There are moments in our lives when we are given the great privilege to witness a deep, unimaginable love. It is during such moments that I wish I could bottle it up. And, whenever I feel a moment of high-test overwhelm or forgetfulness of what is most important in life, I could just pull it off a shelf, remove the top and take a nice deep breath. Perhaps that is why writing is so important to me, as it gives us that opportunity to hold fast to those moments in our hearts, and share them with the rest of the world in high hopes that it will simply multiply with every reader’s eyes and connecting spirit. Although, you wouldn’t know it by the unexplainable break I have taken from blogging!
But this daily prompt is another perfect opportunity to get back into the game of connecting with the brilliant hearts and minds reading this blog now. A year ago today, my grandmother, Gertie, passed away after a long life in a place called Long Island. With her passing I was left with one of those cherished privileges to witness this deep love that I have described, that resulted from a grand moment of togetherness and a mutual experience of grief. As her funeral occurred over “Valentine’s Day 2013” it would seem uncanny to not take this opportunity to recognize not only my grandmother, but also my entire family, as “My Funny Valentines” this year (I’m allowed more than one Valentine, right?).
It happened at the end. Bonding through wake after wake, and then the solidifying funeral. There we all were, hanging out in the living room of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Sue. My Uncle Joe’s obsession with DVR “cheese” was taking place over the television, and everyone was exhausted eating their desserts after a final meal together. But there was one gem within his DVR madness- the song “Ho Hey” performed by the Lumineers at the most recent Grammy Award celebration. My little niece and nephew, who were both 3 and 2 years old at the time, loved to divide the chorus between the two of them.
My 3 year old niece, belting out the words “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart!”
My 2 year old nephew doing the same with, “Ho! Hey! Ho! Hey!”
We all sang with them in our melancholy and gratefulness, hence that song does not play to this day without the appearance of a tear running down my face. I love you all, my funny valentines! And most of all, I thank you grandma, for bringing us together at the end of your life for a smashing moment of enduring love that will flourish in my heart forever. Just remember, “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart!”
In the spirit of the infinite space that resides within our hearts, I say let’s just “Rock Big Love” this week anyway, and forget about the hallmark holiday!
The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool. Lester Bangs, Almost Famous
There is a great scene in the film “The Holiday” when Kate Winslet’s character, Iris, is so distraught over hearing the news of her ex’s engagement that she starts breathing in gas from her stove as she is getting ready to light the flame for a cup of tea. She then realizes what she is doing and scrambles to open the window, finishing the moment with a mumble to herself, “Low point!”
I love this scene because it reminds me of our humanity and the vulnerability we carry in our hearts that result in situations in our lives that really are “UNCOOL.” It makes me laugh every time. The scene has become an unfailing reflection of my own relationship foibles. As I have opened this article with a quote that I also love, from another film (yes, I am a cinematic nut job), I can’t help but refer to it over and over again in my own life. A lot of getting over our self- judgments that usually result in some misguided perception about who we are, is about owning those moments in our lives where we really do hit those “low points” and seriously act “uncool.” Iris’s goofy attempt at poisoning herself with gas from her stove qualifies as one of these moments for me.
There has been a lot of talk over the past week about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV VMA awards, and it has been funny to see many people’s reactions here on WordPress with the weekly writing challenge incorporating it as a guideline. Most people don’t want to give any energy to the topic and the hype of this pop performance dilemma. I totally understand it, as a person myself who has always rejected in some way through my own musical snobbery such mainstream musical gunk- which is why I have always related to the main characters in Almost Famous.
But I can’t help but notice that even those that don’t want to give any energy to the event still do by feeling the need to make their statement. When I finally had a second to actually watch the video, I found myself laughing out loud- really. Why? Because here was a person engaged in one of those “low points,” one of those “uncool” moments where her immaturity outweighed whatever it was she was trying to do on that stage. To me her performance was no different than a bunch of 13 year old awkward boys or girls having a sleep over acting outlandish about sex, a topic they don’t know anything about but want to be “cool.”
In my heart, I can’t help but be grateful that I now have enough wisdom to honor Cyrus’s process of growing up amidst all the labeling on this planet and the continuous blubbering over one concern to another regarding pop artists and what they are teaching our kids or what they say about our society as a whole. In the end, we have to all own our “uncool” moments for what they are and love ourselves because there is nothing else left that is real but that love. One day, I’m sure Ms. Cyrus will own her “uncool” also and be a person she herself can fully love rather than seek the hype surrounding celebrity marketing and drama.
A memory that really affected my perception of the world and its profound fragility came from a car accident I experienced in 4th grade. It is weird how when you think about one memory, all of a sudden another memory pops up. Our mind is like a tree, branching out. One branch growing into another, so subtle and fluid. Fourth grade was one of those years that really stood out for me with change. The accident took place right after Christmas. Me and my brothers were corralled into our family’s little white Toyota Tercel by my Mom to take a trip to the local mall in an effort to exchange some things. It was a cloudy day and the roads were slick with drizzle from the winter sky. It was the early 80s- no one had their seat belts on.
“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.” Cesare Pavese
We lived in the woods of Virginia, so we traveled a lot on these curvy “back roads” as we called them with deep shoulders and no lines. As we took one of those curves our car hit the shoulder on my side of the car, me in the passenger front seat and my 2 younger brothers in the back. As we hit the shoulder, I grabbed for the dashboard. It was a futile effort to control a car that now had its own mission.
The only recollection I have “during” the accident was when my face planted into the very dashboard I reached for moments earlier. I do know that we flipped once, and as we began to flip a second time we hit a telephone pole or power line and this positioned us back on our wheels in someone’s front yard. I remember my Mother being very scared and crying- hitting the horn repeatedly to get anyone’s attention. Finally someone passed by, pulled over and was running from house to house to find a phone to call 911. This was also before cell phones.
I remember waiting on the grass in this stranger’s front yard that we passed so many times for the ambulance. My brother’s face was bleeding, but mostly I just remember my Mother being overwhelmingly distraught. There were 2 strong, emotionally charged memories from that experience that I still carry with me. One was of a kind EMT- I remember him telling jokes to draw out laughter from me and my brothers. I’m sure they were just as scared as I was.
The other most vivid memory from this ordeal took place at the hospital. I remember being alone in my little curtained cubicle in the ER, and crying. My mouth hurt because it had a very big cut behind my bottom lip that needed a lot of stitches. But also, I felt a lot of stress from being in that accident. It was kind of like what people experience with PTSD. I remember someone came in to look at my mouth and placated my crying with a “oh, you’re fine- no big deal- we’ll stitch you up and you’ll be out of here.” She even laughed at me. It was awful, and I will never forget that person’s lack of knowledge about the psychological impact of a car accident on a child. I couldn’t get that image of my Mother out of my head, panicking and crying and yelling for help. Saying over and over again, “my babies,” with anxiety and fear.
Most children are not fully aware of a world that “lacks control” around that age. They are just learning- and to see your parent in all their humanity, who you always note to be a leader, a solid foundation in your life- not solid and genuinely scared- is a huge learning experience and really affects your perception of the world. You are learning that everything is not always the way you think it is and all you thought to be safe and secure can change in the blink of an eye.
When I watched the film, The Impossible, I was very taken aback by the scene where the oldest son sees his mother physically falling apart and realizes for the first time how serious it was, and he didn’t know how to handle it. She had to refocus him and force him to keep moving or else they would die. I know my memory is nowhere near as traumatic as this was to that young boy- but in essence, it was very similar and it really affected me watching it. I only hope that other children who experience similar things will be helped with more kindness and compassion. Our physical world is very limiting- we never know what someone is feeling deeply inside- we are each a planet unto ourselves.
This is perception and the fragility of our perceptions creates valuable lessons for all of us. I only hope that we can all continue to remember how sensitive the ego of a child truly is, and their inability to describe where their emotions may be coming from makes their ordeal more traumatizing than it can be for an adult. With a little TLC, we can make a huge impact on someone’s life without understanding what is going on in their heart or head. It’s funny. I remember the one person that did care and tried to help me and my brother’s anxieties, as well as the one other person that did nothing. I learned so much from both of them!
Interchanging the word “Facebook” with the word “War” in the personally preferred Edwin Starr version of the hit Motown classic for my title has been a fun exercise for the day! I have to thank the Weekly Writing Challenge for instigating this little musical intrigue in my easily distracted mind. Now down to business.
I once sat in a teaching by a Tibetan Buddhist nun that compared Facebook to the ultimate ego indulgence. A place where egos run rampant with their over identification with self. Where attachment to an “identity” grows stronger with every random post about what so and so ate for dinner or how annoying that guy was for cutting so and so off in traffic. If I had to pinpoint the one thing that I learned from teaching people how to empower themselves it is that we have a choice in how we treat ourselves, others, and even in our use of a social media tool whether its Facebook, Twitter, or the next big thing.
I didn’t even use Facebook until around 2008, and I am even “of” that generation. I resisted it until I could find a way to make it work in a meaningful way for me. When I was training to be a life coach it was important to do your own personal work so you could help others authentically. A big exercise we did was inventory our “incompletes” and make them “complete.”
This is where you interject, “What the heck is she talking about?”
Thank you for asking!
Incompletes- those little energy suckers (or BIG) that sit in the periphery of your mind, loaded up like a Twinkie with emotions such as guilt, shame. The emotions never expire much like a Twinkie and its filling- and they clog up your life, unknowingly, like a backed up airplane runway. You want to take off but “hello!” Traffic strikes again.
That’s when I met Facebook. There were so many people in my life that I wanted to apologize to, make amends, let them know, “I am grateful for how you showed up in my life,” but couldn’t because how could I find them? I got on Facebook and like an illuminated sky on a crisp spring morning I cleared my runway of all those stuck airplanes that were weighing me down. So the question remains- is Facebook the “scourge” of the internet?
There have been lots of posts about how everything is a choice, even Facebook (including mine). So guess what? For me it all comes down to perception! I literally made Facebook “purposeful” and chose to engage with it in a positive, meaningful way where I could heal some old self-inflicted wounds and enrich my life. And boy did it help me breathe. To that note, I’d like to sing a rousing “Happy Birthday” and give my gratitude for the lightness I feel in my heart today due to this rocking scourge of the internet. Perception is a shaky topic because people stand by them like they are a part of their body. But when I can acknowledge and own the power it plays from the ignorant mind to the purposeful mind, I can determine its role in my life rather than allow “it” to determine me.
In the perfect words of Clark Griswold, “Alleluia! Where’s the Tylenol?!” Thanks Mr. Griswold for that perfect ending.
This is a poem and photo story displaying my heart’s connection with the perception expressed in the poem- connecting the words with pictures I have taken on my journey to a more purposeful perception daily in my life. The journey is important, as it is part of reflecting where our perceptions have come from. I urge you to reflect in your heart where your most limiting self perceptions play out in your life regularly and share in this blog. Remember to scroll down and click through each page!
Remembering feelings sparked by a note
A sound, so sweet and subtle
Only your heart knows it is there
Giving rise to feelings light
You forget what is weighing you down
The ignorant mind trailing behind you like a predator
Wondering why you are not paying attention
In its small, small world
A perspective limited and stuck without motion
Yet my heart- tugging me forward like a child
I shall follow, carry me into this knowing
Remind me of what it is to be
So light and airy- remind me of love’s truth
A truth so full it explodes in the sky before me
Yet it continues to be, forever full.
When I noticed the Weekly Writing Challenge this morning, I was grateful, because when I thought of all the people I would like to write about at this time, it was my Grandmother. Gertrude Grzybowski, daughter of Dziadek and Babcia Perkowski- I don’t really know their first names- just grandma and grandpa in Polish. They were potato farmers from Poland with a farm on Long Island, New York. They had a legendary flower pot on their front lawn made from an old toilet- a piece of cultural history.
My Grandmother has been very sick, in her late 80s living at a nursing home and trying to find ways to enjoy the last moments of her life, as she felt sad and lost trying to adjust to a strange place she was forced to call home due to her ailing health. One of her last enjoyable activities was buying necklaces made by other ladies in the nursing home and wearing them all at one time. It wasn’t NY high-fashion and it drove my aunt crazy, but it made her happy. As I pondered about how I would write about her quirky character that she played in this life, I received a phone call this afternoon that I had been waiting for without any knowledge of when it would come exactly.
In my heart, I wanted her to be free of this body that was weighing her spirit down, and causing her the inability to live as independently as she has enjoyed for so many years. My only living grandparent, Gertie, died this afternoon peacefully after suffering a stroke almost a week ago. As people’s bodies start to break down, you find yourself as an outsider trusting the natural process of passing from one reality to another, but it is hard to stay in the present moment with them at times because you are constantly wondering- will this be the day? I feel in her own mind, she was wondering the same thing.
You never knew what was about to come out of Gertie’s mouth. She might shout the funniest thing, like her phrase that came to be her own, “That guy’s a bumb!” Or she might just talk about how tired she was, and how she felt really alone, as all of her friends passed away with each year. Life seemed more and more like a foreign country to her with each passing moment. She was not always the nicest person, but I always thought of her as this funny character in a film, navigating through this life as if it were one thing after another. She loved Poland, and as a kid we always gathered our outgrown clothes for my Grandmother to send to our family there that had nothing because of the “communists.” We were told, “They didn’t even have real ice cream.” “Their” ice cream was more like half frozen sweet milk, barely recognizable by us spoiled Americans.
She prayed her rosaries every morning over her stacks of prayer cards, and every Friday she cleaned the altar and pews at St. Hedwigs Catholic Church. I remember going to the masses growing up when visiting New York where the legendary priest would talk so quickly that it was like listening to someone pretend they were saying a mass and forgot the words. Even though I didn’t understand anything because he was saying it so quickly, and with a New York accent, I was more than happy to spend 15 minutes less in a mass on a Saturday night. Her collection of ceramic nuns in her living room and plates of the Polish Pope John Paul hanging on her walls would dance to the sound of her attempt to whistle while she swept the floors every morning in her house coat.
My Grandmother didn’t make it easy for anyone as they grew up in her house. I was fortunate to be a granddaughter in her life that was told on her 16th birthday, “sweet sixteen, and never been kissed” with a giggle following her attempt to tease me. She grew up in a time that lacked emotional education, a time where there was war and great financial uncertainty, and even though there were dark times in the house where she brought up 6 kids, there was a certain light around her that I enjoyed, and I will be grateful for every day. During her last lucid days in the hospital my mother said she overheard a conversation with a male orderly who struck up a conversation with her. He asked her about being a nurse, as she was, and how many kids she had in this life. She said 8, which was correct- 6 living and 2 stillborns. You never know what experiences people have had in this life. Underneath the surface, there is always something lingering in someone that may be causing them pain and cause their personality to become distorted. But the one thing we can always be sure of, as I was with my grandmother, our Gertie, is that inside their heart there is a place that just wants to be loved.
And so, as I come together with those that knew Gertie in many different ways- from sister, to aunt, to mother and grandmother- I shall remember that all you wanted was to be loved, and I shall send you that love with the hope that you are joyful in your freedom from the human body and in a place of peace in your heart. Thank you for saying “I love you, Jess,” and reminding me that life does go fast, and every now and then we just need to remember that we are all human and subject to the foibles of our mind- but it is not our true nature. I am grateful for all I have in my life, including you, and will remember to try and see beyond personalities into the human desire to be loved when we do not know how to love ourselves.
In one of our last conversations you said to me, “We used to have fun, right Jess?” Yes Grandma, we did have fun.