Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 20 Things to Love About Yourself.

1939635_10151902150186568_1465417147_n (1)

At the end of November my beautiful daughter-in-law (DIL) sent an interesting Facebook message to my two daughters and me. This message was actually a challenge. It was something she herself had been challenged to do in her fitness class that week, and one that she found extremely difficult. When I read that, my first thought was that “if this incredible young women finds a “fitness” challenge difficult,” then I’m dead meat. No way Jose. Not going to happen for this Old Broad (OB). Then when I read “the challenge” I was even more convinced that this was something I could not do.

What was so challenging about “the challenge”?

Everything. Why? Because it requires that you take a long hard, uncompromising, honest, candid, truthful and LOVING look at yourself. Both physically and non-physically. And come up with ten things for each that you like about yourself. I’m not even talking love here. Just, like. A little nod to one of your more redeeming attributes, a mere mention of some cute little trait or charming characteristic. You know the thing I’m talking about. That endearing eccentricity that your family mutters under their collective-breath at family gatherings, “There it is.” We all have those, right. But as my DIL said in her note, “It’s amazing how in 2 seconds you can name a million things about family, friends and even people you’ve just met, but to name 20 things about yourself is HARD!”

She’s right. It’s easy-peasy to find 20 things about someone else that are admirable and praiseworthy, both physically and non-physically. But try pointing the lens back at yourself and it is damn near impossible. At least for me.

But this is a new year. And I’ve decided that this is the year that I will challenge myself more. Go out on that fragile limb and do things. Face uncertainty head-on. Take some risks. Do things a little, or a lot, differently than I have in the past. Some of these things I know are going to scare the shit right out of me. And at my age this could seriously happen.

Other things, I’m going to do because they’ll be good for me. Like eating more vegetables and less meat, especially the stuff that causes the unnecessary death of cute animals. This is a dilemma for me because I think all animals, and many plants, are cute. And if you think I’m being facetious, check out Marimos. They are freakin’ adorable. So are Baby Lichens. Then there’s Venus Flytraps. Not all that cute but extremely interesting. Like the dark-haired girl wearing uncool glasses in a roomful of Barbie’s with big boobs. I can relate to the V-Flies.

And then there are those things I’ve been putting off for years, decades even. You know the things, the “I’ll do that someday” stuff. All the stuff you make excuses for, that possibly involve some kind of weird time and space continuum. I have no idea what that is but it sounds like it may apply here, and very likely every aspect of my life to date. But I do plan to make a heroic attempt, and at the very least, confront some of these things that I’ve been putting off and maybe quite conceivably, should all the stars line up just right, get around to it. Perhaps.

As for the 10 physical things and the 10 non-physical things I like about myself? I haven’t a clue. I only know that it will require me to be as kind and loving with myself as I am with others. I will need to be as gentle and gracious, understanding and big-hearted, caring and compassionate, forgiving and magnanimous to me as I am to you and you and you, and the person I’ve just met. For this is all the great big important stuff that is at the very heart of “the challenge.” Maybe, just maybe, that’s why it’s so difficult.

And as my wise, witty and wonderful DIL said, it’s easier to come up with these things about someone else then it is about yourself. So I thought I’d do it for her.

10 Physical things that I LOVE about my DIL (in no particular order and just for starters):

  1. Big beautiful smile
  2. Gorgeous hair
  3. Killer abs
  4. Cute freckles
  5. Dazzling blue eyes
  6. Tiny waist
  7. Artistic hands
  8. Infectious laugh
  9. Melodic voice
  10. Magnificent fit figure

10 Non-Physical things that I LOVE about my DIL (in no particular order and just for starters):

  1. Loving-kindness
  2. Generosity
  3. Compassion
  4. Thoughtfulness
  5. Gentleness
  6. Intelligence
  7. Creativity
  8. Humor
  9. Courage
  10. Warmth and wonder

188731_10150114139546568_7199077_n (1)

283080_10150234156856266_2609076_n (1)

310081_10151382372390443_965281185_n (1)

534805_10151230033206261_269467013_n (1)

542521_10150971859736568_110284536_n (1)

1609877_10152319417911522_1970896814_n (1)

1948223_10151974650116568_1091201923714129394_n (1)

10561633_10152183385096568_8273275948851610418_n (1)

163707_483944111265_4979199_n (1)

10606364_10152177641381568_4033216182011380204_n (1)

10701980_10152290330556644_2414103879003366284_n (2)

10312030_10154196632265324_2548064995952699915_n (1)

 

 

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Wayne Dyer, You Changed My Life.

IMG_1442

Facebook really knows how to deliver the news. Whatever is going on in the world, it ends up there in some way, shape or form. Guaranteed. So much of it is bullshit baffling brains. It’s a crazy-ass stew of hilarious, hysterical, heavenly, helpful, hurtful and harmful.

And every now and again, it’s gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking.

This emotional gutting happened to me a year ago when I opened my Facebook newsfeed, only to learn that my dear one and soul sister, Mary Frances had died. Then it happened again on Sunday, August 30. Wayne Dyer has left his body, passing away through the night. My first reaction to both death announcements was, “how’s that even possible?”

Initially, my entire being was thrust into abrupt and swift shock. Then, my soul struggled to fathom such an impossible notion, such a far-fetched and preposterous declaration. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe what I was experiencing in that moment. Then panic set in. If Wayne Dyer isn’t in this physical dimension, then where do I go in times of fear, sorrow, anxiety, trouble and confusion? Who will comfort me? Where will I find solace and courage, strength and grounding? Who else can provide such powerful profundity and candid commonsense? For this is what his words and wisdom had provided me for the past three decades.

Then I just felt sad. Deeply. Profoundly. Fervently. Utterly. Completely. Every fiber, every cell, every piece of me went into mourning.

I was sad for everyone who loved him, his family and friends, his followers and devotees, those who were lucky enough to know him personally, and those like me, who knew him through his books, audio recordings, PBS appearances, his website and social media.

Like many, I “met” Wayne through his first book, Your Erroneous Zones. I say I met him because that’s exactly how it felt. And as I read more and more of his books, I felt like I was not only learning and growing increasingly aware of my interior and exterior worlds, acquiring a deeper understanding of this life and the one beyond the mist, but that I was also getting to know the man. And this man was extraordinary in every way.

Marvelous and wonderful. Magical and mystical. Intelligent and wise. Witty and entertaining. Mentor and teacher. Inspired and an inspiration.

And I am going to miss him. I’m going to miss reading his words. I’m going to miss listening to his voice in the truck on my way to work. I’m going to miss watching him pace the PBS stage, rolling his hands rhythmically in tune to the cadence of his lyrical voice, as he explained the power of intention and how to make our wishes come true. You’ll see it when you believe it, one of his many mantras. I’m going to miss all those too. I’m going to miss his inspiring quotes in my Facebook newsfeed. I’m going to miss meditating with him. I’m going to miss the “ah”.

So what does the student do when the teacher moves to a different realm?

Take the lessons learned and do something good. Something meaningful. Something kind. Something loving. Something compassionate. Something generous. Something optimistic. Something courageous. Something big. Something small. Something simple. Something profound. Something gentle. Something fierce. Something funny. Something intelligent. Something memorable. Something ordinary. Something peaceful. Something wise. Something imaginative. Something beautiful. Something human. Something divine. Something infinite. Something everlasting.

Thank you Wayne Dyer. You changed my life. I am eternally grateful.

IMG_1411 (1)

IMG_1419

IMG_1423

IMG_1417

IMG_1403

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: We All Want to be Liked.

IMG_1272

Last week I watched an episode of Frontline called Generation Like. It was an enormously compelling, at times inspirational, but ultimately for me, a disturbing look into the desire by teens to be “liked” on social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

On the one hand it was inspiring to see the accomplishments of some of these young social media “stars”, especially the ones with real talent. As the show illustrated, it’s a whole different world of connectivity, where a poor kid with buckets of personality, who also happens to be a crazy-ass gifted skateboarder, can achieve fame on YouTube, and maybe, just maybe, a fortune as well. This kid is a head-to-toe living-breathing billboard for Big Brands, all featured brightly on his YouTube videos. I say, good for him and all the others like him, who are using Social Media and these Big Brands to promote themselves and possibly transform their lives for the better. Of course, the darker side of all of this is that these kids are also being used and perhaps exploited. But that’s a whole other story, for another day, another blog post.

What really resonated with me in this documentary was the insatiable desire by all these kids to acquire the coveted LIKES, the currency of self-worth. There’s a wellspring of elation and euphoria if the LIKES are high for a particular post, but should the LIKE count dip, distress and despair follow. This is the tragic roller-coaster rise and fall of self-esteem and value in Social Media Land.

But here’s the rub. It’s not just teenagers who feel this way. I’m a fully-formed adult with a lifetime of experience in my rear view mirror, and at the risk of full disclosure, I understand how these kids feel. I get it. I was a teenager who was tailored made for Social Media, had it been around back then in the prehistoric days of dinosaurs and diskettes.

Truth is I wish I didn’t get it, that none of this made sense. Like the weirdness of Alice in Wonderland or Ozzy Osbourne. All this exhausting vying for attention, the begging and pleading to be noticed, acknowledged, complimented, desired and admired. The persistent popularity contest. The trendy or trending. The endless sharing. The viral. The cool. Fashionable. Commercial. And ultimately the marketable. It’s all so consuming.

As a writer, storyteller and blogger I’d be lying if I said that none of this mattered to me, that I was completely oblivious and above the fray. Yet every time I post one of my stories on Facebook, Twitter, Cowbird or Tumblr I say a small silent prayer that it will resonate with at least one person in cyberspace. And because I’m not a complete narcissistic ass, I also pray that my words will do some good. Serve humanity. Push the conversation towards optimistic, positive, hopeful, encouraging and promising places in the hearts of others.

But there are times, many times, when nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, happens. It’s like no one is out there. There’s a moment afterwards when I feel disappointed. Discouraged. Disheartened. Dispirited. Depressed.

I feel UN-LIKED.

When this happens, I’m plagued with self-doubt and insecurity. My Nasty Nelly inside-voice shouts, “You are not now, and never will be, among the great writers of your time. You are invisible and no one gives a shit what you have to say. So shut the fuck up. Quit.”

Then I brush it off. Like the dandruff on my shoulders. Or the dog fur on my pants.

Because I can. Because I won’t quit. And because I know better. None of this has anything to do with my self-worth. Or my ability to tell a story, for that matter. I gently and kindly remind myself, that I write because this is what I love to do. This is my big fat stupendous and spectacular passion. My magnificent obsession. I remind myself that this is one of the reasons I was put on earth, at this unique and particular time in history.

So I give it another shot. I kick the can down the road one more time. I write another story. Because in the end, when I drill down to the core of what motivates me. I write because I love the art and the process and the doing of it.

These days, I’m working on not giving a shit about the outcome, or how my stuff will be received. Good bad or otherwise.

The LIKES or HEARTS or THUMBS-UP are like the extra toppings on the Sundae. Nice. But not necessary.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/?fb_action_ids=10152966835316644&fb_action_types=og.recommends

IMG_2068.JPG

IMG_1276

IMG_2070 (1)

IMG_2069.JPG

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Don’t be a Hater.

IMG_3289

I hate haters.  If that’s you, then please leave.  Now.  I mean it.  Get out of here.  Get off my cloud.  Off my blog.  Off my Facebook, twitter and tumblr.  Get lost.  You’re not wanted here.

That liberating mini-rant was inspired by a Facebook post by Cheryl Strayed, who wrote a book called WILD and a column in The Rumpus called Dear Sugar. Here’s the post in its entirety because Cheryl’s a much more effective and brilliant ranter than I.

“Sometimes I’m asked how I deal with the haters. I don’t deal with them. I pity them. I don’t expect everyone to love my books. In fact, I frankly expect the opposite. (In the history of books, there isn’t one everyone loves.) But I must say I marvel at the ugliness it takes to gather one’s forces in the direction of what one loathes rather than loves–to go out of one’s way to say to a writer: YOU SUCK. So I send out a little silent non-God-connected prayer to the jackass who felt the need to share his or her jack-assed-ness with me. And then, without comment, I zap them forever from this page.”

I understand how she feels.  I’ve been lucky. Most of the reviews of my novel and the comments left on my blog have been kind.  Perplexing at times.  But generally magnanimous and insightful. Then again they’re mostly from friends, family and nice strangers.  I haven’t sold millions of books, nor do I have thousands of Facebook fans and I don’t write a column, do public speaking or author readings, like Cheryl.  Essentially I’m an invisible writer so I’m safe.  So far.  But I fear the haters are out there.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid.  It started with diaries.  If you’re a girl from my generation then you know the kind I’m talking about.  Pocket-sized, with a leatherette cover, and a tiny gold lock and key to keep a young girl’s private thoughts secure and safe. The pages were ruled and had shiny gold leaf edges. I had to write very small and neatly because the spaces between the lines were narrow and the pages no bigger than a 5×7 photograph. The diary’s compact size, however, didn’t diminish the size of my ideas, thoughts and dreams. To this day, I keep a diary.  No longer under lock and key.  Simple utilitarian Hilroy notebooks filled with some of my best writing.

Then there’s this blog. One big mother of a diary.  Out there in cyber space for the world to read.  To love.  And to hate.

The last two years spent writing this very public diary have been an interesting ride. Big eye opener. A revelation on intent, perception and interpretation.  Here’s the thing.  I’ve been sitting at my computer every Saturday thinking I’m writing sweet straightforward stories about my life, past and present.  Nothing edgy, not at all controversial.  But every now and then I read a comment left on a post and I think, what the fuck?  What’s really going on here?  What did I say that offended you so?

Take my post last year on Halloween for instance.  I thought it was just an amusing tale about how I hate that particular holiday and all the reasons why.  For anyone who has been to Northwestern Ontario at the end of October, you know what I mean.  Think of the early sixties, sad costumes cut from sheets, snow, slush, snowsuits, parkas, molasses kisses, snot streaking across your feverish face and you get the picture.  But some readers didn’t get it. Nor were they amused by my satirical tongue planted firmly in my facetious cheek.  For them, I had violated everything that was sacred about playing dress-up once a year. I was the Halloween version of Ebenezer Scrooge.  An angry fun-spoiler.

Even when I thought I was writing an deeply empathic story about the tragic death of a young boy riding his bike for charity, and how my heart broke for his mother, one person read something completely different. I had somehow insulted her.  She sent me a private message (thank God) to chastise me for not writing about her suffering. “What about me?” she essentially asked.  I was gobsmacked, and like Cheryl I zapped her from my Facebook page.

My all-time favorite head-shaker came when I read the comments to my post on “Regrets.”  Some people couldn’t handle that notion at all.  It made them squirm with discomfort. Complete strangers left their sage advice on how I shouldn’t regret anything in life. Little mini pep talks were posted to inspire me to rise from my funk of regret.  Nuggets of homespun wisdom on the virtues of living a life free of regret flooded my inbox. “You did the best with what you knew at the time,” brand of pop psychology was offered up like manna from heaven.  What I found most disconcerting about all this inspirational well-meaning advice was the judgmental and admonishing overtones.  But their comments also made me smile.  Like Yoda.  I know all that shit.  I know it and I still have regrets. I’m okay with that. So there.

The act of authentic writing is like performing open heart surgery on yourself.  Without anesthetic. You slice open your chest, rip apart your flesh, hack into your bones and pull it all out.  You have to be willing to be vulnerable.  Fragile.  Breakable.  Frightened at times. Scared out of your wits.  Where did this come from?  Where is it going?  But to write this way you also have to be courageous. Fierce.  Raw.  Genuine.  Willing to take big emotional risks.  Go to the dark and scary places of your soul. Tell the truth.

I not only write from the heart.  I give you my heart.

Don’t trash or break it.  Just because you can.  Like Cheryl said, what we write isn’t for everyone.  I don’t like every writer, story, blog, book, novel, essay, email.  How could I?  I respectfully put what I don’t like aside and seek other things to read.  This doesn’t mean that something I don’t fancy isn’t well-written or worthwhile either.  It just means it’s not my cup of tea.

One of the big reasons I pass on a lot great literature is because it’s beyond me.  It’s either written in a style I’m incapable of comprehending or I find laborious and tedious. Like reading the Bible from cover to cover as my husband did one year.  That was sheer madness to me but he found it engrossing and meaningful.  Often it’s a genre that doesn’t fascinate me.  My son loves Tolkien, for example.  I can’t get past the first page, although I do love the movies.  We both agree on Harry Potter.  I love Anne Tyler.  I don’t think he knows who she is.

Just so we’re clear here, I have many different opinions and contrary thoughts on writers and their words. And if asked, I’ll offer them. (Sometimes even without being asked.)  But a carefully considered and thoughtfully crafted perspective on any given piece is far different from a reckless and careless comment spit out like stale bubble gum.

How does saying, YOU SUCK advance humanity?  How does that make us better?  How is that comment meaningful to anyone? What does it have to do with anything?  Does it encourage dialogue and advance the conversation? Does it connect us with compassion and empathy? Of course not.  It serves no purpose.  So the only intelligent thing to do is to zap it like Cheryl does.

I’m not a super genius.  I’m not even all that smart, frankly. Perhaps wise on occasion.  I’m a work in progress for sure.  So is my writing.  I like to think it gets a bit better every day.  Just like me.

Who knows? Maybe I SUCK.  But let me be the first to say it.

Link to Cheryl’s website to learn more about her: http://www.cherylstrayed.com/

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Rhythm of Running.

running gearRunning doesn’t come easy for me.  The first few blocks are pure hell.  Psyching myself to go for a run is a marathon in itself.  Each new day is like starting over.  Even after 30 years, it’s still the same.

Before I run there are a few things I do first.  The Monday to Friday pre-run routine and ritual goes something like this:

1. Get up early. 5:00am at the latest. Except for the summer months, it’s dark outside and quiet inside.  The house is hushed and still in the undisturbed darkness before dawn.  Just how I like it.
2. Put on sweatpants and T-shirt or some other comfortable running attire.  These are found heaped on the floor next to the bed where I left them the night before. I prepare ahead.
3. Grope my way through the hallway to the kitchen where I put on the kettle. Sometimes I hit the bathroom first and take a pee.
4. Head to my office where I check emails and cruise through Facebook while the kettle boils.  Sometimes I read a Cowbird story.
5. Make a cup of Tetley’s Orange Pekoe tea. I like how the round bags fit perfectly int the bottom of the Vegas mug D gave me.
6. Practice yoga for an hour.  Because I’m so spiritual I do this in front of the TV.  Depending on my mood it’s either Steven & Chris or CMT. Until January it was CNN but I stopped that because it was counter productive and stressed me out.
7. Make the bed and tidy my office. I hate clutter and can’t get into an unmade bed.  Just one of my many quirks.
8. Make my lunch for work.  This is usually a salad and some kind of protein.  I don’t really care what I eat for lunch just as long as it’s reasonably healthy and doesn’t make me sleepy by two.
9. Boil the kettle again.  Make a cup of coffee spiked with cinnamon. I like to live dangerously.  I also add cream, which is completely over-the-top and edgy.
10. Head back to my office, pull out my latest Hilroy notebook, a blue Bic pen and write my daily letter to God.  This is private.  But possibly some of my best writing.
11. Sip my creamy cinnamon coffee and say my prayers.  I don’t get down on my knees.  This hurts too much.  God knows and doesn’t expect it of me.  We’re pretty tight.
12. If it’s cold out, I throw on my big old grey hoodie with the bleach splatters and pills under the arms.  If it’s warm than the T-shirt is all I need.  I don’t wear a bra.  I like to flop when I run.
13. Head downstairs and lace up my sneakers.  Nothing fancy here.  Nor expensive.  If they aren’t on sale I don’t buy them. One of my best pair of runners came from Zellers. This was before Target took over.
14. Check the clock next to the back door.  I don’t know why I do this. I never check it when I return and I don’t time my runs.  I really don’t care how long it takes.
15. Walk around to the side of the house, past the Camellia tree, the bamboo and the old rose bush that scares the shit out of me.
16. Open the front gate, take a deep breath, hesitate momentarily, mumble ‘what the fuck’ under my breath and hit the streets.

I start to run immediately.  It’s uphill right out of the gate. Brutal. Punishing.  Grueling.  My legs are already tired and I feel the burn.  It’s killing me and I haven’t even gone a block.  All I can think about is how lousy I feel.

But just when I think I can’t run another step, the sidewalk slopes downward and I coast along for the next bit. This is where grace and mercy come into play.

It’s during this little stretch that I set the pace. This is different every day.  It all depends on how I feel that morning.  Not just physically but emotionally.  One day I could be the hare. The next, the tortoise.  Sometimes I feel like a freebird.  Other days, a slug.  There are mornings where I feel like I could run forever.  Or at least a mile or two.  Maybe even ten.  Then there are days – many, many days – where I ask myself, ‘what the hell are you doing?’  I just want to roll over onto the boulevard and curl up like a wood bug.  Go to sleep. For a long time. Like Rip Van Winkle.  Some days, my youth is renewed like the eagles.  Others, I’m an old wizened woman.  Gnarled.  Weather-beaten.

The difference between a good day and a bad one usually comes down to rhythm.  I don’t plug in while I run.  No iTunes. No playlists. No music. No motivational talks.  No podcasts.  None of that.

I listen to my soul.  My heartbeat.  My inner cadence.

I hear the sound of my breathing.  My footsteps on the concrete. Crows squawking on the telephone lines.  The voices of the squirrels.  Leaves rustling.  Wind howling. Gentle breezes calling. Dogs barking. Cars racing.  Doors slamming.  All the early morning reverberations.

I hear the silence.  And the pauses between the clamor. I hear God whispering my name.

It is here that I get in the groove.  Find my rhythm.  This is the sweet stuff of running. This is the meditative place. Where everything works.  My body, mind and spirit are all in tune.  Harmonious.  Peaceful.  Grounded.

I run to the rhythm of me.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 1 Million Likes and My Dad will Quit Smoking.

IMG_1700In an earlier post I shared some of the things I was angry about since this dance with the Big C began last fall.  Mostly bat-shit crazy, Mad Hatter things that have been overwhelming and downright mystifying.  The bubbling brew of oozing gooey undisguised and unrestrained emotions.  My psychological backpack is already jam-packed, yet I continue to gather more of these sour candies with each passing day.  It’s been a real slice and I am grateful to everyone who is on the road with me.  I’m especially grateful to those with large hearts and even larger compassionate muscles who haven’t judged.  Just walked the mile in my moccasins.

One of the big things I have wrestled with in this messy muddy life I lead is that there is just no way to sanitize these emotions. I wish I could.  But the truth is, they are there.  Maybe they always were and E’s cancer just brought them roaring to the surface. Demanding that I take note.  So I have.  And the thing is, I can’t paint a pretty picture.  Won’t even try.  All my life I have been referred to as “such a nice person.”  Well, there isn’t anything nice about this.  None of it.  So if you will indulge me one last purge, one final rage, one more dump about anger, then I think I’m done here.

Warning: Some of you may want to quit reading at this point.  No hard feelings. This isn’t for everyone.  I get that. You can move on and read the blogs about flour-free recipes or how to make a tee shirt from toilet paper.

There is one colossal thing that I’ve been livid about for years.  It trumps all those other things I’ve been mad about.  Makes them seem almost trivial.  Not even deep enough to be superficial. It’s the Big Kahuna of piss-offs.  I intentionally left it out of my first rant because it’s been such a sensitive thorn in my side.  And believe it or not, I was still trying to play nice in that post.  But since this is the final puke-up, here goes.

E smoked.

Not casually.  Not after dinner.  Nor while on vacation.  Not like those rare birds who bum smokes at parties but never indulge otherwise. It wasn’t a bad habit he picked up late at night while playing in bands.  E was a hard-core smoker from the time his was nine years old.  He chain smoked. Tons. It was the first thing he did when he got up in the morning and the last thing at night.  If he couldn’t sleep he got up and had a cigarette. It comforted him in ways I never could.  It was his best friend. An extension of his yellow nicotine stained fingers.

No one knows with 100 percent certainty that smoking was the cause of his disease. Even the doctors who treated him, and the nurses who cared for him, left the door open for other possible explanations.  Cancer does strike randomly.  Nonsmokers get lung cancer.  Health nuts, who only eat organic foods and run ten miles a day, get stomach cancer.  People who wear big floppy hats and cover themselves in gobs of suntan lotion get skin cancer.  We know this to be true.  Stress and inflammation are often at the heart of many diseases, from head to heel.  I get this.

But here’s the two thousand pound elephant in the room.  E stuck a carcinogenic substance in his mouth for 45 years, every day, all day.  He has mouth cancer. Mathematical equations aside, odds are cigarette smoking most likely caused this thing.

And I’m mad as hell about that.

Before our daughter was born I begged and pleaded with E to quit.  Once M was here, I tried every manipulative trick in the book.  Of course, intellectually I knew this had to be his decision. He had to hold his own come to Jesus meeting.  I had no control over this.  I understood addiction. Having grown up with an alcoholic father and personally battled with uncontrollable sugar cravings my entire life, I knew what misery looked like.  I’d grovel and drag myself through the mud just for an O’Henry Bar. I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night needing to feed.  I will always be a sugar addict, whether I eat the stuff or not.  I’ve also smoked.  I know how hard it is to quit. I bawled like a baby for two weeks solid the last, and final, time I quit.  It was pathetic.  Not one of my more graceful and exemplary times.

Because I knew intimately how difficult quitting smoking could be, I exercised as much compassion and understanding as was possible with E. But I’m only human after all.  And I have my own crap to deal with. There was always this underlying resentment about him not quitting.  I often viewed it as defiance.  Not something he couldn’t do.  But wouldn’t.

There were a couple of occasions over the past 20 years where E attempted to quit.  His longest smoke-free period was about four months.  Most of his efforts were futile though.  When it came to quitting, the best he could commit to was “someday.”

Over time, my protests and admonishments ebbed and flowed in volume and frequency.  I also had a comrade, a buddy, a conscientious objector who shared my concerns.  I went from wanting to shield my daughter from a swath of cigarette fumes to having her join me on the protest line.  M and I were a united front on this issue.

At times we were passive aggressive in our objections and disapproval.  Never really coming out and saying, “You’re an asshole for treating this so lightly,” but implying it just the same, in our offhanded comments.  These ran the gambit from the descriptive, “The garage looks like a butt factory” to the succinct, “you reek.”  His habit was bringing out the worst in us.  We were evil twins.

But once E’s mouth cancer was confirmed, no one dared to say, “I told you so.”  We knew there was a good possibility something like this could happen. He was playing a risky game with much at stake.  Sad thing is, E knew it too.  That was the frustrating part.  Just like quitting  might happen “someday” so could getting cancer.

It’s a peculiar thing how love supersedes everything at times like these. Instead of thinking, “I knew this was going to happen.” All I could think about was losing him.  Nothing else mattered.  The cause was irrelevant.

Having said all that, I’m still angry.  At E for not quitting before it came to this.  At his doctor, for not ever suggesting he should quit.  At myself, for not being more persuasive, not fighting hard enough.  At God, for not answering all those millions of prayers.

Pointless self-flagellation.  I know.

One last thing.  All over social media sites, but Facebook in particular, there have been these images of kids holding signs that read something like, “My dad says that if I get 1 million ‘likes’ he’ll quit smoking.”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry the first time I saw one of these posts.  For the most part these are scams called “Like Farming”, which can generate tons of money for the owners of those phony pages.  Scams or the real deal aside, I found them disturbing.  Because M and I know the truth.  It will take more than 1 million “likes” to make someone’s dad quit smoking. No matter how much they love you. It just doesn’t work that way. Nothing’s that simple.

I’m angry about that too.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: My Best Friend Forever.

B at Boulevard Lake posing in bellbottoms.

B at Boulevard Lake posing in bellbottoms.

I have a best friend.  Ma always told me that if I had one really good friend in life, then I was truly blessed.  She was right.  And I do.  I was reminded of this on Saturday when a little package arrived just for me.

Little back story.  We met when we were both sixteen.  My recollections of our first meeting are hazy, veiled in layers of years. I think we were introduced at a party.  Why not?  We were teenage girls.  That initial contact put us into each other’s orb for life.

We might have met sooner, had we grown up in the same neighborhood.  The world is small in a small town but even smaller when you’re a little kid.  Now when I look back, there were many opportunities for us to have met before that night. The Old Man delivered bread to their house. Our neighborhoods weren’t that far apart.  We were both Finlanders.  But back then, I never wandered too far away from 204.

We had been going to the same high school for two years before the party and yet we had never crossed paths.  We were in different academic programs and travelled in different circles.  I was a band nerd and had trouble making eye contact.  She was one of the admin girls and painfully shy.

But once we were introduced that all changed.  Wham!  She’s in my universe and we’re bumping into each other everywhere.  Hallways. Gymnasium.  Cafeteria.  Washrooms.  Schoolyard.

We had a lot in common.

Soon we were walking home from school together. Sometimes we would stop at the corner before heading on our separate ways. These conversations that so absorbed us; it was impossible to let go. Other times she would come to my house for tea and the fresh-baked cookies Ma always had waiting for us.  Our discussions were large and deep for two teenage girls.

B and pregnant Boo on the shores of Lake Superior.

B and pregnant Boo on the shores of Lake Superior.

We explored everything.  No topic was off limits. We wondered and pondered.  Probed and mused.  Drilled down deep to places most young girls that age would never have contemplated.  The subject matter wasn’t always full of profundity however, nor was it terribly serious.  We were sixteen after all.  We talked about boys a lot.  She had a steady boyfriend.  I did not.  At times I lived vicariously through her romance.  It was fun.  And safer.

We were tender and sensitive.  Lovely and sweet.  Gentle and kind.  Creative and imaginative.  We both liked to write and sew and do crafty things.  We combed through teenage magazines and picked out fashions we loved.  One of our favorite haunts was the fabric department at Eaton’s.  She was a brilliant sewer.  I was accomplished enough but nowhere near as gifted as her.  She could have been a fashion designer.  That’s how good she was.

We were poets and Philosopher Princesses.  Our hearts were broken often.  Not just from love gone wrong.  But from all the pain, suffering and heartache we saw in the world. Everything touched our young fragile spirits.   We were emotional risk takers, willing to go out on a limb.  Fall.  Break.  And when we did, we helped each heal.

We laughed our faces off.  And cried until we were exhausted.  We ranted.  And raved.  We sang along to our favorite records.  And danced like wild girls in my small upstairs bedroom.

She taught me yoga and the power of meditation. Macrame and how to make the perfect square knot.  The fine art of stringing colorful beads into gorgeous necklaces. She gave me a slip from her mom’s African violet and taught me how to grow my first plant.

We hung out at local dives and smoked cigarettes and drank coffee until we were shaking from nerves rattled by too much caffeine and nicotine.  We wrestled with our own mortality.  Danced with our inner demons.  Contemplated what it was like on the other side of this life.  We were complex young women.  We were simple teenage girls.

B with my son having a tea party.

B with my son having a tea party.

We shared dreams.  Held secrets.  An unbreakable bond.  Sisters of the soul.  Best friends.  We got each other.  Really dug one another.  Like we were cut from the same cloth.  We were sisters from different mothers.

We marvel that this friendship of ours has endured decades.  We’ve gone from Teen Girl Warriors to Wise Crone Goddesses.  We can be apart for years, barely keep in touch, and reconnect in a heart beat. We’ve been through first loves, marriages and separations.  We’ve had children and watched them grow into beautiful adults. We’ve lost loves and discovered new ones in unexpected places. We’ve said goodbye to parents and stood at gravesides. We’ve been through a lot together and apart.  Yet one truth remains.  I’ve always known that no matter what, she had my back.  And I had hers.

Last week, she posted a note on my Facebook timeline.

“Did I receive the pkg?”

“I got a notification but didn’t know who it was from.  I was going to pick it up on Saturday,” I posted in response.

I love surprises.  On Saturday afternoon while E and I were running errands we stopped into the local grocery store, where the post office is tucked away in one corner.  I picked up the parcel, which was light and rattle-free.  Its weight and silence only added to its delicious mystery.  E picked up a couple of pints of ice cream that were on sale and headed to the checkout.  While he was waiting in line, I went outside.

B's original design vintage sundress inspired chef's apron.

B’s original design vintage sundress inspired chef’s apron.

Suddenly I was sixteen again.  I couldn’t wait to get home.  Standing next to the row of grocery carts, I thought to myself, I’ll just take the tape off.  But once the tape was removed, I couldn’t stop. It was like Pandora’s Box.  Too tempting.  Before E was through the checkout I had one end of the brown wrapper removed and was opening the box.

And there it was.  Wrapped in green tissue, sealed with gold stickers, and inscribed with five precious words, “made with love for Bonney.”  An original design by B.  Vintage sundress inspired chef’s apron.  Meticulously crafted with attention to every detail.  Sweet whimsical buttons in yellow red and blue set on tiny pink flowers.  Wonder-filled.

There isn’t a word for the delight I felt at that moment.

Once home, and in the privacy of my sacred writing space, I held up this beloved gift to take in its full magnificence.  It was like I was holding B in my arms.  Love was radiating from every thread.

Tucked in the pocket of the apron was her “go to” dessert.  Plum Clafoutis.  I will make this my “go to” dessert too.

Her final instruction to me on the pink post-it note included in the package, read simply. “Enjoy!”

And I will.  Oh yes I will.

Footnote: Last summer when I was back East for my brother’s wedding anniversary B and I had a glorious visit.  It was brief, just one afternoon but long enough to reconnect.  She took me out to see her beautiful garden.  Everything she touches blooms and blossoms abundantly. One flower in particular captured my attention. The Brown Eyed Susan.  In the package, with the apron, was an envelope with one last note from B.  It was filled with Brown Eyed Susan seeds from her garden.  “Scatter them in spring and let nature take its course,” she wrote.

Yes, my dear friend.