Day 365.

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Done. Published.   photoview29.wordpress.com.

A year ago, I was telling my therapist about my idea to help me focus more on the present – less on the past or the future. My idea was to take a picture a day for a year. It would force me to pick up my camera again, as well as help me pick up my head and simply notice what is around me. Help me to again look for the light. A professional photographer once told me, “It’s all about the light.”  In my enthusiasm, I confidentaly announced the  picture a day idea would start on January 1st. In a matter of fact way, my dear therapist said, “Why not start tomorrow?” Oh. Start my being in the present project the next day…not a month later? She had a point! The next day was December 1, 2017.

As I chose the daily picture, I saved it to a wordpress blog which I kept private until completion. I started the private post because I was not confident I would be able to complete the task, but I soon learned the private post helped me to focus more on the task. It was just for me to take the pictures and also just me to decide on which one to post. A moment in conversation with myself about my world. Pictures were chosen for a variety of reasons. I learned early on I would need to make this simple project a priority because there were so many competing elements for my time. I took my camera to work with me and carried it to meetings across campus. People would ask what I was taking pictures of and my typical response was, I don’t know yet! Some pictures were deliberate, to sum up my day or show what was going on emotionally for me. Most were things I came upon or a quick picture of the people I was spending time with. The blog is full of friends, family and the amazing students of Stony Brook U, as well as places, sporting events, weddings, baptisms, funerals, birthdays, etc. and of course, the Eagle who came to Centerport.

November 30, 2018 is my last picture of the 365 day journey and it is posted above. I knew this project would give me some insight and maybe even hope, but today’s picture touched me in a way I am still struggling to find the words to describe. It unfolded like this…I saw the spectacular sunrise and grabbed the camera. From the front window I was getting shots of the sunrise with the neighbor’s porch. Then I thought to go upstairs to get a shoot above the neighbors house. So I climed the stairs and opened the window at the head of our bed. I hung out the window and started shooting. A few to the right, then center, then I wanted our locust tree to better frame the image. I moved the viewfinder and click. In the millisecond it took to capture the final shot, I saw it. A heart. A heart formed from the branches of the tree. One of Jane and my favorite pastimes was finding hearts in nature. Symbols of love in unexpected places. There it was. Right outside our bedroom window. It had been there the whole time. I was overcome with emotion. It had been there the whole time, I just had not noticed. My new daily task – simply notice. Breathe. Notice. Repeat.

Play4TheCure.

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During this month of October, you may have been lucky enough to join Nassau County Field Hockey players in their fight to beat stupid cancer at one of the many Jane Maher Play4theCure games! Each school chooses a home game to use as a fundraiser toward cancer research. In the past two weeks, I almost watched Great Neck South, if not for the rain soaked field postponing the competition. (I do give them the Best Decorated Field award!)  When the rains stopped, I was lucky enough to catch Locust Valley’s game on a blustery cold day and Great Neck North’s game, where the athletes were sporting pink ribbon pony tail ties!  Whichever sideline I was on, I could not stop thinking about ALL that goes into fighting cancer. The fundraisers. The research. The teams of docs and nurses. The clinics and hospitals. And of course, the patients. All those who are living with cancer and those who have gone before them. Those who have the courage to take the trial drugs hoping it works for them, but whether it does or not, knowing the data derived – the lessons learned, can help the next cancer patient. Simply heroic.

One of those heros is my sister, Mary Beth. She is living with Multiple Myeloma. Diagnosed the same year as Jane, 2013, Mary Beth had her stem cell transplant in January 2014. Since then she has been following trial regiments and showing up for infusions, scans, bloodwork and all the other things which go along with the science of fighting cancer. Through it all, Mary Beth keeps her head up…except when addressing her golf ball! You see, not long after Mary Beth’s 100th day from her stem cell transplant, she declared a Bucket List item for her was to play golf in all 50 States! She was not going to sit around with stupid cancer, she was going to do what makes her happy. Mary Beth is a gifted athlete and since the first day she picked up a club, she keeps improving on her game. Supporting this special Play4TheCure involves more than cheering from the sidelines, but rather actually playing with her when I can, which is a thrill.

Last week, Mary Beth’s Bucket List took us to New Hampshire and Maine! It seemed like a great idea until the wind chill on the Maine golf course was 24 degrees with wind guts up to 40 mph!! No worries, Mary Beth said as she giggled and leaned into the wind!

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She played on, as she always does, with a smile. Mary Beth is an inspiration to me and all who know her. When you are with her, she will catch you up on her latest treatment or new medicine, but what she really wants to talk about is the fun time she has with the people she loves. And then there are the numerous stories about the strangers she meets along the way whose tales she weaves into the fabric of her lifestory. Mary Beth is a very special human.

Tomorrow, Mary Beth starts a new trial. “This one is a Phase2 Trial” she says with hope in her voice. Tomorrow, my sweet sister will once again go after stupid cancer with the focus and determination of the elite athlete she is. She will trust her medical team to do their part as courageously as she will do her part. As for the rest of us on the sidelines, we will keep cheering, encouraging and praying for Mary Beth, for her medical team and all who are battling cancer. As I said last week to Mary Beth as she confidently looked down the 18th fairway, “You got this Boo. You got this.”  KCA.    25 states left to play. xoxo

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A Tatoo Tear.

As I passed the mirror this morning on the way to make coffee, I caught a glimpse of a tatoo on my right arm. I paused, looked fully at the markings and tears came to my eyes. I can not articulate all feelings flooding my eyes, but I do know they were not the feelings of regret often associated with early morning realization of a new tatoo, as was the lore of sailors late nights in ports of call. These feelings were of pride, gratitude, a little disbelief and touch of sadness. My tatoo is temporary, #410 is on both my right arm and left calf marking my participation yesterday in the Mighty Hamptons Olympic Distance Triathlon. The temporary tatoos need to stay on through the salt water of the swim and sweat of the bike and run, but I think they put a little extra sticky in the mix for moments like this morning, when excitement and chaos of the triathlon is over and your fellow participants have all gone back to their lives, the tatoo remains a reminder – you did it!  After my next shower or two, the temporary tatoo will be true to its purpose but the memories will live on, for that I shed a grateful tear.

When Jane and I were talking in her last days, I said with a broken heart, “What am I going to do without you?” I really didn’t expect an answer, but with little hesitation Jane replied, “I think you are going to be a triathlete.” I laughed out loud and teased her about changing her last wish for me to be something like, travel the world or buy a camper and live off the land. But no, she was her kind and generous self offering me her unwavering belief that I could accomplish things beyond my own imagination. Jane saw life through an “I love you lens” like no one else I have ever known.  Always seeing the best and coaching everyone to believe in themselves and those around them.

After Jane left, my loss was heavy and I feared I was slowing down to a stop, so I dusted off my YMCA membership, signup for a personal trainer and when those sessions ended, I joined the Tri-class to “give me something to do”, filling the lonely nights. It was there I meet Team Peep – a group a remarkable, unasuming humans who for the most part had no intention of actually doing a triathlon…they were in it for the exercise or couldn’t say no to our beloved coach, Colleen. Team Peep open their hearts and their lives to me and each other, sharing their families and adventures through these past two years. We particiapted in Sprint Triathlons, 5K Runs, Duathlons and many training runs, swims and bike rides. Yesterday, in Sag Harbor I accomplished something I could have ever imagined just a short time ago…thanks Janie. Thank you Team Peep for being vulnerable with me and facing the demons of doubt. I will be forever grateful.

Pruning.

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There has been lots of talk about pruning these past few weeks at Parkview Terrace. Any one who knows and loves a teacher, also know those folks tend to have some free time during gardening season! Jane loved her garden and apparently worked on it more than I ever knew, because finding time to keep up on the weeds and pruning is not an easy task. I gave in and called the local pros to come take a look a few weeks ago, and pruning was a BIG topic of the discussion! The job estimate is still in the works :/  In the mean time, there was a recent pruning job not too big for me or my tools! When April came this year, we headed to Block for the annual family clean/fix/paint/eat weekend to open the house for summer visits. When visiting Block, my routine is a stop at Jane’s Bench right from the ferry to spend some quiet time. Well, much to my shock the tree behind her bench had been damaged during a winter storm. Literally broken open close to its base and toppled a bit over the bench. My heart sank. Had anyone noticed. Will the town replace the tree? Will there ever be shade there again? Change. Ouch. ARGH.

I returned this weekend and much to my surprise the tree had not been replace. Even more surprising – it is blooming! Not all of it is blooming, about half survived the storm damage. The tree is dead … and alive. Leaning on my bike, staring at this tree hovering over Jane’s bench, my emotions ran wild. I said out loud, to no one in particular, “Are you kidding me?” “The tree gets to live?” I know my quest for meaning in this life makes my head spin at times, but this time my blood boiled and tears fell like hot lava. In July of 2013 (the same year of Jane’s diagnosis), not too far from where Jane’s bench is now, I stood on the cliff up at the Southeast Light and screamed at the top of my lungs after getting the news my sister, Mary Beth was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. The tears then were heavy, not hot. Between the sobs, I heard myself say, “I am so small” as I looked out over the vast ocean. Those four words eventually pointed me toward truth. My truth. Human truth.

The half alive tree tormented me throghout the night. My morning bike ride the next day, took me through town and passed Jane’s Bench. I was shaking my head in disbelief as I looked at the tree when a suddenly a thought took my breath away. I had been seeing the tree as a representation of Jane and wishing she would have survived. Could the tree be me? Dead … and alive? It suddenly seemed so obvious. Of course. There are parts of me that died with Jane, I have no doubt, but I have not been able to see the new blooms. In April the tree looked lost, yet now it is clearly viable it just needs pruning. The dead branches need to go, to bring strength and new growth to the surviving branches. Later that day, I pruned the tree behind Jane’s Bench. I will continue to prune in order to save the little tree. Here’s to hoping this metaphor can save me too.

Today is the three year anniversary of Jane getting her wings and there truly has been so much new growth. Henry, Reese, Nate, Caleb and Isabella are all new souls in my life who have come since Jane left. There are countless old souls who also entered my life these past three years just when I needed them. I pray the love of family and friends can help me find the tools in my pruning process. God Bless you all. Good night Janie. I’ll see you in my heart.

Do you have a kid? Get one. They’re cool!

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I don’t necessarily mean in the traditional sense. I never gave birth to a kid myself, but have been blessed with many nieces, nephews, nieces’ kids, cousins’ kids and friends’ kids.  All so cool in their own way! Where ever you find them, welcome them into your life and hold them close because they ground us adults! On those days when the world, the job, even your favorite baseball team all seem to wear you down, it’s the littlest angels around us who remind us what really matters – living life itself! Today I was blessed to have my neighbors over for some homemade pizza to pass the time while the realtor showed their house (UGH. Fortunately, not moving too far).  Anyway, it didn’t take long for the four year old to realize the best part of making homemade pizza was playing with the flour! It reminds me of our dearest friend, KK’s mom and her famous homemade pirogies. Olga made pirogies for Easter her entire life. In her late 80’s as alteimers began to set in, one spring she chose to watch her family make the perogies because she “forgot how to”. Finally they convinced her to help kneed the dough. As soon as she got her hands in the flour mixture, she forgot no more! “Soft as a baby’s bottom” she declared! “That is how the dough should feel” she directed. What her mind could not recall, the experience of touch would never forget. Living. Simply experiencing the moment. Our sense of touch and smell; how we feel and what we hear around us; all are recorded in the “This MATTERS File” of our hearts.  Today, as Sebastian spread the flour all over the counter and floor, then swept as the pizza baked it the oven, I looked on feeling blessed to have this lived experience with him and grateful to have a kid who helped me to be in the moment!

Later, back at their house I watched his Granddad and Mom juggle the hungry infant twins, comfort the one year old’s booboo and tuck all four into bed. Just another day to them, a gift of real living to me. So, if the kids in your life are in their first decade or their eighth decade, enjoy the moments. They remind us what is really important in life – it’s the living.

Girl Power vs Stupid Cancer!

IMG_9696Jane was diagnosed in February 2013 … the girls she coached in high school lacrosse responded to the news by making their cross town rival game a fund raiser to fight cancer. I still remember Jane telling me and choking up, so moved by the love of the young people in her life. They chose the color purple because “it is meant to signify the survivors of cancer”. Hope for Coach Maher. What a beautiful gift they gave her.Version 2The Annual Lacrosse Out Cancer game alternates between Great Neck North and Great Neck South – where it was played today. Sun or rain, win or lose, the games have always ended the same way … with both teams donning their new t-shirt with their beautiful smiles and gathering arm-in-arm, reminding all of us of the joy and power of community. Thanks to all the AMAZING Student Athletes, Coaches, Teachers and Adminstrators in the Great Neck District. Your compassion and generosity has not gone unnoticed. Blessings to you all. Play on!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cry of the Pipers.

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Jane’s dear friend’s husband died in the line of duty last week. I had no words for her at the wake. Only tears today at the funeral. I typically like to be a source of comfort, but at times I wonder where to find it for myself, much less share it. Comfort – receiving and giving – is elusive when your heart is broken. Today, I was touched by two powerful expressions of comfort from strangers, teaching me there are multiple sources of comfort in this world.

The first was after the men and women in uniform were directed to ‘fall in’. They all stood tall and still. Across the street they were lined up 5 rows deep and on the cathedral side of the street they mingled in with us civilians in the family/friends cluster. All was quiet. Strikingly quiet for midtown. Then came the cry of the Pipers. The woman in front of me leaned in … and her partner responded. A warm, simple gesture of comfort, among a now tearful crowd.

The other gesture of comfort came from the eulogy of a family member who quoted Maya Angelou’s poem, When Great Trees Fall. I had never heard it, but now I will never forget it.

Images and words of comfort are everywhere, waiting to be noticed. My wish is to continue to see them…and share them. Rest in Peace Lieutenant. Send angels of comfort to your beloved wife, children, family and friends…today and every day.

When Great Trees Fall Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.

Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,

examines,

gnaws on kind words

unsaid,

promised walks

never taken.

Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their

nurture,

now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

radiance,

fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance

of dark, cold

caves.

And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly.  Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed.  They existed.

We can be.  Be and be

better.  For they existed.