While running with Maggie and Teresa, Maggie asked, ““Why do you write, Nancy?”
I’m slow to articulate answers to big questions, and that was a biggee. So I hemmed and hawed until Teresa said, “Nancy, you write because it’s fun.” Hmm. She’s right. It is fun – unless writer’s block builds a fortress in my brain, and I’m forced to start cleaning.
Last week, I described my July posting challenge to my friend Kim, and Kim asked, “Do you really want that pressure?”
Hmm. Writing creates about as much tension as completing that 500 piece jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table. It’s more of a compulsion or a magnetism combined with pure pondering. Hmm.
Like Mary Oliver says, “Be fascinated. Tell about it.” I’m trying, Mary. It’s just so perplexing to find the words to capture those amazing moments. So I post anyway, even if it’s not “good enough.” It’s never quite right.
I write out of humor and heartache, sadness and awe – to feel connected to the human experience. I write to laugh, and I write to vent. I write to understand, and I write to battle isolation. I write out of love with a hope to share it, bottle it, and open it later.
Beth Foran taught me to give witness to the wackiness of our idiosyncratic behavior – a gift I will always cherish. I write to bear witness to absurdity and to foster forgiveness, of self and of others.
Language is beautiful but so inadequate. Words are limited and confining, yet some authors and poets create eloquent metaphors, astute parallels and wondrous imagery out of bare bones letters. How do they do it? Teach me.
Love, life, grief, celebration, child rearing and child leaving. Marriage, friendship, family, running and nature. Mindfulness and meaning; presence and purpose. Disappointment, joy, and kindred soul mates who reveal the beauty of being all in.
Out of sheer gratefulness to God.
After graduating from high school, Kevin enrolled at DePaul University in Chicago. My dad entered the Navy through the gates of Soldier’s Field in Chicago. Our children are free to pursue creative endeavors because our parents made it possible. And the Greatest Generation wouldn’t want it any other way.
There’s a bright side to last weekend’s tumbled tree into my CRV:
- No more new-car syndrome. The car is trashed. Who cares if I spill?
- I don’t care about cars. My ten-year-old van had more dinks than a junkyard.
- It was my car that the tree squashed.
- The tree did not hit my neighbor Scott who had just walked past and heard the CRACK! The tree missed him by six feet.
- The tree fell on Saturday, so when my neighbor who follows an Orthodox faith saw the car crunch and power lines spark, she ran over to tell me. She said she would have texted, but it was the Sabbath and electronic usage is forbidden . If she had texted, I would not have gotten the message because I was hosting a no-cellphone yoga retreat. Saturday was a perfect day for the accident.
- Tim was in Valpo because he opted out of the yoga retreat. Shocker. He would have lost his mind without Wifi for a whole weekend.
- The Michiana Shores Volunteer Firefighter went to Mount Carmel High School – just like Tim. Small world!
- I met neighbors. My mom regularly asks, “How are your neighbors?” For over a year, I answer, “I don’t know. I haven’t met them. The house is in the woods.” Now I can say I met Rick, Barb, Reed (a real hoot), Mark, Jody and her daughter Dory and her two granddaughters ages five and three. Playmates for Eileen!
- I like my rental, a Nissan Versa. It requires a key to start the engine. No more wondering if my car key really is in my purse when I approach my car.
- Amber at Enterprise Rental Car is getting married next year – just like Bethy!
- The act boosts the economy with increased income for workers – NIPSCO, Comcast, Enterprise, M&S Collision, Tow Truck Company, Adjuster, Arborist/landscaper. It’s quite a boon.
- My insurance agent Dave Karp is absolutely awesome. He is a great friend, but I never knew he was the best insurance agent in Northwest Indiana.
- We have loads of firewood!
|Yesterday, two children asked me to send them their Social Security cards. Ha! They still need me. In my search, I found a host of treasures – actual submissions to magazines complete with typed (yes, on a typewriter) rejection letters from twenty-five years ago. I read one of the submissions to Woman’s Day about pledging to live out my father’s legacy on Father’s Day instead of wallowing in grief over the tremendous loss of such a wonderful man. So by 7:00am, I had already balled my eyes out. This made me think of my scattered writing and how not only do I have journals, journals everywhere, but I have reflections on computers, computers don’t know where. Evernote, Word, Google Docs, Drive, etc. This morning’s meandering through Evernote revealed the following note from a trip to visit Brendan dated May 14, 2014.|
Note from 724 Copeland Ct in Santa Monica
Life changes. All the time. “How can we be better?” translates into “how can we do better?” Is it okay just to be? To be more prayerful? More forgiving? More loving? Instead, we pledge what not to do: no more sugar, no more fried food, no more margaritas, no more f-bombs, no more complaining about energetic Watson, our dog. (Resolved by sending Watson to college when we sold the Chandana house.) Our resolutions become things I must do: stretch after each run, practice yoga daily, write for at least twenty minutes a day, call loved ones, drink more water, go to daily mass, eat more vegetables. Check things off the list, stick to the goals, feel better and possibly eliminate hot flashes. Life will be good once I eliminate chips and salsa from my diet – spices trigger heat, according to Mr. Google. Life will be good when I establish the perfect closet organizing system or set concrete learning objectives and assessment plans for each of my classes. Life will be good when I am done training for the next long race. (Resolved by no more racing.) Life will be great when I see my kids.
Life will be good when I choose just to be me and to love living with it.
I honestly started this blog as a to-do and not-do list upon our return from seeing Brendan. The kids have grown up, moved out, and they are happy. What gives them peace is knowing that Tim and I have embraced the changes and we are proud of them.
Here are my tangible, concrete goals as of May 2014:
See family more and stay in touch (July 2017 Trying!)
Learn to use Microsoft Publisher (still on the list)
Try two new healthy recipes a week (Did I really think I’d do this?)
Figure out Pinterest (Nope, not yet.)
Make plans for a beach day with Chicago friends (You bet!)
Make plans for a beach day with Valpo friends (Yep!)
Clean out my office (Oh boy)
Update my 2013-14 self-evaluation at VU (Part of my job)
Prep for my fall English 200 course (Of course)
Organize the garage – I know, it’s dull, but the garage bugs me (Sold the house – no more Valpo garage!)
The Hamlet list digs much more deeply:
How will I be better? How will this trip make me more loving? How will I glorify God more with my life? How does God wish to be glorified? I have a clear cut “Thou shalt not” list, and I have two simple first commandments.
I wonder if God is up there shaking his or her head thinking, “Why do you complicate things? Why try to organize and control? You aren’t in charge.” Duh.
One of the lines in Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme From English B” is
“As I learn from you, I guess you learn from me—.”
The narrator in the poem is a college student referring to a professor. The reciprocity works the same way with our children. Sometimes as parents, we think we are the teachers, but I’m both blessed and humbled by the lessons I learn from the next generation.
In 1994, Amy Biehl was a 24-year-old American working in South Africa on Post-Apartheid Reconciliation efforts initiated by Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. The day before Amy was to return to the US, Amy offered to drive a stranded friend home to one of the townships. The car came upon an intersection with a throng of protesters rioting over recent oppressive legislature. Three men dragged Amy from the car and stabbed her to death.
At the request of Tutu and Mandela, Bill Clinton contacted the Beihl family and asked if they would publicly forgive the murderers as they believed public reconciliation was the key to peace in South Africa. Peter and Linda Biehl flew to Cape Town, forgave their daughters’ killers, and created The Amy Biehl Foundation as a legacy to Amy’s service, compassion and commitment to peace.
In July of 2007, our oldest daughter Katie began studying in Cape Town through Marquette University. Katie worked at The Amy Biehl Foundation alongside two of Amy’s murderers, Ntebeko Peni and Easy Nofemela.
That fall, Tim and I visited Katie, and Ntebeko offered to give us a tour of the townships. As he drove, Katie sat in front, and Tim and I sat in back. As we approached the township, I flushed with anguish. I could not make eye contact with Ntebeko in the rear view mirror when he tried to address me.
While looking at our beautiful daughter Katie, a red-headed version of young, blond Amy, I listened to Ntebeko tell the story of Amy Biehl’s death. He spoke in the third person, repeatedly saying “they” as he described the actions of the murderers instead of “we.” Skin crawling, I wanted to blurt, “You did it! You killed her! Don’t say ‘they.'” Grasping my hands, I started to pray – for Amy, for the Biehls, for the people of South Africa, for the safety of my Katie.
Ntebeko stopped the car at the small Amy Biehl monument and described the scene of Amy’s death. I thought, You killed someone who is just like my daughter. I just wanted out of that car.
Later, I described my torment to Katie. She explained that Ntebeko and Easy tell the story of Amy Biehl’s death in third person as part of the process of self-reconciliation.
Katie said, “Mom, you have to forgive.” She truly did, and she still does.
So, Katie, I learn from you and from your brothers and sisters. Thank you. Keep teaching.
There are certain non-negotiables when raising young children.
#1 Love them – always.
#2 Read aloud to them – every night, no matter how tired, how crabby, or how many margaritas, glasses of wine, or beers – read and read some more.
To this day, I can recite the introduction to The Berenstain Bears Go to Kindergarten – “It had been a wonderful summer for the Bear family. They had gone swimming and boating at the lake . . .,” and I can tell you all about how the Boxcar Children ended up in the train car.
When the kids begged for “one more chapter, please,” I would bargain.
“Sure, I’ll read another one if you scratch my back.” I sure miss the heaven of those little hands soothing my itchy Irish skin.
I said I’d post on this blog everyday in July, but I didn’t yesterday. I had a post all set to go, but like a kid who says the dog ate last night’s homework, I have a story.
I just returned from a Friday-Sunday women’s yoga retreat led by a friend at our cottage. Saturday at 8:30am, we lined up our yoga mats in the living room and participated in an incredible ninety minute journey through asanas and meditation. I was all in and finally let go of my worries. Are they too hot? Too cold? Is there enough toilet paper? Do they have enough blankets? Will the storm blow the roof off?
As we settled into heavenly morning Shavasana – my all-time favorite corpse pose of just lying on the floor – we heard a BOOM!! So relaxed into my breath, I didn’t budge. Others later said they thought a garbage truck had hit the house.
Next there was a BANG! BANG! BANG! on the door. I tiptoed through the mats to find my neighbor clad in a white bathrobe on the front porch. She sputtered, “Nancy, a huge tree just crushed a car in front of your house, and the power lines are down! There are sparks everywhere!”
Calm from Shavasana, I strolled down the driveway, violated the retreat’s cell phone hiatus, and called 911. Climbing over tree limbs, I snapped photos of my smashed brand-new Honda CRV in my brand-new unattached manner. Oh, the magic of yoga.
I was so grateful for two things: no one was in the car, and it was mine – not one of the guests. As I nonchalantly documented every angle of the vehicle for my insurance agent, I noticed the downed power lines. When the Michiana Shores Volunteer Firetruck arrived, Mick the firefighter almost had a heart attack because I was so close to the wires.
Dear Reader, I could not post yesterday because my car got crushed and the wifi was out.
Dear Professor, I could not do my online homework because I had no internet.
I hate to be one of those people with excuses. But sometimes – shit happens.
My father had all kinds of nicknames for my brothers and sisters and me, but I can’t remember Maureen, Timmy, and Susan’s:
Mike the Pike (a fish?)
Therese, Therese Call the Police (Hmmm)
Frank the Crank (he wasn’t)
Bob the Slob (he may have been)
Eileen the Queen (she is)
Nancy Fancy which morphed into Nanco Magansco (not many know this)
Dan the Man (this one stuck)
Tim and I also had our fair share of nicknames for our kids:
Katie became Katie Katie the Kindergarten Lady when she started school at St. Cajetan. She could have been a model for school uniforms in her plaid jumper, white round-collared blouse, and long, curly red hair. (So sweet.)
Bethy was a feisty two-year-old with no fear. She’d jump off swimming pool diving boards over and over again as we’d race to catch her in the deep end. Her name evolved into Elizafish Anne Underwater Good Manners Giggler Aeesha Girl. (Hint, hint.)
Brendan became Brendoni Bologna with Mustard and Cheese Big Boy. (Sorry, Brendan.)
One day in mass, Brendan tugged on my sleeve, looked up and said, “Brendoni don’t like church.” (Succinct.)
Brigid became Brigie Lou Who Who is Not More Than Two because of her uncanny resemblance to the Grinch’s greeter on Christmas morning. When our pediatrician in Valpo met Brigid, Dr. Miller said, “I never thought I’d get to watch Cindy Lou Who grow up.” (So innocent.)
Kevin is Kevin – often expressed in tones similar to the parents and siblings in Home Alone. Kevin posts his art on his website – kevnscannell.com. That’s right. He deleted the “i.” (Makes sense.)
While raising young kids, I relied a great deal on prayer, and there were times when daily mass provided great peace and solace. I remember thinking that if I just went to mass, then maybe my kids would survive the pressures of adolescence. I also prayed that teenage perspectives would become clearer to me. If I said black, somebody would say white. Sometimes they said nothing. That was the worst.
I regularly attended Catholic daily mass at Saint Paul’s because different weekdays were designated as mass days for different grades. I remember daydreaming about a life of pure service to the church free from forgotten permission slips and incomplete band practice logs. This alternative vocational calling peaked with Kevin’s toddler obsession with turning on and off every light switch as he was carried through the house. The simple navigation from the garage to the family room required immense patience.
I figured if I lived in a convent, I’d surely have less to sweat about unless those darn nuns got on my nerves. I thank God for deep breaths, funny friends, and my loving Mom who made me feel like I was not alone. I am also eternally grateful for my husband Tim, a constant supporter with a knack for remaining on the outskirts of every family crisis. I loved the familiar rhythm of mass and the scriptures, and I always returned home fortified with strength, perspective, and faith.
I still do.