Crossing the Midline – Life Act II

My friend, Gretchen, left us all this blessing on her bathroom mirror. “You’re going to be OK”

Our lives are our stories. If 50 is the end of Act I and the next Act is about to begin, then these short moments right now are my intermission and I’m pausing to reflect on my first Act. Typically, Act I introduces the characters and setting and then leaves you hanging with a problem.  Act II is usually shorter and ends in resolution (and often a pretty good song and dance number, too).

Yesterday was my friend’s funeral/celebration of life. It reminded me that our world is broken as evidenced by her tragic death, and by the numerous bumps and bruises we all experience in our lives.  In the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, my favorite part is when Marlin is lamenting  that he didn’t do his job to protect his son.

Marlin:   I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.

Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

It is so true. Good and bad things happen to us and other people…and we have no choice sometimes but to let them. I loved the message at her service …be joyful, enjoy every beautiful moment, give your life to the things that matter, and use the gifts you’ve been given.  She did, despite the harder things that happened in her life. Her legacy speaks volumes. Act II for her was 7 days. Was there a resolution for her second Act? Yes.

She left us all with the blessing (above) for our lives. (It figures it would be from a book called Numbers. Math teachers!)

And now here I am. I’ve made it across a line…I’m not sure if it’s actually my true midline, but I do know one thing…. I’m going to be OK.

To Gretchen – Goodbye

Kerrie, me, and Gretchen at my wedding.

I lost my dear friend, Gretchen, this week. My heart aches. I have 11 days before I “cross the midline.” She had just crossed it. Our birthdays always marked time for me. Growing up, my two best friends (Gretchen and Kerrie) and I had our birthdays within four weeks of each other. We hit all major milestones together…. one right after the other. I was the “youngest” and was often told I had to sit in the backseat of the car for this reason–joyful ribbing only best friends can dish out.

I am devastated by this loss. Childhood friends are a special breed. They are more like family than friends. When you grow up with someone, the set of shared roots and experiences is a base which feeds the rest of your life.

Some of my favorite memories, in no particular order:

  • Running miles and miles and miles and miles and miles together in Cross Country and Track
  • Throwing a Danger Mouse party (no one really appreciated Danger Mouse the way Gretchen and I did)
  • Naming our fetal pigs in biology class (Ham and Cheeks) and building our science poster on Idiot Savants (I was the idiot and she was the savant)
  • Game nights through the years
  • Sleepovers, MTV and Atari at Kerrie’s house
  • Weaning her daughter, Hannah, to a bottle when I took care of her for several weeks (Gretchen needed to finish up the school year after she had run out of official maternity leave)
  • In 8th grade, after Greg Chavez broke my nose with a hockey stick, Gretchen accidentally realigned my nose while swinging her track bag around in circles. It was a direct hit. Ouch. Saved me from surgery, though.
  • Dancing and singing on stage in our various school musicals and choir events
  • Crying on each other’s shoulders at the loss of our beloved Cross Country coach, Don Osse
  • Road tripping to see our friend, Kerrie, in Texas to get our crew of children together (poor Hannah was stung multiple times by multiple creatures during the trip …bees and jellyfish)
  • Cruising to the Bahamas and running around Disney World after high school graduation
  • Singing karaoke with Gretchen and Hannah and dancing with Lee to Just Dance WII on many a New Year’s Eve night
  • Campus Life events and Chinese fire drills
  • Belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart (among other songs on the radio) while driving around Lakewood in the cars we had nicknamed
  • Receiving Gretchen’s Math Analysis (pre-calc) notes as my birthday gift
  • Calling her by my term of endearment: Gretchy Wetchy Wootchy Cootchy

Staying in touch with friends is not easy after high school and college…even when in the same state. I was fortunate to have a standing date with Gretchen every New Year’s Eve. If we didn’t catch up during the rest of the year, we both knew games and pizza awaited us on December 31. And like family, we picked up right where we left off. I treasure those moments.

Life is fragile and it feels far too short. Fifty years…and I knew Gretchen for 42 of them. She told me just last week how “fifty didn’t hurt too much” and I didn’t need to worry. Gretchen told me she was happier now than she ever was in her 40s. We chatted about her Tesla, her tiny house construction, retirement plans, her kids and Bob…an awesome future ahead. I am grateful for that conversation. Gretchen was an authentic, competitive, fun-loving, faith-filled, “say it like it is”, and forever friend. I mourn the loss of this life for us all.

Senior Cross Country season.

Gretchen’s awesome scholarship.

All decked out for the New Wave dance at school.

Gretchen and I shared a love for the British cartoon character Danger Mouse and his sidekick Penfold.

Two of my favorites: Gretchen and Pluto

Gretchen is ready for our big adventure together.

My favorite picture of Gretchen and Kerrie

More post-graduation fun.

1920s murder mystery party when we all turned 20.

One final slumber party.

College graduation.

The reason for our road trip to Texas.

Getting together in our 30s

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The Blog Contract: Why Writing Changes My Life

Hmmmm. What am I signing up for now?

I have no idea who reads this blog. Whoever you are, I thank you. Whether you know it or not, you hold me accountable for what I say. And what I say translates into what I do. So, thank you.

As humans, it is impossible not to think big thoughts—all of us—from a tiny child in the south Sahara to an old Buddhist monk in Nepal to a young mom in Jersey. We all ponder and stew and think about the same questions. The meaning of life on a big scale. The meaning of life on a small scale. Our purpose. Our aspirations. What will happen to us, our world, our children? We ponder the things that break our hearts and the things that fill us with joy.

But what do we do with all these thoughts? Most of us hold them in our hearts. Or we discuss them with trusted friends. And…sometimes…we take those thoughts and put them into action.

I do not pretend to think any piece of prose or poetry I’ve ever written is somehow so enlightened it answers all the questions for me or for anybody else. But it has helped me discover what is important to me and, curiously, forced me to live out my words in profound ways.

Blogging has become strangely contractual. I can say something out loud and it floats away into the ether, but when I write something to the blogosphere, it sticks. I’ve made a public contract with my words. And then I get to live into those words.

Many changes I’ve made over the last two years—from big things, like my job, to taking classes, even to daily actions—are due to this public contract and due to you, O Blog Reader, who sealed it when you read it. So, thank you, again.

I call this blog “crossing the midline” and I feel like the counter on this site is ticking down faster than ever. Looks like I have only 40 days to go before I cross the literal midline (assuming I live to 100). I started this blog to record my internal journey toward some self-made line in the sand, but I’m not sure if I can quit writing when I get there. If there is one thing this blog has taught me, life is too short NOT to keep taking chances, pushing forward hard, and making the most of every single moment.

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Trish Cozart                   Date

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You                            Date

 

No Distractions – Living Out Who We Are Meant To Be

Which one is the real path and which is the distraction? Or perhaps neither are the right path at all and you must cut a new trail.

I’m addicted to a soundtrack (The Greatest Showman). It’s been some time since I have been addicted to an entire soundtrack—one where I don’t skip any of the songs. I don’t even like the whole soundtrack to the Sound of Music, one of my favorite shows of all time (I mean, who doesn’t skip over Climb Every Mountain?)!  The songs in the Showman soundtrack tell a complete and inspiring story about living out who you are and who you are meant to be. Everyone isn’t going to like you or your choices. If we chase after other people’s dreams or approval, or we try to spend our lives “proving” something to people, it is merely a distraction from the joy of being who we are and giving our gift to the world.

As I’ve been listening to these songs, they have made me contemplate my own life. Most of the songs seem to be an anthem for the way I already live. I love that! It encourages me.

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design

The part of the movie and soundtrack that has me thinking is the theme of the distraction.  At my work I have one major distraction right now, but I’m not sure yet if it is a distraction or if it’s who I’m meant to be. Time will tell. But this movie and these songs have really given me some good perspective with which to judge my actions and decisions.

I think we all second guess our abilities at times, at least I do. I wonder if I am “good enough” at what I do. The world is filled with people more talented and better than I am and I think my natural competitive nature makes me want to be the best. Not because I want to be hailed as better than other people but simply because I want to be the best I can be. The problem is knowing when to stop . When is “good” good? When is “great” great?

Sometimes no matter how hard you work at something you just don’t have the raw talent to be amazing. I’ll never be a sprinter, for example. And just being the best sprinter I can be isn’t satisfying. Trust me.

I’m toying with the idea of flexing new muscles–ones I have, but haven’t had the opportunity to develop fully–ones I think could be really great. No matter how hard I try, the work muscles I’ve been developing for the past eight years might be about as good as they can get and I’m unsure of their quality. My team is incredible and deserves the best. I may not be able to take them to the heights they could go. The raw talent may just not be in me. And without the raw talent I will forever beat myself up.

‘Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see

A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make

I’m trying to listen to the wise counsel of others, who can sometimes see things we can’t see in ourselves. And, I’m also listening to my heart and digging deep to figure out who I am meant to be. Because who I’m meant to be has little to do with who my boss is, where I sit, if I will have friends, how much money I make, or if I’m comfortable. I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m not afraid of hard people. I’m only afraid of not taking every opportunity to be all of who I’m meant to be.

Am I living in a distraction or am I running toward it? I think I’ll listen to the soundtrack again.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

sleepstar

Silent night.

Suicide is a logical option, but not a good one. This is #7 on my list of top ten midline crossings—things I’ve learned that have shaken my world and changed the way I act and live. I have neglected to write about this topic yet. I’ve started to on several occasions, but stopped. Today is the day.

I understand the option. I understand the logic and the rationality behind the decision. People may say it’s irrational, but I don’t think so.  It makes sense in so many ways. When you get a cut, you put on antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid. You fix it. When you break a bone, you put on a cast. You fix it. When you are suffering inside, a place no one can see…a place no Band-Aid or cast can protect….there is a way to fix it. Quickly. Permanently. I get it. All can be calm, all can be bright….you can sleep in heavenly peace.

So if it is such a great fix for the pain, no different from a Band-Aid or a cast, why might it not be a good option? I think because the “fix” actually breaks things. A Band-Aid heals a cut, a cast heals a bone…suicide heals one wound, but in turn, creates many more. Band-Aids don’t do that. Band-Aids are personal. Suicide is not. It might feel like that, but it’s not. Suicide might be a logical fix, but not a good one.

All death brings pain to the survivors whether sudden or long-suffering. Tragic deaths are surprisingly painful—lives that seem to end too soon. Suicide is both tragic and long suffering. The long suffering just doesn’t often show on the outside, like cancer or heart disease. It’s a hidden kind of heart disease.

And now the suicide rate is at a 30-year high and has increased by 80% for white middle-aged women since 1999.

I’ve watched too many lives close to me, including my own, be hurt by suicide. Healing? Never. Scars? Yes. Never full healing. At least not in this life. Just scars. And this week I’m watching it, feeling it… again.  Can I be glad for my friend? Happy she found the peace she was looking for? Maybe…if I think about it logically…or from her point of view.  But I can’t see anything happy right now. Her pain has now turned into another wound on my heart. And there is nothing happy about it. It hurts. She couldn’t see what fixed her heart broke so many others.

It’s hard to see in the dark.

And now here we go again. It’s Christmastime. Flickering candles. Twinkly lights. Bright stars. It’s easy to start saying “if I only….” and to tell ourselves we just weren’t bright enough to shine light into her dark. These are the scars – the internal wounds we now carry.

As I stared blankly into the lights of my tree last night, it made me sad. One light is out. And it is missed. And yet…I know even the smallest light can illuminate dark places. So I’ll keep my light on, weak as it is today, and maybe give an extra hug to the middle-aged women in my life.

Noisy Shoes

Dancing through life with my noisy shoes. Can’t wait!

Midlife crisis or just another six weeks of something I MUST try? Not sure yet. But my latest obsession is tap dancing. This summer I was overcome with inspiration thanks to Thoroughly Modern Millie and La La Land. My husband is getting just a bit tired of hearing Another Day of Sun and The Tapioca blaring around the house. It’s time to move my obsession to the basement.

I’ve ordered “how to” videos.  I’ve created a logo for the front of my concrete basement tap room. I’ve assembled a group of friends who are willing to tap with me. I’ve purchased tap shoes. And now all I need to do is clean my basement.

This was too good of a pun to pass up.

I’m not sure it matters, but it has me asking the question. Why? Why tap dancing? As a kid I was forced to take ballet when my gymnastics coach told me I needed some grace or I would be done in the sport.  I was done. Gymnastics had already given me all I needed to make me smile. Run. Swing. Flip. Fly. Grace not necessary.

Tap dancing is different, I think. I hope. It looks wild and tiring and musical and a little like exercise. These are things that all make me smile.

When I put my tap shoes on for the first time yesterday, I was not disappointed. I already sounded like an instrument when I walked through the kitchen. It was so cool. I wore them for a few hours just so I could hear myself walk. Noisy shoes! I love them. I want to wear them all day everyday. I want to tap dance in the elevator like Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore on my way to my office. I want to tap dance through the supermarket parking lot. I want to tap tap tap my way through life.

I guess I want my noisy shoes to shout to the world that there is joy on my way…even when the way I am going is really, really hard. I can let my noisy shoes remind me of the “happy” as I walk through the sad. It’s just so hard not to smile when your feet make such amazing noises.

This is a crazy tap dancing classic!

 

Bottles and Hugs — Onward Toward the Midline

It is my 49th birthday and the beginning of my 50th year on this Earth. Twelve months. 365 days. 52 weeks. 8760 hours until I cross the midline. The big countdown has begun.

I was sitting on my back porch with fireworks going off all around me last night. America was celebrating independence. I was wondering what exactly I was celebrating.  Life, I suppose. Another year of it.

I started wondering if I could recall every year of my life and summarize in one thought what was meaningful or significant to me that year. It was harder to do than it seemed. Try it. Some years are just so life-changing they overshadow all the others. For me those years were 1979, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2013. The years in between were really just surviving or enjoying the repercussions of the events from the “significant” years. I’m hoping 2017 makes the list. I don’t really want another survival year. When next year comes and I actually do cross the symbolic midline, I want to be able to say, “Wow! 2017 changed my life.”

A portion of that change is in my control, but still, being master of your own destiny is a lie.  The very laws of nature are always against us as we try desperately to organize a disorganized system. Think about it. The very first thing we do when we enter this world is cry. The rest of the time we try to pacify ourselves with a bottle or a hug —stuff that makes us happy or love from others.  And because we live in community with others, we also have the responsibility of being a provider of bottles and hugs.

So, what to do with the next 365 days?

Love more. Live more. Give more.

More bottles and hugs FOR me, and most importantly, FROM me. That just may be how this year will make the list.

Getting Out of the Box and Playing Your Life

This landscape design was part of somebody’s opus. Thank you.

The way we each individually see the world is fascinating to me. And more and more I am seeing the tiny connections our brains make between everything we see and taste and touch. It is the reason I write this blog—to capture one small view of relationships, things, and events that seem related or relevant in my own mind. And with 7 billion brains on this planet, I can only imagine the strange and beautiful connections others make on a daily basis.

Today as my husband and I strolled around a meticulously designed resort in Florida, our breath was taken away by the landscape architecture and man-made waterfalls. What we were looking at was art. The art of placing three palm trees just so as to capture the rays of spotlights at night. The art of being able to see in your mind’s eye what a finished water feature will look like and then architecting it to become your vision. Art. It is all around us. Inspired by natural wonders and then using natural wonders to do something unnaturally new, yet wonderful.

I’ve been pondering art intensely for the past few weeks and making connections between unconnected things. Recently, I watched the movie August Rush and have been haunted by the notion of “feeling the music” everywhere. August was a musical genius who could hear music in everything.  Without any musical instruments in the first decade of his life, he had to figure out what he was feeling. He had to follow his call. And once he discovered how to use his gift, he just wanted to share it, to play it, to let it fill the world. Not be on stage. Not be famous. Not perform. Just play it.

I also read Station Eleven this week. It is a book about people trying to survive after a worldwide pandemic. A group of musicians and actors traveled the crumbling world, not for the glory or applause, but because there was something magnificent they had to share. Something they needed to share.

One of the things I love about writing, and most recently preaching, is not the act of writing or speaking, but the takeaway people receive. The most incredible part to me is when people tell you what they heard through your message and it isn’t what you thought you were saying at all.  They digest it through their own experience, their own gifts, their own story…and it becomes something even more beautiful. Something you couldn’t even imagine.

As I think about what I desire most in this world, it isn’t much different than August. I hunger to bring joy and life to the world through the gifts I’ve been given and share my version of art. I can hardly stop thinking about it every single day. What am I doing every day? How am I using my gifts?

Occasionally I look around and realize I am in a box again. The world puts me there. I put myself there. You can’t climb a mountain in a box. Mountains are dangerous and awesome and moving. Boxes are not. Sometimes I catch myself decorating my box with other people’s art—pictures of mountains—and forgetting that if I just knock down that flimsy cardboard wall, a mountain is standing right in front of me…waiting for me. Waiting for me to embrace my music on my own climb.

I love all the “mountains” I’ve scaled. I have no regrets. Even the ones I never peaked. Maybe especially the ones I’ve never peaked. It has never been about the performance.

What is this music I’m hearing all the time? I know I need to create something. I’ve been chasing it all my life. There is something always calling me.

Seeing Thestrals

candle

Seeing something there that wasn’t there before.

As I’ve watched my friends grieve the death of those closest to them over the last several years, and more recently just this week, the idea of seeing Thestrals (Harry Potter-inspired magical creatures) suddenly became a lot more “real” to me.  According to the “wizarding world,” Thestrals (scary-looking flying horses) can only be seen by those who have been touched by death.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? An honor, a blessing, a badge, or a curse?

Definition of a Thestral, according to J.K. Rowling: Manifesting as black, skeletal, bat-winged horses, but invisible to all who have never been truly touched by death, Thestrals have a somewhat macabre reputation. In centuries past the sight of them was regarded as unlucky; they have been hunted and ill-treated for many years, their true nature (which is kindly and gentle) being widely misunderstood. Thestrals are not marks of ill omen, nor (their spooky appearance notwithstanding) are they in any way threatening to humans, always allowing for the fright that the first sight of them tends to give the observer.

Today, a friend of mine preached a sermon on love where he told about the seasons of loss in his life (past, immediate, and future). Those losses were, are, and will be painful, yes, but they can also be an opportunity…an opportunity to give, recognize, and receive love in a deeper way than ever before. The more pain we experience, just maybe, translates to the more love we have the opportunity to experience as well. Strangely true.

Isn’t that just like a Thestral? The fear we have of pain and loss tends to give the pain a bad reputation–a reputation that it has nothing to offer but something evil or scary. Yet something kind and gentle is hidden beneath that scary exterior. And it isn’t until we experience great pain or loss that we are able to see something we’ve never seen before. When we open our eyes and hearts to it, we just might get the opportunity to deeply understand some of the greatest love of all and, in turn, be that kind of love to the world.

Solomon’s Moon

moon

Solomon: Forevermore this is your moon. Thank you for your story.

As I hailed a taxi at the Indianapolis airport on my way to a conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Solomon, my taxi driver. Though he moved to the United States from war torn Eritrea in 1991, his English was still rather broken.

Looking out of my window I spied a gorgeous orange full moon setting just below the horizon. I squealed with excitement, trying to remember the name of this month’s full moon. I finally remembered it was the Worm Moon and I told Solomon about the Algonquin Indians and why they named it so. He told me that in Tigrinya, the name of this kind of full moon was something that sounded like fortuna…which I translated as fortune (in Greek).

My short, mustached driver spent the better part of fifteen minutes explaining how the moon phases worked, using hand movements where his words failed him. He told me that a full moon, like this one, meant rain is coming. I imagined him growing up in Eritrea with his family and the stories of the moon and its weather patterns passed from generation to generation. (Of course, I looked it up when I got to my hotel and found out that scientists have studied the stories and found that there is actually a shred of truth to this lunar weather predictor.)

After the weather report, I told Solomon about our friends the Bahta family who were refugees from Eritrea back when I was in high school and college. Eritrea, a postage stamp of a country in East Africa, endured a horrible civil war.  I told him about Tigisti Bahta, their daughter whom I tutored in English. Tigisti means patience. And she needed a lot of it having me as an English teacher.Solomon said he had also fled to the United States for the same reason. He told me he started out in Washington D.C. and it was difficult because of the crime there. He said to me, “Black, white…it doesn’t matter. Color doesn’t matter. Crime is crime. Wrong is wrong. And I didn’t like it.” He was extremely grateful to meet his sister in Indianapolis and for the peace he has found here. Solomon means peace.

I’ve learned that Eritreans have a different system of naming from most Western countries. Among Christian Eritreans, children are given two names: a secular name at birth and a Christian name when the child is baptized.

I never learned Solomon’s Eritrean name, but I have decided to give him an honorable one —Werḧi, meaning moon. So together his name would mean peace of the moon.

I woke up the next morning to a precipitating sky. Solomon’s moon was right. And I am better for knowing him…. even if it was only for a 30-minute taxi ride.