Love, Actually is my favorite Christmas movie. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way, but to some people it seems like an odd choice. It does show some depressing snapshots of love: love gone wrong, gone sour, just… gone. But those are real situations, that’s real life. No one’s love is 100% at its best 100% of the time. Every relationship faces hard decisions and rough patches. If you’re lucky, you and your partner agree that your relationship is worth the hard work during those hard times, and together you make it work. Sometimes it’s just agreeing to wait out the difficulties. But ultimately, you make those decisions because you both feel it’s worth it.
That’s when you, and you alone, have to decide if you’re going to put more time into that relationship, weighing the pros and cons. Can you put up with what will be happening? Can you live without what is missing? Can you condone — and forgive — certain behaviors?
A lot of the time, people do decide “this is worth it” and continue to have faith in themselves and each other to power through the hard times. And happy times come again, and there is some smooth sailing.
There really isn’t any such thing as “happily ever after” though, because Life happens. It isn’t static, captured forever in a bubble at the peak of happiness. It isn’t just your life, or the life of your partner; it is, indeed, a question of how other people’s lives intersect and affect yours, isn’t it?
And besides, how do you know when it’s the “end” of “happily ever after”? When could anyone possibly declare “This is the ultimate day of ever after!” What if tomorrow is better still? And what happens when you hit a rut during the happy? Do you automatically declare that’s the end of ever after?
Life has a rhythm of its own. And although it sure feels like it sometimes, Life really isn’t out to “get” anyone.
I suppose what it all comes down to is that Love, Actually is a realistic snapshot in its portrayal of different kinds of love, in different kinds of situations, at different stages of love. And although I am the first to admit to being a hopeful romantic — I collect fairy tales, for heaven’s sake! — I am also a realist. I know relationships of all kinds take a lot of work, a lot of patience, a lot of compromise, a lot of disagreements, and sometimes just knowing that you can’t win certain battles and knowing when it’s time to give in gracefully (I, personally, am still working on the “gracefully” part).
I love so many people in my life, and juggling everyday things — and some extraordinary things at times — sometimes makes me forget all the love in my life. But it’s not really forgetting, it’s just that love sometimes is in the background, obscured by fleeting moments of things deemed “important.” But it’s always there, actually. Love.
Well, something off my “to do” list: get left knee replaced. Check.
This is coming to you from a doped up, newly ‘bionic’ woman (so they tell me). I expect a call from the government any time now, giving me my first assignment.
As long as a cane and a walker are part of my cover, I’ll have those bad guys taken care of in no time. Literally: I will not be walking, let alone running, anytime soon. I’m sorry, Oscar, but leaping tall buildings will have to wait (am I getting my metaphors crossed again?).
I am happy to report that the surgery was a success, and I am on the road to recovery. Physical therapy started as soon as the anesthesia wore off — I think those therapists do it just so they have something to laugh about (“Did you see that lady in room 304 try to stand up?”), and I’ll be home this weekend.
Many thanks for all the good wishes and healing thoughts and prayers! I’ll be back with you soon.
Until next Friday, Friends. Cheers!P.S. I’m sorry to tell you there will be no video of me coming out of anesthesia. There was an, um, unfortunate accident with a boot heel meeting the recording device. You’ll just have to take my word for it that no embarrassing behavior was present at any time before, during, or after recovery (no matter what the nurses on the third floor say).
And in just a few days, I will be facing one of my worst fears: surgery.
Well, maybe not so much “surgery” as being put under anesthesia. I had The Appendectomy From Hell several years ago, and it took a very long time to recover from what turned out to be a “1 in a hundred-thousand” fluke bad reaction and I ended up in ICU for 3 days. Long story short, anesthesia scares the daylights out of me.
I know I need to have my knee replaced. It’s been slowly (and painfully) narrowing my quality of life to the point where even taking my dog on a walk around the block reduces me to tears because it is so damn painful. I *know* I need to do this.
But I don’t *want* to do this.
I *am* looking forward to being on the other side of this, though: waking up (even with the 4-5″ long scar I will have) and getting to work on rehabilitating my knee, my walking, my physical life, my quality of life. It’s already been a long trip, but it’s made better by good friends (old and new) who have graciously shared their own knee replacement sagas, offered advice, reassured me that I’ll be VERY happy I did this, and have ultimately cheered me on every wobbly step of the way.
I’m scared, though. Even with some of the best, smartest, brightest, most talented people ready to take me apart and put me back together, things do happen. I know they can rebuild my knee. They have the technology. They have the capability to make the world’s first bionic woman… (Wait, wrong decade.) But they will be able to make me better… stronger… faster (eventually). In spite of the fear, I’ve decided I’m not going to let it stand in my way.
I will be fearless. Scared, but fearless. And I will not let my fear stand in my way.
Originally published November 3, 2015, this is a look back at where we were… and how far we’ve come on this journey: this week we visit Z on campus for our first “Parents’ Weekend.”
For Halloween, we flew out to Ithaca, New York for some grown-up trick or treating with my best girlfriend, E, and her husband, D.
Actually, we really flew out to visit Cornell University with Z; the trick or treating was a bonus. D had done his graduate work at Cornell, so they happily joined us out there (they are also Z’s godparents).
As I’ve said before, we are in the thick of college-shopping. Although Z is only a junior, we all wanted a better idea of what was out there in the college world so we started earlier this year, and it’s been an adventure from start to almost-finish. Z has an impressive line-up of colleges he’s narrowed his search down to: out of the five contenders, four are Big Ten schools here in the Midwest (Northwestern University, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Iowa), and an Ivy League in upstate New York (Cornell). All have astounding physics departments, with equally impressive campuses, housing options, student activities, and research opportunities. They include state schools as well as private; large, small, and medium-sized student bodies.
After each visit, Z declares that university to be his new “favorite.” We’ve heard that four times now, and I don’t doubt we’ll hear it later this month when we visit the last (for now), Iowa.* T and I are impressed with each of the schools for various reasons, and would be hard-pressed to rank our own favorites (ok, truth be told, T is a die-hard Michigan fan, having done his own graduate work there). If Z is accepted at all five schools, I don’t envy his position to choose — but what a fantastic problem to have! I really do feel that whatever decision he makes, it will be a winner for him.
Realistically, do I think he has a shot at the Ivy League? After visiting, yes. It’s a long shot, but after listening to the Dean of Admissions and two faculty advisers talk about what they look for in an applicant, I believe my child does, indeed, fit their bill. Of course I’m biased. But honestly, I can see where he would be a very good fit there.
What ultimately convinced me was serendipitous: while we were waiting for one of the tours to start on Friday, Z mentioned he wished he could see what a college physics class was like. One of the student admissions guides overheard him, and said “let’s see what’s going on this afternoon.” Lo and behold, an Intro to Physics class was scheduled later and Z was invited to show up and sit in! We re-tooled our itinerary slightly for the rest of the day so he could take advantage of this awesomeness. So, while T and I caught up on our email and people-watched for a while, Z walked into the giant lecture hall, and concluded he’d entered Heaven.
He LOVED the professor teaching — Z said he was animated, used props, humor, and he felt the prof was TEACHING, not lecturing. Z caught on right away to the day’s lesson: it’s what he is studying in his AP Physics high school class right now. He couldn’t stop talking about that visit for the rest of the weekend.
What this taught me wasn’t just about the University itself, but about the course my child has set for himself: it’s the right one. He is, indeed, head over heels for physics.
And it illuminated the truth that the best fit for him will be the university that sees his passion and excitement for the subject matter and research possibilities, realizes he would be a tremendous addition to their college, wants him to become their student on his journey, and will match his passion for learning with their own passion for teaching.
After all the spread sheets and pros and cons lists have been created, after all the hard admissions work has painstakingly been done, and the FAFSA filled out accordingly, what if he isn’t accepted to his first choice, whichever that turns out to be? I will be disappointed for him and my heart will ache that this is something Mom can’t fix. But I’ve also learned in the last several years that we all end up where we’re truly supposed to be if we trust in ourselves and take advantage of the choices before us. If he learns that over the next several years instead of in his 40s and 50s, he’s going to be ahead in this game called Life.
During this process of “college shopping,” we’ve had a lot of fun, and I hope he looks back on these weekends we’ve taken to tour different communities in different states with fondness, if not downright laughter. I joked at the beginning that we went to Cornell to go trick or treating…well, we made him a deal: we would take all the tours and go to all the meetings he wanted while we were there for the long weekend, and in return, he would be our Designated Driver for a few hours to tour the Finger Lakes wine region, just north of Cornell. He happily agreed.
So this past weekend, we flew to upstate New York; had a great welcome dinner with E & D; participated in all the talks and tours Admissions offers; visited several Finger Lakes wineries (which is the best kind of grown-up trick or treating); discovered Uncle Joe’s Bar in Ithaca which turned out to be a designated University of Michigan saloon, complete with cowbell and lots of friendly people, and watched UoM win on a big screen on one side of the bar, with the Mets on another (home state crowd not happy with that loss, nor the eventual outcome; our condolences); and all with good friends who are really family.
The most fun, best moment for me, though, was all five of us in the car belting out the entirety of “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the top of our lungs as we barreled through the winding, rolling countryside at dusk on the way back from the wineries with my son driving, and me riding shotgun. Pure happiness all around.
I don’t know how many more trips like this we’ll have, but I’ll happily take that seat whenever he’ll have me.
Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!
*Iowa did, in fact, prove to be the ultimate favorite 🙂
The biggest regret I have today is that it took a medical emergency canceling a long-awaited vacation to kick me into taking better care of myself just last month.
These changes I’m making aren’t the result of some morbid mindset — I wasn’t going to die because of what drove me to the emergency room. But the fear of not knowing what was going on, topping the severe, mind-scrambling pain certainly moved me to immediate action… and thus, I will be having long-overdue knee replacement surgery in November.
Mindfulness. That’s a grossly overused word, but it’s the only one I can find right now to describe how I’m feeling. I’m noticing more about how my body feels; about what I’m doing physically, and mentally.
Paring down social media time. Being choosier about what I spend my time reading and watching.
The “miscellaneous” shelf in the kitchen cupboard has been cleaned out in order to lessen temptation. My shopping lists are filled with natural foods.
I got my flu shot today.
I feel good about this. I hope I can last more than a few weeks….
Let me be clear: I am not “giving up” anything. Cutting back? Yes. Limiting some things? Yup. During this time prior to surgery, I am being vigilant, and perhaps a little more strict with myself. But it’s the mindfulness — my overall intent — that I’ll be leaning on most.
So the afternoon of Day One, I’m all in on this mindful business: being proud of myself for making the choice to be present and in the moment, running out for fresh veggies, making eye contact and smiling at everyone as I leave the market — and promptly trying to get into someone else’s car before realizing mine was two rows over… and I’d passed right by it.
Okay. So it’s not a perfect practice. But it’s a good start.
I whole-heartedly embrace the ideal that people are born “good.” It’s the choices they make — the free will they exercise — that start to color their state of being, their personality, and yes, whether they will be “good” people or “bad” people in their future. And there are extremes of both.
Although I’m not a religious person, there are indeed, those whom you might call ‘saints’ in this world. Those are the folks who have decided to, quite literally, give everything they have and everything they are to lift up others in this world. True saints are few in number. If each generation sees one, we should count ourselves lucky to have witnessed that kind of living.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe there are so many more people in the world who go above and beyond on a regular basis! A good many of our firefighters, police, medical personnel, military members, teachers, among others… these are everyday heroes, and deserve respect from every quarter. They are the people who make a community worth living in. They are the people in positions for which I don’t mind paying my taxes, that I want living in my neighborhood. These are the people you hope your children look up to, and respect, and become in their own lives.
Then there are those of us who fervently hope we will make good choices and raise our children to be the kinds of everyday heroes we admire, too. We help where we can, and we’ll even go out of our way to assist someone in need. We are good people, except when we’re not; but at least we have the grace to feel bad when we knowingly don’t exercise good judgment or knowingly don’t make a good choice. We feel guilt for hurting someone else, and make amends where we can. “I’m sorry” are two words good people aren’t afraid to say.
There are those people who really don’t care about anyone but themselves. It’s a dark and lonely place to be, but they don’t see it that way because they are dazzled by their own shallow glow. Narcissists. You know one when you meet one, because they have an innate need to dampen everyone else’s light, so they don’t have to compete. Life is all about them. Everything is personal — good and bad. And they will let you know it is ALWAYS someone ELSE’S fault/doing/being/saying. We can only hope these Islands of Ones and Onlies will someday wake up and see they are alone in a sea of other narcissists.
Unfortunately, there are people who choose to become just plain evil. We have seen evil in history’s genocides, as recently as this week. We have seen evil in people who hurt and torture others, including animals, “just because.” We see evil in those who want anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe to be judged and damned. Evil is hate in action. It’s what’s left when the self burns away everything else in order to gain what it believes is “power.” It’s what’s left when someone has convinced themselves that others are “less than.” But because there is always someone else who will come along and wrest that power from them, one way or another, there is eventually nothing left but evil in these people.
What does it truly cost each one of us to treat everyone as we wish to be treated? How does one person’s gender, sexual orientation, race, marriage, religious outlook, height, weight, whether or not they have children, eye color, age, or favorite drink between Coke and Pepsi affect you? Really, I’m asking: how does it affect you if someone doesn’t believe exactly as you believe? You won’t be friends? Ok, don’t invite them to your house for dinner. But don’t for one moment think they are “less than”. Believing — and acting — otherwise leads to narcissistic and evil choices. Among those evil choices are deciding to be judge, jury, and executioner.
I have no answers for the evil carried out recently. But evil being present does not preclude the presence of good. I still believe in the good people, the everyday heroes, and the saints among us. They appeared in Las Vegas. They were there at a nightclub in Orlando. In a movie theater in Aurora. In Blacksburg. In San Bernardino. Fort Hood. Littleton. Newton. Too many more cities; too much history rife with tragedy when the good are called upon to give so much.
I see the evil. I choose to have faith in the good.
I first experienced Ms. Ephron with her film “Heartburn” in 1986, based on her semi-autobiographical book by the same name, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Although, I confess, at the time, I was struck more by the credit music by Carly Simon, prompting me to buy one more of her albums just so I could listen to “Coming Around Again” again and again.
I had seen “Silkwood” with Meryl Streep and Cher (1983). Then came Nora’s “Sleepless in Seattle” (’93), “You’ve Got Mail” (’98), “Julie and Julia” (’09), and a score of others interspersed throughout those years. But, for me, the definitive “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) is the best of her films, and is still arguably one of the most sincere and realistic films about friendships between men and women ever produced, not to mention just all-out fall-down funny and touching and real. One of my all-time favorite movies, period. That movie, that point in time, is when Nora Ephron really hit my radar.
But it wasn’t until mid-July last year when I finally sat down with a book by Nora. I was trying to understand this form of writing I stumbled upon — and apparently had been doing — for over a year at that time. The week before we left for a long-weekend trip to northern Michigan, I Googled “personal essay writers” and was hit with list upon list and more lists and “next pages” of lists. I wanted a woman’s perspective. So naturally, it was Nora Ephron.
I was at Barnes and Noble for over an hour in the small, hidden-in-the-back, out of the way “Essays” section (I didn’t even know there was such a section until then; did you?).
With a lot to do before the trip, I decided I’d wait to read my chosen coursework until we were “officially” on the trip. Which means, once we get on the road or to the airport. Mostly because at that point, there is nothing else I can do to get myself/child/partner/pets/house/car in order. In this instance, we had decided to fly since it was just T and me; and, because in the previous five weeks, between the two of us, we had already made the driving trek to Michigan five times (various business trips intermingled with family visits), with one more to go (our summer family vacation; and no, we don’t normally get to spend so much time in our home state. It’s just worked out that way this summer). So with great anticipation, I cracked the spine on my primer when we arrived at our gate.
I Feel Bad About My Neck is the book I chose to begin my education. And it was a post-doc level course.
When we landed, I reluctantly put the book away for later. We were there for reasons other than relaxation, and it wasn’t until bedtime that I had an opportunity to extract the book from my carry on. While T finished up some work on his laptop, I lay in bed, laughing; folding over page corners for reliving later; thinking “me too!” more times than I could count; and wondering how in the world this woman had exactly the right words in exactly the right order to recount periods in her life with such exquisite perspective.
I sighed when I finished — much like after a wonderful meal that fills you, not only with food, but with gratitude that you had a seat at that particular table.
“I may as well just stop writing now,” I said to T.
“I will never write like Nora Ephron,” I said.
“Well maybe it’s something to strive for,” he replied.
“No, you don’t understand,” I replied earnestly. “I will never write like Nora Ephron.”
At that point, he decided to just nod vaguely in agreement and leave me pondering this slim volume of wonderment. (He’s a wise man.)
I decided to do a little background research on my new-found teacher, and that’s when I discovered I have the same birthday as Nora Ephron. That must be some cosmic sign she is to be my muse, right? (Of course, there are lots of other people who were born on that day in May. Including one of my ex’s much younger girlfriends. Some people think I must be offended by that in some way. Not really. I had that birthday first.) I was on a first-name basis with Nora by then, so it was an OMG moment for certain. I posted it on Facebook. I tweeted on Twitter. I shouted it to my family (“Who?” said my teen). Ok, I was getting carried away. I can see that now.
But it’s NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON! And she’s one of the most brilliant writers ever, whether it’s for print or movies — geez, she could write directions for an oil change and it would be awesome.
“Much of my life goes irrelevantly on, in spite of larger events,” she wrote. As the song goes, “I know nothing stays the same…”
And yet she still believed strongly that “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Hell to the yes!
At the same time I was voraciously reading Nora’s essays, I picked up a copy of a book T’s mom had told me about regarding the history of the feminist movement. This happened to coincide with Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the first woman to head an election ticket by a major party. AND, guess who was quoted throughout the book? Nora.
Nora would have been 76 this last birthday of ours. But the world lost her marvelous voice in June of 2012, to stupid leukemia. I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do regret not having discovered this remarkable woman earlier. I would have written a letter to her, in the most fan-girl of ways, saying all these things I’ve learned with help from her.
In retrospect, however, I do believe I came across Nora Ephron exactly when I should have. Any sooner, I may have just chuckled and moved on. In that time period, from when she left us to my discovering her on that bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, I have changed in so many ways — I think for the better. Nora has given me so many master-classes in not just writing, but in how to look at the world through a different lens; finding humor in places I didn’t know I could; accepting myself fully for who I am in every way; looking back through the history of the Women’s Movement and learning things I never even guessed at growing up in the 70s.
I know nothing stays the same, but it’s ok, she assures me. Because if things don’t change, we’re actually all the worse for it. So the changes I’ve weathered, the changes I invited, the changes I made willingly and excitedly, even the ones I didn’t — they’ve all made me who I am now, and have led me to discover my writing anew and shown me where I can fit in to the literary world.
Thank you, Nora. I needed that.
Until next Friday, Friends. Cheers!