 15 years respectively and I’m more than a little envious of them, despite my overwhelming love for them and my two sisters-in-law.

For now, I’ll let my silly little heart take over at weddings, wistfully longing.   Fortunately, there aren’t any more weddings in the foreseeable future so all seem safe from my streaming tears.  I am the luckiest woman in the world to be the last love of this wonderful man.  His love fills my days with humor and my nights with passion.  It is enough, truly.

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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.)

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.

Life, Death & Gratitude

A few weeks ago, I heard about a local young man who had been having difficulties in his relationship with his father.  He committed suicide at the age of 28 by shooting himself in the mouth.  A few days ago, a local woman whose 8-year old son had been suffering from an undefined illness for a few weeks was not feeling well Saturday night. She got into bed with him and held him, dozing finally as she comforted him.  After a short nap, she awoke to find that her child had died in her arms.  I understand the depth of despair that young man felt in order for him to take his own life; I cannot imagine the depth of despair one feels at having one’s child die in your arms.  These tragic deaths of these two young people give me pause and require quiet reflection.

Having struggled for the better part of this year and last, and sometimes still struggling, with my own thoughts of suicide, I am reminded daily of the fragile nature of life. A friend said to me yesterday, “I cannot imagine anything in your life so horrible, that it’s worth you being taken away from me.”  The underlying message being, of course, that although life is hard each and every day, my life has meaning to a lot of people and that no matter what types of hell I may be going through, the loss to my family and friends would be devastating.

Dad & me

Several weekends ago, my family celebrated the 70th birthday of my beloved father.  I wrote what was meant to be a toast and token of my love for him.  What I read aloud was a small portion of what I actually wrote because I could barely get through those few words, my voice cracking with emotion. I gave him the note to read at a later time. The next morning he wrote to thank me for my love letter to him and I cried with the full realization of how much my father and I love each other and sadness that it’s taken me 48 years to come to that realization.

I spent Thanksgiving weekend with friends and family and the joy and gratitude I felt for the support and love they blanket me in was again overwhelming at times. My niece called me her favorite aunt which made me smile. She sat on my lap and we had conversations more advanced than a 4 year old child should be having. She was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, a rare congenital disorder characterized by stiff joints and abnormal muscle development. She wears braces to help her walk but let me tell you, her physical disability doesn’t hold her back in any way.  She’s sweet and funny and smart as hell and I love that I can have smart, witty conversations with her, laugh with her and tell her how much I love her. She is one brave little girl surrounded by a lot of love, much like the aunt who loves her dearly.

While my marriage is dying a slow, agonizing death and my career has stalled and is taking a nose dive and all my worldly possessions have been stolen by a man who promised to love me forever, no one whom I love has died. Life could be so much worse.  But we all still have each other and find a lot of joy in loving each other. I am learning to hold my head up and I’m learning what matters most in life: cherish the people who love you and whom you love; help them out when they need it without judgment; let people cry when they need to while quietly holding them and tell them how much they really mean to you. And when life gets unbearable, don’t focus on your losses, count your joys. I am sorry for the young boy who won’t grow to be a young man and for the young man who won’t grow to be an old man. I am empathetic to the losses their families feel and I hope they find peace and love in time. I’m grateful to a little girl whose bravery is a road sign for my daily life.

Phoebe & me

Lessons

Sometimes the Universe has a way of teaching us lessons we should have learned a long time ago but didn’t either because we could not or because we refused to learn them.  And when the Universe decides we really need to learn a life lesson the Universe can be a harsh task-master.  This year the Universe decided to teach me several lessons in a crash course I’m calling Life 101.

Good people make bad decisions:  In the anger, betrayal and passion of any given moment of a life, good people make bad decisions that have unforeseen consequences.   The outcome of one’s actions can be so far removed from the intent that the intent is no longer recognizable.  Sometimes the outcome is as simple as an irrational act; sometimes it’s as complicated as spiraling downwards and imagining one’s death as a way out of the pain. Sometimes the unimaginable happens.  But one bad decision doesn’t define a person the way a lifetime of bad decisions can.  Everyone makes bad choices in life and we all deserve a second chance to get it right.

We don’t know what we don’t know: How can we? What we know is based on implicit and explicit knowledge, in other words: learned and experiential knowledge.  Often we are so close to a situation that we can’t comprehend the meaning and thus we don’t know what is actually occurring.  Other people around us are much more likely to see events as they really are and whether they choose to share their knowledge impacts directly on how we assess a situation. If I understood that my ex-husband was mentally ill and suffering from bipolar disease, I am confident that I would have handled his mania differently. But I did not know and so I did not understand and could not ask for the help I desperately needed. We make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the moment.

Live Simply: We have been brainwashed to believe that the more stuff we own, the better off we are and the happier we will be.  Like most, I believed I was successful and happy because of all the material things I owned over a lifetime of acquiring ‘stuff’.  In April, I lost my home, my husband, my business and access to all personal property.  For the last 6 months I have lived between my sister’s house and a friend’s apartment; I have driven a friend’s car; I have worn clothes that were lent to me until I could get some money to buy some; and I’ve learned the power of enjoying a few things immensely rather than many things superficially.  Even my diet is simpler these days.  I’m happier than I have ever been and enjoy the small things in life more than I ever thought possible.

Be Kind to Yourself:  Let people take care of you if you need to be taken care of but remember to be kind to yourself as well.  Nothing good comes of beating yourself up (there are plenty of people in the world happy to beat you up, don’t join them!)  Take long walks, get massages, read, meditate, eat healthy food, indulge your passions and hug the people you love a lot. And, yes, cry hard if you need to because crying washes away the detritus of our lives and cleans the heart and mind for better things. Most importantly, laugh as much as you can; surround yourself with people who can make you laugh because laughter really is the best medicine.

Detach Yourself from the Outcome of Events: I am a world-class worrier but all the worry in the world doesn’t give me power to effect the outcome of events.  By detaching myself from the outcome and focusing only on the things that I are within my control, I free up a lot of time to be kind to myself and enjoy in the present.   And most of the time worry never amounts to much more than a waste of time: it never ever changes the outcome and in most cases the outcome isn’t as bad as we imagined it would be.

Live in the present: We’ve all heard this advice and those of us who share our lives with dogs live with sentient creatures that only live in the present.  It is a life lesson we should all heartily embrace. We can’t change the past and we can’t know the future; all we have is the here and now and in the present, there are many wonderful things that humans miss because we constantly relive out our pasts and worry about our futures. There is no way I could have predicted the end of my brief marriage and I wouldn’t have wanted to know how it would eventually end.  There is nothing I can do about it now and so rehashing the events that led to the end doesn’t buy me anything; rather rehashing takes me out of the present. In the present, I have a multitude of gifts that I intend to enjoy each and every moment.

Forgive:  Forgiveness allows us to live in peace not only with others but also with our selves.  We don’t have to forget but it is paramount that we forgive and move on.  Holding grudges poisons the spirit, forgiveness fertilizes it.  Forgiving those who hurt us allows us to live in the present and choose happiness over feelings of hurt and anger.

Choose Happiness: It really does take the same amount of emotional energy to be happy as it does to be sad.  I’m not saying never be sad: we are human and sometimes we feel sadness.  But in any given situation that we face in our everyday lives, we can choose to be happy rather than irritated, angry, bored, or whatever other emotion we might choose to feel.  That is, we can manufacture synthetic happiness which has the power to make us feel…..genuine happiness.  Our psyche is amazing in this regard and I’m eternally grateful to Dan Gilbert for his inspiring talk on ted.com entitled “Why Are We Happy” .

Remain Open to Love: The more we remain open to the possibility of love, the more love comes into our lives. Just because we’ve lost one love, doesn’t mean we’ll never experience love again. The human heart has the amazing ability to love over and over and over again and each time we love really is the only time we’ve ever loved.  Embrace love, share love, be love.  You just might be surprised at where love can be found and how good life can be.