Ina: Generations of Mothers


She raised a generation of daughters. And they in turn are raising another generation of daughters and sons.

The concentric circle extends even father outward, as she was the “Tita”, the aunt to an extended generation of daughters, her nieces, whom she raised as her own and even more significantly, brought them here to the United States. She continues to be the matriarch and mother figure for decades of lifetimes beyond their own, to their children’ children, even as she lies in her hospital bed, the place where her nieces and sister gather around her now. 

The strength of my mother’s love reaches past borders and generation, touching lives even as she lies still, her left side paralyzed, her heart still as full and loving now, smile filling her entire face.

During this gathering of my cousins and aunt we shared a weekend of tears, hugs, laughter, and our favorite Filipino food, Kare Kare (oxtail soup), my aunt’s specialty. When my mother was admitted to hospice several weeks ago I had asked them to come to see her. Her Alzheimers was taking its toll on her memory and she was losing weight rapidly.

“Please come see my mother,” I asked them.

And they did. They travelled from the other coast to be here.  My mother’s only surviving sister of nine siblings, at 87, came to be at her side. My cousins, two the daughters of this sister, and one, the daughter of my mother’s younger beloved sister who passed away two Mother’s Day ago, with Alzheimer’s.

Together we leafed through old black and white photographs. Since they were raised in the Philippines and I was born here, my cousins knew so many details of the family’s life that I did not. Our bedside visit became a story telling session of our family’s past.

We pick up a photo of our grandmother. She is dressed in her best Filipino embroidered gown, a “terno”. Her waistlength grey hair is wrapped in her signature bun on top of her head. On the back of the photo in her very best writing, she writes this:

 Dear Bing and Jessie

 This picture was taken in inside the house with my appliances.

 Your loving mother,

 Filomena C. Bermudez




My cousin Carina explains to me that our grandmother was the queen of the province where she lived in the remote farmland of the Philippines. She was the only one with electricity, with appliances- an electric fan, a refrigerator, a radio, a television. Carina remembers the neighbors peeking into the window of the concrete block house, the biggest one on the street, to get a glimpse of the television working, a novelty back in the 1970’s.

My father would send his mother money to purchase these appliances from his meager salary as a food service worker at the Veteran’s Hospital. He was a veteran himself, 24 years in the US Army, a retired sergeant who had risked his life as Philippine Scout to escape from the Bataan Death March in World War II. My father, an enlisted man who fought on the front lines of the Korean War, would be so proud to know that Carinas’ sons now serve as officers in the US Army and Air Force, one as a major and one as a lieutenant as well as other cousin’s son, one who bears his name, Bermudez, a major in the Army.

These sons of Carina were taught by my mother how to read. They had just come to this country, and I remember my mother, a former third grade teacher, sitting on the couch reading our favorite children’s books, Where the Wild things Are and Curious George to these sons who are now officers serving our country.
Carina leans over the bed to my mother. She whispers, “Thank you, Tita Bing, thank you for teaching my sons to read. Thank you for all you have done for us to have a good life in this country.”


Carina’s sister, Marlene, turns to me. “I don’t like seeing your mom like this,” she cries. “She is the strong one, she is the one who did everything for us. She is the one who would make our favorite food and we would all eat at her house. Her house was the gathering place for us.”

Her mother sits quietly by mom’s beside.  There are no words between them, only a smile and grasping of hands

 
We pick up a photo of our mother’s mother. Veiled and stoic, hosting the same eyes and my mother, she is receiving an award from their priest at their parish.  I know this now because my cousin reads out loud the back of the photograph written in Tagalog in my grandmother’s handwriting.  At the end of the paragraph she signs in script, “Ina”.  


“What does that mean?” I ask Carina.

“Mother.”

Yesterday, the day we celebrate mothers, the great granddaughter of these grandmothers who lived in provinces in a country  10,000 miles away hosted a Mother’s Day Filipino Brunch in honor of these mothers.  She prepared food native to our country in a city, Seattle, known for its foodies. Her heritage menu  was promoted in a local magazine as one of the Nine Best Mother’s Day 2017 Brunches in Seattle.
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As the circle of mothers and daughters extend further out so does the gathering around the table, not only including family, extending to guests.  The tradition of welcoming and gathering with food and laughter ripples out  through the generations.


The center of this outward circle is not forgotten

My cousin Grace leans over to say good bye with tears and words of gratefulness for all my mother has done. 

“Thank you Tita, for bringing my family here, for taking care of us, for giving us the chance fo a new life here.  We love you Tita Bing.”

The cousins gather around her to sing a song, a Filipino love song that was the favorite of my mother and father.  Although the names of my cousins are barely recalled, the words of this beloved song are not forgotten.

“Dahil Sayo”.

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Nais kong mabuhay (I want to live)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Hanggan mamatay (for the rest of my life)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Ako’y lumigaya (I’ve become happy)

Ang lahat sa buhay ko’y (Everything in my life is)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you)

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Measured by the moon.

The moon hangs like an orb, suspended in the sky. Weightless. Floating. Full.

As if it does not carry the weight of measuring time and days as it brightens the dark sky on its descent into a new day.

This day it drops into is my birthday. Another measure of time, in years. A span of 365 risings and falling of the moon, marking 56 times today.

But the one who gave birth to me that day 56 years ago does not remember.

For her time is still, only measured in present. No before or after moments. Only now.

At times it is a gift, this only present moments. There is no sorrow about the past. No worries about the future. Alzheimer’s has taken away time consciousness. Perhaps it is not thievery. Perhaps it is freedom.

Time is suspended as I sit beside her bedside now, stroking the soft, thin folds of her hand in mine. I move for her this hand and arm, the one she cannot move, rendered still from a stroke months ago. She moves the other gracefully to the beat of an old Filipino song, O Ilaw:

Oh light, in the dark night

You’re like a star in the sky

Oh light in the quiet night 

Your picture, dear, makes one hurt. 


O Ilaw, sa gabing madilim

Wag is mo’y bitiun sa langit.

O, tanglaw, sa gabing tahimik

Larawan mo, Neneng,  nagbigay pasakit.
I read the translation to this song we have listened repeatedly over the past months.  Today it strikes me how true these words are.  How is hurts to see her bedridden, to see her bones so frail, her arm still, her head and neck so weak.  But her smile and the light behind her pale eyes still shine so brightly, the way they always have.

Those eyes close now, yet her hand continues to move to the beat of the music

Her voice is barely a whisper as her mouth forms the words.

Only months ago we would sing this together aloud as I took her for a walk outside, to take her out to feel the sun on her skin and see the flowers she loves bloom.  Those days now are few as her lack of mobility makes it difficult to put her in the wheelchair.

She no longer marks the days. Yesterday I told her, “Tomorrow is my birthday.”
She raised  her eyebrows with a familiar smile.
“Oh it is? I did not remember,” she says. “What month is it?”
“January,” I tell her.
“January,” she repeats.

“Do you know the day?” I ask.
She shakes her head no
“My birthday is January 13,” I tell her.
“Oh,” she mouths quietly, then whispers, “What do you want for your birthday?”
“A new dress,” I tell her.
She smiles. “Ok.You get one.”
“Ok, I do you want to go shopping with me?” We used to spend hours shopping together.
She shakes her head no.
She whispers again, “What do you want?”
I think of the time we spent only months ago, when I could push her outside and we could sing her favorite song together,

I tell her, “I want you to sing, sing really loud mommy, so I can hear you.”

Together we sing in Tagalog words that have become familiar these past months, translated:

Awake and arise from slumber, from your sleep so deep. Open your window and look out to me, so that you may understand my true lament

I read the translation to this song, this day before my birthday. This day I have scheduled hospice to come to do an evaluation of mom’s condition. Her strength has declined markedly since her stroke last August. My lament over her condition has rendered me sleepless and worried.

This day before I start a new year, I need to know. I need someone to help me measure the amount of my mom’s decline, need to know where she was at in her stages of Alzheimer’s. And the hospice coordinator comes to the door shortly after we finish our song.

“Hello,” she greets my mother, “How are you. Who are you? Can you tell me your name?”

“Bing,” she answers with a smile.

“I want to know if she has a awareness of who she is,” the coordinator had told me earlier in a brief interview.
“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Does she have a sense of who she is,” she answered. “Can she answer the question, ‘Who are you?'”
On this  birthday of mine I ask myself, Do I have a sense of who I am? Can I answer this question: “Who are you?”

In the past years it has been entangled between caregiver and mother.And lately I have fallen exhausted into both. But that is not the woman my mother raised me to be.

She would want me to answer that question, as she still can: “Who are you”

Me separate from my mother, from my children

Me the one who is shaped by caring for others but not defined by it

Me, searching for to be fully the one I was created to be

The day my mother brought me into this world 56 years ago
If the measure of our days here on earth is to have a sense of self, let me be the one my mother led by example for me to be.

Loving others, caring for their needs, listening, laughing alongside.

As she has for years

And has she does now

In each moment

Suspended still in the air

Like the moon, full.

Going Home

 

 

 

The sun climbs over my roof this morning, and under it my children are home.
Even the cat had been waiting expectantly for their return.

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Home, a place to let down your guard, a place of rest, much needed after a season of change.

Just the other day my youngest, a freshman in college, called.

“Hi sweetie,” I answer, “how are you?”

It is the 14th week of her freshman year. She has been away from home for over three months now.

“Hi.” She has that voice, the one that I have, the one where everything is ok but it is not.

“I’ve been trying to call you.”

“I’m sorry sweetie, we’ve been out.”

We’d been away on an empty nest retreat to Pebble Beach for her dad to play in a golf tournament. His life’s work, golf. And I am grateful his life’s work brings us to this place of crashing waters that shift to cerulean to grey with the winds and the sun. He can play the game he loves and I can walk these shores I love where the rocks jut out of the seas and the sandpipers nip at the shores and dogs run unabashedly into the surf in complete freedom.

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For the first time in months I felt that same freedom as I walk and reflect on the things I love and the ones I love and the salt air fills my lungs and the skies shift from grey to lavender to orange early in the morning and the surf sounds calls me to walk and think and pray along its edges during this season of shift and change of all things familiar.

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This was a gift of a week alone, in this new season of being alone.
A gift of a week before the kids come home.
A gift to reflect and pause and be thankful.

Lauren whispers into the phone,

“I just want to be home.”

“Only two more days,” I tell her.

“I just want to be home now,” she tells me.

Her voice breaks. I ask her to face time so I can see her face to face. She says no mom I don’t want you to see my face right now.

And I hear the sobs in her voice.

I want to fix it. What do you want I ask.
I want you to pick me up and take me to dinner with you and dad.
All of me wants to find a flight right now that will take me to where she is thousands of miles away to pick her up for dinner.

She’s alone tonight. All her friends are gone, a lot of them home already.

My little girl just wants to go home.

Depending on whose voice, that statement means different things at different times.

It used to frustrate me at times when my mom, in her Alzheimer’s state of mind, used to say, “I want to go home.” She had a place under our very roof, and I used to wonder “what else can we do for her?” until my caregiving counselor explained to me that when she asks to go home, she is looking for her place of safety and refuge.

Later she used to say, I want to go home, and playing along with her, I would ask, where is home?

She would smile, and point her finger up to heaven.

Yesterday during our visit at the place that is now her home, we sang songs from the sound of music, her favorite. We both laughed out loud when we sang together “so long, farewell” and in her raspy voice, weakened by a recent stroke, she sang out “Goodbye, Goodbye!” so loud it startled even herself!

 

 

When I kissed her on the forehead to say good bye, she asked me, “Where are you going? Where is your home? I don’t remember.”

Tomorrow I will try to find a good place for her to sit at home comfortably at the table in her wheelchair.

Tomorrow we will gather all together.  At home.

imageAround extended tables will be our children and our friends who have gathered around the Thanksgiving table with us over the past 20+ years, friends who at that time were far away from home and were making a new one.

And for the first time my son will gather around the table with his new wife and her parents, as the circle extends out concentrically of starting a home.

 

Managing Storage…coping with Life’s system overload

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It was ignored for a very long time. Months, maybe a year. The little white icon that pops up on the IPad screen: Your storage is full. Manage in Settings. Like many other things in life, I kept ignoring it, thinking it would go away or I would deal with it later.

Then came the day when I tried to open up a new page to write a new document, and ARGHHHHH! It would not open. Worse yet, I could not retrieve any of the older documents I had written. All those words, all those pages! Panic set in. I knew they were in the cloud somewhere, but I had no idea how to get them out of there. With none of my kids around to coach me through this (they would laugh at me anyway) I caved in to the only thing I could do. Call Apple Support.

The voice of a very nice young man got on the line. I prefaced the rest of the conversation with this statement: Explain everything to me as if you were talking to your mom.

I could picture the grin on his face as he chuckled. And step by step, he patiently coached me on how to manage my storage so I could have more room to update my settings so I could have room to load my previous documents and make room for more. After all my anxious questions, “Where is the ICloud? Where do these items go? What happens if I delete this?” he said to me, “You’re doing great! You got this!”

“Don’t worry, he told me, your items are still there and you will have access to them. You just have to manage where you place them. ”

Ha! I think to myself. That’s the story of my life.

From his desk at Apple Support he doesn’t see the piles of items in the spare room or the boxes in the garage or the bins of photos that need to be sorted in the upstairs closet. Managing items is an ongoing problem of mine, my nemesis for years. Those closest to me also try to coach me through longterm fault. For my birthday a few weeks ago my dear friend gave me the book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up after she saw me browsing through it in the bookstore. One of the statements author Marie Kondo makes is this: To truly cherish the things that are important to you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.

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This is true for my IPad. To make room for more I must take time to delete some of the photos that are taking 8.2 GB on my 12GB device.

This is true for my closet. To be able to neatly put away the piles of laundry on the living room couch I must discard some of those tops stuffed in my drawers I haven’t worn for years.

This is true for those long term anxieties that have been stuffed down in my soul. Worries about when am I ever going to get this stuff in my house organized. Worries about my grown children’s future. Fears and apprehension about their goals, and mine, being achieved. Fears and anxieties over personal traits I need to work on.

All this stuff drains energy from me. Wastes too much space in my mind and in my day. Keeps me from being who I fully want to be.

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Last night the signal that blares to me that I must learn to manage my own personal settings is mirrored in front of me.

Mirrored in my own daughter.

In the angst of anticipating the 6pm announcement of a college acceptance, a myriad of emotions and tears come spilling out of unseen places…..will or will she not get in, my classes are too hard, I can’t study for all these AP classes, I keep trying and trying and I can’t get where I want to be….

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My heart breaks that my daughter is caught in this swirl of expectations and achievement and information overload. I had no clue how much tension she was storing underneath the surface until she broke. Her system was full. She had reached maximum capacity.

I had not noticed the signals that she was on overload.  That she was feeling so much pressure to keep up schoolwork and grades. And so quietly, calmly, even though my heart was breaking, I did what Apple Support did for me that morning: coach my sweet daughter to look through her days and examine what we could delete from her busy life.

What was necessary and what was extra.

What was too much.

What to do if she was feeling anxious and fearful.

Most of all, what she needed to focus on to keep space free in her mind to relax and breathe.

“Mom,” my daughter told me later, “when we were fixing our phones last week the tech told me that when a IPhone starts reaching its maximum capacity, it starts acting strange. Not functioning correctly. I guess that’s what was happening to me.”

iPhones and IPads come in different capacities:  12 GB, the 32GB and the 64GB. It has nothing to do with their efficiency, it’s merely how they are designed.

All are designed differently. Each has different gifts and capacities. And in this crazy world of achievement and information and overload that we all get into I need to observe the messages silently put out that the expectations can be too much. In my children’s world.  And in my own.

In those places where we gain more space by deleting the extra, we need to replace the busyness with places of rest. Places to shut down and restore. Places to recharge in quietness.

For the benefit of freeing up the clutter of our minds, our souls, our days is that we gain space.

And when we gain space, we are more available to receive what is around us.

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Love that is not Lost

There is a love that bears all things, the kind of love that looks you straight in the eye, into your soul, and sees everything….and still loves. The kind that allows you to be so transparent that nothing is hidden yet everything is loved. When we experience that kind of love our soul is blessed beyond all measure. The joy of holding that kind of love transcends any pain that may follow. For the greatest gift of this kind of love….from a mother, a spouse, a child, a friend, a dog….is knowing that just being in their presence is enough

I repost this blog today, Valentine’s Day, in honor of those whose love completely and unconditionally

 

Her eyes are glazed, yet a light in them still shines.

Her hearing is diminished, yet she still senses me.

She sits at my feet, as I rub her back between the shoulders.

She groans in acknowledgment, as if this happiness is too much to bear.

For a moment the panting stops.

A smile rests under her droopy eyes.

Her head turns, through those dimmed eyes she tells me of her love.
In days past, sixteen years of them, I would rush past her.

a quick pat on the head and I would be off

doing the things moms do, carpool, grocery shopping, logging miles on the minivan within my five mile radius

but when I returned she would be waiting

always with a wagging tail and a smile.

At times when things were not so rushed–

the groceries put away, the laundry folded–

I would put my tennis shoes on.

She would wag her, her eyes pleading expectantly.

“You wanna take a walk?” I would ask

and with that last word she would trot to the door.
We had our routine path, around the corner, past the pond, down to the left where old oak trees shaded us from the sweltering Florida sun, around the corner again along the sidewalk where bunnies scampered and butterflies flittered into the bramble when we passed.

  

When we turned back into the neighborhood her pace picked up a bit as she scampered up the driveway.

She knew she was home.

Years later, mom came to live with us. She was 83 years old. She partnered with us on these walks. Together the three of us would take that familiar path. Around the corner, past the pond, down to the left where old oak trees shaded us from the sweltering Florida sun, around the corner again along the sidewalk where bunnies scampered and butterflies flittered into the bramble when we passed. They were times to share tidbits of conversation or times of quiet reflection. Times of companionship.


When we turned back into the neighborhood, mom would exclaim every time, “Thank you, Lord, that we are home.”

Home.

A place of safety.

A place of familiarity

A place of refuge.
These walls of safety have kept out the elements. They have braved three hurricanes, a few tornado warnings, and multiple thunderstorms, even a lightning strike that hit the house and burned out our alarm system.

But these walls cannot shield us from the elements of aging, ones that grapple arthritic bones,

cataracts that dim the eyes, hearing loss that deafens a whisper

or amyloid plaques that tangle the brain.

These are elements that walls cannot keep out

so within these walls we must adapt and acclimate.

For many years I rushed in and out, hurrying on to the next thing.

Now

these elements bear down:

arthritis, aging, alzheimer’s,

causing me to slow.

Stop fighting

Stop rushing past.

Try to hold up.

Try to listen.

Try to see.

So we keep the routine.

Take the walks until the day the feet can only shuffle

Rub the back.

Hold the hand.

 

The smile still lingers, the one that rests under droopy eyes

and the sigh that says this happiness is too much to bear.

The head turns, the light in the eyes still shines

and through those dimmed eyes she tells me of her love.

A few months ago, the time came to put Cindy down. She was 16 years old. In her way, she let me know it was time.

She was lying down on a pink blanket.  I put my face next to hers.  She lifted her head slightly and looked straight into my eyes. With those eyes she said to me:

It’s OK. I love you. And I know that you love me and have loved me well. It’s OK to say good-bye. Let me go.

I love you.

 
 http://jenniferdukeslee.com/tell-his-story/

A Journey into the new year…..hope, perseverance, new beginnings uncovered on the streets of New York City

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I am standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway on New Year’s Eve. It is almost 12 noon. In twelve hours the ball will drop one block from here, the iconic symbol of a new year, a new start, a tradition I remember first watching on a black and white 20 inch television screen over fifty years ago.

There are two schools of thought if one should be standing here this day.

One bent comes from one who protects these streets, and has been diligently for the past 72 hours that I have been in this city.

“If you want to be herded in here like cattle, not able to eat, drink or pee for this next 12 hours, then do it.  My advice: watch it on TV.”

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The other bent stems from those who crowd these streets. Those pulled magnetically to this city of promise and hope for years for the same reason: to leave all behind and to start over in hope, a fresh start. Lady Liberty a few miles down the street has drawn millions to her torch with the same pull, drawing in those who speak Italian and Spanish and Indian and Chinese and Haitian. Those who sell handbags under awnings and 2016 glasses on street corners. Those who get caricatures drawn and wave American flags and take selfies on the corner with the Empire State Building, lit up in its Christmas colors, behind them.

 

This city, this ball drop has ushered in new hope for decades.

Even though helicopters hover above, barricades block streets, bodies lined ten deep line up to go through security screenings, no bags in hand, this ball will drop.  The year’s past shadows will not hinder this light’s descent.

 

6000 police officers line the blocks, grouped on every corner. 

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Some revelers are dishing out $50 a ticket from the Comedy Club Central hawking promises of a view, others have dished $5000 for champagne in a penthouse suite to witness this spectacle. Most will wait for the confetti party shoulder to shoulder in the streets right there in the middle of the square.

Naysayers say, “Why would you stand in line for 12 hours to watch a ball drop for 60 seconds.  It’s just a ball”.

The one million that gather here say differently.  Not just a ball.

A promise of hope.

A promise of a fresh start.

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A spirit of courage, despite the terrors of the past year push the masses on from all across the country and the world towards the crystal beacon of a new beginning.

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Twelve hours later, we sidestep from our restaurant like Aladdin through city blocks, bodies, and barricades, towards the ball, the epicenter of the new year, where thousands have lined up along the streets that radiate to the center, even blocks away. Our room key to the hotel on the corner is the lucky ticket past the barriers.

  

On the corner of 41st and 7th, barricades keep the crowds from the intersection where  crowds have lined up for hours for the view behind the ball. Sometimes the route to what you want is through the back. Even from backside the crowds stand and push toward the center, for just a glimpse of the crystal ball from any angle.

“Please, please, officer,” begs an Indian man, his family behind him, “please just a few feet more, we just want to see, we just want to see.”

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The officer relents a few inches, but as the crowds push in, he stops.  “That’s enough,” he says, “I’m trying to be nice, but you keep pushing in!”

In the swarm families and couples huddle together, fathers hold up their children. I hear Italian. I hear Japanese. I hear French. I hand my noisemaker to a little Indian boy wearing a spiderman hat, another NYC symbol. I hear a wife whisper to her husband “It’s ok we’re in the back. This is as close as we are going to get. This is a once in a lifetime thing.”

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“Please, please”, the man begs again, “let us get closer.”

“Look up!” I say to him. “It’s right there.”

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The 2,688 sparkling waterford crystals of the ball shine towering two blocks above us, and to a throng of shouts its multicolor facets begin its descent.

The crystal ball drops, and fireworks usher in the new year.  The Behind the Scenes crowd doesn’t see the flashing signs, but from the fireworks and cheers we know the new year has begun.  The policemen who themselves were enthralled by the spectacle now remove the barriers and let the crowds into the streets. 2016 is here.

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Hours later we ascend to the highest point in NYC, the One World Observatory, where, 104 floors up we catch a different perspective of Times Square and all the iconic points of New York City.

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Familiar outlines lay before me from this height, yet my eyes are drawn to one place below the foot of the tower. It is the square of the green around of St. Paul’s Chapel. the church where not one window was broken the day the Twin Towers fell, protected by an old sycamore tree in the cemetery. The chapel that served as a sanctuary for recovery workers after 9/11.  The chapel that serves as a memorial of photos and police and fire insignias.  The chapel that survived the Great Fire of 1776.

Surrounding this small chapel are the signs of fresh starts and new beginning.  The skeleton of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Oculus, rises at the corner. 

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The squares of the two Memorial Fountains that commemorate the towers of the World Trade Center lay distinctly below.

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I descend to the south tower fountain. A white rose marks a name.  A white rose, a symbol of remembrance and new beginnings. Somber reminders of loss and pain and destruction are beneath every footstep on these grounds. Standing here on this New Year’s Day of 2016 testifies what can be made new from the ashes of suffering.

“Suffering shakes us to the core…leaves you vulnerable and exposed….gives you a sense of your own limitations…In this new year we look back on what has shaped us, we look forward to what is ahead, we look up for strength and guidance, and we look down to examine our own hearts….”

In the quiet pew of Redeemer Church two days later these words are spoken into the tranquil sanctuary.

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Outside these walls, down the streets this city continues its pace into the new year.

The sky is blue and crisp and fresh this Sunday morning.  Sunlight casts golden on brownstones and barren trees.

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Across the street Central Park is bathed in this light.  Only a few days ago, my son asked his lovely girlfriend to be his wife on the terrace of Bethesda Fountain.

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The other day in Chelsea Market she found a photograph of the fountain taken on a winter day in the 1930’s.  “Did you know the story behind this fountain?” she asks me with her beautiful smile. “The Bethesda Fountain is named for the pool in the Bible where people came to be healed.”

Healing.  Restoration.  New beginnings.

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As my flight ascends into the night sky that evening the places trodden these few days outline below me……Times Square, Central Park, and at the tip of the peninsula, the One World Tower.  Barely perceptible in the shadow of the bay is a faint figure.  The Statue of Liberty.

Her torch of hope a speck of light shining in the darkness.

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Photo credits: Daniel Mogg, Vina Mogg

Old Faithful

 

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She sleeps at my feet, her paws splayed in front of her greying nose. Her breathing is labored, yet comforting and familiar as she always has been. She came into our lives over fourteen years ago, a friendly one year old puppy on her way to the pound. Her owners couldn’t keep her any more. The look on her sweet face captured my son’s heart, leading to the look on his then ten year old face that pleaded, “Mom, we have to keep her!”

So we did. She joined our already topsy turvy household of four children including a toddler that chased poor Cindy Lou around the family room couch. Dear Cindy spent many hours being chased. I remember one birthday party where she took humor in the chase. We had hidden a clue to the scavenger hunt in her signature red collar. She knew she had something important and played along in the game, not letting anyone get her. She smiled and teased that sunny afternoon, taunting, “You can’t catch me!” In the end, she gave up the clue with a roll over on her back and a rub on the tummy.

Unlike the rest of us in the house, Cindy is very scheduled. She knows when it’s time for our walk. We logged many miles together on our walks, comfortable in each other’s silent presence and an occasional chase after a squirrel. I miss those walks with her now. It is all she can do to get up on her paws and waddle down the driveway, doing her thing along the way, then turning around to waddle back. She still remains scheduled, as I hear her pad into my room at 4 am every morning to let me know its time to go out. I see it now as my nightly star gazing ritual. I take her out at look into the sky to find the few constellations I know I or look at the moon. When its time to go in I clap my hands loudly. She can’t hear me call her name anymore. She turns her head and wags her tail and waddles back in, waits for her scratch on the head, and we both settle in for a few hours before another day begins.

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“Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Why is there so much clarity in those silent places with our most loyal friend. Freedom in the quiet. Calm in mere presence. And an exchange of mutual love even in the wee hours of the night.

Yesterday I rub her back as we sit in the veterinarians’ office when suddenly all those years of her faithful companionship overwhelm me. I break into tears out of nowhere. Maybe it’s menopause. Maybe it’s the truth that all around me everyone is aging. My dog. My mom. My children. My friends.

That same morning my friend and I simultaneously laughed about and anguished over wrinkles and age spots. What do we do about it? Do we give in and fix them or age gracefully, wrinkles and all.

Why is it so hard to accept the wrinkles of aging, those folds in life that reflect the pain and the worries of our journey. We want to smooth them out, but it is those wrinkles that define us and reflect the strength we have carried and the grace we have sustained to endure the bumps along the way.

This week those bumps loom even larger as I face daily the effects of time. Time that ticks away for my mom as she progresses slowly in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, yet robs my dear friend’s father so quickly. Time that ticks away for my children that now, one by one leave the nest, leaving me alone, with more time to discover or uncover nuggets of truths that have been nestled under all the busyness of caring for others.

And today in the vet’s office this truth hits hard: in all these moments Old Faithful has been there beside me. One who knows me better than I know myself. One who senses my moods, who knows when I need comfort. Who looks at me and through me with loyal eyes and complete acceptance. One who is with me when I walk under sun kissed skies and in the middle of the darkest night.

She is tired. She has age spots. She has trouble breathing. But her tail still wags when she sees me. She still smiles through clouded eyes.

I am grateful for what this companion has taught me about unconditional love. And she continues to teach me, as all of us age, there is much power in a good back rub, in being present in silences, that wrinkles and grey hair are outshone by loving eyes, and that an occasional groan is okay. And at times it’s hard to get up, but sometimes you just do, move forward, and get a treat. And companionship, the kind that has worn a hole in the pavement beside you, rain or shine, is the best treat of all.

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