Endings and beginnings. This month I seem to be in the midst of both of these passages. Everywhere I turn, it seems there’s another ending — a change, a loss, a time to say goodbye. But lest I get too caught up in grieving the passing of a season, I can’t help but see the seeds of new beginnings all around me as well.
Endings. I’m happy to say goodbye to a long, cold, wet winter. Days on end of grey sky and damp weather. People commented that it was like living in Seattle, without the beautiful coastline. Spring is finally here, and the flowers and everything green is now growing with a vengeance! On warm, sunny days, it’s hard to be inside. Beginnings.
Saying goodbye to John Black
Outside was where I would see Mr. Black, the farmer who we purchased our property from back in 1992. Over the years, he was always on his tractor, transporting round bales of hay for his cows or on the way to fertilize or seed a field.
He and his family welcomed us to this corner of North Carolina. John Black was strong, kind, sturdy. He wore blue jeans and denim or flannel shirts. He built our barn, cut hay off our pastures, chainsawed trees that fell across our driveway. He kept an eye on things and was often the first one to call us if something was amiss.
He loved to tell stories and laugh, and he was never in a rush. Even at the age of 88, during the last week of his life, he lingered, telling me about “an ole horse he used to ride.” He had the same sparkle in his eye that I had grown to love. But a few days later, the candle within him dimmed and blew out. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. But it was time. Endings.
His granddaughters brought tears to my eyes as they gave his eulogy — sharing memories of a well-loved man. Granddaughters, who we knew when they were kids, the younger one was one of my daughter’s first babysitters, granddaughters who are now mothers with children of their own. Beginnings.
Sending Jean home to England
Endings. Sitting around a table with dear writer friends, saying goodbye to Jean, who kept us in line with her pen tapping. Twenty-five years of friendship, sharing stories of our lives, unearthing the hurts and joys, the parts of us who made us who we were, shaping me into who I would become.
These women helped midwife my memoir, a labor of twenty years where I brought them chapter after chapter. Their kindness and wisdom folded into me. We listened carefully to each word shared, celebrated each other’s successes, mourned each other’s losses.
Jean came from Liverpool and introduced us to life during the war, her father’s pub, her bicycle-racing years, her beloved Sonny who brought her to America and grew tomatoes for her. Jean’s novels were full of adventure and the spirit of a woman we grew to love. And now she is leaving, returning home to England. It’s appropriate and beautiful, this coming full circle and living her last years with nieces and nephews who adore her. An ending for us, a beginning for her.
Saying goodbye to Shady
Endings. This weekend, Shady is being sold. A beautiful horse whose coloring reminded me of my beloved Crimson. Shady’s owners, family friends, are transitioning into a different circumstance, and after three years, have decided it was time to let him go. Shady will be moving to a new farm where he will have a job and be engaged in happy work for a horse. It is right and it is good. But it’s a change.
Foxie and Shady have been pasture mates for years, and we will miss him, even though he drove us crazy at times. I will always have a vision of the two of them side by side, Foxie’s head low, Shady’s head high, as they walked through the tall grass, companions for a time. Shady will have a new beginning as will Foxie as she returns home (after being boarded) with a new companion, a little mare named Ruby. A mare similar in color to Shady, but smaller and older. We hope that Foxie and Ruby will become friends. Only time will tell.
Endings and beginnings. The taste of sorrow and sweetness on our tongues. The end of an era. A time past. These phrases float up and ride within me. Tomorrow will be different from yesterday. A new landscape, a shifting sky. I never quite understood until this year how in the midst of each ending a new beginning is cradled.
The morning after the eclipse, I woke at 4 a.m. and saw the light of the super blood wolf moon shining into my bedroom. I got up and peered outside at the trunks of trees standing ghostly in the silver light. I felt as if something important was happening. But I was tired, and I fell back asleep. I woke early again this morning and saw stripes of moonlight painting the floor. As I snuggled back under the covers, a couple of things floated to my consciousness. My word for the year – clear (as in “be clear”) – and Mary Oliver, the beloved poet who passed away last week.
In my last blog post, I wrote about last year’s word, “enlarge,” and I titled the piece, “Thoughts on the Eve of My 59th New Year.” I’m only 58, so by all rights, I can ignore the fact that 60 is around the bend. But after absorbing the truth that I’m in my 59th year, 60 doesn’t seem so far away.
I’ve never worried too much about aging. Never been coquettish about the number. Most of my friends are older than me, and I admire their wisdom, their perpetude, their deep awareness of who they are. In my writing groups, I’ve often been one of the youngest, and I’ve enjoyed that role. I could ask questions, make mistakes, play the innocent. Yet, as 60 approaches, I find myself needing to come to a new relationship with myself. Needing to get clear…about where I am…and what’s ahead.
This internal shifting seems to happen as each new decade approaches. And as this one comes nearer, the reality that the decades are dwindling is crystalizing. My time on earth, while hopefully still plentiful, is winding down. Some might say I’ve reached the peak of the mountain and have been on my way down (for a few years).
Enter Mary Oliver, whose descent down her own mountain was full of awe and wonder. A nature-lover like me, she bent her head to the wildflowers, the ant, the grasshopper; her ear to bird call and the low moan of the wind. Her question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?” (from “The Summer Day”) rings through my head.
I don’t know what each day will hold. But I do know that time is a slithering thing I can’t nail down or hold in place. I can ask questions. I can retain my innocence and study with clear eyes the beauty around me. I can wake in the wee hours of the morning and embrace the light of the moon.
The approach of the New Year always gets me thinking about the past, present and future. I like to sift through the memories of the old year, cataloging my experiences – successes, challenges, periods of growth, etc. I also like to think ahead and dream about what’s possible in the fresh new days that lie ahead.
For the past few years, I’ve chosen a word to help define how I want to approach the coming year. Last year’s word came to me during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It was “enlarge.” I didn’t exactly know what it meant at the time, but the word felt right, and I trusted my intuition.
As I look back on the old year, I can see so many examples of where my word came into play.
I was greatly enlarged through my connection with AlzAuthors, a group of writers who share the experience of living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I’ve had the opportunity to work with an incredible management team, a group of women who I’ve come to love. I’ve also met and formed bonds with so many wonderful authors. I’ve worked with organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Caregiving.com and others to help promote the awareness of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
My vision of my memoir, Motherhood Lost and Found, was enlarged as it was named one of “the best Alzheimer’s books of all time” by Book Authority, an honor I never dreamed I’d receive.
Aside from Alzheimer’s, the scope of my work has been enlarged. Last winter, I completed a draft of my new memoir about my daughter’s celiac disease. I had wondered if I actually had another book within me. Apparently, I do. And there may be others.
One of the things I’m most proud of is that I stepped out of my comfort zone and organized a celebration for my long-time mentor, Tony Abbott, last spring. You can read about it here. My intuition had nudged me a few months before the event, and I had that “now or never” feeling, so I contacted Tony. He was in the midst of treatment for lung cancer. But he said, “Yes!” and we worked together to choose a day he could look forward to. It turned out to be a beautiful event at our hometown bookstore where Tony was surrounded by friends. My heart was enlarged.
On a more personal note, as I look back on the last New Year, I was enlarged by my family. My daughter, a junior in high school, is spreading her wings as she considers colleges and her future. As a mother I am learning to both let go and embrace the new person who she is becoming. At the same time, my notion of who I am is enlarging as my parenting role shifts.
My husband Joel continues to help me enlarge my ideas of what a good marriage is. We are opposites in many ways, and yet we share the desire to support one another in the deepest ways. His outgoing personality, his never-ending physical energy, his constant desire to be on the go – these things often clash with my quiet, introverted, homebody self. Yet, we are discovering the places of overlap as we make room for what the other needs.
The word “enlarge” has been a gift, providing new perspective and awareness during this last New Year (which has suddenly grown old).
I’m still waiting to find out what my word will be for 2019.
Whatever it is, it’s my hope that I will be connected, nourished and clear. Connected with the person I am inside, my family, my circle of friends and my community. Nourished by the choices I make. And last but not least, may I always hear the clear, quiet, grace-filled voice of God.
Blessings to each of you in the New Year. May all our hearts be enlarged.