February 23, 2020
I awoke sometime around 4:30, dozing blissfully and lazily for another forty minutes. I did not intend to sleep late as sometimes is my goal on a “day off”. The night before, I had fallen asleep on the couch as I often do, bundled in blankets, fire in the fireplace and the lull of mindless television. Without the care of a morning schedule, the miracle of vivid dreams recharged my mind while soothing my aching body.
Morning had not yet lightened the edge of night.
Here, protected in my grove of trees just outside the city, the subzero cold seeped into boards of the deck and looped around the corners of the house, causing loud snaps throughout the night. I love the blatant hypocrisy of winter. The lengthening of daytime masks the dip of temperatures. Folk wisdom prescribes these temperatures as healthy for February in Wisconsin but the chill is deadly if one is not prepared. Nighttime compounds the danger, but, during the daytime, the February sky is more beautiful with blues and pastels reflecting off snow and icy particles which dance in the skies.
I sat in the morning’s darkness, letting my mind’s wheels turn and allowing my desires for the day to burn….
Burn? Oddly, yes. Last night’s fire had long been extinguished. I repacked the fireplace with logs for the treat of a morning fire. I fumbled but found newspapers and the lighter. I imagined exercising by the fireplace; early, before the dawn, before the world wakes up.
No light shone except from the early flames. The furnace was quiet. No heat blew through the registers and vents. Only the fire’s warmth radiated through the room. And in the dark I let my mind ease into the morning.
I sat, stretching on the floor, easing into muscles which felt as though I had not really danced or stretched in years. Although I walk when I work, it is not quite the same for ones legs. I stretched, feeling my legs, rubbing the soreness. At first I berated myself for letting my muscles go. “Practice, Steph, practice. Work, Steph, work. Stretch.”
But as I stretched, I noticed new, tighter muscles which both helped the exercises and halted the progression of the stretches. But I stretched. And I danced, practicing in the dark, to the flames’ light.
For the first time in years, my life has regained the peace for which I desperately craved and fought. With little improvements, my small home is steadily becoming my bungalow in the woods! This winter, my son’s room is getting an overhaul with free floating book shelves, new carpeting and softer blue paint. A huge closet has been halved in size to enlarge the living space of the room. Last year my room was cleaned, painted and restructured a bit with closet spaces.
As luck has it, this latest work has come at the same time as I have had emergency dental procedures and weeks of follow-up recovery and appointments. Isn’t life like that? Never just one thing, and always at the craziest of times. But given the possible problems one can encounter, home improvements and dental work are the types of problems I wish to handle in my private life. So, this Valentine’s Day, after a day of fun, I recovered with sore jaws and living room furniture where the dining area used to be.
I am fifty-four years old. I am not “starting over” with a “clean slate”. I am not even sure what that would mean for me. But with a “slateful” of experiences and memories, I do start over. What does that mean? And the answer I found while asking myself the question from my dreams,
“Well, why don’t I find out?”
The year was 1975. My brother and I spent the summer, the greater part of June, July, and August in Two Rivers by our grandparents’ house in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Two Rivers is a small city which lies on the western shores of Lake Michigan. Its partner city, Manitowoc, was known for the manufacture of WWII submarines, aluminum goods, cranes and icemakers. Two Rivers had been home to the aluminum goods, printing and commercial fishing industries. Today those industries are memories with their buildings either totally gone or re-purposed into loft apartments.
I do not remember what my brother did all summer, but I know I biked and spent as much time outside as possible. I was one of those challenging children who might have been best managed by keeping me out of mischeif. As I reflect, I am in awe that my mother and father allowed us – especially me – as much freedom as we had. I biked all over. I hung out with other kids at summer playground programs. Occasionally I would have a chance at a bus trip to Milwaukee Brewers game.
On the shores of Lake Michigan, the beach was a common gathering spot for unforgettable art activities.
Earlier this month I was restocking jar candles at work. The task gives me a chance to study merchandise and plan. As I plodded through the small boxes, I noticed one scent which was labeled for the autumn season. Irritated at the poor timing of its arrival, I wondered at the error of the warehouse, the supposed fault of the supplier and anyone else along the supply chain that I could conjure up. I grabbed the candles in disgust, but as it passed my nose, I could not help but smile. The smell was achingly familiar.
I stood in aisle fifteen but my mind backtracked to that of me as a ten year old, standing on Neshotah Beach with the summer playground program, making candles in the sand. The camp leaders would melt old candles and ragged remains of crayons while we dug hearts, stars, and funny amoeba-shaped non-shapes in the sugar sand. We knelt in the sand, holding the wicks steadily as we waited for our mix of wax. After the wax was poured in the sand molds, we covered them with the cool sands and waited.
I smiled as I re-climbed the stocking ladder. Over forty years have passed, but that grey ‘farm fresh fall’ candle which was so out of season by label, bridged decades to that wondrous sweet, fresh smell of Lake Michigan beach mixed with a perfumed smorgasbord of wax leftovers.
I had fun last week, gathering with friends I had not spent time with in a long time. We had light-hearted, earthy, fun, with eating meals in restaurants, drinking wine and gambling for a short stint at a casino. My luck was short lived as well, reinvesting my winnings in a gambler’s ever fruitless pursuit of bigger winnings.
But it was fun. And the evening glasses of Moscato and appetizers were delightful. When was the last time I did such a thing?
From Wind: “Well, why don’t you find out?”
Other than my family, I have never openly shared my experiences from five years ago. That is, not until this past week. I had never been asked by anyone from the church nor had anyone reached out until this week when one person did. It was an uncomfortable conversation but I remembered how I had always wished to speak about it all. I remembered how hurt I had been. My whole world had crashed with suddenness and cruelty. As I talked, I still felt a bit like the observer, documenting myself and my actions while reminding myself to speak not as a victim but as a proud woman and a graceful lady.
“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him” ~ Reverend Martin Luther King, jr.
“I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him,” Booker T. Washington.
When I was teaching, I would remind children, with gentle encouragement, to eliminate the word ‘hate’ from their vocabulary. The word itself is as deadly to ones soul as any virus to human bodily tissues. With that same sad firmness, I left the institution with the words that I had prayed so many times five years ago and with the goal that I live those words I had taught. “Forgive them,” I prayed to G~d. “Please. G~d, I am embarrassed for them. I would hope, just this once, you would not be an all-seeing, all-knowing G~d. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they have done.”
I had also prayed that I would be strong enough to not reach out in vengeance. Somehow, I could be granted a way to look at the world through the lens which G~d had given me, with kindness and softness – my womanliness. But I still needed hard lessons. I needed to learn to shell my heart not with the firmness of wisdom.
A person reads stories from Holocaust survivors who learned to forgive or even grabs lessons from ones faith on how to manage conflicts. I remember going through prolonged periods of emotions. Anger. I felt anger. Fear. I had been scared to the bone of what they were capable because I had experienced their cruelty around children and around me. I also experienced the viral impact of crowd mentality.
This past week I also experienced the magic of truth. I spoke of the sad memory to a kind, empathetic soul. Abracadabra, my soul felt flight.
I am still scared as I “flap my wings”. Months have passed since I watched those awkward leaps of seagulls. I am still so awkward but I choose to leap. I am still unsure, but I need to find out. Of that, I am not hesitant. My soul is not awkward.
So the cycle continues with lessons and new tools learned through failure, practice and most of all, faith.
The lesson I wish to share is this: “Fly”. You already have an abundance of faith. And it is the most splendid version of faith – it is pure. It is yours. It is a well of messy, relentless, abundant, awkward faith. It is power that will propel you into the pursuit of dream fulfillment and attempts thereof. You will fail. Your awkward faith will pick you up. You will succeed and your awkward faith will remind you of the road ahead. You will change your mind, change your hair, and change your profession. And your awkward faith will make you smile when you are scared.
Psst. That new idea? That new skill? That new way about you?
Faith…Please, be bravely awkward.
Well, then. Well? Why don’t you find out?
May you know the awkwardness of pure faith. It is yours and is meant to “take you away” a bit from the world. Smile. Have fun. Love.
Well then. Why don’t I find out?
Love, Blessings and – ok, I will always giggle a bit – a kiss just because…
P.S. “ Dear Wind.” I finally restarted the book I have been wishing to write and in the way in which I would like to write it. And I am rejoicing in my return to mixing up fashion pieces such as leopard prints, lace and olive green cargos.