February 2016

The Day the Angels Disappeared

They would sing to me.  A song with no words, and deeply familiar.  There were so many. Choirs of them.   I would sing with them, and other times I would just sit in awe.   Words fail to describe the power of them.  The closest I can come is JOY, and that is like describing a technicolor  3-D IMAX movie as an old black and white film.  Beautiful, glowing with light, enormous, ethereal?  These words seem insulting when describing them.  How old was I?  I was young enough that I didn’t have words to describe it to anyone, or even think to try.  I assumed it just was.  Didn’t everyone visit with Angels?

When I would go to sleep they would come to me.  Or I would go to them, I am not sure.  The memory is strong yet fuzzy.  Similar to how I see without my glasses.  I can capture most of it and imagine missing pieces, but it always seems to be at a distance.

As a small child, napping was a wonderful place to go.  Sleep something to welcome.  Maybe it was all a dream.  If that is so, then I only had one dream.  The same each time I fell to sleep.  There was no other.

And then one day.

I have two vivid memories.  They happened around the same time, but since memory is fluid, I can’t say for sure.

The first is standing frozen in front of the TV.  My parents had been so excited that a popular children’s movie was airing.  ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  They put it on and probably thought it would give them some much needed adult time to catch up.  They left me to watch by myself.  The witch and the monkeys haunted me for years.  The purposeful meanness, so hard for me to digest.  I couldn’t leave the room and I couldn’t bear to watch.  I was sweating and shaking.  I did not know that feeling before.  Unfortunately, I have known it many times since.  Fear.

The second memory happened chronologically after the first.  Yet, it could have happened the other way around.

I remember going to take a nap.  As soon as my mother left the room a bee landed on my covers and began to slowly crawl towards me.  It was the biggest bee I have still to lay eyes on.  I could not move, or run away or even call for help.  I just lay there sweating and watching.  This horrible, terrifying, hairy monster walking up my covers to where I lay, helpless and horrified.

I don’t know how it ended exactly.  The bee did not harm me.  I just know what happened next.

My mother had to go back to work.  My sister and I were put on a bus in the morning to go to a day care center.   I remember the sick feeling in my stomach.  My younger sister just one and a half years old.  She was screaming and clinging to my mother’s neck.  They peeled her little arms away and strapped her in the van.  I watched my mother get back in the car and drive away.  My sister kept crying.  They told her to stop in a commanding  voice.  She couldn’t.  Her little chest heaving and hiccuping.  The woman driving the bus reached back with a ruler and spanked her legs, telling her more sternly to stop.  She cried harder.  She spanked her again.  It continued back and forth like this until the end of the ride.  Then they took us to separate rooms.   I did not see her again until later, as they put us on cots to nap.  I lay there missing our bright kitchen where my mother and sister and I would sit eating lunch.  I missed riding my tricycle up and down the sidewalk. I missed getting up from my naps to tip toe into the kitchen where my mother would leave fresh bread cooling.  I missed my mother.  I heard my sister crying.  I got up to comfort her.  I needed to get comfort as much as to give comfort.  They caught me before I got to her.  They spanked me and put me back on my cot.  My sister and I had never been spanked before.  No adult had ever struck us.  They told me to stay there and not get up.   I swallowed my sobs as quietly as I could.  I already learned what happened if they heard you cry.  I did not get up again.

The Angels never came back.   I have only seen them again in memory and imagination.

My mother did not stay home anymore.  Day care became our foster care.

The loss was gargantuan.  My whole body would ache at the missing of them.  What did I do wrong?  Why did they leave me?  Please come back!  Some how I knew it was over.  Going to sleep became something else.  I did not welcome naps.  I would run and hide to keep from going to bed at night.  These early memories have been a powerful force shaping my path and direction as an adult and mother.

It took a long time to put all the pieces together.  To understand what happened.  It was simple really.  I came to know forces we must battle here on earth, whether we like it or not; fear, doubt, hatred.  It takes innocent faith to see Angels.  You must trust completely.  Children are born in this pure state, and then life happens.   We spend the rest of our time searching for the way back.

This is not a story I have ever shared with anyone.   No one goes around talking about their experience with Angels.  How do you explain your grief at losing something that people don’t believe exist?   I am not sure if I was even able to share my grief of what happened to my sister and I at the hands of irresponsible cruel caregivers.  If my parents are upset by this I would tell them this was no failure on their part.  In fact, I would argue quite the opposite.  They did something so right.  They were able to protect me from fear and doubt until I had long term memory to store my Angels.

As powerful as those traumatic memories have been in my life, the memories of Angels have been more so.  I have cherished this memory of my Angels all of my life.  Evidence of a power so great and filled with light that words cannot define it.  I wonder if we all are born wrapped in this gift of love.  Meeting with Angels while we sleep.  Easing the transition to a physical world filled with fear and gravity.

In a rather low point in my life, I took a workshop called “The Illuminated Heart”.  One of the exercises within the meditations was to call your Guardian Angel to be with you on the journey.  Focusing on it this way, I felt the presence of something so big and familiar that it brought tears.   I recognized the Angel as being with me all my life, just out of focus and on the periphery.  This realization was a game changer.  I know I may never see Angels again as I did with the clear eyesight of innocent faith.  But I know they are with me always.

I had a conversation with my son, Zeke, this week before he fell asleep.  He had been listening to a story about witches and was having trouble sleeping.  As I searched for how to help him, I shared my story.  It is the first time I think I have shared it with anyone and it prompted me to write about it.  He listened and had many questions about the Angels.  I struggled for words to explain.  He immediately fell asleep.  He slept through the night and awoke to tell me how he had asked his animal friends to help him defeat the witches and bad guys in his dreams.  Maybe he connected with his Guardian Angels.  He walked taller the rest of the day.

In Judaism there is a bedtime prayer that calls 4 Angels to guard you.  It is ancient and meant for protection during the dark night.  I do not know the entire prayer in Hebrew.  Even though it is a prayer that is intended for you to say for yourself, I call the Angels to come guard my children before they go to sleep.  Then I recite, the Shema. I have done this every night for more years than I can remember.

I call upon you Hashem, put the Angel, Michael on the right, Gabriel on the left, Uriel in the front and Raphael in the back, and above my head the Sh’khinah (Divine Presence) (3x ) Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad) (Deuteronomy 6:4)

It is the last thing they hear before they fall asleep.  As I go to sleep, I call the Angels for my children that are now away from home and then myself.  This may not be religiously correct, but it is my way.

I want my children to hear me call the Angels by name, every single night.  In this world, there is a constant battle raging between light and dark.  Between faith and fear.  While we cannot insulate ourselves or our children from the forces of dark, I firmly believe that light and faith are the stronger force.  Just the memory of Angels can be powerful enough to beat back the dark.  Just the possibility of light can give us the hope and courage we need to face down fear.  May your Angels always be close, guiding you and giving you light for the way.

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My Mom used to say

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

My Grandma Myles lived with us when I was a little girl.  One of my earliest memories is of her standing in the kitchen making some yummy treat to take to the beach.  I was standing behind her watching and waiting to go.  She had on a beach cover up and my eye level came right up to the back of her legs.  I remember studying the blue and purple veins running like highways up and down her legs.

The strongest part of that memory is the overwhelming feeling of love as I looked at her.   She was the most beautiful woman in the entire world.  I remember thinking “that is the most beautiful color purple”.

I was a little girl.  I was beholding true beauty.  It was powerful.

Then I forgot.

I learned that varicose veins are ugly, unsightly and something to be fixed.  I learned other things too.  Things little girls learn as they grow into women.  I learned anything different about you that doesn’t fit the ‘ideal’ shape or size of the women on TV or in the magazines is NOT beautiful.  I learned that anything about you that doesn’t fit the ‘ideal’ is something to make you feel shame or embarrassment.  Regardless of how many times I heard my mom say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  It didn’t matter.  I had unlearned what it meant.

I love to watch people.  I looked everywhere but couldn’t  find the ‘ideal’ woman walking around the grocery store, dropping off her kids at school, playing at the park, beach or shopping at the mall.  Where was she? Where did she dwell?  I only saw her in the magazines when I checked out with my groceries.  I am guessing those magazine women were thankful for the technology required to make them look ‘ideal’.

My hands are old.  They are at least 100 years old.  They have thousands of wrinkles, elephant knuckles, age spots and big veins popping out.  I never paint my nails because it would look weird on such old hands.  My hands will never be found in a magazine of the ‘ideal’.  I was embarrassed of these old hands.  Until…

I was joking about them one day with my family and my daughter said, “I love your hands.  They are one of my favorite things about you”.

What???

The rest of the family chimed in, “Yes!.  We love your hands.  They show how hard you work.  We love them”

Then I remembered.  The things about you that are different are the best things about you.  The things about you that don’t fit the ‘ideal’, make you, You.  You NEED those things.  I am guessing God gave them to us on purpose.  A gift to us and to the people who love us.  Because the people who love you and me, inside and out, love those things the most.  If we were just an ‘ideal’ then there would be nothing unique to cherish.

Sometime during those many years of birthing 4 babies a Dr. noticed the many purple varicose veins running up and down my legs and asked if I wanted to fix them.  I laughed.  His eyebrows shot up and he looked at me with his head to the side.  I just said, “No I need them”.  He shook his head and rubbed his hands through his hair.  I didn’t explain further.

But I want to make sure to fully explain.  I tell my girls frequently that their beauty is something that shines from the inside out.  That each act of loving kindness increases your beauty.  My grandmother had a lifetime of these piled up by the time I knew her.  “I need them” these big purple veins and these old hands because I want to earn that kind of beauty.  Not in spite of them but because of them.  Because they represent me.  My children and husband loving my old hands is a sign I am on the right track.  And who knows?  Maybe after a lifetime of working at loving kindness there will be a little boy or girl who looks at the highway running up and down my legs and says, “That is the most beautiful color purple”.

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The gift of a

Frisbee Summer

My oldest son, Noah, is coming home in exactly 5 days, 1hour and 32 minutes.  Yes, I am counting it down.  I have not seen him since August 28, 2014.  To be a first timer at letting go of my first fledgling, I think this is pretty hard core.   I went from the comfort of having him sleep at night under my roof, safe and sound, to an occasional phone call from another time zone, halfway across the world.

Last June 2014, I was still reeling from a surprise cancer diagnosis and immediate major surgery as I stood (and mostly sat) at his graduation from high school.

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It hit me.  I had a summer.  I had one precious summer left in my house with all my children living under my roof before it changed forever.  Sure, we can always count on change, but for the last 18 years I had been a stay at home mother with at least one small child not even in school yet.  I never had to adjust to life as they leave my nest.  My life had been about adjusting around these children who were always around me!  Now, my child was leaving for another country and I was moving away from Chicago.

At first, I panicked.  I will confess that I don’t do panic very well.  It looked something like me pouncing on my 18 year old son at breakfast with a guilt trip about not spending enough time with me.  It went from there to an angry tirade about ‘aren’t we important to you? We are your FAMILY!’   If you had a video camera, you would have seen him looking at me wide eyed and nodding, mouth open.   He then backed out the door slowly, breakfast forgotten, until he cleared the door frame, at which time, he RAN to the car and drove off as fast as he knew he could get away with.  I cried.

I knew I could not prevent the inevitable.  This child was leaving home.  It was time.  It was exactly what I knew was a successful outcome.  A child confident and independent enough to go out into the world and figure out his path.  But damn it sucked.

When I related the conversation to Richard, he laughed.  Then he shared with me the secret sauce.  “Michaux, if you chase him, he will run away.  He is an 18 year old boy.  Just find something fun to do with him, then make the time to do it. That is all you have.”

I knew he was right.  (enjoy that statement Richard, it is rare)  At first, I did the standard mother things.  I spent money on him.  I took him out for lunch, or dinner.  I took him shopping.  We went to the movies.  But that will only take you so far.

Then one day the answer came.  Noah was sitting on the couch frustrated that a friend had ditched plans with him.  I was, of course, secretly jumping up and down, clapping my hands at an unexpected chance to have time with him.  I went through the list of things I could think of to do and he ‘poo pooed’ all of them.  He was really not happy about being dumped.  I finally said in frustration, “Noah I just want to hang out with you!”  He sat there for a minute, and then he looked at me and said, “You know all I really want to do is play frisbee.”  (NOW WE ARE TALKING!!)

OH YEAH!  Noah and I played some FRISBEE.  We played.  All summer.

Whenever we could sneak away from the other kids, (they would always take over the game) we would grab the frisbee and go to the big field at the park and play.  It was pure play.  Neither one of us willing to call the game.  It became a friendly competition to see if I (old, broken down) could outlast him (young, strong).

One particular day, I was in bed suffering and sick, and Noah came home with a new official frisbee.  He bounded like a puppy into the house and demanded that I get out of bed!  I couldn’t imagine how I was gonna get out of bed at that moment, and yet, I couldn’t imagine how I was NOT gonna get out of that bed.  So I got out! I played for an hour  before the other kids realized I was outside having fun without them.

When Noah did leave home and we did pack up our house and move across states, it was pretty traumatic.   I didn’t get to go visit him, or even talk to him much.  I don’t know what his room looked like.  He hasn’t seen our new home.  I didn’t get to meet his teachers or his new found friends.  I will admit to some tears about all this.  Yet, I had that frisbee summer tucked into my heart to hold onto.   It was a gift that sustained me.

Now I am getting the gift of another summer.  I will have all my children under my roof for a short time.  This time, in August I have to face sending  TWO of my four children off into the world.  My daughter, Micah, 14 is leaving home to attend school back in Chicago.

This decision was obviously not made over night.  It was a tough trial and year for her here in SC.  I watched her suffer and prayed for the answer.  I was bothered that her brother had a wonderful Jewish high school education and I could not give her the same.  So when she came to us and asked to go away to school, I knew I had to take her seriously.  I listened with a heavy heart.  I felt angry and cheated just thinking about being absent from her high school experience.  She is only 14!  How can I lose another one!  I was supposed to have four more years before I had to do that ‘letting go’ thing again.  It felt so unfair and yet I knew it was what she needed.

I made the phone call to the admissions counselor and was sick to my stomach the entire time.  I got off the phone and bawled.  I laid face down on the floor and shook.  I called G-d a few bad words.  I could not get up for awhile.

Then I stopped.  I remembered last year this same time.  I looked at all the reasons I did not want her to go and knew they were my selfish reasons not hers.  I realized I had to figure out MY path separate from my children.  Because, dammit they are gonna grow up and leave you.  And that is if it all goes WELL.  I knew if I did not figure out my purpose in this world I would not survive this child rearing.  My heart was breaking.

So I let it go.  I pulled out my frisbee summer from my heart space and let it soothe me.  I began to look forward to the fleeting gift ahead.  A summer.  This is what I have.  I must embrace it and use it to create new memories to tuck into my heart.  I must enjoy my children while I have them.  That is all we really have.

I can’t wait to play frisbee.  I look at the long golf hole number 3 out my back yard and see the game in my imagination.  I am excited to discover what else?  What gift will I get with Micah to sustain my heart this fall?   Maybe it will be the foraging for wild blackberries after dinner in the vacant lot nearby.

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Maybe it will be the kayaking down the Saluda River.  Maybe it will be the silly dancing in the kitchen while I cook.  Maybe it will be all of the above!  Maybe it will be something from G-d’s great imagination that I can’t fathom.

I am trying to figure out what else I am, but right now I am a mother.  A mother getting used to my children leaving home.  A mother learning how to let go but not despair.

A mother looking forward to another frisbee summer 🙂

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coping, running

Some Thoughts on Breathing

As a part of our New Year’s celebration we all came up with 3 words to focus on this year.  Mine were:  faith, connect, and BREATHE

I know every one breathes.  But as I have been focusing on these words, I find there is a depth to breathing that I didn’t realize.

I am coming to believe that our emotional journey; is linked to our spiritual journey; is linked to our physical journey.  Many people don’t link them together.  For instance, most therapists really focus on the emotional journey.   I know people who go to therapy for everything.   Most religious leaders focus on the spiritual journey.  We all know people who use religion for everything.  Fitness Centers, work out programs and personal trainers primarily focus on the physical journey.  Certainly there is benefit in developing one at a time.  Sometimes we need to really target one specific area of ourselves.

It is not so easy to truly integrate all three areas.  I think many people are like me, and they target all the areas simultaneously, without being able to weave them together.  At one time, I thought the emotional journey was the most important.  I got a masters in Marriage and Family Therapy when I was 22.  I just knew that if I could figure out how to have the best marriage and family, then I would have the secret to the universe.  That was all I needed to get there.  WRONG!

I  have always been conscious of my physical journey.  I always attempted to stay healthy and fit.  I thought it was about having a low heart rate, living longer and looking good in your jeans…..WRONG!

I definitely got tricked into thinking that religion was all I needed to find my way on the spiritual journey. You want more spirituality?  Just plug in more religion!……..WRONG!

I was very conscientious.  I worked all the right formulas and did all the right equations!  I still ended up as a 40 year old, flabby, burned out, broken down mom of 4 with a marriage on the rocks.  How could this happen?  I worked out!  I had converted (twice) to Judaism!  I moved my family to an orthodox community!  I had a masters in Marriage and Family Therapy for pete’s sake!  I did everything right!  …………WRONG AGAIN!!

I wasn’t really connecting the dots.  I hadn’t found a way to address body/mind/spirit together to get a fuller picture of what was holding me back.

We talk about breathing all the time.  It seems to be linked to one’s perspective and state of mind.

“breathe easy”

“take a breather”

“breathtaking”

“breathless”

Big deep breathing is positive and linked to someone who is healthy, relaxed and happy.  Someone who doesn’t know how to “breathe” is seen as anxious and high strung.  As I have begun to focus on this word, I realize how much I am NOT breathing.   Every time I feel overwhelmed and suffocated by my life, I find I am holding my breath, or just taking small shallow breaths.  I am physically suffocating as I am emotionally suffocating.  If I am thinking about God at those times, it is basically “Where the hell are you?”

Learning to run has led me to learning to breathe.    As I have tackled the physical challenges, I have had to face the emotional challenges.  Things that had been buried so deep that I didn’t even know I was suffering from them.  They took on a 3-D characteristic that made them impossible to ignore.  (Not that I have ever been accused of denial).  I couldn’t grow physically until I was willing to grow emotionally.   As I faced the physical and emotional challenges, I had to then examine my spiritual framework to see where it was stunting my progress.  It sounds kind of complicated but really it just came down to hanging on to myself while I focused on breathing.

So, more and more I am looking at my life as a body/mind/spirit journey.  Each part is linked to the other.  Each area of growth has to include the others.   Running has become much more than just a work out.  I am physically increasing my lung capacity by running.  Yet, I am now aware of the carry over into the other areas.   I “breathe” a little easier with my husband and children.  I have more patience and perspective with them.  I feel claustrophobic and suffocated less.  This has significantly raised the “happiness factor” in my marriage and my family.  Sometimes, my life does feel like it is crashing down around me (usually Friday afternoon).   I now try to “breathe” and not panic.  I have adopted the motto:  As long as I can still breathe, I can do it.

In Genesis, when God created Adam and Eve, he “breathed” life into them.  He put his breathe inside of them.   When I am running, about the only thing I CAN focus on is breathing.  I get to a deep quiet place inside myself.  That is where I seem to find God waiting for me.  This is where I find myself waiting for me.  Hopefully I am finding the piece of God inside of me that IS me.  And this is probably what actually saves me.  This is what keeps me coming back for more.

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