Gratitude, One Year Later

The time has slipped away so fast, and the seasons have run faster and faster, stumbling over each other in a mad dash to get to the finish line of 2013. I look at my photograph that I first posted on this blog, and I look like a small, frightened child, which in retrospect, I believe I was at the time. I’ve spent the last year changing formats of expression, going from the spoken word to the visual form, finding photography an easier way of expressing myself. Learning to be quiet again has taken a long time, but has been an important tool for me. Sometimes there are things that just can’t be put into words, they go beyond the ability to express in the language of the spoken word. As for myself, I am so very grateful for music, with it’s rich vocabulary, or the quiet, God filled moments you experience in a sailboat on the ocean at sunset. Peace on earth. Peace. Loving children. Loving life. Being loved and giving love in return. These are bold, brave hearts, who choose to stay open and move ahead. Every day is a choice. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s a cold dive into the deep end of the pool, each and every day. Just thought you should know.

Ironically, when I opened my blog this morning, I was feeling compelled to write about gratitude, after having it repeat as a theme in my life in the past few months.Turning to my neglected but not forgotten page, there was the title of my last entry, written in July. GRATITUDE. Well, there you have it!

I do still write, many times a week in my personal writing, and at some point I will transfer that writing to a more public agenda, having been working on both a novel and the outline for a screenplay, as well as a few short stories and even an outline for a piece of work involving a single British woman friend and her American cat who secretly runs her life, behind the scenes! I can’t write that without cracking up every time, I think there’s a lot of staying power in that premise. I’m starting to piece some of my photography together now, along with my writing, and it’s amazing to see it is all beginning to dovetail itself into a natural order. Kind of like life.

Hope you and yours will have a peaceful and prosperous New Year, filled with gratitude and lots of cold dives in the deep end of the pool!

Yours,

LivingWinters

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Portrait Of An Artist

At a benefit for my students, I loved my work!

At a benefit for my students, I loved my work!

How does it happen? First you blink and the day starts with your eyes wide open. The clock starts running and when you turn around, it’s 1:20 pm, and you are still slurping on your cold coffee, wondering where the time has gone to? What are my students doing?

That’s how my days are going, these past few weeks. I have started on a new journey, having left teaching, not because of my students or my fellow teachers. The straw that broke the camels’ back for me was the reduction of my hours and health benefits after my husbands’ passing.

I came back to work, after the typical summer off for teachers that was anything but typical. Most people would not have stayed at the party as long as I did, but honestly, there are only so many changes a human being and her children can take in a six month period. I have been reluctant to write about the series of unfortunate events, mostly because it was so unfathomable to me that I was not wanted or needed by a school that clearly needed what I had to offer.

Originally, I had prayed and put out into the universe that I desired to take my teaching expertise in Performing Arts and Montessori Education to either the urban poor or children with special needs. Surely, there must be a place where I could give the very best of who I am as an artist and a human being and help enlighten and educate children who may very well not have the golden opportunity to be exposed to these wonderful areas of music appreciation/styles and peace education.

Well, I put it out there, and got it back, ten fold. I ended up teaching in an inner city school for disabled and urban poor children. They say God only gives you what you can handle. God had much more faith in me than I did. It turned out to be the most rewarding experience of my career. I even used to joke that I would probably do it for free, I loved teaching my students so much!

In return, I received understanding and acceptance, grace and laughter, love and life lessons. My students taught me about adversity and forgiveness, community and shared experiences, but most importantly, unconditional love.

Unfortunately, I had to leave all of that behind. The decision came to me when I realized no matter how much my students and fellow educators loved the musical styles of The Beatles and Verdi, Taylor Swift and Simon and Garfunkel, Miles Davis and The Clash… it was not enough. It became about pieces of paper, reciprocity and credentials. Being an educator for over fifteen years and an artist for over thirty became irrelevant. The request was made to return to Graduate School, once again, repeating the same classes taken in another state, five years previously. My 3.97 GPA was not relevant. Neither were my dollars spent. I was finished with the politics and the paperwork. Mostly, I was sad for my students. I don’t like to believe I let them down. I could not make a living being an educator for fifteen hours a week, with no health insurance and no sick days or vacation. Prior to a change in management, I had received very high marks in all of my reviews and critiques as an educator. Clearly, this was not going to have the ending I wanted or needed. Sad story. True story. This school was gearing itself from Private to Charter status, the culture of the school was changing and I was not going to be transitioning along with them. Sometimes, things don’t work out. They just don’t.

As of this date, the school has yet to hire another music artist-in-residence/educator, Rhode Island certified or otherwise. As for my students, not a day goes by when I don’t think of them. Not a single day.

Sandy… LinkedIn wants to know: “Do you know Scott Winters?”

I received an invitation this morning. My recently deceased husband, Scott invited me to become linked to him on LinkedIn. He even invited me to leave a personal message for him. “Staying in touch with valuable contacts can help you in your career. Quickly connect to this person you may know.”

It came in my morning email. Asking me, “Do You Know Scott Winters?”  There is this little thing that happens inside of me, every time I see his name in print, or hear his name said out loud  It is the same feeling I had when I met him for the very first time. My heart skipped a beat, like leaping for joy, really. I am so grateful that after (wait…doing the math on a piece of paper)  twenty-eight years of loving someone, that they can still make your heart be so joyful.

As I listen to the church bells at St. Augustine’s ring 10 am, it reminds me of one of the reasons why we bought this home. It was our fourth home, one we purchased after renting for a year in Providence. I couldn’t wait to get back into my own space with a back yard. Scott’s backyard, really. How he loved to sit outside and listen to those bells. me, I’m not so much of a sitter downer. More of a get stuff done person.

So Scott’s invitation to send him a personal message was too good to pass up. It got me to thinking about what would I say to him, if I had the chance to speak to him one more time:

“How’s the weather in heaven?” (It could be a bit awkward in the beginning, so just casual banter to start.)

“Who do you have lunch with?”

“Where did you put the _____?” (there a million of those questions)

“Do you miss us?”

“Did God tell you why you had to leave?”

“When will we all be together again?” (ok, no real rush on that one!)

“Do you see how hard I’m trying to keep it all running?”

“Am I doing a good job?”

and the most important of all…

“I’m so glad I had the chance to love you.”

Yes, Linked In. I do know Scott Winters. And thanks for letting me tell him how much I love him, one more time.

My Dad’s Name Is Earl

The royal procession to Parliament at Westmins...

The royal procession to Parliament at Westminster, 4 February 1512. Left to right: The Marquess of Dorset, Earl of Northumberland, Earl of Surrey, Earl of Shrewsbury, Earl of Essex, Earl of Kent, Earl of Derby, Earl of Wiltshire. From: Parliament Procession Roll of 1512 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do know why I am sobbing and chuckling, intermittently. I just heard from my Dad, who we will call Earl, for all intents and purposes, because his name is Earl. I don’t think many people get to say their name is Earl, these days. Except my brother. Who is also Earl.

My father answers one of those LinkedIn requests that I don’t even remember sending to him, to be a professional friend of mine. I agree to friend him, thinking I might actually do better with my dad being a professional associate of mine, because he certainly didn’t get the memo on being a professional Dad. Was he a good dad? Depends on how you look at what the word “dad” means. Earl was the kind of dad who would challenge his kid to a game of chess, then beat them mercilessly. He would then proceed to ask you why you lost and what moves you could have/should have made to have had a better outcome. The same went with backgammon and running races. Did I mention my dad was a professional golfer? Mr Laid Back, he was not. The day after I graduated from University, Earl told me he was going to allow me to goof off for three months. “Because you did so well at school, you can live here until December”, he told me.I had finished a five month internship in a regional theater. “Gee, thanks Dad!”, I said. Like I had just won the state lottery.

On Monday, Earl, being the kind of dad he is, sends me a note, stating that we are now friends on LinkedIn . I also get a humorous note, almost a stand up routine about a guy’s perspective about colonoscopy. Sigh. This is bizarre. It is also, insensitive, insulting, and stupidly brazen. All in the same moment. My husband was pronounced dead, one year ago, this past week. He died of colon cancer. My dad is either a total idiot or brilliant.

I got the LinkedIn request on my phone. I don’t like my phone, I feel obligated to read memos as soon as they are sent. They get in the way of what I’m doing and I can never decided how to categorize the importance of keeping/saving/tossing information. I think I could create a new version of the show, Hoarders, using information that piles up, instead of household objects and garbage, and sometimes small, dead animals. Sort of like the modern-day Collier Brothers, the original hoarders, who were found dead in their NYC apartment, piled floor to ceiling with newspapers. That thought freaks me out, so instead I deal with texts and emails as they come. But I don’t like it. I don’t like cell phones. You can ask any of my friends who try to talk with me or track me down in a given day. I find them a gross interruption of my peace and quiet, or rather my potential peace and quiet. I know many people love them and thrive by keeping on top of the people and places they need to know about during the day and night. I can barely stay focussed with people who are in front of me, never mind invisible people who are ringing or buzzing at top volume within earshot or pocket. I just find it hard to split my focus when I have a phone with me. I hear there’s some medication for that problem. I do not, however, find it rude or worrisome if you choose to use or have yours on while you are with me. That seems about a fair a compromise as I can muster. In truth, I marvel at how wonderful some people are with their technology. It seems like a great giftedness, to me.

My Dad. Brilliant or stupid enough to put his hand in the lions cage? Who the hell sends a joke about colon cancer to a widow who just lost her husband to colon cancer? Honestly. What a fool. I’m gonna give him a good talking to… Alright. I did read the monologue. I didn’t want more memos clogging up the superhighway of my “to do” lists. What would have happened if I had read it and not found it funny? I don’t know. I read the entire post. It was funny. Really funny. Leave it to the Irish to make the dumbest jokes about poop and pee. As I began to read the monologue, I had set my cap on being good and mad. Indignant. How could someone ever think it would be acceptable to send a widow jokes about colon cancer?  It ended up not really being about cancer. To be fair, it was more about the compromising positions and awkwardness that is involved in colonoscopy. It actually created a sense of camaraderie about what we all dislike, but need to do for ourselves .

This makes me happy and sad, both at the same time. I am not ready to go to the “What ifs?” My husband did ask for a colonoscopy from our now ex-Doctor, who found it unnecessary, at age 48. Scott was diagnosed at 49. They believe he might have had Lynch Syndrome for up to 15 years. There were no symptoms. Trust me. I am a professional worrier. I have replayed that tape a million times over in my head. The only symptoms Scott had were extreme fatigue, four months before his diagnoses. In the monologue, there was also a whole section about the prep itself, and how ridiculous the method and process was to the relatively easiness of the actual procedure. I especially loved the actual quotes from the gastro guy, things (mostly men) had said in their twilight induced state and the 17,000 feet of plastic tubing involved.

Earl ended up getting it right. I am sitting here, crying as I write this blog to all of you and hopefully the many more friends you will share this with. I am crying because I am laughing about colons. I did not ever think it would be possible. Yes, losing my husband to colon cancer is tragic. I am reminded of that, everyday. His was a rare, difficult to treat cancer, called Lynch Syndrome.  I had a father in law and a mother in law, at one time. Neither made it out of their 50’s. They were loving and happy and successful and beautiful. They had everything to live for. It is just so, so… tragic. We were told Scott’s dad had died of liver cancer. When we found out in hindsight that my father in law did not die of liver cancer, but rather colon cancer that had spread to his liver, exactly like Scott’s. I had wished with all my heart Scott had been having colonoscopies in his 20’s. Symptoms or not. But it just wasn’t done, at that time. It was only when I sent away for my father in law’s (also named Sandy!) records from Sloan Kettering, did the doctors look at the records and see Sandy did have the same cancer as Scott. It just didn’t have a name to go with it at the time. (Over 24 years ago) Lynch Syndrome is a genetic cancer, with a strong, stubborn streak. It is cruel. It does not discriminate. It is deadly. My children carry a 50% chance of getting colon or ovarian cancer.Yes. This is a hard fact to accept. However, I want people to read this and remember. Scott would want you to know about our children’s chances, if it will help you to take care of yourself and your family.

We will fight. With laughter and tears, and phones, if necessary. This will not happen again to my family. Not if I have anything to say about it. Won’t you please call your Doctor and tell them you are ready for your close up? Get your family history. Don’t listen to the family folklores stories about deceased relatives’ illnesses. Get the hard facts sent to your doctor’s office. Do it for the people who love you and need you to be around, people like Earl.

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