Sunday, October 29, 2006

Coffee Confusion

"God of the Wild, you are different from what I expected. I cannot predict you. You are too free to be captured for the sake of my understanding. I can't find you in the sentimentalism of religion. You are everywhere I least expect to find you. You are not the force that saves me from the pain of living; you are the force that brings me life even in the midst of pain." ~Adolfo Quezada

Irony is sometimes cruel.

On the day of my father's death, I was attending a homeschooling conference in Arlington Heights. It's an annual conference and we've attended every one for the past seven years. Consider us junkies. It's a family affair; workshops for adults, workshops for kids, a massive vendor hall, and a hotel teeming with homeschoolers. It's a yearly getaway for us as a family, a yearly pep talk for me.

My father and I were planning to take a trip together. We'd talked of it for years and had looked at everything from a hike through Nepal to a stay on an Idaho ranch; from a rigorous backpacking experience to a cushy inn-to-inn hop while others tote our belongings. Dad urged me to decide, to pick a date. I thought I had all the time in the world. I mean, I was busy! I'd get to it soon enough.

During this year's conference I registered for three workshops that were conducted by parents and their children. Now that Brady is a teen, I thought it would be wonderful to hear from some homeschoolers on the tail end of the journey. The workshop I attended that morning was about road trips...

The road trip workshop was given by a father and his teenage son. They take an annual road trip that spans as much as a month. Each year they select a different destination and painstakingly plan their itinerary, each choosing their "must see" attractions and also allowing for down time and off-the-path wanderings. Their enthusiasm for their yearly ritual was intoxicating... they finished each other's sentences, laughed deeply as they recalled stories of mishaps and unexpected adventures, and had the entire audience smiling and vowing to start such a tradition for ourselves and our children. Or for me, with my father.

After the workshop I spoke with the man and his son to tell them I, too, was planning a long overdue road trip with MY dad. I bought their $3 booklet on frugal travel tips. I told them I was inspired by their talk, and left with a renewed commitment to my dad and our own travel plans. Dad would be so happy....

On the way to the next workshop I grabbed a french vanilla latte. I love coffee; coffee does not love me. Coffee can sometimes set my stomach in snarls, but I can usually get away with an occasional splurge and this was such an occasion.

I was quite eager to attend the next workshop, given by the keynote speaker, Pat Farenga. But when I got there I felt unsettled. My stomach was doing loops. I'd only consumed perhaps a sip or two of the coffee, so I was quite surprised it would affect me that quickly. I fidgeted in my seat; I tossed and turned. I kept muttering, "This damn coffee," and finally, feeling more uneasy than is reasonable, I got up and marched down the hallway to throw out the cup and pace for a few moments to calm myself down. I had no idea why I was feeling so suddenly distraught. I returned to the workshop and my friend Kristin, sitting next to me, frowned in that concerned "what's up?" sort of way.

I managed to wait out the rest of the workshop and next was lunch. I had plans to meet up with some women I'd met online (to chat about unschooling of course) but first I needed to check in with the family, make sure Rob and the kids found each other. The elevator area was a zoo, so I took off down a hallway to find a staircase. I finally found one, in an obscure faraway location. I opened the door to the stairwell and there was Rob - white as a ghost. He'd taken the phone call from my brother that there'd been an accident.

The rest resides in my memory in fits and starts. Dad. Snowmobile. Airlifted to a trauma center. Internal bleeding. Don't know how bad. Can't be good. We should go.

Time of the accident.... 10:30. Where I was at the time of the accident.... fidgeting in Pat Farenga's workshop, blaming coffee.

Grieving for not taking a trip with Dad... well, it's just another of those things. I saw my dad often; our lives were intertwined. I am one of the fortunate who can say there wasn't lost time. And I'm so thankful for that.

But I can't get over the amazing power of connection that allowed me to sense something was amiss. I believe we all carry within us greater powers of intuition and clairvoyance than we know; they're simply dormant from lack of use. And the sting of irony... well, such is the way of things sometimes.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Evolving Mantras

Photo: Martha, Diane, Me, Dana at women's retreat

The other day I told a friend it seems there has been some sort of seismic universe shake-up this year. I am different now. Every cell of my being is changed. Nothing will ever be the same. Things are just not right.

To be expected, I suppose, given that my father died in March, six days before my birthday. (When we scrabbled together a fragmented birthday party, I opened a card that said "Love, Mom & Dad." Mom's color drained as I opened it, and that was the end of the charade.) But it's not just that - all manner of things have gone askew this year.

I won't list them, because tempting as it is, I will continue to travel the high road (new mantra #1) - those folks who've thrown obstacles in my path know who they are.

I suppose it's just as well - I mean, this year is already ruined. But these crises, coming one on top of the other, well - they offend me. I was doing quite well at grieving, if I do say so myself. My friends knew I was going to be quiet and reclusive for a while. My children understood that some days are weepy and others are dry. And I was really trying to give in to the grief.... avoiding the process would mean carrying around a sickness in my soul.

So as the other problems arose over the past few months, well, they distracted me from my grieving. Emotionally unstable, I was afraid to make decisions and unsure what to make of the additional stress. They were a rude interruption to my grieving and it was only recently, as things seemed to settle for a short while, that the anger struck like a lightning bolt. How dare they? What the hell is the matter with people?! I need to grieve for my father, I need to reinvent myself and my way of being in the world without him, and yet I've had to deal with some very unsavory things. Mantra #2 - People Suck.

Always one to 'seek the lesson', I pondered the possibility of karma. I admit I've always had a rather easy go of things... I've even felt somehow protected, grateful that the ugly side of life had not visited me, and often wondered why I was so lucky. So perhaps this is just my time? My year of reckoning? I shared this thought with my grandma Alice. She told me there doesn't have to be a lesson. She said, "Oh honey, you're just emotionally exhausted, that's all" and held me while I had a good cry.

The stress of dealing with many big things at once had me quite nervous and shaken, and so a retreat with some of my favorite women friends was a welcome refuge. As we sat in circle, someone asked me to share all that had been happening. Too tired to rehash everything, I gave the short version. As I told my stories I got more and more riled up, and I suddenly felt a new clarity. I used to be quite confident and out-spoken, but these past many years have been marked by a 'softer' me - a kinder, more empathetic, inclusive me. It served me well for those years of childrearing, homeschooling, and networking. But now... these times call for a new spark. Or an old one, rekindled.

After sharing my utter disgust with certain things and certain people, one wise and wonderful friend blurted out, "Oh, f*ck that sh*t!" The severity of the comment gave us all fits of laughter, and first I replied, "Yeah! F*ck that sh*t!" And next thing you know, she laughed, "Let's all say it together! One... two... three.... F*CK THAT SH*T!"

Definitely mantra #3.

There is freedom in accepting that some things are just ugly, and I don't have to fix them. So here I sit, acknowledging that some things can't be fixed and that's ok. If this year has taught me anything, it's that. I will take the high road for my own integrity and peace of mind, but I will walk away from darkness and seek light. When people suck, I don't have stick around and be the punching bag. F*ck that sh*t. I've got bigger things to attend to.

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life exists in the elimination of non-essentials." ~ Lin Yutang