this is not happening... yes my darling, it is...

There are times in life when we freely sit back and take it all in; the sights and sounds, the smells… the peace that gives us rest and the joy that gives us dreams to dream. Life feels good and right and safe and well… almost perfect. And then there are times in life when everything becomes slow and heavy; as if the world is moving away from us and all we can do is watch.

I think in images and this morning I saw myself as a child standing by the merry go round on the playground – watching children jump onto the spinning wooden ride, but I couldn’t, I was afraid to jump on. Fear kept me standing and watching - by myself - wishing I could join the others if they could just slow down I could make a running leap, grab the bar and be part of the merry go round party. Life is moving forward and it’s not waiting for me… I’m staring at the merry go round wondering if I can overcome my fear; the fear of jumping, fear of falling, fear of trusting my ability to grab hold of something, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of living life – what if I do it wrong? 

Fear is real.  It is primal. It is human.  Fear makes us do crazy things, and honest things, and wrong things.  It makes us scream, cry and turn away.  It makes memories that haunt us and memories to remind us.  Fear can hide behind doubt and unworthiness and confusion. Fear can saves us, warn us - it makes us move, act, react – like running away from a rattle snake, or making the dreaded doctor appointment.

My body has been signaling to me it’s tired and not feeling up to par. I kept thinking if only I could get some more sleep I would be fine, I would be ok, I would be good.  Take some Aleve and the aches and pains will go away. Suck it up, be a big girl. Those few days of being tired turned into a couple weeks and now a few months. 

It took a ride in an ambulance that landed me in an emergency room in a small Indiana town to finally admit that something was not right, not normal, not ok.  As Bryan and I left the ER to head home to Illinois he said to me, “I have to tell you Dana, you scared me”.  Fear was spoken, acknowledged.  I was scared too.  What was happening to me?

Over the weeks following my ER visit my fatigue, aches and pains became worse.  Like a child screaming for attention my symptoms could no longer be ignored.  Though down deep, all I wanted was to crawl under the covers and sleep, the reality of it, the fear of it, pushed me to the doctor’s office.

Over the following weeks each specialist was briefed on my array of symptoms, I in turn listened to their thoughts and considered a list of possible diagnosis that made me numb - it was as if I had been round this mountain before; doctor visit after doctor visit, scan after scan, lab draw upon lab draw. My mind kept wandering to last year – thoracic surgery to remove a tumor that grew in the middle of my chest. Right now, as I type, I think back to one year ago today, my lung was working hard to regain its full capacity after being deflated to make room for the surgeon; wonderful and giving people were bringing me food to nourish and heal. My shark bite wounds - as I call them - were heavily bandaged, hurting and misbehaving.  

A year does not necessarily make memories fade into the dust, not these memories, they remain vivid to me. These mind movies were burned a bit deeper into the memory bank.  So I naturally went there… What? Someone tell me this is not real… I refuse to be poked and prodded and cut on again. A new level of fear set in; the flight came soaring to surface, the flight in my “fight or flight” response. I called Bryan, “I can’t do this. I think they are wrong, let’s pretend this is not happening.”  This is not happening… I tried to rationalize it away. Am I really sick or just need to eat better, or exercise, or practice being present more. What if I just “lived” better, wouldn’t I then feel better?

There is something ugly and scary about the word cancer. I’ve narrowly missed being targeted by its insidious unwelcome invasion in the recent past, and yet here I am again, this time my kidney, this time it seems as if it I didn’t dodge it, I didn’t run away from it fast enough.  But wait a minute! I didn’t make this happen… No, I couldn’t have prevented this…  No, I am not being punished… No, I am not a bad person.

Negativity arises from a place of doubt and doubt arises from the ugly side of fear, the type of fear that can do no good. Push against doubt with all I have in me and I will whisper to myself… I am loved… I am valued…  I am worthy…  I am seen… I am never alone. These words will become my fight song against doubt. My resolve, and those that join with me will make doubt wither into the past.

There is more to this story to tell, but that’s for another day.  For today my story is to overcome the ugly side of fear and to trust in the power of love; the power of people and their beautiful words, their kindness, their willingness to take risks, to be themselves, to let them into my space.  Today my story is to believe that I matter, you matter… that little stupid things don’t matter - but voices do, hugs do, and silent tears do.  Today my story is to be strong, strong knowing that I am allowed to cry, lament before God, because as I shed tears my fears are released with grace and mercy, washed away, and strength will take its place.     


I love you

Through the sparkles and the fading lights

When the wind sweeps through like a hurricane

And the sky paints colors of reverence

I love you as the rain weeps over you

And the whippoorwill becomes your song.  

An Unexpected Visit on Father's Day

I did not know if I would be able to write about my dad this father’s day.  I was struggling with the idea because I wondered if it would be “fair” if I didn’t acknowledge him since I had written about my mother this past mother’s day.  Shouldn’t I give them equal time? When I sat down to write last month, a few weeks before Mother’s Day I was not sure what it would sound like once I finished.  I just knew that there was something inside that I wanted to process through words about my childhood and how the subtleties of my surroundings made an impact on the person I am today.  I did not set out with the idea of writing my mother a gift, but through my thoughts and reflections that is exactly what was created.  As I allowed my feelings to surface, my memories arose and words came spilling out and healing occurred, for me as I wrote, and for my mother as she read. 

But if I was to give my dad equal time, wouldn’t that be forced, writing words to just write?  On top of that he is not here to read it; he died Jan. 6, 2016. I had not seen him for over, I don’t know, 5 years or so.  I didn’t get to say goodbye, I wasn’t even acknowledged as his daughter, there was no funeral, and there is no grave to go to.  He is gone.  He is not here to read my words, or to feel my love, or sorrow, or wish for reconciliation, or to have our hearts healed through the reminiscing of memories.  So over the last few weeks I chose to not write, I figured what’s the use… I really didn’t want to go to those places anyway, those places that I knew deep down inside I needed to go to in order to write with an authentic voice about my dad and I.  I was not ready or willing to go on that trip.  So I did what I have done for so many years; I pretended there was no need, there was no reason, and there was no hurt, no desire to reconcile...  I pretended.  

But someone had a different plan for me…  I found myself in Trader Joes this afternoon, Father’s Day, buying just the items that I needed to make a nice dinner for the “father” of my children, to honor him and to show him he is loved and appreciated on Father's Day like so many families were doing.  Life was good, my son and his girlfriend were on their way to our apartment so I had to be quick and purposeful, in and out… until I heard a song – the song being played in the store, over the sound system, loud and clear.  I began to wonder aimlessly, slowly, weaving and pushing my cart around the crates of produce – fighting back a river of tears as Wilson Pickett sang “Land of 1000 Dances”.  It swept me up and I slid down a memory, a journey that I entered into as soon as I heard the first lines of his soulful “1, 2, 3”.  It is not as if I had not heard songs that reminded me of my dad since he has died, I have, but this was different, very different.  And I chose to go without thinking really… my inner most self had no desire to ignore it, or pretend this was not happening.   I just listened to the song, consuming every word and I was present in the moment.  As tears became heavy in my eyes I felt my dad was saying to me it was OK.  Though our relationship was one that suffered with an enormous amount of pain for both us – it was OK… and he understood my anguish and was sorry that he had to leave me the way he did.  It felt as if I was alone in the store, just me and Wilson Picket and my dad – I no doubt spoke out loud and said to my dad, thank-you dad, thank-you for showing up today through the music that was so much a part of you that it became a part of me.  The music that we shared, the music that you so enjoyed – that we still enjoy today.  

And when the song was over and the next song started to play it was as if my dad was gone, slipped away, my composure returned.  The checkout clerk, young and energetic with a smile on his face asked if I found everything I needed today… I said yes, thank-you.  He had no idea.

My dad, my brother and me.

My dad, my brother and me.

The Greatest Gift My Mother Gave Me

I had such a revelation while writing this piece, what started out to be a story about creative freedom turned out to be a beautiful and personal revelation for me; as if a curtain had been pulled back so I could see what was behind it.  Mom, this is mostly for you and secondly it is for all the moms and daughters who might consider their childhood less than perfect – I wouldn’t be who I am without mine.  I’m grateful to have found such beauty in all of its imperfections.  
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confessions are good for the soul

I have a confession to make... creativity scares me.  Not the “monster in the dark of night” scared sort of way, but in the, "I'm scared to fail" or “look ridiculous” or “be laughed at” sort of way.  I came to this realization through one of those “aha moments” when I was asked the question a few months ago, “what happened that changed your path from using your creative self to acting is if it does not exist?”  She asked me this question because she could see a creative spirit in me that I was ignoring. I’m not sure how she saw it… if it was how I dressed, or my tattoos, or that I change my hair color with the change of season.  Maybe it was the way I carried on a conversation with her, or how I answered her questions that led her to this incredibly poignant question. When I heard her words an image instantly appeared in my mind.  At first I silently thought to myself, "why this particular life event"?  It felt silly and foolish, it was so long ago and felt so insignificant; and then it took just a few moments of silence between us for the feelings that were attached to that image to surface and became uncomfortably fresh once again. 

I was in high school, a very small school where everyone knew everyone, and my art class had a display of our work along the hallway for all to see.  I arrived at school one morning to find that somebody decided to destroy my drawing, a piece that I had been proud of and had dedicated many hours to.  My black and white pointillism art was splattered with red paint.  I remember feeling embarrassed as I walked down the hall and saw that my art had been publicly humiliated for all to see.  I felt secretly laughed at and somehow betrayed by my peers.  I couldn't understand why someone would be so cruel. They might as well have splattered me with red paint.  This was not just some paper and pen project, this was my creation, my work, my vulnerability.  I remember keeping that piece for a long time and then finally one day I tossed it in the trash.  I suspect this is likely when creative timidity and self doubt crept into my world.  My fear of being judged, not liked, ridiculed and laughed at all wrapped up in one creative crashing package.

So what purpose did this self reflection and the “aha moment” serve?  Why did my mind travel there?  Because I believe this was when I started to build walls to protect what I create and in the process I hid some of the real me for self preservation. I believe that I subconsciously decided that conforming to my surroundings was much safer than taking creative risks; and in the meantime, I was not being true to myself.  Conforming began to choke out the part of me that I actually liked.  

Today I am learning to be a better me – I need to be the real me, the quirky, complicated, idealistic, intensely introspective, wear my heart on my sleeve, creative me.  This is a tough lesson to be learning later in life, but better today than tomorrow. I could let regret complicate things and hold me back to have a “pity party” or a “what if wine fest”, but I won’t, at least, not today. 

Take my lesson and reflect upon it. It is never too late to find courage in your individuality, find strength in your uniqueness, and find freedom in who you are.  

live life, love your people, don't wait

I have to admit, that I am re-posting something I wrote a few days ago... I made the decision to use it as my first blog post because this event moved me, it spoke to me, it left an indelible mark. A tragedy that called out to many of us... a reminder that life here on earth is limited and we miss out - and those we love miss out, - if we wait to live, to love, to cherish, to create.  Don't hesitate in your hugs, don't wait to say "I love you" or "I'm sorry" or "I forgive".  

Written in the wee hours of April 2, 2016.

My mind is traveling to all sorts of past and long ago places after attending an amazing memorial celebration of life for Christian Sheehan and reconnecting with beautiful people I call friends - the kind of friends that love unconditionally, who allow their heart to break because another's is breaking, the kind of friends that say I'm there for you - never hesitate to call - the kind of friends that stand beside a grieving mother and weep as her heart breaks and it seems as if all the mothers hearts meld with hers - perhaps to protect hers from complete shatter. These people - they are beautiful. And these people, they are the parents of some of the most amazing kids I have had the privilege to watch grow into adulthood. I'm, we're, so blessed to be able to feel a part of this special tribe. An entire group of people that love unselfishly.

I heard and saw something incredibly beautiful this evening - life... I saw people at their best... And I'm encouraged, inspired and reminded that life is more than simply an exercise we get to experience -life is for living and that means feeling emotion, seeing the absolute beauty in every circumstance, and acknowledging our time here is limited but more importantly it is to be shared. Tonight reminded me of the importance of sending a hello - offering a hand or making amends. It means smiling with your eyes and hugging with your heart. I was reminded that Life is a gift - every day is a gift. And tonight I thank the Sheehan family and the life of Christian that so graciously reminded us of how important our people - our tribe - is to each other.

My heart is broken and yet filled with love. The loss is enormous and yet we can recognize that within loss and grief there is the power to heal, to love, and to always remember the importance of family and community - of our tribe. God gives us grace and mercy - and He gave us one another - and for that I am humbly grateful.

Hug your people. Tell them how awesome they are. Be there. Love them. Make time. And then Love em a little more.