“I Don’t Want to Be a Bother” OR Bullshit Excuses for Stupid Choices

View out my hospital room through the circle of orchid sent by a dear friend to heal me.

A few weeks ago, I “felt off” one evening. My daughter and I were watching a hilarious feel-good movie on Netflix. An hour of not very feel-good discomfort later, the movie was over, and I said, “Worst gas pains ever. Can you clean up the dinner dishes?” Twenty minutes after that, I was having a hard time coping with the pain in my abdomen. I was breathing (sort of) through it, only the pains did not come in waves, like labor. It was just one looong wave… of horrid. Then the vomiting began. The backdrop to this was my daughter being “on it” and texting with one of my best friends, Ann, who happens to be a nurse practitioner and our “go to” for the Western medicine perspective. The two of them were pretty much trying to find a “when to go to the ER” solution I’d abide by.

Why was this a struggle? I was sure it was “nothing.” Looking back, even if it hadn’t been appendicitis – which, yup, it was—it was something damned awful. When the uncontrollable shakes and shivers began, I even had a way of explaining that from a medical felony down to a mere misdemeanor.

My thoughts included:

  • “I just want to sleep.” (Who was I kidding? I could barely breathe!)
  • “I’m overreacting.” (No, actually, I was seriously underreacting.)
  • “What if I go in and it’s just gas and everybody went to all that trouble.” (Forgetting that’s their paid job. Like a car mechanic being pissed because I brought my clanking car in to be checked and it turned out to be nothing much. Not likely, because it COULD have been something big.)
  • “Fucking high deductible insurance….” (…)
  • “Maggie shouldn’t have to deal with this in the middle of the night.” (Even though she was already dealing with it, as in a. BEGGING to take me, b. had already made a 30 minute run to an all-night pharmacy seeking over-the-counter solutions, and c. was fetching buckets, hot chamomile tea, blankets, and engaging in lengthy medical texts with Ann.)

My blurry and haphazard thoughts also included growing anxiety because I was not “coping” all that well and part of me just did not want to have to make this seemingly overwhelming decision. Had our positions been reversed, I, the mother, would simply have put my foot down. But even a fully functioning adult daughter who is used to her mom making all her own decisions did not feel quite comfortable bossing me around.

How is it that I could not make this—as it turns out very important—decision when it was MY wellbeing at stake? So much for my glorious affirmations of my value and worth, taking care of myself, being assertive. All this is easy enough when no one is going to be “put out” to “take care of me.”

I’ll ask for a raise. I’ll stake my claim in a debate about politics, ethics, parenting, climate change, organic food, you name it. I’ll speak up to strangers behaving like bullies in public. I’ll insist (of myself) that I go to the gym, eat right, and get regular check-ups.

Had Maggie not been there, I don’t know if I would ever have made the decision to call 911. But she was there. But what if she hadn’t been? But she was, okay, but … what if she hadn’t been?

Lesson learned. Having been schooled (kindly but sternly) by the ER docs and nurses and (very charmingly) by my surgeon, my own misguided idiocy has been made crystal clear to me. All went well. I meekly obeyed all post-surgical commandments and have healed flawlessly. Life goes on in all its beauty and I have felt no resentment, annoyance, or even a whiff of huffiness in response to my encounter with the vestigial enemy within. Only gratitude.

SUPER flattering photo taken by my daughter a few hours after my surgery with her little caption. She was impressed by my hanging fluids, apparently. I guess considering I’d just had surgery I don’t look TOO bad….


Bubbling Gratitude


When I was a little girl, happiness would visit me in the form of bubbles. That’s what it felt like to me, anyway. Bubbles inside my chest.

They did not come often, but I was always dazzled and delighted when those bubbles tickled my heart behind my small ribs.

I know I have felt lots sadness in my life, but that’s not what I actually remember.

I remember this. A sunny afternoon—any one of many. I left school to walk to the crosstown bus stop. The East River glittered, and the leaves – green with spring—rustled secrets to me. At such a precise moment, a profound feeling would seep through my body. I could feel it, like juice mixing with my blood and changing every cell.

I realize now what that was. I called the bubbles happiness. But now I believe they were about gratitude.

My daughter likes to tease me about the time I burst into tears in the car when a bobcat was loping along in the long grass beside the road one morning. I felt I’d been slapped in the heart, hard, by the extraordinary beauty of that sight. It hurt—in a good way. I could not believe how lucky I was to be there in that moment, and see such a thing. My reaction may have been a little over-the-top, but it was the real thing.


Right now, the cat sits in a trapezoidal pool of sunlight that is just her size. Or rather, she fits her tiny body into the small shape of that puddle of warmth. Her eyes are half closed and her sigh of contentment comes out in a rumbling purr. She is not thinking about what might be, what has been, or what she wants or doesn’t want. And I believe she is more than just content. She is grateful. Warmth and light are, in that moment, enough. They are more than she could have hoped for. They are perfect and life is perfect.

cat in light

An exhausted refugee fleeing horrors feels, I believe, gratitude when a bowl of broth or rice is passed to her hungry child. In that moment, the juice of thanks floods her blood and her head lightens, for a moment. Gratitude for that moment and others that may come is what keeps her going, not fear.

In one of my favorite books, Night, Elie Wiesel describes a moment when he and fellow prisoners at Birkenau hear the plaintive violin played by a fellow prisoner who managed to keep his instrument through it all. The horrors of that moment, the hunger, pain, fear, degradation, all vanish for Wiesel as he experiences a perfect moment with gratitude. Surrounded by death, his focus is on life, or the hope of life. Reading that book I understood a tiny fraction about what survival was about. Those who feared they would not survive were not as lucky as those who saw each day as a chance for life.


How do we make our brains feel gratitude for one small beauty, instead of bitterness and anger at all the injustice? Is this a gift some people are born with? The gift of gratitude?

For some, the bad stuff is just more real. They can easily remember the slight, the horror, the terrible misfortune of yesterday but struggle to feel the beauty of right now. They see it, they know it is there, but they are sad, because it doesn’t permeate them.

I believe in the power of belief. I have read the science which confirms the anecdotal evidence we see every day. It says that reframing our thoughts will reframe our emotions and our very beliefs. Those reframed beliefs subtly and not-so-subtly shift how we act and behave in such a way that our experience of every moment can be different and the weight can be lifted.

The bubbles behind my chest are not something I can control. I have to allow them to be. The perfect moment of sitting down at my desk in the morning with a hot cup of coffee.  The perfect moment of hilarity on the phone with my sister when laughter erupts from my belly. The perfect moment that will be, when both my children sit down with me for Thanksgiving. The perfect moments, all of them, when with all my blessings I can live in hope and without fear.

I am grateful.



Summer Gratitude

Bash Bish falls, right in my backyard. Well, so to speak.

Bash Bish falls, right in my backyard. Well, so to speak.

Summer when I was a child was a joy because I got to spend lots of time with my dad, stepmother, and sisters. As a mom, it meant time with my children – lazy hours of just being, digging, singing, or eating sun warmed garden veggies. As a teacher it was time to regroup, plan, and write. But even so, summer has never been my favorite season. Or even my second or third favorite.

But year after year, I wonder how I forget all there is to love about the summer. Here is my list of at least some of the things for which I am very grateful as the summer of 2014 winds to a close.

  • A chance to live under the same roof with my daughter for maybe the last time. Laughing with legs crossed and eyes streaming, watching the same stupid movies over again and not minding, playing a never ending game of gin rummy, walking to Bash Bish, finding any excuse to eat out, parallel play on our computers, cooking together, and all the rest.
  • Sisterhood in the tropics with the 9 St. Martin Chicklets, sweating and drinking and throwing Tarot in soft air, braless.

    The sisterhood here represented by our cocktails.

    The sisterhood here represented by our cocktails.

  • Road trip to Virginia all on my own with a big fat book on CD and as many stops at Starbucks as I wanted.
  • Sorting books with Sandy McAdams at Daedalus Bookstore in Charlottesville, smearing book dust across a damp brow as I folded the cardboard lids closed (apparently not everyone can do that) and marking KEEP or GIVE AWAY in thick black Sharpie. It’s all about companionship with an old friend, and, well… books.

    Best bookstore in the country -- 100,000+ books. Daedalus in Charlottesville. An institution. Not an inch of wasted space.

    Best bookstore in the country — 100,000+ books. Daedalus in Charlottesville. An institution. Not an inch of wasted space.

  • Sitting under a vineyard’s pergola drinking a glass of wine with my friend Anne, falling into the familiarity of sisterhood with a string of days that did not make demands stretching out behind and ahead of us.

    Genuine Virginia grapes at a genuine Virginia vineyard/winery.

    Genuine Virginia grapes at a genuine Virginia vineyard/winery.

  • A family weekend with my lovely son in Vermont. All four of us with 36 whole hours together. Time as a family was once commonplace and precious. Now it is rare and precious. We shopped for shoes. We drank iced coffee. We hung around and talked. I sat for hours with everyone as they fished lazily for bass and catfish in a huge “pond.” I counted far more blessings than fish that day.

    First catch of the afternoon.

    First catch of the afternoon.

  • Middle Bass Island and hours of cards with a sister, a daughter, a niece, and cousins of several generations. We sat on big blankets looking out at the vastness of Lake Erie. Everyone’s legs and heads were bare. Trees overhead dappled us with August light and we sat until evening.

    Lake Erie at sunset from the grove on Middle Bass Island.

    Lake Erie at sunset from the grove on Middle Bass Island.

  • Restaurants with outdoor seating, like The Greens, in my humble town.

    Dinner on the porch at The Greens. The place to be at sunset.

    Dinner on the porch at The Greens. The place to be at sunset.

  • Minor league baseball. This summer it was the Hudson Renegades playing at home against the Burlington Vermont Lake Monsters. Evening game. Falling light. Perfect.
    Hudson Valley Renegades vs. Burlington Lake Monsters
  • One or two hot days when a beer – really cold – tasted so good.
  • Cincinnati — new home of my sister — and time spent with family I miss.

    3 generations.

    3 generations.

  • Early mornings in my plastic Adirondack chair in the middle of the yard, shaded by a giant pine, cat on lap, book in hand, coffee nearby. I think I posted a few too many photos of this situation on Facebook, but it was always just perfect.
    cat morning
  • As ever – endless lines of laundry hung to dry in the sun and breeze. This is maybe the main thing that keeps me living in the country.
    photo (2)
  •  The freedom to go to work at 10, leave for lunch, or work on Saturday but not on Monday.
  • Great music in small bars.

    The Nolan sisters rocking out.

    The Nolan sisters rocking out.

  • Late night TV marathons on Netflix with no thought of the consequences.
  • Fresh corn. Fresh greens. Fresh tomatoes. Fresh mint. And as much basil as I could ever want.
    photo 1

Summer always has its own rules, its own schedule, and its own vault where indiscretions and late night confessions can live out their lives.  I am grateful for those days when the air and my skin don’t notice each other. It’s like being in a giant womb called the universe, only I get to have teeth, and my eyes open.

Thank you, summer.









Body of Gratitude

Body of Gratitude

A year ago I was on the Alabama Gulf Coast walking on the beach with a beautiful man—a mirage of sorts– watching the dolphins play. My heart had been sewn shut around so many stones that I knew getting in the water was not an option. I’d sink to the sand and never be able to swim myself to the surface. I had believed in the mirage-man and how much I wanted him, but on Thanksgiving Day I was noticing for the first time the way my hand passed through him when I reached out to touch….

I sat for hours that weekend looking out at the sparkling waters of the Gulf.  I was so busy trying not to feel tragically sad, longing for my far away children, that I could hardly look at what I was thankful for. A year later is 365 days and twice that many lessons learned (the hard way), but as I sit in this firelit coffee house with my daughter, whiling away the afternoon with my computer, I realize something. Some people have a body of work to represent a lifetime of creation. Today, I find that I have a body of gratitude that represents a lifetime of blessings.

Head. Inside my extra large head there is a brain that works well, most of the time. I have always trusted my brain to get me through. To be smart and capable. It is a quick thinker, and I’m grateful it lets me keep up. I may not be able to remember a lot of life’s details (see last blog), but I remember enough. I remember falling in love with books, acquiring my baby sisters during the dark night of childhood, feeling happiness like bubbles that would surprise me on a Friday afternoon as I boarded the crosstown bus home from school. I remember dancing on the bar, skinny dipping at dawn, road trips at midnight with the friends of the moment. I remember the people I have loved and cleaved to for life: true friends. My head has gotten me into plenty of trouble, don’t get me wrong. I can overthink, overanalyze, the usual roadblocks of a writer and reader. But my brain has always been secure for me, and my friend. I am grateful for my head and everything that goes on in there.

Eyes. Thank you, universe, for not making me blind. I am as close to it as a person can be without actually being blind at all. My vision is appallingly bad – once estimated at 20/1800 by a surprised ophthalmologist I went to. But thanks to modern technology I am corrected to about 20/35 and have seen Swan Lake and The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. I have seen the Pacific Ocean, the Carribean and the Atlantic. I have seen a giant humpback whale staring at me from 20 feet below, as she popped up beside my boat. I have seen the faces of students look at me with disbelief, gratitude, pride, exhilaration, realization, frustration, desperation, love, joy, and the thrill of epiphany. I have read books, love letters, and the poetry of my gifted daughter. I have looked down from the top of the Eiffel Tower at the lights of Paris and have looked up at Arenal—a live volcano as it spewed truck sized globs of magma down its sides in glowing rivers. I have seen the look of love on the face of the man I married. Best of all, of course, I saw the faces of my children still smeary and blurred with the exercise of birthing. I saw them open their eyes for the first time to look at me, their mother in this beautiful lifetime. I am grateful for my eyes.

Mouth. What is life without the taste of fermented grapes, roasted coffee, or aged cheese? How can I ever describe how thankful I am for deep soft kisses?

Ears. My son is a musician. That alone gives my ears meaning. My father gave me his love by sitting me down in his study to listen to Sibelius, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Puccini. Etc. The music of my life, from Joni to Aretha, poured through my ears and filled the spaces inside me like custard in a mold. Soon enough, the music was me. What about the sound of the surf, distant lawnmowers on a summer’s day, the swish of skis on groomed snow, the crackle of a fire, or the song of a mockingbird? Yeah, all of it.

Throat. The chakra spins. Having a voice. To speak, to be. I think with my head but I write with my body – my throat where my voice lives, and my hands that know how to get it all out. I am grateful for my throat.

Heart. There is no real explanation for why the heart works the way it does. I don’t mean why it pumps blood and oxygen to all the other parts of the body (grateful or otherwise)– scientists have that figured out. I’m talking about The Heart – the metaphorical seat of feeling. How does anyone know how to love? How can even the most damaged of souls have a heart of love inside them? I am grateful that loving has always come easy to me. Not necessarily trusting or sharing – but love, yes. My heart does not hold grudges. I loved my sisters on sight and that feeling has never waned. I love so many friends who could ask anything of me. I love my uncles, aunts, cousins galore, without reservation. I have loved a few men in my life. Not many. Enough. That love does not go away any more than any other love goes away. When someone is gone, the love just hibernates in the deep cells of the body of gratitude. I am grateful for those loves. The love a mother feels for the human beings grown in her body, fed from her body, nurtured on her body. Well, it seems obvious and effortless but I suppose it is not. Did my mother know that love? Hard to say. But I am grateful that I do.

Breasts. It took me a long time to be grateful for mine. As a young woman, I resented their asymmetry (which is remarkable and no I won’t put up a picture to prove it), their perky girlishness (was I insane?). Now I think my boobs kick all kinds of ass. They fed two very hungry babies who grew at record breaking rates. They have gained character and given me and others pleasure over the years. And at this stage in my life I am most grateful that they have retained their shape and… uh, elevation. Good job, breasts. Thank you.

Uterus. What can I say? I’m a goddess, as is every woman who contains within her the power of life. I fell in love with my body for positive sure when I grew a person inside me. And then again when I pushed it out with the power of all the love and gratitude any mere human can muster. And then I did it again.

Vagina. The magical mystery of being female. The vagina is a way out – for blood and/or life. Everyone starts life through that flowering exit. And it is the way in—to the center of a woman.  It is a mystery that everyone ponders, some fear, and some love. I am grateful for my vagina. It has given me joy, pleasure, glory, pain, and myself.

Legs. I am grateful for my legs and how pretty they have always been. How they let me dance. How they let me be tall. They ache now and then. My knees creak. But I can still boogie my ass off and hike a mountain and ride a bike and that’s awesome.

Feet. I am not always fearless. In fact fear has overcome me often in my life. (I’m afraid right now. Afraid this blog is going to be gag-worthy.) But I have guts. My feet, they walk. I do what I need to do. I go where I need to go, and work as hard as I need to work. Most of the time, my feet don’t fail me. I am grateful to my feet for carrying my body of gratitude through five decades of living. I am also grateful for pedicures.

There is not much in my life I am not grateful for, come to think of it. I even love the pain and heartbreak – how else could I be me without it? And I have food, clean water, health insurance, and a home I am not in danger of losing. I can use my head, my heart, my voice, my legs – to make a difference however small. I can go. I can come. I can say yes. I can say no. I can embrace. I can push away. I can stand tall. I can lie down. I can stay silent. But I probably won’t.