“I’m sorry you’re having a bad memory day,” she said, with love and compassion in her voice.

And without hesitation I said, “thank you” and nothing else. I accepted my friend’s words for what they were. Love. Compassion. Intention.

Because in truth, it wasn’t a bad memory day. It was just an everyday memory day. Nothing about remembering him is bad. Nothing. My god, the laughter and love and every fucking moment, and then that one…when the call came, “I am sorry to inform you.”

We’re supposed to label that with words?

How can anyone be expected to know what to say when I don’t even know what to feel?

“I’m sorry you’re having a bad memory day.”

Deep breath. Thank you.

Thank you for loving me and caring about me and trying so hard to say all the right words to help me feel better for something that no one is prepared for. For something that no one should ever have to be prepared for. Thank you for trying so hard to say the words that don’t exist.

The magic words do not exist. I hope they never do. Because words aren’t big enough to understand. But feelings do. And that’s the thing. The irony is not lost on me. I’m a writer. Of all people, I understand the nuance of word selection. And sometimes there are no words and that’s okay. It’s actually always okay. The depth of love and loss and memories cannot always be described with words.

Words haven’t caught up yet. They’re not big enough. Deep enough. Everything enough. And it’s completely and totally okay.

I think if there were words to explain the way it feels to have your heart die inside you but you still have to live and breathe and walk in the world and go to work and be with people it would somehow make it worse.

It’s just that there aren’t words to explain and that’s okay. Because the feelings are there which means the words don’t have to be. The words simply haven’t caught up yet.

 

You were bigger than words.

You still are.

You always will be.

And no, the memories, our memories, are not bad.

 

The best cigarette I ever had was one I never smoked. Actually, I don’t smoke but I recently enjoyed one anyway. I loved it. It was in someone else’s hands 3,000 miles away. I didn’t light it and I didn’t inhale it. I didn’t smell it or look for an ashtray. I didn’t judge my friend for smoking it and I didn’t try to tell him to quit. But sitting in my home, in the state of New Mexico, surrounded by the Sangro de Cristo mountains, I watched one of the best friends I’ve ever known walk out of a high school class reunion in the commonwealth of Virginia, surrounded by the Alleghany mountains, and sit down with his phone (and me) in one hand and light a well-deserved cigarette. As he visibly relaxed and enjoyed that moment of what he had just accomplished, I thought to myself if I were there, I would have smoked one too.

He had just pulled off the rather impossible, having kept a secret for months. My plan to attend our high school reunion – my first return to a town I had not seen in 40 years. A return to the town where I (mostly) grew up. A return to the memories. Those memories. The ones of the two-sided family that I had run from for decades, where nothing that happened inside the house matched what happened on the outside.

I grew up in the south where, in my immediate family, Basketball and Jesus were a Duo of Kings. I never particularly warmed to either. The former was a sweaty, pushy team sport that wasn’t my style and the latter was filled with judgment and fear for anyone who didn’t fit into the safe box of rules written decades, arguably centuries after the actual dark-skinned, born-in-July man had walked the Earth. It all seemed ridiculous and full of contradictions. The ridicule and derision inside the house didn’t seem very Jesus-like to me but sadly was something I absorbed and grew to believe. Told I was fat and ugly and dismissed for being sensitive because I didn’t want to play the push-shove sweaty game of Basketball, I grew to believe Jesus People were full of shit for telling a young, impressionable girl things like that.

As a kid and a budding adult, my temporal lobe wasn’t developed fully enough to understand that the unacceptance I experienced inside my childhood home was not necessarily happening outside of it. I graduated from high school in a small town I thought was idyllic and beautiful yet never returned. For a while I stayed in touch with friends. I attended their weddings and they attended mine. But as I grew, I wanted to separate myself from the toxicity of that upbringing and I moved further, and farther, away. I lost touch with friends who were no more at fault than I was.

Kent had always been one of my closest friends. He made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt. He still does. There’s something about his delivery and his insight and the absolute humor he sees in this fucked up, inside-out, upside-down world. We went to football games and snuck Virginia Gentlemen into the stadium to add to our soft drinks. We went to concerts. We grew up. We grew apart.

Then a number of months ago, I received an email. He found me because he looked. I’m not that difficult to find, I’m a published author and writer and I have a website but still, you have to make the effort. Kent never gave up on me, or us, or anything. Tucked away, whole and healed, living a life of contentment in northern New Mexico I sat and read the message from my long-lost, but never forgotten, friend. Our 40th high school reunion was approaching and he wanted to see if on the off chance I would come.

I made a pot of tea and sat in the same chair where I am sitting now, looking west toward the mesa just as I am now, watching a hot air balloon float on the horizon. I emailed my friend in a way I had never done before. With the unabashed, unabridged, unprotected truth. With a realization that I was no longer protecting emotionally abusive parents and the knowledge that I am neither fat nor ugly (and so what if I were?) and worthy despite the fact that I still don’t particularly care about Basketball or Jesus. I am beautiful on the inside and that is all that matters for me, it’s all that matters for anyone. I wrote Kent with a heart full of gratitude and love for the gifts I was given knowing my parents did the best they could and so had I.

As the hot air balloon floated out of sight and I steeped another pot of dark, black tea, I wrote more. I shared how my father wrote a letter to me a few months before he died and how he apologized and wrote all the things every daughter should grow up hearing. Things he never said, regrets he had to get off his chest before he took his final breath. The letter was never mailed (he likely died not knowing that fact) yet discovered nearly a decade later and forwarded to me. I wrote to Kent about my divorce after nearly 20 years of marriage and how the last words my mother said before she hung up on me were, “we don’t divorce in this family, you embarrass the hell out of me.”

I wrote Kent from a place of burgeoning wisdom. A place that understands, and accepts, that time will heal most wounds and expose most truths. Years later I learned the mother who wanted nothing to do with me because I had divorced, had carried her secret of an apparently shameful divorce for my entire life. Dots were connected and I felt, as I opened up to Kent, that I was done hiding pathology that was never mine.

The email led to a phone call filled with laughter and tears and the strength of vulnerability of kids who didn’t know and didn’t understand yet who evolved into successful adults filled with love. The call with Kent, a loving husband, dedicated father, and loyal friend opened my heart even more. I knew I wanted to go back. I was ready to go back. I needed to go back.

Plans in place, months later I found myself helplessly reading alerts from American Airlines. Flights delayed and delayed and delayed some more. It became apparent that I would not make it to Virginia to do all the things, see all the people, and share all the hugs that every single one of us deserved. I walked back to my car and before driving the three hours back home from the airport, I sat and cried. I cried tears of disappointment. Of sadness. Of growth. Of the recognition that sitting there in my car, I knew I had overcome the bullshit Basketball, Jesus, fat, ugly upbringing. I cried tears of empathy. I cried tears of love.

“We’re gonna FaceTime this bitch,” Kent said, as he learned that I would not be able to come. And once again, like all the times before, as I sat deflated and defeated in my car, he made me laugh. I felt love and acceptance and I knew at that moment no one would ever again hold me back from who I am.

The reunion happened. Kent orchestrated, with help from his wife’s Hot Spot, the ability for me to talk with classmates I had not laid eyes on in more than 40 years. We joked about all the things people our age laugh about. Hair and age and jobs and families yet there was an underlying, pervasive message that 3,000 miles away was clear and palpable. Love abides. We all have challenges. We all experience bumps. And despite all those things, we have each other.

When Kent walked out of that room, having facilitated conversations between old friends, he sat down and pulled out a cigarette. He lit it and inhaled. And at that moment, there was nothing more important to me than watching my friend sit and relax knowing what he had just accomplished for me, for us, and for everyone.

It was the best cigarette I never had.

And then the day came when I realized

I couldn’t keep drowning with you

and it was hard to let go

and trust that I could swim on my own

I was scared and unsure how to be without you.

 

And then the day came when I found the courage

and I let go

and I gasped for air

and I struggled

and I wasn’t sure I would make it

without you.

 

And then the day came when I swam on my own

and I could breathe and I was okay

and the laughter returned

and because I had realized

and because I had let go

and because I trusted myself

to breathe and swim on my own

without you

with me, only me

it was then when it happened.

 

The day came when I flew.

If I were a tree, I’d like to be

a ponderosa pine, independent and free.

 

They don’t lie or have egos, they never cause war,

they live for 300 years plus 200 more.

 

They make me feel safe and appropriately small,

their leaves kiss the clouds, or almost, they’re so tall.

 

My heart seems to feel and hone in on their vibe,

I wonder if trees can be part of your tribe?

 

I think they have stories that I’d like to hear,

I know they could teach us to live without fear.

 

If you were a tree, who would you be?

Would you live in the mountains or perched by the sea?

 

Would birds sing from your branches, would you be stately and tall?

Or would you be small, stout, and sturdy, refusing to fall?

 

If in my next life I’m reborn as a tree,

there’s no doubt in my mind who I’d want to be.

 

I’d be a ponderosa because they’re so real,

I’d want to be able to help others to feel.

 

They seem humble and wise like I want to be,

I think I would be the best version of me.

This is the second letter I’ve written to you. The first was a year ago on the first anniversary of when you moved. I had always known the day would come when you would be moved yet it still ripped my heart. But when you were moved to a bigger and nicer ranch and I got to see how well you were being cared for I knew it was ok for me to go. The Universe threw open her doors shortly after you moved and I found my way home too.

And now, I write another letter to you. It might be the last. It might not be. This time I sit with tears of love and memories streaming down my face. I have to keep wiping my eyes just to see to write.

You died today. You were 29.

I hadn’t really known a horse before meeting until you, Marley, and Sunny. I remember the first time I walked up to your gate – you were there with Sunny and you saw me standing there. I was trying to pretend a horse ranch was a place I went to every day, but it was all new to me. You immediately walked over and let me pet you. I was timid and you were gentle. You blinked your white eyelashes at me and as I stood there wearing all the wrong clothes for a horse ranch, I knew I would be back to visit.

I had just moved to Texas. I left Maine because I was barely surviving there. Every other kid I saw reminded me of the one I had lost as if the Universe was playing a cruel joke. I would hear the name Justin and tears would come to my eyes. Sometimes without thinking I’d slow down or pause only to wake up again and again and remember. He was gone. It was the same with my ex-husband, the tall, handsome financial advisor with the midwestern charm who lied and deceived me while I thought he was my best friend. Then he charmed his way into someone else’s life somehow making his embezzlement and job loss my fault. I couldn’t stay – I was concerned I was running away but I soon learned I was running to.

I moved to the place where everyone else was moving thinking they had figured something out. Austin, Texas was the pinnacle of growth and a thriving economy. I didn’t have a job but I packed up my dream to be a writer and my secret that I had lost everyone and everything I once had – there was nothing left to lose. Texas welcomed what little spunk I had left. The Lone Star State didn’t erase my pain but she didn’t judge me for having it either. She didn’t pity me but she took me in, my shattered heart, a big dream, and showed me how to put one foot in front of the other. I fell down a lot but eventually, those steps led me to you. I thought I was visiting you to spend some time with horses and give them love and attention. Funny though, you knew long before I did that you were doing the same for me.

No one knew my story in Texas but I spent hours grooming you, walking with you, and telling you all about it. You were patient as I learned how to use the brushes and combs. You’d hold up your leg when I struggled to understand how as I learned to clean your hooves. You taught me that you preferred carrots to watermelon and sugar cubes were your favorite. You taught me how to be around horses, to trust them, and learn to guide them. You laughed at my reaction the day we saw the armadillo – I think it was that moment when I recognized your smile. You taught me that life is constantly changing. I watched how you responded and I learned from you. Everyone around us said how you were taking care of me. I think it was the first ride after I had fallen off of you and gotten hurt badly that I fully understood. I gingerly climbed out of the saddle and as I stepped on the ground you turned your head and nuzzled me for a long time. My riding partner saw it and I felt it too.

You inspired me to adopt Gracie because I wanted to share the experience of being on a ranch with a dog. She was afraid of you at first – she was afraid of everything at first. But within a few visits, she stopped running for the safety of the car and instead, ran to you. I’d watch as you would nuzzle her, talk with her, teach her, and I watched you come to life. Our ever-increasing visits became the highlight of my time in Texas. Gracie grew up with you and Sunny – she was there when Marley got sick and right after he died.

I always knew I wasn’t a fit for the big city of traffic and pavement and people, but I fit in with you. You reminded me that I was meant for a simple, quiet, and peaceful life. I told you how I had discovered northern New Mexico, how that was where I was meant to be yet I doubted I could have ever left you behind. Cold rainy days, sweltering hot summers, the Thanksgiving that I spent with you, making sure you got your medicine and attention when you were sick – there was no place I would have rather been. New Mexico would eventually happen but you were where I was supposed to be.

I never knew if horses understood time or clocks but I reasoned that you would understand moons. I never left you without telling you how many moons it would be until I would be back. Nine moons was the longest I was ever away and usually, it was just a couple. Sometimes I’d come sooner than planned and the first thing I would say was, “I know I said three moons but I was able to come sooner.” It was always about the moons.

When I was away, on vacation, or trips – even scuba diving, I’d look up at the moon and know you were looking at the same one. I’d say to you in my thoughts, “Three more moons, Max…”

I went to bed last night and watched the nearly full moon rise. I awakened around midnight and couldn’t sleep. But it wasn’t like a restless night’s sleep that I had experienced before. I felt heavy and sad, I felt alone and lonely, I was emotional and none of it made sense. I figured it was due to the full moon – my bedroom was light from the full moon. As I lie there awake, feeling all the feelings, I talked with you and Sunny in my thoughts. I asked Sunny if she still had her winter coat on – how I love her face with her winter hair. I asked you if you saw the big moon and wondered if you were in your barn stall or outside. I didn’t sleep much and awoke feeling nauseated – I suppose from no sleep.

And then I switched on my phone to see a text message sent the night before. You were dying. And it all started to make sense. My first thought was accompanied by a slight smile, “Of course, you’re dying, Max…you’re letting me know and you’re leaving on a full moon. The biggest possible moon – there’s no way I can miss it.”

You died this morning. I’m told you will be buried in a beautiful place and I know you will be. In January I had written ‘Full Moon Puja’ on this day in my calendar. I didn’t know why I did so – it’s not something I do often, if ever. But something compelled me to write that and block time for a puja this evening as the full moon rose. I even mentioned to a friend the day before how odd it was that I had planned that.

I moved to Texas without really understanding why. I scheduled a puja on a full snow moon without understanding why. But I came to learn why I moved to Texas and this morning, I understood why I planned a puja.

You.

You helped my heart heal and you showed me what it was like to live a life of patience, wisdom, and acceptance – attributes I needed but perhaps hadn’t recognized. You loved me and you loved Gracie and you welcomed us both. You inspired me to write my first book and another one is on the way. I guess there’s no coincidence that the book was already dedicated to you.

Until our next lifetime, Max-a-million, every full moon will be ours.

~ Haven

On January 1, I sat down and for the seventh year in a row, emptied my Gratitude Jar. 2021 was a difficult year for so many and it is impossible to not be aware, as an American, that our nation has begun to turn on itself, intent to destroy from the inside out what other nations could not from the outside in. Racism and sexism and all of the ugliness that our leaders have battled for decades still exist. People are afraid and hurting and they react to their pain by hurting others. It’s easy to see the lack of gratitude that emanates from our politicians and others in positions of leadership. It is not fair to refer to them as leaders – a title does not a leader make. My point is it’s easy to get lost in the fray.

And yet, as I sat surrounded by hundreds of memories of gratitude, watching the deer feast off the popcorn and cranberry strands in the trees, I was overcome, once again, with gratitude so deep tears welled in my eyes. It probably sounds cheesy and ridiculous to read. Maybe it comes across as bragging but that is not my intention.

I have watched as this Gratitude Jar, once a novel notion that turned into a fun exercise, evolve to something I no longer consciously think about. My expression of gratitude is no longer regulated to a jar or to writing on a specific piece of paper. I no longer have to remember or try.

The “jar” experience was tricky this year because at one point my jar actually broke. I found a quick replacement but it wasn’t the same. That didn’t stop the gratitude and in fact, this year I found myself doing things that were extensions of my thoughts on paper. One highlight was hosting and catering a Gratitude Party for everyone who played a role in me finding and buying the house of my dreams. The party wasn’t about me, not a housewarming to receive gifts – it was for my guests. Overcome with emotion at the champagne toast, I got through it and was then enveloped with hugs and more expressions of gratitude. I think it was then that I realized people were feeling what I was feeling too.

Ours is an aggressive nation where we tend to think the expression of some feelings, like anger or apathy, are signs of strength while others, like gratitude or vulnerability, are signs of weaknesses. Ours is also a nation of inverted sentiments – we’ve got it backwards. My expressions of gratitude have, at times, surprised people or made them feel self-conscious as if they’re not quite sure how to respond to someone saying words we seldom say out loud: “Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for listening. I appreciate your sense of humor. I love how dedicated you are. I am so grateful for our friendship.” Yet all year I started to see the gratitude I was feeling was rubbing off on others – they were starting to feel it too.

This was the year my Gratitude Jar spilled over from my internal life to my external. I no longer feel awkward or self-conscious about sharing my gratitude with others. If I am to be labeled, then I’m willing to be labeled as the one who expresses her gratitude and talks about feelings.

This morning, I walked out of the grocery store when something caught my eye – a quirky smile in my peripheral vision. I turned and walked back to discover a large milk jug painted like a snowman. He was sitting among a sale pile of picked-over holiday decorations smiling at me. I smiled back. I bought the snowman – not to be stored away until the next holiday season; rather, he will be fed every day this year. I’ve found my new Gratitude Jar and he’s so much more than a jar.

Happy New Year. Make this one your best by finding something every day to be grateful for and give yourself the gift of expressing it. It comes back to you in ways you cannot imagine.

Love to you all and as always, thanks for reading,

~ Haven

how do you know? I asked

in response

to the random stranger

who had made the statement

as I shopped for pickles

the soul, you see, he replied

speaks through the eyes

your eyes are the voice of your soul

and in your eyes, I see

the rare light you have

not harsh

not blinding

warm

like a candle

your eyes are happy

because your soul is happy

and that’s why I said

you are a very happy woman

I am right, no?

yes, I replied

to the heavily accented stranger in the store

you are right

Sometimes I think the meanings of holidays get lost. I am not suggesting we forget or neglect to express thanks or gratitude on Thanksgiving – we see and experience that every holiday. But what I’m referring to is the ‘thanks’ and the ‘giving’ that have nothing to do with turkey and trimmings.

A few days before Thanksgiving, I experienced one of the best ‘thanks givings’ anyone could wish for. Since moving into my new home, my (arguably) over-active intuition had been in overdrive – an unsettled feeling that something was wrong with the outdoor faucets.

But, in a small town where businesses and contractors have not kept up with the growth and are also hit hard by unemployment as a result of pandemic shutdowns – it is nearly impossible to schedule a plumber when you want one. I had been waiting months for a plumber and my calls to the irrigation company went unanswered. But then a true emergency with water spewing down my driveway was happening and the one company who answered my call said, “we can’t respond to emergencies right now – we just don’t have the people.”

There is something especially unsettling and humbling when you have an emergency and there is no one available.

So, as I had done before – I reached out to Lisa and Gilbert. They are busy. They have full lives. They have countless obligations. I told Lisa a few weeks ago she is the busiest person I know. I’m not sure when they have time to sleep yet they never seem rushed and harried. Happiness and contentment emanate from them. The holiday was approaching and they had family coming. And, I no longer live around the corner from them – I am not a convenient stop along the way to anything.

Despite their busy schedules, they responded immediately. They provided advice on what to do. I had managed to switch off the turbulent geyser of water but with another sub-freezing night on the way, I was facing the very real potential of a frozen pipe that would this time destroy the well or the pump or worse.

I had mostly resigned myself to the fact that no one would come, that no one could come, and the situation was out of my control. I simply didn’t have the skills, the tools, or experience to know what to do.

And then, the two people with more obligations than anyone I know somehow found time – once again – for me. My phone pinged with a text, “We’re on our way.” I had not asked them to come yet they were coming anyway. They pulled up the wet, muddy driveway with their vehicle full of tools and wires and lamps and heaters. A neighbor who had seen the stream of water that had made its way out to the road, lent her saw and we all got to work, cutting a pipe in order to reach a valve. To me, we might as well have been performing open-heart surgery – they were speaking in ‘valve’ language and all I was hearing was ‘aortic valve, mitral valve, bicuspid valve’. I wanted to help but I didn’t know how.

When they realized they needed another tool, without questioning the inconvenient drive, they drove back home and returned with another tool. It was getting dark and cold and Lisa and Gilbert had given me hours of their time. The water was slowed to a trickle, we covered the pipe as if it was a young chick – keeping it warm with a heat lamp. The pipe would be ok through the night and so would my home.

As they prepared to leave, I asked them how I could repay them. How does one repay that type of selfless act? Gilbert simply replied, “just pay it forward, when the time comes when you can help someone, just pay it forward – that’s how you can pay us.”

I am a sensitive soul. I think deeply and feel even deeper. Some think my expression of emotion and tears is a sign of weakness, others have called me a cry baby. But in the realization of all they had done for me – someone they’ve not known all that long – my tears began to surface from a deep well of gratitude. It is difficult to be vulnerable – it takes strength to not only ask for advice and help but to also receive it. The feeling of being helpless can break us open to the understanding that we aren’t islands – that we need connection just like we need oxygen.

Yet even then, I pretended my tears – having lived through decades of ridicule for being “too sensitive” were because I was feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable with being needy. But my tears weren’t about that. My tears were helping me feel and see the realization that I was in the presence of love, of true giving – and my heart was giving thanks in the only way it understood at the moment. The tears that rolled down my face were drops of gratitude spewing from my heart – much like the water from the frozen pipe.

Thanks giving is about expressing our thanks and gratitude for the gifts we receive. Because of Lisa and Gilbert, my heart expanded with love and the understanding that it was ok to need help, it was ok to receive it, and I promised to them both that yes, someday, some way, I will pay it forward.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a Lisa and a Gilbert in their lives, but for those of you who do – you’ll understand. And if the only way your heart knows how to express thanks in those moments is through tears – then that’s ok too.

Happy Thanks Giving.

If you don’t write it down on a pretty slip of paper and put it in a jar

does it still count?

If it’s not penned in a Moleskin journal with your name embossed on the cover

or expressed to one friend

or a million

does it still count?

What if you just feel it and experience it with Her?

Just you and Nature?

And you don’t tell anyone because She already knows

that you feel it

and know it

and live it

and you let it wash over you

because you’re strong enough with a vulnerability so deep that you are on your knees

on a random walk with your dog

as you watch the mountains turn pink then purple as the sun lets go

and you listen to the coyote’s howl

and your dog points her paw to protect you

and you kneel with her as her heart races

and you listen and watch Nature

and feel Gratitude so deep there aren’t words

for the jars

or the journals

there are just the feelings right then in the moment

and the world stops as Gratitude surrounds you and She joins in

and sings with the coyotes

and dances with the setting sun

and welcomes the moon

and you don’t think about it

or even try

because Gratitude isn’t something you have to remember to feel

or do

or write down

it’s just there

with every breath and every step you take.

And as you breathe the crisp air

and listen to the sounds

and absorb the magic colors of the skies

and feel your little dog’s heartbeat

you realize you no longer need the jar

or the journal

because Gratitude is part of every inhale and exhale.

And that realization brings tears to your eyes as you recognize a level of Gratitude you never knew existed.

The kind you don’t have to think about.

The kind that one day you realize is simply there.

Part of you.

Just like your DNA

and your blue eyes.

and your blonde hair.

And then it rushes like a tidal wave and washes over you and you can barely stay upright

because you see

and feel

that the thing you’ve worked to obtain, to name and claim is no longer outside of you.

Gratitude is inside of you.

It is you.

It has become you.

And Ego doesn’t stand a chance and for once doesn’t try.

And then you get it.

As they howl

and her heart beats so fast in fear with her little paw pointed in protection

and you notice the dirt on your knees

and the sky surrounding you with love

and the smell of the sun and the moon

and the Hum so oddly industrial yet comforting

and you get it.

And somehow for that moment, it all makes sense.

And no, you don’t have to write it down.

It still counts.

So feeble and frail

and afraid to leave

or be alone

or take a risk

or make a change

we think we’re immune

in that infallible ‘you can’t touch this’ way

but the truth is we live lives never touched

and never understanding what is missing

until we find the courage

to sit with the vulnerabilities

and the soft parts that scare us

and the insecurities that rule us

and let the feelings out to break our shells

so the light can seep in to wake us up

and reveal a patience that is needed

to fuel us through the darkness

while it still has work to do

and then the answers we seek are revealed.