GRACE


Day 347

I walked into my local town hall in a press capacity for the first time in ten years today.

Ten years ago — the year I turned 40 — I was a reporter for our local newspaper and spent many afternoon and evening hours in that very building covering government matters and town meetings. I started out nervous that year and grew into  the job  with the help of seasoned reporters and editors who gave their patience, their guidance, and sometimes their frustration to me.

I thought fondly of our younger selves  this morning as I parked my car and walked through the parking lot toward the double glass doors.   It’s not often that we get to retrace our own steps and remember how much has happened in our lives and in ourselves since we last walked the same path. And here’s what I was thinking  — it’s not really  the same path as it was ten years ago. It looks the same, but it’s been trod by many people, with many hopes and dreams and fears. And it’s not the same walk, because I’m not the same person. We’re never the same people we were when we last crossed even the most familiar threshold. Every day, every year, experience changes us: some things make us stronger, others weaker; some richer, others poorer. But everything pours into the same place — the richness that make up the fabric of our lives and of our selves.

Are we always the same, or are we never the same? I say both. This morning and yesterday morning, last year and this year, a decade ago, and myself at 50: I had the same name, the same heart, the same soul.  But they’ve been repaved, worn down, built up, broken, cared for, made fun of, and loved.

That’s an awful lot to think about when you’re on your way to take a photograph of school crossing guards being sworn in. But that’s the kind of thing I think about — so that you guys can peek in here from time to time and think to yourselves either — “Man, she’s nuts,” or “Thank god somebody else can articulate how I feel living in the gray area I call my own life.”

Probably, hopefully, you think and you feel both ways. As I do.

Day 303

We walked from Ocean Grove to Asbury Park last night to see Rufus Wainwright at the historic Paramount Theater. He sang a beautiful walking song that his late mother, Kate McGarrigle, wrote for her husband, Loudan Wainwright III during what Rufus called, “a brief moment of conjugal bliss.”

Maybe because I go walking all the time, rain or shine, blues or joy, this feels like one of the prettiest love songs I’ve heard in a long time. I hate to admit it made me cry, because Pam was on one side of me snickering, and Frank was on the other side…not exactly snickering…but almost.

They thought I was nuts, but if there’s somebody you really love (who won’t laugh at you), go walking, and bring this song to play on your Ipod. I know I’d love it.

(The bootleg video’s pretty bad, so here are the lyrics):

The Walking Song

Wouldn’t it be nice to walk together
Baring our souls while wearing out the leather
We could talk shop, harmonize a song
Wouldn’t it be nice to walk along

I’ll show you houses of architectural renown
Some are still standing, some have fallen down
Farm houses buried under Canada’s snow
Spanish villas on the Boulevards of Mexico

And I’ll learn to tell the ash from the oak
And if you don’t know I wont make no joke
Well climb to the top to view the world from above
Or carve our initials in the trunk like teenagers in love

And when we get hungry well stop to eat
Gotta think of our stomachs and rest our feet
If we get thirsty well have a drink or two
In a mountain top bar with a mountain top view

And when we get tired we’ll stop to rest
And if you still want to talk you can bare your breast
If it’s winter and cold we’ll take a rooming-house room
If it’s summer and warm well sleep under the moon

And we’ll talk about the sports we played
Bout the time you got busted or the time I got laid
Well talk blood and how we were bred
Talk about the folks both living and dead

This song like this walk I find hard to end
Be my lover or be my friend
In sneakers or boots or regulation shoes
Walking beside you I’ll never get the walking blues.

Day 240

I’m busy preparing for the American Cancer Society’s 12-hour overnight Relay for Life this Friday in Montclair. At this point, to be honest, the work is mostly sitting back and letting my wonderful team of 13 walkers paint our team banner and plan what to bring and what we’ll eat.

A special thanks to all MyBigWalkers who sent donations to the Relay.  You’ll be with us in spirit as we walk through the night.

Watch for pieces about each of my team walkers in the days ahead. Some are survivors, some are dedicated caregivers who are honoring loved ones, and others are remembering those who’ve lost the battle but live on in our hearts. Our reasons are complex and personal but they’re bringing us together, and community makes us stronger. That’s why we’ll be there.

Here’s a great story about the event posted yesterday on my favorite local news spot, Baristanet:

Countdown to Montclair’s Relay for Life

Montclair will host its first-ever Relay for Life on Friday, June 4, at Brookdale Park, thanks to the event’s chair, Erica Lowenthal, who took part in the Hoboken relay last year in memory of her late dad, Dr Hank Lowenthal, and decided to bring the event home.

Forty teams will be participating, and more than $73,000 has already been raised. Proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society Relay For Life – the biggest private funder of cancer research in the US.

The Relay celebrates the lives of those who have battled cancer and won, lost, or are still fighting back. Because cancer never relents, it’s an overnight event, beginning June 4 at 7:00pm and ending up to 24 hours later.

Each team has a reason, often a moving and personal one, for participating.

The leading fundraising team of My Big Walk, which has raised more than $8,500 so far, says on their page that they are “dedicated to cancer survivors Elaine Rapaport, Alex Nolan, Nanci Naegeli, Toni Martin, and Jenny Kydd.”

“Our friends have met and battled cancer. The women on our team are athletes, warriors, and ferocious fighters. We’re walking to keep the flame of the fight alive, and to light the dark night for those who are engaged in battle. Most of all, we’re walking for hope and unity.”

The entire community appears to be involved, including the Temptations of St Luke’s Church, Temple Ner Tamid, and schools such as Bradford, Hillside, Glenfield, Nishuane, MKA and Montclair High School.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life provides emotional, screening and nutritional support and advice on healthy living. It funds research towards cures for cancer – 44 researchers supported by the ACS have gone on to win the Nobel Prize – and fights back, too. The society helped bring about the smoke-free law and assists low-income, uninsured or underinsured women with treatment or screening tests.

The event will be moving, and fun, too, with plenty of entertainment organized.

If you’d like to participate, it’s not too late!

Phyllis Lowenthal, who heads the team, The Page Turners, is in charge of the survivors’ dinner and walk that begins in the evening of June 4, and may be emailed here.

Sign up here, or just help towards finding a cure by making a contribution, here.

Day 217

Mystics, saints, pilgrims, writers, and philosophers have walked through the ages. Saint Francis walked through Italy for years. Thoreau said he had to walk for hours each day to soothe himself and open his mind.

Since I began in October, My Big Walk has brought me a surprising amount of community, optimism, and happiness. How?

By helping me see what’s most important in life, and bringing me into regular contact with other people who are adventurous, spirited, and proactive.

650 miles into my year-long walk, here are few of the most important things that I’ve learned:

1. My mother-in-law is right…exercising every day is the secret to a happy life.

2. An adventurous spirit keeps you young-at-heart.

3. Never say ‘no’ because you’re afraid of looking foolish.

4.. Kindness may go unrewarded, but you only hurt yourself by becoming bitter.

5. Gratitude, generosity, and grace go hand-in-hand.

Day 212

Man oh man, I love MyBigWalkers. Mighty Martha, who hails from Lee County, Virginia, can talk a blue streak that’ll challenge any Southern raconteur.

Martha Doesn't ALWAYS Have Mint Stuck in Her Teeth

“Martha,” we tell her, “You should write a book.”

“I can’t write a lick,” she says.”I’m practically a retard except you’re not allowed to say retard anymore.”

“No, you’re not, Martha.  You’re not allowed to say that word anymore.”

“Ok but I still can’t write lick.”

But she can, folks. Yes she can. You can see for yourself in this email Martha sent out to friends and family this week. I swear, I haven’t changed a word:

I am joining my friend Laurie Lico Albanese in raising funds for cancer research.  If you are like me, you get asked for donations every 10 minutes.  Please do not feel obligated, but if you typically donate to the American Cancer society, please feel free to donate via our team.  I have provided the link below and just $5 bucks would be fabulous and will take less than 5 minutes. If all of my friends donated at least $5, then I would raise at least $5!!!

Just a note of disclosure.  The walk includes a camp out in Brookdale Park, and I will not be sleeping on the ground.  The last time that happened, I woke up with my head 3 inches from the campfire!

I am walking in memory of 3 special people who died from cancer.

Nell Rose Flanary– my childhood friend Alison’s mother and the first person that I ever knew to have breast cancer. (cancer period)  She was diagnosed in the late 70’s and her doctor told her that it was nothing to worry about when she expressed concern.  She was a wonderful lady who died much too soon.

WR “Dub” Hines – my father who died of lung cancer at just 61.

Leigh Klenke – a good tennis buddy who died of breast cancer just a few short years ago leaving behind two small children.

Luckily, I have many more friends that have beat cancer and with your support, we can wipe out this horrible disease!

___________________________

Last I checked,  Martha is up to $95 in donations. I’ll let you do the math.  If you are a friend of Martha’s, or would like to be, I hear she’s selling spots on her BFF list, and it’s only 5 bucks a pop. Who says good things don’t come cheap?

Day 205

Raphael's Angels

Every day MyBigWalk is visited by scores of people who search for “angels” or “angel pictures” on the web, and arrive here because I posted a copy of Raphael’s Angels on Day 42.

But if there are no accidents, angel-seekers, then this is where you belong:  you were meant to find MyBigWalk and join us.

It’s pretty simple: put on your walking shoes or sneakers, grab

Fra Lippi's Virgin with Two Angels

a sweatshirt, and walk for an hour a day. Smile at people you pass on the road, and invite other people to walk with you. Walking lifts your mood, improves your circulation, and burns calories. Best of all, it gets you AWAY FROM YOUR COMPUTER and out in the world….where you just might find some real angels helping the sick, feeding the hungry, or making the world a more lovely place by spreading grace, gratitude, and generosity.

p.s. Regular walkers, today is my first day back from a terrible cold that was diagnosed as “emerging pneumonia,” which seems to mean the antibiotic cleared up the cough but still left me exhausted. I missed three full days of walking (including one in the pouring rain, which I think might’ve put me in the hospital) and when I finally did go for a walk, I slept thirteen hours that night. But I’m back. And so is the sun. Hurray 🙂

Day 204

A single (divorced) friend  told me last week that she is lonely.

“I have to admit,” she said. “That I have been experiencing a lot of loneliness lately.”

Her lament  struck a deep chord in me,  because of all the things to fear in life, loneliness is the one I dread most.

Really, you ask? What about disease, alien invasion, nuclear war, terrorists, Wall Street collapse, and whatnot.   Those things are real, of course, but seem either remote, far away or out of my control, and anyway they  just don’t scare me. When I think of the  end of the world, I think about who I’d want to be with and who would want to be with me as the meteorite careened toward earth. Sure it’d be the end of all that we know, but in another way it’d be a chance to find out who my real friends are.

Loneliness is something I’ve experienced plenty in my life, and like so many emotions  it’s both a real feeling, and a trick of the mind. How else can we explain feeling lonely in a crowd, lonely when I’m at home with my pretty fab husband, lonely as I’m getting ready to go out to dinner with good friends, or often feeling the least lonely when I am…alone?

My mother was a lonely child — her sister was thirteen years older, and was already out of the house when my mother went to kindergarten. There are few photos of my mother as a little girl, and she is alone in all of them. She had one birthday party when she was five, and she married at 17 to get away from her sad home life. She started a family young, but her loneliness was contagious, and it spread to me.

Last week I was telling one of my lovely writing students that  I never wanted to do a walkathon or something that required me to ask for donations, because I knew (and yes, 20 years of therapy one does get to know oneself) that it would just be another artificial popularity proving ground I’d set up for myself. But I’m a BigWalker and a MyBigWalk Relay for Life team seemed not only obvious but the right thing to do. I assembled an awesome team of impressive and generous friends who are coming together to walk through the night to honor one another, celebrate survival, and raise money for research. And I’m the captain! Captains are always popular, right?

Here’s the catch: if I ask someone for a Relay for Life donation and don’t get a reply, I think it’s because I’m not clever enough, successful enough, or popular enough.

“So really, it’s like facebook,” Stacey said. “Just another one of those popularity contests life gives you just to prove you don’t have enough friends.”

“Exactly!” I said. That’s why I love teaching other writers — who else could have understood what I was trying to say, and expressed it so succinctly?

Sure, sure, the whole thing is about celebrating cancer survivors and memorializing those who fought bravely and lost — like my parents — but in some way it must be about me, and whether or not I have enough devoted friends. Right?

Wrong.

But it sure feels like that, sometimes. Having a blackberry to keep track of my emails, text messages that allow people to get in touch with me at any time of the day or night, and constant access to my email and facebook messages, can be the curse of an OCD-loneliness-impaired person such as myself.

Thank goodness for MyBigWalk. Seriously.

Just like intellectual activity is the mind’s escape from sadness and isolation,  walking is the whole-body antidote for loneliness. Not only does it give purpose and structure to the day — and as a writer, God knows I need as much of that as I can find — it gives me a reason to get out, to invite others to walk with me, and for others to invite themselves to come along on MyBigWalk.

Connecting with other people is one of the best antidotes for loneliness that there is. Doing it with purpose is even better.

Now, if only I could stop checking my facebook friend updates, I’d be in great shape.

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