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Storied Bench

Storied Bench

 

Who’s rested on your slats?

Whose heart broke from the news?

Whose wounds grew?

Whose spirit held hope for easier days?

 

Whose fingertips traced chips and gripped the black arm?

 

Whose weary body, worn from worry and wear, rested?

Whose bleary eyes, full of fury and tears, closed?

 

Whose gaze held the knowing that all of humanity, the stars, moon, earth and life were wrapped into one,

tiny,

sun-drenched drop

of salted spray and that everything

would,

eventually,

yes, eventually,

be okay?

 

Tell me, oh solemn bench,

your stories.

 

Are you sworn to secrecy?

Have the rained rinsed them away

or do remnants remain

in your wood grain and peeled paint?

 

Was there a homeless woman

afraid for her life

while once a wife

and mother?

 

Was there a handsome man

full of pride

tethered to his skin

emotions checked within?

 

Was there a child

squirming to play

told to sit

and smile at the *click*?

 

Today it was me.

Bathed in sentiments of home:

 

Alpena to St. Pete

Thunder Bay to Tampa Bay

Unsalted Huron to salted Gulf

Sailboats, seagulls, and breakwalls

Family ties

Binding yesterday’s home to today’s home

 

 

 

Watching the bay water hit

and spit

salty spray

from rocky wall

 

as the sun rested

on tips of waves

like trillions of stars

on their backs

upside down

in the light of day

 

I hugged in my legs

drew in a breath

and added a layer of story

to the weathered bench.

 

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Someone brought the music….

Standing along side my 9-year-old niece and her friends at Williams Park tonight, we spread on pb&j, slapped bread together and wrapped the sandwiches into napkins. After going through the ‘hot food’ line set up by the Food Not Bombs group, many houseless folks drifted over to our little stand to pick up a sandwich to go.

“Can I have two please? It’ll be my breakfast before going to work tomorrow morning,” one man explained as he stood at our folding table.

“Of course!” I put two wrapped sandwiches into his weathered hands and smiled though I felt like crying.

My heart always aches when I serve food here on Mondays.

It is still heavy in my chest as I write this hours after helping.

I hurt for these folks who are doing what they can to survive. The disparity between people is so vast it’s unfathomable. I hurt because so many among us are so close to this edge of poverty. One illness or accident could prevent us from working or something could happen to the support system of our family and friends.

Typically, I want to focus on the positive aspects in life. But right now, my eyes are red with tears and I don’t know how I can help on a significant scale. I can only make so many f*ing pb&js to save the world, you know?

*Deep breath*

Since I can’t NOT focus on some bright points of the night. let me share this: Someone brought the music.

And we danced.

The Cha-Cha Slide belted out and I boogied down next to two houseless men, the local organizer for the FNB group, my niece and friends, and a toddler.

We laughed.

We clapped.

We circled around the two-year-old who crawled and then clapped and laughed with us.

The human spirit is resilient, especially when food and music and friends are involved. We can all relate to breaking bread and reveling in the simple things like quality time together, right?

After all, our longevity is connected to our connections with others. It’s times like these that buoy us up, no matter how dire the situation is. It’s the people. It’s always about the people and our connections.

So, I’ll continue to show up with pb&j or hummus and chips. And I’ll show up with extra toiletries. And I’ll show up with a blanket because one man asked me for one tonight since someone stole his. And I’ll show up with my dance moves. And I’ll show up with my willingness to connect.

If you want to show up, then please do. It’s vegan only food. So bring a dish or a donation if you can.

They are in need of men’s clothes. There are opportunities for day laborers if these guys show up. They need clothes and boots though.

By the way, I learned that using the term “houseless” is preferred over saying “homeless” because technically these folks have a home, it’s with each other on the streets or in shelters. Technically they don’t have a house.

Check out the Food Not Bombs page to see if this is a group you want to support.

 

 

May 2018

Her Name was Cindy

I slung two tote bags over each of my shoulders and grabbed another one to carry from my parked car.  It was dark as I crossed three lanes of traffic to Williams Park.  This park is home for those without one and a place typically avoided by those with homes, myself included.

This was Christmas and I was there to help feed people who were hungry.

After crossing the street, I walked quickly past small pockets of people sitting on a low wall and benches.  Some stood near an overflowing trash can.  I lowered my head a little, looked ahead and didn’t make eye contact.  I was ashamed.  Here I was to feed and interact with these same people in a few minutes, but I was uncomfortable.  What do I say to people that I often try to avoid on the streets?

The Food Not Bombs organizers quickly popped up folding tables and began placing pots of rice and vegetables, and trays of tomatoes with basil, plantains and other goods on the tables.  I set down my container of pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and another container of spaghetti.  Opening tubs of hummus and a loaf of bread, I placed those in line on the buffet.  People quickly and quietly formed a line at the end of the tables.

One boy from our group leaned in to his mom and whispered, “I’m nervous.”  His eyes darted around.

“Why are you nervous?” She asked quietly.  “It’s okay.”

“I don’t know, I just am,” he replied.

We well-meaning and more fortunate folks stood together one on side of the tables as those who were hungry waited patiently on the other side for 6:30, when we would begin serving.

There was chatter from adults asking kids what their favorite Christmas present was. Feeling aware of and embarrassed about the glaring contrast of privilege between the two groups of people there, I slipped away from the conversation and walked down the line of people waiting simply for food on Christmas.

Not sure what to say or do but knowing I wanted to connect, even just a little, I stopped by a woman slightly hunched over her walker.  Her face with sunken and wrinkled.  Her eyes and cheeks were wet.

“Hi.  How are you?”  I asked simply, not knowing how else to start.

“Today’s been hard,” she began.  “It’s Christmas and I’ve been crying all day.”

I nodded and listened.  I dug my hands into the pockets of my sweatshirt and stood there, giving her space and time to share.

“My family is far away, where it’s cold,” she explained in a child-like way.   Many of her teeth were missing.  There was a big gap on her bottom row.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear. This is a hard day when you’re not with family,” I agreed.  “Where up north is your family?”

“They live in a cold place, where it snows,” she continued.

“Who is in your family? Will you tell me about them?” I asked.

“My sisters and my parents. And my parents are old. They are in their seventies.”

At the sight of her wrinkled skin, I had thought she was nearly seventy.  Recalculating, I figured maybe she was in her sixties and her parents had her in their teens.

“I haven’t seen them since 1994.  I’ve been on and off the streets for 23 years.  And it’s hard.”  She leaned her head into her hand and her eyes welled up.  She sniffed.

Her walker moved a little as she leaned on it with her elbow.

“And this thing,” she gestured to her walker, “is missing a screw and I can’t get it fixed.”  I leaned down to examine both sides.  Three blankets were folded and stacked on her walker’s seat.  She moved them out of the way as she pointed out the part.

“If this breaks, I don’t know what I’ll do.  I can’t walk without it.  I have a fractured pelvis.  And they can’t help me.  It hurts when I sit.  It hurts when I stand,” she shifted her weight, sniffed again, and continued, “it hurts when I sleep.”

“And now it’s getting colder out.  I like to keep warm with a cup of coffee.  But you know if I go into a place they just look at me in disgust.  It’s awful.  And they won’t let me pay with pennies.”

I have no words other than, “Would you like a hug?”

She nodded tearfully and reached her arms out.  I leaned down and we embraced.  I wondered when she was hugged last.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“I’m Cindy,” she said.

“Hi Cindy, I’m Sara.”

“I need to get to the tables to help serve food.  I’ll see you over there,” I told her wishing I had better words, a cup of coffee, and the right screw for her walker.

A man who had been setting up tables stood in front of the line and welcomed everyone at precisely 6:30. The line began to move, and I stood in front of the containers of hummus and bread.

“Would you like hummus?” I asked the first man.

“Oh, yes. I love hummus!”

“Would you like garlic or pine nut?”

“Garlic, please.  It’s so good for you!” He replied.

I scooped the hummus onto a slice of bread and topped it with another.

The line of folks continued, and the majority requested garlic hummus.

Cindy came up.

“Hi Cindy, would you like hummus?”

“No thank you, but I would like a tomato slice,” she told my friend.

“Sure thing.  Merry Christmas, Cindy,” I said.

“Thank you,” she replied.

After everyone had gone through the line, I realized the woman I met last week, Connie, was not there and I wondered how she was doing.

I packed up my containers and utensils and walked toward my car.  This time, I stopped and looked at the people sitting on the benches and around the trash can.  I asked cheerfully if anyone wanted a pb&j sandwich.  No one accepted, so I kept walking to my car, this time less nervous.

My walls and prejudices were chipped away a little more.  And along with Cindy’s hug and standing side by side with friends to serve others, those chips were the best Christmas present.

My First Time Being Homeless

 

Last night, I spied her walking across the street with a bag hanging from each side of her walker as well as one tote bag on the seat.  I hesitated offering her a sandwich because she looked more put together than I’d expect a homeless person to look and I wasn’t sure if she really was.

As she reached the corner of Central and 3rd St, right near the Lucky Dill and Ruby’s Cigar Bar, I approached her.  Her long blonde hair was swept up into a loose ponytail.  Her skin and eyes looked bright.  She had a little mascara rubbed off under her lower lid.  She wore a blue fleece zip-up jacket with a white shirt under it.

“Would you like a sandwich?” I asked as I held out a pb & j wrapped in a paper towel and held together with a sticky Christmas gift tag which read “To: You, From: Me” in children’s handwriting.  My family and friends had just finished making sandwiches at Williams Park and I had one left as I walked back to my car.

“What church are you from?” She asked me.

“I’m not with a church.  I was just helping out over there at Williams Park,” I explained.

“Oh, I was just there for dinner.  That was good,” she said.

“Would you like the sandwich?”

“Yes, thank you. I’ve been homeless for four days.  It’s my first time being homeless,” she told me.  “And it’s hell.”

She paused and her blue eyes locked mine.

“My money ran out and I have bone cancer, so here I am.”

My already heavy-heart sank a bit more as she told me this.  If I didn’t have family and friends to catch me, I’d have been damn-near homeless a few times.  It’s only a few missed paychecks away.  In fact, I suppose I have been homeless…it just didn’t look like me sleeping on a park bench.  It was me living in an RV with 6 family members.  It was me bunking in with friends for a few months.  It was me being on the edge of adventure and minimalism and poverty.

“The good thing is, you always have somewhere to eat in St. Pete.  Every night of the week there’s something.  Monday is Williams Park.  Tuesday and Wednesday is the “chicken man.”  Then on Thursday it’s three guys on motorcycles who bring burgers.  Friday is the “bologna man.” Saturday is the church….the elevator church the homeless call it…over there,” she pointed down the street, past Williams Park.

“There’s a breakfast feast on Saturday morning and another one Saturday night.  Sunday another church provides food.  There’s no reason to go hungry around here.  But let me tell you it’s still hell out here,” she continued.

“The men out here are pigs.  They only care about booze, drugs, and sex.  I’ve seen women giving oral sex to men right on the sidewalk,” she looked away in disgust.

“Are you Christian?” she asked me.

“Ummm, not really.  I don’t subscribe to any one religion.  I believe in a lot of things,” I explained.

“Well, when I had money, I’d buy cigarettes and Hershey chocolate bars.  The mini ones not the big ones.  And cigarettes are expensive.  I’d tape a message on it.  A Bible verse. And then I’d leave them out.”

She recited a verse about salvation.

“I wonder though….do you think it stuck?  Did people follow it?” she asked me.

“Well, I believe when someone is ready to hear a message they will hear it.  So, yes, I’m sure someone followed your message,” I said.

“Here I am now.  Homeless.  But only for a few more days.  Friday or Saturday I have another place to go.  Maybe Sunday.  But I’m getting out of here,” she told me.

“Where will you go next?” I asked.

“Well,” she paused, “I’ve got a place.  Yup, by Friday or Saturday I’ll be there.”

“That’s great!” I said.

“You know my doctor said I wouldn’t live to see Christmas.”

“Oh,” I said empathetically.

“Oh, it’s fine with me.  I’m ready to go home.  My son is already there.”

I processed this and realized that Christmas was Monday.  Where would she really be going on Sunday?  Oh, Lord….is she going “home” on Friday or Saturday?

“I really need potassium. My bones ache from the cancer.” She rubbed her leg and I nodded.

“You know, the homeless like it here.  They don’t want to go to the VA or anywhere else because they’d have to give up drugs and booze.  They get their checks.  They eat every night.  They don’t mind.”

I shook my head slightly.

“What is your name?” I asked her.

“Connie,” she smiled.

“Connie, I’m Sara,” I smiled back.

“Where do you sleep, Connie?”

“Huh, well…” she looked off.  “It’s hard.  I sit on the bench.  I can’t lay on it.  And I stay on it until the police officer tells me to move.  You know, the homeless here they loathe the cops.  And the cops loathe the homeless.”

I nodded again without a word.

“Well, I better keep going.  Thanks for the sandwich,” Connie said.

“You’re welcome.  Take care.”

I turned to walk to my car, my feet and heart heavy.

 

 

 

 

Today, I was shopping in Publix downtown on my way home from work.  I rounded the corner to head down the aisle for toilet paper and there was Connie pushing her walker.

“Hi, Connie!  I met you yesterday, I’m Sara.”
“I remember who you are.  Were you wearing that dress yesterday?” she asked.

“No, I wasn’t.”  She was in her white shirt and blue fleece.

“How are you today?” I asked.

“Hungry.  The chicken man is off until after Christmas.”

“Oh, that stinks. Well, what can I get for you?” I chirped.

“Oh.  I wasn’t…” she trailed off, shaking her head and looking down.  “I wasn’t trying to imply….”

“Connie, it’s okay!  What do you want to eat?” I asked.

“A sandwich.  A sub sandwich,” she looked up at me.  “I’m so hungry.”

“Well, let’s get one for you,” I walked with her to the long line at the Publix deli.

“I didn’t mean for you….I wasn’t trying to…” she started again.

“I know you didn’t.  It’s my pleasure Connie.  I’ll tell you what. Can I give you some money to buy the sandwich because I have to go?”  I counted out 10 singles and handed them to her.

She smiled and accepted.

“It was good to see you again Connie. God Bless.”  I never say “God Bless” but felt that she’d appreciate it somehow, being that she’s a Christian.

I rushed to the check-out line with a tote bag full of fresh produce hoping to make it to yoga in time.  My knee-high boots clicked across the parking lot as I strode to my Volvo and hopped in, allowing only some of the reality to sink in.

Yes, Connie, I thought, your message is being received.

Today is Sunny.

A cluster of Barbie dolls remains piled up along the side of the futon.  On the desk sits a Groucho Marx – inspired eyeglass / nose / mustache combo.  A small whiteboard and dry erase marker, a stack of note-cards clipped together by lesson number (MC-L2-U6- LC2-11: Weather and Seasons), and a bear puppet pepper the other side of the desk.  My laptop sits in the middle.  My iPhone earbuds, plugged into the computer, lay in a cluster.  My office remains ready for short-notice bookings and previously scheduled lessons.

 

I log into the VIP KIDS teacher’s portal and access the calendar that displays my bookings.  All my time slots I opened for the morning are marked “Booked.”  I glance at the time.  6:53a.m.  I click on the 7:00am session and open the power point presentation that provides the curriculum for the next thirty minutes.

In the small screen next to the power point slides, I watch a young Chinese student look up from her book as I open the document.  My computer camera is off still.  I reset the stopwatch feature on my phone, which is propped against a tall, skinny Virgin of Guadalupe candle on my desk and then take another swig of coffee.

Popping off my chair, I lean in to switch on the other lamps in the room and close the blinds as the sunlight pours in.  Clicking “start” on the stopwatch and turning on the camera button, I smile at the student.

“Hello!” I exclaim, waving incessantly with wide eyes.

“My name….” I begin slowly and draw my thumbs in toward my chest, “is Teacher Sara.” I add as I hold up an index card with my name written with my best first-grade teacher printing.

“What,” I shrug my shoulders and hold my hands up, “is your name?” I point at the camera to the child in Beijing.

“My name is Jill.  J-i-l-l, Jill.”  The girl says proudly.

 

Jill? Riiigghhht.

 

“Hi Jill.  How are you?” I speed up a little sensing she knows some English.

“I am fine, Teacher.  How are you?”

“I am fine, also, Jill.  Thank you.” I hold up two thumbs.

Looking at the title of the power point I continue, “Jill, today you will learn about weather and the seasons.  Are you ready to learn English?”
“Yes, Teacher.  I am ready to learn English.”

I flip to the first slide which is a review of letter names and sounds.  She initiates the alphabet song before I even begin.

 

She’s an eager beaver.

 

“Wow, great job, Jill.”

 

The Chinese kids, I have since learned, all sing the ABC song differently than I ever did growing up or when I taught elementary students in the States for 12 years.  I like their version much better. The letters LMNOP are not clustered together like one letter.  Seriously.  Try it.  Sing the ABC song and notice how fast we typically say the “LMNOP” part.  It’s silly.  The Chinese have it right.  They have different breaks in the song and it just makes sense.  I need to learn that version and start a movement here in the ol’ US of A…unless it has already begun and I’m just late to the train.

 

I digress.  Back to Jill….

 

The next slide has pictures of different types of weather: sunny, windy, and rainy.  We review those words, act them out, and read them a few times.  The next slide shows a calendar.  Sunday is circled and Jill repeats, “Today is Sunday.”  She repeats the skill for Monday and Tuesday.

When she sees the slide labeled Wednesday, she reads, “Today is Weather.”

From the background, I hear a shrill voice correcting her before I can, “Wednesday!  Today is Wednesday!”

 

Jill’s face tightens.

 

“Wednesday.  Today is Wednesday,” she obediently repeats.

 

While I feel mostly excited and in awe that I’m teaching English to a child in China, 12 hours ahead of my time zone, it’s mixed with a bit of sadness and guilt that I’m contributing to the high demands and pressures on these kiddos to perform with perfection.

 

I put on my Groucho Marx mask and in a silly voice encourage her.

“Jill, good job!”  She giggles.

“Yes.  Today is Wednesday.  What is the weather like today?”Teacher Sara

“Sunny,” she replies.

“Yes, Jill.  Today,” I pause and turn the computer to the window, “is sunny.”

“Sunny, sunny, sunny,” I chant playfully and watch her eyes widen at the sunlight.

She turns her camera to the dark window and back again, then smiles.

Herman and the Broken Down Bike

My 20-some-year-old Trek mountain bike barely survived Michigan’s icy winters and spring rains.  It’s old metal bones leaned against a shed for a few brutal seasons and was never tuned-up afterwards.   I’ve been clunking along on it well enough for a while now.

 

The chain is rusty; the seat cover is ripped so a tuft of stuffing pokes through; and the brakes haven’t been tended to since God-only-knows-when, which squeak and squeal loud enough that I don’t use a bell to signal others that I’m coming up behind them.  When I grip the lever, an awful sound peels out and pedestrians lurch to one side of the walk, or seek safety in the grass.

 

The bike was strapped to the rack on the back of my Subaru as I drove from Florida to Oregon and back across the country a couple years ago.  Over 6,000 miles, through the dust storms in Kansas to the Portland rains and Florida humidity and sun, the bike hung in there.  It was tied down with the ends of the straps, a bike lock, and bungee cords.

 

After the journey was over, I noticed the blue straps on the rack were worn down through the winds and rain.  I noted blue shavings all over the back of my car and examined the material.  The straps were still sturdy but frayed.  I wrapped the excessive material around and around the rack.  It held together and I rarely checked it.

 

Unbeknownst to me, the rack, with the bike attached to it, fell off my car tonight as I was driving.

 

I had driven down a paver-stone covered street along the water’s edge and parked about a block away from where it dropped, completely unaware.  I had decided to go for a walk on this lovely spring evening in Florida.  I got out of the car and had a funny feeling as I walked away.  A man turned his car into the same area where I parked.  It was dark.  Small light posts lit the pathway along one of the richest neighborhoods in the area.  I felt comforted only slightly that I was in a “good part of town.”  My stomach tightened a little when I figured that no one in any of the mansions would hear me if I was attacked, and surely not if I fell into the bay.

 

Two women jogged by discussing the resource center at their school and how the teacher was rotating out of that position.  A dog kept pace next to them and wore a blinking red light on its collar.  I noted a biker ahead.  He passed me and had a bike helmet with a blinking light, also.  I relaxed knowing that others were out.

 

I walked along the dimly lit path and looked up as a cloud shifted to uncover a nearly full moon.  No one was around so I spoke my prayer of gratitude out-loud to the moon goddess Ix-Chel.

 

“Thank you for this wonderful day.  I am grateful for the chance to grow and learn in my Improv class.  I am thankful for my job and the great people I work with.  I give thanks for living in a beautiful place, close to the water.  I ask that you, Ix-Chel continue to work through me and be with me.  I ask to be open and allow the Greatest Version of the Grandest Vision of myself to shine through.” I relaxed further.

 

Sliding back into my car, I cranked the air-conditioning on and headed home.  I pulled in the drive and hopped out to put my bike into the garage.  The only things remaining, though, were the hooks that secured the previously-existing rack in place.  A few inches of shredded blue straps were left dangling.

 

Shit! Someone cut the straps and stole my bike….rack and all.

Damn it!  It must have been the guy that turned in and gave me a funny feeling.

Should I call the non-emergency police line and report it? 

Ugh, I’m sure they’ll never recover a measly, old bike.  They have bigger things to worry about.

Well, that’s it.  I’ll just go back and see.

See what?  What if he’s actually around?  What the hell am I going to do?  Pull the bike out of the back-end of his truck? In the dark? With no one around?

Well, I’ll at least drive by.  If he’s around, I’ll snap a picture and report him.

 

I fired my car up again and drove off.  I turned onto the bay-side street and saw a man standing next to a heap of bike and rack.  My eyes adjusted to the image in the dark.

 

What the hell?!  It’s my bike! Did someone get spooked and just dump my bike?

 

It was the man I passed earlier on his bike.  His helmet was still sending out red flashes.

I pulled over, hit my safety hazard lights and leaped out of my car.

“Oh my God! It’s my bike!”  I clasped my hands to my cheeks.

“I thought it was surely stolen.”

 

“Is this your bike?” The man asked.

“Can you prove it by taking the lock off?” He smiled

 

“Yes, yes!” I walked over to the pile. “What….? Where….?  What happened?”

 

“I was biking by and saw this sitting here on the sidewalk.  I called the non-emergency police line,” He explained.

 

“Oh, my, thank you, thank you for guarding it and calling the police! I was going to do the same thing but figured it was stolen and didn’t bother.”

 

He leaned down and took hold of the remnants of strap.  “Looks like it broke off your car. And someone must have set it on the sidewalk.”

 

“I’m so grateful no one was hurt by this.  I’m so happy to have my bike back!”  I gushed again, undoing the lock and standing the bike up.

 

“Do you need help with it?” He asked.

 

“Oh…” I looked to my car and back to him.  “Well, I can’t put the rack back on,” and chuckled.

“It will fit in the back end,” I said.

 

I popped open the trunk and tried to fit the bike in.  It wouldn’t fit in easily.

 

“Let’s take off the front tire,” the man said. “Do you know how?”

 

“It’s been a long time, but I think you just unhinge these cables and unscrew the pin.” As I am explaining what I remembered, he did just that.

 

Headlights came up behind us just then.  I looked up and saw the patrol car.  The officer climbed out and I waved to him.

 

“Did someone call about a bike?” He asked.

 

“Yes, I did,” the biker replied, “and here’s the owner.”

 

“Thanks officer!” I called out.

 

“Ok, have a good night,” the officer replied and headed off.

 

I grabbed the hatch to close the trunk.

 

“What’s your name?” I asked.

 

“Herman.”

 

“Nice to meet you, Herman. I’m Sara.  Thank you again for your help.  May good fortune shine down upon you now.”

 

I scurried into my car to get out of the way as another car was approaching.  As I pulled away from the curb, I saw Herman still standing there next to his bicycle.  Once I was safely on the road, he peddled off into the night with his beacon of light blinking.

 

Subaru with bike rack and cargo carrier

*Here’s the old rack and bike during my cross-country adventure in 2014.  It’s amazing it held up as long as it did 🙂

Winter Solstice Sh*t List

We crumpled up our papers and stuffed them into the stump of a felled tree.  The hole in the stump was hollowed out presumably by the hands of mother nature and not by those like us.  Sand filled much of the hole so we felt confident in setting fire to the papers without causing a blazing bonfire on the curb of the city street.

My brother’s family (Kevin, Kelly, and their three kids), Shain (Kelly’s brother) and Chante (his wife), and I had spent the past 20 minutes reflecting and writing that which we wanted to let go of as we geared up for a new year.  Some of us took more than 20 minutes.

We huddled around the nest of papers trying to block the balmy Florida sea breeze while Chante clicked the long-handled lighter for the first part of our winter solstice ceremony.  When the flame wouldn’t take, Chante rearranged the paper wads into a tee-pee structure and flicked again.  The papers glowed and smoldered.

“I hereby declare….,” I began in a faux formal fashion.  I felt a need for pomp-and-circumstance as we watched our shit lists go up in smoke.

Over the years, I’d written “things-I-want-to-release” lists, scrawled endless journal entries, penned letters to lovers I never sent, cried into my pillow, pleaded with the universe/divine/guardian angels/dead ancestors, tied a string to my wrist, and danced my wild heart out.  As I stood watching another year’s worth of garbage go up in flames, I wondered how much of it helped, how much of it really caused change in me.

I felt jaded performing yet another ceremony, another ritual that would somehow be the Thing to set me on the best course.  I stood there and felt like I’d given up on myself and all the things that I believed in, the practices I preached.  Would lighting fire to a piece of paper with the words, “I desire to let go of FEAR, self-criticism, jealousy, negative thoughts, envy, poor choices, etc…” be the magic salve on my bruised heart and my broken spirit?

 

2015 marked another year of love and loss.

During the year, I rode waves of hope in creating something new with a former love, whom I had walked out in the prior year before giving the best of myself.  This time around with the soul who once was “the one,” I pulled my courage out of the corner and had a Wonder Woman-type moment as I stood with hands on hips declaring my love.  I cupped my palms together and offered my heart up honestly, simply, and bravely.  A crashing disappointment washed over when the offering was refused.

Then, a cleansing feeling took its place.  I did my best this time.

I spiraled through a short-term relationship, sought solace during a dating-hiatus, and then gave romance another chance during my version of speed-dating, which consisted of a string of a dozen or so first dates in a month.

There was Sambhav, the horticulturist from India who moved from London.  Daniel, a native of Peru who believed in the law of attraction. Kenny, the film-maker who is the leader of the Awesomeness clan at Burning Man. “Ginger,” the fair-skinned, red-head who only travels as far as a friend’s house and doesn’t like being outside because he burns even with a bottle of sun block. Josh, the man who, minutes before our dinner date he arranged, cancelled because he decided to pursue someone else.  (“I’m sorry because you seem like an awesome person,” he explained over the phone.  “I am!” I exclaimed and chuckled, catching him by surprise with my confidence.)  There was Chris.  Marc.  Steve.

And Chad.

I liked Chad despite the fact he shared the name with my ex-husband.  I didn’t hold it against him because he was cute, adventurous, and intelligent, but after three dates he texted me that he decided to pursue someone else.

I laughed through tears as I hit a swell of rejections in one week.  The dating-site suitors and my former love all said, “Thanks anyway…”

“Okay, I get it.  I knew my time was coming,”  I addressed the Universe with head bowed.  I’ve always been the one to leave a relationship.  Though the rejection wasn’t the most enjoyable, it humbled me and made me sit my ass down to reflect.

Again.

And then to get back up.

Again.

The end of 2015 marks my one-year anniversary of working at the women’s designer consignment shop, a job that I’m grateful for, especially my co-workers who have served in the role of sounding board, acting agent, match-maker, cheerleader, personal stylist, and ass-kicker.

It’s also the mark of another year not being in my dream career, of working in a job that isn’t fully aligned with my values.  I love shopping resale, lessening my consumer foot-print, but I couldn’t give a damn about selling a designer purse that costs the same as two round-the-world plane tickets.

I am mildly depressed at the shop seeing woman who are aimlessly shopping to fill a void in life.  One more shirt, or pair of shoes, or necklace will not change their world, though in the moment it gives them a hit of adrenaline, followed by emptiness, which leads to another shopping trip.  I know this feeling.

Having a mirror in front of me all day can be painful.

The shit list I burned also bared my plea to let go of judgment. (Who am I to judge these shoppers?) That lasted for about a day.  But, hey, self-awareness is the first step to change.  Not all is lost.

 

My nine-year-old nephew began coughing.

“I want to go,” he whispered to Kelly.

Her shoulders dropped a little as she looked to Kevin and then to Chante.

“Sorry, guys, this kiddo is sick and needs to go.”

 

As we shuffled back into Shain and Chante’s waterfront condo, we  agreed to finish our ceremony on Christmas day by releasing our new year intentions lanterns over the bay.

 

I turned from the dwindling fire and felt that seed of heat beginning to spread in my chest.  Yes, all these actions are the minor course adjustments that have gotten me to where I am.  Most days I’m grateful for and relentlessly optimistic about my journey.

For reasons greater than I know, I was supposed to experience love and loss, a somewhat unfulfilling job and financial worries during 2015, along with the peaks of traversing Peru with friends and family, being welcomed into the community theater world, growing new friendships, and finding a home of my own for the first time in years!

On Christmas day, I will send up my lighted lantern with the intention for self-compassion.  I’ll never, ever get it “right” and “perfect”.  I will never, ever do everything, everyday that I preach.  But I can continue to make minor course adjustments to breathe easier, love myself unconditionally, and cut myself a little slack when I look at my shit list next year.