To A New Year

For years leading up to my Grandmother’s death I had conversations with her before I fell asleep at night. It was always the same. I would hug my pillow and talk out loud to her, recounting my memories of our time together, imagining myself on the floor of her living room next to her favorite rocker. With my head in her lap she would run her skinny fingers through my hair, the ones that look exactly like mine just older, and I would regale her with dozens of stories in very specific detail.

In my bed at night talking to the ceiling I was convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that she could hear me 6,000 miles away and that she knew I was with her. I pictured her in her hospital bed laughing out loud for each of the family jokes I reminded her of. And when the present moment predicament crept in and things inevitably got a little sad, I would tell her over and over, “I got you. It’s scary I know, but you’re OK.”

My father picked me up at JFK International Airport in Queens, NY on a very cold March morning at 7:00 AM, five days after my 36th birthday. Bleary eyed from a complete lack of sleep on the red eye from Hawaii, I fell into the winter coat he brought for me and leapt quickly into the front seat of his heated Saturn. All I could say was, “This totally fucking sucks.” All he could do was slowly nod his head and agree, “Yah. It really does.”

I wanted to stay right there at the airport as if refusing to move forward would keep it all from happening. Holding back the tears I once again ran through the countless happy memories as my dad stoically drove us north over the Triboro Bridge.

In my head I could hear her rattling the dice in the plastic cup during our endless games of Yahtzee, the clink of my uncles throwing horseshoes in her backyard. Thanksgivings when we’d put ice in her white wine and throw bread rolls to each other across the table. That time we all went to Europe and the cruise to the Bahamas. How she would sit under the Christmas tree every year and hand out gifts like Santa. How it would seem like everything was funny to her and we would never ever stop laughing.

When we got to Connecticut we took a deep breath and silently rode the elevator to the fourth floor. In her hospice room I took off my coat and climbed into her bed. Spooning my Grams I whispered the sentiment that was almost impossible to articulate, “Hey we gotta talk. This totally fucking sucks but it’s time.”

She couldn’t speak to respond but I knew she could hear me. So I sang her the song I’d been singing for years every time I visited the convalescent home she was moved to when the late onset Alzheimer’s got too much for anyone to handle. Snuggled up and wrapped around her, holding her hand, my forehead against the back of her head, my mouth as close to her ear as I could get it, I repeated Lou Reed’s chorus.

It’s such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with you

Such a perfect day / You just keep me hangin’ on

For five hours rather than cry, the six of us reminisced and laughed, sometimes a little too raucously. It was me and my mom and my dad, plus my aunt, uncle and cousin. When we got too loud we shushed each other then quickly burst into guffaws over how crazy the nurses and aides must have thought we were.

What kind of family laughs like lunatics on the deathbed of the long standing matriarch? The ones who have been living and laughing with her all their lives. The ones who understand exactly what she wanted: to go out the way she lived – surrounded by a rambunctious bunch of nuts making jokes until the bitter end.

As a child, and even through my twenties, I never believed the end would actually come, but in the early afternoon of March 8th 2014 it did. She took her last breath and with it the laughter temporarily died.

Up until that day I had never seen anyone die before. It gutted me unlike any other loss I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t understand how to leave the room but thankfully my father stayed with me and the two of us had no clue together.

My grandmother’s death is undoubtedly the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. Two months after that day I lost my dear sweet perfect Arugula Roo to kidney failure, the final stage of her years long battle with Feline Lymphocytic Leukemia. For sixteen years she had been my only daily constant. Through the ups and downs of life, 15 apartments, 4 states and everything life threw at me in between. She was an angel and perfect in every way, just like my Grams.

So I’m just gonna go ahead and say that 2014 was a very sad and difficult year.

Good things happened. But mostly I just had a hard time and felt unbearably lonely. I barely exercised. I drank too much beer. I didn’t participate in any races or go on many dates. I hardly wrote at all.

The first week of December I flew to Maui for the day and sang kirtan with Krishna Das at a little church in Makawao just outside of Paia. Right down in the front row I started crying with the first note that came from his harmonium. The tears kept coming as I chanted my little heart out. I cried for the loss of my grandmother, shaking from the pain, begging her not to leave me.

All year I felt so consumed by the emptiness and then suddenly there she was, gently pointing out how much of a dope I had been. “I’m not going anywhere, silly! I’m right here. For goodness sake, just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I left you!” I could see her throwing up her hands and shrugging her shoulders like “Duh!” And just like that I stopped crying and the hole started to close.

A few weeks after my excursion to Maui I did a seven day juice fast and life started to spring out of me again. Today I ran to Hanauma Bay. I climbed a mile to the top of the ridge trail and looked out over the ocean. Just as I crested the hill, Puja from Krishna Das’ Door of Faith album came through my headphones and I started laughing. Because that’s how life goes when you’re in tune and paying attention – everything you need appears without asking at exactly the moment you need it to.

Hanauma 2

I stretched and balanced in tree pose as KD om’d and woke me back up. Then I walked down the hill and ran home.

I can’t say I’m ecstatic or energized. Maybe that will come tomorrow when the New Year is really here. But for now I can say I am at peace, unbelievably grateful that I got to spend 36 years with my favorite person on the planet. And I’m ready to let the loss go so I can move on to whatever is next.

Happy New Year my dear ones. May it be filled with blessings and happiness for everyone. MUCH LOVE!

Hanauma 1

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But Seriously… he and his team are AMAZING!!

You know that thing where you discover something incredible and it gives you hope and energy and passion and excitement? It awakens something inside you that had kinda been laying dormant for a while, and you can’t stop thinking about it so you tell everyone within earshot including complete strangers and you blast it over the internet so everyone you can reach is completely sure that this thing is totally awesome and they should really be paying attention?

OK so that…

You can watch the entire BLINDSIGHT movie (in which Erik Weihenmayer and his awe inspiring crew take six blind Tibetan children 22,000 feet up into the Himalayas) on Hulu for free!

And it’s mind blowing and inspiring and beautiful and thought provoking. So don’t be an idiot.

Watch this movie.

And then write me a recommendation letter so when I apply for a job with these fine folks they can’t help but shred all the other resumes and hire me on the spot.

Thank you and good night.

Holy Crap This Guy is Amazing!

Originally I planned to do a half marathon (13.1 miles) yesterday up at the Gunstock Ranch – the same one I did two years ago with the cows and the donkeys. But then I found out about Erik Weihenmayer and plans immediately changed. After seeing a blurb about him giving a speech at UH Manoa that was open to the public and free, I picked up his book Touch the Top of the World, about him summitting Denali, and was enthralled from page one.

This man has been everywhere and climbed everything. He’s one of very few people to conquer the Seven Summits – the highest peaks on each continent including Mt. Everest! – he’s made his way up The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite, he skis, skydives, kayaks the Colorado River and the list goes on and on. So OK there are a lot of adventurous climbers in the world, what makes Erik so special? Well, he’s blind. 100% completely and totally blind since age 13. And he didn’t start doing any of this until after he lost his vision.

He travels the world speaking about living a No Barriers Life. The motto is:

What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.

I hated bailing on the half but couldn’t miss the opportunity to see him speak so I devised a win/win plan. I put my running clothes on, laced up my sneakers and ran six miles to the event in a delicate rain. Afterwards Tropical Storm Ana was really kicking in but I ran home effortlessly in a downpour, adrenaline coursing, easily completing twelve miles on the fuel of his words.

Erik Weihenmayer’s accomplishments are extraordinary but what really hits home for me on a personal level, is that he does something very few motivational speakers do: he acknowledges the struggle and the suck. So many mystics and speakers will tell you it’s all so easy, anything is possible, you just have to “let go”. It can feel condescending, not to mention incredibly frustrating, when you’re having a difficult time with something that’s holding you back. But Erik says something more along the lines of, “No this is hard and it takes strength and commitment and discipline. A lot of times it’s gonna totally suck.”

He’s funny and sarcastic and human.

He continues saying, “We’re gonna rope up and get through it together.” Roping up is what climbers do in extreme environments like two foot wide ridges above 20,000′. If one person falls, everyone’s falling. So you dig in your ice ax and catch them.

Suffice it to say I was blown away on a much deeper level than anticipated. I feel like I found a kindred spirit. Maybe I don’t succeed as often as I’d like, and I’m certainly not climbing Everest with my eyes closed anytime soon, but what I’m always trying to do is show the whole picture: the success and the failure and all the work in between.

I went online and took The No Barriers Pledge:

I pledge to view my life as a relentless quest to become my very best self,

To always view the barriers in my life as opportunities to learn,

To find ways to work with others to build teams, serve those in need, and do good in the world,

And to push the boundaries of what people say is possible, for only I know the potential that lies inside of me.

After perusing their website I laughed when I realized the No Barriers organization is located just outside of Boulder, CO. So now I have a new unexpected goal: figure out how to work with these guys when I get there.

Eight Months Notice

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to compose this post. This decision came to me weeks ago in my tent on the North Shore: It’s time to leave Hawaii because I did not come here to suffer.

I came for adventures and beauty and warmth and I’ve had no regrets and many incredible experiences. It’s not time to leave tomorrow or this month or even this year. But next year, yes. I will leave in June because the unexpected consequences of this long distance journey have become unbearable loneliness, nonstop high pressure work stress and a concern that maybe I’m kinda just floating 3,000 miles at sea, not so much docked or grounded on dry land as I’d hoped.

My coach rode his motorcycle half way around the island to visit me on my week-long staycation at my landlords’ ranch in Kahuku. Not Coach C who I fell in love with and ended up broken hearted by, but Coach J who was just always funny and supportive and totally awesome. He took me out to dinner, bought me a margarita and said, “Well hey if you’re gonna leave in the spring you should train for the Honu Half Iron Man and take off after that.”

There was no argument to be made against his logic of going out on a totally awesome high and so a plan was put into place the next morning. I was texting my sister from my air mat in the tent with the windows zipped down watching the sunrise over the North Shore of Oahu. [I could not make this shit up if I tried.]

The night before I read the Tao Te Ching flanked by dogs with white wine and Cheez-Its and in the morning it became crystal clear.

My sister has decided to move back to Boulder, CO, a city and a person I adore. And I’m going to join her there. But not until I do something great. Not until I accomplish something that currently feels impossible: 70.3 miles on the Big Island of Hawaii.

So here’s to the next goal and the exciting adventure that will follow: 1.2 mile open ocean swim, 56 mile bike ride up and down the Kohala Coast and a 13.1 mile half marathon to end a challenge I would never have thought I could accomplish if I hadn’t come here in the first place.

Bliss

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to read the Tao Te Ching with a plastic keg cup full of organic sulfite free Sauvignon Blanc in one hand and a bag of Cheez-Its in the other. But I’m certain I’m supposed to read it on a queen sized deluxe air mat in a tent on the North Shore of Oahu, headlamp dangling from the ceiling, dogs by my side, waves crashing a few dozen feet away.

Cheers Lao Tsu and thank you again for everything. My hair smells like campfire and I am happy.

Broken Beads

Last week in the midst of a serious funk I hosted a barbecue. I have a pool, hot tub, a big fenced in yard for lawn games and happy go lucky dogs to roam off leash. There’s a grill, a picnic table, a decent sound system. I spent almost $200 at Target on food and beer, strings of lights for the tiki hut and pool area, paper plates, plastic cups. It was a beautiful day and I was set up for complete and total party hosting awesomeness.

I should probably re-word that intro to say, “I attempted to host a barbecue.” Of the 20 or so people I invited, all of whom I told to please extend the invitation to their friends and significant others, two showed up: my two closest friends on the island. We sat on my front porch around a comically large pile of uneaten food while I lamented how difficult, near impossible, it has been for me to create a community of close friends here even after three years of trying.

So the funk got worse before it got better.

After my friends left I lit a candle and a stick of sandalwood incense. I turned off the lights, opened my computer and YouTubed a full length Krishna Das kirtan I hadn’t seen before. I unwrapped my mala beads, strung them around my hands and fingers like I was playing Cat’s Cradle with my ten year old self and I got to singing.

It was well after midnight and I just didn’t care. I had the house to myself and it seemed like my neighbors were out of town so I let loose, singing at full volume for an hour and a half. I bobbed up and down. I rocked back and forth. I sat perfectly still for a very long time. I’m not sure but at some point I might have been napping. Or maybe that’s what deep meditation feels like and I just never knew. All I know for sure is I let it all in and I let it all out.

I howled for my loneliness and the sadness I feel every time I fall asleep and wake back up alone. I howled for the distance I’ve put between myself and my loved ones. I howled for how hard it is to stay sane in the pursuit of a strong independent life because what I’ve learned so far is that strength and independence lead to unshakable independence – not romance or boyfriends or well attended barbecues. It’s an unexpected pill to acknowledge and attempt to swallow.

At the end of the kirtan I was exhausted as if I had just run a marathon. Then something happened that I’ve never experienced before. As I slowly disengaged my fingers from each other my mala beads broke and scattered all over the floor.

My immediate reaction was panic: Oh no no no no no! These were a gift from my sister! Oh my gosh what do I do? What does this mean?!!

Scouring the floor in the candlelight I found every last bead, counted them twice to make sure. 27 + 27 + 27 + 27 = 108. OK, once more. I carefully placed them in the silver box my sister had sent them to me in years ago. I wrapped the purple ribbon around the outside like I’ve done after every other prayer I’ve ever sang with them. Then I just sat there having no idea what to do next.

I considered Googling what do you do when your mala beads break? But the clarity came on its own relatively quickly once I calmed down. I let go of the guilt of breaking something sacred and considered that maybe what happened had been out of my control; perhaps it had nothing to do with carelessness. Maybe, just maybe, it was exactly what was supposed to happen.

I placed the silver box with the purple ribbon and the beads inside into my new shrine box, the one that says Live your life like there’s no tomorrow. I blew out the candle and fell back onto my pillow. Within seconds I was fast asleep.