Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Exploration of a Different Kind

My pal Laurie is a former expat (Libya, Japan, and Singapore to name a few) and intrepid traveler.  We've known each other for years and can often be found swapping stories about our various trips or talking about how we can save the world.  We both love volunteering (in fact, that's how we met), and planning our next adventure.  But every traveler has a transition period, and this is a post about a transition to permanence...and then moving back into transience.  Both are extraordinary places to explore...and this is Laurie's experience.


                         Exploration of a Different Kind                            

By: Laurie Winfield

So in this series, we were asked to write about exploring.  Exploration is of course a very broad term.  In its most literal sense, it conjures up for me a picture of a Ponce de Leon or  Magellan type-guy with a funny hat, a fleet of ships and a faraway look in his eye.

But in reality, we are all explorers. A baby explores taking its first steps; an adolescent explores a first brush with intimacy; and a college student may go abroad for the first time to explore the world—a kind of modern-day Ponce de Leon with his parents’ debit card, a high-tech backpack and a supply of American condoms. As time goes on, divorces, diseases or general dissatisfaction may lead us to a more inward journey to discover a bit of ourselves we misplaced along the way.

I’m fairly sure that since the day I was born, or even before, I was meant to explore the world and its inhabitants, not in a scientific way but more in an anecdotal way. I am told that when I was a barefoot, tow headed, drawling five-year-old, I walked up to an aging great Aunt and told her I was going to be an international correspondent and travel to all the countries in the world. High and mighty words from an oil field kid in a small Texas town, no doubt.

My parents unwittingly enabled that prediction to come true by moving the family to Libya and beyond during my childhood and teenage years, which fueled the fire for more work and travel abroad in my adult years. While I’m not an international correspondent, I do own a trench coat and I’m a communicator of sorts.  I haven’t been everywhere, to be sure, but tallying almost 40 countries isn’t  too shabby  for a girl who might have just as easily morphed into an early Honey Boo Boo.

My travels have not rendered riches--mostly just stories and the realization that there is nothing nearer Nirvana to me than sitting in a Croatian coffee shop, or a Spanish dive bar or a hotel lobby in Chiang Mai, listening to multiple languages and planning my next excursion. To some extent this touch with Nirvana has also been a curse. It has created both a yearning for roots and a disdain for being tied to one place or way of life. I have an early-ish memory of listening to the song “Brandy” on the short-wave radio in Tripoli and identifying both with Brandy’s yearning for a secure love and with her sailor’s notion that he could never give up the sea, even for love.

It was with trepidation that almost twelve years ago, I explored what I deemed to be settling down when I bought my first home. This is something I’d resisted for years in favor of keeping things boxed up and ready for the next adventure should it come along. Yet unpacking photo albums and all the things I had collected through the years was, in an odd way, a freeing experience. And becoming the Empress of my own little empire where I could decorate, cook, throw parties and plant a garden was as much of an adventure to me as hopping a plane to parts unknown. It helped me understand that finding a home and putting down roots didn’t have to be at odds with my inner Magellan.

As I get ready to pack up and move on to my next phase, I will be eternally grateful for the chance to explore 1616 Bridgeway Drive in Austin’s “04.”  After all, it gave me a place to hang my trench coat.

Exploration of a Different Kin

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Exploring Vulnerabilities

Vulnerability is a tough one for me.  Some people come by it so naturally, so effortlessly.  They share their dark fears, their insecurities, their disappointments, their failures.  Me, not so much.  I *can* do that, but I have to trust you in such a way that I know if I divulge those inner darknesses, those painful discomforts that sit somewhere in the confines of my large intestine (kind of between the yellow and the orange chakra if you're into that kind of thing), that you will not damage me further.  You will not play with those vulnerabilities as if you thought they were a set of darts.  My vulnerabilities seem so fragile to me, and so very scary.

I first really started noticing my vulnerabilities around the 4th grade.  This is not a surprise since the summer before I had been in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle between my parents.  The non-custodial parent won, so I moved cities (tiny east Texas town to giant Houston urbanization), moved houses, moved friends, moved schools.  And then, after spending 4th grade at one school, due to the district re-arranging everything, I moved to a different school in the 5th grade.  And then, my parents moved across town, so in 6th grade I changed yet again. (This whole school changing thing happened again in the 8th grade and then again in the 9th in case you were wondering if it got any better - it didn't).

In 4th grade my vulnerabilities were adjusting to new rules, new parents, and abuse.  I won't go into the abuse, not because I'm afraid to share (I'll tell you in person) but because the internet is place where people can find things, I feel like I need to tread very lightly here in order to protect myself.  Suffice it to say, my home-life wasn't great - but I did get a new sister a few months later (new home, new city, and a new baby in the house!) and my new step-mom was wonderful and did the best she could given her own limitations and, oh by the way, she had a new-born and me, a 9.5 year old, to care for.  It was a lot.

In 6th grade, however, I hit that really really really awkward, ugly duck, molting, all elbows and knobby knees and kinky hair, buck teeth and bad glasses, kind of stage.  I'll be honest, I've gasped at a few of the photos.  And my vulnerabilities were all exposed, because I was a living, breathing, ball of hormones and changes. 

 How lovely that the caterpillar gets to wrap himself in silk and go away for awhile, away from the persecuting eyes of pre-pubescent 'mean girls', and then emerge into a glorious butterfly. That was so NOT my experience.

I was not, on any level, a popular girl in junior high (or ever in my life, for that matter).  I remember this one girl Andrea who was in 8th grade (which seemed so old to my 6th grade self) was one of the 'coolest' girls in the school.  She had 80s outfits down like a mini-Madonna: velvet baby doll dresses, lace-trimmed leggings, hair shaved under on the bottom and permed on top.  She was popular.  And 8th-grade-uber-cool-Andrea told 6th-grade-vulnerable-Sarah on the first day of school while waiting at the bus stop, that she was WAY too skinny. (Ok, yes, I miss that problem now, but we're in the past so bear with me.)

I didn't even know there was such a thing as being to skinny, and that it was really un-cool.  And, just like that, I began to have a serious look at my body and be totally insecure about it.  Then there were the glasses; I was called four-eyes a lot -- and it didn't help that my parents had truly chosen the UGLIEST glasses in the world for me.  My lips (for which I'm now ever so grateful), were called cow lips, and I was teased for those too.  Oh, and I learned in the girls locker room while changing for P.E. that Care Bear panties were for babies (note to self, no Care Bears panties after 5th grade).

The cherry on the parfait of this vulnerability was my little sister.  I shared a room with her (we lived in a tiny little 2 bedroom townhouse) and she watched my ever-changing body with the fascination of a kid at the zoo.  I was constantly trying to dress in the bathroom, the closet, beneath my sheets.  Anything to avoid the staring.  We laugh about this now, but at the time, it was traumatic.

So, I learned to hide my vulnerabilities.  At home, because I didn't want to be weak (dealing with the abuse issues), and I didn't like the staring from my sister, at school because I didn't want to appear outwardly hurt by the comments about my ugly clothes, my ugly lips, my ugly, skinny legs, my ugly...whatever. 

As an adult, I'm having to unravel this behavior.  I'm having to learn to re-expose myself to the world.  I'm having to share my fears, my pain, my failures.  I'll be honest, it sucks. The first time I saw Brene Brown's video (and if you haven't seen this - you MUST), I thought "my God, she is me!".  I love to wrap myself in data and measurements and academia (maybe there is a correlation between highly vulnerable people and getting a PhD?)  If I'm researching a country's or a population's vulnerabilities (which is what I do), then I don't have to examine my own. 

Because it feels like putting genital warts on my face and then meeting Daniel Craig to acknowledge my vulnerabilities and talk about them.  Painful.

I don't really do 'resolutions', but what I do instead is, every year I pick a mantra or set an intention for the year.  This year my mantra and my intention is to be gentle with everyone's vulnerabilities, including my own.  To tread softly when they expose them, and to gently relinquish my own and allow them to appear more.

When I first saw Brene Brown's Ted Talk at a TEDx event in Austin, I sat in that darkened room with tears silently streaming down my face.  So many instances of shame were flashing through my mind -- both my own shame, and the shame projected on to me by an abusive narcissistic parent.  The shame and vulnerability I felt in junior high and high school -- the whispers behind my back, the hateful comments about my clothes, my face...anything that was part of me which led me to hate parts of me.

This year I'm going to try and love me a bit more.  Love other people a bit more.  Expose my vulnerabilities a little more.  Trust a little more.

Let's face it, I'm not going to be Mother Teresa overnight.  Or probably ever.  I'm me, and I'll probably always be kind of a scrapper. But I don't have to pick every battle, and I don't have to make every point, and I can just try and soften those edges just a little bit. Be. More. Vulnerable.

What's your intention this year?  What are your vulnerabilities that you're hiding? How are you going to go into 2013?  What are you going to take on, or get rid of that no longer suits you? 

Today, vulnerably,

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hello, Lover.

This year I've decided to devote the blog topics to 'exploration', exploring inside and outside.  Journeys.  Maybe these journeys are new relationships.  Maybe they are new cities.  Maybe they are new vulnerabilities.  Maybe they are new passions. Maybe they are new foods.  But it's all about exploring.  Guest posters welcome -- it's all about your experiences too.


                                      Hello, Lover.                                                

My first glimpse of New Orleans is always driving in on the Bonnet Carre spillway, water surrounding me on either side, and just off to my left, shrouded in swamp mist, the buildings of downtown emerge.  I always feel a little guilty as I’m driving in, like I’m cheating on my hometown of Austin.  If Austin is the blonde-blue-eyed, well-manicured wife, then New Orleans is the pouty, cherry-lipped brunette mistress in thigh highs and a red bustier.  She’s dirtier. Sexier. And you’d never take her to meet the parents. But, secretly, you love her just a little bit more…

I fell in love with New Orleans accidentally. I had no real intention of finding another ‘home’ in my life.  Austin was home, and that seemed good enough – until I started a PhD program at Tulane in January of 2010.

My program required me to complete a year of coursework in New Orleans and I thought I would just move there, take my courses and move back to Austin.  By December of 2010 I knew I was stuck, like southeast-Louisiana-swamp-mud-stuck, on New Orleans.  I stood in Jackson Square on my last day in New Orleans and cried.  I had to put on my sunglasses so the tourists wouldn’t see me bawling.  I was hooked.  She was mine and I was hers.  We met, we fell in love, and now we were going to see this relationship through, no matter the distance.

I just arrived in New Orleans again yesterday (on my annual pilgrimage to the States), because every time I’m back here I need to see her; like an alcoholic on Bourbon Street, I can’t stay away.

I love the Quarter first thing in the morning, after a wild night; shops are opening, people are scrubbing away last night’s debauchery.  I love the big, mossy oaks in Audubon Park.  I love the voodoo, the haunted houses, the eerie fog that sometimes envelops the city.  I love the Caribbean feel, the messy streets, the potholes, the mansions, the universities, the people.  I love the Bywater and the Marigny.  I love Uptown and the Garden District.  I love beignets. And shrimp. And grilled oysters. And poboys. I love being called “sugar” and “sweetie”. 

So, I’m here, to explore again. To fall in love again. 

Today, in Nola,

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Holiday Experiences and Mindfulness

Last Christmas was my first Christmas spent outside of the United States.  The Canadian and I, taking advantage of our proximity to Europe (living in London), took off to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany.  We sat on trains drinking (wine for me, giant beers for the Canadian) and scarfing down plates of pierogies.  We stood in a Christmas market in Krakow, the snow gently falling, as we watched a Polish soldier salute the baby Jesus in a live creche scene while the choir sang Silent Night (I'll admit, I was a little weepy during that experience).  We walked down a path skirting the Danube in Bratislava, passing a trio of silver trees, standing like Christmas sentries along the river.
Bratislava at night
We were in Berlin on Christmas Eve, and I went for a run that took me through the Brandenburg Gates, amid Christmas revelers and some startled policemen (who looked at me as if I might be just a bit mad to be out running in the below freezing temperatures when I should be drunk and happy like everyone else). 
A run through the Brandenburg Gate on Christmas Eve
 I was happy (and later I was drunk...) but more than anything, I was overwhelmed with the various Christmas experiences I'd had.

Christmas tree in the Berlin train station
I sat teary-eyed in a restaurant watching a family pass around a large bowl of pierogies, laughing and enjoying their holiday gathering.  I snapped photos of Christmas trees in every city I visited.  We visited Christmas markets, mulled wine in one hand, our other hand wrapped around each other, as much for warmth as affection.  We sat in a coffee-shop as two violinists softly serenaded us with Christmas carols. I stood on a bridge at twilight, staring over the Vltava river in Prague, watching the city slowly light up as the evening approached. I ate and ate and ate -- and so did the Canadian.  He must have found every sausage stand in the country.

I think this tree was in Prague...and the one above it in Poland.
This Christmas we decided to stay in London and invited the Canadian's sister, husband and our two nephews (ages 3 and 5 months -- A and BabyO respectively) to visit. We had dinners around the table, laughing and drinking and talking about our day.  We saw London through A's eyes, lighting up as he rode on the top of the double decker bus, excitement at riding the 'train' (the tube), trying on his new London bobby pajamas, and having to explain that "London Bridge isn't really falling down, it's safe, that's just a song". It was fun to have a kid in the house, the talk of Santa Clause and discussions of coming down the chimney.  This new house in London has an actual chimney and fireplace, tailor-made for Santa and stockings and all of the Christmas trimmings.

BabyO won't remember his trip except for in pictures -- but his cute toothless grin and love for anyone who would hold him made Christmas that much sweeter.  Now that the family has left, I'm still remembering the evenings that he lay on the quilt that my great-grandmother made, in front of the fireplace, sleeping as if nothing in world were all that important except a warm nap.

Christmas, to me, is the experiences.  The toys and gifts, they are part of the memory but for the most part it's the people, the laughter, the smells of the tree, the crackle of the fireplace.  It's the hot mulled wine in Krakow or the laughter of my happy nephew, BabyO.  It's the first taste of a blueberry pierogy in Warsaw or reading Shel Silverstein on the couch to A, just before bedtime.

It's the experiences that matter, not the toys, not the gifts.  Just like in 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas', even if all of the toys and 'things' are gone, Christmas still exists.  Next year, don't race out for those 'last minute gifts'.  Don't run around, stressed out from holiday shopping, feeling miserable and missing the beauty that surrounds you during the holidays -- the lights, the music, the joy.  Don't go overboard on the gifts. Your kids don't need that giant 'whatever' or that expensive 'newest thing'.  What we all need is to put everything down, experience each other - the smells, the sights, the sounds...the holidays -- however you celebrate them.  Be mindful.  Be aware. Be present.

Today, Mindfully,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Life sort of interrupted blogging -- mostly in a good way.  A summer and early fall full of visitors and travel has gifted me with a load of extraordinary experiences but rarely enough time to sit down and craft them beautifully into words.  Now that winter is creeping around the corner, I have a bit more time to pay attention to this blog, and hopefully nurture it into something larger.  I had begun a series on 'love' when I last left off this spring, and I had been thinking about my own experiences on love when one almost fell into my lap a few days ago.  Here it is...and more to come soon.



Almost a decade ago (although sometimes it feels like yesterday), my grandfather was killed in a car accident.  My sister is the one who called to tell me what had happened and I will always remember, in technicolor detail, the events of that day. Every phone call I made to family members, telling them the news. Every word spoken at dinner that night with my cousins. The smell of the jasmine hanging in the humidity that Texas afternoon when I ran outside into the street to hear my sister better. The intensity of the heat of my tears. It is so embedded in me, because I loved him so much, but not in the uncomplicated way that most grandchildren love their grandparents.  No, Papa and I loved each other like two boulders wedged in canyon -  intractable and uncomfortable, often grating up against each other, but also propping each other up with our strength so that we wouldn't fall.

My father was an only child and so my sister and I were the only grandchildren on that side of the family.  My grandad, or Papa as we called him, adored us.  And we adored him too, but, as I said, the relationship wasn't easy.  My grandfather could be cranky and impatient.  When he lost his temper, he was demanding and loud.  He could be stubborn.  And he adhered to archaic notions about many subjects, particularly women in the workplace, that women had no business being in charge. "Women shouldn't be CEO's" he would say, "they're too emotional."  To which I would always reply "I'll tell that to the board when they offer me the job."

But he had a fabulous sense of humor. And he always wanted to know what was going on in our lives. And if we weren't with him, then he was planning the next time he could see us.  He frequently sent us postcards from his travels and many page-long letters telling us about how proud he was of us, how much he loved us, and how he hoped we would be the best at everything we tried.  His archaic notions about women in the workplace only applied to women who weren't his granddaughters -- to him, we could do or be anything we wanted.

Papa and I argued a lot, but we loved each other a lot too, and neither one of us ever doubted that.

As it turns out, what has been the greatest gift to me from him after his death, were those letters and postcards.  Shortly after I was accepted into my Ph.D. program at Tulane in New Orleans, I found a postcard he'd sent me from New Orleans where he was attending a medical conference many many years earlier.  His postcard said that he knew I could do anything I wanted, all I had to do was try, and that he was proud of me.  It was one of the few things I took with me when I made the temporary move there for my coursework.

Over a year ago I moved to London from Texas, and then last weekend I moved to a different house here in London.  As I was unpacking my cookbooks, one of them fell off the shelf, and I caught a glimpse of the last page.  This was a cookbook I rarely used, and in fact, had almost forgotten I had it since these days I find most of my recipes online.  I noticed my grandfather's distinctive handwriting*; he had given me the cookbook for Christmas when I was 17 years old, and had written a letter to me on the back page about the generations of cooks in my family and my similarities to them.  He pointed out details about how I was like each of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers and great-great grandmothers.  He noted how I was an early riser like one of the great-grandmothers - a trait which I have noticed over the years as being unusual in my family (everyone on that side of the family can sleep until noon).

I didn't even get halfway through the letter before the tears arrived.  I had forgotten he had given me that cookbook and I hadn't read that letter since the Christmas he gave it to me (almost 18 years ago).  I had just dutifully carted it around with me through the years and through many moves.

I've noticed that my grandfather's old letters to me show up in times of transition.  They arrive (in the sense that I come across them) before or during a significant life change -- before my wedding, before beginning my Ph.D., before moving to London, and now during another move.  It's as if he's telling me the transition will be ok, and that he loves me. It seems that the words he wrote are perfect now, decades after he wrote them.

I remember a lot of the arguments we had over the years.  I remember rolling my eyes at his (in my opinion) annoying rules.  I remember yelling at him in a hotel room in Paris for being rude to my grandmother.  But I also remember the time that he sheepishly stood in a doorway and apologized for losing his temper.  And I remember my 1st grade Christmas play, when I came on stage (I was in the chorus as an angel, NOT a major part) when he leaped out of his seat and waved wildly at me.  No one else did that when their kid or grandkid was on stage, but my grandad did.  At the time I was mortified, now I think it was amazing how proud he was of my tiny part in the chorus.  On the weekends when I was younger, I remember dragging him around Six Flags while he dutifully took me on every ride -- no doubt exhausted after a long week of seeing patients and performing surgeries.  He never complained about our time together, no matter how it was spent.

What I remember most of all, though, was that he loved me. And while we had a complicated relationship, there was always love.  And he continues to remind me of that love when I need it the most.

When I originally conceived of the idea of doing a series on love, I anticipated that I would write about my husband, or some abstract thoughts about love as a construct, but when I read my grandfather's letter a few days ago, I realized that our relationship was the perfect example of love.  Very complicated love.  Love in spite of crankiness and stubbornness.  In spite of generational gaps and out-dated ideas about gender roles.  In spite of two strong-willed people with wildly different views on life.  But we loved each other and we kept on loving each other until the day he died. 

The last conversation I had with my grandfather was an argument.  It was completely fitting, given our dynamic, but in spite of my hanging up the phone while rolling my eyes, I did tell him that I loved him. And he said the same. And it was completely the truth for both of us.

Love isn't always simple.  It's often messy and spiderwebbed with complicated emotions needing constant maintenance. That's the love that Papa and I had, and that's ok.  I learned from him about working on a relationship, even when the love is there, that the relationship requires showing up in the tough times, and apologies when you're wrong.  Had our love been simple, I wouldn't have known that I could have a screaming argument with him about going out at night (when I was 26 years old!) and the next day he would tell me he was sorry and that he loved me.  I wouldn't know about forgiveness, because we both had to forgive each other. A lot.

I had Papa for 27 years.  And I loved every minute of it.

Today, with complicated love,

*Finding these letters over the years written in my grandfather's handwriting have been such an incredible gift.  Because of email, we often don't receive handwritten notes from people anymore.  When I looked down and saw Papa's handwriting, I was so grateful to have a tangible piece of him rather than an email with words but little else.  Take a moment today to write someone a note in your handwriting.  It's you, and they will be grateful to have that part of you someday.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Unfilling the Landfill

I'm taking a brief break on the love series to insert my recent experience helping my grandmother unpack her house. Back to love soon.

Unfilling the Landfill

I frequently struggle to find bits and pieces of me that are like my mom, as we have few personality traits in common. But one thing I inherited from her is her adherence to minimalist living. My mom just doesn’t accumulate *things *. She doesn’t really shop unless it’s to buy something she truly needs, and she thinks long and hard about whether she needs it. Sometimes for weeks, or months, or even years.

As her only biological child, I am so incredibly grateful for this. Even though I never want to think that someday she’ll be gone, I realize what a gift it will be to me that she will have left me with so little to do. And I’m grateful that, either by nature or nurture, I’ve become ruthless about not accumulating things as well.

I have spent the last two days helping my paternal grandmother unpack from her most recent move. I was overwhelmed by the accumulation of decades of indulging in purchases. Unlike my mother, my paternal grandmother is a borderline hoarder, with a depression-era mentality. I felt almost suffocated as I went through hundreds of boxes today trying to help her sort through a life filled with buying.

I won’t go into my grandmother’s backstory, but I will say this, it’s clear that she buys to fill a hole in her life. When you buy big houses (as she does) and you buy things to fill it (as many do), what you’re really buying is ‘pain medication’, something to take the place of the emotional pain that you carry with you, often from childhood.

I’ve had my own struggles from childhood. Abuse, immediate family members with mental illness, divorces, custody battles – it’s all been there. And I realized in my early 20s that if I didn’t start spending some significant time in therapy, I would catapult my own life into that of excess. I would seek to impress others (because of my own insecurities and lack of self-worth) and fill voids in myself by 'over accumulating' things.

We can all justify purchases – but actually really and truly *needing* something is rare. And it takes a lot of work and will-power to really live within your needs, not your wants. And it takes a tremendous amount of grace and self-assurance about who you are to live small and with just enough to meet your immediate needs. I’m still not there yet. But I strive to be.

And two days of physically working for hours upon hours because someone never chose to be present about what they really needed, which was therapy – and not the retail kind – made me realize something: that when we don’t truly tend to our emotional needs, we burden others – sometimes many generations down – with our chaos.

I didn’t mind helping my grandmother unpack today, because I love her. But I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that I could have spent today taking her somewhere fun, like the museum, if I weren’t slicing open boxes looking for her dishes so she didn’t have to eat on paper plates.

And let me tell you, I went through hundreds of boxes and I never found those dishes. Not even close. And there were probably (and trust me when I say, I’m not exaggerating) several thousand more boxes to go.

Live smaller. Buy less. Scale down. Collect experiences, not things.

Every single thing you buy, someone will have to eventually discard – you, your kids, your grandkids, your spouse. It’s just stuff. It will wind up in a landfill. So stop filling it.

And when you want to go to the mall, or go buy something at some big box store – detour instead to take a walk in the park, or go to the movies, go to a museum, take a painting class. If you still need what you needed today two months from now, you might actually need it.

Today, collecting less and experiencing more,

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On Love

I'm starting a new series for TECP on love. It's a strange and difficult topic for many of us, because we've all been drowning in or thrown violently out at some point in our life. Aside from the intimate nature of some versions of love, there are thousands of variations on what love actually is. I read somewhere years ago that the Greeks have many different words for love -- sibling love, romantic love, divine love, lust etc. The English just have one word and we have only context to give us clues to what we 'love' when we say "I love...".

One of my closest friends wrote the first post (below) in the series. She's been through love school recently. "What the hell is love?" she must have asked aloud one day. Because, (read this in a Texas drawl) I tell you what, she has learned what love is. As a friend, I watched this journey and watched her leave her marriage. And I watched her find the most beautiful and also the most excruciating relationship. And I watched her fall in love. And I watched her let that love go. And now I'm watching her heal.

And here's what I love, for her, and for all of us who find and explore love; we are all learning that Love is a journey, not a destination.

Today, love,

On Love
By: Laura Smith

I never understood love songs. I used to listen to the lyrics and think to myself, "Damn. That person is completely insane. Co-dependent. They need to be less insecure. More confident. Less dramatic.. More boundaries. Not so pathetic. More sure of themselves without the other."

I thought, "This is not real life. People don't really feel that way about other people, not if they really know them, not if they live in reality, not if they are healthy and whole." I was a therapist in training (literally), a control freak (totally), and someone who not only believed there was and should be a
plan - but had written and was executing the plan herself. Someone who had never had her heart broken, and maybe even had never really been in love. From age 16 through age 34 I was someone's girlfriend or someone's wife (and even someone's Mom), and I could not relate to a love song.

I was living with and then married to a man for 12 years. I met him when I was 20. I looked up to him. I admired him. He was 8 years older than me, and a leader in the work I was doing. He was to me a symbol of everything I wanted -- someone who would treat me well, share my same goals, someone who wanted to have children, and who would support me in my dreams and aspirations. Someone who would never raise his voice to me, or lie to me or cheat on me, or, be unpredictably mean like my father. I chose well. I chose a solid, honest, smart, kind, gentle, loving person to marry and have a son with. I care about him and respect him very much.

Can I really say I loved him? I don't know now. I was happily married a long time, and moving forward in "the plan" very peacefully. I know when the marriage was crumbling and I wanted nothing more than to be out, I did not feel love. I felt trapped and suffocated and like a part of me would die if I stayed. Not because he wasn't a good man, a kind man, a great father, and a supportive husband. But, I felt like I was starving for something I had never even tasted. A kind of beauty and adventure that was not possible in the marriage I was in. And I know I caused him great pain and suffering because I couldn't name it. I just knew it existed outside of him and outside of the life we knew together, and I had to leave.

Song lyrics started to play in my mind:

"Looking at you makes it harder
but I know that you'll find another
who doesn't always make you wanna cry
started with a perfect kiss
then we could feel the poison set in
perfect couldn't keep this love alive..."

And I was right. And, very shortly after our separation, I met a wonderfully charming and indescribably dynamic and brilliant man who I absolutely fell in love with. I would even go so far as to say "head over heels in love." Never understood that phrase before either, but now I do.

Head over heels, knock you on your ass, challenge all your sensibilities and practical judgment, drink it in, let it intoxicate you and take over, kind of IN LOVE with this man. The sex was unbelievable. We cooked, we laughed until our stomachs hurt, we spent endless days hiking and exploring little Texas towns, we traveled, we camped, we tried new foods, we slept late, we jumped from bridges, we spent whole evenings eating junk food and dreaming up travel plans, we struggled with how to negotiate all the things in our respective lives, to make them fit, because we so desperately wanted to be near each other.

And when it became clear to me that he was very ill.....we talked to doctors, we stayed up all night in pharmacies, and hospital waiting rooms, I spent hours on the phone with his family and friends, and I agonized over his well being and the future of our relationship. AGONIZED. I knew, deep down, from the beginning it wasn't practical. He was a bit of a disaster, and he was young, and it probably wasn't going to work. But, I wanted to be with him so badly.

More song lyrics seem appropriate:

"Hey darlin', do you gamble?
Cause I'm runnin' the inside track
And I'm takin' all that I can
And I'm never lookin' back
Now I believe, you should run with me...for a while"

And, eventually, we broke up. He left. He said he couldn't handle a relationship, and he wanted to go travel the world, and that he couldn't stay in Texas, and he couldn't get better, and he couldn't meet my needs.

And, my heart was literally broken open.

That relationship was no picnic. There was a lot of turbulence and a lot of pain. But, I can tell you for sure I loved him. Loved him to bits and tiny pieces, and would have done anything to make that work. Was I angry and hurt and disappointed sometimes? Yes. Did I ever question whether we should be together? Yes. But, question loving him I did not.

Then, from a book, this passage made a knot in my chest, and literally pulled tears out of my body:

"Once after several days completely to ourselves with no contact at all with the outside world, he brought me an anthology of writings about love. He had tagged one short entry that captured the essence not only of those intense, glorious days but of the entire year as well.

Thank you for a lovely weekend. They tell me it rained."

When I was young, maybe I thought it was a weakness, to let yourself go like that, lose control, not be holding all the cards, allow yourself to be vulnerable enough for someone else's circumstances, whims, fancies, addictions, hurts, moods, hang ups, or just plain bad timing to affect you so deeply. When I was young, I thought the right answer was to think practically, to protect yourself, to make sure you were in the driver's seat, and to choose WISELY, above and beyond all else. Now I know it's both.

Now I know that you have to take a risk. If you feel that chemistry, that spark, that "je ne sais quoi" with someone, that feeling that you might just kiss them on the first date, in the midddle of a crowd, without asking have to go for it. All in. Both feet. And drink it up, because, that is the good stuff.

I've also learned that you must love yourself first. You deserve to have that person risk for you too, and go all in with you, and be vulnerable, and a little crazy too, because we all are just a little bit broken, and those are some of the best parts.

 I've learned that it won't be like those endless sex filled dreamy days all the time, but it should be sometimes. And it won't always be deep, meaning of life, tearful conversations, but it should be sometimes. And, I've learned from my friends who have this - solid, long lasting, real life, sturdy marriages - that it's all of that. It's getting on the roller coaster and being willing to stay on, holding hands, and enjoy it.

And when you are sitting in the hospital room, or dealing with errands and bills and daily life, that you still think to yourself, "Damn, I love him. I don't want to do this, I don't want to be here, but I do love him. "

I know what that feels like now, that deep aching feeling in your chest that can bring tears to your eyes, of happiness, of pride, of joy, of relief, of sadness, of loss. And I know how rare it is. How absolutely special and sacred it is. With love and with risk, comes loss, but I am willing to stand in line for the ride again. "Look, Mom, no hands!"

And more song lyrics are relevant:

"Come head on, full circle
our arms fill with miracles
play hearts kid, they work well
like magic, play aces, stay with me, go places
once more for the ages"