Well For Gosh Sakes…

My 95 year old grandmother was in an accident last week.  I got the news as I hiked and with limited cell service, the only thing I knew for certain was that it was bad:  ten broken bones and a cut so bad that it couldn’t be stitched.

One foot in front of the other, unsure of whether I should tell those I was hiking with about a potential complication to our planned celebration afterwards, I thought about my Mimi.  To say she was an influence in my life sells her so short.  So many memories of my growing up are linked to her arms, her lap, the signature red and white gingham of her kitchen tablecloth, her post and beam living room.  She is incredibly strong, fiercely independent, and would give anything she could to anyone who needed it.

As a child, I was convinced I would become a doctor.  It was a serious reality in my mind.  If it was science-related, I put it on my birthday and Christmas lists.  One science kit came with a frog that was ready to be dissected, a tiny scalpel and a small road map of frog parts to look for.  I was beyond excited to cut into that little guy, but there was one complication.  Mimi loved frogs.  Her birthdays and Christmases were often marked by frog themed presents.  So…I did what any ten-year-old serious scientist with an incredible grandmother would do.  I gave the tiny frog in his tiny vial to Mimi as a gift.  For 27 years, that frog in his specimen jar has adorned a chest that sits in her hallway.  Anyone who walks to the bathroom at Mimi’s house has walked past my gift – quite an honor.

Mimi’s speech, not only what she says, but how she says it, defines her so clearly for me.  She has these signature lines that will only ever belong to her in my mind.  Laying in her hospital bed, she continues to deliver them just like she would if you showed up at her house and sat down at her table, still covered in a gingham tablecloth.  I visited her yesterday and spent most of the visit near the head of her bed.  It struck me, as I looked down at her, just how much I really do look like her.  She was always so much larger than life that I never took the time to notice; Mimi was always Mimi – no one could look like her.  But it’s there – the shape and color of my eyes, the shape of our noses, and even the size of my ears.  She looked up from her bed and we talked about a bump that I get when I’m stressed and, with a concerned look on her face said “Well for gosh sakes, Beeb, what’s got you so stressed out?”

To watch someone you love so much be scared, in pain, and unsure of what’s lies ahead is scary.  But to watch the strength and calm with which Mimi can face all of that – it’s humbling.  She’s going to make it home – she told me that yesterday – so the only thing I can do is support her until she reaches that goal…and try to keep my stress bump under control until she’s there.

 

Presence

Cheryl Strayed gets a lot of credit for getting me through some of the most challenging moments of the last couple of years.  She has a wonderful line in Tiny Beautiful Things:  “Real change happens on the level of the gesture.  It’s one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before…”  That line still makes me sit back in my seat because it’s so simple, but so true.

While I was paddling this morning, I realized that presence happens on the level of the gesture too.  I don’t bring a phone with me on the water, which means I also don’t have a camera with me.  It’s the quietest part of my day, the part when I most notice the beauty of what’s around me – and I have no way to capture it.

Presence is watching how someone’s body language betrays their words.  Presence is not taking photos and instead opting to watch the way the indigo of mountains contrasts the orange of a sunset.  It’s taking a minute to notice the feeling of another person’s hand in your own, rather than just rushing to a destination, hand-in-hand .

That presence is what creates our memories.  Science tells us that memories that involve multiple senses and emotions are the ones that we hold onto the longest.  Being present in a moment, though we may not have a physical ‘thing’ to show for it, gives us something much more.  It gives us a moment to go back to, in the quiet of our own minds, when we need it most.

The Courage to Ship

For the past several years, I’ve truly enjoyed any opportunity I could grab to edit for someone else.  A couple of times, that’s materialized into the chance to edit books – and I loved every word of it.  Meanwhile, I quietly turned an idea I have for a novel over and over in my mind, but I committed very little to the page.  I let myself get caught up in excuses like ‘I don’t know the character well enough to write about their story yet’.  But when I told a couple of people about a rough sketch of the narrative arc in my brain, no one told me it sucked.  They actually asked questions that seemed like maybe it was something even a handful of people might read.

During that same time, I quietly typed away at a private blog.  Though it’s been largely abandoned since I took my current job, 75 posts sit waiting on a shelf.  I insisted that once I had a proper blog title, I’d do something public.  But finding a proper blog title?  That could take an overthinker like me years…and it did.

Last week I had a conversation with a wonderful person that I love and admire.  The advice she gave was that I didn’t lack the talent, I lacked the courage to ship.  It didn’t need to be perfect, she assured me, it just needed to be a habit.  Something I gave to myself each day.

People close to me have rightly pointed out that I fritter away my words on social media, choosing to hide behind the narrative I create rather than do something of substance somewhere else.  And it’s true.  This blog is no guarantee that I won’t still spend words on Facebook, but it’s also a commitment to put my own voice into the world.